Backing the Blue on the road less traveled

back_blue_pallet_60d_15054-6_hdrFor the past few months, Highway 1806 has pulled different duty than usual.  If you don’t live south of Mandan or have things to do at Huff Hills or Fort Lincoln, you probably haven’t been down this road in a long time.  Oh, unless you’re in law enforcement, that is.

This pallet is a nice way for someone to Back the Blue on that road, as plenty of law enforcement would go by over the period of several months.  I’ve seen a lot of things done with pallets, but this one has got to be my favorite!  I’m all for showing our community’s appreciation for our law enforcement heroes.

Hornets visit Bismarck-Mandan in February (updated)

f18s_44360I got a tip that a group of F-18s were inbound for Bismarck yesterday, so I took a long lunch break to wait for them to arrive.  I love few things as much as military aircraft, despite being afraid of flying myself.

f18s_44378Aren’t they breathtaking?  There was a group of seven of them en route to Washington state, returning from a few weeks in Florida.  A friend of mine who moved up here from Pensacola said he got to see F-18s in the air all the time.  That’d be amazing, until you’re trying to take a nap with the Sound of Freedom roaring overhead.

f18s_44504-6Three of the planes stopped in Sioux Falls, but four of them were able to come to the Bizzo and tank up on fuel from Executive Air and pizza from A&B (of course).  If you were only in North Dakota for an hour or two and wanted pizza, wouldn’t you pick the best too?  I actually think it may have been complimentary for them.  Awesome.

f18s_44522-4I watched as one truck was drained dry and another came up to finish the task.  Perhaps it’s good that they weren’t trying to top off all seven!

f18s_44459-61 Nice tail. Just sayin’. I’ve been told that these are F-18F Super Hornets, which are two seater models and used for electronic warfare. They’re part of VAQ-129, an Electronic Attack Squadron based out of Whidbey Island naval air station in Puget Sound, Washington.

f18s_video1These pods on the wings house antennae.  Lots of ’em, apparently.  So since it’s the navy, the wings gotta fold anyway (for carrier space limitations?) but I’m guessing they also want to protect these from damage.  I forgot to ask if that’s a secondary reason why they folded ’em up when they parked.

f18s_44432-4If I was expected to fuel up visiting aircraft on a daily basis, I’d absolutely live for days when a pack of military jets roll in for some juice.  I’d probably be humming the Top Gun theme, even though they flew F-14s in the movie.

f18s_44355Love the colors on that bubble. It takes a while to fuel four of these, which thankfully left plenty of time for conversation.  A friend’s brother is one of the crew here, so we got to chat him up about the flight.  They were all very nice and accommodating.

f18s_9612Joe gives an interview to…somebody.  Since I don’t work in television anymore I have no idea who most of the reporters are.  I haven’t seen any reports online, and the cameras these days are too small to slap a logo upon, so your guess is as good as mine.

f18_44504-6Last one to get gas.  Yes, they do actually have Navy credit cards they use to pay for their fuel, one per plane.  How’d you like those bonus points?

f18s_video3Then it was time to fire ’em up.  What’s cool about these is that they can start themselves; no need for an APU to power ’em up and get the engines turning.  No remote starter, though, although we joked about that.

f18s_video2Then, with a wave it was time to roll out, one at a time.  They didn’t leave close together, as you can probably tell from the open cockpit in the back.  I suppose they bunched up later after everyone was in the air and headed westward.

I took a little ShakyCam™ (I haven’t trademarked that, but I should) video of the arrival and departure.  Using a still photo lens not suited for video, I still got some passable results.  I do enough video work with actual video cameras that I don’t care to do it with still cameras, but if I do more of this I’ll probably have to nab a stabilizer rig to have with me.  Anyway, here’s the video.  If you view it full screen it’ll be 1080p.

It has been a LONG time since I’ve been able to get out with my camera. This was incredibly therapeutic, even if it was dreadfully cold outside. Getting some photo time feels GREAT!

Please support local businesses that do this

exxon_sign_44326It’s been a while since I’ve posted…well, anything, but especially about a local business standing up for Christianity.  Well, here’s a reason to top off your tank or get your morning coffee at I-94 Exxon, the one on the north side of the Centennial overpass along I-94.


exxon_sign_44327In case you’re a firebreathing fundamentalist and the first sign was a little too milquetoast for you, here’s the other side.  Right on.


The last I recall is Dairy Queen in Mandan declaring “Christ is Risen” on Easter weekend. Awesome.  Clearly these businesses understand their customers, not nationally driven agendas funded by minute groups of activists.
Along those same lines, you may have seen this local ad run during the Christmas season for the past few years:

With so many national businesses trying to eschew the Christian faith while championing those who wish to attack it, I’m thankful to see local businesses who aren’t so out-of-touch and are willing to make a declaration for their customers.  Thank you, I-94 Exxon and Dvorak Motors, for adding your voices to the Christmas season.

PS: Try the White Chocolate Caramel cappuccino.  Just sayin’.

This doesn’t bode well for Morton County

wind_survey_37874I was roaming some of my favorite Morton County back roads, searching for blue flax fields and whatever else I might find, when I noticed this.  Actually, I noticed three of them…all in a line, spaced evenly about a mile and a half apart.  That was weird…short little guy-wired towers springing up like that.  So what’s the deal?

I asked around a broadcast engineering group I belong to, and they gave me the scoop: they’re temporary anemometers.  After I found that out, I was able to verify it on my next trip past that area when I actually got close enough for this shot:

wind_survey_40391As you can see, there are multiple anemometers on this tower.  Well, there’s only one reason why you’d want to measure wind in an area like that.  Yes, you guessed it: more stupid wind turbines, among the most expensive types of power to produce.

These subsidy grabbing, bird killing eyesores are the bane of anyone who loves photographing North Dakota.  Sadly, they’re encroaching on some of the more scenic areas surrounding Bismarck-Mandan.  As I type this, work is in progress on a wind farm south of Hebron as well.  Sad.

If you want to get any scenic photos around Morton County, especially at sunset, you’d better do it before those ugly structures ruin the skyline.

IT LIVES. I present to you: Frankenrig

arena_truck_37216-8_HDRI’ve alluded recently on social media that I was working on a little rig to help me with the type of photography I do.  Case in point: the photo above.  The sun was setting to the right of this photo, leaving the rest of the car in the dark.  I wanted to fill with light rather than try to Photoshop it later, but that takes a lot of light.  After trudging back to the van twice for more lights and stands, I figured there had to be a better way to get multiple flash units in one place.  That was the inspiration for Frankenrig.


frankenrig_40696I’ll admit: it doesn’t look like much.  It’s more an assembly of parts bought online with only one piece of my own handiwork.  I messed with different lengths of 1/4″ thick aluminum until I found the right one, cut it, drilled it, tapped threads into it, and attached the various things I needed in order to hang three flashes from one lightweight portable stand.  Once I found the right length, it was off to the powder coater to get a durable finish applied.


frankenrig_40700To each of those pegs I attached a pivoting light bracket.  Each bracket can swivel on its post, while each bracket can articulate back and forth.  Why use such tall pegs, you ask?  Because I want to be able to operate the knurled knobs on the bottom of the pivoting brackets, even with winter gloves on, so I need the clearance.


frankenrig_40711In each pivoting bracket I attached a cold shoe so I could easily slide a Speedlite on and off.  I have spare pegs in case I want to use a studio strobe, but that’s not why I built Frankenrig.


frankenrig_40703Here are the three radio controlled Speedlites attached.  I tried different lengths of aluminum because I wanted Frankenrig to be as compact as possible, yet allow enough room between brackets to allow manipulation with winter gloves on.


frankenrig_40704It’s a very flexible rig.  The posts allow a number of things to be hung on this bracket in a variety of ways.  Each flash, in addition to its own pivoting head, can pivot by rotating the cold shoe’s peg in its bracket.  The bracket can pivot using its hinge, and it can swivel on its peg.  The 1/4″ x 1″ aluminum isn’t going to bend and everything is clinging together with 3/8″ threads and Loctite, so it’ll handle anything I opt to hang on it.


