Thursday, December 27, 2012


Unfinished Business - I received an e-mail this morning, I think from Jim in Albany Co. NY. The problem is that the delete button on my new phone is awfully close to the "home" button and I inadvertently deleted it. After realizing what I had done, I tried to get to the recycle bin and recover it. Mission Fail - it is gone for good. Jim, if it was in fact from you, I apologize for not replying. It's what happens when someone is not as smart as their phone. Thanks for the kind words.

My Little Rice Burner - I finished cleaning it up  just in time for the December Vintage Motorcycle meet-up. I didn't get it running, as I was waiting for a carb-kit to arrive. I didn't get it until the night before the meet up and I didn't feel like tearing into it on the day of the meet so it was all show and no go.

It's a 1979 Honda CT-90 Trail 90 and it is in original unrestored condition. The only parts on it that are not original are the tires, battery and an exhaust bushing. It has 1400 orig. miles and is complete.

It's funny, but I wouldn't have been caught dead on it when I was in high school - it wasn't fast nor cool enough. Now, I wouldn't part with it. It is the only vehicle I have ever owned which is worth more than I paid for it.

Why Billy's Helmet is Crispy - In my last post, I posted a picture of my friend Billy. A reader BG Miller commented that Billy had a seriously crispy helmet. Billy teaches a lot of structure fire control classes, I caught up with him again this morning.

In this sequence, Billy is holding the fire to a bedroom, while the "attack crew" manipulates a forcible entry prop before entering the structure and attacking the fire. Billy needs to keep it to that bedroom without reducing the heat or flame. He is applying water to the ceiling, cooling the gasses and hindering spread.

If you look close enough, you can see Billy laying on the floor, looking into the room of origin. He applied some water to the seat of the fire as working the ceiling wasn't effective.

 After knocking a little heat out of it, Billy goes back to the living room and awaits the fre attack crews, who he could hear finally making access. He was, I am sure, quite warm. The above process makes for quite crispy helmets when performed on a regular basis. Notice all of that and the thermal balance is still intact. I was less than 20 feet away, on room air and quite comfortable.

Funk Therapy - The Saint and I are headed up to Beatty NV early tomorrow. We are taking El Cheepo Jeepo and are meeting five other couples for five days of jeeping around the Death Valley area. It should make for some interesting photos and these people are really fun - they are the same group that we went to Darwin with in November. I don't know about internet access so it may be a while before I can post again. We should be back on the 2nd, looks like it's New Years in Beatty.

We are leaving the boys, I hope we still have a house when we get back.

Happy New Years to you all and Thanks for reading.


Sunday, December 23, 2012


Sorry for not posting recently, I have been in a bit of a funk. Nothing serious, but I just have not been inspired to write or blog. I have been taking pictures like crazy though.

Click to enlarge.

My friend BIlly.

Crawl low under the smoke

Or not

One on one


ABC (not real)


Gratuitous "Huddle" shot

The above photos were taken over a couple of days at a training burn in our city. A large public works project requires that a dozen or so houses be torn down, the RFD has been able to conduct training burns in several of them. The days of taking them to the ground are long gone, so they have to be intact, overhauled and secure when we are done with them. Just like real life.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, December 7, 2012

New Truck 2's First Job

Ok, it wasn't a big job. Maybe we should call it a task or perhaps a chore. Regardless, smoke, heat and flame were involved, just not in the quantity and volume that photographers and young firefighters like to do battle with.

The guys sawed up and went to the roof (that happened before I worked my way around to the charlie side of the building) but the order was rescinded before the holing commenced. As you can see, the stick did make it up and by all accounts the unit is working very well.

Sometimes, positive pressure produces the desired effect without all of the joy destruction that a hole provides. They don't call the truckies "fan bitches" for nothing.

Tiller trucks were made for this environment. Back in the day, our rear mounts would have made it in here, but it would have taken some work. I doubt that the crew from 2's had to think twice about working their way back into the complex and getting set up.

It's funny, but tiller trucks fell out of favor around this area in the late '70s and '80s. They never really went away, but the trend seemed to indicate that elevated platforms were going to be the truck of choice. Some thought they were going the way of the dinosaur. While the popularity of various types of units well ebb and flow, I think tillers will be around this department for a long time to come.

Even though this wasn't much of a job, the layout of the complex called for a bit of a hose lay to get into the unit and upstairs. From what I heard, a neighbor had done some decent work with a portable extinguisher, keeping things from getting out of hand and confined to an area within a room. While disappointing from a photography standpoint, it was a good thing for the occupant and for the crews.
I guess in this instance, size didn't matter. The hose still needed to be cleaned and loaded.

I'm quite sure that new Truck 2 will be confronted with lots of fire in the future. Some of it will challenge it and it's crews. When it does happen, I hope no one gets hurt, the loss is kept to a minimum and that I am there to capture it through the lens.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Burning Rice

They, them, those people say that men tend to collect things that they either owned in their youth or wanted to own but could not afford.  I think that here may be an element of truth to that, hence the popularity of collecting and restoring of classic and vintage vehicles.

In my case, I am not really a car guy, but I do enjoy the nostalgia and beauty of old cars. If I were to collect old vehicles, it would probably be '60s and '70s vintage Japanese motorcycles. The above cliche would apply to me on both sides, I rode small, ratty Japanese bikes - they were cheap and reliable transportation.

I also lusted after Japanese bikes, ones that I couldn't afford. While I was buzzing around on my Honda MT125, I really wanted to be riding a Honda 750. After moving up to a Yamaha RD350, my lustful desires moved up as well. I wanted to be straddling a Kawasaki KZ1000 Z1R or maybe a used Kawi 900Z1.

Jap Bikes, Rice Burners, Suisaki's -  all of my friends rode bikes born in the land of the rising sun. None of us would be caught dead on a Harley.  Harley was a dying brand, an American turd well on it's way to becoming extinct.

I did have one friend who rode a '60 something BMW. He rode it because his dad sold it to him cheap. I know he really wanted a KZ, but the economics of high school kept him on the Beemer.

I have owned and rode 11 motorcycles over the years, 10 of them were of Japanese origin. They ranged from a Honda Trail 90 (the only one that I still own) to a Harley Davidson Road King, the most beautiful bike I've ever owned.

Through a friend, I heard about Bill, a guy who has a small collection of vintage Japanese bikes. He also puts on a small show/meet/gathering of vintage bikes every month or so, held at a burger joint not too far from the crib. After running into Bill a couple of times and telling him that I would attend a meet, I finally went.

Do us both a favor - click on the photo to enlarge.

It was a small event, but it had some cool stuff. Bill had quite a few bikes on display, several others had bikes there as well.

I really liked this Honda CB350 Four. They were pretty fast for a 350, though my RD would blow it off of the line. This one is in great shape, I wouldn't mind having it in the garage.

Most of the bikes were in great shape - either restored or in original condition. The bike below is a '69 Honda 750. It is highly collectable even though Honda made a bajillion 750s over the years. The '69 is the most collectable year because it was the first year of production for the 750 and the engine cases were cast in sand rather than dies. Honda was in a giant hurry to get the bike into production and did what it took to get it done. This one is one of the nicer ones around.

This yellow tank is on a '76 Honda CB750 F. It is a later version of the bike above and was in the later years of that particular engine. Motorcycle engine technology was advancing at a spectacular rate and in a span of 9 years, it was way obsolete. That didn't stop me from drooling all over it when I was a teenager and stopped by the local Honda store.

Can you tell that I have a soft spot for Hondas? The model below is an early70's CB 450. Another nice bike. I never rode one of these, but I remember a guy from high school had one that he rode to school. I think that they were pretty  fast, though I believe my RD would take one pretty easy.

This was my favorite bike at the show, a '60s Honda 50 with a factory accessory appearance kit. The kit changed the appearance of the diminutive bike, from a step through frame to a more traditional bike look.

I had never seen a 50 equipped with the appearance kit so I had to let Bill educate me on them. Apparently, they are very hard to find and adds to the value of this bike considerably.

I enjoyed seeing all of the old bikes and I look forward to attending the next one in a few weeks. The old bikes brought back memories though they made me feel a little old.

They were also a little inspiring. Who knows, maybe there will be another old Honda on display at the next meet?

