A different type of fall photo

Not your typical fall photo, but since there are some golden autumn leaves I’m going to call it such. I was part of a search exercise which took me past this rural airport, and once our target was found I stopped for a couple of minutes to check out a surprise Phantom.

I’m one of those who’s enamored of the F-4. It’s been used as an example of “even a brick can fly if given enough thrust” and had its numerous shortcomings listed ad nauseum, yet it was still an amazing aircraft…one with a devoted following.

This is as close as I’ve been to an F-4 in many years. I did get to sit in one when I was 17, but that was eons ago. While I was a freshman at NDSU these were still being flown by the North Dakota Air National Guard. I presume that’s why this one is here, and probably its source.

What I found unique about this one, aside from its pristine paint job, was the intact cockpit. Normally aircraft on display as memorials are stripped and the canopies replaced or painted opaque. This one seems ready to rock! Oh, if only…

Did anyone ever tell you that the tailhook also makes an excellent kickstand? Well, it’s true, apparently…

The business end (depending on how you look at it). The F-4 was really, really fast. Maneuverable? Well, that might be another story…but the thing can get up and go.

Wide open. The other side is blocked off, but I’m glad this side, with the engine removed, is letting light through for all to see. This is a massive space.

It didn’t hurt that we had some really nice skies that day. Some intermittent rain, but definitely some cool clouds to make photography interesting. I really don’t like cloudless blue skies; they’re boring, and they don’t give very good light this time of year. Give me some deep textured clouds…those I can work with.


“I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave…” Nice tail.

See? Golden autumn leaves on the right. This really is a fall photo series.

I’m so happy I encountered this Phantom. It was a pleasant surprise, it allowed me to take some cool photos in some wonderful conditions, and it brought back memories. Fighter jets are among the most amazing bits of technology in the world, so it’s always a blessing to be able to enjoy an extended visit with one when the opportunity arises.

Railing on and on

When I took this photo, I was certain it wasn’t going to turn out the way I’d hoped. The sun was in the wrong place, the rail car was in the shade…it was doomed to turn out horrible, and I was already trying to plan a different time of day to arrive back at this spot. Then I looked at the results on my computer.

I’m happy to say the image I saw on my screen in the harsh daylight was not the final image I discovered when I got back home. So I don’t have a return trip planned in order to salvage this photo…but I do have the spot marked in my GPS in case I want to try something different here!

For once, I spent more time watching than photographing

We had a behind the scenes meet-and-greet with the US Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron Friday in advance of the Northern Thunder air and space expo at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, and it was a fantastic way to spend a Friday! The pilots and crew were gracious hosts, answering all our questions and clearly enjoying themselves when talking about their jobs and their aircraft.

That’s not to say that I didn’t snap some photos during practice, though! I have a new camera for 2022, and some of the lenses I always dreamed about, so of course I want to wield them for stuff like this.

Naturally I had a few questions about the F-16, with some particularly technical questions about how it compares to the F-18, F-22, and F-35. The Thunderbirds pilots are rated on a number of aircraft, including my beloved A-10, so it’s a blast getting their impressions of the various equipment.

Due to my line of work I have to protect my hearing, so I have custom molded ear plugs which I’ve worn religiously while racing, working around noisy equipment, or attending airshows. I do, however, remove them for a bit whenever fighters are nearby. What can I say, I love the sound of freedom!

Those with an eye for detail will notice that Kyle’s number 5 is upside-down on his flight suit. It’s actually upside-down on his aircraft, too – what started out as a joke is actually pretty practical. He spends so much time inverted during the program that this allows his number to be upright in all the photos!

This isn’t Kyle, by the way. But the number on the intake is the one I’m referring to. In shots where aircraft number 5 is inverted aside another Thunderbird, both aircraft have numbers properly oriented for the photographers.

I didn’t spend that much time photographing the practice, really! This is it. It’s funny how many times I took the camera in and out of the bag, though. I didn’t bring any lenses longer than 200mm, so it wasn’t really an ideal photography circumstance anyway. When I’ve shot the Thunderbirds in other states I’ve rented really long glass so I can get the shots I want. 400-600mm is ideal, with image stabilization of course, and it takes a lot of practice. At that kind of focal length it’s like looking through a straw, and following the action is a challenge.

I didn’t make it back up to Grand Forks AFB Saturday to just be a spectator, but I’m looking forward to the next time I get to see a fighter demo squadron in action! As far as how much time I spend looking through a viewfinder instead of just enjoying the show…we’ll, we’ll have to play that one by ear.

Love tractor

I couldn’t resist a nod in the title to one of my favorite bands from the Athens era. This tractor caught my eye from a distance, and I had to go check it out. It really stood out against such a beautiful blue sky!

As colorful as it is, this thing’s really broken down. Wheel’s off. Cylinder head missing. I don’t think it’s going anywhere for a while. That’s okay…it’s really photogenic right where it’s at.

The Wreck of the Abner O’Neil (No Gordon Lightfoot parodies forthcoming)

Recently a group of local kayakers made for a viral sensation when they posted photos of the wreckage of the Abner O’Neal, a steamboat from the 1890s. The river’s low levels have allowed the wreck to begin poking out of the water, and anyone coasting downstream from the Steckel boat landing is likely to encounter it. Thus the sensation.

I finally got out there myself. I’d been eagerly awaiting a time like this ever since the State Historical Society posted about it a while back, which allowed me to figure out its exact location. As a certified SCUBA diver, I’d heard about this site but never discerned where to look for it.

I actually went out to it multiple times, which explains the different lighting in some of the photos I’m posting here. Once was in the afternoon, and once was toward sunset with really calm water. Incredibly cool.

The most popular feature you’re going to see online is this part of the hull, which sticks out most prominently.

I admit, this is one of the most photogenic parts of the craft. Only the hull remains; when the Abner sank in 8-10 feet of water here, everything which was salvageable was indeed removed.

As you can see the planks of the hull are still intact, remarkable for something that has been here since 1892. I think this is my favorite angle, actually. Maybe it’s the evening light.

I was blessed with some pretty amazing skies when I went out. One time it was windy, the other time the river was like glass and I didn’t get bounced around so much.

I wish I knew enough about steamboats to know what part of the hull this is, but sadly I’m a total landlubber. Not too surprising, for a kid who grew up in the mountains and lives in a landlocked state near the geographical center of our continent.

Here’s another view of the wreckage in its entirety. The bottom left corner is the downstream end.

I made a short video of some of my favorite angles of the riverboat wreck. I hope you enjoy!

Here’s where I must point out a couple of things. First of all, the shoreline adjacent to this shipwreck is private property. Don’t get any crazy ideas about walking downriver from the boat landing: that’s trespassing. Second, you can’t see anything from the shore anyway. Your best bet is to see it from the air or from a kayak. The water’s too shallow for a boat. Third, this is a historic site; if you do manage to get to it, please don’t disturb it in any way. That means wading around and tracking up the river bottom, taking anything from the site, or generally leaving any trace that you were ever there.

This is a pretty awesome piece of North Dakota history, and the fact that we can experience right now is a silver lining to the drought conditions and general 2020-2021 malaise that’s struck so many. I’m sure glad I can share it with you!

Sentimental startup

I wasn’t able to see the warbirds which stopped in Bismarck this week (aside from a glimpse of them circling town), but I have been able to see them on previous visits. This is a video I shot with my boy back in 2013, as the B-17 “Sentimental Journey” started its engines and began to taxi out for a flight around the capital city.

Weekend at Brady’s

I made it to Mandan briefly this weekend for a family affair, and accomplished something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time: take a photo of the Brady’s Used Auto Parts building. It’s still shocking to see it in this state, as Brady’s has been a landmark for so many decades. Gee, I feel old.

The land is posted, so I had to take these photos through the fence. Thankfully I had some nice conditions to work with, and my hands fit through the rectangles in the fence just enough to work my phone camera!

One last pano to fit it all in. End of an era…

My fondest memory of Brady’s was when I pancaked the two driver’s-side rims on the $25 car I was driving at the time (long story) and he helped me pick out two replacements for ten bucks a piece. That seems like a lifetime ago, too. Man, I gotta knock off this reminiscing!


One of these trucks has gone full-blown Mater, with no hood at all. The other one has its beak wide-open. Thankfully, I had a nice telephoto lens with me; they’re a short distance from the road, and on the day when I took this photo the ground was getting pretty soft (and muddy) already!

Cab in the field

I was roaming around and spotted the remnants of this old car immersed in the snow. I got to tread through some pretty deep snow to get to it. The funny thing is, I think I saw the remnants of some windblown footprints on a path almost identical to mine!