Mission, Distraction, Epiphany in 5 Frames, featuring a Zeiss Ikon Contessa and Portra 160 – By Martin Misiak

My daily driver for the last 6 months or so is a 1950 Plymouth with a bit of a gallop. I learned that one of the wheels was warped. Finding a replacement stock wheel for a 72 year old car is apparently about as hard as it sounds. 

There was a dilapidated old garage in central Florida near the nexus of some railroads and other industrial flotsam that looked promising for my purpose, though. It was a squat, stained, cinder-block building from the 30’s that sat shaded among the Spanish-moss-draped live oaks. There were several old cars in varying states of disrepair scattered on the property. I’d passed it a number of times, but it looked so dead I wondered if it was even still in business. An old fella – as squat as the building itself – was often out front, though, rocking in his chair, wearing the same dingy white overalls and cap every time I saw him. I thought I oughtta stop and ask him if he might have the wheel I sought laying around, or at least a lead on one. Old garage guys know things and have connections. 

He said that he didn’t know if he had such a wheel – but I was welcome to poke around out back and look.

“Oh, there’s a back?”

“Yessir. Mind the snakes.”

I pushed open a rickety home-made gate and entered his unadvertised, private bone-yard. I took one look around and knew that I had to return to my car to fetch my Contessa. I’d never been one of those guys who always carries a loaded camera “just in case” – but I happened to have one today – and this was a fine case.


About 20 years ago, I inherited nearly a thousand rolls of film from some photojournalist friends who had gone digital. I’m still shooting from that stockpile, although I’m down to my last 50 or so rolls. The Contessa happened to be loaded with some less-than-ideal film for the circumstances. It was already an overcast day – and the back featured a dense canopy, beneath which the conditions were dark, moist, quiet, and positively saturated with vibrant emerald greens… and here I was armed with very expired and relatively slow Porta 160NC. Add to this that the Tessar 45/2.8 is not a particularly fast lens – and not very sharp wide open. 

My whole reason for being there – the 1950 Plymouth wheel – became something of an afterthought as I became entranced by this outdoor museum of old Studebakers, crushed forklifts, rotting hearses, towers of disintegrating Detroitiana, and mouldering yellow school buses with broken windows. I did see a snake. I wandered slowly from this copse of trees to that and shot quietly away.

I made a tripod of two feet and a knee, steadied myself against tree trunks, and hoped my reassembly was done correctly. 

Several months earlier, I had noticed that there was what appeared to be mold in between the elements. Many advised me to ignore it. The photos would come out fine, they said; but I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I disassembled a camera for the first time, cleaned the lenses, greased the helicoid, reassembled and struggled with getting infinity focus to work properly.

This shoot was the test that would show if it was done right. I wished it was being tested under lower-stakes conditions – I really wanted these shots to be good.

Then I came upon a mountain of wheels and remembered why I was there. As I beheld the impressive pile, it dawned on me that I would really only be able to recognize a 1950 Plymouth wheel if it was actually mounted on a 1950 Plymouth. There may very well have been the wheel I wanted somewhere in that mountain – but I wouldn’t have been able to identify it. Hell – maybe they were all 1950 Plymouth wheels! The old man didn’t seem inclined to help me rummage through the weed-choked rubble to find one either.

I left without a wheel but I am pleased with how the shots turned out. I think it was a worthy trade-off.

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21 thoughts on “Mission, Distraction, Epiphany in 5 Frames, featuring a Zeiss Ikon Contessa and Portra 160 – By Martin Misiak”

  1. This is one of the beautiful occasions when a good story and great photography come together on a site like this. Too often at least one of these two parts is lacking, but in this case we all benefit from your choice to drive such an obsolete car, go looking for the wheel where you did, that you chose to take photos nonetheless and decided to let us know about it with some impressive proof to go with it. This really looks like a place to go back to. You still need that wheel, after all, don’t you (bring more film, too!).

    1. Thanks for the kind words.
      Regarding the wheels – would you believe that I found a guy on FB Marketplace that just gave me a full set? He lived no more than 30 min from that junkyard.

  2. Some seriously nice shots here. Now, about your wheel…

    Do some googling and find a vintage Plymouth forum on the web. Join it. Ask them what size wheel you need. Get on eBay Automotive. Bob’s your uncle. It’s also possible your existing wheel could be straightened – that’s another question for the forum.

  3. In terms of the wheels for your 1950 Plymouth, there isn’t necessarily a dedicated wheel for 1950 Plymouth, as opposed to a 1952 Plymouth, or a 1960 Chevrolet, for example. You need to know the bolt pattern, wheel diameter, and wheel offset. As long as you have a matching set, it doesn’t matter if one of the wheels came off a different car of a different year, or not. It’s all about the specs of the individual wheels. You knew that, right?

    As for the photos, I think they are lovely. I particularly like the shot of the van with the ferns sprouting up and out of the cowl area. Your camera did you right on this day.

    1. Thanks for the comments on the photos. As for the wheels, I do have the details about the dimensions of my wheels somewhere – but I don’t trust my ability to identify an appropriate set even with a tape measurer handy. In any case, I have scored a matching set of four and now she’s rolling right. Thanks.

    2. I understand. I have the dimensions of my wheels somewhere. But even if I was armed with a tape measure, I am not confident that I’d be able to correctly pick out a similar wheel. i just don’t have the experience. In any case, I actually scored a whole set of four from a nice old guy who happened to live a few miles away from this yard, so she’s rolling nicely now.
      Thanks for your comments on the shots.

  4. Daniel Castelli

    Great photos! Only someone who has poked about these abandoned junk yards can really appreciate the spell they cast upon you.
    I grew up next to my grandparents and their former farm. Living through the depression in the 1930’s, they saved everything, including dead cars. Because, you know, you never know when you’ll going to need the hood of a 1939 Ford sedan. I began to photograph the ‘yard’ in 1970, and I too encountered rattlesnakes, copperheads, skunk, etc. (even here in Connecticut) s as well as very nasty wasp nests. I feared the wasps more than the snakes.
    Thanks for bringing back the memories I have of swamp photography.

  5. Good shots and story. One wonders why some people in rural areas–even close to cities–keep junky old cars lying around and deteriorating. The cost of removing them would be great, and why bother if the gomment isn’t making you remove them, but why do people accumulate such junk in the first place? Just wondering.

  6. I’m very seriously considering goin* back to film. These photos have totally swayed my opinion. They are moody and fabulous.
    I started out taking photos of cars & parts 53 years ago. Now I’m just a flower/plant nature girl. Always looking for a good hike in the woods.
    Very well done sir.

    1. Wow. Thank you for your nice comments. I’m happy to have helped reignite your old interest. Please do go forth and share your photos!

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