Night Light of the North Coast: Old Willys & the Night Sky

Post by David Wilson

In our rural county there are some sights so far in the sticks you may never see them. And there are some sights which, once seen, some folks might say they’ve seen them all. Take the “lone tree” motif for example. It’s hard for a photographer, or other artist, to pass up doing something with a lone tree. Why, I even capitalize Lone Tree in my mind. And almost as iconic as the Lone Tree is the lone old truck. Have we really seen them all? I knew of one old lone truck, and I set out to find out if seeing this one really meant I’d seen them all. I don’t think it did.

The Brute, an old Willys V8 that was once too powerful for its own transmission, keeps the night watch where it has lain retired for nearly three decades in its southern Humboldt resting place of tall grasses. This image was a single exposure.

Known as the Brute, in its younger days this Willys truck had its original 4-cylinder engine replaced with a V-8 powerful enough to twist its innards if it were pushed too hard. It spent its final active days as a solid ranch vehicle, parking for the last time almost three decades ago. Since that day, the sixty-five year old 1953 Willys pickup has stood watch beside the old private dirt road, a mute observer to the passage of the seasons.

The Brute’s long, lonely vigil attracted me, and finding myself nearby one night, I yielded to the attraction. But how to photograph it? There was no moon, and it was too dark to see the Willys without adding some light of my own. I would have to use a long exposure to bring out the stars, meaning I would leave the camera’s shutter open for an extended period to capture as much light as possible. I could then take advantage of the time that the shutter was open to paint my own light into the scene.

I photographed the Brute from two angles. The first image shows its face peering through the grasses beneath the north end of the Milky Way, while the second photograph shows more of its surroundings with the more prominent part of the Milky Way, the Galactic Core, overhead. The annotated versions of the photos label the more prominent celestial features visible.

I wanted to illuminate more of the surrounding area for this image, which would take more time than I had in a single exposure. I illuminated this one with a single flashlight, but in seven different photographs. In each photograph, I painted a different part of the scene in with light. I brought them together in Photoshop. The sky is a single exposure. August, 2018.

To see previous entries of “Night Light of the North Coast,” click on my name above the article. If you’d like to keep abreast of my most current photography or peer into its past, you can follow me on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx . I update my website less frequently, but you can contact me there.

The north end of the Milky Way is pretty thin, but still visible this time of year. Our view of the Milky Way changes a little day by day as Earth makes her way around the sun, until one year from now our night side will again be facing this direction. Spring through summer is the best time of the year for us to view the Milky Way.

To the south at this time of year we see the Galactic Core of our Milky Way galaxy rising from the horizon. While the stars are always in the same places in the sky relative to Earth, the planets, which have their own orbits around our sun, shift their positions gradually throughout the year. I shot this one just before Jupiter set. Saturn is behind the central trees.



  • Thank you for sharing the story, the images and the stars.

  • I have always felt sad for any old car that I would see like this one. And that’s because at one time it was so vibrant and beautiful and loved, but now it is sitting sad and alone.

  • Very hard to get an image of Andromeda that good. Nice work.

  • Amazing photos that tug at my heartstrings. Well done!

  • Not so sure about vibrant. The one I had did vibrate a lot though.

  • Good work David! The juxtaposition of mans’ rusting creations set against the local and limitless natural environment is great subject matter. My only concern is the subtle message of romanticizing the all to common practice of ditching old, often petro-ladened hulks upon the landscape.

    • OK, Dad. Does everything have to be a lesson? You’ll give yourself an ulcer worrying about something which is not even a problem anymore (as an illustration, there used to be over 100 junk cars in the Triangle, on the corner of Anker Lane and Fieldbrook Road, in Fieldbrook – now there are none (to my knowledge)).

      Ease your mind. The world will survive without your constant attention.

  • David, you did a fantastic job on the second one. Gorgeous colors and textures. Good craftsmanship.

  • Thank you all for your comments, I really appreciate what you have to say. All of it. I’m grateful I can share them here and that they invite remarks.

    Does that mean they’re remarkable!?

  • Not only are the photo’s remarkable but you are too Mr. David Wilson.

  • Fantastic images, David! I grew up in Colorado riding the jeep trails in the high elevations with my mom and brother. Willys jeeps were a common site on trails near Ouray, Telluride, and Silverton. Thank you for the amazing memories you shared with your photographs!

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