Film Photography

Captured: Foodliner


I remember a time, during my 1970s kidhood, when the IGA Foodliner was the official grocery store of the rural Midwest. Even through the 1980s, if you drove out of the city and into the cornfields, when you came upon a small town you’d almost certainly find a Foodliner.

In the intervening years many rural IGA stores have closed. The one in Burlington, Indiana, on the Michigan Road, was the only one left anywhere near me as far as I knew. It hung in there until a couple years ago, but it’s a Dollar General now. When I came upon this one as I passed through Morgantown, Indiana, recently, I stopped to photograph it. It’s hard telling when I’ll see another, and this is such a classic example. Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm, expired Kodak Gold 200.

Old Cars, Photographs

Cars I’d only ever seen in pictures, which I now present to you…in pictures

When I was a car-crazy boy, I spent a large amount of my allowance on car magazines and books. My favorite book was the Encyclopedia of American Cars, an exhaustive look at virtually every automobile ever made on these shores. My copy was from the 1980s, but the publisher updated it periodically through the early 2000s. That same publisher issues six issues of Collectible Automobile magazine annually, and I’ve subscribed for nearly 20 years. I’m still car crazy! Then as now, I drool over photos of cars I can only dream of owning, and pore over their histories and manufacturing statistics.

And so every May when I go to the Mecum Spring Classic, a large classic-car auction held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, I hope to see some of the most exotic, rare, and unusual cars that I have only ever seen in photographs. Each year, I mark a few more cars off my list. Here are the cars I got to see in person for the first time at this year’s auction.

Stutz cars were made right here in Indianapolis, so you’d think I would have seen one by now. But this 1926 Stutz Model 695 was my first.

1926 Stutz Model 695

I’ve always really liked the 1949-1951 Fords. They’re pretty common and I’ve certainly seen plenty of them – but never a Crestliner coupe with its distinctive two-tone paint scheme. This Crestliner is from 1951.

1951 Ford Crestliner

Buick introduced its Skylark in 1953 to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary. During my 1970s kidhood, Skylarks were compact cars near the entry-level end of the Buick hierarchy. But the first Skylarks were premium automobiles that stickered north of $5,000, which is equivalent to about $43,000 today.

1953 Buick Skylark

Ford flirted with see-through roofs in 1954, producing such a car in both the Ford and Mercury lines. Both cars shared the same green acrylic roof panel. This is the Mercury version, which was called the Sun Valley.

1954 Mercury Sun Valley

Ford produced the Continental Mark II in 1956 as its own make – in other words, it wasn’t a Lincoln Continental, it was just a Continental. And it was ex-pen-sive at more than $10,000 – that’s more than $84,000 today. Unbelievably, Ford took a loss on each one! They sold fewer than 3,000 Mark IIs before pulling the plug in 1957, so it’s no wonder I’d never encountered one before.

1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II

The 1956 Packard Carribean couldn’t breathe the Mark II’s air, but it was still a plenty exclusive and expensive car. Fewer than 1,000 Carribeans were built in each of the model’s four years.

1956 Packard Carribean

I didn’t know that the Carribean’s seat cushions could be flipped. One side was cloth and the other leather.

1956 Packard Carribean

It may be hard to believe today, but all trucks came with “stepside” beds before 1955, when Chevrolet introduced its straight-sided Cameo Carrier. (This one’s from 1957.) Obviously, the look caught on.

1957 Chevrolet Cameo

When American Motors introduced the Rambler Marlin in 1965, it was trying for a sporty midsize car, something for the guy who really wanted a Mustang but needed a usable rear seat. Few liked the styling, however. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney drove one when he was in high school – no doubt because his father was running American Motors at the time.

1965 Rambler Marlin

Malcolm Bricklin may be best remembered for being the first to import Subarus into the United States, but he also produced a sports car of sorts in the 1970s. The Bricklin SV-1 had powered gullwing doors and a slew of safety equipment that made the car very heavy, and therefore quite slow.

1975 Bricklin SV1

John DeLorean also used gullwing doors in his sports car, the DMC-12, but you had to push them open yourself. It’s funny – I’d always looked forward to encountering my first DeLorean, but I was simply underwhelmed by this one. I think its 1980s styling, so daring in its day, seems mighty tame today.

