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 nasty creek and leads to Halcros Chemicals. The right track above continues south a short distance.
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? 

Just north of the Vicksburg municipal airport, tracks once turned west into the Westinghouse (later Cooper and now Eaton) electrical equipment factory. A friend who started work at Westinghouse in 1976 said rail cars delivered heavy materials, like coils of copper, for about two years (until about 1968). Afterwards, trucks delivered all supplies and eventually Westinghouse removed the rails and changed the loading dock. 
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. But you can trace the former right-of-way on aerial photographs.

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 decided to explore 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 rough, just gruesome. 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". 

A 2019 article in The Guardian describes how little help was forthcoming after flooding in that year. 

“It was so painful to visit homes today and see what we saw. No one should have to live like this in the richest country on earth,” Barber told the crowd at the Good Samaritan Ecumenical church.

“But there must be, and will be, a movement of people who say, ‘That is wrong, and we can’t stand for that any more.”

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"

A somber 2015 article in The Atlantic, titled "How White Flight Ravaged the Mississippi Delta," describes the horrors of poverty, segregation, racism, and the flight of wealth to other places. Tchula now is the fifth poorest town in the country, according to the 2015 Atlantic article.

The Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting documented how Covid devastated Holmes County when it was already off the cliff with no safety net.

2020 Photographs

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 with their 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. Type "Mississippi Delta" in the search box for other examples of Delta towns. 

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. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan-Multi medium format film scanner.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Mississippi Delta 36: Highway MS 12 and Hollandale

After you have enjoyed the "big city" of Belzoni, Mississippi Route 12 heads almost due west across the flat delta farm fields towards Hollandale. At first, the scene was a bit dull, consisting of corn and cotton fields. But the industrial-looking silos caught my eye and became more and more interesting.

Silos, MS 12 west of Belzoni (Kodak Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, yellow filter)
Silos, MS 12 west of Belzoni (Panatomic-X film)

The light was harsh, but it rewarded with shadows and patterns on the corrugated siding.

Unused elevator/silo, Sunflower River Road at MS 12, Isola (Panatomic-X film, orange filter)
Poison ivy farm, unused silo complex

This tall unused agglomeration of machinery, concrete, and rusted steel was close to the Sunflower River bridge on Sunflower River Road. While I had my tripod set up, a farmer pulled up in his pickup truck and asked me if I was buying the structure. Hmmm....

Silo, MS 12 east of Hollandale (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow-green filter; note light leak in shutter curtain)

Hollandale is a small town on US 61, the "Blues Highway." I wrote about Hollandale before in The Mississippi Delta 14. By the time I reached town, I did not have much time to explore before heading home. I had forgotten that I had photographed in Hollandale before but then recognized the buildings in the main commercial strip.

Lounge on East Ave., Hollandale (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter, 1/200 ƒ/8)
Former gas station and child care center (?), East Ave., Hollandale

East Avenue runs north-south and eventually connect with US 61 south of town. These two buildings caught my eye, and I took a few quick photographs with my Leica IIIC. It was beastly hot and there was no one about outside.

Dead tree in corn fields off US 61, Anguilla (Fuji Acros film, 5 cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)

This poor old tree near Anguilla had stood proud and tall for who knows how many years, but finally succumbed (I am sure) to lightning. 

This was a rewarding day of exploring despite the heat. It was a nice way to get out and photograph during the semi-shutdown caused by the Covid virus. Standby for future articles on the Mississippi Delta. 

If you like photographs of grain elevators, look at the superb large format film work by the Canadian photographer, Jan Normandale, titled "Wooden Elevators."

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Mississippi Delta 35: Belzoni

Belzoni is the county seat for Humphreys County, Mississippi. According to Wikipedia, the town was named for Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a 19th-century Italian archaeologist and explorer. How did he end up in the Mississippi Delta? In the 1970s, Belzoni was known as the Catfish Capital of the United States for having a greater percentage of acreage used for catfish production than any other county. I do not know if this is still true, but the city does play up the catfish heritage with statues of smiling catfish at various street corners.
Former catfish factory, Hwy US 49E, Belzoni (Kodak TMax 100 film, Pentax Spotmatic camera, 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar lens)
Former catfish packing factory, US 49E (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5 cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)
Sadly, the big catfish packing plant has been closed for many years. Many jobs must have been lost when it shut.
Farmers' Grain Terminal (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, 90mm ƒ/3.5 lens, yellow filter)
Approaching Belzoni from the south on US 49E, the very impressive Farmers' Grain Terminal complex at 509 Silver City Road dominates the skyline. At some time, these circles were covered with a huge cloth tent and contained corn.
Silver City Rd., Belzoni (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)
Silver City Rd., Belzoni (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, 90mm ƒ/3.5 lens, yellow filter)
Silver City Rd. (Tmax 100 film, Pentax Spotmatic, 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar lens)
Unused gin, Silver City Road, Belzoni (Tmax 100 film, 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar lens)
Tamale store (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
Head further into town on Silver City Road and you pass miscellaneous housing, old stores, a closed gin, and an unused silo complex.
W. Jackson St., Belzoni (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)
Liquor store on W. Jackson St. (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)
E. Jackson St., Belzoni (Fuji Acros film, Leica IIIC, 5cm ƒ/2 Summitar lens, yellow filter)
Jackson Street runs E-W through town and may be the traditional "main drag."
Western Auto, East Jackson Street (Moto G5 digital file)
I was pleased that many of the shops are open and conducting some sort of business. There is even a Western Auto still open. I have not seen a Western Auto in a least a decade. According to Wikipedia,
Western Auto Supply Company—known more widely as Western Auto—was a specialty retail chain of stores that supplied automobile parts and accessories. It operated approximately 1200 stores across the United States. It was started in 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri, by George Pepperdine and Don Abnor Davis. Pepperdine later founded Pepperdine University. Western Auto was bought by Beneficial Corporation in 1961; Western Auto's management led a leveraged buyout in 1985, leading three years later to a sale to Sears. Sears sold most of the company to Advance Auto Parts in 1998, and by 2003, the resulting merger had led to the end of the Western Auto brand and its product distribution network.
One of the founders also founded Pepperdine University? Impressive.
Renee's Beauty Supply, 120 E. Jackson St., Belzoni (Tmax 100 film, Pentax Spotmatic, 35mm ƒ/3.5 Super-Takumar lens)
The charming proprietor of Renee's Beauty Supply generously let me take a picture of the healthy beauties outside of her store. I was glad to see on my 2020 visit that Renee's is still open and operating, despite the slowdown from the virus.
Crescent Theater, Hayden Street, Belzoni
The Cresent Theatre on Hayden Street is closed and may be for sale. I was surprised to find a photograph in the Library of Congress archives taken in 1939 by Marion Post Wolcott of the very same side stairway on the Crescent. In the segregated era, it was common for African American patrons to be seated in the balcony. Notice the sign on the narrow door that states "White Men Only."
Segregated movie house, October 1939, by Marion Post Wolcott (Image from the United States Library of Congress Prints and photographs division, digital ID ppmsca.12888)
This has been our short tour of Belzoni, Mississippi. It is an interesting place and worth a visit if you are in the central Mississippi Delta. Thank you for coming along this short trip.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Expired Color Film Treasure: Kodak Gold 100 120-size (Abandoned Films 07)


