It was the one word motto of IBM. Simple and brilliant. You could come up with numerous flowery words and phrases that couldn’t sum up that sentiment any better. It flowed from an America that wasn’t near as self-conscious, that did what it did because it wanted to and because something better lay ahead.

Friday: My parents are coming to town because they had some porch furniture my Grandmother had to get rid of because she just recently went into Assisted Living. Laura and I have tried to plan the day’s entertainment for Saturday, but we find it difficult to do so where we live because it always requires driving someplace distant. They arrive. We unload the van. We eat at a decent but uninspiring chain restaurant and fall asleep in front of Netflix.

Saturday: We go to the Allentown Farmer’s Market, pick up some licorice at Mink’s. We eat at a decent but can’t-measure-up-to-the-South Cracker Barrel. Over breakfast, we hem and haw about what to do that day. The conversation drifts. Somehow we’re talking about the storage freezer my Grandmother had. I had no idea she had one. We’ve been wanting one. My parents already have one and don’t need it.

“This still doesn’t solve the question of what we’re going to do today,” I point out, half-laughing.

“We could drive up to New York and have a swim,” says Laura. My parents have a pool. Laura often says this on hot weekends, and after she says it we laugh half-heartedly, go back to what we were doing, and forget it was said. But this time we have an audience.

“We do need to get that freezer,” my mother suggests. She’s about to turn 70 this year and she still can grin like a mischievous eight-year-old.

“Why not?” my father chimes in. He suggests we drive back to Binghamton, or to Howard’s Restaurant on Long Beach Island in New Jersey to get some french-fried lobster. Earlier I had made the mistake of suggesting a location in New Jersey for our day’s destination, forgetting that in my father’s mind, New Jersey = Howard’s. Once, when I was ten or eleven, on a whim we hopped in the car and traveled five hours to Howard’s.

Well, it was nuts. We couldn’t just drop everything and go to New York. That’s what my head said. But then, I thought: what mysterious force is holding us here? We could sit around moping or we could actually do something, get something accomplished.

Half an hour later, we’re in the back of the van on the Turnpike, heading north.

Now I’ll be honest with you: along the way, as we giggled like children, feeling the rare sensation that, in a small way, we’ve bucked the tyrannical authority that keeps us from doing what we want to do in life, I suggested that we find a couple of signs for me to take a picture of, so that I can write a blog about this. This may seem artificial to you, and if it does, who cares what you think, and you’re missing the point.

We are all so self-conscious. We care too much what people think. This point came home to me when I saw a fellow Instagram traveler’s picture; it was of a sign, which of course, got my attention. Her caption was, in effect: I bet the kids outside my window are wondering why this old lady is taking a picture of a sign. Two striking things. First, this Instagrammer was not old, but self-conscious. And second, I wonder what the kids are thinking.

My response: You know what? Forget them.

For years, I failed to take pictures of what I was interested in, and why? Because I was self-conscious. Too self-conscious to get out of the car and hit that shutter button. Somewhere that changed. Now I don’t care. Now I’m free.

So we go looking for signs. My mother suggests Endicott, New York, which is to the west of Binghamton and Johnson City, north of the river from Vestal. As it just so happens, I had been researching it, and looked with fascination on a few signs, and on the empty, hulking giant that is the IBM facility in Endicott.

First, on NY route 17c, which had been route 17 back in the day before they made it a highway along the Southern Tier. In between Johnson City and Endicott is a town called Endwell. I worked in Endwell at a radio station back when local radio made sense. It’s been clouding up all day, which is a bit disappointing, but I forget: old signs and cloudy days can be a terrific combination.

The first sign I had in mind comes into view, the Endwell Motel. I’ve been through Endwell a thousand times, and I can’t believe I never noticed it. But I have an eye for these things now, and now this old hulk in front of a seedy joint has beauty and value:

 endwell-motel endwell-motel-bw

And just up the road is another. Parsons Mobile Homes, neon, most likely from the forties, judging by the shape of the vehicle at the sign’s top. I marvel at it. I have the same routine of wondering how I could have missed this earlier. Guilt and regret I don’t need. Foolish things. We pull off and I go to work:

Parsons parsons-tour-ette

This close, I wanted to go to IBM. There’s a chance I might find some signs, but somehow I don’t care. IBM is what I’m interested in.

In case you don’t know, IBM’s primary facilities were built in Endicott in the 30’s. The buildings were modern, but in a thirties way, beautiful and larger than life. We pass through the heart of the beast, marveling at the architecture and its desolation. IBM pulled out of the old place in the 80’s, when most of the industry which had built upstate cities had retreated to lick its wounds and die elsewhere.


Think. It’s written on the buildings.

It made me sad. Angry. Angry to think that IBM left. Angry to think that IBM felt like it had to leave. Glad somehow, glad that the company still exists when so many others have fallen. We drove around and were amazed at the size of it.


We went back and swam in the pool, as Laura always jokes about. We rested. We moved a storage freezer and a couple of chairs. We felt the cool New York breeze, cool even in the brutality of July. We left our self-conscious thoughts behind and were careful not to retrieve them.

We are possibilities.
We decide.
We believe.
We conceive.
We are the future.


Motel Madness

Port Motel, Port Trevorton, PA

One of the things that I noticed right away is that people tend to respond very positively toward my pictures of motel signs. I found this interesting, and somewhat understandable. We all have some weird visceral response to motels, whether it be through experience or because we watched “Psycho” at a young age. Fascinated, horrified, and enthralled all at the same time. And we all have a story of this motel or that motel.

Mine: in college, taking a trip with a team. The guy in the charge of the trip chose it beforehand, (we guess) site unseen. Me and two other guys in a dive to end all dives. Bugs in the bathroom. Suspicious stain on the wall. Switched on the TV and switched it off quickly before we all got an eyeful of porn. Looked out the back window and there was a brick wall literally two inches away from the glass.

And you probably have a motel story similar to this. In honor of this, I’ve put a page together of my favorite motels. Enjoy the grunge!

The Case of the Missing Signs

Probably the heat this week in the Northeast is to be the blame for the following post. In it, Mr. Sanders appears to be under the impression that he is a private detective of some sort. It was believed to have been written during the throes of a fever dream.

The heat was hot. It was a hot heat, warmer than most. Outside, it was hotter than inside, but not by much. That’s the kind of heat it was. I hopped into my late-model foreign job and went for a spin to cool my heels.

The name is Stone. Rocky Stone, just like it says on my gun license. I was on the lookout for a sign, one that I had been after for a good long time. One that avoided the sun like the plague. One that I hoped to catch unawares at magic hour. The Nor-Pole Drive-In in Orangeville, Pennsylvania a rusty ice-cream cone dream that sat in a valley like a bump on a frog.

The shots I had taken of it were either cloudy or far away. But I was determined to bring this one in:

Nor-Pole Drive-In Orangeville, PA

The town of Orangeville slept peacefully even though it was only seven o’clock at night. The sun was disappearing behind the surrounding hills and it wasn’t looking good until I made the final turn at the far side of town. The bloom of the sun was clear, and it was looking like this case was in the bag. And then, whammo, it hit me like the edge of a hot plate: the sign wasn’t there. Not only that, the building wasn’t there. Flattened. To the ground.

I hoisted my heap off the road and turned, blinked. The Nor-Pole was there, in that spot, six months ago. It served as the site of one of my more harrowing incidents while taking pictures of signs. They had a few people in for breakfast, a state police car in the parking lot. I took a few shots from a few angles, including the one you see above. When I had gotten back to my car, a sour-faced guy comes out of the back door and wanders past me, looks at my license plate, takes a mental note, and growls, “What are you doing here?”

I told him I was taking a picture of the sign.

He looked like he might spit. “You mean, the ice cream sign?”

I said, yes, and thought about adding “Why, do you have another one?” but felt it best to be nice. He grumbled off and I got in my car, as it turns out, never to return.

Back to the present: I stumbled back into Orangeville and headed east on old PA 93 in the hopes of finding something new. Hard luck. Nothing and sight, the sun was going down, and I craved some neon, but no dice. The trail took me to Berwick, and Berwick was mostly a dead-end. But US 11 crossed my path, and I knew that would take me to Bloomsburg. There was another old friend waiting for me there, name of the Tennytown Motel. A neon sign with a big plastic candle. That spelled OK in my book. And I had never gotten that one with its neon lit. I hit the open road.


The signs along 11 were shining bright in the waning sun and my hopes were up. And then, just as quick they were dashed. Seems the Tennytown had been bought out in the last few months since I had been by. RELAX INN says the new sign. Out goes the neon, in goes a nasty new plastic lightbox.

