Loose in the Palouse: Born in a Barn

The cow looked at me, quizzically. I looked back, impressed with how well it was put together. We both probably wondered if the other was missing a few screws…

It was the first day of a photography workshop. These are a guilty pleasure, a several day long excursion to photogenic sites in the company of a professional photographer or two, and a handful of enthusiasts like myself. Unlike the trips I do with my wife where the destinations are the primary focus, we’re frequently shepherded by a guide, and photography is something I squeeze in; for these trips the photography is front and center. Some of you may remember another photography workshop I blogged about in 2019.

For this spring trip, our target was the Palouse area of southeastern Washington state. The Palouse is famous for its rolling hills, a la Tuscany. Captured in the right light, the shadows and shading of greens, browns, and yellows make for a truly spectacular landscape.

And while we’ll get to that, eventually, today we’re dealing with that rather unique cow and its surroundings.

(Click on any picture for a larger view)

What’s up Doc?
El Gato checking out the milking machine. A gearnsey, perhaps?

Photography is an odd beast. Once you step away from the box a cell phone camera imposes on you, a whole new set of options arise. I took full advantage of the workshop, breaking out two sets of toys cameras. One was my main, relatively new mirrorless digital camera (a Nikon Z6), and the other was my old, two generations back DSLR, (a Nikon D5000) that I’d had converted to Infrared (590 nm). I usually process the IR pics into black and white photos.

So, while wandering the grounds of a mechanical bull’s girlfriend, I had two cameras strapped on, bandoleer style, with enough imaging ammo to send a Bandito into fantasy land and options of what caliber to use while firing away.

You’d think, between using a modern, more capable, full frame, full color, nearly noiseless camera and an old, beat up, very limited capability camera – with capabilities cut down even more due to the IR conversion – the choice would be obvious. Use the good one.

Naturally, for this set of pictures I ended up liking the IR B/W better, ergo most of the shots in this post are from the old camera. It’s not always the best camera that gives the best pictures…

But just so the Z6 doesn’t feel left out, here’s Bossy from its perspective.

How now brown cow?

For what it’s worth, foliage reflects a lot of infrared light – that’s why the grass in the IR shots looks like it had a cold date with Jack Frost.

One advantage of doing a workshop is the pros will have already been to the region, scouted it out for interesting locations, and worked up the logistics of when to go to Point A and Point B – subject to changes due to weather. When they told us of this place, they didn’t mention the cow. What got their attention was the fence.

Big wheel deal

The property started as a dairy farm back in the 30s, and is currently owned by Steve Dahmen and wife Junette. Steve and Junette are both artists. While Junette works in oil and watercolor, Steve has displayed his artistic skills by building the surrounding wheel fence over a 30-year period. It all started with his building a gate of rake tines, and after friends began contributing wheels, the fence quickly grew. Says Junette Dahmen in a history of the wheel fence, “Every wheel has a story from the smallest to the biggest. There are wheels from every kind of machine, an antique baby buggy, threshing machines, push-binder wheels, sidewinder or delivery rakes, old hay rakes and gears of every kind, large and small.” Today the fence exhibits over 1000 wheels.

Second verse in IR
Wheel portrait with a toothy grin.

The barn was in terrible shape in the early 2000s. Steve and Junette couldn’t afford to fix it, so they donated the barn to the local community development organization in 2004 with the stipulation that they stabilize, maintain, and put it to community use. The outside kept its historical look, but the inside was completely redone and is now home to studios for multiple community artists. The concept was so successful the studios expanded into an attached “shed.” We can only assume that many a work of art has been born in the barn. Who knows if they left the doors open while being inspired.

Unfortunately, when we were there the doors were shut. The studios were closed.

There was another barn on site. I’m guessing it was the original dairy barn.

Old barn with a barn star for luck. Or possibly a barn quilt?
Even the old rope has character

Scattered around the property, old farm machinery showed off their wheels and gears and pulleys, challenging onlooking city slickers to decode their use.

