Afterword to Journey's End

When we were driving around southern Indiana for our first photography book, Lingering Spirit, six years ago, Lynn suggested we ought to do our next one on transportation. To which I responded, “I don’t think there would be much to photograph.” So, we worked on other books, with other themes. And, as we worked on them, I came to see what a good idea she’d had—and how varied such a book could be.

As we started to really get into this project, we found not only relics and ruins of automobiles and trucks (and service stations and garages), but the remains of canals, railroads, interurbans, riverboats, even airports. I’d always known, of course, that, in time, vehicles rust and wear out—then they’re usually junked for scrap. And, that their infrastructure—factories, depots, canal locks, railroad bridges—eventually get sold, reused, or torn down. But what truly surprised me was how much remained—how much had simply been walked away from, to sit idle, derelict, and nearly forgotten. In the end, we discovered so much related to Indiana’s transportation heritage, that we had more images to sort through than for any previous book we’ve done.

For me, two Hoosiers, whose combined lives spanned a mere century, illustrate the many changes transportation has undergone in Indiana’s brief history—Wilbur Wright and Gus Grissom.

In 1867, just two years after Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon, Wilbur Wright was born near Millville, Indiana in a tiny farmhouse on a little-traveled, rutted, dirt road. At the time, Indiana’s canals were becoming passé, and railroads were expanding, yet most Hoosiers still traveled on foot, or relied on animal power. As a young man, when the very first horseless carriages were being built by hand, Wilbur, along with his brother Orville, envisioned an even more amazing means of transport—the flying machine.

Orville Wright was a high-school dropout. Wilbur completed his required courses, but moved with his family to Ohio so abruptly he never received his diploma. Despite lacking college educations, the brothers made detailed studies of all aspects of flight. They closely watched how birds flew, experimented with wing configurations, and built their own wind tunnel to test airfoil designs. In 1903—only two years after H.G. Wells’ The First Men on the Moon was published—the Wrights made the world’s first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air flight. It lasted only twelve seconds, but it changed everything. It would be another 5 years before Henry Ford unveiled his Model T.

In 1926, only 14 years after Wilbur’s death, Gus Grissom was born in Mitchell, Indiana. In that same year Robert Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. Gus grew up in an era when interurbans were still running in parts of Indiana—but automobiles were much more common. After graduating from Purdue University, he joined the military, and became a pilot at age 25. He witnessed the evolution of air travel from propeller-driven planes to supersonic jets.

As one of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts, Gus Grissom helped usher in the Space Age. In 1961, he became the second American to enter space and, three years later, he commanded the first manned Gemini flight. Tragically, he was killed in a fire during a 1967 training exercise, for what was to be the first manned Apollo mission. Shortly thereafter, the Apollo program succeeded in putting a man on the moon—an accomplishment that, previously, had been the subject of Wells’ and Verne’s science-fiction. In the short 100 years between Wright’s birth and Grissom’s death, transportation had changed radically.

Brian Byrn has been Curator at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart for almost three decades. When I first spoke to him about writing a Foreword for this book, he said he’d had transportation on his mind lately because he was planning an exhibit of “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles” from the Museum’s permanent collection. Wow, I thought, that’s serendipitous. Then, when Lynn started laying out these pages, she said she had a photograph in mind for page 1, but couldn’t recall where it was taken. When she described it to me, I said I knew exactly where it was taken—in Elkhart, where Brian is located. Serendipity, indeed. His Foreword is a perfect overture for Journey’s End, and I’d like to thank him for his thoughtful contribution.

Lynn and I plan to continue seeking out, and sharing, our state’s hidden heritage through our photography books. We feel very fortunate to be able to do what we do together. It continues to be a most enjoyable journey…