Hamilton County NEGenWeb Project

Rambling with Rex

Page 8

Table of Contents


4-H Photography Club pictures a life-long career
Sunset in 1947 leads way to photojournalistic journey


   How much mileage is a young farm lad allowed to get out of one sunset? I wonder, but still, I marvel how a fantastic sunset in the summer of 1947 ignited my imagination.

   Do I realize that I'm looking back at the first half of the last century? Yep, I do, but those gorgeous reds and yellows clouds billowing high over our cow pasture really enchanted me. Even now I feel like Mooooooing!

    I was 9 then but couldn't imagine how this colorful sky assortment would directly affect my life . . . plus lead me to a professional career.

   Was I a brainy or impressive far-sighted lad? No, far from it! I was just the average farm boy who saw things in a different light.

    I traveled at a different speed than my older brother Steve. He was always in a hurry and would just as soon step on a caterpillar crossing his path. Me? I dropped to my belly to study the coordination of its 16 legs. I was amazed at how this fantastic creature learned to walk as a toddler. Then when it morphed into a charming butterfly, did it also have to learn how to fly. Yes? No?

    By the way, because of my inquisitive nature, I got into trouble with Dad often. He thought I was dawdling and trying to get out of my daily chores on the farm. No, Dad, I was getting my education. Remember that old song by Little Jimmie Dickens "I got my education out behind the barn?" Well, my education was right out in plain daylight.

   Speaking of caterpillar legs, I remembered watching my youngest sibling then, 2-year-old Alfred, when he was learning to walk. Sometimes his two legs got in the way of progress, so, how does a caterpillar get 16 of `em coordinated? I'm sure that I stumbled over my legs -- as did my other sibs, but I was born young and don't remember it.

About as slow as a caterpillar

   Speaking of walking, Rex, why not use your two old legs to get back to this sunset which stuck in your mind . . . if you can -- 62 years later!

   Don't rush me, please! The caterpillar is slow and the sunset is hanging in there!

    I noticed the beautiful colors that Sunday evening when our family of 7 was standing by a car in the driveway. I say "driveway" but it was difficult to tell the driveway from the yard, which was about 2 acres that ran down to the dirt road. It was very large, with no fence and there wasn't any grass or weeds anywhere. We did not even own a push mower.

   Our guests parked their cars anywhere in front of the house. When it rained, there was a whole lot of slipping and sliding going on in the mud. We didn't even have a garage, so Dad parked our 1934 Chevy in the corncrib - about a block from the house.

   The only living things I saw in the "yard" were bees with nests in the ground. They were Mining Bees and they dug tunnels in the packed clay soil. The first time I saw the bees, I couldn't believe that they'd land on the ground and then disappear. Books at school only showed bees living in hives. I found one of the holes and got on my belly to observe. The bees didn't mind my watching them close up, I guess, because I never got stung. Maybe they didn't like sweaty kid stuff!

   What were we doing in our dirt driveway during the sunset? We were saying our good-byes to Uncle Bus and Aunt Agnes and their 3 kids -- Eugene, Nadean, and Robert. My Dear Auntie is Dad's only sister. She's 3 years older and was expecting her fourth, who turned out to be Lynda Rae, born on her mother's birthday on Dec. 23.

   Oh, yeah, Steve the caterpillar stomper was also born that day, but in 1936. I did look up to Steve, who was a year, a month, and a day older, because he appeared to me to be fearless. He preferred to go out in the field and work with Dad, while I preferred to ride to town with Mom. My fingernails kept clean that way. Dried mud on my fingers drove me crazy as a kid . . . and it still does. Not once in 55 years of writing did my fingers get muddy . . . and I'm very thankful.

Aunt Agnes is not only great, she's nigh onto 100

   It's 2009 now as I'm regurgitating this favorite sunset. Aunt Agnes -- now 96 -- is living alone in the same house in Grand Island that her family moved into on May 3, 1947. She's was always my favorite auntie, well really a tie with my Great Aunt Elsie Detamore, who took care of her parents and never married.

   The Derrs moved from the Giltner area where they farmed before Uncle Bus began custom combining, starting in Texas and working his way up wheat harvest fields to Montana. Uncle Bus died in 1990, the same year as AF, my father. Bus? His mother called him Buster as a child, but the shortened Bus followed him to the grave. Elmer was his given name.

   Hurry up, Rex, the sun is setting fast. Are you going to tell your story, or not?

   OK, back to this unbelievable sunset in 1947. It was the catalyst which launched my life-long career into photography and then into journalism as editor of three San Diego County newspapers.

   As I commented earlier, I didn't know then what effect this sunset would have on me. Through the years I don't ever remember of dreaming about that sunset - nor do I remember seeing another sunset. Not one! It could be that my mind is fading? Kinda like riding off into the sunset?

