Road Trips

The one old alignment of the National Road in eastern Indiana and the mystery of Star Blvd.

There’s but one old alignment of the National Road in eastern Indiana, and it stretches 4 miles from Dunrieth west through Raysville to the east edge of Knightstown. From there it’s about 33 miles to downtown Indianapolis.

OldNREastIN
Imagery and map data ©2018 Google.

Modern US 40 was built in about 1940, leaving this old route behind. Here’s where it begins on Dunrieth’s west edge. This is an eastbound photo. It’s cut off from US 40; to reach it, you have to turn south in Dunrieth proper and follow the town’s streets to this location.

Old NR/US 40

Turning around from the same spot, here’s the westbound road. Whenever I see an old alignment covered in asphalt I’m intensely curious to know what paving materials lurk beneath. Concrete? Brick?

Old NR/US 40

As the road enters Raysville it runs under this old Pennsylvania Railroad overpass.

Railroad overpass

On the other side of the overpass, facing eastbound, this little sliver of road breaks off from the old National Road. It’s signed Star Blvd.

Possible old US 40 alignment

As you can see in the map snippet below, it curves up and around much like modern US 40 does. I wondered for a long time whether this was a newer old alignment of the road. Did the state reroute the National Road more or less along its modern alignment between Dunreith and Raysville some number of years before building the modern four lane, divided road?

StarBlvd
Imagery and map data ©2018 Google.

I asked the wonderful Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook. I got my answer fast: it’s a previous routing of that PRR line. It was actually part of the old Indiana Central Railroad before PRR bought it and built the grade separation and new alignment. They did that in the 1900-1920 timeframe. Star Blvd. is the old PRR rail bed.

Star Ave

There it is, the old PRR bed, currently a narrow road for local traffic. The old National Road and US 40 had but two alignments here: the original and the 1940 US 40 expressway.

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.

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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 my Kodak Baby Brownie 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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History, Preservation

Carnegie libraries in Indiana

Wealthy industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built an astounding 1,689 libraries around the United States — plus 660 in the UK, 125 in Canada, and 35 in other countries around the world — between 1883 and 1929.

Preservationist blogger Susie Trexler wrote recently about the rich variation in architectural styles among Carnegie libraries in California, Oregon, and Washington. I was surprised to see how different from each other these libraries looked — because as I’ve encountered a handful of Carnegie libraries in my travels along Indiana’s old roads, what I’ve noticed is how similar they look. They all have some characteristics in common: prominent entrances, compact dimensions, brick construction, and usually pitched clay-tile roofs.

The first Carnegie library I ever encountered was along the Michigan Road in Greensburg. But I didn’t know what I was looking at. I just thought it was a compact City Hall building.

Former City Hall
Completed 1903. Architects: William Harris, Clifford Shopbell, and others.

I drove through again a few months later to find the City Hall sign gone, revealing what you see below. (The town built a new City Hall elsewhere.) I’d not heard of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries then. Seeing this sent me to the Internet to research. That’s when I learned that Carnegie’s efforts saw 167 libraries built in Indiana between 1901 and 1918.

Carnegie Library, Greensburg

Since I took these photos, this Carnegie Library has been converted into a private residence.

Interestingly, the Greensburg Carnegie library is nestled into this corner. The Michigan Road is on the left. All of the other Carnegie libraries I’ve found around the state are parallel with their streets.

Michigan Road and former City Hall

This Carnegie “Pvblic Library” stands on the Michigan Road in tiny Kirklin. Notice the addition out back, which was built in 2001. I like how its style reasonably harmonizes, but I wish they’d taken greater care to match the brick.

Kirklin Public Library
Completed 1915. Architects: Brookie & McGinnis

It’s still the town’s library. Here’s another photo of the Kirklin library, just because I like this shot.

Kirklin Carnegie Library

I found this Carnegie library on US 50 in downtown North Vernon. It is said to have been one of the last two Carnegie libraries built in Indiana. It was vacant for years, but was repurposed as North Vernon’s Town Hall in 2012.

North Vernon library
Completed 1920. Architect: unknown.

You’ll find this Carnegie library on the square in Paoli, on the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana. (This is the same town that lost its 1880 iron bridge last month thanks to a woefully inexperienced semi driver.) This is the smallest Carnegie library I’ve found in Indiana. My memory is that this building was being used as a day care or preschool at the time I took this photo, but I hear the building is vacant today.

Library
Completed 1920. Architect: unknown.

Here’s the Carnegie library in Sheridan, a small town north of Indianapolis. As best as I can tell, it’s vacant, but owned by an architect who is looking for a buyer who can put it to appropriate use. I really enjoy the look of this one.

Sheridan Carnegie Library
Completed 1913. Architect: Charles Bond.

Finally, here is the Carnegie library in Knightstown, east of Indianapolis on the National Road (US 40). It’s the only one I’ve found so far without a pitched roof. It appears to still be the town’s library.

Carnegie Library
Completed 1912. Architect: unknown.

