It was a common scene in the mid-20th century: while shopping downtown, stopping at a peanut shop for a little bag of freshly roasted peanuts.
Peanut shops started appearing in America’s downtowns in the 1930s, and most of them were built by the Planters Peanut Company. My hometown of South Bend, Indiana boasted one in the thick of the shopping district on Michigan Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. Planters got out of the retail business in 1961 and sold many of its stores to their operators. South Bend’s store was among those, but it held on for only another dozen years, give or take.
I passed by a handful of times. I was very young, so my memories are dim, but I’ll never forget the delightful but almost overpowering scent of freshly roasted peanuts that radiated for easily 30 feet from the front doors. I also remember the peanut-filled windows being at eye level. What a marvel! I stood on my toes trying to see over the nuts.
I think I remember being inside once. I definitely remember seeing the peanut roasters in this picture. If we went in, it would have been on one of a small handful of days when Mom took my brother and I downtown on the city bus. I think Mom was trying to give us some connection to the good lifestyle available during South Bend’s better days. She grew up downtown and always told stories of shopping there, especially at Christmas when Michigan Street was decorated for blocks and the department stores’ windows were filled with festive holiday displays.
Mom could see that downtown South Bend was in decline. As was happening all over the country in the early 1970s, shopping was moving to strip centers and enclosed malls at the edges of town, and downtown was scrambling – and failing – to remain viable. Historic buildings in downtown South Bend became unable to sustain tenants, fell into decay, and were systematically demolished.
In an ill-advised attempt to stanch the hemorrhaging, in the mid-1970s South Bend closed busy Michigan Street (which was US 31 then) to motor vehicles and turned it into a pedestrian mall. It didn’t work. More businesses closed and more buildings were lost. In the background of this photo, you can see the Indiana Bell building under construction, a rare boost for downtown during a time of decay.
I suppose the Peanut Shop relied on impulse buys – who could resist the wonderful scent as they passed by? I’m sure falling pedestrian traffic is what killed The Peanut Shop.
Most of my downtown memories of the corner where The Peanut Shop stood involve the building in this photo.Michigan Street was restored to limited vehicular traffic 15 or 20 years ago, thank goodness, when the failed pedestrian mall was removed. Retail sales are said to have immediately gone up in the few shops that survived that disastrous experiment. Some new businesses have moved in, notably the South Bend Chocolate Company and its Chocolate Cafe, which a favorite place for me to stop for coffee when I visit town.
This 2011 Google Street View image shows the Indiana Bell building (now the AT&T building) complete, as it has been for 40 years. But the demolitions haven’t ended – the former Avon Theater, a 1920s movie house at left in the photo, was demolished last year.
Even though the peanut-shop era has been over since the 1970s, a few incredibly tenacious shops remain across the nation. See some of them here.
Except for the Google Street View photo, I found the rest of these photos on a Facebook page about South Bend.
South Bend’s Main Street isn’t the main street.
One block remains paved in brick; see it here.
Holy cow, is Fujifilm’s FP-100C nice stuff. I shot Polaroid’s Types 88 and 108 color pack films in the 1970s and 1980s and was never impressed with the color rendition. But just look at the red the FP-100C returned. It’s so bold that it almost reaches out from the print and smacks you across the face.
Unfortunately, my Polaroid Automatic 250 camera has developed an electrical gremlin. The two packs of FP-100C I shot yielded only four images, all of which were test photos after yet another repair attempt.
But when my 250 works, it delivers the finest results of any instant camera I’ve shot. I think it’s because all of my other instant cameras have plastic lenses while the 250 uses a three-element glass lens. It returns images that are pretty sharp even in the corners.
However, the 250 is challenging to use even when its electrical problems are tamed. Pulling the first three or four images out of the camera always involves opening the back of this big, clumsy camera a little. You see, those Fujifilm packs aren’t as rigid as the Polaroid packs of yore and so the folding 250′s innards clamp that film down too tight. You need to vent the pressure to get those first prints out of the camera.
The rigid-bodied packfilm cameras, such as my Big Swinger 3000, don’t have that problem. The Big Swinger’s single-element plastic meniscus lens is nothing to write home about, though. And the camera is about to become useless as soon as stock of the only film it can use, Fujifilm’s discontinued FP-3000B, runs out.
Others love the Big Swinger’s lens for its slightly dreamy quality. One such gentleman is Eric, who writes the Load Film in Subdued Light blog. He enjoys that lens so much that, upon learning of FP-3000B’s demise, he pulled the lens out of his Big Swinger and inserted it into another rigid-bodied packfilm camera, the Colorpack II, which can take the slower FP-100C color film. (Read about it here.)
