The once-stuck and seemingly permanent hillside car in Clinton is no more.
A group of four intrepid businessmen took it upon themselves to remove the car from a private property hillside near Highway 525 and Bob Galbreath Road this week. Spurred by a Record story about the car’s origin and perceived meaning, Kevin Lungren, Colin Campbell, Fred Lundahl and Shane Thompson towed the car off the hill Wednesday morning. Their reason was simple: people want to see Clinton improved, and they didn’t want to wait for anyone else to help the natural beauty of the area flourish.
“Unless the people who live here care for where they live, unless you’re willing to take action yourself, you can’t ask others,” Campbell said moments prior to overseeing the truck towing the car about 100 feet down to a barbershop and commercial building along the highway.
Campbell, owner-operator of Cadée Distillery, and Lungren of Edward Jones Investments in Clinton spent Tuesday afternoon preparing for the endeavor. They spent the past week or so planning. They had asked the permission of the property owner, former Langley mayor Paul Samuelson, and found a way to dispose of the car courtesy of Island Recycling.
More than permission and disposal, the car’s removal required some lumberjacking. The car was lodged against an alder estimated to be at least 30 years old. With much of the undercarriage rusted out, rolling it down the hill on four flat tires was impractical. Instead, the men flipped it onto the roof, Campbell said, “like a sled.”
“It’s kind of a landmark.”
Port of South Whidbey commissioner
“This thing’s been eaten alive,” he said.
Years ago, though no one is certain exactly when, a driver attempted a straight, downhill, off-road commute from the restaurant that is now Hong Kong Gardens to the highway. The trip was short lived, however, as the Mazda coupe hit a young alder head on. With the car pulled down from the brush and bramble, the Washington state license plate had car tabs dated October 1990.
“That was the way somebody’s night ended sometime,” said Curt Gordon, a nearly lifelong Clinton resident, Port of South Whidbey Commissioner and Clinton Community Council member.
It made its annual appearance every fall and winter as leaves fell and exposed the bright yellow, decaying car on the hillside. Any vigilant commuters and visitors traveling north on the highway could spot it, clear as day, partway down the hill.
“It’s kind of a landmark,” Gordon said. When the cafe Anchor Books and Coffee operated just a few years ago, he said it was an odd conversation starter to sit at a table and look up at the car and wonder.
Efforts to improve the area’s aesthetics have been somewhat successful. The Washington State Department of Transportation conducts more frequent clearing of vegetation along the walkway to the ferry. Flower plantings near Clinton Community Hall add springtime color. Radar signs help slow the traffic as it zips and zooms to and from the ferry terminal. Treasure Island, the former everything yard/barn shop across the highway, closed last year. All of those changes began a process of altering the identity of Whidbey Island’s southern gateway from what some criticized as being the wrong kind of visual aesthetic for visitors to Clinton.
“I don’t think it is emblematic,” Lungren said of the decrepit car representing Clinton’s commercial struggles. Large vacancies still dot the main business area, with Anchor Books’ former location and several spots in the small strip mall near the Clinton Food Mart empty.
“I believe to my core in 10 years we won’t recognize Clinton,” he added.
But taking the car down may be a bridge too far. Some members of the Clinton Community Council, the group of volunteers working on long-range planning and giving the unincorporated area a voice to the county and state, didn’t even know the old sedan was there.
“If it’s there, we ought to just leave it,” Clinton Community Council President Jack Lynch laughed, prior to the car’s removal. “It fits with the iconic nature of Clinton, one more feature that makes us outstanding in our own way.”
Despite its prominent color among the earth tones of the thicket, many longtime Clinton residents had not noticed it prior to The Record’s story. Neither Lynch nor Clinton Progressive Association President and Clinton Thursday Market organizer Carol Flax had seen it until alerted of its existence and location.
Several efforts are underway to help identify the commercial prospects for Clinton’s business hub near the terminal, from creating a sense of place through traffic mitigation to events. Also, business owners and volunteers are trying to spark interest in growth. They want people to consider Clinton, and those endeavors are more important to the policymakers and long-range goals of Clinton.
In an interview this past week, Gordon said the hillside car could have been an unconventional way of accomplishing economic development or at least creating identity.
“Let’s make the car into the Fremont Troll and get the off-island tourists to stop and take some pictures,” he said, referring to the iconic Volkswagen Beetle that is covered in concrete like a troll under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle.
But such possibilities appear past. The car was taken to Island Recycling, where it will remain for scrap or restoration or any interested parties — or the original owner.
“Anyone who actually cares about that vehicle can go to Island Recycling and get it,” Campbell said.