A break in Bella Vista

Wendy and I spent part of our Spring Break 2023 in Bella Vista, Arkansas. It is the northernmost of a chain of cities in the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area, NWA, which has more than tripled in population during my lifetime.

NWA now has over 560,000 residents, with its high growth driven by three Fortune 500 companies which are based there: Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. Those companies in turn have attracted over 1,300 suppliers and vendors.

For comparison, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma is the nearest big city to Bartlesville, where we live. As of 2020 Tulsa had over 400,000 residents in a metropolitan area of just over a million people. Bartlesville is about 45 minutes north of Tulsa and has about 37,000 residents.

In my youth, my parents often took me to their cabin on Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri. We visited Springdale, Arkansas a few times to eat at the AQ [Arkansas Quality] Chicken House. Springdale’s population has more than quadrupled since then, while Rogers to the north has sextupled, and Bentonville has exploded from 6,000 to almost 55,000 residents.

Wendy and I have been repeatedly drawn to Bentonville since Alice Walton opened her Crystal Bridges art museum there in 2011. The fastest route between Bentonville and Bartlesville flows through or around Bella Vista, which I have always known as a retirement community with a bunch of golf courses. I’m no golfer, but I thought it would be interesting to rent a house there via airbnb for a few days in the woods, exploring if we might be interested in retiring there some day.

Crystal Bridges

We headed out on a Monday morning, driving south from Bartlesville to Tulsa for lunch at an El Chico. Then we headed due east on US 412 to NWA for a brief stop at Crystal Bridges.

We parked in overflow and walked past the ongoing construction of a school of medicine to reach the museum, which is itself under construction for a sizable expansion. As members of the Woolaroc museum near Bartlesville, Wendy and I enjoy free entry to the temporary exhibitions at Crystal Bridges thanks to the North American Reciprocal Museum Association.

So we got a free look at Diego Rivera’s America. Neither Wendy nor I are fond of much of his work, but we do find his murals interesting, in particular the Man at the Crossroads one for Rockefeller Plaza which was destroyed because of his insistence of including in it a portrait of Vladimir Lenin.

The Crystal Bridges show included studies for that and other mural projects. But what Wendy liked best was Rivera’s Symbolic Landscape painting from 1940. I saw a clear influence of Dali in the work. Its description read, “…the stony outcrop resembles an enraged man — his fists emerge from the earth, and his angry face appears upside-down in the lower left. This man seems to attack the fallen tree, which resembles a reclining woman. A bloodied glove and knife lay on the ‘face’ of the earth, and a gold wedding ring encircles the blade. These details may refer to a murder that took place while Rivera was visiting Taxco in 1937.”

Symbolic Landscape by Diego Rivera

After that, we headed north to our cabin in Bella Vista, stopping at a Harp’s grocery along the way for some victuals.

Bella Vista

Bella Vista began as a summer recreation resort in 1915. It catered to wealthy urban families who could spend an entire summer on vacation. The resort had declined by the 1950s, and in 1965 it was repurposed as a vacation-retirement community.

Some folks would buy lots to be paid off over time for a retirement home, while others immediately built vacation homes intended to eventually transition into retirement homes. Owners enjoy access to recreational amenities, which over the decades grew to include parks, clubhouses with workout areas, swimming pools, five 18-hole and two 9-hole golf courses, seven lakes, a marina, tennis courts, and an extensive trail system. From 1965 to 2005, about 38,000 home sites were sold, of which 12,600 lots were developed.

Bella Vista’s population grew from 2,589 in 1980 to 9,628 in 1990 and to 16,582 in 2000. It finally incorporated in 2007, growing to 26,461 in 2010 and 30,104 in 2020. Almost half of its residents were 65+ in 1990, but in recent years they account for about 1/3 of its residents as the town has also evolved into a bedroom community for nearby Bentonville.

The median household income in Bella Vista was almost $75,000 in 2021. Bentonville’s is even higher, at almost $90,000. That compares to less than $55,000 in Bartlesville, which is more in line with that of Springdale over in NWA.

Modern OZ Cabin at Summit School Trail

For vacations when we will stay in place for over a day, Wendy and I have grown to prefer renting cabins or homes over hotel lodging. So I booked the Modern OZ Cabin in Bella Vista for three nights, attracted by its isolation from any neighbors, a spacious deck, and close proximity to one of the more primitive trails in Bella Vista.

I was truly grateful for GPS when navigating to and from that cabin. Just a glance at a map tells you that Bella Vista is no ordinary town. It is filled with a maze of twisting, interconnected residential roads which mostly follow the top of Ozark mountain ridges, while Bentonville and Rogers have more conventional street grids on the flatter land to the south.

Just listing the roads on the fastest route from Bentonville to our rented cabin in Bella Vista illustrates the complexity of Bella Vista’s roads: Take Interstate 49 north to exit north onto North Walton Boulevard, which is also US 71. Then turn right onto West McNelly Road, then left onto Spanker Road, then right onto Dartmoor Road, then left onto Euston Road, then right onto Kingsland Road, then right onto Trafalgar Road, then left onto Berkshire Drive, then left onto Sandhurst Drive, and finally left onto Didcot Lane. Whew!

Bella Vista’s roads wind about mostly on top of Ozark mountain ridges

We enjoyed our stay at the cabin. Despite it being a bit chilly, I liked relaxing in the sun on the deck in a reclining chair. I did try the hammock, but I always find hammocks far more attractive to look at than to actually occupy.

View from one end of the immense deck

As usual, we ignored the hot tub and the televisions, but Wendy did make use of the kitchen to prepare a hot breakfast for us each morning. We had turkey sandwiches a couple of times and drove into Bentonville for one meal at a Five Guys and a couple of meals at a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. At the latter we had a combination appetizer platter with fried cheese, onion rings, fried chicken strips, and cheese quesadillas. Wendy liked the spicy boom boom sauce so much that we returned the next day so that she could have it with some chicken strips while I had a bit of chicken with rice and steamed broccoli.

Traffic in Bentonville can become intense, complicated by both road and building construction projects. Trixie, my TomTom GPS app, did a good job of rerouting us around choke points. We were particularly glad during one rush hour when it led us off US 71 onto Punkin Hollow Road for a much more leisurely return to Bella Vista. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were actually travelling down Punkin Hollow or Pumpkin Hollow. I later checked the topographic map; sure enough, it was actually Pumpkin Hollow despite the cute road name.

We took it easy at the cabin on Tuesday, and after dinner in Bentonville I enjoyed the golden hour out on the deck.

Golden hour on the deck

A brief hike

We had good weather on Wednesday, making it the best day for a hike. Unfortunately, I had endured a night of gastroesophageal reflux and was under the weather from that and a hypertension headache. So while we did make it onto the nearby trail, our hike was brief.

I wasn’t feeling well, so we only hiked one mile round-trip

We simply walked down the short road past a few houses to where the Summit School Trail crossed.

