Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Was Here And Then I Was There

For some unexplainable reason I look forward to the grind. Checking over my carefully laid out maps. Saving them as one format and then converting them to another so my Garmin will show them properly. Looking around my old truck to make sure I have the tools required for the task at hand. Then, of course, figuring out what time the sun comes up and how long it will take to get to the first of around thirty specific stops on any given day. It's all laid out and regimented. I debate where the most easily accessible McDonald's is along my route. A large sweet tea and a sausage burrito will be what gets me through the first few hours. These are the early morning rituals I do many times over the course of my abbreviated season. But then the typical opposing forces will begin to do battle. The warm bed that beckons me to stay just a while longer. The hunting around for appropriate attire. The fact that getting up at 4:30 AM just ain't as fun as it used to be. Who am I kidding? Getting up at 4:30 was never fun. Being a night person I could never understand morning people. I still don't. That's just crazy talk. My utmost respect to those of you who get up that early most days of the week to keep the engines of our economy running. I will never understand you but I appreciate those of you who can do that and not give it a second thought.

I spotted this house in northern Dallas County as I was headed further south and west. I was hoping for one of two things. Fog or a pretty sunrise. I got neither. It's actually darker out than the picture shows. The focus was a bit soft's too dark. The upside is the f-stop on this particular lens goes down to 2.8 so the auto focus is gonna lock on something somewhere. Unfortunately it was not this house but it's still a cool old house.

I run into some odd things in my travels. Obviously the quite old. But then there's the not so old but you don't see them anymore either. There is a closed school in Coxheath (Marengo County) on AL 10. There's nothing remarkable about the school. Just an ordinary closed school with little in the way of architectural significance. Then I found this. A complete Apple//e with optional floppy drive. Codenamed Diana, it was introduced in 1983 and had expandable memory of up to a whopping one megabyte! Needless to say it has had a hard life since it's creation some thirty years ago.

Down US 31 a few miles north of Greenville is old general store. Again there was nothing remarkable about it. Fairly typical frame construction. There was, however, a sort of enclosed bench out in front of it. I happened to notice some bottles inside and took a closer look. There were dozens of returnable soft drink bottles. Mostly Pepsi but I haven't seen this particular logo since the 1970s. And yet, here they remain untouched for at least the last 40 years.

I see more than my share of gas stations when I'm on the road. Countless gas stations. Most are old stores that added pumps at a later time. So, to find an original Pan-Am was well worth the stop. This one, about a mile south of Oak Hill (Wilcox County), still shows the outlines of the name Pan-Am above the door. Pan-Am was known for their art-deco style buildings. I did a cursory search for Pan-Am gas station photos to see if this one was listed. As it turns out I could not find a single picture (granted it was hardly what you would call an exhaustive search) of this particular one. It was a good find for sure!

Up in Cherokee County is the Jordan Gin. Apparently it has been closed for a while and little remains besides the normal buildings you see associated with gins across Alabama and I'm sure across the south as well. There are a few large cotton trailers slowly rusting away and I thought this one best represented the abandoned and forgotten aspect of a once vibrant part of Alabama's economy. To be sure, Alabama, being the Cotton State and all, still grows a lot of cotton but not like it did around the turn of the 20th Century. But then, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the state also grows significantly more cotton on fewer acres and is still its largest crop.

I am starting to see the light at the end of the analogical (yes, that is a word and I wanted something sexier than "proverbial". I could have also used axiomatic ;-) tunnel. My problem is I'm insatiable. I'm constantly asking myself:

"Do I have enough good examples of this or that?"

"Did I get enough pictures in (any given) County?"

Followed by the more mundane:

"Do I have enough gas to make it to the next town?"

"I wonder if that gas station has fried chicken?"

"Why did I make this map this way? I've doubled back on this same road twice now."

It's always an adventure...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'Tis The Season...

