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“You ought to shoot the EAA airshow, you like planes so much!”

“Heh – did the Yakima airshow once.  Flew over there in Fifi.”

“Fifi?”

Fifi.

And so of course, I had to explain.

I’m an airplane nut, and years ago was a photojournalist, and any time I could put the two together, I would.

There was a time when a B-17 and an LB-30 (non – combat version of the plane most people would recognize as a B-24) would show up at Seattle’s Boeing field, not much of an announcement, they’d just show up.  I went down there with a friend and used up a good bit of the week’s grocery money buying a walk-through tour of the planes.  It was a lot of fun… I got some nice pictures – and it was fun to watch and hear the Pratt & Whitneys on the one, and the Wright Cyclones on the other rumble to life.

My wife has said I could start a conversation with anyone, and in this case, I did just that, and ended up chatting with the pilot of the LB-30, who happened to be a United Airlines Pilot living just 30 miles south of Seattle.  He gave me his business card.

The LB-30 came back two years later – but with a much bigger friend from Boeing, this being what was then the Confederate Air Force’s  (now known as the Commemorative Air Force) mighty B-29, with the decidedly un-mighty name of “Fifi”

Since I’d already seen the LB-30, I figured I’d see what the inside of a B-29 looked like, and used up a bigger chunk of my weekly grocery budget than last time to pay for a walk-through tour of it.

The plane, while huge on the outside, wasn’t made for comfort inside, but utility.  As I moved through it, I’d find hand-holds exactly where I reached for and needed them.  Definite utility – but there wasn’t a lot cushioning of anything, after all, it was a military plane.

…and as I went forward I saw a leather bomber’s jacket on the map table on the left.

Not just any leather bomber’s jacket – but the one that had the name of the pilot I’d chatted with two years earlier.

And thus began one of my “Only you, Tom… Only you…” stories..

See, this plane had come up to Seattle from Salem, Oregon.

The local CBS affiliate, KIRO, had driven from Seattle to Salem.

They’d gotten on the plane in Salem and flown back to Seattle, videotaping the whole flight.

Exclusively.

From inside the airplane.

It was considered a major coup at the time.  They landed, they drove to the station, edited their stuff, and were on the air.

Needless to say, I was down there at the airport shortly after that.

And with that, a most evil and sneaky plan started festering – no – germinating (that sounds healthier) in my mind.

I found myself wondering what their plans were after Seattle -and it turned out they were going to be part of the airshow over in Yakima.

Hmmm….

So the day they were heading over there I went down again, and found the pilot I’d talked to two years earlier…

“Hey, Dick, you got anyone from the Yakima paper covering this?”

(Note: Evil, festering germinating plan being: “I’m planning on doing what KIRO did.” – not because I was brilliant, not because I had permission, but because nobody had told me I couldn’t, and I didn’t know any better than to think I couldn’t just wander down to Boeing field and talk my way onto the only flying B-29 just because I had a camera…)

So I went to the pay phone inside the Museum of Flight, plunked in a few quarters, and called the Yakima Herald Republic, where my friend Jimi Lott had been the photo editor, and asked them if they were covering this.  They said yes, they were.  So I figured my chances were slim, to none.  But about 15 minutes before scheduled takeoff, the photographer still hadn’t shown up, so I called them back and was a little more specific in my question.

“Do you have anyone in Seattle covering this? Someone who’s going to get on the plane and fly with it, shooting all the way?

“No.”

“NOO?”

“No.”

Then I got all young and stupid and just about yelled at the photo editor there for not having a photographer ready to fly back there on the plane…

They didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering this?

They didn’t have anyone in Seattle covering this…

Gad… Didn’t they know what a piece of history this was?

Didn’t they realize they were missing a once in a lifetime event?

Didn’t they –

–the photo editor finally had enough of my attitude and said, “Now what did you say your name was again?”

“Tom Roush…. Jimi Lott’s a friend of mine.”

Jimi used to be his boss.

“Right, so what do you want me to do?”

The light went on…

THEY DIDN’T HAVE ANYONE IN SEATTLE COVERING THIS!

“Well, you don’t have anyone here, right?  So here’s what I’m planning on doing… I’m gonna walk out there and see if I can talk my way onto the plane. If I can, I’ll be over there in about 45 minutes or so…. You want color or black and white?”

<stunned silence>

“Uh… Color, I guess…”

“Right.  I’ll call you when I’m at the airport.”

“Um… sure…”

I got off the phone with the photo editor, left the Museum of Flight, and walked out toward the plane, which was surrounded by this teeming throng of people, just in time to hear someone yell, “Okay, where’s the photographer?”

