But it is. Sort of. In a roundabout way.
I spent all week either in the shop, in front of the computer, or doing some amount of work-related scrambling. Sleep has been scarce, and the household coffee supply reflects this. I don't feel especially accomplished, but I knew that today was going to have to be a day off whether I deserved it or not.
When I woke up this morning I noticed how cold it was outside, and that it was raining, and that there was snow on the ground. It was miserable. And, perfect conditions for a lengthy park excursion with Roscoe.
Some of you may not be familiar with Roscoe, and that's OK, I'll fill you in. The short version is, he's my dog.
Roscoe turned 9 a couple weeks ago. By that math, he's been my buddy for almost 1/4 of my life, which seems a little bonkers when I think about it in those terms. I got him when he was 6 weeks old, and he's been a fiesty, adventurous, rock star of a dog from day 1.
He's seen a lot of things over the years, and that's not an exaggeration in any way. He's been to state parks, conservation areas, and just about every park in south city many, many times over. Like, the number of outings has a comma in it. He's swam in the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec Rivers (OK, this is an exaggeration; he's tried to **drink** the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec Rivers). Fields, woods, trails, creeks, lakes, urban, rural, you name it, he's done it.
But he's gettin' old. He's got a crinkled up ear, the result of a hematoma. He's got a couple giant fatty (benign) tumors on his chest. He still eats whatever I put in front of him with literally zero dietary or bodily repercussions, but he doesn't put away the quantity of food that he used to. His little legs have 10 lifetimes of mileage on 'em, and he doesn't get super excited, or excited at all, about going to the park anymore. Laying on the couch is more his game these days, but every now and then...he gets the urge to go exploring with me one more time.
Today was one of those days. For whatever reason, telling him there's snow on the ground always makes it a pretty easy sales pitch.
A quick trip to a city park wasn't going to cut it, so we jumped on HWY 44 and headed out to - for my money - the best place in the whole area to have hundreds of acres to yourself and let a dog have some fun. It's not exactly a secret park, but it's definitely off the beaten path (as I show you a pic of a pretty well-worn path).
At this particular park, as is the case with pretty much every place we've ever been more than a few times, I have Roscoe's routine pretty well memorized. I know where he's going to stop to sniff horse poop. I know which patches of grass he's going to roll in. I know which trees he's going to inspect. I know where he'll allow me to walk in front, and I know just how far in front I can get before he sprints past me to take his customary spot as the lead dog. Similarly, I know how far out in front he can get before he'll stop, look back at me disapprovingly, and wait for me to catch up. And, I know when he's ready to go find some water by any means necessary.
Today we did our usual thing. We followed the tree line for a while, then darted into the woods and headed to the river. After Roscoe drank about 14 gallons of water, we resumed our walk back out in the open, meandering through some fields and looking for anything interesting to explore. The park we were at is in a floodplain, surrounded by a river, woods, fields, train tracks, and bluffs, so there's always something to check out...especially if you have a dog that sniffs things like it's his job.
After walking about 2 miles, Roscoe was ready to head back to the car, and I figured our park outing was done for the day. We walked back to the car and when we were about 50 feet away from it, I realized I'd passed Roscoe. I turned around to see where he was, and he was 20 feet back, standing still, staring at me with his head cocked sideways just a little bit. Know what that look means? That's the "I changed my mind, I'm not ready to go home just yet, why are you still walking towards the car" look. 9 years, man, 9 years...you know exactly what all the looks mean after 9 years.
Here's where I'll segue into more traditional Pete Pagano blog subject matter.
This particular park, it's bisected by some train tracks (originally the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, I believe) that happen to run right in front of the park's parking lot. We'd never ventured south of the tracks, so it seemed like a good opportunity to change that, what with the boss wanting to continue our walk and whatnot.
So, we followed the path, crossed the tracks, and what jumped right out at me? An abandoned building. And an oddly-shaped one at that. I'd never noticed the building before because the train tracks sit on a hill that might be 10 feet tall, and the drive in is on the north side of them; you can't see what's on the south side of the tracks without crossing them.
It's not technically on park property, and the eleventeen "no trespassing" signs made things pretty clear, but still...I see an abandoned building, I turn into an 8-year-old: I want to go check it out.
