Abandoned car – Montana


photo: © David Moenkhaus - all rights reserved 773 612-4166

©David Moenkhaus











abandoned car – Montana 1999


from High Plains Artifacts

16″ x 20″  ed. of 10


I only got one chance at photographing this old car along 212 in southeast Montana.


I was headed back to Chicago after spending  3 weeks on the road photographing, camping and 

backpacking in the Powder River Country of southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming.

It was dusk and I was hoping to find some kind of town big enough for a motel because after spending the 

previous 4 nights car camping, I was tired, feeling kind of rough, and I wanted a room.

I had cruised south through Broadus, MT.  gambling that there would be a motel somewhere 

but it was getting dark and it was magic hour.


From experience (meaning bad judgement) I found that when travelling in the American West, you need to have 

your hotel/motel/campground plans set up in advance.

Distances between towns are vast and you need to have a plan. It doesn’t hurt to 

have a couple of back up plans too!

If you’ve ever been forced to sleep in the front seat of your car for more than a few hours, you know that it’s 

something to be avoided if possible.

And because I almost never drive at night when I’m out west, I usually  have to think pretty far 

ahead in terms of lodging. 

 One of my rules when travelling by car, truck or RV, is to avoid driving at night because you miss too much. I 

nicked that rule from Dayton Duncan’s fine book about Lewis and Clark called “Out West – a Journey through 

Lewis and Clark’s America” published in 1987.

But the evening I made this image, it was getting dark very quickly (as it always seems to do out west) and I was 

moving fast across the landscape. The speed limit at that time in Montana was non-existent so I was maxed out.

funFact: Apparently,  Montana had no daytime speed limit throughout its history until 1974. Motorists were 

supposed to drive in a “reasonable and prudent manner” regarding the speed limit.


Well anyway, when I saw this old car I did what any photographer would do – I slammed on the brakes, turned 

around, went back and photographed it.

The opportunity to make an image of a cool old vehicle  (probably manufactured in Detroit Michigan in the 40’s)  

that was being reclaimed by the Earth in the middle of the High Plains of the American West, was just too 

good  to pass up. At that beautiful moment, the comfort of a hotel quickly faded away and I got to work.

I spent the next hour making a handful of 5-10 minute exposures of the old vehicle. While I was exposing film, a 

car slowed, pulled over and parked next to where I was shooting.

After a short time the driver rolled down her window and yelled out, “Looks like they just parked the car, got out, 

and walked away doesn’t it?” “That should make a nice pitcher, mister.”

I agreed and she drove away.

 When I went back the next year, the old vehicle had been hauled away.


2 thoughts on “Abandoned car – Montana

  1. I’ve lost a few photos because I thought I could come back later and make them. It was a good idea to stop and set up the camera. That’s a great photograph and really demonstrates how vast North America is. And the Velvia colours are great, of course.

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