Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Rust Belt

Just shy of a year ago, I created Places That Were so that I could share pictures and stories of the many abandoned places I've explored. One of my first posts announced my Epic Exploration Road Trip of early 2015, in which I traveled through the Western United States, exploring abandoned places along the way.


I'm thrilled that so many people came to this site to join me as I recounted my journey. Thank you all so much!


Every post since then has focused on one or more of the incredible abandoned places I explored on that first road trip. The only exceptions are a few articles about sites closer to home:
-Fatalities and Films of a Ghostly Movie Ranch in Acton, CA
-The Mystery of Canned Heat House
-Abandoned Water Park in the Mojave Desert - Lake Dolores aka Rock-A-Hoola



Those of you who follow my social media feeds probably know that I took a month-long road trip last fall, my Epic Rust Belt Road Trip of 2015 (#RustBeltRoadTrip2015). I drove from Los Angeles to the Rust Belt (formerly known as the Manufacturing Belt), to explore the abandoned ruins of the former industrial powerhouses that once epitomized American ingenuity and prosperity.

It was mind-blowing to see how cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Gary, Youngstown, and Akron, which flourished in the early and mid-1900s, have plunged into severe economic ruin. Urban centers that once embodied the American Dream now resemble war-torn cities of the Third World.


It must have been heartbreaking to watch helplessly as automakers and other industrial giants turned their back on American workers and moved their manufacturing overseas to take advantage of cheap wage standards and nonexistent labor protection laws.


I had recently been laid off from the job I loved, so exploring the Rust Belt was a deeply symbolic experience for me. Years of hard work, professional accomplishments, and personal sacrifice become suddenly irrelevant when a company makes cost-cutting its highest priority.


I have a great deal of empathy for the Rust Belt's Places That Were. In a society that often defines people by what they do for a living, I felt like a Person That Was.


Compelled to pay respect to the Rust Belt's historical places, I was on a mission to document what has become of them, and hopefully gain some insight into what we can do to make things better.



Being away from my better half for an entire month was not easy, but I had no choice. This was my last great opportunity to do what I love most. I knew that when I returned home, I would need to resume my career, which means I'll never again have time for a cross-country road trip until I retire.


After weeks of intense research and planning, I hit the road and began what would be the greatest adventure of my life so far. 

Below is a rough map of my route:


I would drive from Los Angeles to Cleveland, spending a day or two in each state along the way to check out ghost towns, factories, hospitals, military installations and other deserted sites. After several days exploring the incredible abandoned places in Cleveland, I'd head to Detroit for a week. There are so many awesome urban ruins in Detroit, it would take months to explore them all. I'd have to be satisfied with the several dozen explorations I could squeeze into my week-long visit. 


From Detroit, I'd head westward along a northern route, gradually making my way back to California. My final destination was an art gallery opening in Oakland, where one of my photos from the earlier road trip would be on display. It was the first and only time any of my work has been featured in a gallery, and it made for the perfect end to an incredible journey. 


I spent most of the month driving, exploring, or resting and was not able to post many updates online, but here is a video I posted from the road: http://www.placesthatwere.com/2015/09/rust-belt-road-trip-2015.html and another I made after I returned home: http://www.placesthatwere.com/2015/10/rust-belt-road-trip-update.html


I hope you all will come back and visit Places That Were over the coming months as I share stories from my Epic Rust Belt Road Trip.


Thanks again for joining me. Please feel free to share this article on Facebook. While you're at it, please subscribe to Places That Were and follow me on my social media sites:

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Thank you!

20 comments :

  1. I've loved your pictures along the way.

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    1. Thank you, Tina! There are plenty more to come :)

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  2. I have no doubt you will find the way to make more road trips a reality.
    Believe in yourself---you've got oodles of talent
    Good Luck!

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    1. Thank you, Sue. I'm glad I've got you in my corner :)

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  3. This is so exciting! I love your blog and can't wait for more. Thanks Jim for allowing us to share your epic adventure!

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    1. Thanks for following my journey! I can hardly wait to post more and relive the adventure. I can't express how much fun it was.

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  4. I am so fired up to check it out! It stinks that the route doesn't have you coming through AZ. We want you here again!!!

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    1. Thanks, Jake! I want to head back to AZ soon. There are so many awesome places I haven't had a chance to explore yet. I need to plan another trip out there soon. Such a beautiful state.

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  5. We have been living on the road and searching local places of interest, many obscure and historical. We have gone to some of the places you have documented in the West and Southwest. We recently stayed in Goodyear, AZ, right in back of the Trotting Park that is your banner picture. Really enjoyed your piece on it. We did not try going inside. We had heard that they were going to demolish the stadium with explosives, but discovered so much rat feces that it would be dangerous to explode it and send all of that into the atmosphere. Did you hear anything about that?

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    1. That sounds amazing. I'm envious. I absolutely love road trips and the freedom of the open road. I want to subscribe to your blog, but the Atom link at the bottom of your page seems to be broken. Could you please let me know the best way to keep updated when you post new articles? I have a feeling I'm going to be spending a lot of time reading about your adventures.

      I haven't read anything about plans to demolish Phoenix Trotting Park, but that sounds like a good argument against using explosives. Could be especially bad for the people who live nearby and would end up breathing a lot of it in. They did use explosives during the filming of a movie there, and it caused some controversy for unintentionally killing hundreds of birds.

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  6. Pictures are great. I only wish they were labeled so we would know where they were taken

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    1. Thank you. I will be posting more info about those locations, along with more pictures soon.

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  7. Love your photos and your work - keep it up! Congrats on your 1-year anniversary.

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  8. Awesome stuff. You trekked through a couple of my favorite Utah places, and through some spots I don't know. And then there's G, CO! I also wish you would label your photos. You have some beautiful shots.

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    1. Thank you! It was an unbelievably awesome trip. G, CO was one of my favorites. And Utah has way more great places to explore than I expected.

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  9. Love the photos would love to talk about some of the places some time you can message me on Facebook at exploringohiowithderek

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    1. Thank you. Feel free to message me via my placesthatwere facebook page any time.

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  10. I only started following you about a month ago and I had no idea you did a rust belt trip! I'm excited to read all this new content and I think it's really cool that this trip meant a lot to you for so many reasons.

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    1. Thank you so much! The Rust Belt Trip was amazing. I'm gradually posting articles from the places I visited. I stopped at so many along the way, I still haven't gotten to posting about any of the actual Rust Belt sites yet! :)

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