Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

My facination with forgotten and old things

Posted by Frum Hiker on August 1, 2007

Today I stopped by a book sale under a striped tent in the historic village of Grahamsville which sits snugly right up against the wall that begins the Catskill Mountains. I drove by and debated pulling a u-turn to browse through some cheap books at the Library sale. I love books, especially when the chance to own some books that are probably out of print. I came to a stop right in front of the tent that was set up on a lawn next to the Library, two women were putting things in order and paid me no mind as I gave a quick glance at the soft cover fiction. I then made my way to the non-fiction side and glanced in the old cardboard boxes once used for corn or ketchup bottles, their lettering had been slightly scraped off surely from the multiple uses they had gone through seeing that last stalk of corn freshly plucked from a farmers field by one of those huge on Deere threshing machines that look more like torture devices then farm equipment.

I carefully browsed through the books and came across something of interest, a book of reference for Congress from 1934, my mind instantly said “cool” and I plucked it from the stack and sent a plume of dust flying through the air. It even has the Congressional members addresses in the back. I then found a memoir book with a letter written to the receiver of the book obviously a gift at some point. It was signed 1874, wow I thought, something 130 years old for 50 cents- I cant miss out on this one. I then found a copy of Silent Spring and a book of industrial revolution engineering. All together I spent $1.50, I then sat down on the grass and took a closer look at my goodies.

I cradled the book with the inscription from 1874 and thought about all the hands or generations of people that had read or touched this book. I thought about who might have originally wrote that and how fortunate I was to own something of such age. I then thought about how I must be the only 25 year old guy who is interested in something of the sort. Normal guys my age do not pursue things of yesteryear and rather enjoy the days ahead with a constant yearning for whatever new and flashy is in style at the time.

I remember as a child walking on these abandoned railroad tracks that were in this park along the Saw Mill River Parkway just north of New York City. I can remember the two straight lines of rusted rail barely showing through the thickets and small trees that had taken over since the last trains, in my imagination steam, had sped through these woods. The telegraph poles still stood in some places and shiny insulators of green and white sometimes hung on for dear life as the vines tried to pull them and their wires down to earth.

My father would talk about the insulators a lot and how they were worth money since most of them had been shot down by young kids in the country looking for stuff to shoot. He would talk about how they were the best thing to make sure the wires did not touch the wooden poles, these were the days before rubber he would chime in. He would talk about why there was tons of coal scattered about the woods and how the train burned coal to move, its mostly in a blur now.

I remember visiting old towns in far off places, flung away from the interstates and tourists left to rust and go back into the earth when folks moved onto better places. The big old Victorian mansions with their sweeping verandas and ornate roof detail. The old roadside cemeteries that have long been forgotten and are marked only by a mowed circle and some old slanting head stones with barely legible dates. My father would trace the dates with his hand to figure out how old they were, he even took pictures.

Is this where my love of old forgotten things came from, my love of old motels with those blinking neon signs that have long since been converted into low income weekly residences since the interstates took their business and gave it to the chain motel. My love of the old train station sitting next to a rail road bed devoid of tracks and the only sign that it is a station comes from the two lines between the tall grass that signify the grasses unwillingness to grow where those iron bars had been. My love of the old car sticking its head out from underneath some trees that are growing through its hood, with its empty engine compartment and the windows long since smashed and shot out, flattened white walled tires and graffiti scrawled across its exterior. Or the thrill of passing by an old dilapidated barn that is on the verge of collapse and seeing an old Ford with a dusty old tarp covering it and shielding from its inevitable destruction.

Is this where my love of factories came from, those red bricked Romanesque arched windowed monoliths with huge blackened smoke stacks protruding from their fiery depths, with machinery the size of houses packed inside. The thrills of walking through these industrial behemoths that once spewed toxins and all sorts of pollutants in the air in the name of progress and higher living standards. Figuring out when they were abandoned and what type of goods they produced.

Is this where my love for anything Art Deco came from, those straight modern lines signifying the roaring 20’s and the speak easy and prohibition. The beautiful gas stations of the era and the Syracuse train station of note. Is this where my fascination with old bottles, post cards, books, photographs, coins, baseball cards and many other things of old, came from.

I remember when I moved out and had the freedom of a car with a full tank of gas. I would wander for days, weeks or just a few hours through the country side searching for anything old and forgotten. Towns that had seen better days were my favorite and western New York was full of them. Towns that served one purpose, to get the grain to the market, so they revolved around the trains that came to pick up the grain from the silos or elevators that stood trackside. The trains declined and trucking took over, no more a need for the actual town. Interstates also led to the demise of the small town once a haven for weary travelers seeking a cup of coffee and some fresh pie- instead they took their meals the uniform way at Dennys or McDonalds.

I would wander around the old grain districts of Buffalo and wonder what it was like during the heyday of the grain industry there. I would wander the old rail road yards of Salamanca and Elmira and look for insulators and hop on board old abandoned trains. I love the tracks, I love simply walking on them or driving over them, I am addicted to rail road tracks, the lore and the adventure, I don’t know why?

I found old boats and old cars and old restaurants and old hotels. Old hotel signs are especially intriguing as well as old diners or gas stations. Old pumps are hardto find in the east, but in the west they are in abundance still. Go to the southwest that is where they are I tell ya. Blinking neon hotel signs, old gas stations with those big bay windows and glass blocks. Urban renewal downtowns with a mix of ugly 1960’s era buildings and the old ornate buildings.

Old books, old magazines with ads for Packard cars and RCA radios, happy ads of a different time. Articles about the creating of Alaska as a state, books with old letters in them. Anything old and lost and forgotten, why is that the case.

Old roads, I mean highways and roads, road beds anything that tells me a road once existed in this very spot but is long gone. Cuts through the trees with power lnes following and a clear indication of a road. Maybe I pass over a river and look to the side and see old bridge pillars. I stop get out of my car, camera and tripod in hand and go to investigate. Why was the road moved? Does the road bed still exist, are there clues as to what the surface was made out of? Maybe I will find some old signs or relics of the old road. US routes are best for this, since they are still federal roads in a pure sense, though the state maintains them- they are still the same numbers in every state. Routes 9, 20 and 6 immediately come to mind.

Route 6 in fact is interesting in the Harriman State Park area, there it has changed from original, you can see it through the trees, a overgrown relatively winding road. I have not investigated it yet, I will, it is heavily traveled. I wonder when they switched the route, was it all at once or just chunks?

The old US highways also have the best motels, ice cream stands, old signs, advertisements, gas stations, architecture and diners. I promise, drive down route 209 which goes from Kingston NY to Port Jervis and points beyond NY state, there are multiple examples of this fine old architecture and interesting sites. I love to drive the old routes that have been turned into streets. I can also spot where the road used to go based on power lines, power lines always follow the road. The power lines go off the road and you will surely see that there is an old road bed of some sort, crumbling concrete poking through the weeds.

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2 Responses to “My facination with forgotten and old things”

  1. Lynne Bailey said

    It’s so nice to read about a young collector. You are right there are not many people your age interested in the things you are. But, if you live in a big city you are bound to connect with more like-minded people, of all ages.

  2. Liz Haldeman said

    Nice job. I have enjoyed your site. I also take a closer look. Where did a road lead? Why are the tress lined the way they are? A driveway, to what? What is up that road? etc… another time,another place.

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