Friday, December 31, 2010

I knew you were coming so I baked a cake!

Bakery Sign-Chicago, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.

Okay, you may recognize that from an old Three Stooges short, but for the second Neon Friday in a row there's a holiday and a distinct lack of holiday themed signage. So I dug out this neon cake, which is at La Baguette Panaderia in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Four-H, originally uploaded by William 74.

You used to see these 4-H Club signs more frequently, usually at county lines and sometimes on the outskirts of town, near the signs from the local Rotarians welcoming travelers. They're pretty distinctive, with the club's four leaf clover logo and white and green livery. I don't come across them very often anymore, and I don't even know if they're being made anymore. This one's in rural Illinois, and has a twin on the other side of the county.

4-H clubs have a sort of quaint reputation, mainly because of the organization's rural beginnings, but the 4-H clubs of today have extensive programs dealing in citizenship, science and technology, and healthy living.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Firehouse, originally uploaded by William 74.

Like most big cities (and small ones, as well) Chicago has it's fair share of buildings that were built for one purpose but now serve another. In some cases they'll have been modified beyond recognition, but sometimes an old building will retain some of it's original ornamentation or signage.

This former firehouse is probably one of Chicago's most famous former stations. The former home of Engine Company 42, this great building is easily visible from the L (in fact, it's how I first noticed it, taking the Brown Line down to the Loop) and still retains much of it's fire station characteristics. This includes the CFD sign over the door, the big double doors, and it's characteristically narrow footprint. Originally built in 1888, this station was disused in 1964. Currently it appears to be unused, but is close to being granted landmark status.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lincoln Highway

Lincoln Highway Stone Marker, originally uploaded by William 74.

We return to rural Illinois for today's TtV Tuesday, and one of the original markers for the Lincoln Highway. There are four of them still standing along a one-mile stretch of the road, just outside the town of Franklin Grove. This one's probably my favorite one, because it has some interesting stuff in the background. Of the other three, one has a big chip missing out of it, and is in a bit of scrub ground between two alignments, and the other two front cornfields that look all right when there's something growing but not so much when the fields are bare. I've shot them all, anyway.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tomorrow's Car.....Yesterday!

Corvair, originally uploaded by William 74.

Chevrolet's Corvair was one of a new generation of American compact cars being built in the early 1960's to combat smaller imports. However, while Ford's Falcon and Plymouth's Valiant were basically scaled down conventional cars, the 'Vair was a radical clean sheet design. Featuring a rear-mounted, air cooled engine, all independent suspension, and a roomy, flat floored passenger compartment, the Corvair was a sales success for GM, bringing in new customers who previously wouldn't have considered Chevrolet.

It didn't last, though. By the mid sixties sales were falling, and the publication of Unsafe At Any Speed, which featured a chapter on the car's handling, didn't help. But there were other factors at play-GM had already planned on ending production in 1966, so any improvements on the second generation cars were halted at that time. Plus, the 'Vair was facing competition from the newly-formed pony car class- cars such at the Ford Mustang and Chevy's own Camaro steadily ate into Corvair sales. Ironically, the compact sports class was pioneered by the Corvair's own Monza sports model.

This one's a first generation Monza 500. I found it parked in a back lot along Route 66-another fading American icon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dog 'N' Suds

Dog 'N' Suds-Richmond, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Neon Friday! Naturally, I don't have any photos of Christmas themed neon, so I'm taking us on a trip back to the warmer days of summer. A time of fun in the sun, going to the beach, mosquito bites, and a trip to the drive in for hot dogs and frosty root beer.

Dog 'N' Suds restaurants were founded in the '50's in Champaign, Illinois, and at one time were really common here in the Midwest. They were best known for their Coney dogs, a hot dog covered in chili con carne and onions, and for their root beer. And I must say, the root beer at Dog 'N' Suds is pretty damn awesome-very sweet and super creamy. You can find bottles of it in grocery stores around here, but I tell you it's best straight out of the tap.

There are only about fourteen Dog 'N' Suds drive in restaurants left-I have vague memories of going to one when I was very young, but I really am not sure. Anyway this one is in Richmond, Illinois, and has this awesome neon sign out front. Everyone should go!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Fine Place To Eat

Old signs that advertise products no longer made, or businesses no longer extant, are called "ghost signs". They pop up in the strangest places, from the big cities to the smallest towns-I've discovered that walking down alleys is a good way to discover hidden gems.

