Cozy Bed by the Fire Picture of the Week

Cozy Bed by the Fire - A discarded box spring left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.
Cozy Bed by the Fire – A discarded box spring someone left inside the abandoned Richardson House at Union Pass.

Neither of my grandfathers was around when I grew up, but their wives were more than a kid could handle. I don’t know of two women that were such opposites. They were the prototype for the good-cop/bad-cop routine used by police worldwide. My parents invited each to live with us at one time or another. For us kids, it was like having four bosses—with different agendas.

My dad’s mom was a short stalky woman who spoke with a Polish accent, even though she was born in Pittsburg. That was the primary language in the neighborhood where she lived. When I was in kindergarten, my mom made my dad move to the suburbs after I came home swearing in Polish. Her name was Regina, but we always called her grandma—or Grandma Witt when they were both around. She earned money for cleaning downtown offices at night. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but she owned her home up on Leander Street—the Rodeo Drive of Polack Hill.

After she retired, she joined us in California, and my parents paid her to clean our house—which never needed cleaning. Except for Christmas cookies, she was a terrible cook. She used vinegar in everything, and her favorite vegetable was sauerkraut. On Wednesdays, she’d make pork chops. According to her, they weren’t cooked until they were dry and brittle as their serving plate. It took years to get over my disdain for pork. When we would test her boundaries, the extent of her discipline ended with the phrase, “I’m going to tell your father when he gets home.” She never did, so we got away with murder.

Mom’s mother, on the other hand, was a terrorist. I don’t know how her seven children made it out alive because she detested kids. We called her Grandma Moore even though she took back her maiden name after divorcing my granddad. She was thinner and a couple of inches taller than dad’s mom, and we kids called her Mean Grandma. Whenever my mom would announce that she was coming to stay with us, we tuned up and bawled. My mom told us she was a registered nurse, but her remedy for anything was mercurochrome or Bromo Quinine. If you ever saw a red-splotched child heaving at the curb, that was us.

One time my dad came home on a payday and surprised us with brand new toys. They were those wooden paddles with a red ball attached by a rubber string. The goal was to continuously bounce the ball off the paddle like a horizontal yoyo (Because I lacked coordination, the ball kept smacking me in the face). The day my parents returned to work, she tore the ball and band off and kept the paddles handy to swat us when we got out of line.

I remember her telling us that we were all heathens and should behave more like our cousins. After she died and we all gathered for her funeral, those cousins recounted how my sisters and I were her examples of well-behaved children. That’s when I realized that she acted the same with all her grandkids.

At one point in my photography career, I began shooting trash furniture. I took one picture of a chair, and then I began to see discarded furniture everywhere. It jumped out at me. I have an extensive collection of chairs I found dumped on the street, and you can see some of them in my Have A Seat gallery. When I was shooting at the Richardson Homestead last month and stuck my head inside the house, I came up with the ironic title before I snapped the photo. Even though it’s garbage, Queen Anne and I have stayed in motels that weren’t much better.

I stepped inside, but when I framed the shot, I was too close—even with my widest lens. I had to back up to get everything in the frame. When I stood outside the door, its structure got in the shot, so the perfect place to stand was in the doorway. But, since that was the scene’s primary light source, the stage was too dark. I was blocking the incoming light. That’s when I heard Grandma Moor’s voice in my head reciting one of her favorite phrases, “You make a better door than a window.” She would always say that whenever we stood in front of the TV. Forty years after her death, she haunts the darker corners of my brain.

I finally figured out how to get this week’s photo without the dreaded slow-shutter blur. I call this image Cozy Bed by the Fire, and you can see the larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see the next shot from my morning at the Richardson Homestead.

Till Next Time
jw

Stamp Mill Picture of the Week

Everyone has heard the axiom, “All roads lead to Rome.” Well, not in Yavapai County, they don’t. Over the past couple of years of traveling Arizona’s back roads, I’ve found that they lead to mines, and with good reason. We all have a vision of a dusty prospector sneaking off with a couple of burros to a secret gold mine in the mountains—this is before he became the Arizona Lottery huckster. A man like Jacob Waltz may discover a vein of gold, but it takes a corporation to extract it effectively.

