Photography, Road Trips

Published: My photo of a stainless-steel 1950s diner on US 40 in Plainfield, Indiana

My photo of a 1950s stainless-steel diner on US 40 east of Plainfield is featured in a new book from Indiana Landmarks.

The Diner
Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2009

The book, Rescued and Restored, “celebrates remarkable historic places snatched from the wrecking ball or lifted from decades of neglect.” So says the Web page Indiana Landmarks put up about the book, which includes a link to purchase a copy. See it here.

My copy of the book arrived last week, and it is a lush look at many beautiful and interesting historic structures around Indiana, telling their stories and showing photographs before and after they were restored.

You’ll find the Oasis Diner on page 77. It was manufactured by Mountain View Diners, a New Jersey company, in 1954 and shipped to its original site on US 40 east of Plainfield. It operated there until 2008.

Stainless-steel diners like these were once common on the American roadscape, but have dwindled in number over the years. Indiana Landmarks worked with the City of Plainfield to find it a new place to operate, and new owners who would restore it.

In 2014 the diner was moved about four miles west, still on US 40 but in downtown Plainfield. After an extensive restoration, including a recreation of the original Oasis sign that had been removed many years before, the Oasis Diner reopened for business in November, 2014. I made this photo on my first visit, about a month later.

Oasis Diner
Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

I have thin memories of passing this diner by from trips along US 40 as early as 1984. I first paid real attention to it on my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. I made that trip again in 2009, which is when I made the featured photograph. See this post for a writeup of this stop on both of those road trips.

When the Oasis Diner was being moved and restored, Indiana Landmarks asked for permission to use my photograph in their publications. I gave it happily. I am a Landmarks member and support their mission. I loved the thought that one of my documentary road-trip photos could find a useful purpose beyond being on my blog. My photo appeared in news articles about the diner, as well as in at least one issue of Indiana Landmarks’ monthly member magazine.

I thought that would be it, but then this year they used it again in an email to members announcing the book. Had they not done that I might never have known they published it in this book!

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Film Photography, Road Trips

Along the National Road in western Indiana, 2009

Another camera review I refreshed recently was of my Minolta X-700. I shot just two rolls with it before it succumbed to the common but dreaded Stuck Winder Problem. A certain capacitor fails, and the X-700 becomes a brick.

Minolta X-700
Brick.

That second roll (it was Fujicolor 200) was shot primarily on a road trip along Indiana’s National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. My goodness but do I miss taking to the old roads. I’ve made not a single road trip this year. Life just has presented higher priorities. I hope for next year.

It felt great, however, to look through these photos from my trip ten years ago and remember a great day alone on this old highway. You might know it as US 40. First, here’s an abandoned bridge just west of Plainfield. It carried US 40 from probably about 1925 until the road was rebuilt as a four-lane divided highway in about 1940. Two new bridges were built just to the south — I stood on one of them to make this photograph — and this one was left behind to molder.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Here’s another view. You can park on a clearing just east of this bridge and walk out onto it.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Just before the four-lane highway reaches Putnamville, a short older alignment branches off. This 1923 bridge is on it, and you can still drive across it.

Old US 40

The bridge feels narrow, and the railing feels heavy.

Old US 40

Near Reelsville you’ll find an old alignment of the road that never got paved.

Old National Road

For a long time I thought this was the National Road’s original alignment. But I learned that the National Road was moved to this alignment in 1875 when a bridge on the original alignment, to the south, washed out and was not replaced. Read about the history of these alignments here.

Old National Road

Near here I stopped to photograph some roadside flowers.

Roadside flowers

When I made it to Terre Haute, I walked along the road for several blocks downtown. It’s known as Wabash Avenue here. This is the entrance to Hulman and Company, which for many years made Clabber Girl Baking Powder.

Hulman & Co.

This building may once have housed the Terre Haute Trust Company, but for as long as I can remember — since I moved to Terre Haute in 1985 — it has housed the Merchant’s National Bank and, after a merger, the Old National Bank.

