Rust and roots

"Rust and roots" is an up-close look at what happens when vintage cars meet untamed nature. Tracy Smith leads us into the woods:

In a forest an hour's drive north of Atlanta, an unusual museum has taken root.

It is, says Dean Lewis, "a 34-acre piece of art."

It also happens to be something else: a junkyard.

Lewis is the owner, and one could say, the curator, of Old Car City USA, in White, Ga. -- quite possibly the most stunning junkyard you'll ever see.

"I don't think anyone else has 4,200 whole American cars 1972 and older," he said.

And if they do, no one keeps them in a garage quite like this. Detroit may have designed these rides, but Mother Nature has done all the detailing -- from the big-finned Cadillacs, to the rare 1941 Mack milk truck.

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One of the 4,200 vehicles on display at Old Car City USA.
CBS News

Some cars have grown right up with the trees; others have become two-ton flower pots.

This wild ride started in 1931, when Dean Lewis' parents bought a plot of land and opened a general store.

"No electricity, no paved roads," Lewis said. "Gas was 19 cents a gallon. Apples one cent each. Later they bought an old junk car or two, sold parts. Made another dollar in Depression time. Several years later I was born. Born in a junkyard!"

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Old Car City USA owner Dean Lewis with correspondent Tracy Smith.
CBS News

Smith asked, "When you were a kid, you played around in all the junk cars?"

"Oh, I drove 'em a million miles. Never moved an inch!"

After high school, Lewis spent a few years saving up money working as a truck terminal manager, and then -- one by one -- he started picking up used cars (more than 4,000) and hauling them home, so his parents could sell off their parts.

For almost five decades, the Lewis family had the best car parts business around.

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Clint Brownlee

But as many of their cars rusted and rotted and began to merge with the landscape , Lewis had an epiphany -- to turn what was a junkyard into a museum.

"Over 30 years ago I told my son and daughter, Jeff and Tracy, that this place would probably turn into a showplace one day rather than a sales place," Lewis said. "And it has."

A showplace, indeed. Every year hundreds of visitors pay $15 to stroll around ($25 if they want to bring a camera) just to take in that strange, organic harmony of rust and roots.