Summit School Trail crossing near our cabin

I chose to head left, winding down a small switchback along the side of a ravine to then follow a small creek that eventually feeds little Lake Ann.

Summit School Trail switchback

I was glad to see that the trail eventually ducked down to cross the stream, as I knew that Wendy would enjoy looking at the streambed rocks in her usual hunt for crystals.

Google Maps misleadingly showed a marker for the Lamberton Cabin just off the trail where we were walking. That is a 1920 cabin from the old resort days which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Even in my weakened state, I could tell there was no such cabin as indicated. Later investigation revealed the cabin’s Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates, and I used Google Earth to determine that the old cabin was actually 2.5 miles southwest of the marker on Google Maps; I submitted a correction.

The Summit School Trail is part of an elaborate system of mountain bike/hiking trails in Bella Vista. The Walton Family Foundation provided $3 million to fund the construction of 40 miles of soft surface trails in 2016 and another $3.9 million for even more trails in 2018. Trailblazers is a nonprofit that has developed over 300 miles on multi-use trails in the NWA region.

There was a time when trail access in Bella Vista was limited to property owners. So I had made sure to obtain Bella Vista guest passes via the airbnb host. But it appears that the entire Back 40 trail system is now open to the public, and there wasn’t anyone around anyway to care whether or not we were properly credentialed for our walk.

Summit School is rated very difficult for bikes, as it is 18-24 inches wide. We had it all to ourselves.

Summit School Trail, with the ravine on the right

As for its name, there was a Summit School in Bella Vista from 1896 to 1945. It was about 1.25 miles southeast of the eponymous trail. The trail which actually runs close by the former Summit School’s location is the Mulligan Trail. It seems fitting that Bella Vista’s trail system has names as confusing as its maze of streets.

After Wendy had some time to explore the creek bed, we turned around and hiked the half-mile overland and up 120 feet to return to the cabin. I felt better after dinner down in Bentonville with our drive down Pumpkin Hollow for the return to the cabin. There I relaxed again out on the deck, despite the skies closing up.

Ending the day out on the deck

I had been careful to eat blander food for dinner, and Wendy kindly found some sturdy pillows around the cabin and used them to prop up the head of the mattress, so I had a better night.

We returned to Bartlesville on Thursday morning, amidst gray skies and brief sprinkles of rain. It was nice to arrive home in less than three hours to enjoy the rest of Spring Break back in Bartlesville. All of the growth in NWA means we wouldn’t consider it as a location for our eventual retirement, but we enjoyed our visit.

Posted in art, day hike, photos, travel | Leave a comment

The Recordkeeper

Recordkeeping was my least favorite course in high school. I was 15 years old, and only took the class because I wanted to drive a flimsy green 75-horsepower car that my parents had obtained from my grandmother’s estate.

1976 Toyota Corolla

I was anxious to take Driver’s Education in the second semester of my sophomore year so that I could have a learner’s permit. That would allow me to tool around, with a fully licensed driver, in my woefully underpowered studmobile which came with one, and only one, added option: an automatic transmission. No air conditioning or power steering, no power windows or locks, no interval wipers, no cruise control, and just an AM radio. My parents did add air conditioning, but that sapped the car’s power so much that you had to turn it off every time you took off from a stop or wanted to pass someone on the highway. But it was eventually slated to become a car of my very own!

Welcome to high school!

The single-semester Driver Education course in the spring had to be paired with a single-semester course in the fall. My schedule forced that to be in the final period of the day, and I groaned when I read the semester-length offerings for that period, having already used up the Library Aide and Research Skills options:

  • Vocal music? When our church’s junior choir did It’s Cool in the Furnace, I was made the narrator…who wouldn’t have to sing much. Lord, no.
  • Guitar theory? I was in my eleventh year of piano lessons, with plenty of daily practice already. I’d rather hammer than strum the strings.
  • Typing? I had learned to touch-type in the fifth grade on my own, working through my mother’s old Gregg typing manual.
  • Recordkeeping? Are you kidding?
  • That just left athletics. I had always been a short and skinny kid. Just how short and skinny? Below are charts comparing my height and weight up through junior high to the percentiles for males in the USA. Puberty had boosted my height so that only 2 out of 3 boys were taller, but 4 out of 5 were still heavier than me. And yes, I realize those charts also clearly illustrate my consummate nerdiness and…recordkeeping.

Thus for my first semester of high school, Recordkeeping it would be. That was my first mistake in high school; I should have opted for vocal music.

Recordkeeping requires patience and endurance

At that time, Putnam City Schools still had junior highs for grades 7-9 and its high schools were for grades 10-12. Two different junior highs fed into my high school, and there were always familiar faces in my classes on my first day…until Recordkeeping at the end of the day.

I walked into the class and my heart sank. I didn’t know a single person in there. I think I might have been the first Honors kid to ever enroll. Our teacher passed out the books.

Today is day 1, our first day. So today is Job 1.

I was baffled until I opened the book and saw that it was one dreary and painfully obvious assignment after another. Job 1, Job 2, Job 3, Job 4, ad nauseam. Oh, dear.

It didn’t take long to realize that the teacher had an intellect rivalled only by garden tools. As my memories of him are unkind, I’ll call him Mr. Sputter. I was seated right behind Big John, whose daily goal was to get out of class. Day after day I endured the same exchange:

Today is day #. So today is Job #.

Mr. Sputter, I forgot my book.

John, you need your book to do your job.

I know, Mr. Sputter, but I need to get it from my locker.

John, you were gone for half the class the last time you went to get your book.

I got a big locker, Mr. Sputter. That book gets buried.

That exchange occurred on a daily basis. At first, I thought it was some sort of joke, but then I realized John was the only one with a sense of humor. I began dropping my head in my hands during the daily routine, silently praying for one of them to choke to death. John would usually talk his way out of class, be gone for at least half of the period, and then saunter back in, smirking, often still without the book, prompting another ridiculous exchange.

One day, Sputter had a brainwave on how to keep John from leaving class. We were supposed to be learning how to calculate time-and-a-half overtime pay.

Mr. Sputter, I forgot my book.

John, you won't need your book today. Just take notes.

Mr. Sputter, I forgot to bring any paper. I need to go to my locker.

Granger, loan John a piece of paper.

Thanks. Uh, Mr. Sputter, I forgot to bring a pencil. I need to go to my locker.

Granger has a spare pencil.

This was followed by some sputtering through the amazing mathematics of calculating overtime pay. John interrupted time and again, with one polite but ridiculous question after another. Sputter. Question. Sputter. Question. On and on it went, dragging a 5-minute lesson to 30 minutes or more. As the teacher sputtered, his face reddened and his eyes began to bulge. And then…

Mr. Sputter, I think I could figure this out if I could just go get my book and read it.

Granger, loan John your book.

Good Lord, what next? My spectacles?

On we slogged, day after day, job after job. Okay, John never slogged. And then, finally:

Today is day 88, our last day. So today is Job 88.

Mr. Sputter, I forgot my book.

