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As Eclipse Madness Sweeps U.S., A Stonehenge Made Of Cars Prepares

Aug 10, 2017
Originally published on August 14, 2017 11:46 am

Later this month, the moon's shadow will fall on Carhenge.

"Holy cow man, guess what? There's going to be an eclipse," says Kevin Howard, the head of the visitor's bureau for Alliance, Neb., which is home to the Stonehenge replica made of cars.

Alliance, with a population of about 8,500, is preparing for a deluge of visitors, including the state's governor, who has announced he will view the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse from Carhenge. Howard says the town is planning concerts, a 30-team softball tournament, a Native American powwow, plus all the churches will put out their best spreads. "There's nothing better than a meal at the church," he says. "Those ladies put out the good stuff."

The ancients who built Carhenge back in 1987 didn't know about this eclipse. Carhenge was the brainchild of a local named Jim Reinders, a petroleum engineer who spent years working in England. While there, he became acquainted with the prehistoric site of Stonehenge. It was built of giant rocks that people dragged for miles from the quarries. Archaeologists think the original Stonehenge was built to mark celestial events, such as the solstice.

Reinders wanted to build a version of Stonehenge as a memorial to his dad, who had passed away a few years earlier. But stones seemed heavy and cumbersome.

"So he decided if we build it out of cars, the wheels on it would greatly simplify the logistics," says Howard. "And besides that, there's not a stone in Nebraska that would work."

During a family reunion, Reinders' relatives rolled up with a bunch of old jalopies and erected Carhenge.

"Jim says it took a lot of blood, sweat and beers," says Howard.

People have been visiting Carhenge ever since.

Howard says the site has many draws. Photographers like the way the light plays on the different parts of the cars, he says. Car aficionados love trying to figure out which models were used in its construction. "Some people actually come to Carhenge expecting a mystical magical experience," he says.

"Carhenge is whatever you want it to be to you," he says. But, he concedes, it's primarily a replica of Stonehenge made of cars.

Anyone who wants to view the eclipse from Carhenge will be welcomed with open arms. And also, plenty of parking. "Aug. 21 is after the beans will be cut, after the oats will be cut, so we have fields that are open," says Howard. "We have a lot of room."

Update at 10 a.m. ET on Friday: Howard says the beans won't be cut by Aug. 21, so please don't park on them.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we're going to turn now to Nebraska and a roadside attraction that mixes mysticism and Motown. It's Carhenge.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Rising like monoliths from ancient times stands a formation of vintage American automobiles which replicates Stonehenge.

GREENE: I have to visit this place. It has been trapping tourists since the 1980s. And now, NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports that Carhenge is gearing up for a moment in the sun, or rather, 2 minutes and 30 seconds in the shade. Carhenge is right in the path of this month's total solar eclipse.

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GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: So I never thought I'd be waiting on hold with the Visitors Bureau of Alliance, Neb., but these are unusual times.

KEVIN HOWARD: Hi, Geoff.

BRUMFIEL: Hello. Is that Kevin?

HOWARD: Yeah, this is Kevin. I'm sorry.

BRUMFIEL: Kevin Howard is in charge of eclipse planning, and his phone is ringing nonstop because later this month, the moon's shadow will fall on Carhenge.

HOWARD: Holy cow, man. Guess what? There's going to be an eclipse.

BRUMFIEL: He says the ancients who built Carhenge back in 1987 didn't know about this eclipse. It was a local named Jim Reinders who wanted to build a version of Stonehenge as a tribute to his dad. Now, the original Stonehenge in England was used to mark celestial events. It was built of giant rocks that prehistoric people dragged for miles from the quarries. But Jim was an engineer, a practical-minded guy.

HOWARD: So he decided, if we build it out of cars, the wheels on them would greatly simplify the logistics.

BRUMFIEL: During a family reunion, Reinders' relatives rolled up with a bunch of old jalopies and erected Carhenge. And people have been coming ever since.

HOWARD: Carhenge is one of the things that brought me to Alliance. I wanted to know - what's the magic? What's the thing that makes an upright junkyard into a tourist attraction?

BRUMFIEL: And how long have you been there now?

HOWARD: I've been there six years.

BRUMFIEL: Any insights?

HOWARD: I haven't figured it out at all.

BRUMFIEL: Howard says the town is expecting thousands to swarm Carhenge for the eclipse. They're planning concerts, a softball tournament. The local churches will put out all their best spreads.

HOWARD: And there's nothing better than a meal at the church. Those ladies put out the good stuff.

BRUMFIEL: You know what else Carhenge will have? Plenty of parking. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MASERATI'S "THIEVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.