After I graduated from college, a million years ago, I moved to Ohio to go to graduate school. Shortly thereafter, my parents sold my boyhood home and moved to a nicer house 21 miles away. So I literally can’t go home again—well, I tried, but after that first time, the new owners got a restraining order. But I at least can go other places again. On November 12, 2016, I had gone on an excursion and had unexpectedly encountered a number of examples of migrant farm worker housing, This fascinated me, so five days later I decided to revisit the area, by another route, and see if I could get some more photographs. This entry is the first of two parts and features the part of the trip before I arrived once more at the muck lands.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image. Also, the EXIF data for each image contains GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the exact place where the photograph was taken. Copyright information: All of the text and images on this blog are the intellectual property of Mark Pitcavage. Attributed, non-commercial (ONLY) usage is permitted under the Creative Commons License.]
I wanted to get to the same area as last time, but by a different route, so instead of approaching the muck lands from the east, as happened last time, I decided to head north and approach the area from the west, so I would not be retracing my paths. This meant threading the needle between Marysville and Delaware, then heading north.
Halfway between those two bedroom communities for Columbus is Ostrander, Ohio, a small and sleepy hamlet (population 643, salute!) which aggregated around a railroad stop (the railroad itself stopped running in the 1970s). Ostrander is somewhat older than it looks, because in the 1920s a fire destroyed all the buildings on the main square, so the buildings one sees all essentially date after that point. The most visible part of Ostrander is the large grain elevator there (and above), constructed by the Ostrander Farmers Exchange. The Ostrander Elevator Company dates at least to around 1903. In 1918 it was run by M. R. Hays and H. F. Vallance. I’m curious how old this building is. Note the water pump next to the left-hand porch.
I thought the textures and contrasts might make for an interesting black and white photo, so I decided to try it. I think it does work, although one loses out on the early morning warmth.
This is Ostrander’s main drag—virtually all of it. Even tiny Ostrander, you’ll notice, has its town mural. I’m curious when this practice began. The mural is on the town hall building. Next to it is a larger building, with a rare curved roof, which houses Leb’s Pizza House, though it appears at one time to have been the home of the Ostrander Restaurant. Leb’s Pizza started only in 2008. Sadly, the Delaware City Bank, Ostrander Branch, is no more.
Ostrander had an unexpected claim to fame in 2003, when a golfer who grew up in Ostrander, Ben Curtis, won the British Open. The odds were 300-1 against him and his victory was a historic upset.
It is so difficult for me to get up early in the morning—my body seems to be practically nocturnal—so I don’t get to experience early morning “golden hour” very often, but I got a little bit of it on this day, which makes photos seem warmer and more attractive. Here a horse enjoys the morning rays of sun.
As I headed north I could not help but notice this picnic area, presumably private, overwatched by a towering billboard (and I was on a road that would not usually warrant billboards). The first line of the billboard’s text has been destroyed by the elements, but the surviving portions make very clear that it is an anti-abortion screed. The second line reads “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” The main body of the text proclaims “It’s a baby when it’s wanted – A fetus when it’s not1 Abortion is premeditated murder!” and more in that vein. There’s no indication on the billboard who is behind the ideological message. Just the sort of thing one would want to picnic under.
The country I was driving through was flat farmland, as shown here quite vividly. The difference in terrain between western Ohio and eastern Ohio is very striking, sort of a smaller version of the difference between eastern Colorado, on the Great Plains, and western Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains.
At this point, unbeknownst to me, the battery for my camera GPS ran out. However, I was still able to pinpoint where this rather interesting looking farmhouse is located, using contextual clues. You see that water tower in the back? That is associated with a large structure, also visible in the background, which is an abandoned factory. I took photos of the factory (not shown here because I deemed them not interesting enough), which used to be the site of the “Hose Products Division” of a hose-producing corporation called Parker Hannifin, Corporation. Parker is still around but they apparently though the factory not worth keeping (they had acquired it in the 1990s when they acquired another hose-producing company). Parker closed the plant down a few years later, in 2003, resulting in the loss of 165 good union jobs and 24 salaried positions. This plant was located just outside the hamlet of Green Camp, Ohio (population 374, salute!) and must have been a significant blow to that community, as well as the nearby city of Marion, from which a number of its workers probably came. That’s just hard.
Continuing my journey north, I came across a solitary massive wind turbine. There are a number of these in northwest Ohio close to the Indiana border, but I hadn’t seen any in this neck of the woods before. Ohio manufactures a number of components for wind energy but is far behind where it could be in generating wind energy for its citizens. Only 1% of its power is currently provided by wind. Ohio ranks only 26th among the states in terms of wind power. In contrast, neighboring Indiana ranks 12th. Pennsylvania, to the east, is 16th. Even West Virginia—the heart of coal country—ranks higher. In fact, of Ohio’s neighbors, only Kentucky is worse—Kentucky has essentially rejected wind power. Much of the blame for Ohio’s lagging in this resource (which estimates suggest could supply power for about 20 times as many people in Ohio as it currently does) can be laid at the feet of Ohio’s Republican-controlled government.
Wind projects in Ohio can also receive a lot of local opposition—in my travels around the state, I constantly see signs on people’s property demanding “No Turbines!” This nimbyism is disappointing, considering how few drawbacks there are to wind energy. I certainly find wind turbines far more attractive than refineries and power plants. Some of the negative things said about wind turbines—such as their being Death Itself for birds—are essentially myths. Many Republicans—including Donald Trump—seem to hate wind turbines, though.
You can get a sense of the size of this turbine by looking at its base. Those are tiny yellow stairs leading to its interior. And the turquoise covered shape? Those are two san-o-cans. That’s how large this thing is.
I wanted to drive underneath it and get a shot looking up, but I couldn’t get as close as I wanted, because the owners had various no trespassing signs and cameras around—they seemed very paranoid someone might mess with their turbine somehow. However, it was large and high enough that I didn’t need to get too close to be “under” it. In these two shots, the turbine is actually spinning—I took the shots with a fast shutter speed to capture the blades. I would have tried to do the reverse—take slower shots to get some good motion blur—but I did not have a neutral density filter with me and I was concerned the shots would be too faded.
A sign proclaimed that this was the Harpster Wind Project of One Energy, which is a division of, interestingly, Marathon Petroleum Company. It is a 1.5 megawatt turbine produced by Goldwind Americas that went into operation in January 2016. This turbine can power around 300-400 homes but is designed to power a nearby oil pump station that Marathon has. The turbine is 262 feet high and a turbine at its highest tip is 405 feet high.
There’s something ironic about an oil company using wind power to move oil through a pipeline.
Apparently to sweeten the deal for locals, Marathon announced it will create a $5,000 “Megawatt Scholarship” each year the turbine is in operation for someone from the Upper Sandusky school district.
Here is a familiar site in rural Ohio—houses loaded to the gills with firewood. I see this all the time and it mystifies me. The only thing I can think of is that they have wood-burning furnaces—which are indeed a thing—but how much effort would have to be spent feeding such a thing?
Finally, my meanderings had taken me to the awkwardly named locale of Nevada, Ohio. Luckily, there is no Ohio, Nevada, with which to confuse it. Nevada is a tiny village with a population of 760 (salute!). That’s considerably down from its peak—which was long ago, in 1880, at 1,036. It probably suffers from the proximity of Bucyrus and Upper Sandusky. It is a very sleepy little place.
As small as it is, however, it does still seem to have a working Masonic lodge, despite the considerable decline in the popularity of such organizations over the decades.
Like a lot of similar towns and villages in Ohio, its commercial area contains a number of empty storefronts. All-too-nearby Upper Sandusky and Bucyrus both have Wal-Marts, for example, so how could a local store compete easily with that?
At one point, as the grain elevators suggest, Nevada was a center for local farmers. Now, not so much.
You can see an artifact of earlier eras with the advertisement for Coon’s Hardware still visible on the side of the building. Coon’s Hardware is long gone—in a sense. The “Coon” referred to is Joseph A. Coons who decided to start an ice cream parlor with his wife in 1917, a hundred years ago. They soon learned—as do proprietors of dairy bars across rural Ohio even to this day—that such businesses are fine in the summer but not so profitable in the winter. This led the family into expansion into other areas and the Coons expanded into a general store that sold everything from horse and buggy tack to televisions and radios (even a restaurant!). It was called Coon’s Hardware. Joseph A. Coons brought his son J. A. Cooms into the business. He brought his son C. M. Coons along. C.M. raised up Joseph E. Cooms into the business, and Joseph E. Cooms did the same with his own son, the current head, Charles B. Cooms. I hope I didn’t miss a generation or two of Coomses in there. Notice I mentioned very few female Coomseses, even though I am sure many must have been involved—they need to be mentioned, too.
At various points, Coomses were hawking various goods left and right—even Piper Airplanes. But it was when they expanded into candy that they really hit their mark. All the other ventures, including hardware, dropped away, and today “Coon’s Candy” (formally, I believe it is Coons Candy & Pie Company) is very much a going concern, with a large and prominent retail store in Ohio (you can’t miss it if you drive on U.S. 23 in northern Ohio) and a large Internet/mail-order business.
Every now and then, when you are out driving in western Ohio, you get to see a really impressive old country house. This is a good example of one. Thankfully, by this time I had noticed and replaced the battery in my GPS, so I can inform the dear reader that this stately manor can be found outside the tiny hamlet of Oceola, off the Old Lincoln Highway.
This close-up illustrates just what a cube of a building it was. I wonder how many people it ever housed at its maximum? Sadly, the building is showing some age and could use a bit of a restoration. It looks like the front of the building may have once had an additional door similar to the one on the left-hand side of the house (looking at it), but it was at some point bricked in. Like many such houses, it still has the remnants of its once-grand tv antenna designed to snare in distant, snowy signals.
Just a hobo’s hanky away I found a smaller but very similar-looking building. This one still has its tv aerial, as well as a door precariously leading out onto a steeply sloped porch. That first step can be a doozy. This farmhouse looks abandoned, with several windows boarded up.
Not every place one finds in the countryside can be a Buckeye Versailles. One can find old shacks and cabins as well, such as this one, which does not appear to be lived in.
On a whim, I decided to process the photo as an “antique” photo coming from a primitive camera, to see if doing so would capture a little bit of that out-of-time feeling that I so often seek. It did, to a degree, but the subject itself is just too bland to make it interesting enough. I would have been better off if I had arrived at this scene early in the morning or late in the day, when I might at least have gotten some golden glow in there, instead of the washed out look of a bright day.
Still, you can get a decent photo even in the bright mid-day if your subject is interesting enough, and I think that fits for this second old shack. It had many pleasing textures, so I processed it as black and white.
Here is a color version, which also works well, I think. The composition is much better than the previous cabin, because I had more angles I could work with—and this cabin was not so far away. I could also arrange the composition so that there was a clearly delineated foreground and background, while there was grass and brush instead of corn stubble to fill the open spaces—not to mention the spindly trees. I like this photo, in both its versions. This cabin is located northwest of the village of New Washington.
One final shot. Indulge me, I beg of thee.
One of the interesting things about photographing in the western Ohio countryside is that the flat open landscape can make everything look more stark and lonely. I think this abandoned, overgrown homestead is a case in point, set as it is against such a broad, flat backdrop.
At this point I had re-arrived at the muck lands, so it seems fitting to take up that second half of my journey in the next blog entry.