Friday, July 27, 2012

Ultimate ceiling

I'm very certain that things resonate with me visually, but I'm still surprised every time I see something which "pops" in my brain.  This Googie Style ceiling, in the Pink's hot dog stand at Cedar Point, whispered "own me" way down deep.  I settled for an image.  I couldn't even order my food first. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beauty in lacquer and steel

I once read that one aspect of art is that it has no practical function, so by that definition no vehicle can be a piece of art.  That doesn't preclude a manufactured object from having beauty:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The soft glow of neon lit the Streamline Age.  New.  Bold.  Radiant.  Good neon signs are transcendent, bad neon signs are still pretty damn cool.  I took this in New York in 2011, but it might as well have been 1941 with its message and style.  Its located somewhere Midtown, close to the UN.  It's warm red cut through the overcast day:

Closer to home is a shot of the Western Cafe on the Hilltop on a warm spring night in 1985.  Built in 1930, it survives as a coney joint, but stripped of its neon and wearing a tacky red canopy.  Its row of old brick storefront brethren to the east bulldozed.  Thankfully the quilted stainless porthole door is still in place. 

It was hard to choose, so here's another.  I just wish the ghost car was a '51 Hudson and not a square-headlight Ford:

Across the street from the Western Cafe was a grocery store called Big Bear.  It was a regional Ohio chain that disappeared in the 80's.  Built in 1951 (Thanks Nick!) it was yellow brick, chrome and glass block.  The streetside sign was glorious neon, 2-3 stories tall, cream-yellow porcelain tile skin and brushed stainless cutout circles.  Here's its beacon at night:

I'll close with a shot that's a bit of a cheat.  Its a section of street in the "2.0" version of the Street of Yesteryear at the Columbus museum COSI.  The segment of the exhibit that depicts a city street of 1962 makes a very effective use of neon:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cruisette Diary 13-license plate

After months of off and on work, grabbing five minutes here, an half an hour there--usually after cleaning up dinner dishes but before bed, I've finished restoring the vintage YOM (Year of Manufacture) license plate that we'll be using on the Cruisette.  The background is in my 3/26/11 entry.
The Cruisette is old, and even when its restored, will still have that honest patina of 60 years on the road.  I wanted the license plate to look better, but still reflect its age as well.  I found lots of folks on the web who will restore vintage plates--usually for CRAZY money--but it always involves a strip to bare metal which would definitely atomize the ubercool 1952 registration decal.  I'm sure it could be repopped, but that would be heading further away from my intentions to retain honest age.
 I was able to retain virtually all of the original paint left on the plate and about 80-85% of what you see has been on it since 1951.  Here's the before:

I used 0000 steel wool, ScotchBrite pads, and 800 grit wet/dry sandpaper to gently remove surface rust on the chips and scratches, and to give the existing surface some key for the new paint.  I did a lot of custom mixing of the paints I used since the original colors had shifted over time--the blue to a deep, deep, almost black and the white to a cream/tan.  I used Humbrol enamels since they have a better color selection at the local hobby store, they're made in Notchina, and they come in small metal paint cans which open with a small screwdriver, penknife, etc.  I spent my childhood driven to madness trying to open bottles of Testor's paint with vises and pliers after the cap and bottle fuse with dried paint the second time you use them.
I'd never blended paint before to color match so I made sure to err on the side of "too light" for the first pass.  For the letters I mixed white with a small amount of brown and a touch of yellow.  The base color was dark blue further darkened with black.  I chose flat paint to negate glare affecting my color matching.
Some of the keys to good results were: 1.  using a very fine, high-quality (read expensive) camel brush, 2.  using binocular magnifiers so you can see the work, and 3.  Don't do ultra fine work more than 5-10 minutes at a time.  Impatience and muscle fatigue caused the work to get sloppy.
I started by filling in the chips and scratches with distinct edges, letting the paint flow to fill in the damage.  Multiple thin coats give the best results, and wet sanding lightly between coats removed any brush marks.  Color matching the blue background paint ultimately required a wash of black paint and thinner in multiple passes with a borderline dry brush technique.  The best color matching came from using bright indirect sunlight.
Once the color repairs were complete I sprayed multiple thin coats of Rust-oleum PaintPlus 2X Ultra Cover matte clearcoat to seal and protect the paint.  It also made the paint reflectivity uniform. 
In the end the process was very effective to achieve the result I was after: a good looking presentable plate that wears its 61 years proudly.  Judge for yourself:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Airstream factory

Airstream has a well-earned mystique as an American design icon. The fact that these sleek, streamlined, futuristic beauties come together in the big blue building overlooking flat pastoral cornfields deep in agricultural Ohio.
What often gets forgotten is Airstream's roots in the golden dreamland of post-war L.A. It's a little remarkable that through six decades of boom and bust the Airstream plant where our Cruisette was built still stands at 1755 N. Main Street in Los Angeles.

Airstream plant

View Larger Map

Much modified, and occupied by a security firm, this building is still quite recognizeable when you compare it with this mid-50s view:

In this close-up you can clearly see the window and two roll-up doors along with the cast metal corner protectors on the center door opening:     

One more stop to add to our dream trip on Route 66!

Knick Knacks

I won't feel that our Cruisette restoration is complete until it is stocked with vintage gear.  Ebay is the obvious source, but I've recently been told that spending 26 hours per day--I know, I know, "theoretically" impossible--surfing for cool stuff leads to way too many "But I might never find another one" incidents.  Paypal will rat you out to your wife.  Still, if you keep your eyes open you can find neat stuff in unexpected places.  Sometimes for free.  Here's some of the really boss knick knacks that will help me sweat the details in our Cruisette:

The toothpicks were a buck and a half at the grocery store and have great retro-style graphics.  The match box almost got thrown out, but it hit me; after years spent lighting our hibachi that the box looks far older than it really is, and again I dig the old looking logo.  The 40's era Coleman funnel took some waiting because I wanted one with a decent box.  I intend full well to use it with our vintage lantern. 

The Phillips 66 license plate topper is one of those things I never knew I "needed" till I started cruising the 'Bay.  It wasn't well described so I got it (way) under market value--still not cheap (maybe THAT'S what added the words "Ebay moritorium" to the household vocabulary)--and will look dreamy with our YOM license plate.   The 1952 dated Folger's can was in my Dad's basement holding nails.  No I didn't just dump them on the floor!
Finally a sweet chrome towel bar from the 50's that I found wrapped in spider webs in the cellar at the family farm.  Tim: 1  Spiders: 0

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Modern" Miracles

In less than 100 years.... heck, within the lifetime of my grandparents... "hard" roads and their kindred infrastructure have gone from the coolest "gee-whiz" invention, unimaginably compressing time and distance, to a societal blight (in some quarters).  I guess I mostly hang with team Gee-Whiz.  It almost seems incredulous today that we could commercialize the celebration of paving stuff.  But we did.  Imagine dropping a nickel, to share with the folks back home,
                                                                   road cuts:

tunnels and overpasses:

Why we even celebrated paved parking in the middle of the high wilderness!: