Monday, October 29, 2018

Travels on the Mother Road, Route 66: Part 20, west-central Oklahoma

Dear Readers, after several interruptions for other photographic projects, it is time to continue east on our Mother Road trek. After all those interesting sites in Texas, we finally reach Oklahoma. Many people think of Oklahoma when they hear the term "Route 66," probably because of old movies and the architecture of the many classic motor courts, drive-in restaurants, and gas stations that once served travelers.


One of the first Route 66 towns in western Oklahoma is Canute, named after "Cnut the Great," King of Denmark, Norway, and England (1016 - 1035). I am not sure how a small town on the prairie came to be named after a Viking, but anthropologists do have evidence that Vikings reached North America, so it is a appropriately noble name. Did they drive on Route 66? Regardless, Route 66 was routed through town in 1926, bringing some degree of prosperity as travelers patronized restaurants and motor courts.
Waiting patiently for the photographer to finish in Canute.

El Reno

Southern Manor, 319 S. Grand Ave, El Reno, OK.
Gallagher's Pub, W. Wade Street, El Reno, OK.
El Reno looked pretty rough to me. It is a historic town at the junction of Route 66 and the old Chisolm Trail. The Southern Manor on Grand Avenue was near the Rock Island Depot and was once a businessman's hotel. As of 2017, it was being used as a residence for elderly. They were in the process of moving out pending renovations. My Route 66 Adventure Handbook claims that El Reno is widely considered the home of the onion burger. OK.....
The Hotel El Reno Hotel is supposed to be the oldest surviving commercial building in the city. It was built in 1892 at 300 South Choctaw, then the city's business district. It operated as a hotel until 1975, when it closed and deteriorated. In 1984, the Canadian County Historic Society moved the building to its present location near the Rock Island Depot. Notice how much this modest frame building looks like the Gallagher's Pub in the photograph above.

Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City is the state capital and is a major metropolitan area. I did not take any pictures in town for several reasons. First, the car thermometer was showing 38° C, or 100° F, and I was lethargic and uninspired. Second, I did not see much Route 66 architecture or memorabilia, although there must be some scattered along the original route. The state capitol has producing oil wells on the capital grounds. The first automatic parking meters were invented and installed here in 1935. The city has an Arts District and a Bricktown, so someday I need to return and explore properly.

Most photographs are from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera, with most raw files opened in Adobe Photoshop Elements and converted to black and white with DxO FilmPack 5. Photographs 2 and 3 in Canute are from Kodak BW400CN film shot with an Olympus Trip 35 compact camera, with polarizer filter to darken the sky.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Romanian Railroads 1: Curtea de Argeș (Romania 2018-01)

Red circle shows Curtea de Argeş, Romania, from ESRI ArcGIS online (click map to enlarge).
Curtea de Argeș is a charming city in south central Romania. It is on the left bank of the Argeş River, which flows southward out of the Carpathian Mountains. The town is near the southern end of the famous Transfăgărășan Highway, Route 7c, which was featured in a Top Gear episode. The town is at the end of a rail line from Pitești.
My wife and I were on the main road heading out of town and passed by the old railroad station. Quick stop - places like this are too good to resist. The first thing I noticed was the unusual dual towers with arched windows, almost resembling Moorish architecture. Also, the facade of the station was covered with a tarp on which windows has been painted or printed. I assume the plaster was failing and the tarps covered the poor surface.
The track side of the station is also covered with tarps. The tracks are in fair condition but rusting. If there had once been rain sheds along the tracks, they are gone now.

The Romania 100 printed on the tarp refers to 100 hundred years of Romanian independence. Does this refer to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918? Romania had a complicated history and was only free of Ottoman (yes, Ottoman) rule in the 1870s. But Transylvania was controlled by the Austro-Hungarian empire. My guess is that this rail line and station were built in the late 19th century, when the empire engaged in a comprehensive rail construction project, like other countries in Europe and North America.
The waiting hall was clean and intact. This is a classic European rail station, and I am glad a preservation effort is underway.

Digital images from a Moto G5plus phone (sorry, no film photographs this time).

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Vicksburg's Seale-Lily Ice Cream Parlor and Tire Emporium (B&W film)

Tri-State Tire, at 2209 Washington Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi, occupies an unusual old shop with decorated pillars and big plate glass windows. This was a former Seale-Lily ice cream parlor. Preservation Mississippi has written about Seale-Lily stores in Jackson, but I found little information about a Vicksburg store. In 1943, a cash prize winner filed a lawsuit because he claimed that the Seale-Lily Vicksburg store did not award him the prize. The summary of the lawsuit did confirm the address of 2209 Washington Street. I buy tires at Tri-State, and my friends there generously let me take some photographs when my tires were being replaced. One of them said the Seale parlor closed in 1958 or 1959.
2209 Washington Street, Vicksburg, MS
View of Washington Street looking north.
I am not sure what this style of architecture is called. The arches have a vaguely Mediterranean  appearance, but the tiles along the roof facing give it a Southwestern look. As you can see, the glass windows once went to the top of the arched frames but were changed some time in the past. Tri-State has been here since the 1980s, and before that, a tire re-capping business occupied the premises.
The building was decorated with medallions and a checked pattern on the facade. The current owners have recently painted. I wish they could return to the original round-top windows.
These are ½ sec. exposures taken with my 24mm Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. I placed the camera on a shelf or beam and set the self-timer to eliminate vibration. As you can see, the fluorescent lights create some odd blooming. Still, I am pleased with this 1970s lens and am surprised how much detail the film recorded in the black tires.
The tire technicians told me that many years ago, there was a tall stainless steel tank in the middle of the room where the tire racks are located. I assume the Seale operation made ice cream in it.
I think they really do not want customers to wander around in the shop.... (Photographers exempted?)
This is the former Coca Cola bottling factory at 2133 Washington Street, about a half block north of Tri-State Tires. The 1938-vintage building has been leased by several users since Coca Cola vacated the premises about 20 years ago. The current tenant (or owner) sells furniture and gift items now.

All photographs are from March 6, 2018, taken on Kodak Tmax 100 film with a 1971 Pentax Spotmatic camera. The sepia image is from a Moto G5 mobile phone.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Photographing the Cotton Compress of Vicksburg with the Texas Leica (Panatomic-X B&W film)


Dear Readers, for many years, I have used a splendid bear of a camera, the Fuji GW690II rangefinder, also known as the Texas Leica. It has a similar morphology to a Leica rangefinder, except it is, well, really big. The name is most appropriate. As you know, everything in Texas is larger: the vast open spaces across which you must drive, the enormous pickup trucks with dual rear wheels, the oil pumped from the  Permian Basin, the out-sized personalities like President Lyndon Johnson, the magnificent mansions in the River Oaks section of Houston, and the credit card bills of the ladies who occupy said mansions.

Notes on the Fuji Rangefinders

Fuji's original medium format cameras using 120/220 film were the Fujica G690 and GL690 from the late 1960s and mid-1970s. These had interchangeable lenses, and examples in good condition are highly coveted now. They provided a generous 6×9 negative area (actually, about 55×82mm). The GW690 Professional followed in 1978. This differed from the earlier models by having a fixed 90mm f/3.5 lens. The GSW690 Professional had the same body but was equipped with a wide-angle 65mm f/5.6 lens.

In 1985, Fuji made minor revisions and introduced the GW690II, GSW690II, and GW670II. My Texas Leica is the GW690II, which I bought new in 1991.

In 1992, Fuji introduced version III in sizes 6×7, 6×8, and 6×9. It is confusing to keep them all straight, but all are excellent picture machines; choose the negative size you want and look for an example in good condition. The leaf shutter is in the lens, and all controls are on the lens. On mine, filter size is 67mm.

The GW690II camera is a handful. The rangefinder is not as contrasty as one in a Leica, but the Fuji one works well. The body does not have the über-precise meticulous craftsmanship feel of a Rolleiflex or a Hasselblad, but the optical results from the 90mm f/3.5 EBC Fujinon lens are stunning. It is a five-element design with  four groups, all multi-coated. The film moves flat across the film gate and may lie flatter than in the Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. With the 690, you get 8 exposures on a roll of 120 film. When 220 film was in production, a roll would yield 16 exposures.

The main feature I miss in the GW690II is a self-timer. Because I often take pictures in old factories or buildings, I like to place the camera on a shelf or platform for a long exposure. But the lack of a timer means I need a cable release to avoid vibrating the camera. The older Rolleiflex is more handy in this respect.

The classic Panatomic-X Film

My favorite black and white film is the long-discontinued Panatomic-X. Eastman Kodak Company introduced Panatomic-X in 1933 and discontinued it in 1987. The film had been reformulated during its five-decade existence, so my late production was different than the original. It was designed to be an extremely fine grain film, which meant it could be enlarged for large prints and still retain details. This was of value to architectural, fine-art, and aerial photographers. Some 9-inch aerial photography film was a version of Panatomic-X. The version I have in 120 size was rated at ISO 32, but I shoot it at 20 and develop it in Rodinal at 1:50 dilution. Agfa’s Rodinal was a developer that retained the grain structure and therefore looks “sharp” (i.e., it does not have solvent action to partly dissolve the edges of the grain clumps). Used with good lenses and careful technique (that means a tripod), the detail in a Panatomic-X negative is astonishing, even in this age of 36-megapixel digital cameras.

My stock of Panatomic-X expired in 1989, but the rolls have been in the freezer and seem to be perfect. Unfortunately, only 15 rolls are left. Eventually, all good things come to an end. And honestly, Kodak TMax 100 or Ilford Delta 100 seem almost a fine grain and will be a suitable replacement.

The Vicksburg Cotton Compress

A cotton compress was a facility that compressed raw cotton into dense bales. Early compress facilities were steam-powered and were active in Autumn, when the cotton was being harvested. Decades ago, compresses were found throughout the US South when cotton was king. The cotton bales were transported away by rail or by steamboat. When I visited Łódź, Poland, a major textile and industrial center in the 1800s and early 1900s, I was surprised to learn that much of their raw cotton had once come from the USA South. I assume cotton bales from towns like Vicksburg were shipped down the Mississippi River and then transferred to ocean-going vessels in Baton Rouge or New Orleans.

In recent years, cotton production in Mississippi has greatly reduced and has been replaced with corn (for ethanol) or soybeans (export to China). The Vicksburg compress at 2400 Levee Street was in business through the late 1990s or early 2000s. I wish I had asked the operators if I could take photographs when it was in action. 
The historic brick buildings at the Vicksburg Cotton Compress at 2400 Levee Street are almost completely gone. Around 2010-2011, a company bought the buildings and removed the bricks for use somewhere else. Newer steel sheds are still standing but abandoned. There is no obvious action to reuse them.
I took the black and white film photographs in this article on a cold, gloomy day in late December of 2010. I also used a Sony DSC-R1 for digital photographs, which I have shown before (click the link). (Also click any photograph to enlarge it.)
I especially liked the textures and complexity of the tool benches and storage bins. These were old and well-used - from an era when we made things in the USA.
I think this was the machine that compressed cotton into mashed bales. I do not know how it all worked, and I wish I had asked to see the process when the compress was open in the 1980s and 1990s.
Cooper Postcard Collection, courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Date not specified.
Vicksburg compress, from the Cooper Postcard Collection, courtesy Mississippi Department of  Archives and History.  Date not specified.
 I hope these massive old timbers were recycled. These were probably old-growth pine or cypress.
An interesting pedestal sink with a single metal support post. I could have a traditional sink like this at home.

Photographs technical:
Film: Kodak Panatomic-X film, which has been out of production since the late 1980s. I developed the film in Agfa Rodinal 1:50.
Camera: Fuji GW690II 6×9 rangefinder camera with a 90mm EBC Fujinon lens.
Exposures: I exposed at EI=20, so all frames were tripod-mounted, and many exposures were ½, 1, or more sec. long.
Scanning: Minolta Scan Multi medium-format film scanner, operated with Silverfast Ai software, film profile set at Tri-X 400 setting.
Clean-up: I used the heal tool in Photoshop CS5 to clean up lint and other marks.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Rural Decay en route to Hot Springs, North Carolina

Map from ESRI ArcGIS online. Red dashed line shows the route from Asheville to Hot Springs, North Carolina.
Every year, The Vintage rally for older BMW automobiles is held in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Most participants stay in the Asheville area, so the day of the show sees hundreds of classic BMWs streaming north on I-26 and US25/US70 towards the small hamlet of Hot Springs. Once the group leaves the interstate at Weaverville, US25/US70 winds in and out of the hills, past small towns and farms, and past some occasional bits of rural decay.
This is a streamlined/moderne-style filling station, possibly once a Mobil station, but a gas station archaeologist needs to weigh in and provide an identification. 
Marshall has a number of old garages and filling stations. The main town is out of sight west of US25 and 70.
I also saw old barns or sheds in the Marshall area, slowly being engulfed by trees and vines. I usually think of Mississippi being the place where the jungle takes over, but here in wet western North Carolina, the same happens.
Further north, somewhere in Madison County, I saw a similar vine-engulfed barn during my 2017 trip.
Barn, US25, Madison County, NC.
The second photograph is a former gas station built into a house, or a house built on top of a gas station. You can see the island where the pumps were once located.
Rick's Gro, 10994 US25 (digital photograph from Fujifilm X-E1 camera).
USA Raft at 13490 US70 occupies an unusual stone-clad filling station. You can see where one of the service bays on the left was filled in. Again, I cannot identify the original fuel brand.
The Laurel River Store is a friendly place to stop for an espresso. The lady who runs it is very nice. A number of the BMW drivers stopped to tank up (with coffee, that is, but the coffee might have had enough octane for the carbureted engines).
The remains of a log trailer court cabin were to the right of the Laurel River Store. Some units beyond this building were in better shape. The vines are taking over.
Just before you reach Hot Springs, US70 crosses the French Broad River. There had been almost monsoonal rain in May of 2018, and the river was in flood, with brown water roiling angrily downstream.
Finally, Hot Springs, and the grounds of the Hot Springs Spa. The 2017 show was sunny and warm; 2018 started out dry, but by 2:30, the rain came thundering down. Regardless, a good time was had by all, and it was a good chance to check if your car leaked (mine certainly does).

The 2017 black and white photographs are from Tri-X film and a Hasselblad 501CM camera. The 2018 square frames are from long-expired Fuji NPH400 film, exposed in a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera with 75mm f/3.5 Xenotar lens.