1983 DeLorean DMC-12

Next time: My favorite photos from this year’s auction.

This was my fourth year at the auction. See photos from the other years here, here, and here

Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

Longtime readers may remember this post from three years ago. I’m very much feeling the end-of-summer blues this year and this explains the roots of my affliction. I’ve updated this post a little to keep current with the times.

During my 1970s kidhood when schools started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry spring’s tender greenery, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs. The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes and we all began to squeeze in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Armsalways organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, land on my back, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”) hoping to squeeze out another laugh. And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive
Summertime children on Lancaster Drive

Sure, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew) the day after school started too. We simply lost most of our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. My kids are back in school (since a few days after my birthday, what nonsense). The telethon has come and gone, although Jerry Lewis isn’t welcome there anymore. The grass hasn’t grown much in weeks because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ considerable deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.

Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

The good really outweighed the bad growing up on Rabbit Hill. Read that story.

Old Cars

When a classic car is not beautiful to behold

I used to love to sit on my parents’ front stoop and watch the cars go by. I counted the Impalas and Furys and Galaxies that were so common during my 1970s kidhood. I got a special thrill from every Mustang and Camaro, and I even grooved on the ubiquitous Beetles. I still love the cars from that era and am delighted when I come across one. I feel like a kid in a candy store on my annual trip to the Mecum Spring Classic muscle-car auction! (It’s held at the state fairgrounds here in Indianapolis. Check out my visits in 2009 and 2010.)

So you’d think that I’d be excited to come upon this 1972 Plymouth Satellite coupe. But I’m not.

1972 Plymouth Satellite coupe

It sits in the driveway of my parents’ next-door neighbor, along with a similarly dumpy early-1980s Buick LeSabre. They never move. The owner seems determined to let them crumble to dust here. My poor mother has a front-row seat to their decay, as they fill the view from her kitchen window. My parents have reached an age where they’re losing interest in all the maintenance associated with staying in the family homestead. They’re worried about the effect these junkers will have on their ability to sell their house.

1972 Plymouth Satellite coupe

The fellow who owns these cars is reclusive, but Mom did finally corner him one day to ask him about storing these cars elsewhere. She said he was polite enough about it as he refused.

My hope is that someone will stumble across this post who is just dying to own a ’72 Satellite coupe and is willing to make an offer the owner can’t refuse!

One car I wouldn’t mind finding, though hopefully in better shape than this, is a ’75 Pinto. Yes, Pinto. I owned one once before and I liked it. Read that story.

Vintage Television

Vintage TV: 1970s weather forecasts

I watched a lot of TV news during the recent ice storm so I could catch the weather forecasts. Local stations went all out during this storm with expanded and extra newscasts. Reporters were live all over the city showing what it looked like outside, in case our living-room windows were malfunctioning and we couldn’t see for ourselves. Meteorologists were front and center in every newscast, showing us the latest imagery from their Super Duper Ultra Doppler Nine Billion TrueVision™ radar systems. They hopped across the screen with great energy, swooping their arms to show the storm’s movement, speaking with grave urgency, leaning into the camera a little to punctuate the drama.

I actually think local news is at its best during severe weather. They provide useful and timely information and actually help draw viewers together in the shared experience. They just kick the hype up a notch or two beyond what’s really needed.

All this weather coverage got me thinking about the state of the TV forecasting art during my 1970s kidhood. I remember Dick Addis on WNDU, the station we watched most. He was just as animated as today’s TV meteorologists, but he had to be. He started his forecasts with a big map of the United States and, as he spoke, furiously scribbled weather patterns onto it with a big Magic Marker. The most advanced technology he used was a still black-and-white satellite image. WNDU was kind of a trailblazer at the time in that Dick was actually a meterologist. Many stations in those days just had a staff announcer read the weather forecast.

I don’t have any WNDU clips, unfortunately, but I found several 1970s weathercasts lurking around YouTube’s dusty corners. This one is from WDIO in Duluth, Minnesota. Dig that giant map of the nation with all the little numbers stuck to it. Also, the weatherman delivers a live commercial! And check out the hand-written forecast.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but Duluth is a small television market; bigger markets had to have better technology,” check out this 1973 weathercast from WLS in Chicago. WLS did have a groovy rotating board with all the maps, but everything on it was hand-lettered. At least they had access to the National Weather Service radar.

