Preservation, Road Trips

Restored: Terre Haute’s 1930s Clabber Girl billboard

If you ever drive US 40 westbound into Terre Haute, you’ll find a great old billboard for Clabber Girl Baking Powder at the edge of town. Clabber Girl has been made in Terre Haute since 1899. The billboard dates to the 1930s. Here’s a photo I made of it way back in 2007.

Clabber Girl

It was in pretty good shape then, but time and the elements are not kind to anything left outside. Here are some more photographs I’ve made of it over the years, showing its slow deterioration. 2009:

Clabber Girl

2013, and notice the clock is different:

Five Minutes to Terre Haute

2014:

Clabber Girl
Clabber Girl

This billboard is on what was the property of Mary Fendrich Hulman, whose family owns the makers of Clabber Girl. Mary died a few years ago, and her sprawling horse farm was sold to neighboring Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, expanding its campus. Rose-Hulman got the billboard in the deal, and decided to have this Terre Haute landmark restored. The Terre Haute Tribune-Star tells the restoration story and shares a photograph of the refreshed billboard. Read it here.

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Photography, Road Trips

The giants at Bernheim Forest

Our last stop on our Kentucky weekend was to Bernheim Forest. We wouldn’t have known about it had several locals not told us about it. One of them all but implored us to go, just to see the giants.

The giants at Bernheim Forest

Danish artist Thomas Dambo likes to make big things out of wood. His signature work has become giants like these, which he’s built in forests around the world.

This is Little Nis, who is considering his reflection.

The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest

Danmbo built three giants at Bernheim, but spread them out in the forest so you’d have to hike a while to see them. This is Little Nis’s mother Mama Loumari, who’s expecting another baby giant.

The giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest

Deep in the forest you finally find Little Elina, who’s playing marbles with boulders she found lying around. Dambo builds his giants out of local wood. Unsurprisingly, given that this is bourbon country, the Bernheim giants are made in part from barrel staves.

The giants at Bernheim Forest
The Giants at Bernheim Forest
The giants at Bernheim Forest

I photographed these giants with both my Canon PowerShot S80 and my Nikon FA and 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor on Agfa Vista 200. I found the giants challenging to photograph. I couldn’t find good compositions that fully communicated their size and charm, and the reflecting sun played havoc with even exposures. If I spent more time with the giants, however, I’m sure I’d start to feel at one with them and better photographic compositions would follow.

Bernheim Forest is a gem, and it’s a little south of Louisville just off I-65. We went straight home to Zionsville from here, and the trip took us just 2½ hours. You can visit for free on weekdays, and there’s an affordable charge to visit on the weekends.

Us at Bernheim Forest

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Road Trips

Discovering where the old road used to go

When you like to follow the old roads as I do, you need ways to know where the old roads went. Modern roads have often been straightened, widened, or outright moved from their original paths.

This is where old maps and road guides come in. I have a bunch of them; they take up most of a bookcase shelf. My collection earned me an interview for an article in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star that published this week; read it here. It is about how maps are still relevant in this age of GPS-driven map apps and their turn-by-turn directions as you drive. The article also mentions map collecting as a hobby.

I collect, but entirely so I have sources of old-road information. Here are some of my oldest maps, mostly from the 1920s. The one in the upper left is from 1904, long before there was any sort of formal highway network or system for marking roads.

My favorite old-road publications, however, are not maps but rather turn-by-turn guides. The granddaddy of them all is the Automobile Blue Book, a multi-volume set published annually from 1901 to 1929. Here’s a page from the Middle-West volume of the 1912 Automobile Blue Book, which begins to explain how you’d drive from Terre Haute to Indianapolis. I love how it briefly describes Terre Haute as it was in 1912. Notice how the directions that follow describe landmarks, railroad crossings, and bridges. There were no regular route-marking signs on this road, not for several years yet as the state and US highway systems were still in the future. Describing the roadside scene helped you check whether were still on the right road. The guide also notes that the road is “good gravel all the way” — a big deal at a time when most roads were dirt, and became impassable mud bogs in the rain.

