Sunday, January 30, 2011

Forgotten Mills of North Carolina

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Every year on our photography trips, we try to hunt up as many mills as we can. In the spring of 2010, we took our trip to North Carolina. In my research, I had found that this was a land of many mills. And many of the mills had been or are still water-powered (our favorite).

Some of the mills are still open and grinding flour, or have become historic sites and are deserving of a story all their own. Others are forgotten little mills sitting along lonely back roads, sometimes on a road appropriately named “something” Mill Road.

Maybe you remember our post about the Mast General Store. That same morning, after leaving the store, we started to drive some backroads in search of our favorite subjects. The descriptions I had for our first mill said the mill was a few miles down a back road. We started down the road following close to the river. When we had driven more than twice what my directions had said, we started to wonder if we were following the wrong road or if maybe the mill was gone. Finally we found a man outside his house, and we pulled in to ask him if he knew of the mill. He told us it was just down the road.

For our first North Carolina mill, it was amazing. It stretched out along the river and we drove to the end of it to find a small farm driveway to park in. The mill was built in 1890 by Bill Ward, and washed away in a 1901 flood. It was rebuilt as a grist and saw mill. After Bill’s death, his son took over the mill. While Bill’s interest had mainly been the grist mill, his son Ben’s main interest was the saw mill. In 1940 another flood damaged the mill, and in 1947, the grist mill was shut down.

The next day, as we drove some state highways to leave the mountains, I had to take us off of the main route to drive Stepp Mill Road. Our goal was to find an old mill with a 34 foot waterwheel that may be the biggest remaining in North Carolina. As we passed the mill at the bridge, we could see the huge waterwheel looming out over the hillside. The present day mill evolved over 100 years. It was progressively built higher and higher on the hillside with the dam being raised each time. The original level of milling sometimes flooded, but the milling operations stayed dry two stories above.

After this mill, we went back to the main highway to continue to the Piedmont area which is more flat and easier to navigate. We enjoyed our time in the mountains, but it is much harder to get around, and there are few places to pull off for photos. I noticed a road on the map called McKinney Mill Road. I didn’t find a mill on that road during my research for the trip, but since the road headed in the general direction of our current path, I couldn’t resist having Joann turn off.

As we got away from the noise of the highway, we came upon the old mill sitting silently along the West Fork of Sandy Run Creek. A small sign in front of the mill told us that this was indeed McKinney Mill, erected in 1860 and that William M. Packard was the millwright. So far, that is our only information about this old mill.

It was still early, and we hadn’t had breakfast yet. Since it was our first quiet road of the morning, we decided this was a good place to eat our picnic breakfast. As Joann made her way around the mill photographing it, I opened the back hatch and took strawberries and yogurt from the cooler and some granola from the pantry bag and made us each a fruit and yogurt parfait. Then, when she finished her photos, we stood in the quiet, listening to the sound of the water and the birds in the trees around the mill.

The next day we visited several well-known mills including the Old Mill of Guilford. The rest of the day had us finding many old tobacco barns and old general stores. At the end of the day, on the way to our motel, we drove one more mill road. This one was Dickey Mill Road, and we found the old boarded up mill sitting along Quaker Creek.

Normally I have a plan for our first morning photos, but the next night when we were too tired to go on, we found the closest motel. As I checked the maps and my research that night, I couldn’t find a plan for what to do the next morning. We decided to head in the direction of some old mills I had marked and see what we could hunt up.

Our first mill of the day was Blackman’s Mill, and even as we were photographing it, I couldn’t figure out if this was really the mill. Oh, it was a mill all right, but the road it was supposed to be on was Maple Grove Church Road. The road sign and my gazetteer said we were on Oak Grove Church Road. As Joann was processing the photos for this story, she called me and, after looking at our information and the gazetteer, we decided that this was indeed Blackman’s Mill.

Our next stop was Warren Mills. This was a location with an old and newer mill. The newer mill was a feed mill and not very picturesque, but as we drove a little further and saw the old mill, we were amazed. This was one of those mills that was built right over the water.

The only problem with this mill was that there were not many angles Joann could photograph from, since she couldn’t walk up to and around it. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting mill.

Later that day, we drove a loose gravel road called Water Mill Road. My only information was that there was a small frame mill on this road. Again it was a mill built over the water, with a lot of vegetation, so Joann couldn’t walk up to it. The gazetteer shows that the mill sits on Walters millpond, so perhaps this mill was called Walters Mill. Since we have no other information, we may never know.

