Monday, February 27, 2017

MotorMonday: Wreck of a Tanker Truck

There is nothing really historic about the scene in this photo, just some poor guy who was having a really bad day a lot of years ago. Looks like the trailer got just a bit too close to the edge, and the wood gave way. The background looks like desert, so this could easily be one of the oil fields in Southern California, or Texas. For truck - and especially tow truck - afficianados, it doesn't have to be historic to be a cool photo.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Hard and Unglamorous Life of a Towboat

In popular culture, the passenger-carrying paddlewheel riverboat ranks high in inherent romance. But passengers weren't the only portage to be carried on rivers: freight in large quantities, especially commodities such as grain and coal, were best carried on barges, and to propel the barges the paddlewheel "towing steamer" or "towboat" developed as a unique form as early as the 1860s, and lasted into the 1940s. They were the unglamorous trucks of America's inland waterways, little more than named freight locomotives on the water.  Around the turn of the century, there were upwards of 700 such towboats working America's western rivers. The Archive currently has three photos of towboats, the Junior, Gerard Klein and the H.P. Dilworth.

Despite their name, towboats typically pushed their loads of lashed-together barges (called a "tow"), rather than towing them. Because of this, they differed from passenger and freight riverboats in having a squared-off bow with large bumpers mounted on it. Well into the 20th century, stearnwheelers held an advantage over propeller-driven towboats, which needs a deeper draft and were more susceptible to damage. Eventually diesel power surpassed steam as it did on the nation's railways, and towboats are still the mucscle-men of the rivers today.


The Junior is listed in the Wooldridge Steamboat Listing as having been built in 1899, and the only other reference I've come across is a government report that says that, while navigating the Chicago River on October 12, 1909, "the steamer Junior was struck by the Rush Street Bridge when about halfway through the draw sustaining damage amounting to about $300."

H.P. Dilworth

The H. P. Dilworth was built in 1900 and was owned by the Dilworth Coal Company, who operated the Dilworth mine at Rice's Landing, a tiny borough in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela River. H. P. Dilworth served on the Board of Directors for the mining company, and was the son of founder G. M. Dilworth.

Life was tough for a hard-working boat like the Dilworth. On August 13, 1904, the steamer suffered a collapsed lower flue in her starboard boiler near Homestead, Pennsylvania, which is also on the Monongahela. On February 2, 1907, the Dilworth was heading downstream on the river, pushing a lashup of coal-ladden barges (or "flats"; a typical load for the Dilworth was 10 to 14 flats) when it hit one of the piers of the Monongahela City bridge. The load broke loose, and two of the barges sunk. 

Just over two weeks later, at 3:50am on February 18, the boat was positioned under the Dilworth Mine's tipple to take on coal for her boilers...but the coal flowed from the tipple faster than the crew expected, and before they had realized it, the boat was overloaded and started to sink. The river was fairly shallow, and only the main deck was swamped. A double crew was onboard at the time, and though some had to jump overboard, no one was lost. Two weeks later, the steamer was refloated, repaired and put back into service. Finally, the Annual Report of the Supervising Inspector General, Steamboat Inspection Service to the Secretary of Commerce for FY 1911 includes this entry under the year 1910: 
January 19.—The towing steamer H. P. Dilworth, laid up at Rices Landing, Pa., with a watchman on board, caught fire about 10 a.m. from cause unknown and was totally destroyed. Estimated loss, $14,000.
While on fire, the boat broke free of her moorings and floated at least a mile down the river, which was running high, before finally sinking.

