Photos by Larry Edsall
They sit there in a farmer’s field just south of — and easily visible from — Interstate 40, just west of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. There are 10 of them. All vintage Cadillacs, from a 1949 Club Coupe to a 1963 sedan.
But they aren’t parked in the usual, haphazard fashion of cars left out in some weeded-over field. These have been placed precisely, not only with the military precision of a marching line that runs from east to west, but each with its nose planted into the ground and its finned tails lifted into the sky at the same angle of as the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt.
They were placed here by a group of artists who were from San Francisco and who called themselves the Ant Farm. The installation was commissioned by the recently departed Stanley Marsh 3, an Amarillo rancher, oil tycoon, art patron, media mogul, helium magnate and “merry prankster.”
The installation is, of course, Cadillac Ranch. It was designed as an artistic commentary on American culture, and on Cadillac’s role as a status symbol.
It originally was planted in 1974. However, as Amarillo grew and threatened to overwhelm the installation, the cars were transplanted in 1997 to a different field a few miles to the west.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the cars is that they’re still here. Nobody’s stolen them, let along considered their restoration to running order, though from time to time a part disappears. A couple of years ago the roof of the second car in line went missing. But someone replaced it, seemingly good as new. Currently, much of the roof panel of the car at the far west end is missing.
The cars are just sheet-metal body shells. No engines. No interiors. Though several retain wheels and tires. Just like the sheet metal, those wheels and tires are constantly being painted and repainted by anyone who happens along.
You see, at Cadillac Ranch, everyone can be an artist.
There is a gate, but there is neither an admission charge nor anyone who might appear to be in charge. The gate is there not to keep people out, but to keep any stray cow from wandering out onto the frontage road or the highway.
Once you maneuver through the gate, you walk less than a quarter-mile south across the flat field and all you need is your handy spray paint can. Oh, you neglected to bring one, don’t fret, you can simply pick up one of the many that others have discarded and use one or more of them to apply your own name or other symbol to the cars.
At least temporarily.
Though not seemingly owned by anyone, and without any billboard promotion and barely a mention in the local visitors guide, Cadillac Ranch draws a steady stream of visitors, so many people adding so much more paint that the cars’ appearance metamorphoses a couple of times each week.
Of course, you don’t have to add paint. You can simply stand there and marvel at why so many people seem so eager to leave their mark on something.