Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Costantino Proietto (1910-1979) Painted Scenes of Locarno/Ascona at Lago Maggiore, Switzerland


An early 1950's photo of a Costantino Proietto original oil painting depicting Lago Maggiore, Locarno - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Costantino Proietto (1910-1979) Painted Scenes of Locarno/Ascona at Lago Maggiore, Switzerland

Recently, Ms. Dawn Allen of Greensboro, North Carolina wrote to me about her mother’s two Costantino Proietto (1910-1979) original oil paintings. Similar to other recent C.Proietto painting discoveries, Dawn’s parents acquired the pair while living in Germany during the early 1950s.

Master Sergeant Joseph Edgar Allen at home in Bad Cannstatt, Germany, ca. 1954. Note C.Proietto original oil painting in the background - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Her father, Joseph Edgar Allen, was a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Wallace Barracks in the Bad Cannstatt district of Stuttgart,  Germany. Dawn recalled, “My father was part of the 66th Counter Intelligence Corps Group (CIC), which used the Wallace Barracks installation during the 1950s. Although called a barracks, according to my mother there was no on-base housing”.

She went on to say, “They lived in an apartment through ‘German requisition housing’ at Saarstraße 13 E, . Some regular German apartment complexes were designated for U.S. military. My mother, Mary Alice Allen recalls one side of the street being for U.S. military, with German citizens living across the street. After his first deployment to Stuttgart, he went to Fort Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland and then back to Stuttgart. They purchased both paintings during his first tour in Stuttgart”.

2013 photo of the Allen Family Lago Maggiore oil painting by C.Proietto - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)One day in 1953, Mr. Costantino Proietto knocked on their door, selling his artwork. They purchased a single oil painting, later buying another. The paintings hung in her parents’ apartment in Germany and then traveled to Baltimore Maryland. When Ed Allen retired, the couple moved to Brevard, North Carolina, where both paintings continue hanging in the Allen home.

Dawn Allen continued, “I’ve attached photos of the two oil paintings, plus two receipts for purchase of the paintings, which my mother had kept all these years. The old photos include one of a C.Proietto painting hanging in their German apartment. Another is of my father at that time, including the same painting hanging on their wall. During a recent visit to her house, my eighty-eight year old mother suggested that we “Google” the artist’s name. It was then that we found the information on your website.

The Costantino Proietto original oil painting owned by the Allen Family - location unknown - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From family photos, Dawn Allen determined that the first of her mother’s paintings was purchased in 1953 and the other in 1954. Despite her age and sixty years gone by, Mary Alice Allen knew exactly where to find the original receipts for the paintings. She recalls that they purchased each painting at a different time. Each time, Mr. Proietto traveled about seven kilometers to the Allen's apartment. Although they did not specifically ask him to return, a few months later Costantino Proietto called again, with more paintings to offer.

What Dawn Allen calls the “Steeple Painting” has an artist’s inscription on the back. It reads, “Lago Maggiore, Locarno, Sv, Ytaliana”. From the inscription, I believe the painting depicts Locarno, Switzerland, including a southern view toward Italy, which is on the far bank of Lago Maggiore. An extensive search of images on the internet does not produce a photograph of that particular steeple, or tower. However, my own original Costantino Proietto oil painting of “Lago Maggiore, Ascona” (bottom of page) depicts a rowboat identical to the one in the Allen Family “Steeple Painting”.

From the Muenker Family collection, a Costantino Proietto original oil painting depicting the same scene as the Allen Family "Lake House" picture - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The second Allen Family C.Proietto is harder to place. With no inscription on the back and no mention of subject matter on the receipt, it could be of any Swiss or Italian lake. However, there is one clue that might help place the location of the “Lake House” (above), as the Allen family calls the painting. Immediately after the initial publication of this article, C.Proietto collector Jeffrey Muenker sent me a photo of his own "Lake House" painting (left). Both the Allen Family "Lake House" and the Muenker Family painting appear to have used the same photo as their origin. There are subtle differences, including the absence of a lower window and the addition of a flowering plant on the Muenker Family painting.

Original receipts for two C.Proietto original oil paintings sold to the Allen family in 1953 and 1954 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Each C. Proietto acquisition story is unique, although many center on American GIs stationed in postwar Germany, and mostly near Stuttgart. The impeccable provenance of the Allen Family C.Proietto paintings is peerless. The receipts pictured here are the first known sales documents created by the artist. Written in Costantino Proietto’s hand and signed by the purchaser, J.E. Allen, they offer some interesting details about the purchases.

