Introduction to Journey's End

For me, there’s a difference between a trip and a journey. To use a photography analogy, it’s like comparing a digital snapshot taken with a cell phone to an evocative and moving image by Ansel Adams. One is simple and basic; the other rich, memorable, satisfying.

Yet, my dictionary defines journey matter-of-factly, as “the act of traveling from one place to another.” In other words, getting from Point A to Point B. That may be fine for Webster, but I like to think of a journey as an experience that moves the psyche or affects the emotions, as well as gets us from A to B. So, I place journey alongside words like pilgrimage, odyssey, and expedition, each of which conjures up far more imagery than a mere trip.

Of course, the ultimate journey is Life itself, and it often leads us in a direction that can’t be foreseen. While we all start off at a personal Point A (our birth), there’s no way to know precisely how, or when, we’ll reach our ultimate Point B (our demise). Nor can we anticipate any of the detours and stops along the way.

There’s an old, faded, color photograph of me taken shortly after my own Point A. I’m just a few months of age, cradled in my dad’s arms, with my big sister, Marsha, standing next to us. We’re posed in front of a 1946 Chevrolet sedan, which is a two-tone blue, and badly in need of a coat of wax. There’s another photo, taken at the same time, showing Mom and Grandma Dowell standing in front of that same car, looking at it with obvious admiration. In those days, particularly in a small town like Fowler, Indiana, a car (even a three-year-old one, less-than-shiny) was something special—almost as special as having a first son. It made the perfect backdrop for a photo of the new baby boy—me.

There’s nothing about that early image that could predict photography in my future, but it is representative of how each of our lives is inextricably linked to transportation—especially here in a state known officially as the Crossroads of America. All of us, as we grow, from infancy to old age, take countless trips—riding a bus to and from school, commuting to work, driving to the grocery, traveling to meetings—but most of these trips are forgotten. However, a few are remarkable enough to be called journeys—and they stand out.

I remember several journeys from my childhood. There was a first train ride—behind a steam-belching, coal-burning locomotive—while I was still in kindergarten. And a plane ride with a salesman friend of Dad’s. Once airborne, he let me take controls. I was about 11, and felt just like Sky King. I don’t recall any specifics about the locomotive, or the airplane, but I can still feel the emotion and excitement. That’s what this book is about—the journeys that stay with us because they were memorable—sometimes, even extraordinary.

A few years after our family moved to Lafayette, and ten years after my picture was taken in front of that ’46 Chevy, Grandma Dowell gave me her Kodak box camera. It was a dinosaur—decades old at the time—but I was excited nevertheless. Right away, I rode my bicycle up to the J.B. Lische Drug Store, where I bought a roll of film. In two days, I dropped it off to be developed. When I returned, at the end of the week, to pick up my very first batch of photographs, I was disappointed—they just weren’t very good. But I wasn’t discouraged. I figured I needed a better camera. So, I bought a roll of film for my parent’s much newer Brownie Hawkeye—which they hardly ever used—and took more pictures. Again, the quality was pretty bad. Now, I was discouraged.

For some reason, I’ve kept the negatives from those first two rolls of film for almost 50 years—despite their poor composition and lack-of-focus. They show relatives (some now deceased), the house we moved away from in 1963, my red-and-white 24” Huffy bicycle, and a push cart I put together out of scrap lumber and scrounged wagon wheels.

As the years passed, I put photography on hold, and turned my attention to transportation. I replaced my Huffy with a new 26” Schwinn that had a shiny chrome front fork with spring suspension. Then, in my early teens, I built a mini-bike out of ½” steel water pipe and a Briggs-and-Stratton lawn-mower engine. When it was finished, and painted Rust-Oleum blue, it didn’t look half bad—and its 1½-horsepower propelled me along just fine. As I rode it all over town, I started thinking about putting together my own automobile.

I was inspired by a series of articles in Car Craft magazine with the no-nonsense title, “How to Build a Hot Rod.” Fortunately, the articles were well-written and easy-to-follow. It wasn’t a project most boys would consider tackling, but I made my way through axles and suspension, brakes and steering, engine and transmission, then electrical wiring, learning how each component worked—repairing, rebuilding, and repainting wherever necessary. As I prepared for my senior year of high school, I completed the construction process, and painted it Ford Mustang Poppy Red—a stand-out bittersweet orange.

As I hack-sawed, drilled, sanded, filed, and welded, I borrowed my parent’s camera again—they’d upgraded to an Instamatic—and took snapshots of my car’s progress. Sadly, my photographic skills were not improving. I was, at the time, a hands-on, left-brain sort of kid who preferred math, physics, and drafting courses, rather than history and Latin. Art and literature were outside my sphere of interest. But I was still interested in taking pictures so, after entering Purdue, I contacted a photography instructor in the Art department, to see if I could take his class. He was polite, but firm. The course was only open to Art majors, and I wasn’t one.

