Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.
The Engulfed Death Car of Tandy Creek
Up until the early 1980's, automobiles could still drive right into Tandy Hills from View Street. There was no cable to stop them. Some were couples looking for a place to "park". Some were looking to dump trash or steal topsoil. Others, probably thrill-seekers, wondered how far the road went and what was out there in the tall grass.
From the street Tandy Hills looked like a big wide-open-flat-as-a-pancake prairie. There wasn't an actual "road", only footpaths cut through the grass. Any fool driving out there often got more than they bargained for. Take a wrong turn and you end up staring death in the face as did the unfortunate lovers who crashed into the Witchey Tree.
Today, the rusted bones of four vehicles still litter the Tandy Hills. Besides the infamous, Witchey Tree Dodge Van, there's an old '54 Chevy sedan and a 70's model Chevy pickup scattered across the park. All can be found by the curious, with a little effort.
But there is one vehicle, an old car, that is better left unseen. It ended up in the creek many years ago after what must have been a horrifying accident. Most of the time it remains hidden from view, consumed by the earth and waters that flow through Tandy Creek. But on certain October nights, in some inexplicable way, it becomes unearthed and reigns terror onto any unsuspecting hiker who happens by.
Be forewarned. You never want to encounter...
"How the car and its driver became entombed in Tandy Creek is uncertain."
How the car and its driver became entombed in Tandy Creek is uncertain. Rumors persist that, having lost his way home after a night of bar hopping along East Lancaster, a man drove his car down the main trail at Tandy Hills, thinking it was his driveway. It was after dark and a heavy thunderstorm was rolling through the city. I think it was about 1979.
After driving some distance across the prairie, the man eventually went downhill ending up in Tandy Creek. Unable to get the car restarted, he attempted to get out but the door was jammed shut. Overcome by his ordeal and stinking drunk, he fell into semi-consciousness as storm waters slowly engulfed his car, pushing it downstream.
The body was never found and the car was so far from the road that police just left it in the creek where it was soon forgotten. The tale of how I discovered the mysterious car is a one of unimaginable terror. It's enough to make one hurry out of the park when evening light darkens. I, for one, would not want to get caught standing on top of this submerged death machine. Once was enough.
I first saw the car in about 1996. It was a crisp October afternoon, cheerful spikes of Liatris sp.waved like purple flags on the hillsides. Maximillian Sunflowers glowed golden among the tall grass. I was taking a casual hike down the dry creek bed, just sauntering aimlessly, kicking at the occasional fossil. A chilly wind whistled through the dry air. Wood smoke, traveling on invisible wind currents from the nearby neighborhoods, was a welcome aroma.
"... cheerful spikes of Liatris sp. waved like purple flags on the hillsides."
Up ahead a weird noise caught my ear. It sounded almost like a car engine shutting off. "No way", I thought to myself. I started a bit when I first laid eyes on it, reluctant to approach in the gathering gloom. "This is too weird.", I said aloud.
It was indeed a car, buried half way up the doors in one of the deepest parts of the creek-bed. The make and model were obliterated. Rocks, mud and trash filled what was left of the tattered, seats. Tree limbs stuck out the back window. The body was badly dented and covered in damp creek slime. Curiously, there was a slight odor of cigarette smoke in the partially crushed cab. Touching the hood, I was alarmed to feel that it was slightly warm, despite the chilly temp outside.
I was even more alarmed to see a set of keys stuck in the ignition. They dangled slightly in the breeze, a cool, pair of dice hanging from the chain. I couldn't resist reaching for them only to find they were stuck. I leaned further in and jiggled them firmly when suddenly, the air was penetrated by a loud scream! I felt the hair on my neck stand up stiff, banging my head as I pulled quickly out of the cab.
Looking fearfully over my shoulder I saw that it was only a noisy Crow, its huge, black wings flapping in silhouette against the dirty yellow moon above my head. That's all the warning I needed as I scrambled out of the creek and got back on the trail, a cold wind pushing me homeward.
A few days later I got the nerve to go back for another look. "It was just my mind running away with me", I thought. The wind-swayed trees, the Crow, the darkness: they just stirred up the panic disorder I had recently come to grips with. Nothing to be afraid of. Or so I thought.
To my astonishment, the car had vanished. Thinking I was at the wrong spot, I canvassed the creek for some distance in both directions. Not a trace. I finally gave up the search and went back home, eventually putting the whole thing out of my mind.
Most people are familiar with that creepy tingle that can happen when you discover that you are standing atop a grave at a cemetery. We've all done it by accident, usually moving off quickly as soon as we realize our error. To this day, I am extra careful of my footing when duty calls me to attend a gravesite service of a friend or relative.
You never know what's going on under your feet.
That eerie feeling comes back to me as I recall what happened the next time I found myself in the creek bottoms of Tandy Hills. By chance, it was Halloween, 1998. My wife and I had been preparing for a gaggle of trick-or-treaters. With a little time to kill before dark, I laced up my boots, grabbed my camera and headed for the hills to stretch my legs.