There you have it: all the Carnegie libraries I’ve found across the state. Clearly, six out of 167 is hardly a representative sample: that’s just 3.6 percent of them! Maybe I need to make a focus of future road trips to visit them all across the state. In researching for this post, I discovered that the community center building two blocks from my church is a Carnegie library! I can start there. Until then, I can rely on Wikipedia’s list of Indiana Carnegie libraries.

I do have one more Carnegie library in my photo archive: this one, in Greenup, IL, on the National Road (US 40).

Carnegie Library

Such a different look from any of the ones I’ve photographed in Indiana!

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Camera Reviews

Kodak Baby Brownie

It’s just so cute. And it fits into the palm of your hand. Meet the tiny Kodak Baby Brownie.

Kodak Baby Brownie

Produced from 1934 to 1941 in the United States and from 1948 to 1952 in the United Kingdom, the Baby Brownie is about as simple as a camera can be. Made of Bakelite, it features a glass meniscus (single-element) lens and a rotary shutter. I’d bet that this combo is something like f/11 at 1/40 sec., or maybe f/8 at 1/60, or f/16 at 1/30, so the camera can capture a usable image outdoors under most lighting conditions.

Kodak Baby Brownie

The Baby Brownie produces eight 4×6 photographs on 127 roll film. To take photos, you pop up the viewfinder, frame the scene, and then slide the lever under the lens to the left to fire the shutter. The lever springs back. Wind the film to the next frame right away so you don’t forget, because nothing about this camera prevents double exposure.

Kodak Baby Brownie

Noted industrial designer Walter Teague designed this clever little camera. Perhaps it reflected of the time, but much of his work involved streamlined and Art Deco sensibilities. But his designs were also practical and functional. To wit, on the Baby Brownie, the lever on the bottom separates the camera so you can load film. The spool clips are up front; you thread the film around the back.

Kodak Baby Brownie

When new, the Baby Brownie cost just $1. That’s equivalent to about $18 today. I checked Amazon, by the way, and you can get a new digital camera for under $20. But the reviews say you won’t like it very much — faulty software and lousy image quality. And none of those cameras are made by a company you’d recognize, let alone the number one consumer camera maker in the world.

If you like 127 cameras, by the way, also see my review of the Kodak Brownie Starmatic (here). I’ve also reviewed a couple other bakelite Kodak boxes, albeit for 620 film: the Brownie Hawkeye (here) and the Duaflex II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’m on a jag to use up the oldest films in my fridge. That’s why I bought this camera — my final roll of Efke 100 in 127 size had been in there for a couple years and it was past time to shoot it. I could have shot this roll in my Kodak Brownie Starmatic, but I’d done that before and wasn’t excited about the results. I was a little happier with the photos I got back from the Baby Brownie. They had pretty good clarity and detail in the center.

Suburban shopping

The Baby Brownie delivers considerable softness and light falloff in the corners, however, but that’s pretty normal for such a simple camera. It also probably didn’t matter when this camera was new, as it was advertised as making 1 5/8 x 2 1/2 inch prints — essentially contact prints off the negatives.

Home sweet home

Here’s the building I work in. Fans of the show Parks and Recreation might recognize it as the Gryzzl building. I kind of wish I hadn’t used the whole roll taking landscape and architectural shots, and had gathered a couple friends to shoot them from about 10 or 15 feet away. I’ll bet that’s the kind of photograph this camera was made for.

Gryzzl

All of the 127 cameras I’ve ever used delivered square photos. It was novel to get 4×6 photos from the Baby Brownie. But the pop-up viewfinder shows considerably less than what the camera sees. When I framed this shot, the Wrecks sign filled much, much more of the frame. The photo above of my house filled the viewfinder from left to right. Since these are the kinds of subjects I shoot, I’ll need to adapt. Also: notice how the markings on the film’s backing paper came through on this shot.

Wrecks

127 film is hard to come by, limiting the ability to shoot cameras like this. A few small companies offer 127 film, which I believe is larger format film cut down to 127 size. Try the Film Photography Store (here) to see what they have in stock. Frugal Photographer may also offer some 127; try here. I bought a roll of Kodak Ektar hand-cut and respooled from this eBay seller and gave it a whirl.

1957 in Knightstown

Given that my Baby Brownie didn’t leak light when I shot the Efke, I have to think the red areas on these images come thanks to the vagaries of cutting down and respooling film by hand. But when you ignore that, aren’t these colors terrific? I do love Ektar in old box cameras.

Centerville

I made these photos on a trip down the National Road in eastern Indiana, in Knightstown and Centerville. There’s plenty of good photo subjects on this historic road. The Baby Brownie was a fine little companion.

Centerville

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Kodak Baby Brownie gallery.

Everything about using this Kodak Baby Brownie was a delight and a pleasure, starting with when I first held it in my hands. I couldn’t get over how small it was! And then it was so easy to carry with me. I even found the shutter lever to be intuitive and easy, despite its unusual left-right action and placement under the lens.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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