More on the Road Ramblers

In about a week and a half, my fiance Alex and I will be leaving on a six month journey, crisscrossing America documenting small towns, through photography, illustration, interviews and the collection of artifacts. Think WPA photography meets Charles Kuralt. We call ourselves the Road Ramblers.
This project has been in the works since last fall. A couple of things in our lives happened all at once. Alex and I had been traveling extensively, picking for my vintage clothing business and for her senior thesis photo series focusing on boom towns in Montana, falling more and more in love with the places we were visiting and exploring. A TV show about vintage Americana I had been slated to host fell through after working through the summer with a production team in New York. My architecture thesis on authenticity took a turn toward examining places with a past vs. homogeneous sprawl. We got to talking about what the next step was- where do these projects go from here?

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And so, in early December, we bought thirdhand shuttlebus and started the process of gutting it out. After months of throwing away our money at secondrate motels every weekend on our trips through the west, we knew if we were going to pull off a trip of the length we were planning, we would need someplace comfortable, someplace that felt like home. We’re both the kind of people who, if we need something done, do it ourselves, so having the blank slate of the bus appealed to us. And starting way back with Further, there’s just something more romantic about a bus conversion than an RV. Now that it’s done, we’re fully capable of living off grid, with solar panels, batteries and an inverter, gas stove, composting toilet, foot pump water and a fancy cooler. We’ve got the work space to handle any and all of our needs while we’re on the road. With the bus finished and both of us recently graduated (Masters in Architecture for me, Bachelors in Photography for Alex), and everything we own either being sold off or put into storage, we’re just about ready to go.
It’s a funny thing tackling America. So many people have done it, from “On the Road” to “Blue Highways”, “Easy Rider” to “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”. These days, there’s no shortage of people on instagram and the like, traveling full time in their Vanagons. What seems to be missing in these current projects is any sense of purpose or product. These are hipsters, out to find themselves, sponsored by outdoor equipment companies. At least the first generation hippie travelers worked odd jobs or craft fairs along the way. Thankfully, we’ve already found ourselves and our project’s about something bigger.

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This is a time of huge change for small towns. Manufacturing has either left entirely or shifted to larger plants elsewhere. Farming on an industrial scale has changed the way the town itself works. Other towns were bypassed decades ago by interstate highways and are slowly falling by the wayside. Meanwhile, new construction continues to sprawl, leaving with placeless places- strip malls, suburbia and endless chain restaurants. Pop culture idealizes the small town, but in a nostalgic, shallow way. The current trend in photography of “ruin porn” objectifies and exploits post industrial landscapes without addressing any of their content. Despite the transitions so many small towns are going through, these are places near and dear to our hearts. This is the fabric of America, and we try to come at it with an honest eye. Alex is heavily influenced by 1970s vernacular photography- think Stephen Shore, William Eggleston.

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In addition to her photography, I will be doing illustrations as we go (take a look above). As we travel, we will be conducting an interview series (think Storycorps or WPA interviews) as we go, to try to further get our finger on a regional pulse. We’ll be posting these on a youtube channel.
At the end of all this, we plan on taking our writings, photography, illustrations, portraits, quotes, experiences, etc. and compiling it all into a comprehensive photo book. This is where you come in.
All of this is a massive undertaking (but we’ve never been ones to make things easy on ourselves), and the books and web series are going to be hugely labor intensive and costly. We need your help to make these things a reality and to share them back with you. We recently launched a kickstarter to offset some of the costs of the production of the book and online components. Remember, if we don’t make the goal, we get nothing, so anything helps. We’d love to have you as a backer and to be able to bring our explorations directly to your computer.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/263559793/road-ramblers
Spencer Stewart
And be sure to follow along at
https://www.instagram.com/roadramblers/
http://www.theroadramblers.com/
https://www.facebook.com/theroadramblers/

The Road Ramblers

I’ve been a bit irregular in posting over here as of late and here’s why- we’ve been working on a big, super exciting new project- the Road Ramblers.

