Knowing my appreciation for urban decay and fine art photography, Josh Mies of Josh Mies Photo, offered an interesting proposition. Josh has a relative who owns a plot of farmland which is peppered with a few decaying structures including a farmhouse, barn, stable and a few storage facilities. However, it isn�t the structures that peaked my interest, it was their contents. Josh informed me that all of the buildings were completely filled with �stuff.� At the time, I didn�t really understand what he meant and I asked him to articulate. He went into a little detail describing exactly what �stuff� he meant but it wasn�t until we pulled up to the property that I truly understood.
Josh had just purchased some new lighting equipment and he was anxious to put it to use. He gave me a quick tour of one of the storage buildings and my jaw dropped as soon as we entered. The place was absolutely jam packed with �stuff.� Like Josh, I don�t know how else to describe it. One room was completely filled with old bicycles while another was overflowing with picture frames. One hallway was filled with stuffed animals and another had an old burned out car in it. We couldn�t even see half of the treasures in this place because it was a rainy day and there was little to no light in several of the rooms. Portions of the roof had collapsed and much of the structure�s contents were being pelted by unrelenting summer rain. However, the parts that we did see were unbelievable to say the least.
Soon after we left the storage facility, we set up Josh�s lights in the barn/stable and took a few portrait shots. As I was sitting there, my mind just kept going back to the contents of that first building. There were so many abstract and fine art photo opportunities in that single location. After 20 minutes or so, I grabbed my gear and left Josh to play with the lighting while I headed back towards the storage building. Near the entrance was the Toledo scale in this photo. It was raining and as water has a tendency to ruin electronics, I only took a few photos of it. There was a duplicate scale inside the structure but it didn�t tell the same story that this one did. It sat alone, tucked away in an exterior corner, soaking wet, overgrown with brush, forgotten, broken and rusted. The irony was not lost on me. To me, this Toledo scale immediately represented the city of Toledo.
The Toledo Scale company�s origins date back to 1897, when a Toledo man, Allen DeVilbiss Jr., invented the spring-less scale . In 1901 Henry Theobald acquired the patent for DeVilbiss� invention and started the Toledo Computing Scale and Cash Register Company. He quickly set up a manufacturing facility and hired DeVilbiss to oversee the production of his invention. In 1912, the organization was renamed the Toledo Scale Company. Theobald understood the value of customer service, something many contemporary companies have seem to have forgotten) Toledo Scale implemented service facilities and trained a team of men to service their products in the field. In addition to the spring-less scale, the company�s outstanding service helped solidify itself as a major player in the scale manufacturing industry. Within 10 years, over 75,000 units had been sold and Toledo scales were undoubtedly dominating the market. Toledo Scale would remain in Toledo until 1975, when the company was purchased and the headquarters were moved. In 1989 Mettler, a Swiss company, acquired the Toledo Scale Corporation which was then based in Worthington, Ohio. Mettler hoped to capitalize on Toledo Scale�s brand name and renamed the organization Mettler-Toledo, which still exists today.
The Toledo Scale company was once a world-renown organization and arguably a household name. While it�s just a single company, it is a perfect representation of what has happened to Toledo in the past 30 years. Once a strong contributor to the manufacturing sector, the city of Toledo is now a fleeting shadow of its former self. Countless Toledo businesses have either had to close their doors, or find a more lucrative area to operate. In the case of Toledo Scale, a foreign firm ended up purchasing the organization and integrating it into their own. When businesses leave, jobs leave with them; less jobs bring economic instability; economic instability ultimately leads to a population decline. This is the staggering reality that Toledoans face every day. Last year Forbes magazine ranked Toledo the worst medium-sized city in the nation to find work. Years of political inaction have only compounded the problem. Our city is slowly dying and I wrote a letter to The Toledo Blade to voice my concern last year. After it was published, I had a unique opportunity to go onto a local news talk show to discuss it on The Round Table. My opinion has not changed. Our community continues to lose jobs and a change in the local administration has not changed that reality.
The broken glass, peeling paint and rusty components of this once proud scale are not unique. Any machine left unattended to the elements will eventually look something like this. However, this particular piece of machinery was made in Toledo by hard-working middle class Americans and because of that, it represents so much more. Much like this Toledo scale, the city of Toledo has been misused, mishandled and left alone to the harsh environment in which it sits idle. When I shot this photo, I couldn�t believe such a strong piece of local history had been abandoned; but all is not lost. When I climbed on top of the machine to get a better shot, something amazing happened. The hand on the face of the scale shot erratically to the right. Stepping off, it shot back to the left where it was originally positioned. Intrigued, I noted the location of the hand and stepped back on the surface. The hand again shot to the right and unbelievably, the weight was relatively accurate. I was in awe. Manufactured in a simpler time, this scale had sat idle for years, maybe even decades, on that small Ohio farm. As soon as it was put to the test, it performed amazingly. While horribly out of calibration and in visual disarray, the machine still worked. A little elbow grease and a few spare parts might even restore it into perfect working condition.
When I first looked upon this lonely machine, my heart sank because of the connection I made to it. It represented everything wrong that has happened to my hometown. It was broken and battered, two adjectives that could easily describe Toledo. In my attempt to use it as art through a photograph, I found that it still breathed life and that immediately gave me hope. While disgusted with its leaders and terrified by its position in the global economy, I still haven�t given up on this struggling city. Like any community, it�s the people that make Toledo what it is; not the political failures or economic turmoil. Toledo has a chance, albeit a small one, to recover from the death of the industrial midwest. One possible future involves a revolution in solar power technologies. Toledo continues to see a small band of pioneering solar companies trying to make this their home. The light bulb over our community is flickering, fighting for its life. Some people stare at that light and wonder if it will ever get brighter while others smile with pessimistic grins, waiting for their chance to say �I told you so.� Regardless of who is looking into that flickering light, one fact remains, it is still burning. It dimly lights our way as we fumble to find the path towards salvation, towards hope. Tired and hungry, Toledo limps on. We are still here��..
June 24th, 2011
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