Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's 4am And Time To Go

First of all you should know up front that I detest winter with a passion. I like mosquitoes more than I like winter. The only good thing about winter is spring. But this year I could hardly wait for winter. For the trees to lose their leaves and the kudzu to abate for the season. I only shoot seriously in winter because winter makes for dark and dreary settings for my photos. Needless to say I was anxious for Christmas to be over so I could focus on my project.

I had spent the summer scouring Google maps of the entire state. Over the course of the last few months I must have spent 300 or 400 hours mapping out every state and US highway plus many county roads. I know where more old houses and country stores are than any normal person could stand. Streetview makes things easy as I knew what most things looked like before I marked them. By the time I had a workable map system set up I had divided the state into 16 sections. Each section had various placemarks denoting an old house or a barn or store or bridge or, well, you get the idea. Some sections had as few as 80 placemarks and some close to 200. I haven't added them up but I'm figuring I've found close to 2000 different places that would most likely qualify as old and abandoned. Now was the time to put all that research to work and the day after Christmas was my start date.

4am comes mighty early on a cold winter's morning but today was THE day. I dragged myself from my warm bed knowing I had a long two days ahead of me. One last check on the cats to make sure they were ok and I was off. On today's agenda was map section UA-Northwest. UA being Upper Alabama (since LA is Lower Alabama why not an Upper Alabama as well?). I pulled into Moulton around 6am (it's still dark at 6am but now I know) and waited for the sun to come up. My first stop was this little country store west of Moulton. The frost on the ground crunched under my feet as I moved around looking for the best angle. I tend to shoot from many angles because it's digital and you can't throw away pictures you don't have. It was very quiet way out in the country but also quite peaceful. I had finally started my winter's journey and today was going to be a good day.

This little former Chevron station east of Leighton looked better on Google Streetview than it did in real life but there were a few things to see. When's the last time you saw an oil can? And yes, it had church key holes in the top.

Just east of Florence is the Shoal Creek bridge. Traveling by car was still more or less a novelty when this bridge was built in 1924. While it looks quite dated now I'm betting this was state of the art back when it was built. It still looks sturdy even though the state has closed it off to even foot traffic.

Friday morning I was up before dark again because I still had a lot of places to go and there's only so much daylight. And add to that that the winter sun sits closer to the horizon and makes for challenging ways to get shots while avoiding getting your shadow in the picture. Thanks to Remember Tuscumbia for posting this former school on my Facebook/Forgotten Alabama page.  It was kinda creepy going through it. A lethal combination of the elements and vandals made this place feel eerie. Add to that that I think the temperature had to be in the upper teens as you can see from the frozen puddle in the picture. I was grateful for my warm car when it was time to move on.

Finally near the end of my day's journey I stopped at the old Meadow Gold Dairy Terminal (Thanks to Stanley N Carol Dean for the tip!) on US 31 between Athens and Decatur. Once again mostly destroyed on the inside. I did notice they spent money on some nice cultured marble on the facade. Not much to speak of inside other than a dead possum and this sign. I had forgotten about Ronnie Flippo. He was a former Congressman from the 5th district who resigned from Congress in 1991 to run for Governor. He wound up finishing 4th in the primary. I wonder if it was because his version of Alabama has a goatee?

By the time I got home I had driven 739 miles and taken about 650 pictures. My system needs refinement but at least I have a system. Before it was random and hope I got lucky.

It's good to be writing again and good to be back on the road. I love Alabama, warts and all, and looking forward to seeing much more of it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate y'all more than you know. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Things I've Learned Along The Way

This has been an interesting ride and it's not over by any means. It was never my goal to do a blog. I just wanted to take pictures and call it a day. Well...a winter season. My wife suggested I do a blog and I thought why? Who would care? Ahh the things you learn. Just because I'm a guy doesn't mean...well no...we're slow learners. I took her advice because it might be fun. Not that I'm the Laura Ingalls Wilder of bloggers mind you and my little corner of the internet started slow. I would throw out a link on Facebook and beg my friends to take a look. A friend who I only knew through a mutual game we played (Farmville if you were curious) was my first visitor. Thank you Jen. It's people like you that make this a worthy journey.

To be fair my genre is narrowly focused and I didn't expect a lot of people would be be bailing out of Facebook to come take a visit. But I did manage to get folks to come take a look. In fact from all over the world. Google has an easy to use blogger website and even gives you lots of information and statistics about where your readers come from and what browser they use. Little graphs and charts and things like that. Needless to say when I saw I had readers from Croatia and Russia...Romania, France, India, Australia...the United Arab Emirates...I was a bit surprised. In fact it wound up being about 20 different countries. Thank you Al Gore. Your "invention" has given me an audience I would never have thought possible.

I also learned a little about networking. Making friends who follow similar pursuits. I would find interesting pictures taken by other photographers. We tend to be protective of our turf if we find something unusual. But I had one in particular who advised me on a place and to make sure I didn't have Cato with me because he could get hurt. Cato is my baby and I'm very protective of him. I, in turn, told my photographer friend about a place he might enjoy. I met other wonderful people through their Facebook pages. William Hampton has a page called Huntsville Revisited with hundreds of historical pictures. Great guy and I'm happy to call him a friend. Another friend is Beverly Crider who runs the page Strange Alabama. I owe her a lot. She was gracious enough to link my blog on her page. Needless to say when I saw I had gone from a few page views on any given day to 5000 in a single day I was stunned.

I don't really talk to many people when I'm on the road. It's not because I don't want to. The winter daylight is a precious thing and short in supply. Most things I shoot are remote and there's no one around anyway. Usually my subject matter requires a quick stop, shoot, move on to the next target. On occasion I'll see something that requires permission. Practically everyone I met was nice about it whether they said yes or no.

When I make my trips I'm usually alone. Well, save for Cato. I usually drive till I see something I like. More than once I'll push the limits of the truck's gas tank. I'll sweat a little as I go mile after mile and see little evidence of civilization. Much less petroleum related commerce. I'll debate in my mind why I let the truck idle when I could have saved a few cents worth of gasoline. That quick stop that I just knew would take  two minutes turns in to ten. So I gamble. It never came back to bite me. That doesn't mean it won't...

I remember once being way up in northeast Alabama. In the Paint Rock Valley. Trust me when I say it can get quite remote. It's really pretty countryside but very sparsely populated. I watched anxiously as the bright orange stick slid down the "E" like the sun fading in the west. I would debate how far I can go before I have to bail and turn around. Needless to say when I did find gas at $3.80 a gallon I was more than happy to pay the price for my lack of foresight. I logged close to 7500 miles in my three months on the road. Changed the oil twice. My old Dodge has been my constant companion for the last ten years. It's had its share of problems but for a 16 year old truck its been a good, reliable companion.

I have to admit feeling melancholy about the onset of spring. There are few things I dislike more than winter. But winter is a necessary ingredient for my project. With the advancing warm weather that Govt experiment gone awry, kudzu, will once again engulf my quarry. There is still so much more ground I need to cover. Most of northwest Alabama...southeast and southwest Alabama as well. How naive I had to have been to think this would take a couple of months and then I publish my book. No, I need one more good winter (a contradiction to me normally) to collect more material. So much more research I need to do. A more well thought out plan...

Pardon me.....I'm laughing at myself. Good intentions and that road know.

Writing this has been a blast. I hate that I have to stop for now. I was just going to write a few, maybe five or six, but that few turned into 20+. I want to thank y'all for giving me a few minutes of your day to enjoy my passion. Dang I hate this part. I came to love my journey. But for now it's time to let it rest till winter once again welcomes me back to the road.

Just a little advice before I go. Get a camera. Just a decent little point and shoot. Take pictures. Lots of pictures. Your friends and family. Your pets. Your house. Your garden. Your car. Your neighborhood. Your church. Where you shop. Where you work. Where you play. Sure lots of these seem odd for now. But ten years from now?Twenty or 30? Then you'll understand. And your kids will thank you. And their kids and....well you get it.

