On this adventure I was accompanied by professional photographer John Sharpe. We share similar interests, old farms and the like for example, and we’ve been planning a trip for some time now. That day finally arrived and this would be a great chance to get out and have fun, but also to learn some tips from an old hand and I watched all that he did with great interest. Most of the shots in this report are mine, but a few of them and the best ones of course, have been supplied by John.
Normally I like to plan my trips and research my subject beforehand but in this case we did none of that and we simply pointed ourselves in a direction and went, hoping to find something interesting along the way. We ended up southeast of Calgary, near the town of Vulcan, and this area did not disappoint us. We discovered so many abandoned farms and interesting bits to photograph that there would be way too much for one article. Expect more to follow.
It would be near impossible to find any history on the old farms we see. Rather than try, we approach things diffidently, our only goal to capture that lonely abandoned feeling one gets when visiting these places.
In total we saw and photograph perhaps ten farm yards. Some had houses, barns and even windmills while others had only a single building still standing, often just the house or a lonely barn. They shared on thing, all were interesting. Some houses were boarded up and looked overall solid, others were on their last legs and near collapse. Next season’s snow or even a strong wind was sure to do them in. At almost every site, old farm machinery could be seen, much of it abandoned and forgotten like the structures they kept company.
Most old houses we find lack windows – perhaps they get broken by vandals or who knows and at almost every site there is at least one collapsed building, a testament to challenging conditions. When exploring these places, one guarantee, expect to find pigeons…and where you find them, you find poop. Yuck!
While walking about I found myself asking who lived at these places – what were their dreams and hopes and why did they leave? The answer to the latter is likely a sad one, as farming is a difficult and unforgiving mistress and many just walked away broken and dejected after years of toil. Call me strange but I love that feeling of despair and sadness.
I have a fondness for barns and one in particular caught my eye. Solid and well built, it is known as a Gothic Arch barn, so named for its roof profile. Rather than the typical Gambrel style roof with its two part sloped construction that we are all familiar with, this one uses a peaked arch. This form is more challenging to construct but it offers some advantages – it’s stronger, sheds snow easier (important here) and offers additional interior space. I look at the constriction details and who ever made this was clearly a craftsman. The work is superb and while the nearby house was close to falling down, I expect this building to last a long time.
At this same location we found a windmill, blades still attached and quietly spinning in the breeze.
Were it not for the occasional tree or hedge row, most of these farm yards would be on the bare prairie. It takes a strong person to live in a place like this. At a site where the house was missing or gone, it was easy to establish where it could have been based upon the placement of trees.
Travelling between sites we cross an old rail line. This was the CPR’s Lomond Subdivision and unlike most abandoned lines, this section still has it’s tracks. It’s been a while since a train passed here, but it’s easy to imagine the past, with heavy freights laden with locally grown grain passing by. This rail line duplicates a theme that keeps repeating here, that most everything we see has a sense of decay or abandonment about it.
In one barn we find an interesting discovery, an early 1970s (1970 or 71 to be exact) Alouette XL14 snowmobile. One can picture the fun they used to have on this machine but now it’s relegated to a crumbling barn and is covered with bird poop, a sad retirement. This maker was one of perhaps a hundred or so that existed during the great snowmobile boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Alouette was one of the larger of the small companies (does that make sense?) and they lasted until 1976. They were manufactured in Quebec, as all good snowmobiles should. Today there is only a few companies still making these machines.
In that same barn I found a device, a coal furnace, with a sticker on it that said “Kirk’s Self Cleaning Stoker”. I chuckle, as we in are Vulcan County.
The last thing we see in this report (don’t worry there will be more to follow) is the Pioneer Elevator in Vulcan. This grain terminal is interesting as it is has old wooden elevator, highly modified, as part of the complex (the original was built in the 1950s). Other grain terminals are typically located outside of town due to their space requirements. They need large chunks of land to hold all the rail cars needed – they often load a complete train at one time. This differs as its in town, hinting at we are dealing with an older recycled elevator rebuilt, modernized and expanded with annexes and grain bins.
You’ll notice the similarities between my and John’s pictures and this was a deliberate attempt on my part to duplicate the angle and composition of his shots. To learn and compare. Of course, John’s are amazing and mine, while good at any other time, seem to suck in comparison when placed next to his.
John has equipment to reflects his professional status and I pretty sure his gear bag alone is worth many times what our camera cost. None the less, I think ours does well for what it is. While he shoots fully manual and uses a tripod, I stick with good ol’ “Auto” and shoot hand held. Who am I kidding, I (we, Connie and I) shoot for fun.
I learned a lot by watching this pro and have already incorporated some of the tips I gleaned from him, when we shoot now. Thanks John. BTW, we have known this fellow for many years, ten or more, and back when we ran Cameo Intimates we used his services in shooting our products.
John’s website is called Sharpeshots.com and we used his images with permission.
To read part two of this article, click the link below…
Abandoned and Old Part 2 – with Sharpeshots.com.
We also shot here….
Deanz Garage – with Sharpeshots.com.
To see another farm I found nearby, that I visited earlier and on my own, click the link below…
The lonely old farm.
If you wish more information on these places, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2013.
Location: Southeast of Calgary, near Vulcan, AB.
The following professionally shot images, taken on this same trip, are compliments of and copyright John Sharpe of Sharpeshots.com and are used with permission.