Today, only one steam-powered sternwheel towboat has survived on America's waterways, the W.P. Snyder Jr., which was retired in 1955 and sold for $1 to the Ohio Historical Society, and is on display at the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Family Photo on the Front Lawn

The front yard put to good use, a venue for the classic family photo. I find the symmetry and generational span of this photo delightful, a truly classic American family.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Down on the Farm - Grampa's Horses

This little girl, I wonder if years later she thought about those days on Grampa's farm with his horses, how big and strong they were. I wonder if she looked back on those days as magical, from a different era, when the world was a simpler place. The tack indicates that these horses were set up to pull a wagon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

MotorMonday: The "Hot" Date

Imagine, if you will, the conversation between this man and this woman just now. It was supposed to be a romantic afternoon for this gal, riding in the country in her Beau's Ford Model T Roadster. He got all dressed up, bow tie and boots...then things got hot...for the automobile, at least. Yes, that's steam spewing forth from the radiator cap. And there they sit, she going on and on and on and he, just sitting there trying to make sense of how an afternoon which seemed so right went so wrong so fast. Ah, the joys of early water-cooled cars!

(Ok, nice story...but if it was a romantic date, who took the photo?)

From what I can tell, this appears to be a 1927 or '27 Model T.

Contrast enhanced to show that it is steam, not just a gap
in the branches.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Steam Shovel in the Stadium

When I was a small kid, one of my favorite books was Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, so you might understand my fondness for old photographs of steam shovels. This one is digging at the site of a stadium or horse racing track.

The writing on the side of the crane appears to read "The Orchard Co. Marion Ohio" (Orchard is questionable, but the photo's resolution isn't good enough to say for sure). There is no facility that looks like this currently in Marion. Any ideas where this might be?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Under the Family Tree

It's #FamilyPhotoFriday, and what better place is there for a family photo than under a nice, big shade tree?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Our House - 5: Beauty is in the Details

For such a small house, it's nice to see how much effort and craftsmanship went into all the decorative trim on this house.

The scan above shows the photo in its faded condition, and the baby next to the little girl almost goes unnoticed. In the enhanced version below the baby is better seen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Remembering the Hupmobile

Outside of hard-core classic car enthusiasts, few people have ever heard of the Hupmobile (I hadn't before researching this photo), so this really is a little bit of Lost America Found. I was having difficulty in identifying the car when I remembered rule number one: look at the back of the print, because sometimes, just sometimes, you get lucky and the photographer might have made a note. There, in light pencil, was written "Billie C. and our Hup." A quick scan through the manufacturers list at and Hupmobile popped out, and sure enough, there's a Hupmobile club with a pretty comprehensive website. This appears to be a 1924 or 1925 two-door sedan. I still don't, however, know who Billie C. was.

Robert Hupp, who had worked for Ford and Olds for a bit, partnered with his brother Louis to form Hupmobile and came out with their first car, the Model 20, in 1908. The company hit its stride in the 1920s, giving Ford and Chevrolet some decent competition. Hups generated a reputation for being reliable yet unpretentious. The Great Depression hit them hard, and to try to generate consumer interest, they turned to famed designer Raymond Lowrey for a couple of designs, but to no avail, and with resources becoming scarce at the beginning of WWII, the company folded.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Building the Pittsburg Shops

Original, faded condition
The Kansas City Southern Railroad picked Pittsburg, Kansas as the home for their large maintenance facility, known in railroad parlance as "The Shops". One of the buildings that was central to the operation was this one, where the line's steam locomotives would be overhauled and repaired. The faint notation at the bottom of the photo indicates that the workers building this place were taking their break on March 22, 1907. These men's hard work would last well over a century: Although it had been abandoned a number of years before, it was not until the summer of 2010 that this and the other associated buildings were torn down.

When Arthur Stillwell founded the KCS in 1887, he had plotted the line's route from Kansas City to Port Arthur, Texas, he pretty much drew a straight line on the map. That line did not go through Pittsburg, although it wasn't that far away. Pittsburg already had three railroads passing through the town, but it also had an economically aggressive town leadership, headed by founding father Franklin Playter, who offered Stillwell a deal: shift the line so that it passed through the town, and the town government would help with the additional needed right-of-way. Playter then upped the ante, and asked Stillwell to appoint the town as a division point, and build its shops there, with the town helping to subsidize that as well. Stillwell agreed to this as well. When the tracks finally arrived in Pittsburg in 1893, the line was then know as the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad, and for years after, the sprawling facility was known simply as the P&G Shops.

