Bob's Century

I was in a super bad mood the other day and decided to distract myself from it by looking back through some photographs from just after I got my first digital camera, a Kodak EasyShare Z730. I found some that had potential and brought some of them into Photoshop for some tweaking. The Z730 has a very capable Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon lens but is limited by an average sensor. Details are blotchy at maximum resolution, so I was careful not to crop too deeply. While the original image is a color shot with vivid reds and blues, I liked it better when I converted it to black and white.

I don’t know if Bob’s Century is still operating. It’s way down on the southwest side of town on an old alignment of State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway, and I never get down there. It was an anachronism already when I stopped to photograph it in 2007 – a full-service gas station with a mechanic’s bay. For that reason alone, I hope it’s still going.

Check out these old gas stations I found when exploring Indiana’s US 50.

Photography, Road Trips

Captured: Bob’s Century

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Preservation

Documenting the rapidly changing built environment

Writing yesterday about the changes to my childhood neighborhood before I was born made me think about how much an intersection near my northwest Indianapolis home has changed in the 20 years I’ve lived near it.

The area surrounding 56th Street and Georgetown Road is filled today with shopping centers, gas stations, and modern suburban neighborhoods. But when I moved here in 1994, the area was mostly farmland with one area of concentrated shopping. In the years since, the farms sold out and everything else was built. To accommodate the extra traffic that followed, 56th Street was widened to four lanes and extra turn lanes were added on Georgetown Road. And then some of the original commercial buildings were razed and new ones were built. Three of the four corners feature different buildings from what was there when I moved here. Clearly, this intersection has got it going on. Further proof: It has become one of the most accident-prone intersections in the city.

I looked at the historic aerial images available at MapIndy to see how the area developed before I arrived. I was surprised to find that the biggest boom happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, just before I arrived. I was even more surprised to find that Georgetown Road has existed only since the 1960s! I compiled some of the aerial photos into a short video that shows the dramatic changes. Take a look:

This exercise started me thinking about doing more documentary photography of the built environment. It can change so rapidly! It struck me that I can’t remember what the buildings on the northeast and southeast corners looked like before the current ones were built. They were both gas stations; I filled up my car at both of them. I remember only that they had just a couple of pumps apiece and cars always had to wait in line to fill up.

I’ve spent some time around this intersection when looking for subjects for my vintage cameras. This Marathon station stands on the northeast corner. I shot it in late 2013 with my Olympus Stylus.

Marathon

A CVS stands right next door to the Marathon station. I shot its sign in 2008 with my Argus C3.

CVS

I shot some of the fast-food joints north of the CVS on the same trip. I was really shooting the cop cars, but because I hadn’t learned to move in close to my subject yet I got a lot of the surrounding context.

The cops gotta eat sometime

I had my Argus A2B in 2011 in my hand when I shot this Wendy’s sign. You can see the Boston Market’s sign, the CVS, and the Marathon station in the background of this southbound shot.

Boston Market lurking

While these aren’t strictly documentary photographs, they do help put together what Georgetown Road looks like. This strip hasn’t changed much since 2008. But it almost certainly will change, and then these could perhaps be a rare record of what the area once looked like. I wish I had been out here with my cameras before all this was built!

It’s not like anything along these roads is special – it’s just typical suburban architecture, common as pennies. But who knows what will happen here in 20 years? Will decay set in, making these photos a startling look at these buildings when they were sparkling new? Or will the area continue to prosper, driving redevelopment, making these photos a record of what used to be here? Either way, common architecture has a way of evolving. If my blog is still here in 20 years, someone might just stumble upon this page and exclaim with nostalgia, “I remember when Marathon stations all used to look like that!”

See also how the intersection of 86th St. and Michigan Road has changed. Go here.

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Pops!!

Pops
Canon PowerShot S95
2013

Trip fatigue hit in Oklahoma. My sons felt it first. When we stopped for the night east of Tulsa on Wednesday, my youngest announced that he wouldn’t mind if we turned around for home in the morning. I felt for him, but we had one more day on the itinerary and (more importantly) nonrefundable hotel reservations near the Texas line. We pressed on. Thursday morning we stopped in Chandler to meet Jerry McClanahan at his home. He wrote the trip guide we were using – and on the Chandler page he listed his phone number and invtes travelers to call when they come to town! It was great to meet Jerry and see his Route 66 art; I even bought a print. But when we got back on the road I realized I felt it, too: the desire to be done.