Considering the Palouse is a major wheat growing region, the smart money says the equipment must have been used to cut the wheat and separate out the grains.

But how, exactly? And what happens to all the straw that’s left over? These days they’d likely do it with a combine harvester in one fell swoop, assuming the farmer could afford to buy a machine that costs as much as his house. And we’re not speaking of a rundown shack, either. Nor a machine that’s useful all year long.

I suspect that “Co-op Association” is an important concept in farm country. A way to band together to pay for big grain silos, or combines, or to commiserate over how clueless city folk are on how tough it is to make a living on a farm.

Whatever the case, this city folk enjoyed the trip to the country, and hopefully, these shots and the ones to come will give you folks an appreciation too.


34 thoughts on “Loose in the Palouse: Born in a Barn

    1. Pretty much all the attendees didn’t need basic photography training, everyone was good at it. Morning sessions were more review of shots from the day before, or esoterica like strategies for cataloging and keywording pics. That fence shot does have a moody, wintery feel, even though it was spring.


  1. I like that metal cow, I always wondered where those little tin cans of condensed milk came from. But “Gear-nrsy,” really Dave?? Excellent shots of the old threshing machine and weathered rope. And the IR fence of wheels really speaks to me, or I guess, spoke.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Gear-nsey?” Too much? 😉 Need a new breed of joke? The old machinery was one of the reasons I opted to go for B/W. Strangely enough, for grins I did the standard color wheel fence in B/W and pushed it towards an IR look – and it turned out almost the same.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great shots as always as well as amusing [?] puns.
    There are co-ops to help, but in the plains states where fields can be a mile on each side, professional crews come through working, sometimes with several harvesters going together, moving from one farm to another. It is always an adventure when one encounters one of these mammoths on a two-lane road, but they are used to it and move over as soon as it is safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Combine squadrons make more sense. I’m sure they’re expensive, but not as bad as trying to buy one. I also get the impression that more and more farming is being done at the corporate level; folks who can afford the higher end machinery. Small farms have a hard time competing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I recognized the fence right away! I love the Palouse and my visit seems in the spring of 2011 seems so long ago. I was just thinking yesterday how I would love to go back … and I will. Maybe I will meet the cow next time! Great photos Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s pretty distinctive, isn’t it? Your Colorado wooden fences are cool, but this one’s unique.
      Yes, you’re probably due for a repeat visit to the Palouse. (But then I say that about a lot of places…)


  4. I’d not heard of the Palouse until maybe three or four years ago. It certainly looks like an area worth exploring; it’s a beautiful landscape. I smiled at the machinery you found. I grew up going to farm equipment shows, learning and mostly forgetting the fine distinctions among the brands. But I still love a good tractor, and vintage farm equipment of any sort brings a smile.

    I love that fence: wheel within a wheel, so to speak. It may not surprise you to know the colored photo of that fence is my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve known of the Palouse for quite a while, but I’d never been there. There will be more scenic shots in future posts.

      I actually lived on a farm for a few years, but I was quite young and we were quite poor – so maybe a tractor, but no fancy equipment. My uncle’s hay baler was about as high end as I saw.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve gotten lazy and tend to rely on my cellphone for most photography these days. In my defense, the camera on the Google Pixel series is stunning. But seeing your shots makes me want to bust out the Nikon myself. How do you like the mirrorless? I’m thinking of upgrading next year possibly.

    By the way, I legit thought you were shooting in the snow based on those first few photos. Great job! I never did get around to checking out the Palouse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A cell phone is easier to carry around, and the cameras are pretty good now. The advantage of “real” cameras is better performance in low light, high dynamic range (extremes of bright and dark in the same shot), more control of shutter speed and depth of field, and of course, lenses/focal range – especially telephoto. (Some folks say invest in lenses rather than cameras.) Most of which doesn’t matter to your average snap shooter.

      One thing that can make a big difference is shooting in RAW format and learning how to do photo editing. (No you don’t need to buy/learn Photoshop, there are cheaper/easier options.) You can do that with many cell phones too, with the usual limitations.