This is a fairly well known ghost sign in Rochelle, Illinois (we've visited Rochelle's restored early Standard station). It used to advertise some sort of food product, probably a soda or beer-the sign says "served and sold at" the Black Cat Cafe. Sadly, the top half of the sign is too deteriorated to read, and the Black Cat is no more, so I can't even go ask.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Via Elevated

Loop Elevated at Night, originally uploaded by William 74.
A nice counterpoint to Via Subway, here's a shot of a Loop elevated train in the fall gloom. The L trains are one of Chicago's defining features-people have been known to buy a ticket just to ride around the famous Loop that gives the neighborhood it's name. This shot was taken down around the corner of Lake and Wabash, although I forget if the train is heading towards or away from the Randolph/Wabash station.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Fabyan Park-Batavia, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.
I've been ignoring my Spartus Full-Vues lately so here's a brand new TtV shot for today's Through The Viewfinder Tuesday! This lighthouse is at Fabyan Park in Batavia, Illinois and overlooks the Fox River. If this sounds familiar, the Fabyan estate is where we've seen the windmill and the Japanese tea garden. There are a bunch of neat things on the estate, and it's a nice place to go walking and shooting.

This lighthouse, like much of the Fabyan estate, has a story behind it. Apparently, Colonel Fabyan tried to get the portion of the Fox River that passed through his grounds closed-the State of Illinois politely declined this request, so the Colonel had this little lighthouse put up. Apparently it used to flash twice, then three times, then twice....and on and on. Like a little two fingered salute to the state. It doesn't work now, sadly.

Edited to correct links.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Motorcar Monday!

Fading Glory, originally uploaded by William 74.

Welcome to a new feature here at View. Found., Motorcar Monday! This week we've got another rusty gem, a 1953 Chevrolet sedan delivery. Sedan deliveries were popular for many years, finally falling out of fashion in in the States in the 60's, as vehicles like the Volkswagen Transporter grew in popularity. Interestingly, in Europe, sedan deliveries remained popular, with cars such as the Opel Astra getting the panel treatment

. Sedan deliveries are basically two-door station wagons, with the side windows blanked off and a swing-out loading door on the back. With Spartan interiors and often only a driver's seat, they were ideal for small merchants and tradesmen such as plumbers and electricians. Consequently, most of them lived hard lives and survivors are rare. This rusty but proud example is parked in front of a rural hot rod shop, and has had a few custom touches added onto it. I'd love to save it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Body Shop

Body Shop, originally uploaded by William 74.

One of my favorite neon signs in Chicago is this one for the Erie-LaSalle Body Shop. It's right downtown, on Erie near the McDonald's. I like the jutting wedge at the top and the outline and the outline of the big Chevy. A lot of neon signs look pretty good in the daytime as well as lit up at night, but this isn't one of them-it really comes alive with the tubes lit up.

*Programming Note! I've moved a couple of things around and hereby christen this Neon Friday!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kinzie Street Bridge

As befits it's almost central location in the United States, Chicago was (and is) a rail hub. Most of the major American roads have facilities in the area, and the city itself is still laced with tracks and infrastructure. Other than the city's grand stations, probably the biggest landmarks are the bridges.

The first rail bridge at Kinzie Street in Chicago was built in 1852, allowing trains access to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad's Wells Street station. A swing bridge replaced it a few years later, and this one opened in 1908. The G&CU became the Chicago and North Western, which closed the Wells Street station in 1911, and this bridge reverted to handling freight only. This line originally went all the way to Navy Pier, but latterly it handled shipments for the Chicago Sun-Times' printing facility, which moved in 2001. Since the Times was the last customer using the bridge, it was permanently raised.

The Kinzie bridge is a single leaf bascule bridge, and at the time of it's building was the longest and heaviest in the world. It was granted landmark status in 2007, and has remained as a monument to Chicago's railroading heritage. Amazingly (to me, at least) a lot of the infrastructure still exists. The tracks and signals are still there on the other side of the river, as does this signal  on the Sun-Times side. Presumably it could be made operative, despite the rust, graffiti, and broken windows in the control house.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Back at the Japanese Tea Garden in Batavia, for this chilly, wintery TtV Tuesday. I do like shooting here-being a garden it changes with the seasons, from the lush greenery of summer to the peaceful snow cover of winter.

I ran this through the Faux-Vin Genuine Artificial Aging widget for that "found in a shoebox in the attic" look.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Studebaker Service Station

Studebaker Service, originally uploaded by William 74.

This is a small garage in the town of Lindenwood, Illinois. It's been in business for many years, and I understand that the proprietor specialized in Studebakers back when Studies were still being made. I don't know if this little shop was ever a dealer, however. Sadly, the owner seems to have passed away recently, and the fate of this little shop is unknown.

