Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak Baby Brownie

1957 in Knightstown

Isn’t this thing just cute? Made of Bakelite and aluminum, this palm-sized box camera from the late 1930s is almost certainly the smallest ever made to accept 127 film.

Kodak Baby Brownie

I’ve shot this camera but once. I put my last roll of Efke 100 through it. I wasn’t wowed with the results. The lens might have been dirty; that’s been a common problem with old boxes I’ve encountered. So before shooting it this time I swabbed it clean with rubbing alcohol. Or it could just be that I don’t like the look of Efke 100. This shot of my last house was by far the best of that roll.

Home sweet home

So this time I shot Ektar, which in my experience is the best film for testing an old box. Such cameras tend to operate at 1/50 sec. at f/8, or 1/40 sec at f/11, or some other similar aperture/shutter-speed combo. On a sunny day, ISO 100 film is a good fit. Ektar in particular has wide enough exposure latitude to make up for unsunny days and exposure vagaries from box to box.

Centerville

Kodak doesn’t make Ektar or any other film in 127; nobody does. But I found a fellow on eBay who cuts various 120 films down to 127’s width and respools the stuff onto 127 spools. His film flowed flawlessly through my Baby Brownie.

Centerville

As you can see, however, light leaked everywhere onto these frames. There was evidence of leaking light on my Efke 100 roll but not as strong as here. Given the hand-rolled nature of the film I can’t be sure something wasn’t perfect with the way the film was rolled, either. But I’m betting it’s the Brownie.

Centerville

This is such a wonderful little camera to use. Pop up the viewfinder, frame, and slide the shutter lever. You get used to its front-and-center placement in no time, and it moves easily. Shooting at close range, however, you can see this simple lens’s tendency toward barrel distortion.

1957 in Knightstown

I brought the Baby Brownie onto the National Road in eastern Indiana in August; these photos are from Centerville and Knightstown, Indiana. To see more from this little box, check out my Kodak Baby Brownie gallery.

Even though my Baby Brownie outing was pleasant, I’m not that likely to shoot very much 127 going forward. If I do, I know I’ll always get out my Kodak Brownie Starmatic. It’s even more pleasant to use, its lens is better, and it leaks considerably less light (as you’ll see in an upcoming Operation Thin the Herd review). I briefly considered keeping the Baby Brownie for display, but in the end decided it’s time to let it find its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

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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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Camera Reviews

Canon TLb

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I love gifts to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. I wasn’t in the market for any more all-manual Canon SLRs, but when this TLb landed in my hands, of course I had to shoot with it. Turns out, it’s a competent basic performer.

Canon TLb

Produced for a few years starting in 1974, the TLb was Canon’s entry-level 35mm SLR. It was based on the earlier, more fully featured FTb QL, removing three features: the 1/1000 sec. shutter speed (the TLb tops out at 1/500 sec), a hot shoe, and the Quick Loading (QL) film-loading system. Everything else is the same, down to the match-needle metering.

Canon TLb

The TLb, along with the FTb QL and the F-1, were Canon’s first cameras for the new FD lens mount. It replaced the earlier, similar FL mount; indeed, all of these cameras take FL-mount lenses, but then you have to stop down to meter.

Canon TLb

The TLb follows the 35mm SLR idiom well; all the controls are in the typical places. The only quirk is that the battery cover is on the side of the top plate, next to the rewind crank, rather than on the bottom. The meter runs on a dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery. As usual, I substituted an alkaline 625 cell with its slightly different voltage, worries about misexposures be damned.

I’ve owned a few Canon cameras with the QL system, and I always manage to screw up loading film with them. But I got film loading right with the QL-less TLb on the first try. Go fig. With Kodak Gold 200 inside and a 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C lens out front, I took the TLb out on my recent trip with my friend Dawn along the National Road (US 40) in eastern Indiana. This scene is from a building in Greenfield. I can imagine it as a painting. Maybe I’ve seen one like it before.

Dog pumpkin shadow

When we reached Cambridge City, the sidewalks were lined with antiques for sale. We always seem to stumble upon some sort of festival or fair on our road trips. One of the dealers had this pottery for sale.

