Archive for September, 2009

Mt. Hebo Update

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I recently made a pilgrimage to the summit of Mt. Hebo in the Oregon coast range to see if there are any signs of the old Cold War Air Force radar station. It was a lot easier to get to the top of the mountain than I thought — you just follow Mt. Hebo road on up after turning off of 22 (near the 101 junction). The route is well maintained, yet extremely twisty; so much so, Emily got car sick during the drive. From 22, it’s about 30 minutes to the top. Unfortunately, my first trip was a disappointment due to poor weather. I was hoping to shoot some 16mm footage with Tony’s fancy Bolex using Kodak’s 50D, but typical coastal cloud cover had reduced visibility to around 50 - 100 yards. Eric and I did find signs of old infrastructure, like the foundation of one of the radar buildings and a buried electrical vault (see photos below), but that was about it. There are a couple of newer communications towers maintained by Verizon, the Oregon State Police, and one of the railroads, but nothing military related. The second trip up was far more productive from a filming standpoint. There was still some cloud cover, but I had enough sun breaks to manage a couple of panoramic shots using a really wide prime lens on the Bolex. I’m a little worried about the exposure since I had trouble reading my light meter, but I’m hoping the 50D has similar latitude to Kodak’s other motion picture negative film.

After coming down from the mountain, I also met with Bill Pollard, who served on Mt. Hebo during the Cold War. He now lives in Pacific City and had plenty to say about his time in the Air Force. There were a couple of interesting comments he made I though worth posting:

  1. When the Air Force station closed in 1980, it took two years for contractors to remove everything from the site
  2. The family housing existed about 2,000 feet below the summit. When the station closed, this site was dismantled as well. Some homes were sold to members of the community and can still be found — although heavily modified.
  3. When Mt. Hebo closed, some of the radar equipment was given to the FAA and used on a mountain top outside of Salem
  4. Some of the radar equipment was pretty jerry rig. For example, the hydraulic system on the height finder radar was crafted from modified landing gear scrounged from a T-33 fighter jet.
  5. The reason there were so many makes and models of radar systems across radar sites was not intended to drive technicians crazy. Rather, it was intended to make it harder for the Soviets to jam our radar sites.
  6. There were never any Soviet incursions or unidentified aircraft during the site’s operation according to Bill. Pretty much day-in-day-out routine for the most part.
  7. Encryption was not used for data transfers over Long Lines from Mt. Hebo to Adair, the SAGE site in Corvallis. I guess encryption was pretty much pointless those days, since only the US military had the primitive modems used for transmitting data over the phone lines.
  8. The Long Lines data transfer between Mt. Hebo and Adair was actually two-way. The SAGE system could also send back instructions to the radar.

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38 comments September 29th, 2009

Dirty Harry & Enhanced Techniques

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I was watching one of my favorite films from the ’70s not long ago and that got me thinking about our use of torture to extract information from detainees during the dark days of the Bush administration. First, as kind of an aside, I have to say Dirty Harry is a great film. Wonderful music by Lalo Schifrin, beautiful wide angle camera work by cinematographer Bruce Surtees, and of course the iconic title character portrayed by Clint Eastwood. Anyway, back to the topic of torture: The Bush administration claimed its use was justified because detainees possessed knowledge of imminent terrorist attacks. This is the “Ticking Time Bomb” rational best illustrated by any episode of 24. You know the scenario, Jack Bauer has some terrorist tied to a chair and he’s going after them with a power drill and spatula in order to get a confession — usually involving the location of a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. And Dirty Harry used a similar tactic to extract the location of a kidnapped girl from the Scorpio Killer. But in the case Bush era detainees, there was never a documented instance of a ticking time bomb scenario. Detainees seemed to be interrogated at random, with torture tactics used in no discernible pattern. In some cases, contractors carried out the interrogations. In other cases it was the CIA. Some detainees were tortured, forgotten about, then tortured again weeks later — nothing suggesting an imminent terrorist attack was on our minds.

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I think the whole ticking time bomb rational is just barely justifiable from a moral standpoint. It’s on of those things where you don’t want to encourage or even publicly condone it, but I think we’re collectively willing to look the other way when it’s used by someone operating just a little outside of the system (like Dirty Harry or Jack Bauer). However, the torture used against detainees was institutionalized and authorized at the highest level of government. In fact, the FBI felt information could be more effectively squeezed out of detainees using conventional law enforcement style interrogation tactics instead of ad hoc torture methods, so it’s really strange the administration would just ignore the advice of those who had the most experience at the interrogation game. While I don’t necessarily think we need some kind of witch hunt to go after those who approved the use of torture, I do think we need to take steps to make sure we don’t do it again. The last thing we need is another Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to weigh heavy on our collective minds.

1 comment September 18th, 2009

Lost Oregon: Hydro Tubes

During the early ’80s, a wonderful and dangerous fad swept our state: hydro tubes! These were fiberglass, fully enclosed water slides — commonly found at our better regional malls. I’ve had trouble finding online information about these long abandoned local attractions, but I believe they were located at Eastport Plaza, Washington Square, Janzen Beach, and Holly Farm (Oak Grove). Stacy also remembers a hydro tubes attraction in Keiser and chances are there were others in larger Oregon cities (Eugene had one at their Valley River Center). I don’t remember the exact location of the hydro tubes I visited for the first time, but it was probably Washington Square one since it would have been the closest to McMinnville. I do remember going back to the hydro tubes once for my birthday and the splash pool was located inside of a mall, so that might have been the Eastport Plaza location. I think I got one of those huge donuts at Rose’s afterwards. Why I remember details like that I don’t know.

In contrast to the fun of sliding down these heated tubes, they offered many dangers that would eventually lead to their downfall. I recall serious misalignment between tube segments, resulting in frequent scrapes and bruises. Why these defects were not resolved with sanding or grinding I don’t know. Maybe there was shifting problems after construction due to the weight of water and people? The other issue I remember was variable water flow. Sometime, halfway through a trip down a tube, water would suddenly disappear; leaving you high and dry only to get violently swept away once the water started flowing again and other sliders came barreling down. And then there was always the embarrassing prospect of losing your swim trucks from misaligned tubes. This was really more of an issue for girls than boys who had to contend with flimsy tops fashionable at the time, throwing into question the wisdom of having the splash pool open to public view (at least in the case of Eastport Plaza). God knows how many women experienced their first taste of public humiliation due to swim wear malfunctions.

I tried to dig up some newspaper articles detailing the decline of hydro tubes here in Oregon, but only found something from Eugene’s Register-Guard circa 1984. In that article, it mentions the State of Oregon’s Health Division issuing a warning about the risks for slide injuries. The article also cites instances of people being knocked unconscious and lacerations requiring stitches. I remember lawsuits as being the death of Oregon’s hydro tubes. By the time I was in college, most of the Portland locations had closed. By the late ’90s, I think all of them had been dismantled. Today, one can head north to Washington and find the offspring of our hydro tubes at Great Wolf Lodge, a huge indoor water park offering a more polished (and safer) version of the water slides I grew up with.

Despite all the dangers hydro tubes presented, I still have fond memories of them. The warm water flowing through these translucent tubes on a cold February night offered an exotic escape from the dull grayness of an Oregon winter that didn’t offer much in the way of excitement for kids. Do you have any hydro tube memories?

38 comments September 9th, 2009


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