I also like the Hobbs-Mohawk Grade and Surface Guides, which described various major routes turn by turn. This page is from the 1924 guide to the National Old Trails Road, which was essentially what is now US 40 from the east cost into Illinois and then what would become US 66 to California. This page describes the section of the road between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. Notice how by 1924 sections of the road were paved, sometimes in concrete, sometimes in brick, and near Indianapolis in asphalt. Notice especially in these directions all the places mentioned where travelers could camp. If you couldn’t reach the next city, camping was the way you had to lodge in those days. There were no motels, not for about another ten years yet.

Even though this route is a modern four-lane divided highway today, as shown below, some sections of that old brick and concrete road remain. You can still drive on the old concrete sections, which were built in the 1920s; see one here. The one remaining brick section is on private property, so don’t trespass; see part of it here.

US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana

I’ve let my old-road hobby go fallow over the last few years as other aspects of my life have crowded it out. But my heart still wishes to explore a new-to-me old road every year about this time. When I have the time to get back to it, I have all the materials I need to know where the old road used to go.

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Centerville

119 US 40, Centerville
Kodak Baby Brownie
Kodak Ektar 100
2018

I sold my Kodak Baby Brownie recently, to someone who’d had one many years ago and wanted to relive old memories. You might recall this tiny camera had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd and I decided not to keep it. It languished on my For Sale page for months.

As I packed and shipped it I looked back at some of the images I made with it. I like the composition of this one, but the lab didn’t get the film flat before they scanned it. I find that most labs struggle to scan the odd sizes. I’ll bet they have to scan them by hand.

Then there are those light leaks. Could be the camera, could be the hand-cut and -rolled film I bought on eBay. I wanted to shoot Ektar in this tiny box, because Ektar has been a solid performer in every box I’ve put it into. My other options involved films I’d never shot before, one called Rera Pan and another called Rollei Crossbird — the last 127 films still manufactured.

Film Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: 119 US 40, Centerville

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State Theater

Tree blocking the State Theater sign
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2018

Memo to cities everywhere: stop planting trees near your downtown walkways, as they block clear views of your classic architecture and signage!

This theater in my hometown of South Bend needs an owner and a profitable purpose. It is one of the last two remaining theaters of many that South Bend used to have; read about them here. And see a photo of this theater from when South Bend replaced its main street with a disastrous pedestrian plaza here.

Film Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Tree blocking the State Theater sign

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Road Trips

It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!

I originally published this post in 2013. This year I started a job in a building right by this bridge, so I drive over it frequently. It made me want to dust this post off and share it again.

It is the last steel truss bridge in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, and it’s named after one of Indy’s most famous sons, Astronaut David Wolf. And I love to drive over it!

DavidWolf
David Wolf

The Astronaut. David Wolf was born and raised in Indianapolis, got his undergraduate degree at Purdue University, and earned a medical degree from Indiana University. He then became a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. Soon he joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston and later the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where was selected to become an astronaut. He’s since spent more than 168 days in space.

True story: My first wife was a photographer in the Indiana Air National Guard when I met her, and had a framed, autographed head shot of David Wolf. The inscription read something like, “To the best photographer I know.” She took the photograph! (That’s not her photograph at right.)

The Bridge. It is a two-span riveted Parker through truss bridge with Warren pony approach trusses on either end. The Indiana State Highway Commission built it in 1941 to carry State Road 100; back then, this was way out in the sticks. But since then the city sprawled out this far, and later the state relinquished the road and the bridge to the city. Remarkably, the city has stepped up to maintain this bridge (it hasn’t with other former highway bridges, such as this one). When it widened the road to four lanes in the late 1980s, it built a new neighboring bridge to carry westbound traffic and routed eastbound traffic over the old trusses. The city carefully restored this bridge in 2008. It carries more than 40,000 cars across the White River every day!

Because this bridge is so long (547.8 feet) and is tightly hemmed in by strip malls on all sides, it is difficult to photograph. I’ve never found a place to stand were I can fit the whole thing inside my lens. Here’s the western Parker truss.

The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The Drive. This bridge and I both live in the same township, and it’s between me and major shopping, so I’m out this way frequently enough. It always lifts my spirits to drive over it. I love watching it come into view and then experiencing the truss shadows as I drive through them. Here, experience it with me!

Is it silly of me that every time I drive over this great bridge, I exclaim, “It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!”? Never mind, don’t tell me. I’m cool with being silly.

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