Erickson Jewelers

Erickson Jewelers, originally uploaded by William 74.
Another classic Chicago neon sign, and one that's no longer around. Erickson's Jewelers was in Andersonville, on the far north side of the city. They closed around 2008, I think, and the signage hung around for another year before new tenants moved took over in 2010. I loved this sign-it was a classic 40's-50's piece. A restaurant moved into the old store this year, and the sign was removed and re-built with their logo-it's the same shape, and the clock now works. I was saddened to see it was changed, but am pleased that it's the same shape, making a nice connection with the neighborhood's past.

Interestingly, I think this was a sort of pattern sign from the company-a similar sign hangs in front of a jewelry store in Woodstock, Illinois.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Semaphore, originally uploaded by William 74.

Semaphore signals were patented in the 1840's, and went on to become the most widely used type of trackside signals in much of the world. Meant to provide a visual signal to train drivers, they utilize both the position of the arm, as well as the illuminated lenses to get their message across. Although still common in Britain, semaphore signals are mostly extinct along American rails, with only a few branch lines in the Midwest still featuring them. However, they are still to be found here and there, preserved in front of former depots, in towns with a railroad history, and in museums.

This example is in front of the former Milwaukee Road depot in Genoa, Illinois.

Friday, December 10, 2010

When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer

Former Tavern-Chicago, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.

A tied house is-or was-a pub or tavern that is contractually obligated to sell beer from a certain brewery. Often this was done for economic reasons-in Chicago tied houses rose in number when license fees were raised so high that bar owners turned to breweries for financial help. Breweries would supply everything needed to run a saloon, and in return they'd only serve that company's beer. Tied houses in the United States were mostly legislated out of existence following Prohibition, when a three tiered system of alcohol distribution was instituted-manufacturers could only sell to distributors, who could only sell to retailers, none of whom could have an interest in the other.

In Chicago, the biggest builder of tied houses was Schlitz of Milwaukee. Designed by the architectural firm of Frohmann & Jebsen, Schlitz houses were usually done in a revival style, with cupolas over the front corner and intricate brickwork. Quite a few of them survive today, including such famous ones as Southport Lanes and Schuba's in Lincoln Park. This one's less famous, and is up on Broadway and Winona in the Uptown neighborhood. One of the larger Schlitz houses, it's still in pretty good shape, with it's Schlitz crest still hanging, the back beer garden still in existence, and a non-working "restaurant" neon sign over the front door. It's not longer a restaurant or tavern, though, and serves as a community center for the neighborhood.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snowy Glory

Snowy Glory, originally uploaded by William 74.
I've taken so many photos of this car that if it were a person it'd probably take out a restraining order on me. As it stands, it's an old car, and the owner doesn't mind people taking photos of it, so I'll probably continue to do so till I run out of ideas or new techniques to try out.

Actually, I need to take several more, since I came up with the grand idea to take a bunch of pictures from similar angles, but in different weather conditions and seasons. This is the second in the series, and is meant to resemble this shot I took in the fall.

*Edited to correct link. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Genoa Station

Genoa Station-Genoa, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.

Once upon a time, you could go just about anywhere in the country on a train. Stations and whistle stops dotted the countryside, and the local depot was both a lifeline and a meeting place. Times have changed, of course, and most towns are accessible by road these days, and the number of cities serviced by passenger rail has decreased dramatically.

Many of the old stations and depots still stand, though. This one is a former Chicago, St. Paul, and Milwaukee station in Genoa, Illinois. The Milwaukee Road ran plenty of passenger trains out of Chicago to points west, including the famous electrified route through the Rockies. This station likely handled some Hiawathas, as well as locals into Chicago and to points north. It is nicely restored and is in use as a museum.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

T(ree)tV Tuesday!

TreetV, originally uploaded by William 74.

Another Through the Viewfinder shot. This is a bunch of trees, at the park. I'm honestly not sure which park-I think it's near the Japanese gardens I've shown you. But I really like this photograph, as I think it encapsulates everything that makes TtV photography so interesting-dust and crud, wierd reflections, out of focus edges, and an odd bit of lens flare that doesn't quite match up with the accepted styles of lens flare. For added flavoring I ran it through the Faux-Vin Genuine Artificial Aging Machine to give it that "expired off-brand film" look.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm a Road Runner, Honey

Superbird, originally uploaded by William 74.

One of the reasons that Mopar muscle of the late sixties and early seventies-aside from the often dramatic styling and the big block motors-is the impressive array of bright colors they were available in. This Plymouth Road Runner Superbird combines all three-wild looks, a 440 Six Barrel, and an eye-watering color called Lime Light.

