Monday, September 26, 2011

Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)

From Mick Melvin:

Step right up

I arrived at work in Hartford early one morning to find a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus train parked on the tracks across the street from my job. I'm used to seeing freight trains, commuter trains and even Amtrak service pick-up trucks occupying the tracks. It was a delight to see the circus train stretched along the tracks. My eye was drawn to the American flag flying and the satellite disk attached to one of the cars. It made me wonder about the train and its passengers.

Ringling Bros.

Ringling Bros. has two circus trains, the Blue Tour and the Red Tour. They alternate touring major U.S. cities on a two-year rotation. Each unit performs a different edition of the show. Both trains are one-mile long, with 55 cars for the Red Tour and 56 for the Blue Tour. There are four animal stock cars, two container flats for concession storage and 17 piggyback flats for equipment, props and vehicles.

Thirty-three cars are used by the staff, maintenance crew, performers and their families. Approximately 325 people ride the train on the tour.

These passengers must see some beautiful sights while traveling the railways of America. The only view they had while parked in Hartford was the front of my office building, a few auto repair shops and the back of a factory. I am glad it was parked there because I got to see one of the trains that brings joy to so many people in our country.

Circus Train

(I stole the title for this post from an R.E.M. song. In light of the band's announcement last week that it has broken up, I figured I'd bend the format here a little bit and toss in a tribute to a band that I loved completely during the '80s -- ed.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Search of President Little

From Dave Brigham:

This post means more to me than anything else I've written here. But with a bit of effort, I'll be posting at least one update, and perhaps turning this story into something more substantive for another outlet.

In my inaugural post for this blog, I talked about how a canoe trip down the Farmington River in my hometown, Simsbury, CT, with my dad when I was a kid inspired my fascination with the backside of America (see March 1, 2010, "Take Me To the River."). But that wasn't the only event from my childhood that sparked my curiosity about what goes on behind the calm facades of Main Street, and in the cracks of society where people don't often look.

When we were teens, my friend Pat and I walked from his house about half a mile down the road, along a set of railroad tracks, down a slope, into a small, wooded section of our hometown and into the back yard of an abandoned house. Two neighborhood kids had told us about the house, so we checked it out. We walked through the open front door and into a house filled with all the stuff of life: cans of food, pots and pans, dishes, bottles and cans, framed photos, clothing, books and magazines, furniture and, most oddly of all, a mannequin.

We walked around for a while, marveling at the fact that somebody had left all of their stuff behind. I suppose we visited the house one or two more times, but honestly, I can't recall. I don't remember paying much attention to the house afterward, even though we used to walk down the railroad tracks to Louie's Market to buy soda and Slim Jims, and to the Country Store to buy penny candy. We also used to pick up beer bottles from the slopes lining the tracks, and line them up on the tracks and smash them with rocks, and scamper through a tunnel under the tracks that connected Boot Pond (where we played hockey in the winter) with the swamp on the other side.

While I certainly found it odd that somebody had left behind all their belongings, and that nobody appeared to want them, I didn't think too deeply about the situation until after college. By then, the house was long gone, having been torn down to make way for a road into a new housing development.

From time to time, I thought about the abandoned house. I tried to work the mystery into a short story on at least one occasion. Last year I posted on a Facebook group dedicated to my hometown, wondering whether anybody remembered the abandoned house and if anybody knew anything about the situation. Nobody did.

Then, last month, a new Facebook page popped up that was more informal than the first one to which I'd posted. I asked the question again, and this time, two people responded that they not only remembered the house, but that they'd spent some time as teens hanging out with the man who lived there.

They told me that the man, President Little, said he was the son of slaves, and that he had no family to leave anything to when he died. This was why, one of the responders told me, the house was full of stuff when President passed away.

Through a quick bit of research online, I found some genealogical information about President. Turns out he wasn't the son of slaves, but it's quite possible that he was the grandson of slaves. He was born in Americus, GA, in 1904, to parents who were born in the 1880's. He also had five children, four of whom were evidently alive when President died in 1981. So perhaps he was estranged from his family, and that's why when he died, all of his stuff stayed in the house.

As it turns out, shortly after I learned who President Little was, I had a trip scheduled to Simsbury to play in a golf tournament. I decided to make a side trip to see if there was any evidence of President's house on the spot where it once stood.

I found much more than I could ever have hoped for.

I doubt many people venture into the little patch of woods that's left between the driveway to the housing development to the south, the bike path to the west (where the railroad tracks once stood) and the main road, Route 10, to the east. I couldn't find an easy path into the woods, so I created my own, and within five minutes, had found what I was looking for.

Archeological dig

I was beside myself with excitement. The house had been torn down years ago; I had no reason to expect that anything would be on the site. I'm not a spiritual guy whatsoever, but I feel like something drew me here to discover the remnants of a forgotten place.


Blue pot

Tub & pot

Old bottles

I've sent emails to both the Simsbury Historical Society and the person from whose web site I gleaned the genealogical information, to see if they can provide more information about President Little, his family, his life, his work, etc. If I can put together enough of a picture, I hope to publish an article in a history, genealogy, archeology or some other type of magazine.

For the record, much of this information (and some different photos) first appeared last month on my blog, DaveTronik 2000. See August 24, 2011, "My Nascent Archeology Career."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


From lostlosangeles:

Jesus and the New Apostles

This is a barricade signifying one end of the unfinished I-89 southern connector in Burlington, Vermont. Since its initial planning stage in 1965, the project has experienced one delay after another with constant route and design changes. Many local residents expressed concern that the neighborhood would be destroyed. There have even been issues with nearby toxic conditions. After almost 40 years, the project remains incomplete with this connector to nowhere as its symbol. This debacle has even inspired an installation, The World's Tallest Filing Cabinet, symbolizing all of the wasted time and paperwork...

(For similar posts, see March 7, 2011, "Graffiti Highway" and June 30, 2011, "Ghost Highway," both about the same tangle of never-used highway connectors outside Hartford, CT.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bridge of Refuge

From Dave Brigham:

Every once in a while I drive west into what passes for "country" in the Greater Boston area. On a recent jaunt while my kids were at camp, I crossed this one-lane bridge on Pelham Island Road in Wayland, MA. The road sits in the middle of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Wayland One-Way Bridge #2

The bridge itself isn't all that noteworthy, and in fact it is slated for replacement by the Mass. Department of Transportation. Still, I like what the bridge represents, which is a method of slowing folks down before they pass through the wildlife refuge. I'm sure the trolls underneath appreciate that, especially given all the clanky metal that cars have to drive over.

Wayland One-Way Bridge #1

I hope the view of the new bridge remains just as nice as the one of the current one from the banks of the Sudbury River.

Wayland One-Way Bridge #3

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunset On the Sunrise

From Mick Melvin:

I like "finding" my backside subjects, but sometimes they are placed in my lap. A recent front page story in the Hartford Courant described an abandoned resort in Moodus, CT. I instantly had my subject. The article, along with a few pictures, gave me a good indication of what the place was like both in its heyday and what it has come to be today. When I arrived at Sunrise Resort, it was what I expected.

Sunrise Resort Main Office

The resort is next to Machimoodus State Park, which has trails and a nice pond. It was pretty eerie walking the grounds of Sunrise. Once a vacation destination, it's like a ghost town. Most of the outside property, including a basketball court, shuffle board court, miniature golf course, playground set and kiddie swimming pool, are overgrown with high grass and weeds. The small amount of buildings, a few cabins and hotel/motel-like dwellings, were looking worn and unkempt.

Lonely Playground


The weathered resort was sold to the state of Connecticut for approximately $3 million in 2008. The property had been in decline and with the diminishing demand for summer resorts and the decline in the economy, the owners sold the resort. They hoped the state could utilize the land instead of selling to developers. Since the sale, little has been done with the property. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has used some of the garages for storage. Mostly local residents who walk their pets or take walks and hikes utilize the resort area.

It's a real shame to see this once-thriving resort in such a sad state. While researching the resort, I came upon a web site with people describing their times at the vacation spot. People talked of wonderful experiences of family fun. It reminded me of a place you went to in the summer and made lifetime friends.


Let's hope someone comes up with something for the site to generate more enjoyable memories. The latest possibilities for the site are a soccer camp or a cooking camp. I'll keep you posted.