jessica work Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

“Hi, Dad,” said the voice at the other end of the phone.

It was my daughter Jessica, the professor at Boston College. “I am attending a conference in Bar Harbor the last two weeks in July and have rented a house. It’s three bedrooms, and I wondered if you and Pat would like to come.” If ever a rhetorical question was asked, this was it. Answer: “Is the pope Catholic? You bet.”

This was in April, affording us ample lead time in which to ferret out a lower-fare round-trip flight to Boston. I filled out the airline reservation online, then did likewise for a rental car in which to scamper about Mount Desert Island and environs, camera ever at the ready, needless to say.

kennedy Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesJessica said she and Cortney would be driving separate cars, as they needed room for baby Kennedy, who then would be five months old, their three – yes, three – humongous Great Pyrenees dogs and all the requisite paraphernalia. Their two cats would stay behind, minded by a neighbor. Whew!

The rental house actually is in Seal Harbor, seven miles from Bar Harbor. This proved advantageous in that it wasn’t overrun with tourists, many of them cruise-ship passengers binge shopping for just a few hours before returning to the ship for other ports of call yet to beckon.

Jessica later learned that the rental property was two houses down from one of the vacation homes owned by none other than Martha Stewart. Her house, I ascertained from an Internet search, a “modest” 35,000 square feet on 63 acres purchased for $5 million in 1997. It was built in 1925 for Edsel Ford, a son of Henry Ford’s and after whom the ill-fated car of the late 1950s was named.

maine Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

(The unloved Edsel ceased production after only three years, part way into the 1960 model run. Today, an Edsel restored to mint condition fetches big bucks as a coveted collectible. I probably shouldn’t so confess, but I once owned an Edsel, a 1959 jet-black four-door sedan that at the time of purchase – all of $250 — was a decade old. Then encamped in upstate New York, I was en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown one weekend when I espied this beauty on a used-car lot. It fairly spoke to me. I needed a second car like a second hole in the head, but, car buff that I am, I bought it on a whim for $250 cash. A year hence I had put maybe 50 miles on the odo and added a solitary tank of gas for $3.50. I sold it “as is” to a local Ford dealer, he an avid Edsel collector, for $500. Doubled my money in 12 months. Dollar for dollar, best investment I ever made.)


maine house Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Back to Maine. On the first day after arriving, bags unpacked and hugs exchanged with Jessica, Cortney, the impossibly cute Kennedy and, of course, the three enormous dogs – Sequoia, Gulliver and Darwin – Pat and I headed for a tire-kicker visit to tony Bar Harbor, where many illuminati hang out in addition to literally boatloads of people prowling shops for an afternoon while their cruise ship takes on more fuel … and Lord knows how many freeloading barnacles.

After treating ourselves to yummy cones at Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream Parlor, visited the summer prior by President Obama and family after dinner at Havana restaurant across the street,

grandparents Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Pat and I sauntered about downtown. No shortage of opportunities to spend one’s money, that’s for sure. One thing to be said for Bar Harbor, and it’s hardly an aside, is that it definitely is not tacky. All manner of Mom & Pop stores and – get this – nary a chain store of any kind. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Subway and, mercifully, no Wal-Mart, closest of which lies a 45-minute drive away in the very tacky town of Ellsworth, one of those no-zoning-ordinances, pass-through burghs best viewed with both eyes closed.

Nestled between another ice-cream shop and the town’s lone bookstore was an establishment that caught my eye – Katahdin Photo Gallery. As we ogled the beautiful, framed landscape pictures on the wall, the owner, Steve, who takes all of the photographs, approached us. Was there perhaps anything in particular that we would like to purchase and have shipped? Answer: Thanks-but-no-thanks, even though there were a number I would love to hang on the wall back home. What I was interested in, however, was any tips he might have to offer on where to find photogenic old barns and such in the vicinity. Forthcoming he was.

“I would start with the Old Stone Barn,” he said. “It’s more than 200 years old and probably is the most-photographed barn on the island,” he added, scribbling directions on the back of a scrap of paper. “It’s no more than half an hour’s drive from here, and it’s definitely worth it. I’m pretty sure it’s on the National Register of Historic Barns. It’s out on Crooked Road, off the highway to Ellsworth.”

stone barn Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Ugh, Ellsworth. At least we’d be stopping short of Wal-Martville. So, the day following we were off in search of the Old Stone Barn. After driving along for several miles, I was beginning to give up hope. I’d have had my camera out and ready to shoot but for one “small” problem: An old Mercedes-Benz sedan was parked smack dab in front of it. Rats, I muttered to myself. Then I resorted to a practice that’s not usually part of my m.o.: I actually went to the front door of the adjoining house and knocked on the door. To the accompaniment of a howling basset hound, an elderly man opened the creaky screen door.

“What can I do for you, son?” he asked, tugging on a second Wolverine work boot.

“Good morning, sir. I’m a photographer,” I added, underscoring the obvious, as I had my camera hanging from my neck. “You own this place?”

“Yes, have for the past half-century.”

“As you can see, I’m a photographer, and I was wondering if I might take a few shots of the barn.”

“Go right ahead. I’ll be out soon as I get my other boot on.”

Moments later he emerged, dog in tow.

“Think it would be possible to move the car?”

“No problem, where to?”

“Anywhere out of the line of fire would be fine.”

“How about under the big maple tree over there?”

“Excellent. Thank you.”

Car relocated, I set up to take shots from a variety of distances and angles, using both my 18-55mm short telephoto and my 12-24mm wide-angle zoom.

“You only take pictures of barns?”

“No, I’m also partial to old cars and trucks. Rusted relics is what I call them.”

“I have an old truck inside the barn. Want to see it?”

“Love to.”

ford rural americana1 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

As he pushed open the heavy door, what appeared before my eyes was a stunning, beautifully restored 1929 Model A Ford pickup truck shown here.

Once finished, I handed him my card and, belatedly, introduced myself.

“Thomas F. Black, eh?” he recited from the card. “Rural Americana. What’s that?”

“Mostly old barns and old motor vehicles.

Other things as well, but that’s the bulk of it.”

“If you have a computer, I’d be happy to e-mail you the photos I’ve taken.”

“Yup, got a computer,” he said, handing me a card of his own. It read, “Harry Owen, Stone Barn Farm,” with a drawing of the 1820 building on the front. “If you’ve taken anything remarkable, sure, I’d like to see the photos.”

“I’ll be sure to do it once I get back home to California.”

“California? You’re sure a long way from home.”

“Only about three thousand miles.”

“Any other old barns hereabouts I might shoot?”

“Several other historic ones,” he replied, pointing to a lithographed poster tacked to the wall of the barn interior. The local historical society conducted a public tour of local old barns five summers ago. You might call the Mount Desert Island Historical Society and ask them for directions.”

“I definitely will,” I said. Shaking his weathered hand, I thanked him and walked back to the rented Ford Fusion, where Pat was absorbed in the Sunday New York Times.”

“Get anything good?” she asked.

“I think so,” I answered, scrolling through the images on the camera’s LCD screen.

“Very good,” she replied. “I like the one shot from the side.”

The day following was devoted to a drive off the island and toward the fishing village of Stonington. Lobsters, lobsters and more lobsters. If you like to eat them, this may be as close to heaven as an earthbound mortal can get. I’m not all that fond of them, however, nor is Pat. Too much work for too little reward, we feel, worth the utensil-intense effort only if you slather on oceans of clarified butter. I know, I know, millions of people disagree. I’m from the Midwest, though, and Midwesterners – most of them certified carnivores — are big on steak and potatoes. Even after four decades of living in California an hour’s drive from the coast, I’ll take a Porterhouse, medium-rare, thank you, with a nice baked Russet any day.

En route to Stonington, my cellphone rang. Since the rental car lacked Bluetooth and I’m not a fan of “distracted driving,” I pulled over to take the call.

“Tom? This is Harry, Harry Owen. You were just here at the Old Stone Barn. Glad you gave me your card. After you left it occurred to me that you might want to go to the Seal Cove Auto Museum. There are a couple of very old, rusted cars sitting outside in the yard you might find of interest.”

What a nice man! How thoughtful. I pulled back onto the highway and soon we were in Stonington.

While there, I stopped the car for a savory photo op – an entire outside wall of a souvenir shop festooned with a colorful array of old lobster buoys for sale, $10 each. I restrained myself.

I wasn’t especially interested in acquiring one, but I definitely was interested in taking a photo of them. If there was one, there were easily 75, all hanging on nails hammered into the wall. I squeezed off several shots. Here is one I particularly like. Makes a great screensaver image.

En route back to Seal Beach, motoring along Hwy. 75, I espied in the distance an old car, sitting forlornly in a field. I pulled to the apron of a driveway where an old man sat, fiddling with a rusted bumper part.

I walked over and asked, “That your car over there?”

chevrolet photo Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

“Sure is.”

“Well, I’m a photographer,” I replied, holding my camera aloft for him to see.

“Is it a Chevrolet?

“Sure is.”

“What year?”

“’41. Something, isn’t it?”

“Owned it a long time?”

“Just a couple of years, actually. Bought it from a neighbor down the road. Sat in his barn for a long time. I’d had my eye on it for ages, thinking that one day I might make him an offer. The I drug it here on my trailer. Ain’t done nothing with it. Just sittin’ out there. Probably won’t ever get around to fixing it up. I’m too old and I’m running out of gas myself.”

“OK if I take a few pictures?”

“Help yourself,” he said, waving toward it with one hand, caked with naval jelly, a rust remover. He’ll need that and divine intervention to remove all that rust, I told myself.

I had remembered the sunscreen but not, alas, the insect repellent. Within seeming nanoseconds, I could hear the mosquitoes licking their chops. “He looks juicy,” I hear one say to another as they hovered, like so many 17-year locusts.

Although I was wearing long sleeves and a safari hat, my face was unprotected. By the time I was done shooting and had returned to the car, my face had already begun to evidence the results of the airborne assault.

The very next day I went out and bought a homebrewed insect repellent recommended by a pharmacist called Buggle. All natural ingredients, the label read, among them citronella and eucalyptus extracts. It works well, I was to learn, and it actually smells OK.

Heeding the advice of Harry Owen, I called the local historical society. Mentioning the 2006 tour of historic barns, I inquired if there were any posters left that would tell their locations because I wanted to take photographs.

“I don’t think we have any left,” said the man, “but if you have a pencil handy I can tell you the locations and you can Google them. That work for you?”

“Indeed it does,” I replied. “That would be great.” I grabbed my mini-notepad and pencil and started to write down the locations as he rattled them off.

Back home, I conducted an online search of the half-dozen locations he gave me. Only a couple came up, but both looked promising. And, call me Irish, they appeared to be close to each other, perhaps a half-hour drive away.

By now, Pat had had enough of the tag-along routine, and besides, she had run out of the New York Times to read.

Thus I was on my own in seeking out the pair of old barns.

My HTC Incredible cellphone GPS told me I was close, but they still eluded me.

I pulled into the driveway of a house, more or less randomly selected, and rang the front doorbell. Accompanied by a small child, a man opened the screen door and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for the Richardson and Higgins barns. Can you give me directions?”

“You’re very warm. The Richardson barn is right behind us. See the driveway here? Take it all the way back. The Higgins barn is just up the road, same side. Can’t miss it.”

Well, miss it I had, several times.

“Thank you, sir,” I said, “Much obliged.”

No sooner had I gotten back in the car than I saw a couple of prehistoric farm implements off to the side. I got back out and squeezed off a couple of shots. Here they are, a tractor and some sort of a tiller, I’d guess. Heck, what do I know, I’m a city boy.

I drove all the way back on this gravel driveway, past the barn I assumed was my quarry, and to a nice, newly built two-story house. After ringing the bell, a man, 40ish, opened the screen door and poked his head outside.

“Hi. I’m a photographer and I was hoping you might allow me to take some pictures of the barn. Would this be all right?”

old barn photo maine Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images“You bet. I’d be delighted. In fact, I can give you a hand, if you want.”

“Sure. That would be wonderful.”

As we walked to the barn, maybe 500 yards back toward the highway, he began reciting the history of the barn.

“It’s the original building, built by hand between 1790 and 1800 by Daniel Richardson, my great great grandfather, who came over from Scotland. Been in the family ever since. I’m eighth-generation and there are two more, ten in all. I’m proud of that.”

The barn was pretty badly deteriorated, with blue poly tarps shrouding part of one end. Not all that photogenic, actually, nothing to compare with the fetching Old Stone Barn.

“I’d love to restore it if I could,” he said, “but I can’t afford to do so myself and I haven’t been able to find a Sugar Daddy. It would break my heart, but I may have no choice but to dismantle it and sell the barn wood. I know there’s a market for that.”

“What I think you’ll find most interesting is what’s inside,” he said as he moved aside a 4×4 propped against the entry door.

Once inside, my eyeballs almost bolted their sockets. A veritable trove of old, old artifacts – a hand plough, a horse-drawn carriage, old wooden wagon wheels, a horse collar, ladder-back chairs, a wooden sleigh, several window frames and even more goodies. I was blown away.

My guide, Eban Richardson, asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to shoot.

“Just about everything,” I replied, feeling like the proverbial kid in the candy store.

old wagon photograph Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesWith Eban moving objects around to facilitate access for me, I took picture after picture, some with the short telephoto lens, others with the wide-angle. Because it was spooky dark, I used an external, camera-mounted flash. Throw length is up to 20 feet.

Shooting the century-old wagon in the loft, Eban remarked, “Wow, I’m amazed you can get that close.”

I was no more than three feet from one of the huge wheels, and thanks to my wide-angle lens, I was able to get the entire image into the frame.

Handing him the camera, I said, “Look, see for yourself. I got it all in.”

“Wow,” he replied. “That’s some lens. You know when I was growing up, I didn’t want to be a farmer like my forebears. What I really wanted to become was a photographer for National Geographic.”

An hour and more than 100 exposures later, I was done.

wheel photo1 300x198 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

horseshoe photograph1 214x300 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

I gave him my card, thanked him profusely and told him I would send him a link to my website once I got the photos edited and posted. “As a token of my appreciation, Eban, I’m happy to provide you with as many prints as you might want.”
“Within reason, I assume,” he said, smiling.

“Yes, within reason.”

Before saddling up for return to Seal Harbor, I asked him if he’d consider parting with one of the wooden window frames I had had my eye on, pointing to one in the corner.

“I don’t know, that’s one of my favorites.”

“Willing to sell it? How much?”

Stroking his chin, he said, “Two thousand dollars,” then chuckled.

“That’s a bit rich.” I replied. “How about fifty dollars?”


Pulling my money clip from my jeans, I found only the twenty-dollar bills the ATM machine had coughed up for the trip.
“I can’t come up with fifty,” I said. “Will you settle for sixty?”

“Still sold.”

I ever-so-carefully put the hoary six-pane, 30”x30” frame into the trunk, waved goodbye and soon was back home, where everyone – save for the dogs, of course – was waiting for me to return so we could all go out to dinner in Bar Harbor.

Once back at Jessica and Cortney’s house outside Boston, Cortney and I lovingly packed the prized window in bubble wrap and Styrofoam sheeting, then placed it in a cardboard box purchased at a U-Haul store, wrapped in Kraft paper, then closed it with industrial-strength sealing tape. Within a few days of being back in California, a FedEx driver knocked on the door with my treasure. After gingerly opening the box and peeling away the packing material, I could see that it had traveled some 3,000 miles and arrived with nary a scratch. A high-five to the packers and to FedEx.

A scrumptious dinner at Café This Way, which had been written up in the New York Times, was enjoyed by all, well, save for Kennedy, who had dinner of a different sort back in the car.

barn rural photography Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesThe following morning – after grabbing a to-go dry, lowfat cappuccino at Seal Harbor’s one and only coffee house — I set out in pursuit of the Higgins barn, located perhaps a half-mile down the road from the Richardson’s.

I had been told by Eban that the Higgins barn was owned by a lady named Lois and that she was “very nice” and was certain to welcome me. To tell the truth, I feel welcome anywhere in the field that I am not chased after by guard dogs or by someone with a shotgun. So far – fingers and toes crossed – I have yet to encounter either, although I have been invited to vamoose by a couple of ranchers who, shall we say, were less than thrilled at the prospect of having photographs taken on their property.

Like the Richardson barn, this one was set back from the street, but unlike the Richardson barn, it was not obscured from view. Traversing another gravel driveway, I pulled up near the barn, exited the car, grabbed my camera and headed for the front door to see if anyone was home and if so, would I be permitted to take photographs.

As I approached the front door, a woman emerged from the rear door, smiling and holding a cellphone to her ear. Holding the camera aloft, I asked, “Is it OK if I take pictures of the barn?”

After telling the party at the other end to “hold on a second,” she put her hand over the microphone and answered, “Sure, go ahead. I’m on a conference call. Take all the pictures you want.”

As was true of the Old Stone Barn, this one bore a commemorative bronze plaque declaring that it similarly had been placed on the national register by the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was erected in 1810, a decade or so after the Richardson barn and a decade before the Old Stone Barn.

I took multiple shots of the exterior, including that of an old metal basketball hoop dangling from the front wall, and, around one side, shots of a hatchet buried in a cut-off length of tree trunk and a neatly organized stack of firewood next to it.

As I was walking back to the car, Lois re-emerged from the house, cellphone still glued to her ear. I thanked her, gave her a card and told her, as I did both Harry Owen and Eban Richardson, that I would send her a gallery link once I returned home.

As I was about to drive off, Lois waved her hand. I thought she was waving goodbye, but she wasn’t.

truck maine photo Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images“Tom, I almost forgot. You mentioned you also shoot old cars and trucks. There’s a very old truck close by. Turn left onto Oak Hill Road when you exit the driveway. Take the first road to the right. It’s dirt. Can’t miss it.”

I heeded her advice, and I’m glad I did. It was exactly where she said it was. The dirt was marked “Private Lane. No Outlet.” However, as is my wont, I chose to ignore it.

Sitting in a thicket of tall grass and weeds, not more than 500 feet in the distance, sat what Lois said I would find, a thoroughly rusted, decrepit delivery van, probably from the 1920s. I looked for an identifying badge, but found none.

bridge maine Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana imagesIn the same vicinity was another object I was eager to photograph, a lovely, white-colored, wooden pedestrian bridge over a little creek in Somesville. Fortunately, it was on the way back to Seal Harbor. It was late afternoon, and the lighting conditions were perfect. Here is what was captured on my 8MB memory card. Not to boast, but don’t you think it belongs on a postcard? I won’t, of course, but it has found a home as a screensaver on my desktop monitor.

The day following, heeding the tip from Harry Owen, I used my cellphone to do a GPS search for Seal Cove Auto Museum. It was an easy drive from Seal Harbor. I’m glad I went, not only to photograph the rusted carcasses in the yard Harry was referring to, but also what was inside, a small but magnificent private collection of vehicles representing the so-called Brass Era, spanning 1895 to 1915. I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about the history of motor vehicles, but on the floor were several long-defunct brands I had never heard of.

truck maine pic 300x213 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

farm photo 300x213 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

Outside, partially buried in the ground, was an old Willys Knight, produced from 1914 to 1925, the shell of a Cadillac and a Fordson tractor. The latter two probably are from the ‘teens. Pictured here are the Willys Knight and the tractor.

Before bidding adieu to Bar Harbor, the four of us were able to squeeze in a couple of hikes, one in the Acadia National Forest, and canoeing on the azure blue water of an inlet known as Long Pond. This time I brought not only my sunscreen, but also my newly purchased insect repellent, a locally made, natural-ingredient concoction clevery named Buggle. Thus was I spared both burn and bite.

A fortnight of very relaxing R&R on the Right Coast, Pat and I loaded up our – as Jessica and Cortney did theirs – and headed back to Boston.

bus 300x198 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images

bus maine photo 300x198 Holiday in Maine yields serendipitous Rural Americana images








On the way out, just past close-your-eyes Ellsworth, I spotted an old school bus nestled in a rush of trees and parked not more than ten yards from the highway. After taking far more shots than I probably needed to – capturing the “retired” International Harvester school bus from every conceivable angle, I was back in the car.

Taking freeways, Cortney and Jessica were back home in five-and-a-half hours. We opted for the coastal scenic route, stopping for lunch in a lovely picturesque seaside village named Camden. By the time we had returned to Beantown, it was nearly dark. I looked at my wristwatch. Yikes, three hours longer than it had taken them. Worth the detour, however. Stunning scenery and who knows, we may never return.

After requisite hugs and kisses – and, of course, more pictures of everyone with Kennedy – Pat and I waved goodbye and headed toward Logan International Airport, where we said goodbye to the Ford Fusion and hello to the United airplane that carried us, safe and sound, back to the Left Coast.

By the time all of us reunite, in California, Kennedy will be eleven months and, I’ll wager, already taking her first steps as a fledgling homo erectus.

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