Monday, August 3, 2020

The Last Little Rock City Barn in Texas



Most folks are surprised to learn there were once Rock City barns in Texas.  Rock City had three on their records, but Clark Byers told me there were more, including one near Tyler that belonged to an oil millionaire who was so cheap he wouldn't have indoor plumbing. But that was a long time ago, and Clark didn’t remember the location of any of them.

So, as far as can be known at this time, the last Rock City barn in Texas is on Richard Haynes' little spread on U.S. Highway 80 west of Marshall.  Richard and his wife Vallie (who was born on the place) were getting along in years when I came along making pictures for the Rock City Barns book, but he still ran 17 head of registered Black Angus cattle on his 67 acres and kept the big yard mowed -- practically a full-time job in itself.

This is his second barn to carry the “See Rock City” message. The first one was a traditional style which was pulled down in the early ‘60s and replaced with the present “pole” barn. Rock City obligingly applied their sign to the new barn as well, and that’s the way it’s stayed. It’s pretty faded now, as well it should be – it was last repainted around 1967.

Richard Haynes and his barn.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Friday, July 31, 2020

An Old Love . . . and a New

The Olympus OM2n and the Fuji X-H1. A pair of winners.

The Olympus OM2n is my all-time favorite camera. I currently have two, one of which works, and another that needs servicing. I have just a small kit of lenses -- 24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 50mm f3.5 macro, and 75-150 f4 zoom. I don't shoot much film these days, but I enjoy thinking about it!

I began my full-time professional career with a pair of Nikkormats (good cameras!) and later added a Nikon F2, the state of the art in the late '70s. Unfortunately, I found it heavy and klutzy. A year or so later I followed my heart and switched to the camera system I had been eyeing longingly and lustfully for several years: the light and lively Olympus OMs. I loved, loved, loved my OMs and carried them on documentary and photojournalistic assignments to 27 countries on five continents and around much of the US, plus a lot of commercial work.

When I first bought into the Olympus system, I began with a 21mm f3.5, a 28 f2.8, a 35-70 f3.6 zoom, a 50 f1.8, an 85 f2, and a 135 f2.8. I later decided that the 24 f2.8 could do the work of both the 21 and the 28, so they went on the shelf. I added other lenses over time, and on my last trip abroad with Olympus I carried the 24, a 35 f2, the 85 f2, and the 180 f2.8. This seemed to be about the perfect set of lenses for the kind of work I did. All were very sharp, and with the exception of the 180, were all quite small and light.

By 1992, aging eyes made it difficult to focus quickly and accurately on the grid screens with very fine microprisms that I used in my OM bodies. I wish now that I had just changed screens and kept on using the OMs as long as possible.

I hoped that Olympus would introduce an autofocus camera body, but they didn't. Sadly, I gave up on Olympus, sold everything, and switched to Canon for its excellent autofocus, eventually moving to Canon digital.

At the time I sold my OM system, I had four bodies and 13 lenses. The workhorse was an OM2n, but I also had an OM-1, an OMPC, and an OM2S.

I never bonded with my Canons like I did with Olympus, but they served me well for 24 years, first with film cameras and then digital, beginning with the Canon 10D in 2003.

But I never forgot my first love.

My final switch was to Fuji in 2017.

Beginning with an X-Pro1, I quickly built a kit that included an X-T1, an X-T20, and several lenses. I liked the size of the cameras and the quality of the files they gave me. I didn't like that the menus on each camera were slightly different.

In 2019 I picked up an X-H1, the flagship of the Fuji fleet. It's slightly larger and heavier than my other Fuji bodies, and the handling felt a bit strange as first. But I quickly became acclimated, and now it feels just right. The more I use it, the better I like it. This thing is so solid and well-built that I may never need another camera. It offers higher quality and more capability for less money than any camera I've ever heard of.

Michael Johnston, editor of TheOnline Photographer blog, which you should be reading, if you're not already, had this to say about the X-H1: "It strikes me as a simply amazing camera; virtually everything on it is well thought out and beautifully implemented, and works smoothly and effectively."

It's my new love. But I haven't forgotten the first one.

 

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

 


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Beverly Blankenship

Beverly Blankenship and his Rock City barn.

Beginning at Nags Head, North Carolina, U.S. Highway 64 was, in the days before interstates, a major east-west corridor across the mid-south, finally terminating in Arizona. It happened to pass through Chattanooga, Tennessee, so naturally there were barns carrying the familiar "See Rock City" logo all along its route.

