Saturday, July 21, 2018

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 11, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Dear Readers, let us return to the Mother Road, the famous Route 66. When it was originally mapped out in the mid-1920s, Route 66 entered Santa Fe from the south after leaving Albuquerque. It then headed east and southeast through the mountains. But in 1937, Route 66 was rerouted to bypass Santa Fe (political posturing - who would have guessed?). Today, a traveler today can choose to travel on the older original 1920s routing or just drive east-west through Albuquerque. Regardless, Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is one of the oldest cities in the Unites States and is ripe with interesting architecture, the arts, and cultural activities. The Georgia O'keefe Museum is amazing. My pictures below are a semi-random view of town. The standard tourist sites have been photographed millions (billions?) of times; I don't need to repeat them.
New Mexico Museum of Art, West Palace Ave.
Maria's Kitchen, West Cordova Ave.
Coming from parts of the country with predominantly wood architecture, I found the adobe architecture of New Mexico to be very interesting. It is ideally suited to the hot summers because the thick clay walls keep the blazing sun at bay.
Spanish festival, Sanat Fe Plaza
There is no end to cultural activities and fun. The Santa Fe Plaza has been the social, commercial, and political center of the city since about 1610 (remember, this is one of of the oldest cities in the United States, only matched by St. Augustine in Florida). The Plaza is a National Historic Landmark.
Glass fruit at the famous 109 East Palace Ave.
Just off the Plaza is a block of 1600s adobe buildings. One of these was the security and clearing office for the Los Alamos scientists and engineers during the early phase of the Manhattan project in World War II. Newly-arrived workers entered a perfectly ordinary-looking door and met the formidable Ms. McKibbin, who issued their passes. Then they exited out the rear to a bus, which took them up into the mountains to the new Los Alamos facility. From the Atomic Heritage Foundation:
After arriving in Lamy, the scientists, SEDers, and families were directed to 109 E. Palace Avenue in Santa Fe. The building, constructed as a Spanish hacienda in the 1600s, is located just off the plaza in downtown Santa Fe. During World War II, it was the administrative hub of the Manhattan Project.  
Dorothy Scarritt McKibbin was the first reassuring face the fatigued newcomers saw. At 109 East Palace, McKibbin informed them that their journey continued another 35 miles along the winding road up to the Pajarito Plateau. In the early months, she dispatched an average of 65 people each day to “the Hill,” as Los Alamos was called. The steady stream of arrivals meant the office was often “bedlam,” as McKibbin described it. She issued passes and IDs and directed newcomers to their homes, received shipments of household items to be distributed to the Hill’s residents, and tended to personal matters as needed.  McKibbin was the perfect person for her job and quickly became indispensable as the “Gatekeeper” at 109 E. Palace Avenue and a close friend and confidante of Oppenheimer. She had a warm smile, an engaging personality and was reassuringly calm and efficient. In recognition of her contribution, McKibbin was awarded the title of “First Lady” of Los Alamos and declared a Living Treasure of Santa Fe. 
Today, 109 E. Palace houses gift shops and sells glass fruit and other artsy items.
A family friend generously let us stay in his guest cottage. He has interesting items in his yard, along with resident bunnies.
Head north into the mountains to the Valles Caldera National Preserve (established by president Clinton, part of the National Park Service). The high altitude air is clear and crisp. View this ancient supervolcano and watch elk grazing in the pastures. Listen to the silence (except when some Harleys come thundering along).
The composer, Igor Stravinsky, conducted regularly at the Santa Fe Opera from 1957 to 1962. This bust is on the Stravinsky Terrace of The Santa Fe Opera. The opera, on a stunning site north of town, is a fabulous venue for top-class opera. Make a point to attend a performance!

Santa Fe and the surrounding mountains are a fantastic vacation destination, highly recommended!

The square photographs are from Tri-X 400 film in a Hasselblad camera. The rectangle frames are Kodak BW400 film from a Yashica Electro 35CC camera (a convenient travel camera with a top-quality 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon lens). The view of Valles Caldera was taken with a Olympus Trip 35 camera with a polarizer to emphasize the clouds. You can click any frame to see the larger photograph.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Mississippi Delta 8b: The I.T. Montgomery House, Mound Bayou

I.T Montgomery house, W. Main  Street, Mound Bayou, Mississippi
The always-informative Preservation in Mississippi blog recently wrote that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had announced its annual “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” for 2018. Isaiah T. Montgomery's House in Mound Bayou was on the list. From the National Trust:
"Isaiah T. Montgomery House Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Established by former slave Isaiah T. Montgomery, Mound Bayou was one of the earliest all-black municipalities, located in the Mississippi Delta following the Civil War. Today, Montgomery's home is in urgent need of stabilization and rehabilitation."
I wrote about Mound Bayou in 2012, and at that time, I.T. Montgomery's house looked intact, although I was not able to see inside.
Undated photograph of I.T. Montgomery house from Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
During an April 2018 drive through Mound Bayou, I saw some workmen installing heavy timbers abound the periphery of the house to prevent the walls from collapsing outwards. They did not know if other preservation work would follow. The lower floor of the house served as a clinic in the early 20th century.
Edwards Ave. (Old Hwy. 61), view south, Mound Bayou, Mississippi
Today, Mound Bayou looks rough and beat-up. The main road through town, Edwards Avenue, has the standard closed shops and shop-a-minute gas stations.
The former bus stop on Edwards Ave. is an early-20th century shop with square front.
Willie's transmission appears to be closed. You can see the I.T. Montgomery house a block away on the left.
This building at the corner of W. Main and Green Streets was the Bank of Mound Bayou, founded by Charles Banks in 1904, the first Black-owned bank in Mississippi.

The history of Mound Bayou is a story of determination, back-breaking hard work, and a dream of creating a better life for African Americans in an era when they were treated brutally by the Southern white political establishment. National Public Radio featured Mound Bayou in one of their 2017 Our Land series. Booker T. Washington wrote a fascinating description of Mound Bayou's founding and early history in an article titled, "A Town Owned by Negroes, Mound Bayou, Miss., an Example of Thrift and Self-Government," July 1907 (archive from from Johns Hopkins Press).

The black and white photographs are from Kodak TMax 100 film, shot with a Pentax Spotmatic camera (1971 vintage). I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i film scanner controlled with Silverfast Ai software.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Mississippi Delta 27: Itta Bena

Itta Bena is a small agricultural town a few miles west of Greenwood, in the central Mississippi Delta. The railroad goes through the center of town and once likely served as the town's main source of prosperity by carrying agricultural products to Greenwood or other markets.
Former Ralph Lembo store, Humphreys Street, Itta Bena
Humphreys Street parallels the tracks on the north. You can tell this was once a prosperous commercial strip with one- and two-story brick commercial buildings. Now many are closed and unoccupied. Of interest to Blues fans, the little store at 114 Humphreys Street was operated by Ralph Lembo in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He brought in many now-famous blues musicians. As of March 2018, the store is boarded up.
Front Street is south of the railroad tracks. Here, too, most of the shops are closed, but the L&T Food Market was active.
My friend, who is a professor at the Mississippi Valley State University just north of town, showed me a small building he called the Blue Store. I love the outside seating.

Photographs taken on Kodak TMax 100 film with a Pentax Spotmatic camera (1971-vintage). The light was harsh and glarey, difficult for architectural work. I scanned the negatives with a Plustek film scanner operated with SilverFast Ai software.

July 2018 update: Suzassippi wrote about the Lembo store in Preservation Mississippi.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Mississippi Basin Model - 1975 Brochure

Dear Readers,

I have written about the famous Mississippi Basin Model before. If you click on the link and scroll to the bottom of the article, you will see links to older posts. The model was neglected for decades but is now being cleaned by Friends of Mississippi River Basin Model (Facebook:  @FriendsofMississippiRiverBasinModel).
Aerial view of the Mississippi Basin Model with red outline showing area that has been cleared and cleaned as of June, 2018 (from Friends of the Mississippi River Basin Model).
For more information on the design, purpose, and background, the Waterways Experiment Station prepared a booklet describing the Mississippi Basin Model. The booklet is a .pdf file, but the link will open it. It is well-written and illustrated; please take time to read it.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Fate still unknown, the Carnation Milk Plant, Tupelo, Mississippi

The former Carnation Milk evaporated milk plant sits just south of downtown Tupelo off Carnation Street (where else?).
Postcard, unknown date, title "Carnation Plant looking west, Tupelo, Miss. [graphic]", from the Cooper Postcard Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
The 36,000-square-foot plant opened in 1927. According to the Daily Journal,
It opened Saturday, May 14, 1927. Tupelo threw an unprecedented celebratory parade and party, attended by some 15,000 to 20,000 people. It was a big day; it was a historic day. 
For nearly all of the next 45 years, the Carnation Plant lived up to expectations. The dairy industry flourished in Northeast Mississippi. Thousands of dairy farmers enjoyed consistent income, even through the Great Depression. Two and a half generations of workers made the Carnation Plant a part of their memorable and proud careers. The aging plant finally closed its doors in 1972.
But because of its solid, well-built construction, the old building has been considered for many other uses since it was shuttered 39 years ago – a police department and jail, city offices and even a history museum.
There have been numerous studies and plans drawn up to move the Oren Dunn Museum into this once-proud but now-lonely building. Currently, however, those plans simply gather age and dust – just like the Carnation Plant itself. For now, it is remembered only for what it once was, not for what it could be again. The once-shining example of hope and promise in Tupelo 80 years ago simply grows old, both in reality and in all of our Southern Memories.
The nomination for the National Register of Historic Places states that the plant closed in 1965.

As of 2018, the old factory is closed and unused. The Oren Dunn City Museum proposed to refurbish and use the plant, but the cost would have been $ millions, and in 2012, the museum abandoned plans to move its collection to the factory. The site has lost some of its outbuildings. Despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, city workers demolished a storage building and the manager's office.
One sunny afternoon in May, I looked around briefly. The building was secured, or at least there was no obvious access.
Some of the old architectural elements were photogenic. These frames are from a Motorola Moto G5 phone, but one day I need to return with a film camera.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Photographic bargain: the 135mm f/3.5 Pentax SMC Takumar lens


The 135mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (or the almost-identical older Super-Takumar) lens for M42 screw-mount cameras from Asahi Optical Company of Japan (more recently known as Pentax) is one of the great bargains for film photographers and some digital photographers.

The 135mm focal length was popular through much of the 20th century. Leica and Zeiss sold 135 lenses starting in the 1930s, and during the single-lens-reflex boom of the 1960s, all the Japanese companies made 135 lenses for their respective cameras. Often that was the second lens a budding photographer bought, until the marketers convinced amateurs that they "needed" zoom lenses.
Honeywell Pentax advertisement, Modern Photography, June 1968.

M42 thread mount

M42 refers to the thread-mount of 42×1 mm used to attach the lens to the camera body. This was a common size in the 1960s and 1970s, and European, Russian, and Japanese companies made hundreds of M42 lenses in various focal lengths. Many people consider Asahi Optical Company's lenses to be among the best optically and mechanically in that era. It is common to buy an old Takumar lens that will still operate perfectly, while a drastically more expensive Leica lens of similar age will likely have haze or film on the inner elements and need professional cleaning and re-lubrication. The Takumar lenses have a following among serious photographers today because they can be mounted on most mirrorless digital cameras. The M42 mount lost popularity in the 1970s because it was slow to exchange lenses, and companies like Nikon and Canon used faster bayonet mounts on their cameras.

The 35mm f/3.5 Super-Takumar or SMC Takumar is another under-appreciated gem.  I tested my bargain 35 around town and at the Tomato Place.


Asahi (or Pentax - the names are confusing) made a M42 135mm lens as early as 1957. It was modified over the following years with improved coatings and different cosmetics, but the optical formula remained approximately the same. The multi-coated version I have was, according to one source, in production from 1971 to 1977. It is a relatively simple design of 4 elements in 4 groups.
Advertisement from Cambridge Camera Exchange, Popular Photography, January 1981, p. 164.
Advertisement from Cambridge Camera Exchange, Popular Photography, December 1985, p. 105.
Production of Takumar M42 lenses ended in 1975 or 1976, when Pentax switched to its K bayonet mount. But some of the M42 lenses, including the 135, were available brand new as late as the mid-1980s. In the 1981 advertisement above, the 135mm lens is only $79.95, a bargain even in those days. Today, you can buy these on eBay in the range of $20 to $50.


My lens has the label "Super-Multi-Coated" on the front ring. This refers to multi-coating on the lens elements to reduce flare. Asahi introduced multi-coating in 1971 and advertised widely to emphasize how it was a unique technology. That is not entirely correct because other companies were already using multi-coating on specific elements in their optics. Asahi did not invent multi-coating, having bought patents from Optical Coatings Laboratories Inc. (OCLI), California. Regardless, Asahi's advertising was effective, and soon customers demanded multi-coating for all their lenses, whether they needed it or not. It tended to be most effective on complex wide angle lenses with many elements. On a simple long lens like the 135, multi-coating would have minimal benefit. Regardless, the best way to reduce flare is to always use a hood, and the 135 Takumar was supplied with a long deep hood. Many point-and-shoot cameras did not have any way to attach a hood for two reasons: 1. Users had been told that multi-coating negated the need for a hood (wrong); 2. casual users would not use them even if supplied.


Humphreys Street, Itta Bena, Mississippi
Itta Bena, Mississippi
I owned a Leica 135mm Tele-Elmarit lens for 20 years but used it for maybe 20 pictures. We just never bonded. But this Pentax 135 has been in a cabinet for who knows how long, also unused. And increasingly I am appreciating its ability to compress space, especially for urban scenes and railroad tracks. I am an old geezer now; my viewpoint has changed. The two frames above are from Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta on a hazy, glarey day.
Crenshaw, Mississippi
Crenshaw is a small Delta town on Hwy 3 a short distance northeast of Clarksdale. Most of the commercial block is abandoned, and some of the shops have lost their roofs.
Main Street, Webb, Mississippi
Webb is off Hwy. 49E, southeast of Clarksdale and along the Little Tallahatchee River. It is another semi-abandoned town with most of the late-1800s and early 20th century commercial buildings empty. These two photographs are on Kodak BW400CN film.
Farm fields, Rte. 32 near Webb, Mississippi
Finally, I want to do some more experiments with trees. So many farm fields I have seen feature lone, proud trees rising from the flat soil, apparently immune to lightning and other hazards. So maybe I will start taking "pretty" pictures. Beware.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mouldering away, the Levee Street Tank Farm, Vicksburg

A petroleum tank farm sits at the junction of Levee and Fairground Streets. The facility has been unused since before I moved to Vicksburg in the mid-1980s. For many years, the fence was intact and the gate closed. Then, for several years, I saw a "For Sale" by the General Services Administration sign. The GSA is the agency that manages real estate and other property (like motor vehicles) of the US Government. Then there were no signs at all for a few years.
Levee Street tank farm, April 7, 2018
In April, the gate was open, no one was around - it was too good to resist.
The brick building on the right in the photograph above once must have contained compressors or other heavy industrial machinery. Evidence for this are the concrete supports, now semi-engulfed by vines and jungle. I have watched this building for years as its roof collapsed. 
View of Fairground Street Keystone Bridge, April 8, 1990, 4×5" Fujichrome transparency from Tachihara camera, 75mm f/8 Schneider Super-Angulon lens
Many years ago, my daughter and I climbed one of the metal stairs to the top of a tank. I carried up my 4×5"camera and tripod. There was a pungent smell of petroleum products coming from open valves. No one cared about fumes in 1990? From the top was a great view of the old Fairground Street Keystone bridge. The bridge still stands, but it has been closed to car and pedestrian traffic for 20 years and part of the approach on the west side has collapsed.
This is another 1990 view of tanks and piping, taken on Fujichrome 4×5" film with a 75mm f/8 Schneider Super-Angulon lens. Surprisingly, last week, when I biked by the site, I saw a fellow on a lawnmower cutting the grass. Someone is doing some maintenance there.

The 2018 black and white photographs were taken on Kodak TMax 100 film with a Pentax Spotmatic camera and the 24mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. This is fine early-1970s equipment. This version of the lens was made from 1972 to 1976, has 9 elements in 8 groups,  and features multi-coating on the glass surfaces to reduce flare and reflections from the internal air-glass surfaces. I mounted the camera on a tripod.