A soft keening wail began to emanate from about a foot above my desk.

I finally exited Recordkeeping, with my 100% average, and I was off to Driver’s Ed with Mr. Cornelius, a tale for another time. But I was then a trained recordkeeper, and the next semester also featured a course in Research Skills with the librarian, featuring mind-numbing lessons on things like The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, which I had already mastered as a library aide back in junior high.

Library aide had been the authorized way to get out of a semester of physical education back in junior high, although they still forced you to do it the other semester each year…until I invented my own extended chemistry course to escape even that. I was short, skinny, and smart.

Some might think that my library aide service in junior high and the research and recordkeeping courses during my first year of high school forged my lifelong interest in collecting, sorting, organizing, labeling, filing, digitizing, and sharing data. But maybe, just maybe, my father had something to do with it.

Family archives

My father’s archive

What you see here is my father’s largest bookcase. He had a bunch of barrister bookcases, but this open one was four feet wide and almost seven feet tall. As an elementary school kid, I remember climbing up its shelves to retrieve some books filed away on the top shelf.

There was a two-volume abridgment of Toynbee’s A Study of History, which was far too dry to hold my interest, although I did like the huge timeline chart of world history my father had drafted, which extended across the back of multiple natural gas pipeline blueprints. I presume his Toynbee’s helped with that. Another book up high had an intriguing title: The Monkey on Your Back or something like that. I remember working up the courage to climb up to get it, only to discover it was a book about middle management. Sad trombone!

Over a retirement that lasted about four decades, my father gradually filled that bookcase with his archives. He sifted, organized, categorized, and labeled papers and photographs from and about his career, family, vacations, cartoons, poems, and genealogy. I shudder to think how much money Hewlett Packard made off the overpriced ink for his inkjet printer, which was used daily.

But that mound of material helped him write a World War II memoir, an autobiography, and a biography about my mother. I scanned and inserted photographs, maps, and the like and reformatted the WordPerfect files he created.

My father and his antique yokes

Dad also accumulated collectibles and artifacts, but thankfully divested himself of most of those in his later years, giving many of them away to relatives. I had no interest in antique yokes, potato mashers, and the like, as I can always go to Har-Ber Village to see plenty of that sort of thing. Dad also whittled down the family archive a bit.

But when he passed away last year, and Mom moved to independent living in Bartlesville, the remains of Dad’s archive, along with our family photo albums and reels of standard 8 home movies, were still enough to fill that big bookcase.

So I had the thing moved from Oklahoma City to a bedroom at little Meador Manor. I’ve been retrieving childhood photos from it for months for #grangerthings and #ThrowbackThursday posts on Facebook. And I have my own smaller personal archive of photographs, yearbooks, and scrapbooks, both physical and digital. That includes MEADOR.ORG, with 744 posts and over 670,000 words which have accumulated over 140,000 visits and over 336,000 views since 2006. Did I mention that I took Recordkeeping?

My recent recordkeeping

There were thousands of photographic prints and negatives left in my office

Over five years ago, I transitioned from teaching physics at Bartlesville High School to managing the district’s technology and communications. That landed me in an office at the district’s Education Service Center with a filing problem.

That office had housed the previous few community relations directors and there were two large filing cabinets stuffed with old paper files, photographic prints, some slides, brittle copies of newsletters and brochures, and outdated photography equipment. Much of the physical material dated from the 1980s through the 2000s, including many black and white photographic prints with no labels or organization. Figuring out what to do with that older material was a low priority.

Newsletters, Minutes, and Websites

An early focus was creating an online archive of the district’s digital newsletter from 2007-2018

For years, Community Relations Supervisor Ken Dolezal produced a weekly paper newsheet for district staff. Few of those survive. Some time after Ken passed away in 2001, at the far too young age of 52, the district transitioned to digital photography and newsletters.

So I first concentrated on a digital archive of The Bruin newsletter from its origin in 2007 through its demise in 2018. I also ensured that the school board minutes since 2008 were organized into an online archive, compiled an incomplete teaching awards database, and preserved articles about the inductees into the local school foundation’s Educator Hall of Fame.

The district website was my next major project. I had taken over the high school’s website back in 2004 and the district one in 2012. I hand-coded the district website for years, augmenting that with a hand-coded mobile version and using Google Sites for news articles. I eventually transitioned everything to the free Google Sites service. But then Facebook began blocking links to Google Sites, a new version of Google Sites was going to make the existing websites obsolete, and I needed a way for us to write news items and have them easily distributed across multiple social media platforms, given that my technology responsibilities didn’t leave me with enough time to compose a regular newsletter.

So my next focus was on identifying and funding a vendor to supply a content management system for our websites and establishing and linking social media accounts for the district and each of its schools, including iOS and Android mobile apps. The COVID-19 pandemic struck during that transition, with technology and communications challenges which kept me incredibly busy for several years. The countless old photos at my workplace had to wait.


With COVID-19 finally subsiding into an endemic phase in 2023, I had time to return my attention to the vintage photographs in my office filing cabinets. I opened a drawer and picked up an intriguing little envelope. It said it contained negatives for Jefferson School from 1939-1942.

Dozens of 70mm negatives from 1939-1942, sent to the district decades ago but never used

I began compiling a school facility history archive long ago, so I knew all about Jefferson, although it was no longer used for classes five years before I began working in Bartlesville and was razed five years after my employment began. What I was not familiar with were those odd negatives.

The image that revived my interest in digitizing the archive at work

Instead of a long narrow strip of 35 mm film with multiple images, these were large single-image negatives that were 4.25 inches by 2.5 inches. They were clearly black-and-white, and one immediately caught my eye since it showed costumed kids in front of a large sign about a circus.

I realized it showed kids celebrating the 66th birthday of Frank Phillips in 1939. He had founded Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville, and I knew Frank had loved the circus and was known to send area schoolchildren. I held the 84-year-old negative up to the fluorescent ceiling lights in my office and snapped a shot of it on my iPhone. I then reversed it with my trusty ThumbsPlus software on my Windows desktop and posted the image on the Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville Facebook group.

That generated a lot of interest, but I needed a much better setup to properly digitize the old negatives. The next morning, Wendy loaned me her fluorescent lightbox which she had used to trace artwork. I took it to work and set my iPhone 14 Pro on a tripod to snap the dozens of negatives with even lighting. I straightened, cropped, and enhanced the results in the iOS Photos app, and then I used ThumbsPlus to flip them from negatives to positives. That work over an hour or two that morning produced superb results.

In 1939, Frank Phillips sent 4,000 children from grade school through senior high, including Catholic students and the segregated blacks, to the Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Circus. At his 66th birthday bash a few months later, he was still going through stacks of thank-you letters from the children.

The negatives were 70 mm Kodak 116/616 film, used back in the day for direct contact prints. Their large size meant that my simple setup with the light table and my smartphone worked fine. I posted 49 of the shots to a public Google Drive folder, along with another 11 shots of Jefferson students in Halloween costumes. I also posted the shots to the Facebook group, which elicited plenty of likes.

