Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Singing to soothe my sons


I have three sons — a stepson pushing 30 and two teens. I’ve been thinking back on their lives as one of my sons turns 18 today and is making transitions toward his adult life.

I was there when the younger two boys entered the world. I did my best to be a good dad to my baby boys, and my fatherly duties naturally included soothing them when they were unhappy or sick. Like most kids, they’re unmistakably like their mother and father but night-and-day different from each other. But when they were in distress, both of them calmed down when I sang to them.

The older son was good natured from the start. It’s as if he awoke every morning and said to himself, “I think I’m going to have a happy day, and make sure everybody around me does too,” and then set about making it so. He filled his days with big smiles for everyone who caught his gaze. He encountered everything – toy, television show, meal, our dog, other children – with such joy and delight you’d think it was long lost and beloved.

Yet colic plagued him the first nine months of his life. He’d start to feel bad by late afternoon each day, and by the time I came home from work he was fully miserable and wailing like an air-raid siren. His frazzled mother immediately handed him off to me and and disappeared to seek relief.

Now, I cared about my poor son’s suffering. But honestly, I mostly just wanted his eardrum-piercing shrieks to end. You could hear the boy out in the yard even when all the windows and doors were closed. I quickly figured out that holding him to my chest as I paced through the house calmed him some. I tried singing to him as I paced and found that some songs calmed him a little while others had no effect. So I tried every song in my repertoire. When I sang this obscure Paul McCartney and Wings song to him, he went limp and silent in my arms. So I sang it to him over and over, pacing the length of our ranch-style home every night for hours at a time. Finally, blessedly, the colic ended.

My younger son, on the other hand, approached life with steely determination. Think Chuck Norris out to get the bad guys. The boy quickly sized up a situation, identified his goal, and set about achieving it. His first conquest was the couch. It was cute at first to watch him grunt and struggle to pull himself up off the floor and onto the seat cushions. But after he achieved that, he set his mountain-climber sights on the couch’s arm, then the side table, and then the side-table’s lamp, which was not going to end well. We had to keep an eagle eye on that kid!

But with each new objective his desires outpaced his abilities at first. He would try and fail, and try and fail, and try and fail, getting angrier and angrier all the way. Soon his frustration would consume him and he’d just cry in hard fury, turning brick red and gasping through his sobs. I’d collect him into my arms, fall back into the big comfy recliner, and rock while I sang to him just hoping he’d catch a breath! At first this would make him cry harder, as if he was determined to stay angry. But soon he’d start to relax, and the crying would ebb, and finally he’d breathe easy. This gentle Paul Simon song was easy to sing quietly to him and soon I sang it habitually. After a while, just hearing me sing it calmed him.

Do you have children? What songs did you sing to them?

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because I first posted it in 2012.

Adding the Michigan Road to the modern Indiana highway system


Brace for impact: here comes a major road history post. I haven’t written one in ages.


The Michigan Road, highlighted in blue. Map © 2008 Google.

It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.

The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.

Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.

The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.

The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.

Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.

The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.


Plymouth Pilot-News, March 27, 1919 (click to enlarge)

Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.

Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.

Alas, State Road 1 was paved.

Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.

(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)

But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.


Maps courtesy Indiana University Libraries

The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.

Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) heading northeast from Logansport

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) in northeastern Logansport, heading toward Rochester

Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.

New! See an index of everything I’ve written about the Michigan Road here.

Recommended reading


Here are the best blog posts I read this week:

I’ve always been suspicious of the maxim “do something you love, and the money will follow.” Writing for Signal v. Noise, Jason Fried debunks that myth. Read Do you have to love what you do?

31 undeveloped rolls of film shot by a soldier during World War II were recently found, and usable images came from most of the rolls. Nikolaos Douralas tells these images’ story and shares some of the photos. Read Breathtaking Finding a lost part of History | 31 Undeveloped WW2 films Found.

Joseph Irvin reflects on enjoying a connection to past times, times before he was born, by favoring using things made in those times. Read An old-fashioned man

Captured: Terre Haute Coca-Cola Bottling Company


Terre Haute Coca-Cola Bottling Company

Shortly after I moved into my Terre Haute apartment in 1989, I rode my bike around the neighborhood with my camera in my hands. The local Coca-Cola bottling plant was only four blocks away, in a great art-deco building where they filled glass bottles of Coke. They still produced 10-ounce bottles, a real throwback even then. You could buy them in six packs at most local grocery stores. I drank a ton of them.

Times were changing. The plant stopped producing 10-ounce bottles within a couple years; by the mid-90s, even the standard 16-ounce bottles were done for. I hear that this plant now only warehouses Coke bottled elsewhere. And this great sign is gone. So much has changed in my old neighborhood since I left. I wish I’d shot a dozen rolls of film on that ride, rather than just this one. But film and processing weren’t cheap, and I didn’t have much money then, so I’m happy to have even this photo.