Thanks for reading,


Monday, December 3, 2012

In Service

Back in September, I posted about my agency picking up a used ladder truck from another department in our county. After a trip to the lettering shop, installation of radios and an MDC and a little maintenance, the truck is back and is now in service. I happened to be at the tower on it's second day in service, which also happened to be the on-duty shift's first day on it.

Wisely, the department left the basic paint alone, making it the only deep red two-tone apparatus in our fleet. Frankly, it came out beautiful.

I like it so much, that I told the Chief in charge of specing-out our apparatus, that his last act before retiring should be to change the paint spec to this paint scheme.

As it was the crew's first day on it, they were putting it through the paces, learning the nuances of the unit in a training environment rather than an emergency situation. Although all of our units are similar, each one is just a little different. This one is more so, it is newer and is equipped with some technology that our other ladder trucks are not.

Things like learning  what the unit is doing when the jackknife alarm begins to sound, what the high and low points are, what sticks out the farthest etc. is best done in the field - though carefully. No one wants to be the first person to put a ding in it.

The use of spotters during this process is prudent, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or, as I like to say - boots on the ground beats letters in your file.

Event the ladders themselves can act a little different. The amount of dip when loaded can be different, the control valves may have a different feel or a unit may have a different system or two - all things you need to know.

So far, everyone I have talked to is happy with the unit, it seems to be a quality piece. While only time will reveal whether this purchase was a bargain, a fair deal or we "got took", it appears to have gotten off to a great start.

I look forward to catching it in action.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, November 29, 2012

SBD Tanker Base in Action

I was supposed to be getting ready for the Darwin trip. Maintenance on the Jeep, equipment checks and pre-loading stuff for the journey. That kind of stuff. I happened to be walking by the TV and heard the "BREAKING NEWS" jingle. I looked up and saw a BA-146 air tanker dropping retardant on a fire in the Cajon Pass.

I was interested, as I have never seen a BA-146 tanker before, in fact I hadn't seen a BA-146 anything for many, many years. Not since the Mid '80s when Air-Cal flew them around here in the Golden State.

I knew that several aerial firefighting contractors were working on BA-146 platforms, but I also knew that contract issues, complaints from othe contractors and the usual politico-bureaucratic morass had led to many delays in getting the BA-146 installed as the "next generation" air tanker. The drop I saw on TV was the first on that I had seen.

From the shot on the TV, it appeared to be burning pretty good. The talking head on the TV was saying that it was reported to be 200 acres or so, from what I could tell it looked bigger than that. I looked out my window and could see drift smoke from the fire as it worked it's way to the southwest. It was going to be burning for a while.

I really didn't feel like driving around the Cajon Pass to try and find a spot to shoot from, I-15 was closed as a result of the fire - the traffic mess would be humongous. I had a lot of stuff to do and a tight schedule. I decided to drive over to San Bernardino Intl. Airport and watch the air tankers load up at the U.S.F.S. Air Tanker base. They have an observation area, so I wouldn't waste a lot of time driving and scouting a vantage point. I could get a few practice shots (every shot is a practice shot for me) and be on my way. In the end, I'm kind of glad that I did.

When I first got there, some S-2Ts  were loading. We see them all of the time, they are based in Hemet which is not too far from where I worked.

 I have taken a few great shots of them in action and have actually been dropped on by them so it doesn't seem that unusual to see them around. These are owned and operated by the state (Cal-Fire) at various bases around the state. There were four of these assigned to this fire, two from Ramona ( in San Diego County) and two from Hemet - Ryan located about 50 miles from me in Riverside County.

The S-2Ts are kind of unique as they were built to hunt submarines during the cold war. They were originally equipped with radial piston engines, but were converted to turbo-prop power plants some time ago. They are pretty bad-ass and must be a hoot to fly. I think they look pretty snappy with the five bladed props too.

There were a couple of PV-2 Neptunes assigned to this fire as well. They are owned by contractors and are operated under contract to the Forest Service.

These aircraft were built about the same time I was and were operated as land-based maritime patrol aircraft and as anti-submarine aircraft. They were in service with our navy for many years and were also exported to other countries.Probably around a dozen or so remain serviceable as aerial firefighting tankers.

After a bit, the one I was waiting for showed up - the BA-146.

This one started life as an airliner in Hawaii back in 1989. It has spent time in Britain and France and is currently owned by Neptune Aviation.

