It’s Alive!!! ( Large Format Copy Stand)

“The Contraption” as my wife refers to it,  is complete!

its aliveAnd yes it does carry a vague resemblance to Dr. Frankenstein’s work table illustrated above.  Some seven months ago I hit a bit of a wall on making progress on “The Blue Max Project” when I mocked up this copy stand.


I made a number of discoveries with this mock up.  My digital camera was not good enough to allow for low f stop long exposure work.  The masonite work surface was not the right backdrop for the journal photos.  Taking over the dining room with the set up above was not acceptable both from keeping my marraige in tact and having a consistant set up for creating images.  After considering a large format scanner ( too expensive) or buying a standard copy stand ( too small) I decided to build my own….and here it is.


The steel post table base was purchased for $10 from Craigslist, as was the padded stool  in the fore ground.  My original masonite copy stand is set on the table in this picture and is now a small drafting board.  I hope to use the copy stand as my sketchboard for doing ink sketches for the journal.  There is a plug strip attached to the stand below to plug in the clamp on lights.  When setting up for a shoot, there are fold up arms to allow setting the lights at a 45 degree angle from the artifact being photographed.  They can be set at any angle and uses wingnuts to tighten them up once adjusted.



There is an aluminum tube across the top with clamps to hold in place and camera quick release hardware in the center.  I chose to leave the tube clamped instead of bolted to allow for making adjustments.  I am especially pleased with the camera attachment.  I found a website that sells small camera hardware and the $12 “cheese plate” is a 1/4″ steel plate with multiple holes, some threaded some not to recieve camera hardware.  I was able to buy a standard tripod quick release and bolt it to the plate.  It means the camera can be quickly attached or removed, but that the set up is stable and consistent between each session.

Pic7 Pic8



The camera was a gift from Santa, an entry level Nikon DSLR…the 3200.  Many outlets had it on sale over the holidays for $499 with both a 18-55mm lense and a 55-200mm lense and a camera case.  Considering the camera alone was selling for $450 before Christmas, I felt good about the purchase.  It can operate like a “sure shot” style camera or be fully manual, adjusting film speed, shutter speed and focal length.  I purist likely would have used a fixed 55mm lense for a copy stand, but the advantage of having a zoom lense is my camera can be in a fixed location and adjusted based on what is on the stand.  I set the camera so that fully zoomed out I get the whole 36″ x 30″ work surface.  You start getting bending to the image and glare from the lamps when fully pulled back like this.  This is not where I would typically be shooting.


…but I can  zoom into the book alone.  The book in this image is 12″ x 10″…already too big for a conventional scanner.  Most of them are 8/1/2″ x 14″.


And if you open the book up than you have a 12″ x 20″ original.


With the large focal length on the camera you can add objects with thickness and still be in focus.


Yes, that is a Glengarry Bonnet with my wife’s grandfather’s badge from his Argyll and Sutherland uniform.  The book was a gift from my daughter, perhaps I will post a review once I am done reading it.

Still not satisfied with the photography, but will take a lot more testing to fine tune.  A few things are going on right now.  I believe I let the camera select the film speed so it chose a high speed and a shorter exposure length.  The image is good but not great and I think with slower film and a longer exposure the image will get crisper.  Also shiny pages that don’t lay flat cause glare to pop out.  There are solutions to this as well.   All of that will take time and experimentation, but for now I at least have my “sandbox” to play in.

As Doctor Frankenstien once said…”Time to get back to the lab and see if I can bring this beast to life!”

Happy New Year.


Sikorsky’s connection with Hollywood…..and me!

Sometimes the end of the year brings a flurry of house cleaning and resolutions.  It’s part of putting one year away and preparing for the next.  While clearing out my studio / office / man cave to make room for my almost complete copy stand, I came across this old photo in my small collection of family artifacts.

Asurion002Years ago my brother, knowing about my obsession with aviation, sent me a scan of this photo when he discovered it in an old family photo album.  At that time I posted it on a flight sim forum (SimHQ) asking for help identifying the german bomber in the picture.  I believe it was WomenFly2 who identified it as a movie prop and pointed me towards the Howard Hughe’s film “Hells Angels”.  My brother eventually sent me the original photo and penciled on the back is “Bomber Hells Angels Summer 1928”.

Hells-Angels movie poster

In the closing scenes of the film, the hero cooks up a scheme to sneak behind enemy lines to bomb positions in a plane disquised as a german bomber.  Although the bombing run was successful the hero and his gunner met their fate at the hands of the famous german ace Manfred Von Richthofen.


The photo looks a bit like it was taken on a sandy beach and when I read about the film they mentioned some of it was filmed in Oakland so I assumed that was where the photo was taken. The photo is quite rare when you consider the “bomber” was destroyed while filming the scene above and tragically two crew members where killed when they failed to bail out.  The mystery was solved, but I was a little bit dissappointed that the plane was not a real german bomber, just some old mail plane they mounted a gun turret on and painted black.  I thought it might make an interesting blog post so I dug a little deeper in my research and soon realized just how rare this plane really was.

First let’s solve geography and help explain why it makes sense that one of my family members were “onsite”.  “Hells Angels” was filmed at several locations, but most of the aerial work was done in southern California staging in a cow pasture purchased by Howard Hughes just west of the Van Nuys airport.  Hughes named the site “Caddo Field” and in the photo above you see the San Gabriel mountains in the backround.  The arrow below marks the approximate location of the field at the intersection of Balboa and Roscoe Blvd. In the second photo you can see the east west runway as well as the familiar mountain ranges on the horizon.

( special thanks to GoDickson’s blog for the map views)

Van Nuys Van_Nuys_Airport_1946VanNuys2

Regarding the family connection, my Granparent’s family home in that era was located at 6500 Moore Drive in Los Angeles.  My grandfather once told me that he sold ice cream at airshows so it would make sense that there was enough interest in aviation to make the short half hour drive to get a look at Mr. Hughe’s grand adventure since it was going on right in their neighborhood.