That was a shot in the arm for me to begin the task of digitizing the jumbled community relations archive. There were thousands of black-and-white photographic prints and boxes of photographic negatives and slides. Many of the older prints had been taken by Ken Dolezal. I know he used to have a photographic darkroom up above the print shop, and I was blessed to know Ken from 1989 until his untimely death in 2001. Few of the prints, however, retained their stapled captions. So what next?

The jumbled mess awaiting digitization

I had already figured out that I could post images on a Shared Google Drive at work, where they should be safe even past my retirement in 5-10 years. And I found I could annotate the Description field for each file and that was searchable. I didn’t mind looking at each image and typing in a brief description, including anyone I could both immediately recognize and remember their name. I wouldn’t have time to consult old yearbooks to try and identify more people, but it would do, and I could sort the photos into rough categories. So this little Recordkeeper had his organization, labeling, and distribution solution. But the light table and smartphone setup wasn’t going to work for digitizing thousands of prints and 35 mm negative strips and slides.

A thousand dollars later…

I knew from scanning snapshots for my father’s and mother’s memoirs that scanning thousands of photos on a regular flatbed scanner wouldn’t be feasible. I needed a specialized high-speed scanner with software to decurl and enhance the resulting images. Similarly, I’ve used a mirror accessory before to scan 35 mm negatives and slides on a flatbed scanner, and that was also a pain in the rear. I would need an even more specialized scanner for them.

I work in Oklahoma, which has among the lowest per-pupil school funding in the nation. So I wasn’t about to spend scarce taxpayer school dollars on equipment to digitize the old photos. But I had that immense home archive of family snapshots that also could use digitizing…

That was enough to convince me to cough up $545 of my salary to purchase an Epson FastFoto FF-680W high-speed photo and document scanner to digitize the prints at work and hopefully eventually tackle my home archives. And I was certain that no one but me would ever bother with the old negatives at work, so even though I have no remaining film negatives at home, I coughed up another $435 for a Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE 35mm film and slide scanner. Being a history hero ain’t cheap.

My setup for scanning thousands of photos and annotating their online descriptions

The Epson print scanner worked like a charm. I could load dozens of photographic prints, with each taking only seconds to process. Occasionally I had to rotate an image 90 or 180 degrees, but that was about it. I set the software to automatically upload the output to the Shared Google Drive.

Then I viewed each file in the Google Drive, annotating the Description field for each one. The first wave of prints were from the mid-1980s. I started working in the district in 1989, so I recognized some adults but few students. When I could dredge up a name from my memory, I added that to the description. I eventually sorted the prints into about 20 categories, grouping all of the Athletics images in one folder, Student Awards in another, and so on.

Later I came across some prints from the 1990s and some color prints from 1999-2005. There was a smattering of very old items, such as this print of the Bartlesville High School girls basketball team from 1915-1916:

Bartlesville High School basketball players in 1915-1916

I also found 15 color prints of aerial photos of the record 1986 flood in Bartlesville. Below is one of the them, showing the flooding of Custer Field and Stadium at Bartlesville High School.

I set up a camera to show how quickly those flood prints were scanned:

And here are the rest of the flood photographs:

I have now scanned, uploaded, and partially annotated over 2,100 prints. Here are some links:

Building the archive will remain a work in progress for a long time, as there are still many more photographs to be digitized. Unfortunately, they are not in the convenient form of photographic prints.

There are the many envelopes of color photographic negatives which are painfully slow to scan. Here’s a video of me scanning a single color negative…it is longer than the one where I scanned 15 color prints.

Clearly I’m hoping that many of the negatives in the file are for prints I have already scanned, as scanning negatives is quite tedious.

There are also dozens of CD-RW discs which need to be processed and uploaded into the cloud since we no longer buy desktop computers with compact disc drives, plus the CD-RW discs will eventually be unreadable due to bit rot.

But more intriguing to me are items that were stashed high up in a second-floor storage room. Wade Kester, who has worked for the district since 1980, had stashed away some treasures up there. I found lots of 35 mm color slides along with cans of film negatives. Here is what it is like to scan a color slide:

Thus far I have digitized several interesting sets of slides. A bunch of photos were taken in 1983 of seven different elementary schools that were later closed.

I also found a bunch of slides from the 1970s.

And I found two sets of slides that combined my interests in technology and history, as they were from a 1970 project that linked a mainframe computer at Oklahoma State University with video terminals at the two high schools in Bartlesville.

I especially enjoyed the stereotypical late 1960s and early 1970s elements in the those slideshows.

My frustration in not being able to identify one of the principals in a 1983 photo at Oak Park, until someone in the Once Upon a Time in Bartlesville Facebook group helped me out, has led me to do some classic recordkeeping this week. I found old state directories up through 1985 and have spent hours in the district vault checking old personnel records to fill in gaps, building a spreadsheet which I’ll eventually share in the online archive as well.

Here is a peek at one part of a big spreadsheet I’m building on who was the principal at each of the Bartlesville Public Schools; sharp-eyed readers will notice there are gaps during the Great Depression and World War II, which created recordkeeping challenges

Once that recordkeeping exercise is as far as I can reasonably take it, my next project will be photographing and inverting large-format black-and-white negatives that were taken from 1970-1972 by Don Gregg. The state directories revealed he was the district’s public relations guy from 1966 to 1972. He used the darkroom in the district’s then-new Media Center, which was created in 1970 from a remnant of the old Horace Mann school. In 1974, the district added onto the Media Center to create the Education Service Center where I’ve worked since I left the classroom in 2017.

I’d been up in the weird old darkroom over the years, which is where some Ellison die-cutting machines and many old dies are now tucked away, without realizing its original purpose. Those negatives Don developed over fifty years ago are especially nice since they are organized into little manila envelopes with brief descriptions scribbled on them. I’ll be able to give them informative filenames and descriptions when I add them to the online archive.

After that, there are still uncounted photographic negatives and hundreds of slides to peruse, along with the bevy of CD-RW discs. This little archivist still has his work cut out for him. However, unlike John, I brought my Recordkeeping book to Mr. Sputter’s class every day of my first semester in high school. So I am up to the challenge.

Posted in history, photos, technology | 2 Comments


Last week I began my exploration of favorite elements of childhood mysteries with a look at hidden treasures. This week, we’ll dig into tunnels. I was sufficiently intrigued by the topic to purchase a $5 Kindle edition of a 1947 book I had as a kid, as well as a $28 hardcover of a poorly written series book from 1940. I read them as “research” for this post. 😆


A 1950 book in the Hardy Boys series with a spot-on title was #29 The Secret of the Lost Tunnel by Andrew Svenson. It was, like all of the early books, revised and shortened, and I only read the 1968 version in my youth. The 1968 cover art by Rudy Nappi illustrated the moment the boys discovered the Civil War tunnel, which contained cannonballs with their own secret.