Hiking purposely across the tall grass prairie, I spotted a murder of Crows off in the distance. I decided to follow and see if I could get a shot of them with my camera. Most people don't know that Crows are the smartest of all birds. It's rare to get very close to them because they've learned to steer clear of humans.
The waning Harvest moon was rising on the eastern horizon. Twilight was coming on fast, so I hastened my pace. I wanted to get back home before the trick-or-treaters darkened our door.
The Crows seemed to be perched in the tallest Bur Oak trees down near the bottom. The north wind blew their squawks my direction. Without really thinking, I entered the creek-bed, a good distance from the Crows perch. Trying to be quiet, I stuck to the sides of the creek, away from the gravelly middle so the softer dirt would muffle my footsteps. I crept closer to the birds, fighting through cobwebs and privet that choked the edges of the bank.
"The waning Harvest moon was rising on the eastern horizon."
A flicker of fading sunlight illuminated the treetops where I spotted the Crows, much closer than I had ever been to them before. I pulled the camera out of my pocket and focused the zoom. Just then, the wind gusted, stirring the leaves and blocking my view. I gingerly took a couple of short steps into the middle of the rock-strewn creek so I could get a better view. Squinting into the camera, I refocused.
Suddenly, I heard a loud roar and it was NOT the startled Crows who suddenly bolted across the steel blue sky. It was the sound of an engine cranking to life. I was so nervous I dropped my camera. My legs were shaking and making a terrible racket. At least, that's what I thought until looked down. It wasn't just my legs shaking, it was the rocks and gravel under my feet. They were vibrating and,
Struggling to keep down my panic, I soon realized that my head was now as high as the the top of the steep, creek bank. The car engine without a muffler echoed loudly inside the walls of the creek-bed as the engine was being gunned. Looking down again, I discovered to my shock that I was standing on the battered, smashed-in top of a car. THE car! It was somehow rising from the depths of the creek with me standing on top.
As I labored to keep my footing the engine gunned again. The car angrily vibrated like some wild beast. It was now sitting fully on top of the creek-bed, it's rusted, nearly rubber-less wheels making a crunching sound on the gravel and rocks as it slowly rolled backwards. Partly falling and partly jumping for dear life I leaped off, crashing hard on the gravel as I landed.
"Looking fearfully over my shoulder I saw that it was only a noisy Crow..."
Without warning the car lurched forward, then stopped just as suddenly. I struggled to my feet and took a few steps backwards, my eyes never leaving the unbelievable vision before me. The car lurched again, this time moving slowly forward, around the bend in the creek as the engine revved ever higher.
I gazed around the bend straining my eyes in the twilight, as the deafening sound literally shook the towering Oaks that lined the bank. As falling leaves drifted down, the car started down the creek. But how? A car can't drive itself, especially one that was recently buried. So, who's driving, for crying out loud? Was he, she, it recently buried, too? And who, tell me who, just turned on the headlights???
Peering into the darkness, my face drained of all color, I could see the car sitting dead-still, it's faded red taillights bathed the creek in freakish, pink light. Shading my eyes, I stared deeper into the gloom, and there it was.
A pale-skinned human hand hangs limply out the window. A cigarette pinched between two bony fingers is flipped away and the hand withdrawn. For a few tense seconds, everything seems to stand still. The car engine idled gently, as if the apparition was waiting for me to do something. The hand reappeared and with a quick upward motion tossed something high in the air, towards me.
I found myself staring skywards, unblinking, watching in slow-motion as a vintage pair-o-dice keychain fell silently into my outstretched palm.
Then with a final, mighty roar of the engine the car wheels spun furiously, scattering gravel and sparks in their wake, smoke and dust filling the air. I jumped aside as the car disappeared into the darkness, with me gaping like a dead fish in the smoke-filled creek bed.
In the daytime, Tandy Hills is one of the most inviting green spaces in Fort Worth. The wildflowers, tall grasses and gentle hills are Mother Nature at her finest. But something sinister goes on out there after the sun goes down, something very unnatural.
Who knows, maybe it's the spirits of slaughtered Indians buried on the prairie a century ago, come back to haunt any man who stumbles by. Or Mother Nature herself, avenging the destruction of her domain by short-sighted, greedy developers. Or maybe it's just the spirits of dead, drunken drivers who inhabit the abandoned vehicles that haunt the Tandy hills and valleys.
Whatever it is, the macabre event I witnessed made a lasting impression on me. My panic disorder resurfaced with a vengeance after that harrowing Halloween night in 1998. You will certainly, never again, find me down in those dark and spooky creek beds. Just as I always do at grave sites, I now give the Tandy Creek a wide berth.
You never know what's going on under your feet.
"... something sinister goes on out there after the sun goes down, something very unnatural."