Archive for August, 2012

Day 36: Chicago & Trip-Wrap-Up

Posted in Roadtrip on August 28, 2012 by roadsidenut

My endless summer has finally come to an end.  Before we launch into the final batch of photos from this trip, let’s get the trip stats out of the way.

Days on the road: 37 (two days less than the spring trip)

16,397 miles — that’s what I put on Sparkle during this trip.  With the spring trip of 15,712 miles, that’s 32,109 miles this year.  Plus some little trips here and there.  She pretty much sits the rest of the year since I take the subway to work.  In fact, I only put less than 100 miles on her between the spring trip and this one.

Her odometer currently reads 335,007.   And I won’t hesitate to take her out for another marathon trip next spring.  She runs like she’s brand new.  I don’t know why Chevy stopped making these Astro Vans.  They are the VW Bugs of our generation — you can’t kill them.  I didn’t spend a dime on repairs on this trip (excluding oil changes).  There was that A/C breakdown early in the trip in Illinois.  But that doesn’t count since it was due to faulty repairs in the spring — so there as no charge.  In fact, after dealing with Firestone headquarters and the district manager back in Albuquerque, I managed to get a credit for half the original repair ($400 of the $800).  So that was nice — but nothing compensates for the two days of shooting that were lost.  However, I’m happy to report that my A/C is still working superbly.  And I absolutely needed it just about every day.

Total spent on gas:  $3,438.  That’s 21 cents per mile.  Sparkle never claimed to be energy efficient.  And there were a lot of mountains and city driving in there.

I noticed quite a discrepancy of gas prices on this trip.  In Wyoming and Colorado it was about $3.40 per gallon.  A little higher elsewhere, including Iowa even with the ethanol.  As soon as I got to northern Illinois — a huge jump to $4.10 or so.  Much cheaper on the OH and PA interstates coming home.

Speeding tickets:  One “warning” early in the trip for speed and not signaling — but otherwise no tickets!  A first — or so I thought.  Little did I know about the “surprise” waiting for me in my mailbox from Muscatine, IA.  A $100 ticket from a speed camera.  I have no recollection of seeing “speed camera” signs or a flash from the camera when it got me.  But there it is — a couple of photos of Sparkle merrily motoring along.  I woulda waved!  The ticket says I was doing 66 in a 45.  Luckily, not a “real” ticket since nothing goes on my driving record.  Supposedly.  They must make a killing with that camera.  I guess it’s the way of the future.  Soon, we won’t be able to speed anywhere and it’ll take twice as long to get anything done.  Roadtrip thrills will be fewer.  Bummer.

Number of photos taken:  5,416.  About 550 of them appeared at the blog; another 500 or so appeared at the agilitynut Flickr account.  Roughly about 5,000 photos will eventually get added to the website.  That’s after I get another 5,000 from the spring trip in place.  I’ll be lucky if I can get all the photos from these two trips up by next spring.  It’s one thing to just upload photos straight from the camera as many people do.  But I crop & tweak each photo.  And then there’s the research for each subject for the descriptions which takes up the most time.

“Value” of this trip:  Overall, I’d rate this trip as fantastic.   The weather was mostly great.  I really did a great job of preparing the lists and maps so that every day was chock full of organized stops.  It was also just about perfect in terms of what was accomplish-able.  There’s nothing sadder than coming home with pages and pages of stuff you couldn’t get to.

The dogs would also rate this trip as awesome.  Lots of swimming, motorcycles to bark at, prairie dogs to chase, different terrain to explore, and extra meals due to Grippie’s screwed up timeclock (blindness? dementia?).

What’s next:  I’m done with the big trips for this year.  I do the two biggies in spring & summer when the weather is best for shooting.  Then I bust my butt the rest of the year working & paying for the trips.   There will probably be some little three day trips in the fall.

Next year, if I can still get time off from work and I get the credit card balance whacked back, I’ll be doing a spring trip to Florida and a summer trip to California.  If you want a heads-up, I send a quick tweet when I head off on big trips.  You can become one of my Twitter followers here:

So, let’s move on to the photos from Saturday’s Chicago area whirlwind.  There are more vintage signs here than anywhere else in the country, hands down.