Fifty years later, the Shops had grown to cover over 100 acres, with the rail yard covering another two hundred, and were a huge economic engine for the city and region for years.

The website Pittsburg Memories has extensive maps and photo documentation of the shops, including interior views of the building in our photo once it had been completed. This map shows our building on the upper right. The view of our photo is looking at the upper left corner of the building as it's shown on the map. A corresponding aerial photo can be seen here.

Times change, however, and with the advent of interstate highways and the robust trucking industry, the freight that supported railroads became less local and more point-to-point. Eventually, KCS decided that it was just not economical to maintain two large shops operations, and so most of the repair activity from Pittsburg was relocated to the KCS shops in Shreveport LA. The buildings then sat idle for a number of years, becoming a magnet for vandals. In June, 2010, the three-month process of demolishing this once-bustling economic center began.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Teeter-Totter

For #FamilyPhotoFriday, I offer you the simple pleasures of spending some time on a crude but effective teeter-totter.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Miss Howarth's North Side Grade 4 Class

I hate it when valuable bits of family history get separated from their families. This class photo, picked up in an antique store in a Chicago suburb, is worn and faded, but two things help: the photographer notated the class and teacher on the negative, and the sister of two of the students pictured wrote names on the back. This is presumably North Side school, grade 4, with a Miss Howarth as the teacher. The photograph itself is typical of the 1890s.
On the back has been written "George Hasel, Margaret (Meg) Hasel, bro & sister of Ann (Hasel) Gourley".
Contrast enhanced and tone mapped in order to bring out faded details. Presumably that's the principal or headmaster at the far right.
So here are the results of my short bit of research (for the benefit of anyone doing genealogy research on these names) who these folks were: has an entry for an Anna Hasel Gourley, born June 25, 1891 in Fairbury, Livingston Co. Illinois. The site also has an entry for Margaret G. Hasel, born 1888 (and listed on the site as Anna's sister); while nothing is said of the location of her birth, her grave is in Fairbury, Livingston Co. Ill. Since most fourth graders are nine or ten years old, that would put this photo at 1897 or 1898, consistent with the physical characteristics of the print.

Information on George Hasel is much more tenuous. Findagrave has several by that name, but none buried in Illinois, and only one, George Frank Hasel, who was born in the right date range (June 3, 1887); he is buried in California, so he might be the brother...or his birth date might be just a coincidence. has an entry for Simon J Hasel who lived (and died) in Fairbury and had eight children, three of which are Anna B. Gourley, Margaret G. and George Frank, which to me confirms that this is the correct family matching the photo. If anyone is doing research on this family and has thoughts on these kids, please leave a comment below!

As for Miss Howarth, Findagrave has an entry for a Alice Hindle Howarth, also buried in Fairbury, Illinois. She was born April 6, 1849, so if this photo was taken in 1898, that would make her 49 years old, consistent with her appearance in the photo. As for her being referenced as "Miss" when Howarth is her married name, that is still today a common practice for teachers (my wife is one).

Fairbury is a small town in north-central Illinois, about 80 miles as the crow flies from Elk Grove Village, where the antique store is that had this photo. The population of Fairbury in 2000 was 3,968 and in 1900 was 2,187.
The two Hasel children are marked with blue pen X's.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Double Date to a T

There's nothing like a drive in the country in a way that couldn't be done just a few years before: in the convenience of a convertable Model T Touring Car! The car appears to be somewhere between a 1920 and 1922 year model.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

In the Back Yard of the House of Four Winds

It's always fun to come across an obscure piece of history in a photo and find out that a century later the place still exists and is in fact thriving. Such is the case with the House of Four Winds.

