In Category: ‘Blog’

jessica courtney Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But Drab
No sooner did I return from Oregon (see post immediately below) than I got myself a much-needed haircut – SuperCuts, as always – repacked my bags and found my way to San Francisco
International Airport to board an American Virgin airplane. Destination: Boston, to visit my daughter Jessica (left) and her partner Cortney, and, not incidentally, to seek out fall-color photo ops.

When the hardwood trees back east were at their peak color, in mid-October, I was knocking about Bend and environs. Productive trip, and I am glad I went there when I did, but it came at the expense of what I had hoped might result — a portfolio of killer photos of Mother Nature dealing us earthlings a dazzling palette of foliage hues.

Knowing that any remaining color would lie north of Boston, I set sail in Jessica’s BMW 330i (nice car!), thinking I might get all the way to Burlington, Vermont, before every last motel bed was spoken for and I would perforce be relegated to curling up on the backseat of the Bimmer.

(Had I done so, it would not have been a first-time experience. A couple of years ago, motoring up Hwy. 395 in California along the Nevada border, I wound up sleeping in a Mazda wagon. Price was right, but a Tempur-Pedic the floor is not. Fortunately for me, I did not freeze to death and natural predators – black bears rushed readily to mind – left me alone.)

From Boston (more precisely, Dedham) I battled morning commute traffic on I-93, across the Massachusetts border. Not far into New Hampshire (“Live Free Or Die”) did I observe what I had feared – ain’t much fall color left this far north. Nevertheless, I was committed to soldiering on to Burlington, even if it meant I was relegated to taking “non-color” photographs. Lots of old barns in these parts, I tried to reassure myself, as if to start rationalizing the cost of the trip.

Noon was approaching, and I thought it a good idea to take a break from driving and treat myself to lunch. This I did, stopping at a tiny General Store in Manchester. Grabbing a turkey-and-provolone on a Kaiser roll and a cup of lukewarm coffee, I continued north on 1-93 to the junction of I-89, which, according to Google Maps, would lead me west and into Vermont.

As I drove I kept my eye peeled – as I always do – for worthy photo ops. Although I did spot a few barns, all of them were far enough removed from the highway as to make them less enticing than they might have been otherwise.

An hour or so farther north on I-89 I stopped at a converted old railroad station in Randolph Center. The sign in the window read “Espresso Drinks,” and that was enough to make the leap of faith that the drinks might actually be drinkable. Wrong.

I ordered a “dry cappuccino.” The barista, a young gal, fiddled with the machine long enough to make me anxious about what I would be served. As she was making it, I could tell that whether drinkable or not, I would be served a latte, not a cappuccino, which contains less milk. Turns out it didn’t really matter because the milk was so oversteamed it tasted caramelized. (Having made more than a few foo-foo drinks myself, I can smell caramelized milk a zip code away.) It was so bad that I asked for a remake, something I rarely do, but I didn’t feel like shelling out $3.30 for something I would pour down the drain, not my gullet. She obliged, although she didn’t seem too eager for a redo. The encore I got was at least drinkable, a Zagat-rated effort it was not.

I crawled back into the car and, peering at the still-leaden skies,

old barn east coast Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But Drab I started to wonder whether the trip might be a bust. Then I spotted, tight by the road and within a stone’s throw, an old barn that fairly spoke to me. I pulled to the shoulder, sauntered (trespassing, of course) into a thicket of waist-high grass, until I was within shooting range. Although the purplish-gray skies left something to be desired, I nevertheless squeezed off a few shots. What appeals to me about the one shown here are the color contrasts and the fanned barren tree branches against the building.

Camera back in its bag and wanting to see Middlebury College in Middlebury, I hung a right, westward, onto Hwy. 125. Just south of town sits a lovely, verdant satellite campus that is home to the famed Breadloaf Summer Writing Programs, named after the nearby Breadloaf Mountains. All of the buildings are frame and painted an attractive pale yellow.

cabin east coast picture Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But Drab All except one, a very old and very vacant log cabin that looked very out of place. I ask, is this an archetypal log cabin or not?

After meandering through the campus – as expected, very attractive – I stopped at the public square for guess what. Right, a cappuccino, at a mom-and-pop place jammed with laptop-riveted college students jamming for mid-terms.