A “skeleton” sign burning brightly during the day in Mount Prospect:



A couple of photos from Mundelein.  Clearly an adapted Rexall sign:



A nifty mid-century building.  I love the tube entrance.  Houses the Advocate Medical Group.  It was surely built before CAT scans but I can’t help but think of that.



A restaurant in Highwood:



On to Chicago proper:



I stopped to shoot the Norwood Park Auto Sales sign — and then realized, hey, what’s that off to the right:


Yup, a big neon collection inside:

A couple close-ups:



More Chicago signs — this one still lit and bulbs flashing during the day:



Ruby Cleaners is still open but lost the neon at some point:



Rare gold porcelain enamel — and a quirky arrow.  The neon was lit here during the day:



A massive repurposed sign — note the mailboxes lower right for scale:



This one really intrigued me.  Who knows what it looked like originally.  But it looks like a lot of hands-on altering over the years.  Some of the holes obviously held bulbs.  But other holes make me think maybe there was some internal backlighting going on.  Maybe not.  The holes are so unevenly spaced — particular on the arrow that it looks like a real D-I-Y project.  I told the guy standing there who couldn’t understand why I was shooting it that it was a “truly fantastic piece of junk”.


I’ve shot this twice or thrice before but today the light was finally right.


Closed & for sale.  Shoot this one while you can.



Architectural Artifacts on Ravenswood has been selling some neon signs lately.  They don’t go after them — but when business owners can’t or don’t want to keep their signs, they sometimes end up here.  I don’t know if any money changes hands or they are just donations.  Here’s the two vintage neon signs that were there on Saturday.  Very sad.

Here’s a photo of this one that I took in 2006 when it was still up:


And this sign when it was still up:



Back out into the sun and hope and all the good stuff that we still have to admire.  How can simple plastic letters look this good?



Stunning vitrolite:

Marvelous.  These eagles continue all the way around the facade:



Apparently, a local chain — but this is the only location that I know of with a stunning neon sign like this:



Iggy’s is now Bonny’s — I don’t know what the name was originally:



And as the light was waning — the reality set in.  Must drive home.  Now.  Waaaah.  This one lit nice and early just to tempt me into staying.  But no.  Chasing bulbs working also:

I got through all but about 50 Chicago stops.  Which killed me.  But I cheered myself up with the promise made while driving home that I would start next summer’s trip with finishing up that list even if it’s way out of the way.


Thanks for all your comments, support, praise, and enthusiasm on this trip.  It’s a real energy booster while I’m slugging it out on the road.  If you want to make a donation towards my efforts, that’s always greatly appreciated.  There’s a “Feed Sparkle” button on the upper right of my webpages — which takes you here:

Or you can just go to PayPal and send whatever amount you want, big or small, to the account.  Or if you’re broke like me, positive feedback is always nice.  I have no idea how many people are out there following along.

Wishing you all sunny skies and trouble-free roadtrips of your own!

Debra Jane
Gripper, Fix, Sputnik & Gremlin

Day 35: Wisconsin & Illinois

Posted in Roadtrip on August 27, 2012 by roadsidenut

It’s catch-up time.  I arrived safely home Sunday at 3 pm.  The dust hasn’t quite settled here but I’ll get Friday’s post up — and maybe Saturday’s later or tomorrow.  I had mostly good sun — some haziness.  I wrapped up some stuff in southern Wisconsin and moved on to northern Illinois.  I’ll keep the talking brief since I’m exhausted and I have a big yapper coming up in the final post.

This ice cream shaped sign is in Kenosha, WI:

Also Kenosha:


On to Beloit, WI:


On to Illinois — from Rockford.  It appears a building was recently reduced to rubble — a vacant lot where I’m standing & shooting.  Thus exposing this bit of painted advertising.  Amazing that these big three credit card companies still exist — just with different names:


A nice vitrolite facade in Harvard, IL:


On to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union.  I was there for a few neon signs.  The museum just got this Santa Fe sign from Chicago in July:

And of course there are loads of trains and streetcars and such — filling building after building:

And lots of trains outside, too:


This one was built in 1964 and operated in Chicago:

Semaphores & signals:

Also a diner which I posted to the Flickr agilitynut account — and, yes, some signs. I’m told they have all been restored and are lit at night for special events:

Love this one with the trains & chasing bulbs on top:

Another massive sign…

…. with that nifty marble textured background:

Also found this salvaged piece of terrazzo floor:


On to Elgin where the sun was running out.  This spectacular Art Deco building is too “golden hour” for the website — but good enough for the blog.


