Thursday, June 30, 2011

The J

The J

The Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern Railway is-or was-a popular Chicago area road. Formed in the late 1800's with the merging of several local railroads in Illinois and Indiana, and sought to serve the industries in the Gary-Hammond corridor. This paid off, and in 1900 U.S. Steel bought the EJ&E, and remained a steward of the road for the rest of it's existence. The J was a popular road with local railfans, mainly because of it's friendly (and fan-friendly) employees, and distinctive orange locomotives.

It was the EJ&E's route that avoided the congestion in Chicago that made the EJ&E attractive to other railroads, although none tried to merge or take over the J until Canadian National in 2007. The deal was closed in 2009, CN using the J's line to route freight around the busy rail hub in Chicago. This was met with controversy among residents in the Chicago suburbs, as they would now see up to six trains a day, rather than the two or so that the J would run, often at night.

I live near the J's line, north near the town of Wayne, which is where I took this shot. I seldom, if ever, saw a train on this line, as the J often ran at night or early in the day, but I've been stopped by a few Canadian National trains in the last few years. Most of the time they're pulled by CN's familiar black and red locomotives, but this one, back in March had one of the remaining EJ&E locomotives in the lead.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Liberty Belle

Liberty Belle

I recounted a bit about Boeing's B-17 a week or so ago, but felt it was worthwhile to show you another, clearer photo of the Liberty Belle's nose art. The practice of personalizing aircraft began during before World War One, particularly with German and Italian pilots. During the war German pilots were renowned for painting all manner of garish designs on their mounts, with scant regard to camouflage-after all, the Red Baron was a real pilot, and his personal planes were all pure scarlet. Other popular motifs were mouths painted around the propeller spinners, as well as the American tradition of squadron logos on the sides of planes.

But, nose art truly came into it's own during the second World War. Often considered the Golden Age of this particular art, both Axis and Allied pilots indulged, particularly American bomber crews. In fact, when one thinks of nose art one almost automatically imagines a big B-24 or something, with a cartoon character or Vargas girl splashed on the side. Good artists were in high demand within Air Corps squadrons, and were well paid by the crews for their services. Popular themes were cartoon characters, tributes to famous people, and the aforementioned Vargas-style pinups.

The Liberty Belle is a good example of the latter. Sadly, she's no more, having crashed soon after takeoff on June 13, 2011.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Royal Bobcat

Royal Bobcat

The (appropriately) fictional home of the Taylor family on Home Improvement, Royal Oak, Michigan has a special place in muscle car history as well. Located about fifteen miles north of Detroit, Royal Oak is close to the General Motors Tech Center in Warren, and like many Motor City suburbs had close ties with the industry.

It was also the home to Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac. In the early sixties, Pontiac would send all of the cars slated to be road tested by magazines to Royal, where their engine wizards would make sure everything was running as good as it could. They also did some performance work on the side-they specialized in the big 389 mill-and this caught the attention of Jim Wangers at Pontiac. The company had been floating the idea of having dealers who specialized in performance cars and parts, and used Royal to test the idea. It was a rousing success, and led Royal to develop the now famous "Bobcat" performance packages for various cars, but mostly for the already stout GTO.

Bobcats were fearsomely fast cars, and were often hard to spot during a heads up stoplight race. This subtle badge was often the only telltale.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quality Shirt Service

Peter Pan Cleaners-Villa Park, IL

One of my favorite things about old signs is the sometimes anachronistic things they say, and the now commonplace features they advertise. The sign for J's Peter Pan Cleaners (I think the "J" is a later addition) is one example. "Quality Shirt Service" is a quaint throwback to the days when men's dress shirts needed special care when cleaning, as opposed to today's machine wash ready to wear clothes. Although it sorta makes me wonder if they treat shirts with extra special care.