      This was my first time to the Palouse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I use On1 Photo RAW, but that’s in part because it’s a Portland company – and you can buy a license outright – no obligation to subcribe or update every year (although you can do that too.) Still cheaper than PS and fairly powerful. If you know Photoshop and/or Lightroom and are ok with subscribing forever because of the proprietary catalog and PSDs, CC is probably a good choice. Some folks like Luminar. I hear good things about Capture One, but it’s not cheaper. I’ve gotten Corel Paintshop Pro for free with purchases a couple times, and it’s base price is low too. But I don’t think it works on Mac, and is a crippled form of Photoshop – not that easy to use. There is freeware out there too – maybe check out Darktable.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Your photos are very good! And I loved that an old barn was used to house a community art studio. The small family farms are disappearing fast, so it is good to see them morphing into other things. I also like the idea of co-op farms, as that’s another way they might be able to keep going. I hate the way they are dying out….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One does not tend to think of farmers as closet artists. But why not? And why shouldn’t they join up with other artists?

      I think it’s fair to call the fence a sculpture – and probably the biggest I’ve ever seen.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m glad you brought the converted camera, Dave. The infrared black and whites are really nice. The second cow photo, the fence, and the rope are my favorites here. I still haven’t been to the Palouse, have been meaning to get over there for years. It sounds like you had a good time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. B/W is a slightly different trip in IR, although I’ve faked the B/W IR look with normal color pics with a degree of success. I figured you’d like the rope, it seems like one of those textures you like. Sounds like you have potential for a trip…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A beautiful series of photos, Dave –what a great experience and great post about the Palouse area and lifestyle. You have such a free-flowing and engaging writing style, the humor draws me in, and then your photos take me away… From your past posts, I have been awed by your IR shots, which are so crisp and show sharp contrasting detail. The photos of the machinery are special. Growing up in Eastern Oregon, I feel nostalgic about this post… and one day, I want to get back and take a trip to the Palouse. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m partial to contrasty B/W, and IR adds a certain seasoning to them. Getting them sharp is a bit of a challenge – I can’t rely on pentaprism focus due to the wavelength difference, can’t rely on live view manual focus because it’s an old camera and the live view resolution is poor, so I use live view autofocus and cross my fingers. Sharpening in post helps.

      I imagine this post would trigger nostalgia for you. I suspect the upcoming ones will too…


    1. The rope shot seems to be one of the most poplular. It’s a little surprising, but sometimes simple is best.

      Wait til I’ve shown you the more scenic Palouse shots. It may trigger your long distance driving Jones…


  9. Pingback: Loose in the Palouse: Early Impressions – Plying Through Life

    1. IR is an interesting medium. I tend to prefer using it for B/W, as the traditional false color processing strikes me as a bit wierd. Between that and the standard spectrum stuff I processed in B/W I think I became known as the B/W guy in the workshop, although I probably showed as much or more color pics in the image reviews. I cut my photographic teeth with B/W back in the 70s – it’s been fun to revisit it with modern software.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love B&W. A much different way of seeing. Agree, I am generally not a fan of the wild color effects of IR. The natural colors of the Palouse, however, are stunning. There’s a place for both. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. ​So… you proved me wrong. These B&Ws worked quite well except for that barn ‘quilt’. I would have loved to have seen what colors were used. ​

    Big wheel deal​ -I’ll admit that ​color does distract in this image of 1000+ wheels. I’d call it a bit more inventive than the stereotypical deer and elk horns so often displayed here in the west. What a great place to convert for community use.

    Thanks for the memories from my days in the wheat fields of Utah… you captured the feel of these god-forsaken farms well! 😏


  11. Really enjoying the black and white pics. I miss driving around with my Dad. That’s didn’t happen often because it was expensive to rent a car when I was little. I love seeing farmland, grasslands, etc. Thanks for bringing this scenery into my home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to show you something different than the big city. Different for me, too.

      I’ve come to the conclusion that while working in infrared I prefer B/W to psuedo color. And for that venue B/W just seemed right.

      Liked by 1 person

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