Tag Archives: history channel

Previously published on the Des Moines Register May 16, 2019, , Des Moines Register

LeCLAIRE, Ia. — “Why am I here?”

That’s Mike Wolfe’s opening salvo at every farm, corn crib, attic and cellar he visits to sift through junk looking for gems on “American Pickers,” the mega-hit reality show he created and still stars on.

But recently, he’s been asking himself that same question: “Why am I here?”

Sometimes, he means it plainly — with his schedule of two weeks filming on the road for every two weeks at home, he jokes he can forget exactly what he’s doing sometimes — but often, it’s existential.

How did a kid from a single-parent household in Davenport, Iowa, who barely graduated high school become a millionaire and a celebrity in antique circles? Where did a listless 20-something carrying around a camera to film himself asking about other people’s trash get the gumption to believe this could be a TV show?

And what about him keeps viewers tuning in after a decade of “Pickers”?

In all that first-person thought, the answer resides decidedly in the third-person. The show has little to do with him or even with the “picks,” as fans call the objects he buys. All that, he says, waving a hand like he’s swatting a fly, is window dressing.

The essence of “Pickers” comes in the answer to his question: “Why am I here?”

“Every object has a story,” he says, holding eye contact. “And that story is reflective of a family, or of a place, or of a time, or of a moment. So it’s a show about all of us. It’s reflective of all of us.”

It’s also a show about transitions — whether people are dealing with major changes in health, family makeup, finances or even the death of a loved one, Wolfe’s job is to bring positivity and a moment of celebration within that tragedy.

He’s up to the task, but when you have hours and hours on two-lane highways to think about the weight of all of it, it gets, well, heavy.

And it gets him to thinking about his own transitions; his own answer to the question he will toss out to 45-episodes’ worth of farmers, collectors and hoarders when the new season of “American Pickers” premieres Monday: “Why am I here?”

In his case, the more specific question is: When you have achieved personal and professional success with a show that dominates ratings and has the shelf-life of a Twinkie, what else do you do? And when you love physical history and rural life in a world that prefers images and ideas carried on fiber optic cables and places where takeout is dinner more often than home cooking, how do you keep the past alive?

Walking the streets of his hometown, stopping in his packed store, Antique Archaeology, and munching tacos at his friend’s Mississippi riverfront Mexican joint, he attempted to work those questions out.

“I’m a storyteller, so is it my responsibility to tell that story?” he asks. “I think it is, like, it is big time. (And) the show is at the point now where it’s, like, I want to talk about these things that matter.”

 

Third from the bottom

If you think about life as a road trip — an apt way to describe Mike’s experience, given his time traveling on them — Wolfe knew the route from here to there wasn’t going to be smooth, brightly lit highways. From his earliest memories, he understood that his road to success would require him to machete through the overgrowth, lay his own gravel and bring enough provisions to make it through the trip.

As a thin, lanky, poor kid in Joliet, Illinois, and then LeClaire, Wolfe said he was mercilessly picked on, getting jumped to and from school and having milk poured on him in the cafeteria.

In a real-life version of Frogger, Wolfe, now 54, avoided bullies by cutting through yards and alleys to get to school.

“The alleys were safe places for me, and that’s where the garbage was, too,” Wolfe says. “And so the garbage became my toys and they became part of my imagination and they became part of who I was.”

Along the way, he made friends with the old men whose garages overflowed with rusty junk, spending hours chatting with them about bygone days. (On that front, not much has changed, he offers.)

“This old man gave me a cigar box and that was, like, everything to me, you know, because of the colors and the way it smelled and the fact he gave it to me,” Wolfe says.

In school, Wolfe couldn’t focus. He’d read textbook pages over and over as though he was interpreting an alien language. But anything he could get his hands on — autos, woodshop — that clicked.

Massive collection of 110 vintage muscle cars revealed in southwestern Iowa ahead of the auction

‘American Pickers’ comes back to Iowa in search of rusty gold

After graduating third from the bottom of his class — a great memoir title, he says — he bummed around some community colleges in the Midwest, taking a few years to realize that his success wouldn’t be tied to a degree.

He worked in a warehouse building bikes in his early 20s before being promoted to the sales floor. His garbage collecting became “picking,” and he kept it up because, he says, “it’s hard to sell a bicycle in January in Iowa.”

