Car Storage Part 4: Sh**box Heaven in an Empty Foundry

Matthew Anderson

The elation of acquiring the garbage car warehouse of my dreams has since come and gone. Now, *gulp* it’s really mine. In my pre-ownership dreams, I envisioned signing the documents and then leaving the closing attorney’s office in a parade through downtown Statesville, North Carolina. In this exhaust-fume hallucination, my horde of terrible vehicles would ascend into clean and dry sh**box heaven. There, my friends and neighbors would be waiting to celebrate with a keg of Red Buffalo brew.

As you may have guessed, the reality was somewhat more mundane.

I bought a shopping cart and a very large corral.Matthew Anderson

Just prior to closing, I was busy with a few things at the ex-foundry. The big ones: restore power and do a massive cleanout of the place. In preparation for the sale, the owner, his scrappy crew of one, my real estate agent, my wife, and I all roamed the grounds in a conga line to decide the fate of every item in the place. We recorded our verdicts in a notebook. My logical flowchart for what would be allowed to live depended on intrinsic value, scrap value, story value, and difficulty of moving. Some items of questionable functionality and considerable bulk—a very dirty industrial deep freezer comes to mind—were marked with an ignominious X.

  • Piles of trash and White Claw cans … X
  • Paint booth made of tarps … X
  • Clawfoot tub …✓
  • Air compressor …✓
  • Multiple disassembled shop vacs … reluctant X.
  • A Chevrolet Stovebolt Six…obvious ✓
  • Former cannabis growing room… X. No, wait, ✓. I could turn it into a garden!
Definite red X.Matthew Anderson

Did I mention this activity took place in the dark?

Let’s back up. About three days before the papers were to be signed, the building’s electrical service still hadn’t been activated. Why the complexity? Well, a few months back, in order to snuff out the marijuana-growing operation, the owner got the police and city involved to physically cut power to the building.

The city of Statesville runs the utilities in the area and neither its officials nor I were particularly keen on switching everything back on until the building passed code inspection. Luckily, I had written a small note in my purchase offer stipulating that “three-phase power must be restored in addition to all outlets and lighting with work performed to code.” In the meantime, the city passed an ordinance dictating that all power needed to be run underground for new services. This netted me a new shutoff, panel, sub-panels, and a few thousand linear feet of Romex—all free of charge.

Not satisfied with this shift in my favor, the universe decided to even the score the moment the lights turned on. In perfect light, I could now see a rather large roof leak. Nice one, universe. I guess I better start cleaning up and fundraising.

Ummm … no regrets. I said, NO REGRETS.Matthew Anderson

We signed the papers, and with the keys now in hand, my wife and I let ourselves into the foundry for the first time. I was overcome with dread and remorse. Maybe the junk removal exercise wasn’t as thorough as I imagined it would be. Perhaps I was daunted by the lake around the base of the smelter. Or was I disappointed that I couldn’t immediately empty my backyard of cars into this place?

I shoved those feelings and questions deep inside of me, until they died, replacing them with a furious energy to fill each of the five city trash cans I found hiding in the building. I had friends drop by to help with other stuff, too. Jon sprayed the side of the building with a 40-ouncer to ward off evil spirits, and Johnnie came bearing a homemade shelf and a bourbon bottle to sit atop it. Bring on the productivity!

The patron saint of abandoned buildings will save us from ourselves with this offering.Matthew Anderson

As the cleanup continued, I remembered how much I love a good scrap run. Every stray car door or bent chain link fence rail cha-ching’ed my internal register, and I mentally subtracted dollars from my first mortgage payment or roof repair bill. I borrowed “Fuggles,” my buddy’s Dodge D-100, and filled it to the brim for multiple drives across the weigh bridge at Gordon’s Iron and Metal. Included in the scrappage scheme were two busted floor sweepers, several very smelly burn barrels, a significant percentage of a Dodge Charger, loads of conduit and electrical breakage, multiple hoods, and fenders, a fridge … the list could continue. What’s important is that I netted $465.32 and cleared some car space.