'Tis the season! Get it? OK, it's a bit lame but it is, indeed, the start of my season again. The fact that it coincides with Christmas is purely accidental since they both share winter. Besides, if I was doing a Forgotten Australia, it wouldn't work and I'd have to come up with a catchier title. But I digress. For eight months out of the year I await the onset of winter. Not that I like cold weather. I detest it with a passion so much so that mere words fail me. But, for those of you who are reading my witty reparte' for the first time, winter is my season to shoot. My reasons are varied but to summarize, the leaves have fallen from the trees, the kudzu has gone dormant and the winter skies are stark and gloomy. All these create a significant part of my canvas and are necessary evils.

So far I've managed to get two days in which is not too shabby considering December is a month fraught with distraction. My first outing, Saturday the 13th, started at 4:40 AM. I had previously found a house in east Alabama that sits in a field. There are no trees. There's pretty much nothing except the house. I wanted to get there at sunrise because the dawn sun would make an awesome backdrop to this otherwise lonely structure. Unfortunately I got caught by a stopped train that cost me a good 15 minutes. Then there was the requisite distractions I encounter along the way. One was this house north of Alexander City on AL 22. As you can imagine, things like this are my shiny object. My reasoning is always "Will I ever pass this way again?" and the short answer is probably not. Carpe Rustium I always say and stop to get a few shots. As you might imagine this will, of course, throw me off my timetable. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to create my masterpiece.

(Insert winky face here to denote not taking myself too seriously)

As I mentioned at the beginning, tis the season which means chances are I'm going to find a Christmas parade in some small town in Alabama. This was the end of the one in Hollis Crossroads. Merry Christmas by the way. 

Any trip that does not include the famous Elephant gas station in Roanoke is a trip wasted don't you think? But, as it turns out, according to the site, it was built as rocky cliffs and a lighthouse to catch tourists heading to Florida. According to the story, as told by a descendant of the original owner, the lighthouse made the roof leak and it was removed. The structure was later modified to accommodate a used car lot. The remaining structure resembled an elephant and a subsequent owner added the eye.

This past Saturday, the 21st, I was further north. Mostly Cleburne and Cherokee Counties. I had stopped at an old cotton gin when I was accosted by a Cherokee County Sheriff's deputy (my third time to be queried by law enforcement btw). He was passing by and saw my truck and wanted to know what I was doing. I held up my camera and then asked if I needed to get lost. He just shook his head and said nope. As long as I wasn't out stealing scrap metal he didn't care. We struck up a conversation and then he started giving me ideas of places I might like to see. Even gave me his fold-up map of Cherokee County. I went to one of the places he told me and he caught up with me. We chatted for a good 15 mins more. This little store was one of the places he suggested. I can assure you that nobody here would have found this place because of how remote it was but he described in detail its exact location. Corporal Gene Knowles was his name. He doesn't do Facebook so he'll never even know I mentioned him but a good guy nonetheless.

As I was passing through Anniston on Greenbrier Dear Road I just happen to spot this on the side of the road. An abandoned miniature golf course named Putters. Instant goldmine in my particular view of things! I whupped (yes, whupped is a word. Any true Southerner knows this word and not always for good reasons) around and parked. This place was kind of odd in that there were no bright colors so to speak. While it followed the normal designs of things of this nature there was nothing to suggest this was meant to be a fun place for the whole family. I'm thinking it was meant for golfers to practice their putting skills even though there were some odd twists and turns like the normal putt-putt golf places have. Needless to say, another cool thing to see if you like abandoned and forgotten things.

I wanted to try something new on my blog. I bought a cheap dash cam and carry it with me everywhere. I decided to document my day so y'all would have a clue of what happens. So you know, a normal day is about 14 hours and around 400+ miles. This past Saturday started at 4:30 AM and ended about 7:00 PM that night. By the time I made it home I had added another 488 miles to my old Dodge. A few notes about the video. For some odd reason it did not record my first three hours. It picks up at just shy of 8:00 AM. I banged it out with Windows Movie Maker and it's not the best (it glitches at every edit even though it looks ok in preview. (editing video can be an arduous task when you don't have stellar software) but it gives you a good idea of what happens on a typical day with me. Most of the places I go I knew about from mapping them out during the summer of 2013. There are plenty of extra stops for things I see that I missed on Google Streetview. Just a couple of side notes. It's cool to watch for a while but don't feel obligated to watch the entire thing as it does get a bit tedious. I will say, however, it is kinda cool watching it get dark as I wind my way back home.