Before the internet, he picked in the only way he knew how — by knocking on farm doors. He’d spend hours talking to the owner and, sometimes, come away with nothing.

His life was so weird to his friends, and the stories he told were so revelatory, nearly everyone around him would say, “Wow, you should be on a TV show.”

After hearing it enough times, Wolfe decided they might be on to something.

 

 

 

 

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Since 2012, the crowds of gather at OLIO, — the best-kept secret in St. Louis

 

More than 20 million people traveled the Two Lane back roads of America to St. Louis for the World’s Fair in 1904. It’s where they saw new inventions, experienced different cultures, tasted new foods, and celebrated our accomplishments as a human race.

These days, those same state routes continue to lead adventure seekers to the city and its monuments like The Gateway Arch, the steps of the capital, and Busch Stadium for a Cardinals game. But right now, we want to talk about what’s cookin’ in the kitchen at one of the best-kept secrets in town.

In the Historical Botanical Heights neighborhood of South St. Louis sits a 1930’s Standard Oil Filling Station. Inside, Chef Ben Poremba is pulverizing garbanzo beans into a thick paste and flash frying octopus tentacles. You read that correctly — fried octopus in a filling station.

A dish like that should be served and enjoyed in a space just as unique and individual as it is. Step inside OLIO.

 

THE HISTORY

In 2012, as part of an urban renewal endeavor, Ben repurposed the gas station and its many charming features for his Israeli themed-restaurant, OLIO. You can see how Ben kept with Standard Oil’s traditional red, white, and blue color palette on the exterior. The garage, once used for performing oil changes and routine maintenance, now seats guests, a full-service bar, an herb garden, and an extended patio.

Inside the decor is simple with subtle nods to the buildings shop history. Notice the utility lamps hung by extension chords over the bar, the mix of the rusty workshop and marble tables, and the large garage door which is open when the weather allows. Don’t forget to catch the desk lamp chandelier in the garage too!

The fresh bouquets of herbs and candles throughout contrast yet complement the original brick and polished concrete floors. The fusion of mechanic and Mediterranean doesn’t sound like it would work, but these pictures don’t lie.

 
FUN FACT: Ben also purchased the 1890’s house next to OLIO for his sister restaurant, ELAIA. It’s the former home of Mr. Kinsworthy — the original owner/operator of the filling station!

 

By rescuing these two side by side, well-constructed buildings, two new businesses have found a home in the new St. Louis.

When you visit OLIO (or ELAIA) and feel like walking off your braised lamb shoulder dinner, you’re only a few blocks away from the Missouri Botanical Gardens and Tower Grove Park!

 

THE FOOD

It’s fitting that inside this space where cans of motor oil were kept on the shelves, now have been replaced with bottles of olive oil. The bread served at OLIO is shaped and baked by hand using freshly-milled Missouri-grown wheat and a custom-made hearth oven. 

Bread isn’t the only way this restaurant pays homage to the past — they use a 500-year-old Sicilian recipe for a sweet and sour sauce called agrodolce which is served with their eggplant caponata. While this type of cuisine may seem overwhelming to those who prefer their basic burgers and fries, we promise there’s no reason to be intimidated by slow-roasted meats, pickled veggies, and unfamiliar sauces. Isn’t the point of traveling to vacate your life and try new things? Start with their charcuterie board then ease into the hummus, smoked trout, and bacon wrapped dates.

After the meal, kick back with an aperitif or a bottle of St. Louis’ best brew outside in the herb garden/patio. We highly recommended it!

Urban renewal is a trend we enjoy most on our travels. It’s a healthy sign to see a community with an appreciation of their past and intentionally making room for it in their future. It’s a type of storytelling that we can all benefit from — both with our minds and stomachs.

Share a restaurant you’ve enjoyed on Two Lanes that was located in a uniquely renovated space so we can all learn a little more about places like OLIO!

 

For more leads on where to eat + explore FOLLOW us on INSTAGRAM

Learn more about OLIO HERE

See the menu

 

We also had a little garage and gear inspiration with our NEW hand thrown in Wisconsin! SHOP NOW

 

 

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Downtown Cooperstown, New York

Dotted along the Two Lane back roads of America are small towns waiting to be explored. When we spend time in these secluded places we learn their history, participate in their traditions, and rub shoulders with their community members experiences that send us to times gone by and places nearly lost. Cooperstown, New York is a town with that magic. 

