Film Photography, Preservation

And to think that I saw it on Talbott Street

While I had Fujifilm Velvia 50 in the Yashica-12, I met some colleagues for lunch in the hip Herron Morton neighborhood of Indianapolis. I brought the camera along and made a few photos on Talbott Street before I went home.

Most of the houses and apartment buildings in this part of town were built around the turn of the last century. When I moved to Indianapolis in 1994, Herron Morton had declined badly and was not a place I wanted to live. Now it’s gentrifying and I can’t afford to live here, except perhaps if I bought one of the few fixer-uppers left.

Little apartment buildings of four, six, and eight units are common in this part of Indy. I imagine they were once even more common, but during the years of decline so many buildings fell into disrepair and were demolished. Even now, there are plenty of vacant lots on Talbott Street.

On Talbott Street

I photographed this house because it is so unusual. Flat roofs aren’t common on residences here.

On Talbott Street

Some of the vacant lots have new homes on them. This one at least sort of matches the design of the older houses. Some of the new houses are ultra modern and don’t look like they belong here.

On Talbott Street

Here’s one that needs some tender loving care. I’m generally not a fan of fussy Victorian houses but this one looks good to me.

On Talbott Street

I am a fan of American Foursquares like this one. I’d love to live in a house like this, and sit on the porch on warm nights.

On Talbott Street

That’s all of the photos I took on my brief walk along Talbott Street.

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Michigan Road, Decatur County, Indiana

The Michigan Road in Decatur County, Indiana
Kodak EasyShare Z730

I’m wrapping up a year as President of the Historic Michigan Road Association. My buddy and co-founder Kurt and I alternate years in the job, and it’s his turn. (We are duly elected, but everyone seems to be perfectly happy with this arrangement.)

This was my most do-nothing year as President ever. I’m neither pleased nor proud. But I can’t beat myself up — we had too many challenges at home, and COVID-19 limited everything.

Kurt finished our Corridor Management Plan this year, a document that tells state and federal byway authorities how we plan to protect and enhance the historic qualities of our historic byway. Here’s hoping that in 2021, Kurt and I can move forward with initiatives in support of that plan. I have a couple tasks on my to-do list already.

From time to time I’m asked for a photo of the road. Given that it’s 270 miles long, a photo of the whole road would need to be taken from space. I can’t quite manage that. I always send this, a photo I made just south of Greensburg on a May afternoon in 2008, the year I surveyed the road from end to end. This image does a good job of embodying the very Indiana-ness of the road.

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single frame: The Michigan Road in Decatur County, Indiana

Wrapping up a year as President of the Historic Michigan Road Association.

Road Trips, Stories Told

Bursting the nostalgia bubble: A story from my new book, A Place to Start

My new book has been out for a week and a half now and I’m surprised and thrilled with the response so far. If you’ve picked up a copy, thank you!

If you’d like a copy of my book, get one here:

I want to share one more story from my book. In the first several years after I was newly single it was a great distraction from my troubles to spend a fair-weather Saturday seeing where an old road would take me. I still love the old roads today, and it’s led to a broader interest in transportation history.

I had this vision of days gone by, people driving these old highways at a leisurely pace, enjoying the view.

One day I got to meet Paul Ford, a legend in Terre Haute radio. In his retirement, he and his wife operated a set of Christian radio stations along US 40 between Terre Haute and Casey, Illinois. We talked about radio a little bit, but we also talked about US 40 itself. His tales of how dangerous this road had been opened my eyes!

This story first appeared here on January 25, 2008.

My old friend Michael is an occasional companion when I take to the road. We took our first road trip together a few years ago along the National Road (US 40) in Illinois. The state built modern US 40 alongside an older brick and concrete road – and abandoned the old road.

Abandoned National Road
Paul Ford’s house and radio studio, in sight of the abandoned highway

As we explored the abandoned road, Michael asked me what drew me to the old roads. I replied that it lets me enjoy imagining a time when drivers took it slow and enjoyed the scenery and people they encountered, something I wished for but found elusive. I said I wished I could hear stories about driving the old roads. Michael said, “I’ll bet Paul Ford knows about this old road. He lives nearby. Want to meet him?”

Of course I wanted to meet him! Anybody who’s ever worked in Terre Haute radio, as I have, knows Paul’s name. He built Terre Haute’s first FM radio station, WPFR, in 1962 and operated it through the early 1980s. Later, Paul started building a small network of Christian radio stations that he and his wife operate from their home on US 40 a few miles west of the Indiana state line and within sight of a strip of the old brick road. Michael volunteers at Paul’s stations.

Paul dropped everything and sat down with us in his radio studio, which filled his house’s front room. He was tickled to hear that I had worked for WBOW in Terre Haute because he had too, many years before. He told a ton of great radio stories, including getting his first radio job in high school, how hard it was to get advertisers on FM in the 1960s, and how he got to interview former President Truman in Indianapolis just after he left office by going to his hotel and asking. It was great talking with him.

I asked him about the brick road. “Oh yes,” he said, “I used to drive on that when it was US 40 about the time my wife and I got married, which was in 1949. It was a dangerous road. People would get behind a truck, and they’d get impatient as it’d go slowly up the hills. They’d look for a chance to pass, but there were so many curves, and the road was so narrow. Eventually, they’d lose their patience and pass even if it wasn’t safe. There were a lot of bad wrecks on that road.”

I was a jarred by what he said. I thought I’d hear him talk glowingly of Sunday afternoon drives in the sunshine with his family, waving and smiling at people in oncoming cars, stopping at a farm stand for an apple. Instead, I felt the bubble of my idealizations burst. Pop.

