Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Village: Spokane's South Hill

The winter of 2008-2009 set a new seasonal snowfall record for Spokane...but only by about a tenth of an inch. Still, it will be remembered as the winter when it seemed like the side streets were never going to be plowed and Mayor Mary Verner famously remarked "It's just snow, people!" Spokane is known for not reelecting mayors...not sure how much that statement played into her carrying on the tradition.

The residential streets each had one set of deep ruts for drivers to negotiate and if you didn''t have a good amount of ground clearance under your vehicle, you ran into trouble. If you managed to make it down your street you still had to deal with the solid, plowed berm where it met an arterial. Every trip out was an adventure, but once you reached an arterial or bus route, you were in the clear.

During one snowy commute I knew I was in trouble when the traffic on both I-90 and the Old Sunset Highway were backed-up, all the way to the top of the hill. I had a coworker with me for the trip home and it took us 3 hours to go 16 miles, and most of that time was lost in the gridlock downtown. The police had closed all the main roads up the hill and everyone was trying to find another way up.

I think that happened on a Friday, which would have given me the weekend to take snow photos. Traditionally, most of our snow falls just before and through Christmas. I have gathered up some of my photos of Christmas lights from different outings in different years. Most came from one cold night on Sumner Avenue and on Rockwood Boulevard. That night I was shooting in RAW/JPEG mode and used the RAW files for colour correction and to pull up the shadow lighting for full "Christmas Village" effect.

FYI: RAW is an uncompressed file format. It can contain image data that can be recovered, unlike JPEGs, in which the file size is reduced by eliminating some of the image data. For example, a dark, underexposed area in a RAW image can usually be brought up, but in a JPEG, the data may no longer be there. HDR is a technique where multiple images are taken at different exposure settings, or "stacked," and then they are blended in the computer for the desired effect. If HDR is done "right," you end up with a striking image, with even exposure across light and dark, but most of the time it's overdone, giving shots an over-the-top some of the following RAW conversions!

Rockwood Bakery, E 17th Avenue.

The load on the car was from storms-to-date, and not one storm. Garfield Road.

Garfield Road

E. 25th Avenue.

I needed a photo for my Christmas card and went out on the hunt. It was Sunday afternoon so I still had some light and everybody was home, so houses were lit up inside as well. People were moving around in the house so I set up the tripod, composed the shot, and took shots while looking in a different direction. This is where people like to say to me "You should show the photos to the homeowner, maybe he or she might want to buy them." OK, let's try this: "Umm, hello. I just took a photo of your house; would you like to pay me for my work?" This is probably the only JPEG in this group, so the shadows are murky in comparison to the RAW shots. Cannon Hill Park.

Snow, snow, and more snow, on Highland Boulevard.

This next four were taken on Sumner Avenue. White Balance was set to Incandescent so the lights would show up as white instead of yellow, and that gave the sky the Cobalt blue look. The shots look HDR, but they are just heavily-tweaked single RAW images.

There was a fire at this house recently and it has since been repaired.

For comparison, this is how the shot looked, straight out of the camera, underexposed to keep the lights from getting too bright.

The same RAW shot, after making a Colour Temperature correction and pulling up the shadow details. Plume from the chimney was not added. Rockwood Boulevard.

The front of the same house. Looks like Santa's house, eh? Rockwood Boulevard.

Hey, where's the snow? A RAW conversion exercise, seeing what I could recover from the dark areas. Grapetree, East Pinecrest Road.

The Cathedral of St John. It's also an amazing music venue. Grand Boulevard.

This is about what conditions look like right now, after most of the snow from our last storm has melted. Grapetree, East Pinecrest Road.

While I'm here I'd like to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season, no matter how you choose to spend your days. Get to know people and strenghten your bond with those you already know. It helps move us toward becoming happier, healthier, contributing members of society and wouldn't that be a blessing to everyone?

We made it past 12/21/12, so I guess we still need to all get along...until someone finds another ancient calendar!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Colourful Carriers: Vintage Working Trucks Part 1

Eastern Washington is farm country and during planting or harvest, you may find yourself dodging some old seed or grain truck on the two-lane roads. They soldier on for decades, until the day something important breaks, or they just won't start anymore. Then they're towed by tractor off to the side of the farm with the rest of the junk implements. In many cases, after the farm is abandoned, the trucks are left behind.

I've noticed in my travels that the brand I'm most likely to find left behind is International Harvester. I don't want to try to read anything into that but I do know that it is sometimes hard to get parts for certain brands of machinery. The "Big Three" brands have always been popular with enthusiasts so they may have been eager to take those trucks for parts or for restoration.

Some 50-year-old or older trucks are still serving as grain trucks, junk haulers, or as crane trucks. I think these days the farmer is more likely to call up the guy from St. John Hardware to bring out the fully-equipped, modern service truck than to rumble out there in his 1949 GMC with the home-built crane on the back.

In recent years someone in the town of Sprague, Washington has been collecting old farm trucks from here, there, and everywhere and placing them on a lot in the center of town. They make a great photographic workshop. I asked a woman in the antique store about the owner and what he thought about photographers on the lot. She said he didn't mind as long as they didn't hurt themselves on the broken glass and rusty metal.

I have been to the lot many times but still prefer to find them in "the wild" where I can try to work them into a composition showing their place on the farm...or perhaps where they're still chugging along, performing their designated tasks. I will share photos of trucks still working the harvest when that season approaches, next summer.

All shots taken in Washington.

This is one of my earliest finds, and one of the oldest trucks, a 1937 Chevrolet. It was parked next to the road across from the farm, so no one was going to mess with it. Reardan.

The Great Pumpkin. Five Mile.

The city of Waterville has a museum and some of the displays are out in the open around the town. Not sure if these trucks are part of it.

One of the trucks in Sprague.



Found next to a windmill, east of Lamont.


This truck had burned. Sprague.




Mt. Hope.

Seen with others, original and restored, at a vintage equipment wheat harvest. The grain was offloaded into restored vintage grain trucks and driven to a nearby elevator. Davenport.

From hauler to holder, parked at an events center in the country. Seen holding wedding gifts, Rockford.

An amazing find, note that the grille and the driver's side headlight are still intact. No bullet holes, how did this one survive? I found it by chance when I happened to look back from the top of a hill. The truck was parked behind a small abandoned farm down a dead-end road. There were also three old cars in the area, what a find! I had great light on it as the sun was getting low and the light was being filtered by high clouds. Sprague.
More to come...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Last Years of the Rockford Barn: 2004-2011

This is a study of a barn which sat on a hill along Highway 27, just south of Rockford, Washington. You wouldn't notice it when southbound but when coming northbound it let you know you were almost home. Its location made access difficult. Aside from the driveway there was only one other place where you could park safely along the highway. The driveway was on the inside of a blind curve, so getting out was always tricky; you had to roll down your windows and listen for on coming cars. The problem with shooting close to the barn is that you had to look up at it from main shooting angles. That left you standing on the side of the highway for a better shooting angle. There are no shoulders on the road so you have to position yourself on the slopes of the ditches and wait for traffic to pass..

I didn't usually stop at the barn as a destination, but tried to capture it in whatever light I had when I was passing through. The barn was always a bit of a leaner, but in the past couple of years, the shift had become more obvious. It finally lost its battle with gravity in late 2011. The barn hadn't been used for much in it's dilapidated state. In its last years it was used to house small implements from time to time, most likely just to hide them from the eyes of people passing by.

I seem to recall seeing No Trespassing signs on it a long time ago. Sometimes farmers give that up when a remote barn such as this is too far gone to be of use to them.

South side, you can see what I mean by saying you have to look up to the barn.

Just a threat of a storm, not much to it...or the roof!

West side, you can see the northward slant.

North side, upper doors hanging open because this wall is tilted toward the camera.

The view up the driveway.

The north side and freshly-cut hay.

The southwest corner, you can see the south wall now falling inward.

I wanted to try some star trail shots on this full-moon night, but needed a barn that I could access, which would allow me to shoot toward the north star. Lesson learned: I need less moon and longer exposures...and I don't have enough patience for the latter.


The sun came out from a cloud deck and soon disappeared below the horizon.

Same sunset, in colour.

Another sunset, shot with the point & shoot, from the trees seen in the next shot. The barn looks pretty "porous" now.

I hiked up the neighboring hill on the crunchy snow for this view of the barn's surroundings. Looking north toward Mica Peak.

The barn takes one more northward shift, before finally giving in to gravity.

It settled down pretty much as you see it, leaving only the southern point of the roof above the pile of old lumber.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Snow Seasons: 1968-69 vs. 2008-09

The first two snowstorms of the season have passed through and dropped several inches of snow on their way by. I thought I'd combine the theme of my two blogs and show a little photo project I made with some estate photos taken during the landmark winter of 1968-69. I was not in this area for that one, but I have read that it was brutal. I was here for the highest snowfall season on record, the winter of  2008-09.

I looked at the setting of the old photos and thought it looked like the Shadle area of Spokane. I could see the distinctive bluff on the west end of town, in the background. I used online aerial imagery to look for the house and managed to find it, near the intersection of Northwest Blvd and Ft. George Wright Drive. A little creepy, don't you think? Well...maybe not as creepy as hitting the ground to try to duplicate the angles shown in the originals.

The amounts of snow look similar, but the snow in the old shots came in on a bitter cold wind. The snows of '08-'09 seemed fluffy and gentle, in comparison. The total for the '68-'69 season was 77.5 inches and the depth of the '08-'09 season was 93.6 inches, barely getting over the previous highest total of 93.5 inches, set during the winter of '49-'50. Hmm...I wonder what the margin of error is in this? I was here for the first, third, and fifth snowiest winters.

Funny thing, after setting the record for the snowiest winter, the following winter of '09-'10 almost went down as the least snowiest.

Yes, it's not Great Falls, Fargo, Marquette, or Buffalo...but it's enough for Spokane!

Both series of shots taken after the New Year.

If you didn't know any better you might think the shots are the same vintage, with that 1974-ish Mercury land yacht there. The neighborhoods up that way haven't changed much since 1968.

This is a shot from the winter of 1992-93, Spokane's fifth-snowiest winter, taken at Fairchild AFB. There was a parallel to '08-'09 in that after this winter, there wasn't much snow in the following winter. I drove a 1965 Ford pickup through this winter and then bought a brand new 1994 Toyota 4X4 the following fall, and then it barely snowed. 

A shot from the biggest storm of '08-'09, which dropped almost two feet on us. Only three of us bothered to try to make it to work, in two SUV's and the Jeep. You can see that the Xterra had a bow wave going in the snow in our parking lot.

Side streets were rutted and mostly impassable to low-clearance cars. Even if you did make it down the street, you then had to clear the berm at the arterial. This is East 24th Avenue and if I remember correctly, city crews were just getting to it as I finished my shooting.
This winter's long-range forecast? Warmer and wetter, which is how this last snowstorm ended.