1st MIBARS In Vietnam!


The ES-38A

A Closer Look


Mobile Photographic Darkroom

Improved Models After 1967

Photo Credit: MIV

Above:  Doc Lap Street, a main thoroughfare in DaNang, in 1967.  This view shows mostly people on foot, one bicycle, a cyclo or two, and a single motorized truck.  In the kiosk at the center of the intersection, is a Vietnamese National Police officer directing traffic.  A similar kiosk can be seen in the distance at the next intersection.  The civilian police in Vietnam were called "White Mice" by soldiers due to their apparent exclusion from the combat, their generally low profile, lack of heavy armament  and, of course, their conspicuous white uniforms.   They were, however, quick thinking, flexible and adept.  Many GI drivers were not especially courteous and, when approaching an intersection where the traffic officer held out his hand as a signal to stop, they would instead floor the accelerator pedal and charge through.  Invariably, the traffic officer would skillfully turn his hand upward and, by the time the GI driver entered the intersection, he would be directed to drive through.  It was a continuing game of saving face and testing to see "who was in charge."   


The ES-38A, Product of the Army Photo-Optics Laboratory --

"In tactical areas, film processing is usually done in portable developing vans.  The ES-38 portable photo-graphic darkroom, introduced to the field in 1964, is used to process all Army aerial imagery -- optical, infrared and radar -- that is not automatically processed in flight.  Weighing less than three tons, the van can be moved on short notice by truck or helicopter.  It is completely self-contained except for electricity and can carry its own water supply.  . . . A major drawback of current portable darkrooms is the amount of water they use.  The ES-38, for instance, requires 300 gallons of water for every 12 hours of operation.  In a tactical situation this much water may be difficult to obtain."

Bauman, Irving, Eagles' Eyes For the Infantry, Army Magazine, Association of the U.S Army, June 1969, www.infoage (dot) org.
Outside the ES-38A . . . 

Photo Credit:  Don Skinner, "B" Detachment, Reproduction Section, 1969-1970

Origins of the ES-38

". . . work done by the Photo-Optics [Laboratory] and [Camp] Evans-located teams led to the requirement for field operable Mobile Processing Laboratories.  [Developers were] limited to the cargo space available on Army's 2-1/2 ton truck which could carry shelters 6' x 6' x 12' in size.  These shelters were in use for many of the signal communications systems, all of which were transported by the trucks [also] hauling a trailer containing an engine generator set for a power supply.

The first of the mobile photo labs, an experimental model, was subjected to arctic, desert, tropics, and "shake, rattle, and roll" testing to ascertain field mobility.  Called [the] Laboratory Darkroom AN/TFQ-7, it was demonstrated to military personnel of [the] Army Pictorial Center at Astoria, LI [Long Island, New York].  It contained provision for both ground and aerial films.  Process[ing] capability for the latter had not been available to [the] Army hitherto.  The lab had provision for air-conditioning, space heating, water supply and electrical power.  A large number of these (40) were manufactured and shipped to the field.  Then the U.E.R.'s [user evaluation reports (?)] began to surface, mainly complaining that the shelter was too crowded.  Via a Product Improvement Program, the aerial processing components were removed and installed in a new package to be known as [the] ES-38, which contained continuous type processing machines and printers, to handle the larger format aerial roll films.  Each of these machines required separate development efforts and ultimate mounting within a shelter system.  Still another package to handle only the remaining ground film formats, known as the ES-82A was designed, manufactured, and shipped to the field."

Bauman, Irving, Camp Evans Oral Histories, 1998, InfoAge - Science/History Learning Center and Museum, www. InfoAge (dot) org, also accessible through www. Campevans (dot) org. 

Photo Credit:  Don Skinner

More On This Particular ES-38 --

"The ES-38 [pictured above] was transported on a 2-1/2-ton truck -- a deuce and a half in GI terminology -- and required a truck-mounted crane for mounting and demounting.  If water and power were available, the unit could be satisfactorily operated on the ground.  This unit, marked XXIV Corps [NOTE: The 24th Army Corps operated out of Phu Bai -- Webmaster] arrived in our area one day in 1968 but was picked up and removed shortly thereafter.  It was not used by "B" Detachment, and the reason for it's delivery to the I Corps Compound was never explained."

