It was going to be a series: photos of my boys leaning on my car in front of various restaurants where we ate dinner. And I was going to use nothing but box cameras. Then I made just two photos. It’s not much of a series.
Ansco B-2 Cadet, Kodak Ektar 100, 2016
I suppose I could make more, eventually. But now that both boys are out of high school we’ll simply go out together a lot less often. And what are the odds I’ll have a loaded box camera then?
Kodak Six-20, Kodak Verichrome Pan (exp 9/1982), 2016
The boys live near an Interstate highway, so the available restaurants are the chain diners you expect to find at an exit. I have a bunch of dietary restrictions which make ordering at a restaurant tricky. But I can always confidently order the bacon and eggs.
It so happens that I sent both rolls of film to Old School Photo Lab for processing. I didn’t order prints, but they printed these two images anyway and sent them to me for nothing. The prints are truly wonderful! Far better than these scans. Crisper, more vivid. If I didn’t tell you I took them with box cameras, you’d never know.
It’s a gleaming stainless-steel 1954 Mountain View diner, shipped by rail from the New Jersey factory and opened for business on US 40, the old National Road, just east of Plainfield, Indiana. It served there for more than 50 years before hard times befell it and it closed. That’s how I found it when I last toured the National Road across western Indiana, in 2009; I hoped to take my breakfast there. See a photo of it that day deep in this post. And then the health department declared an addition behind the diner unsound. As the last diner of its type on the National Road, preservationists swung into action. This year, it moved four miles west into the town of Plainfield, where it was restored and reopened. The Oasis sign is a reproduction from photographs; the original had been removed decades ago. The Diner sign is original but restored.
My sons and I visited for dinner a couple weeks ago with some road-trip-loving friends. My younger son and I had cheeseburgers — they grind bacon into their beef for extra flavor. My other son had the cheesesteak, which he called “amazing.” The company and the setting were pretty darn good, too.
Logansport’s Whitehouse Restaurant closed its doors for good on Saturday after 73 years.
Little family-run diners used to be typical; every town had at least one. They began disappearing in the late 1970s, by my estimation, as fast-food and diner-style chain restaurants really caught on. I think that the wide availability of places like McDonald’s and Denny’s, coupled with the consistency and predictability of their offerings, made them feel like a safer choice.
Today, it takes an adventurous spirit to stop for a cheeseburger at a place like The Whitehouse. To be blunt, it was run down, as the photo above shows. Inside, seven decades of patrons resting their arms on the counters wore the color off the laminate. It spoke of owners who weren’t making a killing in the restaurant business, but who kept at it because they loved it and it made a good enough living for them. In truth, the restaurant was clean, the staff was friendly, and the food was good. But it probably felt safer for most people to drive on to the next fast-food place.
I know I felt that way. I’ve driven through Logansport a hundred times, easy, over the last 30 years. The Whitehouse is on the Michigan Road, which is always the route I take through town. But when I was hungry, I always drove right past The Whitehouse and went a little out of my way to visit a Mickey D’s.
Curiosity finallygot the better of me about six years ago, and I stopped for a cheeseburger. What a great cheeseburger it was, the kind with crispy edges! I wished I had taken the chance years and years before. I’ve stopped every time I found them open since (which could be tricky, as their hours were 4 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Once my sons in the car with me at lunchtime as we passed through town, and we stopped. It was very cool to let them experience something that had once been very common in America.
A fellow named Lester worked the grill. He had been at it for 60 years when he passed away in early 2012. I wondered then how much longer The Whitehouse would hang on, as it seemed like he was the force that kept the place going. And now here we are.
Are there any family-run places near where you are? Go visit them today.
You don’t need an invitation from Barack Obama to eat at this White House.
Longtime readers may remember this Logansport joint, as I shared the above photo here late last year. I pass by fairly frequently as it stands on the old Michigan Road, which I drive between my home in Indianapolis and my parents’ home in South Bend. Last time I drove by, my sons were along and we were hungry. So we stopped and had double cheeseburgers and fries.
This place is an anachronism, which is why I enjoyed it so much. It looks like they started operations in about 1960 and then never changed anything. The countertop supports this – all the forearms that have rested on it over the past 60 years have worn the laminate’s top layer away, leaving black blotches behind. They have a surprisingly large menu; it looks like they make everything possible out of the basic ingredients they keep on hand. Lunch here won’t hurt your pocketbook, but don’t hand them your debit card when you’re done eating. Cash only.
This place is tiny, with just eight seats at the counter and four cramped booths. These little juke boxes are in every booth, and there are two at the counter. None of them work; judging by the music loaded in them, they’ve been broken since the late 1990s. A couple of them have For Sale notices taped to them in case you collect such things!
The Michigan Road is Indiana’s first state-funded highway, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Lake Michigan through Indianapolis. I’m the co-chair of a committee working to have the Michigan Road named a State Historic Byway. We’re very close – we have submitted the application and present our case to the Indiana Department of Transportation next week! For more information, see our Web site, www.historicmichiganroad.org.
My last post mentioned how the National Road and US 40 has been repeatedly straightened, leveled, widened, and outright moved. As I began this trip west down the National Road from Indianapolis, I came across three out of four of those right away.
This image from Bing Maps shows the road around the Marion-Hendricks county line as it is now.
Compare it to this image, which I stitched together from 1937 and 1941 aerial images available at the Indianapolis General Data Viewer. (Gaps in the images made stitching necessary.) I highlighted US 40’s original alignment in green. Can you find the remnants of this alignment on the map above?
As early as 1937, the Six Points area just inside Hendricks County had already been bypassed. This was probably done for safety’s sake, as the original National Road intersected a railroad track there a dangerously shallow angle. The 1941 image shows a new alignment being built to straighten the curve and cross a creek at Marion County’s western border.
Remnants of the original alignment remain. East of the creek, at the extreme right edge of the aerial images above, faint traces of the original road remain. I’m told that until a few years ago, you could clearly see the original two-lane alignment of US 40 here.
This is westbound Old US 40, west of the creek, and its concrete dates probably to the 1920s. Check out how narrow the road is – two scant lanes! Modern US 40, just to the south, is five lanes wide. The old road has been torn out beyond the next crossroad, which is the county line.
Do you see the red billboard in the distance in the photo above? It stands right where the original alignment separates from the bypass around Six Points, just inside Hendricks County.
When I was last here, which was on my first-ever road trip three years ago, road-construction signs were posted here. Figuring the road was blocked, I decided to come again when construction was finished and I could drive through to the end of this alignment. Turns out I never had a chance. (Update: The segment in the photo above was removed entirely a few years after I made this visit.) The National Road was being permanently bisected by the new Ronald Reagan Parkway. Here’s the westbound scene today. I suppose it didn’t make sense to build an overpass for this little-used road, but seeing the route cut like this still hurts a little.
Never wait to see something along the old road; you may lose your chance! With that lesson freshly in mind, I drove around to the bypass to photograph a couple well-known fixtures along the road. The first is The Diner. The aluminum portion, made in 1954, used to stand alone; the limestone-faced building behind it was added later. Despite a temporary closure in 2007, it is said to still be operating, although it was closed this Saturday morning. (Update: It was moved to downtown Plainfield, restored, and reopened. See a photo here.)
Next to The Diner is the former 40 Motel. This is its sign, the “MOTEL” letters across its middle long gone. The motel and the diner used to be owned by the same people, but no longer. The motel appears to be vacant.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.