abandoned old car

Daily Wander Photo Challenge

It seems fitting that the first photo of the year, and my first daily photo challenge, is of a hood ornament on an abandoned 1950s DeSoto. Named after the early Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, the car represents a time in the 50s when American’s criss-crossed their country in the family sedan, spurring countless roadside motels, drive-ins and a fascination with the Road Trip. While de Soto never did find a viable route to China, he did reportedly lead the first expedition into modern day United States, crossing the Mississippi River and exploring as far north and east as South Carolina – a state which I currently call home.

I have taken on this daily photo project as a way to challenge myself to find interesting perspectives, even in the most mundane. Here’s a list of photos taken on the daily challenge.

sign barn

Southern Pickin’

Shuffling from one table to another, it is difficult to keep focused on any one item. There are vendors selling expired vitamins, partially used perfume bottles, rusting rifles, old farm implements and a disproportionate number of books about the Third Reich. In another row of tables, a mess of shiny objects from keys to belt buckles grabs my attention and I begin to peck through the flotsam that was surely destined for the dump.

close up of junk

Flotsam destined for the dump.

I’ll take two dollars for that,” one vendor offers a hesitant shopper. That, along with the indignant “I’ve got twenty bucks in that,” are favorite refrains around the Pickens Flea Market.

I look up to find my friend Malia negotiating for an old metal lunchbox. Malia, who curates an online vintage store Maliasmark visits the market most Wednesday mornings. The no-frills market attracts vendors and buyers as varied as the assortment of goods available for sale – mostly kitsch and things found on the side of the road. Who knew there was a market for expired cans of pineapple juice?

shopping at market

Gemstones, costume jewelry and bolo ties are making a comeback!

With a trained eye for vintage, Malia picks through items that instantly have a nostalgic cachet: an assortment of wooden crates, trinket boxes and a familiar blue Holly Hobbie lunch box and thermos set – identical to the one I had as a kid. As we meander down the rows of tables, a disquieting realization hits me. When did my generation become vintage? And is it wrong to buy up all the things I tossed away when I moved away from home?

Ooooo, I love that!” Says Malia, betraying the cool, detached demeanor of a skilled buyer. It’s a music box, not the gilded, precious kind, but the cardboard and vinyl clad kind with a windup plastic twirling ballerina – Identical to the one I had as a kid! Shit.

shop the flea market

Negotiating for old aluminum trays and wooden crates sold by Les.

One of the sellers, in his mid 70s, is there to clear out his garage and share a few stories. He’s selling a collection of trays he’s fashioned into planters from aluminum used in a now defunct paper mill. Another woman shares her love of travel to Italy, selling some of her accumulated trinkets. Another vendor selling a retro wedding cake topper, boasts about her own garden wedding set in an idyllic 60s timeframe.

As the morning progresses, glimpses of personal stories, a peek into a private past, snippets from a school journal reveal themselves. After several trips to unload armfuls of stuff, we head back along the country roads and wind our way past rolling farmland and vestiges of old homesteads.

sign barn

Approaching the barn covered with old industrial signs.

We pull over to take a closer look at a barn covered with old industrial signs. As we walk along the edge of the property, keeping an eye for guard dogs, Wayne, the owner, happens to come out to check his empty mailbox and graciously offers to give us a tour of his property. He constructs fantastic stories of imagined past, building on the lore of the South, complete with practiced tales about using corn cobs as toilet paper and showing us the bedpan, complete with plastic poop prop, stowed under the bed of his little cabin in the woods [I’m still kicking myself for not taking a picture].

old dog

Release the hound…dawg. This guy came sniffing around when we pulled up to the barn.

Wayne sits of the rocking chair outside his fabricated cabin filled with historic memorabilia cobbled as a tribute to the past and offers us tea and cookies. He spends the next hour talking about the various visitors he’s had on his property, the curiosity seekers, photographers and occasional derelicts that show up on his doorstep – we fall into the first two categories, hopefully!

Wayne kept Malia and I entertained with his fantastic stories.

