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Up and Down the Old Lincoln Highway in Reno – By Sonny Rosenberg

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Highway 50 runs pretty much across the middle of Nevada, where it’s billed as “the loneliest highway in America” and there are parts of it which certainly fit that description. But highway 50 wasn’t always highway 50. Many years ago it was created as The Lincoln Highway and was to unite New York City and San Francisco with a two lane ribbon of “improved” highway that would contribute to changing the way America traveled and employed the automobile.

In 1913 it was announced that the Lincoln Highway would run through Reno and it literally helped to put Reno on the map, helping to make it a center for commerce, warehousing, tourism, gambling, prostitution and divorce. Not necessarily in that order.

With the advent of the interstate freeway running through Reno in the 60s, the portions of the old Lincoln Highway that ran through Reno and it’s sister city of Sparks, began to fall into the cycle of decline and renovation that so often happens when areas are bypassed by a more major thoroughfare. Today there are thriving businesses: up and coming breweries, bars and music venues as well as decaying warehouses, hotels and encampments of the unhoused.

I’m particularly interested in decaying older buildings both domestic and industrial, so a bike ride from one end of Reno in the west to the opposite end of Sparks in the east is not uncommon for me. On this ride I brought along my old Canon IVSb2 rangefinder with a Voigtlander (Cosina) 21mm lens and yellow no. 22 filter, loaded with Rollei Retro 80s, which is apparently a version of AGFA Aviphot Pan80, a super panchromatic film.

It wasn’t my intention to really document old motels and houses along the route, but just to photograph some interesting architecture. I’m still experimenting with a film developer made from sagebrush that I call Artemiasonal, which I’d never used with Rollei 80s before, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turns out most of this roll came out nicely exposed and I was somewhat impressed with the results from this developer. Artemisianol is starting to turn into my go to developer, it’s seeming quite versatile.

This roll of Rolle Retro 80s was shot at ISO 64 and developed for 15 minutes in Artemisianol.


On this route I began by heading east into and through Sparks Nevada, one of the first interesting things (interesting to me anyway) I encountered was this cement plant which was closed as I was out on a Saturday morning.

through the links

Cement plant through the chain link


Cheating here, this is from a different roll on a different day, but I thought it was relevant. This one was shot on Eastman Kodak 2374, 2374 is a very high contrast film, this roll was the first where I began to think that Artemisianol might be a good all around developer able to pull a range of tonalities from high contrast films.



gas again

And yet another cheat, this was shot on expired Kodak Polypan F also developed in Artemisianol


There’s a wide range of both active and shuttered business’s on 4th Street (Reno) and Prater Way (Sparks) on what was the old Lincoln Highway.

halfway club

The Halfway Club, right between Reno and Sparks



scoopers drive in

Scoopers Drive In, Sparks


Vacant for now

mantra glass

Mantra Glass

studebaker 2


copenhagen bar

Copenhagen Bar


There is a plethora of motels along this route, for this roll I only photographed a few that I hadn’t shot much before.

el tavern

El Tavern Motel on West 4th Street

sunset motel

The Sunset Motel, you can see the foothills of the Sierras in the distance

motel 8

Motel 8 in Sparks


And of course people live along these streets, whether it’s in houses, trailers or tents set up on the sidewalk.

single wide

Single Wide


Whitewashed  Fence

white asbestos

Asbestos siding is pretty common here

mail box




soft top

Soft Top


Locust and elm trees

If you got this far, thanks for reading! For more of this sort of thing check out my blog The Daily Lumenbox.

Sonny Rosenberg is a semi retired ceramics teacher living in Reno Nevada with his wife and three cats.

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