From Middlebury I took Hwy. 7 north, toward Burlington. By now it was pushing four o’clock and the sun was setting. Just as I was resigning myself to writing off the day’s efforts, driving over a knoll I spotted an old truck near the road and squatting in front of some nicely colored vegetation. Obviously, Mother Nature had heard my prayers. I clambered out of the car and hopped across the street. As I squeezed off a series of shots from different angles, I thought of Ansel Adams and his famous “Moonrise Over Hernadez” photograph. Racing against a rapidly setting sun, Adams climbed onto the roof of his station wagon and – determining that there wasn’t even enough time to get out his exposure meter – captured the scene. Was it worth the effort? I’d say so. Today, “Moonrise Over Hernandez” originals sell for $100,000 and up. Adams’s heirs remain grateful.

international harvester old truck photo Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But DrabAlthough I seriously doubt that any of the photographs I took of the International Harvester truck will fetch serious money – heck, I’d be grateful if I sell enough to keep me in cappuccinos for a while – here is one I like. But for the vegetation, it would be just another photograph of “abandoned art.”

With the sun now tucked away for a good night’s sleep, it occurred to me to start looking in earnest for a place to hang my hat.

Farther up Hwy. 7, in Shelburne, a ‘burb of Burlington, I encountered a skein of motels. Eeny meeny miny mo. Because I have stayed in them in the past and with ample satisfaction as a customer, I cast my fate with Holiday Express. Now past seven o’clock, I inquired at the front desk if there was any room in the inn. Answer affirmative. Told I qualified for an AAA discount of $15 – wow! – I took the “key” (they’re all plastic cards these days) and ambled to my room.

Driving to the rear of the motel, I passed a restaurant. Ravenously hungry, after depositing my suitcase and camera bag in the room, I walked over to the Lake View Bar & Grille. Surprisingly uncrowded. Not necessarily a good sign. The chow was surprisingly tasty, the waitress friendly and attentive. Once back home, out of curiosity, I checked Yelp reviews of the restaurant. Mostly thumbs-down. Maybe I lucked out, maybe my hunger biased my assessment.

When I arose in the morning, I looked outside. Raining cats and dogs. Rats, cursing to myself, this trip is cursed. At the front desk I got directions to Hwy. 100, then dashed through the pitchfork rain to the car and scampered off.

sheep ranch old barn photo Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But DrabI wasn’t all that eager to be taking Hwy. 100, for just last summer I traversed it while back East for my son Andrew’s graduation from MIT. Unless one is willing to drive miles and miles in search of the road less traveled, Hwy. 100 becomes the default choice.

This rerun of the same route, combined with the unabating rain, washed out my hopes – slim though they were – of making up for yesterday’s slim harvest of photos. Here’s a shot along Hwy. 100 from last summer. It’s of a lone sheep grazing. I like it a lot.

Not far from there I stumbled upon a red barn, the more inviting to me photographically because an old Chevrolet truck was squinting at me through the wide-open door.

old truck photo chevy Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But Drab

Throwing in the (soggy) towel, I retraced my steps – 89 to 93 and, finally, back to Boston, where I was greeted by Jessica, Cortney and their four animals (two gigantic Great Pyrenees dogs and two cats). If you can believe, they have since acquired a third Pyrenees, a puppy named Darwin. Cute. They say they wanted the new baby – their first, due in February – to have her own dog. Yes, it’s a girl, already named – Kennedy it is. Cute. Hope Kennedy likes animals.

I took Jessica’s car a second day, heading into southern Massachusetts, thinking that the odds of catching fall color might be improved. They were not. Believe me, it was not for lack of looking that, eight hours and 300 miles later, I return to Boston, proverbial tail between my legs. The dogs had nothing on me.

On Sunday I had one last chance. Cortney, Jessica and I pushed off together, all looking for photo ops for Tom. Ironically, we didn’t have to drive far to find what may be the best shots of the entire trip, a weathered red barn built in the 1700s. It was located not on a ranch or farm, but smack dab in center of a residential neighborhood in an enchanting bedroom burgh named Holliston. It oozed “colonial times.”

