Compact Revival

Legend suggests most barn find stories begin when a pair of well-weathered doors are carefully pried open for the first time in half a century, allowing a beam of sunlight to pierce the dusty, stale air within and illuminate a long-forgotten yet highly coveted rarity from days of yore. Typically, this kind of story starts with Joe McSmitherson, from Anywhere, USA, venturing out on his acreage to cut firewood, only to happen upon an old barn he didn’t even know existed.

In truth, barn finds start long before the automotive discovery: Who owned it, how was it used, and just how the heck did it end up in a dilapidated structure to begin with? Lucky are those who can easily put the puzzle pieces together, like John Kunkel, who owns what is arguably one of the more diminutive—yet no less compelling—barn finds recorded in his native state of Pennsylvania: this 1948 Crosley station wagon.

“My wife, Sharon, and I go to church with a lady named Darleen Smith; we have done so for years and years. When you know people that long, you get to know each other’s hobbies, and she knew that I like to play with old cars. One day she asked me if I’d be interested in her mother’s old Crosley. I had no idea the family even had one; she had never mentioned the car once. Well, my father had a Crosley when he was a young man, so I’m a little familiar with them, and I thought I might as well see Darleen’s car. That was in 2012,” John says

The Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, resident made the relatively quick trip to Carlisle to see Darleen’s Crosley, but rather than being directed to a well-kept garage or and old barn, John was sent to what had been an old airplane hangar constructed of cinder blocks and a rudimentary wood beam roof. Lifting the wide door wasn’t much of a struggle.

According to Darleen, her father had played around with airplanes for years. He had purchased land about a mile from the present-day Carlisle Fairgrounds and built a small airstrip along with the hangar where he and his friends would store their planes, more or less right in their backyard. It was during this period that Darleen’s father purchased the Crosley for his wife.

“I’m thinking that happened in 1952. Darleen’s father had every oil change documented on that car; it starts in ’52 and goes to ’58. The mileage and date are all recorded on a register that was glued to the driver’s side door post,” John says. “Darleen was a young girl then, and she and her sister still have a lot of fond memories of riding around in the Crosley with their mother, who I’m told was a petite person. She must have stopped driving it in ’58—beyond the last recorded oil change, the car was wearing a ’58 license plate and inspection sticker, and the last insurance card in the car was from ’58, too. Around the time he quit flying airplanes, Darleen’s parents parked the Crosley in the hangar to store it and keep it out of the weather,” John says.

Darleen admitted to John that over the years the family had received several purchase offers, but she and her sister turned each one down for a variety of reasons. Eventually the offers stopped, and most of the locals began to ignore the old hangar. Over time, Darleen witnessed the diligence and care that John showed his own collection of vintage vehicles, and she felt he was the right person to preserve a part of her family’s legacy. Negotiations were swift, and soon John was tasked with relocating the long-dormant compact; by then, the aging structure was surrounded by a sprawling residential development and town park. There was one thing John needed to do before he brought the Crosley home to Boiling Springs.

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