Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Brownie Starmatic

Wheeler Mision

Arthur Crapsey designed scads of Kodak cameras starting in the late 1940s, including an entire line of 127 cameras with Star in the names. This one, the Starmatic, sits atop the Star food chain with a coupled light meter, a pretty astonishing feature upon this camera’s 1959 introduction. It was especially astonishing given that this is just a box camera.

Kodak Brownie Starmatic

The primitive mechanical metering works well as long as the selenium in the meter is strong. The shutter operates at 1/40 sec, I’m guessing. The meter reads the light and pushes a mechanical stop into place. This stop limits the aperture — as you press the shutter, the aperture blades close until the closing mechanism reaches that stop. Since “wide open” is f/8, this camera biases toward plenty of depth of field. That’s what I got when I shot my first roll through this Starmatic on Portra 160. I had to shoot it at EI 125 as that’s as fast as the Starmatic can go. But Portra has enough exposure latitude that it didn’t matter.

Kayaks

I’ve used this camera quite a bit, for one that takes film that isn’t made anymore. It’s just so easy and pleasant to use. Here’s a shot I made on Efke 100.

Tire and hay

Most Star cameras are fully point and shoot. The Starmatic is point and shoot, too, but only after you put the camera in automatic mode and set the film’s ISO. That’s what the two dials atop the camera are for. (Taking the Starmatic out of automatic mode sets it for flash photography, if you attach a flashgun.) For this outing I loaded some Ektar 100 that I bought pre-cut and -rolled from a user on eBay. Ektar is great in simple cameras.

Musicians Local

I blew through the whole roll in 20 minutes walking along Delaware Avenue in Downtown Indianapolis. I’ve always really enjoyed shooting this camera and this time was no different.

Roberts Park Church

This lens has a wide-angle feel. Nothing on the camera itself gives away its focal length, but you sure see a lot in the viewfinder window. When you’re far away from your subject you’ll get a lot of foreground in the shot.

Bail Bonds

You can see it a little in the two shots above, and a lot in the shot below, but this lens has some pretty wicked barrel distortion. Also, the viewfinder isn’t very well matched to the lens as I centered this door in my frame.

Door

The Starmatic almost certainly uses a single-element meniscus lens. It delivers sufficient sharpness for snapshot-sized prints, but if you look at any of these images at full scan size they are as soft as Wonder bread.

Park

There was a little leaked light on the last shots of the roll. I don’t know whether to blame the camera or the hand-rolled film.

$5

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic gallery!

I want to keep one 127 camera in my collection, and what better one to keep than one I enjoy shooting this much? I feel fortunate that the selenium meter in this Starmatic is still strong enough that it yields good exposures within my film’s exposure latitude. As this camera remains in my collection, I’ll keep it bundled up in its ever-ready case so that light doesn’t rob that selenium of its sensitivity.

Verdict: Keep

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Road Trips

Classic motels on US 40 in Wayne County, Indiana

One of these days I ought to survey all of the classic motels on US 40 in Indiana. There are quite a few, primarily in Wayne, Marion, and Hendricks Counties with a few others popping up here and there. Many of them still serve guests, even if those guests stay for months or years at a time and call their room home.

Wayne County borders Ohio and so is the eastern gateway to Indiana along what was once the National Road. It still has these operating classic motels.

Holiday Motel

First is the Holiday Motel, which is within the Richmond city limits. Like all of the Wayne County hotels, it uses a plastic box sign. It once had a larger sign lit with neon tubing, according to an old postcard image I found on the Web (here).

Holiday Motel

The Holiday Motel’s U configuration makes efficient use of limited city space.

Holiday Motel

You come upon the City View Motel after you leave Richmond proper. It’s most of the way to Centerville, actually, and has a Centerville address.

City View Motel

In contrast to the urban Holiday Motel, the outskirts-of-town City View sprawls out across a wide lot.

City View Motel

Whenever I see a plastic box sign on a classic motel, I assume there was once a more interesting neon sign in the hotel’s past. A Web search turned up one postcard that showed the City View’s onetime neon sign (here).