Dear Readers, this is the last (for now) article in my series on discontinued types of camera film ("Films from the Dead").

Kodak's Gold color negative films (for color prints) were famous for consistent and reliable results under various conditions. No matter what a customer did with their roll, a good laboratory could usually recover a decent image. Kodak manufactured the 35mm versions in USA, Mexico, China, and possibly other countries. I was familiar with Gold 100, 200, and 400 in 135mm size for 35mm cameras but had not seen other sizes. Therefore, I was surprised to see this roll of 120 size 100 in the freezer of a former friend who passed away a few years ago. 

This roll expired in 2000, so I wondered if it would work, but it had been frozen all these years. I loaded it in my Hasselblad and took photographs in the area under various light conditions. I exposed it at EI=64, on the assumption that it had lost some sensitivity over the years. 

I sent the roll to Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas, to develop in C-41 chemicals. Dwayne's has been in business for decades, and some of you old-timers may remember that this was the very last laboratory on earth to process Kodachrome slides. 

I scanned the frames with a Minolta Scan-Multi medium format film scanner operated with Silverfast Ai software. The Gold 100 profile was not quite right and the automatic scan produced very green images. It is very possible that the film had shifted despite its long storage in the freezer. But I corrected the color balance using the grey dropper tool, and the resulting scans look pretty good for 20-year-old film. Please click any frame to see it at 1600 pixels wide. All comments welcome.


Fixer-upper cars, Old US 80 east of Vicksburg (80mm ƒ/2.8 Planar-CB lens, 1/4 ƒ/16))
Junk yard, Old US 80 east of Vicksburg, Mississippi (80mm lens)
Abandoned school, Thomastown Road, Mound, Louisiana
Abandoned school, Thomastown Road, Mound, Louisiana
Abandoned school, Thomastown Road, Mound, Louisiana
I came across this old school one day while I was biking on a new route in Louisiana. No one is ever around when I have been there and therefore have not been able to ask about the school's history. Was this one of those separate but equal establishments erected quickly in the 1960s or 1970s? Was it closed because of asbestos? The panels from the roof eaves are asbestos, and they crunch underfoot when you walk near the building.
Workshop at the Mississippi River Basin Model, Buddy Butts Park, Jackson, Mississippi
Closed shop, 1016 Raymond Road, Jackson, Mississippi (80mm lens with polarizer)

Lessons of the Discontinued Film Series

What have I learned from these experiments using discontinued film stocks? I think the main lesson is if the film has been frozen or at least kept cool, it may be perfectly usable:

  1. Low speed black and white film should be totally usable. Try exposing with ⅔ or a full stop more exposure compared to the original ISO. There may be more fog. As you saw from my 1960s GAF Versapan film, it provided excellent negatives at EI=64, and it was 50 years old! Northeast Photographic developed it in Xtol.
  2. Kodak's Panatomic-X seems to be ageless. I now allow ⅔ of a stop more exposure (EI=20). 
  3. High speed film, like Tri-X, may be marginal. But, I have been using 1989 expiration Tri-X 4×5" sheets, and they looks pretty good, although there is some base fog. However, I know the boxes have been frozen all these years.
  4. 20-year-old expired Fuji NPS160 C41 film in 120 size (color print): no issue at all. 
  5. 1990s Kodak Ektar 25 (120 and 135): Some rolls were ruined, some were OK. They all had color shifts. I think its time is gone and Ektar 25 is too old now. 
  6. Kodak BW400CN black and white C41film looks fine, but it is a bit grainy.
  7. Kodak Verichrome Pan black and white film appears to be amazingly durable.

If any of you readers have experience with expired film, please add notes to the comments. Thank you for reading along.