I find this sign interesting, because the shopping center it's on has been updated quite a bit (inside and out), but this awesome slice of vintage neon is still hanging out front.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rapid Transit

Fifth Avenue

Not that 5th Avenue! This is a vintage station sign from the Chicago Rapid Transit Company's elevated train system, also known as the L. This one happens to be for 5th Avenue on the now-defunct Westchester branch, which ran from the old Metropolitan Elevated's Garfield Park line at Desplaines Avenue all the way out to Mannheim Road. It was meant to be a bypass for the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin interurban, serving what was hoped to be the newly booming town of Westchester. Development never happened, and the line remained a footnote in CA&E and CTA history until it's abandonment in the fifties. Today, parts of it make up the Illinois Prairie Path.

The sign itself is pretty interesting too. This style of station sign was current in the CRT from 1892 until 1977, when an entirely new, unified sign package was introduced in the CTA's system. Quite a few of the classic blue and white signs remained in use, though, the most famous one being at Sheridan on the Red Line, which remained in place until 2002! These signs are quite sought after today, along with the old yellow street signs, as a piece of Chicago history.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Through The Viewfinder Tuesday

Liberty Belle

As I promised last week, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. One of the most famous aircraft of the Second World War, the B-17 was the backbone of the USAAF's bomber forces in Europe. A tough, reliable airplane, the Fort quickly gained almost mythic status, after photographs of grievously damaged airplanes began to circulate, showing dramatically wounded examples that still managed to get their crews home safely. So right was the B-17's design, the final examples didn't leave service-with the Brazilian Air Force-until 1968, and civilianized examples continued to fly for a few years yet.

Sadly, this particular example no longer exists. Soon after takeoff on June 13, 2011, the Liberty Belle caught fire and made an emergency landing in a field near Aurora, Illinois. None of the passengers onboard was injured, but the Belle burned to the ground.

Monday, June 20, 2011

V-8 Ford


Ford's Model B, introduced in 1932, was an important car for the company. Aside from being a replacement for Ford's long-serving Model A, and fixing a few of that car's shortcomings, the new model would also provide a platform for Ford's brand new V-8 engine, the legendary Flathead. This was a bigger deal than many today realize-previously, anything bigger than a four-pot was the preserve of expensive luxury marques, not humble working class Fords. Finally, Joe Average could enjoy some of the performance of Joseph Moneybags, even more so if he was handy with tools because the new Ford engine was pretty easy to soup up and make more powerful.

The classic Model B, it seems, is the legendary '32, the Deuce. It's the one that all the hot rodders got and it's the one that everyone still likes to build today. But the Model B lasted until 1935-a heavy restyling job for the '33 season brought more flowing lines to the car, as well as some new trim and more power. This graceful hood ornament is on a '33.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Al's Smoke Shop

Al's Smoke Shop-Villa Park, IL

It's often pretty slim pickin's in the suburbs, at least as far as old neon signs go. At least here in the Chicago area, a lot of the towns further out have shined and buffed their downtowns into sort of old-timey Rockwellian Main Streets, with older buildings restored to a time right around the change to electric street lights, but before illuminated advertising. Between that and the number of old businesses that are long gone, the old-school hanging neon sign is a bit of a rare bird these days. Which is why I was so pleased to find this one in Villa Park. The sign ain't anything really special-brown and white, with white tubes-but the fact that Al's is still in business, and still uses their vintage sign, makes me happy. It's a nice time warp.

You can tell this building is pretty old, too. I didn't notice the builder's name ("Clarke") above the door. I like details like that, and would probably still call it the "Clarke Building".

Apropos of nothing (okay, something!), if you like what you've been seeing on this site, our chief lensman (okay, it's me) has a website! Cool images like the ones you've been enjoying, some you've seen, some surprises, all awesome and available to purchase, to bring a little of the View. Found. fun to your walls!