That’s the way it is with some of these forgotten mills. They aren’t in a populated area, and the miller who cared about the mill has passed on. Sometimes family cares enough to keep them standing, and sometimes they slowly fall into ruins. We are always thrilled to find an old mill in any condition, since we know how much it costs to keep the mills standing, and how much more it costs to keep them functioning.

So here’s to everyone who cares about an old mill. Even though you may not know it, there are a lot of people like us, driving the backroads, and appreciating your hard work and determination in keeping your mill standing.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Car's Point of View

By “Good Car” (the most extraordinary car in the world)

Good Car here. At least that’s what Joann calls me, as she lovingly pats my steering wheel. We’ve been together for almost seven years now. And, since car years are like dog years, I’m getting up there in age. But I’ll never forget the first week after I left that boring dealership parking lot seven years ago. I was a brand spanking new Buick Rendezvous and eager to see the world. So I couldn’t believe my luck when Joann just handed Ruth the keys and let her drive me to Pennsylvania.

A day later, Ruth and I picked Joann up from the airport and then we spent a week touring the backroads in search of wonderful things to photograph. That was my first big trip. Come to think of it, that was their first big trip, too. And I must say that they have gotten a lot more organized since then. On that trip, there was stuff piled to the ceiling and it was “sort of” organized at the start of the trip. But by the end of the trip, I felt like a cyclone had passed right through the middle of me.

These days, though, when we take a long trip to other parts of the country, they have it down to a science. Everything has a particular place in my luxuriously large cargo area and they are pretty meticulous about putting things back where they started out. Duffle bags on the right; all weather clothing bag and “kitchen”/dry goods bag on the left; large cooler and picnic bag in the middle; bag of extra tripods stuffed along the left side; jackets, pillows, bags of popcorn on top; and a box of nature and lodging guides in the far rear, along with jugs of drinking water.

My back seat gets a good workout, too. Extended tripod on the floor; Rubbermaid container full of camera equipment secured with a bungee cord on the driver side; laptop and 40-lb. bag of research materials and maps on the passenger side; three backpacks full of extra camera gear, tools, and electrical cords in the middle; boots, umbrellas, towels, and hand wash gel under the seats; gazetteers and photo logs in a pouch hanging on the back of the driver seat; garbage, bug spray, Goo Gone, tape, and other supplies in a pouch hanging on the back of the passenger seat; first aid kit and poison ivy wash in the door.

Now that I think about it, there’s quite a bit of stuff in the front seat, too. Drinks, pencils, markers, and small notebooks in the holder up front; binoculars, bird books, and music CDs in the bin underneath; a mini pharmacy in the driver side door; eyeglass repair kit, magnifying glass, and extra writing instruments in the passenger side door; and a boatload of miscellaneous stuff in the center console compartment. Did I say stuff? Ooh, I’m feeling rather bloated. Yes, I’m stuffed to the gills with everything they could possibly need for two weeks on the backroads. After all, they’re so busy capturing images that they’re hard-pressed to take any time off to stop and pick up anything other than a few groceries every few days.

I’d like to take ALL the credit for the astounding organization and efficiencies achieved, but I suppose I need to give Joann and Ruth some credit for figuring it all out over the years. When I left the assembly line, I thought I knew all the great and wonderful things I could provide. But I am even more multi-talented than I thought. My liftgate is a great canopy for photographing or changing clothes in the rain. My bumper and the handle on my liftgate are useful for roadside exercises. My driver side passenger door, when open, provides a good support for an umbrella under which Joann readies her camera equipment in the rain. My large dashboard is often turned into a work table for Ruth’s gazetteers, maps, and research materials.

One of the other things I need to give them credit for are the tricks they taught me along the way. I was WAY cool to begin with, but now I’m a wiz at U-turns, Y-turns, and (my favorite) ASTERISK-turns, which are often needed to get them out of a jam when they take a narrow dead end road that gets even narrower along the way. And it’s a good thing I’ve perfected this because I’m not so good at backing up, but I blame that on operator error (sorry, Joann). I’m not complaining, mind you. In my whole life, I’ve only suffered a few minor mishaps, and those were usually something to do with the tires. I seem to attract nails for some reason (probably because they’re always driving near rickety old buildings and into farmyards).

