And in My Spare Time

When you get the chance to be a ten year old and get paid for it …

Building a Doolittle Raider

The North American B-25 Mitchell served in nearly every theater of operations during World War II. While the ionic medium bomber was continuously modified and redesigned for a wide variety of roles, some of the most famous B-25s were among the earliest produced. The 16 B-25Bs that launched from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet for their “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” were fresh off the assembly line in 1940.

Airfix totally retooled their 1/72nd-scale B-25 in 2018. The kit that emerged was designed from the outset to be built in a number of versions. In 2019 the company released their newest kit, which could be built as one of those 16 famous “Doolittle Raiders.”

The kit has nice detail and is well engineered. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. An extra parts tree is included with pieces particular to the Raiders: an M7 cluster incendiary bomb, the clear tail cone with holes for two dummy machine guns and the substitute “Mark Twain” bombsight.

An alternative cowling with its series of individual exhaust vents, hints at other versions of the Mitchell are coming.

Begin with the cockpit. A decal is provided to represent the instrument panel, but metal-etched detail sets are available to give the cockpit that extra boost. The cockpit assembly includes the bombardier’s position. Once it’s complete, install the assembled flight deck to the left half of the fuselage. Following the instructions, add the bulkheads that also make up the bomb bay. The bomb bay section of early Mitchells was sometimes left natural metal rather than the standard interior green (FS34151) found in the rest of the airplane. A natural aluminum color will help set off the B-25’s ordnance. For the Doolittle Raid, most of the Mitchells carried three 500-pound bombs and one M7 incendiary. Paint the bombs a yellowish chromate green. Early in the war most of the available bombs were painted this color as opposed to the more familiar olive drab.

The B-25 wants to be a “tail sitter,” so added weight in the nose is a must. Small lead fishing sinkers work well tucked into the spaces around the cockpit, though the glass nose does limit the available space. If you find you can’t add enough weight to keep the bomber on its tricycle landing gear, there is a solution (see below) during the final stages of assembly. Now bring the fuselage halves together. Putty as necessary—the overall fit is very good—and set the assembly aside.

With the fuselage complete, it’s time to paint and assemble the two Wright R-2600 Double Cyclone radial engines. There are two sets of engine cowlings—choose the smooth version and check the instructions. The second set has a series of small cooling intakes around the back half of the cowling, a modification in later aircraft.

Put together the horizontal and vertical stabilizers and attach the assembly to the fuselage. Use the piece provided to cover the ventral machine gun turret position. The remotely powered machine gun turret was one of the first things removed as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle looked to save weight and increase the bomber’s range. Attach the wings and the aircraft begins to take on its classic shape.

A pre-cut set of masks for the canopy and cockpit glass is well worth the expense.

Invest in a set of precut adhesive masks. The “greenhouse” Plexiglas panes that make up the cockpit and nose section are difficult to cut by hand. Attach those sections to the fuselage, wrap the landing gear, fill the top turret position with tissue and the airplane is ready for a coat of paint.

The bomber was painted olive drab (FS34087) over neutral gray (FS36270) undersurfaces. Don’t forget the black deicer boots along the leading edges of the wings and tail. Once the masking and painting is complete, a coat of clear gloss gets the model ready for a set of decals.

The kit comes with two choices of markings, but the obvious one for most modelers is sure to be Hari Kari-er, the 11th Doolittle Raider to launch. This bomber is one of the few for which photographic evidence exists of its nose art while on Hornet’s deck. The kit decals are very nice and settle comfortably into panel lines with the help of a setting solution.

Apply a flat clear coat and Hari Kari-er is almost complete. It’s time to attach the smaller detail parts, the tail skid, main gear tires and antennas. The model was designed so that a number of fuselage windows can be added from the outside, after painting. Most kits require these clear parts to be glued in place from the inside, requiring additional masking.

The crew hatches can be displayed opened or closed, but an open rear hatch will help the bomber sit correctly on its landing gear. If you attach a small piece of clear sheet plastic to that crew door it will aid in supporting the aft section of the airplane.

Attach the propellers and the clear tail cone, complete with two fake machine guns meant to deter enemy fighters. Finally, slide the completed dorsal machine gun turret into place and your Doolittle Raider is ready for its famous mission.

 

 

 

 

The First Three Songs

It’s become a concert staple for the press pool photographers. Shoot the first three songs, no flash, then off you go.

