Day 9: Smooth Sailing in Southern Michigan

Perfect sun all day — and, even better, no warning lights or power outages.   Sparkle ran like a champ all day!  I don’t know how this miraculous healing seems to have taken place but what a relief that it apparently has.  Maybe that fuel filter really did help resolve things after all?  But fuses were still blowing at the garage and on the mechanic’s test drives after that was replaced.  So it all makes no sense.  I kept waiting for that light to come on.  And I was ready to crank the steering wheel HARD if I needed to get us out of harm’s way.  But nothing — all good!

Last night was my test drive of sorts when I left the mechanics around 6pm.  I only had time to shoot a dozen or so photos before the sun went down.   Here are a few signs shot for the blog.

Love these hand-painted signs at Marv’s Meats in Brighton:


See those perfect blue skies that we missed all day sitting at the Firestone?  It made me want to weep.  This sign  is also in Brighton — since 1949 — and this sign is probably from then:

A couple from Howell at dusk:

Moving on to today’s photos.   A couple from Pontiac:

A couple from Lake Orion:

At the Bald Mountain State Park Recreation Area.  There are four little mid-century buildings right on the beach — which the dogs and I had completely to ourselves this morning — woo hoo!   The dogs got lots of water time today.  I had to make it up to them for yesterday’s imprisonment in that Firestone waiting room.

Red Knapp’s in Rochester — for all you vitrolite lovers:

There are two horseshoe counters inside — did what I could shooting through the window:

From Shelby Township:

From Utica.  It appears this sign and facade were spared when the other stores in the strip were “updated”:

Even the small towns have swell mid-century buildings — this post office is in Emmett:

From Port Huron — this is the other sign for the Brass Rail Bar (see my Flickr account tonight for the other):

From Flint — although Bob Perani auctioned off most of his Dort Mall collection in 2009, there is still enough stuff there worth checking out.  Some of the signs:

and a Fisk Tire Boy statue:

Also in Flint.  This hardware sign might have had opal glass letters — if not, then some other translucent material to be lit from inside.  There appeared to be plastic for the letters now:

And lastly for the night — had to stock the pantry given the chance that we could break down without warning in the middle of nowhere.  But I’m hoping those days are over.  Still a good excuse to support the Dawn Donuts in Flint.  The guy at the counter told me the bags cost 10 cents each to print.  I posted the neon sign for this place over at Flickr tonight.

So tomorrow, if all goes well, I’m hoping to bang through Lansing, Grand Rapids and more.  My itinerary only allowed for four more days in Michigan — but it’ll probably take more like six.  I’ll have to decide much later in the trip if parts of Minnesota get whacked by region — or if I do some skimming of the entire state.  Keep those prayers & superstitious behaviors coming for our trip leader & dearly loved Sparkle.


Day 8: It gets better, right?

Let’s just pretend today never happened.  All day at the garage and no better off than when I arrived.  After a few hours, they diagnosed the fuel pump as the problem.  Replaced it for $995 and I was on my way.  I got about a mile down the road and the power went, coasted to a stop again.  Took another hour for a tow truck back to the garage.  They never did figure out what was wrong.  Even after the fuel pump was replaced, the power would go.  Something is causing a fuse to blow and no one knows why.  I managed to get my money back for the fuel pump.  And I have a handful of spare fuses which will supposedly get me out of a jam if I lose power again.  Which I most likely will — maybe 5 minutes from now, maybe 5 months from now.  And hopefully not in some hairy, dangerous situation.   They said with electrical, intermittent problems, there’s no “immediate” solution.  It might be related to the “check engine” light thing — or not.

I left the garage at 6pm and got a couple hours of driving in with no power losses or check engine lights.  I’m shaken and stressed, taking this trip one stop at a time.  Trying to drive in lanes with shoulders, trying not to pull out into traffic where it could be bad if I suddenly lost power.  Just planning with a negative eventuality in mind (breakdown) — which truly sucks when you’re supposed to be having a good time.  I got a few photos in before the sun went down though nothing sensational.  I’ll tack them on here to whatever I shoot tomorrow — which I’m hoping will be a better day.

