Shade Avenue Letterbox

My bike route to the office is a straight shot down Shade Avenue, so at this point I pretty much know every house, tree, dog, mailbox, and pebble along the way.  But there’s one thing in particular that kept catching my eye and peaking my curiosity – an old train parked just North of Novus Street by the Alta Vista neighborhood sign.     A dash of fear only intensified my curiosity.  I kept wanting to stop but was worried it may be a homeless camp.  After finally getting up the nerve, I was back on my bike the second I spotted an open door.

It was too creepy to be there alone even in daylight…although I do partially blame the Investigation Discovery channel for my immediately thinking I could be murdered in one of those boxcars.  Tune in; you’ll see what I mean.  But paranoia aside, I wasn’t completely off-base to bug John for two weeks to ride over there with me.

The signs were there, but we didn’t see anyone…just an old train covered in rust and graffiti.

The train has been stored in this spot for over a year now, and even though the Seminole Gulf Railway has assured residents they have security patrolling the area, the surrounding neighbors don’t seem as inspired or pleased by the old boxcars as I’ve been these past few weeks.

Thoughts of the old train combined with HBO playing Water for Elephants over the weekend led to a letterbox.  Looking for a play on the movie’s title, I googled Sarasota elephant and came up with an image of a water skiing elephant from the movie, Honky Tonk Freeway.  Parts of the film were shot in Sarasota in 1980, but it wasn’t anything this town hadn’t seen before.

Sunny, a 1,300-pound Ringling Brothers elephant, was the first elephant to water ski in 1956.  The 200-pound skis were made in Sarasota, and the shows were also performed here at a long-closed tourist attraction, Sunshine Springs and Gardens.       I found Quick Point Preserve through letterboxing, and that’s exactly why I love it so much: it takes you places you may not have gone or even known about otherwise.  And carving stamps is fun too; it’s a very easy craft project – no artistic talent necessary.

For this stamp, I traced a smaller version of the photo off my laptop.  The laptop acted like a light box under the paper making it easy to trace.  I made a few small adjustments to simplify the carving like changing the shape of the boat, and when the pencil tracing was finished, I transferred it onto the rubber by placing it face-down and rubbing the back of the paper with a penny.  Once the drawing was transferred to the rubber, I carved in and around the pencil lines to create the stamp.

Now, clearly this letterbox comes with a disclaimer – be aware of your surroundings; don’t visit at night; and use the buddy system when searching – but it’s a fun hunt; I haven’t planted the letterbox far from Shade Avenue; and Payne Park is right around the corner if you want to extend your outing.  So go for it; here is your final clue:

And there’s a hitchhiker waiting for the first visitor.  Happy letterboxing!

UPDATE: The train left the station! No more letterbox…sorry.


  1. Love it. We’ll definitely search for this one!

    • I haven’t posted it to Atlas yet, so if you get there first, you can grab the hitchhiker and take it on the road with you this summer.

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