No joke: After nearly 30 years, Edgerton's funny half-car must go, city council says

The half-car in Edgerton, Kansas: A town eyesore or gag monument?

Danny O'Neal says he's been told he has to remove a half car that has been a whimsical Edgerton, Kansas, monument for decades. He says it's a shame, but a city councilman say the joke has worn thin.
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Danny O'Neal says he's been told he has to remove a half car that has been a whimsical Edgerton, Kansas, monument for decades. He says it's a shame, but a city councilman say the joke has worn thin.

It may be true that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

But in Edgerton, Kan., on Wednesday, the city council of the town of 1,700 ruled that Danny O'Neal's treasure is just junk and it needs to be hauled off.

At a special morning meeting, the three council members in attendance decided unanimously for the city attorney to draft a resolution to finally be rid of the front half of a rusted 1987 Chevrolet Citation that for close to 30 years sat as a joke just inside the Johnson County town's northern border.

The car was placed alongside U.S. 56 by Ray Braun, a one-time mayor who for 60 years owned the now defunct Ray's Service Station. Braun, who died at age 90 in 2012, long ago placed the half-car on the service station's property with a wood sign hanging from the driver's door as a gag:

"Divorced. She got 1/2."

Part of the joke: He was never divorced.

To some Edgerton residents, the half-car has for years been seen as a welcoming post, a kind of unofficial eyesore monument.

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O'Neal, 61, bought the service station land, and, thus, the stationary half-car three years ago. He appeared at the council meeting accompanied by Braun's son, 64-year-old Bill Braun, to argue that the two-tone half-car, painted rusty orange and faded white, with wasps buzzing inside, deserved special consideration.

Bill Braun, who lives in Baldwin City, had called it "a monument."

But O'Neal, who also owns 10 acres in nearby Gardner, said he could immediately tell that whatever argument he made was being greeted with rolling eyes.

"It was a kangaroo court," O'Neal said after the meeting. "They had their decision made."

The resolution, to be officially voted on at the council's regular 7 p.m. Thursday meeting, calls for the half-car to be moved by May 7 by the owner. If not moved, the city will move it at the owner's expense.

Edgerton Mayor Don Roberts, 49, said it's not that he isn't sympathetic to the cause.

"From a personal standpoint, I have sentimental attachment to the car," Roberts said. "Full disclosure, the original owner of that car, Ray Braun, is a guy I respected immensely."

Also, Roberts, years ago, was the one working in his father's body shop when Ray Braun brought in the old Citation to get it sawed in half.

"I was the one who physically cut the car in half. It was me," aided by his dad, Roberts said. He also is the one who drove the half-car down to Ray's Service Station.

But Roberts said that it's his responsibility to follow city codes.

The car does not run. It has no tags. It has been sitting on flat tires in the same spot for years.

O'Neal and Braun said that in 2014 the city sent a letter saying that the car violated codes and needed to be moved. But officials, they said, later backed off by unofficially declaring the car to be a kind of local artifact.

But Roberts said that whatever might have been verbally agreed to years ago is not something the city council is obligated to take into consideration now. He said city codes enacted in 1993 and reviewed in 2005 don't allow disabled vehicles to just sit and rot away for years. The codes have exemptions that allow cars to remain if, for example, they are part of an ongoing business and are stored inside enclosures or behind fences.

But the half-car at the city line fits none of those exemptions, Roberts said.

Why the car wasn't hauled off years ago, he could not say.

“Why not five, 10, 15, 30 years ago? I don't have an answer for that," Roberts said. He can say that this year the city received a couple of complaints about the car that forced officials to take action.

O'Neal and Braun said they hope that citizens turn out at Thursday night's city council meeting to stick up for the half-car. Roberts thinks that even if they do, the council, unlike the car it seems, will be unmoved.

If that's the case, O'Neal's wife, Jane, said she would be willing to have the car out of sight on their 10 acres in Gardner.

"I would not expect a change," Roberts said of the council. "We're not trying to be vindictive or anything like that. We're just trying to follow the law as written."