As the miles passed I thought we’d never reach Oklahoma City. Then it swung into view as we rounded a curve: a 66-foot-tall soda-bottle sculpture. It was as welcome as an oasis in the desert, and we stopped. Pops is a gas station, convenience store, and diner that offers over 600 kinds of bottled sodas. It has to be the largest, most complete selection of carbonated, sweetened beverages in the world! Under the cantilevered canopy, the front windows are lined with pop bottles filled with every color of the rainbow. Inside, we paused for lunch, and my youngest boy excitedly assembled a custom six-pack of colorful sodas. I think he was glad we kept going one more day.

Photography, Road Trips

Captured: Pops!!

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History, Preservation, Road Trips

Restored Phillips 66 service station on Route 66

They call Spencer a ghost town, but I say that there would have to be more town here for it to qualify. This dot on the southwest Missouri map has but one row of buildings, capped by this restored Phillips 66 service station.

Spencer Phillips 66

It’s the last thing you expect to find as you turn onto this old, almost forgotten alignment of the road.

Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google.
Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google.

Because it is almost forgotten, it still bears the 1924 steel truss bridge I wrote about here and the 1920s concrete pavement I wrote about here. It looks like what is now Highway N used to curve around to follow this alignment, but what is now Highway 96 was built later to be a straighter and truer path for the Mother Road. That must have happened a very long time ago for the bridge never to have been upgraded and the concrete never to have been covered with asphalt. Check out that glorious concrete as it passes by this station.

Spencer Phillips 66

Spencer formed here in the 1870s, with a store, a church, and a post office lining what was then known as Carthage Road. It’s said that by 1912 the old road had become impassable, which hurt the town’s fortunes. The arrival of Route 66 in 1927 led to the concrete pavement and the bridge. It sparked the local economy enough to establish this service station and a few other businesses.

Spencer Phillips 66

This was first a Tydol station; later, it switched to Phillips 66. I imagine that the road brought just enough business here to provide a living for the proprietors, but not enough to make anybody wealthy.

Spencer Phillips 66

The realignment of Route 66 along what is now Highway 96 had to have hurt business, but the construction of nearby I-44 surely killed it. Traffic dried up and soon these businesses closed for good.

Spencer Phillips 66

This restoration is recent, and appears to be ongoing. I’ve seen photos of this building from the past few years that show it boarded up in dereliction and, later, in various stages of restoration. This awning and these gas pumps weren’t there just a couple years ago, for example. The other buildings in this row have been tidied up but it looks like a lot more work can be done to them. Here’s hoping that happens. It’s stops like this, out in the middle of nowhere, that make Route 66 a wonderful museum of 20th-century history.

Check out the restored Standard station on Route 66 in Illinois here.

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History, Preservation, Road Trips

Restored Standard service station on Route 66

We were in the first hours of our Route 66 trip’s first day when we reached Odell, a small northern-Illinois town, and its wonderful Standard service station.

1932 Standard Station

You know how it is early on a road trip. The excitement is fresh, your eyes are wide open, and you want to stop and look at everything. At the other end of our trip, three days later on Oklahoma’s vast plain, we passed many things by. Trip fatigue was closing our eyes. “Look, boys, another old gas station,” I’d say, and keep driving. I’d hear a grunt of acknowledgement from the back seat.

1932 Standard Station

I’m glad we stopped for this one. It’s been carefully restored and is a joy to behold. The building was erected in two parts: the main gas station in 1932, and the service bays in about 1940. It began its life as a Standard station, but later sold Phillips 66 and Sinclair fuels. The photo below shows the station during its Phillips 66 days, and hangs in the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac, Illinois.

1932 Standard Station

Just after the war, Route 66 was rerouted to bypass Odell. Traffic dried up and business dropped off. The service bays saved this station, which increasingly focused on repairs and body work to keep it going. It stopped selling gasoline in the late 1960s, and closed for good in the mid 1970s.

1932 Standard Station

Preservationists, the persistent lot that they are, made sure that this link to our past survived. The village of Odell bought the station to save it. The Route 66 Association of Illinois won it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. $55,000 was raised to restore the station to its original glory.

1932 Standard Station

We found several old service stations on Route 66, many of which had been restored, but none were as delightful as this one.