Then it was on to Chicago area for some night shooting (the reason I fell behind in my posts).  This was pretty much on the fly — no list.  I just put together about a dozen stops at places with signs that I knew should be lit.  Some of them weren’t but maybe they were closed for the day and turn their signs off when they lock up.

This business in Chicago was still in business but a depressing “for sale” sign posted.  Shoot ‘em while you can folks:


The world-famous, original Superdawg Drive-in in Chicago.  The statues spin and their eyes flash on and off.    There is a new location in Wheeling, IL with these same statues of Maurie & Flaurie:


More from Chicago.  I made a quickie video to show you the flickering bulb action:



These signs at the Melrose Restaurant were covered up by an awning for years.  The restaurant was going to replace the awning and discovered this underneath when they removed it.  This was over a year ago so it looks like the signs will remain on view.


To close out this post — a fun modern sign:


I’ll start working on the final post but I’m running out of steam.  And I have to go to work tonight.  So I probably won’t get it up until tomorrow morning.

Day 36: Stay Tuned

Posted in Roadtrip on August 26, 2012 by roadsidenut

Don’t stray too far. A whopper post yet to come with TONS of photos from Wisconsin and Illinois. Yep, and Flickr, too. Reporting to you from the interstate in Youngstown, OH. About 6 hours to go.

Day 35: Quick hello

Posted in Roadtrip on August 25, 2012 by roadsidenut

All is well.  Got lots of good stuff from Chicago area today — and some neon shots tonight.  I thought I’d get a couple of extra hours sleep but that’s not happening.  Tomorrow (Saturday) — I’ll be racing around all day for more Chicagoland.  Then hitting the interstate for NYC (home).  Stay tuned — I’ll catch you up photos & details from these final two days when I get home.

Day 34: More from Wisconsin

Posted in Roadtrip on August 23, 2012 by roadsidenut

No surprise — all day was spent in Wisconsin today.  Illinois will have to wait til tomorrow.  Thick white clouds muted the sun in the morning — and then caused me to stop an hour early tonight.  The forecast for tomorrow is “mostly cloudy” — which could mean anything.  The heat returned today after a fairly mild week.  Back in the 90s.  I wasn’t bumping into my usual amount of lakes and rivers.  So I’d just let the dogs run in big grassy areas and then douse them with water and crank up the A/C.  YES!  Sparkle’s A/C is still working nicely.  She turned over a magical number today:  333,333 miles.  I’m going for 555,555!

The day began in Monroe.  This is part of a larger, not so interesting sign for the Red Apple Inn restaurant.  I like the fading myself:



Moving on to Madison.  I had read that there was a cute Blatz sign at the Old Fashioned restaurant/bar.  But there were actually a few of them and quite a number of other beer signs.  I know I hit you with beer signs last night — but beer IS what Wisconsin is all about!    And this place has more than 150 beers to choose from:



From Richland Center:



From Portage.  This place was closed when I was here last summer.  It was nice to see the signs (and peachy vitrolite) were still there for now:



Also in Portage.  Apparently, this pilgrim hat A&W was updated at some point with the “All American” neon in front and that ghastly retro sign.  There would have been a canopy attached to the building originally.  But I guess that was scrapped in favor of more Starbucks-like feel with tables and chairs outside.  I’m sure it IS more profitable this way.  Note the storage shed on the far left.  The two faces of the original sign are installed on it.



A couple more funky signs from Portage:


Closed & for sale:



Last August I was here in crappy weather.  Today was a bit better but not great.  Who knew August could be so fickle!  The Kiltie Drive-in is in Oconomowoc — yes, add it to your list.


The cool lamps:


The menu:


The cute car hop girls in plaid skirts:


And finally,  I indulged since it was about 96 degrees, and tomorrow I’ll probably be too obsessed with shooting to think about food.  This is a “Jr. Sundae” — I went with the crushed cherry topping and nuts.  Awesome!  Posed on Sparkle’s back bumper.  Note the Kiltie character on the cup:



Milwaukee was not on my list for this trip.  But after being told last night about the Gambrinus statue being moved there last year, I impulsively decided to go see & shoot him at the end of the day.  He’s located at one of the Pabst Brewery buildings.  This stained glass entrance window is at a nearby building:



And this sign connects a couple of other buildings nearby.  It looked like the “P” was out or I would have stuck around to get a better photo.  The sign appears to be mounted on a bridge between the two buildings:



OK — so here’s the plan for the remaining three days of the trip.  Tomorrow is officially the last day of shooting.  If I’m up to it, I might do a little neon shooting in the Chicago area tomorrow night.  Which means I’ll be up late.  And with some hellish driving on Saturday, I should go to bed  after that instead of staying up and doing this Flickr & blog stuff.  For Saturday, I should really set a deadline to get on the interstate.  11 am?  1 pm?  It’s about 14 hours from Chicago to NYC, plus naps, throwing balls for dogs & getting gas.  I’d like to be home mid-day Sunday but that’s obviously not gonna happen.  With all that driving to look forward to, I’ll have to my usual double post from home for Friday’s and Saturday’s photos/adventures and wrap-up stats (mileage, how much spent on gas, etc.).  I’ll post a couple quick hellos so you’ll know all is well.  But the real post with a double-batch of photos will be Monday or worst case Tuesday.


Day 33: Racing through Wisconsin

Posted in Roadtrip on August 22, 2012 by roadsidenut

I made a really good dent in the Wisconsin list today.  The day started out promising but by early afternoon, an annoying white cloud cover had moved in.  No time to wait it out for the sun.  The clock is ticking with picture-taking cut-off on Saturday.  I’ll have to reshoot a lot of stuff one day.  But for now, something is better than nothing.

The day started in La Crosse — so here are a few photos from there.  This shoe store is now a book store.  Thank God they left this tile floor entry alone:



I believe the Casino Bar vitrolite facade is from the 1930s.  Calling Tim Dun….


Obviously, a modern sign there now:



A fun modern sign south of town.  The yellow strings are neon.  Must be neat at night but I can’t find any photos of it:



It wasn’t on my list for this trip but I had to go check on my favorite sign in town.  I was horrified at first when I didn’t see it.  But then turning around, I spotted it next to the building in the parking lot.  So, I had to go inside and ask what was up.  I spoke with the owner who explained the building had been hit by a tornado (ah, yes, big blue tarp on one corner).  And that they were moving in March to a new building in an industrial park.  He will keep the sign and most likely display it inside the office.  He seemed very interested in restoring it.  I expressed my concern that if he did that he should just repair the neon and maybe touch up the paint but not repaint it.  The patina is really what makes the sign — makes it vintage, historic and visually appealing.  He seemed to agree.  Fingers crossed.  I emailed Tod (American Sign Museum) to see if he knew of any historically sensitive sign shops in the area.  The owner said the sign is from the late 1950s and was originally animated somehow.


I was glad to see that the sausage man is used on the company’s trucks and packaging:



Still in La Crosse — another cute character:



I didn’t get any food shots today — but I’ll share with you my favorite beverage experience of this trip.  I’ve become a diehard fan of Kwik Trip for all my caffeine and bathroom needs.  They are everywhere.  And they are some of the cleanest, most welcoming, organized gas station c-stores I’ve experienced over the years.  I head right for the dark roast, a little half & half and I’m back on the road.  It’s not as strong as Starbucks coffee (not seeing them in southern Wisconsin) but more powerful and better tasting than your typical gas station coffee.  Posed here on one of those underground gas tank covers:



On to Prairie du Chien.  I’ve gradually become a big fan of these corrugated (“corduroy”) plastic signs.  One day, the entire country is going to say “let’s get rid of this shit” and just like that, seemingly overnight, it’ll all be gone.  Maybe I’ll be the only one crying.  Unless I can convince you — and you can convince your local business owners that those signs are special, neat, historic…



From Fennimore.  There’s a railroad museum in town — too tired to do much Googling right now — but I guess this town is big on trains:



Also Fennimore:


On to one of today’s high points.  I went to Potosi to shoot the giant beer can and what was supposed to be “a couple of signs in the museum”.  Uh, seems there are a LOT of signs in the brewery museum and restaurant.  And far more than that — all kinds of advertising, bottles, collectibles, etc.  I was told all the stuff in the museum is on loan from various collectors so the displays change all the time.   Truly fantastic — add it to your list folks.  Potosi is close to Dubuque, IA if you have any plans of heading that way:



