My friend Sam Hipkins laments that he liked the look of Nevada’s historic Buckland’s Station before it was “restored.”
“I liked the old look better,” he reports on his blog. “Something about aging wood and peeling paint that gets to me.”
The reason Sam is drawn to aging wood and peeling paint is because, like me, he’s a photographer. Old run-down buildings hold a great appeal for us—perhaps because we, too, are old and run-down, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. Even back when I was a young man I was attracted to decrepit dwellings and abandoned enterprises.
I remember the day that Dwight Reed burst into my dorm room, all excited because he had just “discovered” a mining camp named Park City. At the time, Park City was well on its way to becoming a ghost town. The big silver boom was over, which meant there was no longer any particular reason for anyone to live there. At any rate, that’s the way it looked to me in the winter of 1963.
Dwight and I spent an afternoon sketching and photographing the place, taking care to focus on aging wood and peeling paint. We wandered in and out of abandoned houses, and no one ever asked our business or told us to leave. In fact, one elderly woman invited me into her shack for tea. Might I be interested in buying her humble abode? She asked.
“What do you take me for?” I asked. “The Silver King is played out. Park City is doomed. I’d be a fool to invest in a ghost town.”
See, I grew up in a mining town, so I’m well aware of the economic importance of ore bodies. My Scottish forebears were all miners who learned the hard way that buying property in a mining town is a surefire way to go broke—which is why I never inherited anything, thanks to my great grandfather Angus McThrifty who just happened to be the biggest landholder in Iron Pyriteburg, Montana.
Because I never inherited anything and because my pictures of aging wood and peeling paint weren’t selling, I was forced to take a job as a handyman at the The Homestead Resort in Heber Valley. The hours were long and the wage was minimal, but the air was clean and the scenery was nice. At least once a week I’d ride my motorbike over the mountain to Park City, where I’d buy a milkshake at Pop Jenks—one of the very few establishments on Main Street that wasn’t boarded up. I never made the trip but what some desperate character would run up to me, frantically waving the deed to his shop.
“For the love of God, man, will you puh-leeze buy my place? You’re young; you can still make a go of it.”
“What do you take me for?” I’d reply. “Do I look like I just fell out of an ore cart? The Silver King is played out. Park City is doomed!”
If anyone had told me then that in the near future those pitiful shacks and boarded-up storefronts along Main Street were destined to become the Rodeo Drive of Utah, I wouldn’t have believed it. Who could believe that a whole new generation was in the offing—a generation that would never know the meaning of menial work, or even work, period? That a whole new generation of so-called “beautiful people” was on the horizon, a generation whose only concerns in life would be where to eat, where to shop, what to wear, what to drive, which parties to attend, who to date and who to sleep with? In a word: The Kardashians.