You and a half dozen or so of your fellow “shooters,” along with their gear, are placed on a rather small riser next to the soundboard. All of us looking for those two or three shots to accompany the all important review in the next days paper. Shoot hard and fast during those first three tunes, then we’re hustled away. Check out your images and in this age of instant digital gratification, upload the good ones to run with our respective publications.

However … on that chilly December night in Charlotte, North Carolina, for me, it was all on film.

It was on film, wasn’t it? I sure as hell hoped it was. I hadn’t joined the digital masses quite yet. This would be my first time shooting something like this and I’d be lying if I said, I wasn’t just a little bit apprehensive. I actually practiced, camera and tripod in the middle of the living room, standing in front of the television with an old concert video. Just how many rolls of film could I shoot, rewind and shoot, in the time it would take to play those first three songs?

It didn’t take long. I don’t even remember what those first three songs were. It was pretty much a blur. Film to the lab and it was up to the darkroom now.

If you’re also a fan , you’ve grabbed a ticket. You sprint to the car to stash your gear and head back for the rest of the show. That’s me, I’m the fan who just shot Bruce Springsteen in concert for the very first time and I’m definitely seeing the rest of the show.

The film is back and … It came out … ok, I guess.

I could have done better, maybe next time. Would there even be a next time? I did come back with the goods, the editor was happy, and my foot was firmly planted in the door.

There would be a next time. In fact, there would be more than two dozen (and counting) next times.

 

It’s a unique and challenging type of photography. Unpredictable, and dynamic as you attempt to capture the “moment” on stage.  The goal is to translate that “healing power of rock and roll” into a still image that takes the viewer straight to center stage, or reminds them of the show that they saw and their own “moment.”

Each show is different, but each one is the same. There is a yin and yang sort of thing going on, with a very steep learning curve. You prepare, you’re ready, you’d like to think you know what’s going to happen, but you’re never. quite. sure.  Keep shooting, you’ve only got three songs.

There’s a sense of satisfaction when you realize you’ve gotten the shot. It’s an image that’s just a bit different, an image that shows off the connection that the band has onstage with each other and with the audience. The bonus is when someone else sees it too, when someone else points to your image and says “yeah, that one.”

Lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been lucky enough to stand on that little riser, press pass stuck to my jeans, for over a decade. I’ve been told I have a “library of images,” a “body of work,” go figure.

I’m just looking forward to adding to that library , three songs at a time.

 

 

Watching that Step

I didn’t know what Bob Gibson’s ERA was (it was 2.18, I had to look it up) but I sure knew that Neil Armstrong was from someplace called Wapakoneta, Ohio and that he had flown the X-15. I knew that Buzz Aldrin had shot down two MiGs in Korea. They were my heros (are, actually). I had a favorite Mercury astronaut and I cried as if my dog had died when I found out Gus Grissom had been killed in the Apollo 1 fire along with Roger Chaffee and Ed White (he had walked in space on Gemini 4, take that Bob Gibson.)

So it’s no surprise that I got to stay up late along with the rest of the world that night, trying to figure out how to take a photo off the TV screen with my dad in the middle of the living room floor. Then, keeping our fingers crossed for a few days, hoping that the photo would even come out, after taking the roll of film to the Fotomat. That’s how I remember that night, the whole mission in fact, right up until December 19, 1972 when Apollo 17 splashed into the Pacific, the last Apollo mission.

My Hometown

 

After eighteen years of growing up in a small town in western New York, I professed my heartfelt feelings by wanting to get as far away from it as I possibly could. I can’t stress that enough, I wanted to get the hell outta dodge and put that place far, far behind me.

I have bit of a love/hate relationship with my hometown.

When you’re a kid, it’s all about your block, your friends, baseball in fields behind the houses, climbing that huge Ash tree next to the house that doubled as a ladder to the roof, a dip in the Erie Canal on a hot summer day. Growing up, I loved my hometown, or at least my little piece of it.

Contrary to what some think, this is "New York" too.

 

Eighteen years later and all I could think of was to put that town behind me. I swore I’d never go back … except maybe for Christmas. Christmas dinner in an Italian household is something to behold.

Yeah… I’d go back for that.

You go out, see the world and make your way. You find yourself, lose yourself and find yourself again, but your hometown is always a part of you, whether you realize it or not. No matter how annoyed you might have been with your life in this quaint little town, you find yourself wanting to go back, you need to go back. At some point all is forgiven … well … most of it anyway.

