Just a hop, skip and a jump up the road from Pennsylvania’s great welcome sign, I serendipitously saw a double Mail Pouch barn. Aside from the two visible sides in the picture, the small barn also had a Mail Pouch ad on the side facing the big barn.
I seem to say that word a lot; serendipitously. But that’s how it feels when one of the uncommon things that I appreciate makes itself known to me. Sometimes it feels like I was meant to see it. Maybe I just have my antenna up and tuned in to my interests all the time.
This morning I was trying to recall when and where I was first exposed to a Mail Pouch Tobacco barn or ad. I’ve come up with nothing concrete. My first blog post related to Mail Pouch was from 2009. I’d stopped to take a picture of a barn while we were riding in Kentucky. Could that have really been the spark that lit the fire?
Prior to 2009, I’d done some riding in West Virginia, the home of Bloch Brothers and Mail Pouch Tobacco. I’d traveled up and down roads that I’ve subsequently come to know have Mail Pouch barns on them. Maybe it is all just one big recognition puzzle. You start gathering pieces and shapes and then one day everything begins to interlock and you start to see an image.
Honestly, I’m not even sure what it is about the signs that interest me so. I find smoking and chew/pinch tobacco disgusting. So you can rule out nostalgia for the product itself. Maybe I connect the locations where you’d see barns and ads – places like lonely backroads and old rail towns – with good times? And the aesthetic can’t be discounted either, I suppose. Maybe I see them as art. Or time capsules to a less modernized life which I tend to romanticize.
For me, ghost ads or barn ads have no slickness. And I say that as a compliment. Instead, they carry a humanity to them. They weren’t made with mechanized sprayers or stretched vinyl. They were made by the hands of a person. A person standing, sweating, wiping their brow, stretching, correcting, pulling paint along a surface. I appreciate the humanity of the process.
I’ve passed through Renovo a few times over the last couple years. Each time I’ve stopped to snap a photo of the Mail Pouch Tobacco ad on the corner of Huron and 11th. The fade progression is clear in the pictures.
Considering the weather and the blazing sun that batters these buildings year in year out, the paint hangs on for a long time. It seems like it must reach a critical turning point where the colors and sharpness start to go very quickly.
On my first pass through town in February 2009, I snapped the Mail Pouch ad on the corner of 11th & Huron:
In June of 2014, I drove through Renovo and stopped for a quick picture of the Mail Pouch ad. There was definitely some fade compared to 2009.
Passing through town in June 2017, I stopped for the ad once again. Fading away…
The corner of Erie & 5th has a Mail Pouch and a Coca-Cola ghost two-fer. The first time I saw both, they were already quite faded. The change in their condition is less obvious to me. The photos are from June 2014 and June 2017 respectively for these two.
Coca-Cola is hangin’ on by a thread.
This Mail Pouch on the upper part of the building at 5th and Erie already had significant fade in 2014. Below it to the left also hung a nifty plastic RC Cola sign. Another throwback.
By the time I stopped again in June 2017, not much has changed in the fading but the plastic RC Cola sign is now gone. I like to think it is happily hanging in a room where someone loves it versus laying broken in a dump.
The wishful part of me wants these nostalgic gems to last forever. But I know that won’t happen. I guess I’ll just have to keep riding around, taking photos and making memories.
While Kenny and I were in Millhall, Pennsylvania for the Seven Mountains Dualsport/Adventure Ride, on Saturday afternoon after we’d scampered through the forest, I decided to head back out to get a look at a Mail Pouch barn that was flagged in my GPS as being close by. Kenny figured he’d tag along.
Across the valley hung dark clouds and sheeting rain. It looked like it was over the next hill but with bluer skies on it’s heels. My hope was that we’d stay just along the tail of the storm and keep dry. Wasn’t to be. As you can see, we caught up to the rain and it was coming down in buckets.
A Mail Pouch barn on Mail Pouch Road! Super jackpot 🙂
I was hoping to take a nice picture of my bike with the barn, but with the crown of the road I couldn’t find a spot to park it and be able to get my foot solidly on the ground to either get off the bike or put my sidestand down. Sometimes I forget that I’m not a giant. So? This was it the best I could do without toppling over. ::shrug:: oh well. It’ll do.
While I was finishing up with barn pictures, the rain let up and a gorgeous rainbow stretched cross the valley. We ended up chasing it just about all the way back to camp. Rainbows are wiley. You think think you get one step closer but they take two steps back keeping them forever just out of reach.
“Rain, rain, go away…. Kenny is regretting his decision to tag along with his ding-a-ling wife…” Pretty sure that’s how the song goes.
He may have in fact been afraid to look in my general direction so as not to incinerate me on the spot with his death-glare. Not a fan of riding in the rain, this one. So, let’s just concentrate on how foxy his bike is, okay? 😉
Like a dumbbell, I brought my (3rd partially broken) point-n-shoot camera with its nifty 30x zoom with me… but failed to charge the battery. One day I’ll get this all right, but this? This was not that day. And so I was left to take pictures with my iPhone and my GoPro which on the whole isn’t really so bad. But, the zoom situation can be a little less than optimal. I hope you can manage to suffer through these photos.
“I come in peace.”
Tucked within the recesses of my GPS’ favorites was something called “BDS-32-54-04.” Though I wasn’t sure exactly what I would find when I pulled up, just by looking at the name I knew I’d saved a “Bull Durham Sign” from the Mail Pouch Barnstormers site. That’s their naming convention.
Wow, would you look at that? A tobacco ad that is loved, cared for and has been restored. Does that warm the ole ticker or what?
The kicker to my whole interest in tobacco advertising is that I find smoking and chew to be disgusting. I have memories of being trapped in the backseat of my parents car as a kid while they both puffed away in a blue-gray fog and it makes me want to gag. Apparently secondhand smoke wasn’t much of a concern back then.
This one wasn’t a GPS favorite or anything. I just happened to see it when I parked at the Bull Durham sign in Waverly, NY. I pulled around to the backside of the parking lot to get a better look. There is so much overlap, so much fade that I’m not able to discern what’s going on here. But the location came up on Barnstormers as having a Mail Pouch ad. I think I can see the word “pouch” on the upper left in yellow.
 After googling soap ghost ads, I think that one of the layers may be for Ivory Soap. I found a soap add on Pinterest that tipped me off.
Towns like Waverly, NY that reach back a few hundred years and have a railroad line running through them seem to have the best shot at seeing ghost ads. Thinking back to other places I’ve been, Waverly had that look much like Renovo, PA and East Liverpool, OH did.
I stopped to have a drink and a granola bar alongside a pink Elephant in Owego, NY. I mean, it really was as good a place to stop and take a breather as any, right? Maybe even better than most. It isn’t every day that you get to bask in the glory of such a fine beast.
The cockpit of my faithful companion. I don’t know if I took this picture on purpose or by accident, as I’m wont to do. Either way – the KTM is an excellent dance partner.
A lovely old sign in Owego provided me with some shade as I sipped and snacked.
Another Bull Durham sign perfectly perched above the olde tyme Harris Diner in Owego.
I didn’t really explore or dilly-dally around Owego as I was running out of time to get back to meet Kenny. So I snapped a quick photo of a You Are Here mural while sitting at a traffic light and made my way out of town. If I’m ever in the area again, something tells me I should have a closer look around. There are probably more roadsidey gems sprinkled through town.