Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Two Hearts Beat As One

Tin Man Diner #2

From Dave Brigham:

The one time I went to the My Tin Man Diner on Cape Cod I was underwhelmed. I don't remember what I ate, but it was nothing special, and the place was a little rundown. Still, I loved diners, so I longed to go back. Unfortunately, in 2000 the place was torched by a guy who thought his wife, a waitress at the diner, was fooling around with customers. The burned-out hulk of the diner sat hard by Route 28 in Bourne for years before being torn down.

I vacation in Bourne each summer with my wife's family, so every July I find myself thinking about the diner. This year, on a drive with my son through North Falmouth, I cruised through a four-way intersection that I'd traveled through before, and spied a "Tin Man Diner" sign. The next day, with some alone time on my hands and anxious to use my new camera, I made a bee-line right back to that intersection.

I parked in the small lot out front and started snapping pictures, acting as though I'd found some Egyptian artifact that nobody had ever seen. After a few minutes, a guy about my age, wearing an apron, approached me and asked whether I was from the newspaper. I told him no, I just love diners and was excited at discovering that the Tin Man had risen from the ashes (I didn't say it so poetically that day). Then, a woman in her late 50s or early 60s joined us. The cook explained that I was just a diner lover, and she gave me a hearty handshake.

Turns out some locals have given the diner a hard time. The woman turned out to be the owner, Barbara Lind. She said that each day she had her small neon "OPEN" sign turned on, the town of Falmouth assessed her a fine (I didn't find out how much). There have been people out front protesting the diner, she said, although she didn't say for what. I suspect that the neighbors in the well-to-do neighborhood weren't too pleased that a scrappy, working class woman and her daughter, who were associated with a lurid and sordid arson case, were now working in their midst.

Tin Man Diner #5

Barbara was kind enough to invite me in to look at the diner and take some more pictures. "I'm so glad you turned out to be alright," she said to me with a big smile on her face. I wished her well in her battle with the town and her neighbors and told her I'd try to get back the next day for breakfast. Unfortunately, I didn't make it back.

The place is resplendent in "Wizard of Oz" decor, and neat and clean. Barbara has proudly hung a bunch of articles about the original diner's demise, and the launch of the new place. I don't know if I can wait a year to get back there to eat. Some weekend in the near future I need to sit down at the counter and devour some waffles, bacon and home fries.

Finally, how's this for a way to complete the circle: on the exact spot where the My Tin Man once stood, a new diner has been dropped. I snapped a couple of pictures of the place, and as I did so I could hear a radio from inside, and see signs of people working to fix it up for business. Looks like next July I'll have two choices for home-cooked breakfast.

Diner Being Refurbished, Pocasset

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This Old, Decrepit House

Scooby-Doo House, Watertown MA #5

From Dave Brigham:

This creepy old manse is right around the corner from one of my family's favorite restaurants, Not Your Average Joe's, in Watertown, Mass. At the time that I first noticed it, my kids were totally into "Scooby-Doo," so I dubbed it The Scooby-Doo House. Backside contributor Joe Viger thinks it looks more like 1313 Mockingbird Lane, aka The Munster's house. Whatever you call this place, it's sad how much the longtime owners let it run down before it was purchased nearly a year ago by three brothers who hope to renovate it to its previous glory.

Scooby-Doo House, Watertown MA #4

The Watertown Tab has written a few stories about the house, which has been abandoned for many years. According to neighbors, the house was very beautiful 20 years ago. It's not hard to see how with a LOT of time, money and elbow grease, this could be an amazing residence again. But, given that some exterior walls have rotted away and the place is filled with junk, excrement and decay, the new owners may have to tear it down. I, like the owners and neighbors, hope it can be restored. I'll keep an eye on this project, no matter which way it goes.

For a look inside the house, watch this video:

Thursday, July 22, 2010



(Photos by Wendy Hammond)

From Dave Brigham:

These spectacular pictures were taken by my friend Wendy Hammond, who, unlike the rest of us here at The Backside of America, is a professional (not to say that the rest of us don't take great pictures, just that we don't actually, you know, get paid for doing so).

The photos depict long-abandoned Long Island Railroad gantries in Long Island City, New York. Gantries lifted freight cars from rail yards onto float bridges, which then transferred the cars to barges. The barges, or car floats, took the trains to ships or to rail lines across the river in New Jersey.



Friday, July 9, 2010

Dearly Departed Dearfield


From Mick Melvin:

While vacationing in Colorado, I had the pleasure of visiting the Black American West Museum in Denver. It was a great experience for me since one of my hobbies is learning about Black History. I spent about 90 minutes viewing the pictures, looking at artifacts and reading the captions documenting the lives of black folk. At the end of the self-guided tour, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to watch a 30-minute video, "Dearfield: The Road Less Traveled." Even though it was hot and I was tired from walking the exhibit, I'm glad we stayed.

The video told the story of Dearfield, Colorado. The all-black community was established in 1910 by a black businessman, O.T. Jackson. Mr. Jackson and seven African American homesteaders laid claim to the land. They started out living in tents, dugouts and caves. After 10 years, the population grew to 700 citizens. The town had a church, schoolhouse, gas station, dance hall and lunch room. The farmers grew hay, alfalfa and food crops. They also raised poultry and livestock.

