Today I could shoot this with a drone. But in 1984 you had to squeeze into a tiny helicopter with two other guys and fly over a mountain from San Bernardino to Barstow to get this photo. The start of the race was fun to watch even if it was very controversial at the time. The Sierra Club fought race organizers year and year stating the race caused damage to the desert.
Living, Loving and Smiling for “Picture Day”
When it comes around every year at the start of baseball and softball season it pretty much marks the start of summer for me. I have been doing picture day with baseball for about ten years now, along with soccer and just about every youth sport in Knightstown.
I have plenty of friends who are professional photographers that would rather not do picture day. In fact, they would rather photograph just about anything than face several hundred small kids in a nonstop parade of teams. One of them even said oral surgery was a better way to spend a Saturday.
When I was 16 I borrowed a camera from my high school for the summer, built a darkroom in my basement and started trying to figure out this photography thing. When I stopped by a little league game a couple of parents saw me with the camera and asked if I would take a few pictures of their kid in action. “We’ll pay you for it,” they said.
At 16 getting paid for taking pictures sounded better than working at the Blue Moon Ballroom so I started hitting up baseball games. So just like that I had a little summer photo business.
Now over 40 years later I am still behind a camera posing ballplayers on picture day. It is a day like no other. I have to admit I like it more every year and far better than I did back when I was 16.
Shooting a Colts game, back to back college basketball games, even race day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are easier than picture day in Knightstown. It is hard to describe how exhausting it can be to face 40 teams, one about every 15 minutes, over a 12 hour day.
It is exhausting, it is challenging, but it is also fun. I think the best part is that is really connects me to this community. I enjoy seeing kids come back year after year, many who remember me, and watch those kids grow up. I have been doing it long enough now that many of the little leaguers I started shooting are now up with the high school team or in college. I feel like I have documented their baseball career one year at a time.
I have photographed sisters photo bombing their brothers, trying to make them smile. I have photographed all-stars and never be stars, tough guys and little girls with bows in their hair. On picture day I’ll have over 400 kids pass before me.
Living in Knightstown I feel a little pressure to get a “great” photo of each of those 400 plus kids. They are the kids living next door, down the street, all over this town I call home. So I take a few extras, coax out a smile whenever possible, and set up lights to raise the quality level a bit.
I also produce a custom background each year that showcases where the boys and girls play their games. This year I used a drone to document the park and show a different perspective for the background.
But my absolute favorites have to be the pee wee players. It is always a challenge to get a group of 5-year-olds, some even younger, to do anything like you want them to. Tears fall, kids run into the woods, parents hold their breath and I practice patience waiting for the one moment it all falls together, hoping it does.
I really hope to keep doing these “picture days” for as long as I can physically handle it. The mental part is easy. The spot where we shot baseball and softball this year was basically a 15-yard stretch of grass that I never left for 12 hours. At the end of the shooting my Fitbit registered 15,289 steps. I had walked over seven miles and never left that little plot of land.
Still, picture day is the best show in town. Nothing says summer like a ball and a bat.
Porkchop on the Loose
This is no ordinary tale about an ordinary pig. The escape and hunt for “Porkchop” is turning out to be the kind of story legends are made from. As the drama plays out on social media many Knightstown residents are either involved in the hunt or sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what happens next.
The story surrounding the pet pig started just six days ago when resident Miki Cole posted a funny quote on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in a pot belly pig…and a husband who “bought the damn thing?”
Later she added an update that her dog had chased the pig which was now on the run in their back field, husband in pursuit. In Porkchop’s world it was “Game On.”
In Knightstown neighbors helping neighbors is nothing new. But throughout Monday and Tuesday the pig’s escape took over many local Facebook feeds as residents tracked it’s run across town and into the local park. There people gathered to look for Porkchop but no one was fast enough to catch him.
Cole posted again on Tuesday as the pig was still on the run and sightings were everywhere. Porkchop even made an appearance at the local elementary school where a number of teachers and the principal proved they weren’t fast enough. He was spotted on several nearby farms before heading to the golf course and then off into the countryside.
After six days Porkchop is still being spotted north of Knightstown and has been a regular addition to a field full of cows on Greensboro Pike. He looks pretty content to graze with the cows even though they chase him when he gets a little too close. A live animal trap sits in the field but so far Porkchop has been too smart for that. The escape has taken him over four miles which has to be a long way for a baby pig.
The legend of Porkchop is still building around town as he now has his own Facebook page with updates about his journey. Residents talk about Cole’s husband chasing him with a large fishing net. Parents have taken their kids out to join in the hunt. Residents have debated whether marshmallows or Italian food were better to draw him closer. And more than enough bacon jokes have been heard. Even a t-shirt has been made to commemorate the caper.
In a town where nothing big usually happens the escape and hunt for Porkchop is turning out to be be prime time entertainment. Stay Tuned…
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home…
It was about a mile, down a hill, across Shawnee Creek and up a winding road. A shrill whistle would ring through the oaks and maples several times a day reminding you it was “that” close.
The Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home stood at the top of that winding road. It was stoic and majestic and mysterious all at the same time. Growing up so close to the Home was a blessing and a curse. It was like the haunted house you just passed by on Halloween. You always wanted to go up that hill but everyone had a story why you shouldn’t. You know, like the kid who went in but never came out. He was supposedly buried out back.
Nearby stores and gas stations all had signs on their doors stating no more than two Home kids were allowed inside at a time. Rumor had it that several kids had killed their parents, some were thieves, the rest were just plain bad kids.
All those years growing up and that air whistle just kept blowing. All those stories kept multiplying. Home kids had their life up on their hill, we had ours on the east side of that little creek.