Easy, Stone, I told myself. How were they to know? They wouldn’t, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to punch a couple of guys right in the throat. They at least had the good graces to leave the candlestick. I didn’t even take the camera out of the bag. Not even worth it.

My shutter finger was getting itchy. The road led me to Bill Hess’s Tavern, a watering hole serving this burg since 1889. Seemed appropriate. I drowned my sorrows in a handful of shots and called it a night.


In the morning, I would continue the search. Rest in peace, boys. You sleep with the other angels in Vanishing America.

Editor’s Note: So while I was in Berwick, I did get this:


Gotta love the little black cat on the side of the wall…

And just for the record, here’s the Tennytown in color:


Home for the Holiday

The difficulty of sign photography is almost always positioning. Very often, older signs like the ones I target were created with maximum visibility from the road in mind, rather than from a sidewalk, or even across the road. I ran into this a few months ago when I tried to get the Jones’ Humdinger sign in Binghamton: you can see it perfectly from a car, but you only catch a corner of it if you’re standing right in front of it.

When I started my to-do list, I was already cheating a little bit because I knew I would have a good opportunity to cross a couple off almost immediately. In some research before we were set to take off for our July 4th weekend, I discovered a couple signs near my parents’ house that either I didn’t remember were there or I had forgotten about. The day after the holiday, we all decide to go out to the Red Lobster out on the far end of the Vestal Parkway, just down from my quest. My main target was Star Cleaners in Vestal, a magnificent old beauty that still stands despite the fact that the cleaning business is no more. I had seen pictures and figured this would be an easy one.

But then again, maybe not:


Wires, wires and more wires. I had no idea Vestal was so well-connected. I walked around the building. I stood on a stool that I keep in my car. I ran across the road and tried to get a shot from the other side. Believe me, I tried everything, short of getting out my personal jet pack. In the meantime, Laura and my parents sat patiently in the car, no doubt murmuring secret plans of having me committed if this kept up much longer.

Very frustrating. If I managed to get the wires out of shot, I could only get a fraction of the sign. Interesting, but not exactly what I was after:


So, hi-ho, hi-ho, to Photoshop I go. All things considered, not too bad, and if you didn’t know, maybe you wouldn’t notice:


Fortunately, there were a few other signs in the area to keep me from getting too frustrated. Across the street is the Skylark Diner and the adjoining Skylark Motel. The Diner has been around since 1956, but the current sign is nothing much. The Motel, however, had some pretty cool signage:


Just up the road was the Parkway Inn. The main sign was nothing much, but on the far end was a lovely little relic that I couldn’t resist. One of those you can walk right up to and get terrific detail shots:


The other along the Vestal Parkway that was on my list was the Vestal Motel. I guessed from Google Street View that this would be easy pickings and I was right. Following the Star Cleaners debacle, I perhaps over-did it on this one, gleefully firing off shot after shot.



Quite possibly, I was laughing loud and hearty in the fashion of a cartoon villain while I was taking these. All the while, Laura and my parents were fumbling for the phone to dial the nearest psychiatrist.

All things considered, very productive, but for a few days later I had this lingering thought: if the business that is now inhabiting the Star Cleaners building has roof access, maybe I could get up on top? Yeah, I need help.

Sentimental Journey, Part 2 (Electric Boogaloo)

When last we met, we were in Milford, Pennsylvania, basking in the glow of the early morning neon while on our way to my wife’s ancestral home in the Catskills. Still traveling the back roads into the town of Matamoras, we crossed the Delaware in to New York. The bridge to the town of Port Jervis is one of those steel grate jobs, the older kind that makes you change lanes against your will. By the time we landed in New York we both needed dramamines but we soldiered on, undeterred.

I could have continued on US 209, which would have been longer, but decided to get on NY 42, which was more direct. I was convinced we wouldn’t see anything along this section, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I had gotten some good stuff in Milford. And almost immediately as I started to think that, something came into view that made my poor heart beat.

“Oh, my…” Laura said.

A beat-up motel. One of those places that seems to only exist for long-term clients. But a nice old sign at the top, rusting at the edges:


Laura gets excited as she stares it down, but I see something else as I look around for some place to pull over: the motel is not alone. Up on the hill sits another building, a large, three-story faded beauty that looks more like an old plantation than something you’d see in upstate New York. And topping it, another neon sign, which has the matching Alexander name:

alexander-hotel alexander-hotel-close

From the little I can gather on the interwebs, this was originally called the Raymar Hotel, and it opened in the late 1800’s. It’s in the town of Sparrowbush, and it was an antique shop for a time, but it has since closed and remains vacant.