Jugs

The antiques sale spilled into an alleyway off the highway. All of my daylight images seemed just a shade too bright. But detail is good.

Junk for sale

Up in Centerville, this old iron railroad crossing sign stands inexplicably in a courtyard, no tracks in sight.

Danger

The white and green Huddleston Farmhouse is hard to miss as you pass it by. It’s an Indiana Landmarks property; tours are available. I always manage to stop by when the house is closed, but the grounds have always been open for self-guided tours. This photo is of the well house on the property.

At the Huddleston Farmhouse

I could have taken all of those easy touristy photos with any of my cameras. Part of the point of owning an SLR is that you can do more than that with it. So I moved in close to this flower.

Flower

And inside an antique shop, I braced myself and the camera, opened the lens wide, and got this lovely shot of this old toy truck on a shelf. The depth of field is probably an inch or so here.

Allied Van Lines

I brought the TLb with me one day after work when I met my brother Downtown for a drink. I like bourbon; he likes rye. Liberty Street has an impressive selection of both.

Liberty Street

I always like to see what kind of bokeh I can get out of a prime lens, so I moved in as close as I could to these mums in my front yard, opened the lens wide, and made this photo.

Mums

I liked this TLb, shot after shot. Strange, because I also own a similar (though FL-mount) FT QL and I thought it was just okay. These cameras share a basic body and mechanicals. Maybe it was because the FT QL required stopping down to use the meter. I also recall my FT QL being stiff to use; maybe it needed a CLA. But this TLb is a fine shooter. If you want a decent basic body for your FD mount lenses, one that still works (except the meter) when the battery dies, one you can pick up for cheap every day on eBay, the TLb is a fine choice.


Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out all of my gear reviews!

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History, Road Trips

Suddenly, it’s 1860

It feels like warping back more than 150 years in time when you drive into Centerville, on US 40 and the old National Road in east-central Indiana.

Centerville, Indiana

The town’s cobblestone streets have long been supplanted by four lanes of asphalt. But almost everything else about Centerville takes you back. Way back. Like the Mansion House, built in 1840. It has served as the office for the Western Stage Company and as a tavern (think: meal and place to sleep) for travelers. In 1858, the women of Centerville had enough of the gambling and boozing that went on inside,  so they axed their way through the door and destroyed all of the whiskey barrels, letting the liquor spill into the street.

Centerville, Indiana

Centerville, platted in 1814, predates the National Road. It became the Wayne County seat of justice in about 1818. This log cabin was once the courthouse — but that was before 1818, when the county seat was in Salisbury. As best as I can tell, that town doesn’t exist anymore. The log cabin was dismantled and rebuilt in Centerville in 1952. It’s the last standing log courthouse in the entire old Northwest Territory.

Centerville, Indiana

By 1870, nearby Richmond had become by far the largest town in the county, and wanted to be the county seat. But Centerville was determined not to let it go. They went as far as to build a new jail, thinking it would help their cause. It didn’t; the courts ruled in Richmond’s favor. But Centerville wasn’t done fighting. When officials from Richmond came to Centerville’s new jail to get the courthouse’s records, they were rebuffed twice: first by locked gates and then by cannon. That jail, pictured above, is now Centerville’s library — and it still features holes from where iron scraps fired from the cannon pierced the building’s facade. The next day, soldiers came and took the records by force.

Centerville, Indiana

Centerville is known as “the city of arches” for five arches built into some of its buildings.

Centerville, Indiana

The National Road was once 100 feet wide through Centerville. But the people of Centerville encroached into the right-of-way when they added onto the fronts of their houses in the 1820s and 1830s, narrowing the road to just 65 feet. The arches allowed access to the original buildings.

Centerville, Indiana

Today, Centerville is known mostly for its many antique shops. So is nearby Cambridge City. You can spend a very enjoyable day on the National Road in these two towns visiting all of the antique shops. I found an old camera in one to add to my collection. (For the camera geeks in my audience, it’s a Minolta SR-T 202 with a dead meter — but a 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens, for $30.)

