Dr. Patrick’s Postcard Roadside

Vulcan in Birmingham

World’s Fair Refugee: Vulcan in Birmingham, Alabama.

Although World’s Fairs are designed as temporary expositions to be demolished at their conclusions, landmark pieces nearly always survive as cherished civic mementos of the fair: New York’s Unisphere, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge high atop Birmingham’s Red Mountain. Surrounded by iron ore, coal and limestone, Birmingham developed as the steel-making “Pittsburgh of the South.” Fittingly, the city’s mills fabricated a giant, cast-iron Vulcan examining a newly forged spear tip for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Vulcan was brough back to Birmingham and in 1939 was set on his towering stone pedestal as part of the W.P.A. Vulcan Park project. On this moonlit postcard, Vulcan holds a road safety beacon that replaced his spear tip in 1946, which turned from green to red any time there was a Birmingham traffic fatality. The spear tip was returned to Vulcan’s hand in 2004.

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where a sign perched at a precarious curve on U.S. 40 seems to challenge motorists to take their cars for a SWIM.

The pool is part of the Old Town Hot Springs, one of several hot springs in the Yampa Valley. The chugging steamboat-like sound of water gurgling from one of the springs is what gave the town its name. Set at the western base of the Park Range, Steamboat Springs became more famous for its ski slopes. Skiing and hot springs, a perfect compliment. Also visible in this westbound postcard view towards Elk Mountain is the Rabbit Ears Motel, an SCA sign-fan favorite. Just to the east, U.S. 40 crosses the Park Range over Rabbit Ears Pass, the motel’s namesake. Amazingly, the neon-lit, big-eared bunny sign survives, as does Old Town Hot Springs. The Large Pool, however, is a little more protected from wayward traffic by an embankment and fence.

The Plank Road

The Plank Road constructed across the Imperial Sand Dunes in 1915 was rebuilt by the California Highway Department a year later.

The narrow, one-track road with turnouts for opposing traffic to pass was difficult to keep clear of drifting sand dunes. It was nonetheless the main road between Yuma and San Diego until 1926 when a wider, paved road was built across the dunes on a high berm for transcontinental U.S. 80. It took a long time for the Plank Road to deteriorate in the arid climate of the Imperial Valley. A 1,500-foot segment of the old wooden road still exists, hobbled together in the 1970s from scattered remnant pieces as an historic landmark located on Grays Wells Road just south of Interstate 8.