Preserving Family History

Published on Wed, 08/18/2010 - 9:36am

State Aerial Farm Statistics is an aerial photography company that’s been in business since 1952. 
Mr. Gale Astles, president of State Aerial, was at one time, a sales representative for the company going door-to-door selling aerial photos. In 1962, with his vision of what State Aerial could become, Mr. Astles purchased the company. Subsequently, each year he would continue to expand the reach of the company by adding new counties and states to his flying schedule. This involved the further purchase of additional airplanes, professional cameras, lenses, etc. and the hiring of more pilots to photograph the new territories. The following year, additional sales staff was recruited to send into the newly flown counties and states.
As the years passed, his business grew; his vision was coming to fruition. The sales staff was increasing, additional Cessna airplanes had been purchased, and more pilots hired. State Aerial was expanding its reach. The production department was expanded and additional artists were trained in the technique used to turn black & white photos into beautiful custom paintings. The office staff steadily increased as more and more business came in from the sales force. Through Mr. Astles’ experience in the field talking to owners of farms, he made the decision to have areas re-flown at designated intervals to reflect the improvements farmers are constantly making to their property, i.e. barns, silos, livestock, outbuildings, ponds, etc. Because of this decision, there can be several views of any given farm or rural home taken over the years since 1962. Today, State Aerial has photographed rural America in forty-four different states.                
Mr. Astles also had the foresight to save, catalog, and carefully store all of the film taken each flying season by his pilots. He knew this would be no small feat to accomplish and, certainly, at no small expense. His vision also included the preservation of his film library for the future, being taught growing up; nothing of value should be wasted. Because of this, today, State Aerial has an extensive film library of historic significance. State Aerial Farm Statistics’ film library has grown to over twenty-five million photos of rural America dating back to the 1960s.  
State Aerial photos were, and are still today, sold door-to-door by Mr. Astles’ sales staff. The Film Department proofs up rolls of film into 5x7 size photos; and, these pictures are sent to the sales staff covering the county in which they’re working. The salesmen go door-to-door throughout the different counties and show owners the proofs of their farmsteads and rural homesteads to see if the owner is interested in purchasing a black & white photo or custom painting. All sales were formerly done totally on speculation.
However, today, as more and more people are finding it necessary to have multiple-income households, it’s become increasingly difficult for the sales staff to find people home during the day when they stop to show them a proof of their property. To compensate for this problem, a door hanger is left at the home explaining a bit about our product, a photo number to refer to, and the name and phone number of the sales representative for the customer to contact. 
As the years have passed, Mr. Astles has found that his very-special ‘breed’ of door-to-door salesmen – that he fondly refers to as “drummers” – is dying off. It has become increasingly difficult to find motivated and dedicated replacements for those who he was losing to retirement. 
Time has never been a friend to any of us; and, the “drummers” so easily recruited years ago, are almost a thing of the past. This has been a dilemma for Mr. Astles. Much thought has been given to how to solve the problem. How will State Aerial continue to reach a specific market when it is has become increasingly difficult to hire a uniquely qualified door-to-door sales staff? 
In today’s world, most people frown on traveling considerable distances to go to work, nor do they want to be on the road away from their families for extended periods of time. In a great many cases, salesmen and women can be away from home for a week or longer. The younger workforce, today, seem to be more interested in a nine to five job that leaves their evenings free to be with their families. 
The answer to his dilemma was the incorporation of the Internet into the business model and the creation of a new division known as Vintage Aerial. It was further decided that Mr. Astles would use his vast film library; so carefully cataloged and stored since 1962, to reach the tremendous number of people who are, in some way, connected to the twenty-five million photos of the farmsteads and homesteads of rural America. It doesn’t matter if one has relocated to another state or another country, through our Internet service, Vintage Aerial, enables them to access their memories. 
Since the inception of Vintage Aerial, our web site has enabled people to view old photographs of farms and rural homes from the comfort of their home via their personal computer. All they need is Internet access. Our web site is extremely user friendly and also interactive.  
When a visitor goes online to view our web site, they’re asked for specific information pertaining to the property they’re interested in viewing. This information enables one of the Vintage Librarians to complete a search for them. The visitor is asked to submit the state, county, township and section number, the nearest crossroads, as well as the address of the property if it’s still available. A phone number and e-mail address of the visitor is required before we commence any research on their behalf.   What is so incredibly unique about Vintage Aerial is the fact that Librarians are able to locate old farmsteads that no longer exist. With so many of the beautiful farms disappearing today, this feature is such a bonus to people connected to these farms in some fashion. Vintage Aerial is able to bring childhood memories of time spent on Grandpa’s farm to life again through our vintage photos.
Once the information is submitted, one of our Librarians will research our catalog of master maps, on which the flight path has been marked by one of our pilots at the time he was photographing the county. The Librarian will determine which roll of film he or she believes has the desired photo by using the information submitted by the visitor. A request is made of the Vault Librarian to have the film digitized and scanned on to our server. Once the film is available and ready for viewing, the Librarian will then contact the visitor by telephone or e-mail to set up an appointment for the viewing of the film over the Internet. The appointments can be made through an electronic schedule link in our web site that is sent to the visitor, or they may simply telephone to see if the Librarian is available at their requested time. 
When the appointment has been confirmed, the Librarian will telephone the visitor and ask them to go to the home page of our web site. An access code is given to the visitor to connect them to our system. At this point, the Librarian will bring up a window on the visitor’s screen to view, frame-by-frame, the requested rolls of film.
Each roll of film has thirty-five to thirty-seven frames. On rare occasions, a thirty-eighth frame may be on a roll of film.   As the Librarian goes through each frame, the anticipation of the visitor grows with the recognition of neighboring farms and the changes in appearance over the years. Finally, the visitor then identifies the property about which he or she has expressed an interest.  
Our Vintage Aerial Librarian, using the photo identified by the visitor, will then proceed to demonstrate the appearance of the photo available in different sizes and frames that the company also offers. The company offers custom paintings of the photos as well as black & white and Sepia tone. A sample of a custom painting is also shown to the visitor, as an option for ordering, should this be something they would find of interest.
Vintage Aerial offers black & white photos and custom paintings in several sizes, i.e. 20x30, 16x24, 12x18, and 8x12. Included in the price of the photo or painting is a solid wood frame that is custom made for Vintage Aerial and State Aerial by the Amish in Pennsylvania. The frames are offered in, light oak, cherry oak, walnut, and black. The approximate delivery time of a purchase is 6 to 8 weeks. 
Years ago State Aerial had employees known as ‘spotters’. It was their responsibility to hand-spot every flaw that appeared on a black & white photo or painting due to defects in the film. Sometimes the spotting process could take an entire day or more. Today, with the addition of a Graphic Arts Department, technology has made it possible for our Graphic Artists to correct any and all flaws in the film in as little as one to three hours. All orders, whether they are black & white or custom paintings, must first go through the Graphic Arts Department to insure quality control of our product. In so many, many cases, the film is old and brittle. Tears or cracks may have occurred in the film because of age and/or handling. Our Graphic Artists are equipped to correct these defects. When they’re completed, one would never guess the film could be as old as forty years.
Once the Graphic Arts Department is finished, the order proceeds to our Mounting Department. The photo is heat-mounted on an acid-free mounting board. This type of mounting prevents the photo from bubbling, cracking or bleeding.
If a customer has decided to order a custom painting, the Librarian will proceed to carefully note detailed instructions from the customer for the artist who will paint the photo. Every building color, trim, roof, etc., is carefully noted. Farm machinery, crops, types of animals are all detailed for the artist. The customer selects one of three seasons offered, spring, summer, or fall. One of our artists follows the detailed instructions and applies a transparent oil paint with a cotton ball & cotton swab. Heavy oil paint is never used. The thickness of a heavy oil paint and brush strokes would not allow the detail of the photo to show through. Transparent oil is just the opposite. Every tiny detail in the photograph is painted and is sharp and clear. When an artist has completed a painting, it is left to air dry for a day or more. The painting and/or black & white photo must be totally dry before the next process occurs. 
At this point, paintings and black & white photos are sent to our Finishing Department. At this stage of production, three layers of protective coating are applied to the surface of the painting and/or photos. The protective coating prevents the black & white photographs and paintings from fading and yellowing. It also eliminates the necessity for a photo or painting to be put under glass, which causes glare and damage to the surface. Because the product has had the protective coating applied, the customer is able to wipe down its surface with a damp cloth to clean off dust and residue from a furnace, fireplace, etc., that may build up on the surface of the photo or painting.
