Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fading Enchantment and Cracked Enamel

On Saturday I met Emily and two of her friends, Jon & Matt, to go exploring. We started off with The Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City which I'd been to once before under the cover of darkness and had therefore come away with only a few images and an impression that it was bigger than it actually was. The park was on the edge of a shopping mall so we had to be rather brazen and simply push through a hole in a fence to dash for the cover of the trees. 
The castle above was badly eroded and we didn't trust the flooring to climb aloft.
There were only a few buildings still standing and the area was much smaller in the cold stark daylight. 
The lake area was fenced off but the boys clambered over to investigate while us girls busied ourselves with taking photos. They came back with reports of a metal slide running down a man made island which was also dangerously disintegrating and obviously out of bounds.
We found some old neon signs in a wooden hut but most of the park had tumbled to the ground and been swallowed up by the creeping floor vines, or simply crumbled to dust. We became increasingly aware of how easily we could be spotted and so decided to leave before we were asked to. 
We then headed to Baltimore and an enamel plant which we'd recently heard about. It was a large plant and after driving around the perimeter we decided to enter a building next door which we presumed to be a kids' school but then discovered was the trade school for the plant with workshop rooms inside. Matt entered and then swiftly left once he saw the amount of asbestos on the floor but us hardened urbexers allowed our curiosity to overcome our skepticism. 
The plant which used to make porcelain enamel shut down in December 2007 and employed as many as 227 people at one time. It has been ravaged by scrappers and nearly all the windows have creepers climbing through that cling to the walls and floors reminiscent of a John Wyndham story.
We split up once inside and I quickly found the kiln room with pots and colored powders scattered around. As I stood in the hallway, I heard the front door slam shut and poked my head around the corner to see a stranger looking down the hallway in the opposite direction. I quickly pulled back and froze, not being able to move as the debris on the floor would give away my location. I heard him check a couple of rooms and then leave.
A little later I saw Matt who had been standing outside and had observed the man while he himself stood on the sidewalk and had 'blended in' as he put it. From his account it was apparent the man was security so we all climbed back into the car and drove off, reluctantly leaving some wonderful photos untaken.
 It was extremely fortunate that my tummy hadn't rumbled while standing like a statue in that hallway as I was famished and we all agreed it was time for a late lunch.
We each devoured a plate of mussels in a local bar and washed it down with beer. Happy again and fortified, we headed for our next location which was a scrapyard on the edge of the city. 
This great old 70's Corvette had been dropped off by police and reported on a window sticker as being 'abandoned' so the title alone warranted a photo.
There was some huge machinery around and we walked about happy to relax and not be concerned about security guards. My friend Penelope had given me a couple of Cigarellos and so Jon and I puffed contentedly as we strolled about. But the beer was marring the experience and I spotted a porta john by some huts. Emily was incredulous that I even considered using it but it proved to be the cleanest I'd ever used. I emerged stating that 'The Experience of the Day' was sitting in a porta potty in a scrapyard smoking a cigar. Now not many girls have done that!
We carried on walking about loving the giant equipment and coming across things that the workers had salvaged. 
The last time we had visited this area there had been an abandoned church close by. This had now been razed to the ground but the driver of this vehicle had rescued a crucifix from the church to hopefully help protect him for danger.
A little while later two workers approached us and we told them we were leaving. They had been good enough to watch us the whole time but allow us to take our photos, but with some much large machinery and equipment around, we assumed they were concerned about safety issues. We left happy with our photos and content that we'd enjoyed a full day of urbexing.
I drove home to be greeted by a wonderful aroma of a casserole cooked in the slow cooker. Rob came up in the evening and we totally relaxed for the rest of the weekend, just sleeping, eating and watching movies. Our only strenuous activity was moving my boats from outside Barb's house to a dry corner in the warehouse at work.
And then it was back home to collapse again on the sofa with Kota in front of the TV. We had it made!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Sunday was a bright and sunny day so Lance suggested we grab the opportunity to go for possibly the last bike ride of the year. We decided to do a loop including the Skyline Drive even though we knew the temperatures would be lower up there.
It was great to see empty roads, everyone else was indoors watching TV by a fire or shopping in warm malls. I had on my snowboarding jacket which was stopping any drafts getting through so I felt fine. I snapped photos as we buzzed along but this was proving a little difficult with the crosswinds. 
Lance rummaging for payment at the park entrance while we waited.
And we're in! Once again, there were few people sharing the vistas. Most of the leaves had fallen from the higher trees but this only meant the views were more spectacular; we could see for miles.
We stopped at one viewpoint and Lance and I trudged down to a rocky outcrop to stretch our legs and enjoy the scenery.
 Rob and I reflected on part of his engine casing, and Rob and Lance on their bikes. We were starting to feel a bit chilly at this point so decided to head towards one of the park's restaurants.
There was a big black bear hiding in one of the plants inside the restaurant which Rob managed to startle and grab a photo of.
We got back on the bikes, really feeling the cold now, and headed towards the park exit. It took an hour to get to Sperryville and my fingers were barely able to operate the camera as we passed through. It was another hour to get back to Lance's house and the last half hour or so I had to keep my hands tucked in front of me as I snuggled up to Rob trying to keep some warmth on his back as I sheltered from the gusts of wind. It was wonderful to finally climb into his warm truck when we got back and the blazing fire at his house was never more welcome. No more bike rides this year, but maybe over Thanksgiving?...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Splitting Logs and Shooting Cans

