Start of a new Year at the Motor Transport Museum, Campo, CA

I’ve been side-tracked with getting the semester underway and been remiss in getting some posts even though I got back a couple of weeks ago from a fortnight in the west, But even though I took quite a few shots along the way, something has drained my heart and I’ve not had the motivation to edit them.  Since I got back I also have shot another food cover and some corporate portraits (all delivered) but was not up for creating the posts with them either.  I have been on emotional auto-pilot so the fuel for creativity was simply not available and the work, other than what was needed for the first week of school, allowed to languish untouched.

However, my friend Lee Peterson had returned from photo-business related travels to Japan, China, and the Philippines.  We talked about how we should get together for lunch or something but he announced we should go today to the Transportation Museum in Campo (south and east of San Diego on Highway 94).  I had driven by but never actually shot there so maybe this would be an infusion of emotion I could use.

Maybe it is because I like work vehicles and have spent a lot of time in them, in my youth driving dump trucks, caterpillar™ tractors, road graders, and even tractor-trailer rigs, that I have such an affinity for them.  But because of that affinity this was not a happy place for me.  It was filled with visual goodies but the “vibes” of the place were sad.  But it WAS an emotional response and good or bad I needed it.

One of many rows of old vehicles in the Campo Transportation museum.

One of many rows of old vehicles in the Campo Transportation museum.

These stalwart mechanical work horses gave all they had in the building of this country, its roads, buildings, earthworks, etc. and they did it for years and years.  Multiple owners put them to their paces. Shiny in new paint and livery for their human bosses they plodded through mud and water, snow and debris carrying this load or that, proud of their efforts and happy for a pat on the hood and an occasional washing.

But as one owner tired of the old truck and wanted to upgrade to the newest machine, another not able to afford a new truck themselves, stepped in and drove the metal beast to its new home and labors.  And then another, and another, until finally, tired, sometimes broken, left behind by newer technology and engineering, no longer wanted to do the very thing for which they were made, the purpose that they existed for, and I think that their steel and iron hearts longed for, they were shuttled out to some back pasture or side lot and forgotten amid the growing weeds.

Finally, for these trucks and busses and tractors, at least, someone thought to bring them here to this museum where they can sit shoulder to shoulder and swap work and war stories with their comrades.

When I run my hand over the scars of their faded paint sometimes revealing the multiple colors of new owners, feel the now rusting skin, it is as if these scars are the medals of the campaigns they have endured.

Scar and scab of rust on the fender of a yellow work truck.

Scar and scab of rust on the fender of a yellow work truck.

Interiors that once held lunch pails and coffee thermos bottles, heard sometimes laughter and sometimes the rough discourse of hard working humans now provide a soft bed and some cold night insulation to families of mice and other rodents.  When you looked into the cabs and listened carefully it was as if the spirit of the old truck looked up to see if you were going to ask it to come to life again so it could show just what it could do and that it did not deserve to slowly dissolve in a pile of rust.  “Wouldn’t you please,” a quiet voice asked, “just fire me up one more time for old time’s sake? Let me hear my engine, feel the vibration of its power, sense the truck blood run through my body and running gear just once more… feel alive and valuable just one more time…?”

The cab is just waiting for someone to dust off the seats and bring it back to ife.

The cab is just waiting for someone to dust off the seats and bring it back to ife.

I wanted to do just that, but could not.  Nor could I face them head on with my cameras so I went almost immediately into “abstract” mode, looking for patterns and memories in the multiple layers of rust and paint.  Here are a few of the shots I took.  This first one is the end plate for a capstan winch showing that this truck wore multiple business liveries in its day.

End plate for Capstan winch on a work truck

End plate for Capstan winch on a work truck

Original Mack Logo long before the faous Bulldog.

Original Mack Logo long before the faous Bulldog.

Many people know the now famous Mack Truck Bulldog mascot and ornament.  But long before the bulldog, this was the logo.

Ever heard of a Sterling?  State of the art reliability for its day.

Ever heard of a Sterling? Neither had I… State of the art reliability for its day.

Multiple pain jobs on a bus last used for some long fogotten resort.

Multiple paint jobs on a bus last used for some long fogotten resort.

In addition to hauling construction materials, many of these old warrior hauled people around the place and across the country.  The bus aboce shows off multiple paint jobs but its last seems to have been as transportation to some long forgotten resort.

And finally, here are some exceptionally worn tires.  These are solid rubber duals from the 20s long before inner tubes and pneumatic tires.  The ride would have been bone jarring.

We;; worn solid rubber dual tires from the '20s

Well worn solid rubber dual tires from the early part of the 20th Century.

With minimal spring travel and solid tires these old trucks wrecked the backs of countless teamsters as they did the heavy lifing of a growing country.  This one is exceptionally worn.  But nothing made today will be in this kind of shape in another 100 years and that is with union hours not sunrise to sunset labor on both man and machine.

So here they sit, unused, unwanted, yet exemplars of thousands upon thousands of brother and sister vehicles, many of them melted down for the steel in more modern buildings, many others sitting under trees in the weeds of old farms and ranches slowly returning their elements back to the soil.

I liked those old trucks.  In some ways I think I identified with them.

BTW, Lee’s post is: http://photographyinparadise.com/motor-transport-museum/

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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