Don Skinner

Inside the ES-38A . . .

Photo Credit: Don Skinner

Photo Credit: Don Skinner

Above:  The interior of a successor ES-38 used by "B" Detachment in 1968.  The photograph on the left shows the van prepared to process imagery with its red safe lights turned on.  A backbone of pre-digital, wet chemical-based photography, the safe light allowed personnel to work without having to be in total darkness -- the red filters masking the white light spectrum and protecting sensitized photographic paper from exposure while it was being handled.  In addition, red filters, known as focusing filters, were commonly used on conventional photo enlargers to focus the projected negative before a sheet of photographic paper, held flat in a frame or easel, was exposed to a timed beam of while light.  In 1967, a major from the MACV contingent on the I Corps Compound, apparently anxious about his career advancement expectations, rushed into "B" Detachment during an off-duty period requesting enlargements of a frame of photography showing a target area.  When the negative was projected through the focusing filter, the major literally began to jump up and down and literally scream that the picture had been ruined and his valuable time wasted.  As a favor to the "B" Detachment Commanding Officer, who would have had to deal with the fall-out from the pointed remarks on the tip of the ever ready-to-help photo lab technician's tongue, which in this particular instance was the absolutely incredulous Repro Officer, the print was made without response or use of the focusing filter.  The major never came back, but if he had, he'd have been told that the enlarger was down for maintenance.  The photograph on the right shows the van ready for work -- with its normal white utility lighting on.


A Walk-through of the Darkroom, Photographic, Portable, ES-38

"The Reproduction (Repro) Section, working in an ES-38 photographic darkroom, was responsible for processing exposed photographic film obtained from Reconnaissance aircraft missions.  This film, after processing, [produces] photographic negatives, and the negatives are exposed to photographic paper in one of three "printers."  The photographic paper came in rolls of 250 feet, and after a roll of paper was exposed to the negatives, it went through an automated process to develop the latent images into pictures.  After the photographic paper was processed, the roll or rolls [of prints taken during the mission] were delivered to the Imagery Interpretation Section.

The ES-38 is a transportable, semi-automated photographic darkroom specifically designed to process aerial reconnaissance film and print the pictures on rolls of paper.  The ES-38 is designed to be transported in the bed of a 2-1/2 ton truck.  The unit can also be operated while mounted on the truck.  An external source of electricity and water is needed.  Electrical power required for operation under field conditions is supplied by trailer-mounted generator.  The electrical requirement to operate the ES-38 is 115 volts AC, 60Hz, approximately 3500 watts.   A water source can be provided by a water tank trailer pulled by a jeep or another truck.

Negatives produced from aerial reconnaissance film are 4 1/2" x 4 1/2", 9"x9" or 9"x 18" depending on the type of camera used.  The film is in the form of a long roll so after processing, the negatives will also be on this long roll.

Located inside on the left side of the ES-38 there is a contact printer, an enlarger and a continuous contact printer. The contact printers expose the photographic paper with the negative pressed flat onto the paper.  This produces a picture the same size as the negative.  These were used for the 9"x9" and 9"x18" negatives. The 4 1/2"x4 1/2" negatives went in the enlarger and produced pictures 9"x9."  35-mm camera negatives could also be run through the enlarger with a special carrier.

Located inside on the right side are two identical automated processing machines.  Developing, fixing, washing, and drying of exposed film and paper are accomplished by each of the two processing machines.  Each processing machine consists of four tanks -- 5 gallons for developing, 5 gallons for stop bath, 5 gallons for fixing, and 8 gallons for wash water, as well as a drying compartment, pumps for agitation and circulation, solution temperature control devices, and a variable speed film and paper transport mechanism."

Don Skinner

. . . and In the Field

Photo Credit: Don Skinner

Above:  Apparently taken for instructional materials or for public information purposes, this photograph shows a truck-mounted ES-38 operating in a field environment.  The cab of the vehicle is pointed to the right, obscured by the tree.  A cable runs from the van to the trailer-mounted generator, to the left, providing electric power.  A hose runs to a pond, in the foreground, which provides water.


Reproduction Section MAIN PAGE

Facility Improvement

ES-38A -- Mobile Darkroom Laboratory

Expanded Capabilities

Scenes From the Repro Shop


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