I'm pretty sure this winter is all I need to finish gathering material for my book. I certainly hope so. 14 hour days take their toll and I'm not as young as I used to be. 

But on the plus side I still have my natural good looks and unwavering modesty...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Where I Go From Here (Alternate Title: Now What?)

To be perfectly honest I don't have a good answer. It is now May. I have not finished. I'm a lot further ahead than I was but that's like saying I'm 300 miles closer to the Moon than I was last November. My season is over for now. This past December I could look out my window and see my neighbor raking leaves in his yard. Now that winter has passed and spring is taking a firm hold I cannot even see their house anymore. 

I'm torn about whether I have enough material for a book. Finding a publisher is a bit of a task in itself. Then, of course, the realities of life are there to remind me I have responsibilities that are not even remotely related to my dreams. 

Why we were in such a hurry to be adults I will forever ponder.

I've gone back through my pictures from last couple of seasons. I found this Texaco sign by accident down in LA somewhere between Enterprise and Ozark. To be honest when you drive thousands of miles two things happen. One, you begin to lose track of where you've been. Keeping good notes was what I gleaned from that. And two, you tend to go over the same roads at times which, while seemingly contradictory to One it's not really. I won't remember an exact location but I'll sure remember I've been here before. I say this to say the next time I passed through here this sign was gone.

The old drive-in north of Clanton. I can only imagine how popular this place was back in its day. Small town America is a great place to grow up but we all needed distractions.

Movies were our window to the world. And I'm sure many a romance started with a date to the drive-in.

The former US 31 bridge just south of Garden City. It's a little difficult to get to by design but well worth my effort to get here. It's a fairly long bridge (100 yds or more) for bridges of this nature. I noticed that its clearance is only 12'-9". Too low for today's truck traffic. In fact it would make the truck I drive for my job a convertible.

Believe it or not this is a motel. At least 12 rooms or more. I have no clue what its name was but Pineview seems appropriate. Just north of Camden at the intersection of AL 28 and AL 221, this motel seems very out of place now. Motels took advantage of busy highways to lure guests in. When looking at where this is on a map I have no clue why folks would have been going this way. It's close to nothing.

A big safe is all that remains inside this building in Saint Clair (not to be confused with St Clair). I'm guessing it was too heavy to move but then I wonder how the door came to be laying on the ground next to it. 

My intent, as many of you well know, is to publish a book of my photos. To the handful of publishers I have talked to they all seemed to like my work but they don't deal in my genre. That's not exactly true. A couple seemed interested but they had requirements I could not meet. I don't fault them for this. Publishing, like a lot of things, is a gamble. They want to sell books and there's a lot of people out there who think they have the next 50 Shades of Grey. While I have no clue what somebody else thinks is literary genius, the bottom line is you have to convince any publisher to take a risk on you. I'm not Ansel Adams. I'm just me. And I would wager they are plenty of better photographers than me out there who can't get a book either. To that end, I will most likely end up going the self-published route. I've made some good contacts who will guide me through the process and I will most likely do this through Amazon. 

Good Lord willing, maybe I can put something together before Christmas. 

That's a qualified maybe by the way.

Maybe no one will notice I neglected to mention a year either...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

With apologies to The Wizard of Oz, I speak metaphorically about spring. There is no denying it's here. Sure took its own sweet time getting here but it's here whether I like it or not. And with the onset of spring is the ebbing of my season. I always feel a sense of urgency as the weather becomes more moderate. I know the warmer it gets the more things will grow, especially my nemesis, kudzu, among other things. Don't get me wrong. I love spring. I love not being cold. But I also love shooting old and forgotten things.

Well duh...

Pretty much the reason you're here and reading this. Some ask why I only shoot in winter. Because it's dark and gloomy. It enhances the abandonment...the forgotten loneliness of my subject matter. And yet I pretend there is still time. I still can gather a few more things. I will admit to being insatiable. When I was plotting out my journey last summer I, via the wonder of Google maps, managed to find around 2000 potential targets. Oh sure, a lot were old but not necessarily aesthetically significant. In other words, a 100 year old block building was still just a block building. It was suggested to me that I narrow my focus to the more interesting targets. Reducing 120 stops down to 20. Sometimes I could. Other times I would have to have 30. If you read my blog called 1412 miles in Three Days I mentioned I had 102 stops. That was out of over 300 I could have gone to. But being insatiable I always think I don't have enough.

And then spring had to show up. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

This place I didn't even know about. I was in Spring Garden up in Cherokee County. I always thought Cherokee was a cool name for a county but I digress. Anyway, I was looking for something else in this neck of the woods so I accosted this sweet lady at the Post Office. Not only did she take me to what I was looking for but also asked if I knew about Hurricane Mill. As it turned out I did not. So, even with fresh groceries in her car, she then took me to find this place. I wish I had caught her name because she was so helpful. I'll just say thanks anyway because she took time to help a stranger but I guess she figured I didn't look too dangerous.

I don't always see the little things that give a place character. But when I do I'm delighted to find them. This is still hanging on the front of the large building in Billingsley...the one with "Billing-sley (It didn't fit as a single word) proudly painted on the roof. This particular morning it was eleventy-leben degrees.

The old church south of Brent. As interesting places to shoot go this one was pure gold. In a funny sort of way I find it easier to accept decay as opposed to vandalism. Nature is much more methodical as it reclaims its victims. Even though it's sad to see a church in such disrepair the relentless yet gentle onslaught of nature will ultimately win.

To know me personally you would think I'm pretty easy going and perhaps a bit cynical. I must confess both would be accurate. But, I can also be a bit of a perfectionist. Not annoyingly least according to me. I remodeled a bathroom one time. I noticed after the mortar had dried on a bullnose tile on the edge of the sink it was slightly crooked. Almost nobody would have noticed but it drove me crazy. I say all this to say I am my own worse critic about my photography. I might really like one out of 100 shots I take. This picture of the old shrimp fishing boat Capt Chris was one of those shots. The clouds, the angle, the lighting among other things made this a photograph I was proud to call my own. Oh and so you know, it is abandoned so to speak. I was told a guy here buys old boats and resells them in South America. So it's service in the Gulf is long past.

I know the end is near and no I don't mean the upcoming blood moon. But the end of my season, for now, makes me realize now I have other things that require my attention.

Being an adult can be such a drag at times...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

To Quote Rod Argent, It's The Time Of The Season

What's left of the gym floor at Marengo County High School
Today is a pretty day. As I sit here writing this I glance out the window and see the reminders. The dogwood trees are starting to bud. Daffodils are everywhere. The weeds in my yard are tall enough that I cannot ignore them much longer. Yep, Spring is upon us. After this brutal winter (below 50 degrees is brutal to me) it looks like dawn is starting to break after the long dark night. While I embrace the onset of spring as much as Cato (my cat) embraces catnip I know it's the time of the season. Soon my journey will once again find safe harbor and weather the onslaught of kudzu. I always get melancholy at this time. I'm tired of being cold but since I only shoot in winter cold is my friend. Friend is not a good word. Evil accomplice is more appropriate.

When I set out to do my project my goal was to cover the entire state this winter. To have enough material to actually fill my impending book. Ambition and reality seldom share the same space. December is always a tough month to get anything done. My job, although freelance, still consumed much of my time. And then there was my Dad's health issues and his eventual passing. Even though I knew it was inevitable it was still a blow to me. It's all part of life and life happens on its schedule and not mine. 

