Nine Thousand Photos

Getting back to work on my fire photo book project, the first thing I did was get all the photos together. I went through all my hard drives and thumb drives and backup drives, and even drove the car just to make sure I had all the drives covered.

After making the first pass through all the electronic photos already in my possession, I came up with 9,154 files in 184 folders, for a total of 17.7 gigabytes of pictures.

"Great Scott!"
 "Great Scott!"


Yeah, that's a lot of gigabytes ... especially since I figured the finished book would have about 500 photos in it.

And I haven't even finished begging other people for their photos related to the Albion Fire Department. Heck, I haven't even tracked down all the people who said they had stuff for me two years ago, before I got off on several tangents and put the project on a back burner.

But it's just the first run through. A lot of those pictures will get passed over when I start on the final outline, for various reasons: not quite clear enough, too much like similar photos, not as good when converted to black and white, and so on. Plus, a large part of them are from the last few decades, and I'm really hoping someone steps forward with older ones--the AFD has been around since 1888, and I've only been taking pictures of it since 1980.

Organizing projects like this can be incredibly difficult and time consuming. I didn't really understand that while going into Images of America: Albion and Noble County. Now I do, but here I am, anyway.

But hey--it's a good social distancing project, right?

You want to talk about old pictures? This one predates the fire department: It's Albion's second courthouse, which was replaced by the third one in 1888. And no, I didn't take the picture--it was found at the Noble County Old Jail Museum.

book review: The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

I planned to take a break from long works after reading The Passage, which I described as "War and Peace and More War". But my wife wanted to forge ahead into the sequel, and it's hard to say no considering how good the original was.

The Passage covered an entire century, starting with an ill-advised government experiment (aren't they all?) and ending with a world overrun by what we could loosely call vampires, with a few human settlements hanging on. Two of our constants are Amy, a six year old subject of the experiments, and Arbogast, a government agent who once had a daughter of his own, and against orders decides to protect the little girl.

As The Twelve opens we find ourselves right back at the beginning, following a small group of survivors as they try to escape the virus spreading through America. At first there seems little connection between them and characters from the previous book, but as their paths converge those connections do appear. By the time we jump forward to "present" day we're back with the people from the first novel, including a mysteriously slow aging Amy, who turns out to be the key to evolving events.

Speaking of evolving, the hordes of infected are now under the control of the original experiment subjects--The Twelve--and in a horrible city of human slaves they're planning a new order that could be quite literally a fate worse than death. The only way to stop them: Infiltrate the city, and kill The Twelve.

How hard could it be?

The Twelve is epic and complex, and yes, it's long, but my only complaint is that you might have a little trouble keeping track of characters. Luckily Cronin is good at keeping things and people clarified, for which I assume he has a flow chart marching along every one of his office walls. Its been awhile since I've been willing to trade sleep for reading, and this time Cronin is the reason why. The Twelve might not be right for someone looking for a light read, but for anyone who wants to be drawn in and actually care about the characters, this is the place to be.

Maybe--just maybe--The Twelve is actually better than The Passage. If that's so the third book in the trilogy, which we just picked up, will have to be pretty spectacular, indeed. And pretty long.

The City of Mirrors awaits me. If I disappear for a while, don't be concerned.

50 Authors from 50 States: Jennifer Wilck Shares Her New Jersey Home

Forget your preconceived notions! I've only been to New Jersey once, but the part I was in was beautiful. Here's another look, on 50 Authors from 50 States:

50 Authors from 50 States: Jennifer Wilck Shares Her New Jersey Home: I live in NJ, the Garden State, and yes, despite what you may have heard, there is an abundance of flowers, farms and beauty throughout my...

A news release about pictures, not politics. Yay!

     You already heard my pitch for photos relating to our new book project. I just thought I'd throw out the official version of that pitch--the one that we sent out to area news agencies a year ago. Maybe it suffers a bit for being too long winded for modern news, but long winded is what I do. Basically I wanted to give busy editors text, pictures, quotes, and contact information, everything they need to either print the release as a whole or pick and choose what they want. I've found that if you're friendly to the media and make their job as easy as possible, they'll be friendly to you.
Needless to say, the news agencies used only the parts they needed! If anyone out there wants to use some or part of this (hey, it could happen), you're welcome to.

Albion Authors Plan Fire Photo Book

Two Albion authors are going local again for their newest book, and they’re looking for some photographic help.
Mark and Emily Hunter want to collect as many photographs as they can relating to the Albion Volunteer Fire Department for a new book, which they hope to have out this summer. So far untitled, it will be almost entirely pictures.

