This Week’s Book Review – Lost, Texas

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

Exploring Texas and its forgotten places

By MARK LARDAS

June 12, 2018

“Lost, Texas: Photographs of Forgotten Buildings,” by Bronson Dorsey, Texas A&M University Press, 2018, 244 pages, $40

Buildings and towns have lifespans, just like people.

“Lost, Texas: Photographs of Forgotten Buildings,” by Bronson Dorsey underscores that. A photoessay, the book captures forgotten and abandoned buildings throughout the state of Texas.

His photography is stunning. Readers make an extended road trip through Texas exploring forgotten places, buildings and towns. The trip takes readers around the state visiting east, south, central, north and west Texas and the Panhandle.

Dorsey explores the Texas that can be seen off the interstate, on state, county, Farm-to-Market, and Ranch-to Market roads. Small towns, including ghost towns, predominate, but he has a few small cities, such as Palestine and Marshall.

All buildings featured outlived their original purpose. Some, such as the old International and Great Northern Railroad Hospital in Palestine, seem in good shape, abandoned, but capable of revival if a new use could be found. A few, like the Koch Hotel in D’Hanis, are still in use, restored as bed-and-breakfasts or museums. Most, however, are abandoned in various states of deterioration.

“Lost, Texas” charts the rise and fall of both buildings and communities. The reasons for abandonment are many. Entire towns die when bypassed by the railroad, and later the interstate. Changing travel tastes make tourist courts and railroad hotels. Gas stations and stores become uneconomical when new highways bypass them.

Technology matters, too. Mechanization reduced the need for farm labor. As a result, farm communities dwindled, the schools, stores, and restaurants that served the departed community became unnecessary. Industry closings, such as the Sulphur plant at Newgulf or Presidio Mines in Shafter cause communities to whither.

Dorsey captures these trends in his photographs. The book is filled with poignant and sometimes haunting images testimony to dead dreams: A crumbling service station in Pep, the decayed sheriff’s office in Langtry, collapsing World War II bomber hangers in Pyote, a lonely red, one-room schoolhouse on the Panhandle plains in Wayside.

Each set of photos is accompanied by the story of the building captured. They are all different, yet all similar. “Lost, Texas” takes readers into the Texas of yesteryear.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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New Camera – Big Fun!

Olympus OM-D, E-M10MarkII, Micro-Four Thirds.   Have 14-42 and 40-150 zoom lenses, both with circular polarizing filters.  Weighs about 1/10th of my older Olympus E-3 which used the much larger Four Thirds format lenses.  Slightly higher F #’s with the new one, but for the size, don’t care.  The new one has WiFi: Crikey!

From this am, only using AUTO; a sunny morning, finally:

Still water because my new pond pump, 2.7 HP Century V-Green, is variable speed, and this low setting oxygenates the water, only using 100W.  I am a control freak, in spite of PGE’s wishes.

 


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Spring Spring!

So, yeah, I am having serious trouble with Spring fever this year.  We didn’t go the the beach this week because my perfect spouse contracted the Crud.  Postponed until 4-2.

My camera activity is getting an upgrade.  I cracked the glass over the function display on my beloved Olympus E-3, so it’s retiring.  It’s only good for fair weather action now.  My new camera is an Olympus OM-D Mark 10 II:  Micro four-thirds, 15.6 Megapixel, 5-way internal stabilization, screamingly fast AF, 8.5 fps, and built-in WiFi.  Woof!  Until I get it on Monday, here’s a few iPhone shots from yesterday:

Our pink Magnolia is raring to go.

The maximally green-thumbed spouse’s late winter flower basket adorns the deck.

We begged the Camellia and it finally listened.

Water is up to 53F, so the fish are chowing down, their most potent skill.


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Hot Shots: A Radioactive Lens

Leica M6 with Summicron 50 mm f/2 lens

Between the 1940s and 1970s, a number of camera manufacturers designed lenses employing thoriated glass in one or more elements. Incorporating as much as 40% thorium dioxide (ThO2) in the glass mixture increases the index of refraction of the glass while maintaining low dispersion. Thoriated glass elements allowed lenses to deliver low levels of aberration and distortion with relatively simple and easy to manufacture designs.

As with everything in engineering, there are trade-offs. Thorium is a radioactive element; it has no stable isotopes. Natural thorium consists of 99.98% thorium-232, which has a half-life of 1.4×1010 years. While this is a long half-life, more than three times that of uranium-238, it is still substantially radioactive and easily detected with a Geiger-Müller counter. Thorium decays by alpha emission into radium-228, which continues to decay through the thorium series into various nuclides, eventually arriving at stable lead-208.

