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/

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Pictures from the road – Missoula, Montana

This was just a quick day trip to Missoula, combing through the thrift and antique shops for my business, Vintage Haberdashers. I hope you enjoy the pictures!
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The Mannequins of South Dakota

I just got back from a couple of days in South Dakota, hunting for vintage clothing for my store, Vintage Haberdashers, and seeing the sights. SoDak is a land of stunning natural beauty and wonderfully old fashioned tourist traps. These roadside destinations were populated by an amazing array of characters, re-purposed department store mannequins, aging wax figures, secondhand animatronics, and statuary.
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Wall Drug
510 Main St, Wall, SD 57790

Pioneer Auto Museum
503 5th St, Murdo, SD 57559

1880 Town
Interstate 90, Midland, SD 57552

Frank’s Diner at night

Frank’s Diner is a Kullman Princess, originally from Carney’s Point, New Jersey, where it was known as the Olympia Diner. It’s original foundation and kitchen are still there as of last I checked. Frank’s is located in Jessup, Maryland and as you can see, looks great.
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Philly Diners

These photos were sent to me by my father, who recently took a trip with musician Barry Louis Polisar to Philadelphia to visit Nancy Heller, Professor of Art History at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

Some interior shots of the Melrose Diner before it gets re-done. The impending remodel was confirmed by staff at the diner.
This site has a good exterior photo.

The clock which used to hang above the Melrose counter until the mural was installed, I believe sometime in the 1970s. I bought and restored the clock after finding it listed on ebay several years ago.

Polock Johnny’s Polish Sausage- Baltimore, Maryland

Broad Street and Tasker. Tavern neon – Philadelphia

Museo Del Jamon – Ham Museum

Broad Street Diner, an old Fodero