To make a ton of money, you have to move a thousand tons of ore. A couple of burlap sacks strapped to a burro’s back just won’t do. You have to move unrefined earth by wagon, truck, or railroad car. So part of The Company’s infrastructure is getting things to and from the mine site. That is the Phelps-Dodge and the Senator Mine story—and this month’s back road adventure.

While bouncing along the Senator Highway in R-Chee (according to his license plate that’s the correct spelling), Anne suddenly blurted, “There’s a large building down there.” Since my side wasn’t overlooking the cliff, I couldn’t see it, so I stopped the truck and walked back to see the steel skeleton of an old structure. “Cool,” I told her as I climbed back into the driver’s seat. “It’s too early, so we’ll stop on the way back when the light is better.”

Stamp Mill - The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill are perched above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River.
Stamp Mill – The ruins of the Senator mine stamp mill perches above the headwaters of the Hassayampa River. The mill is visible on Google Earth if you zoom in to the Senator Highway where it crosses the Hassayampa River.

After some research, I found out that the building was a 10-unit stamp mill for the Senator mines. As rock came from one of the three parallel shafts, the miners hauled it to the mill, where the hammers pounded big boulders into small ones. As far as ghost towns go, we struck gold (I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry). Concrete foundations usually are all we find in these places, but since this frame was a steel and not timber, the skeleton survives and gives scale to its size. From the road, I could easily walk down the stairs and wander the four floors. Vandals have decorated the remaining vertical walls for Christmas with colorful graffiti everywhere, so I guessed that we weren’t the first people to find this place.

Kennecott Mine - The Kennecott mining town is preserved in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.
Kennecott Mine – The National Park Service has preserved the Kennecott mining in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska. This photo should give you an idea of how a mill looked with the clapboard still intact.

In Alaska, I visited a similar mill at the Kennecott Mine in the Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. At this location, the Park Service keeps that building in an arrested state of decay, and it still has the red clapboard siding. I wanted to show you how the Senator stamp mill might have looked while it was running, so I’m including my Alaska photo.

For this week’s featured image—that I call Stamp Mill—I wanted to show the building and its environment, which is hard to do while standing inside of it. So, I took this shot from the far side of the Hassayampa River Canyon as the sun hung low in the western sky. I was lucky in that the remaining silver paint glowed in the afternoon sun, which makes the frame pop from the background.

You can see a larger version of Stamp Mill on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you like it. Be sure to come back next week when we present the final image from our drive on the Senator Highway.

Until next time — jw

Chevy Skull Picture of the Week

I began writing a post for this week’s picture, and I started to wonder how cow skulls (horns) and car hoods became a thing. It seemed to originate in Texas. My earliest recollection of the meme was a red ’59 Caddy convertible with a longhorn hood ornament—or maybe that was JR’s car on Dallas. As a car guy, I never understood why you’d tacky up a perfectly good car with bovine parts. I guess it symbolized decadent wealth—that you had so much money; you could thumb your nose at decorum. A new money thing.

Then the genre moved to New Mexico, and the horns became a whole skull. Often the cow’s head is hand painted or jewel encrusted. The cars changed too. They were no longer shiny new Cadillacs, but heaps from the fifties with rust and dull patina. The whole car-cow thing transitioned from tackiness to art.

Chevy Skull
Chevy Skull – A cow skull decorates the hood of a 40’s era Chevy Truck and whispers tales of cattle ranching during the Second World War in Seligman.

While I was photographing in Seligman, I saw this Chevy truck with a cow skull on the hood, I didn’t bat an eye and thought to myself, “This seems perfectly normal.” Now that I look at this week’s image, I don’t think the skull is even mounted—it’s just sitting there as decoration. It’s interesting that each object in the photograph would tell a story of their own, but combined; they conjure up an entirely different tale. I imagine a narrative of round-ups, chuck wagons, miles of open range, and nights under the stars. I imagine a story about a rancher growing beef during the Second World War and how hard his life was.

