Who is nailhed?
I am an asbestos junkie; one of those cliché idiots who go in abandoned buildings for the purpose of experiencing and studying history. I do not necessarily consider myself a photographer, but I often carry a point & shoot camera since they are easier to conceal. Most of my older stuff (pre-2005) is scanned from film, using c.2005 technology, and as such you will find some of my older pictures to be of lower quality. I am slowly re-scanning some of them, but for now think of it as "gritty" and "underground." I can't afford fancy camera gear, and I don't really know how to use Photochop that well. So while my photos may not be as pretty as on those other websites, the stories and information that I offer make up for that.
My alias comes from being a lover of old Buick cars, and the fact that the Buick "Nailhead" V8 was essentially the first hot rod engine in history. On my first-ever trip into the abandoned Packard Plant we came across parts of a disassembled 1954 Buick near Splattball City, including a complete "Nailhead" engine, and I decided to use that as my screen-name.
The aim on this website is to gradually create a nearly exhaustive catalogue of "exploration for exploration's sake" entries expounding on Michigan's hard to reach nooks and crannies, in both a geographical and historical sense, with a little attitude to keep it interesting. So keep in mind the main product will still be entertainment value...this site is designed to serve at most as a primer for deeper inquiry on historical topics, and at the least as novel entertainment to inspire an audience to be less lazy and seek more out of life.
In other words, this is armchair history—I'm not some sainted doctoral historian. But at the same time, pains have been taken to ensure—and cite—the most accurate original information possible. I list the sources I reference in my work, so you can see (and fact-check) where I got my information from. I welcome criticisms on my material, and am open to corrections from readers at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Similarly, I am under no delusions that trespassing in abandoned places somehow gives me a better ability to understand their history than other people; nor do I fool myself into thinking that being some crusader "for history" earns me diplomatic immunity or justification for whatever I do. I know and accept the rules of the game.
I realize that some of my entries seem to glamorize the act of going in abandoned buildings; I prefer to think that they instead glamorize the act of adventure in general, especially when taken as a whole body of work, not individual episodes. If you have ever stood outside Detroit's Michigan Central Station for more than 10 minutes, you know that people are already traveling here to gaze at our ruins, and have been for years—that shark has already been jumped, and my actions will have very little effect on it at this point.
I have been exploring Michigan in some capacity or other since the 1980s; mostly for my own pleasure, but now I hope to use this site to increase a wider, better-informed interest in my home state through sharing what I have seen and learned as a result. Hopefully too, it will also help Michiganders remember at least some faint reason why they should feel proud of their home state...since there really haven't been many for a long f%$#ing time.
The great empire that once was Michigan is written—and largely still visible—in its many ruins, although that is changing day by day, and remembrance of its part in world history becomes fainter and fainter. So in order to help raise a more educated outside interest—whether it's by literal tourism or vicariously through this site—I hope to provide a nearly comprehensive atlas of "ruin exploring" (for lack of a better term) for my home state, since ruins are one thing that we have a lot of, and I dare say are one of the most alluring things about Michigan.
Furthermore, I aim to tie their histories together in such a way as to show how much cohesion exists between this state's many parts, by constantly referring back to other related places I have explored, in order to bring out a deeper, more contextualized story of Michigan's faded past than is available simply by looking at photos of abandoned buildings.
I'm also a geography nerd. This blog will be focused on Michigan exploration, but I may eventually post stuff from outside of the state. One of my goals is to explore at least one place to post here from every one of Michigan's 83 counties. So far I'm pretty close to achieving that goal.
Should I go check out dangerous places, now that I've seen you do it?
This site is not an instruction manual for you to invade peoples' property...I have delayed posting this material for many years so that most of it would be out-of-date enough to protect the sites I feature, as many of them have been demolished, secured, or renovated since I was there. All of the sensitive—"logistical," shall we say—information is either outdated, irrelevant, or past the statute of limitations by now. I have also obscured or changed important details in many instances. Anything I still consider to be sensitive or incriminating will not be published. The rest of the sites I feature are basically open to the public and no harm can come of it. Moral of the story: Don't be a dumbass. If you get shot, devoured by a Rottweiler, arrested, or plummet to your death, that's on you. The content on this site is solely for *ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES* only.
Are all the photos on this site yours?
YES. Even though some posts contain collections of images that are anything but uniform in appearance, they ARE ALL MINE unless otherwise indicated. I have used so many different formats over the years I can scarcely believe I've kept them all together this long. But nonetheless, THEY ARE NOT YOURS, and ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED. NO MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY WAY WITHOUT PERMISSION.
Do you ever sell your photographs?
My clients have included Dan Gilbert, Michelle Obama, and an undisclosed Saudi art collector. My work is even being displayed in the gubernatorial summer mansion on Mackinac Island. Actually none of that is true, I am far too lazy to sell anything.
Do you have a GoFundMe campaign or something so I can give you money to support your activities?
I will never insult what few readers I have by asking for hand-outs to do what I am already doing anyway, and would continue to do regardless. Did Richard Nickel have a GoFundMe? Hell no. He did it for love of the game. Did the now-reviled Christopher Columbus solicit financial contributions for his explorations? Yes he did. 'Nuff said.
Just where the f#$% do you get the money or time to travel like this?
