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DEADWOOD TRAIL. The old Deadwood to Fort Pierre Trail parallels Highway 34. This truck is parked along the trail at Hayes.
DEADWOOD TRAIL. The old Deadwood to Fort Pierre Trail parallels Highway 34. This truck is parked along the trail at Hayes.
BAD RIVER DAYS. The town of Capa has one man and his dog, a few houses and this truck.
BAD RIVER DAYS. The town of Capa has one man and his dog, a few houses and this truck.
THE CORN SHELLER. Two brothers from Harrold, the Galinats, fashioned their corn sheller onto the back of this truck, Rube Goldberg style. They would drive around the country and shell corn for people.
THE CORN SHELLER. Two brothers from Harrold, the Galinats, fashioned their corn sheller onto the back of this truck, Rube Goldberg style. They would drive around the country and shell corn for people.
BLACK GIRLS. I was flying in a Piper Cub with a friend when we saw this. You could never see it from the road. I revisited it a half dozen times; the last time, the cows were there and that’s what made the picture happen.
BLACK GIRLS. I was flying in a Piper Cub with a friend when we saw this. You could never see it from the road. I revisited it a half dozen times; the last time, the cows were there and that’s what made the picture happen.
COYOTE HUNTER’S CAR. When I was shooting a picture at Hayes, an old guy was watching me and cleaning his spittoon. I asked him if he knew of any other old cars and he told me about this one. He’d cut the back end off and made it like a pickup and he had a bunch of cages for five or six dogs. He’d go out in the country and turn out the dogs and chase the coyotes.
COYOTE HUNTER’S CAR. When I was shooting a picture at Hayes, an old guy was watching me and cleaning his spittoon. I asked him if he knew of any other old cars and he told me about this one. He’d cut the back end off and made it like a pickup and he had a bunch of cages for five or six dogs. He’d go out in the country and turn out the dogs and chase the coyotes.
THE HOMESTEAD. South of Harrold I saw this rare Plymouth pickup. The owners had torn down the buildings and shoved everything on a pile. It looked like they’d placed the Plymouth carefully on top.
THE HOMESTEAD. South of Harrold I saw this rare Plymouth pickup. The owners had torn down the buildings and shoved everything on a pile. It looked like they’d placed the Plymouth carefully on top.
OLD PAINT. This was shot west of Pierre at Hayes Garage. Of all the photographs in the collection, it is among my favorites.
OLD PAINT. This was shot west of Pierre at Hayes Garage. Of all the photographs in the collection, it is among my favorites.
TRAIL HAND. This picture was hard to title. I just kept getting the feeling that the car was herding the cows. I like the bright blue sky with the black cows. It’s a 1937 Ford south of Harrold.
TRAIL HAND. This picture was hard to title. I just kept getting the feeling that the car was herding the cows. I like the bright blue sky with the black cows. It’s a 1937 Ford south of Harrold.
OTTO’S TRACTOR. This was my friend Otto’s tractor. Each time when I came home we’d go for a drive. It was loud but it was a thrill at night. In 2007 Otto died the day after I came home. I got to say goodbye to him. The tractor is an International and sits by a country school that he and his wife used as the house on their farm.
OTTO’S TRACTOR. This was my friend Otto’s tractor. Each time when I came home we’d go for a drive. It was loud but it was a thrill at night. In 2007 Otto died the day after I came home. I got to say goodbye to him. The tractor is an International and sits by a country school that he and his wife used as the house on their farm.
JOE’S AT 20 BELOW. Mostly I’m proud of this picture because it was 20 below zero and blowing as I walked down the hill to get the shot. It’s a Ford from the 1930s.
JOE’S AT 20 BELOW. Mostly I’m proud of this picture because it was 20 below zero and blowing as I walked down the hill to get the shot. It’s a Ford from the 1930s.

Abandoned

Dad came home to Harrold from the South Pacific in 1946 when I was 4 and bought a 1929 Model A Ford that had been converted from a sedan to a pickup. I can still smell the interior and feel the big steering wheel. He let me sit on his lap and try to drive.

Baseball was the thing in those post-war summers. Dad would load a calf tank in the Model A and we’d go out to Beckett’s icehouse for straw-covered chunks of winter-cut ice. We’d fill the tank with water and pop and go to the ballpark before the game. I sold a lot of pop for the VFW from the back of that Ford.

Grandpa had two big tractors with steel wheels and a threshing machine. He wore a striped engineer cap on weekdays and a white Stetson on Sundays. He had a 1934 Ford coupe and he liked to drive fast. I wanted that car so bad and hoped to buy it someday, but he traded it for a blue 1949 Buick Roadmaster. Grandpa took me along when he tested the Buick. He ran it up to 90 mph and then without as much as a grin said, “that’ll do.”

A rancher bought the coupe and nearly wrecked it chasing jackrabbits and coyotes. I bought it for $35 when I was 12 and pulled it into town. That worried Dad. He was a horse guy. The idea of me having a car scared him, so he went into collusion with the Ford mechanic and made sure I got some bad advice so I couldn’t get it to run. I didn’t hear about that until years later.

The first car I got that would run was a ’46 Mercury. It was a two-door sedan, Navy blue with a Flat-head Eight. I drove it four or five years all through high school at Harrold, where I graduated in 1961.

Then I studied at Northern State in Aberdeen from 1962 to 1967 and took every art class they offered. I went to California to be an art teacher. I used to dream of its beautiful beaches, girls, hot rods and motorcycles. Forty years later I’ve seen them all.

I became sad and sentimental as I watched the old cars and trucks of my youth slow down and finally stop to languish behind a barn or a grove of trees. Then, like the old-timers who drove them, one day they are gone. I missed them, so I bought a camera and began the journey of photographing abandoned vehicles in a romantic way. I was a painter with a camera. I laughed when my photography teacher said it would be my life’s work. Someday I intend to turn the series, which I title “Abandoned,” into a book. The first image in the book will be a family photograph of me and my mom and dad and my next-oldest brother, taken in 1947 in front of our first family car. I found that very vehicle some 50 years later. It was north of Harrold on an old farm with a collection of other stuff. And in 2008, when I came home, it was gone. I didn’t think it would ever move, but some guy in Highmore bought it for parts.

The picture of our family is special to me because it says something about that post-war period. My dad went through an awful part of the war and made it home, and there he is with his family.

My images are about the West — the dreams, the struggles and finally the rust. All of them have a mystery. They are about a different time when things were easier to understand and easier to love. It has been a wonderful adventure. I’ve crossed from Minnesota to California and Montana to Mexico, mostly in my ’62 Ford truck, “Buster,” my best pal.

When I’m back in South Dakota, I drive dad’s ’71 Ford pickup. We bought it new from Pioneer Garage in Highmore and when he passed away it was mine. I’ve driven it a lot, and my friends in Harrold store it for me when I’m gone.

I come back to South Dakota every year. I still have the farm, Dad’s pickup truck, family and friends. Maybe someday I’ll come back to stay.

Editor’s Note: Michael Heintz lives in Dana Point, Calif., where he designs and creates jewelry. This story is revised from the November/December 2009 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

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