Former Tribune-Star building

I drove from there all the way to the end of the Indiana portion of the road. Then I turned around and went back to Terre Haute to catch dinner at the Saratoga, a longtime restaurant right on the road.

The Saratoga

It was a great day, and my Minolta X-700 helped me capture it — before it failed.

If you’d like to see more from this trip, via my digital camera, check it out on my old site, here.

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Camera Reviews

Minolta X-700

One of the great things about collecting cameras is that friends and family sometimes give you equipment they’re not using anymore. I’ve picked up many cameras that way over the years. It’s usually the junk nobody wants, but every now and again something really good falls into my hands. Such is the case with this Minolta X-700. My aunt Maxine bought it in the mid-1980s, but it has been sitting in a drawer unused for at least 10 years. She found out about my collection and decided I needed to have this camera.

Minolta X-700

I had never owned an SLR before. I’d only ever shot one a handful of times. My first wife had a Pentax K1000, and to be sure she was in some family photos she’d preset aperture and shutter speed and hand it to me. Except for focusing, I used it like a point and shoot.

I’d been primarily a camera collector up to this time; photography itself was secondary. I always enjoyed junk cameras I found at yard sales, but by this time I was shifting my focus to working rangefinders and folders. As I have used so many of these cameras now, I’ve learned the mechanics of photography to get decent results.

At the time Maxine gifted me this camera, it became the most capable camera in my collection. It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

Minolta X-700

The Minolta X-700 was the pinnacle of Minolta’s final manual-focus SLR camera series. Minolta made X-700s for 20 years starting in 1981. Minolta aimed it at the advanced amateur, giving it aperture-priority and full program autoexposure. In 1981 it was pretty remarkable to twist the lens until the viewfinder image was crisp and then press the shutter button, confident that the camera would figure out the rest.

My camera came with three lenses. The primary lens is a 50 mm f/1.7 Minolta MD, a fine, sharp lens. The other two lenses were off-brand zooms that weren’t awesome.

By the way, if you enjoy Minolta SLRs, also check out my reviews of the SR-T 101 (here), SR-T 202 (here), XG 1 (here), Maxxum 7000 (here), and Maxxum 9xi (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

This was my first electronic-SLR experience, and I had to read its manual to begin to be able to use it. But once I figured those things out, I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and visited the cemetery at my church.

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I shot in program mode. I’m surprised that the camera biased toward shallow depth of field.

North Liberty Christian Church cemetery

I got this shot by accident. It turns out to be my favorite photo from the roll.

Toyota Matrix steering wheel

I brought the X-700 along on a road trip down the National Road (US 40) in western Indiana. This diner was, at the time, just east of Plainfield. It’s now in downtown Plainfield, completely renovated.

The Diner

The X-700 was a useful companion on this trip. By this time I’d gotten the hang of it and it handled easily in my hands. Here’s an abandoned bridge that once carried US 40 west of Plainfield.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Here are some cheerful flowers I found by the roadside on an old alignment of the road near Reelsville.

Roadside flowers

Downtown Terre Haute offered me several nice subjects. This building once housed the Terre Haute Trust Company. But for as long as I can remember it has housed the Merchant’s National and, later, the Old National Bank.

Former Tribune-Star building

Finally, a photo of the great sign for the Saratoga Restaurant. When I lived in Terre Haute in the 1990s, this was a place all the middle-aged people went for a nice night out. Now that I’m middle aged, I see the charm.

The Saratoga

To see more from this camera, check out my Minolta X-700 gallery.

The Minolta X-700 is clearly a fine camera of great capability. I can see that I was just beginning to tap into its versatility as I shot this one roll of film.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later when I tried to load another roll of film, the winder would not move. Some Internet sleuthing revealed that this is a common fate of the X-700. A particular capacitor fails and renders the camera inert. When I sought estimates for repair, I was disappointed with how expensive it would be. I put the X-700 aside thinking I’d have it repaired someday. But the years passed, other fine SLRs entered my collection, and I decided to just sell this X-700 as a parts camera.

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