During that surgery, he discovered a three-element glass lens inside the Colorpack II. Aha! I immediately bought a Colorpack II on eBay. (The place is lousy with them, and most of them go for under 20 bucks shipped.) I have five packs of film waiting for it – two FP-3000B and three FP-100C. I remain inexplicably charmed by instant photography, and I am determined to find a reliable camera when I want to scratch that instant itch.
I went with my sons on a class trip to Chicago just before Christmas. It was stupid cold outside and the drafty school bus we rode couldn’t get warm enough, so we all shivered all the way up, all day outside on the streets of downtown Chicago, and all the way home.
Not only was I cold on the return trip, but I was bored, too. I had my Canon PowerShot S95 in my coat pocket, so I tried taking photos of the sunset through the dirty bus windows as it bumped and jostled its way down I-65 at 60 mph. It was impossible to hold the camera still. This shot turned out remarkably well, considering. It looks best at smaller sizes, because some camera shake is evident at larger sizes. But I loved the sunset’s colors that day, and was glad I got one good-enough image out of the dozen I shot.
Also check out a great
sunrise capture I made here.
I’m not sure I’d call myself a full-blown preservationist, but I’m definitely sympathetic to the cause. And I certainly love history. I find it to be a happy circumstance that I live in northwest Indianapolis near the intersection of Michigan Road and Kessler Boulevard, two historic roads. Michigan Road is, of course, the Michigan Road, a 270-mile highway built in the 1830s to link the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. Kessler Boulevard was designed and built in the 1920s by George Kessler, a pioneering city planner.
This area was way out in the sticks until the 1950s, when some of Indianapolis’s early suburbs were built here. Now you’ll find subdivision after subdivision of brick ranch homes on sprawling lots, though these neighborhoods’ glory days are past and the area has started to decline. But the homes are still nice enough – and they’re affordable, which is why I’m here. I would rather have lived in a charming older home in a walkable neighborhood with a nearby business district. But where such neighborhoods still exist in Indianapolis and have not succumbed to horrifying decay, the houses are in great demand and were out of my financial reach.
It’s okay; I really like my little brick ranch house and have adapted to my quiet suburban lifestyle. But I’ve had one big complaint: major routine shopping is too far away.
I can reach one grocery store in about seven minutes, but it’s small and doesn’t carry everything I need. I can also reach a chain drug store and a dollar store in under five minutes. I use all of these stores for quick shopping trips. But when I need to do the big weekly shopping, I spend at least 30 minutes in the car, round trip.
That could soon change. Walmart is building one of its Neighborhood Market grocery stores on the southeast corner of Kessler and Michigan, less than five minutes from my home. It should open this summer.
I’m not crazy about Walmart. I don’t like an awful lot of the company’s practices and so in recent years I’ve generally avoided shopping there. But if this new Neighborhood Market lets me avoid the long shopping trek, holy cow am I ever going to buy my groceries there. Its nearness to my home will make my life appreciably easier. And I hope it sparks some regrowth along this section of the Michigan Road, which has decayed badly in the years I’ve lived here.
The Neighborhood Market is being built on a parcel that has gone largely undeveloped, as you can see on the map snippet. Unfortunately, an old house and barn (below) stand on the parcel. They will be moved to a new location. I don’t know much about this house, but it looks to me as though it dates to the mid-late 1800s. It’s a shame that a house that has stood on the Michigan Road almost as long as it has existed must be displaced.
Under normal circumstances, it would really burn me up to lose this old house. But daggone it, I’ve hated the long drives to shopping for going on two decades. Despite my preservationist leanings, I go about my life here, and the prospect of easy shopping really charms me.
Forgive me, my preservationist friends.
Can small-town downtowns and big-box
stores peacefully coexist? My view here.
Here it is, the first old camera I bought when I started collecting again in 2007.
The 1962-66 Kodak Automatic 35F was part of the 1959-69 Automatic and Motormatic series of 35mm viewfinder cameras. Featuring a coupled selenium exposure meter, they were Kodak’s first autoexposure 35mm cameras. They were also the last 35mm cameras Kodak made in the United States.