Of the dozen or so pictures I took of the barn, here are my two favorites. Can you say “fall color?” Fall color indeed. How fitting that what I consider my two best Rural Americana shots of the entire adventure were in a decidedly urban setting. Fine with me. I take what I can get.

fall color old barn photo Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But Drabfall color old barn photo2 Missed Peak Fall Color, Though Trip East Anything But Drab








Photography-wise, not a bountiful harvest, to say the least, but the opportunity to spend time with Jessica and Cortney – and the five animals – more than compensated.

My wife Pat and I had been looking forward to a road trip north that had been on the calendar for months – an excursion to Bend, Oregon, to visit longtime friends Al and Cathie Poncia. This is how far back the acquaintance goes: Pat’s parents and hers – all four now deceased – had been buddies since the 1930s. That’s how Pat first came to know Cathie, through the parents. I entered the picture much later, in the mid-1980s, after Pat and I married.

Pat and I saddled up on a Saturday morning in mid-October, eager to spend time with the Poncias, whose principal residence is a cattle ranch in Marin County, north of San Francisco. Although they make it in one very long day, we elected not to overdo it, spending the night in Mount Shasta, a pleasant-enough burgh tucked snug against the majestic, 14,000-foot-tall mountain after which it is named.

By noon of the day following we had arrived at the Poncias’ house, a handsome two-story built a few years back in a highly desirable neighborhood of custom homes.

The first day I went out with Al, who had plotted out a loop for us to traverse north and east of Bend. He had traversed it before by himself … and on his beloved Harley. Luckily for me, he opted for the Toyota minivan this time. It proved ideal, plenty roomy and, no doubt, offering a smoother – and quieter — ride than the Harley.

While Al and I were off hunting for photographic quarry, Pat and Cathie knocked around town. There is plenty to keep one occupied in Bend, a lovely city which in recent years has attracted so many people – a veritable swarm of California transplants – that it ranks among the nation’s fastest-growing cities. Since 1995 the population has trebled – trebled! – to more than 80,000. One visit is enough to explain why people flock there. Property, however, is no longer cheap. Housing is a lot less than in the Bay Area – almost anywhere else is – but it’s now beyond the budget of many. Good if you are a native of Bend or thereabouts, not good if you’re considering relocating.

Our first stop was Madras, about 40 miles north up Hwy. 97. Al wanted to visit a favorite agricultural supply store, where he chatted with a salesclerk about some implement he had been contemplating purchasing. He was tempted – mainly because there is no sales tax in Oregon versus as much as 9.25 percent in California – but managed to keep his wallet in his hip pocket.

While there Al asked if any of the store hands knew of any old barns in the area that might merit a “Kodak moment” (in my case a “Nikon moment”). After several heads were scratched simultaneously, one said, “It’s not a barn, but there’s an old, abandoned house at the top of the hill just outside of town that lots of people take pictures of. Look for the fake eagle; can’t miss it.” He pointed us in the direction, and we were off.

abandoned house bend Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendWe reached the summit and no eagle manifested, faux or real. Didn’t matter, though, for I spotted an old house in a field that looked like our target. We turned around and slithered off onto the side road where it sat, abandoned and looking forlorn. I hopped out and, resting my arms on a barbed-wire fence that separated me from the subject, I squeezed off several shots from different vantage points. Looking at the LCD screen on the camera, I was satisfied. (One of the views is shown here.) “Let’s go, Jeeves,” I said to my driver/navigator/spotter.

From there we headed southeast, stopping next in Prineville, an old railroad town of 7,356. It was founded in 1877 and named after a prominent local merchant, Barney Prine. According to Wikipedia, Prineville enjoys “reasonable weather and views.” Exactly what constitutes a “reasonable view,” I have no idea. The terrain was flat as a pancake. The best view we could find was that of a Starbucks, just off the main drag.