The Superbird (and it's slightly older cousin the Dodge Charger Daytona) is probably the best known muscle car ever produced. They're quite rare-less than 2,000 of them were made for just one year-and very dramatic, with their pointy noses and that sky high wing. Originally designed to homologate the areo bits for NASCAR racing, the Superbird was a sales failure-the styling was too dramatic for most peoples' tastes, and the standard Road Runner was cheaper and faster on the quarter mile. New examples were still to be found on dealer lots as late as 1972, heavily discounted.

Always a popular car, the 'Bird has had a resurgence thanks to the character "The King" from the movie Cars, which was clearly meant to be Richard Petty's iconic blue 1970 race car.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Stars

The Stars, originally uploaded by William 74.

Every big city has it's motel row, and Chicago's was along Lincoln Avenue, in the West Ridge neighborhood. They had cool mid century architecture and funky old signs out front, with a distinct whiff of off-strip Vegas mixed in. Most of them are gone now, but a few are hanging on.

The Stars is an empty lot, having closed several years ago, but the awesome neon sign has hung on, looking out on Lincoln Avenue's traffic. This Googie-licious sign must have been quite a sight all lit up at night, although I understand that the Stars itself was a seedy dump.

You can tell a really old sign when it's got out of date nomenclature. Air conditioning is still kind of standard on older signs, but free television? When'd they stop having coin-op teevees? The sixties? The switchboard makes me wonder if there was an actual PBX in the office, and if it was still there, but disconnected, when the Stars was demolished.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Old And The New

UP 1995-West Chicago, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.
Union Pacific is the big dog in the American railroad pack, having taken over several other railroads down through the years. In a tribute to these fallen flags, UP has a fleet of engines they call the Heritage Units, which are painted in special liveries reminiscent of these historic roads. One of them is UP 1995, which pays tribute to the Chicago and North Western. The North Western was popular with Midwestern railfans, and remains so to this day, particularly in the Chicago area. A few CNW relics still remain in the system, including some signs, some signals, some old bridges, a few rail cars, and two original locomotives.

This shot of 1995 was taken in West Chicago, which is about thirty miles west of Chicago. Originally a depot on the CNW's main line, there is still a Union Pacific yard, as well as a passenger depot that is served by Chicago's Metra commuter rail service. The signal bridge in the background is a rare CNW-era Type E signal. Sadly, while the bridge still stands, the lights have been changed to more modern ones.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wrigley Noir

Cubs Noir, originally uploaded by William 74.
Ten-sixty West Addison, in Chicago, is probably the best known baseball stadium address in the majors, mainly because of it's use as Elwood's fake address in The Blues Brothers. Now that Yankee Stadium is gone, it, along with Boston's Fenway Park, is the last of the Jewel Box style of stadia, built between the wooden stadium era and the advent of modern, multipurpose facilities.

Throughout the years, Wrigley has managed to retain most of the quirks and features that define it's resolutely old-fashioned character. Open bleacher seats, a manual scoreboard, it's resolutely inner-city neighborhood locale (no seas of parking lots here! Take the L!) all help make Wrigley a unique experience. Another of these features is at the corner of Waveland and Sheffield Avenues-a big wood wall with a pennant painted on it, and the team's name picked out in neon. Most people head over to the famous red marquee sign on Clark, but I've always favored this side. It looks great as the L train goes by at night (see it in color here).

In memory of Ron Santo, 1940-2010.

(Edited to correct links)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rich in Flavor

Hamburger Heaven-Elmhurst, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.

Like sodas, there are (or were) hundreds of different root beer brands being produced all over the country. Some were available in stores, some just at hamburger stands and soda fountains. Richardson appears to be the latter-I can't find a whole lot of information about them, other than a few online auctions for Richardson mugs and stuff, and some other photos of hamburger stands with Richardson signs on them.

The Hamburger Heaven is one such place, and I'd like to try it when it reopens in the spring.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Tree, originally uploaded by William 74.
One of a stand of long-dead trees at a farm in Wisconsin. I've shot them several times, usually in the early spring or late fall, when the surrounding trees are bare, and the tall grass is brown. It'd make a really good TtV subject but I never have all my gear with when I visit. But they look kind of poetic and dignified, sitting in their field.

I took this the same day as Uncovering The Sky, after the clouds had moved over.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fading Glory

Cadillac-TtV, originally uploaded by William 74.

TtV Tuesday! This week's entry is an old favorite, the Old Rusty Cadillac! I like this one, it's got a real vintage feel to it. The subject matter helps, I think. Old cars, buildings, and other stuff is well suited to TtV photography.

I've taken a lot of pictures of this car-I often use it as a test subject when I'm experimenting with new (or even old) techniques. I also stop and shoot a few frames even if I'm just driving past. I'll be very sad if and when it finally disappears.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thank God The Tiki Bar Is Open

Tiki bars are exotic themed joints that flourished from the 30's through the sixties, and they usually serve complicated cocktails with lots of rum, and your better places feature a full menu of Cantonese food and other cool stuff. They're aesthetically defined by their Tiki culture decor, featuring things like Tiki god masks, hula shirts, grasscloth, bamboo trim, and other South Pacific themed stuff. They kind of died out until the mid 90's, when a Tiki resurgence began, and new places started springing up.

The Pago Pago was an oldie. This is a pretty well known Chicago ghost sign, as it's easily visible from the L as it leaves the Library stop on the Loop. I don't think it's open anymore-I took a look at the Wells address, and it wasn't there, at least as Pago Pago. No idea where I'm gonna get a zombie and some wonton noodles now!

*Thanks to John Hiatt for the title to this post.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Arcada

Arcada Theatre-St. Charles, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.
The historic Arcada Theater opened in the 1920's and originally hosted vaudeville revues. Eventually it went over to movies (I used to go there all the time) before closing sometime in the 90's. It's since been restored (although I seem to recall it's old fashioned interior even back in the 80's) and hosts all manner of live performances-I believe that Davy Jones was scheduled to appear when I shot this. The marquee was recently restored-until this past summer it only said "ARC" and featured some peeling paint. You can see it's unrestored state right here.

I have a soft spot for the Arcada-it was still showing first run films when I was in high school, and used to go here all the time with my friends. STC residents of a certain age are all probably similarly nostalgic about the old place!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Uncovering the Sky

Uncovering the Sky, originally uploaded by William 74.

Or how I spent Thanksgiving Day. Out in the country on a sorta cloudy day, and right around three thirty the cloud cover started to roll away, revealing a perfectly clear sky. It was very dramatic and a beautiful ending to the day.

I took several shots of this, with trees silhouetted in the foreground (and one with a barn), but this one, with an almost flat horizon, is my favorite.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Uptown Station

A brief return to the Uptown neighborhood on Chicago's north side. Uptown Station-better known as the Wilson Red Line stop-is an interesting structure. Wilson was originally the terminus of the Northwestern Elevated, although it eventually became a station for the North Shore interurban line. Several station layouts were used before the current (and final) station was built in 1923. There were a couple of different entrances and exits to handle the two separate railroads-the above sign was at the original entrance. Regular riders will know that the current entrance is on Broadway, and that this is now a Popeye's Chicken.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Up In The Sky

Up In The Sky, originally uploaded by William 74.

I like shooting pictures of clouds-they can be bright and friendly or dark and threatening, often at the same time. But mostly it's cause they're easy to shoot-no complicated lighting, no locations to arrange, no travel, no huge amounts of equipment. You just need to go outside and point your camera up.

I took this somewhere around the Villa Park area on a late fall afternoon, as a jet was on it's way into (or out of) O'Hare.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NYC '55

NYC '55, originally uploaded by William 74.

The New York Central was one of the major railroads of the northeastern United States, and had lines as far west as Chicago. It is probably best known for Grand Central Terminal in New York City, which is probably one of the best known train stations in the world.

In 1968 the NYC merged with arch rival Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central. PC went bankrupt and was rolled into Conrail in the seventies, and Conrail was broken up in the late 90's. What remained was split between Norfolk Southern and CSX.

Not much old NYC stuff is still around in either system. Occasionally I'll see an old NYC car in a mixed freight-this battered gondola has a particularly poetic reporting mark and number.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Through the Viewfinder Tuesday!

Windmill-TTV, originally uploaded by William 74.

Through the Viewfinder photography is a relatively newish technique to make nice, shiny digital photographs look like they were shot on film about fifty or more years ago, with a cheap camera, and then stored in a shoebox in a slightly damp basement. It's simple but really hard to do at the same time.

Basically, what you do is take an old twin lens reflex camera, preferably a cheap plastic one like an Anscoflex or a Spartus, one with a lot of dust and crap on the reflecting mirror, and take a picture through the glass viewing window on the top of the camera. You need to build a box to block out extra light, and it's not unusual to get only the image you're looking at, or the dust, to be in focus, and I've discovered that composition can be tricky.

But the results are delightfully analogue, and somewhat timeless. This shot of the windmill in Batavia was taken this past spring, but looks like it could've been taken any time since the war.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shoe Tree

Shoe Tree-Woodstock, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.
This is a shoe tree in Woodstock, Illinois. Shoe trees are not to be confused with the shoe-preservation device found in your grandpa's bedroom closet. They are literally shoe trees-trees festooned with old shoes.

I have no idea how this (or any other) shoe tree gets started. I imagine that someone goes and tosses an old pair of shoes up in the branches of a convenient tree, and slowly other people see it as an interesting use for old footwear. Eventually you get what you see here, a tree with an interesting and varied collection of shoes. I spotted some expensive kicks up there.

Amusingly, there is a "no trespassing" sign stuck to this tree , with a pair of shoes hanging next to it. I suppose the very act of shoeing a tree is trespassing. Or is it littering?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Another Sunday, another old neon sign. And, coincidentally another now defunct restaurant. This one's Standee's Coffee Shop on Chicago's north side. An Edgewater institution for about sixty years, Standee's (also known as the "Snack N Dine") was a traditional greasy spoon and was open almost continuously-24/7. Sadly, Standee's closed early in 2010, after the property management company that owns the building decided to not renew the restaurant's lease because...well, because they felt it wasn't nice enough anymore. The owner was hopeful to reopen in a new location but I've not heard anything more. Too bad-this place had the best hash browns.

The sign survives, though, having been purchased by a neon enthusiast in Indiana.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pioneer Zephyr

Pioneer Zephyr, originally uploaded by William 74.

In the 1930's, railroads were still ruled by steam. Diesel electrics were in use, but they were still a novelty on most American roads. That changed in 1934 with the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy's introduction of engine 9900, the Pioneer Zephyr.

Created with the idea of bringing riders back to the rails, the Zephyr was a huge step forward in passenger train technology. Aside from it's diesel electric power, the train was constructed almost entirely of stainless steel, which helped to make it far lighter than most heavyweight trains of the day. Combined with the shovel-nosed locomotive at the front, the shiny Zephyr was a sensation, like nothing else on the rails. It was fast, too, with top speeds in excess of 100 mph and making the dash from Denver to Chicago in a little over 13 hours.

The Pioneer went into regular use soon after the record run, and continued in regular service on several routes until March of 1960. By then the other articulated Zephyr sets had been retired. The Pioneer was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where it resides today, beautifully restored*. That's where I shot it, just before Halloween. The Museum was running the "Haunted Zephyr" tour, a haunted house on rails. I'm well pleased with this shot, which really looks like it was taken at some remote whistle stop in a small town in Nebraska or Iowa.

*you can ride another Zephyr set, the Nebraska Zephyr, at the Illinois Railway Museum. This set is also in great shape, but is pulled by a fantastic EMD E5, rather than the engine pictured here. It's beautiful, too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Haunted Tree

Tree Silhouette 1, originally uploaded by William 74.

My aunt and uncle have a farm in Wisconsin, and we often spend holidays there. I always make sure to bring my camera and go off for a while-usually while everyone's sleeping in front of the football game-and take some photos.

The driveway for the farm is about a mile long or so, bordered by corn fields that are usually bare when I'm visiting. But one constant is a stand of long-dead elm trees, down near the end of the driveway. They've been there as long as I can remember, and I've taken several photos of them down through the years. Every year they look a little more ragged, a little more like the scary trees in a haunted wood from some long-forgotten fairy tale.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Terrace Two Eleven Sixty

Terrace 2 eleven sixty, originally uploaded by William 74.

I dig old signs, and will shoot them whenever I can find them, be it at a theme restaurant with a bunch of old gas station memorabilia out front, at the flea market (when I'm not being shooed away), at museums, wherever. The best, of course, is finding an old sign that's still out in public.

This one, for Elliott's Paints (the wise choice) is in Villa Park, and is actually hanging on a building that's across the street from the address on the sign. I'm amazed that it's still hanging there-neither Elliott's Paints nor Kranz Hardware appear to be in business anymore. I'm mildly curious to try the phone number.

The title refers to that old style alphanumeric phone number. Back when you had to ask the operator to connect a call, you had to tell them the number, and the two letters (sometimes three) would denote the exchange the operator needed. Usually you'd tell the operator a word that corresponded to the two letters-sometimes it was a nearby street or landmark, but often they were chosen from a standard list. I looked it up-"TE" stands for "Terrace".

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Bel-Air, originally uploaded by William 74.

This is a '57 Chevy Bel-Air coupe. Of the three years of "Tri-Five" Chevys (the '55, 6, and 7 model years), the '57 is the most popular and iconic. It's probably the best looking of the bunch (although I think I prefer the '55, meself), and is the one that people think of when they envision a fifties car. It's the one on television, it's the one on the posters, and it's the one that people gather around at the car shows. That's where I shot this one, in the rain.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heavy Weather

Heavy Weather, originally uploaded by William 74.
I took this in DeKalb, Illinois. I've shot the turbines from various locations quite a bit-I'm just sort of entranced by them-but this spot's one of my favorites, because the line of towers is a strong visual element. Plus, in the summer the corn's up, adding some color and shape. Plus, it's not a busy road, and the shoulders are wide, so it's pretty safe.