The receipt on the left shows a date of “8-10”, indicating final payment (and delivery?) in August or October 1953. It reads, “1 oil painting - DM 200", with 50% down and two additional payments of DM 50. In pencil, at the bottom, the receipt is marked, “Paid”. The other receipt was for DM 115, and paid in full on January 4, 1954 or April 1, 1954, depending on the use of American or European date standards. There is no mention of framing, but Mary Alice Allen tells us that both were sold in identical frames. Most C.Proietto paintings were sold unframed.

Painting of Lago Maggiore, Ascona by Costantino Proietto - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)At the top of each receipt is a rubber-stamped impression, including the artist’s name and address. Also appearing is the German word, “Kunstmaler”, meaning “Production Painter”, when translated into English. As an Italian, living in Germany during the 1950’s, the artist also included the words, “artista pittoro", loosely translated as “picture artist”.

Despite his skill and expertise, Costantino Proietto painted for the people, often selling his paintings door-to-door or at U.S. Post Exchange exhibitions throughout postwar Germany. The good news for C.Proietto collectors is that there are perhaps thousands of his works hanging undiscovered on walls all over the world.

From the author's collection, a Costantino Proietto original oil painting of Ascona, Lago Maggiore, Switzerland - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Proving what a small world we live in, Dawn Allen finished her email to me with the following. “I have seen these two painting hanging on walls all my life. I noticed one of your articles about a person with a C.Proietto painting mentioned a ‘Marion Fortune of Brevard, NC’, who passed away in 2012, willing her prized C.Proietto painting to a niece. My mother, who also lives in Brevard, remembers Ms. Fortune as someone who worked for the local veterinarian, Dr. McPherson. If only Marion and my mother had talked about their Proietto paintings!”




Friday, June 21, 2013

Great American Bison Herd, Now held Captive in Northern Mexico


The Great American Bison - symbol of open prairies and unfenced grasslands in North America - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

The Great American Bison Herd, Now held Captive in Northern Mexico, Gathers at the Border to Sing, “Don’t Fence Me In”

In William DeBuys recent book, “A Great Aridness”, he discusses biological diversity at El Uno Ecological Reserve, located within the Greater Janos Grasslands, in Chihuahua, Mexico. Although his primary focus is on scrubland encroachment and related stress on black-tailed prairie dog populations, he also touches upon the American Bison herd now located there.

In 2009, twenty-three bison from Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota arrived at Janos to start a breeding herd within northern Mexico. Unlike ninety-five percent of the bison in North America, the Wind Cave bison herd is genetically pure, containing no cattle genes. Unlike cattle, which stay and feed to the root, bison eat and roam, leaving some of the plant intact. Their heavy step breaks up the soil and helps grass seeds grow.

The Great American Bison at rest in a Moab, Utah front yard - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2009, National Park Traveler, Bob Janiskee wrote, “The trans-border herd referenced here lives north of the Janos grasslands and migrates seasonally into Hidalgo County, New Mexico. This is actually a bit of a problem, since the wild bison is a protected animal in Mexico, where it is considered endangered. It is not protected in the U.S., where it is seen as a grazer, competing with livestock”.

On May 11, 2011, the Nature Conservancy staff at El Uno Ecological Reserve rejoiced with the birth of a female bison calf. It was the first calf conceived locally since 2009, when the Conservancy and a Mexican national working group initiated the Bison Reintroduction Project.

From Canada to Mexico, grasslands are relatively similar. There are only a few differences, such as the temperature in summer, the amount of snow in winter, and their native vegetation. That is why the bison herd in El Uno, coming from South Dakota has been able to adapt well to the grasslands at the Janos Biosphere Reserve.

The Great American Bison does not react well to being caged or fenced-in - Click for larger image (htp://jamesmcgillis.com)According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Archeological records and historical accounts from Mexico document that the historic range of the bison included northern Mexico and parts of Southern New Mexico. The Janos-Hidalgo bison herd, one of the few free-ranging bison herds in North America, has moved between Chihuahua, Mexico, and New Mexico, since at least the 1920s. The cross-border bison herd in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands and scrublands demonstrates that the species can persist in desert landscapes”.

Author William DeBuys had inspired me to look deeper into both the promise and the plight of the Janos Valley bison herd. While writing, I could hear the scratchy, obnoxious sound of cable news in the background. As I arose to turn off the TV, I heard that the U.S. Senate had reached a “compromise” on the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill.