   The scene that summer evening of long ago just lodged in the cracks of my mind somehow, or somewhere. It took years for the photo-career egg to hatch, but I was patient -- like a setting hen waiting to hear a peep.

   This 1947 sunset was still brilliant when Uncle Bus drove away. I had hoped the sun would just keep hanging in there a little longer because I didn't want the scene to fade away. It finally did, but not in my memory.

Sun's handiwork painted for me!

   My Grandpa Tom Salmon would tell me that all good things come to an end -- sooner or later - like cold red watermelon on a hot August evening. So, I was at peace with the sun and was so appreciative of how it had painted the clouds for me. I see it as God saying Good Evening! I'm sure others in Nebraska saw the sun's handiwork also, but I claimed it for life!

   Here's the sunset framed in my mind: I see the silhouette of our tall windmill with giant blades towering over the 2 giant bushy Chinese elm trees behind the washhouse on the left side, and our one-story house with chimneys on the right. It was picture perfect with the setting fireball glowing low in the middle. In the background, a row of posts and barbed wire which fenced the pasture completed the picture.

   I can also see a wire running from the living room window to the top of the windmill. No, it wasn't an electric wire for a yard light because we didn't have electricity. REA had put in a line running past our farm, but it didn't turn into our driveway. The wire was our radio antenna. It was our entertainment and connection to the world when Dad could afford another small lead-acid battery. They seemed to die quickly, especially in the middle of a nightly program like "The Lone Ranger," "Inner Sanctum," or "Amos `n' Andy." There were exciting programs every night as we gathered around the big wooden radio - that charming invention which brought the world to our living room. During the day, popular songs like "Sioux City Sue" and "Don't Fence Me In" came over the air like magic.

    Oh, yeah, "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke" by Tex Williams came out in 1947. I met Tex (real name Sollie Paul Williams) and his wife Dallas in 1981 at a Sunday dinner at the home of his nephew Paul Williams in 1981. He wouldn't sing this song for us, but he did smoke. He died of lung cancer in 1985.

   Speaking of entertainment in 1947, it was something done at home with outdoor games like Kick the Can, Andy-Andy-Over, Hide-and-seek, or climbing contests in the Chinese elm windbreak or in the haymow. In the summer we often played until it got too dark to see, then Mom would holler out "bedtime."'

   Our family did have one outing as a group when the 8 of us saw "The Yearling" at the Mazda Theater in Aurora. It was about a fawn which this little boy in the swamp loved, but it grew up to destroy his father's crops. Then the sad part came when the boy had to "take care" of it. Schoonie Schoonover was the proprietor.

How exciting to be in a real theater!

   In another Rambling with Rex, I wrote about seeing free outdoor movies on Saturday nights in Giltner, but it was a big thrill to be in a real movie theater. I don't know how the folks afforded it even though children's tickets were 10 cents plus 2 cents war tax. It was the only family time we spent in a theater. We never ate in a restaurant, so it wasn't a movie and dinner out! Only rich people ate in town.

   On the farm we didn't even have a record player, but we did have a piano which Mom could play by ear. When she heard a new song, she could sit right down and come up with the tune. She never learned to read music, but with her God-given talent, who needed notes on the brain? She started playing as a young schoolgirl and she said her dad loved to relax in the winter evenings in the 1930s by listening to her music. "Nola," a 1915 ragtime song, was one of his favorites.

    Today, when I hear or think of that song, my mind sees Mom playing the piano and Grandpa Joe smiling, leaning back in his favorite chair with his eyes shut. When I recently checked out the words, maybe Grandpa had a precious memory of a pretty petticoat up in Butte, Montana, when he was young boy? Here's the first verse in song by Felix Arndt:

"I realize within your eyes for me there lies a paradise
What other bliss is like a kiss from pretty lips I idolize
You are so sweet and you are so neat
A girl like you I'd never meet
Just to behold you is a treat that's hard to beat."

   Sunset? Oh, yeah, that's right! We're headed that way!

   That Sunday evening in 1947, I was excited about capturing this sunset and I came up with this plan. I asked Mom to take a picture of the sunset for me. Her answer played over and over in my mind through my young years: "You can't take pictures of a sunset." I heard her reply but couldn't figure out why.

    I popped up with the normal "Why?" which kids dole out readily, often repeatedly. She said "You can't take pictures looking into the sun, and besides, you won't see the colors in black and white film." I was saddened, but how could I argue with that? My "Why?" became a challenge for me, you know, like it was my mountain in life to conquer.

Blinding dust storms took a toll

    I don't know if there were color films available then for Mom's simple Kodak 120 box camera. She only shot B&W film, and not very often. With shortage of pocketbook coins and with all the mouths to feed, there wasn't cash for photos -- especially with the lack of a good harvest in the long hot and dry summers in the Dust Bowl. The blinding dust blew north one day, west the next, and then rested a couple of days and started over.

