On the road: Caltrans does drive-bys with a camera

There are many people who get up every morning, go to work and sit at their desk for eight hours. Bob Brink isn’t one of them.

Brink drives the “Bumpmobile” – officially known at Caltrans as the Photolog Vehicle –around California to take pictures of all 15,000 miles of state-supervised roads. The state needs visual records of its road for maintenance, insurance and other reasons.

“He is like a walking computer and remembers everything,” says Joy Padayhag, the other photolog driver, who loves working with Brink.

Brink is part of a family tradition: His father Richard worked for the state as a bridge engineer. Between them, the two have more than eighty years of state service.

Bob grew up in Sacramento, went to McClatchy High and Cosumnes River College, then finished a year at Sacramento State.

“I actually started with Caltrans in 1966 as an engineering technician,” Brink said. “In 1984 someone in the photolog department became ill and died, and since then I have been driving the photolog.”

Brink said photolog has been used by Caltrans since 1968, and takes pictures of thousands of miles of highway from the driver’s point of view.

Photolog is used most of the times in cases where there has been a car accident, and a lawyer would claim that where there was supposed to be a traffic sign there was not. “Once the lawyer finds out that we had pictures that prove the traffic sign was there then the cases are normally dropped,” Brink said.

” Before we went to digital film in 2004 we had to use sixty foot rolls of film to take the pictures, and we switched to digital because we could not get the old camera’s fixed anymore.”

The Photolog camera is placed on a mount that faces out the front window, and it is connected to a mainframe computer that is in the back of the “bumpmobile.”
“The camera will take pictures every one hundredth of a mile, and it can only take pictures when the car is moving, and as for speed as long as we go the speed limit then there is no other requirements when it comes to our speed.”

Brink works two weeks at home and then is out on the road two weeks. “You have to love to drive, because when we go out we drive even on the weekends. There is less traffic especially from trucks on the weekends and we need to be able to see the whole road.”

“In the twenty three years that I have done this job I have traveled all of the 15,000 miles of highways in the state back and forth eight times over the years. When you go on a trip you have to take pictures in both directions, so I have driven enough miles to get from here to the moon.”

The only thing that stops the trips or slows them down is when it rains, because the camera cannot get pictures through the water on the windshield.

For a man that has traveled the roads of California he has only had a few times where interesting things have happened to him.

“Once I was down in San Bernardino, and all of a sudden there was a cloud burst, and in the matter of a few minutes the whole road filled up with three inches of water, but for some reason the water stopped right there. I have also had a bear run across the road a few times.”

Joe Avis is Brinks boss, and has known Bob since 1977. “He has become one of the leading experts around the country. Many of the private vendors around the country know Bob.”

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