The Hunters previously collaborated on a history of the AFD, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With the Albion Fire Department. But that book, about the department’s history, had relatively few illustrations. Mark Hunter described their new book as being a balance between Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights and their other local history book, Images of America: Albion and Noble County. The latter, released by Arcadia Publishing, was also almost entirely pictures.
The two also co-wrote a humor book with a wider historical focus, Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All.
Mark, who’s on Amazon and various social media sites as Mark R Hunter, has been a volunteer Albion firefighter for thirty-eight years. “Albion and Noble County was a load of hard work,” he says. “But it was also great, because we searched long and hard for historical pictures, and got a lot of great ones loaned and donated to us. That got me thinking.”
Now Mark and Emily and searching for any photos, of any age, relating to the AFD—even remotely. “Personal stuff kept me from getting as involved as I’d like with the fire department in recent years, so I wanted to do something,” Mark says. What kind of pictures are they searching for? “Fires; fire trucks; firefighters; firefighter families; firehouses; fire history; fire dogs—whatever. The older the better, but modern is fine.”

They’re asking anyone with fire related photos involving Albion in any way—or video, if screen caps could be made from it—to loan them long enough for Emily to scan a copy for the book. The donators will get credit, as will the original photographers, if their identity is known. In addition, half the proceeds from sales of the book will go to the Albion Fire Department’s training and equipment fund. The Hunters are publishing independently, so the other half will go toward actually designing, producing, advertising, and printing the book.

All the proceeds of their previous AFD book, Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights, go to the AFD. The Hunters also donate half of Mark’s young adult novel, The No-Campfire Girls, to an organization working to support Emily’s former Missouri Girl Scout facility, Camp Latonka.

“We're especially interested in former members”, Mark adds, “since it's awfully hard to fight fires without firefighters. I should stress that I mean Albion, Indiana. Although, come to think of it, it would be kind of cool to have a section on Albion firehouses from across the country.”

Mark and Emily can be contacted on their website contact form at, or through any of their social media, or--believe it or not--their number's actually in the phone book.

Mark R Hunter is also the author of four romantic comedies: Coming Attractions, Radio Red, Storm Chaser and its sequel, The Notorious Ian Grant, as well as a related story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts. In addition, he collaborated with Emily, on a collection of his humor columns, Slightly Off the Mark. His short works appeared in the anthologies My Funny Valentine, Strange Portals: Ink Slingers’ Fantasy/Horror Anthology, and The Legend of Ol' Man Wickleberry (and His Demise).

Mark is a 911 dispatcher and volunteer firefighter in rural Indiana, where he lives with Emily and their dog, Beowulf, and a cowardly ball python named Lucius. He’s online at, blogs at, and can be found hanging out on Facebook at and Twitter at

The news that used to be print to fit

Someone recently asked me, "Has the world ever been crazier?"

Yes. Yes, it has. And to prove it, I dug up something I wrote eight years ago, when I found myself with a collection of little news items just begging to be made fun of. Keep in mind, this was 2012, but it still covers everything that made 2020 such fun: politics, death, and racism, not necessarily in that order.

Coming in December: Attack of the evil Santas.

           A video clip of Adolf Hitler giving a speech was recently used in a commercial to sell shampoo. Okay, did they even look at that guy’s hair? Did he ever use shampoo? The Stalin themed conditioner doesn’t seem appropriate, either.

            Speaking of inappropriate use of historical figures, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, responded to a protest by pulling the bobblehead doll they were selling. It was a figure of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Lincoln. The figure carries a gun. It would be roughly equivalent to showing that Adolf Hitler commercial at a Holocaust Museum.

            An explosion in Georgia killed a man known for fighting to keep chickens on his property. Police list Colonel Sanders as a person of interest.

            A study of more than 222,000 people indicated that sitting too long can kill you. Four out of five of the researchers doing the study ... died.

            Another study found that eating red meat can be unhealthy, especially to cows. After all, zombies eat red meat, and they look terrible.

            Federal agents recently shot dead a man involved in a murder for hire plot. It’s perhaps ironic that they didn’t get a bonus for it.

            Nobody’s talking much these days about the US government’s “Fast and Furious” program, which sent thousands of firearms over the border into the hands of Mexican criminals. It’s nice to know the Obama administration’s doing something about our international trade imbalance.

            An Easter egg hunt in Colorado was canceled because of rude, selfish, pushy behavior – by the parents. In related news, fifteen years later a riot broke out among parents trying to be first in line to get the diploma at high school graduation. (Hey, we still have seven years to go--it could happen.)

            North Korea is downplaying the discovery that their “weather” satellite had lettering on it that translated to “Insert bomb here”. Top officials, speaking anonymously, are embarrassed that they forgot to insert the bomb.

            The largest known breed of rats in the world has been discovered invading the Florida Keys. Weird. I thought that state’s Presidential primary was over.

