In which our intrepid hero sees horses and horseless carriages…
When I was a kid, my father bought a horse. He liked to hunt and his hunting buddies liked to go deer hunting up in the Gila Wilderness. They used horses to get back up in the mountains where there were no roads, so my dad decided he needed a horse, too. He found a quarterhorse with the dubious name of Maude, a former barrel racer whose career in rodeo ended with an injured leg. I don’t know how much Maude cost him, nor how much it cost to keep Maude at a time when not much money was coming in. Horses are expensive. My father did save on the stabling. He convinced an uncle-in-law, who owned a small farm that grew cotton and alfalfa, to let him build a corral on the uncle’s property (probably paying him some form of rent). This began for me a long relationship with Maude and an even closer relationship with Maude’s manure.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better version]
My great-uncle’s farm was located outside of Berino, New Mexico (population 1,441, salute!), very close to the Rio Grande (along which I would occasionally ride). This was about a half hour outside of El Paso, an area of cotton farms and pecan orchards (and a cultlike group, though it may have moved in later). My father installed Maude there, along with a buddy’s horse, Rebel, and paid one of my cousins to feed them daily. Cleaning out the corral was not the cousin’s responsibility. That basically ended up being me. A weekly ritual developed. On Sundays, my father would bring me with him to the farm. He would saddle up Maude and go off riding. I would stay behind and clean up the manure from the large, sandy corral. This involved raking up all the manure into piles, then shoveling the piles into a wheelbarrow. I’d make trips with the wheelbarrow to a big manure pile (which my great-uncle would periodically use for fertilizer), empty the manure, and return for more. Lather, rinse, repeat. The summers, when the temperature would often rise above 100 degrees, were particularly nasty. Sometimes, when my father would return from riding, he would let me ride Maude for a short while. Usually not. Then we would return. The most important part was the return, because occasionally he would stop at a convenience store off of the Anthony exit on I-10 and if he did, he might buy me a coke. You can perhaps imagine how glorious a coke would be to a kid who spent all morning shoveling shit in the heat. I still remember the first time he bought me a 16-ounce coke (they had just been introduced); it was like Christmas in July.
This persisted all the way through high school. Some time around my junior year in high school, my great uncle bought a cow and insisted on putting the cow in the corral with Maude. So my father bit the bullet and boarded Maude at some stables in El Paso (I tried to find them but I don’t think they exist anymore). My father’s business partner, who had emulated my father and bought a quarterhorse, too, decided to board his horse, Copper Turk, there as well. Anticipating that my father would likely make me clean up Copper Turk’s manure as well, I thought I would be clever and approached my father’s business partner with the proposition that if he paid me I’d clean out the corral weekly. He asked how much and here my cleverness failed me entirely. I told him—pay close attention here—that I’d charge him $2 a week. He accepted in about a nanosecond. What is more, my father told me he’d give me the same “deal,” no doubt figuring that $2 a week was worth it to have me voluntarily instead of involuntarily clean the stables. And so for about two years I would spend each Sunday morning in the mud, flies, heat, and horseshit, cleaning up manure, for the grand total of $4. In reality, it wasn’t even that much, because I was so thirsty that afterwards I would go to a convenience store across the street from the stables and spend 70 cents or whatever on a Big Gulp-like drink. By that time I was so sick of horses that I didn’t even ride anymore—I just shoveled shit.
As I make my excursions through Ohio, I see horses quite frequently (there are over 300,000 horses in Ohio and, since large sections of Ohio are more suited for pasture than agriculture, raising horses is common). They don’t always make good photographs, especially if they are just eating (which horses tend to do most of the time). I did take one series of photographs of two really frisky horses gamboling in the summer, but novice photographer that I am, I forgot to increase the shutter speed (you don’t need fast shutter speeds for landscape photography) and the photos ended up too blurry to use.
Buildings, in contrast, don’t tend to move—and if a building is moving, you don’t want to be around it. At this point in my excursion, I was surrounded by buildings. I had reached my turning point for this trip, the Ohio rust belt/Appalachian town of East Liverpool, which I have visited before (and will again). As I’ve mentioned, East Liverpool has long been a town down on its luck, its population of 11,195 down from a high in 1970 of 26,243. Its per capita income is around $12,656, which I think is the second lowest of any town in Ohio I’ve visited and subsequently looked up (Athens, Ohio, has the lowest).
Because its population and commercial significance has dropped so much, East Liverpool has many abandoned buildings, some of them rather substantial, as in this example. It took me some time to figure out what this building originally was. I finally noticed that there seemed to be a word painted on the building. It was faded and obscured and partially bricked over, but I finally deciphered it as the word “Brewery.” From there I started researching breweries in East Liverpool and eventually figured out that this building on Webber Way used to house the Crockery City Brewing & Ice Company, founded in 1899 (“Crockery City” because East Liverpool was long ago a hub of Ohio’s once-thriving pottery industry). The brewery survived Prohibition because of its ice business and by switching to soft drinks, near beer, and milk. Later, after World War II, it also bottled Coca Cola. However, the brewery failed in the early 1950s and has basically been abandoned for the past half-century. A couple of years ago, some people were somehow able to get inside and took some very interesting photographs.
