The Lope: December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year, 2008!

Thanks for riding through 2007 with us!

We have a bunch more Christmas stuff to go, as we've decided it's Christmas 'til either Epiphany or until Target Stores finish clearancing their Christmas stuff at 90% off. I guess that covers the sacred and the profane (or at least the traditional and the materialistic).

And, for those of you who feel Yule trodden, we'll have some stuff that involves no lights or tinsel.

And, yes; we've used this photo twice before. It's kinda hard to recap the year when you're still living it in fast-forward, especially as Ace is already off partying (non-alcoholically, of course). He also wasn't crazy about posing for another holiday picture just yet (something about disruptive cats). We should be able to have something entirely different up tomorrow.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

To Grandma's House

Updated for 2008

Here at, we have so many Christmas pictures that we've decided it's Christmas til Epiphany. Like we can really decide that.

However, I would point out that the Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day.

I think that we, who had to take a hiatus from Christmas lights due to the recent ice storms, are entitled, don't you?

Every town has to have one; or at least it should. You know the places - those local Christmas displays that can be found by looking for unusual amounts of motorists in residential areas.

This inventive display is the creation of Dale Hankins of 25 Countryside Drive in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Dale himself is quite interesting. He's a nuclear scientist specializing in protective and detection equipment, especially for neutron radiation.

All of the mannequins are motorized (no nuclear engines apparent) and show a method of locomotion to Grandma's house. Dale says he started with five automations ten years ago and adds about one a year. The Hankins have five grand kids.

"Cycling to Grandma's House" is built around a working Moped. All but one of the vehicles in the display are real.

Note the folded tarp. This was a rough Christmas season for outdoor displays in Hutchinson, as well as much of the Midwest. Dale was out of power for six days, so for a big chunk of the Christmas season, these displays were static or even covered.

I called Dale just tonight (Dec 29) and asked if the display was still up. It isn't. He removed it when he saw the forecast 5" of snow. He explained that since the mannequins wear real children's' clothing, moisture is hard on them.

Of course, I shot a few video clips. I tried to capture the motion of most of Dale's creations.

"Sledding to Grandma's House"

"Coasting to Grandma's House" uses a wagon.

"Skateboarding to Grandma's House" gave Dale a few problems this year. The 1/4" rod that moves the leg actually broke.

The "Peddling to Grandma's House" sign points to both a bicyclist and a girl on a tricycle.

Dale adjusts the hood on the bicyclist.

Up close, I find the "grandchildren" evoke 1950's science fiction pulp artwork, which I find quite appealing.

A slow shutter speed combined with flash shows the motion of "Paddling to Grandma's House", a small police boat.

"Riding to Grandma's House" uses a horse on springs. I can't think of what these things are called.

The sail on the outrigger that is "Sailing to Grandma's House" makes it by far the tallest display.

"Flying a Saucer to Grandma's House" is my favorite. This is probably because it evokes memories of a Christmas display with a flying saucer atop Fairchild Industries in Joplin, Missouri back in the 1960s.

Even alien vehicles require maintenance.

Dale pointed out that the saucer is the only vehicle in the display that is not real.


What a perfect way for the government to dispose of the Roswell UFO - to give it to a scientist who has doubtlessly worked for them, knowing that the best place to hide something is out in the open. What secrets lie under that duct tape?

That's my own personal conspiracy theory, anyway.

Driving to Grandma's House

Dale says the display uses seven outside outlets.

"Railroading to Grandma's House"

The largest piece is "Santa's Rollin' to Grandma's House"

I've already shown Santa in a previous post, but really wanted to expand since I was able to shoot more material since then.

I asked Dale what mode of transportation his next robotic grandchild might utilize. He replied that he's been thinking of an airplane or hovercraft. I suggested a submarine, with it's periscope rotating and an illuminated eye visible inside.

"Don't count on it", he said. Apparently one of his criteria is that the vehicles (except for the UFO) are to be real. I guess even a mini-sub would be prohibitive.

And here is Grandma herself - Elizabeth (Betty) Hankins.

And one more drive-by - this on at night.

2008 update:

Dale added something new in 2008; can you spot it?

Yep; one of the grandkids is "flyin' a plane to Grandma's house."

And here's a new video for 2008.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Boxing Day

Boxing Day is a traditional holiday celebrated on December 26, mostly in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

On that day, it was traditional for the "haves" to give to the "have-nots" - nobles to serfs, you know, or in a modern sense, employers to employees.

Here in the U.S., we simply go out and buy lots of Christmas crap for half-off.

Perhaps we should call it "Carting Day."

Or "Cramming Day."

Or - to give a nod to the British who call the trunk of a car the "boot" - "Booting Day."

Of course, one must pick up enough stuff for one's loyal friends. This is Santa, his first lieutenant (short snowman), and four of his elite snowtroopers. They only look jolly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

(Amended with more pictures on Dec 29)

Ace Jackalope wishes you a Merry Christmas.

May Santalope bring tiki mugs, sputniks, and other cool things to all good girls and boys who appreciate retro-culture, patronize their local diners and utilize mom-and-pop motels when on the road. Oh, and who are nice to people.

A few of our Christmas Eve memories...

Now that's the way to laugh at adversity. A homeowner on South Delaware Street in Joplin, Missouri has decorated their pile of ice stormed branches.

My lovely significant other's present to me was wrapped in this cool googie paper she found. Her family opens presents on Christmas Eve.