Once we had quaffed our respective foo-foo drinks – Al is a latte man, I’m keen on cappuccinos (less flavor-compromising milk) – we meandered south on Hwy. 56, a county road that led us into the hinterlands. It wasn’t long before we encountered a come-hither old barn, sitting tight along the two-lane road. “Stop!” I said. “You want that?” “Yes!” So Al backed up and remained in the car while I used the roof to brace the camera.

deserted barn oregon backcountry Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendAlthough the lighting was good – sun at my back – because it was just several feet from the road, it was tough to avoid including macadam and the dirt shoulder. Had I substituted my 12-24mm lens for my everyday lens – a fabulous 18-200mm I use probably 95 percent of the time – I could have gotten exactly what I wanted. However, I didn’t want to take the time to switch lenses, so I finessed as best I could. (One of the images is displayed here.)

Continuing farther east on Hwy. 56, within a half hour or so, over a crest, we espied an old, vacant stone farmhouse. Al guessed it was from the late 1800s; I guessed earlier. As was the case with the Madras house, a barbed wire fence screamed, “No Trespassing.” Usually I regard this as an overt invitation to enter, and enter I did, although I narrowly avoided impaling myself. That would have been a picture unto itself. I got a number of good shots, the lowering sun casting warm, amber rays on my subject. I scrambled back over the fence – several cows mooing behind me, as if to say “good riddance, intruder” — and into my chauffeured chariot.

coke sign paulina oregon Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendNot far down the road was Paulina, a hamlet that makes Prineville look like a metropolis by comparison. (Per Wikipedia: population 123, households 58, median age 43.4 years. Basically, a modern-day version of the proverbial one-horse town. The locus of what little human activity we could find the General Store, where a few souls gathered outside, chatting spiritedly about seemingly nothing. As soon as I entered, I spotted a vintage – and still functioning! – Coca-Cola ice chest, easily from the Fifties. The exterior paint was magnificently weathered and worn. Here is the shot I took. Genuine keeper.

Al’s car lacks nav, and I didn’t have my GPS-equipped smartphone with me (dumb, I realized). We promptly got lost, and I do mean lost, despite having been given explicit directions from a rancher at the General Store. Soon we were on a narrow, gravel back road, not sure where we were or where we were headed. Finally, Al got a phone call from Cathie. “Where the heck are you guys?” Answer: “Ah, not sure, but the setting sun is to our right, so we must be headed south.” An hour or so later we were back at their house, and by now it was pitch black. Taking pity on us Lost Boys, Pat and Cathie had mercifully gone out and fetched take-out for all of us. By the time Al and I got to it, it wasn’t exactly burn-your-tongue hot, but it didn’t matter. Food never tasted so good to these two bedraggled sojourners!

After dinner, Al sat down with a map and, using a highlighter, traced a loop for my solo adventure the day following. In surveying the map, he remarked, “I think you ought to go to Shaniko, the ghost town. Heck, you could spend the entire day there.” So, Shaniko got heavy highlight treatment. From Shaniko, I would drive east, then south, then west and south, to Bend. Al made sure I would not be shunted off onto any gravel roads. I made sure my GPS-equipped smartphone went with me, just in case.

When I left the house at 6:30 a.m., it was dark and gloves-needed cold, both thermometer mercury and shivering. As I slid into a freezing driver’s seat, I wished we had brought our new car with the bun-warmer feature (it works wonderfully!). Fair skies and sun were forecast, however. En route out of town, I stopped at a local caffe that was just opening as I drove up. A bracing two-shot cappuccino under my belt, I headed off, hoping that the day would prove as productive as did the day prior.

For the first leg of my expedition, I followed yesterday’s trail. About half an hour north of Bend, I spotted my first photographic prey, an old, abandoned, rusted, banged-up 1940s Chevrolet coupe sitting dejected (and rejected) in a salvage yard. Fingers crossed that no one would see me – I cross my fingers a lot when in the field – I ambled over to the car, fairly drooling as I approached. The colors were terrific – all rich, earthen hues – car and background alike.

old chevy car photo oregon Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendLooking over my shoulder to ensure that no attack dog was around, I took a sequence of shots, from different angles, elevations and focal lengths. Here is one of them. I have photographed literally hundreds of specimens of “abandoned art” – automobiles, trucks, tractors and the like – and this, to my surprise, ranks among my all-time favorites. I say “surprise” because it wasn’t until I got home and saw the image on my 27-inch computer monitor that I realized how extraordinary it is – not the shot, but the eye-pleasing palette of colors.