1932 Standard Station

I found several old service stations along US 50 in Indiana, too. See them here.

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Indiana Fried Chicken Tour

The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour: Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles

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It had been too long, Sherrel and I agreed, since our last stop on the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour. Buying and moving into a new home had consumed his time for weeks. By the time he had settled in, I had turned in my notice at the company where we both worked. We knew we had to squeeze in one more stop on the Tour before I moved on.

We knew just where we would go: Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles. We had been once before, hoping to sample their fried-chicken dinner. The hour round trip to Maxine’s downtown Indianapolis location (132 N. East Street) from our Carmel office meant we were pushing the lunch hour’s limits. After we arrived, we learned that fried-chicken perfection took 35 minutes, time we just didn’t have.

So we settled for their signature chicken and waffles. If you’ve never had this dish, let me assure you that it is delicious. The enormous chicken wings go startlingly well with the crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the inside waffles, especially when you douse them in syrup. Our lunch was so fresh and good that we vowed to return. We figured we could call ahead to order the full fried chicken dinner.

When I became a short-timer in our office, let’s just say that on-time returns from lunch became less of a priority. Our return visit to Maxine’s was a certainty.

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Maxine’s is in a newish building shared with one of downtown’s few gas stations – an odd pairing, to be sure. But when you step inside you forget all about the fueling going on.

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Malissa, our waitress, appeared directly to take our drink order. She returned straightaway with our unsweet iced tea and a plate of little cornbread pancakes laid around a dollop of peach butter. The cornbread was moist and slightly sweet; the peach butter was creamy and sweet but not very peachy. Maybe I should have slathered more on the bread to get the full peach flavor.

Our dinners came with a small salad, fresh and crisp, of head lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and sharp cheddar. The onions were pungent and strong, surprisingly so, and were this simple salad’s highlight. Unremarkable croutons and ranch dressing (served on the side) rounded out the salad.

Sherrel called Maxine’s from the parking lot at work to put in our chicken order, and the golden-brown goodness arrived shortly after we finished our salads.

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I ordered my traditional sides of green beans and mashed potatoes with gravy. Sherrel got the potatoes and fried green tomatoes. My green beans were mushy, but at least they had good, slightly spicy flavor and weren’t fatty. A tomato slice and a ring of that strong onion topped and complemented them. The mashed potatoes were the best we’ve had on the Tour. There was no question about their origin: these were genuine mashed potatoes – unquestionably neither whipped nor instant as they were full of little potato chunks. They delivered solid, straight up potato flavor, with only a hint of the milk or cream that was holding them together. Maxine’s clearly chooses excellent quality potatoes. The gravy that topped them was slightly sweet and a little too fatty. A dash of salt improved it. Sherrel declared the fried green tomatoes to be fine, especially with the supplied sauce, but didn’t elaborate.

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At last I dove into the chicken, the main event. Maxine’s delivers four pieces with each order, either all dark meat or all white meat. I ordered the white, Sherrel ordered the dark, and we traded two pieces so we could each experience the whole chicken.

The coating was thin and crisp. I guessed that this was a simple flour dredge. But later Sherrel wondered whether Maxine’s uses crushed corn flakes in its coating. I think he may be right. The coating was mildly seasoned, perhaps only with a little salt.

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It works because the dense, tender meat carries deep, rich chicken flavor. Maxine’s is buying high-quality birds, easily the finest meat we’ve experienced on the Tour. Actually, this was the most inherently flavorful bird I’ve ever eaten. They don’t adorn it with thick, highly seasoned coating because this meat doesn’t need it; it speaks for itself. My only quibble was that the breast was a tiny, tiny, tiny bit dry.

My meal was $17.75. Sherrel’s dark-meat order was about a buck less. (That’s him over there, hard at work on his dinner.) This was a great experience, made even better by Malissa, who served us with a giant smile, an infectious great attitude, and an uncanny ability to appear at our table at the exact moments we needed her.

As Sherrel and I drove back to the office, we vowed that we would keep the Tour going despite it being more complicated now to schedule stops. Altogether too often our chicken quest was continued merely because we happened to pass each other in the hallway and one of us cried, “Chicken!” We must redouble our efforts; this is too much fun.

Other great stops on the Tour: Mississippi Belle, Kopper Kettle, and Wagner’s Village Inn.

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