Founded in 1786 during the Revolutionary War, Cooperstown is a one-streetlight town nestled in the foothills of the Northern Catskills.  It has culture, state parks, shoppable main streets, baseball, local beer… what more could we ask for? 

Here are some recommendations for experiencing the best of America’s Hometown.

 

WHAT TO DO

 

Play ball! Cooperstown is home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Folks travel from all over to see artifacts and memorabilia from more than 300 of the greatest ballplayers who ever lived. Catching a game at Doubleday Field is not to be missed. Not only have home runs been hit here for almost 100 years but really — what is summer without peanuts and crackerjacks?

Mark Your Calendar! Hall of Fame Weekend 2019 will be held in Cooperstown, July 19-22!

When you’re done watching those pop-flies stretch your legs at Glimmerglass State Park or cool off in the clear waters of the  4,000 acre Otsego Lake. Fish, rent a pontoon, waterski, swim — however you prefer to enjoy a day at the lake. 

Cooperstown celebrates its history and community pride in many ways. Spend the day at The Farmers’ Museum for an interactive experience with mid-19th century life. While you’re there, you can also tour the historic Lippitt Farmstead and ride the completely hand-carved The Empire State Carousel. Together, these places represent the agricultural and natural resources of New York.

 

If music is your thing, Cooperstown is your place!  The Glimmerglass Festival offers a summer-long calendar of musical theater and concerts presented lakeside on the lawn at the Alice Busch Theater.   

And for adventures in shopping, park the car and treasure hunt on foot through the many antique and craft shops on Main Street. These family-owned businesses are ready to send you home with local goods too! Don’t miss shops like Ellsworth & Sill (operating in the same building since 1898!) Silver Fox Gift ShopTin Bin Alley (for hand-made fudge) and dozens more! And speaking of fudge,  let’s talk food and drink.

Main Street Cooperstown, New York

WHAT TO DRINK & EAT

 

If you’re feeling thirsty, you gotta visit Brewery Ommegang. Not only is it located on an old 140-acre hop farm in the Susquehanna River Valley, but it’s also the first new farmhouse brewery to be established in America in over a hundred years!  

If something fruity is more your thing,  head to Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. After a few sips of their cider, you’ll understand why it has been a Cooperstown tradition for more than 150 years.

Recognizing and honoring the area’s agricultural history, the community supports its local farmers by gathering regularly at the Cooperstown Farmers’ Market and Oneonta Farmers’ Market, shopping for the freshest produce to serve up the best of farm-to-table dining.  

And if you’re not cooking for yourself, the local restaurants are legendary!  Dine lakeside at one of the best-kept secrets in town —  the Lake Front Restaurant & Bar.  After it reopens on May 23, you can order the famous Triple Play Grilled Cheese at Blue Mingo Grill or for more farm-to-table, minus the do-it-yourself, try Origins Cafe

Craving something sweet? You can create your own ice cream flavor at The Cooperstown Penguin or order a cinnamon roll at Schneider’s Bakery

 

WHERE TO STAY

 

After a long day of eating and exploring, you’re going to be looking for a place to rest — and your choice will depend on how rustic or luxurious you want to be. Cooperstown offers inns, manors, bed and breakfasts, hotels, cabins and campgrounds. We like the Landmark Inn because of its proximity to Main Street and the Hall of Fame. Check out The Cooper InnLimestone Mansion, and Cooperstown Bed and Breakfast too! 

The Otesaga Resort Hotel

The Otesaga Resort Hotel, built in 1909, is worth the visit even if you’re not a guest. Its waterfront location on the southern shore of Lake Otesaga makes it a great spot for rocking in a chair on the porch and watching the waves roll in. 

Modern accommodations are nice, but sometimes nothing beats camping out and cooking over an open fire. Belvedere Lake Campground & Family Resort and Hartwick Highlands Campground are great places for an outdoorsy experience.  

Now that you’ve got all the information you need about Cooperstown, it’s time to pack a bag and have some fun. See ya on Two Lanes this summer!

Porch views from The Otesaga Resort Hotel

 

 

Our new handmade, ceramic mug was inspired by the storefront signs on Main Street we see on our Two Lane travels. SHOP NOW

 

 

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A child holds on tightly as they weave their way between the cones towards the donkey jump on Lincoln Avenue. Photo Credit: Rory Clow
It’s fun and games in the street when the citizens of Steamboat Springs come out of hibernation.

Have you ever seen a marching band ski down the Main Street of your town? We’re gonna venture to say NEVER…

For the citizens of Steamboat Springs, a northern Colorado town bordering Medince Bow-Routt National Forest, it’s a sign that it’s time to come out and play. What first began as a way to help the locals combat cabin fever during the long mountain winters, has since developed into a series of snow-themed events to both entertain and energize the community. 

For four days in February, (6th-10th 2019) neighbors bundle up and head to Lincoln Avenue for what is considered the oldest continuous winter celebration west of the Mississippi, the Steamboat Winter Carnival. 

It’s a celebration on the Main Street of America’s winter playground and we won’t let you miss it! Here’s what you’ll experience.

Locals ride their horses down Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: Rory Clow

WHAT TO EXPECT

Snow. Lot’s of it.

The snow that falls in Steamboat Springs is referred to as “champagne snow” — a phrase that was coined in the early 1950s by a local rancher who said the snow tickled his nose like champagne. (The powder is so good that Olympians from across the country come here to train!) For the citizens here, snow is no burden, but the best way to play!

“Skijoring”, a local sport of a skier being pulled up and down Lincoln Avenue by a horse. Photo Credit: Rory Clow

Witness unusual events like skijoring, the donkey jump, and adult show-shovel races.

You’ll quickly realize that many of the events are fueled by actual horsepower — because even they deserve to stretch their legs in the winter! These mighty steeds get in on events like “skijoring”, a local sport of a skier being pulled up and down Lincoln Avenue by a horse. There are also adults seated on snow shovels which are tied to the back of, you guessed it, horses, for snow-shovel races. Trust us — the sight of this will make you forget about your numb face and fingers!

If you’ve got some little snow bunnies that you travel with there are a few events for kiddos too! The donkey jump (a crowd favorite) is a small ramp that can reach a distance of 40 feet! Local kids are eligible for the dog sled race where they’re pulled by their family dog down Lincoln Avenue.

Dogs and dads pull the little ones during the winter carnival celebration. Photo Credit: Rory Clow

Illuminated mountains and watch for the famous Lighted Man.

When the sun sets, everyone heads to the slopes for the Night Extravaganza on Howelsen Hill where you can expect to see daredevils jump through flaming hoops, skiers with flares parade down the mountain. Finally, the last one down the slope is the Lighted Man, a person of local lore. This skier descends the mountain wearing a 70-pound battery powered LED light suit, sizzling sparklers and a backpack with Roman candles shooting off his back just as the closing ceremony (a bright fireworks show) begins. 

LEFT: LED skiers make their way down the hill RIGHT: The famous Lighted Man descends wearing a 70-pound LED suit with Roman candles. Photo Credit: Rory Clow

Community camaraderie

We can all benefit from local events whether we live there or not. Joining others in celebrating their traditions and history helps us learn how we can be better in our own community. Because being neighborly is more than just a wave between shoveling snow or washing the car — it’s actively participating and celebrating everything that makes our towns unique.

Pack a bag of our cold weather gear and we’ll see you on you in Steamboat Springs, Colorado February 6-10, 2019!

Click HERE for more Winter Carnival details

 
Winter Carnival closing ceremonies always include fireworks signaled by the Lighted Man. Photo Credit: Rory Clow
 

Steamboat Springs isn’t the only place with cool traditions and unique Main Streets! Here are a few more of our other favorite towns we’ve explored on Two Lanes:

 
 
 
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In 1871, taking advantage of the Homestead Act, Mary Rickman Anderson and her husband David paid the $10 fee and headed out across Kansas to claim their 160 acres. The family’s first home was a sod house, so poor that their children slept in beds suspended from the cellar rafters – the only way to protect them from snakes and insects. After David’s death the following April, Mary, and her eight children had to work extra hard to keep their land but they did, and eventually, they built a new home from limestone found on their property. And 18 years later, in 1889, Mary finally had full ownership of the farm after she made the final $8 payment on the land.

LEFT: Francesca Catalini outside an abandoned building. RIGHT: The 1889 home of Mary Rickman Anderson and her children
LEFT: Francesca Catalini outside an abandoned building. RIGHT: The 1889 home of Mary Rickman Anderson and her children

This is just one of the many stories that Francesca Catalini, 32, uncovers every day as she documents the histories of the disintegrating structures across the Kansas prairies.

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LEFT: This mill produced flour from 1875 to 1941 along the Cottenwood River. RIGHT: Church of Lost Springs from 1821.

“I moved from Colorado three years ago to a small town just outside Wichita,” explains Francesca. “Out west, I was accustomed to shooting mountains and old abandoned mining towns. My first week in town I began exploring the Two Lane backroads. I’d drive for miles with stretches of nothing then suddenly happen upon a crumbling building in the middle of nowhere. Like a moth to a light, I’d find myself outside my car, knee deep in prairie grass, with my camera clicking away.”

The only problem: When she was ready to post her photos on Instagram, Francesca had no idea how to caption the images. Rather than resorting to a worn out cliché about “the road less traveled,” she took prints of her photos and began knocking on the doors of the neighbors and farmers nearby to see what they knew about these ruined buildings, information she could use to caption her art. What began as a hobby has now evolved into a full-blown preservation project as Francesca works to save the stories of the small towns and settlements that dot the Kansas prairie.

“I’ve come to find that farmers know everything. If you consider generations of the same family cultivating the same soil for all those years, you can bet stories have been handed down about the area.”

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At its peak in 1910, this Kansas ghost town had 21 residents. It was just a small stop along the railroad, but the town couldn’t have been more alive. Above city hall, there was a dance floor. On the weekends a band would play up there, the music spilling out into the streets. All that remains is this farmhouse.

On top that, Francesca uses “old school” research tools like the library, microfilm, genealogy books, newspapers, and the local historical society to help identify the subjects of her photos. Her favorite method is simply approaching the locals in town and starting a conversation — a concept that to some may seem as archaic as the structures in question.

“Strangers don’t talk anymore. I feel like we look down at our phones more than we look into the eyes of the people on the streets. I can’t tell you how many times these chance encounters have led to introductions with relatives, teachers, and community members who’ve helped me understand the impact of these places when they were in their prime. Sometimes simply asking about them brings back an appreciation for the soul of the town”

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Silos and ghost signs RIGHT: Lawrenz Feed Co. in Wellsville, Kansas dates back to 1884

The clock is ticking on the race to save these stories because many of the storytellers Francesca interviews are nearing the end of their lives. They hold the keys to the area’s history, and she feels keenly the responsibility to gather and preserve their memories about the places that shaped them.ve their first-hand experiences about the places that shaped them.

“Many of these places have little to no documentation and sometimes they’re 100-years-old. The unstable state of the structures with their sunken roofs, creaky floors, and remote locations can be intimidating. The current rundown state of general stores, churches, post offices, and mills should not dictate or lessen their significance. Their stories are radically important to the thread of the town. I never want people to walk past an old building, not knowing its role in the community.”

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LEFT: Fetrow General Store was a popular place to buy penny candy in 1927. RIGHT: an eerie mill rests in rust on the back roads of Kansas

Francesca hopes that her photos and their stories will inspire others to get curious about old buildings in their own state and beyond.

“Your personal experiences in your hometown give you roots there. What’s even more incredible to me is how a place that holds no ties to you, can latch on and make you feel part of it. It’s the emotional connection to the story that leaves a lasting impression. With each picture, every conversation, it’s my hope that I can take these memories and preserve them as an inclusive piece of local history through my lens.”

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In 1917, the Santa Fe Railroad laid its tracks right through the middle of this farm. At one time there was a lumber yard, two grocery stores, several houses, two elevators, and a depot. Today the land is still farmed, but the town is a ghost.

 Classic Antique Archaeology Target Logo embroidered on the front

 

 

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mike wolfe jo johnston

After a year and a half of collaborating with contractors and architects on the restoration of an 1898 building that many people said would just end up as a big pile of bricks, Mike is proud to unveil his latest preservation project!

Located on Jo Johnston Street, minutes from the honky-tonks of downtown Nashville, (and just down the block from Antique Archaeology’s front door) now stands a fully restored two-story brick building, the most recent addition to the vintage Marathon Village community. The space, which in the century before it fell into ruin housed everything from a grocery store to a dancehall to a restaurant, is once again open for business in Nashville.

We will let Mike show you around…

“I approach all these projects the same by trying to learn as much as I can about the building. I wanna know what its purpose was, what time period it stood in, and how it was significant to the community. The buildings I’m tethered to have to be more than historic structures; they also have to be located in historic districts. My home in LeClaire, for example, was built in 1860 as a general store. Even my Antique Archaeology shop is located in an old car manufacturing plant from the 1880s. Along the way, I’ve learned that when it comes to working in/ restoring these you gotta consider how you can honor their history while making it possible for them to succeed in the present.”

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“Here’s the street view of the place. I’m standing on the corner of 14th Avenue North and Jo Johnston. If you turn to the right, you can see the Nashville skyline and practically hear the music from Broadway. Anyone who has ever visited Antique Archaeology will quickly recognize the water tower of the Marathon Motor Works building where the shop is. Like I said, this building was constructed in 1898. When you look at the before photos, you’ll see just how little of the structure was still holding on. (Gold leaf window lettering by Canned Pineapple)

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“Check out that iron skeleton! You see that up there? That’s supporting the roof and second story.”

Untitled51“The state it was in before was pretty rough, as you can see. It was so bad, it took me a long time to even find a contractor who would take it on. I had a number of them tell me I was gonna end up with a pile of bricks sitting on an empty lot. I wasn’t intimidated, though. I just needed to find the right company to match my passion and determination on the project.” (Dowdle Construction Group and architect Nick Dryden

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“We really wanted to make sure we gave the place an open floor plan to accommodate it as a future retail space. With a few modifications, we were able to give it a modern upgrade in a timeless way.”

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“These bricks are the storytellers of the space. They’ve been part of the location for more than a hundred years! Salvaging as many of them as possible was a huge priority during this restoration.”

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“I insisted on leaving the brick walls exposed versus smothered in plaster. It’s a reminder of the many lives this building has had. Almost takes you back in time for a minute and you’re able to imagine this place as the grocery store for the community it once was all those years ago.”

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“The interior has a real industrial vibe to it with the concrete floors and iron beams. The additional windows draw lots more natural light inside too.”

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“The upstairs area features salvaged wooden floors that give it more warmth – a different feel from the concrete floors downstairs.” (Floors by Garlan Gudger of Southern Accents Architectural Salvage)

“Whether it’s a building in a historically significant part of town, or one that’s traditionally important to the local community, or even one that simply has an interesting story all its own, each one is special. With neglect and rapid development threatening the architecture that makes every city unique, there has never been a better moment to be part of the generation that rescues history. I encourage everyone to join the preservation efforts in their own town in any way they can.”

The current tenant of the Jo Johnston property is Slumerican

 

The ideal tee for the ultimate picker and motor oil fan. SHOP our new motor oil tee HERE

 

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“A nod to the past and an eye to the future…”

Welcome to The National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City, California. You’ve just checked into one of the oldest hotels in America. If the ornate velvet walls of this place could talk, there’d be enough material to produce the next big Netflix docuseries. Stories about famous guests like Mark Twain and Black Bart swimming in the mountain spring-fed pool in the courtyard, the legendary lore of gold-hungry hopefuls exchanging their finds in the tunnels beneath the lobby floorboards, and presidents like Hebert Hoover and Ulysses S. Grant enjoying a stiff pour in the hotel bar.

This three-story, 40-room hotel hasn’t changed much since opening day in August 1856. Garnering the title as “Oldest Operating Hotel West of Mississippi” The National has hosted hundreds of thousands of travelers and locals alike for more than 150 years. That being said, the space was more than ready for some renovations. This is where our preservation hero, Nevada City native Jordan Fife comes into the story.

After leaving to conquer the world, the road looped Jordan back to town carrying his bag of prestigious design accolades over his shoulder. Equipped with the necessary financial backing and personal connection to the hotel,  Jordan is ready to breathe new life The National in a time-honored way.