Here, her niece takes a break from shredding wrapping paper long enough to model a doll's hat.

After leaving the girlfriend's family, I sought to experience a midnight mass conducted in a decently old church. I'm not sure why - perhaps a quest for diversity? Maybe I wanted to experience the transition to Christmas in the company of hundreds of folks for whom the holiday has a more religious significance than it does for me.

The constellation of Orion the Hunter rises above St. Peter's Church in Joplin, as the clock strikes midnight. It is now Christmas day.

Inside, worshipers engage in ritual. I'm not that familiar with what exactly one is supposed to do in a mass, but show me a group of people gathering at midnight to sing Christmas music in a church with architectural character and I'm darn fond of them. And I love the incense, too.

After mass, I stopped back by that decorated pile of limbs. It looks so festive at night.

Back at Mom's, Weaselhead the cat joins my brother and I in our own ritualistic late-night watching of Christmas cartoons. The Grinch? No. Frosty? No. It is our beloved classic, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the robot from the future as the Ghost of Christmas past. "Thousands of years ago..."

Sometimes you're just minding your own business, trying to photograph a jackalope and some reindeer on a tabletop when someone just barges in and naps on your set.

Of course, she had to mark the tree. I really thought she was going to knock it over. Note how Ace ignores her.

Finally, Weaselhead strikes a nice pose. I had added a Kon Tiki shot glass and a "Cars" Filmore the van autographed by artist Bob Waldmire to represent tiki and Route 66, two of the interests that enriched my year. I inserted the sputnik ornament in post-production to represent googie; had it really been there, the cat would have been knocking it around.

Bored with posing, Weaselhead exits the stage, knocking over the backdrop in the process. Note the professionalism of Ace, in that he holds his pose and doesn't even look at the commotion over his shoulder.

Neither distressed nor apologetic for striking the set prematurely, she uses the backdrop pieces as a ramp.

Merry Christmas!

Oh! And Merry Sputmas, too.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Driving Home

There's something contemplative and spiritual about a drive to the old family homestead right before Christmas, especially when it's cold enough to be Cristmasy, but you can't say "the weather outside is frightful." I was moving too early to catch rural Christmas lights, but the moon gifted me with this fine, sunset-lit rising on the second day of winter.

I'd been looking for a time to shoot the Parsons, Kansas, VFW neon sign. This was it.

A bit later, clouds (cirrus?) lent the moon this striated camouflage. Perhaps the moon is trying to hide from werewolves so they won't transform and bother Santa...ya think?

Back at ye ole' family homestead - It's serendipitous what one sees in the room when at the computer.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice

Yeah. It's Winter. I got your Winter right here. Hutchinson Kansas, looking north up Adams from Avenue A this morning.

It wasn't this bad most of the time, but there were these occasional whiteouts. This is only fair, since we had blackouts last week.

The wind makes cool jets of snow along the railroad tracks that parallel K-96.

My first entry into Hutchinson in 2007 was marked with snow, and it looks like I'll leave with snow as well. Roy's was the first place I ate in Hutch in 2007, and it will about be the last.

Sorry for the omission of the usual neolithic site picture this time, but I was too busy dealing with storm damage. I may add one if time permits.

Hey, I did. Sunset: Avebury, Wiltshire County, England, May of 1992 (not a special day, anymore than all days are special). The frame is a by-product of my crude way of slide reproduction. Can anyone recommend a good negative and/or slide scanner?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Star of Fredonia

When I was very young man, staring in wonder from the back of the car, the Yuletide sky was full of electric stars, or so I remember it to be.

Light bulb encrusted stars shown in the night, rotating above grain elevators - on smokestacks and tall buildings, straining against their moorings as they tried to truly rise, or so I imagined.

I imagined a lot of things. It's a gift.

I see far fewer of these electric stars nowadays and wonder at the culprit. Political correctness? The disappearance of family-owned corporations? Part of it might be the ever-growing number of big drive-through Christmas light displays in parks. It's hard for a star on a grain elevator to compete with that degree of a zazz factor.

On this first day of Winter, let me share with you a pleasant interlude I enjoyed on a recent trip through Southeast Kansas. I decided that night to decline the highway 400 bypass and take the old road through Fredonia. I was rewarded with the sight of an electric rotating star I'd almost forgotten about. Here it is, lording over the town square.

When I was a kid, I also wanted to see from the lofty perch those stars held, and in Fredonia you can do just that, for the star resides in a park atop the city's South Mound Park. The mound itself is an interesting geological feature and the night was slightly foggy, which added some appeal

According to employees of the city of Fredonia, the star was built in the early 1950s for the Lion's Club by Loren Ludlum, a Fredonia blacksmith. It is 40 feet tall and takes 55 light bulbs.

Because the star is rotating, the time exposure needed to capture its environment resulted in motion blur...which isn't always a bad thing.

Motion blur can be fun. This is one half revolution of the star (about 16 seconds). The concentric rings remind me of a mad scientist lab scene in the 1925 German expressionist silent film Metropolis.

It can be fun to time the rotation needed for the shape you want, and set the shutter speed accordingly.

Digital photography is great for this ability to almost instantly check one's results and improve upon them. I like these "swoopy" ones the most. This one reminds me of a corporate logo.

Here's a little video clip to give you the actual speed. You can hear the motor, too.

A day view I shot last May shows that the framework also contains a cross. According to the city of Fredonia's website, the cross is lit during Lent, and the star, during Advent.

There are great views from the park. Even the kilns of the Lafarge cement plant have a certain aesthetic appeal from up here at night. Of course, I had to mar that appeal by discovering that in 1999, the plant was issued a permit from the EPA to burn toxic waste.

The town square below and to the north reminds me of a tabletop model railroad layout.

This North 6th street, in the square.

And this is North 7th Street.

A daytime view last May shows the rural surroundings. As I write this - just as the Winter Solstice occurs - I'm thinking this would be a great place to watch the sunrise.

And look - an observation platform. Granted, it's not that high but it'll get you above most of the trees. In an age when cities have removed anything accident-prone from parks, I'm glad Fredonia has the sense to keep this intact. According to the Fredonia Chamber of Commerce, "the stones on the observation deck were once part of a nearby private school owned by the LaDow family who donated the land to the city for a park many years ago."

Elsewhere on the mound is water tank, labelled so you won't forget where you are, and a big honkin' flag in case you forget what country you're in.

On the tank is a local school mascot, a yellow jacket. (corrected Jan 20, 2008; I originally thought it was a hornet based on online sources, but have been politely corrected.)

Fortunately, Ace saw no stinging insects as he smelled the honeysuckle atop the mound.

Down on the square, this a daytime view toward the mound. The flag is 40 x 60 feet atop a 100 foot flagpole.

This clock tower, on the north side of the square, was built in the 1960's to house clockworks saved from the 1886 courthouse by local resident Gus Charlen.

You can see the antique clockworks through windows. It's kinda cool.

A man relaxes near the 1932 WPA-built bandstand. According to the city website, the roof dates from 1996 and replaced a damaged one, a photograph of which was used as a pattern.

The Gold Dust hotel was built in 1885 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now houses the Fredonia Chamber of Commerce and the Gold Dust Quilters. The upper floors are closed.

I've been photographing municipal holiday decorations for a post next year. Fredonia's have a nice mix of day and night appeal.

I first posted this picture in April of 2006. A reader commented: "Several years ago, the building's to the west of Doane's was in a major fire, and was torn down. But the one next to Doane's wall became weak, and unsafe so they had to tear that one down. And that was when the cool Wrigley's sign was exposed for the 1st time in many years."

Wrigley's signs seem to have a tendency to reveal themselves, as seen in this similar case from Ohio, as documented by the American Sign Museum, which also has a cool sputnik.

Here's a view inside Doane's. The place was fun to explore - lots of old stuff there. That's owner Beatrice Doane going over some papers. (Note added Jan 28, 2011: A story on KOAM TV reports that Beatrice has been at her job for over 80 years - a record that may be confirmed by Guinness Book of World Records. She will be 100 years old on March 17, 2011.)<

Elsewhere on the square, there was architectural detail to be enjoyed.

I wasn't expecting art deco. This building housed the City Drug store when I shot it last year, but an old photo at Doane's showed it to have been a power company building.

Moving on from the square, the mid-20th Century googie architecture style is represented at Fredonia High School.

The old Missouri Pacific depot hosted a flower shop when I shot it last year.

It looks like the office of the Cox Motel used to be a gas station. The current owner has only had the building about a year and is planning to research it. She believes it to be about 80 years old.

Even little touches, like neon "Vacancy" lettering, is appreciated by the nocturnal roadside aficionado.

The city also has a few cool Victorian homes, like this one at the base of the South Mound. Of course, I had to finish with a Christmas photo.

Additional video added on January 20, 2009, of the star on December 13, 2008. I recorded it without sound as there would have been much wind noise:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Christmas Color Fun

Since LED Christmas lights debuted on the market a couple years ago, I've wondered how they'd photograph alongside incandescent lights. Now I know. These houses are in the Houston Whiteside district of Hutchinson, Kansas.

The branches behind Ace are actually the top of a 12-foot tree fully bent over by ice. It eventually lost enough ice to snap back rather suddenly and took a nice little chunk out of the edge of my porch roof in doing so. Nevertheless, the lingering traces of snow and ice offered some fine opportunities.

For example, back lit snow. This shrub reminded me of a party light ball. By the way, when photographing Christmas lights, I find it helpful not only to set the camera's white balance to incandescent, but to remove much of the yellow and a bit of red in Photoshop in order to restore the appearance of the scene to the way it looked to our ever-compensating brains.

We see a scene like this as a group of lights that contains strong blues and greens, but since the light bulbs themselves are incandescent and of a very low (very yellow) color temperature, they photograph not as we perceive them but exactly as they are - yellow lights with glazes of other colors that seldom really overcome all that yellow and result in well-saturated cooler colors. In film photography we'd have used filters when shooting, and/or color compensation in a home enlarger or photo printing machine. These days, with digital cameras and photo programs, we have it much easier.

Does anyone else see a face here?

This snow is icing on a broccoli bush.

These gingerbread houses were part of an exhibit at the Reno County Museum. This one was made by Mae Yoder.

These two are part of a scene by Amy Sallee.

This is part of a scene by Paula Vogel.

Patti Sears made this one.

Back to full-scale and from frosting to snow. This is in a housing development in northern Hutchinson.

The blue light on the snow in front of Hutchinson Community College comes from a blue advertisement on a new electronic sign nearby.

I normally like a lot of color in Christmas displays, but I liked the angles here.

