First, let me make a long story short: I was born in 1940 and grew up in Western Pennsylvania, did 8 years of military service, came to Oregon in 1969 (after a couple of zigs and zags), finished school, and have lived and worked here in the Portland area ever since. Now in retirement, I travel (mainly in the Northwest, with spouse), photograph, write and do yardwork.
My hometown of Vanport, Pa. sits about 30 miles downstream from Pittsburgh, on the Ohio River, well into a region so heavily industrialized starting in the late 1800s that it was notorious across the country for its polluted air and general coal-soot grime. I’m not saying it was a bad place to grow up, it wasn’t. We kids could pretty much roam around town and fend for ourselves in ways probably not safe (or allowed) today.
Maybe I get photography from my father, who had an old Eastman Kodak folding camera of the “Autographic” variety that he used to capture snapshots of my brother and me while we were growing up in Vanport. Here are a few pictures:
Pop worked at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, known to everybody as J & L, just up the river at Aliquippa. In the mid-1930s, the Aliquippa works had been the at the center of a labor dispute that led to a landmark Supreme Court decision allowing workers to organize unions without fear of reprisal from management. Pop was a charter member of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations, a precursor to the AFL-CIO), in spite of being a Republican for most of his adult life. Like a good number of women, my mother worked at J & L for a while too, during World War II. Follow this link to get some idea of what it looked like: Carnegie Museum of Art Photograph Collection.
My parents headed for the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the late sixties, not long before the domestic steel industry started its downward spiral and Western Pennsylvania became part of the rust belt. Pop ended up at the University of Maryland library and stayed long enough for a second retirement; Mom continued working in Maryland and was doing prepress work for offset printing. Later, they moved to Maine. They’re both gone now, and so is J & L, utterly, not a building left.
In 1958, almost immediately after finishing high school in the adjacent town of Beaver, I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force. I was not quite eighteen, so the folks had to give permission. Having done well on certain tests, the Air Force sent me to electronics school in Biloxi, Mississippi, where I learned how to fix aircraft radio and radar equipment.
After spinning my wheels stateside, mostly in Delaware, the Air Force shipped me to a weather reconnaissance squadron based in Japan, near Tokyo. The squadron spent part of its time chasing typhoons around the Western Pacific, so I had a lot of temporary assignments to Hawaii, The Philippines and Guam. When my two-year tour in Japan was up, I returned stateside to a bomber wing based in South Dakota. But the Vietnam War was heating up and I bounced right back to Okinawa, and from there to Thailand. It was overseas that I first got into 35mm film, by way of the Olympus Pen-F and -EE half-frame cameras, which I used to document my travels. Sad to say, I lost the best of those pictures during one of my many moves, but here are a few from my time in the Air Force:
After my discharge, in 1966, I settled in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D. C. for a while. I got work in electronics and took some courses (which I had started doing while in the Air Force). These were turbulent times: counter-cultural ferment, anti-war protests like the march on the Pentagon, which I joined, and the rioting in Washington after the murder of Martin Luther King.
In late 1969, I took off for Mexico with a friend and his family, in their old Chevrolet, to spend about 9 months going to school near Mexico City. The Chevy blew a valve somewhere in Tennessee, but it sputtered on to the border at Laredo anyway, where we caught a bus.
I returned briefly to Maryland, but, in late 1969, headed for Oregon, where my brother Ernie was attending the Museum Art School, in Portland. I enrolled at Portland State University, graduated and settled down. For a little over three decades, I was a technical writer specializing in computer hardware and software documentation for companies like Intel, Tektronix, and Mentor Graphics. I got back into aviation as well, as an active private pilot for 20 years and the owner of a little Cessna for about five. Here are a couple of pictures:
There is much more to my story than this, of course. Most important, there is Kathleen and all that she brings — we’ve been married for 22 years now:
I’ve been a Nikon partisan since the 1980s and now use a D610 digital camera. Lately, I’ve taken a renewed interest in film and am renovating a Calumet 4- by 5-inch view camera. I still own the Pen-F that I bought in Japan, but, like me, it’s showing its age and getting pretty stiff.