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My wife and I grew up running through the halls of The National as kids,” explains Jordan. “Returning to the hotel now and walking across the creaky floors, up the slightly tilted lobby staircase, and getting lost in all the wild wallpaper, (so much wallpaper…) still leaves me with goosebumps every single time. And that’s just one of my memories from this place. Every local has a few good handfuls themselves!”

That’s why it’s so important that get this restoration right.

Not only is the hotel significant to the Nevada City community it’s also protected as a National Historic Landmark. Understanding that there are many rules to obey with a delicate restoration of The National, Jordan invited the Historical Society to visit the hotel to help determine what could go and stay. Afterward, he invited the 3,000 community members inside for the chance to purchase select items of the hotel that could not be saved for a very small price.

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“When we had the inventory sale, folks would grab my arm and hardly take a breather as they tried to spill out every detailed memory they had of the place,” shares Jordan. “One couple took me to the room where they got engaged and even showed me where they had hidden the ring box behind a brick over the fireplace! Their story inspired me to want to turn that room into a honeymoon suite, respectfully.”

Jordan believes that the personality and charm of the property come out in its quirky ways. He insisted on keeping that previously mentioned leaning staircase (which will be reinforced but still be allowed to lean), recreating some of the original wallpaper, the dinged wainscoting, the original brass fixtures, and knobs, as well as the original transoms above the doors. The idea is to enhance those cherished flaws – not glossing over them.

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“When The National was built more than 150 years ago, it was to be one of the best hotels in the west and reflected the best of service and design of its period,” says Jordan. “It was also completed without electricity or running water! Those amenities have since been added over the years. The new National will be designed to reflect the original Victorian style with modern influences with a 1920’s gentleman club feel – think tufted leather, oil paintings, taxidermy, built in bookcases with brass rolling ladders, and slightly ominous feel as a nod to the hotels haunted past .”

Speaking of amenities, Jordan is also establishing brand partnerships to offer guests American Made goods. The folks of Juniper Ridge are in the process of creating the scents of the in-room products while Iron and Resin will cater to guests and community downstairs with a full retail flagship store and gift shop.

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Similiar to the hotel, the Nevada City community has done an incredible job holding tightly to its roots as a well-persevered testimony to its history contributing to its spot on Architectural Digest’s “The Best Main Streets in America”.) The downtown area is also registered as a National Historic Landmark. Locals say that if not for the parking meters you’d swear you just time traveled!

Jordan wants people to see Nevada City, not just as a travel destination, but a place of fellowship between locals and visitors when the hotel is complete. It’s close proximity to Sacramento, Tahoe National Forest, and the Sierras makes it the ideal weekend destination for Two Lane travelers.

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The grand-reopening of The National will mean not only circulating money through local restaurants and shops but also into the pockets of skilled laborers like craftsmen, electricians, farmers for kitchen produce, receptionists, and an extra salty bartender to help keep the hotel operating smoothly.

“The heart of the entire project is still for the benefit of Nevada City citizens,” says Jordan. “I know I speak for everyone here when I say that there’s such value in preserving The National as part of California’s state history. We’re excited for folks to check in, drop their bags, and allow us to show them the best we have to offer. It’s incredible to think how a place can hold memories for more than 150 years and still have room for more!”

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Follow the progress of The National Exchange Hotel on Instagram

Go behind the scenes of the build with Jordan on his personal Instagram 

Photos by Ingrid Nelson

 

 

Ride hard and free in our Two Lanes American-Made chopper tee!

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Paul d’Orléans and Susan McLaughlin travel on Two Lanes, using a Sprinter van as a mobile darkroom, as they capture wet plate-style photos of motorcycles and their owners.

Wet plate photography is an art that’s as old as the state of California. That’s where Susan McLaughlin, a tintype photographer, met Paul d’Orléans, a motorcycle culture expert, author, and rider, in the 1990s, not knowing that one day their two specialties would unite, and discover new ways of picturing biker culture.

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Paul d’Orléans and Susan McLaughlin

“Susan and I have known each other for over 20 years, but I didn’t know she was a wet plate photographer,” explains Paul. “In fact I didn’t know anything about wet plate before 2010, when I saw an exhibit of original 1800s photographic portraits by ‘Nadar’ in Paris, and was deeply moved. These were original 8″x10″ glass plates, and the detail was incredible! It was as if these amazing people were still in the room, even though they were long gone. I mentioned the show to Susan, who explained the wet plate process, as she’d been using it for a few years already.”