Crossing the broad coastal plain and up onto the Piedmont Plateau, U.S. 64 begins snaking its way through the western North Carolina mountains south of Asheville, climbing to more than 4,000 feet at Highlands, and, when I first came there in 1957 to see my then-girlfriend, actually passing under and behind Bridal Veil Falls on the western descent from the town.

All that has changed, of course, and many sections of Highway 64 have been rerouted and improved. On May 17, 1995, when I came through the area looking for Rock City barns, following the directions on the old file cards the barn painters had used, I found myself east of Hayesville, North Carolina on a long-abandoned stretch of old 64, looking at a farmhouse and a Rock City barn, its sign still in remarkably good condition, on a small hill dead ahead. The road ran almost up to the farmhouse before curving left and away.

Since the place appeared to be occupied, I knocked on the farmhouse door. And that's how I met Beverly Blankenship, a spry 82-year-old whose barn may be getting a bit ramshackle, but who still enjoys driving his pickup to the Senior Citizens Center to take "them old folks" to the store to buy their groceries.

This barn at Mocksville is the best preserved of the Rock City
barns on U.S. 64 east of the Blankenship barn near Hayesville.
(Both photographs with Canon EOS A2 cameras, Fujichrome RDP 100 film.)


Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone



Monday, July 27, 2020

The Lost Barns of Rock City


My first "lost" Rock City barn. A few miles north of Seymour, Indiana on U.S. 31.

For New Year's 1995, Louise and I made a quick trip to see my parents in southern Indiana. Naturally, I took with me the old file cards with Rock City barn locations. On January 2nd, my Dad and I set out to see what we could find in south central Indiana.

The first one we found was on U.S. Highway 231, a few miles north of Spencer. We checked out several other sites, but the barns were apparently long gone. Traveling south on U.S. 31 a few miles north of Seymour, suddenly Dad said "There's one!"

"Can't be," I said. " It's not in my file cards."

"Well, that may be," he said, "but there it is. I saw it."

Finding a place to turn around, we went back for another look. There it indeed was, with the sign looking in good condition. As we pulled into the farmyard, the owner came out to meet us. As we explained our interest in his barn, he told us that he had bought the property only recently, and that the end of the barn that faced Highway 31 had been covered in sheet metal. He decided to remove the metal, and under it found a well-preserved "See Rock City" sign.

Until that day, I had no idea that there were Rock City barns still standing that had been lost from Rock City's records. I later learned that whenever the paint crew stopped painting a barn for any reason, they simply removed the file card and threw it away. I went on to find 20 more "lost barns" while in the process of looking for the ones for which I had records.

Actually, I passed a "lost barn" on the south side of Sweetwater, Tennessee on October 25, 1994 -- my first full day on the barn book project. The sign was faded and the light was wrong for good readability. Since I had no file card for it and did not yet know of the existence of barns not in Rock City's records, I drove on by.

And the most recent. November, 2019. U.S. Highway 43, Ethridge, Tennessee.

After Rock City Barns: A Passing Era was published, I began receiving letters from people who knew of barns that had not been included in the book. I made every effort to photograph them and now have about 50. Enough for a book. I hope Lost Barns of Rock City will soon be a reality.

So, if you happen to know a publisher who might be interested . . .

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Friday, July 24, 2020

Clarence Spindler



In the days before the interstates, U.S. Highway 41 was a major route from Chicago to Florida. And since it passed through Chattanooga, it was lined from one end to the other with barns emblazoned with the "See Rock City" sign. (For some reason there were never any Rock City barns in Florida. Perhaps there was no room for them between the Burma Shave signs.) South of Chattanooga, the "See Rock City" signs were positioned so that people returning north would be tempted to visit the attraction if  they had missed it on their way south.

When I began searching for barns along U.S. 41 in Indiana, I went all the way north to Hobart, just south of Chicago, where there had once been a Rock City barn. It was gone, and so were the many others that had once lined the route. Only one was left: on Clarence Spindler's farm in Gibson County, 18 miles north of Evansville.

In the early 1920s, when Clarence was born on his father's farm, U.S. 41 was a dirt track snaking through the countryside. The barn, built before Clarence was born, became a Rock City landmark in 1949, just two years after he brought his new wife home to the old farmhouse.

It was early on an October morning in 1995 when I pulled up to his farmyard. Clarence and I had never met; in fact I was not even sure he was still living. All I had to go on was an old file card from the 1960s which had been used by the sign painters who traveled the countryside back then, painting "See Rock City" on every barn whose owner would permit it.