To think that I thought the place looked really good when I took this picture…Matthew Anderson

Something that didn’t get red Xs during that pre-sale inventory: a sad pair of Chevrolet trucks. I initially thought that the remnants of the 1950 Chevy 3100 could be some kind of ratty project and the ’87 1500 would make a workable shop rig. But I had enough to deal with, so I immediately listed them for sale online. I must’ve let my desperate cleanout streak shine through in the form of bargain basement prices, because both cars were someone else’s problem in less than 24 hours. In my pocket was even more roof money and parking space for my own crapcan cars.

I have a rule: Do not buy project cars missing door panels. This had to go.Matthew Anderson

Just as I was jamming out to Tanya Tucker and feeling pretty good about starting to pull in cars, my wife hinted that I may still be overlooking something: she held up a large, bent nail between her fingertips.

The delusional parade would have to be delayed yet again.

At Harbor Freight I picked up a sizeable rolling magnet. Over the next two days, we took turns pulling roughly 50 pounds (or $4 if you’re me) of hardware off the floor. Points for the wife: That was a great idea.

Employee of the month.Matthew Anderson

In other, more boring news, a long string of inspections by fire, insurance, water utilities, and so on have kept me on my toes for weeks. Aside from the shock of seeing my first bill, I think I’m finally at the end of the truly hard parts.

So am I ready to start filling the place with cars? Almost. Roof repair starts in just a couple of weeks. Then, the final step will be donning a Tyvex suit and respiration gear so I can leaf blow the foundry sand, wood debris, and Bondo dust into a pile.

I’m feeling hope, not regret. It won’t be long before you hear me scream, “Let the sh**tbox parade begin!”

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    Matthew – great progress! Yes, there were setbacks, hiccups, and minor periods of panic, but those things are definitely to be expected, and it seems as though you and the “employee of the month” have taken them in stride. Your original article proved you had considered and planned on a lot of things, but that you also realized that not everything was just gonna fall into place (regardless of the dream of the parade). Just keep tackling things one after another and before you know it, you’ll be firing up the stereo, opening that bottle of hooch, and toasting the arrival of all your projects to their new home!

    Hey DUB6, thanks for the very thoughtful and kind comment! I tried to think of everything but a couple things escaped me right before closing. The same thing happened to the seller. Luckily we both took it in stride with a “welp, these things happen” attitude. Fair dealings all around. I suspect the next article you read will involve a train of cars!

    A rustbelt dream come true! Dry space under roof — the Holy Grail. And securable, too! Even better. While few people here (other than me and some other Sad Bastards™) will have envied you the Ladas and Moskviches and such that you dug up in Germany, every red-blooded car hound on the continent without a six-figure income is going to envy you the Car Foundry. Enjoy!

    Thanks! I’m pretty excited about it. I don’t want to give too many spoilers about the next article…but weird and Soviet cars are inside!

    Great progress. Be sure to take the employee of the month for an employee appreciation dinner if you haven’t. :^)

    I would totally like to do something like this.

    this is the BEST car-related article I have read all month!

    you are to be commended.

    and an inspiration for the rest of us….


    Time to spend a few hours (anonymously) carefully reading your local zoning code and property tax exemptions. Property tax people won’t tell you how to minimize your taxes, you get to figure it out yourself.

    Two examples – I have an undeveloped five acre lot, no utilities, nothing, taxes $2,200 a year, goes up by 10% a year (statutory cap). I had a guy put bees on it and got an agricultural exemption. Taxes are now $54 a year, and the bee guy gives us free honey. Example 2 – have 20 vacant acres in the middle of nowhere, no street, hence no street name or number. Pointed this out to the property appraiser, taxes dropped by 60%. This is FL, so YMMV but do your homework.

    Insurance – find an independent insurance agent, don’t go to the big names in the phone book or on the net. It would be worth your while to find someone who is also a gear-head, that way they’ll work for you instead of just looking at the premium commission – think about hinting storage available. Ask how to describe it to the insurance company to get the best rates. (Body shop – bad. Museum – better. Same place.) My insurance guy is as deep into aviation as I am, and that’s a great help.

    Important – you are NOT a business, if you are, the insurance and licensing requirements are a lot tougher and more expensive. This is STORAGE . . . (wink wink nudge nudge). If it is a business, you have more licenses, more inspections, you’ll probably need a TIN and a business checking account (to keep your brand new accountant happy) and you’ll get to deal with sales tax and workmans comp and and and and, all of which will take the fun out of this in a heartbeat.