I don’t remember much from that tale, but at one point during the COVID-19 pandemic, I needed a very light escape. So I reread a later work, Hardy Boys #44 The Haunted Fort, a tale written by David Grambs in 1965, late enough that it never received a rewrite. It was better written and included the same tropes of a secret tunnel with a hidden treasure.

The Disappearing Floor

But one of my favorite Hardy Boys stories has an interesting history. John Button took over the ghostwriting for the series from Leslie McFarlane for #17-21. His books were published from 1938 to 1942 and are known for their inferior writing and bizarre elements with futuristic gadgets and exotic locations. Button wrote the 1940 edition of #19 The Disappearing Floor, which is regarded as the worst written story in the canon. I had never read his tale, instead only knowing the radical rewrite in 1962 by John Leone. I loved the eponymous disappearing floor in the rewrite, which was basically a large elevator which lowered to reveal…a secret tunnel. The story included intercoms, sensors, machinery, furniture bolted to bedroom walls, and how the floor killed its owner. The mechanisms fascinated me, much like the ones on Krakatoa in William Pène du Bois’ The Twenty-One Balloons, which won the 1948 Newbery Medal.

The original 1940 version of The Disappearing Floor is the worst written of all the series.

But I was intrigued by this summary of the original version of Hardy Boys #19: “The Hardy Boys smash Duke Beeson’s (AKA Chief Shining Light Of The Sun-Worshipping Ozonites) robbery gang using the weird inventions of Aunt Gertrude’s former classmate, Eben Adar.”

That sounded like a hoot, but archive.org only had the 1962 edition for free online reading.

I first realized there were two versions of many of the Hardy Boys books back in elementary school when I spotted two Hardy Boys books in our church’s little library. They had brown covers, rather than the picture covers I was used to.

Opening one up, I immediately noticed that the end papers were a single orange drawing instead of the little line drawing vignettes in my books at home. Then I noticed these editions had more pages than mine. What was going on? What sort of alternate reality was this?

So I checked them out and was staggered to find they were quite different. Even at that young age, I could tell they were better written, although they did have odd terms like “jalopy” and “rumble seat” and some obvious racial stereotypes. The original books were 225 pages with 25 chapters, while the revisions were 180 pages with 20 chapters. In the original books that Leslie McFarlane wrote, Frank and Joe gradually aged, they had far less respect for law officers, and Aunt Gertrude was a major character.

Thus I knew what physical characteristics to look for to identify an original 1940 edition of The Disappearing Floor. I found one at abebooks.com and bought it as “research” for this post.

Oh, my. What an incoherent mess. It leaps from one bizarre incident to another. The boys beat escaped tigers to death. People are repeatedly frozen by an ice ray or magnetism, take your pick. There are plants grown only with electricity. Frank and Joe dress up as old ladies and easily fool the villain, who dresses up sometimes as an Indian cult leader, an idea that gets zero development. Yikes!

Almost no one in the book acts rationally, especially the adults, and the disappearing floor of the title doesn’t make an appearance until the final pages and is itself nonsensical. I snapped a photo of one page so that you can sample the execrable writing.

It appears that Button was fairly dutiful in following a bizarre 10-page plot outline by Edna Stratemeyer Squier, the daughter of Edward Stratemeyer. Edward had founded the syndicate responsible for so many children’s series books. After he died, from 1931 to 1942, Edna and her sister Harriet alternated in writing the outlines for the books which the ghostwriters were to follow. Edna moved to Florida in 1942 and left the syndicate in the hands of Harriet, and 1942 also marked the end of the Button era. Leslie McFarlane returned to write a few more of the books before a series of other ghostwriters took over.

The revisions of the original 38 books which Harriet Stratemeyer directed from 1959 to 1973 usually resulted in worse books. But #19 is a glaring exception. The total rewrite of The Disappearing Floor was desperately needed.

Stop, Thief!

I remember noticing as a child how some series books stole elements from each other. Mildred Wirt Benson wrote Nancy Drew #2, The Hidden Staircase, in 1930. It featured a mansion connected to a neighboring one by a secret tunnel with a hidden staircase, and one neighbor used it to harass the other. Later I read Trixie Belden #14, The Mystery of the Emeralds, which was written by Virginia McDonnell in 1965. In it, Trixie discovers a hidden staircase in a mansion that leads down to a secret tunnel that connects to another mansion, and again a meddlesome neighbor is making trouble with it. Dionne Warwick has something to sing about that.

I also noticed that after Mildred Wirt Benson had retired from her time posing as Carolyn Keene, the Nancy Drew series stole from itself: #34, The Hidden Window Mystery, has yet another mansion with a secret tunnel and staircase. Jeepers, Scooby, that sounds familiar.

Tunnel Two

Another tunnel I was intrigued by as a kid was Tunnel Two in The Three Investigators books. First published as “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators”, those books were better written than the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Dana Girls books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

Robert Arthur, Jr. wrote the first books in the series from 1964 until his death in 1969. He had been a story editor and script writer for Alfred Hitchcock’s television show, and he was asked by Random House to edit a series of literary anthologies that capitalized on the famous director’s popularity. Their success led Arthur to suggest he write a new children’s book series, and he wrote two each year.

A criminal popping up from Tunnel Two!

His mysteries were far more elaborate than anything in the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books. I especially liked #2 The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, and I dreamed about the secret HQ the three boys used. It was an old 30-foot mobile trailer hidden among the piles of junk in the Jones Salvage Yard. It had secret exits, a lab and darkroom, office, and periscope. Red Gate Rover led through the salvage yard fence, Green Gate One led to a workshop and printing press and on into Tunnel Two, which ran beneath some junk and under the trailer, entering through a trap door. Easy Three was a false door leading into the front of the trailer, with the key hidden in a box of other keys in the yard.

The higher quality of that series meant that my school library actually stocked them, whereas many librarians turned up their noses at the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and their ilk. So I enjoyed checking out those books from the Leo C. Mayfield Junior High library. But I was puzzled by how books 1-9 and 11 were together on the shelves, but #10 was missing. I figured out its title from the back covers of the others and found it was shelved not under Robert Arthur, Jr. but under William Arden. And lo and behold, there were several more of the books under that name.

Unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which used the Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene pseudonyms for their series no matter who wrote the book, The Three Investigators’ authors received full and proper credit, although some still used their own personal pseudonyms. The Mayfield library’s card catalog, which was actual 3×5 inch cards back in my day, didn’t have a way of tracking book series. So it became a tiny mystery to figure out who wrote the different books so I could locate them on the shelves. I eventually found the tomes written by Mary Virginia Carey and Nick West (really Kin Platt).

A Religious Experience

My parents sometimes bought me books written for Christian youth. I laughed at the clumsy writing in Bernard Palmer‘s Jim Dunlap and the Secret Rocket Formula, while I remember being confused by the Sugar Creek Gang. I think being an only child made it difficult for me to keep up with stories about a boy with six brothers. Holy testosterone.