I'm fond, when visiting my mom at Thanksgiving, of trying to ply her into allowing Christmas decorations in her house earlier than she'd like. Some years ago, I came up with the ploy of pointing out other people's early displays and saying "your neighbors love the baby Jesus...(make sad eyes) don't you?"

It never works.

This photo is actually from December 1 of 2005. I found it in my archives and liked the fog.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ace's Weekend of Lasers, Women, Smoke, Fire, Ice, Rules, Jewels, Tools, Rockets and Yules

Editor's note: I had planned to run this post Monday, December 10, but power outages interfered, then the weather that caused them took center stage. After the oppressive gray and brown of overcast skies and tortured trees, I am pleased to present the colors of a last perfect Autumn weekend of Christmas fun, from a time that now seems long ago, when we all had electricity...

Lasers, Women, Smoke, Fire, Yules and Rules

A week ago Friday, Ace took a date to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Kansas Coliseum, near Wichita. As chauffeur, I was allowed to tag along. Those are green lasers emitting from the stage. Call me shallow but I'm always impressed by a good laser show.

The show is best described as hard rock Christmas songs with a bit of narration, opera and classical thrown in. A friend of mine, who also went, described it as "a jazzed-up ELO (Electric Light Orchestra)." Note the balls of fire on the right side of the stage.

The light show was fantastic, but then, that's no surprise since its one of the group's selling points. The lighting rigs often moved, which was quite an engineering feat, especially as they had to do so without excessive noise or danger to musicians below. Several large electronic backdrop curtains varied their appearance considerably, as shown in the starry background above.

I did think the first half of the show contained a bit too much forced sentimentality in the narration between Christmas songs, but judging from those around me, my feeling was not shared. I also thought the head-banging, hair tossing behavior of some of the performers, particularly the guitarists, was a bit overdone; but then, I'm used to geezer rock, as my significant other calls it, and 60 year-old prog-rock musicians don't do a lot of head-banging at those reunions.

And I should clarify, the musicianship was really good. I particularly enjoyed the second half of the show with its hard rock and classical emphasis (Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is just made for bombastic presentation). I know this band has hosted special guests, like Greg Lake of Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP) and Jon Anderson from Yes on previous occasions; I'd sure like to see TSO, as its fans call it, do more progressive rock from the likes of Yes, Genesis and ELP.

Speaking of ELP - with all those lasers, explosions, histrionics and running musicians on lifts, the show reminded me of a high-tech musical circus. I could easily imagine the Master of Ceremonies shouting "Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends" ala ELP's Karn Evil 9.

This very talented operatic singer (with "legs all the way up", said a friend) was on a stage opposite the main stage on the floor. This was one of two times performers ran back to this rear stage and gave those with the more distant seats a thrill - and this chick actually sang as she ran.

The rear stage was a very nice touch, and really lessens any dissatisfaction of having far-back seats. Of course, with the huge light show on stage, there was plenty of detail to see on any scale. Like I said, all those special effects are great selling point. It's no coincidence that TSO was used in a much net-forwarded video featuring a house with synchronized Christmas lights.

I can imagine the following exchange between a couple planning an evening out:

woman: "Lets go to the (man isn't paying attention to name) orchestra."
man: "I want to stay home and watch football."
woman: "There'll be women, fire and lasers."
man: "I'll get my coat."

I was rather confused as to whether photography was allowed. I called the Kansas Coliseum on the day of the show and was told is was allowed, as long as the camera was not professional with "real lenses" (plural). This was in line with what their website states. My camera, a half-dead Sony DSC-H2, is pretty much an expensive point-and-shoot with a non-interchangeable lens.

Early in the show, but after fog machines had been used to accentuate the lasers, a woman beside me used a small point-and-shoot camera and her flash, doubtlessly set to the default setting, went off. Flashes, you know, are more than useless at such a distance in a fogged room - they actually sabotage your chances of getting a good shot because they light up the smoke between you and the stage, resulting in an underexposed, whitish mass.

Immediately after this, a security person descended on her and said that no photography was allowed. I was relatively sure I should go with what I was told by the office and not what one security person had said, but I was cautious in my use of the camera.

Upon leaving the arena, I spotted this sign. Whew! I hadn't seen it coming in, probably because we were in such a crush of people trying to get in the doors and out of the cold.

Would I see TSO again?

Of course. After all, they have women, fire and lasers. (Fire...Good!)

Woman and Jewels

It's never to early to plan one's wardrobe for the next big trip. Ace will be going out west again in the Spring, so in his pursuit of a good bola tie, he sought the expertise of jackalope chauffeur and jewelry designer Mia Denman, who made the pieces below.

This one reads "wisdom" on the necklace clasp and "luck" on the bracelet clasp.

I've never worn jewelry, although I once wanted a Green Lantern power ring. However, I do like to look at Mia's works, particularly those which use stones.

Tools, Rockets and Yules

On the way back to Hutchinson Saturday morning, I was becoming concerned about an ice storm that was forecast for the weekend and I wanted to buy some ice melting granules for my sidewalk. I tried to add some charm to my afternoon and avoid the crowds at Wal-Mart by stopping at Yoder Hardware, a few miles from Hutchinson in the largely Amish town of Yoder. I don't often photograph the Amish - they're not crazy about that - but I did show their preferred method of transit in a previous post on the MCC Sale.

I was immediately struck by the contrast of a retro pedal rocket in an all-wood hardware store. I don't expect such a place to evoke the future that wasn't.