This was taken the same day as Caddy On The Storm-a really rainy day. I'd wanted to take pictures of the old Cadillac in the rain (follow the link to read the story) but had to drive out there through off and on showers and occasional sunny patches. Since the wind farm was on the way I decided to swing by. The rain stopped for about five minutes while I shot, and I drove off, straight into a blinding rainstorm that turned to sleet for about five minutes, then a sprinkle, then sun, then rain....lather, rinse repeat.

This photo just about has it all. A few high cirrus clouds, plenty of fluffy cumulus clouds, some dark cumulonimbus clouds, a speck of bright blue sky, and way off in the distance some rain. Those turbines are almost a distraction from the real beauty!

ETA: Edited to add a link.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back Forty

Abandoned Barn, originally uploaded by William 74.

Winter's on the way, so I thought I'd share something with a little bit of snow on the ground. I'm told that this style of rounded barn is somewhat unusual, but I know of several in the general area around DeKalb, Illinois. A couple of them are in far worse shape (one is collapsing), a couple look like they've been restored, and at least one has a big addition with a tractor parked inside. This one's the only one that isn't right next to someone's house-in fact there isn't really much of anything else nearby, except for another older building (I think it was a chicken coop or other animal stall) and a modern shed. Nobody approached me when I photographed the area, and I was there for a good half hour or so.

The title here is somewhat misleading. I mean, the barn did seem to be a sort of auxiliary building for a farm, but it's really close to a lot of houses and other farms. More of a back ten than forty!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Steven's-Elmhurst, IL, originally uploaded by William 74.

Welcome to Neon Sunday! This week, we're in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, within sight of the Tower. Located on a busy corner is Steven's Steakhouse, which opened in the sixties, and has always featured this Googie-tastic neon sign out front. I like the giant arrow pointing right at the restaurant, and the fact that the biggest word on it is "STEAKS". No messing around there. The "Steven's" part on the top used to rotate, and is now held in place by a chain (which makes me wonder if it swivels in the wind now). The building itself doesn't quite match the sign, which was remodeled during the Dryvit "remodeling" craze and has a faint whiff of 90's small chain restaurant about it. I understand it used to have a much more minimalist exterior, complete with flagcrete.

Steven's has been closed for a couple of years now-the owner stopped when I was there and told me that the city wants him to take the sign down, and that it's free to a good home as long as the taker pays to have it removed. Thought I'd pass that along.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sepia Memories

Abandoned Barn-Wisconsin, originally uploaded by William 74.
I spend quite a bit of my free time driving around the countryside, looking for things to photograph. I like finding small towns with traditional buildings, as they're often a good source for things like old gas stations and rusty Pepsi signs. But I like farm buildings as well. I think there's something peaceful and dignified about an old barn or silos.

But sometimes, they're sad, too. This old barn is part of an abandoned farm in Wisconsin. It's near my aunt and uncle's place, and I've passed it several times through the years on visits. It's been getting more and more dilapidated, and I finally went over there this past April to shoot it. The house is gone, just a foundation, and there are a couple of outbuildings that are still standing. But the big barn has half collapsed, with piles of old lumber littering the ground around it. It's pretty rickety now-around the back the framework is teetering, flexing in the wind.

I don't think it'll be long now, and wonder if the buildings will be gone next time I visit.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Roarin' Elgin

The Aurora, Elgin, and Chicago Railroad was an electric interurban running from the Fox Valley area into downtown Chicago. Known as the "Roarin' Elgin", The AE&C was the only electric interurban that ran into the city, initially as far as the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad's 52nd Avenue station, but eventually AE&C trains ran direct to the Loop via the Met's tracks.

World War 1 was tough on the Roarin' Elgin, and the company fell into bankruptcy, emerging as the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin in 1922. By 1926 the company was under the control of Samuel Insull, who also ran the South Shore railroad. Unfortunately the company once more entered bankruptcy, shedding the local lines to St. Charles and Geneva, and not emerging until 1946. Unfortunately, by then the automobile was taking over from rail as the preferred form of local travel, and plans to expand Chicago's L system would have affected the CA&E's ability to use the Garfield Park line into the Loop. The loss of one-seat travel into the Loop (as opposed to transferring to an L train) devastated the line's ridership, and the end came abruptly at noon on July 3, 1957. Riders who had taken the Roarin' Elgin into the city that morning found themselves stranded that afternoon-an unusual occurrence in American railroading.