Several knocks having produced no answer, I went on around to the barn and began making photographs. Clarence himself arrived on the scene just then, and we shared a few minutes of introduction and pleasant reminiscing. He remembers Clark Byers, the sign painter very well, he tells me, and is glad to know that Clark is still living.

Clarence's wife has passed on, and he gave up farming a few years ago.  "Not much fun anymore" he says. Someone else tends the old place these days, and Highway 41 flows toward Florida on four smooth lanes of asphalt.  The "See Rock City" sign on the barn was last repainted in 1967.

I asked if he would mind being in my picture. He allowed that it would be all right and stood where I asked as I made his photograph. Then serendipity sent a kitten to wrap itself around Clarence's legs and look up at me with eyes gleaming in the morning light. 

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photograph copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

My First Rock City Barn



. . . and a minor miracle.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bill Chapin, president of See Rock City, Inc. had confided in me his desire to do a book about the many old barns that carried the "See Rock City" message over the years. When he learned how much it might cost he shelved the idea, but I obtained a list of the barns they were still painting and determined I would make photographs whenever my business or personal travels took me near one.

In August, 1988, Louise and I went to southern Indiana for the annual Jenkins family reunion. Coming home, we took Indiana 37 from Bedford south to Paoli, then U.S. 150 east for five miles to photograph one of the barns on my list. From there, we would go on to Louisville where we would pick up Interstate 65 south.

This was a small barn, just a few feet from the highway. Actually, it was not much more than a shed, but I attacked it with my full armory of equipment. I was still using Olympus OM 35mm cameras in those days, and Hasselblad medium format cameras, plus various lenses for both. I made some photographs with the wide-angle lens on the Hasselblad, then exchanged it for a normal focal length -- carelessly standing the wide lens on its hood beside the road. Where I promptly forgot about it.

When we arrived home that night and I unpacked my photo equipment, I realized something was missing. A panicked phone call to my dad ensued. Lenses in general are not cheap, and Hasselblad lenses are particularly not cheap. Dad agreed he would go look for the lens first thing in the morning.

I didn't have much hope of ever seeing it again, but later that day I got a call from Dad. "There it was," he said, "Standing beside the road like a little soldier!"

As we passed by in following years we were sorry to see the little barn gradually sagging into the soil. By 2017 it was completely gone.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photograph copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Farewell to Maine


New Harbor on Pemaquid Point, 1982

As a photographer and writer who is intensely involved with documenting a world that is passing away, I can identify with Kosti Ruohomaa, who keenly felt the passing of the world he loved. A Maine native who was a top photojournalist for the Black Star agency in the 1940s and '50s, producing photo essays for Life and other national magazines, he also documented the Maine that then was, and was already changing. Using simple tools (mostly a twin-lens reflex) and simple methods, he made the photographs for his book Night Train at Wiscasset Station, a poignant visual poem to a place and time he loved and did not want to see pass away.

1982. Louise on the beach at Pine Point, where her
father took her walking when she was a small chilld.


My own copy of  Night Train at Wiscasset Station is falling apart from age and use, but it's well worth seeking out a copy at a used book store or online service such as abebooks.com. Ruohomaa was a great photographer who did great work with cameras that most of today's photographers would consider totally inadequate.

Louise picking up shells at Pine Point, 1982

Tony King, whose career overlapped Ruohomaa's, also experienced some of this: "Every chance I got I used to ramble around the countryside. I was never looking for specific subjects but I was liable to photograph anything . . . ordinary places and everyday objects were good enough for me. I photographed what touched me, whatever stirred in me an admiring response. I noticed that few places I revisited over the years had been improved in my absence."

Old Orchard Beach, 1982

As I've said before, we visited Maine three times in the '80s and loved it. But our 2019 trip: not so much, although we explored places we hadn't been before and loved Acadia National Park.

House on the rocks, near Kennebunkport. 1982

So often, when we return to a place, we are subconsciously seeking to return to that time in our lives and the things we experienced. That, of course, can't really happen. But still . . . there are some places I would like to revisit -- Italy, for instance, and Hawaii; in fact, many places, because I simply couldn't see everything I wanted to see in the limited time I was there. I want to explore and see more of those places. But I won't expect to relive my life through them.

Low tide at Cape Neddick inlet, 1988

But Maine? The Maine of the 1980s was a place in time and I can't go back. Like an old girlfriend, I loved Maine, and now I bid her a fond farewell.

About the photos: All the photos in this post were made with Leica M3 cameras and Kodachrome 64 film except Cape Neddick inlet, which was made with an Olympus OM camera and Fujichrome 100 film.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 1981-2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone