Sunday, October 18, 2009


Fall is my favorite time of year. I have fond memories of sitting on the front stoop of my childhood home during the first crisp days of autumn, smelling the aroma of burning leaves, and hearing the faint sounds of the local college football game come and go with each successful play. Today, I appreciate the colorful leaf display that also comes and goes this time of year. I recently got up early on a Sunday morning and drove down to the Hocking State Forest area in hopes of photographing the sunrise and fall colors from a very specific spot.

Ash Cave Fire Tower, Hocking County (39.4076°, -82.5311°), is one of 20 fire towers still existing today—exactly half the number that once stood guard over the forests of Ohio. None of these towers are used today and only a few have been restored. With a height of 79 feet Ash Cave Fire Tower rises well above the treetops and affords a wonderful view of the changing leaves.

The rising sun is about to peek over the horizon on the first none-overcast day of the week. October has been cool and wet this year and I gambled that I’d have a good morning to take my photos-.

As the opportunity to photograph the colors of the rising sun waned I climbed one last flight of steps to the landing just below the cab of the tower. One can’t enter the cab as it’s quite rightly locked up tight. But now you can see some of the structure of the tower—the recently painted metal supports are shown while the scary decaying wood steps are not.

Now we’re looking north—the leaves have only begun to change, but I’m glad I made the effort. I would imagine this would be a good place to bird watch or critter watch and I think I’ll return again to do just that.

Another look at the fire tower with a sliver of the moon hovering above it (yep—that little white speck at the very top).

Many people still work or volunteer as lookouts in fire towers throughout the United States. Technology has its place, but sometimes you still have to do it the old fashioned way. A job announcement for a lookout at Desolation Peak in North Cascades National Park stated: “This lookout is a remote one, travel by boat across Ross Lake, then a 6 mile strenuous hike up to the lookout. The only water available is what you can melt down from the last winter’s snow.” Hmm, I think I’ll stick with leaf peeping in Ohio.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where in the world am I?

When I first walked up to this structure all I could say was “Wow!”. How far south did I drive—certainly not all the way down to Mexico. I swear I was looking at something built by the Mayans or the Aztecs, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t make it all the way up to southern Ohio. OK, you had to be there, but with all the lush greenery surrounding this uniquely built charcoal furnace it was certainly a stunning sight. You’re looking at the remains of Madison Furnace, Jackson County (38.939°, -82.524°) in an area of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky known as the Hanging Rock Iron Region.

The furnaces of this region produced charcoal iron from 1818 to 1916, and there were anywhere from 69 to 80 furnaces spread throughout the 100-mile long by 30-mile wide area. Furnaces were usually made of sandstone block which makes Madison Furnace unique as it is one of only two or three that were carved, at least in part, from solid sandstone. I think that’s why it struck me as something from another civilization. I’ll spare you, at least for now, how the whole blast furnace process works, but let me just say that all the trees you see surrounding this furnace would not have been there in it’s heyday. Since trees were necessary to make the charcoal that fueled the furnaces the acres and acres surrounding each furnace were heavily denuded of timber. That’s one of many reasons for their ultimate demise.

Now we’re looking up the stack of the furnace from the inside. Very mystical with the color of the sandstone lit only by the sun from above, the roots of the invading plants reaching down, and the constant buzz of the colony of wasps going about their business. Totally cool!

The furnace was lined by fire brick which are mostly gone now. Some were still in place in the cracks and crevices of the sandstone, while a few rested on the floor. I do not know which brick manufacturer fired this brick, but I left it in place for others to discover.

Ohio is one of the few states to have restored an abandoned furnace to its former glory. Buckeye Furnace, also located in Jackson County (39.056°, -82.457°) was restored by the Ohio Historical Society, but is now managed by the Friends of Buckeye Furnace. You can see that the stone structure was only a small part of the entire operation. It’s an interesting place to visit and highlights an important industrial era in Ohio.

I’ll be visiting other abandoned furnaces in the future and will give more details on the industry as I go.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


In my very first blog I wrote on Nelsonville’s Brick Kiln Park. I showed a picture of a portion of a structure that was made from “rattled” paving bricks and said, “Companies tested the quality of their pavers by putting a number of them (the charge) plus an abrasive (the shot) into a contraption they called a Rattler which tumbled them mercilessly. The less the bricks lost in mass the better the brick.” While I’m not sure of the grammatical correctness of that last sentence I am sure that I have a photo of one of those contraptions.

This version is a Talbot-Jones Rattler and the photo comes from a publication called, Paving Brick and Paving Brick Clays of Illinois, by the Illinois Geological Survey, 1908. I got this via Google Books—they have digitized oodles of cool old publications and it’s a great source for odd books. Anyway, nine pages are needed to explain the rattler test and its history of development. It’s a great read if you have insomnia.

Two rattled bricks out of my collection. Note the edges these bricks have—very similar to rocks that have been tumbled around in the waters of a stream or river—very smooth and rounded.

So next time you’re hunting for bricks and come across something that looks like this you’ll know what they are and you can amaze your friends and family with your knowledge.

Lockington Locks

Lockington Locks are an amazing remanent of Ohio’s canal era. They are part of the Miami & Erie Canal system (finished in 1845) connecting Toledo in northern Ohio to Cincinnati in the south. Midway between those two cities is Lockington, Shelby County (40.208°, -84.235°) where a series of 5 locks descends the south side of the Miami & Erie Canal summit. Here the change in elevation is 67 feet over a distance of 1/2 mile.

At the high point of this series of locks is Lock 1, or “Big Lock.” Made of limestone quarried in nearby Dayton it is one of the better known locks in the state. In the 1970s wooden supports were added to stabilize the structure and keep it from collapsing.

Another look down the lock chamber. All sorts of modern debris can be found at the base of the chamber. One poor kitty gave it’s ninth life exploring here.  :-(

Next down the hill we have Lock 2 (very clever how they named these isn’t it). This is a good view of the higher end of the lock where the water enters. The arrow on the right points out grooves that once contained curved iron bars that were part of the “goose neck.” The goose neck held in place the heel post of the lock gate. You can also see the recessed area where the lock gate fit when it was fully open.

Lock 2 is in better shape than Lock 1 and doesn’t currently need the wooden braces. This is the lower end of the lock where the water exits. The leaning wall is exaggerated by my camera’s wide angle lense, but all the locks are deteriorating and could really use some TLC.

Here’s some original hardware in the wall of Lock 3. I’m not sure of the purpose of the iron spike, but the cramp to its right was used to help hold the two adjoining blocks together.

At the base of Lock 3 you can see the original wood timbers (arrows) that formed the foundation of the whole structure. This foundation was then stabilized by wooden sheet pilings. However, the locks are now falling inward as this wood foundation rots away. Had the locks remained filled with water the wood wouldn’t be subjected to the elements that are now causing the deterioration.

Grooves cut into the limestone are a common sight—these are in Lock 4. They were made as the canal boats lashed themselves to the sides of the lock with rope as they were locking through. You’ll find lots of fossils too, like colonial and horn corals, and sea lily fragments, if you look for them. And pyrite is in evidence too—just look for the reddish stains on the limestone.

More of Lock 4—how sad! It would take millions of dollars for the Ohio Historical Society, who maintains these locks, to attempt to restore everything to their orginal solid state. OHS is in a world of financial hurt right now, so I wouldn’t hold my breath that this deterioration will be addressed any time soon.

I wondered to myself why anyone would stuff an old bicycle inner tube into an open joint in the wall of Lock 4. Well about it being a snake instead. Sometimes I don’t catch on immediately. Just like my cats, this little guy thinks that if his head is hidden from sight the rest of him can’t be seen either. His head is hidden to the left while his cute little tail can be seen down the gap to the right. Perhaps a Blue Racer?

Lock 5, the last lock in this preserved series. Like Lock 1 it has a skeleton of wood now to stave off collapse. Just south of this lock is the remains of an aqueduct that carried the canal over Loramie Creek and toward Lock 6 on the other side.

There are other canal remnants in Ohio to be explored, some more preserved than others—I’ll get to them in due time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hayden Block

One of my favorite paving blocks, Hayden Block, was first made in the 1880s by the Hocking Clay Manufacturing Company of Logan, Hocking County and then later in Haydenville, Hocking County. I recently visited a place where one can find this paving block still in service today. German Village is an historic neighborhood just south of downtown Columbus, Franklin County. It’s a wonderful district where area residents have been striving to preserve the German essence of the original inhabitants by restoring everything from top to bottom—the bottom being their brick streets.

Brick homes and businesses are the norm in German Village, but I’m more interested in the streets surrounding them. This is the corner of City Park Ave. and E. Blenkner St. (39.952°, -82.997°). You can see that the pavers laid down over 100 years ago are still doing their duty. These are mostly Hayden Blocks, a paver that is unusual in size and therefore hard to match when they have to be replaced for some reason. You can see the patches of red pavers that have been inserted into the midst of the brownish Hayden Block.

On closer inspection you can see the details of this paver. Each measures approximately 10 inches wide, 5.5 inches deep, and 5.25 inches high, while weighing in at a hefty 16 pounds. They apparently didn’t wear the same over the many years of use which was a surprise to me.

18 depressions decorate the top of this salt-glazed paver making it rather distinct, but what makes it even more unique is underneath. Turn it over and you find that this paver is rather like a concrete block by having two hollow cavities. In fact, one will often find these pavers used like concrete blocks in building construction. I found the one above in the rubble of a deconstructed home in Haydenville.

Here’s a little help in visualizing how big these pavers are. Next to the two Hayden Blocks, one used in construction and the other in the streets of German Village, is a normal sized Lincoln Block paver. By normal I mean about 9 inches wide, by 4 inches deep, by 4 inches high, and weighing around 9 pounds. Regular pavers do vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer, but in general follow the 9 x 4 x 4 dimensions.

And may I just reassure people that no German Village street was harmed in the acquisition of the above paver. I liberated it from a construction zone in the area.

I know of three more designs that I have yet to add to my collection. One is depicted in the above ad—the circle design very similar to the much smaller sidewalk pavers made in Nelsonville. And then there are two plain-faced versions as well.

Just in case you noticed something odd about the Lincoln Block I used for size comparison above, here it is a little closer. No, your eyesight is fine-—the lettering has been double-stamped. In fact, the word Lincoln has been triple-stamped. I’m not sure how one word can be stamped differently than the other, but here’s the proof that it can happen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bill's Muffler Shop

When you travel to or through Nelsonville, Athens County, you really must get off the main road (State Route 33) and go into the heart of town. There are miles of lovely brick roads—Nelsonville has truly embraced its past. A pleasant surprise was Bill’s Muffler & Fast Lube on the southern edge of town (1280 Chestnut St., 39.4474°, -82.2162°). Someone put their artistic talent to good use by painting the outside of the building with scenes of classic automobiles on classic roads.

Here’s my own red Ford truck looking curiously at the old red truck painted on the garage door. Very clever how the artist used the windows of the door as the windows of the truck.

Here’s a closeup of the other garage door. Nice brick road!

Yep, I’d do business here—great paint job and an Ohio State fan to boot.

A triplane and a blimp are nice additions to the autos depicted in this Ohio hills sunset scene.

I’d like to thank Bill, whoever he is, for this nice surprise.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Blaine Hill “S” Bridge

I must confess I have a fascination with the oldest bridge in Ohio. The Blaine Hill “S” Bridge is located in Blaine, Belmont County, about 8 miles west of Wheeling, WV on the old National Road (40.067°, -80.820°). It is now 181 years old having been built in 1828, rebuilt in 1916, and restored to its present glory by September 2005. It is beautifully built of sandstone blocks with a deck of paving bricks.

Here it is in the foreground straddling the Wheeling Creek and literally in the shadow of its bigger brother, the Blaine Hill Viaduct. The viaduct was built in 1933 to carry the ever increasing automobile traffic on the National Road (U.S. 40). And behind the viaduct, not very visible in this photo, is I-70 where traffic flies by at a furious pace. They really should slow down and take a look at what the’re rushing past.

An interesting pair of photos looking west along the bridge and up the hill—the top taken in the 1930s and below it is my attempt to recreate it in 2006. You see the restoration was true to the original brick pavement with the concrete “curbing” separating the bricks laid in opposite directions on either side. But more intriguing is what happened to the mile marker? What a shame for it to be gone now.

Now we’re looking back toward the east after walking over the bridge and you can better see why it’s called an “S” bridge. “S” bridges were a way to cut costs on bridges that would have crossed a creek at an oblique angle. Instead, they were built perpendicular to the creek using less materials. A slight turn approaching the bridge plus another slight turn coming off the bridge equals an “S” bridge

Let’s turn back around and continue up the hill. The postcard on top shows a few cars in the 1920s making the 500-foot descent on the rather steep hill. The bottom photo is looking up that same hill which still contains the original brick pavement. There is an effort to make this area a small park as you can see by the benches half way up and the mulched plantings.

On closer inspection, some of the bricks have been turned to show the make. I only saw these Harris Bricks made in Zanesville, Ohio. I find it interesting to see how far away from their home kilns paving bricks end up. There are other paving brick plants much closer to this site than Zanesville-—must have made a really good bid on the project.

See the beveled edges on these pavers? They’re a type of “hill block”. This type of paver/block was used on hills to afford horses a better footing. Very clever, but kind of useless after the automobile took over.

They have a small problem here though. Looks like the edge of the road is starting to slip into the valley of a little tributary to the Wheeling Creek that this road follows. The use of rip rap on the slope will only help for a while.

And a last note—if you look around the shores of the Wheeling Creek you’ll see lots of well tumbled chunks of coal. Eastern Ohio has been a top producer of coal in the United States and Belmont County is the all-time coal production leader in Ohio. Hard working men, women, and children (yep—children in the old days) have mined out over 760 million tons of coal since 1816.