Sudden service

Sudden service
Pentax ME, 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Canon T70


From the beginning, the SLR moved inexorably from all mechanical, all manual toward full electronic automation. I happen to enjoy SLRs from the 1970s, which routinely feature open-aperture meteting and often aperture- or shutter-priority autoexposure, but manual everything else. To me, older SLRs feel like too much work with all that stopping down or no metering at all. And later SLRs are too easy: just frame and press the button.

Canon’s T series SLRs represent transition. The 1984 T70 automates everything but focusing. A few years later, Canon’s EOS series would finally automate that.

Canon T70

T-series cameras were the first SLRs to proudly look like they were made of plastic. Camera makers had been using more and more body plastic since the mid 1970s, but had the decency to paint those parts to sort of look like they were still metal. With the T series, Canon said nuts to it. They also said nuts to dials and knobs, changing over to little buttons with an LED window that shows settings. Curiosity and low price ($30 shipped) drove me to buy one: how would this plastic-fantastic camera handle?

One aspect of the T70 felt familiar: setting the aperture ring to A for automatic exposure. Beyond that, as a devotee of mechanical SLRs I was in uncharted territory. I liked that the T70 wound and rewound the film for me. That’s why the T70 looks kind of lopsided, by the way: the winder and the battery chamber are hidden within that enormous grip. And the heavens sang Hallelujah: the T70 takes two AAs, not some discontinued battery like so many old cameras. However, somewhere deep inside that body lies a lithium battery that remembers your settings. Replacing it involves taking the camera apart. Ick.

Canon T70

The big and bright viewfinder takes a little of the sting out of knowing that the internal battery will die one day. Will that render this camera inert? I hope never to find out. Also, despite that big grip making the T70 look unbalanced, it doesn’t feel that way in the hands. I found it to be quite comfortable.

Canon T70

But I found the controls to be uncomfortable. It would be several more years before camera makers figured out that it’s easier to twist a mode dial than to press buttons to cycle through modes. A dial is a great visual affordance: it seems obvious just by looking how to set your mode. The buttons require reading the manual, which all of us know means admitting defeat.

At least the T70 offers a generous range of exposure modes: three program modes, a shutter-priority mode, a couple of flash modes, and even a stop-down metering mode for when you’ve adapted a non-FD-mount lens. The T70 even offers full manual mode; you press DOWN and UP to select shutter speed. The T70 even offers two metering modes: center-weighted average and “selective area” which meters just the center 11 percent of the frame. Whatever modes you choose, your settings appear in the easy-to-read LCD panel.

My T70 came with an FD 50mm f/1.8 lens — a fine lens, as I learned when I shot one on my Canon AE-1 Program.

I shot an entire roll of Fujicolor 200 using center-weighted average metering and normal program mode. I forgot to set ISO — thank goodness whoever used this camera before me shot ISO 200 film too. Cameras that set ISO by reading the film canister’s DX code were just starting to appear when the T70 was new, but alas, the T70 missed that bus.

This angel lighting the way is my favorite photo from my test roll.

Angel lighting the way

I spent some time at a park near my home where the city recently built this building. I think it has something to do with the sanitary sewer system recently installed in my part of town, as enormous pipes were laid from the street into this building — a pumping station, perhaps? Anyway, the T70 handled easily, in no small part because I kept my fingers off the top-plate controls. Seriously: this is a great point-focus-and-shoot camera. It just goes.


I used to bring my sons to the former playground here when they were very young. That construction obliterated this park for more than a year, and I worried that the playground would not be rebuilt. But this much nicer playground was installed at the end of the project.

Shadows 2

Unfortunately, by that time my kids were too old to care. I come here every now and again just to make photographs, as the colors are good. The light wasn’t very interesting this day, however.


I took the T70 to work. This is the corner of my desk. The Magic 8 Ball is for my guests to play with. I’ve had it for years and remain amused by how many people pick it up and ask questions of it.

In my office

I spent a little time photographing the Episcopal church over on Meridian Street. The shapes and textures are interesting there. I had just looked through a book of Ansel Adams Polaroids and noticed how often he had at least three “layers” in his photographs. It helped me notice this three-layered scene.


I’ve shared more photos from this roll in my Canon T70 gallery.

If you’re looking for a lazy day of shooting, it’s easy to like the Canon T70: frame, focus, press the shutter button, get nice photographs. Heck, sometimes I even found myself wishing the T70 would just focus for me already.

But if you want more control over your work, however, you might find the T70 to be annoying. Or maybe it’s just me: I just don’t find it easy or obvious to futz with the UP and DOWN buttons. But I did learn the much more complicated controls of my Canon S95 digital camera. It’s my main camera; I wanted to get the most from it. If I were similarly motivated, in time I’d learn the T70’s nuances and become quite adept with it.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my full list of camera reviews!


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