A couple years ago, on an early autumn morning, I tried to take them to Baxter’s Hollow, a beautiful Wisconsin state natural area. But the bridge had been washed out in a flood, so Joann turned the car around and they decided to eat breakfast by the side of the road. But I accidentally picked up a nail somewhere on that road. Joann got out of the car to get something out of the back, so I (wanting to make sure they didn’t get stuck way back on that dead end), started hissing as loudly as I could. When Joann realized what had happened, she jumped in and drove like a bat out of hell to get me out of there before the tire went flat. Ruth was a bit bewildered until Joann explained her actions.

In all these years and miles, there has been only one serious mishap and it was an act of nature that did me in. We had been out enjoying fall colors all day and Ruth suggested they take a beautiful gravel road in the Baraboo Hills as they headed towards home. Joann got out and took several photographs of the blazing fall color and then got back in and started me up. As I slowly started to move forward, I felt a strange sensation on my windshield and could see confused looks on the faces of Joann and Ruth. At first, we all thought a branch had fallen from a tree, but all of a sudden there was a HUGE crash as a large tree, that had uprooted itself, fell onto the front of me and bounced to the ground. Joann tried to stop me, but I slid up over the tree, which punctured my radiator and wrecked my A/C compressor, along with my bumper, of course.

Joann has treated me very well over the years – giving me regular maintenance and letting me rest in the garage when she doesn’t need me. But still, I wish I had a name other than Good Car. After all, when Joann first got her license, she and Ruth would go to the movies in their dad’s pickup truck, which they affectionately called Duke. And Irwin (their so-called “trusty” GPS) got a respectable name the first time they tried him out. Oh, well….maybe in my next life. Speaking of my next life, Joann says I meet their needs so perfectly that she doesn’t ever want to replace me. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over.

As they always say, Happy Shunpiking!
Good Car

Sunday, January 16, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

It was the second morning of one of our trips to Iowa in 2008. The first day had been spent photographing barns. My plan for day two was to drive west along Hwy 30 and stop in the city of Belle Plaine for sunrise.

We had stayed in Cedar Rapids overnight, and as we packed the car in the morning, the sky looked ominous. We decided we would try to drive away from the clouds and into better weather, so we went with our plan and headed west. Before we even arrived at Belle Plaine, it was raining.

We pulled into a gas station in Belle Plaine and sat in the parking lot waiting to see if the rain would stop. But it didn’t. So we decided to eat our breakfast in the car while we waited some more. But it still didn’t let up. Next, we killed time in the gas station, going to the restroom and wandering around. Then we went back to the car and waited again. When it looked like it might be letting up just a little, we drove over to the old Preston’s Station on the Lincoln Highway hoping for a chance to take a few pictures. Finally, it let up enough that Joann got out of the car with an umbrella and started to photograph.

The gas station was covered with old signs and there were old tractors sitting on the lawn. Joann worked her way around the building photographing everything she could in the light rain.

When Joann finished with the gas station, it was still raining, but we decided to check out the rest of the town. Main Street is filled with history. There are many old buildings including an old-time pharmacy.

As you can probably guess, when we saw the movie theater, we had to get a picture since we have such fond memories of old theaters.

By now it was raining too hard and there was thunder and lightning, so we drove around town looking at what else there might be to take a picture of. When the rain didn’t let up, we decided to drive a little further west to Tama and Toledo. Again, we hoped that we could drive out of the rain and check out those towns.

At Tama, we found several things we wanted to photograph, but the rain and lightning didn’t allow us to photograph anything. We continued up the road to Toledo. It was still raining, and we couldn’t believe that it just wouldn’t let up. We found more great things we wanted to photograph, so I took out a little notebook and started making a list.

We waited in front of the old Rexall Pharmacy until there was a tiny break in the downpour and then Joann jumped out and took a photo. But as soon as she was out of the car, the lightning began again and she had to jump back into the car.

Then we spent some time waiting in front of the old Hotel Toledo to see if we could get a picture of the great old sign. There had been a car parked in the way, but by the time the rain finally let up, the car had been moved. But the rain on this morning would only give us a minute or two between flashes of lightning.

Finally, we drove east to see if maybe the weather would break and allow us to photograph any more barns on the way home. We did manage to have a pretty good day, but by nightfall as we entered Wisconsin, the rain had caught up to us, and we drove home in the worst rainstorm Wisconsin had had for years. Iowa and Wisconsin both experienced severe flooding that June.