So here I have a compact little rig which attaches to any universal light stand, including the lightweight ones I use for my type of photo trips.  It’s a simple device, but allows me to bring a lot of light to a location with very little work.  It’s a pretty specific tool, though; it’s most suitable for my type of photo trip.  I want something lightweight and portable, not studio strobes.  I need to be able to set up in uneven terrain, so the stands I have do that.  I need to be able to adjust it, even in the cold with thick gloves on.  And I want it to be overbuilt in the strength department, because that’s how my dad taught me.


I look forward to taking Frankenrig into the field and throwing a lot of light at something!  Then I can sing its praises when I have cool, well-lit photos to share here.

Horsing around

horses_37832I had an equine audience for a second as I roamed my favorite area of rural Morton County – let’s face it, most of it is rural – last weekend with a friend who was in town from Philly.  I only had a second or two to try to get this shot, because they obviously figured I had food.  Right after I took this photo they began working their way down the long hill toward the truck, obviously hoping for some goodies.  Maybe I’ll have to take a bag of apples with me next time!

Post in color

post_37959-61_hdrAs you probably know, I have a soft spot for rural North Dakota, particularly around Bismarck-Mandan.  I love roaming the back roads and section lines, trying to find picturesque views and document remnants from the pioneer past (which, in many areas, isn’t all that long ago).  I’m a “city kid” who actually spent his childhood in the Rocky Mountains despite being a native NoDak, so I feel like somewhat an interloper in that regard…but I love the natural beauty of North Dakota and the spirit of the people here.

That’s one reason why I love taking photos like this one from Saturday.  There is no other side of this gate; the adjacent quarter is open where this approach enters.  The open fields of brilliant green were offset by a lovely morning blue sky, devoid of clouds for a change.  The drab, colorless post was a perfect contrast to the beautiful natural hues in the background.

I discovered something which I feel is very sad nearby…but I have to get ready for work now, so that’s going to have to be in another post in a day or two.

Need a place to faceplant in Mandan? Look no further

faceplant_zone_ip_1764This sign has since been fixed, but as I stopped near the Trolley Bridge on my motorcycle a while ago I noticed it and thought it was slightly funny.  Opinions may vary.  It looks like the sign is indicating a Faceplant Zone, newly paved for your comfort!


faceplant_zone_ip_1761What happens in Mandan stays in Mandan…

Folks are known to faceplant in Mandan, after all…why not have a zone just for them?  The only problem is the traffic.  Maybe that’s why they reconsidered and fixed the sign. 🙂


What it looks like without any wedding parties in it

heritage_center_atrium__37592I took my kiddos to Bismarck’s 144th Birthday celebration at the Heritage Center’s State Museum last weekend.  One our way out it occurred to me that I hadn’t really done any photography in the Northern Lights Atrium.  This was my chance.  After all, nearly every other time I’ve been there I’ve seen wedding parties getting ready for their photos.  In fact, there were a few such people there when we first arrived.


heritage_center_atrium__37595-2I like geometry, so of course I snapped a couple of shots and looked around.  This space is so busy with portrait photography that they had to start taking appointments and setting forth some common sense rules.


heritage_center_atrium__37590For some reason I really expected this to actually…do something.  But if you’ve driven by at night, you can see the disappointingly faint glow of someone’s homage to Northern Lights.  I’m not looking for a Pink Floyd concert, but some lights that moved or changed in some way would have been nice…and a far better tribute to the real thing.


heritage_center_atrium_37600Again…it’s all about the angles.  The beautiful skies last Saturday helped a lot.

If you’re looking to use the atrium for photography, here is a link to the finalized rules of conduct you should adhere to in order to help keep the building an enjoyable place for everyone as you share the space.