    Make sure you have plenty of fire extinguishers and exit signs. Hopefully, you will never need either of them, but their obvious presence makes a good impression on inspectors and insurance underwriters.

    And congratulations! Stuff expands to fill the space allotted to it, so you’ll be looking for a bigger building soon!

    Do you promise to keep commenting on the foundry posts? I genuinely appreciate your advice!


    No problem 😉

    The whole trick here is to know their regs better than they do (which admittedly is not a very high bar), and always smile – even when you’d like to see their head on a pike at the entrance to your building.

    I’ve been doing this kind of stuff (finance, local government, insurance, real estate, development, even dealing successfully with the DMV) for a LONG time, and I render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but not one thin dime (or Denarus) more.

    When you get an answer you don’t like from a bureaucrat, smile, go away and come back tomorrow, and ask a different bureaucrat. Chances are you’ll get an answer you’ll like, so write down what they told you and who it was. Paper trail . . .

    Keep your garage refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and a few beers. The building inspectors aren’t supposed to drink on the job, but after 5 PM, well, that might be a different story. Make the offer – you want to look like a good guy.

    Problem resolution – “Can you give me a little help here so I can comply with the regs?” goes a LOT further than “How in the **** am I supposed to do this?” Attitude is as important as compliance. If you are easy to deal with and nice to them, you’ll be amazed at the things they won’t notice or “somehow” overlook. If you are a PITA, you can bet they’ll look over your operation with a 10,000 power electron microscope. You really don’t want that.

    Do your level best to keep things clean and organized. If it looks like a junkyard after a tornado hit it, well, that’s not exactly the impression you want to give to code inspectors, fire inspectors and so forth.

    When you move on, consider renting it instead of selling it. Let appreciation work for you. In ten years, it will be worth significantly more than it is now, and you can borrow against that equity if you need or want to – but crunch the numbers very carefully. That’s a discussion for another day.

    I wasn’t here, this conversation never took place, and I was never on the Russian front (the first time, anyway).

    I did a similar thing, but now my time and money is about fixing up a building and no time and money for cars.

    Ouch. A good example of why we need to be careful what we wish for… hope the building phase ends soon and you can get back to cars…

    Ha! I could totally see this happening. Luckily I have a helper who trades work for space. This greatly eases the burden.

    Love your space. I’m dealing with a rental that comes with mice and leaks. And I might lose that. Also like your camper. Hope you have inside space for that too. If your east block cars need extra company I have a 1960 Lloyd Alexander TS that can be had reasonable. Best of luck to you.

    Every time I drive past an abandoned warehouse, factory or something else of this sort, I think about how I could use it for my auto related work and toys. Then reality sets in and at my age, I don’t need that kind of expense and problems just to get the building in shape so I can enjoy my dream. I’m essentially doing that now by doing my own remodel of my house before I can justify spending money on my own project cars. Although I would rather be working on my Ranchero, Corvette and Mark VIII, I will say doing my own remodeling on the house as I’m able, have the skills to do myself and incorporate my own ideas is quite satisfying.

    I totally agree with you – doing the work yourself and watching things progress with your own efforts is extremely gratifying. Even if it looks DIY in my case. Enjoy the rewards of your work!

    I’ve often thought when passing an industrial building for sale that it would be great to have a place to store cars for myself and to rent space to others. Just a fantasy. That being said…
    You scrapped “a significant percentage of a Dodge Charger”? You didn’t say what era but the fact that you could recognize it as such implies someone could have used whatever was left.
    Thanks for including a shot of the GT Hawk!

    The Charger was no more than 10 years old. I tried to sell the set of four doors for about 2 weeks on Marketplace and had no serious bidders. The rest of the pieces had been rendered with a sawzall so there wasn’t anything that could be used. But I tried!

    Great project. I too am in the middle of restoring a former machine shop/parts store to house my meager collection of large toys… One item that could be helpful to you is my cell phone carrier offered a very inexpensive Cell-based wifi unit that runs my internet-based alarm system including cameras. My collection is always a cell phone app away. It is a cheap option to keep your treasures safer.

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