Shortly after college, Lynn and I met, got married and, after a few years, bought a decrepit 1850’s Federal-style farmhouse on the outskirts of Lafayette. About midway through the renovation, when we were in our late twenties, we purchased a used 35-mm Minolta camera. We took it along on day trips to Chicago, and elsewhere. But we primarily used it to photograph Lynn’s artwork, and to document the restoration of our old house. I had fun with that camera, and my pictures were getting somewhat better, but they still weren’t anything noteworthy.

For the next major stage of our journey through life, Lynn and I decided to put our newly restored farmhouse on the market, and relocate to Bloomington. Our decision was baffling to friends and relatives but, on the very day we painted the last wall, we called up a Realtor, and the house was sold within 24 hours.

The idea of moving to Bloomington wasn’t completely out-of-the-blue. In fact, it had been in our thoughts for several years. When we’d honeymooned at the big yellow-brick hotel in French Lick (It was a Sheraton back then.), we’d fallen in love with the wooded hills of southern Indiana and, in particular, with Bloomington. Its large liberal-arts university and casual, arty atmosphere just felt right to us.

We had no job prospects in Bloomington, and knew no one there, so my left-brained self wasn’t involved with the decision, but an emerging right-brained part of me was. In short, Lynn and I simply trusted that Destiny would lead the way—and it did. After a few years in Bloomington, we became full-time authors, wrote several books on building healthy houses and living healthy lifestyles—and we founded a successful small publishing business. Then, as we reached our 50s, we grew restless, and were ready to explore new horizons once again.

The next leg of our journey began when I picked up a flyer listing classes at Bloomington’s John Waldron Art Center, and a photography course caught my eye. It was very basic, just eight weeks long, but I signed up, and was immediately hooked. Within days of completing the class, I purchased a new, medium-format Mamiya camera and started building my own darkroom. I also embarked on an in-depth, self-study program by reading every photography book I could get my hands on—monographs, histories, biographies, as well as books on technique. Within a few years I had over 300 books in my personal photography library.

From the day Lynn and I met, we’ve gone for drives together out in the country. Three or four times a month we’d head off in a direction we’d never been before, just to see what was there. Now, we found ourselves heading out—specifically to take photographs—two or three times a week. As I got used to my new camera, I was surprised to see that I was actually mastering the medium. I progressed from having one or two keepers per roll of film, to several. My darkroom skills also improved and, as I learned to access my creative side, I realized I’d probably had a latent ability all along.

One day, while we were out driving, Lynn suggested we publish a book of my photographs. Because we already owned our own publishing company, it seemed like an obvious next step. Just 8 years after taking that short photography course, we’re completing this, our sixth Indiana photography book. It’s been a journey neither of us could have foreseen ten years earlier, much less when we met in 1972.

Today, we lead lives completely intertwined with how we earn a living. Together, we travel highways and back roads, seeking out relics of a disappearing Hoosier past. As I take photographs, Lynn keeps records of the locations on her iMac laptop computer, and interviews fascinating local people. Together, we evaluate contact sheets to determine which images to print and, with her artist’s eye (she has a degree in Art Education) she does an excellent job of critiquing my work. When it’s time to prepare a book for the printer, she’s the one who makes the final selection of images, as she designs and lays out the cover and all the pages.

So far, our books have required 75,000 miles of journeying, and we’ve visited every city and town (2,099 localities in all) on the Indiana Highway Map. By keeping our own hours, we can, on a minute’s notice, set out on a 16-hour day trip. Or, I might spend time in my darkroom, while Lynn writes an essay about an interesting place we’ve investigated. Or, we might hike in the woods, or read a book. It’s a job—a life—that suits us perfectly.

As we travel across Indiana, Lynn and I often marvel at how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do—driving around, exploring, discovering unique places. When we come across the battered and rusted hulk of a once-shiny Packard, we know it’s much more than an abandoned car, for it was probably an important part of someone’s life. When we see a stretch of heavy, steel railroad tracks being ripped up, when we look at the ruin of a limestone lock on the Wabash & Erie Canal, when we encounter an empty railroad station, we know these are places that have shaped the destinies of countless Hoosiers.

Yes, we all have memories of journeys involving cars, trains, buses, bridges, roads, and more. We remember how they affected us, changed our lives. There are tales of transportation journeys that all of us could tell but, with the passing of time, many of the stories are destined to be lost, forgotten, unrecorded. This book is filled with transportation relics, but it’s not the objects that are important. It’s the journeys they took us on—especially to destinations within ourselves. It’s the journeys that make us who we are.

May Journey’s End trigger memories of your sojourns across this Hoosier state—and keep them alive.

John Bower