Frank A. Mills


"Taylor Vintique" (Taylor, Texas)

A Photographer In Search of Junk

Posted: April 27, 2020

I guess it all started when I was a child. I know I certainly instilled it in my children— The Search for junk, that is. Junk just sits in a field, in a flea market, in a junk shop, and sometimes junk tries to past itself off as antique. Wherever it sits, it sits forlornly. Whatever it tries to pass itself off as, it is still junk.

Unless — it is not!

Whenever a piece of junk tickles our fancy, in that moment of time it ceases to be junk. The thing about junk is that you never know what piece of junk will reach out grab you. We never know where we will be when that happens. So we keep our eyes open, we search out abandoned places, flea markets and junks shops, and those ever-present antique-malls (where if we are honest, most of the stuff is junk).

It use to be that I was looking for junk that could be converted into something for the garden, perhaps even an unique yard decoration. I still am, but not as often as I use to. Today my search for junk is about looking for something that might work in my Village of Make Believe (or something railroad related for my office) although like all junking, it is always hit or miss. Most often though, my search for junk involves me wandering camera in hand, wondering what I can find to take a picture of. To find a piece of junk that yells, "Here I am! Think of you can do with me in a image. I've been places. I've stories to tell, memories to prick."

These are such images. They are our stories, yours and mine— Stories from our memories of our past. The images I have posted are reworked images that recall memories. Sometimes with the image I will share a memory, or perhaps a thought. I do hope each images will stir up a memory in your mind, like it has in mind.


Stuffed Mr. Frosty Root Beer Doll

When I was a kid, as far as I was concerned there were only two types of commercial root beer sodas: Hires and Frosty. The other brands were poor imitations. If I had a choice, my choice was always Frosty. I am sure because it was produced locally in Catonsville, Maryland (1939 - 1979). A roll of LifeSavors of some flavor always seemed to be in my pocket, but because whoever bottled Frosty didn't make a root beer LiveSaver sort of candy, if my memory serves me correctly it was a roll Hires in my pocket; and it just happened to be brewed in nearby Philadelphia.

Now you may be wondering how Mr. Frosty came to be found in Granbury, Texas? That we will never know. Frosty Root Beer does however have a Texas connection, after changing hands a couple times, the Frosty brand was sold to Leading Edge Brands of Temple, Texas (2000 - 2009). Yet, our stuffed Mr. Frosty doll dates to the early 60s, long before Frosty Root Beer showed up in Texas.

Mr. Frosty, by the way, was found next to a Frosty Bottle Cap Soda Sign in a Canada Dry wooden box. Someone undoubtedly was a Frosty fan. Still it is hard to imagine why a Frosty fan would be relegate Mr. Frosty and sign to a Canada Dry box. I know I wouldn't.


Stuffed Mr. Frosty Root Beer Doll with Bottle Top


Not all junk finds bring back fond memories. Some speak to our modern day and age, reminding us how much things have changed. The image that follows is of one of those find. The place was called "Dream Train Antiques" (Smithville, Texas) and I entered in search of trains. Asking, I was directed to the "warehouse" next door where I found an old Marx crossing signal, a Marx yard light tower, a Lionel rheostat from the 30s, and a crossing track. Leaving, the barrel caught my eye — well, what was in the barrel.


Thrown Away in a Barrel

The legs thrown carelessly into the barrel reminded me that we are a throwaway society. And unfortunately, we even throw away people. Thinking about this, the photo became the image for my "Throw Away Society" photo-essay.


One of the fun things for me while searching through junk for items that beg to be photographed is what I come up with:

Un-Sprung (Salado, Texas)


Ma Bell (Austin, Texas)

And sometimes they can a bit strange:


Rat (Taylor, Texas)
This one was fun for Halloween


Chicken People (Austin, Texas)
I can see this appealing to one of my granddaughters


Two Friends in a Boat (Austin, Texas)

If I had a spare $200 or so dollars I might have purchased this one. I reminds me of the time I set a sail in a birch-bark canoe a few of my sisters small stuffed animals.


Lately I have become intrigued by what can be done story-wise mannequins and the haberdasher's head. (One such example is the "Millinery" interactive page on this website. Requires up to date browser.) This means that whenever I enter a junk or antique shop I am search of suitable heads and mannequins.

Sometimes I get lucky and ther scene is already set:


"Girl in Green Hat" (Lockhart, Texas)

Sometimes something shows up that stimulates all that gray matter floating around in my head:


"We all Wear Many Faces"

From these two heads found in Lockhart, Texas:


Other times I can see it in my mind's eye:


Which came from this one (also found in Lockhart):



Sometimes the found junk has its own story to tell, as these two do:

"At the Ball"
The title says it all.