As I have come to discover time and time again, I manage to find things I had missed previously. This house was not part of my itinerary. But I saw the beauty of it and turned around to get a picture of it. This is on Dallas County 45 between Marion and Marion Junction

As I was passing through Orrville on my way to something else I saw this bank. It's still pretty intact inside from what I could tell. Old banks used a lot of marble and I'm betting that marble came from Sylacauga.

I have no idea what this place was called other than "Motel". I don't think it's been abandoned that long but as you can tell from the sign the kudzu and other weeds are permanent residents now. US 11 north of Eutaw.

I had passed this church south of Moundville on AL 69 back in November while going from Mobile to Tuscaloosa. I found it odd to find these plastic flowers still sitting on a post near the front of the sanctuary. Kind of a sad reminder of what it had been at one time. Now they seem more to mourn its passing.

A moment of self-indulgence. Normally I consider selfies to be nothing more than narcissistic reminders that we exist. Add to that that I don't consider myself as particularly photogenic. But I saw myself in the mirror and in my element and realized that this actually looks pretty cool. Soooooo...forgive my rare foray into self-aggrandizement.

Life is short and I have so much left to do. Alabama is a veritable goldmine of abandoned and forgotten structures. I want to see them all.

I wonder if that's even possible....

Friday, February 28, 2014

Spectre, "The Best Kept Secret in the State of Alabama"

The town of Spectre
My trek through my beloved Alabama has taken me to many, many places. Places I never knew existed. Places I did. Most are your normal run-of-the-mill old houses or stores. After seeing dozens and dozens of them they start to look alike. But then there are the really cool things. The, as I call them, Holy Grails of my journey. This one, Spectre, Alabama, was one of my hardest to get to. It's on private land and is behind a gate that requires a code. And $3 a head. Guess that's to maintain the gate I suppose. But fortunately a friend of Forgotten Alabama, Gerald Nix, happen to be one of those with the code. It took a while to get our schedules to match but we did.

The columns from the witch's house
The Mayor's house. Only interior used besides the witch's house. Pie anyone?

I have to say the island (it's actually a peninsula) is quite peaceful. The spanish moss hangs thick on the trees there. I've often wondered why there is such a preponderance of it around Montgomery for something most likely to be seen much further south. As we rode down the gravel road I was getting excited. Like I was entering Alabama's version of Area 51. I could see the rooftops as we drew close and then as we rounded the curve there it was. Time has not been kind to the old buildings but then again they're movie props and not built to code. All show obvious signs of age and deterioration. In retrospect they were mostly still intact. The fake bricks were coming off of the chimneys and walls. None of the buildings had floors save for the Mayor's house. There are two large open and quite obvious spaces in the middle across the street from each other. These were the stores and businesses. Apparently both suffered their ultimate demise as victims of an an accidental fire. How that fire jumped across 30' of road between them is a mystery though.
Looking back towards the Jumping Spider woods. At top is the fake trees as Ed enters Spectre for the first time. The pole at right was one of the poles that held the wire that the shoes were suspended from.

What pretty much every building looked like inside

I watched Big Fish again. Mostly because I wanted a reference to accurately describe things. I have to admit it's worth watching. I didn't give it much thought initially but there were a lot of big names in the movie. Albert Finney was perfectly cast as was Ewan McGregor. It also had Jessica Lange and Billy Crudup. Robert Guillaume, Danny Devito (who was perfect for his role) and Steve Buscemi (who was not). And of course Miley Cyrus made her acting debut back when she was sweet and innocent. Oh...little known trivia (I love that interweb thingy) This was supposed to be Steven Speilberg's movie and he wanted Jack Nicholson to play the elder Ed Bloom. I like Jack Nicholson but there's no way he could have pulled this off like Finney did.