From here it was on to Shaniko, an hour or so up Hwy. 97. There was no mistaking the name of the town. A huge billboard shouted, “Welcome to Shaniko the Ghost Town.” Having visited two other ghost towns, both in California, I was excited by what I might find. Sure enough, a lot of cobwebbed, ramshackle buildings, all of them empty save for one, a come-hither General Store, which functioned as sort of a modern-day, rural 7-11. So Al was mistaken, not literally a ghost town. The woman behind the counter looked pretty real, as did the bottle of Crystal Springs water I purchased. Seemed the least I could do to help stimulate the local economy.

As I sauntered about town, camera about my neck and fairly champing at a call for service, off in the distance was an old fire truck, sitting on a patch of green grass and near a “ghostly” leafless tree. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “if I happen not to capture another noteworthy photograph on the entire trip, this alone might be worth the 1,500-mile roundtrip trek to Bend and environs.

chevy truck photo oregon Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendI was pretty sure it was a Chevy. Definitely something from the 1940s. I did a walkaround, looking for an identifying badge. Yup, Chevrolet dangling precariously from the driver side of the hood. (The mate was missing.) Of the couple dozen or so keeper shots I took, this one is my favorite. To me, the setting – the barren tree especially – says “ghost town.”

All told, I spent perhaps an hour and a half there, squeezing off shots of this, that, and the other thing, including other abandoned vehicles and a row of storefronts, including several windows with glorious reflections in them. Here is one of them.

old window pane photo oregon Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendThe undulations evident are produced by the uneven surface of the 150-year-old pane.

Although not quite correct about its being literally a ghost town – signs of human life, as noted – he was correct about its being a veritable trove of photogenic subjects.

Crystal Springs bottle perched securely in the car’s drink holder, I pushed off deeper into the high-desert hinterlands, uncertain what I might encounter. Not knowing what I might find sits well with me, well, for the most part. I don’t like getting lost, which I have done, but I must say I do like subjecting myself to the vagaries of fortune. Indeed, I find the “adventure” aspect as alluring to me as the photography per se.

A short distance south lay the burgh of Antelope, half the size of yawn-inducing Paulina – population 59, 27 households, 18 families, per-capita income $17,444 (ouch!) and, not surprisingly, 22 percent below the poverty line.

In Paulina the hub of activity, if you can call it that, was the General Store. In Antelope, it was the post office – a single-wide which, like the rest of the few buildings still standing – had seen better days. (Trivia factoid: By dint of a law passed by Congress decades ago, there must be a post office in every zip code, no exceptions. Maybe this is an area where the deficit-reducing ax can drop. Yeah, right, when pigs fly.)

old building photograph facade Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendWhilst lollygagging in Antelope, I shot a deserted 1950s Dodge truck sitting behind another single-wide and an old building – façade shown here – that looked as though eons ago it may have been a retail establishment.

I loped on eastward on Hwy. 218, gazing at the natural beauty of the surroundings and offering mute thanks to the glorious weather – sunny and in the 70s, unseasonably warm for mid-October in the Oregon outback.

In less than an hour I found myself at the intersection of Hwy. 19, which runs north-south. There, in all its dubious glory, sits a town – I kid you not – named Fossil – population 469, 208 households, 128 families, per-capita income $16,236, only 12 percent below the poverty line, half of what it is in Antelope.

Among Fossil’s claims to fame is a restaurant – term used loosely here – and a filling station aptly named “Fossil Fuel.” I had lunch, such as it was, at the eatery. Wish I hadn’t. Grub OK but I waited a seeming eternity for the food to be delivered to my table. After telling the waitress “I’m here for lunch, not dinner,” she apologized, saying, “Sorry, the cook overlooked your order.” My tip reflected the level of service.

Heading back to the 218/19 intersection, I noticed in the distance a cool-looking old barn, which I stopped to take pictures of. While squeezing off a few shots, a car approached and the driver rolled down the window. He said, “You’re not local, are you?” “No,” I replied, “Just passing through. I’m from California.” “We’re pretty much local, I reckon. We’re from Spray.” Spray? Did I hear correctly? As in Ocean Spray?

“If you are interested in barns, the Spray denizen continued, “you have to drive north on 19 to Mayville. You’ll see, on the left-hand side of the road, a barn with a sunken roof. old barn rural oregon photo Fruitful Journey to Oregon, Just Around (The) BendI think you’ll find it worth a picture or two.” “Thank you,” I said, and off I went in search of a picture-worthy barn with a sunken roof. When I spotted it, maybe 20 minutes away, I could tell in an instant he was right: definitely “worth a picture or two.” I parked on the shoulder and, risking my life, stood in the middle of the road to capture a few images that I really like. Here is one of them. Am I right or am I right?

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the Mayville barn was the last subject I was to shoot that day. The sun had begun to lower, and during the entire stretch back to Bend – two hours west and south of the Fossil/Mayville metropolitan complex – I failed to find anything else that struck my fancy. In fact, as I drove west through the verdant Ochoco National Forest, my eye wasn’t so much on photo-op possibilities as it was on the gasoline gauge. With the “empty” light on and my fingers crossed, I limped into Prineville, yes, THAT Prineville, which only a day earlier Al and I had passed through … after stopping, you will remember, at Starbucks.

Never did a fuel pump look so good, even better, I confess, than the take-out repast that had greeted Al and me.

In retrospect, it was a “Mission Accomplished” trip. The weather was mostly spectacular, as was much of the scenery, the fellowship with the Poncias fun and rewarding as ever, the photographs captured on Ye Olde Memory Card splendiferous. For these reasons and more, it was “glad I made the trip.” Time, petrol and megapixels well spent.

A friend named Ken Kosich had invited our entire Rotary club to come visit his fledgling family vineyard in Napa Valley, an hour drive from where we hold our weekly meetings in Lafayette, California.

A couple dozen members, I among them, showed up to enjoy together a beautiful autumn afternoon and, not incidentally, to participate in a guided tour of his 2.5-acre vineyard, home to some 3,500 Chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. This marked the inaugural harvest of the four-year-old vines Ken and his wife Patti completed construction of a vacation home there only a year ago.

wine Deja View All Over AgainIt’s very nice, about 2,700 square feet and air-conditioned, of course – Napa Valley gets very hot. Although you would never know it, the house is modular, consisting of three sections, each hauled in on huge flatbed trucks and assembled on site.

Neither Ken nor Patti touches so much as a single leaf or grape. Everything is professionally managed. They sit back – writing checks liberally, naturally – and enjoy the fruits of the hired hands’ collective labors. Because the winery is not bonded by the state of California, none the wine bottled may be sold commercially. The wine that is bottled is strictly for private consumption by family and friends. Since picked grapes must sit for a year or so after being processed and stored in oak barrels to age, there was no wine of theirs for any of us to drink … but there will be a year hence. We’re all hoping we are invited back to savor 2010 Kosich Family Vineyard wines.

After thanking Ken and Patti for the privilege of seeing a vineyard up close and personal, I headed to Sonoma in search first of gasoline to replenish a nearly dry tank and then in search of photo ops. I was, as they say, loaded for bear.

Even before reaching the filling station a few miles up the road, while stopped at a traffic signal I espied a very old pickup truck in the distance. Between it and me was a wire fence secured by a gate which, in turn, was secured by chain and industrial-strength padlock.

I’ve encountered more than a few seemingly impenetrable fences in my photographic travels, and never before have I been deterred … that is, unless I should happen to see or hear a snarling attack dog or a snorting bull or a farmer toting a shotgun. I am pleased to report that none of the aforementioned has yet to occur.

I parked the car on the shoulder of the road, grabbed my camera and looked for a low spot in the rusty wire fence to crawl over. Just as I was about to give up I found one. Looking about to ensure no one was looking, I crawled over – careful not to snag my pants – and made my way to the truck, beckoning me forth from perhaps a hundred yards away.

Uncannily good at recognizing makes of vehicles, I said to myself as I approached, “I’ll bet that’s a Chevrolet.” A Chevrolet it was indeed, a flatbed from the 1920s. Nestled snugly alongside an old fruit stand, it was less than ideal for taking what I refer to as in situ photographs. Happily, however, did I settle for close-ups.

I took shots of every portion of the truck – front, rear, doors, even a tire so ancient the cords where dangling through the sidewall.

mr bee truck photo1 Deja View All Over Again

Over the years I have photographed scores of old trucks and cars. Even if they are of the same vintage and the same make, every one is unique. No such thing as “see one you’ve seen them all.”

Have I shot Chevrolet trucks from the 1920s? Yes, many. If you doubt what I say, go to my Trucks gallery and see for yourself. What made this particular 1920s truck stand out were the multiple coats of paint, nicely weathered, rendering certain areas to look almost like the canvas of a modern painting. What made it unique was what was inscribed on the doors … and barely visible – “Mr. Bee’s PumP ….” Looking closely, I could see a faint outline of additional letters. I’m pretty sure it onetime read “Pumpkin Patch.”

Because it was late afternoon, the sun was casting shadows. Depending on what image one wants the camera to capture, this can be good or bad. As I gazed at the side of the hood, I noticed that the lift handle produced a large, hook-like shadow that I found aesthetically pleasing. Here it is, reproduced with a special “posterizing” graphic effect applied.

As I was snapping pictures – looking over my shoulder periodically to see if anyone or anything untoward was advancing – I got to wondering who this “Mr. Bee” might have been. Presumably, a pumpkin farmer. Still in business? Still alive? Who knows. This is one of the things I find so fascinating about the vehicles I shoot. Every single one tells a story. If only each of the trucks and cars could talk!

old truck handle picture Deja View All Over AgainDone shooting Mr. Bee’s forsaken truck, I snapped the cap back on the camera lens and returned – neither torn pants nor embedded buckshot as a souvenir – to my car. Not more than ten minutes down the road – State Highway 29 – I found a filling station. After pumping $45 worth of Shell petrol into the tank, I proceeded into downtown Sonoma. There I managed to find a parking spot – amazing, considering how much traffic there was – turned off the ignition, and sauntered casually to a locally famous cheese shop. Having made my purchase – several varieties of cheddar – I returned to the car, only to discover a very dead battery. AAA came to my rescue, jumped the battery in a trice, and I was on my way back home.

Moral: No two photographic adventures are alike. This I find endlessly alluring, even adventures sabotaged by an R.I.P. battery.

For me, Lassen County – situated in the northeastern quadrant of California, along the Nevada border – represented uncharted territory pictorially. Although I had been there before, never had I gone with the intention of ferreting out suitable subjects for either my Rusted Relics or Rustic Relics collections. I had no idea what I might find, if, indeed, there was anything worthwhile to commit to the posterity of a memory card.

My wife Pat and I headed out early one morning from our weekend redoubt near Portola, California (pop. 2,037) toward the Reno airport. The three days following were mine to go exploring, as she was off on a business trip.

After doubling back north an hour or so on Hwy. 395, I had crossed the intersection of Hwy.70 and had entered what I fervently hoped would prove the promised land. Lassen – onetime mining country – did in fact pan out as a mother lode, not quantitatively but qualitatively.

I had traveled a good 45 minutes north of Hwy. 70 before I found anything that even remotely panned out as worth the time and trouble to shoot. Mostly, what I saw rushing past me in the car was flat, barren desert and sagebrush, scampering along the ground in the toasty winds of August.

Just as I was about to pronounce my foray a waste of time and gasoline, I spotted an old, multicolored truck, facing the highway and not more than 50 feet away. It cried out, “shoot me, shoot me.”

old truck photo multicolored Lassoing Photo Ops in Lassen CountyI cannot overstate how alluring it was, painted a riot of psychedelic hues – pink, yellow, blue – and in a variety of artistic patterns. Never before had I laid eyes on such a colorful piece of abandoned art (shown here).

Although tantalizingly close, it sat behind a purposeful barbed-wire fence, the kind one commonly encounters when poking about in cattle and cow country. I thanked myself for packing, as always I do, a telephoto lens that would bring my discovery close enough. Having attempted unsuccessfully in the past to get over or through barbed-wire fences (don’t ask), I decided it wasn’t worth risking torn jeans – and, possibly, torn flesh as well – to pursue close-ups. Rather, I would settle, albeit reluctantly, on through-the-fence images. What I captured was not all that I would have taken in a perfect world, but I was more than satisfied with what I did “settle” for.