Great American Bison browses in freedom at Yellowstone National Park - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The compromise was one that only a group of isolated, Washington Beltway politicians could concoct. The new compromise includes seven hundred miles of impenetrable border fencing and twenty thousand new border patrol agents. If all of the proposed agents were to arrive at the border simultaneously, there would be one border patrol agent standing every 250 feet, all along its seven hundred mile length.

Apparently, there is no federal money to protect grasslands and biodiversity along the U.S. Mexican Border. Instead, all the money will go to a vast “Maginot Line” of border defenses, to include fixed camera towers and mobile surveillance systems. This "standing army" would protect the U.S. against a feared “third wave of illegal aliens”. I can see the fence manufacturers, construction contractors and military equipment manufacturers salivating over their anticipated contracts. Who needs the hassle of foreign wars when we can have a fully militarized border right here at home?

"Bison X-ing" signs will not flourish if the U.S. builds a 700-mile long wall at the Mexican Border - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Soon enough, if conservatives win and conservationists lose, the Janos Valley bison herd will become a casualty of the 2013 Senate Immigration Bill. In order to live, the herd must travel north and south across the Chihuahuan Desert, including parts of Mexico and Southern New Mexico.

While a cross-border consortium of governmental and non-governmental agencies works tirelessly to restore and enhance the desert environment, our federal government plans the largest environmental destruction project in U.S. history. If even a few of those Senators would visit the desert, they could foresee see the consequences of their actions.

Two days before an outbreak of tornadoes devastated Oklahoma, a desert dust devil reaches tornado size and strength in the American Desert - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Desertification, including the encroachment of scrublands and the creation of dust bowls and sand-prairies is a problem facing most of the United States. Wall building and heavy vehicle traffic in our fragile deserts may indeed stop a few border crossings. In their zeal to “seal the border”, Congress may well destroy the desert bionetwork. The unintended consequences of their actions may render the border area unlivable for humans, prairie dogs and the American Bison.

The Mexican-American War ended in 1848. One hundred sixty-five years later is a poor time to spend $30 billion of our tax dollars to fight an ecological war against a fragile desert environment. Our Senate seems to say, “Give me a home where the buffalo roam, but at any cost, prevent ‘them’ from crossing the Mexican border”.



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It is Cafes or Casinos At Twin Arrows, Arizona


Hand painted "Cafe" sign deteriorates at the old Twin Arrows Trading Post, Interstate I-40 east of Winona, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

It is Cafes or Casinos

At Twin Arrows, Arizona - What Goes Up Must Come Down

Old-66, the Mother Road, Route 66 and their successor, Interstate I-40 follow similar, if not identical paths from Flagstaff, Arizona, east to Winslow, Arizona. On May 15, 2013 I followed the newer route; taking an occasional detour when any fragment of “Old-66” appeared by the side of the road.

At Exit 219, Twin Arrows loomed into view. In this case, the actual twin arrows were examples of ironic, super-realistic art. Not quite out of place, but outsized and iconic, the twin arrows affect all who see them. Utility poles, angled steeply into poured concrete provide an underlying structure for the twin arrows. As I looked to the north, I imagined ancient warriors of the Navajo or Hopi tribes standing seventy-five feet tall, framed against the horizon. Only a warrior of that height could launch such massive arrows from his bow.

Earlier known as the Canyon Padre Trading Post, the two giant arrows arrived on scene by the early 1950’s. Like the nearby Two Guns outpost before it, Twin Arrows looked like it was in the middle of nowhere. By the early 1950's, With graffiti poorly painted out, the derelict Twin Arrows Trading Post deteriorates by the side of Old Route 66 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)anything out there that looked substantial and offered travelers’ services was a welcome sight. With its 1950’s prefabricated diner and a poured concrete apron at the fuel pumps, the renamed Twin Arrows Trading Post later billed itself as, “The Best Little Stop on I-40”.

Although it was a generous-sized property for the 1950’s, when I-40 opened, Twin Arrows days were numbered. Higher speeds and more fuel-efficient autos meant fewer stops in the middle of nowhere. After a succession of owners, the service station and trading post closed for good in the late 1990s.

Although the Arizona State Land Department Trust owns the land, the Hopi Tribe owns the derelict buildings at Twin Arrows. Despite its picturesque, if "Twin Arrows - Best little Stop on I-40" reads the fading, hand painted sign at the old trading post - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)crumbling facilities, I doubt that economic reality will allow the old Twin Arrows Trading Post to operate once again. Good news regarding this contemporary Indian ruin includes the 2009 all-volunteer restoration of the twin arrows. For the near future, at least, travelers on I-40 shall still enjoy the site-gag of two giant arrows that just missed landing on the Interstate.