And I, Tom Roush…

…who’d driven down there on a whim, and had just convinced the photo editor of a newspaper I’d never seen to buy a picture I’d only be able to take if I could get onto a plane I’d promised the pilot I’d get onto the front page of a newspaper that…

I’d…

never…

seen…

(yeah, I still have to read that sentence a couple of times myself – still working out the catch:22ness of it all)

…called out, “HERE!”

Moses himself couldn’t have parted the crowd any better.

I waved my hand, and “Fwwwwooomp” – Instant walkway.  I walked through, feeling simultaneously embarrassed at the attention, and elated beyond words that it was happening.

I tossed my itty bitty duffel bag onto the plane, swung the camera bag up, climbed up, and in 5 minutes we were gone.

They’d started up this noisy little air cooled V-4 Wisconsin motor like my Grampa had on his hay baler – but this was attached to a honking generator.  (If you ever saw the NOVA: B-29 Frozen in Time special, it is this generator that broke free and started the fire.) They used the V-4’s generator to run the starter for the number 3 engine.  Once that was running, they used the generator on that engine to start up the rest.  I could see the tops of the cylinders vibrating a bit through the open cowl flaps as the propellers blew the smoke from starting those big radial engines away.

We taxied out to the runway, and I was treated to one of the smoothest flights I’ve ever been on.

But we didn’t just fly up to altitude, fly over, land… No, we played tag with the LB-30, buzzed a few airfields, and flew past – not over – Mt. Rainier.   I hung out the side bubbles and shot up, down, left, right, directions you simply can’t see in a normal airplane.

There was a little stool that you could sit on that got your head up into another little bubble so you could see out the top of the plane.  I sat on that and looked out there for a bit – until one of the crew members asked me to let another fellow up – who’d paid $300.00 for the privilege of this flight.

I’d completely forgotten that this might be something people would pay to do, much less be ABLE to pay to do.  I got down and was just amazed at where I was and what all was happening.  (remember, I’d gone on that $10.00 tour – which had used up a good chunk of my weekly grocery budget.)

As we came close to Mt. Rainier,   I asked the crew back where I was if they could get the LB-30 between us and the mountain.  They called up to the pilot, he called over to the other plane, and as he flew underneath us, I got some shots of the LB-30 beneath us with apple orchards beneath it

But then, then I got the shot of the only flying LB-30 in the world, taken from the only flying B-29 in the world in front of Washington’s tallest hunk of rock.

And… and it was kind of special…

The next thing I knew we were on approach to Yakima, and we buzzed the Yakima field once and then came in to land.  I hurriedly said my goodbyes and explained I had to make a deadline.  I found a huge bank of temporary pay phones (this was BC, before cellphones) and called the paper, got the photo department, and got the photo editor I’d gotten all stupid over less than an hour before.

“Hey, this is Tom, I’m here.”

“Here… Here? Where’s here?”

Billy Crystal couldn’t have said it better.

“The airport.”

Exasperated pause…

WHICH airport?”

Which airport – what kind of a question was that?  I mean, I’d just talked to him, I’d told him where I was going to be – where did he expect me to be?

“Well Yakima, of course.”

<more stunned silence… >

…and in a voice tinged with resignation, I heard, “I’ll have someone there to pick you up.”

Ten minutes later, a white Toyota, driven by the same photo editor I’d been talking to on the phone, arrived to take me to the paper, where while we chatted, the film was processed, edited, and then, with a press pass to the airshow, returned to me.

I didn’t really know what to do after the paper went to the printers – so I found a hotel, a Super 8, I think, for $35.00, had some dinner at a nearby restaurant, and went to bed.

The next morning I walked to a nearby Denny’s where I found a whole bunch of Air National Guard photojournalists who were covering the airshow sitting at a table looking at the front page of the local paper.

A picture of an LB-30 in front of Mt. Rainier.

The picture had made page 1.

We talked and laughed and told war stories to each other over coffee, and they, realizing that my car was about 150 miles away, kindly invited me to ride out to the airshow with them.  They gave me a press pass, too.  I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store.  I could go anywhere I wanted.  I could get photos of planes I’d never seen before, or since. I could watch the aerial demonstrations of the A-10 Warthog, I could watch things blow up, and I could do it all from in front of the front row.

There was NOTHING between me and the airplanes – in fact, anyone taking pictures of the planes got the back of my head in the bottom of their pictures.

How unutterably cool.

I shot and wandered, and wandered and shot, got sunburned, had a cheap hot dog and chatted with pilots and crew and just had the time of my life, and when they started firing up some of those big engines to leave, I knew it was time for me to head out, too, so I walked into the terminal, found the Horizon Airlines desk, called Jimi to see if he could pick me up at SeaTac, and then bought a ticket back to Seattle for $45.00.