As we drove away, I felt unsettled and wondered what made me enjoy following the old road so much if my nostalgic visions were false. But I started thinking of reasons pretty quickly. I enjoyed feeling connected to the National Road’s history, following a path that had been in use for 170 years by generations of people making their way from eastern states into the Illinois prairies. I also enjoyed seeing the road’s 1920s brick and concrete construction. I enjoyed knowing enough general road history to predict that the road probably wasn’t even striped at first – because there were so few cars, people often drove up the middle and moved right when another car approached!

Abandoned National Road
Michael on a rough patch of the old road

But times changed in the postwar prosperity years during which Paul drove this road. Roads everywhere became more crowded as more people bought cars – for a time, demand for cars outpaced Detroit’s ability to build them. Also, through the 1950s cars became faster and more powerful every year. The old roads’ hills and curves just weren’t engineered to handle so many cars going so fast. Paul’s memory of the road made perfect sense. US 40 was soon rebuilt straight and wide, and later I-70 was built nearby with four lanes and limited access. Drivers could travel much faster and safer. They undoubtedly welcomed the new roads without looking back.

Reality certainly cast my nostalgia in the proper light. I realized that it represented something I very much want from life – a peaceful pace that lets me enjoy the journey. Even if the old roads never offered that to travelers in their day, they offer it to me now. On this trip, I got to spend most of the day with a longtime friend. We took it slow, averaging barely 20 miles an hour because of all our stops to explore. And I met someone interesting who taught me something new. Most of my old-road trips turn out this way. The very thing I imagined I missed, I can have today when I go out on the old roads.

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My book, A Place to Start, is now available on Google Play, for those of you who prefer to buy that way and read on supported devices! Click the button below to get started.

Get it on Google Play

It is, of course, still available at:

A Place to Start is now on Google Play


Recommended reading

💻 Andrew Bosworth is a VP at Facebook. This week on his blog he reflects on how every one of our strengths covers a weakness, and how playing to our strengths not only forms our identity, but creates blind spots for us. Read Strength Dictates Weakness

Apple iPhone 6s, 2020

📷 Mark O’Brien tried Rollei RPX 100 film and gives his impressions. Read Rollei RPX 100, One-roll Review

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Danville, Indiana

Let’s return to my May, 2007, trip along US 36 and the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

After it leaves Marion County for Hendricks County, and after passing through the traffic nuthouse that is Avon, US 36 reaches Danville. It’s a four-lane divided road. But just east of Danville, where US 36 curves gently to the south, Old US 36 continues straight, as the map shows. Before the modern expressway was built, US 36 used to go straight through where storage facility lies today.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

But on this trip I missed something important: an older alignment of this road, the path the Rockville Road followed before anybody had heard of US 36 or the PP-OO. Check it out on the map below.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

You can drive some of this older road, but not all of it. The section east of County Road 625 E, which is the rightmost north-south road on this map snippet, no longer exists. The section west of there to Whipple Lane is a pedestrian path. You’ll find an 1875 Whipple through truss bridge on the pedestrian path. You can drive the road west from Whipple Lane. It’s signed as Broyles Road, although it has been slightly diverted to meet County Road 550 E rather than meet and cross US 36. You can’t turn onto the westmost section of Broyles Road from current US 36. To reach it you must go to Old US 36 and reach it from where Broyles Road ends.

I don’t know when the original US 36 alignment was built. Richard Simpson researched US 36’s 1926 alignment and found it to be this road (see it on his excellent blog here). I’ve found this 1924 map that shows the original US 36 alignment not built yet, and this 1929 map that shows it built.

Let’s go back to the original alignment of US 36. The storage facility was built right on the old roadbed. This eastbound photo shows the southerly curve of US 36 — and a mound that picks up in a straight line from where the road begins to curve. Notice how the utility poles at left run along this straight line, too, converging with the road in the distance. That’s always a tell.

Old US 36

I turned around from this point and saw that the mound continued, utility poles planted right alongside. The yellow sign on the left announces the intersection of Old US 36, also known as Main St. in Danville.

Old US 36

The storage facility’s fence kept me from walking this old roadbed, so instead I drove to the west side of the storage facility. The utility poles in this eastbound photo tell the tale: The road once went here.

Old US 36

And here’s this segment of Old US 36 as it heads west towards Danville. It feels like a typical old highway: two lane, scant shoulders.

Old US 36

Right turn lanes appear at entrances to subdivisions and churches. The road is smooth even though it hasn’t been repaved in a while. About 2 miles along this alignment, at the Danville city limits sign, the pavement is even older, and the striping becomes more faded, as the eastbound photo below shows. A few old rectangular Do Not Pass signs still stand here. About 3.5 miles in, the road curves gently to the south and ends at the current alignment of US 36.

Old US 36

Old US 36 meets current US 36 at a T intersection as the map below shows. I’ve marked in green how the road originally flowed here.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Here’s westbound Old US 36 as it approaches current US 36.

Old US 36

This road, signed Phi Delta Kappa Drive, is all that’s left of US 36’s original path here. Notice how the utility poles follow this little segment. This is an eastbound photo.

Old US 36

I followed US 36 west into downtown Danville. The road’s four lanes soon narrowed to two lanes with a center turn lane. Like so many small Indiana towns, a courthouse square is at Danville’s heart. The trees made it challenging to get a good photograph of the courthouse.

Danville, IN

Danville’s downtown business district lies around the courthouse. Here’s a photo of the shops and restaurants along the US 36 side. The Mayberry Cafe is on this block, well-known for its theme of The Andy Griffith Show. They usually have a black and white 1962 Ford Galaxie police cruiser parked out front, but it was missing this day.

Danville, IN

Past downtown, US 36 narrowed to two lanes on its way out of town. Outside Danville, US 36 becomes a standard two-lane highway with thin shoulders. It remains a two-lane highway way all the way to Illinois.

US 36

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