Since November, we’ve been planning. We bought an old bus in early December 2015 and have been working on gutting and converting it, readying it for a six month trip around the country, during which we will be documenting small towns through interviews, photography, video, art and the collection of artifacts. All of this will be compiled into a web series and then a book, if you’re able to help. We have exciting premiums in addition to the book- namely original art and photography. We’d appreciate your help and love for you to follow along!
Thanks- Alex and Spencer

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/263559793/road-ramblers

Updates on dinerhunter will be sporadic, probably more confined to the east coast leg of the trip when I’ll be able to return to the original mission of this site- diners.

For regular updates from the road through Road Ramblers, check in at theroadramblers.com, our Instagram, and our facebook.
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Diner Find – Rosedale, MD

I got a hot tip today from Todd Welsh about the Club Baltimore / The Vanity Room at 8014 Pulaski Hwy, Rosedale, MD. It has been covered for years, but recently renovated, revealing for a fleeting the monitor roof and stainless before it was covered back up again.  You can make out the monitor roofline in this google maps aerial. Working to figure out what diner this used to be.

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Unfortunately, the other news that came with this was the closure of Rosedale’s Happy Day Diner, a former Double T.

On the Road: Kalispell Montana and Glacier National Park

This week’s trip was a big one, clocking about 850 miles on the trusty 4 Runner. Starting in Bozeman, Alex and I headed west, through Missoula, up to Kalispell, Montana. The forecast had been calling for serious weather and we got an eerie combination of blazing sun and black skies coming past the old Prison in Deer Lodge. We finally made it up to Kalispell and settled in so that we could get an early start on Saturday.

As soon as they opened, we started looking, hitting every thrift and antique shop we could find in Kalispell and the surrounding towns. By the end of the day, we had hit teh thrift shops and six antique stores. The further away from home I go and the longer I’m there, the bigger the risk I’m taking. Gas, food and lodging start to add up. At the same time, it takes stores time to re-stock, so my range has to expand with every trip.

The two antique malls in Kalispell, which I had been pinning a lot of my hopes on turned out to be complete busts, with not just no finds or purchases, but nothing of interest in any of the booths at all. I probably bought a few things in the thrifts against my better judgement to feel like I had found something. Not junk by any means, but things like late ’50s tweed jackets, which I love, but which there’s not much market for at any price online, and which probably won’t do much more than take up space. But at a couple dollars a piece, at least I can say I kept them from being turned into someone’s zombie Halloween costume.
My luck changed somewhat at some of the thrifts, where I ended up finding a few vintage ties here and a few vintage ties there, adding up by the end to a fair number. The real prizes were two ’40s suede leather whipstitched western Hollyvogues, with the original tags still on. I have a bit of a collection of those already, so we’ll see whether those end up being passed along or whether they’ll join the ones I already have. Alex, who usually comes away with a slew of vintage cameras, had about the same luck as I did, finding a fair number of 1970s Polaroids at steep prices, but nothing much of any real use or interest.

Lunch in Kalispell was a vintage treat. We ate at a place called Moose’s Saloon. It’s a bar from the ’40s or so, done up in 1959 to approximate an old west saloon. Sawdust on the floor, low lighting, peanuts on the tables, and two dollar draughts. In the years since it was done up in saloon style, it’s been heavily loved, with names carved into every tabletop, booth, bench and wall. The crowd was a nice mix of children and pensioners. It had a really nice family neighborhood dive atmosphere, great food and cold microbrews.

Alex and I always play a game when out hunting where we try to identify what we’ve seen an inordinate amount of in the shops that we’ve hardly ever seen anywhere else. This trip it was wetsuits. With all the cold mountain lakes, I suppose that makes sense. On a broader scale, this part of Montana has the most Quonset huts I have ever seen in my life, most of them still in use.

From Alex:
Kalispell turned out to be a haven for little treasures that filled our trip with “wait wait, we have to pull over”. Although we stopped and explored every little strange part of Kalispell and surrounding area that we found, I have a hunch there’s so much more that we missed. Two things that stood out to me as unique to Kalispell were the buffalo in a bullet proof case watching over a mobile home community, and the Moose’s Saloon, a dark, divey bar that screams “MONTANA” the minute you walk in. This Saloon wasn’t like any saloon I’ve ever been to. Maybe it was the sawdust that covered the floor, the sweetest elderly woman that took our order, or the delightfully chilled goblets that the beer was served in, but we were hooked on this place. The pizza was pretty good to boot. I regret not taking a peek in there gift shop, who’s sign read “Moostly Mooses”, which gave me a chuckle.

 photo edit alex.jpgThe other strangely wonderful part of Kalispell was the taxidermied buffalo that towered over a small mobile home community/hotel. Yes, that is in fact a /hotel. In the corner of the enclosed community was an Inn & Suites that looked not too shabby for where it was placed. But that’s beside the point. This buffalo looked like it had been there a while, judging from the shape of the glass and the general dirtiness of it. Nevertheless, I would stay at that Inn & Suites just for that buffalo. Overall Kalispell turned out to be a hoot, with strange “attractions”, if you could call it that, and bars full of character.
We went to Glacier National Park on Sunday. It’s my second time to Glacier and was Alex’s first. It’s post-season there, and all the lodges and gift shops have closed down until next summer. The huge numbers of visitors have subsided, so you can finally enjoy the beauty in relative peace and quiet. The trees were a riot of color, and as we ascended Going To The Sun Road toward Logan Pass, the temperatures dropped and yellow autumn leaves gave way to snow covered evergreens.

We took our time on the way back, stopping in all the small towns we came across, and to get a tire fixed after picking up a screw somewhere along the way. For a hundred miles, we had seen billboards for the “Miracle of America” museum outside Polson, Montana. It’s one of those classic roadside museums, with such a broad focus that you’re bound to find something you’re interested in, and if you’re like me, bound to like just about everything. Historic buildings, rare motorcycles, helicopters, airplanes, vintage clothes, rusty cars, alien autopsies. You name it, they probably had it somewhere in the collection. There were definitely some things in the collection I would have loved to get my hands on.

The haul. No big ticket items, but a decent amount of ’30s and ’40s ties, a pair of vintage hunting boots, a powder blue ’50s suit, a couple of late ’50s-early ’60s jackets and a Nomex flight jacket. With luck, I might just break even. A beautiful and fun trip nonetheless, and any moment of being in Glacier was worth the rest.

The jackets from this trip, photographed. Keep an eye out as I list them, and as I get around to finishing photographing and editing all the neckties, of which there are quite a few.
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On the Road – Anaconda to Helena, Montana

This week, Alex and I did as the song says, and headed west, young man. She’s been working on a photo series in Anaconda, Montana, and I came along to do what I thought would be a bit of casual vintage hunting on the way there and back. I had made a similar loop about two months ago with good results and didn’t expect to find more than beautiful scenery and a good time.   photo blog us.jpg

What a treat to have a blue, big sky country type of day for an outing. Last week was in the 90s, the week before was pouring rain, and the one before that there was smoke from forest fires so thick you could barely see a block in front of you. It’s just starting to be fall here, with shocks of yellow mixed into the pine forests and fresh show on the mountain peaks. Perfect weather for tweed jackets and windows down driving through the mountains.
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As always, there were a lot of interesting things along the way that I didn’t buy.  Every trip and every shop always seems to have a particular thing that shows up in unusual numbers.  This time it was pile lined tweed coats from the 1970s. It killed me to pass on the bow ties in the bottom right corner, probably a hundred of them, mostly from the 1970s, but with a couple 1940s and 1950s ones mixed in.  But as low as the asking price of ten bucks a pop is, with the amount of work that goes into photographing and listing them, and with their era, it’s just too much for someone in my position.
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On the hunt- photos by Alex DeLong. Montana is a goldmine for vintage ties.  Usually I’m finding them in thrift shops in small clusters, but every now and again I find a big cache tucked away somewhere. Well, to be more accurate, Alex found this cache, a big crate of ties, high up on a shelf in a back room I’ve never seen open before. It took a lot of sorting through, weeding out the ones that were too damaged, too new, too thin and too plain.  I ended up with about half of the ones in that pile, and found quite a few more in various thrift and secondhand stores.
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Photos by Alex DeLong.  Anaconda and Basin Montana. Basin’s been in decline since the mid 1920s. Where there were once thousands of residents, there are now 255. Bits and pieces from its mining glory days of the early 1900s still remain, mixed in with abandoned cars from the 1940s-1970s. In short, our kind of town.
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The Haul: Two 1940s fedoras, a Biltmore fedora, a MA-1 flight jacket, sheepskin ranch vest, two work jackets, a B-9 Parka, nearly 70 vintage neckties, a 1930s suit jacket, an early 1950s suit jacket, a 1960s tweed jacket, a 1940s overcoat, an early 1960s suit and a handfull of odds and ends.  Keep an eye out over the next couple of days as I get it photographed and listed.  Yet another good couple of days out on the road!

Until next trip,
Spencer
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On the Road – Billings, Montana

Regarding my vintage clothing business, Vintage-Haberdashers, one of the most common questions I get, right after, “how did you get into all this?”, is “where do you find all your stuff?”. It’s one of those questions that can be hard to answer. “Oh, you know, here and there” usually suffices and avoids the long story.  But the truth is, I drive a lot.

This weekend was a casual overnight excursion to Billings, Montana. For those of you not familiar with the area, the drive from Bozeman to Billings is just under 150 miles, and usually I make it as a day trip. So that’s a 300 mile round trip, hours on the road and a tank of gas, for the hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be some old ties or a couple of vintage hats waiting to be found. There are no guarantees in this business.

But I’ve had good luck in Billings in the past. There are a number of antique shops, thrift stores, secondhand stores and the like, and I usually get lucky at at least one or two.  This past weekend, one of the larger antique malls was having an outdoor antique fair, with its craigslist ad touting 70 vendors.  It was enough to hopefully tip the odds in my favor.

My girlfriend, Alex, and I drove out Friday night so that we could get an early start so we could be back in Bozeman before the sun started to set. We stayed at a charming 1950s motor court, the Dude Rancher Lodge. Neon, knotty pine and exposed beam ceilings combined with recent western themed carpets and brand wall hangings courtesy an appearance on “Hotel Impossible” several years ago, made for a charming place to stay. Full of character, it was way more fun than a chain motel, and just the right kind of place for vintage people like us.

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We made it to the fair a little later than we had hoped, it turned out that in Billings on a Saturday morning, everyone goes out for breakfast, and lined stretched out the door of everyplace good or interesting. I went against every fiber of my being and went to the practically deserted Denny’s for a generic breakfast. I think that might have cancelled out the “shop local” cred the Dude Rancher got me. Oh well.  There was a lot of re-purposed, re-painted, hand-made, shabby chic type of antiques at the fair, but also a few gems to be had. Afterward, we hit up the aforementioned antique shops in downtown Billings and a few of the thrifts. Here are a few of the neat things I spotted, but didn’t buy.  It seemed like I was tripping over vintage hats and vintage neckties at every step, but I have to be selective.  The market is really down on the more mundane patterns of 1940s ties, so even at the reasonable $6 a piece that one vendor was asking, there’s no way for me to make any money from that, so I let probably 30-some of them sit. Same with hats- below a certain size or a certain brim length, there’s such limited demand.
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Things survive in Billings. It’s a good town for lovers of vintage. Neon signs, ghost signs, architecture.
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After a long day of hunting, I managed to find a good sized cache of vintage hats, most of which were originally sold within a few miles of where I found them. But for me, the real treat was that leather jacket.  They’re all over the internet, but it’s getting harder and harder to find “out in the wild”. And this one’s a real beauty. Great patina and a rare model.  I’d love to know who wore it some 60 odd years ago, but I can say that it’s pretty likely they rode a Harley in Billings.
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Here’s the full haul all cleaned up and photographed. For those of you who are interested, you can check out the whole batch HERE
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