Day 7: Highs and Lows in Detroit-ish

I don’t know where to begin.  Already a day behind with this blog because of my “date” last night.  And I’ve got tons of photos for you — despite crappy weather and MORE mechanical problems.  This trip is really off to a complicated, frustrating, expensive start!  Four more weeks to go and things have just GOT to get better.  I’ll keep the report short since I could really use some sleep. Went to the dealership in Ann Arbor this morning re: the 2nd appearance of the “Service Engine Soon” light.  They said they could check it but wouldn’t be able to start working on anything til Tuesday.  Uh, no thanks.  So I called a bunch of other dealers and it seems they all order their parts from Cincinnati rather than getting them from a local parts dealer.  Since, it’s Friday, and they would all be closed for the weekend or super short hours on Saturday, I’d be stranded til Monday anyway waiting most likely for a part.  No thanks.

So I found a local, normal auto repair place.  The guy there dropped what he was doing to do the computer thing.  Sure enough, the same transmission code.  And he had the same opinion that the guys in Grass Lake had:  since there were no physical symptoms, it would be guessing which part needed replacing.  He also noted that any transmission job might be a 7 hours even for a tiny part.  Great. So, back on the road — listening and feeling for any changes in shifting, etc.  But everything normal.  Headed over to Canada for some stuff there that have been on my list for a long time.  Back to Detroit around 4pm and finally the sun came out.  Hooray!  Starting to really enjoy shooting again — and then at 5:30, power just went.  I coasted to stop.  Called AAA and waited two hours for a tow.  While waiting, managed to research via iPhone to find a nearby Firestone that’s open Saturday AND Sunday.  So, hopefully, I’ve set myself up for success.  They promised to look at Sparkle at 7am.  Fingers, toes, eyes crossed that I can get back on the road tomorrow.

On with the show.  Here’s a nice hand-painted wooden sign from Hydro Power Pressure Cleaning in Lincoln Park:

Also in Lincoln Park — much prettier on a sunny day — but this is what I had to work with.  For folks unfamiliar, a “party store” doesn’t sell party supplies but rather booze (I guess since you consume alcohol at parties):

This Italian restaurant is in Trenton:

From Wyandotte — Chelsea Menswear & Tuxedos — a fun 1970s looking facade that I’m sure it much despised by many townsfolk:

Back in Detroit again — this car on a pole is at Rim City — though there must have been a car limo place there before.  Crappy weather, huh?:

The former Cunningham’s Drug Store:

A former theatre or fancy store?  I know nothing about this one:

Boarded up store:

Neon & painted ghost signs — plus modern crappy embellishments:

Skeleton window sign at The Dutch Girl Donut Company.  Yes, I tried a couple.  I recommend the raisin donut — major sugar rush:

A couple wonderful camera signs —  both businesses gone.   If you’re into the camera theme, I’ve got a page of signs here:

Wish I had had some sun for this one:

Not much left of this “Norge Ball” unfortunately.  More examples & info about these signs here:

At the Schoenherr Poultry & Fish Market :

The coolest discovery all day.  A mid-century oil change place which I assumed was probably a bank or church originally.  But no, I’m told it was built as a muffler shop.  There are 12 bays set around a turntable in the middle.  The cars would be driven to the center and then spun by the turntable to point at and be driven into the desired bay.  Does that make sense?


More signs, still in Detroit:

A tacker-on-er sign to the Flamingo Motel in Fraser.  The era of hot tubs and wife-swapping:

Last one for the night.  Another tacker-on-er plastic sign to the Hunter House sign in Birmingham:

So, at this point, the entire state of Minnesota is a big question mark.  I’m determined to get Michigan done despite the hurdles.  Please pray to the gods of auto repair for me.

Day 6: Lotsa Detroit (part 1)

As mentioned previously, no photos tonight since I had my “night off” visit with a friend in Ann Arbor.  We chatted it up til 3 so I’m gonna pay the price tomorrow.   A quickie report:  Pretty miserable weather today — got some sun in the late afternoon.   Then around 4pm, the check engine light came on again.  So, tomorrow we’re off to the nearest Chevy dealer which opens at 7am.  Yes, that means 3 hour of sleep.  Sparkle’s acting completely normal — shifting and running just fine for the hour or so I drove her after the light came on.  I did notice that the A/C is blowing hot air in the back where poor Nik has been trying to sleep — while the front vents are blowing cold.  So will need to get that looked at as well.   Pouring rain now — and the forecast is not good.   It might be a good day to be stuck at the mechanic.

Day 5: No Blue!

Well, they were wrong, again.  Around noon, the clouds rolled in for good.  Some sprinkles in the afternoon that made me think about packing it in, finding a motel, and sleeping for about 12 hours.  But I toughed it out.  I convinced myself that I’m out here as a documenter not an art photographer.  I need to record what’s still here since half of it might be gone by the next trip.  So, I continued, taking more photos than any other day of the trip so far.  Grey ones.  A depressing amount of “reshoot in sun” notes on my list from today.

Running behind schedule.  Maybe two days already.  Some of it the mechanical issues, some of it overindulging the dogs in grassy fields and water sources, and some just the normal traffic and stuff always taking longer than you think.  More than likely some of the Minnesota stops will get skipped.  There is a Wyoming, Montana, etc. trip in the future — 2013 or 2014?  So what I have to blow off in MN could be done then.  Much as it kills me to wait.  If only I had chosen a profitable career path so that I could retire soon and travel without the deadlines of getting back to work.  Next lifetime.

Let’s start off with a shot of “the kids”.  They look so serious don’t they?  They’re staring at their new favorite treat:  Speedway gas station sausage.  You know, the kind that spins on those metal pipes all day long.  This is the Big Boy in Livonia — with, left to right, Grem, Grip, Fix & Nik:


This sign is also in Livonia — with a repurposed Dairy Queen barn-style building:

Officially in Detroit — but way, way west:


This car wash is next door:


Also officially Detroit — and still open:

Southfield is chock full of fun mid-century buildings.  I can’t speak for residential buildings since I’m so into businesses, churches & such.  But there must be some houses around there somewhere.  Here are a few office buildings:

In Ferndale — place was hopping:


Moving on to Detroit.  Have you noticed that the photos are getting greyer?  This one nearly a black & white photo.


Maybe Gillis originally… maybe not:


Some of these gigantic buildings in Detroit hit you on so many levels:  the sadness of their condition, the miraculousness of their survival, their beauty in both their decrepitude and how they must have been way back when, the mysteries of their histories…  Sorry getting late here and the gloomy day has me wistful.  Poking around on-line, it appears this was originally a Federal Department Store, later a Mammoth Mart:

A neat hand-painted sign.  I love the contrast of the perky ad with the deteriorating building:

Last two for the night from Allen Park.  Surely, this one would be better in sun — but you gotta work with what you got.



These Martinizing Cleaners “skeleton” signs were mass-produced — as were the company’s neon signs.  Here’s another one in Pittsburgh:

Pouring out right now — and tomorrow, 80% chance of rain.  Friday’s forecast doesn’t look much better.  But the weekend looks nice.  I’m not betting money on any of it.  Maybe I should just go play in Wisconsin right now if it’s any better there and come back here later.

Day 4: Go Blue! (skies that is)

Fantastic sun all day long.  Only one glitch around 10am.  The check engine light came on and the blood drained from my body.  Sparkle running perfectly fine — but off to the nearest Chevy dealer I could find.  They hooked up the computer & it came back as a transmission problem.  Not the transmission itself at all but something more technical.  They were booked up til Thursday the earliest.  So off to another Chevy dealer I went about a half hour away.  Van running fine all the way there but the light still on.  Their computer came up as transmission problem also.  Something like torque converter or solenoid or something.  They said it would only be guessing what it could be without any physical problems.  They reset the computer and said to take it to another dealer if the light comes back on.  Which could be 10 minutes later… or never.  So I tried not to freak out about it — though I’m checking the light panel every three seconds all day.  Drove for about eight hours (after wasting two hours of beautiful sun at those dealerships) — and ran without hitches or lights.  What can you do but keep on driving.