Saturday morning started quite slowly with a nice big breakfast of eggs, sausages and toast after which Rob said he would help Jim finish putting up the new fence. He suggested I walk up and see Jessie which I rushed to do, fully expecting a noose to come whistling over my head, whisk me round and have a paintbrush plopped into my paw but it didn't happen. Whew! 
Jessie and I had a wonderful chin wag for a couple of hours and then I sauntered back down to the house with the boys' beer which they had requested over the radio.
They were nearly finished and only had the gate posts to install. We drank our beers and then Rob got the wood splitter out from the garage. I'd been intrigued with this machine for some time and didn't consider this method of chopping wood as a chore so I was keen to see it work. Rob showed me how and before long I had mastered it.
I had a go on my own but we worked really well as a team and together we quickly chopped up a good pile of wood.
Me on the wood pile.
Rob also showed me the red paint tin I had been using when painting his tractor equipment. It was empty! Yay! It was deftly kicked off the premises. But then retrieved as we were now going to shoot with his 22 rifle and needed a target.
Rob hung it from a tree and shot it from the house which was actually quite some way away. I had a few goes and proved to be so accurate that Rob felt I needed more of a challenge.
A soup can balanced on his head...
A carefully aimed bullet from me...
And a hole in the top of the can! Yee Hah! Just call me Calamity Jane.
Rob's nerves were steady enough that he also managed to snap a photo of me knocking a pipe over. By now Jim had wandered over and felt that my targets were too close and I needed to shoot from further away. We doubled the distance and he took the gun, firing one shot to knock a narrow bottle off the log. Respect! 
I then had a go and was rubbish until he told me to be more gentle with the trigger. Following his advice, I knocked off the bottle in the middle, the soup can, rocked the pipe and then knocked it off  with 4 bullets. I was ecstatic. I carried on shooting a little longer but the light was fading fast and the thinning air was making the shots noisy so not wanting to alarm the cows, I wrapped it up for the day.
As the sun set, Rob got the log stove working in the garage and we went to pick up pizza and wings. We sat next to the fire with our food and beers and relaxed.
I have to admit I'm getting a little obsessed with tractors as the first thing I noticed about our beer bottle caps was that they were John Deere colors so we staged a photo. Then Rob grabbed the camera and shot off some photos.
It amazes me that he can hoist the heavy 50D in the air and operate it one handed. We carried on munching, drinking and chilling and then headed for bed with me planning a trip to the next Gun Show at Dulles Expo. I think I may have to get me a gun!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Exploring Tome School for Boys

On Thursday I took a last minute vacation day so I could join my friend Joel and explore an abandoned boys school in Fort Deposit, MD. It was a preparatory school that opened in 1894 and was built in the Beaux Arts style. It was founded by Jacob Tome who endowed over $2 million and the buildings were built from large blocks of black granite.
We had a beautiful fall day for our exploration with the only downside being that the steep hill we had to ascend to reach the buildings was covered with a deep carpet of leaves which made our ascent slippery. But the slipping and puffing was worth it and soon we had our cameras set up and firing rapidly.
The dome on top of the Directors Building has become the hangout for the local turkey vultures lending a sinister aura to the building. I later climbed up here causing the birds to take flight and found it unsettling to see them constantly circling, waiting for me to descend back below.
This beautiful staircase is made of white marble and is mirrored at the other end of the hall by another staircase which unfortunately is missing its railings. After the Great Depression, the school closed but was taken over in 1942 and used as a naval training facility, but it closed for good in 1976.
This video shows the amazing entrance hall in the Directors Building.
This is the auditorium which is badly damaged by the elements. Large parts of the ceiling have fallen down smashing the seating so I didn't want to linger for too long.
Joel setting up a photo looking down on the reception hall.
We left soon after as one of our group had to be back in Baltimore so we headed out and then grabbed a late lunch before showing the rest of the group our favorite local hospital, Forest Haven. The light was threatening to fade as we arrived so we sneaked in sans the usual bags and tripods, just armed with a camera. 
We only managed to grab a few shots before we were spooked by other noisy visitors so not wanting to attract attention, we left. But we still managed to bump into a police patrol car as we approached our vehicle. Joel spoke with them for a few minutes and we were allowed to leave without incident, which we did hastily and without looking back. A fortunate way to finish the day.