The Michigan Road in Decatur County, Indiana Kodak EasyShare Z730 2008
I’m wrapping up a year as President of the Historic Michigan Road Association. My buddy and co-founder Kurt and I alternate years in the job, and it’s his turn. (We are duly elected, but everyone seems to be perfectly happy with this arrangement.)
This was my most do-nothing year as President ever. I’m neither pleased nor proud. But I can’t beat myself up — we had too many challenges at home, and COVID-19 limited everything.
Kurt finished our Corridor Management Plan this year, a document that tells state and federal byway authorities how we plan to protect and enhance the historic qualities of our historic byway. Here’s hoping that in 2021, Kurt and I can move forward with initiatives in support of that plan. I have a couple tasks on my to-do list already.
From time to time I’m asked for a photo of the road. Given that it’s 270 miles long, a photo of the whole road would need to be taken from space. I can’t quite manage that. I always send this, a photo I made just south of Greensburg on a May afternoon in 2008, the year I surveyed the road from end to end. This image does a good job of embodying the very Indiana-ness of the road.
Let’s return to my May, 2007, trip along US 36 and the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.
After it leaves Marion County for Hendricks County, and after passing through the traffic nuthouse that is Avon, US 36 reaches Danville. It’s a four-lane divided road. But just east of Danville, where US 36 curves gently to the south, Old US 36 continues straight, as the map shows. Before the modern expressway was built, US 36 used to go straight through where storage facility lies today.
But on this trip I missed something important: an older alignment of this road, the path the Rockville Road followed before anybody had heard of US 36 or the PP-OO. Check it out on the map below.
You can drive some of this older road, but not all of it. The section east of County Road 625 E, which is the rightmost north-south road on this map snippet, no longer exists. The section west of there to Whipple Lane is a pedestrian path. You’ll find an 1875 Whipple through truss bridge on the pedestrian path. You can drive the road west from Whipple Lane. It’s signed as Broyles Road, although it has been slightly diverted to meet County Road 550 E rather than meet and cross US 36. You can’t turn onto the westmost section of Broyles Road from current US 36. To reach it you must go to Old US 36 and reach it from where Broyles Road ends.
I don’t know when the original US 36 alignment was built. Richard Simpson researched US 36’s 1926 alignment and found it to be this road (see it on his excellent blog here). I’ve found this 1924 map that shows the original US 36 alignment not built yet, and this 1929 map that shows it built.
Let’s go back to the original alignment of US 36. The storage facility was built right on the old roadbed. This eastbound photo shows the southerly curve of US 36 — and a mound that picks up in a straight line from where the road begins to curve. Notice how the utility poles at left run along this straight line, too, converging with the road in the distance. That’s always a tell.
I turned around from this point and saw that the mound continued, utility poles planted right alongside. The yellow sign on the left announces the intersection of Old US 36, also known as Main St. in Danville.
The storage facility’s fence kept me from walking this old roadbed, so instead I drove to the west side of the storage facility. The utility poles in this eastbound photo tell the tale: The road once went here.
And here’s this segment of Old US 36 as it heads west towards Danville. It feels like a typical old highway: two lane, scant shoulders.
Right turn lanes appear at entrances to subdivisions and churches. The road is smooth even though it hasn’t been repaved in a while. About 2 miles along this alignment, at the Danville city limits sign, the pavement is even older, and the striping becomes more faded, as the eastbound photo below shows. A few old rectangular Do Not Pass signs still stand here. About 3.5 miles in, the road curves gently to the south and ends at the current alignment of US 36.
Old US 36 meets current US 36 at a T intersection as the map below shows. I’ve marked in green how the road originally flowed here.
Here’s westbound Old US 36 as it approaches current US 36.
This road, signed Phi Delta Kappa Drive, is all that’s left of US 36’s original path here. Notice how the utility poles follow this little segment. This is an eastbound photo.
I followed US 36 west into downtown Danville. The road’s four lanes soon narrowed to two lanes with a center turn lane. Like so many small Indiana towns, a courthouse square is at Danville’s heart. The trees made it challenging to get a good photograph of the courthouse.
Danville’s downtown business district lies around the courthouse. Here’s a photo of the shops and restaurants along the US 36 side. The Mayberry Cafe is on this block, well-known for its theme of The Andy Griffith Show. They usually have a black and white 1962 Ford Galaxie police cruiser parked out front, but it was missing this day.
Past downtown, US 36 narrowed to two lanes on its way out of town. Outside Danville, US 36 becomes a standard two-lane highway with thin shoulders. It remains a two-lane highway way all the way to Illinois.
I was in error when I began my US 36/Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway trip that May morning in 2007. I put US 36’s eastern end in the wrong place.
It’s true that US 36 originally began its westward journey along Rockville Road in Indianapolis. That road begins at a fork from Washington Street (US 40, the National Road) on Indianapolis’s Westside.
The original Rockville Road began about a quarter mile farther west on Washington Street. It still exists, though you can’t turn onto it from Washington Street anymore, and it’s called Rockville Avenue now. On this map snippet, the green circle shows where Rockville Avenue begins, and the magenta circle shows where current Rockville Road begins.
But I didn’t know that when I made this trip. I photographed where current Rockville Road forks from Washington Street as if it were the real thing. It still sort of counts: when this road was finally built, US 36 was rerouted onto it. Here’s the fork, with Washington Street going under the railroad bridge on the left.
Here’s a closer look at what US 36 travelers faced as they began their westward journey.
I walked along Rockville Road a little to make this eastbound shot of where the road meets Washington Street. This neighborhood looked pretty sketchy, so I didn’t intend to linger. But a nice, proper older gentleman out trimming his hedge remarked to me about the weather and wondered whether it would rain today.