I continued north on 395 to Susanville (pop. 14,044), which immediately struck me as a town perhaps best sped through. After stopping to refuel – the car and myself – I headed west on Hwy. 36, toward Lassen National Forest. During the hourlong drive, which took me to the eastern shore of Lake Almanor, I found nothing further that “spoke to me.” Rats.

Then I swung northeast on Hwy. 89, to the far side of the lake and voila, not one but two eminently photo-worthy barns, located not more than 100 yards apart, in the hamlet of Mill Creek.

As I surveyed the one shown here, looking for a good angle, I discovered that if you stood just so, the V in the collapsed roof lined up perfectly with the dip in the trees in the forest behind. This shot, for the record, is unaltered. The V’s were put there by God, not by Photoshop.

old barn photo abandoned Lassoing Photo Ops in Lassen County old barn photograph field Lassoing Photo Ops in Lassen County

Done there, I packed my gear and headed back to our cabin, hoping to arrive before dusk. Happily, I did. And as I entered the development – known as Grizzly Ranch — I noticed out of the corner of my eye an old, abandoned International Harvester dump truck sitting forlornly in the corporation yard. Fighting the setting sun, I shot if from every conceivable angle, including several elevations, captured by virtue of standing atop the stepladder I always carry with me.

Including the “detour” to the Reno airport, I had spent the entire day and a couple of hundred miles of driving in quest of suitable subjects. Find them I did, and how fitting that the final shots, of the dump truck, were in my own backyard. Sometimes, one needs to be hit between the eyes with the proverbial 2×4 in order to illuminate what sits hidden in plain sight.

I didn’t expect to encounter any alluring photo ops while attending my wife’s high-school reunion at a California winery owned by a classmate, but, boy, was I glad I had taken along my new point-and-shoot, a Canon PowerShot S90. It was fresh out of the box, and I wanted to give it a try. Besides,I didn’t want to burden myself lugging about my bread-and-butter Nikon D5000, a splendiferous camera, though hardly pocketable. (The S90 was my choice for two reasons: It has won rave reviews, particularly for its prowess in low-light situations, and its manual override feature, which most point-and-shoots lack.)

The photos shown here were all taken with the S90, all on automatic exposure. The quality of the images produced spins my eyeballs, they are that good. Although I’m not about to mothball the Nikon, it’s comforting to know I have a competent backup to rely on.

Pleasantly surprised was I to discover that the owner of the eponymous winery, Greg Boeger, is a car buff. There are three highly photogenic pieces of “abandoned art” on the premises in Placerville, Calif. — a 1924 Ford Model T coupe and a pair of flatbed trucks, a 1930 Chevrolet and a 1924 Dodge.

Old model t ford truck picture Rule No. 1: Always Carry A Camerarusted old chevrolet picture Rule No. 1: Always Carry A Camera

old dodge truck photo Rule No. 1: Always Carry A Camera

The latter, a prized possession, peers out forlornly from inside a small, wooden barn located steps from the family residence, which overlooks 95 acres of glorious vineyards. The truck, itself irresistibly fetching, fairly begs to be photographed.

In addition to the vehicles, two buildings caught my eye, a working blacksmith shop and a 19th-century stucco-on-adobe structure still in use as a tasting center. (A larger one was built a decade ago.) Greg’s daughter Lexi and her two young children – Atom and his sister Pixel — live upstairs. (Yes, you read the names correctly.)

As I sat sipping a glass of Beoger’s award-winning 2008 Barbera – which, avers the label, is “made in a crisp, full-bodied, uniquely El Dorado style from vines over 35 years old” — I noticed that the windows were original, meaning more than 150 years old. Espying late-afternoon reflections cast by the slightly undulating panes, I put the glass down and started shooting immediately, as the sun was soon to set. Two of my favorites appear here.

old window picture Rule No. 1: Always Carry A Cameraold window photo Rule No. 1: Always Carry A Camera










Reflected is a century-old grapevine, still leafy-green and, believe it or not, still producing grapes. The ground-level open-air window features a nicely rusted metal lattice, visible behind several large, verdant sword ferns.