The motel, however, is still going, and really looks like the motels of yesteryear:



We moved on, and here’s the good news: we made it up to the house where Laura was born. We took some shots outside (pardon me for not sharing, but we wanted to keep this part private) and saw that no one seemed to be home. Laura was quietly devastated. She wanted to go inside the old house in the worst way. So we decided to go next door to see if anyone there knew anything about who lived there now and if they would be back. As we did, a couple with a baby came walking down the old country road. Laura asked them about the house, showed them the yellowing pictures she had.

“You mean, this house?” the woman said, and pointed at it. We nodded. “That’s the house we’re renting this weekend!”

So the upshot is this: not only did we get to go inside, but we discovered that we can rent the house for a weekend if we want to. Laura was shaking her head in disbelief the whole weekend.

The bad news: there was some festival going on in the town of Liberty on July 4th (go figure) and the sign shots I planned to take didn’t materialize. But, I’ve added those signs to my new section: Scott’s Online To-Do List. If you see anything on there, or better yet, if you don’t see anything on there that you think I should get, please leave a comment!

More signs to come from this trip, when I crossed off my first sign from the to-do list…

Sentimental Journey

My wife grew up on a farm in Central Pennsylvania, but before her family moved there, they lived in the Catskill region of New York. She was born in a hospital in Monticello, and for the first two years of her life she lived in an old house that sat along the banks of the Neversink River. She had never been back since the day they moved, and she only knew her first house from a set of yellowing photographs that her father kept.

“We’re so close,” she said one day. “We really should go. On the way up to your parents. It’s not that far out of the way, is it?”

No, it wasn’t. Only a half-hour or so. Her old house was only 80 miles from where I was born. Funny that we had to meet in Chattanooga, 900 miles away. “Fourth of July,” I said. “We’ll have a little more time.”

There’s no real direct route to the Catskills from Allentown. Just a bunch of back roads, which suited me just fine. I did some research and came up with a few signs in nearby Liberty, New York that looked interesting. We’d have to travel up US 209, and although I knew most of the way from Stroudsburg to Milford was mostly parkland, I knew good things awaited in Milford.

It was the morning of July 4th and it was getting hot. Brutally hot. Insanely brutally hot. We got to Milford with the air conditioner going full blast at 9am. We made a wrong turn, righted ourselves and continued along US 6 and 209. Laura spots something: “Did you see that?”

I hadn’t. It was nice and picturesque, but not quite what I was looking for. She insists that she saw something and it would be foolish of me to argue. I trip down a side street, around a corner, and then I see:

milford-theater milford-theater-straight

The Milford Theatre lay dormant for a number of years until a casting director who was originally from the area came in and restored it. Literally, there was no way we would have seen it had we not gone around through the back roads. It’s now home to the Black Bear Film Festival and hosts theatre productions and the occasional stand-up act. The original structure was put up in 1911! The fact that such a place could exist down a back street in a historic little town like Milford makes me smile.

The funny thing is, the Milford Theatre was not what she saw that made me turn off the main road. What she saw was the Tom Quick Inn, one of those grand places that’s been around since north of whatever (1880’s, actually). The sun’s against me, but I make a game attempt at that one too:


There was only one that I remembered for certain, the Village Diner. I had seen it from I-84 many moons ago and knew I had to swing by there eventually. As the old US routes came parallel with the slightly newer interstate, I knew it was coming up soon. I had never seen a really good shot of it, but as I pulled off and snapped off a few, I had to wonder why:

village-diner-medium village-diner-closeup

The Village Diner has been standing since 1956, and judging by the considerable traffic at 10am on July 4th, it’s still going strong. Unfortunately, we already had breakfast, but I filled up on pictures.

Around the corner, we hit some old motels, one right across from the other. I pulled off next to a garden center and wandered over to the one on our side of the road. The garden center was adorned with the name Myer, and so was was the motel.


A man was out front spraying down some plants with a hose. He saw my hasty parking job and smiled a bit, then watched as I crossed the road to get the Milford Motel:

milford-motel-wide milford-motel-close

In the immortal words of Bob Ross: Happy trees, happy trees.

As I crossed back over to get back in the car. The smiling man at the garden center caught my eye. “Do you like motels or neon?” he asked.

“Both,” I replied.

