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.

Cold War Mancation, Part Seven: Mission completed

cavalier_38305-7_hdrThis weekend I finished the last thing on my list as far as my Cold War Mancation series.  I’d visited many military and historic sites around North Dakota, but one was missing: Cavalier Air Force Station.  I’d actually had one opportunity to visit, four years ago, then one of my kids took a tumble and had to go in for a possible concussion.  I was twenty miles down the road when my wife called, and I had to do an abrupt u-turn and abort the trip.  No such interruption this weekend.


cavalier_PAR_38284-6_hdrCavalier AFS had an open house with a bunch of cool stuff and activities, but I didn’t take many photos of that.  I arrived later than I’d hoped but with plenty of time to look around.  The point of the trip:  tour the building above.  It’s an enormous Phased Array Radar (PAR), the most powerful space radar in the nation’s arsenal and capable of spotting a softball or smaller object (depending on who you ask) coming over the North Pole.

No electronics are allowed in the building, so naturally photography was out of the question.  In fact, that’s kind of the point.  I had lots of egghead questions for the various people who presented on what they do, and it was absolute geek heaven.  Everything I’d hoped it would be.


nekoma_38333-5_hdrOf course I had to stop in by the giant pyramid in Nekoma, part of a decommissioned system that worked with the PAR during its original configuration to launch and guide nuclear-tipped missiles to intercept ICBMs inbound from the north.

There is so much fascinating history about these two sites that my head starts spinning when I begin to think about regurgitating what I’ve learned about them. Instead I think I’ll simply but emphatically suggest that you do your own research.  They are very fascinating places, and the Cavalier Air Force Station site still performs extremely valuable service to our nation.

This should get you started: Have fun!

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.

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!

Extremist left-wing enviro hate group’s propaganda accuses ND power plants of killing people

Someone gave me this flyer that they were handed outside the federal building on 3rd and Rosser last week:sierra_club_propaganda It comes from that well-known enemy of personal property rights, the Sierra Club, and it accuses MDU’s Heskett Station power plant of killing eight people per year as well as causing a litany of horrible medical problems.  It exhorts the recipient to contact Sierra Club shill Wayde Schafer to “join us in our campaign to encourage Montana-Dakota Utilities to be a good neighbor by transitioning our community beyond coal and investing in clean energy”.


catf_propaganda_mapThey go on to cite a map from “non-partisan” Clean Air Task Force (ahem) which performs the service of putting these scary black circles on a map wherever there’s a facility generating energy for North Dakotans.  Their website indicates that they pretty much hate any power generation that doesn’t come from a “renewable” source, although even they seem to agree that turning corn into ethanol-based gasoline is a disaster.  They don’t like coal, they don’t like oil, they don’t like gas, and they’re motivated by Global Cooling Global Warming Climate Change™, a phenomenon whose only purported solution is global socialism.

ala_sota_2013Oddly enough, if you go to the American Lung Association’s website you can find a report that’s three years newer (CATF’s is from “estimated 2010 impacts”) in their 2013 State of the Air report (PDF).  In it, North Dakota gets phenomenal reviews for its air quality.  If you want to pick a group that’s “non-partisan” I suggest looking at the ALA before believing anything from a site that won’t be happy until we’re one step removed from the stone age.  North Dakota’s data from the report is available at this link if you don’t want to download the PDF.

ala_bismarck_honored_2013It didn’t take more than a few seconds to find this release, also from the American Lung Association, congratulating Bismarck (which is downwind from Heskett and most of those other nasty black dots on the CATF map most of the time) on receiving an “A” grade.  From the report:

“The State of the Air Report covers eight counties in North Dakota that have permanent air quality monitors: Billings, Burke, Burleigh, Cass, Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer and Oliver. This year’s report looks at data collected from 2009-2011 time period and verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

That doesn’t sound like the cesspool of black death alleged by the CATF and amplified by the radical hatemongers at the Sierra Club in their propaganda, does it?  If you’re handed stuff like this from extremist liberal groups, take my advice and take whatever they tell you with a grain of salt.  Do your own research.  It won’t be hard to find easy refutations to their propaganda.

I intentionally used terms like “radical”, “extremist”, “hate group”, et cetera because that’s what these leftist use to label anyone who disagrees with them.  It works both ways, commie.

Winter wire

While on the way back from a photo shoot last Friday I stopped to check out an interesting former Cold War site near Regan, North Dakota. On the way I spotted one of those things that seems to just jump out at me: a disconnected power and/or telephone pole.

Combined with the angle of the sun and resulting shadow, the brilliant blue sky, and a few J.J. Abrams-style lens flares, and I had a nice little souvenir of my trip to bring home to Photoshop.

Oil patch anecdote (comes with bonus windmill)

Because I can tie an old windmill to just about anything, here’s a shot of an old abandoned farmstead that I located just south of Watford City on Highway 85. There…I think I’ve made my rustic windmill photo quota, so here’s my interesting story about the past several weeks in Bakken Country.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about the Wild West: the crime, the traffic, the overcrowding. I don’t doubt that many of those growing pains, and many of the reports thereof, had basis in fact. Oil production in Bakken country has slowed somewhat recently for a number of reasons, and perhaps that’s why my experiences there departed slightly from the tales.

My first impression of Williston was that sure, it was crowded with heavy traffic…but their equivalent of State Street, the divided Highway 85 that runs north out of town to Highway 2, was completely closed down on the southbound side for resurfacing. Of course it would be crowded with half the roadway available. In fact, I was able to get served faster at McDonald’s in Williston than I have been in Bismarck lately. While working with the security manager at the facility I was in, he gave the following advice: “Oh, sure…it’s not so bad here. But you should see Watford City!”

The very next day I found myself working in Watford City. I needed some accessories to build some 50 amp power cables, so I stopped in at the RV store located at the busiest intersection Watford City has. I noticed that I had no problem getting in/out of his parking lot onto Highway 85, despite a lot of traffic. It just wasn’t as bad as I’d been told. “Oh sure,” said the owner. “…it’s not so bad here. But you should see Williston!”

Now just a doggone minute here. The person I spoke to in each town thought the other one was the madhouse. In neither case did I see the kind of problems that I’ve heard so much about. Of course I’m sure traffic gets insane when there’s a blockage on the road…but I have spent dozens of hours on the road in northwestern North Dakota and never experienced any such issues. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I’m saying they’re not a 24/7 phenomenon.

I know that the medical system and first responders are overwhelmed in the area. I acknowledge that many aspects of life have seen great upheaval since the boom took hold. What I suspect happens, however, is what I call “REO Speedwagon Syndrome”: the tales grow taller on down the line.

By the way, if infrastructure is so far behind, and they can’t afford to catch up, then why in the world is Williston breaking ground on a $70 million recreation center? Is that the greatest need, or do they simply have a fetish akin to the Bismarck City Commission’s? I think it hurts their cause when they claim they can’t keep up with critical needs but they certainly have more money than you or I will ever see to start building indoor pools.

Of course my limited time up there didn’t give me the chance to see the whole picture. Again, I acknowledge the upheaval northwestern North Dakota has experienced. I also acknowledge that we can’t believe everything we hear about the Bakken boom without experiencing at least a little bit of it for ourselves.

Power Station, or Some Like it Hot

I couldn’t help but give a little tribute to the 80s band with the title of this post. It’s relevant, after all; a power plant can be described quite simply. Despite all the wires, pipes, belts, machines, and computers, the purpose of a power plant is to make steam. The steam turns a turbine or two in order to generate electricity, but all the complex and massive functions of the plant essentially exist to make water really, really hot.

I was on my way to the Harmon Lake area to see if some astrophotography was in order when I spotted this view of Heskett Station. I pulled over at the nearest approach, took the Hoof Express back to a good camera location, and snapped a few shots. The moon was in just the right spot, and so was I. From there it was only a short hop north to Harmon and the decision that Saturday night was far too cold for this would-be photographer to be standing outside in a hoodie and light jacket. Thanks to the view above, though, I didn’t come home empty handed.

Broken connection #6

Looks like the end of an era along this stretch of road near Regan. These wires have actually been disconnected for a while, but this is the best opportunity I have had to stop and get the right photo of them. The sun, sky, and green fields were all in perfect form for this shot, and I was there on one of the motorcycles with a camera to take advantage of the good fortune!

Here’s one for you: even those these lines have clearly been in place long enough to perform their intended service to the point of becoming obsolete, there are still federal subsidy programs in place from the 1930s to provide telephone and electric connections to rural areas. Once a federal program like that comes to life, look out: you’re probably going to pay for it forever.

Happy Industrial Revolution Day! (Or Happy Romans Chapter 1 Day for us Bible believers)

This is a view that few people get to see. The glowing red on the other side of that smoked glass is a vortex of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit reaching over two hundred feet high. It burns powdered coal which has been cleaned and dried, making it a very efficient and clean source of power. And it’s right here in North Dakota. You could put the state capitol building inside this boiler!

When you hear about “clean coal technology” you should note that North Dakota is pretty much the epicenter of innovation. At this particular power plant, by the way, over $200 million has been spent over the past thirty years on development of environmental technology. New processes have been brainstormed here that are of interest to power generation companies all over the world!

By the way, April 22nd is called “Earth Day” by some. This day was so named in order to fight global cooling back in 1970. That should tell you right there how much credibility the global cooling warming climate change movement has. Add to the mix the fact that it falls on Lenin’s birthday and mounting evidence that the “environmentalism” movement is merely a home for displaced socialists, and it all starts to make sense. After all…no matter what manifestation of global weather crisis is used to incite panic, the ONLY purported solution has always been global socialism.

Back to the photo. The power coming from plants like this powers homes, businesses, hospitals, schools…you name it. It provides life-saving heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. It powers information technology, life support systems, manufacturing, and who knows what else. Yet there are those deranged individuals who wish to vilify the energy industry and treat such technical innovation with disdain. They’re truly detached from reality and I welcome them to relocate to a third world country if they find nobility in primitive living.

Incidentally, the Bible talks of people who worship creation rather than the Creator in Romans chapter 1. This is nothing new. Actually, the people pushing this climate agenda wouldn’t be pushing it at all if the solution wasn’t global socialism. That’s why I choose to have a Festivus of sorts, one that recognizes the value of the technology and innovation that makes this country great. I’m not the one who brainstormed this answer to Earth Day, but I am certainly on board. Happy Industrial Revolution Day and/or Romans Chapter 1 Day!