Sometimes when I walk away from shooting an image like this, I have a hunch that it’s a good shot and I can’t wait to see it on paper. This one, however, didn’t stand out in my memory. It wasn’t until I saw it on my computer screen that I considered it a keeper. For me, it’s not really about the skull as much as how the sunrise falls on the truck’s grill. The head balances the dark area in the composition. I named this image Chevy Skull.

You can see a larger version of Chevy Skull on its Web Page by clicking here. I hope you enjoy viewing this week’s post and come back next week when we’ll show another featured image from Seligman and Route 66.

Until next time — jw

Yuma Again

Queen and I did our quarterly dentist run early this week. I’ve already talked about Algodones, so I don’t want to discuss the border town again, except to say that the weather has grown much warmer and the snowbirds that flock to the western Arizona counties have grown thin. The lines at the Customs Station are nil. We were able to get on the road home by 2:30 yesterday.

Today I want to talk about a couple of Yuma bright spots. There aren’t many, so when I find one, it’s a pleasant surprise. Yuma has a Marine base and in winter when the snowbirds arrive, its population triples . Other than that, most people only get off the interstate to top off the gas tank on their way to San Diego (or back).

If our dental visits call for lab work, we’ll book a room in a chain motel. Most of them include a (so-called) breakfast. Generally the fare consists of packaged microwave rubber omelets, assorted cold cereal, fruit, waffles (if you’re lucky) and/or toast and bagels. At best, it’s airline food, but it saves having to walk across the street to Mickey D’s. That’s what we did until our last trip when I convinced Anne to forgo the buffet for Brownie’s Café.

Browies Cafe
The place ain’t swank, but the place is always crowed and the food is old-fashioned good. Locate on South 4th Avenue off Interstate 8.

My first meal at Brownie’s was on a solo trip to Yuma. While exploring south 4th Avenue one morning, I spotted the large Café sign and thought that it would be really good or really bad, so I stopped to find out. The packed parking lot is usually a good sign. I stopped again with Jeff on our photo trip to the Salton Sea a couple of years later. After two more meals with Anne, I’m convinced it’s a gem right out of The Twilight Zone.

It’s a counter diner from the 1950s. The back dining area, crowed with tables and booths, is always filled with patrons, but on weekdays, you can usually find an open table. As you look around the room, you’re assured that this isn’t a campy place nostalgically decorated; this is the real thing and has probably been this way for thirty years. The building and the decor have been there for a while and they show wear. To put it bluntly; this is not a shiny new place. If that’s a key point of yours, go somewhere else.

In the table’s center are four beige half-inch thick industrial ceramic coffee cups. When you turn one right-side-up, the wait-staff instantly fills it without asking as they deliver the menus. The menu nothing fancy on it; instead there are all the items you’d expect. The plates are not large, but the food is properly cooked, just as you ordered.

My favorite is the Walt Kammann Sausage and eggs. The sausage is from a local butcher that has made it for over fifty years. It’s similar to a brat but spicier with flavors like linguica (Portuguese sausage) and lots of  fennel like you find in Italian sausage. The sausage is a point of pride in Yuma.

Yuma Mural
Anne checks her cell phone by one of the murals at Yuma Landing.

North of Brownie’s on 4th Avenue is a place called Yuma Landing with a Restaurant of the same name. I had always assumed that the name came from nautical origins, probably from Colorado Steamboats or something of that sort. I was mistaken. When we stopped to look at a monument, I found out the name comes from early aviation. In 1911, pilot Robert Fowler landed the first airplane ever in Arizona on that site. He was on a cross country trip flying a Wright Model B biplane which he completed in Florida forty-nine days later. The place has a plaque, a statue of Mr. Fowler and a couple of cool murals. It’s a big deal for Yumans . . . probably because nothing else interesting has happened in Yuma since.

Till then . . . jw

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