As I drove west along Rockville Road, the tiny houses with their tiny front yards were pretty tidy for this depressed part of town.
Quickly I reached Rockville Avenue. Rockville Road curved to the right and resumed its original alignment.
From there, Rockville Road widened a bit. Homes were set farther back from the road, and businesses started to appear. At Lynhurst Drive, the road widened to four lanes lined with businesses and stores.
The road had curbs, which isn’t too unusual in the city, but is pretty unusual for a highway. In August, 1978, when I was still a kid, three teenage girls died when a van struck the rear of their Ford Pinto while it was stopped along US 33 in Elkhart County so the driver could retrieve a lost gas cap. The resulting fireball burned the/ girls to death. The infamous placement of the car’s gas tank did make it vulnerable to fire in a rear-end collision. But a little-touted fact of that case was that the driver could not pull fully off the road because US 33 had curbs. I remember in the years following, curbs were slowly and quietly replaced with shoulders on highways near my South Bend home. I don’t know if these events are related, but it sure seems like more than coincidence to me. US 36 was rerouted along I-465 in 1974, and so perhaps that’s why these curbs remain on this old highway.
Shortly, I-465 appeared. The curbs disappeared just east of the interchange. Just west of the interchange, the first reassurance marker appeared.
Across the street, facing the eastbound lanes, a button-copy sign directs drivers to follow I-465 South to reach US 36 East again. No US highways run through Indianapolis anymore; they all follow I-465 around the city in what is called the “mega multiplex.” But only I-74 is co-signed with I-465 along its route. You have to watch the exit signs to follow your US highway.
Beyond I-465 along US 36 I saw some nice older homes of brick and stone set far back from the road, surely built when this part of Marion County was way out in the country. The road widened to five lanes, including a permanent center turn lane, and stayed that way into Hendricks County.
As I’ve gone on long bike rides out into the country this summer, I’m struck by how many barns have dates on them from 100 or more years ago.
I admire the stability of the farms these barns represent. I wish I could have had that kind of stability in my life. Instead, I chose badly the first time I got married, and after that marriage ended I fell in love again and remarried. I’ve lived in far more places than I ever anticipated. Everything about my life has felt temporary.
My parents, in contrast, bought a home in 1976 and lived in it until 2014. I always thought that’s just how my life would go, too. Alas.
I climbed down the bank to see what kind of bridge this was. I was richly rewarded — it’s a true beauty.
That was in 2008 when I toured Indiana’s State Road 42, which stretches from near Indianapolis at Mooresville to Terre Haute. Along the way the road reaches Cagles Mill Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers flood-control project. This bridge was built in 1951 to span the lake, and SR 42 was realigned to cross the bridge. Upon my visit, it had been freshly renovated. It looked like new!
In the years since I stopped clambering down banks to see the undersides of bridges. Perhaps after seeing enough bridges I stopped being surprised and delighted by them. I’m sure that as I’ve gotten older I have become more risk averse — climbing down a steep bank can be hazardous! But after I visited the new SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green, I knew I wanted to see the Cagles Mill Lake bridge again, up close and personal. It wasn’t too far away.
It was like old times when I clambered down the bank to photograph this bridge. I had my Nikon F2AS along with a 35-105mm zoom lens attached. This unwieldy kit did not make it any easier to get into position.
I made one shot at 35mm and another at or near maximum zoom. Neither of these photos turned out as well as I hoped. When I visited last time, the bank was clear except for large rocks placed to retard erosion. This time, the rocks were still there, but so was a considerable amount of brush that made it hard to get a good angle on the bridge. A lot of brush can grow in 12 years! I’m also not pleased with the exposure in either of these photos. But at least I got them.
The best photo of the visit is this one of the deck. I love how the road disappears into the trees.
I’ve been riding my bike a lot this summer. From where I live, in just a few minutes I can be on country roads among Indiana cornfields. Even though I’m a dedicated city boy, I really love the peaceful, quiet rides through rural southeastern Boone County.
I also love my old Kodak EasyShare Z730 on a sunny day. It delivers great, punchy color. I hadn’t shot it in some time, so I charged its battery and stuck it in the little bag that hangs off my bike’s seat springs. I made these images on a bunch of rides in late July and early August.
I did bring all of these into Photoshop to tweak them to my liking. Most of them just got a hit of the automatic correction button in the RAW editor and then some manual tweaking of the settings from there.
If I have one complaint about the Z730 it’s that it will randomly make an image too blue or too green. A little Photoshoppery can usually fix that.
One evening when we got another of the beautiful sunsets we enjoy here on the edge of Zionsville, I got the Z730 from the bike to see how it rendered the colors in this available light. The Z730’s maximum ISO is 800, but it’s mighty, mighty noisy there. I shot at ISO 400, which for this photo gave me f/3.4 at 1/45 sec. In the image straight out of the camera, the dark areas were more exposed and quite noisy. I fixed that in Photoshop by increasing the black level to blank them out. I also deepened the dusky colors a bit.
I’m pleased that my Z730 still works, although it shows some signs of age. Its fiddly power/mode switch feels harder to work than in years gone by. Also, the little clip that holds down the battery broke. The battery door still works, and when it’s closed the battery makes good contact. But open that door, and the battery pops out and the camera resets to original settings. That includes date and time, which means unless you set them the camera thinks it’s January 1, 2005, and puts that into image EXIFs.
This Z730 would probably be in worse shape, but it got just a few years of workhorse use before I retired it in favor of the Canon PowerShot S80 and then the PowerShot S95 that I still shoot today.
I shoot this camera only every couple three years. It’s hardly enough to justify owning it, as I want to own just cameras I use regularly. But every time I do use it, I’m glad I did. There’s just something about the color the Kodak digital cameras delivered that cameras from other makers couldn’t match.