In 1974, KAKE in Wichita, Kansas, was using some more advanced technology. They used a character generator to create a scrolling national temperature list, and they had animated satellite imagery. Also, while the forecast graphics were still letters and numbers stuck on the wall, at least they used chroma key to show some of it. And the whole weathercast was approved by the American Meteorological Society – something we take for granted today, but was kind of novel in 1974.

The pretty weather girl has been a fixture of TV news for a long time. In the 1970s, it was often the only real way a woman could be on a news team. KMBC in Kansas City, Missouri, apparently offered no exception. In 1977 they had a big rotating weather cube like WLS’s, but used a character generator for the forecast. Kansas City had just experienced some serious flooding at the time of this clip, which is why they’re expressing concern about showers in the forecast.

As the 1970s wore on, weathercasting technology began to improve. KXTV in Sacramento, California, had a color weather radar in 1978. It was awfully primitive by today’s standards. But I remember when a station in the town where I grew up got a similar radar, and it was a big deal. Despite this advance, KXTV still had a giant map on the wall with stick-on numbers. Also, if you recognize this weatherman as the same guy from WLS in 1973, you have a keen eye. It’s typical for people in TV news to move from city to city during their careers.

Today, everything you see on a weathercast except the meteorologist is generated with computers. Given how unreliable software can be, I’m surprised I’ve never seen a display crash during a weathercast! You might think the old-style weather displays were trouble-free, but check out what this poor weatherman at KIRO in Seattle, Washington, endured in 1975.

All of these weathercasts had one thing in common – they were delivered calmly! News directors, take a cue from days gone by.

Road Trips

Root beer and dead ends in Washington

US 50 has a colorful history in terms of realignments across southwestern Indiana. I-64 was originally going to be built along the US 150 corridor from Louisville to about Shoals, where it would pick up US 50 on its way to Illinois. But lobbying got I-64 built farther south, passing closer to Evansville. That didn’t stop the desire for a major highway through this part of Indiana, so the current expressway was built westward from Washington. Of course it bypasses every town along the way, leaving juicy bits of old road behind.

If you’ve guessed that I’m going to show you photos of Old US 50, then you’ve come to know me well. We’ll start with Washington, Indiana.  First, though, let’s look at this map of Washington, Indiana, on which I’ve marked the old alignment in blue.

Where Old US 50 meets State Road 257, I came upon this great neon sign.

Mason's Root Beer

It announced this root beer stand. I stopped of course. How could I resist? While I was photographing the place, a delightful young lady came out to take my order. My root beer float was delicious. Mason’s Root Beer was easy to come by during my 1970s kidhood, but has all but disappeared today.

Mason's Root Beer

Old US 50 doesn’t go through downtown Washington but rather skirts across the south side of town. Ordinarily that would puzzle me, but in this case I happen to know why and will share with you in an upcoming post. (Hint: It means more old alignment photos!) Beyond Washington, signs begin pointing motorists back to US 50 and then begin warning that the road ends ahead. And they mean it.

Old US 50

I stopped and walked out past the Do Not Enter signs to take this photograph. I’m sure there’s more road underneath the brush, and I was very curious to explore. But I was also wearing shorts and wasn’t at all excited about wading through all of this with my legs exposed. Critters? Poison ivy? No thanks.

Old US 50

If I could have wound the clock back 20 years, this is what I would have found in there.

According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), from which I got these photos, this three-span Parker through truss bridge was built in 1930 and met its doom in 1990. This bridge had a twin that stood less than a half mile to the west. It, too, is gone, replaced in 1988 by two modern bridges on the US 50 expressway. You might think the old bridge could have been kept and a single new bridge built in the oncoming lanes, but its 20-foot-wide deck probably doomed it. Consider that Interstate standards call for bridges to be a whopping 37½ feet wide – two 12-foot lanes, a ten-foot outer shoulder, and a 3½-foot inner shoulder. Two semis entering this bridge at the same time would find it a tight fit!

Illinois planned a US 50 expressway but completed only some of it. That work abandoned three great through truss bridges; see them here.

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