The entire range featured Kodak’s good 44mm f/2.8 Ektanar lens. Some say the Ektanar is a Tessar, others say it’s a triplet. Either way, it’s Lumenized, meaning it’s coated with radioactive thorium oxide. These cameras used leaf shutters, mostly (as on this Automatic 35F) the Automatic Flash shutter with speeds of 1/40, 1/80, 1/125, and 1/250 sec. The exposure meter sets aperture against the shutter speed you choose; there is no fully manual exposure control. The F in 35F means flash – you can insert peanut-sized AG-1 bulbs into the top of the camera. When you turn the big dial around the lens to the flash position, the flash synchronizes with the shutter.
Every camera in the Automatic line had a Motormatic companion that added a spring-loaded automatic winder.
I’ve never shot this camera. The light meter is dead, and the film pressure plate is broken off. I’m not sure why I even keep it. It’s probably because it it came with accessories in its original box – and because of nostalgia.
You see, an Automatic 35F was part of my first camera collection. I bought it while I was a teenager, probably for five bucks at some yard sale. But I did shoot that one, although I waited until I was in my thirties.
I was in a nightmare marriage then. After a particularly bad period in about 2000, I think, I wanted to get away and clear my head. I’m pretty sure my wife wanted to be rid of me for a little while, too. We agreed that I would take a vacation by myself. I drove to Tennessee and holed up in a cabin in the woods.
I took few photographs in those days. My wife was a mighty good professional photographer, and I ceded nearly all picture taking to her. But I wanted to do things on my trip that I knew I would enjoy, and I remembered enjoying shooting my old cameras when I was younger. So before the trip, I searched through my boxes of cameras for one to shoot. I had probably a hundred cameras then, most of them Brownies and Instamatics and the like. But I did have a handful of better cameras, including an Argus A-Four and this Automatic 35F. I shot the Argus when I was in high school (see the photos here), so I decided to give the 35F a whirl.
I shot a test roll first, probably Kodak Gold 200, around the house and at a family reunion. I had no idea what I was doing. My memories are dim, but I think I set the shutter to 1/250 sec. and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, on this very cloudy afternoon, 1/250 sec. set the aperture wide open and gave me a very shallow depth of field. It left little margin for focusing error, leaving Gracie, who would have been about three years old then, behind a very thin focus patch. Just check out that area of razor-sharp grass in front of her.
As afternoon faded into evening, good exposures became difficult. What’s interesting about this shot of Sugar is the bokeh the lens created.
When I scanned these negatives, I discovered several photos of my young sons when they were about one and three years old. I was so happy to find them, as I have precious few photographs of my boys from the years their mother and I were married. I thought long and hard about breaking my rule against showing photos of my sons online, because some of those photos are wonderful.
Fortunately, I did get this one great photo of my mother and my cousins Sharon and Doyle at the family reunion. It’s an especially good photo of Mom. By the looks of it I had decided to try slower shutter speeds, through which I stumbled into greater depth of field. I still had no idea what I was doing.
I dropped a second roll of film into the 35F before I headed south to Tennessee. I mapped my route using a Rand McNally atlas, which seems so quaint now. I had no idea that I would pass by the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky, but I was certainly thrilled when I did. I stopped, explored, and got a couple photos. This is the building in which a replica of the birthplace cabin stands. I visited again in 2011; see those photos here.
I stayed all week in Cumberland Mountain State Park, in this cabin. That’s the minivan I drove then; it was an execrable automobile. I returned to this park with my sons in 2011, and brought my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK. See those photos here.
This bridge and dam over Byrd Creek was built by the CCC. See more photos of it here.
While driving to and from Tennessee, I stopped several times to photograph old cars I found. I do believe this was the first time I ever did that, and now I make a real habit of it. I shared more old-car photos from this trip over at Curbside Classic; read about them here.
See more photos in my Kodak Automatic 35F gallery.
It’s hard to remember after so many years just what I thought of using the Automatic 35F. I was such a photo newbie anyway that my impressions would have been poorly informed.
I sold my camera collection a few years later, for complicated reasons. After the divorce, I wanted to rebuild my life around my sons first, but around things I enjoyed second. Remembering the fun I had with my old camera on that Tennessee trip is why I started a new collection. (Remembering the fun I had driving the blue highways on that trip is part of why I started exploring the old roads, too.) I deliberately bought this Automatic 35F to start my new collection. The dead exposure meter rendered the camera useless and taught me my first lesson in the pitfalls of buying old cameras on eBay. I had been buying other cameras, too, and started shooting with them and never looked back at this Kodak. And now that I’ve shot so many other cameras, I don’t find this Kodak all that interesting. I could be charmed into buying another if it worked and I happened upon it for a few dollars. But I’d rather keep shooting with my favorite old cameras, most of which are better specified and all of which are easier to use than this Automatic 35F.