To the north, on the far side of Exit 219 stands the new Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort. Unlike the old Twin Arrows Trading Post, the new Twin Arrows exists mainly to promote state-of-the-art Indian gaming. Ironically, there are no motorist services at the new Twin Arrows and no RV Park for the wandering traveler. Still in the “middle of nowhere”, the Twin Arrows business plan focuses on food, lodging Twin Arrows up or Twin Arrows down, that is thew question for the future of the Navajo Nation - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)and “responsible gaming”, better known as, "We win, you lose gambling".

Almost two years ago, I was thrilled to see what looked like a major medical center rising from the dusty plains of the Holbrook Basin. When I discovered that it was a new Mecca for gamblers, both native and non-native, I had to laugh. Twin Arrows Casino is the Navajo Nation’s first foray into major casino gaming.

Touted as a “job creator” for the Navajo people, I could not help noticing that the “free valet” signs sported a corporate logo, not a Native American one. With a purported cost of $200 million, Twin Arrows’ only nod to the health and welfare of tribal members is the allure of instant riches through For the new Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, everything is "pointing up", but will it stay that way? - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)“responsible gaming”.

As the photos accompanying this article atest, on the Mother Road, the old twin arrows penetrated to the very soul of Mother Earth. Then things changed. Some arrows pointed up toward the promise of free riches from the sky, while others pointed downward, toward the truth of the matter. Now, in our stock market and casino driven world, everything must point up, including the twin arrows on the façade of the new casino and resort.

Unless a visitor loses everything at the tables, he or she may still enjoy the proffered luxury accommodations. Still, at its heart, the Twin Arrows  glorifies alcohol, food and gambling. As with the original Twin Arrows before it, the novelty of this new venue will attract sufficient business for near-term Former Navajo homestead stands derelict and abandoned at the I-40 Twin Arrows off-ramp, Northern Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)success.

In the future, what shall happen if I-40 travelers tire of stopping at one more kitschy roadside attraction? If the new Twin Arrows fails, the Navajo Nation can still repurpose it as a much-needed regional medical center. Only time will tell.




Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Double-Spoiler" Bandit Lurks on Interstate I-40 East of Flagstaff, Arizona


Scene of the crime - The Winona off-ramp, I-40 East of Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Beware of the "Double-Spoiler" Bandit on Interstate I-40 East of Flagstaff, Arizona

On Tuesday May 14, 2013 I departed Flagstaff, Arizona, heading east on Interstate I-40. About fifteen miles east of the city, I stopped at the Winona off-ramp, named for the nearby Winona Ranch. In order to stay off the roadway, I circled my rig around and parked it heading east, adjacent to some cedar trees that lined the southern extremity of the ranch road.

Older Japanese four-door sedan, possibly a Toyota similar to one driven by the "Double Spoiler Bandit" at the Winona off-ramp on I-40, east of Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As I exited my vehicle, I surveyed the scene. Not far from my parking spot was an old car, parked along the eastern extension of Winona Road. There, a woman had many belongings out of her car, while she appeared to search for something inside. Parked diagonally from me on the tarmac was an older model “generic” Japanese sedan. In retrospect, I believe that it was a four-door Toyota, but it could have been another brand.

Older generic four-door sedan similar to suspected robber's vehicle on I-40, east of Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The driver of the dusty-gold sedan sat with his window open. He waited apprehensively for someone or something. He wore dark glasses, a construction worker’s safety vest and a few days growth of reddish-brown beard. Was he speaking to someone on a headset? Was he waiting for a compatriot to arrive? Either way, he seemed harmless, if a bit creepy.

As I walked toward the highway bridge, I stayed on my side of the road. It was then that I noticed a high-tech, double-winged, golden spoiler affixed to the sedan's rear deck. It was a fancy, filigreed affair, with slots and extra airfoils added to its sides. I remember thinking, “That spoiler must have cost a lot of money”. I proceeded to the Interstate I-40 Winona highway bridge. There, I took a few pictures toward Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks beyond.

The San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona as seen from the Winona Highway Bridge on Interstate I-40 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From the middle of the highway bridge, I snapped my photos, and then returned to my truck. After driving another fifteen miles east on I-40, I realized that my small pack, along with my identification, credit cards and cash were missing. Lulled into a false sense of security at the Winona off-ramp, I had not locked my truck. As I reconstructed the scene in my mind, I realized that a team of highway robbers had taken me for the fool that I had been.

Unseen by me, a third accomplice was hiding behind the cedar trees to the right of my rig. As soon as the fake construction worker in the sedan saw that I was away from my truck, he signaled his accomplice to move in and steal my pack. By the time I returned to my truck and drove away, the whole crew of robbers was gone without a trace.

Double-fin spoiler similar to one affixed to the I-40 robbery suspect's older Japanese four-door sedan - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)With no money or identification and only half a tank of fuel, I stopped long enough to call and cancel my credit cards. I needed a safe place to stay for the night, so I headed for Flagstaff. Having stayed at Kit Carson RV Park several times before, I felt it was my best chance to avoid another robbery in the woods at night.

When I arrived at Kit Carson RV Park, the caretaker was driving an elderly man off the property. I flagged them down and told them of my plight. The older man said, “If it were up to me, I would let you stay… but it isn’t”. The younger man took charge and helped me select a place for my rig. They treated me fairly and they trusted me to pay up the next morning. In the future, when I stop for the night in Flagstaff, there is only one RV Park I will consider staying at, and that is Kit Carson RV Park.

Orange safety vest similar to one worn by the "Double Spoiler Bandit" at the Winona off-ramp near Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The following morning I began the process of rebuilding my identity. The local Bank of America was able to identify me through their signature cards. Soon I had enough cash to meet my expenses. Next, I returned to the Kit Carson RV Park and paid for my previous night’s stay. Then, I called the Coconino County Sheriff and reported the theft. With a complete lack of conviction, the woman at the sheriff’s call-desk told me to wait there and that a deputy would contact me for more information. Sadly, no one from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department ever called me.

Within two weeks, I had all of my legal documents in order and resumed my normal life. As they say, for every victim, there is a perpetrator ready to complete the transaction. Foolishly, I had trusted my identity and my cash to people on the highway that I did not know. It was inconvenient and Scene of the crime - Google Map of the Winona off-ramp east of Flagstaff on I-40 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)humiliating to realize how naïve I had been. For the "Double Spoiler Bandit" and his crew, however, there was a pack of Instant Karma heading their way. Soon enough they would be aware; they held a blogger’s pack.

Travelers beware. There are roving bands of thieves plying the Interstate Highways of America. Trust no one that you see on the road. Wherever you stop, there may be spotters and accomplices teaming up to steal your belongings. It can happen in a gas station, at a roadside rest-stop or at any rural off-ramp on the highway system. Let my loss be a lesson to all. Never leave your open vehicle unattended. Keep your identification, cash and credit cards with you at all times. If you walk away from your vehicle for even a moment, always lock your doors.

The author's unlocked rig at the scene of the highway robbery, Winona Exit, Interstate I-40 East of Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Furthermore, if you see a generic looking, older sedan sporting a gold-filigreed double-spoiler on its trunk, take a picture and call 911. It just may be the “Double Spoiler Bandit”. If he and his gang are reading this now, they may wish to retire from highway robbery before Smith & Wesson catch up with them. Finally, the Coconino County Sheriff and the Arizona Highway Patrol should ask their officers to pull off I-40 at the Winona off-ramp each time they pass. Those robbers were so successful with me; I expect them to return soon to the scene of the crime… unless they read my blog.



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Brush Fire in Simi Valley, California - First Responders Deserve Local, State and Federal Support


Ventura County Fire Department - Brush fire in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Brush Fire in Simi Valley, California - First Responders Deserve Local, State and Federal Support

On June 6, 2013, I was working at Casa Carrie in Simi Valley, California. From nine in the morning until noon that day, the Ventura County Fire Department was conducting live helicopter fire drills at nearby Hummingbird Nest Ranch. Several Ventura County Fire Department helicopters were loading water at a helipad in the nearby hills. Over Casa Carrie, they flew to their destination about a mile away. At the time, they did not know how timely their practice was.



Watch the fire-fighting "Air Force" take on a brush fire at Simi Valley, California


By 4:00 PM, I realized that the sky in Simi Valley had turned orange, indicating that there was a brush fire nearby. As I looked west across Simi Valley from the backyard, I could see a huge plume of dirty brown smoke drifting eastward. Not wanting to miss a brush fire so close to my location, I grabbed my camera, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler and headed across the valley.