Enough babbling — on with the photos.  From Battle Creek — a nicely maintained mid-century porte-cochère (I hate it when people use that word, so I will for a laugh).  I don’t know what it was originally but Econolodge is there now.  The style looks familiar but I can’t place it.  Anybody?

One more from Battle Creek.  Love this modified laundry sign.  Those are real clothes hanging there!

From Jackson — glowing even in the daytime.  Yet, no night shots at Flickr.

Both Todoroff’s that I saw in Jackson were closed.  This one is a “retro” building from 2001 — the correct use of the word — built new to imitate old.  Here’s the history of the chain here:

The sign reminds me a bit of this one:

Finally!  Dashboard time.  Time to put some sugar in my system.  This from the Corner Bakery in Jackson — what they call a raisin biscuit.  The guy working there recommended a 60-second microwave procedure.  So I went for it.  Mmmy melt in yer mouth.  Could have eaten 3 more easily but only bought the one (wisely).

Gave the dogs a treat, too.  Roadside stand sweet corn.  The “seniors”, Grip and Fix, were not at all interested so they didn’t get any photos.  Will have to showcase them tomorrow.  Nik is expert and pulling back the “skins” (no foodie here, must be a better name, husks?).

Grem is all business:

Chelsea — love it all — the structures, the advertising, and those cooperative blue skies:

From Ann Arbor — hard to tell since there’s so much reflecto going on — but that’s all gleaming black vitrolite.  The jeweler still open — just tables & chairs from the restaurant next door.

This gruesome scene from Ypsilanti — what used to be the incredible Ypsi-Arbor Lanes:
It was there til just a few months ago.   At least it went to a private sign collector in North Dakota — but it SO should have stayed right here — or at least nearby:

Also Ypsilanti.  I like these colors better than the original A&W orange and brown:

Afternoon heat wave relief.  From Armstrong’s Funland in Belleville — a sweet little mini golf place.  This “Tin Roof” was fantastic.  But how do you go wrong with these basic ingredients (soft serve vanilla, choc. syrup, whipped cream and Spanish peanuts).

This mailbox holder guy is from “Fitness Things” in Plymouth:

From Wayne:

Also Wayne:

From Inkster:

And last place for the night — from Taylor — the Rossoni Animal Hospital from 1958:

Very pretty decorative glass block on the side.  A bunch of this stuff in Chicago.  I don’t think I’ve seen any of it in Detroit area but I guess there must be some.  repowers has a bunch of interesting examples in his Flickr stream:

So that’s a wrap.  I’ll be shooting fast and furious tomorrow since the forecast is guaranteed (ha!) to be sunny from start to finish — and then rain all day Thursday.  Detroit area all day.

Day 3: Rolling now thru SW Michigan

The day started out pretty miserable and foggy, just short of rain.  But by noon, the sun was out in full force.  And luckily, the A/C is doing just fine.  Nearly 2am here — lots of emails, Flickr comments & all that — so I’ll skip the chitchat.  Tomorrow will be a Coffee Day.

One important note though before I forget.  I’ll be taking Thursday night off from blogging & Flickring for a social event.  I’ve been emailing back & forth with my good bud Mark re: roadside stuff for more than 10 years now and we’ve never managed to meet.  So now that I’m on his home turf, it’s time!  Which means Friday, I’ll have a lot of catching up to do here.  This will probably be the only interruption in your nightly programming — unless I just need a sanity break at some point.

Let’s start off in Niles with this cute little Art Deco building.  It’s been vacant for years.  As much as I tried to avoid it, you got a self-portrait in the glass.




Early in the day, there was a quick dip into Indiana.  See how miserable with those soupy clouds?  This from South Bend,  Unfortunately, the bottom parts of the arrows are missing now.  In 2008, they were still there:



Also South Bend — now a used car place — this view from the back reveals it was originally a bank:



Last one from South Bend.  A former Denny’s restaurant — now Boom City Fireworks:



I could not for the life of me find a way to get to Lake Michigan from St. Joseph — all huge cliffs — and boy were those dogs screaming!  Finally, I managed to find a bit of paradise in Benton Harbor.   Happy, happy.  Swimming, running, sniffing, peeing.  All bliss til a guy came over and told me that the property belonged to the building across the way.  Hmm.  Looked pretty skank to me with abandoned tractors nearby, etc.  But so be it, we packed it in — no photos of the beasts for ya this time.  Tomorrow, I promise!




