Friday, September 28, 2012

Machine Shop Service

Machine Shop Service by William 74
Machine Shop Service, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
For a long time neon signs were the preferred way to advertise your business. A nice bright sign with the letters outlined in colorful tubes was just the thing to get people to notice your shop. Everyone, from chain stores to fast food restaurants to independent shops used them, and still do.

However, it's getting increasingly rare to see national chains with original vintage neon signs anymore. They're expensive to make, need more maintenance that a plastic one with fluorescent tubes inside, and the weather tends to really beat them up, especially in places like Chicago, where the winters are harsh and the summers often blazing. Additionally, when the company upgrades or changes their signage or other store design, the neon sign suddenly is outdated, leading to an inconsistent image. So, often times they're taken down, usually if they deteriorate badly enough, or that particular location moves somewhere else.

This Carquest sign is in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Carquest has been in business since the mid-70's, pretty much at the tail end of mass neon sign usage. I've no idea how common these were, but this is the only one I've ever seen-there's some peeling paint down near the bottom, which makes me wonder what it used to look like.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nebraska Zephyr

Nebraska Zephyr by William 74
Nebraska Zephyr, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
We've looked at the Nebraska Zephyr a few times now, so I won't bore you with it's history. Suffice to say that this unique train is one of, if not the the, crown jewels of the Illinois Railway Museum's collection. They run it on the Museum's tracks regularly, but rarely off-campus. So it was a pleasant surprise to catch it in rural Somonauk, Illinois, as it passed through on an excursion trip from Chicago to Quincy, along one of the original Zephyr routes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kicks, etc.

Kicks, etc. by William 74
Kicks, etc., a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
Originally a two-lane road, Route 66 needed some upgrades by the mid fifties, as America's newfound mobility meant more and more people were traveling by car for that family vacation. This was done by simply paving two more lanes parallel to the existing road, separated by a grassy median-hey presto, two new lanes!

As we all know, eventually Route 66 was superseded by the new interstate system, the paved superslab being better suited to higher traffic levels and higher speeds as well. In most places, old Route 66 reverted to two lanes, usually the newer two, and the old pavement was left to sit, or removed altogether.

In a lot of places you can still see these original stretches of road, parallel to the current alignment, cracked and crumbling, weeds growing through the gaps, markings faded. This one's in Illinois, just outside the town of Dwight.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Payin' The Cost To Be The Boss

The Boss by William 74
The Boss, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
In 1969, at the height of the Trans-Am's popularity, Ford needed to develop a version of the Mustang to take the fight to Chevrolet's Camaro Z/28. The vehicle that resulted was the Boss 302, which ran a composite engine made up of the Windsor smallblock and cylinder heads from Ford's "Cleveland" big block. The resulting 302 cubic inch motor was unique to the Boss, and had it's own distinct sound and feel, a chattering, high-strung race engine for the street.

Other improvements to the Boss were the deletion of the standard Mustang's rear fender scoops, a new functional hood scoop, tightened up suspension, and frequently a lower rear axle ratio. All of this added up to a pretty serious piece of kit, able to entertain on the road and win on the track.

And the name? Ford President Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen was a big proponent of this project, and when designer Larry Shinoda was asked what he was working on, simply answered "The Boss' car". The name stuck.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mann's Chinese Theater

I took this some years ago on a trip to Los Angeles. If memory serves, I just set my camera on the ground and pressed the button. I can't tell what movie they were promoting, but I do remember walking up the street, past the El Capitan, and barging through a live commercial for the Jimmy Kimmel show.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Uptown Building-detail by William 74
Uptown Building-detail, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
One of two matching Indian Chiefs on the facade of a small storefront in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. This whole building-which is quite narrow and only has two storefronts-has some beautiful stonework. Checkerboard pattern tile, some nice bas relief (you can see a bit on the left and right), some nice fluting above the windows, and those Chiefs.

I have no idea what this place originally was-I've been told it might have been a cigar store or tobacconist, although by 1929 it was the Economy Cleaners and the SS Math Army Goods shop.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


37A by William 74
37A, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
An old EMD E-9A, built in 1961. Electro-Motive's E series (and it's cousin, the F-series freight engine) is an icon of American railroading. Built between 1937 and 1963, these cab units (so named because of the car-like shape to their noses) were easy to use and maintain, and their ease of being run in tandem revolutionized railroading. They also proved to be long-lasting-E-series passenger units were still being used in commuter service into the early 1990's, and plenty of short lines continue to use them today, almost fifty years after production ceased.

This late example is a former Milwaukee Road unit, and is on display at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Friday, September 7, 2012

World Real Estate

World Real Estate sign by William 74
World Real Estate sign, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
This beauty must have looked great all lit up at night. Note the tree branch growing through it.

Seen on the north side of Chicago several years ago-I've no idea if it's still there.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Royal Blue

Royal Blue by William 74
Royal Blue, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
A vintage Selz Royal Blue Shoes sign, in the town of Chenoa, Illinois, right along historic Route 66. This is a bit of a cheat-it's a restoration of an old Selz sign that was uncovered when a building was demolished. Although it is starting to fade and flake again-I wonder if they'll restore the restoration?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Great One

GTO by William 74
GTO, a photo by William 74 on Flickr.
Considered to be the first real muscle car, Pontiac's GTO started out as an option package on the midsized Tempest, and was available in coupe, hardtop, and convertibles. But, instead of a fancy stereo or two tone paint, the GTO delivered a 389 cubic inch mill and a stick shift, and a useful bump in performance. Further options included a Hurst shifter, a three-carb induction system, and a heavy duty ride and handling package.

The big engine/smaller car recipe is a classic one, but one that almost didn't get made. Since the fifties, there had been a "gentlemen's agreement" among the big three to not formally go automobile racing, and to further this, General Motors had a corporate policy limiting engine sizes in their mid-sized cars. Shoehorning the big 389 into the Tempest was against this policy, but Pontiac executives okayed a limited run of cars, fearing it wouldn't find a market.

They were wrong-the GTO went on to sell 10,000 units in it's introductory year, and went on further success on the sales floor as well as on the drag strip.