Spring Break ’85

My first car (1957 Ford Fairlane Town Sedan), which we successfully drove down to the Florida Keys. Almost made it all the way home, but near Daleville, Indiana, the 28-year-old generator mounting bracket decided to cash out, leaving the generator dangling by its wires and scraping the highway.

After a long, cold walk down the shoulder of the interstate, we entered a truck stop and, luckily, found a guy at the lunch counter who owned a tow truck and a nearby welding shop. Once he had finished his meal, we were off to get the stranded Fairlane and haul it to K & S. He made a replacement bracket and welded it in place, finishing just before sundown (hard to see in this exposure, but he’s there, bent over the right fender). Don’t remember his name…may have started with a K or an S.

Kodak Ektachrome 35mm film

Stinesville 1984

Working on assignments for my college photography courses was a great excuse to tour the country roads and small towns of southern Indiana in my ’57 Ford Fairlane. I shot plenty of Kodak Tri-X in the process—the first rolls of film I ever developed by hand.

Not long ago, while viewing those contact sheets for the first time in many years, I was trying to determine exactly which towns I had photographed, as I had made no notes. In one frame, I found signs containing the name Gosport; after that, shots of a bridge and a river. Moving chronologically through the roll, and with the help of Google Maps, I learned that I had gone south out of Gosport and the next town I came to was Stinesville. Google Street View confirmed it.

For decades, these photos existed only on the contact sheet. Recently, I ran some of the old negatives through my film scanner, and after enlarging the images on my monitor, I found details that I had never noticed before, such as the dog starting across the street at the bottom of the hill in the photo above.

The old buildings on Main Street are still standing, although the cars in the Google imagery are certainly different from the ones seen here.

If you look at Railroad Street (below) in Stinesville today, you’ll notice that the train tracks and telegraph poles have all been removed…

Another detail that I had never noticed prior to scanning the negatives: two kids walking near the base of the pine tree by the Stinesville Baptist Church. Neither the church nor the tree are standing there today…

(Click on any photo to bring up a larger version in a new tab.)

1984
Stinesville, Indiana
Kodak Tri-X 35mm film

Love at First Sight Is Not a Myth

1500

The year was 1990. I was anxious to replace my decaying ’57 Fairlane (my first and only vehicle at the time), and I knew, somehow, that a vintage convertible was the way to go. As to which model I should purchase, I had no idea. I knew that I didn’t want anything obvious like a Corvette or a Mustang; I wanted something uncommon, and I had a vague vision of the body style that I was after. I approached the search with an I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it attitude.

I grabbed a fresh batch of ads once they hit the stand each Thursday morning and started making calls. I looked at several cars in the area over the next few weeks…Skylark, Cutlass, LTD, Chevelle, Cougar, et al, all in the 1964 to 1974 range, all in various states of disrepair. Some were too far gone, some just didn’t appeal to me for one reason or another.

On Friday, May 25, I drove about 50 miles north of town to check out a car that sounded promising. The man I spoke with told me that he was the second owner of a 1969 LeMans and that it was in good running condition. He had been storing it in his barn ever since his daughter (yes, the farmer’s daughter), who had been driving it, purchased a new vehicle and didn’t want the Pontiac anymore.

Through miles of rolling farmland I drove, following the directions he gave me to find his remote corner of the county. I had just nosed into the driveway when I saw before me the barn, the farmer and the Pontiac, which was parked atop the highest point of his yard. I stopped right where I was and just stared, grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato. Cue the choir of angels, the harps and the soft lighting. I knew instantly that the search was over; this was my convertible. The only thing standing between me and this LeMans was another prospective buyer, who was walking slowly around the car with a bargain-hunter’s gaze.

I kept my distance. I killed the engine and sat quietly near the end of the driveway, trying to be invisible, trying not to spook him. I pretended to read the classifieds I had with me, but I was watching him intently, beaming in his direction the telepathic message, This is not the convertible you’re looking for. Get back in your car and drive away. I couldn’t hear their conversation at that distance but it appeared to end on a “Well, I’ll think about it” note. I turned my eyes to the paper and tried to look casual as he rolled past me and turned onto the county road. I exhaled heavily.

As I was walking up the hill, I reflected on the fact that the LeMans was the mystery convertible pictured in my mind when I began my search; one must have crossed my field of view, who knows where or when, and got stuck in some corner of my brain. I was quite taken with the lines and curves of this machine…a beautifully designed body, and certainly much sleeker than my Fairlane.

Still wearing a big grin, I introduced myself to the owner and began my inspection while we talked. There were some obvious problems with this vehicle: fading paint, rust in the rear bumper, Bondo in the quarter panels, a large rip in the top, a well-worn driver’s seat and evidence that mice had moved in. But my priority was to find a car that was mechanically sound, with a powertrain in good operating condition; body and cosmetic issues, I could live with.

Test drive? Sure. I had no doubt that this purchase was a done deal, but I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to drive this beauty. So I fired it up, made a quick run southward through a few intersections, then turned back. The car was running beautiful; in fact, it was running so well that I couldn’t accelerate from a dead stop without spinning the rear wheels, no matter how gently I hit the throttle.

Time to haggle? Ha! No way I’d take the risk that he would wait for a better offer to come along. If he wanted $1500 for this car, he was going to get $1500. To me, that price seemed like a bargain. I pulled out every dollar I had on me (200 odd bucks) and asked him if this would hold the car until I could get to my bank, withdraw the rest of the cash and find a ride back up here. He agreed, but since he needed to leave to take care of some business that afternoon, he asked me to come back the next morning. Perfect. We shook hands, he moved the LeMans back into the barn, and I made a beeline for the bank, making damn sure I got there before they closed for the long holiday weekend.

On Saturday morning, May 26, 1990, a friend drove me and my wad of bills up to the farm. The bills stayed there; the keys, the title and I headed home in the LeMans. Flying down the highway with the wind swirling around my head, I was really enjoying those first 50 miles of many thousands yet to come.

8edited

Petting Zoo

Probably the earliest known photo of Carl on a road trip, April 1965 (age 2). Per the notation on the slide, we’re somewhere along the Mohawk Trail. We lived in Northampton, Massachusetts at the time. This shot was captured by my grandfather.

Perhaps we’re seeing the genesis of my interest in car travel, and my fondness for wildlife.

(Decaying) Kodak Ektachrome film

“Dwayne Hoover’s Exit 11 Pontiac Village”

1996: Even though Pontiacs were still being made, very few of these vintage neon dealership signs were still in service. When I discovered this one aglow in a small Indiana town, I knew I had to set up for a car & driver portrait.

Happy that I did; on my next visit, not long afterward, the signs were gone, the dealership was closed. Since then, the old brick sidewalk has been replaced with concrete, and the building is now a pizza joint. So it goes.