Journey's End: Relics and ruins of Indiana's transportation legacy

PHOTOGRAPHY by John Bower, FOREWORD by Brian Byrn


Read Brian Byrn's Foreword
Read John Bower's Introduction
Read John Bower's Afterword
at sample images

The motto, "Crossroads of America," implies that there’s a lot in Indiana having to do with transportation. And there is—as Hoosier photographer John Bower discovered while crisscrossing the state in search of an extensive, culturally influential, transportation heritage. The result, Journey's End: Relics and ruins of Indiana's transportation legacy, showcases forlorn and rusting steam locomotives, diesel engines, automobiles, trucks, interurbans, and towboats—as well as crumbling infrastructure, factories, and garages. These are all rapidly disappearing objects and places from our collective past that have helped defined us as a state, and as a people.

Journey's End is a book filled with emotional portraits of once gleaming, but now rusted, vehicles abandoned along fence rows, lonely depots adjacent to trackless railroad grades, and defunct service stations whose retired pumps offer gas at 31¢ a gallon. These are images that will spark transportation memories in everyone who sees them—of those Sunday drives to Grandma's, interminable waits at railroad crossings hoping for the arrival of a caboose, a first airplane flight, a first car, or the long bus rides to school. These stunning images are iconic reminders of where we have come from—and the means of transport we took along the way.

Motivation and inspiration for creating Journey's End

As I look back on my life, I’m amazed at how many transportation-related memories shaped the person I became. From our family’s used Studebakers, to early train rides, to building a hot rod, each of these experiences altered my destiny. As a result, I became a man who enjoys the challenges of building and repairing all manner of mechanical equipment—and a husband who loves to drive and explore with his wife. As I thought about how important transportation has been to me, I became convinced that everyone in our culture has their own unique set of transportation experiences that impacted their lives as well.

So I decided that, in a state whose motto is “The crossroads of America,” I would create a book honoring the remains of vehicles, and their transportation-related infrastructure, from our collective past. From a field of 100 rusting Hudson automobiles, to derelict railroad roundhouses, to beached Ohio River towboats, I captured on film an amazing variety of transportation wonders that once represented cutting-edge technology. For, in their lifetimes of service, they were all modern marvels of movement. Now in their sedentary dotage, they still possess the power to bring back remembrances of their earlier selves—and ours.

Journey's End is OUT-OF-PRINT and no longer available.
8.5" x 10" trade paperback, 144 pages, ISBN 978-0-9745186-5-7

The Journey...

During the year Lynn and I were working on Silent Workplace, we shot a few defunct railroad depots, automobile factories, and gas stations. But, after visiting Murl May’s Garage in Salamonia, we decided to save most of those transportation-related photographs for another book. May’s old garage belonged to a different time, with 31.9¢ per gallon on one of the gasoline pumps, so we knew we’d found a real treat. As I set up my camera and tripod, Lynn went knocking on doors to see if a neighbor could tell us anything about the place. Not 10 minutes later, she came back with a 92-year-old gentleman, Paul May, who said this had been his father’s business, and it had closed in 1962, when his dad died. Although Paul walked with a cane, he was pretty spry, and offered us a peek inside. As he slid the door open, we were greeted by a 1925 Buick Roadster. Behind it was a 1914 Model T Touring car, then a 1953 Packard. The interior was packed—almost to the ceiling in places.

Snaking her way between piles of cartons, old cabinets, and the automobiles, Lynn spotted a mirror with two sets of women’s legs painted at the top, and asked Paul what it was for. He tapped his knee with his cane and said it was to advertise Nehi soda pop. Then she noticed a stack of posters—all advertising a Charlie Chaplin movie. The old brass cash register was still there, along with a variety of decades-old car parts, and boxes of who-knew-what. Along one wall were two shelves of heavy glass batteries, connected by wires, pointy-topped light bulbs, and switches, which Paul’s dad had rigged up to recharge automobile batteries. The place was an amazing time capsule, and Murl’s coveralls were still hanging on a nail.

So, it was Murl May’s Garage that convinced us to do Journey’s End—Relics and ruins of Indiana’s transportation legacy. But we knew there was a great deal more to photograph, so I searched the internet and learned that over 200 brands of automobile had been made in Indiana—and a number of their factories were still standing. I was also able to download lists of old railroad and interurban facilities. Plus, people we met at presentations gave us additional leads.

We found railroad depots (both passenger and freight) in various degrees of decline, two abandoned roundhouses, concrete coaling towers still straddling active tracks, switching towers near crossings and yards, decrepit railroad cars and cabooses, and steam engines (both restored and in the rough). I shot an Amtrak diesel-electric engine in a Greene Co. scrap yard, several 100-year-old iron bridges (including the third longest of its kind in the world), an out-of-service bascule bridge (a type of drawbridge) in Hammond, a concrete one said to be haunted, and several active railroad tunnels. We found aging service stations, including Bob’s in Argos, where you could visit with Chico, Bob’s pet monkey. We discovered three junk yards filled with vehicles from the ‘40s and ‘50s, including one that contained nearly 100 Hudsons. I photographed the inside of the former Haynes Automobile Co. (America’s First Car) in Kokomo, a tall smokestack with giant letters spelling CHEVROLET in Muncie, an Edsel dealer’s sign with peeling paint, retired tourist cabins, a closed-up diner from the ‘50s, and a stretch of the National Road’s original two-lane brick pavement. And a livery stable, a buggy repair shop, and two limestone carvings on the sides of buildings depicting blimps. We found a lighthouse in Lake Michigan, and three tow boats pulled up on the bank of the Ohio River.

Near Medora, we visited the longest covered bridge in the U.S. and, in Vigo Co., the last ferry on the Wabash. There were remnants of Indiana’s old electric interurban system—an abandoned passenger car, substations, depots, a car barn, and a power house. We were particularly pleased to be able to photograph some of the Studebaker factory buildings in the process of being razed, including one (Building 78), which had a 4-story-tall interior with a rolling crane for loading and unloading railroad cars. And a stone lock, a culvert, and mechanisms of 19th-century canals—plus the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, which is still in use in East Chicago. I even shot abandoned airport hangers, a defunct control tower—and Gus Grissom’s Molly Brown Gemini capsule which is on display at Spring Mill State Park.

In Thorntown, we thoroughly enjoyed Ivan’s Service, which had been closed for about 25 years. Ivan’s son, Floyd, unlocked the front door, gave us a brief history, then went off to eat breakfast with friends, after telling us to lock the door when we were done. A literal time capsule, there were shelves of automobile parts, v-belts, and gaskets for decades-old automobiles (some stored in glass jars), 6-volt light bulbs, cans of Solvento, cardboard Bun candy-bar boxes filled with financial receipts. Ivan’s hat still hung on a hook next to the ancient cash register, near ratty fly swatters, greasy flashlights, and nubby pencils. Lynn and I spent two hours exploring and photographing the place.

For the Foreword, Lynn and I wanted an Indiana Art professional, so I approached Brian Byrn, Curator of Exhibitions and Education at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart. I’d talked to Brian a few times over the phone, knew he’d grown up in Corydon, and figured he’d be able to write something that would combine his expertise in art with Indiana’s transportation heritage. And he did a great job, bringing together transportation memories from his past, and his love of artists like N.C. Wyeth, Edward Hopper, photographer Walker Evans—even the creator of the Rat Fink, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.