But one award-winning religious book of my youth which featured secret tunnels was my musty green hardback edition of The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanore M. Jewett, which was published in 1946. It was a Newbery Honor book that my father probably picked up at a garage sale. It drew upon the legend that a series of tunnels lie beneath Glastonbury Tor.

My copy was either sold off or donated in childhood, and I didn’t find it at archive.org for checkout. I remembered it as being a quality story, so for this post I invested $5 to order the Kindle edition and reread it for the first time since elementary school.

The book was certainly more sophisticated than any of the series books I enjoyed. I remember relying on context clues to figure out some of the terms as a child, occasionally resorting to my trusty Webster’s for help. This time around, I could just tap a word and see its definition in my Kindle.

I remembered the plot and crucial elements, but now I have the benefit of knowing more about the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as King Henry II thanks to seeing Becket in high school. And I know much more about monastical life thanks to the Brother Cadfael books of Edith Pargeter.

The tunnels and hidden treasure were there as I dimly recalled, including how the doors of an aumbry concealed one tunnel. See what I mean about vocabulary? I’ve inserted in this post what my Kindle’s default dictionary showed for aumbry. But since 2014 I’ve had a soft spot for the 1913 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, thanks to James Somers. So here is its definition:

The Hidden Treasure of Glaston also has atmosphere and clear messages about self-reliance, seeking and following the path which suits a person’s talents and personality, and effective leadership. I can see why it was a Newbery runner-up, and appreciate how it was careful to make the Holy Grail a visionary and not a physical object.

Real-World Tunnels

The Paoli Underpass

An interest in tunnels whetted by my childhood reading was first rewarded when I was shown an old underpass that ran under Highway 77 near my grandmother’s home in Paoli, Oklahoma. Before Interstate 35 was built, the traffic on old 77 was intense. By the time I was around, 77 was far less traveled, although big trucks still rumbled by and shook my grandmother’s house. Unfortunately, that underpass was underwhelming — it definitely smelled like urine.

The old underpass at Paoli, Oklahoma

The only tunnels I use routinely are five short roadway underpasses along Bartlesville’s Pathfinder Parkway. And my printable and interactive maps help ensure they are anything but secret.

One of the underpass tunnels of Bartlesville’s Pathfinder Parkway

The OKC Conncourse

The OKC Underground in 2017

Far nicer and more extensive were the tunnels that Jack Conn promoted between the downtown buildings of Oklahoma City. I loved exploring the Conncourse in the 1970s, which is now called the Underground. The tunnels were anything but secret, of course, but I don’t remember the Hardy Boys getting to order and enjoy a slice of Ricoletto’s pizza in any of their tunnels.

I remember how in the 1970s some of the tunnels had bold abstract patterns that flowed across the carpet and up the walls and around the ceiling. More recently they’ve used dramatic and colorful lighting. The tunnels are over a mile long and cover over 20 square blocks, with many of them now serving as designated art galleries.

Other Undergrounds…and Skyways

Tulsa has some tunnels of its own, and even little Bartlesville gets in on the act with tunnels linking the various Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips buildings and a parking lot. However, I’ve never been in any of their passages.

From my Seattle Underground tour in 2005

A far more famous city’s underground I have seen are a few of the passageways and basements in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, created when the town’s streets were regraded up a story or two. If you’re ever in Seattle, Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour is a fun outing.

I expected that Minneapolis would have an extensive tunnel system, given its harsh winter weather. So I looked it up, only to find that it instead has a skyway system of enclosed pedestrian footbridges. Its 9.5 miles of pathways connect buildings over 80 city blocks. So maybe they prioritized natural light? Well, it turns out that the skyways weren’t originally conceived to escape the weather but instead were used to reduce congestion on the city’s sidewalks and streets. That’s nice, but I’m skeptical that any children’s books would include a lost secret skyway.

The Tunnels of the Marland Mansion

One of my favorite places in Oklahoma is the Marland Mansion, built in Ponca City from 1925-1928 by oilman E.W. Marland. It was a 43,561 square-foot $5.5 million “Palace on the Prairie” situated in a 2,500 acre estate on the edge of town. He and his second wife, Lydie, moved into the mansion, but only occupied it for a few years. (She was his niece by marriage, his adopted daughter from ages 16-28, and then his second wife. Yes, it is quite a story.)

In November 1928, Marland had to resign as president of his oil company in a hostile takeover by J.P. Morgan & Co. and by 1931 the Marlands could no longer afford the utilities on the huge mansion. They moved into the Artist Studio on the estate, and the mansion was only used on special occasions, such as his gubernatorial inaugural ball in 1935. Marland sold the mansion to a religious order in 1941.

A long tunnel connects the mansion to the former boathouse

I first visited and toured the mansion in the 1980s with my best friend. We were intrigued to read that there were tunnels from the mansion to the artist studio and the boathouse, and disappointed that they were kept locked. It wasn’t until decades later that mansion director David Keathly came across a group of my friends touring the place and offered to take us along the 550-foot tunnel from the mansion to the boathouse. What a treat! I found a video online where he provides a look at the hidden whisky room and a glimpse of the tunnels:

If you like architecture and are ever near Ponca City, I urge you to tour both the Marland Mansion as well as Marland’s Grand Home, where he lived with his first wife. They are both interesting showplaces from a century ago. And while you’re in town, I recommend eating at Enrique’s at the Ponca City Airport.

Utility Tunnels

Utility tunnel at the University of Oklahoma

Tunnels are frequently used to route steam and chilled water pipes, electrical cabling, etc. underground, especially on campuses with a central plant. The University of Oklahoma has seven miles of such tunnels, some of which date back to 1948. When I was taking undergraduate classes there, I was told that some of the steam tunnels were deliberately run underneath sidewalks to help reduce ice and snow accumulations on them in the winter. As one would expect, students are known to sometimes break into the system to explore.

A tunnel I currently still have access to is one at the high school where I taught for 27 years. I’ve never actually ventured through it, since it is not standing-height. It was built for steam pipes and the like running from the old boilers in the basement of the main building to the separate field house. It runs from underneath the 1939 auditorium, which is now a library, to the Phillips field house.

Bartlesville High School utility tunnel

Sixteen years ago I made a crazy video where I walked down the stairs off the old stage to that tunnel, tacking on several different clips to zoom way, way out from it.

Drainage Tunnels

City storm sewers vary greatly in size, sometimes enlarging into tunnels that youngsters may be tempted to explore. When I was in junior high school, I lived in a neighborhood in Oklahoma City that formed the headwaters of the Deep Fork River. The former creeks were channelized, transforming deep ditches covered in brush into wide deep concrete channels that sometimes led into tunnel systems. One large drainage tunnel was constructed adjacent to a railroad track, and my friends and I traced it underground for several blocks. Parts of the system somewhat resembled a system a fellow explored on YouTube.

Those pale in comparison to the largest storm drain in the world. In Japan, there is an anti-flood system 165 feet below Kasukabe City with five silos connected by four miles of tunnels. The city offers guided tours of its $2 billion concrete temple.