   With a lack of discretionary funds, our family has very few photos of us 5 older kids in stages of growth. There were no annual school mug shots with dates. It's sad for us today, but as my mother Luella was wont to say: "In a hundred years, it won't make any difference." Or was it "In a hundred years, we won't know the difference?" In a hundred years, who cares which way it was?

   One of the regrets in Mom's life was never having a formal family portrait taken of all 10 of us. Dad lived to be 75 and died the day after his birthday on June 14, 1990, which is my brother Alfred's birthday. By the time my brother Steve died in May 1993, there were only 8 in the family then: Mom, me, Pauline, Alvin, Danny, Alfred, LuAnne, and Venida.

   I remember Mom wishing again that we had a "real" family photo a few months before she died in November 2001. We do have a snapshot taken at Christmas 1954, one which is quite informal and not very sharp. When the camera snapped, Steve jabbed Pauline and she reared up on the couch and was giggling. Mom's father, Joseph Nathaniel Delano, must have taken the picture with my camera. Grandpa Joe is the 5th generation grandson of Dr. Thomas Delano, who married Rebecca Alden, the daughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins from the 1620 Mayflower.

   Camera calling Rex: OK, we've got the sunset in mind now, but pray tell how the scene led to a photography career.

   We'll have to jump forward to 1950 when I bought my first camera. It was 3 years after the fabulous 1947 sunset and here I was at the advanced age of 12.

    My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Flash Six-20. I was mighty proud of my magical possession which stopped time for me. People in my photos never got old. Photos of 1950 have my sister LuAnne only a month old, yet today she's a mother of 2 and a grandmother of 4 now.

    In another photo, our two milk cows are standing on the sunset side of the barn, but the barn is gone, along with the house, outhouse, corncrib, chicken house, garage, wash house, and a beautiful hedge of cedars to block the north winter wind. The whole farmstead is planted to corn - as if my world of 1950 didn't exist - but my photos prove otherwise . . . and my mind won't let go. The buildings are there and we're living there, so you see my camera did stop time - as well as my memory!

    My camera wasn't a box camera like Mom's. Hers was an oblong wooden box made around 1900. No such thing as flash bulbs then. It had thin black imitation leather glued onto the body with a real leather strap for the handle.

The "B" setting let light pour in

   Mom's camera only had a small hole for the lens, but mine was an advanced metal model of the late 1930s with a rounded glass lens. The flash was detachable, plus the camera had a "B" setting, which meant I could take long exposures with available light. When squeezing the exposure button, the lens would open for about 1/50th of a second. But, when I clicked the lever to "B" it meant my camera was on "Bulb Mode." Of course the camera had to be setting on something solid to come up with sharp picture, like a fence post when I was shooting a moon shot . . . or a sunset.

   I thought I was right uptown because my camera had that "B" feature, which meant the lens would stay open until I let go of the button. At night I could photograph lightning by pointing the camera toward the area of strikes. I would hold down the exposure button until I saw several flashes.

    Sometimes the lens would be open for 20 or 30 seconds in the black of the night, without overexposing the film. I would try to get a tree in front of me so the lightning would shine through the branches to make an intriguing subject. This was my thinking and experimenting when I was 12. Not all photos came out as I expected, but it was a great learning experience. I was ready to meet any challenge - even a possible sunset. I also photographed fireworks on the "B" setting and got fantastic fireballs and sprays of sparks in the night scenes.

   Being told by Mom in 1947 that I couldn't photograph sunsets spurred me to get my own camera one day and to go the limit with my imagination. Years later I did find out I could shoot the sun in the face and get great photos.

    I don't remember the price of my first camera, nor do I remember where I bought it, but it was an important step forward in my life. I wrack my brain but still can't picture the camera in a store. There were no camera fairies is those days, but it seems now that I woke up one day and I had a camera. When my brain starts taking vacations, some of it never returns! And it never comes back with photos to stop time!

    Where did a 12-year-old farm boy earn money to buy his first life treasure? Well, here we go again, I don't remember for sure, but I have three possibilities: driving tractor on harvesting crew, detasseling corn, or using funds from selling a registered yearling Holstein heifer in 1949. Maurice Kremer, my God-father, gave Steve and me a calf for the 4-H Black & White Dairy Club.

I wrote a check to buy my bike at age 12

   When Maurice sold his herd of dairy cows in February 1950, he handed Steve and me a check for $400. It was the most money I'd ever had in my life. I deposited my share in Farmer's State Bank in Aurora and then a few weeks later wrote a check for $49 for a Monarch bicycle at Miller's Coast-to-Coast. I was 12 with a checking account, something my friends never had.