Inspired by the remarkable preserved images of those long-ago French faces,  Paul began thinking about his community of bikers back in the States. As a veteran rider, bike blog contributor, author of three books, and founder of The Vintagent (a media company dedicated to vintage motorcycles and biker culture), he knew he could portray motorcyclists through photography in a way that had not been seen before. He had storytelling skills from his career as a motorcycle writer but needed a partner with expertise in the tintype style that had so captured his imagination. His vision would only work if his Susan agreed to join him in this new venture. She said “Yes!” and MotoTintype was established in 2012.

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LEFT: Paul and Susan’s Sprinter van RIGHT: Cannonball riders

For the past six years, Paul, Susan, and their Sprinter van have been attending vintage motorcycle events nationwide – at Bonneville, El Mirage, and the Motorcycle Cannonball – capturing portraits of bikers and their rides using the antique wet plate method. The thing is, it’s called wet plate because you must develop the photos immediately, while the chemistry on the glass or metal plates is still wet. To accommodate that, they transformed the back of their van into a mobile darkroom, allowing them to process their photos on site, and share the prints with their subjects right away. Paul converted the Sprinter just before participating in the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball, the most difficult antique motorcycle endurance run in the world.

Having been a member of the vintage motorcycle scene since the 1980s, Paul is close to most of the riders they shoot at these events. Being part of the culture and creating the close bonds with riders that allowed them to document the unique details of their individual styles made it possible for Susan and him to build their portfolio. Photographs of these riders and their machines preserve their personal footprints – or tire prints – capturing distinct moments for all time.

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“These riders and I have been on the same journey together for years, but the community was new to Susan,” explains Paul. “She has an incredible presence that makes our subjects feel comfortable, which is important because Cannonball riders come in all types — from rough riders who sleep on the ground to riders with elaborate semi-trailers with machine tools and professional mechanics servicing one or two bikes. Everyone is riding the same 4,000-mile race and I make no judgments, I only want to capture their unique character.”

MotoTintype prefers the wet plate process because of its magical qualities. It’s a true chemistry experiment with silver nitrate, requiring precise execution to develop the perfect photo. (Remember Lindsey Ross and the abandoned gold mines of Telluride?) The process can create unusual light, swirls, and spots that add to the effect, and which are totally unpredictable. Paul jokingly calls them “Victorian Polaroids”.

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“The instant gratification is amazing,” he says. “One of our favorite parts of what we do is bringing the biker into the van to watch the development process. You never know what you’ll get, as the ‘wet plate’ process is sensitive only to ultraviolet light. While it can be unpredictable, the detail is remarkable. Not only are we able to capture surface features like scars and wrinkles, we’re also able to see what’s below the skin, like defects and pigmentation, all which appear darker once developed. There’s nowhere to hide on a tintype, which is what drew me to the style all those years ago. It’s so personal. To look at a portrait of a rider and see every distinct detail representing years of exposure to the elements, allows Susan and I to help tell their story without words.”

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There are many faces, ages, and tastes in biker culture. When motorcycle lovers come together the crowd spans generations and includes all walks of life. Many appreciate the classic design of antique bikes and how with some maintenance, they’re still able to function just like they did in their glory days. They love a bike built with ancient iron that squirts oil and growls. Others may be more interested in a reliable brand new custom bike created just for them. The one thing they can all agree on is that to feed your soul, there is nothing like miles passing under two wheels.

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When he’s not in the darkroom or behind the lens, Pauls likes to reunite with his brotherhood of bikers for a back road cruise on his own vintage ride: a 1933 Brough Superior v-twin. Ask him why he has lived and documented the biker culture for the past 30 years and he’ll say it’s all about the people.

“Motorcycle culture is like a hologram,” explains Paul. “If you break it down, and look at any individual part, you can see the whole picture – politics, industry, finance, design, art, passion, competition, and even the darker human tendencies. It’s all there. I invented a job for myself that allows me to do what I’m most passionate about…. telling the stories of these men and women who love the freedom of the road, and roaming the landscape on two wheels.”

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This hand-drawn moto-inspired “Wolfe” design is printed on our softest tee that is custom dyed to look like its been worn for years.

 

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