While in Benton Harbor, stumbled upon this sign in front of the Harbortown Cafe.  I believe this is one of those big interstate truck stop signs that’s been cut down to size and adapted for this little place:



Certainly the strangest recycled Burger Chefs I’ve ever seen.  This in South Haven.
For comparison:




From Allegan.  There are lots of repros of these Western Auto Associate signs — but this one is for sure the real deal.  A bicycle shop in the storefront below now.



As I understand it — this building from 1959:
was replaced with this one a few years ago:


I had always assumed the roundie part with the midcentury building, dressed up with the boxy mirror glass bits.  But I guess it was all new — and the glass bits a reference to the original building’s shape.  Kalamazoo-ers, correct me if I’m wrong!


In Portage.  Very sad that the place is closed — but why-oh-why do they have to cover up the sign so that folks like us with sign fetishes can’t shoot them?  Maybe they’re trying to protect the neon & bulbs?  Here’s what the sign looks like under the blue tarp:


Last one for the night.  I spoke with the previous owner of this sign today (the place is closed, landlord owns the sign & will probably stay because it’s too much trouble and money to take it down).  Originally, this was something like the Swedenbourg Restaurant.  Then adapted maybe 10-15 years ago for Sackett.


Onward towards Detroit tomorrow.  I’m officially tapped out of the cookies & snacks that I bought from home.  Which means photos of  locally-bought donuts,  ice cream & all that soon to come.  Any other special photo requests?


Day 2: Michigan & a Mandatory Time-out

Despite a “half-day” today, I managed to stir up a bunch of photos for you all anyway.  Feeling quite exhausted from the heat, the stress, and still not quite right from basically no sleep on Friday night.  Aiming for a midnight bedtime tonight — so let’s dive in.

Got a shot of this sign before leaving Elyria:

Tidied up my little Ohio list with some stops in Toledo — a sampling:

Scary modern neon:

A fun hand-painted sign at Sweeper World:

Then over the border into Michigan where I came to my senses.  By 11 am, the dogs had already been for two big swims but we were all panting and delirious from the heat.  80s and climbing.  So when I noticed an open Firestone store, that was that.  Decided to sacrifice the start of a gorgeous, sunny day.  I’ve had very good luck with tire stores & Pep Boys repairs — and since this Firestone was one of the rare streamline moderne types, I felt it was a good omen.  (Yes that’s Sparkle on the left, ready to roll):

So the outcome was:  the brand new compressor that was installed last month, had died.  Hopefully, I can get some of my money back when I get back home.  I’ve got the old part boxed up in the back of the van.   So, four hours of sunlight missed and $600-something and we were back on the road.

A rusty crusty alignment bear (Bear Manufacturing) sign at Zorn’s Service in Ida:

Later, in the Irish Hills… in Onsted.  As a vegetarian for 20 years or so, I’ll never understand the gruesome humor or cuteness of all this.  I think the piggie head came from one of those classic mini golf statues:

The Hillside Lanes in Hillsdale:

From Sturgis:

From Three Rivers — that’s one of those red sputnik ballies — I’ve got a bunch here if you want a close-up and more examples — halfway down the page:

A head-turner sculpture in Cassopolis.  The statues are just shy of life-sized.   “The Builders” is at K&M Machine Fabricating:

Last one for the night.  This neat bench made of snow skis at Douglas R Wyant Antiques in Cassopolis:

Sparkle and the rest of us are eager to dig in tomorrow.  No more boring interstate, no more sweltering heat.   More in the SW corner of Michigan and then eastward towards Detroit.  The plan is for approximately 12 days in each state.  Time for bed!

A quick P.S. to the newbie arrivals to my blog:  all the photos at my blog are clickable (meaning clicking on them opens them to larger photos).  The blog photos also appear at the Flickr roadsidenut account.  And different photos appear at the Flickr agilitynut account.  There are loads of photos that you won’t find either place that will start appearing at my website in the fall or winter.

