Doc’s final trusty iron horse was a Chevy Tahoe named The Hoe. In the years he invested in traveling back roads, he started with an ancient 70s Chevy Vega named Lotus Blossom, which spit oil by the quart and was not optimal for Forest Service roads. In the mid 1980s he intensified the experience with a GMC Jimmy named The Beagle. The Hoe was the apotheosis of Roy’s roadworthy education, with enough space for him to sleep in at campgrounds when he wanted, room to stow all of the critical gear needed for backwoods photography, with enough torque and tread to make it out of the occasional unpaved road too far. This is a representative example of the field-dressed Hoe, gumboots at the ready should wetlands abound.
Doc and I became enamored of NASCAR and small Southern race tracks in the early 1990s. By the time we had ridden that obsession out a decade or so later we had attended big time races at Bristol, Talladega and Rockingham.We also watched Saturday night specials at Tri-County Speedway in Brasstown, NC or the old paved track at Senoia Raceway, south of Atlanta. My media jobs in those years allowed me access far beyond the average ticket-buyer, and Doc often came along as my ‘producer’ and unofficial photographer.
Through an odd confluence of events, for most of a year split between the 1994 and 1995 Southern Dirt Track seasons, I served as public address announcer for Seven Flags Speedway, a 3/8 mile red clay “bull ring” operating at the lowest reaches of grass-roots motorsports, a past it’s prime motorsports facility, playing out its final seasons before being overwhelmed by the tsumani of suburban Atlanta development. Good old boys who wrenched on old engines all week and then tried to lay it all out on Saturday nights, spinning wet packed red clay into fine orange mist that found every crack and crevice, aerosol clay I would still be washing out of my ears days later. Doc came out a few times, and recorded audio and took photos. He digitally archived the ones above, for which I am grateful. Seven Flags Speedway has long since been replaced by a subdivision, much to the relief of the encroaching suburbs of 1995. “There’s chaos in turn four,” I shouted into the mic. There certainly was. I miss my racing buddy.
Roy Burke 1986 Vacation Log extract June 24, 1986: GAS Lexington. Chevron on U.S. 60. 1215 hrs, $11.82, 12.7 gals. 30305.1-30089=216 mi. or, 17 mpg(ugh), 5.47 cents/mi. Oil ok. So, off for a photo walk of Lexington while the weather still holds. Burning bush and care free.
The pic above is of my favorite early Doctor Flowers photos. He created a watercolor version of it that hangs on my wall today. The pic below is Doc’s beloved GMC Jimmy dubbed The Beagle after Charles Darwin’s 10-gun sloop HMS Beagle. It was his faithful companion for a decade of road trips.
No traffic. Beautiful soft gray light. Relaxation and peace are my moment. And the soothing soft hum of the truck. I’m a lucky man. low clouds, wispy mists brush the hill tops. Hard rain, wipers, lights, downhill brakes. Downshift, second gear. Grayson County absolutely magnificent in this weather and spectacular light.-Roy Burke 2009 county road log excerpt
Doc loved Christmas in his own way. In 1988, to celebrate his move into his new home and new way of life in Stone Mountain, he created one of his greatest cassette mix-tapes Bell Wringer:A Humbug’s Christmas(tape #319 in the archive). You can see his original playlist below. This Maxell UDXL 90 minutes-worth of his lavishly curated collection of Christmas music runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the canon to Scrooge McDuck. Clarence Carter’s Back Door Santa? Natch. Harvard Glee Club? Of course. He gave me a copy for Christmas that year, and for the quarter century or so afterwards we regularly set aside a holiday season opportunity to listen to it together at his Stone Mountain home, lights strung across the INSIDE of the house, an obscure college football bowl game soundlessly providing our ‘fireside’ holiday glow as we soaked in the music, sipped some liquor, and talked and laughed about the world at the end of another year.
Harold and I originally planned an overnight run to the Chattahoochee and Nantahala National Forests to trace some of Doc’s favorite county and Forest Service roads. But severe drought has brought forest fires, so we opted to run south and make a long day of it in Meriwether County, Pine Mountain, and Sprewell Bluff in nearby Upson County. We kept a road log, stopped at a rural church and graveyard, Flint River crossings, ate a road-food lunch beside a covered bridge, and sunned ourselves at FDR’s favorite picnic spot outside of Warm Springs at Dowdell’s Knob. We hiked the Delano trail for an hour, and made our way to Sprewell Bluff along the Flint, just in time to spend the golden hour. I took photos along the way and kept the log book. Harold drove his truck and developed our map strategy. We listened to a lot of Dwight Yoakam and talked of many things.
Just past dark, just past the Lamar County line on our way to dinner at the local meat and three in Barnesville and thence back to the city, on a rural stretch of State Road 36, we saw the brightest greenest closest meteorite either of us had seen in recent memory flash across the night sky like a coda, a cosmic boo-yah, as though Doc had cracked the time-space continuum and hurled a roman candle back at us, chuckling at our attempt to duplicate his fieldwork.
Roy loved small town photo walks, and made dozens of them over the years. He always looked for windows and doors, the more weather-beaten and unrenovated the better. I accompanied him on many of these walks, rambling the back alleys and main streets in search of a perfect combination of light, vernacular architecture and setting that worked for him. This photo, taken on a cool, misty October morning 13 years ago in Murphy, North Carolina(Clay County), includes a reflective portrait of the two of us. Roy created a monochrome version of a different shot from this same photo walk for his Doctor HP Flowers blog in a post called Epistemological Indifference.
Roy Burke got serious about his photography in 1983, took a class, and learned that art and its equipment with the same devotion and obsession he brought to music, fluid mechanics, wildflowers, watersheds and rural roads. Shooting film at his peak, Doctor Flowers would return from his annual Spring trip along the Eastern Blue Ridge with hundreds and hundreds of slides to go through. But everyone has to start somewhere, and the rose picture above, taken in Dekalb County in 1983, was digitally archived by him years later as Dekalb Co GA Rose first picture. He considered it his first ‘real’ photo. There were thousands more to come. The double exposure self portrait below was shot from the same roll of slide film.
One key to a successful backroads run with Doc was the right food and refreshments. Mixed nuts, chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, dried apricots(for gas), M&Ms, Diet Mountain Dew, a cold beer, road sandwiches made with turkey or roast beef deli meat and cheese on a kaiser roll, light mayo. His truck could not leave the driveway without the dry box of snacks, and the cooler filled with sandwiches and drinks. Particularly prized were Hostess Sno Balls, preferably stale and chewy. A proper amount of snack foods of marginal nutritional value are required to properly fortify you for a hard day’s voyage across rural two lanes and unpaved county roads. I took the above photo of Roy enjoying a tailgate lunch in a typical country churchyard, this one outside of Newberry, South Carolina off of State Route 34 on October 8, 2010, during a trip we took to visit both the Carolina Sand Hills National Wildlife Refuge and Rockingham Speedway.