When I get home, I’m excited to play the 78 records on the newly purchased WWII US Army issued phonograph while I flip through advertisements for learning to play an accordion and the surprising number of promotions on how to ‘build yourself a “He-Man” body’ from a 1957 copy of Popular Mechanics. I have no personal history with that past, but enjoy listening to Glen Miller and his Orchestra perform American Patrol as the dull needle narrows in on the grooves of the heavy shellac records.

The phonograph will most likely collect dust and end up with someone else in the future. In the meantime, the novelty of the object puts a smile on my face.

I occasionally spin a few vinyl records of marching songs …

Moonshine in the Dark Corner

October 21, 2016 South Carolina, Upstate 0 Comments

I’ve already written about my uncanny and comical ability to get lost, so heading into the woods on my own to explore some of South Carolina’s state parks would seem foolhardy. Setting aside my fear of bears, and armed with a portable GPS and an active imagination, I set out for a ramble along the Middle Saluda River in Jones Gap State Park.

Avoiding the ominously named Hospital Rock trail, I instead hiked up the friendlier sounding Rainbow Falls. The crescendo of rushing water fades in and out as I climb higher into the woods along the switchbacks.

The rivers and tributaries of the Carolinas were the powerhouses behind the once thriving textile industry; they were also the means to accessing fresh water that kept the illicit liquor supplies flowing through these hills. This particular region of South Carolina was notorious for moonshiners. Once the reviled backwater of the more refined Palmetto State, the ‘Dark Corner’ is cloaked with legendary blood feuds, a disdain for authority and a refusal to join the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.


Moonshine in them hills – photo Barry Scully

I first became aware of the Dark Corner from the man who refilled our propane tank last winter. As a local, he knew the area well and pointed to Hogback Mountain, just northeast of our house. While the geographic area remains ambiguous, the general boundaries span from northwestern Spartenburg County to Pickens County and western North Carolina.

The settlers arrived in the late 18th century and embraced the value-added economy of turning corn to whisky, which was easier to transport and less dependent on the fluctuation market value of crops. These outliers lived in tight-knit communities and had a general distrust toward outsiders.

moonshine the old way

Not too much of a stereotype? His trusty little dog makes sure he never misses an episode of Gunsmoke – photo Barry Scully

Just when I thought these legendary moonshiners were mostly relegated to myth, their bad-ass reputations capitalized by the legal selling and distribution at liquor stores, I met Robert. An archetypical Appalachian figure complete with overalls, beard and still, Robert was working the still at Hagood Mills, a historic site and folklife centre in Pickens, SC.

whisky still

A functioning still at Hagood Mills – photo Barry Scully

Robert, it turns out, is a well-known character around town. He had driven his ‘35 Dodge pickup truck to the site earlier in the day, the tires worn and cracked. Typically he would have some kind of menagerie in tow. This time, it was a rooster and possum (presumably pets) that were crated on the wooden flatbed. Apparently his little dog, a Chihuahua mix, barks at one o’clock every afternoon to remind him that Gunsmoke is on TV.

old flatbed truck

pet possum or dinner?

Robert comes by his pursuit honestly. As he stokes the fire on the primitive looking still, he explains that he learned how to distill from his father who was in and out of jail several times before having to swear off illicit alcohol production for good. I comment at how the fire could easily betray the location of the still to the authorities. That’s why you work at night, Robert explains. Besides, smoke is not longer an issue since what few moonshiners are left now use propane.


wooden steps

Wooden logs create the stairway in Jones Gap State Park


Back in Jones Gap, I climb steadily up the mountain in awe of the people who made this trail, carving steps into stones and meticulously placing logs into spiraling stairways to the waterfalls. The squirrels in the woods keep me alert, surprising me by leaping in front of me or scurrying in tree tops, just out of sight and enough for me to imagine a bear waiting to ambush me.

The view at the top is spectacular, of course. The waterfall cascades from the cliff top and I scramble up the side of the hill to try to catch a glimpse of a rainbow. I run into a park ranger who assures me that I needn’t have worried about the Hospital Rock trail. It wasn’t legendary for sending hikers to the infirmary as I had presumed. The lore of the area suggested that it was a route to a makeshift hospital that cared for Confederate deserters. He also tells me that rangers continue to find old stills hidden in the bush along the rivers and streams, further fanning my curiosity for exploring the dark corners of these surrounding hills.