Thursday, June 16, 2011



Founded in 1916, Boeing is probably one of, if not the, best known airplane manufacturer in the world. Initially providing seaplanes for the Navy and then fighters for the Army, Boeing eventually became known for their big, multi-engined craft, including the 247, the first truly modern airliner, and the famous Model 314 Clippers that plied long-distance routes the world over. This continued into World War Two, with Boeing's big bomber planes forming the backbone of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Today, of course, they're best known for their airliners, which are familiar in airports the world over.

This is Boeing's original logo, which was used until after the war. This particular one is on the co-pilot's wheel of a B-17G, about which I'll be writing more in the near future.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Daily News

The Daily News-Chicago, IL

The Chicago Daily News was an afternoon paper, and was published between 1876 and 1978. It had a pretty long and illustrious history, and managed to win thirteen Pulitzers during it's lifetime. The Daily News opened one of the first foreign bureaus in American journalism, doing so in 1898. This was one of several innovations introduced during the tenure of longtime owner Victor F. Lawson, who also oversaw changes in promotion, classified advertising, and the syndication of news stories and comics. Aiming at a wider audience than the Chicago Tribune, the Daily News was priced low and became known for it's distinctively aggressive reporting style. In 1929, it moved to new headquarters, an Art Deco edifice along the Chicago River, that stands today as a Chicago landmark called Riverside Plaza.

After a long period of ownership by Knight Newspapers, the Daily News was bought by Field Enterprises, which also owned the Chicago Sun-Times. The News moved into the Sun-Times' building on North Wabash (now the site of the Trump building). Although the paper was still strong, and had added Mike Royko to the masthead, the sixties and seventies were mostly a period of decline for the Daily News. Partly due to management decisions, a bigger problem was shifting demographics. Afternoon papers in general were in decline-targeted at office workers, many of the News' core readership moved to the suburbs where they probably caught the news on television rather than in the paper. By 1978 it was all over.

Amazingly, for a newspaper that stopped publication over thirty years ago, Daily News ghost signs still turn up in Chicago. This one's on the North Side, near the Armitage Brown Line stop.

Monday, June 13, 2011



This is a well-seasoned '47-ish Chevrolet Stylemaster coupe. Like many manufacturers, Chevy's immediate postwar offerings were slightly warmed over versions of their prewar cars. In this case, the Styleline range, which was introduced in 1941 as a four door sedan. The coupe followed in '42, but production was suspended after a mere 110,000 of all models had rolled out the doors.

Once hostilities ceased the range made a comeback, with a few style and mechanical updates to keep things fresh. The Stylemaster featured pretty smooth styling, relatively unadorned by chrome trim and other gewgaws. They're nice looking cars, even by modern standards, although they are clearly from another age. This one certainly is-I found it (along with a '41-ish Olds) on "display" outside a junkyard in rural Illinois. I've no idea how long it's been there, but even though it's complete I don't know if it's savable.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Weits Cafe

Good Food

Located southwest of Chicago, Morris lies along the Illinois River, and still has a well preserved and prospering downtown. The Weits Cafe is one of those businesses, a traditional restaurant with checkered tablecloths and white coffee cups. They also have this excellent old sign out front.

Surf Naked!

Plastic Fantastic

This is a vintage bumper sticker for Plastic Fantastic surfboards, which were made in Huntington Beach, California, from the sixties up until the 80's or so. It's on the back bumper of a '66 Mustang notchback, an original, black plate, one owner from new California car. I loved this car. It was mostly original (the owner had done some engine work, and it had some different wheels on it), and it wore it's 45 years with pride. Some pitted chrome, faded paint, a little surface rust on the back axle, foggy plastic lenses, that worn spot you get on the door top from leaning your arm on the sill while cruising, it was all there.

And a bunch of period stickers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Santa Fe All The Way

Santa Fe

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad is one of the classic American roads. Founded in the 1850's, the Santa Fe grew west from Topeka, eventually crossing the Rockies twenty years later. Through mergers and acquisitions the company grew rapidly, and by the mid twentieth century was just about the largest road in America. Famed for it's passenger service, Santa Fe's Chiefs were renowned for their top-tier service and dome cars to help passengers better enjoy the fabulous Western scenery. The iconic red-and-silver "Warbonnet" featured heavily in advertising, and was so famous that eventually the Santa Fe resurrected it for it's freight service.