In high school I was part of a group of athletes, dressed in our blue Varsity X jackets, who went to the Home to speak to kids about the dangers of smoking. I guess the Home was having a problem with kids smoking and thought hearing from a group of athletes would help convince them to stop.
Inside the Home for once I met the murderers, thieves and bad kids face to face. Of course they were nothing like we had heard. They were pretty normal kids really. They traded baseball cards, chased kites and worked with farm animals. If they had an axe murder in the mix they must have kept him locked away.
I started to wonder if all those stories were spread to keep us away because we were the bad influences? Some of these kids were orphans, others were just from troubled homes. All of them shared a bond that was extremely tight.
After that a group of us from the high school organized a canoe trip for some of the younger Home kids. We got to know them a little better and brought them all back safely. I wonder if anyone would trust a group of high schoolers with a bunch of little orphan kids like that today?
In 1978 I spent a couple of days at the Home with my camera trying to show what life was like for the kids. By now the fear from the bogus stories was gone. These kids were not criminals. They were just kids growing up in a place and time I bet many people wish we could have today. They had rules and chores and military discipline. The farm animals all had names. They played games, went to school and stood up for each other
Later that year the Home changed it’s name to the Ohio Veterans’ Childrens’ Home, leaving the orphan legacy to history.
In 1865 President Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, poetically stated “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
A few months later Lincoln was assassinated but his dream that Civil War orphans be taken care of lived on. Homes like the one in Xenia rose up to fill the need for children from that war and others to follow. The home in Xenia opened in 1870 and closed in 1997.
That air whistle.
About 10 years after I shot the photos you see here, I moved to a small town east of Indianapolis. While moving in I heard a shrill whistle ring through the air. It was an eerie sound and so familiar. I asked a neighbor what it was from. He was a milkman and knew everything and everyone in Knightstown.
“That’s the old orphans’ Home steam whistle,” he said.
Turns out the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home was just down the hill, across the Big Blue River and at the top of a winding road.
I grew to love that whistle…
All Photos are Copyright 2017 Mike Fender Photography
Chuck Berry…”Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll”
It is hard to think of any artist, any famous musician who doesn’t give credit to Chuck Berry as an influence for their own music. When he was on stage he brought the guitar to life. He died today at 90, but with his music he’ll never really be gone.
Just a few people who have paid tribute in the past…
“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”
— John Lennon.
“There’s only one true king of rock ‘n’ roll. His name is Chuck Berry.”
— Stevie Wonder
“[My mama] said, ‘You and Elvis are pretty good, but you’re no Chuck Berry.’”
— Jerry Lee Lewis
“All of Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks.”
— Bob Seger, Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets
The Magician For Hire from Xenia…
When I grew up in Xenia it seemed like David Williamson was everywhere. He’s show up at just about any festival, function or family gathering toting a little table and hoping to draw a crowd. And he usually would. His magic tricks were that good.
David was the younger brother of a classmate of mine and even as a teenager he was the hardest working kid in town. Now as I look back at how famous he has become in the world of magic you can see he has earned every bit of that fame.
When I photographed him at the Greene County Fair in 1977 he was 17 and already a genius at marketing himself, wearing a “Magician For Hire” shirt with his phone number on it.
These days David is on a tour across the country as Ringmaster Willy in Circus 1903. It’s a nostalgic look at the Golden Age of the circus and features amazing puppet elephants. The show spent several weeks in Australia and opens tonight in Denver. It hits major cities like Boston, Chicago, New York City and Dallas. It comes to Dayton with shows in June from the 13th to the 18th.
If you are curious about David and his career you should check out his website at www.davidwilliamson.com. If you interested in more info about the circus you can find everything at www.circus1903.com.
David has come a long way from hustling the crowds in Xenia. I saw him at the Cedarville Opera House a few years ago and one thing really struck me. Even though he has toured the world, been all over television and won numerous awards he is still the same kid he was when he had his little table out looking for people to entertain. Fame doesn’t seem to have changed him a bit.
Shooting Hoops in the Keesling Barn
Knightstown has never had enough gyms to satisfy the urge to “play ball.” So it is no surprise that the basketball goal inside the old Keesling barn was a popular spot in the town along U.S. 40.
I remember the plywood floor had only a couple dead spots and the rim had a soft “friendly” bounce to it. The barn was as perfect as the old Hoosier Gym.
When the barn caught fire and went up in flames in April, 2008 the town lost a classic piece of the landscape and another place to shoot hoops. Daryl and Patti Keesling still live on the farm after retiring from teaching.
Snow Moon Rises
A Stop at the Coffee Pot Restaurant
Unusual places come and go along U.S. 40, but a trip through Pennville, east of Cambridge City, isn’t the same since the Coffee Pot Restaurant caught fire in 1991. For 68 years the quaint little brick building with a big coffee pot on the roof was the place to stop just over 50 miles east of Indianapolis. Not sure about the chicken, steaks or sea food, but the coffee was pure Indiana, straight out of the pot.
Owner Herman Brockman was a good natured guy who loved to talk about his restaurant. In 1989 he told the Indianapolis News he didn’t really believe the legend that the 20-foot-tall coffee pot was once a lookout nest during prohibition. He told writer Abe Aamidor “I think we did just like they did in the cities back then. We paid off the sheriff.”
This photo was taken along U.S. 40, in Lewisville, in October of 1989. It was in the afternoon and if I remember right these were a group of Tri High kids talking around an old truck after school. I’d like to track down these guys if they are still in the area and do an updated photo sometime in the future. It would be fun to see how time has changed things.