Because this store caters to the Amish, they carry an extensive supply of oil lamps and accessories. Just a few days later, as I sat in the dark, I really wished I'd have bought one of those.

We used to have these match holders at our cabin when I was a kid. I had no idea they were available new.

I asked the proprietor if these basic wooden toys (Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, etc.) were sold primarily to the Amish or to tourists. He said they were "for all kinds." I rather suspect they are usually bought by tourists.

"Sleigh bells ring; are you listening?" These are real sleigh bells, made by a local harness maker.

This antique scale is still used for weighing nails.

I loved the wooden spiral stairs. I asked the age of the store and was told it dated to 1926, with a few additions since then.

This rotating octagonal cabinet holds screws of various sizes.

Foreseeing a winter like the last one - full of ice, snow and (what I hate to walk in the most) slush, I bought a set of these no-frills rubber boots. I am told farmers use them for mucking through mud and all sorts of livestock by-products. As I trounced around in a blanket of snow the following week, I was sure glad I had them.


On the way down Yoder Road to Hutchinson, I saw a preview of what the next few days would bring. I remember thinking "cool; I have an ice photo." If I only had known this wave of ice was only a precursor to a more devastating ice storm that would come two days later.


Saturday afternoon, I attended a lecture at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space center. The speaker was Dr. Michael J Neufeld, Chairman of the Space History Division of the National Air and Space Museum. I've enjoyed the Smithsonian a few times, and used a few of my pictures from the Air and Space Museum for a story on the anniversary of the moon landing.

He spoke mostly about the topic of his book, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War.

Von Braun is one of history's morally ambiguous characters - a prime mover in both the Nazi rocket program and the subsequent U.S./Soviet space race.

There is a really good, concise interview with Neufeld about Von Braun at the Smithsonian's Air and Space magazine online. In it, Neufeld says Von Braun had "sleep-walked into a Faustian bargain" with the Third Reich, as far as the use of concentration camp labor in the production of the rockets which impassioned him. Now that's a good quote.

Speaking of good quotes, I was able to question him about Sputnik and Vanguard imagery in order to update my story about Sputnik's effect on Mid-20th Century signage.

Women and Yules

From moral ambiguity to party gaiety. Ace attended Patsy Terrell's Christmas party that night.

Here he is with Hutchinson's Vice Mayor Trish Rose, Patsy, Kris Schindler, and Andrea Springer.

I asked Trish why vice needed a mayor. I knew it was a bad joke, but I couldn't stop myself. She said she hadn't heard that one.

I fondly remember getting to know Andrea when she hosted the local public radio station's new age music program, Nightcrossings, back when new age was new. Since then she's had a knack for interesting work, having been involved with the beautiful Fox Theatre, for example.

He always wishes to dress nicely for such a special occasion, so Ace wore a sweater he obtained at Harrods last year.

I had to delve more into the ornaments on Patsy's Christmas tree.

This green Santa also made an appearance. He's a 38-inch 7-Up point-of-purchase display made by the defunct Superior Display Company of Kansas City. I'd love to know more about the history of commercial Christmas display manufacturers. I invite anyone with similar interests to contact me via the email address listed on my blogger profile.


I found this really impressive display of home-made Christmas automations in Hutchinson last Sunday, but that will have to wait for better weather and restored power to fully document them. I'm afraid that many a light display is now damaged. However, I was able to get out tonight (Dec 16) and shoot a few that were powered.

Until I an shoot more of this man's work, here's a teaser.

I've yet to find an automated Christmas display anywhere that matches the sheer cacophonous mass of Mike Babick's house in Prairie Village, Kansas. But in the meantime, I can show you a quite respectable automated Santa Claus who holds court from a stately Victorian home at First and Plum streets in Hutchinson.

I don't know who manufactured him, but I'd lay odds on Gemmy Industries of Texas, though he doesn't seem to be in their catalog now.

This Santa talks and sings, so of course I shot a video clip. Play me out, Santa!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Like you really wanted to see more ice photos...

Night before last (Wed, Dec 12), I spent a couple hours on the 43rd Street bridge north of Hutchinson, Kansas, overlooking the Union Pacific track. I was hoping to catch a train going either direction in the ice-shrouded trench below. Just as I really had to leave, this northbound train slid through the deeply shaded icy blue, just at dusk.

Late that night, I went driving with a very discontented friend, whose power is still out. She'd been told crews were working around the clock. We counted 48 power company trucks in the lot of the Grand Prairie hotel and convention center.

Who wouldn't check out their local cemetery after an ice storm? This is Eastside Cemetery in Hutchinson, with which I've had winter fun previously. This was Thursday morning.

The sun had come out, and for a change, the background was blue instead of gray.

I feel almost guilty about this...almost...but I kind of hate to see the ice melt away so soon. I just want the power workers to restore everyone while I go around appreciating the beauty of what a simple weather phenomenon can sculpt.

This tortured tree might feel differently. That Orthanc-like wall behind it is a grain elevator along K-61.

I left Hutchinson on a there and back again mission yesterday to see a train. On my way out of town, I found myself under power lines with melting ice and could move neither forward nor back. I started recording just in case and, wouldn't you know it. The car was not scratched or dented.

Along Kansas highway 56, east of McPherson, I encountered this hay bale snowman, complete with barrel and tire hat. maybe I'm growing simple in my middle-age, but I'm appreciating these hay bale examples of holiday decoration more and more.

As I headed east and the sunny day progressed, ice continued to melt over a landscape that had less of it to begin with. These iced trees looked somewhat exotic when rising out of an iceless prairie.

And just how much water is locked up in all that ice? A lot, I tell you. If there's a bright side to this, think about the water table.

Would you like some snow with that?

Hutchinson, Kansas, already hard-hit by this week's ice storm, sees the beginning of a storm that is forecast to dump as much as ten inches of snow on top of downed power lines and tree limbs. Areas that did not get direct sun yesterday still have ice-laden trees and power lines; a problem the snow will only exacerbate. Here. shoppers leave the Hutchinson Mall parking lot about 45 minutes after the snow had started about 3:15 PM.

Yesterday's sunny weather melted much of the ice, leaving de-iced limbs everywhere. The roads wasted no time in becoming a bit slick.

I begin to weary of frozen water. Of course...I really should go out and look for snow pics. Yeah.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gray Day after the Hutchinson Kansas Ice Storm

This is a continuation of ice storm coverage started here. The widespread Midwestern storm hit Hutchinson, Kansas, on December 10, 2007, and continued through the night, tapering off the afternoon of December 11.

When people say they want a car under the tree this Christmas, I don't think they have this scenario in mind, but it was not a unique sight as people woke up to the damage caused by the ice storm. Many people had moved their vehicles when they knew the storm was coming, but occasionally you'd run into someone who hadn't, or a case like I suspect this was, in which there was simply no place to go for some distance around that didn't have big trees.

As I was shooting this, a man on his front porch shouted that he wished he had a nickle for everyone who's taken this picture today. That's St Theresa Catholic Church in the background.

This obstacle course of downed limbs was a typical scene on Hutchinson's older, narrower streets in neighborhoods with mature trees.

Wider main streets were cleared fairly quickly. I'm curious to see how long it will take to clean this all up.

This is one of those "drive under it if you dare" situations.

These poplar trees line the median on 11th street between Plum and Severance. They bent, but I didn't see a lot of breakage.

Doubtless you've noticed the almost monochromatic dullness of these pictures. That's the way it really looks. Christmas decorations that had looked so pretty during last night's nocturnal explorations of the ice in the city, succumbed to the overwhelming grayness of the day. I found myself thirsting for anything that had some color.

Even this small patch of reddish-brown grass was a welcome variation.

Aesthetics were not the main headache for most residents, nor even were they mine. Ice-laden trees had taken out power lines all of the previous night, and were still doing so today. The loud bangs of exploding transformers became bass drums to punctuate the higher percussion of falling limbs. Power was either off or sporadic for - I would estimate - half the city today. Mine came and went several times.

North of the city, these power lines are unlikely to fall due to the lack of trees.

Limbs on roofs were not uncommon. In fact, I have one on my house from a tree that stands on my property line. I've always chided Kansans for a "clear the land" tendency that seems almost genetic, but I'm starting to change my mind. Enjoy a shaded house in the summer or remove a hazard for winter? Decisions, decisions.

These folks in a housing division north of 30th Street have used wood supports to make sure this branch does not crack and fall on their driveway.

There's no escaping the conclusion that a city's everyday sights take on a new look when the mercury drops. Bonus points to anyone who can correctly identify this iced object.

I found this scene - another trapped car - on Idlewild.

While I was shooting the photo above, part-time tree-trimmer Jordan Whitehead of Andover (right) drove up and asked if it was my house, then, if I needed any trees removed. He says that many people in his profession have converging on Hutchinson. I asked him how he found clients and he said "we just find a street that no one's taken care of and go door to door."

After Whitehead drove away, I continued shooting and the daughter of the woman who owns the house drove by and asked if I was a tree trimmer. I told her one had just been here not one minute before. She said the house belongs to Carol Coons.

I couldn't resist shooting this video clip of Travis Hays hitting frozen branches on Avenue A. He says he has to mow under this tree in the summer. "It always bugged me but I could never break it during the summer so I'm taking care of it now. When summer comes this will all be gone."

See more ice storm photos from fellow blogger Patsy Terrell.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hutchinson, KS, Ice Storm, Dec 10, 2007

This may well be a growing post to which I add as I am able to take more pictures. I'm trying to get something posted during periods when I have power. Stay Tuned.

This is the same storm system that afflicted north parts of Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas and Southeast Missouri, including Joplin, with an ice storm earlier today. These houses are in the north side of the 600 block of East Avenue A in Hutchinson, KS. This was 10:15 PM, December 10, 2007.

Same block, different house. I chose these houses because they had Christmas lights, hence, back lighting for the ice.

Wanna hear a branch crack and fall off a tree? There is no picture, as the sensitivity of my camera in video mode is not sufficient, but you can sure hear the noise. I could hear it starting to go, and see it sagging more and more as I was waiting for the camera to finish processing the shot of the second house above. As soon as it did so, I switched the camera to video as fast as I could and swivelled on the tripod to the tree. Right as I shot this, it started raining much harder so I sought shelter for the camera for awhile. It was 10:16 PM.

One of Hutchinson's downtown Christmas decorations, on the West side of Main Street, just north of Avenue A, is seen from Avenue A Park at 2:06 AM.

The star on the back of Memorial Hall lords over Avenue A Park at 2:20 AM.

Looking south down the west side of Main Street at 2:15 AM.

Power crews were working all over the place, of course. 2:45 am

The gifts of the Magi did not include this. This is the nativity at Trinity Lutheran Church at 17th and Main Streets. 3:04 AM

The streets were wet, but not icy at 3:05 AM.

