Curious Vehicular Art Installation in Texas

Dec 17, 2011 0 comments

While most old vehicles end up at scrapyards for recycling, Texas people have a peculiar way of disposing them. If you drive on Interstate 4 between Plant City and Tampa, you will see it. Eight silver Airstream mobile trailers shoved into the ground, tilting eastward at a roughly 20-degree angle like a stack of dominoes about to topple. It’s creator Frank Bates has dubbed it Airstream Ranch, a homage to both Texas' Cadillac Ranch (another art installation which we will soon see) and Airstream - a popular brand of trailers he happens to sell at his recreational vehicle dealership Bates RV.

“Their wrinkled aluminum skins reflect the sunlight, even on a recent overcast afternoon, creating a diversion that is almost impossible to ignore”, writes Gary White on


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Bates originally wanted to install shiny, pristine Airstreams, but settled for old trailers which he bought from a junkyard. Since Airstream Ranch was installed in 2007, it has attracted attention worldwide drawing tourists from as far away as Japan. It was the backdrop for a fashion shoot and has been featured in a country music video, and two people even asked if they could marry there. But the neighbors hate it and Frank Bates had to fight it out in court to prevent local authorities from tearing it down. It took two years of legal battle but in the end the judge ruled that Airstream Ranch can stay.


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Airstream Ranch was inspired by a similar art installation in Amarillo, Texas – called Cadillac Ranch.

Standing along Route 66 the Cadillac Ranch was invented and built by a group of art-hippies who called themselves The Ant Farm, and their silent partner was Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. He wanted a piece of public art that would baffle the locals, and the hippies came up with a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. Ten Cadillac - from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville- were driven into one of Stanley Marsh 3's fields, half-buried, nose-down, supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza.

When the Cadillac Ranch was installed in 1974, people would stop along the highway, walk out to view the cars then deface them or rip off pieces as souvenirs. Stanley Marsh 3 and The Ant Farm were tolerant of this public deconstruction of their art - although it doomed the tail fins - and eventually came to encourage it. Today, the Cadillacs are stripped to their battered frames, splattered in spray paint, barely recognizable as automobiles. Yet Cadillac Ranch is more popular than ever.

A tribute to the Cadillac Ranch was featured in the animation movie Cars, it appeared in numerous music videos, and was featured in songs by various artist including John Stewart and Bruce Springsteen.

The cars are periodically repainted various colors. Once it was painted white for the filming of a television commercial, another time pink in honor of Stanley's wife Wendy's birthday, and yet another time all 10 cars were painted flat black to mark the passing of Ant Farm artist Doug Michels. A new coat of paint usually lasts less than 24 hours before fresh graffiti starts to appear.

If you decide to pay Cadillac Ranch a visit, make sure you bring along a spray can.


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Official websites: Airstream Ranch, Cadillac Ranch

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Also see Carhenge: The Stonehenge of Vintage American Cars


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