City View Motel

The Richmond Motel is even farther away from Richmond than the City View. It’s on the eastern edge of Centerville.

Richmond Motel

It, too, once had a far more interesting sign. You can see it here.

Richmond Motel

It also sprawls wide, taking advantage of its more rural setting. I think it’s the most cheerful looking of the Wayne County motels with its red and gray color scheme.

Richmond Motel

There’s just one more Wayne County hotel, on the very western edge of Centerville. I made just this one photo of it. There’s no sign, which leads me to believe this motel serves as inexpensive apartments now. But at one time this was the Green Acres Motel; see an old postcard of it here.

Unsigned former motel

Motels have been an occasional subject here — click here for photos and stories of all the motels I’ve written about on all kinds of old roads.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Touring the Huddleston Farmhouse, part 2: the interior

The Huddleston FarmhouseI’ve stopped by the Huddleston Farmhouse several times on my many tours across Indiana’s National Road. In case you missed it, check out the exterior and grounds here. But I never managed to stop on a day when the house was open for a tour. When I attended the Midwest Byways Conference in August just down the road in Richmond, hwoever, Indiana Landmarks threw the doors open wide one afternoon for us attendees.

The ground floor, which used to contain three guest rooms, has been converted into an interactive educational experience about the National Road and its history. The top floor, which used to be bedrooms for the Huddleston family, is now office space for Indiana Landmarks and for the Indiana National Road Association. But the middle floor has been restored and furnished as it would have been when the Huddlestons lived here. First, the kitchen.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Just off the kitchen is this dining room.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

After dinner, the family would move to this room to spend the evening together.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

And when the Huddlestons had guests, they received them in this formal parlor.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The upstairs was not open to tours as it is now office space for Indiana Landmarks and the Indiana National Road Association. But here’s the staircase up there anyway.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

And the house’s original configuration included no stairs to the ground floor, as those were guest rooms and accessible only from the outside. But in the restoration these stairs to those rooms were added, so that tours could visit the ground-floor National Road exhibit without having to step outside first.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

If you’d like to tour the Huddleston Farmhouse, you can make an appointment. See this page for more information.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Touring the Huddleston Farmhouse, part 1: the exterior and grounds

It’s a commanding presence on the National Road, this, the Huddleston farm. It’s in Wayne County, between the towns of Cambridge City and Mt. Auburn, on the south side of the road. You first see the big house itself, built in 1841, as you approach along what is now US 40. It is just steps away from the road.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

When John Huddleston built it, the road was much narrower and so was a little farther away from the house. But the house was still plenty close to the road so travelers wouldn’t miss it, as Huddleston opened his home as an inn for travelers. He operated it with his wife Susannah and their 11 children.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Travelers rested in the yard, on the porch, or in one of three rooms on the house’s ground floor. In those days, those rooms were accessible only from the outside. Travelers could also rent one of two kitchens, which I presume were in outbuildings.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

While travelers used the rooms on the ground floor, the Huddlestons lived in the upper two floors. A kitchen, dining room, family room, and parlor are on the middle level, and the family slept in rooms on the upper level. Later this week I’ll share photos I took of the middle level, which is arranged and decorated with period-correct furnishings.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

On the grounds you’ll find buildings that were a pump house, a smoke house, a large barn, and a small barn. The large and small barns are the two photos above. The smoke house is the photo below; it is a reproduction and the only non-original building on the property.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Below is the pump house, built over the well.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

It was just a few steps outside from the kitchen to retrieve water. That was pretty modern in 1841.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Indiana Landmarks has owned this property since 1966 and restored it in the 1970s. The house’s brick was originally not painted, but Landmarks painted it in the restoration. I’m not sure they’d do the same today, but the standards of preservation were different in the 1970s.

Come back all week for more photos from the farm. On Thursday I’ll share photos from the interior, the middle floor, which is furnished as it might have been in the Huddlestons’ time.