As we flew back, I saw the same scenery as I’d seen coming over, but it was different, and I was different.

Jimi came to pick me up when I got to SeaTac, and we talked and laughed as he took me back to Boeing field and the Museum of Flight where I’d left the Saab the day before.  In a few days the paper sent me a check for $35.00 (the same that the Super 8 motel charged me.)

For the price of a flight back and a couple of phone calls, I’d had a weekend to remember, and the experience of a lifetime.

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My son has informed me that “to be old and wise, you first have to be young and stupid” – and with that in mind, we’ll start with a story – it’s from my childhood, when I, like most of us, was young and stupid.

Speaking of my son, as he was growing up, I told him “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories, in hopes that he wouldn’t do those things.  Now it’s said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and when hearing these stories of my stupidity in my childhood, he would usually laugh at the tragedy I’d survived, mostly of my own doing. And somewhere in the story there’d be a lesson, and he’d remember it.  Now since I was telling him the stories, it must have meant I’d survived, but still, stupid is stupid.

So, in this case, I was about 16 or so, and I was building a diorama – a model of a burned out, destroyed building that a model tank would be positioned as crashing through.  It involved a bit of plaster, a few small pieces of plywood, and a whole bunch of little wood scraps and such – oh, and the model.  I was trying to make it look like the building had burned, and needed that black smoky look to come out of the windows.

Black… Smoky… the kind of smoke that comes from… oh, what is that yellow/orange stuff?…

Fire, yeah… that’s where smoke comes from…

(insert ominous music here)

Now, was I doing this on a desk?

No…

(that would have been smart, and I wouldn’t have this story to be telling you)

…a modeling table?

No…

(that would have been smarter, as I’d have a place to put all the bits and pieces and let glue dry)

…someplace where I could safely light a match or candle and let the smoke do its thing?

No…

(that would have been smartest, as – well – lighting matches… teenagers… in the house… need I say more?)

I was doing it on the carpet in my room.

Oh wait.  It gets better.

See, I was trying to get a smokey effect…

A match would have been good.

A candle would have been great.

But for some reason, which I must attribute to my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®, I decided that they weren’t quite good enough and decided to use a highway flare instead of a match.

Oh, just go back and read that again, you know you need to…

Yes, a highway flare...

Upstairs.

In the house.

Over the carpet.

Well – it’s not so much that I really wanted to use the highway flare, but I had it in my hand, and had the cap off, and was idly wondering how much force it would take to get a spark – oh heck – like that would go over as an excuse…

Right…

…did you know that once lit, highway flares are, um, extremely hard to put out?

…and they drip red hot stuff when they’re burning?

…that melts carpets?

Ummmyeah…

Doing the “Olympic torch” run through the house to get it outside just wasn’t going to happen.  I mean, there’s that red hot stuff dripping, In this case, it was a carpet, but if I were running (and who can’t imagine running through the house with a flare like an Olympic torch, the crowds cheering, the – no wait – that was just SO not happening…)  And that red hot stuff would have been dripping on my shoulder, and that would have been, oh, bad… yeah, we’ll just call it bad…  (keeping in mind of course that dripping red hot burning stuff onto a carpet really isn’t on the “good” side of the spectrum).

The more I think about it, the more I realize we’re so far past the border between dumb and stupid that you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror.   I’d had some plaster powder there for the diorama I was making – and out of pure instinct I shoved the flare into that – which, to my delight and surprise, put it out. But the thing that got me, I still can’t believe it to this day, was that mom smelled the smoke, came in, and wondered what was going on.  And my guilty conscience went ballistic trying to defend itself.   Understand, this is a teenage mind going off here – but here was my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ® reasoning:

I argued:

Just because you smell smoke, and

just because you walk into the room that you can barely see through because of that smoke, and

just because I’m the only one in it,and

you came in through the only door, and

just because I’m sitting there on the floor, with a hot flare sitting beside me and a smoking hole in the carpet, you think I DID IT?”

We pause, reverently, hands over hearts for a moment, as the parents out there realize they’ve heard some variation of this before, both from their own mouths and from their children’s…

“Uh… Yeah…  As a matter of fact, I do think you did do it.”

My mom, bless her, realized that she was not arguing with logic in the slightest, she was arguing with a guilty conscience and emotion, and no amount of logic was going to make it through that.

I have no idea why I was defending myself so much at that time – but I was.  I’m sure I would have said that someone else was using my fingers and put my fingerprints on it had it gotten to that… Dumb, dumb, dumb…

Speaking of fingerprints…

…fast forward about 25 years – I was in my darkroom developing film for a client, and had some hanging up to dry.  My daughter came down, eating some chicken.  I put two and two together and said, “Don’t touch the film.” I then turned back to the enlarger.  Something made me turn around.