Moving back outside — and on to Platteville.  This is obviously a modern sign — but nicely done:



This one also appears to be modern.  Although it might be a replacement sign.  The “hanger pole” (all these years I’ve been studying signs and I don’t know the name for it, if there is one) is definitely old:



Last photo for the night — from Mineral Point.  Such a great name:



I’ll do my best to finish up the Wisconsin stuff tomorrow. I’d like to start on Illinois but don’t know if that’s possible.  I’ll have to prioritize the Illinois stuff on the fly on Friday.  I’d like to get the dogs to the doggie beach in Chicago as a final farewell to this trip’s adventures.  I might need an intervention to stop shooting on Saturday morning.

Day 32: Last Round of Minnesota

Posted in Roadtrip on August 22, 2012 by roadsidenut

Finally, and just barely, I finished up Minnesota today.  Somehow my estimates were off — and I’m now a day behind schedule.  I guess I’m not going to get to the northern Illinois stuff.  Which makes me pout like a spoiled child.  Next year’s trips probably won’t take me up this way (Spring: Florida & Summer: SoCal).  It really hurts to have organized this chunk of stuff and not be able to get to it til 2014.  I’m not giving up just yet — but the Wisconsin stuff yet-to-do looks like two days worth.

More sunshine all day today.  But much of it spent sitting in the driver’s seat between one-stop towns.  The dogs made the usual demands — and I had to indulge them.  When a trip starts winding down, I start making more and more stops for them.  It just really makes me happy to see them happy.  Here’s a typical and frequent excerpt from my day of driving.  Sorry that the video is sideways — taken while driving and just sort of randomly shot.  I don’t see a function at YouTube to rotate the video.  Much of the day I had these sound effects since we were along the Upper Mississippi for a good bit of time.  Nik is whining, the high-pitched squealing is Grem, the deep barking is Fixie (at them), and Grip must be in there somewhere.

But let’s start the photos back where the day began — in Austin.  I’m guessing there was a nicer facade here which has since been removed:

On to Lanesboro — for the Spud Boy Diner.  I’m too wiped out to give you the whole history of this place.  And it’s already been done  better than I could do at Larry’s blog:

and Spencer’s blog:

Let’s just say, it’s one of those happy ending stories thanks to people who stepped in to save this place.  Like Mike and Gordon.

Timing is everything and it just so happened that Mike Engle from Upstate New York was in town and stuck around to meet me.  He’s the guy in the middle of this photo.  And he’s the one to thank for saving the diner.  He’s also written a couple of books about diners and been obsessed with them for decades.

So, it was Mike that hooked up Gordon Tindall with this diner.   Gordon had previously restored and operated the Red Rose Diner in Towanda, PA:

I didn’t get a chance to talk to him since the place was jammed with people.  A tiny town on a Tuesday morning.  Good to see it’s doing well!  Here’s Gordon making REAL home fries with a grater over the grill:

Another long view of the very small diner.  Gordon’s the only one cooking.  While his wife, Val, just visible over his shoulder, takes the orders.  It’s a wonderful little place and I wish I’d gotten a chance to actually eat there.  Beautiful little town, too.  Add to your list.

Back on the road.   Here’s one from Rochester —  the Recreation Lanes:

A nice mid-century design from Winona:

Also Winona — I’ve included Louis Sullivan buildings in posts before.  I figured you might be tired of them — but this one’s a knock-out.  This one was designed by Purcell & Elmslie.  Elmslie was Sullivan’s chief draftsman.  I only wish I’d been there a half hour earlier when the place was open.  The murals and other details inside partially visible through the windows looked incredible.

And this is how most of my day’s end here on the road.  Too late to shoot — light enough for one last run & sniff for the dogs.  This big grassy area was between a school and a cemetery.  There’s still a lot of vaguely owned, golf-course-green areas out there in America up for 20 minute grabs.  I don’t know if that will be the case 10 years from now.

One I shot in the dark just to see if it was worth going back sometime to shoot this statue in the light.  I thought you might like it since it’s rather eerie from the flash.  This was at the Ashley Furniture factory in Whitehall, WI:

OK — on to La Crosse and Sparta first thing in the morning.  I know I should get you some food shots — and I still haven’t come up with a self-portrait yet.  Working on it.


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