Sunday, May 28, 2017

Digging the Cut

Today, as giant earthmovers constantly recarve the landscape, it's easy to forget that there was a time when it was men, not machine, that cut away the hillsides to make our roads and railroads possible. It was men, not machine, who built America.

A work gang, probably composed of immigrants, likely Irishmen, uses picks and shovels to move a bit of a mountain out of the way. In an era when photography usually relied on long exposure times, the freezing of a shovelfull of dirt in mid-air before it drops into the railcar is remarkable.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The New Fire Hall

This real photo postcard was written but not postally mailed, and the text on the back includes "The New Fire Hall". Someone, much latter, added "NY", so presumably they new this was in New York (state, or city?) somewhere.

In the lower right of the photo is the for-sale sign shown below, but unfortunately, despite high-resolution scanning, the resolution of the original photo just isn't quite good enough to make out the street address of the realtor, which might then help locate the photo.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Our House - 8

This is a delightfully beautiful Victorian gingerbread...I only wish I knew where it was! Clearly this was built when manual labor was cheap but still carried great pride in craftsmanship.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Best Tractors

In the deserts of the west, just after the turn of the century, steam and gasoline-powered tractors replaced mules as the motive power for wagon trains. Our photo shows trains pulled by two Best Round-Wheel Model 75 tractors, carrying what appeared to be half-sections of large-diameter pipe, the type used on big water projects.

The round-wheel version of the Best 75 was a bit of a rarety, as the majority of this model were built as tracked machines. Produced by the C. L. Best Company between 1914 and 1919, these machines have a lineage reaching back to the 1870s, and a heritage still alive today in Caterpillar Tractors. Best Manufacturing Company was founded by Daniel Best in 1871, but soon found itself fiercely in competition with the Holt tractor company, owned by brothers Charles, Benjamin and Frank. Soon accusations of patent infringements flew, and the two companies headed to court in 1905. As a result, they ended up deciding to merge under the Holt name in 1908 but with Best's son, Clarence Leo Best, serving as president of the San Leandro, California, factory.

The peace wasn't kept for long, and C. L. Best soon became dissatisfied with life under the thumb of the Hold Brothers. Despite the fact that the original merger had included a no-compete clause, C. L. ignored that and in 1910, left Holt with a number of their key engineers, and founded the C. L. Best Gas Traction Company in Elmhurst, California, and began to manufacture tracked and four-wheeled tractors. By far the most successful of the products was the Model 75 Tracklayer, which incorporated a front tiller wheel, introduced in 1914. Over the next five years, over seven hundred of these tractors would be manufactured, about a hundred of which were built with big 90-inch diameter steel wheels in place of the tracks. Because Best used a higher grade steel in many parts of the tractor, they gained a reputation of being tougher and more durable than their competion, the Holt 75 (which, in the tracked version, looked almost identicle). Of course, more legal collisions with Holt were inevitable, and other competitors sprung up, including Henry Ford's Fordson brand. It made for hard competition, and by 1925 Hold and Best agreed to merge once again, forming the now-famous Caterpillar Tractor Company.

Given the manufacturing dates, this puts the Los Angeles Aqueduct out of contention for the location of this photo. But, there were plenty of other large western water projects that used such equipment.

Only one round-wheel Best 75 is known to have survived, and photos can be seen on the Steel Wheels website (and big thanks to webmaster David Parfitt for the research help!).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Burning Down the School

In June 1907, the Fort Dodge, Iowa High School, caught fire. The building was ten years old, and was able to be restored. Our photo is printed on the popular postcard paper format, and was actually sent, being postmarked on June 20, 1907. A greedy stamp collector tore the hole in the photo.

The building was badly damaged, with the roof and part of at least one wall collapsing (This website has a version of our photo, plus one taken a bit later during the fire, and the wall collapse is evident). Surprisingly, though, enough of the stone structure was left that the school was rebuilt, although the appearance was a bit different. While researching this fire, I found that a colorized postcard show what the school looked like was for sale on eBay, so I bought it; the card is shown below.

There are several other photos of the school out on the web. Grinnell College's digital collection has the photo on the right, which shows the school before the fire.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Day on a Riverboat

It's unclear whether this is some special excursion event, or these are just people traveling on a riverboat, but the photo clearly shows these folks are enjoying the trip.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Our May Day Picnic

Today is May Day, and 131 years ago in 1886, this is what one celebratory picnic by a group of elderly friends looked like.

This is a rather unique and artistic way of photographing such an event; typically a photographer of that era, taking a group photo, would have everyone stand close together. This is more of what in modern times is known as the "rock album" pose.

A passing pedestrian looks in over the fence