These always intrigued me, I don't remember ever flying in one. There are several that have been converted into air tankers, it is hoped that they will become the mainstay of the fleet. The time, money, BS and red tape that is required to bring a new tanker on-line is immense. It is good to see these actually start to fly.

There was a Sikorsky Skycrane that flew in to refuel while I was there. These are Viet Nam war era heavy lift helicopters that have found a second career in the fire service.

I spent an hour or so at SBD and saw plenty to photograph. It was kind of a challenge however, as I was stuck on the wrong side of the fence. I need to work on that.

I will say that the Forest Service gets it, and provides a great viewing area for civilians to observe the loading operations. They provide bleachers and shade, both of which were welll used when I was there.

There were a few people there with small children. It brought back memories, both when I was a kid and when my kids were small. The practice of taking kids to watch airplanes is a dying activity, it's too bad about that.

There is also a monument in the viewing area, one memorializing aerial firefighters who have died in the line of duty. It is a poignant reminder how dangerous the job of aerial firefighting can be, one that is present while watching the operations.

I kept looking at my watch, knowing that I really had stuff to do. I took plenty of photos, a couple of which I actually liked. My favorite one was captured moments before I called it quits and headed back to my chores.

The second of two Ramona based S2Ts, this was caught with a long lens either over the top of the fence or through it. There is just enough blur of the pavement and grass to give the impression of motion yet the aircraft was still pretty sharp. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.


Sorry for the lack of posts this week, I have been fussing with Google/Picassa over posting photos on the blog. Apparently, I exceeded the amount of storage allowed on the free account yet and I couldn't access Picassa to delete some files. After som thought, I realized that deleting files from Picassa would delete them from the blog.

Google won, I now pay to have photos posted here. There is no free lunch I guess.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sorry Dude Desert Edition

This isn't a Jeep snob story or a yuppie hate rant. It is merely a tale of astonishment and of what happens when one attempts a task without the proper tools. Or even slightly effective tools.


The trail had been quite beautiful climbing out of Fargo Canyon, winding it's way up onto a ridge, then following it down to a small expanse of open desert. There were a few spots that were a little challenging, making me grateful that I had already shifted into four wheel drive low range. I had been through part of the Little San Bernardino range before, but a little farther to the west. This area was new to me.

The Saint I Am Married To may have said a bad word or two when the left front wheel lifted off of the ground a few feet. I hope her indiscretion does not affect her canonization, as the event was truly my fault. Being off of  the preferred line by a few inches and an overzealous application of throttle  had caused the corner of my jeep to launch skyward. The profanity followed, I was just glad that she did not strike me in the process - I believe that profanity may be less of a sin than physical assault.

 It appeared that the National Park Service had abandoned the trail some time ago, as there was no markers indicating the preferred route through the canyon. There were spots where the route was barely visible, washouts and rockfall conspiring to hide the trail. We had stopped several times to admire the view, pee and enjoy a beverage or two. Conversation is always an important part of these stops, the desert vistas always inspire deep thought regarding geology, history, bullshit and speculation all of which must be expressed.

After some time, we intersected a marked trail, one which pointed toward the Pinkham Canyon trail, our means of egress. After a bit, we made it down to the Pinkham and at the intersection, we found a spot suitable for lunch. Shade was an important factor as it was a hot, dry day - quite the contrast of our trip to Darwin two weeks ago.

We had consumed our lunch and were enjoying a delicious bourbon for dessert, when another jeep pulled up. We had a polite conversation, the driver explaining that he was exploring that part of the park before the expected arrival of some camping companions. He had a nice jeep, a well equipped  four-door Rubicon. I commented that if my kids were small or that if I had grand kids, a four-door jeep would likely be in my future.

It was about then when we heard another vehicle come down Pinkham Canyon. We were astonished to see that it was a brown Porsche Cayenne. We couldn't help but stare as he drove past the newcomer's Rubicon and down the canyon.

"What the hell is that doing here" someone asked. I figured that the road that he had come down wasn't that bad, as most of the roads and trails in Joshua Tree National Park are really easy dirt roads. It's only a few trails at the edges of the park where high clearance might be required.

As the Cayenne disappeared, we returned to our dessert and our conversation. Five minutes later, it returned.

It was driven by a man in his late twenties, a female passenger sat in the front. A dog or two occupied the rear seat. "I may have bitten off more than I can chew" the man said after stopping the car.

"No shit" was the only thought I could muster, the bourbon reducing the effectiveness of my filters. Fortunately, we are all quite civil by nature and did have the well being of the Cayenne at heart. We could have sent them down the trail we had just come up. That would have guaranteed them a night or two in their car, one I doubt they were prepared for.

The driver asked us if the route down canyon would get him to the interstate. He said that a ranger had told him that the road kind of curved to the left then entered a wash and finally ended up at the highway. He then asked us if he could make it down the road.

We honestly didn't know. Three of us had never been down that road and it had been a while for the other two. We told him that we didn't know. He then asked us if that was the shortest route to the interstate - we told him that it was. He thanked us then drove back down the canyon, we continued our chat.

Twenty minutes later, we packed it up and headed down canyon. The road turned into a rocky trail in a few places, ones I felt sure the Cayenne would have trouble getting through. I knew that the Cayenne was all wheel drive and that many are equipped with a fancy auto-matic traction control that the sales brochure says enables the Cayenne to conquer the roughest of terrains. Still, there were a few spots that I could tell someone had  had to make several attempts in getting through.

After each bend in the road, I expected to find the Cayenne stopped in it's tracks either stuck, broken down or stricken with a gashed tire. To my surprise, I did not.

As I was paying attention to what I was doing, I missed the fresh scrape marks on some rocks and the fresh drops of oil left behind. My friends caught it though, as well as a few places where the sand in the bottom of the wash had been leveled by a low slung vehicle forcing it's way over it.

I was actually relieved when we reached the I-10 and the pavement of it's construction. I would have felt an obligation to assist the stranded occupants of the Cayenne, despite their poor judgement. A simple snatch out of the sand would have been easy. While a tow or a pull off of some rocks would have been easy as well, both would have likely caused further damage. That would have produced another set of issues. Those concerns became irrelevant however, as the Cayenne had obviously reached the highway with minimal trouble.  

We pulled onto the interstate and headed west toward Indio. We decided to stop at a rest stop and air up. Our tires felt a little mushy at highway speed - the lower air pressure works good in the dirt, not so much at highway speed.

Our compressors made short work of filling our tires, while the ladies took advantage of the facilities. It wasn't until we were pulling out that I spotted the Cayenne.

It was parked over by the semi-trailer parking area. It's hood was up, a blanket was draped over the filthy front fender and the driver of the Cayenne was looking under the hood. As I was committed to the exit, I couldn't stop and see what the deal was. As I later found out, another member of our group did have the opportunity to speak with him.

An hour later we were sitting at the bar at Babes, a popular BBQ place in Palm Desert.  We were waiting for a table and we were discussing the fate of the Cayenne. When one of our party had spoken with the driver of the Cayenne at the rest stop, he said that it was overheating. Engines don't just overheat - especially newer ones and ones engineered as well as the Cayanne's. Something somewhere is broke. Maybe the driver knew what the deal was and was too embarrassed to tell my friend the truth or maybe he was clueless as to what was causing the car to overheat.

 I have to believe that either the engine ran out of oil due to a punctured oil pan or other component and overheated before it seized up completely or some component of the cooling system was compromised due to an impact with a rock. The fresh oil noted in the canyon leads me to believe that the former is a more likely option, though the leak must have been small enough to allow the engine to make it to the rest stop.

If the engine is cooked, the repair will be well over five grand and it is unlikely that it will ever be "right". The driver's decision to continue down the canyon despite his own misgivings will likely turn out to be a costly error in judgement. Though turning around and going back to the top of the canyon might have cost him a lot of time, it probably would have been well worth it.

Thankfully, the Cayenne made it to the rest stop where calls can be made, tow trucks can driven to and people can be found. I'm glad that worked out. Though I would have done it, I wouldn't have relished towing that guy out of the hills.

I hope the occupants of the Cayenne learned not to believe the sales brochure when they make claims about performance cars "conquering" the toughest terrain. I also hope they learned to avoid traveling solo when exploring the back roads of the mountains and desert. Finally, if they are enamored  with the desert and are committed to exploring it (as I am), I hope they buy a Jeep or other real four wheel drive and save the Cayenne for picking up half-caff mochas at Starbucks. I'm just sayin'.

Thanks for reading,

A self righteous Schmoe

Friday, November 16, 2012

Darwinism - Waltzing In A Minefield

As I said in my last post, the Darwin Hills are like Swiss cheese. There are holes everywhere. Silver and lead were the primary materials mined through the years, though gold, talc tungsten and other minerals were mined as well.

I have been trying to figure out what each of the mines we visited were named and what was mined there. I have had limited success, many of the mines haven't been worked for 70 years or more. Many have changed names, others have vague locations or descriptions in what little literature exists about them.

Despite my difficulty in researching them, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting and exploring them. Although most are heavily damaged and/or vandalized, there is more left intact than in other mining areas that I have visited. I suspect that is due to the remoteness of the Darwin area and it's distance from any population areas.

Do us both a favor and click on the images to view a larger format.

The above hopper is located in the canyon just below our camp. I literally stumble upon it while going for a photo walk on morning before breakfast.

I am a real sissy when it comes to messing around old mines. They are inherently dangerous, occasionally so dangerous that people have been left to die in them as there was no safe way to accomplish a rescue. Thus, it has to appear to be really bombproof before I will enter a mine.

Some tunnels are just straight holes into a side of a hill. I suspect that these are prospect holes, ones just looking to see what minerals are contained in the mountain.

The photo below was taken from inside one such tunnel.  It went straight in for about 200 feet. The opening was almost large enough to drive in, though it narrowed down pretty quick. My friend and his dog went with me into the tunnel, our wives stayed  in my jeep as it was only in the forties.

A lot of times, we don't get anywhere near the adit because it is sealed up, too dangerous or a pain to get to. Interesting structures and remains can still be found though, presenting many photo opportunities.

Some openings are vertical shafts that go down for hundreds of feet. These types of mines have claimed a few lives over the years, swallowing unsuspecting hikers and dirt bikers.

Sometimes there is nothing left of the operation, just tailings. Whether it's the setting, the view, the trip or the fun of exploring new areas with friends, it's still a great time.

You never know what you will find either. Rumor has it that Jimmy Hoffa went into the witness protection program and got a job driving a school bus for the Inyo County School District. One day he didn't return from his route after dropping all of the kids off. They found the bus, but they never found him. There is a lot of old mine shafts nearby maybe he is at the bottom of one of them. I'm just sayin'.

We explored the headworks of a mine on our way back to camp. The stop provided a couple of surprises. The first was the sun setting on a ridge several miles away.

The other was what we found on the back side of an equipment shack left on the claim.

At first I thought that someone had gone crazy with a paintball gun. It turned out that someone had just gone crazy with some cans of paint. Out of place as it was, it was also kind of fitting.

The next morning, we set out again and went to a large mine complex located on the east side of the Darwin Hills.

Note two things. First, the plank flooring. Second, the light at the end of the tunnel.

I saw the planking and didn't like what I saw. There was a spot where an access hole had been removed. The view sent a shiver down my spine.

That's looking straight down, farther than my flash can light it up. Although most of the shoring system appeared to be intact, a small section of it appears to be damaged. That was enough for me, out I went. One of my friends is pretty familiar with this mine, he has been coming here for years. He was comfortable with walking out to the end, keeping to the left of the tunnel where a ledge of rock was left to support the planks. I was not.

Remember the light at the end of the tunnel? Look where it comes out.

The larger of the two visible holes is the light visible at the end of the tunnel in the photo above. The photo below is of the same hole, only zoomed out to give a better perspective of the immense size of this pit.

My lens wouldn't widen enough to get it all and the terrain wouldn't allow me to get any farther back - the pit is just that big.

The other part of this mine was stable rock, fairly level and relatively safe. Perfect for exploring.

There were several other levels, ones that we had no way to access. Who knows what artifacts exist down there?

As it was, there was plenty to see.

Even though the tunnels were relatively stable, there was still quite a bit of wood underground. Even if some knucklehead doesn't burn it down, someday it will collapse, permanently closing off part of the mine.

This was one of the better mines that I have been in. It made for a great morning.

Thanks to Eric for showing us around the mine, thanks to you for reading.