The building looks great in black and white, but I kind of wish the modern vehicles weren’t there, to give it a more timeless appearance.
Here is the front of the building. In the center of the 2nd floor is a bricked-over area; right above that is the word “brewery.” I tried to find an old photograph of the building in its prime but failed.
East Liverpool is full of odd buildings. The ground floor of this tiny building is a realtor’s office. Above it is an apartment.
Do you know what a palimpsest is? This is an old book or scroll or parchment that has been re-used. The original text was scraped off so that the paper can be written on again. With the right tools, scholars can often decipher the original writing that was scraped off. Old paintings have an equivalent, although I don’t know if there is a word for it or not, because artists would often re-use a canvas (or other painting surface), painting a new painting over an old painting. Once more, x-rays or other devices can sometimes allow people to see what was once there. I am reminded of this whenever I see walls like the above old warehouse walls, with multiple layers of advertisements or signs painted on them. I can’t make out the writing on the top of the warehouse on the left, but the writing below says “Warehouse No.4.” The building on the right contains a wealth of messages, starting with the most obvious “Dollar Savings Bank.” But there’s also something there about 5 cent cigars, some vertical lettering on the right corner (the “S” at the bottom is most visible) and more.
I don’t need the “Do Not Enter” sign not to want to go up that hill.
This “East Liverpool Street Department” building is a relic from another era. I was struck by the old construction and didn’t even notice there was a historical marker at the bottom left. The text was too small to read from my photograph, but I was eventually able to research it on the Internet and discovered its message: “Site of East End streetcar barn / Early public transportation system for East Liverpool and vicinity, 1909-1939 / Last streetcar returned to the barn at 11:30 P.m. July 10, 1939.”
Lest you think that automobiles do not suffer the same wrath of time, here is an old abandoned Chrysler lot, with a couple of old automobiles still in it. It is a very mysterious and desolate site. Someone else found it mysterious, too, and went to great lengths to uncover the secret behind it.
I guess it wouldn’t be a Rust Belt photo essay if it did not have at least one photograph of a factory, even though those are getting harder to come by these days in this neck of the woods. By accident, I came across what I later researched (at considerable effort, since all these photos are prior to my having a camera with GPS) to be the Hall China Company, which I believe is the last working pottery factory in East Liverpool, once queen of crockery. At least it seems to be very much alive. It is a rather large factory and this is just a glimpse of a portion of it. It is better to see the whole thing top down via satellite.
I wasn’t quite ready to turn around and head back yet, so instead I headed north out of town, back into rural Ohio, just a mile or two from the Pennsylvania border.
As I got back out into the countryside of northeast Ohio, I came across a fascinating ruin of a building next to a pond. Though the building was ruined, the current owner of the property, like so many rural Ohioans, is a dedicated grass-mower, and has kept the area around it well-manicured. I was struck by the old building surrounded by the pond and the trees, with a cornfield in the background.
The scene is so texture-filled that I knew it would make an even better black and white image, as indeed it seems to, as shown here. We lose the green, but the image, with its textures and contrasts, seems even more interesting. I quite like this image (of course, a discerning reader will note that I am fond of black and white photography in general).
This is the side of a building belonging to Negley Repair Services in Negley, Ohio (population 1,557, salute!). It’s not too much more than a crossroads. I would like to know how auto repair services came to be associated with this particular style of architecture (the step-style building fronts and backs). It seems to have happened almost as soon as automobiles became popular.
Nearby I discovered an abandoned old limousine. Negley, Ohio, is not the sort of place one associates with limousines, abandoned or otherwise.
I suspect this railroad bridge is along SR-170 north of Negley. I managed to cross it just as a train approached, full of boxcars steeped two-high with cargo containers.
I eventually turned west and began to head homewards, though I was far from exiting the mood photographic, as it were. I took this picture of a farmhouse primarily because there was so little around it—no vehicles, outbuildings, swingsets, etc. It looked very stark and alone, sitting on a little rise, so I took a photograph of it. It turned out to be more visually interesting in black and white than in color, so there you are.
One feature that I would see from time to time in rural Ohio are farmers who plant alternating strips of corn and some other crop, typically hay. Such a situation allowed me to take this photograph—which I confess I absolutely adore—because the farmer had recently cut all the hay, leaving curving strips of corn interspersed with empty fields, creating a fascinating undulating effect. I knew that the texture of the corn fields combined with the contrasts of the strips would make a good black and white photograph and I was right. The farmhouse in the background and the mysterious smoke on the horizon are nice little additions to make the photograph complete.
The sky was overcast all day long and eventually it got somewhat rainy, which made it frustrating to keep my lens dry. You can see the looming clouds over head in this road shot.
And finally, we get to the horses, the promise of which was dangled in front of you from the very beginning of this set of photographs. I came across a few horses and quite a few head of cattle in a pasture, but this mare and her colt attracted virtually all of my attention. They were both a reddish brown color, and the mare had a blond mane and tail.
I’ll end this third of four parts with a shot of a very old building indeed, one that must date fairly well back into the 19th century. The satellite dish does little to make it seem more modern. The structure has clearly been refurbished and/or repaired a number of times over the years.
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