From the Finishing Department, the painting and/or black& white photo is delivered to the Framing Department. The frame that was selected by the customer is attached to the photo and/or painting. 
Finally, the last stage is the Shipping Department where a sticker is applied to the back of the photo or painting which includes our company name and address, along with the photo number of the order. A hanger and nails is also included with the order for the customer’s convenience of hanging their photo or painting when it arrives at their home.
Mr. Astles has made it a requirement that all employees of State Aerial possess the ever-present attitude that each order received from a customer is unique and that it represents the family history of that person. Our product must always reflect care and beauty the individual feels about their farmstead or homestead. Vintage Aerial continues to use this philosophy in its dealings with its potential customers.
Since its inception, Vintage Aerial has shown to be widely accepted by the Internet community with the interest level, extremely high. It has proven to be a viable asset to its parent company, State Aerial Farm Statistics, Inc. Everyone affiliated with State Aerial and Vintage Aerial knows just how important family history really is to us as well as the public in general. The response we’ve had has proven time and again that we are not alone in our thinking. Through advertising and press releases, Vintage Aerial has been extremely busy and sales continue to grow. 
Librarians are continually being added to our staff. Mr. Ken Krieg, General Sales Manager of State Aerial, handles the training of Librarians and the day-to-day operation of Vintage Aerial. The Librarians work from their home and can work either fulltime or part-time. Our Librarians need a computer with Internet access, a phone, and most importantly, a firm belief that we are who we are today, because of the hard work and efforts of our ancestors from our past. It’s important that everyone on our State Aerial and Vintage Aerial team feels strong attachments to our past. 
What I find most appealing about being a Librarian is I have the freedom to make my own schedule. The amount of money Librarians earn is totally proportional to the amount of time and effort he or she puts in to their business. All potential customers must receive personal attention. The company does not tolerate a customer being left with unanswered questions. 
Having a home-based business has a lot of advantages, but one must be disciplined and self-motivated. If an individual doesn’t possess these traits, he or she will not be successful in a home-based business. There are many times I have to tell family and friends, “Sorry, I’m working; I don’t have time.” I don’t allow people to drop in on me just because they know I’m home. Sacrifices have to be made if you want your business to thrive. I have responsibilities to Vintage Aerial, my customers, and my own business.
Vintage Aerial offers a unique opportunity for anyone considering working from home, or from their camper, or motor home while traveling the country, can do so. This business opportunity does not confine you to any geographical area or base of operation. It can be done anywhere, at any time, in any place. All you need is a computer, access to the Internet, and a phone. Vintage Aerial is a 24/7 year-round operation, and within reason, you can, basically, pick and choose the times you want to work. Due to the customer base being so diverse and in different time zones throughout the country, the hours of nine to five are irrelevant. I have often found that quite a few calls are completed in the evenings due to farmers being busy in their fields or other work-related issues. Hypothetically, if I have a customer in Texas I need to talk with and he’s not available until after seven o’clock his time, that’s nine o’clock my time. Hence, nine to five hours at times are incompatible.
Having been an employee of State Aerial for thirty-five years and now Vintage Aerial approximately eight months, I find myself reinvigorated in this new venture. It’s exciting to help people preserve their family history. The customers are so very thrilled when they see the photos we have of their property. Many times, customers get emotional when viewing the home farm and this touches me deeply. I get choked up right along with the customer. One experience I’ll never forget was when one of my first customers burst into tears when she saw the picture of her home farm and her two horses were grazing in the paddock. The farm is gone, the horses have long since passed away, but the memories for this woman will always remain. It was a very gratifying experience for me, personally. I look forward to each day’s work, because without fail, each day there are so many touching and emotional stories I hear about all the different farms and homes I show individuals. I find it fascinating to hear the history of the farms that I would never know, if not for this business. I’m a city girl so I find country living extremely interesting. This is especially true when I’m showing film of a Centennial farm. I really have to control myself or I would be asking questions for hours. I thoroughly enjoy my work and the people I speak with each day.
In conclusion, I have to personally thank Mr. Astles and Mr. Krieg for their constant help, support, training, and encouragement as I start off on this new venture. Their expertise and confidence in me has been invaluable. What makes these two gentlemen so very special is, they extend their knowledge and experience to anyone who inquires about a position within either State Aerial or Vintage Aerial. 
I hope that those of you reading this article will afford me the opportunity to help you capture and preserve your family history for the future, with a photograph from the past! Visit me at: