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!

Uh oh … we could have a LOT more mouths to feed

mantie_7407My youngest boy catches the strangest things as if it’s second nature.  That’s why I was elated but not altogether surprised when he brought home Mantie the praying mantis.  She’s huge, ferocious, and entertaining.  We even let her spend a few days at the boys’ dentist’s office, where I’m told she was a big hit.  And now she’s about to have company.

As you can see in the photo above, she’s just laid an enormous egg sac.  We suspected this was coming; she’d been blimping out like crazy since we got her.  Male mantises are much smaller than Mantie, and often don’t survive the mating process, so I had no doubt that Mantie was a girl.  Whether or not she was going to lay eggs was another matter.  Finding a praying mantis in North Dakota is rare enough; what are the odds of that mantis getting a date?

I’m told that there could be upwards of 200 little Manties in there.  While I’m okay with keeping a cricket farm for Mantie’s nutritional needs, I have no idea where I can get aphids – especially enough to feed a dinner part of 200 – so I’m planning on stashing the egg sac out by the water behind our house.  It should ride out just fine until Spring, and then maybe I’ll have an army of mantises to take care of mosquitoes.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

The trick now is to get the egg sac outside in the cold so it doesn’t hatch.  Otherwise the warm indoor air will trigger something for which we’re entirely unprepared.  Yikes!

A visit to my favorite local 2,063 footer

kvly_tower_35148On the way home from Fargo last weekend I decided to show my boys the fourth tallest man-made object in the world: KVLY’s tower near Blanchard.  It was weird stopping by there as a former employee of NBC in North Dakota, but I still take pride in this structure.  It’s a biggun, as they say.  The massive structure above is just one set of guy wires and anchor holding it in place.

 

kvly_tower_35119This tower is enormous, and for quite some time was the tallest man-made object in the world.  It has since been dethroned, but aside from the Burj Khalifa its competition edges it out by fewer than ten feet.  There’s phone booth sized elevator that goes up the center of this tower…scary.  Rumor has it that the former chief engineer would ride up on top of the elevator so that  second person could ride inside to go up the tower.  I never asked him.

 

kvly_tower_35126I haven’t been inside this building for a while.  Structures near towers like this have heavily reinforced roofs, as enormous chunks of ice come crashing down over the winter and spring months.  In fact, I’m pretty sure one has to make a mad dash for the building if going out there in the winter!  Facilities built early enough, like this one, have living quarters inside…a throwback to the days when an engineer actually remained on site during all hours of transmitter operation.

 

kvly_tower_35135Silhouette.  Can you imagine how long a shadow this tower casts on a winter day?  Its counterpart, by the way, is nearby… a short little 2,060 footer.  That tower, belonging to fellow Valley News Live station KXJB, fell twice: once after being struck by a helicopter, and a second time during the storms of 1997.

I’m so accustomed to dropping by this tower when in the neighborhood, hoping the engineers might be there servicing the transmitter, that I didn’t even stop to check if they’ve posted the access road.  If you go out this way, check that out.  I’m just used to the old days of being able to approach, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been “in the neighborhood”.  But something this big has to be seen.  If you want more information, Wikipedia is probably your best bet.  I don’t think the Valley News Live page has the same tower information page that the old KVLY site did.

I had to see it for myself

ice_ring_32918After we got done with the video gig for the bull riding last night, I decided to get a photo of this giant spinning ice disk.  A friend with Mandan PD told me where to find it, so I ventured out to get a nice nighttime shot of it.  I’ve seen video of it on TV and Facebook as well as a few photos, but I wanted to see if I could add my own perspective to it.  Pretty cool!

It’s supposed to be warm today…I wonder if this will survive the warmth?

Capitol Christmas tree scheduled to arrive today

I have a meeting this morning and it’s wicked cold, so I won’t be able to catch the arrival of the 2014 tree.  That’s okay, I can share this experience from a couple of years ago to show how that enormous tree is brought to the capitol building’s Memorial Hall for us to enjoy.

 

Each Christmas one can see a beautifully adorned and rather huge Christmas tree standing in the Great Hall of the state capitol building. It’s lit at night so that people driving past the front of the building can see it, and the display is readily available for you to visit from around 7:30 am until 5:30 pm each weekday. One can’t help but wonder: how does such a large tree find its way into the capitol building in the first place?

 

Of course, the direct approach is the most effective. Rather than trying to thread any hallways or turn any corners with the cumbersome tree, it comes right up the front steps and through the revolving doors. Conveniently, the panels these doors are able to collapse and slide out of the way to allow a wide berth for anyone wishing to wrestle a formidably sized conifer through the doorway.

 

These doors were actually designed to do this; while bringing anything larger than a briefcase through the revolving doors might pose a challenge, these doors are designed to pivot completely out of the way and provide an even wider opening than most conventional doorways.

 

The tree arrives on a flatbed trailer in the morning. There are some preparations that need to be done before it enters the building: a slice needs to be trimmed from the bottom of the trunk, so that it can take on water; and branches need to be trimmed from the bottom to provide around sixteen inches of clear trunk to fit the stand. After that it’s a question of manpower.

 

Dudes from the facilities crew grab an armful of tree and march it up the steps, wrangling through the doorway with plenty of clearance. After that it’s simply a short left turn and a matter of bolting the tree stand to the bottom of the tree’s trunk.

 

A rope is used to move the tree into position, first by tugging the top into line while the adjusters in the stand are tightened or loosened to make sure that the tree is standing straight. Once that is completed, the rope is pulled down from the top of the tree and wrapped around the stand’s base, which is then pulled into position at the center of the windows of the Great Hall.

 

After a bit of sweeping and other cleanup, the binding wrapped around the tree is removed and the branches allowed to relax. The stand’s remote water tank is filled to provide the tree with ample hydration. Later in the week, the tree will be decorated with items made and/or donated by North Dakotans, through the ND Council on the Arts. I hope to submit one for next year, because i ran out of time this year. The tree now sits as you see it above until it gets decorated on Thursday and Friday. The official Tree Lighting Ceremony is next Monday.

So, there you go…one more geeky question answered by yours truly, a geek who chases down the answers to questions which haunt the most neurotic among us.

This post takes the cake

125th_cake_32051I mentioned a while ago that I was able to play with my new macro lens and grab some close-ups of the various decorations adorning North Dakota’s 125th birthday cake.  Here are a few…and by a few, I mean many.

 

125th_cake_31991I’ll start off with a piece that you’ve already seen: the state capitol building.  It’s missing the J-wing, but that’s alright.

 

125th_cake_32025Let’s start with the eastern border of the state.  Down near the Wahpeton area we have sunflowers…

 

125th_cake_32028To the north a bit we have Roger Maris’ record and Cass-Clay for the Fargo area…

 

125th_cake_32004Let’s not forget the NDSU Bison…

 

125th_cake_32030Then of course we have the sugar beet and (I presume) wheat or other crops…

 

125th_cake_32023As we reach the Grand Forks area we have a catfish (and UND, in the background)…

 

125th_cake_32033Topping off the Grand Forks area is, of course, the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

 

125th_cake_32012I presume this is a tribute to the North Dakota honeybee, who are all probably wintering down south somewhere at the moment.

 

125th_cake_32013Hat tip to Devils Lake and the Spirit Lake nation.

 

125th_cake_32009We then move westward to Rugby.

 

125th_cake_32010Here’s the Floral Clock, one of the attractions at the International Peace Garden.

 

125th_cake_32011Turtle Mountain representin’.

 

125th_cake_32035Good ol’ Lake Sakakawea and the Garrison Dam are featured.

 

125th_cake_32017To the northwest we have a tribute to oil country.

 

125th_cake_32016Here’s the far northwestern corner of the state.

 

125th_cake_32008Now we head south into Roughrider Country.

 

125th_cake_31997Here we have the Bully Pulpit and Medora.