Nothing happened at the church. It was truly a prop

In the big picture (pun unintended) the town of Spectre wasn't really a significant physical part of the movie. The only interior of any building you see is the Mayor's house. Well, the witch's house too but it had fallen into such disrepair that it was removed. Only the piers exist now where it once sat. I have to admit it was quite fascinating walking around Spectre. And equally fascinating seeing a movie set as they actually are. I was told that Tim Burton and his wife stayed overnight at the Mayor's house. I was also told that rather than disassemble Spectre he offered the property owner compensation to let it sit as is. I'm glad he did.

As I've come to discover time and again, it's always a little weird walking around once busy places that are now abandoned.

Spectre was no exception.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

1412 Miles In Three Days

My day began at 3am. You may not realize this but 3am is pretty dang early. As is always the case though, I only have so much winter and a lotta ground to cover. Up to this point of the 16 sections I had planned to visit I had made it to a whopping five. And five ain't gonna cut it. Time to step things up a bit. On this particular endeavor I was going to be ambitious. Three of my 16 in three days. 102 separate stops. And, as it turned out, 1412 miles round trip. Granted my trips would best be called circuitous but even I was surprised it was that long.

It was just over three hours, as I was racing sunrise, to get to my first target. As I had mentioned previously I was looking for a windmill. I got a few suggestions and debated their merits. But, oddly enough, as I was coming back from Miami for my job a few days earlier, I rolled right past this perfect example. I was so excited to find it! Funny thing I was leaving to move on to my next stop I saw the sign on the side of the road. Windmill Farms. Heavy sigh. It was a prop for a farm and not abandoned nor forgotten.

C'est la vie...

Not far from the windmill was this cool old sign for WTVY in Dothan. Now, granted, WTVY is alive and well but this was at their old studios in Webb.

There was a time when TV and radio stations went with really extravagant signage. You rarely see them anymore. I would call this an excellent example and I hope they don't let it deteriorate beyond repair. It's worth saving.

About half way between Geneva and Samson is this little gas station with its really cool sign. In business since WWII, the Harry Wilson store is a neat little stop along the way. It's still in business but I just couldn't pass up shooting something so old and yet still in business. I met Mr Wilson as he was closing up for the day and he was a nice guy. Sounds like a character from "It's a Wonderful Life". Everything about the place seemed frozen in 1962 so perhaps the sequel.

Just down the road from Red Level I found this old tow truck. A late 1940s or early 1950s Chevy. Suffice it to say the trees that now surround it are not near as old as that truck was.

Way down in Bon Secour I had two things I had to get. The Morning Star shrimp boat and this boat, the Jamie Jen. Only problem was that neither of them were easy to get to. I was pretty distraught about that until I found a crab fisherman who was about to go out and check his traps. I offered him $20 if he'd run my down the river to see these and he said yes. Trust me. This was the highlight of my day to get these boats and worth every penny. That fisherman, Nathaniel, was a super nice guy and helped me out with backgrounds on both the Morning Star (which you can see on Facebook/Forgotten Alabama) and this boat, the Jamie Jen. Seems she was a victim of Hurricane Ivan. The storm was so fierce (I actually covered Ivan when I worked in TV) that she was lifted out of the water and then crashed down on a pier post which impaled the long-liner to the dock. I wondered why it was still floating till Nathaniel pointed out how shallow it was there. It's actually sitting on the bottom of the river.

So you know, I have plotted out literally hundreds of old and abandoned structures in Alabama. Close to 2000 actually. But in that 2000 I have about 20 I consider my Holy Grail targets. By Holy Grail I mean those are places I have to find and shoot that I consider sensational. This coal tipple I found in Flomaton is one of those. Built in 1943 for the L&N Railroad it sits as a silent monument to steam trains and is a significant piece of railroad history.

1412 miles, 888 pictures, three fillups and a lotta gas station chicken. I will admit to being ready for this trip to end. When I finally finished with number 102 I was happy to be done and heading home. Now if I can get spring to wait a few more weeks I may make it.

I'll just pretend I didn't see those daffodils blooming on the side of the road...