   Maybe I earned money by detasseling corn with a crew out of Giltner in the summer of 1950. The boss was Mr. Marlatt. Lloyd was his name, but a boss to this shy polite 12 year old always got a mister title. It was a tough job for little ol' me at $3 for a long day. I was just over five feet and the tassels were waving at me 6 feet up. I had to bend each stalk a bit and yank out the family jewels flashing on top.

   Let me introduce you to some female corn I met. What? Female corn? OK, Rex, I hope this isn't a wild goose chase. Don't forget about your special sunset!

   Thanks for your patience! This sunset yarn will develop by and by. At the time, we were living on a farm southeast of Giltner owned by DeRoy and Wylda Springer Wilson. I remember shooting scenes of horses, cows, and hogs. Plus I captured the first photos of my little sister LuAnne, who was born in 1950 on Sunday, April 2. Don Wilson took us kids fishing while Dad took Mom to the Aurora Hospital across the street from the Burlington Train Depot.

    I wanted a photo of LuAnne alone, but she was less than a month old and couldn't sit up. So, I figured out a way to get Lil' Sis sitting. I stacked two straw bales against an opened barn door and put a blanket down on the ground in front of the bales. My sister Pauline, 10, went into the barn and knelt down and stuck her arms between the bales to hold LuAnne. Pauline's hands didn't show under LuAnne's tiny frilly dress, so I got my photo of LuAnne sitting up alone for the first time.

Some dapper dude in the garden

   I was learning then how to create photos and to make them happen. In 1951 I bought my first roll of color film. I have a photo of me in my new dark green cords, with white shirt, and a bright pink tie and cap. I had one foot up on a stake in the garden and I guess thought I was dapper. That early color film is nearly faded out by now.

    But here's something that I just can't fathom: I don't remember ever seeing a sunset when I had my first camera, even with color film.

   Rex, you said you were going to introduce us to some female corn. Well?

   Here's how it goes, Ladies and Gentlemen: Corn stalks have both male and female functions, with the tassel being the male part and the silk and kernels on the ears the female part. There's one silk for each kernel.

   The corn plant will pollinate itself, but when growing corn for hybrid seed, it's important that the female corn doesn't pollinate itself. When the tassels are pulled out, the stalk becomes female.

   Usually there are four or six rows of corn with tassels pulled out, bordered by two rows with tassels. These are male corn. When detasseling is completed by crews of high school kids, you can readily see a distinctive pattern in the field. You'll see two rows of tassels standing proud between the rows without tassels, and on and on. It made a nice design across the field when driving in our 1939 four-door faded maroon Mercury.

   When harvest time came in the 50's, the farmer picked the two rows of male corn to feed animals, or send it to market. The rows without tassels are harvested by seed companies who pay the farmer for his crop under a contract. The seed is processed and sold for next year's corn crop at a very high price - like hundreds of dollars a bushel today. When a farmer has thousands of acres to plant, one can readily expect a 6-figure bill just for seed corn! All that corn is planted in the ground with no guarantee that the crop won't be wiped out by a late frost or big hail storm. That's called farming, which has a subtitle of risky.

Biggest ears selected for next year's crop

    I remember when I was a kid of 5, my father selected his seed corn by picking out the biggest and best ears for next year's crop. Of course, it wasn't hybrid but it was sure cheaper. That's the way it was done by Dad's father Thomas and by his grandfather Alexander Franklin Salmon, the Scot who homesteaded in 1869 west of Stockham and now has about 325 descendants.

   OK, Rex, thanks for introducing us to female corn and for the image of detasseling, but what about capturing a sunset?

    I'm still shaking my head in disbelief because I don't remember ever seeing another sunset as a young farmer? There had to be other great sunsets, but my mind can only focus on the one in 1947.

    So, I have to admit that I never did get a sunset photo with my first camera, the Brownie Six-20. Once, as I mentioned, I bought a roll of color to shoot some family members and flowers, but I stopped buying the film because it was too expensive. The "steak" film didn't match my "hotdog" cash flow, so to speak. Plus, the color wasn't very reliable. The sunset of my mind still wasn't developed yet.

   In the fall of 1952 I discovered this 4-H Photography Club in Aurora and was anxious to join. I don't remember how I found out about it, but it led me into a life-long pursuit of photography.

   The club leader was Don Vetter, a farmer from up Marquette way. I'm sure thankful that he was willing and that he had the patience to pass his camera skills on to us in the club. Years later now, he owns The Grain Place, an organic farm and processing center known around the world. It's located north of Aurora on the KND and his son has the reins now.

    What's the KND? When I was a kid, Highway 14 was known as the KND, Kansas-Nebraska-Dakota Highway, because it runs only in these three states. It starts at the southern border of Kansas and heads north up to the Canadian border. So, in short talk, it was the KND.

   OK, Rex, drive back to Aurora where we're talking about the 4-H Club.

Praise time for Don Vetter and 4-H

   Sure thing. I have nothing but praise for 4-H for Don and his leadership in teaching me and my fellow 4-H'ers about photography. The problem: I'm ashamed to say that I've never told Don what a big part he played in my career as a photojournalist. Photography and writing are close allies because words are needed to explain some photos. In college, I got a bachelor's degree in journalism, and I tacked a photo career onto my basic 4-H camera skills.

   Hang in there Don, we'll get back to you soon to make the praise official, but first we have to develop the life picture of this young camera fan.

   I was excited about joining the photo club and I loved the competition. I was all ears as I absorbed what Don told us about composition, handling of cameras, light meters (especially Weston Master II), plus darkroom techniques.

   The club was also fortunate to have the two sons of County Agent Corwin Mead with us. This meant that Mr. Mead attended almost all of the meetings and went on the photo trips. He was also a fine photographer, so I learned from him, also. It was a blessing to have the county agent at our meetings - and a source of pride -- because a county agent normally only made one official visit to a Hamilton County 4-H Club each year. He could only stretch so far.

   My fellow club members that I recall were Bob and Pat Mead, Dick Helleberg, Tom Moderow, and Max Grudzinski. There may have been another, but his face doesn't light up just now. If it's you, write me!

    I spent more and more time looking at the world through the viewfinder of my Six-20. I put to practice what I learned from critiquing photos at the club meetings. We were given assignments for each meeting, with subjects such as a person at work, a person at play or rest, a formal portrait, an animal, a tree, a crop, or a building - to name a few subjects.

   The assignments seemed simple enough, but when down to the nitty-gritty, there were many factors to be considered when making an image which would win the top honor in voting at each club meeting. The factors included position of the camera such as a low angle, contrast, vertical or horizontal, point of focus, time of day, the direction of the main source of lighting (sun or flash), and if a dramatic treatment in the darkroom were needed.

The person behind the camera is in charge

   When working with people, we learned that the photographer was the director and the subjects relied upon the person behind the camera to put them in the best light, so to speak. We had to be both a salesman and a public relations man.

   I recall this one field trip when the club went to the bluffs overlooking the Platte River north of Aurora. It must have been near Don Vetter's farm? (Speaking of Don, he must be getting on in years because I was 14 when I joined the club and now in 2009, I'm 71.) We captured images of lone cedar trees, the long grass blowing in the wind, bluffs, cattle, people, large floating fluffies (clouds) in our compositions. Sometimes, we posed for each other to add some human interest.

    I thought that I had really arrived when I was 14 and was "out with the camera guys." On the way back to Aurora, those beautiful white fluffies on one trip turned into dark rain clouds. On this Saturday, we ended the day by going to the Mazda movie theater, where we were glad to be inside and dry. Sometimes, the thunder overshadowed the sound track of the movie - the name of which I can't recall - but it was fun because I was with the "camera guys" in 4-H.

    What really got my interest in photography came in the dark. Don turned his big farm kitchen into a darkroom with red lights. He placed his enlarger and print box on a counter and the three trays of chemicals on the table in the middle of the room. We gathered around the table to watch the action.

   Oh, the excitement for me. Don placed a negative in the enlarger and blew up an image. I think the first one I saw develop was on 5x7 paper. Don slipped the Kodak printing paper into the tray while rocking it gently to cover the paper with developer. Within seconds an image was forming right before my eyes. It was magic. I was hooked. I was inspired.

The magic of the darkroom is invigorating

   How could Don do that? When I found out how to do it, I became my own master of darkroom magic. Presto! The images arrive mysteriously.

   That night in Don's darkroom -- which his wife Mary Alice called her kitchen in the daytime -- is still vivid in my mind. I can see the special red darkroom lights and the three white trays with images on Kodak paper. The first tray is the developer, the second is the stop bath, and the third is the fixer. Once you smell fixer, you'll never forget it. Old darkroom technicians use to say they spent so much time in the dark that they had fixer for blood. The aroma is very pungent, but after a couple of hours in the dark, one gets used to it.

    The second tray immediately stops all development, and the third removes unexposed silver halides (which forms the white or light areas of a photo). When fixing is finished in about 6 minutes, the photos are washed in running water in the sink for 20 to 30 minutes and then dried on a plate of glass. Excess water is removed by drawing a rubber blade over the paper. If a glossy finished is preferred, the photo is placed on a very shiny ferrotype tin. When dry, the photo curls off and it's very glossy.

    I also found it exciting when Don arranged for the 4-H Club to take tour of the darkroom at the Lumbard-Leschinsky Studio in Grand Island. We got to see the rolls of negatives printed, processed, numbered, and put together in an envelope for a customer.

    My eye was opening to the idea that photography was more than just a project for a 4-H Club. People would pay for the skill required for developing negatives and printing positives (photos). For my first self-assigned event at age 12, I photographed a 50th wedding anniversary for Giltner farmers Charlie and Lizzie Pierce Turner, who were married in 1900.

Flash-back time: You're a great photographer

   The entertainment was a mock wedding where fellow women of the Bingville Community Club dressed up as the bride and groom, the flower girls with sunflowers, and the preacher man. The groom wore bib overalls and a straw hat with hay sticking out. I never got paid for my photos, but it was my first public exposure using a camera. I was proud when the Turners thanked me for the photos because I was the only one with a camera!

    Just after I walked up and took the photo of them sitting at a table with their cake, my Grandma Grace Delano, said "Rex, you should stay out of the way." Flash ahead 30 years: We were in Phoenix and I had just finished photographing of my nephew Junior Day's marriage to his sweetie Susie. As we were walking away, Grandma Grace put her hand on my back and said, "Rex, you're quite a photographer." My mind immediately flipped back to 1950 when she advised to me stay out of the way. I'm glad I didn't. I went on to shoot about 200 weddings over 40 years.

   OK, Rex! Clean the wedding cakes off your chin and get back to your 4-H Club.

    At each meeting, the photos were lined up and judged. Other subject assignments would be given such as "a person working in the house" or "portrait of person other than a mug shot" or photographing the Courthouse. The ID's of the photographers were written on backs, so we were to judge photos sorely on merits of assignment, composition, and subject.

   In the last two years of high school, my darkroom skills paid off with friendships of two gals, Roberta Klinger and Janice Buller, both from my Class of '55 at Aurora Hi. I don't remember if I invited them to my darkroom (also a kitchen, but my Mom's) or they dropped by with film to process or negatives to print. I was very shy, so I think they encouraged me with smiles - and dropped by.

Big-time job at newspaper as a printer's devil

   I took photos at the junior prom with a Leica 35mm that I borrowed from Heinrich Hopfeld, a fellow employee at the Aurora News-Register. I worked almost 4 years at the paper during high school as a printer's devil, stereotyper, and type thrower. The titles of jobs may sound strange to you, but it would take too long right now to explain. I say all this to tell you about my friend Heinrich.

    Heinrich, a printer-compositor, was a DP (displaced person from World War II) who was sponsored by Gerald and Bertha Paul Bremer, publishers of the paper. He was a native of Tallinn, Estonia, but the German Nazis took over his country during WWII and the Soviet Communists took over in 1944 and held it for 47 years.

   Heinrich said he was a soldier who jumped out of planes into snow banks in the mountains when making attacks. After the war he couldn't find his wife and family, so he started a new life in America and lived in Aurora. In the spring of 1954, he bought a new blue Ford from Ken Wortman's dealership On Oct 17, 1954, as he was stopping at the north end of 12th Street before entering Highway 34, he had a heart attack and died. His car went west of the brick entrance at Streeter's Park and crashed into a tree. He died there, across the street from where his bought his prized American possession: 1954 Ford. He also had his prized possession from Estonia: a 1939 German Leica. I've always wondered what happened to it because it's valuable today for collectors.

   There's a mystery about Heinrich's tombstone, which is located near the southeast corner of the Aurora Cemetery. Several times a year flowers are placed at the tombstone. As I'm writing this in 2009, there is no other person alive who worked with Heinrich. He lived for a while at the Burkhalter Apartments at the corner north of the Woodbine Apartments, so it's possible one of their children is the person who puts flowers on the tombstone? I'm happy to see the remembrances, but wish the nice person would identify themselves to me. I would like to say thanks.

   OK, Rex back to the prom with the Leica camera. I took photos with ambient light in the darkened gym, which was decorated with the theme "Mr. Sandman." There sure wasn't much available light, but I did get the photos with a slow lens setting. The prom was on a Friday night, so on Saturday I took the camera back to Heinrich's place and we processed the 35mm film. He roomed upstairs in the Ed James family home then. Ed worked for years with the Post Office and he and his wife had a florist shop in the basement. Their house was one block east of the Woodbine Apartments.

Gardenia puts nose to the memory test

   The next day on Sunday afternoon, my prom date Roberta Klinger and her pal, Janice Buller, came by my house to see the photos. I'm sure they were the only ones in Nebraska to get such fast photo service - and with a big smile. I bought my first gardenia corsage for Bobbie and even today a hundred years later, when I smell a gardenia, I become a 11th grader again! What an aroma! What a magic night! What a novice! What a bashful kid!

   After graduating from Aurora Hi, I was a student at the University of Nebraska in September 1955. My favorite course was photography. I was also in Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps and learned the Queen Anne Salute. I recall marching down O Street in Lincoln in the fall of 1955 with the Navy crack drill team, tossing my 1903 Springfield rifle, catching it, then dropping to one knee with the butt of the rile on the pavement. My left arm swung over and saluted against the barrel of the rifle. This was all done in unison and was quite effective, at least viewers told us that.