 

 

It’s a “young” little Victorian town. Young in the sense that the university brings throngs of new faces every September, that seem to double the population. It’s a college town and the students bring with them a fresh pair of eyes. They infuse the town with different views from an endless variety of backgrounds. I think that being a “townie” exposed you to a wider view of the world. It gave me that “wanderlust,” it made me want to get out there and see some of it.

 

Going back years later you’re struck by the Yin and Yang. Sure… things have changed but a lot is still the same. Stately Victorian homes stand in contrast to the rigid modern architecture of the high school, or the big box department store/strip mall on the edge of town. Older neighborhoods (like the block I grew up on) are in contrast to the boxy angular apartments that fill what used to be the empty lot where you used to play.

 

Just when you think it’s all changed and the hometown you remember is gone, you walk past a spot that still has a memory waiting for you. It’s as if it was sitting there all this time just waiting for you to come along, pick it up and remember.

Battlefields

Belleau Wood, Antietam, Okinawa, they’re all real, physical places, you can stand there, “on this spot,” the battle was won or lost, history changed. It’s a tangible thing that, for some, puts the moment in perspective.

For others, there are no broad sunlit fields with the occasional statue or memorial. For the flier, it’s a battlefield that exists in the rarified air at 30,000 feet. It’s for the pilot, the aircrew, to invite you to their battlefield through their stories. There are no tours through their ethereal combat zone, the cockpit is much too small.

For the ten-man crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress, the “battlefield” is the limited space inside an airplane only a little over 74 feet long and clearly designed around the measurements of a skinny 19 year old kid from the Midwest, or Alabama, or Brooklyn.

Over 12,000 of these aircraft were built in the few short years between 1936 and 1945. Today, most of them are gone, shot down over Germany, lost over New Guinea, scrapped in desert boneyards. A few are in museums, a very few, have been restored and still fly today.

A gleaming silver B-17G dubbed Aluminum Overcast is one of the last of its kind, meticulously maintained both inside and out. It’s quiet and empty now, but in a few short hours she’ll come alive. Four huge throbbing engines, ready to take this icon of another time for one more sortie, one more “mission.”

This was the stage where an extremely violent death or a leisurely flight on a sunlit afternoon, played out some 75 years ago. A cramped, cold little battlefield, one of hundreds, spread out in carefully choreographed formations. Faded black and white photos only hint at what this scene must have looked like five miles above an angry countryside.

The airplane bounces in rough air, metal and wood clanking, groaning as if it was alive. The smell of oil, rubber and sweat make it easy to imagine the floor ankle deep in spent .50 caliber brass, the cordite smoke that stings your eyes.

Today, sunlight pours in through windows instead of holes left by jagged pieces of flak. Your flight is an all too brief fifteen minutes or so, nowhere near the eight hours or more you might have spent on a trip in 1944.

After a moment at the waist gunner’s position, you make your way the length of the airplane, through the bomb bay, crawling into the nose of the big bomber. The bombardier sat right there, exposed. It’s like looking out of a fishbowl, the whole world around you and a Norden bombsight in front of you, a reminder of what this airplane was designed to do.

It does make you think.

Going Home

The past few weeks have been particularly difficult. I suddenly found myself in an empty house, the house I grew up in. It’s a place I know intimately, every nook, every corner. Not entirely certain of what to do next, I cooked. I made myself some dinner and filled the kitchen with smells that make the empty room feel full again, garlic, tomatoes, the yeasty fragrance of fresh bread, the sizzle of pancetta in an old cast iron skillet.

 

That heavy black skillet. It’s the pan I remember steak and eggs being cooked in, nearly every morning, as my father made breakfast before school. I got up early, he was up earlier. It was a brief moment when it was just the two of us. There were times we barely spoke, “Do you want some?” Sometimes entire conversations took place with barely a word.

I walked around the house looking at deeply familiar things, they looked different, the whole house was different. I suppose out of habit, I found myself taking pictures, desperately trying to capture something before it was gone.

Growing up, the basement was a playground, a classroom. Sawdust covered everything, the air full of the smell of wood and varnish. Coffee cans carefully labeled with the size of every nut, bolt, screw and nail anyone might ever need.