A fifty acre brush fire in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Upon arrival at Los Angeles Avenue and Stearns Street, I found a police roadblock. A quick turn into the Albertson’s Supermarket parking lot allowed me a front-row view of the hillsides to the south. Although the fire was still active, firefighters had established a perimeter around most of it. By then, Los Angeles County fire helicopters had joined the Ventura County choppers that I had seen earlier in the day.

While at least four helicopters shuttled water from the helipad near Casa Carrie to the fire, crews on the ground were clearly gaining the upper hand on the fire. In its earlier stages, visibility had been minimal. The huge smoke cloud indicated that the fire was consuming both chaparral and grasses. If the winds had shifted, beginning to blow to the south, the fire could have taken off over the ridges and on to the grounds of the Santa Susana Field laboratory.

Water tank is clearly visible on L.A. County Fire helicopter Number 15 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Other than older local residents and nuclear regulators, few people know that under the Atomics International division of the old North American Aviation (later Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division) built the first commercial nuclear reactor on that site in the 1950’s. In 1959, it was also the first commercial nuclear reactor in the United States to experience a core meltdown. Kept secret from the public for many years, the Santa Susan meltdown released more radioactive material than the later Three Mile Island nuclear incident in Pennsylvania. To this day, no one knows what happened to thousands of pounds of sodium coolant present at the time of the meltdown. It dispersed either into the air or on to the ground.

When a brush fire looks to be out of control and heading for a nuclear contamination site, it is time to call in the Air Force, or at least the USDA Fire fighting helicopter pilot uses skill to disperse water over smoldering hot spots in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Forest Service "Air Force". Rather than risking a wildfire within a nuclear contamination site, the fire bosses in Simi Valley called for massive air support. Soon, three large air tankers arrived to augment the helicopter fleet and hand crews already on scene.

First on scene was Neptune Aviation Services’ new “Tanker 41”, a BAe-146, four engine, "next generation" commercial jet retrofitted as an air tanker or "fire bomber” as the Canadians like to say. Looking like a lost commercial aircraft, Tanker 41 made wide circles around the scene as it waited for a smaller, twin-engine spotter plane to arrive.

Neptune Aviation Service's BAe-146 "Tanker 41" drops fire retardant on a fire in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Next up was the Minden Air Corp "legacy" “Tanker 48”, a Lockheed P2V-7 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare plane retrofitted for aerial firefighting. With the first P2V-7 flight having taken place in 1945, it is safe to say that this bumblebee-painted beauty was older than her flight crew was. Featuring two 3700 hp. turbojet engines and two 3000 lb. thrust jet engines, the elegant aircraft both rumbled and screamed as it maneuvered overhead.

Although a third air tanker joined the other two, I was not able to identify it, since the big aerial fire battle was about to begin. While the four helicopters headed off for a refill, what looked like a Beech King Air twin-engine spotter plane buzzed the fire ridge at low altitude. Its speed and grace reminded me of Sky King, who flew a similar looking Cessna in the old TV program by the same name. By then, the aerial ballet was getting exciting.

Minden Air Corp Lockheed P2V-7 "Tanker 48" shows elegant form overhead at Simi Valley, California brush fire - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Perhaps since it had been on scene the longest, the four-engine BAe-146 got first shot at the dying fire. With “Sky King” in the lead, the two planes flew a straight and level route along the highest ridge of the fire. At the drop point, the smaller plane puffed out two spurts of white smoke. At that spot, only a few seconds later, the big jet cut loose a torrent of bright pink fire retardant, mixed with water. It was a spectacular sight.

Only a few minutes later, Tanker 48 took its run along the westerly portion of the same ridge. Judging by the fifty-foot tall hulk of a burned out oak tree, the P2V-7 appeared to clear the ridge by little more than 100 feet. Distances can be deceiving and the pilot dropped his load just behind the ridgeline, so he may have dropped at two hundred feet above ground, but little more.

Lockheed P2V-7 begins fire retardant drop on a low-level run on a fire in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When I realized that the mysterious “Tanker #3” was going to make a drop,  head-on towards my camera, I switched from still shots to video. Dropping his fire retardant in a saddle along the ridge just west of the previous drop, the mystery tanker put an end to any threat that the fire would escape its lines and head toward the Santa Susan Field Laboratory.

I have lived in Southern California for most of my life. I grew up in Burbank, one block from the chaparral-covered Verdugo Mountains. As James Taylor sang, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…” Never, in my life have I seen such a well-coordinated firefight. Congratulations to Ventura County Fire Department, their mutual-aid affiliates from other jurisdictions and the fire-fighting air force of the USDA Forest Service.