    I was a student at Lincoln because of Gerald and Bertha Bremer, who were my employers at the Aurora News-Register. I had planned on joining the Marines in May 1955 after graduation, but they urged me to go to college and then come back to be editor of the paper. The thought of going to college never entered my mind because no one on either side of my family had ever gone to college. Manual work was all we knew.

    Gerald even gave me his checkbook to use at the university. I would sign his name and then mine below it. Would you believe that not one merchant in Lincoln challenged me? The days of trust and honest face must be gone!

   When the semester ended, I guess I felt that I would be in debt for life to the Bremers, so I returned the checkbook and joined the Marines. I served at Camp Pendleton for 3 years and came out as a sergeant. I enrolled at San Diego State College in February 1959, with photography being one of my five classes that semester.

    During a part of the first semester, I was working my way through college doing odd jobs of painting, cleaning, washing dishes at a dorm for a meal, and cooking at a pancake house. Would you believe we had 63 types of pancakes?

   Three months after classes started, I checked the college's "Jobs Available" board and was thrilled at what I saw: "Photographer and Darkroom Technician Wanted. Contact the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District." The district was 3 miles east of San Diego State. I got myself a bicycle and pedaled to work.

Thanks for 4-H Clubs, Don, and county agents

    OK, we've finally arrived. It's time to praise Don Vetter for volunteering his time to teach photography in the 4-H Club in Aurora. I have nothing but praise and thanks for 4-H clubs and for those who volunteer their leadership. Thank you, Don. You're my hero! And thank you for county agents sent by the university.

    My training in the 4-H Photography Club at Aurora set me up for the job that paid my way through six years of college. So, now you see why I have big-time praise for 4-H Club training.

   Since my interest was really in photography, I was hooping and hollering in April 1959 when I found out I got the school district job, with its 16 schools. The photo class at NU gave me the skills required for photographing with the big Speed Graphic 4x5 camera. My darkroom skills came alive again and I learned about dodging and burning with the Omega D2 enlarger.

   The best part of the school district job was the salary: I got $2.64 an hour compared to other college students who got the going state rate of $1 an hour. My photography training paid off big time. I worked part-time during the school year and full time in the summers, so I had no problems paying for my college tuition, books, apartment, car, and food. The tuition was $36 a semester, new books were $8 to $10, used books were $2 to $5, rent was $30 (shared a $120 new apartment with 3 boys), and $20 for food. I drove a 1953 hardtop Mercury Monterey, with crme on bottom and orange on top. I paid $350 for it and I was very proud of this beautiful car with overdrive. I didn't owe a cent when I finished college, plus I regained my friendship with the Bremers.

   Bertha visited me in 1967 at the Hamilton County Nebraska Picnic in Long Beach, Calif., which was started in 1915 at Bixby Park. In 1945 almost 450 former and current county residents signed up at one picnic, always the 1st Sunday in March. The names include many pioneering families of the county. As we sat on a picnic bench in the shade, Bertha told me: "Rex, we just wanted to make sure you finished college." She autographed a copy of new book "Centennial History of Hamilton County 1867-1967" for me. I told her I received my impetus for college and newspapering from them, and that I was very thankful. So now I've publically thanked Don Vetter and the Bremers - in memoriam -- for their big part in my life.

Yakkity, Yakkity, Yak goes this writer

   OK, Rex, you've yakked on for a long time, but you've never mentioned again about a sunset. What's up? Didn't you want a camera so you could take sunset photos?

   I say it again: I find it hard to believe, but I didn't start taking photos of sunset until about 1980. Now I have several thousand sunsets and sunrises - and plenty of images between the two exciting parts of a day. I'm alert to what the sun is promising with the clouds. Most images are digital on DVDs and I'm organizing my collection to place on the internet to sell images. The best sunset: the next one coming up!

   So, in summary, here's how it came about that I'm a photographer. I couldn't get a photo of the 1947 sunset, so I wanted a camera so I could try it myself. I got my camera in 1950 and I shot B&W negatives, but no sunsets. I can't recall even viewing one sunset. You still don't believe me? I don't either!

    In 1952, I joined the 4-H Photography Club and learned to train my eye for composition and unusual angles, plus I learned to develop negatives and prints. I made a darkroom in our family basement.

   In 1958 while serving in the Marines I bought a Graflex 35mm camera and started shooting color slides exclusively. I remember buying this one at a camera store in Oceanside, the address for Camp Pendleton while in the Marines. I used the Graflex to capture scenes along the John Muir Trail as I hiked 110 miles, going up and down Mt. Whitney's 14,495-foot peak.