You can read about the Mouses' ball. (The couple are Mr. & Mrs. Mouse, in case you are wondering why "mouse," not "mice"?)



"Gold Star Line"

When I was a child steamship travel was relatively common. I can remember steamers lining up along Baltimore's Light Street, in Fells Point, to take passengers to Chesapeake Bay ports, and on occasion to the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Can you not imagine in your mind a dignified lady placing her small case on the bed in her stateroom?


It seems that every junk shop has a preponderance of dolls and stuffed stuff. I admit, it is hard to past by even one of them and not take a shot or two— PeeWee Herman, Howdy Doody, Rosie the Riveter, Sargent Preston of Royal Mounties, to name just a few who have made it into my image collection. Here are but a randomly selected few of those photos:


"The Clown In Grandma's Attic"

When I posted this shot on Facebook a viewer shared the memory of as a child finding such a clown in her grandmother's attic. At first, she said, seeing just the shadow of a face in dim light of the attic, the face scared her. However, she went on to write, "When I realized it was a clown, I was delighted." Stories such as this remind us that we never know what treasures we might discover in an attic. [This clown, by the way, found its way from a Texas attic to a shop in Elgin, Texas. Hopefully on his way to delight another child.]


Chatty Cathy (Lockhart, Texas)
“Please take me with you!"

I must say, there were those times when Chatty Cathy's chatting was most annoying. I think probably something every brother and parent felt at sometime. As for the image, someone went to a lot of trouble to stage this Chatty Cathy doll. It was almost like they knew I going to show up to take pictures. Whoever you are, thank you.


"Mrs Rabbit"

As I post this image, I can't help but feel sad that Mrs. Rabbit ended up for sale amongst the junk. How can you not love her? Think of those hearts – young and not so young – that she warmed with delight. I truly hope that once again, Mrs. Rabbit will find a new heart to warm.


"When you are curious fun has a way of showing up"
- Curious George

If you are a curious person how could you not love the adventures of Curious George? As a young boy I devoured every book that starred Curious George. Curious George, I am. And for the record, I just happen to have Curious George and his friend (although a different friend) in my office and a Curious George Christmas ornament for the tree. I guess one nver outgrow Curious George.


Naked Man Doll

Almost looks like Mr. Potato Head, I think. Somewhen once told me that this image reminded them of me. Not sure why. Although I do dream about being found naked outside. Hmm.

Enough dolls and stuffed stuff.

One Saturday we happened to be in Taylor and came across a couple having a "warehouse sale" of junk that had accumulated in their soon to be vacated warehouse. It was mostly new plumbing and electric leftovers with tools mixed throughout, along with a few pieces of furniture. My eyes found this picture sitting in the midst of all the stuff. Later, at home when I brought the image up to view, the image title, "Art Within Art" popped into my mind:

Art Within Art



The last image is certainly not junk, nevertheless whenever I look at it I am always reminded that not only do you not know what you may find while in search of junk, you never know who you will find while in search of junk.

I did find Harry Potter and a tired Willie Nelson in Round Top. Harry remined me: "The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are ("The Order of the Phoenix"). As I looke at Willy I could not help but think,

"Memories are haunting you and they're making you feel blue
Darling a penny for your thoughts
Are you thinking of the past and a love that didn't last
Darling a penny for your thoughts
"A Penny For Your Thoughts"



And Teddy intently listening to honky-tonk in Bandera. Maybe he's listening to a honky-tonk version of "Gallant Teddy"

"We'll take no bluffs when med by Gallent Teddy"


These are all "what's," even if they are "who's." The person we met in a Elgin vintage shop is not only a real person, but also a very interesting lady who lives her passion.
Cathy Morris DeYoung

Cathy has a passion for vintage and is lover of life. She is a rancher, the author of Life in the Trenches: My [mis]adventures as a crime scene investigator and photographer" and the real life inspiration for the character "Abby" on the show NCIS. [Cathy, thank you so very much for posing for me.]


P.S. Sometimes I get lucky and find just the right pieces for the Village of Make Believe:


Pink Flamingo Motel

The motel, the flamingo, the Bug, the station wagon with surf boards, and the palm trees were each found at a different location, but look how well they all go together.

Click on the image for full screen. The originals of each image are high resolution for printing. If you are interested in purchasing a photo please contact me.

© Text and images, Frank A. Mills, 2020

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