A Silent Night

Ken Bailey illuminates us on some of the struggles of nighttime photography in the past and gives us savored memories. 

A SILENT NIGHT. We were living on Crest Street when I took this photo, in 1972, looking westward from this southern bluff overlooking the bowl in which sat the town of Rangely -- and the long, flat elevated basin which housed most of the Weber Sands oil field unit, extending out to the distant ridges ten miles away.

Film in those days was a lot slower (weaker to light) than photography is today. Indoor photos took a flashbulb or cube which had to be fired in perfect timing to match the opening of the shutter ... or you got nothing. Outdoor photograph -- unless you mounted your camera on a tripod and set the shutter to stay open a while, during which the camera had to stay perfectly still -- was also a daunting challenge. Pictures we snap off easily today were a great victory for the amateur snap shot artist back in those days.

Thus is this photo of the Rangely basin at night. Note the lights of the town just over the hill's edge, center right. (The two streaks are a car passing while I had the shutter open).

Beyond them, in the distance, submersible "BJ" pump control box lights twinkle. They are in some cases eight miles distant from my camera at this time. And they still show up!

The brighter splotch of light among the "BJs" is the oilfield's second gas plant, way out in the western quarter just south of the highway.

The saturation of "submersibles" began at the western edge of the field and moved eastward, clearing the landscape of the walking beam pumpers once found in Rangely by the hundreds. By the time I moved away in 1972, the "line of scrimmage" had reached to the Blue Mountain Highway.

I remember many a January night looking sadly out through the frigid night air at these twinkling lights. To the careful eye, once could see the checkerboard pattern they made in squares -- the oil wells on forty-acre spacing, with the fifth light in the middle being a 1960's "infill well" in between the four 1940's originals.

The submersible's victory was complete out there. Every oil well that wasn't water-injected had a light ... and every light meant a walking beam pumper had been removed where there used to be one.

Peaceful sight ... sad sight ... and probably why I couldn't get any dates back in the day (would YOU want to date a kid who spent all his time looking out at the oil field counting disabled oil wells?????) Anyway, seriously, my one Rangely night shot, and the memories with it to match.