   In April 1959 while in college, I became the photographer for the school district and the darkroom technician. I worked my way through college in six years and then became editor of my first paper, The San Dieguito Citizen, a weekly in Solana Beach. It's a Pacific Coast city about 25 miles north of San Diego on Old Highway 101, a scenic 2-lane coastal highway which ran up to the Canadian border before freeways and the Interstate was born.

   As I look back today, I smile and Thank God how fortunate I was to be in the right place were Don Vetter was willing to pass his photography skills along to kids in a 4-H Club. I'm also thankful for County Agent Corwin Mead for his patience in sharing his photo skills.

   My regret is that through the years I haven't led a 4-H Club so I can share my skills with other kids. I was a wedding photographer for about 40 years, shooting mostly in San Diego County, but also in Cleveland, Denver, Phoenix, Hastings, Palmer, and Aurora.

    I suppose that I could also lead a 4-H Wedding Photography Club in Aurora. Shooting weddings is a lot of stress, but a happy time as you share in the joys of the bride and groom on their special day.

Some day when the sun comes up I'll be home!

   I keep thinking "Some day I'll be back in Aurora so I can share my love of photography to youngsters in a 4-H Club." So far, it hasn't happened, but I'm still hopeful. I left Aurora 54 years ago and I want to return - before I'm planted a mile north of Aurora besides my great grandparents, Alexander Franklin Salmon and Jean Rutherford Salmon.

    OK, Rex back to sunsets and sunrises. The best color for sunsets comes a half hour after the sun sets, and conversely, the best time for sunrises comes a half hour before the sun peeks over the horizon.

   It's ironic, but with more pollution in the skies, the more brilliant the sun's comings and goings! That's right, the more pollution for the sun's rays to shine through, the more brilliant the colors are for starting or ending a day.

   But when I see a fantastic sunset, I don't think of pollution causing it. I see God's handiwork in greeting my day and in ending it by using a giant water-color brush. This is my world and I can color it as I please - and I don't have to stay in the lines either. Lines are for people without imaginations - with special regards to Miss Leola Ott and Miss Betty Hunnicutt, my teachers at Fairfield School Dist. 66.

   I'm thankful for digital cameras today, but a good eye for composition, color and texture is still required. Great photos aren't accidents.

   Prize-winning photos can be taken with a pin-hole camera costing but a few cents when made at home. It's the photographer who takes the photo, not the camera. In the same way, a typewriter doesn't write a novel, the writer does.

   Thanks for trailing along on my photographic journey. This is my history of the 1947 sunset which captured my mind as a young farmer. I agree with you that it took a long time to develop -- what with all of the side trips we went on getting this far. Smile, you may be in my camera with the next sunset!

Mom is looking over my shoulder enjoying sunsets

   My mother is gone on to her reward in Heaven now, but as I'm shooting sunsets today, my mind wanders back when I asked her to shoot that 1947 sunset for me.

   In some of her last letters, Mom would tell me how beautiful the sunset was that day as seen from her home at Hearthstone in York. She would write "You should have been here to photograph it."

    Somehow, through the years, Mom realized it was my passion to capture sunsets -- beautiful sunsets. Just because the sun sets, that doesn't make it a sunset in my mind, no matter what Noah Webster says.

   A vanilla sunset just doesn't do the trick for me. My sunsets require lots of reds and yellows, likes strawberries, cherries, and peaches complementing the vanilla.

   Mom was there for me as a kid with my eager camera, even when I was in the 4-H Photography Club. She would drive me around Hamilton County to get the shots I needed for photos assigned by Don Vetter.

   So, it seems we have come full circle from that 1947 sunset when Mom told me she couldn't capture those evening clouds, dressed in their finest arraignments of heavenly colors. As Mom was fading off into the sunset of her life, she had me and my camera in her thoughts.

   Thanks, Mom!

   Thanks, God, for your giant colorful sky easels you've painted for me through the years. Sun rises and sunsets over the oceans must be spectacular with nothing to block the view, but the cloud colors can be a weather forecast: Red in the morning, sailors take warning. Red at night, sailor's delight? I'm delighted at night and I'm not even a sailor. I'm a Marine sergeant with my camera at ready!

   Thanks, Don Vetter, for your patience and willingness to "export" your photographic skills to novices with cameras.

   Thanks for 4-H Clubs: "I pledge . . . My Head to clearer thinking, My Heart to greater loyalty, My Hands to larger service, and My Health to better living . . . For my club, my community, my country, and my world."

   And thank you, readers, for sharing my photographic trip while I learned to "stop time" with my camera.

   May all your sunsets be beautiful . . . especially all you 4-H'ers!

©, 2009 : Rex L. Salmon

Return to the
Rambling With Rex Main Page
Hamilton County Main Page.