The following summer on our way to the northwest corner of Iowa, I had the bright idea to try and pass through Belle Plaine again to photograph what we had missed. The weather was fine when we left home, and was fairly nice as we began to cross Iowa. But as we neared Belle Plaine, the clouds came in and the rain began.

When we stopped to photograph the depot, it was already sprinkling, and Joann took the umbrella with her. It is a big, beautiful depot that was built in 1894 for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. In spite of the rain, she did manage to get some photos.

On this trip, we also noticed the ornate entryway of an old bank building. Lucky for us, the building has been repurposed rather than torn down. That is one of our favorite things about old towns.

The name “Belle Plaine” is said to mean “Belle of the Prairie” or "Beautiful Plain”. We have yet to see Belle Plaine on a clear and pleasant day, but we are making plans to return. And maybe we can even make it to Tama and Toledo without the rain finding us.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Quick Change Artist

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Photography is certainly an artistic pursuit and I’m grateful to be able to use the creative right side of my brain when composing photographs as opposed to my analytical left-brained “real job” duties. But when we’re out on the back roads in search of a good photograph, there are other ways I find myself being creative. One of those ways is in quickly changing clothes when the weather changes.

In the spring, summer, and fall seasons, rain is often a possibility and, in fact, I enjoy photographing in a light rain, in spite of the challenges (see our previous blog post Just Call Her Mary Poppins). Often, I end up quickly donning my purple rain suit while huddled under the liftgate at the back of the car.

In the spring and fall, when the mornings are cold and crisp, I usually start the day with a turtleneck and long underwear. And then when it warms up later in the day, I need to change into something cooler.

Often, we are nowhere near a restroom of any kind when I decide I’m getting overheated, so I will stop the car on some quiet back road and swap shirts. Other times, I will bravely swap shirts in a busier place. On our trip to North Carolina last spring, we stopped at an old-fashioned dairy stand that wasn’t yet open for the season, and the afternoon was getting quite warm. So I decided to change into a short-sleeved shirt in front of the dairy stand. Ruth was just sitting there shaking her head because the side of the dairy stand was next to a very busy highway.

The most interesting quick change episodes, though, are the ones where I need to get rid of the long underwear. Recently, on an autumn trip to the Gays Mills area of Wisconsin, we stopped at Sunrise Orchards for some apples and the best apple cider donuts in the world. As we got out of the car in the parking lot, the conversation went like this:

Joann: “It’s getting warm. I need to remove my long underwear.”

Ruth: “Well, you can just change in their restroom.”

Joann: “Hmmm, what will I do with my long underwear on the way out of the restroom? Oh, I’ll just roll it up and no one will notice what I’m carrying.”

Ruth: “Unless I say loudly, ‘Is that your UNDERWEAR?!’”

This got us both laughing so hard, we almost got run over as we crossed the busy highway in front of the place.

The funniest episode, though, happened a couple days later on a rather warm autumn afternoon. I kept asking, “How much longer until we get to a restroom so I can change out of this long underwear?” And Ruth kept saying, “Not much longer,” but we kept stumbling on things to photograph. First there was an old town hall with an interesting history, which I learned from one of the workers I hunted up in the town garage next door.

Next, we stumbled on an old school with antique playground equipment and an old outhouse behind it. By this time, I was getting very overheated and thought I would just change in the outhouse. But it had sunk into the ground several feet and there was no way to get inside of it.

The school was now used as a forestry school and there was a tree forest behind the school with a nice walking trail going into the forest. It was a weekday and there was no one around, so I told Ruth that I just had to get my long underwear off. I said, “I’m going to go behind the school and change.” She said, “Okay, if anyone comes, I’ll blow the horn.”

The back of the school had a nice set of stone steps with a railing, so I removed my shoes and then hung onto the railing while I removed my jeans and my long underwear. Then I put my jeans back on and sat down on the steps to put my shoes on. Just as I returned to the car, another car pulled in and a woman got out to walk her dog. I jumped back in the car and the conversation went like this:

Joann: “Wow, that was close. I hate to think what would have happened if she had pulled up a minute sooner.”

Ruth (laughing hysterically): “You know, the minute you removed your pants and were standing on one foot removing your long underwear, I was going to blow the horn.”

Joann: “You wouldn’t have, would you?!”

Ruth: “Yes, I would have, but I thought that it might just scare you enough that you’d trip and bump your head on the stone steps.”

Even when I do have the privilege of changing clothes in an actual restroom, there are still challenges sometimes. I’ll never forget the time we were on a photography trip in the southeast portion of Wisconsin and I tried to use the restroom at a service station where we had purchased gas. This restroom was so tiny that there wasn’t enough room to change your mind, let alone your clothes. And as I was leaning back over the toilet in order to get the door open so I could exit, I heard a “plop” as my cell phone dropped from my jacket pocket into the toilet. Needless to say, I didn’t make any more phone calls that day.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Real Live Teddy Bear

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

It was the sixth day of our photography vacation to southeast Ohio in the spring of 2009. As Joann was photographing the S&K Dairy Cup, I was back at the car, picking out our next destination. As I was studying the map, I noticed what looked like a teddy bear racing around in the pasture behind the buildings we were parked in front of.

It would run to its mother, around in a circle, and then tear back across the pasture. I picked up my binoculars to get a better look. I couldn’t believe the antics and watched it for probably 15 minutes as it ran around and around the pasture. Just before Joann got back to the car, it must have finally gotten all tuckered out, and it followed behind its mother as they moved to another part of the pasture.

As Joann was putting away her camera equipment, I told her what I had seen. I asked if we could drive down the nearest side road to check if we could see them from that road. They were there in the pasture, but we couldn’t get a good look at the small calf. I just kept telling Joann how much they resembled teddy bears.

Joann identified the breed as Highland Cattle. She has a field guide to cows and is much more familiar with breeds than I am. We added seeing a young Highland calf to our wish list for the trip and continued on our way.

Later that afternoon as we followed our route, we came upon an old shed with rusty old soda signs. There was a Canada Dry Spur soda sign. We didn’t remember ever having Spur when we were younger, but we had to get photos of the sign.

There was also a rusty sign for Nesbitt’s Orange Soda. We couldn’t remember the brand of orange soda we drank when we were young, but we drank a lot of flavored sodas including orange and red pop. We were allowed one glassful per week with our popcorn while we watched Bonanza on Sunday nights. We also drank as much soda as we wanted when we attended family weddings where they always had free soda.

As Joann finished photographing the shed and the old signs, she put her equipment back in the car, and then asked me if we were near any parks to have lunch. Checking the map, I couldn’t see anything along our route. Then Joann happened to glance around and noticed that the cemetery we were parked in front of had a picnic table under a covered area. We didn’t know why there would be one picnic table in the cemetery, but it was convenient for us, so we pulled into the parking lot and had our lunch there.

Farther down the road we came upon a pasture with some Highland Cattle milling around. As Joann was getting her camera out of the backseat, I noticed a calf lying next to the water tank. It was resting there as its mother ate grass across the pasture. Since Joann hadn’t seen the calf, she approached the fence, and suddenly the calf became aware of her, jumped up, and ran for its mother. Joann managed to get a few pictures as the calf ran.

When it got to its mother, it turned around and gave Joann a look as if to say “you can’t get me now – my mom will protect me.” We later found out from the owner of these cattle that the calf’s name was Dogwood. Martin sent us feedback saying, “Tonight I googled ‘highland cattle pike county ohio’ and was surprised to find photos of my cattle on your web site. They must have been taken this spring, as the big red cow (Sabrina) had that little red calf (Dogwood) in late April during the Dogwood Festival.”

After we got home from that vacation, I looked up the local Highland cattle farms and we drove several roads hoping to see more. On one of the roads, we were almost to the end, and I thought we had missed the cattle. We did stop to photograph an old barn and when Joann came back to the car, she said the cattle were lying along the fence.

And just the other week, as we left Joann’s house to go and photograph some winter scenes, we noticed that a farm just down the road had all of their Highland cattle out in the pasture. They were sitting and standing around the pasture, and didn’t seem to mind us stopping to photograph them.

They didn’t mind, that is, until Joann whistled to get them to look her way. They apparently are easily spooked, and they all ran toward the barn. Oops!

Now we know one more thing about Highland Cattle. Unlike Holsteins who run toward the camera and horses who will look toward you when you whistle, it’s best to just quietly photograph the Highland cattle, and wait patiently for them to look toward you.

Enjoy the backroads and watch the pastures for different kinds of cattle. Maybe you’ll see a real live teddy bear just like we did.

Happy shunpiking!