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Centerville, Indiana, is known for its arches. You’ll see them when you visit: passageways in many of the buildings to courtyards behind them. It’s a distinctive architectural feature of this small National Road town, which was founded in 1814.

Centerville is also known for its antique shops. It’s one of the towns on Indiana’s famous Antique Alley. Centerville and nearby Cambridge City are probably the most prominent towns on that tour.

But Centerville is not known for its doors. That’s a shame, because they are lovely. Here are many of the doors you’ll find in Centerville right on the National Road, better known today as US 40.

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Centerville door

Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

Thursday doors: Centerville, Indiana on the National Road

In this installment of Thursday Doors, we check out those on the National Road in Centerville, IN. This town was laid out in 1814 — about as old as it gets in Indiana!

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Preservation, Road Trips

Exploring Napoleon, Indiana

There’s a lot of lovely historic architecture to see in Napoleon, a small town in Ripley County, Indiana. But getting there is part of the fun: from the north or from the south, you do it on the Michigan Road.

NapoleonMap1900

From Atlas of Ripley County, Indiana, O. W. Pegee, 1900

Ripley County boasts two alignments of the Michigan Road, the original and a later one that is now US 421. They come together in Napoleon. In the Michigan Road’s early days, what is now US 421 was a plank road starting in Versailles, and it became the more major route. It’s why, during the early years of the automobile, the Michigan Road was rerouted onto this road.

This 1900 atlas excerpt shows where and how the two roads used to meet on the south side of Napoleon. See the two roads that merge? The Michigan Road is on the left.

Each road had to cross a little stream. At some point, probably when it became clear that the old plank road would be the major route, the Michigan Road was truncated at the first county road south of Napoleon. Makes sense; why build and maintain a needless bridge? Here’s what it looks like today from above.

NapoleonGoogleMap2018

Imagery and map data © 2018 Google

In 2008 I documented what remains of this old Michigan Road alignment. Here’s a southbound photo from north of the county road where, today, you have to turn left to reach US 421 and resume your travel on the Michigan Road. My camera malfunctioned on a northbound photo from this spot, but the road was two-track from here and it faded into the grass ahead.

Former Michigan Road alignment?

This little bit of gravel provides access to this cemetery, which is wedged between here and US 421.

Lutheran Cemetery, Napoleon, Indiana

From my many visits to Napoleon over the years, here are a number of scenes from this little town. Its plat has hardly changed since 1900 and many buildings present then remain today. Arguably the most prominent building on the Michigan Road in Napoleon is this old flour mill.

Flour mill, Napoleon, Indiana

The photo above is from 2008 and the one below is from 2018. The photo below would show a building in dilapidated condition were someone not maintaining this building. I hear that this old mill has been converted into apartments.

Mill

Those painted signs would be faded and chipped away if someone wasn’t keeping them touched up.

Mill

The former Napoleon State Bank building is now a real-estate office.

Former Napoleon State Bank

Surprisingly, the Napoleon State Bank still operates in a modern building across the street. It’s remarkable it has survived in this age of bank mergers and megabanks.

Napoleon State Bank, Napoleon, Indiana

If you step off the Michigan Road and explore Napoleon’s Main Street (now State Road 229) you’ll find more lovely historic architecture. This is the Central House, built in the late 1820s. That makes it at least as old as the Michigan Road itself!

The Central House

Two large churches, both probably built in the early 20th century, stand along Main Street. First is St. John’s Lutheran.

St. John's Lutheran Church

St. Maurice Catholic is the other. Given how small this town is, these churches must have drawn members from a very large region to justify their size. Hopefully, they still do.

St. Maurice Catholic Church and School, Napoleon, Indiana

Of all the old buildings in Napoleon, I like the onetime home of Elias Conwell the best. Like the Central House, it dates to the 1820s. Conwell was quite a character; I told his story here.

The Conwell House

That little creek winds all through Napoleon. Here it is on the north side of town, hugging the northbound Michigan Road.

Creek along the road

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