Mack Williams: Plunkett’s Garage

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 11, 2017

Longfellow:”Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands.” Well, alongside Highway 86 in Caswell County, Plunkett’s Garage stands, and sprawls somewhat into the surrounding countryside by virtue of the number of junk cars surrounding it.

It’s not just a place where old cars (like elephants) go to die, as Mr. Plunkett works on cars and sells used cars, so I imagine some were trade-ins, perhaps having been previously serviced by him.It’s as if every patient tended to by a physician during his work life resided within the city blocks surrounding his office (one of those blocks being a cemetery). While we’re on a medical analogy, many of Mr. Plunkett’s customers (or rather, their cars) have benefited by a “transplant” taken from an entire field of potential spare parts.

Mr. Plunkett does good work and he is reasonable, all that we ask from one who works on automobiles. In addition, he is personable.

One Winter’s day, I enjoyed Mr. Plunkett’s wood heater while he worked on my car. On a table stood an old Coke bottle full of cigarette butts. My waiting time brought back those days of my youth when with my father (Bernard Williams) at Hedrick Motor company while the mechanic labored on his old Studebaker. Mr.Plunkett’s “wiryness” reminds me of my father, except Mr. Plunkett is taller. He also gives the impression of being as tough as the metal tools (wrenches, sockets, etc.) of his trade.

Comparison of Plunkett’s Garage and its “collection” with the Jawas of Star Wars occurs to me; but his garage and spare parts “graveyard” are pretty much static, as he has no “sand crawler” big enough (actually, no “sand crawler” at all) to transport his business around the county.

The old, sometimes cannibalised auto hulks remind me of that “shattered visage” of stone in Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” except in this case “the lone and level sands” are not “lone” (nor sands), but instead, filled with an abundance of “shattered visages” stretching as far as the eye can see ( or to the edge of the kudzu).

Vines of sweet honeysuckle twine around the telescoping antennae of the older cars. The flowers’ drops of nectar are sweet, but so are the drops of deadly ( especially to cats and dogs) anti-freeze dripping from the loose seals of some abandoned cars, sort of like drops of oil still surfacing from the USS Arizona.

But none of those automotive “drippings” at Plunkett’s are like the deadly World War I chemicals still present in some former “trench-land” in France, so much so that it isn’t safe to grow crops there!

With all of those handy auto parts and “bodies,” Mr Plunkett could have made his own “automobile Frankenstein monster” like the one Johnny Cash sang about in “One Piece at a Time.”

Stopping by Plunkett’s to purchase a used tire, I followed him into a room in which there was an indoor version of what one usually sees outside: a used tire pile! There was no organization, just a pile; but Mr. Plunkett knew the exact location of the right-size tire for my car (and why not, since he was the one who had placed each there in the first place).

At one time, Mr. Plunkett restored a late model Chevrolet and parked it in front of his shop. It could be seen for some distance while coming down Highway 86 due to its re-paint job of Easter egg blue. The placement of this venerable antique could easily have been construed as advertisement; but I think Mr. Plunkett parked it there because he was proud (and rightly so) of his accomplishment.

Not long ago, Caswell County enacted an ordinance limiting the amount of abandoned cars in one space, so there’s not quite as many old cars at Plunkett’s as there were before.

Plunkett’s Garage is not an eyesore, but instead, a man’s entire work life (hence,a goodly portion of his entire life) proudly on display in that spot along US Highway 86.

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