This sign is in a building in downtown Elgin, near the riverfront, right about where the old tracks used to run. It is one of the few AE&C/CA&E buildings still standing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflection and Contemplation Revisited

Reflection and Contemplation, originally uploaded by William 74.

We're back at the Japanese Garden in Batavia, seen through the viewfinder of an old Spartus Full-Vue TLR camera. This particular camera dates from the late 1940's, is made of black Bakelite, has really cool Art Deco lettering on the front, and the viewfinder on top is made of frosted glass, which is kind of like the privacy glass they used to make office doors out of. I don't know why they used this type of glass, maybe to reduce glare, but it lends a dreamy, almost painterly effect to anything seen through it. It's hard to get a good result doing the TtV thing with this camera, but when it works, it works really well.

I've been doing a bit of TtV photography lately, which is my excuse for posting this pic, although the real reason is simply because I like it a lot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Caddy On The Storm

Caddy On The Storm, originally uploaded by William 74.

Back to the Illinois countryside, to the old Cadillac by the side of the road. I have returned to this car several times to photograph it, and each time I come up with a new angle, a new detail, a new mood. Sometimes I'm just going past and I stop off and shoot a few frames as I go on my way, sometimes I've got a new lens or other toy I want to experiment with, and sometimes I'm trying to take advantage of a certain weather or lighting condition.

This shot was definitely the latter. It had been off and on rainy all day, and as I traveled out of town I passed through several bands of storms, ranging from light showers to a horizontal sleet storm. I'd wanted to take some shots of the Caddy in the rain-I've shot other cars in the wet and like the effect-so imagine my disappointment when I finally got out there and it was...well not nice and sunny but definitely not raining. So I stood there shooting and waiting and watching the storm clouds go everywhere but over the car. As you can see a few desultory droplets fell, but not what I was looking for. If you look even closer, you can see rain falling in the background, a couple hundred yards away.

I was about to pack it in when the clouds parted, just a bit, shining some sunlight down onto the old Caddy's chromed nose. Sometimes things just happen, eh?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Street Parking

Street Parking, originally uploaded by William 74.

I'm sure I've said it before and I know I'll say it again, but sometimes you just get lucky. I'd gone downtown to try and do some experimenting with shaped bokeh, and it wasn't going well at all. I spent a good hour or so fiddling with the camera, pointing it at stuff, and getting bupkus for my troubles. I was about to pack it up and go home when I saw this bike up the street (it's actually parked on the bridge over the Fox River). I headed over and this perfect shot just presented itself. A nice machine, a pretty building, and some dramatically moving lights. No tricks, just some classic elements. What more do you need?

In the background there, is the historic Baker Hotel in St. Charles. It's a lovely building, built in the late twenties in the Spanish Romantic Revival style. Perched right on the Fox River, it quickly gained a reputation for it's luxurious surroundings and excellent service, and featured two excellent restaurants, the luxurious Trophy and Rainbow Rooms. Throughout it's heyday the Baker was known as "Honeymoon Hotel", and occasionally you still meet married couples who did just that.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Pendulum, originally uploaded by William 74.

The Foucault pendulum display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. As the steel bob swings back and forth, it's plane doesn't change at all-the Earth rotates underneath it, eventually bringing the ball into contact with one of the posts around the circumference of the circle. There's always a crowd around it, and every once in a while you'll hear some cheering as a post gets knocked over, but I've never managed to see it happen.

I always thought the Foucault pendulum was neat. When I was a kid this display was in one of the stairwells, and it knocked over these little metal things that looked like Parcheesi playing pieces. Not these fancy stainless steel hinged things! (shakes cane angrily)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Atomic Number Ten

South Shore Line neon sign, originally uploaded by William 74.
I've always liked neon signs, and seek them out whenever I can find them. I actually hadn't gone looking in a while, but a bunch of recent finds has re-ignited this interest (see what I did there?), and I've decided to share some of my favorites in a new weekly feature-welcome to Neon Sunday, everyone!

Of course, I'm not sharing one of those new signs, and am instead sharing an old favorite. This beauty is at the Illinois Railway Museum, and is for the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, which was an electric commuter railroad that ran from Indiana into Chicago. Once part of the Insull empire that included several other interurbans, the South Shore survives today as part of the Metra system of commuter trains that serve the city.

This sign originally stood at the Gary, Indiana station and dates from the 1950's. I love this one, particularly the little train along the top. I took this a couple of years ago, and in the interim it's been beautifully restored and now works perfectly. You can see it here.