21 Oct 2018

Snow Job – The Projector from the Smithsonian


Snow Job – The Projector from the Smithsonian

by Duncan Fry.

It’s been a great season for the snowfields this year, so my gf said “Let’s go to the snow for a long weekend. We can stay in the town, and catch the shuttle bus up the mountain. What do you think?”

Ah, the snow. Freezing cold, high prices, crowds of people crashing into each other (and me!) What’s not to like? But it’s hard to say no when she’s wearing her snow bunny outfit! So of course I agreed.

The last time I had been to the snow was on a two week snowfields tour with some band, a long, long time ago (drifts off into a haze of memories…). Somehow the band had organised that rarity of touring – a night off! So on this night the Inn’s management decided to put on a movie.


I was hanging around the bar in the afternoon, getting stuck into a couple of jugs of après ski, when a wizened old man in a dust coat wheeled in a movie projector and set up a screen on the stage. The projector could easily have been one of Thomas Edison’s factory rejects (Crazy Tom’s Projector bargains – come on down!), and when he turned it on it wheezed, groaned, and then started clattering like a team of castanet players on speed.

Satisfied that the thing actually ran, the projectionist carefully placed a tiny speaker box on the stage. It looked like an early 40’s Gibson guitar amp, with scrollwork on the speaker grille, and a whopping 6-inch speaker! The thin sound that came out of it barely covered the clattering noise of the projector, so I went up to the projectionist.

“Why don’t we run the sound through the PA?” I asked. He shook his head. “No, mate, you can’t do it. The last band here told me it’s got a special plug, and it wouldn’t match up with their system.”

“Hmm, let’s have a look at this ‘special’ plug then,” I asked. How different could it be? He uncoiled the lead and showed me. It was a guitar jack!

“Well, it’ll be a bit tricky mate,” I said, trying hard not to laugh, “but I think we’ll be able to match it up somehow.” His face lit up. “Gee, do you reckon you’ll be able to do it, then? That would be great. Thanks a lot young feller”

He shuffled off, probably for a training session with the geriatric bobsled team, and left me to it. The movie was Uncommon Valour, a rip roaring adventure where Gene Hackman goes back into the jungles of Vietnam after the war to retrieve some M.I.As (Missing In Action). It should have been subtitled ‘Travel the world, explore other cultures, meet interesting people…and kill them!’

Chuck Norris had also made a string of ‘Missing in Action 1, ‘…2’, ‘…3,’ ‘Missing in Action goes to Hawaii’ ‘Missing in Action and the Temple of Doom’ movies with a similar theme, not forgetting the Lord of the Mumbles Sylvester Stallone in Rambo 2. So there was to be plenty of action.

First, I ran his signal (with the ‘special’ plug!) from the projector into the mixing desk, and from there into a couple of bi-amped monitor wedges, placing one each side of the screen facing the audience. The sound was a vast improvement, but I wasn’t finished yet.

I took a line out from the first channel and ran it into a gate, a compressor, and then out to the main system, a couple of Series 2 ARX 1812’s, big all horn loaded boxes with a couple of 18’s for bottom end. I wound up the level of the low frequency end, carefully set the thresholds on the gate and compressor, and then went out to roll around drunk in the snow, just like everybody else!

At showtime that evening, I fronted up to the mixer just as the old projectionist was hand cranking his projector. I pushed up the levels to where I had marked them in the afternoon, and settled back to watch the movie. For the first twenty minutes of the movie there was just dialogue, which came from the two monitors, and the audience seemed quite happy with the sound of things.

But with the first explosion of the movie, BANG, the whole PA system erupted into life, with an enormous amount of bottom end, quite literally knocking everyone backwards in their seats! It sounded great. Each time there was an explosion, or machine gun fire, the main PA would turn on, and then go back to the monitors for dialogue. The audience loved it, and so did the chalet’s management.

“Wow, that sounds fantastic,” they said, coming up to me during the movie and shaking my hand. “How much would a system like this cost? We’ve got to get one.” However, when I started counting off on my fingers in thousands, they became distinctly less enthusiastic, and the idea was never mentioned again!

It was the last gig at that venue so we had to load out that night. Of course, it hadn’t snowed for the last five days so what happened – it started to snow like shaking a giant snow-dome and we had to load out in a raging blizzard!

The chalet was at the top of a long steep driveway. I backed the truck up to it as close as I could so there was less far to stagger in the snow with all the gear. It took us so long that there wasn’t a soul around when we finally got all the gear in the truck. We had a couple of drinks and then fell into our bunks.

The next morning we were off to Cooma in the Snowy Mountains, so we were up bright and early and into the truck. There was snow everywhere, and the battery was so flat that the starter motor solenoid wouldn’t even click.

“We’ll have to roll start it.” I announced. Chris looked grim, tightened his seatbelt and gripped the dashboard.

I put the truck into second gear, switched on the ignition and put the clutch in. Seven tons slowly lurched forwards. As we got halfway down the driveway I lifted the clutch, the truck shook, jerked and rattled but wouldn’t start. There was a right angle corner at the end of the driveway which turned on to the road, also completely covered in snow. The truck lumbered to the corner. I tried the clutch again – no go.

I left the clutch up, hit the brakes and spun the wheel, and we executed a perfect four-wheel drift (actually six-wheel!) around the corner. I straightened it up and we rolled off down the winding mountain road.

‘Jeez I hope this thing starts,’ I thought, because without the engine we’ve got no brakes! I pulled the choke out as far as it would go, and tried again. After a few horrendous jerks, when I fully expected to see the engine launch itself through the bonnet, the engine finally fired. I gave it a couple of seconds to settle down, then I cautiously tapped my foot on the brakes.

All six wheels locked up instantly, and all seven tons of us slid sideways. I looked across at Chris. His face was whiter than the fresh snow outside.

“Brakes work OK,’ I yelled, wrestling with the steering wheel to bring the juggernaut back onto a straight line. “Maybe I’ll just leave it in second gear until we get below the snow line.”

“Good idea,” muttered Chris through his gritted teeth, never once taking his eyes off the winding expanse in front of us.

As we came around the next corner we could see tyre tracks leading over to the edge of the road, and just make out the back end of an EH station wagon sticking up out of the snow. It had obviously slipped off the edge, and three or four people were milling around it scratching their heads.

“Hey look”, said Chris, “Some poor bastard’s gone over the edge. Let’s check it out.”

“OK” I said, but I didn’t have to move the wheel – it seemed to have a mind of its own.

“Shit!” I yelled, “I think we’re going to join him!” and we drifted slowly along the same tracks that the car had left. The people saw us getting closer, and closer, and they scattered in all directions when they realised we couldn’t stop.

At the very last second the tyres bit into the road and we managed to steer our way around the corner, although as I looked in the rear view mirror I could see that the rumble of our passing caused the car to slip another couple of lengths down the mountainside. I turned to Chris.

“No problems, see?” I patted the dashboard. “We’ll get the old tub through. How’s the underwear?”


This article first appeared in the October 2018 edition of CX Magazine – in print and online. CX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues. Read all editions for free or search our archive
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The theme for the October 2018 edition of CX Magazine was ‘Projection’. Read more:
Creative Projection Mapping with TDC’s Pete Lynn
Antartica – While You Were Sleeping
Choosing the Best Projector
Technology Engages Students in Learning
From Projector to Plate – Encore Serve up a Sensory Feast
3D Modular Panels for Projection Mapping
Borderless Projection in the Age of LED
Video Projection History – The Talaria
Simon Byrne: Let There Be Projected Light
Duncan Fry: Snow Job – The Projector from the Smithsonian


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