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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Apocalypse At Exit 239

I have always been a fan of apocalyptic entertainment. Not in a morbid sense. I just really like zombie movies. Night of the Living Dead. Dawn of the Dead or I Am Legend. Movies involving some sort of catastrophic accident or TV like AMC's The Walking Dead...anything where it's man versus some evil or virus or undead or...well you get the picture. The struggle to survive and rebuild. I'm always curious what one would do should they be thrown into life or death circumstances and what they do to get by.

In a funny sort of way what I shoot kind of represents a look at what was but is no longer. Many things are abandoned and left to nature. As if some sort of catastrophic event happened and everything was left as it was. The shell of an abandoned business all that remains because anything useful was removed. Such was the case at Exit 239 off of I-59 way up in northeast Alabama.

I'm sure if you've ever traveled on any interstate chances are you eventually had to pull off because you needed gas or food or a break. And you saw a business that had long since ceased operations for whatever reason. Having logged maybe a million miles in my lifetime I've certainly seen my share. A lot have nothing at all. Just an exit. But Exit 239 was special. And honestly quite eerie.

There were the remains of five separate businesses here. Four gas stations and a motel. Only one of the
four buildings remained intact. Even the billboards showed many years of neglect. The one to the left advertised a 24 hour Shell Truck Stop that eventually became the Chevron. The trees were so overgrown that you could not see the sign from the highway.

Of the five, one was completely razed. Nothing but a patch of sparse pavement and weeds. The biggest of the five, the Chevron Truck Stop, was more or less intact. By intact I mean the walls were still standing. The diesel fuel islands for trucks as well as the awning were still there. But little else. All the glass was long gone...I'm sure the handiwork of vandals. Across from the truck stop was a motel. Well, I'm pretty sure it was a motel. I'm betting not much of one as it was just concrete block construction. You can still see what was the remains of each bathroom. What I thought was odd was it appeared that someone decided to tear it down but then stopped. As if all that was required was take down 2/3rds of it and call it a day. Each room had a basement too or maybe those were a first floor. All I know is it's making a fine planter for the trees that now populate it.

Across the interstate was just a single gas station that eventually became an antique store. And that did not survive either. Just another silent reminder of a once prosperous interchange that just folded up shop and died. The area around there is very sparsely populated but exits don't cater to the locals. They try to lure in the passers by. The road warrior seeking an oasis. But for some odd reason these businesses at Exit 239 failed to do this. Maybe for a time they were successful. But that time seems so long ago.

An occasional car would go by to break the silence that is Exit 239. But, even with the passing traffic noise on the interstate, it was strangely quiet here. Walking around I felt very alone. Yes of course I was physically alone. But this was a different kind of alone. Not like a walk in the woods. It was creepy to be honest. No, I did not expect a "walker" to come out of nowhere. But when I finally shot what I needed I was quite happy to go find people again at the next exit...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Just Random Stuff I See

I spend a lot of time on the road. I think since the middle of January I have put about 5000 miles on my old truck. I can rack up a lotta miles and see nothing worth shooting. But that doesn't mean I don't see "anything" worthy of a picture. Alabama is a beautiful state. But Alabama also has a lot of, shall we say, quirky things as well. I didn't start off shooting them and a lot I missed because that wasn't what I was looking for. Now when I see the unusual, the absurd, the downright quirky...anything that makes you laugh or...well, you get what I'm saying. Anyway, I'll stop and take a picture. Like the sign warning you there's a river ahead. Well duh.

 Ever heard of Dismal, Alabama? I hear it's a to live. Btw, if you take the left here on Winston County Hwy 63 you can see America's "2nd" oldest log jail. This is for bad wood I presume. Or knotty pine (pause here for laughs...that will not be forthcoming)
Bet you thought USA meant something else didn't you? Seems the geography books had it all wrong. The things you learn. And here I am actually using that geography thingy too.
Everybody needs a hot tub...on their front the road. Oh did I mention this is literally 35 or 40 feet away from Hwy 231?

Whatever floats you boat I suppose.
Further up the road as I was heading north I saw what looked like somebody made a network of paths in their front yard. Only thing is they seemed so random and stopped at odd places. Well, turns out you have to be heading south and then it makes sense. What has to be the world's largest Alabama logo. It is so big I have no doubt it could be seen on Google maps.


                                                       comment really necessary?

And finally, as y'all are aware, Cato makes many trips with me. He's getting to the teenage cat stage in life when he can be a handful. Every time he gets in the truck he's all over the place and getting into everything. I've never seen a cat more at home in a moving vehicle right from the start. But I have to admit when he gets like this I'm a little grateful. I once saw a question posed on Facebook. If you could choose to be any animal what would you be? That's an easy one. A cat in my house...

Friday, March 8, 2013

I Knew This Was Coming

I'm going to say something. Something I never in a million, gazillion years EVER thought would cross my lips. I actually....sigh....working up to it so bear with me. 

I actually dread the end of winter.......excuse me a moment as I compose myself. 

I do not look forward to the approaching spring. Spring means lots of things. First and foremost is, of course, the end of winter. But it also means my subject matter will once again be swallowed up by the advance of nature. The birds will sing. The flowers will bloom. The trees will once again clothe themselves with ample foliage. I'm pretty sure you see where this is going. It means I will have to cease my project for now. Oh I'm not done with the blog. I think I have another four or five left before I stop for the season. But I've got maybe a week or two at most to get a few more pictures. To say this is a melancholy moment doesn't really do it justice. But such is life and you deal with it.
My photos this time have no theme really. Just random things I picked up here and there. The image at top is a bridge near Kimberly. I'm not sure if it was originally Hwy 31 but it was quite unusual to see it as I plodded down the winding road. The above image was from a power plant of an old sawmill in Brent. It was being torn down. The place was quite large and must have processed millions of feet of lumber in its day.
The Jazz Feed sign was on a long gone business in West Blocton. The interior is of the same business. I always wondered whatever happened to Blocton. I mean obviously there had to be a Blocton to have a West Blocton. Right? So you know I did do a search for Blocton but came up empty. So we are forever relegated to only having the western version. It's like so many small towns that time seems to have passed by. Back in its day it was a mining town. But now even the United Mine Workers drug store is closed down. (That's it across the street from the Jazz Feeds building) I recall it was a cold day when I shot these pictures. In an odd sort of way the weather seemed quite appropriate.

I remember this building. Well duh. I did shoot it. The remnants of an old general store in western Alabama. Behind it is a newer version in brick. A lady stopped by and wanted to know what I was doing. I explained of course and then inquired as to what she knew about the place. You see, it's two lonely buildings at a crossroads that are miles from anywhere. She told me it was the Martin Murphy store and it had been closed since she was a little girl back in the 1980s. I'll never understand why places like this don't survive. I can tell you it had to be 15 miles from any civilization so yeah...probably worth paying the convenience markup I would think. I did go inside all the while wondering if today was the day it would decide to collapse. I've been in a few like that but you have to go where the pictures are. Just don't be stupid. I am a guy so that's part of our DNA I'm afraid.

The SLOW sign is just off Hwy 31 up around Warrior. There is a large industrial complex down the hill behind it but entry was going to be a bit difficult. It had been raining and it was muddy and I had places to go. Maybe next year. 

Spring. You know I love you. You know how much I detest winter. You are just coming too soon. (Insert heavy sigh here) Next winter I'll start earlier. I'll have a better plan. I'll be more organized. I'll...oh who am I kidding? 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I Always Loved That Smell...

Way back in the last century. Back in a time when there was no such thing as compact discs and I would wager the thought of an iPod had not occurred to anyone yet. When I had an 8-track player in my old Impala and gas costs 75 cents a gallon I used to work at a radio station. WAHR-FM in Hunstville. We were an album oriented rock station and played vinyl records on turntables. The station was located on the 11th floor of the Times Building on Holmes Avenue and at 3.2 kilowatts our signal barely made it to the city limits. I spent many a Saturday and Sunday night there back in the late 1970s. Probably the most fun job I ever had.

Now you may ask...what does this have to do with the title and the pictures? Actually a lot. You see I always knew it was fall when I worked downtown. Not because of the weather although that was a factor. No. It was the end of cotton harvesting season and now it was time to gin it. There was a cotton gin down Church Street just north of where I worked. And the smell of the ginning process. For those of you that don't know, cotton ginning is the process of separating the seed from the fiber which made it easier to process into clothing or whatever. And of course everyone who knows even rudimentary history would know who Eli Whitney is.

Anyway, it always smelled like barbeque to me. For the life of me I never understood why that was. There was no hickory fire and no pork. But the smell was very similar. So when I came across this old cotton gin in Vincent, Alabama I thought two things. Cool beans! Something worth shooting and the memory of the smell of cotton being ginned. I've often noticed that smells remind us of memories. And of course things remind us of smells. But this was an unusual one for me. I asked at the town hall if they knew when it closed. Best anyone could remember was the early 1990s. But here it sat 20 years later. The machinery was rusting in place and even the scale read wrong. But it was still mostly intact. As if it lay dormant for the time being. Waiting till fall rolled around again and the long line of cotton farmers would process the fruits of their labor.
I'm sure most of y'all know this but Alabama is called the Cotton State. It produced more cotton per square mile than
any other place on earth in 1890 and half of all cotton exported in the world went through the port of Mobile in 1860.* But with the appearance of the Boll Weevil to Alabama in 1915 which nearly wiped out Alabama's cotton crop it forced farmers to diversify into other crops such as peanuts and soybeans. There is a statue honoring the boll weevil in Enterprise, Alabama. The only known statue to honor an agricultural pest in the world.#

I really did not mean this to be a history lesson. But history is what defines us. We get from here to there by our history. Which is why I do what I do. Pictures remind us of things. Of memories...both good and bad. I go to a Facebook page called Huntsville Revisited. The gentleman who runs it has an incredible wealth of pictures dating back years. I love to go there and see things as they were. Because I grew up there I see things from my youth and try and reconstruct where I was. Who I was with. Old friends. Things of that sort. It's neat to see the old pictures and remember my youth...

If you have time and of course a Huntsville connection helps check out Huntsville Revisited on Facebook. Take the time to check out his albums. It's a fun place to go.