Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Recommended reading


Here are the blog posts I read and liked best this week.

Stephen Dowling gives some solid advice: ditch the zoom lens on your SLR for a 50mm prime and zoom with your feet. You’ll learn a lot about your camera and do better work. Read 52 Photo Tips #2: One camera one lens

Someone who writes as Ludica reviewed a book this week that debunks the theory that we are born with the specialized ability to process grammar. Turns out our brains might be even more incredible than that. Read The Language Myth

Tuesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Heather Munro honored it by sharing photos of Stolpersteine, literally stumbling-stones, inserted into sidewalks all over Europe to remember where many of the victims lived. Read Stumbling stones into the past

I don’t know the name of this author, but she tells a story of reporting a crime committed against her 35 years ago — how it felt to have the police listen and take it seriously, and how it may have opened a vein of healing for others victimized by the same person. Read He wrote it down.

My friend and colleague Scott Palmer wrote a well-balanced piece on why debates on secular vs. religious belief systems are always doomed to fail. Read Reasonably Unreasonable Beliefs

Captured: Time has come today


Time has come today

Sometimes I noodle around with my Canon S95 or my iPhone while I’m watching TV. I’m not sure why I do it, but I have captured my TV screen dozens upon dozens of times. I think I’m fascinated that my digital camera can capture a crisp image off my flat-screen TV.

One evening I was watching some 1960s spy flick. I forget what it was called. I liked the look of these clocks. Because I wasn’t sitting right in front of the TV, the original photo shows my entire TV screen at a wacky angle. So I set my crop to 16×9 and expanded it to capture as much of the movie image as it could but leave everything else out. This image is my computer’s desktop background right now.


CanonPowerShot S95

Warm memories of my first apartment


Does a particular home in your past bring especially warm memories? What made the place so special? I’d love to hear about it in the comments, or better yet, on your blog — especially if you have photos you can share.

Last month I shared this post about my first apartment, with some photos from just after I moved in. That place was special not just because it was really nice for the money, but because I did a lot of growing up there.

I just found some photos from after I’d filled the apartment with furniture and decorated the place, and I want to share them.

Here I am, relaxing in the big brown La-Z-Boy in my living room. I was 25.


Here’s a view of my bedroom. I was never crazy about that wallpaper. The framed Disney images on the wall were gifts from my Uncle Jack when I was a boy. He drew them himself. The dresser was an antique-store find. Despite being probably 50 years old then, it was like new. It was such a pleasure to use! I still have it, but when I got it back after the divorce I was sad to see how battered and scratched it had become. One of these days I’l just replace it with something else that doesn’t come with bad memories.


When I moved in, my bathroom walls were hot pink above the tile. I asked if that could be changed, so my landlady hired a fellow to peel off nine layers of wallpaper, mud the walls smooth, and put up new wallpaper. My dad, who made a living making custom wood furniture, made the cabinet that hangs on the wall. I still use it in my bathroom today.


I used to rearrange my furniture three or four times a year. In the process, I’d clean thoroughly. I took these photos of my living room after one such rearrangement to record the fresh and clean. I had begun to accumulate a little original art. The painting on the left is by Dean Porter, a family friend and former Director of the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame. The painting on the right is by a longtime friend who still paints.


This view from just inside the front door shows the coat closet and the hallway. I always hated that yellow checked wallpaper in the hallway, but my landlady said that it was too new to replace.


Every arrangement of my living room involved my La-Z-Boy being directly across from my TV. Except for the TV and the futon, every other piece of furniture in the room came from used-furniture stores or was given to me. Notice the corner shelf filled with old cameras! I recognize my Kodak Duaflex II and a bunch of Brownies: a Starflash, a Starmatic, a Reflex Synchro Model, and a Six-20. I was fascinated with prewar folding cameras then and several of mine are on the shelf. I also see a couple box cameras. I had probably a hundred more cameras, stored in boxes in a closet.


The apartment lacked central air; a lone window air conditioner was my only defense against hot days. That was more AC than I’d ever had before, though, and I was perfectly happy with it. The doll on my speaker is John Lennon dressed in his Sgt. Pepper getup. The speakers were Infinity Studio Monitor 100s. Audiophiles panned them, but I liked them fine. My receiver, an NAD 7125, could easily outpower these speakers. Still have that receiver; replaced the speakers a few years ago with something smaller and sweeter.


As you can see, maroon, green, and blue was my living room color scheme. Those are such early-90s colors! The coffee table and end tables served for a long time but during my marriage were pretty badly abused. The coffee table came back to me post-divorce in such bad shape that I just threw it away. The end tables were battered but serviceable; I used them until just a couple years ago.

It felt good at the time to furnish and decorate my home. I still feel like I made it look like more than the little money I had available to put into it. I was happy and comfortable in my little home.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,693 other followers

%d bloggers like this: