Monday, May 10, 2021

Along the Nantahala River and US 19/74, Topton, North Carolina

Heading west through western North Carolina, you need to drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can bypass the mountains entirely by driving south and taking the freeway through Atlanta. But can you think of a more dismal way to spend valuable hours of your life? Yuck.

Rugged terrain of western North Carolina (National Geographic base map from ArcGIS online)
West Oak Bed & Breakfast, Bryson City. Very friendly owners.

A much more enjoyable way to go west is to choose one of the mountain highways that pass through the Blue Ridge. One option is to stay in Bryson City (which is becoming a foodie place) and then head southwest on US Highway 19/74. Part of the route parallels the Nantahala River, which has carved a rugged valley through the mountains. It is slow going, especially in the tourist season when rafting groups load up busses and trucks for raft adventures. You pass farms, small towns, solitary houses, and some funky stuff. This looks like bubba terrain, in stark contrast to the ambience of Asheville and even Bryson City. 

Garage, 10444 US 74, Bryson City, North Carolina (Ilford Delta 100 film, Rolleiflex 3.5E Schneider Xenotar lens, green filter)
I stopped at an old-fashioned car repair/junk store on US 74 near the Wildwater Nantahala Rafting center. His "Vote for Freedom" sign emphasized • Limited Government  • Free markets  • Fiscal responsibility. How did that work out? This poor fellow was duped big time. 
(Ilford Delta 100 film, Rolleiflex 3.5E, 75mm ƒ/3.5 Schneider Xenotar lens)
There is some old Detroit iron in the yard, but will any of these samples ever be restored?
I did not see the proprietor or any activity at all.
Peanut store, 14305 US 19 west of Wesser (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
Unused house, US 19/74 west of Wesser (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
Here are some examples of western North Carolina rural decay. With all the tourist traffic, I am surprised that the peanut store was closed. 
Rowlin Creek, east of Topton, NC (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
The Nantahala makes a sharp right angle turn and heads south, while the highway continues southwest along the Rowlin Creek. This is a fast-moving tributary that flows into the Nantahala River. Several rafting companies offer raft trips on the Rowlin. 
US 19/74 view west, Topton, North Carolina
Country store, US 19/74 at Topton Road, Topton, North Carolina (Ilford Delta 100 film)
Finally, after driving through the Nantahala National Forest, you reach the hamlet of Topton. From here heading west, the valley opens up and the hills are less rugged. This poor old country store is at the corner of US 74 and Topton Road.
A railroad once ran through this valley all the way from Bryson City. I do not know when it was last used. The ties were in poor condition. 
Fixer-upper house, 24266 US 129 (also Rtes 19/74), Topton
Post Office, Topton, NC
Topton has an unusual post office clad with stone facade. I assume it is local stone. The architecture was not exactly inspiring.

This ends our very short run through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I need to return and explore some more. Western North Carolina must have plenty of interesting urban decay topics.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

On the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway, stretching from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Afton, Virginia, is one of the great scenic drives of the world. It winds up and down through the Smokies, passing the higher points of the mountains and bypassing most urban areas. The scenery is sublime, especially in autumn, when the leaves are a brilliant feast for the eyes.

I took most of these photographs in May of 2017 en route to The Vintage car show, held annually in the Asheville area. The weather was perfect for photography with drizzle and low clouds. I could not resist. I have warned you long-term readers before that you will gradually see more "pretty" pictures here. So, no urban decay this time, just nature. These photographs are oriented from west to east, starting a short distance east of the western terminus of the Parkway. We will proceed to a few miles northeast of Asheville.

Balsam Gap Overlook (Hassselblad 5012CM camera, Fomapan 100 Classic film)
This mellow overlook is just east of Balsam Gap, through which US 74 and 23, the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway, passes.
Licklog Ridge Overlook (elev. 4602 ft; Fuji Acros film, Pentax Spotmatic camera, 135mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar lens, yellow filter)
During both 2017 and 2018, the weather became more misty and wet as I ascended from Balsam Gap. Both years had perfect soft lighting with just enough contrast to sculpt the trees and lichens.
Richard Balsam Overlook, highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway (Nexus 4 digital file)
In 2017, by the time I reached the highest spot on the Parkway, the weather had closed in and sleet was falling. Surprisingly, my old car does very well on these hills despite its little 1800cc engine.
Fetterbush Overlook (Fomapan 100 film)
Fetterbush Overlook (elev. 5494 ft)
Pisgah Campground (elev. 4980 ft)
Pisgah Campground (elev. 4980 ft; Fomapan 100 film)
The Pisgah Campground and Pisgah Inn are on a ridge with expansive mountain and valley views to the south and north (except when it is fogged in, which may be common). I had planned to drive here and stay at the inn in 2020 en route to The Vintage, but the Trump Virus ruined our plans. The Inn and Campground are cool in the hottest summer days.
Chestnut Cove (elev 2180 ft)
Heading east towards Asheville, Chestnut Cove Overlook is down to 2180 ft elevation. 
Study in poison ivy, Walnut Cove Overlook (elev. 2200 ft; Tri-X 400 film, 80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens, green filter)
Walnut Cove Overlook is only a few miles from Asheville, and the land off the Parkway is being developed with McCabins for the wealthy set. At least the developers have not clear-cut the timber.
North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, NC (Tri-X 400 film, Hasselblad 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens, green filter)
The North Carolina Arboretum is a treasure of plant diversity, with trails and waterways. It is within the Bent Creek Experimental Forest just south of Asheville and adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 393.

The Parkway passes south of Asheville before turning north and crossing I-40. In 2018, I wrote about the River Arts District of Asheville and the rural decay en route to Hot Springs. Asheville has become a serious foodie and coffee place, well worth a visit.
Green Knob Overview (80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens)
Green Knob Overlook (elev. 4760 ft), 
Once you cross I-40, the Blue Ridge Parkway begins to twist and turn and ascend. The Green Knob Overlook is a short distance east of the turnoff for Mt. Mitchell, a worthwhile diversion. In 2017, sleet was falling up at the visitor overlook. 
Mill on Curtis Creek Road in Pisgah National Forest (Fomapan 100 film, Hasselblad 50mm ƒ/4 Distagon lens, 1/60 ƒ/4)
I took the wrong turnoff and plunged downhill on Curtis Creek Road. It was dirt and very muddy, but fortunately I did not get stuck (gravity helped; going uphill would have been impossible in my little 2-wheel-drive car). The road headed down through the Pisgah National Forest. This handsome old mill caught my eye. Finally I reached paved road and found an onramp to I-40 at Old Fort. 
Mr. Catfish John, I-40 rest area, North Carolina
I met Catfish John at the rest stop on Interstate 40. I admired his big old Chevrolet Caprice station wagon. He said he had several and restored them. I wish I had a beard like his as well as one of these wagons.

This ends our short tour on the southwestern part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a fantastic road trip, but rather slow going, especially if you encounter RVs trudging along. Summer is quite crowded, so go on one of the shoulder seasons. During mid-winter, snow forces the Park Service to close parts of the road. These are film photographs, most from 120-size Kodak Tri-X 400 and Foma Fomapan 100 Classic film.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tracing Vicksburg's Rail Line South


Most Vicksburg residents are familiar with the convoluted route that the Kansas City Southern freight trains take through town. Trains cross the old Mississippi River Bridge, turn north, and either go to the rail yard at Levee Street or ascend parallel to Pearl Street and then turn inland to head towards Jackson. However, there is also a southern extension that now gets little use. At one time, the tracks ran as far south as Eaton Lighting off US 61 south (near the municipal airport), and trains would have served Eaton, the now-defunct Mississippi Chemical Company, and other industries. 

The history of rail in this area is complicated, and I can't begin to understand it. In the late 1800s, several companies extended tracks almost as far south as the Big Black River. In 1883, the Louisville New Orleans & Texas Railroad absorbed existing track and rebuilt it to standard gauge to use for part of their Memphis-Vicksburg-Baton Rouge-New Orleans main line. I do not know when this service ended, but today, no track extends south of approximately Magnolia Road (near Rainbow Farms). No tracks have run to Port Gibson in many decades.

I have shown pictures of the Kansas City Rail yard at Levee Street before. My articles in Trackside Photographer or here at Urban Decay trace the main KCS line through Vicksburg. Here I will trace the lesser-used track that runs to the south starting at the Frontage Road (north of I-20). Access is limited; maybe I should build one of those rail-bicycles that some people use to ride on defunct rail lines. Surprisingly, the Mapquest map still shows the rail line all the way south to Fayette, even though the tracks have been gone for decades. If you look at the map and then switch to the satellite view, you can often see vegetation or property boundary changes that mark the former rail embankment. 

Southern Route

Red circles mark locations of the following photographs proceeding north to south (from ESRI ArcGIS)
KCS tracks from Frontage Road (Fomapan 100 Classic film, Hasselblad 501CM camera, 80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens)
This is where the southern line starts. The track at the lower right is the one we will follow in the following photographs. 
Frontage Road bridge (Tri-X film, Hasselblad 501CM camera, 80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens, green filter)
The rail lines run on the opposite (west) side of Stouts Bayou. The bayou is just beyond the brush in the photograph above and the track is visible in the clearing.
Rail line passing under I-20 bridge (GAF Versapan film, Spotmatic II, 135mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar lens, yellow-green filter)
Rail line next to Iowa Blvd. (GAF Versapan filmVoigtländer Vito BL camera)
Iowa Boulevard drops down from the Frontage Road near the Parkside Play House and passes under I-20. Many people take this road as a shortcut to Walmart. The track here also passes under I-20 and runs straight through woods with the next access at Rifle Range Road.
At Rifle Range Road, the track splits. One branch crosses a creek and leads to Halcros Chemicals. The right track above continues south a short distance
Rail leading into Halcros Chemicals, Rifle Range Road (Tri-X film, Hasselblad 80mm lens)
As this photograph shows, an occasional tank car is brought to Halcros Chemicals. These tracks once continued further south (beyond the sheds) and served the Mississippi Chemical Company. According to Google Maps aerial photographs, those tracks are gone. 

Mississippi Chemical operated from 1953 to 2002, when the parent company declared bankruptcy (according to The Vicksburg Post). Over the years, the company made pesticides, fertilizers, rocket fuel, nerve gas, and other industrial chemicals. Toxins and arsenic seeped into the ground, and part of the area needed to be cleaned as a Superfund site. How many rail cars carried rocket fuel or nerve gas on these tracks over the decades?
Wood bridge with Halcros Chemical beyond (Panatomic-X film, Spotmatic camera, 35mm Super-Takumar lens, fill flash)
Unused (abandoned?) timber rail cars (Panatomic-X film, Spotmatic camera, 55mm ƒ/1.8 Super-Takumar lens, yellow-green filter)
The other track (the one on the right side in the photograph above) only continues a few hundred meters south until you come across abandoned (or permanently parked?) timber railroad cars. They seem to continue indefinitely. What are they here? Are the wheels and steel not worth reusing?

Beyond the timber rail cars, the track continues almost to Warrenton Road, according to Google Maps. At Warrenton, the rails are gone, and the old bed under the bridge has grown in so much, you can't tell that track once ran there.
Former rail embankment at Willow Drive, view south (Tri-X film, Hasselblad camera, 250mm Sonnar lens, yellow-green filter)
Former rail embankment at Mop Lane, view north
Further south, the old embankment is being mowed by someone. Why? Will this right-of-way be used by some entity? 
Warrenton Lane (GAF Versapan film, Voigtländer Vito BL camera)
By the time you reach Warrenton Lane, near the Cedars Elementary School, the right-of-way is overgrown. You can see a bit of track disappearing into the brush.

A few miles south, only a short stub of track remains near the former Marathon Letourneau plant at Letourneau road. Further south, the terrain is wooded, and the railroad right-of-way is hidden or lost.

Port Gibson

Former rail line under Ingleside Karnac Ferry Road (GAF Versapan Film, Vito BL camera)
As I wrote above, decades ago, the rail line extended south to Port Gibson and then further to Baton Rouge. I was not sure if I could find any remnants of the old line, but while driving on Ingleside Karnac Ferry Road, I was surprised to cross a modern bridge over a distinctive V-shaped valley. A dirt road ran in this valley, but the large amount of gravel gave it away and the former rail line. The photograph above is from the bridge looking north.
Depot, Market Street, Port Gibson (GAF Versapan film, Vito BL camera)
The 1884-vintage Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad depot is in Post Gibson at 1202 Market Street. It was converted into a restaurant in 1977 but is not in use now. Many of these railroad depot restaurants do not last long. Someone ambitiously renovates the buildings, but after a short burst of energy, the restaurant closes. A Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historic Sites Survey describes the depot. 

This has been our short excursion on the southern rail extension. Thank you for riding along.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Mississippi Delta 37: Tchula

Tchula is a tiny town in Holmes County, Mississippi, on US 49E a few miles south of Itta Bena. I wrote about Itta Bena in The Mississippi Delta 27 but had never driven 49E further south to see that stretch of the Delta. I drove there on a blazing hot 2020 summer day.

Former road bridge, Front Street, Tchula (Tri-X 400 film, Fuji GW690II camera, green filter)
Entering town from the south, I turned onto Front Street. A bridge formerly connected to Cooper Road, which follows the Tchula lakeshore. 
Front yard, Front Street, Tchula

Tchula is pretty rough. I found a long article in The Guardian. "Poorest town in poorest state: segregation is gone but so are the jobs. In his second dispatch from the US’s most deprived communities, Chris McGreal visits Tchula in Mississippi, where crime is high and opportunities are few". 

Mississippi Today featured a 2019 article on flooding and neglect of the inhabitants, "Living Day to Day: Surrounded by water and ignored by powerful officials, Tchula and its people fight for survival"

No more lunches at Speedy's, Tchula
Main Street view west, Tchula

Main Streeet view west, Tchula (Fuji X-E1 digital file)

I stopped on Main Street and went into the food store. Everyone was very friendly, and everyone was wearing a mask, even kids on bicycles. The local folks were more rigorous in wearing masks than Vicksburgers (or MAGA rally attendees at the White House). Trains occasionally thunder through town at high speed.

Former gas station, Main Street
Back lot of former commercial building, Jefferson Street, Tchula
Many of the former commercial buildings are no longer used. The vines shows abandonment.
Juke joint, US 49E, Tchula (Tri-X 400 film)
US 49E, view north, Tchula, Mississippi (Tri-X 400 film, Fuji GW690II, yellow filter)
This has been our short visit to Tchula. It is another example of a Mississippi Delta town. 

All photographs with one digital exception were from Kodak Tri-X film via my Fuji GW690II camera (the "Texas Leica") with a 90mm ƒ/3.5 EBC-Fujinon lens. Praus Productions in Rochester, New York, developed the film in Xtol developer.