And regarding it “looking like the beach” to me, here is another photo at Caddo field with the San Gabriel Mountains in the background and the same sandy field,

Caddo Field

But this only scratches the surface of the history of the plane itself….

Igor Sikorsky, was a Russian aviation engineer who designed the Ilya Muromets S-22 in 1914.  This was one of the first passenger aircraft designed shortly after the Wright Brothers era.  At the start of World War 1 it was converted to a bomber.  It was hugely successful at the start of the war but a lack of materials for further development led to it being outclassed by more modern bombers in the later stages of the war.  After the war Sikorsky immigrated to New York in 1919.  A talented engineer, unknown in the United States he struggled to continue his aviation career.  A family friend and former lieutenant in the Russian Navy, Victor Utgoff owned a chicken farm and gave Sikorsky a place to design and assemble his next plane.  He hired Russian immigrants and they built the plane from found materials and raided junkyards.  The frame was built up from angle iron from discarded bed frames, turnbuckles were purchased at Woolworth’d drug store.  They had no jacks to raise the plane so his brother Dmitry, who was ditch digger, dug a trench so they could install the landing gear below ground and than pull the plane from the ditch.

On the brink of financial ruin, selling stock in the company to buy food for his dwindling staff, his business was saved in the end by the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff visited the chicken house in a limousine and inspected the aircraft.  He wrote a check for $5,000 on the spot ( the equivalent of $100,000 in today’s dollars) and saved Sikorsky’s project and career.  Sikorsky went on to make many aviation breakthroughs most notably in the design of the helicopter.  You can read more about that history here.

The result of Sikorsky’s first effort in America was the protoype S-29A ( “A” for America) an all metal twin engine, closed cabin fourteen passenger transport.  You can see it’s roots in the original World War 1 era S-22 bomber.

Sikorsky 2-29A

Only one plane was built and it failed to attract the customers Sikosky sought out.  It was eventually sold to private owners and had a varied history including a stint as a “flying cigar store” when owned by Roscoe Turner.  The image below comes from the Roscoe Turner papers at the University of Wyoming.

Flying Cigar

In the late 1920’s it was bought by Howard Hughes and modified to get as close as Hollywood could to a German Gotha.  In the end it was destoyed during filming, with its last moments documented for all time in the “Hells Angels” film.


That complete’s Sikorsky’s Hollywood connection and indirectly a connection to my family as well.

If I squint my eyes I can imagine my grandfather grabbing a few friends and driving up Sunset Blvd to get to Van Nuys (all surface streets, there were no freeways in the valley in 1928).  Parking his car on the sandy field, they would have tromped out to take a look at the planes.  Amid the mayhem of cast and crew, roaring engines and gasoline fumes, he encourages a friend to stand in front of the big black bomber and takes a quick snapshot.  I wonder if he knew about the history of the plane?  His father was born in Hagen, Westphalia and immigrated to San Francisco in the late 1890’s before the Great War began.  Only ten years removed from the war itself, I am sure the evil looking black plane with its skull and german markings still gave chills to some who saw it in person.

He would never have guessed that 86 years later his grandson would still be talking about the snapshot.

Cantus “All is Calm”

“We will remember them”

That is what is read aloud every evening at 8:00 pm at the town of Ypres, France  at the Gates of Menin.  Thousands of men made there way through these gates on the way to the front during World War I and a hundred years later they are still remembered.

But how really do we remember things that happened a hundred years ago?  And why bother really at this point?  We read books, watch movies, if you are lucky you remember a conversation with a relative who was there…. but those memories are rapidly fading.  I was very lucky to have a chance to see a unique way of remembering history on Friday night this week.

The 1914 Christmas Truce.

Cantus is a vocal chamber ensemble that preserves history by performing songs.  Some are classic works you might hear a choir perform in church, others could be belted out by friends in a pub with grins on their faces and full pints in their hands.  Peter Rothstein approached them in 2012 to put together a performance that told the story of the Christmas Truce.  This “truce” occured in 1914 in the Fields of Flanders during the Great War on Christmas day.  This truce is well documented by many eyewitnesses at the time. Soldiers in the trenches, moved by the spirit of the holidays ignored the normal rules of war and crossed the trenches to exchange greetings, gifts and share an evening of peace. All this against a backdrop of a war that would stretch on for years.

The stage is sparce, nine men dressed in black with three actors sitting in front of them on tall stools. The actors recite from historical letters, poems and other documents in German, Scottish, Irish and English accents.  They are careful to name the soldier, his rank and what unit he served in after each reading, emphasising that this is no fantasy, but a real event that effected real people.   The content and tone of the singing and reading follows a timeline.  The euphoria of the new recruit, full of patriotism and pride, leaving on a grand adventure.  The grim reality of trench warfare.  The mix of horror and humor that surrounds men who are unsure they will ever make it home again.  The suprise and euphoria when that burden is lifted for one short night, only to be put back in place the next day.


You feel every bit of that sitting in the audience.  Hard to replicate that in a blog, but I have placed five of the songs and dialogue in chronological order below.  In a world saturated with media and special effects, this approach is simple and effective.   The Christmas Truce resonates this time of year because it gives us hope that even in the darkest of times, the best parts of the human spirit is still there, right below the surface.

I hope you enjoy the perfomance and I hope you and your family have a fine holiday.

Come On and Join ( a call to enlist)

The Old Barbed Wire (humor and grim circumstance mix together)

Angels We Heard on High ( a small miracle in the middle of the madness)

We’re Here Because We’re Here ( the title says it all, the miracle ends and the war goes on)

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