Wait. Is that a ... locust?

            Scientists recently announced that most of the Moon seems to be made up of material it got from Earth. NASA astronauts were immediately dispatched to serve the Moon with an IRS audit notice.

            The comedian Gallagher has retired after having a heart attack. Maybe if he’d eaten the fruit instead of smashing it …

            Speaking of retiring, another man is accused of sawing off his own foot in an attempt to avoid working. You have to admire his non-work ethic, but wonder about his lack of imagination.

            It was recently announced that liberal activist Jane Fonda will be portraying … wait for it … Nancy Reagan, in a movie. Also cast is Alec Baldwin as Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich as Jimmy Carter.

            New rules say beach volleyball players will not have to wear bikinis at the 2012 London Olympics. This was followed immediately by the networks scheduling beach volleyball during prime time. Then they discovered the rule does not permit nude volleyball, and that in fact the players might actually cover up more. Beach volleyball is now scheduled in the 5 a.m. slot.

            Recently two asteroids, one the size of a tour bus, buzzed by the Earth on the same day director James Cameron made the deepest undersea dive ever. Coincidence? Or an act of self-preservation, by going to one of the most dangerous spots on earth to escape a possible collision, thus proving Cameron brilliantly insane? Probably coincidence.

            I recently read an article asking what might happen if all 350 million toilets in the United States were flushed at the same time. I can only imagine a humor columnist facing a deadline came up with that question. Unfortunately, the federal government got wind of it (ahem) and is now organizing the Department of Hydraulics (DoH), to mandate guidelines that will prevent any future mass dumping. I don’t think they should go up that creek. Especially without a paddle.

            Apparently the person who bombed Kim Kardashian with flour is a member of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). No word on whether they were planning to bake her or fry her.

            Water ice was recently found on Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun. Insert Uranus joke here. Or maybe I just did.

            That’s the news roundup … generally everyone made it through unharmed, except for John Wilkes Booth fans. The sad part of that is that there probably are some.

But what ever happened to global warming?

50 Authors from 50 States: Nevada Flashback

50 Authors from 50 States gambles on Nevada:

50 Authors from 50 States: Nevada Flashback: Kay Phoenix: Hello from Las Vegas Let me tell you about my hometown. Las Vegas is more than just the stretch of road that slices dow...

When Healthy Food Meets Stupid

When I had my newspaper column, I regularly wrote about two things: My family, and things I screwed up.

My family asked that I stopped writing about them. Luckily, I screw up plenty.

But there are times when I do something so stupid that I hesitate to admit it to anyone. (This is what I don't like about the proliferation of cell phone cameras. I'd rather have some control over which embarrassment I share.)

So it was recently, when I made a bowl of oatmeal.

The simplest things can go horribly wrong, especially for me. Remember, I've been a volunteer firefighter for four decades, and was never seriously injured in that position, depending on your definition of "seriously" (not counting my original back injury, which didn't seem serious at the time). Yet I once pulled a muscle jumping over a mud puddle. As a teen, I gouged out a piece of my ankle while hauling trash to the curb. There's a reason why my wife doesn't let me use power tools.

So it's no surprise that oatmeal almost did me in.

In my quest to be healthy--yes, there is some irony here--I've been eating food that's supposed to help lower my cholesterol. So it was one morning when I came downstairs, in my usual post-sleep stupor, and decided to make a nice bowl of healthy oatmeal, to which I always add brown sugar because, hey--I've got an unhealthy reputation to maintain.

Cholesterol or not, no. Just ... no.

The brown sugar, to my surprise, had hardened. Annoyed and half asleep, I chipped out enough to throw into the food, where it softened and mixed just fine. Then I ate while watching a documentary about the first Americans: I'm one of those people who has to read or watch something while eating. I haven't eaten at the table since 1989, except at holidays.

(In fairness, I've been researching for a story that involves the first Americans, so there. Spoiler: They didn't call themselves Americans.)

Then I took my bowl into the kitchen, started to put the brown sugar away, and noticed it was white.

Brown sugar is supposed to be brown. That's why they call it brown.

At first I thought my wife must have spilled some powdered sugar in there while making something, which is dumb because both packages were sealed up. Then I looked more carefully. I'd never seen it on brown sugar, but I've seen it plenty of other places: Mold.

I'd eaten a bowl of mold.

Oh, and by the way: I'm allergic to mold.

It didn't really seem that bad at first. I had a bit of a gut ache, which is to be expected, I suppose. I'm allergic to almost everything else, but I've never had an allergic reaction to food or medicine, so I figured maybe my body had just harmlessly digested it. And I guess it partially did, because my mold meal made it all the way into my lower digestive tract before the trouble kicked in.