Our photo is a real-photo postcard, probably one of several depicting the old adobe which were sold as sourvenirs. If you Google the place, you'll find a lot of images of the front of the house, the street view, both old and new, because remarkably this early adobe has been saved and restored. It is located at 540 Calle Principal in old Monterey. However, a modern photograph from this perspective, would not be possible today (more on that in a minute).

House of the Four Winds along with the Colton Hall on the 
left and the Larkin House (which also survives) on the right.
Collection of the Monterey Civic Club
At the time the house was built, in about 1835, Alta California was a territory of Mexico (which had just won its independence from Spain fourteen years earlier) and Monterey was the capitol of the territory. Thomas O. Larkin, the only American consul to serve in Alta California, developed a large piece of land and built several houses on it, including this one just a short distance from his own (as a non-citizen, he was not permitted to actually own land, but was able to obtain several land grants in the names of his children). The house originally had a weather vane mounted to the peak of its roof, supposedly the first such device in the territory, and so the local natives called the building "The House of Four Winds" (sometimes shortened to the Spanish name La Casa de los Vientos).

Here's an old postcard view of the front,
courtesy of the New York Public Library's Digital Collection
The house became the residence of Mexican Governor of California, Juan Bautista Alvarado. The building was only a year or so old when Alvarado led a rebellion against the distant central government in Mexico City. There was quite a bit of back-and-forth political turmoil, but Californio became a quasi-autonomous territory under Alvarado.

In 1846, Americans became more and more present in Monterey, and for a while the area was occupied by Americans. During this time, Alvarado used the building as a store.

In 1848, Mexico lost what hold they had on California in the Mexican-American War, and it became first a US Territory then a state. During the period of occupation by the Americans during the Mexican-American War, and immediately after, the house was used as a resident by Army Captain Henry "Old Brains" Halleck who served first as an aid to General Bennet Riley, the Governor-General of California Territory and then as military Secretary of State, which allowed him to be the Governor-General's representative at the California Constitution Convention, held in near-by Colton Hall in 1849; Halleck became one of the leading authors of the constitution of the new state. According to the California Military Museum, Halleck was the Convention's "brains because he had given more studious thought to the subject than any other, and General Riley had instructed him to help frame the new constitution." While records are obscure or non-existent, it is entirely possible that he could have done some of the writing of the Constitution in the House of Four Winds.

After California achieved statehood, the House of the Four Winds became the state's first Hall of Records with the establishment of the new County of Monterey, and the County Recorder, W. C. Johnson lived there.

Glass plate negative, collection of the Monterey Civic Club
In 1906, a number of prominent Monterey women joined together to form the Women's Civic Club (later renamed Monterey Civic Club) with the mission to acquire and preserve some Monterey's early adobe buildings before they succumbed to time and progress; the House of Four Winds was purchased in 1914 and was renovated, becoming the orgaization's clubhouse. Because of the age of the Archive's print and the presence of domestic animals, it is believed that our photograph was taken about the time the club acquired the building.

The restoration of the building was guided by Myron Oliver, at the time a leading expert on the history of early Monterey architecture and home decor. The facade has been restored to how it looked in the 1850s. He chose the furnishings carefully, and amongst the collection is the original desk from Colton Hall upon which the final draft of the Constitution was written.

As was noted earlier, our photograph could not be dublicated today, because in order to carry on their activites and yet not disturb their historic building, in 1953 the Monterey Civic Club built an addition onto the back of the building which now serves as a recreation and event hall, and a large Masonic Hall was built next door, as can be seen in the Google Maps view below.

More information on the house:
Special thanks to Barbara Siebeneick of the Monterey Civic Club for the reserch help!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Gothenburg Businessman and his Rig

This photo comes from a larger collection all centered on the Nebraska town of Gothenburg, taken in the 1915 to 1919 timeframe (much more from this collection to come). This guy appears to be a gentlman of means, so it is a bit surprising to me that he's riding around in such a rig, instead of one of the new horseless carriages!