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Ridgefield man shares his photos of Mount St. Helens’ eruption

By , Columbian Innovation Editor
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10 Photos
Arzil "Ray" Stone snapped photos of Mount St. Helens erupting in 1980 from his Ridgefield backyard, and he hasn't shared with them with the general public until now.
Arzil "Ray" Stone snapped photos of Mount St. Helens erupting in 1980 from his Ridgefield backyard, and he hasn't shared with them with the general public until now. (Will Campbell/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Arzil “Ray” Stone stood on his patch of downward-sloping yard in Ridgefield as he looked over a valley holding the snaking East Fork of the Lewis River. He raised his 1970s Konica camera to his eye, looked through the viewfinder, adjusted the aperture and shutter speed and clicked the button.

The date was May 18, 1980, and Stone had taken a picture of the erupting Mount St. Helens, its ash plume rising higher and higher. It was 41 years ago today.

“I was, naturally, excited,” he said, although his demeanor allowed him to keep calm.

Stone, 85, recalled that day while he sat in a chair on the same piece of property on Monday. He’s lived there since the early 1970s, and the view is nearly the same. The trees have grown taller and lush, and they covered the barns and homes on the ridge beyond the river. And the hollowed-out Mount St. Helens looks different, of course.

“It used to be a big cone,” he said with a laugh.

As an amateur photographer, Stone hasn’t shared his photos with the general public until now. Although when guests come to visit, he isn’t shy about taking out his printed photos and showing them off.

Stone was born in Madison, W.Va., and his parents moved him to Portland at age 7 by train during World War II. Stone remembers the train being full of soldiers. He and his parents lived in Vanport, Ore., and his father worked in the shipyards, but they moved just before the infamous 1948 flood that wiped out the community.

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Once an adult, Stone worked at Oregon Steel Mills as a machinist, millwright and mechanical engineer. But his amateur skills with a film camera allowed him to shift to a job working as a photographer for the company. He took pictures and videos to document its expansion.

In the early 1970s, Stone moved to a mobile home on the property in Ridgefield, where the “big cone” of Mount St. Helens rose from the ridge beyond the hills in the distance.

He was well-prepared to document the eruption with his camera and interchangeable lenses, including a telephoto lens.

Shortly after Stone took his pictures of Mount St. Helens erupting, he walked back inside and into the bathroom, where he had a makeshift darkroom to create 35 mm slides of his photos.

He remembers hearing what sounded like rain on the roof overhead.

“I looked outside, and it looked like sand falling,” he said.

It was ash.

In September 1980, Stone’s friend, who worked at a local photography store, invited him to board a small plane and fly around the crater of the volcano to take some pictures.

“He had a permit to fly into the red zone,” Stone said.

The days leading up to the eruption and the days after, when the ash fell, have all blended into a memory that seems like one day, Stone said. But the printed pictures that he keeps handy serve as a reminder.