Lockheed P2V-7 Air Tanker Number 48 completes a low-level drop of fire retardant on a brush fire in Simi Valley, California - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In congressional and state budget battles, firefighting is just one more line item to cut when possible. That the so-called “sequestration” has cut the federal fire suppression budget by twenty percent in 2013 is unconscionable. Before any more of the Western United States goes up in smoke, federal first responders to fires, floods and weather disasters should have their funding restored.

Let us offer our first responders the credit they deserve and the funds necessary to do their jobs. What I saw in Simi Valley this week is a prime example of “your federal, state and local tax dollars at work”. 


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our Interstate Highway Infrastructure is Crumbling


"Colonel", driving his vintage Ford L9000 water truck in the desert, near Seligman, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Wake Up America - Our Interstate Highway Infrastructure is Crumbling

On May 14, 2013, I departed Kingman, Arizona, heading for Flagstaff, one hundred forty-seven miles east on Interstate I-40. The altitude of Kingman is 3350 ft. while the altitude at Flagstaff is more than twice that at 6900 ft. What those statistics do not indicate are the many mountain passes and low valleys that I-40 traverses in that distance. The vertical rise and fall is like no other similar stretch on I-40.

By the time I reached Seligman, Arizona, I was ready for a break and my Nissan Titan truck was ready for fuel. Before I departed Seligman, a 1980’s vintage Ford L9000 water truck pulled in for fuel beside me. When I A highway engineer oversees the final placement of a highway sign on Interstate I-40 at Ash Fork, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)introduced myself, the proud driver of this venerable workhorse introduced himself as “Colonel”, which was good enough for me. Before he pulled away, I took several pictures of him and his iconic desert water truck.

Back on I-40 East, I lamented the poor condition of our interstate highways. To be sure, I-40 gets both heavy truck traffic and harsh winters, but the rutted and crumbling highway had me grumbling to myself about the poor state of our infrastructure in America. “Why don’t they ever fix this highway?” I asked aloud.

Although I was late for an appointment in Flagstaff, I slowed down to prevent damage to my truck or travel trailer. Soon, I was to experience highway reconstruction at its finest, thanks to our federal tax dollars. As I approached the crossroads town of Ash Fork, Arizona, lighted signs and myriad orange cones appeared along the highway.

Semi-truck and trailer loaded with California onions, heading east on Interstate I-40 near Ash Fork, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From Ash Fork, Arizona Highway 89 heads south to Prescott and Wickenburg, Arizona. In times past, an inattentive motorist might miss the small signs that identified the highway junction. After May 2013, no one would miss the gigantic new signs installed alongside I-40. As a large mobile crane lowered a new sign into place, a construction engineer guided the process from a platform fifty feet in the air.

With the construction excitement of Ash Fork behind me, I began to notice smooth new pavement in the right lane of the interstate highway. A semi-truck and trailer loaded with California onions glided up over a hill on its way to the east. For me the shaking and jarring of crumbling pavement ended. With a sigh of relief, I could relax a bit as I rolled smoothly toward Flagstaff.

The boss, in a straw hat rides on the back of an asphalt paving machine on Interstate I-40 in northern Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Soon, the road was climbing again as it made its final ascent toward Williams and Flagstaff, beyond. Twice more along the way, I encountered large crews of workers and their equipment. They were repairing, restoring and resurfacing the same highway I had cursed only an hour before. Any delay I experienced that day paled by comparison to the glee I felt about my country and its ability to fix its infrastructure issues. In times past, signs erected at each project would say, “Your federal highway taxes at work”. If we abolish taxes in America, who will pay to keep commerce and tourists safely rolling along our highways?

Even as I sped by, I could see the efficiency and care that each road crew applied to their work. Awash in neon-green or bright orange shirts, each Asphalt paving crews work efficiently along Interstate I-40 in Northern Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)person was actively accomplishing their task. The whole scene was in motion, with heavy rollers following the monster pavers up ahead. On the back of one paving machine sat the boss. Along with two quality control experts, he was assuring that the new asphalt went down smoothly and firmly. Farther on, crews were stripping old asphalt from the road and recycling it into new asphalt for the pavers to follow.

As I neared Williams, Arizona, the federal highway dollars and the construction crews disappeared. For miles on end, I drove on a rutted roadway, which beat heavily at the undercarriage of my rig. Although the average citizen sitting at home might not know it, our taxes often accomplish more than they realize. Whether it is a load of onions making it safely to market in the east or tourists and vacationers making it safely to the Grand The San Francisco Peaks, almost devoid of snow in mid-May 2013, stand tall to the north of Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Canyon, good roads are essential to our economy.