The incredible storm drain under Kasukabe City in Japan

Highway Tunnels

I’ve been through many highway and train tunnels. Some of the most interesting ones I know of were narrow ones built along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon from 1914 to 1921. The Mitchell’s Point Tunnel had five windows providing views of the gorge, but that tunnel was destroyed in 1966 to expand Interstate 84. The Mosier Twin Tunnels of 1921 were backfilled by 1958 but restored for bicycle and pedestrian use in 2000, and they have two adits, which are side passages leading to windows.

Subway Tunnels

We don’t have any subways around here, but I’ve ridden the subway in New York City, although I haven’t seen in person the abandoned City Hall station. A subway line in Rome continues to unearth archaeological items, as do train tunnels beneath Amsterdam.

Natural Tunnels

Nature creates tunnels, and I’ve enjoyed one made by water and another created by lava. There is an S-shaped tunnel at Bennett Spring park in Missouri which is 296 feet long, 16 feet high, and 50 feet wide. A stream cut it through a dolomite ridge. Dolomite is calcium magnesium carbonate and slightly water soluble.

Yours truly in the natural tunnel at Bennett Spring park back in 2011

Back in 2009, I hiked a mile down a lava tube in Oregon. I carried a lantern for that bizarre hike. The tube had no forks and simply got smaller and smaller. The temperature at the opening was 86 degrees Fahrenheit and it dropped to 42 degrees at its end.

And I’ve walked through many caves in the Ozarks, as well as the Oregon Caves and Mammoth in Kentucky, although I’ve never been to Carlsbad.

Building Your Own Tunnel

I have been fascinated by one man’s personal tunnel project. Colin Furze enthusiastically documented his long project of digging out a passage under his Lincolnshire garden to connect his house, shed, and eventually a bunker. It has been delightful to watch him pursue that labor of love.

Colin Furze’s homemade tunnel

Tunnels of Love

And I could go on with an example of a tunnel of secrets. The tunnel of love variation on the Old Mill ride was a mystery of a bygone era. Hundreds of them were included in amusement parks in the 20th century. But some mysteries are best left to the imagination.

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Hidden Treasures

When I was a kid, I loved stories with hidden treasures and secret tunnels. They often appeared in the stories I read in the Hardy Boys and Three Investigators series, as well as the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books that a spinster aunt allowed me to borrow. This week we’ll look for hidden treasures, and next week we’ll go tunneling.


The Stratemeyer Syndicate produced the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Dana Girls, and other children’s series. If you are ever curious about them, many of their titles can be checked out and read online for free at archive.org.

The first three Hardy Boys books entered the public domain in 2023. So we can copy, distribute, recast, and remix them at will, as no one can own them anymore. And over the next 50 years, the additional original 58 books will steadily lose their copyrights. However, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams published revised versions of the Hardy Boys books from 1959 through 1973, and those revised works will remain under copyright for 95 years after their first publication.

The Hardy Boys series included dead-on titles like #1: The Tower Treasure and #5: Hunting for Hidden Gold. The original versions of the early books by ghostwriter Leslie McFarlane are far better than the revisions, anyway. The originals are products of their time and do suffer from some racial stereotypes, but they are rollicking adventures that I read and re-read in elementary school. I know that some of my self-confidence and self-reliance was sparked by his formative tales, even if I had to ask my folks what a jalopy was or where on a car you could find a rumble seat.

McFarlane wrote 19 of the first 25 Hardy Boys books between 1927 and 1946, plus two more later. He could write one in about three weeks, earning maybe $100 to buy coal to keep his Canadian family warm. Funly enough, he also wrote the first four of the Dana Girls books that my aunt loaned me. And despite rushing to write them and never revisiting them later, McFarlane didn’t write trash. Here is how he stoked my imagination when writing about a storm in Hunting for Hidden Gold:

The snow flung itself upon them and the wind shrieked with renewed fury as they left the unsheltered pit and entered the half-darkness of the cave mouth. It was as though they were entering a new world. They had become so accustomed to the roaring of the gale and the sweep of the storm that the interior of the passage seemed strangely peaceful and still.

from Hunting for Hidden Gold, in 1928 by Leslie McFarlane, as Franklin W. Dixon

Nancy Drew had some spot-on titles as well. The first 34 volumes were also revised from 1959 to 1975. One of my favorites was the original 1945 version of #22: The Clue in the Crumbling Wall which my spinster aunts had tucked away high up in a closet. In that adventure, the hidden treasure was, surprisingly enough, bottles of magenta dye made from whelks and notes allowing a chemist to create color-fast versions of it. That intrigued me, and I would read again of valuable dye from sea snails when I took Latin in high school and college and studied Roman history. I learned that treasures come in many forms, not just precious metals, money, bonds, or jewels.

Although the Nancy Drew series is credited, like the Dana Girls, to the pseudonym Carolyn Keene, Nancy was born from the typewriter of Mildred Wirt Benson. She ghost-wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books for a flat fee of $85-$250 from 1927 to 1953, with the first book published in 1930. Her first three books will enter the public domain in 2026.

Buried Treasure

Perhaps the most famous buried treasure comes from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. At the conclusion, the protagonist Jim Hawkins described it thusly:

It was a strange collection, like Billy Bones’s hoard for the diversity of coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, doubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider’s web, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear them round your neck—nearly every variety of money in the world must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out.

from Treasure Island, Chapter XXXIV: And Last, in 1883 by Robert Louis Stevenson

The book famously opens with a map to buried treasure on Skeleton Island which propels the plot. Three crosses of red ink on it evolved into the famous “X marks the spot” in popular culture.

The famous treasure map

In 1894, Stevenson told the story of how he came to write the book. He conceived the idea for the novel based on a map of an imaginary, romantic island which he drew with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne during a holiday in Braemar, Scotland in the summer of 1881. Sadly, when he submitted that map with the manuscript of the novel to the publisher, the map was lost. Stevenson had to recreate the map from memory, combing through his own text to ensure everything matched up.

Hidden Safes

A hidden treasure trope of television and movies is a wall safe hidden behind a picture. Adam West’s Batman spoofed that in 1967 by showing that the Wayne Foundation’s safe was hidden behind a painting…of that safe.

In the real world, the fabulous Marland Mansion in Ponca City has one wall safe intended to hide liquor during prohibition and another in a cedar closet which I presume was for jewelry. I guess it was meant to be hidden behind mink coats?

An old house I lived in during elementary school had a safe, but it was better hidden. The original part of the home had two bedrooms, with a smaller one designed for kids, complete with windows strategically positioned for bunk beds. That room featured a built in counter with a desk and cabinet, and there was a square panel in the bottom of it that you could pry up to reveal a small safe embedded in the slab. It opened with a key, and one was snapped off in the lock when my parents bought the house. A locksmith got it working again, which reminds me of what Harriet Stratemeyer wrote about Frank in the original 1946 edition of #25: The Secret Panel:

The Hardy boy found another book on the history of locks and keys, which looked so fascinating that he turned on a reading lamp and sat down in an arm-chair to glance through the volume. He became completely absorbed in the subject, learning first that in Biblical times keys were made of wood and were so heavy they had to be carried over one’s shoulder; that later the makers of metal keys received the name of locksmith because actually they were blacksmiths who forged keys; and that the invention of truly burglarproof locks is barely a hundred years old.

A secret panel with a hidden safe was a dream come true, but of course my parents knew all about it. So I remember searching my own adjoining room for secret hiding places. That had been the parents’ bedroom in the original two-bedroom house, and it had two closets on one end with a make-up counter between them. A large tilted mirror was mounted above it, and I found I could remove the decorative screws at its top and tilt it down. That revealed a wooden panel with a square hole in the middle. Imagine my disappointment when I found nothing in the dead space behind there.

It was simply too difficult to use that hiding place, as I knew I’d be in big trouble if my parents caught me mucking about with the big mirror. So I remember choosing not to use it, instead stuffing notes into a gap behind some molding. I recall that one was something about my fear of death, which was a brief obsession when I realized that everyone dies. That reminds me of the secret tree/temple in Wong Kar-Wai’s marvelous In the Mood for Love.

Finding Hidden “Treasures”

Geocaching with the Falkners in 2001

Few of us will ever encounter an actual treasure map, although your smartphone can become a type of treasure map if you enjoy geocaching. My first experience was with my friends the Falkners at Red Rocks Park in Colorado in 2001.

I didn’t take up the hobby, but in 2012 I accidentally discovered a geocache in a dead tree at Hartman Rocks at Gunnison, Colorado while recovering from altitude sickness.

Discovering the Geocache at Hartman Rocks
Accidentally discovering a geocache at Hartman Rocks near Gunnison, Colorado
Wendy finds a geocache

Wendy spotted another geocache in 2015 when we were hiking on the remnant of the Standing Rock Nature Trail at Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma.

But what about buried treasures? If you don’t have a map and the treasure is conductive metal, then you’ll need a metal detector.

Dad’s first detector was this model

There was a metal-detecting craze in the late 1970s and 1980s. My father had a Garrett model that found many an aluminum pulltab despite his attempts to set its discriminator circuit to ignore them. Ernie Fraze invented pulltabs in 1959 and they quickly littered the earth. Things improved in the late 1970s when Daniel F. Cudzik invented the stay-on pop-top.

Pull tabs were a bane of metal detecting

So how do the detectors work? They have a coil of wire that transmits an electromagnetic field into the ground. Alternating current makes the field pulse up and down. That induces electrical current in conductive metals in the ground, generating a field of the opposite polarity (Lenz’s Law). So when the transmitted field pulses downward, the object’s induced field pulses upward, and vice versa.

The most common type of detectors have a second receiver coil. The induced field pulsing from the buried objects induces a current in the receiver, which is amplified and can be used to make a meter respond and to produce sound from a speaker.

Metal detectors go way back. Five years after receiving his telephone patent, Alexander Graham Bell invented the metal detector in 1881, in an attempt to locate the assassin’s bullet inside President James Garfield. Metal detectors took off as hobby devices in the 1970s due to technological improvements and surging gold prices.

Charles & Eleanor Garrett of Garland, Texas

In 1968, Charles Garrett began manufacturing detectors that eliminated oscillator drift, improving their power and accuracy. Then very low frequency detectors were introduced, which could detect small objects like gold nuggets and detect coins buried as deep as 10 inches. The addition of discrimination circuits to eliminate signals from iron and foil reduced frustrations. But what really drove the fad in popular culture was that in the 1970s the price of gold trevigintupled. Trevigintupled? Okay, that’s a truly obscure way to say it went up by a factor of 23.

My dad bought a Garrett detector, and he had great fun searching for treasures on vacations, at parks, etc. His interest was more resilient than my own. There were too many pulltabs and junk with too few coins to hold my interest.

Our last shared metal detecting outing was in 1994 when we dug at an old homestead in the Missouri Ozarks. By then he had a simpler Bounty Hunter detector along with his original Garrett. We found a few items, and he later returned on his own to thoroughly explore the site, finding quite a collection of junk. Dad truly delighted in his finds, even though they were hardly treasures to anyone else.

I realize that I am more interested in reading about treasure hunting than actually joining the search. Real-life hunts that come to mind include:

Well, that’s enough rambling for this week. Next week, we’ll explore secret tunnels.

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My 40-Year-Old Computer Programs

My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer that my parents bought for me at Radio Shack in 1981. I was in ninth grade, which was my last year of junior high. I was fortunate that my parents were willing to invest $650 in a computer that I could hook up to the 13″ color television in my bedroom. That’s equivalent to over $2,000 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.

The computer only had 32 kilobytes of memory. To put that in perspective, a single photo on a smartphone in 2023 would consume about 150 times that amount of memory. Zoinks!

My desktop computer 40 years later has 500,000 times more memory, uses 64-bit rather than 8-bit data units, and has four microprocessor cores which collectively process over 1,500 times more instructions per second than that first computer could manage.

Programs were initially stored and retrieved using an audio cassette recorder, which basically recorded or played back a modem signal. But after I invested countless hours learning to program in Extended Color BASIC, my parents invested another $1,000 to purchase two floppy disk drives for my computer, which would be almost $3,000 in 2023.

I played some video games on it and collaborated with my best friend, Jeff, on writing a couple of games of our own in BASIC. But the real investment of time was a total of 15 Star Trek programs I wrote, some on my own and others with Jeff, from 1982 through 1984.

I had been a huge Star Trek fan since 1974, and two Star Trek movies book-ended our high school years — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in 1984. Those and the original Star Trek television series inspired several of the programs in which we honed our skills to create little space battles, ship plans, and the like.

It was all quite primitive, given that even at its best, the computer could only produce black-and-white 256×192 pixel images or four-color images at 128×192 pixels. My current desktop computer monitor’s resolution is 13 times wider, 7.5 times taller, and can display over 16 million colors.

I upgraded to a newer model of the Color Computer in 1983, and moved on to an entirely different and incompatible computer in 1985, as documented here. But before I got rid of my last Color Computer, I hooked it up to a videocassette recorder and ran the 15 Star Trek programs to preserve their output.

Jeff passed away in 2018, my father passed in 2022, and my mother has moved to Bartlesville. So I’ve been saying goodbye to my hometown of Oklahoma City. My way of processing that has been a series of posts. I’ve written about my old schools, three posts on my old neighborhood (1st, 2nd, 3rd), and posts about the Mexican food, pizzas, and hamburger joints of my youth. Now I’m documenting one of my youthful hobbies.

I’ve digitized the old videotape, adding commentary and showing how we programmed the computer, designed the graphics, and honed our skills. It’s almost an hour long and quite esoteric, so I know very few folks will actually watch it. But I’m glad to have made it. Goodbye, OKC. So long, Jeff, and thanks for all the fun.

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