Today marks the 105th birthday of the Ford Model T. It was on October 1, 1908 that the vehicle was introduced, and how we travel has never been the same since.
Between 1908 and 1927, Ford would build some 15 million Model T cars, making it the longest production run until the Volkswagen Beetle came along. The car was meant for ordinary people to be able to drive every day, and so they did.But it was not just for driving to work. As cars became more and more ubiquitous they paired with the American spirit of independence and adventure, and the road trip slowly worked its way into American culture. There was freedom in the open road, and Americans wanted to experience it first hand.
Cars became the symbol of travel and exploration.
In honor of the 105th birthday of the Model T, and the trips that it inspired, here is a selection of vintage posters, maps and images embracing the spirit of the open road.
Welcome to Gadling, Craig! Tell us a little about the project and what attracts you to abandoned drive-ins.
You know how some people can remember many details about their childhood and teenage years and some people can only remember a few? I fall into the latter category. Even though I might not remember a great amount of the details of my childhood, I do have vivid memories of my earliest experiences at drive-in movie theaters. I remember the first movie my mom took my sister and me to at a drive-in. Can you say … “Supercalifragilisticexxpialidocious”? I remember the names of the guys I was with in my friend Mike’s trunk when we snuck into our local drive-in. Without question, I remember the details of the first girl I was “with” at a drive-in movie theater!
Today, approximately 90 percent of drive-ins are closed from their peak in the late 1950s. As a lover of architectural and landscape photography, drive-in movie theaters represent defining moments and passion for me. The distressed and decaying wood of a ticket booth, overgrown and unwieldy shrubs/trees where cars once parked, matched by the enormous scale of a screen tower all together scream as loudly to me today as if I was back in the day we laughed with joy upon successfully gaining entrance to the drive-in while sequestered in my buddy’s trunk.
Putting it simply – it’s the raw emotion, still present, from almost 50 years ago, that attracts me to abandoned drive-ins. A lot of people respond to the imagery of my Drive-in Project by referring to it as “haunting.” I’m good with that, as long as those same people’s definition of the word haunting includes “Mary Poppins” and getting busy.
%Slideshow-577%When you were doing this project, did you get to meet any folks who used to go to these drive-ins?
The people I met from Alabama to Arizona or from Nevada to New York were universally eager and open to sharing their personal experiences at drive-in movie theaters. People expressed a breadth of emotions when describing individual feelings they held in their memories about drive-ins they had visited.
Let me tell you about a couple of folks I met. I was shooting the Lake Estes Drive-in (Colorado), when I met the owners John and Sharon, in order to gain access to the projection booth. When we entered the projection booth, my eyes opened as wide as a kid being offered candy, as this was the first and only abandoned projector booth that I came across that still had a projector in it. It was dusty and needed a tune up to be sure, but it was a beautiful hunk of metal. All I could think about was what an organically perfect interior setting this was for my series. The rawness of the setting evoked such visceral emotions.
John and Sharon are planning to redevelop the land where the drive-in was located over 20 years earlier. They want a “good home” for the beautiful hunk of metal and offered me the projector. As of this interview, I haven’t figured out where I could house it. I’m still thinking about it, to the dismay of some in my family.
I came across something unique when I was researching drive-ins to shoot in Tennessee. Brothers Ed and John grew up going to the Moonglo Drive-in located in Pulaski. They own a dealership and loved going to the Moonglo when they were growing up. They loved it so much that as adults they bought the property and built their car dealership around the Moonglo’s projection booth and screen.
It was too good pass up for this project, no matter how far I had to drive to get there. Ed and John are great guys and thanks to them, I captured some wonderful images. While they’re concentrating on growing their dealership, I don’t believe it would take too much to get them to consider firing up the Moonglo as an operating drive-in movie theater.
Do you have any tips for budding photographers who want to take their own images of abandoned Americana?
Yes, I call it the three Ps – plan well, be patient as well as persistent. The Drive-in Project was shot over a four-year period in ten different states. Living in California, I traveled thousands of miles to shoot 80 percent of the drive-ins within the series. Each and every location deserved to have painstaking thought put into each image and that’s what they each received. If the lighting wasn’t right at the time I was there, I slept in the rental car, hoping the next morning would bring better light.
The three Ps came into play often during those four years, but nowhere more so than the drive-in located in Commerce, Georgia. Initially, I couldn’t even find it. So many years have passed that the drive-in is now engulfed by a full-blown forest that has hidden the remnants of the screen and ticket booth from the main road.
After finally locating the screen through the forest, I loaded up my equipment and began to hike out to setup my camera, a Mamiya RZ67. Suddenly, I felt this incredibly sharp pain in my right foot. I had stepped on a 4-inch nail that pierced my shoe and was now embedded in the ball of my foot. I said to myself, “I have come this far, I have to keep going and get the shot.”