Multiple branches were down on every block. Not a minute passed that I didn't hear one crashing somewhere. This is the view looking south down Main Street from about 15th at 3:07 AM.

Looking south down Main Street from about 4th and Main at 3:16 AM

4th and Main streets at 3:17 AM

The Amtrak glides alongside frozen power lines at 3:28 AM, as seen from the K-61 bridge.

Virtually everything was now an armature for ice. 3:36 AM

Joplin Ice Storm: Breaking News, Breaking Branches

Special correspondent Steve Holmes (my brother) send me three great ice storm photos from Joplin, Missouri, today.

I asked him to send this view of a maple tree, seen through my mom's dining room window this afternoon. He was happy to do so, as they were without power and he said there was little else he could accomplish. As of 9:25 PM their power had been restored.

Compare to the same view, which I shot Thanksgiving Day.

If it looks familiar, you may have seen my shot of it this past January, during that ice storm. Note that the tree had a major branch on the top right that has now been broken.

As Steve has illustrated, mom's shrubs are not liking this either.

Steve checked out the KCS track, as seen from Lone Elm Road, looking north. It looks as if they are tending to problem branches.

I'll try to post some photos from Hutchinson, Kansas. It will be problematic as our power is erratic at the moment. It has been raining hard here since
this afternoon. The temperature is 27 degrees as I write this, and we are due for as much as 1.5 inches of freezing rain before this ends late tomorrow. We are so screwed - or not. It's the weather, so who knows?

I'd love to be able to photograph the vintage diesel locomotives pulling the Kansas City Southern's Holiday Express as it passes through Anderson, Missouri, Pittsburg, Kansas or Drexel, Missouri this week. That's a "wait and see" deal, at this point.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Joplin Christmas Window Display

I've always have my urban radar tuned to find animated Christmas window displays.

Ahh...the nod of a composition elf...the frenetic wave and turn of a Harold Gale Display Company model 606 Santa...these are the things that send my baby-boomer heart aloft in nostalgic yuletide cheer.

Though I've had no luck with that so far this season, I did run across this static window display of Victorian carolers at the old Newman's Building on Main Street in Joplin, Missouri. The building is in the 600 block of South Main Street, on the seven-block stretch of Main that was (and is) Route 66.

The Newman's Building was built in 1910, and housed Newman's Department Store until 1972. Like many downtown buildings, it had a bit of an uncertain fate in the mall era, but seems to have found a purpose for the moment in housing the Joplin City Hall. You can see a daytime side view of the building in my Flag Day post.

The figures are new, and were manufactured by a company in Louisiana. This lack of vintage status does not bother me. Frankly, it's refreshing to see that any downtown entity decided to put much thought into a holiday display that is more than a stuffed Santa in a window, especially in downtown Joplin, which hasn't been into that sort of thing since its bigger stores went "anchors aweigh" and set sail for Northpark Mall.

I remember the intricate animated displays in long-gone stores that thrived in the 1960s Joplin of my youth. I've collected a few from flea markets and such, and seen some colossal displays of surviving pieces, but it's not the same as seeing them in their natural environment.

According to a Joplin Globe article, City Clerk Barbara Hogelin says her ultimate goal is to have an animated display in the window.

Barbara, you're our kind of people.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Triangle in the Sky

Wednesday Morning, 3AM

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fall Cleaning, 2007

With the Christmas parade and Thanksgiving coming so early, the fading notes of Fall got rather lost in the opening chords of the Christmas season. I had some Fall pics I haven't posted yet, so, like last year, I'm sweeping them out of the hard drive and onto the net.

This group was shot at the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, on November 2.

I highly recommend the place for walks in any season.

This is another cropping of the leaves at top.

A group of red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) enjoys basking on a log in the south pond of the nature center. Sliders gained their name from their habit of sliding off into the water when disturbed. I imagine just about every hiker, fisherman and canoeist has seen this happen.

If you're old enough to have bought one of those baby green turtles with red spots on the sides of their heads that were sold in pet stores, you might like to know that this is what it would have looked like as an adult, had it not: A. died; B. escaped; C. been released by your sister; D. been traded for a baseball card. At up to 11 inches long, it would have been too big for that little plastic bowl, anyway.

The long fore claws of the red-eared slider can be seen in this solitary specimen, which is probably a male as their claws are longer. Males will swim backward in front of a female, facing her, and flutter their claws rapidly as a mating ritual. This behavior is also displayed as a territorial assertion. Sliders rarely bite when you pick them up, but they are deceptively strong, and those claws - though not too sharp - have some leverage behind them.

I actually shot these next two at the nature center on August 25. That thing to the left of the dragonfly is a slider surfacing for a view.

Catching a flittering dragonfly with a camera that has a significant shutter lag is a problem, but I really wanted a foreground for the Monet-esque watery background. So, I just kept shooting the branch and eventually the critter landed atop it. It's a good thing it's digital - I had 96 pictures of an empty branch.

Joplin, Missouri, November 4.

Just tonight, we had this nice sunset in Hutchinson. I saw it as soon I left the house for dinner with a friend, and knowing that we had only a couple minutes of such saturated color, we found as decent a foreground as we could.

We don't get too many of these cloud-enhanced sunsets - not nearly as many as in Missouri. I guess we're a little short on moisture for clouds.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

See Patsy's Tree

Welcome to December!