When I reached Flagstaff, I was pleased to be on time for my afternoon meeting. I was also pleased to see Americans at work, helping other Americans safely reach their destinations. Here is to the water truck drivers, the pavement crews and the highway engineers who make safe travel available to all in our great country, the United States of America.




"Wrenched - A Feature Documentary" - Ms. Kristi Frazier, Producer


Storms collide on the back roads near Winslow, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

"Wrenched - A Feature Documentary"

Ms. Kristi Frazier, Producer

On May 14, 2013, I drove from Kingman, Arizona to Winslow, via Interstate I-40 and a few back roads. Along the way, I stopped in Flagstaff to visit with Ms. Kristi Frazier, the Producer of ML Lincoln Films’ “Wrenched – The Movie”, subtitled “How Edward Abbey lit the flame of environmental activism and gave the movement its soul”.

Ms. Kristi Frazier, Producer of ML Lincoln Films' "Wrenched - The Movie" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In late 2012, when Kristi Frazier first contacted me about my writing and the movie, I became interested in the project. Having written about Edward Abbey in various articles over the years, I wondered how ML Lincoln planned to treat Abbey’s legacy. Even twenty-four years after his passing, a documentary about Edward Abbey and the environmental activist movement he helped to found invited controversy.

When the original trailer for the movie hinted at the need for Monkey Wrench Gang-style physical intervention against “the machine”, I was concerned. Blowing up a coal train or pouring Karo Syrup in the fuel tank of a bulldozer made for good fiction, but not for responsible environmentalism or good politics in the 2010’s.

Edward Abbey - A Self Portrait - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In my own way, I set about subverting the movie’s apparent promotion of environmental insurrection. To me, there was already too much violence and meaningless destruction of property in this world. No responsible person or film should advocate for more of the same. My way of attempting to turn that tide, if only in the film, was to write. My subject was Edward Abbey, as I saw him in life and channeled him in his current non-physical state.

Almost before I knew it, I had published four new articles about Edward Abbey. In life, he was famous for his passions, including an unbridled desire to blow up Glen Canyon Dam, thus releasing its water into the Colorado River. Years ago, I had walked with the Spirit of Edward Abbey at Navajo National Monument, Arizona. At the end of our walk, I realized that death had released the Spirit of Edward Abbey from his famous crankiness.

Who knows if my new articles had any influence on the filmmakers or the film? During my meeting with Kristi Frazier, she indicated that all of the environmental fervor was still in the film, but that it would not be a call to arms against developers or mineral extraction. I was pleased to hear that a new trailer for “Wrenched – The Movie” was coming in late May 2013.

This R. Crumb drawing is from the 10th anniversary edition of The Monkey Wrench Gang, a novel by Edward Abbey - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I just finished watching that new trailer and afterward, breathed a sigh of relief. None other than Robert Redford makes a brief appearance in the trailer, saying, “It was the very beginning of an environmental movement, but it belonged to a certain caste of people that the other people saw as threatening”. Activism always threatens some people, but it is often necessary in order to enhance public awareness. I do not know if Robert Redford’s appearance in the movie trailer indicates that there will be a place for “Wrenched – The Movie” at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but I hope so.

Over the years, in this blog I have singled out only three people for a “World Citizen Award”. In 2008, I praised Tom Moody and his wife, the late Joan Moody, who together protected Namenalala Island in Fiji from fishing and over-development. In 2011, I praised Kathy Hemenway for being first to identify the environmental risks of potash mining in the Holbrook Basin, Arizona.

Author Jim McGillis and Plush Kokopelli present the World Citizen Award to Ms. Kristi Frazier in Flagstaff, Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In conjunction with ML Lincoln of ML Lincoln Films, Kristi Frazier has spent over three years of her professional life shepherding “Wrenched – The Movie” toward its expected release in early 2014. When we think of a movie producer, we often think of some bigwig mogul smoking a cigar at a Hollywood studio. Instead, Kristi Frazier, a married mother of three balances work and family in Flagstaff, Arizona. Without her tireless dedication to a complex task, I doubt that ML Lincoln’s vision of the Spirit of Edward Abbey would ever make it to the screen.

In anticipation that “Wrenched – The Movie” will soon receive widespread theatrical release and critical acclaim, Plush Kokopelli and I recognize Ms. Kristi Frazier as recipient of only the third ever “World Citizen Award”. Congratulations to Kristi Frazier.