Thursday, July 28, 2016

China Treasures in the Dust

On Sunday we hit the jackpot with our exploring. We discovered an abandoned china plant and couldn't believe our luck when we managed to get inside and were immediately presented with so many photo opportunities that we didn't know where to start. There was little conversation as we we climbed in and immediately started photographing the treasure. A huge warehouse was below us, with large wooden boxes filled with china that were stacked high, their contents spilling and tumbling from their containers, now darkened from their once pristine white by time and weather which came in from a missing wall on the side of the building.
I was so happy that we'd stumbled across this. Having been urbexers for a decade, we've seen so many of our favorite haunts get desecrated by vandals, contents smashed to smithereens and ugly graffiti daubed across walls and anything else that aerosol paint would adhere to. Items would be hurled around, once beautiful artifacts destroyed beyond recognition with walls and ceilings ripped apart by scrappers who tore out any copper or lead that could be sold. Some of our old haunts have also been demolished or renovated, so it's been a long time since we'd come across any new locations to investigate and take photos of.
This place was amazing. Of course there were some breakages, but most had likely happened naturally over time as crates or piles had toppled due to a slow disintegration or from wild animals claiming the building as their domain. There were mountains of wooden boxes piled up with plates, mugs and cups that had gradually toppled from their organized stacks, crates open to the elements with neat rows of china that had blotches of weathered dust decorating them. And cobwebs. So many lovely dust laden cobwebs, stretching from handles to rims, from box edges to the walls. It's been a long time since I've seen anything so wonderfully undisturbed as this.
As we tiptoed around the floor, trying vainly to avoid treading on the china, Richard made an amusing observation that we sounded like a bunch of raccoons in the kitchen, as broken pieces crunched underfoot. But this pottery was made of sturdy stuff and I noticed that every time I had to stand on a plate or mug to get between boxes they never broke under my weight. Impressive.
Obviously someone had once been here to set this up but we didn't see another soul the whole time we were there. I did hear a radio when I entered the old tool shop, playing Patience by Guns 'n' Roses, so I hummed along happily as I took my photos. There was a live plant immediately next door and someone was working away but thankfully they remained oblivious to us.
A mold for mug and cup handles.
Clay feet which supported different molds. I did read a sign on the wall which designated a space for egg cup molds but despite searching I never found an egg cup.
Outside were broken tea and coffee services with creamer jugs, sugar bowls and small dishes. We did manage to find a few unbroken ones. Most of what we saw here was unfinished, it hadn't been glazed.
In another building we came across shelving made from wooden crates and it was here that we found stacks of finished products, painted with pastel colors and patterns, all protected with a shiny glaze. Many of these had once been carefully decorated by hand.
This plant opened about 120 years ago and has been closed down for 25 years. The inevitable cheap Chinese imports were the main cause of its closure and the employees at one point even considered buying it themselves to keep it running, but that idea was aborted. There had been a strong fellowship among the workers and the plant's closure fell hard among the community, and was damaging to the town, contributing to a high unemployment rate. Dinner services for restaurants, hotels and even the White House were made here and the unique logo was highly valued, and still is, The name is seen through this old plant and I even found a huge board where staff would have logged production rates  along with breakages.
One of the tunnel kilns. There were a few of these in the buildings as well as a couple of beehive kilns which were broken down. It was still possible to make out some of the different department areas as I walked around, various rooms for different processes of the production. Stacks of molds were still set by kilns, tracks that took loaded trolleys into the kilns for firing were still in place. After the plant's closure a couple of fires had been started by arsonists so now there are large empty areas but there was still plenty remaining to get a good feel of how it had once been here.
It was getting dull and overcast outside and we had to think about starting to make our way home. It was tough leaving as I could easily have spent a couple more hours there. I really wanted to sit still for a few minutes and take stock to consider what I may have missed. Having looked at articles since then I know there's more photos that I'd love to take of the place but for now, the plant will sit silent again, and wait for the next urbexer who will work hard to take artistic photos while treating the place with respect. Hopefully.

Cruising around for Curiosities

On Friday I left work early, raced home and then rushed to get out of the house to meet with Emily and Richard. We were spending the weekend exploring, and wanting as much time as possible, found ourselves in a little place in PA before dark. It was a great start to the weekend as immediately we discovered quirky and fun things to photograph and this continued for the next couple of days. I will be deliberately vague on the location of many of these as some locations were entered without permission and some we were allowed in with 'sort of' permission. But wherever we went cameras were constantly with us, and especially in my case with the power hungry Sony, spare batteries were kept in a pocket. Because of the intense heat and humidity, we lacked the energy or enthusiasm to lug tripods around with us too so I got a splendid opportunity to fully test the Sony's 5 axis image stabilization, and luckily, for the most part, it did OK.
After dropping gear off at the hotel we happened upon a theater that was just finishing its evening performance and were allowed to take photos inside, including some of the cast, resulting in a slightly surreal image.
Close by was a store window filled with gorgeous glittering dresses, and I was particularly captivated with this one. If I was a few sizes smaller I would have bid Emily and Richard farewell and sat by the doors until opening time when I could snap it up. Not being a frequent dress wearer I surprised myself with my rapt adoration of this garment and with a resigned sigh made do with just a photo of it. Maybe in another life...
We strolled around a few corners and came across the local prison which, after chatting with the guards, understood was packed to the seams, so we were very relieved to feel that we were under no danger whatsoever of being hauled in for snooping about the dark corners of the town. In fact, we found out that the local guardians here were actually very accommodating, and after seeing us pressing our noses and iPhones against the glass of the nearby old jail asked us if we'd like to look inside.
We couldn't believe our luck and followed our saviour into the dark depths, holding our breaths as we spotted black mold on the walls and ceilings. We saw the cells inside and took what photos we could in the almost non-existent light. We chatted about the history of the building and were dismayed to hear that there weren't any definite plans to restore it, but the locals it seemed were hopeful. We peered around upsetting the resident pigeon and then had to leave. He was making a lot of noise...
In another street we were attracted like moths to a very cool bowling sign which shone in its darkened surroundings. While we stood and took photos from different angles, a guy living across the street threw comments to us from his balcony, and asked if he was going to be on TV. He was a very amiable chap and obviously enjoying a few beverages from what looked to be a very welcoming apartment, soft lights emanating from the room behind him and a balcony ledge filled with plants and flowers. We answered a few questions while finishing our shots and then bid him good night.
The next day we came across an old school which only had a beautiful facade to enjoy, the rest of the walls weren't anything special. We stopped at any old buildings that caught our fancy, even discovering an abandoned greenhouse on a main street. We also saw an incredibly ugly derelict church, its stonework painted an unsightly brown on the outside but it looked far more endearing on the inside. But we couldn't go too far once we'd entered. Stairs were falling down and the large wooden floor in the center looked especially dodgy, like it would fall through if a fat bird, let alone me, landed on it. We played safe and took our photos from the perimeter.
Loving the font style on this old bar, we stopped to grab shots, and were told by a local passing by that if we asked a gentleman who happened to be walking in our direction, it was highly possible that we'd be able to see inside. We followed our instructions and having made our request waited patiently outside while he went upstairs to speak with the owner. She came down, not really having time to show us the building as she was on her way out to a reunion, but she relented after seeing our forlorn faces and let us in for a few minutes, turning on the lights as she walked through to the back. We were surprised to discover that the bar was actually still open to the public, we had assumed that it was closed down. We just took a few quick snaps, I literally pointed my camera round the room, snapping aimlessly, then left her in peace, thanking her profusely for her time.
On the Sunday we pottered again about small towns, finding old industrial units, but not many places that we hadn't already shot similar images of in a thousand times before. But we loved this old hearse outside a BBQ place and were busy taking photos when a guy on a bicycle stopped to tell us that it most definitely had the best ribs in town. It was likely the only rib place in town, but I didn't say anything. He said he came here every time he got his check, for ribs and a beer, and then before we could say a word, he progressed to tell us his story. I lowered my camera and listened intently. He was out of work due to having cancer that was in remission but he still needed chemo twice a week, yet was remarkably upbeat about his hardship. He used to be a steel worker, starting at 16 years old and drove a golf cart around the plant with a 50 gallon bucket on the back and a hose with which he sucked up any puddles of water found around the plant. Tucked behind the bucket was his lunch and a bottle of whiskey, which was drunk during the course of the day. He earned $30 an hour for this work, which was a small fortune back then, being able to buy himself a nice house and a Harley. Now at 58 years old, but looking 20 years older, we guessed that he likely didn't last as an employee until the plant was shut down. But he was a friendly chap and we wished him well. He certainly seemed content with his life.
By noon, we were heading back towards home again as thunderous skies loomed overhead.The humidity had intensified tremendously, it was almost like being underwater. As we stopped to photograph a church sign, the wind picked up and large heavy drops of rain plopped down slowly, then rapidly built up speed. I closed my eyes against the dust that was being blown down the street and hoped it wouldn't get into my camera lens. The guys in the photo above were watching the storm as I photographed them. And then it was time to call it a day as the heavens opened and we clambered inside the sanctuary of the car.
We managed to race ahead of the storm and chose a small family restaurant to eat our last meal of the day. We all chose fish, which when served, appeared to be the whole day's catch, there was so much of it. The owner was a very friendly lady who chatted away happily, not caring a tinker's cuss for the rain that was leaking through from various points in the ceiling; the storm had caught us up. She merely placed a few more pots and buckets around the room, while continuing her conversation and we munched away tapping our feet to the melodic sound of the plops falling into their containers.
It wasn't too late that evening when I finally arrived home to a loud and happy greeting from Kota and Rosie Lee, who after a quick house inspection, had behaved impeccably during their 2 days home alone. I managed to get the patio watered, the washing machine filled and turned on, showered, and then collapsed into bed, lulled quickly asleep to loud purring. It had been a rockingly awesome weekend.
On the Sunday we visited one place which has earned its own blog episode; to be continued...