Of the Baker City Herald

Ever wonder what happens when the lights in the movie theater go out and the ghostly images of far-away people and places dance across the screen?

Does the projectionist simply flip a switch on his machine, put his feet up and dream celluloid dreams?

According to Virgil Bud Wunder, a projectionist for Eltrym Historic Theatre for 23 years until 1977, the work was an easy job and thats what I needed. I just stayed on.

Wunder, 89, thinks he has run at least 4,500 features through his projectors. Lots of them I saw two or three times. Now I wont even watch them on television, he said.

According to Wunder, there were two projectors in the theater in the old days while he was on duty. Each projector was loaded with a film reel lasting about 15 minutes. Some features, such as Gone With the Wind, came in as many as nine reels.

The projectionist would start up the carbon arc lamp in the projector with a striker, just like a welder lights his torch. The hot, white light traveled through the transparent film and projected the images on the screen.

There was a cue mark on the screen and you would get everything ready. An arm on the projector would swing up and when the bell rang, you would switch over, Wunder said. If the projectionist tended to his business and knew his business, you wouldnt have a blackout unless the film broke.

Wunder is very knowledgeable about the equipment and techniques used in movie theaters. The old Cinemascope films, for example, used a lens about the size of a postage stamp that would project a narrow image on the screen. A second lens over the first enlarged and widened the image for viewing.

This contrasted with the wide-screen lens which enlarged the image in four directions.

Wunder said he semi-retired in 1977, but stayed on part-time at the theater, often as general manager. He helped the owners hire manager Jim Byers and took his place when Byers was on vacation.

When Byers quit overnight the owner talked me into running the theater for five months until I found a new manager, Wunder recalled.

Wunder retired for good in 1997 and hasnt been back to the theater since.

The current owners bought the theater and remodeled it. It now has three screens and a state-of-the-art sound system.

Many people in Baker City will remember Wunder. I used to tear tickets at the door when I had time, he said. I always had a smile and a thank you for coming.

He said he liked the old films the best. I liked the old westerns, old comedies. They made sense. The rest of this modern stuff is nonsense. Jaws was real fakey.

His all-time favorite star is John Wayne. His movies were the best!

Wunder admits to having had many jobs over the years. He served in the 8th Air Force in the U.S. Army during World War II. He helped build the mill for Baker Wood Products, doing most of the roof work on the 212-foot long building.

After the mill was built he stayed on and worked in the saw shop. He spent eight years working for the Oregon State Highway Department driving trucks, snowplows and graders.

Wunder never married. He lives alone, except for his little pomeranian dog, Tommy. The pom is one of a long line of canine companions Wunder has had, and he has fond memories of them all.

He lives on the east side of town and tends his garden. Its all planted now and he is busy keeping the weeds down.

He also likes to do a little mineral mining as a hobby. Ive got two of the best claims in Eastern Oregon but I cant do anything with them because of the mining laws, he said.

Wunder is worried about the governments regulations driving mining and use of natural resources out of the United States and into third world countries.

Theres a movement in this country to stop all mining in these states, he said. What isnt made of metal or took a metal tool to make it?

If it wasnt for miners, we would be plowing our fields with a crooked stick, Wunder said.

Wunder has many friends around town, perhaps even more than he knows. The Homan family, Rick Blank and Thelma Hull think he is a very special person, a fountain of wonderful stories and information of a long and illustrious life, according to a letter Thelma wrote to the Baker City Herald..

She goes on to say, We wanted to write this letter as a thank-you to him, for all of the times he has been there for us in our lives, he has inspired us, he has been the shoulder and the rock we needed in our times of hardship. Hes one of Gods angels sent down here to watch over the people he cares most about.

We are grateful for him every day and hes always in our prayers, she adds.

If Bud Wunder leaves a legacy in this world, it is this: the respect and admiration of his friends and neighbors. This is the finest, most honest, legacy a man can have.