 

125th_cake_31996If I’d gotten the focus right here, you’d think that Dickinson was known more for the Dinosaur Museum than for I-94.  In the low light I had to use a wide aperture, making the depth of field very shallow.  Excuses, excuses…

 

125th_cake_31995Not much in southwestern North Dakota.  I’d have put a police car with a mannikin in it to celebrate Amadon, at least…but instead we head east toward Standing Rock and a hunting scene.  My friend Nathan just got a big buck like this one.

 

125th_cake_32019Strasburg celebrates the home of Lawrence Welk, don’tcha know.  Bubble machines come to mind.

 

125th_cake_32020Next we have Gwinner and the Bobcat plant.

 

125th_cake_32001I’ll wrap this up with the enormous bison at Jamestown.

There were a couple of other fittings on the cake, such as some tractors and nods to the Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Wheat Commission.  It was a really cool tour around the state, and I made sure to get a slice of Slope County, where the cake is thickest.  See, it helps to know a little bit about my home state of North Dakota!

Happy Birthday!

capitol_125th_31825I was unable to attend the festivities today, but I’m told that as the rain subsided the crowds began to fill the capitol mall.  Good deal, today is a day worth celebrating!  I was satisfied to just swing by after everyone but the stage teardown crew had gone home and take a couple of quick photos of the occasion.

I must begrudgingly admit that the ND 125 in the windows totally escaped my radar this year.  I’m glad I saw a photo of it elsewhere Friday night, or I may have missed it entirely!  I’m pretty sure nobody’s on staff to change the lights on Sunday, so you may still have a chance if you haven’t grabbed a picture already.

Sign up now: Bismarck Police Department’s “Citizens’ Police Academy”


A few years ago my friend Lee and I were accepted into the Bismarck Police Department’s “Citizens’ Police Academy” for several weeks of education into what the Bismarck PD is all about. A couple dozen of us spent each Tuesday night from September through December learning about the various aspects of police work, the structure of the department, the special duties of various officers, and the standards of accountability and professionalism to which they hold themselves. It was a real eye-opener.

Some of the people in the class were interested in pursuing careers in the criminal justice field. Others, like me, are simply average citizens who support our local law enforcement personnel and jumped at the opportunity to learn more. I’d spent plenty of time in the Mandan Police Department growing up through the Explorers program, working in the control room and doing traffic control, color guard, etc. but I didn’t know much about things here on the Bismarck side.

While most of the Academy consists of classroom time, it’s not boring. It’s an informal environment, the chief and/or deputy chief are usually on hand to help answer questions, and there are always some interesting tales to tell. While the class went until 9pm each night, it was not uncommon for that night’s officer to stay until 10pm chatting about what we discussed in class.

Of course, there was a mandatory ride-along in a police car on a Friday or Saturday night. I think everybody had an eventful time, especially myself. I go on ride-alongs from time to time other than in Bismarck, and my rule is “what happens in the car stays in the car.” I respect people’s privacy as much as a value my own, and that sort of confidentiality is very important when dealing with people in the sort of situations that require a visit from a police officer. That wasn’t the only thrilling part of the Academy, however:


I think everybody was looking forward to the shooting portion of the class. One night a week we went through an evening discussing firearms and then going to the indoor range to fire some Simunition. We each were given the opportunity to fire eleven rounds from the same firearm carried by Bismarck police officers. It was performed under very close supervision after great attention to safety details.


I had to chuckle at my target, which I got to keep: six shots to the heart, five to the chin. I didn’t want to look like an idiot, so I intentionally aimed low for the head shots to avoid hitting the clamp holding my target. I think the groups would have been tighter if I’d had my own Glock, but Lee and I had the tightest performance out of the group. Something about videographers having a steady hand, I suppose. I got to keep my shell casings as a souvenir of the evening as well.


It was bittersweet to reach the completion night for a “graduation” celebration. We had pizza and got our pictures taken with the chief & deputy chief and were presented with some additional memoirs. As you can see we each received a framed certificate, Bismarck PD patch, and Citizens Police Academy mug. My little boy PJ had come with to see Daddy’s graduation and insisted that he be in the photo with us. Later he talked ’em out of a CPA mug of his own, and he’s still very proud of it.

It’s a great opportunity and speaks volumes that our police department wants to reach out to the public like this. It’s amazing how much misinformation is floating around out there about how police officers operate, and those of us who have received a little bit of education to dispel the rumors can act as ambassadors for the department. I gladly embrace such an opportunity, because I’m proud of our local law enforcement in Bismarck-Mandan. I’m fortunate to call several officers and deputies my friends and am grateful for their service to our community.

According to the City of Bismarck’s website, they’re still taking applications for the Citizens’ Police Academy. You can download the application PDF here and get it in immediately if you’d like to try for a slot…I don’t know how many they have filled.

There are some requirements for application, including a clear criminal record and passing a background check. If you are an adult resident of Bismarck and can meet these criteria, you’re able to apply. I highly recommend availing yourself of the opportunity to do so!

Five years ago and twelve degrees colder – and I was out with my cameras

January 26th, 2010 was a great day. The fact that it was even colder than today’s bitter winter Monday didn’t dampen my spirits, as I was on site for the move of the Falkirk Mine’s dragline “Chief Ironsides” from the west side of Highway 83 to the east side.  I was being paid to document the occasion, as it happens very infrequently.  I’m glad I dressed in layers; while Sunday’s low in the area was -7 with a mean temp of 12, the low that day was -4 with a mean temp of -2.  I’m using the mean temperature for the title of this post.

In order for Tuesday’s dragline walk, enormous preparations had to be made. For instance, a gap in the power lines running parallel to Highway 83 had to be made. The machines are simply too tall to go under. The railroad tracks had to be covered as well.

Next, a compacted dirt road several feet thick had to be constructed. This served the purpose of protecting the paved road as well as creating a level deck for the scoop and draglines to traverse.

Crews worked from each side of Highway 83, meeting in the middle. Enormous excavators filled dump trucks, which deposited their dirt at the end of the constructed road on their side. Big dozers pushed it into place, and the biggest grader I’ve ever seen did the grooming.

A bed of shredded straw was placed on the highway prior to the dirt work, presumably to aid in the cleanup. This way the dirt wasn’t plastered onto the roadway below. I got to stand really close to where these guys were doing their dirt work, but at a safe distance. Of course I brought my hard hat, vest, and safety glasses with, and I had an escort the whole time to make sure I wasn’t in danger.

With the road complete, it was time to get the “small” stuff across. The two machines in this shot are on tracks, simply driving across instead of the meticulous “walking” of the big dragline.

This equipment is electric, running with giant extension cords that lead back to the power plant. When they need to take a trek like this, the smaller ones are powered by a generator on a trailer. The truck follows dutifully behind or beside this scoop shovel as it tracks across.

For bigger equipment such as this tracked dragline or the big Chief Ironsides, they operate tethered to their usual power source. There’s a new power cable waiting for them on the other side.

This “little” tractor isn’t so little. Its sole purpose in life is to guide the electrical cable supplying power to the big dragline. It’s got a hoop-shaped guide on the back that is used to push the cable around to where it needs to be.

Weather delayed things a bit, but we finally got going just before sunset. That made for some challenges with shooting video. Stills are one thing in low light, but HD video is another. The main shot I was set up for was a time lapse of the roadway crossing, and the light was changing on me very quickly.

It was quite dark by the time the thirteen million pound behemoth, controlled by a woman named Melody, crossed the road. There was a thick dirt road constructed across Highway 83 just for this purpose, since the dragline needs a level deck for moving. It also protected the highway from the immense weight of the machine.

There was a dedicated crew for this task; the rest of the mine’s operations didn’t skip a beat. Talk about a daunting task: close the highway, build a new road capable of handing a thirteen million pound load, get the equipment across, then remove that road…all within 24 hours. Great job, gang! That’s an impressive day’s work.

I froze myself silly, but I got the shots. I had one HD camera, tucked in the Suburban parked sideways in the median due to wind, doing the 1080p time lapse while I ran around getting other angles and video footage with a second HD camera. Of course I kept my trusty still camera bag with me at all times.  Thankfully I dressed really warm, and had a real blast!