This is a later ATSF passenger locomotive, an EMD FP45. Based on a freight engine, the 45 was designed to have a smoother "cowl" style body like the classic E units, rather than the more workmanlike freight trains. The Santa Fe was the major buyer of these units-nine of the fourteen build went to the road. When Amtrak took over passenger service the FP's went on freight duty. Six of the Santa Fe's old units still survive, including this one at the Illinois Railway Museum.

The Santa Fe name sort of lives on, as the "SF" part of BNSF, and even today you can still spot classic warbonnets plying the rails.

Monday, June 6, 2011



Drag racing has it's beginnings with the earliest speed contests-once someone went fast, someone else decided they could go faster, and pretty soon things evolved into head to head duels to see who could get to the finish line first. In America, the earliest races happened-like so many American car culture touchstones-in California, on the dry lakes that would soon become famous for speed trials and airbases. Four or five guys, in whatever they brought, would set off across the desert floor, and first across the line got bragging rights.

It was only the beginning, and after the Second World War the sport evolved into the two lane, quarter mile contests we know today. The hot rod clubs that sanctioned events set up classes, but for many years things were still very much "run what ya brung", and it was very common for a slick roadster to take it's driver to work during the week, only to be driven to the strip for weekend duty. Gradually, cars got more and more highly strung, interiors more stripped out, in the search for an elusive few tenths of a second, and they slowly evolved into specialized racers.

Some classes still had a pretense of using stock vehicles. Super Stock, funny cars, gassers, all still carried recognizable bodywork, but the top dogs all ran slingshots. These were cars distilled down to the basics-tubes welded together into a chassis, axles and wheels at each end, a seat, and a whacking great motor. Initially, these bare bones bombs had the engines in front of the drivers, where they always were, but by the early 70's, they started migrating to a spot just behind the pilot-much like Grand Prix and Indy racers were doing. The reasons were many, but mostly for safety-these beasts were highly strung, and having one blow up was much safer if it was behind you.

Chassis Research

This is a vintage front engined rail, from Chassis Research, one of the famous designers of dragster chassis. It's beautifully presented, and period perfect.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Burger, fries, chili, and a Coke

Another Chicago ghost neon sign. This one hung over a Mexican restaurant on Clark Street, near Devon. At the time I don't think they sold burgers, and probably not chili either, but I never actually ate there. This is obviously a really old sign, from the fifties I'd guess, and dates from the time this was a greasy spoon called Dewey's. I was surprised that it stayed in place so long-it was clearly an anachronism, but I suppose the expense of taking it down and having the power shut off was prohibitive. And, I have to admit, an old sign like this is eye catching, so it couldn't have hurt things to leave it up.

I shot this in the spring of 2009, and I understand that this sign came down later that year.

Thursday, June 2, 2011



There's this garage, way out in the country, that's surrounded by a yard full of old tractors and trucks. It's eye catching-most of the tractors are bright yellow Minneapolis-Molines, and they jump out at you as you drive past. The man who owns them is a retired farmer, and runs a tractor shop in his spare time. Or so I'm told-I've never actually seen him there, just his shop truck parked in various spots around the yard.

I was out there and met his neighbor-I apologized for trespassing and he said it was no big deal, it wasn't his yard anyway! Old Arthur wouldn't mind, either, as long as I didn't touch anything. Apparently, Arthur is the last of his line, sold off his old business to run the tractor shop and play with his tractors. Apparently, he wants to open up a Minnie-Mo museum-all the tractors and trucks are in line to be restored.


It's a familiar story, you see it all the time. Some day, they'll all be cleaned up and shiny, but I don't know. I half expect to be going by and to see the place empty, the tractors gone, the shop knocked down, the lawn overgrown.