One of the strips of film was moving.

The one with some greasy fingerprints that hadn’t been there a moment before.

There was also a very guilty looking 8 year old.

“Didn’t I tell you to not touch it?”

“I didn’t!”

“I can see your fingerprints right there!”

“It wasn’t me”

We’re the only two in the darkroom!”

And then…

It dawned on me…

I started thinking about fingerprints and realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a stranglehold on denial, and that my son’s comment from earlier was right…

To be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid first…

I just didn’t know it would be hereditary…

My son has informed me that “to be old and wise, you first have to be young and stupid” – and with that in mind, we’ll start with a story –it’s from my childhood, when I, like most of us, was young and stupid.

Speaking of my son, as he was growing up, I told him “Stupid Things that Papa did when he was Little” stories, in hopes that he wouldn’t do those things.  Now it’s said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, and when hearing these stories of my stupidity in my childhood, he would usually laugh at the tragedy I’d survived, mostly of my own doing. And somewhere in the story there’d be a lesson, and he’d remember it.  Now since I was telling him the stories, it must have meant I’d survived, but still, stupid is stupid.

So, in this case, I was about 16 or so, and I was building a diorama – a model of a burned out, destroyed building that a model tank would be positioned as crashing through.  It involved a bit of plaster, a few small pieces of plywood, and a whole bunch of little wood scraps and such – oh, and the model.  I must have been trying to make it look like the building had burned, and needed that black smoky look to come out of the windows.

Black… Smoky… the kind of smoke that comes from… oh, what is that yellow/orange stuff?…

Fire, yeah… that’s where smoke comes from…

(insert ominous music here)

Now, was I doing this on a desk?

No…

(that would have been smart, and I wouldn’t have this story to be telling you)

…a modeling table?

No…

(that would have been smarter, as I’d have a place to put all the bits and pieces and let glue dry)

…someplace where I could safely light a match or candle and let the smoke do its thing?

No…

(that would have been smartest, as – well – lighting matches… teenagers… in the house… need I say more?)

I was doing it on the carpet in my room.

Oh wait.  It gets better.

See, a match would have been good.

A candle would have been great.

But for some reason, which I must attribute to my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®, I decided that they weren’t quite good enough and decided to use a highway flare.

Upstairs.

In the house.

Over the carpet.

Well – it’s not so much that I really wanted to use the highway flare, but I had it in my hand, and had the cap off, and was idly wondering how much force it would take to get a spark – oh heck – like that would go over as an excuse… Right…

…did you know that once lit, highway flares are, um, extremely hard to put out?

…and they drip red hot stuff when they’re burning?

…that melts carpets?

Ummmyeah…

Doing the “Olympic torch” run through the house to get it outside just wasn’t going to happen.  I mean, there’s that red hot stuff dripping, In this case, it was a carpet, but if I were running (and who can’t imagine running through the house with a flare like an Olympic torch? – but that red hot stuff would have been dripping on my shoulder, and that would have been, oh, bad… yeah, we’ll just call it bad…  (keeping in mind of course that dripping red hot burning stuff onto a carpet really isn’t on the “good” side of the spectrum).

The more I think about it, the more I realize we’re so far past the border between dumb and stupid that you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror.   I’d had some plaster powder there for the diorama I was making – and I shoved the flare into that – which, surprisingly enough put it out. But the thing that got me, I still can’t believe it to this day, was that mom came in and wondered what was going on.  And my guilty conscience went ballistic trying to defend myself.   Understand, this is a teenage mind going off here – but here was my Infinite Teenage Wisdom ® reasoning:

I argued:

Just because you smell smoke, and

just because you walk into the room that you can barely see through because of that smoke, and

just because I’m the only one in it, and you came in through the only door, and

just because I’m sitting there on the floor, with a hot flare sitting beside me and a smoldering hole in the carpet, you think I DID IT?”

We pause, reverently, hands over hearts for a moment, as the parents out there realize they’ve heard some variation of this before, both from their own mouths and from their children’s…

“Uh… Yeah…  As a matter of fact, I do think you did do it.”

My mom, bless her, realized that she was not arguing with logic in the slightest, she was arguing with a guilty conscience and emotion, and no amount of logic was going to make it through that.

I have no idea why I was defending myself so much at that time – but I was.  I’m sure I would have said that someone else was using my fingers and put my fingerprints on it had it gotten to that… Dumb, dumb, dumb…

Speaking of fingerprints…

…fast forward about 25 years – I was in my darkroom developing film for a client, and had some hanging up to dry.  My daughter came down, eating some chicken.  I put two and two together and said, “Don’t touch the film.” I then turned back to the enlarger.  Something made me turn around and there were some greasy fingerprints on one of the strips of film that hadn’t been there a moment before.  There was also a very guilty looking 8 year old.

“Didn’t I tell you to not touch it?”

“I didn’t!”

“I can see your fingerprints right there!”

“It wasn’t me”

We’re the only two in the darkroom!”

And then…

It dawned on me…

I started thinking about fingerprints and realized that I wasn’t the only one who had a stranglehold on denial, and that my son was right…

To be old and wise, you have to be young and stupid first…

I just didn’t know it would be hereditary…


A number of years ago I was shooting in Muskegon, Michigan, for the Muskegon Chronicle, and over time discovered that one of the favorite things for local folks to do was to just go down to the lake (Lake Michigan) and watch the sun set.  It was a tradition, it was peaceful, it was pretty.

The clouds in Michigan, or at least that part of Michigan always amazed me, and I realize now that subconsciously, when I had the chance, I shot images that emphasized them…

This one day I went down there, and – oh, you need to know that I was driving a 1979 Ford Fairmont I’d bought in Ohio – with a paint job courtesy of Earl Scheib and Acid Rain, Incorporated.  This thing was as smooth as sandpaper.  My mom tried to wax and polish a little corner of the trunk once after I’d brought it back to Washington and it was like trying to wax a gravel driveway…

She said, “Oh, look, I can see my shadow!” (as opposed to reflection).

I gently cuffed her one…

The reason the car comes into the picture is that it had Ohio plates on it.

I was in Michigan.

The plates had expired.

Put that on the back burner for just a little bit.

I got down to the lake – and – oh, another important thing.  I’d found that shooting with ‘normal’ lenses just didn’t work for me – and found myself shooting with an 18 mm super wide angle lens on one camera body, and a 300 mm telephoto on the other.  You don’t get much more of a spread than that.  I figured that if I was close enough to shoot something up close, I wanted to be right in its face, hence the 18… if I couldn’t be in its face, I needed to reach out and touch it – with the 300.

In this case, I saw a bunch of guys fishing at the edge of the lake – and figured I sure didn’t need the 300 – so the 18 it was.  I was thinking the shot through as I walked closer, and to get him in the shot, along with the sky and the sunset and everything, I’d end up kneeling on the ground and shooting up at him – so I went over and chatted for a bit, then got into position to shoot.

And a police car pulled up.

And Tom, with expired, out of state plates, suddenly got really, REALLY nervous.

I didn’t know what he could/would do – but if there were some problems, they’d have been bigger ones than I was capable of dealing with right then.  So I did the only thing I could think of, and ignored him, figuring he might not think that the car was mine – or something like that.  (note: this would be an example of the application of the Infinite Wisdom of Youth®).

I shot away, and chatted with the fellow, making some nice images with the sky, the clouds, the sunset, the water, his fishing pole, and the silhouette of him…

…and the cop kind of faded from my consciousness.

Until I felt a huge, hairy, gorilla’s hand land on my shoulder from about ten feet up, and a firm voice saying, “Hah! I’ve got you now…”

If I hadn’t already been kneeling, I would have been very quickly.

I was petrified, was it worse than I thought? Had he run the plate to find out that it was registered to me?  What were the ramifications of driving out of state with expired tags?  The fine? The penalty?  A confused, scared storm of thoughts tore through my mind as I tried to figure out how to get out of this one that I wasn’t even sure I was in…

I slowly turned around, to see, much to my horror, that the image my terrified mind had conjured up was right.  The hand on my shoulder wasn’t attached to a gorilla, it was worse.

It was attached to an arm in a policeman’s uniform.

I don’t know what my face looked like but as my eyes worked their way up that sleeve, I saw that the face on the policeman attached to it was smiling.

Was this an evil smile? An “I have you now” smile? I wasn’t anywhere near calmed down by that smile – and I saw he was raising his other hand.  That didn’t make sense, the gun would be in his right hand, and he was raising his left one…

(I cringed)

…which had a little disposable camera in it.

The cop’s smile got even bigger.

“I got you!  I got a picture of you getting a picture of him!”

If I hadn’t been kneeling already (you know…)

The relief that was pouring through my body was like cold water on a dry lakebed.  Cooling, sizzling as it hit the hot surface, it soaked in to cool it to the core.

(Luckily, that’s the only fluid we’ll need to talk about in this story.)

I laughed with the policeman, joked with him a bit about how his lens very likely outclassed mine, and so on.  He promised to have a copy of the print at the paper as soon as it was developed, and true to his word, he did.

As soon as I find that shot – it’s in a box ‘somewhere’, I’ll put it in here.  However, failing that, here’s the “Fishing by the lake” shot…

Oh – one more thing… he never mentioned the license plate….

Fishing at Lake Michigan – and… you never know when you’re being watched.


Saltwater State Park, Federal Way, Washington, 1989 or so…

Learning to skate.

We had a family tradition to come to this park on Father’s day, and it was always a nice spot to look for people just having fun.

In this case, I was working for a newspaper in Tacoma, and was shooting what we called “feature” shots, and found myself drawn to that park.

I saw a father teaching his daughter how to roller skate – with these huge hurking skates that just really didn’t do much more than make noise, but by golly, they were skates, and she wanted to try them, so try them they did.

I talked with the dad for a little bit, asking if it was okay if I shoot, and when he said yes, I walked across the parking lot and started shooting with my 300 – that way I wouldn’t interfere with what was happening, and the pictures were more spontaneous.

I knew, just knew she was going to fall – and was just waiting when she did, just like her dad was – and we both caught her at the same time.

The thing that got me about this shot was that there isn’t any evidence of fear in her eyes at all, there is just trust.  “Daddy’s going to be there for me, and I’m going to be okay.”

Look again – does she see her father?  No – there’s nothing she can see – it’s all trust – believing that he’ll do what he said he would do.

I’ve learned a couple of really important things from that image,

  1. That trust is a very valuable thing.  Knowing that “Daddy’s going to be there…” is an amazing thing – both from our earthly fathers – daddies – to our Heavenly Father.  If you know – really know that your Father is going to be there, you will have trust – and therefore, no fear.
  2. I also learned that daddies taking the time to take their little girls to the park is just way, way past cool.

Knowing Daddy's arms are there makes all the difference.


It was in “Athens-by-God-Ohio” that I met her, the feistiest, orneriest, funniest little old lady (short of my mom) I could ever hope to meet.

Cleo was 88, and I was there in Grad school a number of years ago, getting my master’s degree in photojournalism – and I was there without a car.  This limited the stories I could do to pretty much walking or busing distance, and I found that Cleo lived just down the street.

Cleo was as independent as they come, and lived alone, in her own house.  She did her own grocery shopping, did her own chores, and spent occasional afternoons at the senior center in town playing cards or just reminiscing with the dwindling group of friends her own age she could relate to.

Her kids thought she was too old to live by herself, so they decided that she needed to be moved into a nursing home.

In Columbus.

68 miles away.

She disagreed, but it seemed that they were pretty insistent, and they moved her there.

Remember “feisty”?

Well, she promptly hopped a Greyhound back to Athens.

They didn’t mess with her anymore after that.

In talking to her, I found that she did her chores on Saturday, and since I was trying to find a story – I thought that it would be interesting to see what kinds of stories could be told in the pictures I could get of her doing that – so I made an appointment with her for Saturday morning around 10:00.  After we talked and joked a little, I told her that her job was to ignore me, and to just do what she would normally do.

And she did..

She swept.

She dusted.

…and she mopped.

Now when she mopped, she put on these old floppy galoshes, grabbed a bucket of water and whatever cleaner she used, and sloshed water on the floor and mopped it up.  There was no grace to the movements, no pretense.  She wasn’t putting on a show for me, in fact, she was in her own little world, and completely ignoring me, which was just perfect.

I took some pictures of the mop and the galoshes, thinking that would make a good detail shot, and then, as I was focusing, she picked up the bucket and started for the back door.  I followed, getting a shot of her opening the old, dilapidated screen door, and at that moment, the light came on in my head – she was going to throw the water off the back porch!

I literally jumped past her as she hung the mop onto a string, spinning 180 degrees in mid air so I landed facing her somewhere in the middle of the little back yard.  I must have instinctively focused the lens (a 24mm Nikkor) somewhere in mid air because I don’t remember doing it.  I hammered down on the shutter release for the motor drive of my Nikon FM-2 just as she did her back swing to lob the water off the porch, and got a series of 5 shots of the water sloshing out of the bucket into the yard.

Number 3 was the best.

1/250th of a second at f/8.  It wasn’t an easy print.  I printed it as high contrast as I could get – but that meant that the highlights (specifically her right arm, where the sleeve ends and the arm begins) were blasted out pure white and needed to be burned down so you could see detail.  I dodged out the galoshes, making sure you could see them, and used a touch of potassium ferricyanide on the wet mop hanging on the string to make it less of a blob.  I burned the wall of her house down a little darker (photographically, not in real life) so it would fade into the background a little, bringing the water up a bit in the process.

She was 88 years old back in 1987, so I’m sure she’s gone now, but she was a neat lady.  I’m glad to have known her.

Cleo and mop

Cleo throwing the mop water out. © 1987 Tom Roush


Another one of the stories I told Michael about his heritage, this one about his Grampa, his step-great-Grampa, if there is such a thing, and a B-52.

My dad was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in Merced, California in 1967, where the 93rd Bombardment Group was based.  The 93rd at the time flew B-52’s, and they trained pilots and crews both in the planes and with simulators.  They did this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  When they weren’t flying the airplanes, these pilots and crews were in the simulators, practicing.

And my dad fixed those simulators.

A few hours north of Merced is Santa Rosa, where dad’s mom and stepdad lived.  Dad’s stepdad, we’ll call him “Grampa Bill” fancied himself to be an artist and photographer.  This is a point that could be argued pretty heavily.  And, it turns out, when dad and mom were a young couple and dad was stationed elsewhere, Grampa Bill wanted to take some photographs of mom that could at the very least be described as ‘inappropriate’.  I won’t go into any more detail other than to say that when dad found out, he stormed in to see his commander and asked if he could have some leave so that he could go pour a goodly amount of chlorine into the gene pool.  His commander declined the request, but sent someone to check on mom.  She was fine, but that incident cemented the relationship between dad and Grampa Bill into something very, very simple: Dad hated Grampa Bill, with a passion. And honestly, as I see it, he was right.

Now it’s not that he could have done anything about it overtly, but as the years went by — well, you’ve likely found out at some point in your life, there is this thing that’s known by several names…

Some call it “The Golden Rule”,

Some call it “What goes around, comes around.”

And some call it “Karma.”

And when you find yourself watching, almost from the outside,

…how “The Golden Rule” is turning things toward you,

…and you find that things that have gone around are coming around,

…or, put another way, watching Karma setting up a situation for you – whatever you call it, it’s almost impossible not to smile.

Such was the case with dad and Grampa Bill.

Dad worked with or near airplanes.

Grampa Bill wanted to take pictures of airplanes.

More specifically, he wanted to take a picture of a B-52, taking off.

…and dad could make that happen.

Now the thing was, Grampa Bill didn’t want to get a picture with a little camera he’d be holding in his hand. He wanted to shoot the picture with a camera that looked like a small accordion and came in a small suitcase. It was a film camera, the kind that uses film not in rolls, but in sheets, 4 inches by 5 inches in size.  You had to look through the actual camera, not a viewfinder, and to be able to see the picture you were about to take, you had to have your head under a dark cloth to focus and frame the shot on the ground glass (think frosted glass) in the back of the camera.  This image you saw on the ground glass would be upside down and backwards.  When you were satisfied that it was framed right, you shoved a film holder into the back of the camera by the ground glass and from there on out you couldn’t see through it.  You closed the open shutter and pulled out the slide protecting the film from stray light.  Then and only then was everything set.  If you opened the shutter at that point, the film would be exposed, and you’d have your picture.

It was, as you can imagine, not a fast process, and you can probably figure out that it’s not a camera you would use to take images of, say, moving objects.

Like, say…

A B-52…

Taking off…

Toward you…

But that’s precisely what Grampa Bill wanted to do.

At Castle Air Force Base.

Where dad worked.

Where they flew B-52’s.

And…

…and an absolutely evil plot started festering in dad’s brain.

See, dad knew several things that Grampa Bill didn’t know:

He knew how much of the runway the plane would use up to do a normal takeoff.

He knew that aerodynamically, while most planes take off with their noses pointed to the sky, when a B-52 takes off, the pilot actually has to aim the plane 2 degrees nose down to climb for the first little bit.

More importantly, Dad knew the pilots flying these planes.

Now, if you happen to be standing at the end of a runway – and on the other end there’s a half million pounds of raw power accelerating directly toward you out of a black wall of smoke created by not 1, not 2, but 8 of some of the most powerful jet engines of the time, there’s a good chance you’re going to leave something in your pants as it goes overhead – liquid or solid, doesn’t matter.

If the person you asked to get you to this position knew the pilot, and also had a years long score to settle with you, those chances would likely lean toward the solid, and it would best be time to start digging yourself a hole.

Remember?

Dad worked on the B-52 flight simulators – so he knew, and was acquainted with, all the pilots who trained in them.

And he knew this one.

Dad had explained to the pilot that he’d be out there one Sunday with his step dad, who wanted to take a photo of this takeoff, and as a last request, said to him, “Do you think you could keep it on the ground a little longer this time?”

There was a look between them, and as is often the case, words were not exchanged, in that guy to guy way we men often communicate. But the pilot clearly understood what was meant, and he did indeed agree to keep it down on the ground…

…a little longer.

