The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

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Ghost Dancers by David Cramer
“Ghost Dancers”
photograph by David Cramer

Local photographer takes top honors

—KATIE WILLIAMS, SIGNPOST

When I first saw David Cramer’s photographs, they took my breath away. I stared at each photo in awe of the incredible natural beauty he was able to capture. Stallions chasing, almost dancing, with one another, foals frolicking with their mothers, and wild horses with wounds that tell a hundred tales. Sandoval County is known for its wildlife, but it isn’t every day that you get to admire these animals so closely. It is David Cramer’s talent and his lens that help transport you into this wonderful world.

In Cramer’s own words, he describes his interactions with these majestic animals and his inspiration for photographing them. “I first experienced wild horses when I stumbled across a young colt hanging close to his pack. He stared intensely at me for a few seconds, until he snorted, voided, and sprinted off down the hill. For me, it was love at first sight. Since that encounter, I have found wild horses to be an irresistible attraction. Many of us have succumbed to the pull of these majestic animals, and my best way of handling this addiction is with a camera in hand. Then, at least, I can feel that I have some control over their pull, even as I know I am the one who is hopelessly in love. I have been blessed with witnessing many stages of their lives: births, newborns finding their first legs, the ceremonial establishment of pecking orders, magnificent battles, powerfully joyous play, and unavoidable signs of the final chapter. I find there is much to learn and value in how they live their lives. Untouched by politics, clocks, appointments, or phone calls, these animals epitomize the meaning of living in the moment. My photography attempts to captivate these moments in raw and bold form. I rely on flexibility, attention, and intimate knowledge to create my images, which sometimes means hiking long distances with little gear. All that is required is my camera and lens and a little lighting help from nature; the horses provide the rest.”

At a recent international photography exhibit, “All Things Horses,” at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, Colorado, David Cramer took top honors for his photograph depicting two wild horses in the Placitas area.

Juror Christiane Slawik, an internationally renowned equine photographer from Germany, chose David’s image to award the Juror’s Selection from over 1,700 entries. In her Juror’s Statement, Christiane describes that the image (Cramer’s photograph) “grants an insight into the non-verbal, but very expressive communication within a horse herd, revealing the character and social structure of both animals. It shows horses freely unbound…“

David is a nature and wildlife photographer residing in Placitas, New Mexico. His work can be viewed at Schelu Gallery in Old Town Albuquerque, Schuman Gallery in Rio Rancho, and the Rockin’ R gallery in Placitas. Images can also be viewed online at www.davidcramer.com.


The Liberty Belle in flight

The Liberty Belle in flight

Norm and Beverly Schippers

Norm Schippers

The Liberty Belle in Maine

The Liberty Belle in Maine

Norm Schippers and the Liberty Belle

—MARGARET M. NAVA, SIGNPOST

What does a retired aircraft mechanic do for fun and excitement? He signs on as a crewmember and retraces the route B-17 bombers followed during World War II. At least, that’s what long-time Placitas resident Norm Schippers did.

For as far back as he can remember, Norm has been in love with airplanes. Originally from Iowa, he moved to California in 1952, where he attended aircraft mechanics school and learned to fly. In 1957, he went to work for TWA and became certified as an A&P (airframe and power plant) mechanic. During his career, he worked on all types of aircraft, including DC-4s, Lockheed Constellations, and Martin 404s. He even built two of his own planes and helped several friends build and maintain theirs. In 2005, after fifty years of “dedicated service, technical expertise, professionalism, and many outstanding contributions,” the FAA presented him with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, as well as the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award. So, when he heard that the Liberty Foundation was looking for experienced aircraft mechanics for their maintenance hangar at Albuquerque’s Double Eagle Airport, he did the natural thing—he volunteered.

The Liberty Foundation was created by Don Brooks, whose father had been a tail gunner on a World War II B-17 affectionately named the Liberty Belle. Also known as the Flying Fortress, the B-17 was “powered by four Wright radial engines, built of sleek and gleaming aluminum, and featured a strong defensive armament as well as being able to carry a heavy bomb load.” Brooks’s dad shared his memories, good and bad, with his son. Although Elton Brooks passed away in 1978, Don never forgot the stories. In late 1987, he learned about the “Lost Squadron, a group of six P-38 Lightnings and two B-17s that made emergency landings on the Greenland ice cap in 1942 while on the way to the combat zone. Everyone was rescued, but the aircraft were left and then covered by hundreds of feet of ice and snow.” After the war, the Liberty Belle was sold and cut up for scrap. Brooks thought too much history had been lost. “Something had to be done to honor my father and all the veterans who fought and sacrificed in defense of freedom.” Seventeen years and millions of dollars later Don Brooks had recovered and restored a P-38, a P-40E, and two B-17s, one that was later reborn as the Liberty Belle.

On June 30, 2008, the Liberty Belle departed Bangor, Maine on an historic journey to England. Following the traditional flight path of U.S. World War II bombers, the B-17 stopped briefly in Goose Bay, Canada and then headed out over blue water to Narsarsuaq Airport in Greenland. The next big jump took her to Reykjavik, Iceland and then on to Prestwick, Scotland before a triumphal arrival in Duxford, England on July 4th.

Norm said, “The Duxford Air Show was great. British newspapers called it ‘The Return of the Yanks.’ There were fly-bys of Spitfires, Hurricanes, and P-51s. Some of the planes did low, fast fly-bys while others did steep pull-ups and victory rolls. It was all very impressive. There were two other B-17s at the show beside the ‘Belle.’ The British B-17 was grounded because of engine problems. The French B-17 flew in the show but was later put into a museum because of high operating costs. Duxford played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain and the British have always had an intense interest in WWII and the part Americans played in it. Several people told me, ‘if it hadn’t have been for America, we would be speaking German.”’

On its way home, the Liberty Belle stopped in Scotland. Leaning back in his chair and gazing out the window, Schippers recalls the trip. “The field at Wick, Scotland was a Lancaster and Spitfire base during the war. Folks told us this was where they flew out to bomb Germany’s heavy water production in Norway. It was cold and windy there—even in July. Our next stop was Keflavik, Iceland. We knew it was going to be very cold, even though we were only flying at eight thousand feet. We dressed in layers and had sleeping bags to ward off the cold, but after a couple hours it would soak through. We had lots of air leaks around the ball turret and other places and we tried to stop them with rags and towels, but nothing helped. After refueling in Narsarsuag, we flew across the ice cap to Kangerlussuaq, a settlement in west Greenland. The ice cap was ten thousand feet thick where we flew and we were twelve thousand feet in the air. I thought it had been cold before, but it was colder over the cap… well below zero. We thought we saw ships in the distance, but as we got closer, we discovered they were huge icebergs that had broken off the ice cap.”

From 1935 through the end of World War II, 12,777 B-17s were built. Today, only fifteen remain in flying condition. The Liberty Belle returned to England to honor and commemorate all the brave airmen who valiantly fought the Nazi war machine and won. The total distance there and back was 7,800 miles and the crew put approximately seventy-five flying hours on the Belle. According to Norm, “We had no big problems. The engines never missed a beat, although they burned a gallon of oil per hour (except engine three, which burned three gallons per hour) and there was only one small flap problem.” When asked if he would do a flight like this again, he grinned and said, “Heck, yes. But not too soon.”

The Liberty Foundation tours the United States each year with its “Salute of Veterans Tour.” At each stop, they offer flight experiences that last approximately forty-five minutes with thirty minutes flight time. This year, the Liberty Belle will be in Santa Fe on November 8th and Albuquerque on the 9th. For more information and reservations, call (918) 340-0243 or visit www.libertyfoundation.org.

 

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