But it made me feel good. There’s nothing worse than when someone gives you that what-the-heck-do-you-think-you’re-doing look. The people who understand immediately are few and far between. And even though I’m sure this spot has been photographed many many many times due to the presence of a) motels and b) neon motel signs, it felt good that someone appreciated what I was doing. Thank you, sir.

But there was more to come and probably too much to put into one blog post. More later!

Bringing Back the Ghosts

Originally, when I got into this whole taking-pictures-of-signs nonsense, my interest was solely in the classic neon signs. Somewhere along the line I branched out into ghost signs, which are about as non-neon as it gets. Perhaps it was the fascination with something from the past that is very slowly fading into oblivion, but most likely it was because I ran into the websites of Dr. Ken Jones and Frank Jump, who specialize in these disappearing pieces of history. Visit these places, and I’m sure you’ll be inspired.

But, as much as I enjoy a good ghost, I really appreciate those gallant few who have started a movement to restore these classics. Certainly, we can all appreciate the impact of a ghost sign and its visual manifestation of a building’s age. For instance, here’s a great one I found in Mt. Carmel, PA just recently:


Not only is it historical, it makes for a fun game! Guess what it says?

The King Midas Flour portion, visible (only just) at the right side is fantastic, but can you imagine if it was restored? Here’s what it most likely looked like:


This was taken in Shenandoah, PA last year. This whole building was covered in old advertisements, repainted to look just like they did at the turn of the last century.


Recently, we went through Pottstown, PA, which has become a center of these restorations. An artist named Tim Riegel was commissioned to recreate the ghost signs in the center of town. He restored five of these, four of which I was able to spot and get reasonably good pictures of:

garage-pottstown pottstown-blade weitzenkorns-wide wrigleys-pottstown

That’s an awful creepy mascot you got there, sir…

Much though I love the ghosts, there’s something terrific about these restorations, just knowing that these historic advertisements will live on for at least another hundred years. Terrific work, Mr. Riegel, and thanks to Pottstown for recognizing the significance of this art.

More from Main Street


The Joseph S. Rice Building

I’ll give my friend Denise the credit for finding this one. She spotted this one first and was so happy she found this ghost that she bounced up and down for a few minutes.

So who was Joseph S. Rice? I found this in a history of Wilkes-Barre, written in the twenties:

From the time he was nine years of age Joseph S. Rice has been making his own way in life, and the more than a half century of independent activity which has been his has brought achievements in varied lines. Not many successful business men are the possessors of world records in a field entirely outside the general business world, but Mr. Rice held the world championship as a long distance bicycle rider back in 1896, and for some years he was also a long distance roller skater. He is engaged in business at No. 138 South Main Street, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as a designer and manufacturer of lighting fixtures, and is also the owner of a prosperous and highly attractive gift shop, located at the same address, and has associated with him in business his wife and his son, J. Granville Rice.

OK. Thoroughly cool. Glad there’s still a memory of you around, Mr. Rice.

Everyone moved on ahead as I tried to get some good angles on this one. I’m positive Denise didn’t notice that I managed to fit her into the next shot:


That’s her, at the bottom right. And how could I avoid taking a shot of this sign? Missing letters are just plain fun. It’s undeniable.


One of the odder buildings I’ve seen. The top looks like it’s part of another building.


The Hollywood portion of this sign, I’m guessing, has been around awhile. The only information I could get on this business was that it was owned by Irving and Shirley Bellsey for a number of years, and that WNEP weather girl Ann Wideman worked here modeling clothing. The “Place 1 …… at the” part is fascinatingly awful. Place 1 has another store in Scranton, so I’m guessing whenever they bought this place out from the previous owners, that part of the sign was added, perhaps to cover up something.


I didn’t really think this was that great until I processed it. Neon bullet holes, striking blue against a dull brown building. It’s kind of growing on me. Also cool that Bell’s Furniture has been around since 1960.


Another unveiling! This ghost just made an appearance on the side of Boscov’s. Can’t quite make it all out, but welcome back, stranger!


I recently saw a conceptual drawing of a department store that was planned in the late 30s, and when I saw the façade of this Boscov’s/The Boston Store, I felt compelled to take a picture of it that looked very much like that drawing. I was very happy with the result. Even the people walking seemed to fit in with the vibe of that concept.

Originally, this was called Fowler, Dick and Walker: The Boston Store. Frank Jump has some interesting stuff on his blog about it.