Wanna see pictures of something cool, that you can actually go see in person?

If the Christmas season has a singular icon to me, it's my friend Patsy's tree.

Not the tree in the foreground, mind you.

This Tree

Over 10,000 lights.

About 2,000 ornaments.

All of it crammed onto a 7 1/2' tree that generates enough heat that you can feel it a few feet away.

Patsy's tree is often the focus of "excess" jokes among her friends...well, mostly me. I commented today that you could cook a hot dog in that thing. I should mention though, that we all look forward to basking in its incandescent glow.

And you can too, Sunday, December 2 on the Reno County (Kansas) Mental Health Association's Christmas at Home Tour. Patsy is Executive Director of the association and has put her house on the annual tour as a refreshment stop.

I enjoy orbiting the tree with a camera, like a space probe recording the surface of an alien planet.

Many of her ornaments are souvenirs of road trips. This snowman hails from Quebec.

Of course, I love the starburst.

The soldier is a souvenir from a trip to London.

There are several Jesus'...Jesuses...Jesae(?) from a shop near the Vatican.

Rankin-Bass, how we do love thee.

Patsy's mom bought her this Avon Ornament back in the 1980s. It is one of the first ornaments Patsy got as an adult.

Our friend Mark got her this cow. Well, actually, he got it at the Kansas State Fair for someone else and Patsy latched onto it, chanting "It speaks to me, it speaks to me." It had to be this cow, and no other, mind you. Finally, he relented and chose a different one for its original intended recipient.

Ace will be hanging out at Patsy's place. If you'd like, she'll take your picture with him and I'll put you on this blog.

Santae abound.

Personally, I like these vintage reindeer.

Father Christmas himself will be in attendance at one of the homes.

For information on tickets and the five houses involved, see the Christmas at Home Tour website, email Patsy at or call her at 663-7772.

A Model City

Ace checked out the Joplin (Missouri) Museum Complex Train Show and Swap Meet last Saturday, November 24. The building in which the show was held also houses the Joplin Mineral Museum, which, along with Schifferdecker Park in which it resides, have been "recognized by Hampton Hotels Save-A-Landmark program as a site worth seeing." Proceeds from admission charges to the show ($3 each) went to the Joplin Museum Complex.

This Lionel O-gauge model of a diesel passenger engine is painted as a late version of the Southern Belle, a Kansas City Southern passenger train.

I was pleased to run into Jim Taylor, a childhood friend of mine. Jim and I chased many a train in our younger days, and even modelled a few. I learned photography for just that purpose, and Jim was always nearby with a radio, listening to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Life sometimes works in predictable, albeit fortunate, ways. I became a photographer, and Jim is a well-recognized voice in sportscasting in southwest Missouri. I only dabble in trains these days, having lost interest in all but classic locomotives. Jim stays updated on the railroads' various doings, and rides the upward curve of model railroad materials and technology.

And, man! The hobby is light-years ahead of where it was when my brother and I ran HO trains with friends in my parents' attic. Jim is inspecting some of his work on the Tri-State Model Railroaders Club layout, which was on exhibit at the show. Model layouts often have fictional identities; this end of the club's layout is the town of Lanier, named for Willie Lanier, Football Hall of Fame linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jim, and fellow enthusiast Dale Rush, made this grain elevator, which is named for Newt Kiley, a character from the Green Acres TV show. The Piggly Wiggly building is a kit from the company, City Classics. The lettering came from photographs of a store in Warrensburg, Missouri.

Jim made these buildings and two other model railroaders - Ned Mayes and Gregg Whitsett - did the roadway. They plan to add sidewalks. Becker-Evers is an actual furniture store in Jefferson City, Mo.

The Village is designed from a store in Anderson, Mo. The hanging Rexall sign is made from a photograph of the former College Pharmacy in Carthage, Mo. Every time I see a Rexall sign, I shed an inner tear for Hunter Drug in Greensburg, Kansas.

Jim made this bus depot from a Walthers Kit. The town at this end of the layout is named Gibson, for Bob Gibson, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Dale and Ned made this close replica of the Truitt's Cave building - a Lanagan, Missouri, institution - from scratch.

The late Frisco railroad is very dear to me, as it ran across the street from the house in which I grew up. Jim customized this Atlas model company Frisco GP-7 to look like one that regularly ran in Joplin. Ned and Jon Sykes made the trestle. The Otis Campbell Bottling Company is an homage to Otis Campbell, the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show.

I was tickled to see a couple of Route 66 touches at the show. Jim made this barn from a kit. Ned Mayes made the Meramac Caverns decal and Jim applied it.

Jon made this bridge This bridge is a kit from Luck of the Irish, a Kansas City company. It reminds me of the rainbow arch bridge along Route 66 in Kansas.

Model railroader and entrepreneur Dale Rush poses with his wife, Karla and daughter, Leanna.

This layout is N-gauge - smaller than the previous one pictured. Rush owns Blain Line LLC, a company specializing in the model railroad buildings and signs he displays on his layout.

Take a closer look at his Meadow Gold sign; it's probably modeled on the one that used to grace the corner of 11th and Lewis in Tulsa, along Route 66.

And lo and behold - another Meramac Caverns barn. Rush is quite the roadside attractions aficionado and says he actually prefers roadside attractions to railroads. However, model railroaders are pretty much the customer base for model buildings and signs.

I'd say the layouts met the expectations of this young fan.