Leica Summicron 50 mm f/2 lensAttached to my Leica M6 film camera above is a Leica Summicron 50 mm f/2 lens which contains thoriated glass. Its serial number, 1041925, indicates its year of manufacture as 1952. This lens was a screw mount design, but can be used on more recent bayonet mount Leica cameras with a simple adapter. Like many early Leica lenses, it is collapsible: you can rotate the front element and push the barrel back into the camera body when not in use, making the camera more compact to pack and carry. Although 66 years old at this writing, the lens performs superbly, although not as well as current Leica lenses which are, however, more than an order of magnitude more expensive.

To measure the radiation emitted by this thoriated glass lens I used a QuartaRAD RADEX RD1706 Geiger-Müller counter and began by measuring the background radiation in my office.

Radiation monitor: 0.12 μSv/h

This came in (averaged over several measurement periods) as 0.12 microsieverts (μSv) per hour, what I typically see. Background radiation varies slightly over the day (I know not why), and this was near the low point of the cycle.

I then placed the detector directly before the front element of the lens, still mounted on the camera. The RADEX RD1706 has two Geiger tubes, one on each side of the meter. I positioned the meter so its left tube would be as close as possible to the front element.

Radiation monitor: 1.14 μSv/h

After allowing the reading to stabilise and time average, I measured radiation flux around 1.14 μSv/h, nearly ten times background radiation. Many lenses using thoriated glass employed it only for the front element(s), with regular crown or flint glass at the rear. This limits radiation which might, over time, fog the film in the camera. With such lenses, you can easily detect the radiation from the front element, but little is emitted backward in the direction of the film (and the photographer). This is not the case with this lens, however. I removed the lens from the camera, collapsed it so the back element would be closer to the detector (about as far as the front element was in the previous measurement) and repeated the test.

Radiation monitor: 1.51 μSv/h

This time I saw 1.51 μSv/h, more than twelve times background radiation. What were they thinking? First of all the most commonly used films in the early 1950s were slower (less sensitive) than modern emulsions, and consequently less prone to fogging due to radiation. Second, all Leica rangefinder cameras use a focal-plane shutter, which means the film behind the lens is shielded from the radiation it emits except for the instant the shutter is open when making an exposure, which would produce negligible fogging. Since the decay chain of thorium consists exclusively of alpha and beta particle emission, neither of which is very penetrating, the closed shutter protects the film from the radiation from the rear of the lens.

Many camera manufacturers used thoriated lenses. Kodak even used thoriated glass in its top of the line 800 series Instamatic cameras, and Kodak Aero-Ektar lenses, manufactured in great quantity during World War II for aerial reconnaissance, are famously radioactive. After 1970, thoriated glass ceased to be used in optics, both out of concern over radiation, but also due to a phenomenon which caused the thoriated glass to deteriorate over time. Decaying thorium atoms create defects in the glass called F-centres which, as they accumulated, would cause the glass to acquire a yellowish or brownish tint. This wasn’t much of a problem with black and white film, but it would cause a shift in the colour balance which was particularly serious for the colour reversal (transparency) film favoured by professional photographers in many markets. (My 1952 vintage lens has a slight uniform yellow cast to it—much lighter than a yellow filter. It’s easy to correct for in digital image post-processing.) Annealing the glass by exposing it to intense ultraviolet light (I’ve heard that several days in direct sunlight will do the job) can reduce or eliminate the yellowing.

Thorium glass was replaced by glass containing lanthanum oxide (La2O3), which has similar optical properties. Amusingly, lanthanum is itself very slightly radioactive: while the most common isotope, lanthanum-139, which makes up 99.911% of natural lanthanum, is stable, 0.089% is the lanthanum-138 isotope, which has a half-life of 1011 years, about ten times that of thorium. Given the tiny fraction of the radioisotope and its long half-life, the radiation from lanthanum glass (about 1/10000 that of thorium glass), while detectable with a sensitive counter, is negligible compared to background radiation.

If you have one of these lenses, should you be worried? In a word, no. The radiation from the lens is absorbed by the air, so that just a few centimetres away you’ll measure nothing much above background radiation. To receive a significant dose of radiation, you’d have to hold the front element of the lens up against your skin for an extended period of time, and why would you do that? Even if you did, the predominantly alpha radiation is blocked by human skin, and the dose you received on that small patch of skin would be no more than you receive on your whole body for an extended period on an airline flight due to cosmic rays. The only danger from thorium glass would be if you had a telescope or microscope eyepiece containing it, and looked through it with the naked eye. Alpha radiation can damage the cornea of the eye. Fortunately, most manufacturers were wise enough to avoid thoriated glass for such applications, and radioactive eyepieces are very rare. (Still, if you buy a vintage telescope or microscope, you might want to test the eyepieces, especially if the glass appears yellowed.)

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