Ford Crestline Sunliner discovered in abandoned South Dakota mine

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South Dakota - 1954 Ford Crestline Sunliner discovery - 3
Courtesy of Dan Austin

Years before the ground opened beneath the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and swallowed several Corvettes, a 1954 Ford Crestline Sunliner met the same fate in the Black Hills of South Dakota. No one really knows when the car disappeared—or if, perhaps, it was put there deliberately—but it’s safe to say no human had seen the white convertible in decades.

That is until recently, when Adam Weaver and members of Paha Sapa Grotto, a local organization within the National Speleological Society, discovered the car in an abandoned gypsum mine that they assumed was a cave. That assumption made all the difference for Weaver, who volunteered to take his team down to assess the situation when the earth began to swallow houses in April. A dozen have been lost so far.

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Courtesy of Dan Austin

“We really don’t do mines, we explore caves,” says Weaver, who holds a master’s degree in Natural Resource Stewardship from Colorado State University. “When people started losing their homes, I called the county [Meade County] and volunteered to go down and map it for them. There’s a lot of gypsum in that area, so we assumed it would be a natural sinkhole.”

It wasn’t. The spelunkers realized they had instead stumbled upon an abandoned gypsum mine, which opened in the 1920s and closed in the ’50s. They found plenty of historical items, including a mining handcart and even the remains of a calf—which was confirmed by Weaver’s wife, a paleontologist—but they didn’t expect to discover an automobile.

South Dakota - 1954 Ford Crestline Sunliner discovery - Paha Sapa Grotto - Adam Weaver mug
Adam Weaver Courtesy of National Speleological Society

“I’ve been caving all over,” says Weaver, who is vice president of the National Speleological Society. “And that’s a first.”

The Crestline isn’t the only vehicle the group found inside the mine. “There’s a truck down there too, nose down, that’s older than the car,” Weaver says. “But it’s harder to get to and photograph.”

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Courtesy of Dan Austin

Since the abandoned mine is directly beneath the homes that have been lost, the unfortunate situation will ultimately be sorted out in a courtroom. Weaver has been asked to return to the mine and extract water and rock samples, which he says he’s planning to do later today (August 27), accompanied by a South Dakota State University professor and other members of Paha Sapa Grotto—which, in Lakota, translates to Black Hills Grotto.

For obvious reasons, most people outside the community are more interested in the ’54 Crestline Sunliner. Weaver isn’t surprised. “It is pretty amazing,” he admits.

Weaver wonders if the Ford was placed inside the mine before the mine closed, or if it was pushed in through an opening from above in the decades since it closed. Regardless, he says, “It’s actually in super good shape, considering … other than the debris that’s fallen on it.” Still, he expects the car will stay right where it is. “I don’t think it’s ever coming out.”

South Dakota - Ford discovery - Paha Sapa Grotto members
Paha Sapa Grotto members (left to right) Garrett Jorgensen, Rene Ohms (kneeling), Dan Austin, Adam Weaver, Christopher Pelczarki, and Gosia Kosior after a Black Hills cave exploration in 2018. Courtesy of Paha Sapa Grotto
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    “I don’t think it’s ever coming out” is usually a statement that is followed by someone stating “Hold my beer…”

    Hilarity ensues after that.

    Very cool. That car looks to be in very rough shape to me though. Restoring it would be a labor of love.

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