But I’ll never forget the joy of discovery I experienced shooting my old Automatic 35F. It’s why when I started collecting again I focused on better cameras. I’ve had the time of my life exploring the world of vintage film cameras and learning what kind of camera I like to shoot best. That a Kodak Automatic 35F sparked that joy is why one will probably always have a home in my collection.
Do you like old cameras?
Then check out my entire collection.
We are in the post-film shakeout era, a time when the world’s film manufacturers figure out what films will continue to be made now that most people shoot digital.
I argue that this era kicked off in 2009 when Kodak canned its seminal Kodachrome color slide film. Kodak has been the leader in film discontinuation, having ceased production of venerable Plus X black-and-white negative film and its entire catalog of slide films in 2011. It appears that its bankruptcy and its outdated manufacturing facilities are major factors in its decisions to discontinue films.
The film business is said to remain profitable, even for Kodak. But film’s mass-market days are over, as only hobbyists and some professionals still shoot film. I think the realities of a greatly reduced scale will cause other films to go by the wayside in the next several years. It will be interesting to see which films survive.
The latest casualty is Fujifilm’s FP-3000B instant film for packfilm Polaroid cameras, a niche product to be sure. Production ceased at around the end of 2013.
I’ve shot a couple packs of FP-3000B over the past couple years and I like it. I’ve shot it in both of my Polaroid packfilm cameras, a Big Swinger 3000 and an Automatic 250, and I find that the film can deliver decent contrast and tonal range. It’s not in the same league as Kodak TMax or Fujifilm Neopan Acros, but for instant film, it’s fabulous.
Here’s a shot from my Big Swinger 3000, which works only with the ISO 3000 packfilms and is rendered useless by Fujifilm’s decision.
The Automatic 250 offers some ability to adjust aperture, allowing for available-light photos inside. It also offers a much better lens. This is where I sleep, recorded by the 250.
FP-3000B stock remains available as I write this; I just ordered two packs from B&H Photo. My Automatic 250 has an electrical gremlin I need to figure out, but when I do I’ll shoot those two packs as well as two packs I ordered of color FP-100C, which remains in production.
A foot of snow fell. Then the temperatures plunged well below zero. That was enough to shut Indiana down.
Just before the cold arrived, but not before the snow stopped, I went out to clear my driveway. The dense, heavy snow weighed everything down. Tree branches touched the ground, the same ones that clear my head when I mow in the summer.
Serious snows are rare in Indianapolis. But they were common in my hometown of South Bend in the late 1970s and 1980s when I was young but old enough to lift a shovel. I’m plenty familiar with removing this much snow, but since moving this far south I seldom have to do it. Thank goodness. My middle-aged body hurts for a good long while after this much exertion.
I frequently don’t bother shoveling my driveway because Indianapolis winter snows are usually pretty light and are often followed by a melt. If God’s going to take away what he gives, I’m going to let him! And that’s going to happen this time, too – it will be in the 40s this weekend. But the snow was too deep to drive through, so I removed it. Well, all except for around my second car. Thanks to the coming melt, it will hit the road again soon enough. Until then, I’ll drive the car I keep in the garage.
I was running out of daylight anyway. I needed to hurry and get the main part of the driveway done.
The snow didn’t stop falling until well after dark. Morning greeted us at 17 degrees below zero. The mayor declared an emergency and travel was forbidden. So it went across most of the state – this weather effectively closed Indiana. I worked all day from my home office.
I did take a break during the afternoon when the temperature rose all the way to -11, the high for the day. I went out and cleared four more inches of snow off the driveway. Fortunately, it was light powder and cleared quickly, because even wearing many layers and my heaviest winter coat -11 is mighty, mighty cold. My nostrils kept freezing shut! After I came in, it took an hour for my feet to warm back up.
By the end of the workday I was starting to feel a little isolated, so I turned on the local news for company while I ate my dinner. I also fired up my Roku to watch Tagesschau, the evening newscast from Germany’s ARD television network. I spoke German almost fluently a quarter century ago, but have hardly used the language since. Watching Tagesschau is a feeble attempt at keeping what’s left of my German abilities sharp. I understand about half of every newscast.
I was delighted that Indiana’s weather plight was recognized even in Germany. It helped me feel better, especially since I needed to work from home one more day thanks to continued deep cold and ice-covered streets.
Also check out the ice storm we had a
few years ago. Indiana winters, whee.