 

 

Outside is the scene of countless summertime dinners and clam bakes, a patio of carefully laid brick, a stone fireplace centerpiece. The garden delivered not only color from countless flowers, but thyme, parsley, rosemary, tomatoes, squash, eggplant … it was its own little neighborhood ecosystem.

 

 

 

This is the place I played, I grew, I learned the things they don’t teach in school (a terrible cliche isn’t it). Now it’s quiet. The plants need water. It feels as if someone has just left and in a minute or two, the door will open and …  everything will be ok.

Soon there will be another summer, that deep green everywhere you look, the birds, those damned squirrels. It’s different now, but If I stop for a minute, I can hear it, the cacophony of another summer in this house, or a fall, or any other season.  I will always carry it inside of me and I can go home whenever I want. If you don’t mind, I’m going outside to play.

 

Asbury Park

This town clinks like empty beer bottles at 2AM

Bleeds like steam from old pipes

Crackles like the final 5 seconds of an old LP

— graffiti left inside the old casino building

Asbury Park, New Jersey

It’s good to see the town crawling back into the light, a busy boardwalk full of shoppers, bistros with hungry patrons and a beach full of coconut scented sunbathers. It sure wasn’t that way the first time I walked down Kingsley Avenue.

Frankly, I found the decay oddly appealing, the colors and textures of rust and cracked plaster, the remains of Tillie’s neon hanging off his brow like some sort of disheveled cowlick. The last couple of local watering holes were only proof that there was some sort of life left in this windswept no-mans-land between Kingsley and Ocean avenues.

I went to the shore that first time, on a cold, dank President’s Day weekend. The chill and spitting surf just added to the ambiance, fitting perfectly with the Springsteen lyrics swirling in my head. I was there as a rock and roll pilgrim, waiting for the next quartet of local kids to mount the stage at the Stone Pony and take the world by storm.

They didn’t get to the promised land that night, they did play hard and gave it all they had. Musical pilgrims themselves, I’m sure they tried to soak in a little bit of the luck that their heros might have left behind.

Convention Hall is still a beautiful building even if it does seem to be one step ahead of a wrecking ball. Faint echos of roller derbys and Led Zeppelin still drift through the halls. At the opposite end of the beach the bookend to the hall is all but gone. The Palace, a ghost— The Casino, a mere tunnel between Asbury and it’s more “proper” victorian cousin, Ocean Grove.

I’m glad I saw it when I did. Carefully crawling through chain link fences and around sheets of plywood to find my shot, stumbling across some curious graffiti. For a little while, on those cold empty days and nights,  Asbury Park was for me, more than “that place Springsteen sings about,” it was quite literally, each and every word off the first three records.

Right in Your Backyard

I drove past it nearly every day.

There are things in our own backyard that deserve a second look, or even a third.  Guilty of taking the same route to work and then back home. Muscle memory and a travel mug full of coffee and before you know it you’ve clocked in and almost as quickly, returned home.  I missed it again.

This time I finally stopped and took a longer look.

Good Shot, Bad Shot

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

Sometimes people see something different in your image, something that even you didn’t see.

During Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 Devils and Dust tour, I was asked by an editor to shoot for his publication. I said yes. Are you kidding, of course I said yes. I grabbed my camera (and film, yes … film), hopped in the car headed on down the road.

The venue was as moody and dark as the album. When you’re in the business of “collecting light” the lack of it can make for a challenging evening. When in doubt, load the camera and shoot. I knew even before the film was developed that I probably wasn’t going to like the result but I knew I had done the best I could under the circumstances. I filed away the negs and was happy that I had been able to stay for the show.

Fast forward a decade and a phone call from a photographer friend who asked me if I had shot anything during that tour. I admitted that I had, but I had never been happy with … she stopped me and quickly said, ”someone will email you, send a half dozen at least!”

An email did come and I spent an evening pulling the negatives, trying not to think too much about how dark they were. I rescanned a few, gathered everything together and sent them off.

A day or two later, one of those images, one that I had never really thought much of, had been picked for the cover of a live, Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust tour cd release. It became part of a series of live performances being offered through brucespringsteen.net, his official website.

That dark, grainy photo, one I had never thought much of, has since become one of my very favorites.

Did I save the images because I was a fan? Probably, but I would like to think that in the back of my mind I thought “just in case” as I slipped the proof sheets and strips of exposed film into a binder. Lesson learned; save the work anyway, and when the word goes out and someone asks to see it … send it to them. You never know.