The town didn’t last for long because of many factors. One major factor was the drop in food prices after the end of World War I. Approximately 400,000 US farmers lost their land because of the end of the war. In the subsequent years, the farmers in Dearfield who tried to hold on saw the land dry up in the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression. O.T. Jackson tried to hold on to his dream, but by the late '40s, there were only 12 families remaining.


After listening to the story, I was intrigued as to the location and found out that it could be found along Route 34, approximately 10 miles west of Greely, Colorado. My wife and I took to the road and after an hour ride, found the site. Most of the buildings are in disrepair, but it was a thrill to know what once was in the location. What remained is the house of O.T. Jackson, the dilapidated lunch room, the filling station and some unidentified buildings. It was an extreme honor to take pictures of black history. I took far too many pictures to ensure that I got some good ones for the Backside. I hope you enjoy.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Highway 180 Blues

From Joe Viger:

Zipping along at an air-conditioned 80 miles an hour through an arid, desolate stretch of California, I was struck by the sight of a fireplace and chimney sticking up out of the field. I stepped out of the car and felt a wave of heat on my shoulders. My feet settled into the pavement like it had just been steam-rolled minutes before. Crouching to make these pictures, the grass as dry as hay, I could feel the heat coming up from the ground. This wispy plant was the only speck of green in eye shot.

Abandoned Hopes 1

I was on California State Highway 180 going from Kings Canyon to Fresno through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. While only about 60 miles, this stretch of road is full of contrasts. As you descend from an elevation of 6,500 feet in the cool Sierra, the Sequoia trees of Kings Canyon give way to the scorching, low land of the San Joaquin. The twisting mountain road with white-knuckle turns and sheer drop offs works itself out into a straight, cruise-control highway where you drive with your knees and turn up the radio to stay awake.

California is one of America’s primary agricultural states and the San Joaquin Valley is central to that reputation. The Valley has been said to be the “most productive unnatural environment on Earth.” It is a sea of yellow grass punctuated with black rock outcroppings and green islands of agriculture. Many different crops are grown here through the wonders of irrigation. In the area just east of where I made these pictures and near the junction with Highway 63 to Visalia, citrus orchards crowd the road. Earlier in the trip, I had seen trucks with high, open sideboards that literally overflowed with carrots. Just south of here is the world’s largest cotton farm, occupying more than 40,000 acres; Fresno is the home of Sun Maid Raisins.

Abandoned Hopes 3

As I looked at the old rock foundation, I couldn’t help but think this was a heck of a place for anyone to set down roots and try to start a dream. I have no idea of the story behind this abandoned homestead… it’s just a random, interesting thing on the side of the highway that I explored for 10 minutes before jumping back into air-conditioned comfort and driving on to get some enchiladas in Fresno. But as I drove away, I formed a story for myself and searched up the appropriate song on my iPod: “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” I had two versions and I listened to them both -- the original by Bruce Springsteen and another by Rage Against the Machine.

Later, I found out that State Highway 180 was formalized as part of the California freeway system in 1934. Even though the cement steps offer a sense that the house had a modern life, I like to think that this foundation is from that time because it adds to my mind’s story about what this place was. I recently read a great book about the photographer Dorothea Lange, whose iconic images chronicled the dustbowl migration and I'm sure this colors my impression, but this house seems to be an unwritten chapter from "The Grapes of Wrath." After months of traveling west in an overloaded truck, some Okie dustbowl migrant family chose this spot to get another chance at happiness that the corporate farms of the area weren’t going to offer them. It was good enough until they fled to the city and left the dream of farming behind along with this rock foundation.

Abandoned Hopes 2

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rebuilding the Lost City

Abandoned factory, Watertown MA

From Dave Brigham:

The long-abandoned Haartz Mason Coated Fabrics factory is located in Watertown, Mass., in an area that my wife's brother-in-law dubbed The Lost City. Located along Pleasant Street, the complex, which comprises several buildings, sits amid a mix of industrial buildings, thrift shops, office buildings and residential neighborhoods. Less than a mile from the hustle and bustle of Watertown Square, the old factory has featured a "Sale Pending" sign out front for the last several weeks.

I'm fascinated by the extent of decay and ruin at the factory. There is a giant smoke stack in the middle, surrounded by buildings that have been partially torn down or fallen apart, all covered in graffiti. There is a walking/biking path that runs right behind the complex, hard by the Charles River. With the advent of spring and summer, trees and bushes on the perimeter of the dilapidation zone obscure the mess inside.

Haartz-Mason Bldg., Watertown MA

The Lost City has been treated of late to some upgrades, such as new blacktop and sidewalks. Right next door to the Haartz Mason building is a new condo development that was originally going to be an office building. The developer evidently couldn't sell the space as businesses, so he converted it to residential.

Given that built-in audience, logic would dictate that whoever knocks down these buildings would put up some retail space. Whatever goes in there, it'll be a vast improvement. I can only imagine the nasty clean-up that lies ahead.

Haartz-Mason Bldg., Watertown MA