I work my ass off. I don't have a lot of money, but I also realize how privileged I am compared to so many others, so I don't indulge in many luxuries in life either. Basically, all of my money goes to food, shelter, and travel. I was told once that money spent on travel is never wasted, and so far that has held true (with the exception of Ohio). I have also been told that there is nothing more expensive than regret, and that has remained just as true. This is how I choose to use the time I have been given on this Earth. No, I do not have cable, a smart phone, or a car built in the past 15 years. But you know what? I've lived and seen more in my few decades on this planet than most people will probably get out of their whole life, because I choose to tear myself away from frivolous pursuits, even if it means living with less. Why watch someone else do something on TV, when you can go do that something for real? Sell that f#$%ing TV and go travel.
Isn't nailhed one of the group called "SC"?
Absolutely not. I knew some of them briefly but the group I knew ceased to exist in 2008. Furthermore, I hope that my content on this site (such as it is) will speak for itself.
How do you research all these places...what are your tricks?
1) General googling. Sometimes even Wikipedia hits can be useful if someone has provided a link to a lesser-known or defunct website; these can provide more leads. The Wayback Machine can help you from there.
2) Google Books. You will be amazed at how much you can do with just this. Trade journals and other such periodicals are very easily found and searched on here, which are absolutely indispensable tools.
3) The usual tomes: by Silas Farmer, Clarence Burton, Sidney Fine, Thomas Sugrue, Dunbar & May, The Detroit Almanac, W. Hawkins Ferry, Kathryn B. Eckert, Woodford & Woodford, Robert Conot, Robert Szudarek, The AIA Guide, to name a few authors on my shelf whose books are the first I reach for when looking up Detroit topics. Not all of these are considered “hard” history, but they all have their own value, depending on what I’m looking for. Clarence Burton’s indispensable The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922 is downloadable in .pdf format, and therefore can be accessed offline as well as searched instantly by hitting “CTRL-F”. Silas Farmer’s History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan is online at maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca and likewise searchable with CTRL-F. Dau’s Blue Book of Detroit...these, as well as the indispensable Polk’s directories can usually be searched via Google Books, otherwise the hard copies can be found at Burton. There are also the usual Detroit social directories (such as Albert Nelson Marquis’ Book of Detroiters), and the Michigan Manufacturer & Financial Record and the Michigan Gazetteer & Business Directory, but again these can usually be found on Google Books or in .pdf. More books that I turn to regularly: the HAER’s Lower Peninsula of Michigan Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites; The Engine Works, by Landmark Planning, Inc.; The Technology Century by the Engineering Society; Detroit Perspectives by Wilma Hendrickson, Working Detroit by Steve Babson; Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW by August Meier; Michigan Yesterday & Today by Ferris E. Lewis; Michigan in Four Centuries by F. Clever Bald; We Make Our Own History by the UAW; Ford, the Man the Times, the Company by Allan Nevins; Michigan Voices by Joe Grimm; History of Detroit For Young People by Harriet Marsh; On Guard by the Detroit Free Press; Michigan County Atlas by David M. Brown; Detroit Beginnings by Gene Scott; Frank Cody, A Realist in Education by DPS staff; The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System by Jeffrey Mirel; Yesterday’s Detroit and Yesterday’s Michigan by Frank Angelo; Art Deco in Detroit by Binno-Savage & Kowalski; Catholic Churches in Detroit by Roman Godzak; Detroit 1900-1930 by Richard Bak; Detroit 1930-1969 by David Lee Poremba; The Works Progress Administration in Detroit by Elizabeth Clemens; Forgotten Detroit by Paul Vachon; Designing for Industry by Grant Hildebrandt; Smith Hinchman & Grylls by Holleman & Gallagher; Home in Detroit by T. Burton; Albert Kahn, Architect of Ford by Federico Bucci; The Legacy of Albert Kahn by W. Hawkins Ferry; Polish Detroit and the Kolasinski Affair by Lawrence Orton…to name a few.
4) Brick & mortar archives. The essentials: Burton Historical Collection and the National Automotive Historic Archives of the Detroit Public Library, the Bentley Historical Collection (U of M), the Purdy-Kresge Library and Walter P. Reuther Library of Wayne State University, the State Archives of Michigan, the Library of Michigan, the Manning Brothers Photo Collection, the Benson Ford Research Center...etc.
5) Sanborn maps. These can be accessed for free by anyone who can get to a DPL branch library and connect to their wifi by going to detroitpubliclibrary.org/research-resources. Hardcopies are downtown. There are now also many older ones (1880s-90s) available online anywhere, by going to loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps
6) Freep.newspapers.com/search It’s like $35 for full access to every Free Press article ever printed, and the search function works really well.
7) Search.proquest.com If you have a DPL library card, you can access this for free by typing in your card #. It searches the Free Press archives just like newspapers.com, but I still use this sometimes because it often brings up different results than the same search on newspapers.com does.
8) Another trick I have is the "Search Inside This Book" feature on Amazon.com. I have fished out quite a few great little tidbits of info that I needed for my projects without having to actually possess a book that may not be convenient for me to get or own. I don’t use this as much now that Google Books has gotten bigger, but it still comes in handy in a pinch.
9) I also have a range of great webpages in my favorites that I turn to for more specific queries:
10) Online maps:
Aerial photos of Detroit, 1949 to 1997:
Map of Wayne County, 1855:
Photos of "every" building in Detroit, c.1976:
I also have a CD-ROM with Wayne County Land Ownership Atlases from 1876-1925.
11) Secret weapons. Sure, you thought I was going to reveal all of my hidden aces, didn't you?
Finally, I'd like to give special thanks to the Wacots.org webmaster, my man Syd, for hosting all my material and for basically facilitating this website in every way.