I see no reason to give you the details. For all I know, you're reading this while eating.

What I can say is that my intestine is no friend of mold, and that the only real advantage of the whole thing is that I caught up on some of my reading while stuck in the bathroom. Also, I lost six pounds in a day. I would not recommend this as a diet, because once I got some 7 Up and soda crackers into me, I gained most of it back.

The stupid part, of course, is that I didn't look into the bag and spot the mold before I put it into the oatmeal. It wasn't the oatmeal's fault, obviously. Just the same, for safety's sake, maybe with future breakfasts I should change over to donuts, or pancakes, or bacon. Or all of the above.

After all, we must take care of our health.

I could just eat eggs. Nobody ever died from eating too many eggs.

40 Years a Firefighter

Forty years ago tomorrow (as I post this ... okay, the day in question is Tuesday, July 14th), I walked into a small and ironically smoky meeting room, and told a group of men there that I wanted to be an Albion volunteer firefighter.

I was terrified.

The Chief, Jim Applegate, stared at me and asked: "How old are you?"

I'd turned 18 that same day. Later I learned that only a few years earlier, the Albion Fire Department had lowered its age requirement from 21 to 18, so I probably looked way too young ... and maybe I was.

That's Jim Applegate sitting third from right. Since this photo was taken in the late 70s, most of those guys were probably there that night. I doubt they remember it as well as I did.

I don't know how I did it. Climbing those stairs to the meeting room ... that was probably the bravest thing I did in my entire career. Climbing a ladder into a burning building? Nothin'. I was painfully shy, not a fan of crowds, not great at physical work, and not in shape. (That last helps explain my chronic back pain, so ... be in shape, people.)

And yet I wanted to be a firefighter, so I did it. It's about the only thing I had planned at age eighteen that actually worked out.

After awhile I got comfortable with one group, that group being my second family, the firefighters. Once word got around that I did the writing thing I became the department's public information officer, photographer, and I was elected secretary.

I suggested to the chief that we have a safety officer, and he gave me the job. What have we learned from this, kids? That's right: Never volunteer. That led to an instructor's certificate, and for several years I was the AFD training officer. Yeah, me, the guy who was uncomfortable speaking in a crowd. I still am. But on a volunteer fire department, sometimes you have to fill a need.

I'm not as active now, thanks partially to the above mentioned chronic pain, and I do wonder how long it will be before I have to call it a day. That's part of the reason why I'm searching out photos for this new book about the AFD--I want to preserve the memories, while I'm still around to remember them.

Wow, what memories. I wrote something down for some emotional retirement speech to the membership, but then I thought: Why would I do something like that to those poor guys? So I'll say it here (and it'll probably end up in the book):

    The hottest I've ever been in my life has been as a firefighter, although not necessarily because of fire. Also the coldest I've ever been. The wettest. The driest. Thirstiest; hungriest; happiest; saddest. I've been burned on the job, cut, bruised, scraped, fallen down, had asphalt melt to my feet, pulled muscles, and sucked down oxygen with a desperate eagerness. I've seen dead people and parts of dead people. I've seen despair and hysteria. I've run for my life, and I've run for someone else's life. I have been, at times, miserable on this job.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Except for the back pain part.

Summer Means 4H Writing ... Well, To Me

So, I spent another July week judging prose writing projects for the Noble County 4-H (which still has some judging going despite the sad cancellation of this year's 4-H Fair). Apparently I've been doing this every year since 2016; time flies when you're being impressed.

And boy, as usual, am I impressed.

This year they range in grades from 6th to 12th, which makes it even more difficult to judge, as you have to take their ages and relative experience into consideration. But while I've seen plenty of writing that needed work, I haven't seen any yet that I'd characterize as being bad. One piece from this year is freaking brilliant. Another writer needs to work on their fundamentals, but still almost had me rolling on the floor with funny scenes.

I'm so jealous.

I started writing steadily at around sixth grade, but didn't  come up with anything approaching good until the middle of high school. I didn't start getting good at my fundamentals--grammar, spelling, sentence structure--until after high school. See, in English class, instead of paying attention, I was in the back row writing fiction. As a writer, I was trying to build a house without knowing how to use a hammer or saw.

(I still don't know how to build a house, but hey, it's just a metaphor. Or simile. One of those things. On a related note, sometimes I'm still not that great at fundamentals.)

So after high school I bought a used English textbook and actually taught myself the stuff I hadn't picked up before. After that, I got a little better. Some would say.

If the kids have a common problem, it's that they need to understand that writing is rewriting. I'm seeing good work that just needs to be edited and polished, more than anything else. They're already as good as I was at their age: A little work, and they'll be better.

And hey, more competition is just what I need. That, and editing.