Sadly it's the end of the road for now. See you in December. I am humbled that many of you took a moment to drop by. Thank you....thank you very much!

Old AL 69 as it disappears into Smith Lake

Monday, April 22, 2013


I suppose I could start this out with some noble sounding statement such as "From the dawn of civilization. When man first invented the wheel..." but that borders on pretentious. I'm actually not convinced man invented the wheel. I'm thinking he improved it by watching a round rock roll down a hill before it whacked him in the head. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

We could not survive without wheels. They take us places, they move machinery, they make dragging around your vacuum cleaner easier. Life itself would suffer without wheels. And the best part? Well to me anyway they make for great pictures. 

This old bulldozer has long since plowed it's last road. Nothing more than a steel monument to progress from a bygone era. From the looks of it and its many missing parts I'm thinking they just drove it here and left it.
This is a Massey-Ferguson 35. Best I can figure is it most looks like one I found from 1963. Tractors don't go through styling updates like cars do so I will assume early 1960's. I just liked the pot-metal logo on the front. Not often you see a two-name company where the second name is the one they refer to.
I found this firetruck next to the old Packard Clipper  down around Gadsden. This guy had a couple hundred old cars and trucks. It was one of those photography goldmines. The only problem was he didn't particularly care for me shooting pictures of them. I suppose I could have argued that I was on a public right-of-way and all but you just get a feel for those who are not inclined to listen. I will say he was nice when he pretty much told me to get lost.
This is an Allis-Chalmers Gleaner I found in a barn in Chilton County. It's missing its cab and other miscellaneous parts. Gleaning, as I understand it, is cleaning up leftover crops after the rest have been been commercially harvested. It's real technical stuff and I will leave that to the experts on this...yeah...that's what I'll do. We'll just say it does farm type stuff.
I showed the back of this bus in my last blog. I just think it's cool sitting here in a vacant lot. It's easy to see if you're coming into Sylacauga from Childersburg. There's a house to the left and I wasn't sure if anybody lived there. The for sale sign made me take a gamble and it paid off.

This thing I saw on a remote road in Shelby County near Montevallo. I have no clue what it is. It looks homemade and I suspect it was used to carry logs out of the woods for processing. I'm thinking the huge roll-cage on the front meant it was either unstable or watch out for falling trees. Logging is dangerous work. I can't imagine how bad it was back when this was a working piece of machinery.

This is a mail car from the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. I found it in Andalusia along with the Plymouth switcher. The REA Express was started as a Govt owned monopoly to ensure safe and timely delivery of parcels over the railroad system. All the railroads were part of this except two. Southern and the Mobile and Ohio, both of which made their way through Alabama, had their own service. REA eventually got put out of business by UPS who, along with the Interstate system, could deliver packages much cheaper.                                                                                                                                                          

An old industrial switcher made by Plymouth. No, not That Plymouth. This was made by Plymouth Locomotive Works in Plymouth, Ohio. 1960's at least. These were used to move railroad cars around industrial facilities such as steel mills and grain elevators. 

Ya know...I didn't mean this to be a history lesson. But in the same light I can't just say "Oooo...check out this picture of a car!" I'm hoping you appreciate a little background on these.

How many times have you seen an old Nash Metropolitan? Probably more times than you've seen two at the same time. I remember these well. Kind of a geek car driven by guys who wanted something different. The one on the left is a 1958 model and was most noted for having no trunk lid. You had to fold down the back seat if you wanted to store anything. The one on the right (1959) introduced a trunk that opened from the outside!
And finally an old travel trailer. No idea who made it. So you know somebody had painted it bright red. Trust me when I say changing it to grayscale made it worth a look. I found this in a backyard (I haven't been shot yet and I consider that a plus) near the cotton gin I mentioned in an earlier post in Vincent, Alabama.

And speaking of Vincent, can you find a more fitting way to end this chapter than to show you a map (legal CYA-Courtesy Google Maps) of the actual city limits of Vincent? 

Yep...looks like a wheel. Well....with a flat spot but close enough. So you know I didn't know this initially. I was just verifying what county Vincent is in and saw this. One of those way cool moments. If you were curious...probably not but if you were it's in Shelby...and St. Clair...AND Talladega county. 

One last thing. I want to thank Beverly Crider and her Facebook site Strange Alabama. She graciously linked my last blog and it exploded with hits. I cannot thank her enough. Check out her page (Strange Alabama) on Facebook as it has tons (well not literally) of pictures from across my beloved Alabama. I have met the nicest people since I started this and she is definitely one of the best.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Might Be A Good Sign

Delicious & Refreshing! Relieves Fatigue! Now showing. Live here. Eat here...or in the case of Superman Peanut Butter "Its strength is in its great taste" I suppose it had a strong peanutty taste. Not all slogans are great examples of marketing genius.

Advertising. You can't escape it. Everywhere you turn there's some product or service trying to lure you in. I'm betting you're even reading this because someone, who shall remain...well no, not anonymous because you know who he is, made a shameless plea on Facebook to get you here so you could read this and of course shower him with endless accolades for his artistic style and rather clever prose.

Of course it could also be you felt sympathy for me. I'm not afraid to play the guilt card. Alright, I'm being facetious. My point is that we all advertise in some form or fashion if we have something we want to sell. Be it a product or idea. A service, hobby...whatever. In my particular case, finding any old advertising is pure gold. Obviously I prefer it intact but you take what you can get.

Demopolis, Alabama (from Greek- City of the People) sits at the intersection of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers in southwest Alabama. It was once a thriving center of commerce with a railroad hub and those two rivers converging here. There are still many older structures such as warehouses and industries still standing. And there's an added bonus. Large buildings have large exposed walls which make for an excellent canvas for advertising. I was surprised how many buildings here still have large advertisements preserved on the sides of those buildings. If you're ever in Demopolis drive around downtown. There's a lot of wall art to see.

Found this old Greyhound bus in Talladega County. I know almost nothing about buses but I do know old when I see it. Now as to how long its been sitting here who knows. The Tennessee tag on the back is from 1956 so it and I share that in common. Just as a side note but back years ago Tennessee used to make their tags in the shape of the state which made it very distinctive.

It didn't hurt that Tennessee is more or less rectangular shaped.
The Rexall drug store in Ragland is still there. In fact there are still items on the shelves. I remember this day for two reasons. It was cold and I lost a lens cap here.
The Carry Out sign hangs from the awning of a restaurant along Hwy 11 west of Gadsden. It didn't start its life as a place to eat. In fact it's a bit remote for a business of this nature. Which, I suppose, explains why it isn't in business anymore. No, this place started it's life as Eva's Truck Stop many years ago before Interstate 59 existed. Here's what it looked like back in the day.

It was actually a pretty cool looking art-deco building which seems oddly out of place for rural Alabama. Now it, like much of what I shoot, is relegated to obscurity.

The Dari-Delite still exists in Clanton. The new place is just down the road south of the old place. But the new place doesn't have this cool old sign. I'm betting this thing looked great in its day all lit up and flashing. Things like this are worth saving and I hope they do.

Just north of Clanton is the old drive-in. No I have no clue what it was named. Fortunately the screen and frame of the sign still exist. It spent its last days selling mobile homes. I suppose that makes sense since drive-ins offer a lot of space to park. All I know is it's one of those cool old places that still stands. An eyesore to some but a cool part of Alabama's past to me.
I chose to show this picture in color. I think the reason should be obvious. For those of you who are old enough I'm sure you remember seeing many a roadside motel that advertised two critical features. One was air-conditioning and the other was "COLOR TV"! And sometimes they would have more than 3 channels!

Funny but I miss those days. Yes it was hot in the backseat and yeah every trip seemed like we were going to the Moon because it would never end. But it was fun being a kid when I was growing up.

I'm really not trying to relive my childhood. That would require a spyder bike and a dollar so I could get a chili dog and a Tahitian Treat at the U-Totem in my old neighborhood. I would heat it up in one of those new-fangled microwave machines that had a warning label if you wore a pacemaker.

I wish I had a picture of that U-Totem sign now but it's long gone...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

500 Miles

You're probably wondering what cryptic meaning the title has. As it turns out it would best be described as a lack of imagination. This just happened to be the longest day I have had since I started my journey. Well longest in miles anyway. 500 miles round trip this day. But you see...I was on a quest. I had been researching where I might find things that fit my genre' and Andalusia was a long ride from central Alabama. Might as well take a very meandering way there. It was a gorgeous, bright sunny day with temps in the 50's. I started off heading to Prattville because I was looking for something. Well duh. I'm always looking for something. Turns out what I was seeking wasn't readily available and I had a long ways to go. I took a wrong turn and found this house. Mostly intact and obviously uninhabited for years. I left Cato in the truck because we were right beside the road and well, being a cat, curiosity tends to be his guide.

I always get this odd feeling going into older abandoned houses. It's an eclectic mixture of curiosity about who these people were and what life was like here. The reminders left behind. The little odds and ends that make up our lives.

The things we value at some point in life and later have no use for. I was struck by the homemade tie rack at right. Here it remains who knows how many years later. And the tie is exactly where it was left. From the looks of the place this tie could have been hanging here for 30 years or more. I saw nothing inside that would lead me to believe this house had an occupant in a long time. So much so that some bird decided this was a most excellent place to build a nest. It's dry if nothing else. 

But back to my observation about these older houses. My second point is that it's sometimes a little creepy too. Not Texas Chainsaw Massacre creepy mind you. But still I always make sure the way I came in is a good way to get out. You never know what you will find...

I found this truck in Midway, Alabama. Midway between what and what I will leave to conjecture. So you know I did look at it on a map. Best I can figure it's an outpost on US 82 midway between Union Springs and a lotta trees. It seemed to have started life delivering furniture but on this day its load was old garden hose. Sad to see it will live out its days as a backdrop to vegetation.

The old railroad bridge. Found it by accident. Not that I could have avoided seeing it anyway. I was always intrigued by all things railroad so I notice things regular folks might not see. As I was plodding along US 82 I started to see a definite clearing that ran parallel to the highway. Mile after mile. I knew that it was an old railroad bed so when I found this trestle it was one of those really cool things that you didn't expect. I even walked out on it. And yeah, you have to choose your steps carefully or you'll go swimming...with a broken leg

By now I was heading southwest. Those lonely boring roads in the Wiregrass area of L.A. that are endless miles of gently rolling hills and farmland. I saw a few things possibly worthy of a picture but by now the day is slipping away. So I passed up a few things that I could live without. Then I saw the Texaco sign. Dang. Haven't seen one of these in years. Too good to pass up.

Oh btw....L.A. means Lower Alabama. Can't always assume folks know things like this.

By now I had maybe an hour....maybe...when I rolled into Andalusia. Off and on rain wasn't helping either. And to make matters worse I had NO clue where I was going. All I knew was there were some old railroad cars somewhere in Andalusia. I tried putting "Main" Street in the Garmin but Andalusia has no Main St. Next guess was Railroad St (Both are common names and good ways to get in the middle of a city if you needed something to plug into the GPS). Turns out there is a Railroad St. Also turns out it isn't anywhere near the center of town. By now the sun is turning a reddish orange and I'm starting to panic. Not like heart attack panic but dang...I've driven a long way to get here and I am not going home empty handed. I head back into town. What I am guessing is the center of town. I cross railroad tracks. Good sign! I follow them as best as I could and then there it was. My Holy Grail.

I managed to find lots of cool things here. I gingerly climbed over the collapsing fence. My pulse was racing. I started popping off shots left and right. Never can tell when a hungry dog or an irate security guard will try and convince me anywhere but here is a better choice. As I plodded through my task I began to relax. Take my time and get some pretty pictures. The old steam locomotive at right is a 1913 Baldwin also know as an 0-4-0T. T meant tanker but it was removed and I had no idea where it lives now. You'll notice the sun and how low it was in the sky. Needless to say and in spite of hundreds of miles to get here it was well worth the effort. Rarely do you get to find things like this.

As I was wrapping up I walked around the old depot to get some last pictures. Turns out there isn't a fence on the other side. Could have just walked right in. Glad I didn't get impaled on that fence...

I called this picture "The End".

Get it?

Oh stop rolling your eyes...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gettin' My Kicks on

I noticed I hadn't posted a new entry in a while. It
wasn't because I didn't want to. Life just gets in the way sometimes. It's Easter. I haven't done my taxes yet. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts!* (with apologies to the Blues Brothers)

Ehhh...honestly I just get lazy and distracted. Such is the case now.

This day I was out to revisit old stomping grounds. As I have mentioned a while back, there was a salvage
yard on Hwy 280 that was the inspiration for my journey. A land frozen in the year 1965. I had my new super-duper Nikon and oh, the art this sweet camera was going to make. It was a gorgeous day. Mid 50's. Bright and sunny. As I made my approach I noticed the cars were not where they had been. I could see some a ways away from the road but not near as many as before. I pulled in to say hi and could I.....well nope. Ain't gonna happen. Seems the owner had decided to sell off many of his collection. Curse you eBay! What he kept was not available for public perusal anymore. Too many thieves. There was no swaying his wife to my cause no matter how noble I made it seem.

Insert heavy sigh here.....

Needless to say that was a blow to me. The best junk yard I had ever seen and it was just beyond my grasp. But it was not a total loss. She suggested the guy about a half mile up the road. He ran an interesting little place called, well, The Lot. To say his collection was eclectic seems a bit lacking. He sells used cars but seems to collect them too. It was not the visual panacea I had hoped for but there was still plenty to see.

Keep in mind my criteria is old, unused and abandoned. But every once in a while I see something really old and unusual. Something quite rare. So much so that a couple of "Americans" who are "Pickers" might be intrigued. Such is the case with the J.C. Higgins bicycle with the gasoline engine added. I had never seen one like this and trust me, they are quite rare.

I thanked Jeff for his kindness and hospitality when I left. Nice guy. Just a good ole' boy from Alabama...

I went on my way and then veered off in Sylacauga to what was the old Hwy 280. As I have learned over the course of my journey, when any major highway is widened they don't always follow the old route be it geography or whatever. Which means they bypass the older road. That's usually where I find my visual gold. What may have been a busy town at one time becomes a quiet shell of what it was because the new and improved highway found a new way to go. Such is the case in Goodwater. The sign post at the left. I've never seen one anywhere. It's a cast iron marker pointing north up AL Hwy 9 towards Ashland. I have no clue what 90-D means.

I remember many a trip to Auburn in the fall. My parents going back to Auburn to celebrate homecoming. That trip eventually connected to Hwy 280 which went through Goodwater. It's certainly not how I remembered it. Even the ABC store had moved on. There were a lot of abandoned storefronts. Many of the buildings on the main drag through town were offering little more than a collapsed roof and a home for stray cats. As a child growing up I still remember my Mom taking us to the A&P supermarket in Huntsville on South Parkway. The only reason I bring this up is I still remember the conveyor belts at the checkout line. I don't remember the manufacturer's name but I remember they were built in Goodwater. I have to admit I have remembered the oddest things from my childhood since I started my journey. Funny how the mind works. The things that stimulate memories.

The building at right. Not sure what it was. On this day it was storing lumber. It wasn't a house. Obviously some sort of light industrial business. I think it may have been a millwright or some other business involving wood. Processing wood in Alabama has always been a booming business. You can't go anywhere in central Alabama and not see a log truck plodding down the highway somewhere.

Have you ever seen something so defining that it told an entire story with a single word? A look? Or an
image? As I was looking out the window of the old abandoned service station I was struck by how defining this picture was to me. As if life was passing this little town by. Having grown up in the suburbs I never got to experience life as it might have been in Mayberry. Goodwater makes me think of what Mayberry might have been way back in its day...

 * The Blues Brothers, 1980, Universal Pictures