Day 1: Here we go! (MI, WI, & MN)

A bit of a rough start today — although I certainly logged some miles.   My van’s A/C was working just fine on Friday but when I left NYC at 3am that night in the 90 degree temps — nothing.   That’s despite spending about $900 on a new compressor less than a month ago.  And that’s four mechanics now over the past couple years that can’t get this thing right.  So… since it’s the weekend, resolving this problem will have to wait til Monday.  Call me a wimp — but five weeks of 80 and 90 degree weather is more than the dogs & I can bear without refrigeration.

Got a little one and a half hour nap in the Poconos where it was certainly much cooler than home.  Then pressed onward for Ohio.  Windows down.  I took the dogs to a doggie park that I’d been to before in Stow since I remembered the huge lake there.  But the water was maybe in the 70s which was not a lot of help.  I will shop for rivers and Great Lakes on this trip rather than stationary ponds & lakes.  Or at least until the A/C is fixed.

Since we were mostly on the interstate, I don’t have a lot of photos for you tonight.  I did get a decent batch up over at Flickr (  Surely, lots more tomorrow — and over the coming weeks.

I’ve been on a giant skate quest lately.  The next SCA Journal Sign Lines piece that I wrote covers Skating Signs and Giant Skates.  Here’s a little companion page that I’m working on (rough draft folks):

And this guy will eventually appear with the other giant skates at the bottom of this page:

This giant skate  is located at Youngstown Skate in Boardman, OH.  It appears to be battery-operated and is driven around the rink now & then.  It has been painted different colors over the years.

Perhaps just as cool are the disco balls over the rink’s ceiling.  I’d love to see them in action!

While I was at Kent State to shoot the Giant Brain (see Flickr tonight), I found this little courtyard area with walls made of fake books:

This neat old place is in Akron:

On to some signs — a couple in Akron that I discovered through scottamus’ Flickr stream (thanks Scott — you are truly Mr. Ohio!).  I made a point to ask the owners’ some questions since I was really intrigued by these two.

This one’s at Flagpole Liquors:

Initially, I thought it might have been an adapted Norge Ball:
But getting a closer look at it today, I think not.  Too big, too much “guts” inside.  The owner said the hamburger-painted sign was originally used by the Flag Pole Drive Thru which was located there.  It was a truly a drive-thru place with no indoor or outdoor seating.  He said there was another location on Arlington that had a giant flag instead of the hamburger.   The flag was removed when it deemed too dangerous (likely to fall).


This bunny sign is located at Charlie’s Ribs.  According to the woman working there, the place opened in 1959 as The Bunny.  “Bunny” was Charlie’s mother’s nickname.  Later, the place was more of an ice cream place and called “Summer Bunny”.  In the 1990s, when Charlie’s mother passed away, the place was renamed Charlie’s Ribs.  The building remains basically the same.  It was always a dine-in (not drive-in) type place.  Some of the original children’s playground equipment is still there next to the dining room but insurance restrictions prevent it from being used now.

I did give in to a B-K (or B&K if you prefer) root beer float today in the heat.  This sign is in Cuyahoga Falls.  (Yes, that makes two locations in town – the other one with the adapted Dog n Suds sign that I posted at Flickr tonight.)   There are nearly identical signs in Van Wert, OH and Kokomo, IN and I’ve heard there were others that are now gone.

Lastly, I wanted to share a neat mechanical sign from E.H. Roberts in Elyria.  Wordpress wouldn’t let me upload it so I had to put it over at YouTube.   If it’s not displaying properly so you might need to cut & paste this string to a separate tab or window:

If you’re still hungry for more photos, you might want to check out the progress I’ve made in getting the spring tip photos up at my site.  I’ve managed to get about half of the TX photos up:

Time to catch up on some sleep.  Tomorrow, about 15 stops planned for Toledo and then we’re on to Michigan.  Looks like thunderstorms mixed with high temps.  Monday might be a day off for the A/C repair but I’ll still post something.  Photos of junk food & dogs soon to come.