I loosened my shoe and pulled the nail out, hiking further into the forest to a clearing where the small remaining piece of the screen was visible. As I’m setting my tripod up, I heard this rustling and am joined by two Georgia State Troopers. The troopers informed me that I was trespassing on private property, but I’d done my research and I knew the name and contact info of the property owner who had given me permission to shoot there. The troopers ended up being nice guys and were quite interested in my project. They left me to do my work and just as I was feeling good about covering the three Ps until one of the troopers, as they were walking away, said, “Watch out for snakes around here!”
What’s next for you?
I’ve started a project that involves a 1950s “Normandie Starline Mod 1” beauty parlor chair, which I have named Marilyn. Marilyn has a beautiful chrome dryer top with a pink chair with an ashtray in the left arm and a swing handle that lifts the leg rest. Marilyn will be photographed in various environments juxtaposed against outdoor landscapes, models inside my studio and street scenes.
The name of my new project is: “Road Trip With Marilyn (RTWM).” Although I am only about 20 percent into my RTWM project, I have found that Marilyn helps me in a couple of ways as a photographer. Marilyn is a great icebreaker; her physical appearance attracts and pulls people into the space she is placed in. People are anxious to play with her and pose with her chrome dryer top. I’m excited about hitting the road with Marilyn and capturing an eclectic series of photographs. Maybe we can hook up with you, Sean, while you’re on one of your upcoming adventures?
You, me, and Marilyn in the Sudan! That would make for some interesting photos. Thanks for joining us today!
Here’s a double dose of American nostalgia for you. Back in the 1950s, Maxwell House coffee had an “American Scene” series of TV shorts. This episode takes us to the ghost town of Bodie, California.
Gold was discovered in Bodie in 1859 and soon it became a boomtown with more than a dozen large mines and countless smaller claims. Some $80 million in gold was extracted from the surrounding hills, a huge amount for the 19th century.
Bodie is a popular destination these days and is lovingly preserved by the California State Parks. Back when Maxwell House filmed there, it was still not quite a ghost town. It had a population of nine, and one rugged miner was still looking for a big strike. The few diehards hoped that Bodie would become a boomtown once again. It was not to be.
So sit back and enjoy this show from the early days of television, talking about the early days of the Old West.
The old America is all around us. Americans used to be farmers. They used to go to drive-in movies. They used to think Route 66 was the greatest highway in the world. Some still do.
If you drive out of the city and leave the strip malls and cookie-cutter suburban homes behind, you’ll find it soon enough. Head down a county road and you’ll pass dilapidated farmhouses and overgrown gardens, the handiwork of people from our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation. Like this old farm in Clay County, Missouri, near the Jesse James farm. I was with a couple of friends on a Jesse James road trip and we drove many of the back roads of western Missouri, places where Jesse committed his crimes and hid out from the law.
Everywhere we went we found this old Americana. On the outskirts of Kansas City we found a drive-in movie theater unchanged since the 1960s, and still open for half the year. To the west of Lexington we followed a potholed country road that led to a tributary of the Missouri River. Half a century ago there was a ferry at the end, popular enough that this road was lined with gas stations, hotels, and nice homes. The ferry disappeared when I-70 was built, and one by one the homes and businesses were abandoned.
Then there’s route 66, half ghost highway and half tourist trap. And old boom-and-bust mining towns like Bodie, California, now a State Historic Park. Not to mention all the failed businesses, the empty big box stores and bankrupt shopping malls that are creating the new ghost towns of the U.S. Much of industrial Detroit looks like an archaeological site.
Next time you go on a road trip in the U.S., get off the Interstate and take a county road. drive slow and look around. You’ll find the old America that hasn’t quite left us.
The last time I visited Colonial Williamsburg, I was about half as tall as I am now. Would it still be worth seeing-or as fantastic as I remembered-now that I’m a grown up? I drove south from Washington, D.C. to find out, without doing a lick of planning or advance research. This would be a visit informed only by my fuzzy memories of hiking around in the heat and talking to people dressed in period costumes.
It turned out to be just as cool as I remembered, even if it was nearly 100 degrees.
Traveling the American Road – Colonial Williamsburg: Made in America
The city spans 301 acres, and it’s accurate to describe it as a village, since people actually live here around the clock. Staffers occupy buildings in the historic section and artisans working in Williamsburg create the tools, clothing and even beer that’s needed on site. While it sounds like a marketing line, it’s true that this place is much more than a theme park. It’s a sort of living museum, and what they’re preserving is the knowledge and history of small-scale American manufacturing and handicraft.
Take the milliner’s shop, where I met a tailor who’d been apprenticing for seven years, showing off a dress crafted in 60 hours of stitching. I learned about movable type from a printer, probably running one of the most profitable presses in the country, given the current state of publishing. A youngster was talking the trade with a blacksmith, the former an avid hobbyist in the art of mashing metals, picking up tips from the professional. A wheelwright described how to build an ox cart. (They can last years as long as you scoop the manure out and bring it in from the rain.)
As I’ve found stories of resurgent places, the made in America element of Williamsburg captivated me in its historic rather than innovative focus. In other words, there’s a difference between Korean tacos and hand-hammering a pewter cup. But by quietly building things by hand, the craftsmen and women of Williamsburg are doing something very, very cool-and something I didn’t have the chance to appreciate as a kid.