Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gloomy hulk: Union Station, Texarkana, Arkansas/Texas

Texarkana is an old time commercial and transport town straddling the border of northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas. The town's famous local son was Scott Joplin, who was born in 1868 to a musical family of railway laborers. 

The historic downtown is a bit dilapidated but may be experiencing a bit of revival. While driving through town, my wife and I saw a forlorn brick Beaux Arts railroad station with broken windows and obvious signs of decades of neglect. According to Wikipedia, "Texarkana Union Station was constructed and operated by Union Station Trust, a subsidiary organization created as a joint effort between the Missouri-Pacific, Texas & Pacific, Cotton Belt and Kansas City Southern railroads. E. M. Tucker, chief architect for Missouri Pacific, designed the building with a track layout and overhead concourse reminiscent of the style he had used when rebuilding Little Rock Union Depot after a 1921 fire." A cornerstone showed 1929.

We parked and walked to the former entrance doors. Surely they were not open. A dirty glass door swung open. The building was unlocked?
The entrance led the potential train traveler up a flight of terrazzo stairs to the grand entry hall. No one there? No security? No signs?
The main hall was grand and echoey, intended to impress with solidity, prosperity, and permanence. This was not Pennsylvania Station in New York or Union Station in Los Angeles, but the Texarkana train traveler need not feel any less important.
The ticket boots were behind glass framed with mahogany. Note the glazed buff tile, durable for the ages.
Some of the side rooms off the main hall are a mess. Do homeless people sleep here? What are these bags of junk and rags?
Other side rooms may have been waiting rooms. The carpet was a nasty late addition.
The balconies on the rail yard side of the building were fenced off. Amtrak uses a few dingy rooms on the east end of the building for a waiting area and ticket sales but never occupied this main part of the station because there was no access for handicapped travelers (not a priority when the station was built in 1929-1930).
An abandoned kitchen with drop ceiling was rather grim. The machinery was definitely post-1930s, so someone must have tried to use the old station for a function or entertainment venue.
Dark stairs led to the second floor. There was a nice view of the main hall and some empty side rooms. I assume these were offices at one time.
Ah ha, one of these. But definitely not 1930s original. I did not try it.
Finally, back outside. As you can see, this station once also served as a freight operation, where cargo could be offloaded from or placed on trucks.

Union Station was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, less than a decade after the last rail passenger departed in 1971. The problem is, what next? Who can use the building? Who can afford the cost of repair and renovation?

These digital files are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with the 14mm ƒ/2.8 lens, tripod-mounted. Some of the interior rooms needed long exposures, an advantage to digital capture because there is no need to accommodate reciprocity failure.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Industrial archaeology: Redstone Quarry, North Conway, NH (2003 with film)

Flooded quarry pit


New Hampshire is known as the "Granite State," and for good reason. Granite outcrops are found throughout the state, as well as the adjoining states of Maine and Vermont. In the past, numerous quarries mined the hard and durable stone, sending the products throughout the northeast United States. Redstone Quarry in North Conway (formerly its own town of Redstone) operated from the mid-1800s until 1948. It featured both pink and green granite at one site, which is unusual. For many years, the Boston and Maine Railroad owned the quarry. The railroad used finished stone for train stations, while rubble and waste product served as track bedding. Columns and finished blocks were sent to Boston and other cities.

Panatomic-X film

I previously wrote about Redstone in 2012. That time, I posted digital images from autumn 2012. Oddly, that has been one of my most accessed blog posts. It was time to retrieve my older film negatives and present them here. I took the photographs in this short article in June of 2003. I exposed Kodak Panatomic-X film in my Rolleiflex 3.5E with 75mm ƒ/3.5 Xenotar lens, all tripod-mounted. I also used another Rolleiflex with Ektar 25 color film. It was a stifling summer day, and I noted in my field book that the temperature was 35° C. In my opinion, these black and white film frames are more powerful than the 2012 digital images.
This is one of the few wood buildings still on the site. It may be a former dormitory for quarry workers.
These two frames are from the old forge. I read that early in the 20th century, the cutting tools needed sharpening and re-tempering constantly. The forge-master was a busy fellow. Tungsten steel and other specialty metals would have reduced the need for sharpening, but those improvements came late in the history of this quarry.
This was the face of the larger rock lathe. This machine would have been used to turn stone columns  of the type used on banks or other major buildings in cities. The roof was open to allow a hoist to position a piece of stone in the right position before being attached to the lathe. Consider that this lathe could support tens of tons of rock. The lower picture is a close-up with the help of a Rolleinar close-up diopter.
This was part of a smaller rock lathe. The men who operated these lathes were true craftsmen, but they died at young ages because of silicosis (lung disease).
More machinery of unknown purpose.
Here is the pulley at the main pit (see the first photograph). I am amazed that some of the booms are still standing and supported by these rusting steel cables.

Ektar 25 film

I also took pictures with Kodak Ektar 25 film the same day. This was one of the finest-grain color negative films ever marketed. I liked it for technical work like this. It required the best lenses and methodical technique.
This is the same pulley at the edge of the main pit. The color film shows how the pulley has rusted.
 This is the forge that I showed above.

Face of small lathe
Finally, this is the building that may have been a dormitory for quarry workers.

These are the last of my Redstone Quarry photographs. Click any frame to see it in more detail. Someday I would like to return to the site. Thank you Peter and Holly for hosting me during this trip.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Vintage Station and a few from Bessemer, Alabama (B&W film)

Bessemer is a suburb of Birmingham, formerly a major steel production town. According to Wikipedia,
The town was founded in the postbellum era by the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company, named after Henry Bessemer and owned by coal magnate Henry F. DeBardeleben. He had inherited Daniel Pratt's investments.[7] The mayor and councilmen voted to incorporate the city of Bessemer on September 9, 1887.[8] Located 16 miles southwest of Birmingham, Bessemer grew rapidly and its promoters believed that it might overtake the other city in economic power.

Given the iron ore, coal and limestone deposits in the area, the city became a center of steelmaking from about 1890 through the 20th century. It attracted rural migrants from across the South, as well as European immigrants. By the 1950s, the city was majority African American in population.

The industry went through considerable restructuring in the late 20th century, and jobs moved out of the area. Steel is no longer made there.
4th Alley, Bessemer, Alabama (80mm Planar lens)
8th Ave. at 20th Street, Bessemer, Alabama (80mm Planar lens)
Today, the town has a rather rough reputation, but I stopped on my 2017 road trip and took a few photographs. The alleys were surprisingly clean and uninteresting.
There is some well-preserved early 20th century architecture, like this elegant 1907 library, now used by the Chamber of Commerce. Note the Moorish arches. Well-done, indeed.
I drove to the rail line and stopped at Carolina Alley. The train really does thunder through town at high speed.
An interesting architectural salvage company! The Vintage Station occupied a big old warehouse next to the tracks at 18th Street. It had just relocated after its previous warehouse burned in March of 2017. The owner. Mr. Brad Watkins, also used the business as a Christian counseling ministry for unemployed men and for teaching job skills. Mr. Watkins was killed in January, 2018, when a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting entered his third floor room at a Fairfield hotel. I do not know if Vintage is open now (November 2019). It was a fun place to photograph.

These photographs are from Kodak Tri-X 400 film, exposed with a Hasselblad 501CM camera with 50mm and 80mm lenses. Please click any frame to expand it to 1600 pixels wide.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Big Industrial Remains: Sloss Furnaces, Birmingham, Alabama

If you like industrial remains, the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama, is about as interesting as it gets. The site is at 20 32nd Street North, right in the city and easy to reach from the interstate. According to the Sloss web page:
Sloss Furnaces was once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world. It stands today just as it did in the late 19th century — a monument to the Industrial Revolution. With its web of pipes and towering stoves, this unique National Historic Landmark provides visitors a glimpse into Birmingham’s rich industrial heritage. It stands with pride and is a symbol of where the “Magic” began for Birmingham.

Sloss Furnaces operated from 1882-1970 making it the longest continually running blast furnace in Birmingham’s history. 
It is a fascinating site for photography, and amateur photographers can work without paying a fee.  I spent a rewarding morning there in 2017 with my then newly-acquired Hasselblad medium-format camera and Kodak Tri-X film.
You drive in from the east (see photograph 1 above). Abandoned railroad tracks parallel the modern rail shunting yard.
Once you check in at the visitor center, you start walking through the works and can see the enormity of the complex. Thousands of employees once worked here. The noise, heat, and fumes must have been overwhelming.
These were crude, old-fashioned massive girders and castings. Some of the foundations do not look too sound to me. I expect that this site will be open for many years until the machinery corrodes or geotechnical conditions become unsafe. Then parts of the site will progressively close to the public.
Some of the darker interior areas required 1-sec exposures. These are from my 50mm f/4.0 Distagon lens, made in 1985 in West Germany. The last picture is a crop of no. 2 to show how much detail was recorded on the Tri-X film.
Some of the former office or laboratory buildings look like they have been reinforced (see the steel beam in the upper left).

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark is a rare opportunity to walk in and around factory machinery. It is part of our industrial heritage. Make a point to visit. Take your camera (use film) and a tripod.