Every Air Force base has what they call a ‘perimeter road’ – a road that goes around the perimeter of the airfield.  You are not supposed to get any closer to the runway than that road, and even while you’re on it, you’re not supposed to stop once you cross under the flight path.

Dad and Grampa Bill got into one of the Air Force trucks and headed out toward the runway.

Grampa Bill was having trouble believing his good fortune.

Dad turned the truck off the perimeter road and up toward the runway, where there was a sign that started off with, “Authorized Personnel Only” and got significantly more threatening with every word, ending in something along the lines of “Deadly Force Authorized”.

They drove past the sign.

Dad drove Grampa Bill out to the end of the runway to pick out a good vantage point to take the picture from.

Grampa Bill’s excitement grew.  This was better than he’d hoped.  He’d be allowed to get far, far closer than he’d dare dreamed.

In taking him past the signs, dad also took him in past the approach lights at the end of the runway, so they wouldn’t clutter up the picture.

When they stopped, he was almost beside himself. Grampa Bill proudly set up his camera, meticulously judging exposure, focus, depth of field, while 2 miles away, the B-52’s pilot got the his bird into takeoff position.

He’d finished the pre-takeoff checklist with his copilot and pushed the 8 throttles to takeoff power.  The plane shook as the jet exhaust made a black wall of smoke behind it.

It took a few seconds for the thrust to build and the sound to reach the far end of the runway, but once it got there, the deep rumble of raw power stayed, getting louder with each passing second.

The pilot held the plane back with its huge brakes and waited till they and all systems were cleared for takeoff.

He’d told his copilot what was happening, and while they didn’t deviate from the checklists or official cockpit language, they did share a grin under their oxygen masks.

They were given clearance, and the plane started to roll.

Grampa Bill sensed the movement and tried to hold his excitement down.  The ability to stand right at the end of a runway while an airplane, not just an airplane, but the mighty B-52 took off directly overhead was an astoundingly rare treat.

Nearby, Dad stood by, calmly leaning against the front fender of the truck, also conscious of the opportunity of an astoundingly rare treat.

Now depending on its load, a B-52 has a takeoff speed of about 163 mph, and its wings sag when it’s on the ground, to the point where the engineers at Boeing designed extra landing gear out there just to support the wingtips.  As the plane accelerates, those wings start to fly themselves first, before they create enough lift to take the plane up with them.  They have a range of about 22 feet of ‘flap’ at the tips – so as the plane got closer, and faster, and bigger, and louder, those wings started flying,

But the nose was still pointed directly at Grampa Bill.

And his camera…

On the Tripod…

At the end of the runway…

The pilot, a major, kept the plane on the centerline, and felt the yoke slowly come alive in his hands as the 8 engines overcame inertia and brought them ever closer to takeoff speed.

Grampa Bill saw the tremendous contrast between the black wall of smoke, the white and silver plane, and the incredibly bright landing lights and wondered, for a split second, how that would affect the exposure setting on the camera.

The pilot felt the rumbling cease and the plane smooth out as the wheels left the pavement – and then aimed the nose down the 2 degrees, at a small tripod with a black box on it just off the end of the runway, to start the climb.

At that moment, Grampa Bill’s thoughts of exposure, focus, and timing were suddenly replaced with a rather urgent need to decide between liquid and solid.

Beside the tripod, Grampa Bill tried to be manly and stand his ground, but from his angle, the plane just couldn’t climb fast enough, it wasn’t even aimed up – in fact, it looked like it was actually aimed down, right at him. Those 8 engines, inhaling more air in a second than he breathed in a year, looked like they were going to inhale him, vaporize him, and blast the remaining bits into that huge wall of smoke behind the plane.

In the cockpit, the pilot thought he saw movement near the tripod just before it disappeared below his windscreen.

Below, the plane’s shadow passed with the fury of a tornado, the violence of an earthquake, and the heat of a blast furnace.  The jet blast tore the canvas top off the truck they’d driven out to the runway in, knocked the camera and tripod over, and sent them all diving for whatever cover they could find.  (This being an airbase, the only cover available was the truck they’d come out in).

And in the decision between liquid and solid, a compromise was made.

Both.

The last time I saw them, all the pictures Grampa Bill had taken were being stored in boxes in a chest of drawers in the attic.  They’re 4 x 5 negatives – or sometimes 4 x 5 positives.  I’ve looked through them all.

And there’s no picture of a B-52.

I still find myself smiling at that…

And somehow, I think those many years ago, under that truck, his ears still ringing, my dad smiled, too…

(C) 2010 – Tom Roush

(note: here’s a short 2 minute video of several B-52’s taking off – from beside the runway – not at the end of it, and they’re taking of higher than the Major did – but it’ll give you an idea of what it was like.

Tom Roush

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