I held off for a minute, just to make sure I had a good game plan for getting some quick pics and then getting back to the safety of park property, so Roscoe and I walked a little further up the park trail. As we walked, I noticed the old barbed wire fence clearly demarcating what I figured was a property line. A little further up the trail, on the non-park-property side of the fence, I could see the remnants of a very, very long, very, very short concrete wall. Could it have been a foundation of some sort? My interest in the building and property grew.
When we went about as far as the trail would reasonably allow without having to climb the bluffs - the trails in that area get pretty rocky, which tears up Roscoe's paws so I avoid them completely - we circled back and I got ready to take some pics of the old building. When we got closer to it, I could see holes in the fence and some paths pretty clearly worn around the place; curiosity had definitely gotten the best of plenty of people before me.
The building was super overgrown and I didn't want to get too close or turn into a full-blown 8-year-old and dig through vines and thorns and who knows what to get a closer look, but the more I looked at the building, the more intriguing it became to me.
Was it a house? A farm building? Something else? The windows were in weird spots, and there were a weird number of them (and, seemingly not enough for it to have ever been a house). But who goes to the time and trouble to build a curved wall for a farm building?! There were two big, old, concrete pillars that had served to designate a gated driveway at some point, but were those for a legit driveway, or just a means of holding up a gate that only tractors or livestock were allowed to pass through? I noticed the same style pillars waaaay - like a mile or more - down the road on our way out, so was this thing part of some huge chunk of property at one time?
The building had an electrical masthead, so it had power at some point. If you look closely in the above picture, you can see a concrete trough in between the trees. What's that about?! There are metal plates on the other side of the building (you can see them in a previous pic) typically found in super old brick buildings, used as nuts on either end of a huge metal rod used to tie one wall of a brick building to it's opposing wall...but this thing's made from block, or concrete, or something that isn't brick!
Given the nature of my work with reclaimed wood, pretty much all of which comes from structures that are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old or older, it stands to reason that I have a decently high level of interest in history. Right? I mean, using the older material, it looks cool and all that, but it's the story of where it came from or what it was or who built something that really interests me.
I came home, and figured I could do some internet homework to figure out what this building was. I've done it enough, I generally feel like I have a pretty good handle on where to look to find information related to a building or land parcel's background...but in this case...I came up with next to nothing specific, and I still have no idea what this thing was or who it belonged to or when it came into existence. I couldn't even really find a picture of this thing with a Google image search. But, the more I dug, the more intrigued I became; there's a lot of history in this particular part of the world, and I really didn't know about any of it.
A long time ago, this area was heavily quarried for limestone. But the quarries and mines would come and go, leaving little tiny ghost towns and remnants of small communities in their wake. There were only a handful of (crazy wealthy) landowners (and I'm talking 150+ years ago) who owned everything out here, and they'd lease small plots to mining companies or saw mills or whoever wanted to send things back to the big city (St. Louis) by way of the railroad. I don't even know what municipality this area is technically, but I now know that it's been called about 4 dozen different things, either informally or quasi-formally, over the past 200 years, reflecting whatever mining operation was prevalent at the time. Cities were planned with high hopes and pretty much none of them ever took off, although if one looks hard enough, faint evidence of those big plans remain. The railroad made a lot of commerce possible, and the nearby river offered a lot of recreational opportunities a century ago, although their heyday has come and gone so again, the history of the place kind of has as well. During WWII and the Korean War, the government had a huge facility in the area, but it's long gone too.
Further research pointed to a giant dairy farm operation (anybody that's lived anywhere near St. Louis would know the name if I said it) that existed in this general part of the world. It's not around anymore either, but a golf course in its place bears it's name (there's the general location giveaway, if you're a golfer).
What I do know about the structure is who owns it (a subdivision HOA), that it shows up on aerial photographs from 1937, that it sits not even a stone's throw from some train tracks, that some kind of operation (mine, sawmill, etc.) existed up the hill just to the south, and that a lot of industry-driven "towns" popped up - and disappeared just as quickly - in the area many, many years ago. Was this a building owned by the dairy farm? Was it related to one of the towns no longer in existence? Did it have something to do with the railroad? Or did it belong to some random person who just wanted to live really weird house, in a floodplain, next to some train tracks?
I haven't figured it out yet.
But I will.