Centerville, Indiana

My friend Dawn and I walked through Centerville to take in the architecture. An accident had closed I-70, shunting traffic onto US 40 and through Centerville. I had to wait quite some time to get this photo. And it was sobering to walk the sidewalk and feel the semis rumble by just a few feet away. I can only imagine what Centerville was like before I-70 was built and all that traffic had no choice but to drive through here.

IMG_4030 proc_Lucid_sm

Dawn and I stopped for a selfie in front of the mural on the end of the buildings in the previous photo. It was a great day to be on the National Road — sunny and mild.

The Lantz House

Centerville is bookended by two great houses: the Mansion House on the east, and this, the 1823 Lantz House, on the west. When Dawn and I last visited, in 2009, the Lantz House was a bed and breakfast. It looks like those days are over now; the house is for sale.

Centerville, Indiana

We lingered too long in charming Centerville. Just like last time.


I love the National Road! Check out everything I’ve written about it here.

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History, Road Trips

Arch city

As my friend and I drove into Centerville, I thought for a moment that we had driven through a tear in the fabric of time and space and had found ourselves on the National Road in Maryland. At first glance, Centerville reminded me a lot of Maryland’s New Market, with its row houses right on the edge of the road. Like New Market, Centerville is a major destination for antiques shoppers.

Centerville

While Centerville isn’t as old as New Market (which dates to 1792), Centerville is an old town by Indiana standards, having been laid out in 1814. Quakers were first to settle here. When the National Road came in the 1830s, it was natural for it to run through Centerville. Check out more of Centerville’s history.

Centerville

My favorite building in Centerville is the Lantz House. Wagonmaker Daniel Lantz built it in the 1820s. His home was the left half of the building; his shop, the right. Today all of it is a bed and breakfast.

Lantz House, Centerville

The current owner restored the house in the early 1990s. I really enjoyed the strength of the entry.

Lantz House, Centerville

CentervilleDid you notice the arches in two of the photos above? Centerville has five such arches in the buildings that line the National Road. Originally, the road had a 100-foot right-of-way. In 1816 (or 1818; sources disagree) Centerville became the Wayne County seat. With the increased activity that brought, the right-of-way was reduced to 65 feet, and property owners added to the existing buildings along the road, bringing them right out to the road’s edge. The arches were an innovative way of providing access to the original buildings behind. Today, each arch is marked with a plaque like this one, telling when it was built and who owned the building at the time. This plaque is attached to the building below, next to its arch. Centerville celebrates its arches each August with the Archway Days festival.

Centerville

Centerville wasn’t the first seat of justice in Wayne County; a town called Salisbury was. Salisbury no longer exists, but a Salisbury Road still runs north-south just west of Richmond. At any rate, this 1811 log cabin was the courthouse in Salisbury. It was reconstructed here in Centerville in either 1952 or 1998, depending on which of the two plaques you believe. It is the only log courthouse still standing from the old Northwest Territory.

First Wayne County courthouse

Centerville isn’t the current seat of justice in Wayne County; Richmond has been since 1873. The decision to move the county seat caused an uproar in Centerville; residents fought back. It went so far that when Richmond officials came to get the county records from the courthouse (below), someone from Centerville fired a cannon loaded with scrap iron at them. The courthouse still bears punctures from the shrapnel. Read the whole story. The courthouse is now the town’s library.

Centerville library, former courthouse

Centervillians had quite an ornery streak, actually. This is the Mansion House Inn, completed in 1840. It was a stop for National Road travelers and was known for the gambling that went on inside. In 1858 a group of Centerville women, up in arms over such immorality in their city, axed their way through the inn’s door and destroyed the inn’s stock of whiskey barrels, letting the liquor spill into the street. A judge ordered the women to pay for the damage they caused, which came to about $3,000. That had to be an astronomical sum at the time!

Mansion House, Centerville

I stop in a lot of small Indiana towns on my road trips, but I’ve enjoyed few as much as I enjoyed Centerville.

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