Devil Boats


My reference points regarding PT boats have always been restricted to two sources: JFK’s exploits described in his book, Profiles in Courage; and the TV sitcom McHales Navy. Needless to say, neither really explained much about this unique and highly specialized craft. While the stories I read or watched regarding PT 109 and PT 73 captured my interest, they did not shed a lot of light upon this particular type of warcraft.

I have been working on a documentary for a nautical family and one of the facts that came out during the interviews was that the patriarch of the clan fulfilled his WWII service by building PT boats for Vetnor Boatworks in New Jersey.

I was surprised to learn that the PT boats were made from plywood, not steel. They were fast, highly maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive to build. The PT stood for Patrol Torpedo Boats. They were nicknamed Devil Boats by the Japanese or, as a whole, the Mosquito Fleet because they were small, fast, and a continual nuisance to the Japanese Navy.

A little research shows that the PT boats came into existence because in 1938, the US Navy sponsored a design competition for companies to devise a highly mobile attack boat. When the US entered into WWII, there were no less than 12 companies designing and building these attack boats for the US government. As time went on, the design became more standardized and two companies stood out among the rest: Elco, based in Bayonne NJ; and Higgins, based in New Orleans.

When I learned that the boats were wooden, I expected to discover a high casualty rate among them but instead found them to be surprisingly resilient. Of the 531 ships that were put into wartime service, only 69 (13%) were lost. And of the estimated 63,000 men who served on the PT boats, 331 (less than 1%) were killed in action. There are only a few of these boats that remain in existence today as most were destroyed at the end of the war due to the high maintenance that wooden boats require.

My client attributes his woodworking skills (which are considerable) to those days in the Vetnor Boatworks. This is just one story among many that were revealed while interviewing family members for this documentary. We are honored that they have chosen us to tell their story.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitizing of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.


Life Before Google








I suddenly realized how dependent I have become. As I blogged earlier, we cut the cable cord recently – deciding instead to rely on streaming technology for our TV entertainment.  What I failed to consider are the ramifications of Internet service disruptions.

We lost our Internet service on Friday. And life as we knew it pretty much stopped. Our TV went dark. Our smart phones became dumb. And so did I. I couldn’t ask Alexa for a weather report. I couldn’t google a recipe to make for that night’s dinner. I couldn’t visit any of the apps that I use on a daily basis. I had no way of finding out what my Facebook friends were doing. I was alone and adrift in an online world that was suddenly out of my reach.

The lack of Google especially troubled me. I was struck with the realization that I went from being intelligent to being clueless in the blink of an eye. It turns out my IQ may be based on my ability to find information quickly via search engines. Without them, I am shocked at how little I’ve retained from all that I’ve once learned.  But perhaps that is what intelligence is: the ability to gather information and disseminate the pertinent details from the irrelevant ones. It is what I’ve always done.

Before Google, I still had my resources to get information. In my day, most people were divided into two camps. The Encyclopedia Britannica group and The World Book folks. My family fell into the latter camp. We had the full set of World Books and opted to receive the yearly recap edition – a highly anticipated occurrence in the Ondrasik household.

Thinking back on it, I was just as dependent upon The World Book back then as I am on Google today. My A+ third grade report on frogs would not have been possible without the help of the F volume of the World Book. I even traced my cover illustration from the picture within its pages.

The World Book was as much a part of my cultural upbringing as Google is for today’s generation. We just didn’t make a verb out of it. We never said something like, “I don’t know, let me World Book it.” My generation didn’t make up words… except for “groovy” for which I have no logical explanation.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Hail to the Chief


One of the pleasures of life in a small town is that it doesn’t take much to rub elbows with the  movers and shakers of the community.  I recently spent a pleasant hour with the mayor of our fair city: Nick Girone.  He came into my studio, not to discuss affairs of the city or to canvas for votes. He was simply a client who needed to preserve a memory. And who knew he had such memories to preserve?

Long before he was an elected official, Nick was once part of a family business. One that brought great joy and excitement to thousands of people each year. Nick ran a fireworks production company for ten years. The VHS he brought me to preserve to a DVD format was a production that was held in the Philadelphia Eagles’ Veterans stadium on July 3rd in the 1980s. That show broke the MLB record for paid attendance up to that time.  It was an incredible show with pyrotechnics timed to an orchestrated soundtrack… made even more incredible with the knowledge that this was done before the ability to digitally preprogram the explosions.

I unfortunately didn’t ask for permission to upload a clip so I certainly won’t presume to do so now but I’m sure if you run into Mayor Girone and ask him to play it for you, something tells me you won’t have to twist his arm too much. He has a right to be proud of the work that he did so long ago.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

The Tale Of The Lucy Evelyn


First day in AZ… It’s hot. Really hot. How hot is it? It is so hot nobody here has body hair… it has all been singed off. We wisely stayed inside the hotel most of the day. After all, we’re not here on vacation.  We’re taking part in the annual Home Video Studio Getaway. It’s a time to recharge our batteries and re-educate ourselves on industry trends and new developments. The morning’s session… Documentary-style filmmaking: from proposal to final product.


This comes at a great time. One of the jobs waiting for me once I return home is a commissioned project for a family who wants to tell the story of the Lucy Evelyn.

Briefly, the Lucy Evelyn was a three masted schooner which from 1948 to 1972 sat aground as a permanent fixture of the boardwalk in Long Beach Island, NJ where it served as a landmark, tourist attraction and home to a series of unique gift shops. It’s going to be an interesting story to capture on film and I look forward to getting started.

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Normally, I would blog about this project after it was completed however, I have an unusual request. If any of my readers, who are local to the Mount Dora area, can remember visiting the Lucy Evelyn during the time it was beached on Long Beach Island, we’d love to capture you on film sharing those memories for possible inclusion into the film.

If you are willing, contact me at We’ll set up an appointment and get the cameras rolling. It’ll be fun. 

In other news, nominations for this year’s Hanley Awards are being announced Wednesday night. We’ll keep you informed of any developments.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

(Note: Home Video Studio of Mount Dora will be closed until Monday, July 30th while Michael & Kate attend the 18th annual Getaway Conference in Tucson, Arizona. See you when we get back.)

Gone Too Soon


Our clients will often compliment us on our customer service and the friendly atmosphere that infuses our studio. What they don’t seem to understand is that whatever “vibe” they are getting from our studio most often originates from them.  We genuinely love hearing the stories of our customers… both the experiences they’ve had and the memories they’ve accumulated. The more open and animated they are in telling them, the more excited we get in hearing them. Our “customer service” mindset is firmly based in a curiosity and interest in the lives of the people who cross our threshold. We are honored that they have selected us to help preserve the memories they have made.

This past week, we have been particularly touched in getting to know one of our clients – the wife and partner of a true country music star who has sadly departed this earth. We have been helping her prepare an edited compilation of his many television appearances to be used in a memorial service. While the situation that brought us together is a sad one, learning of her husband’s life and legacy has been joyful.

I don’t profess to know what mystical element propels performers into the rarified stratosphere of super-stardom. It can’t just be talent because, if it were, this gentleman would have topped any A-list. He certainly spent decades performing with many who were considered to be the best of the best.  His winning personality coupled with a remarkable musical talent allowed Ronnie Prophet to carve out a place in the country music ethos. He has left a legacy that will not be soon forgotten.

I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting the man. But after meeting his wife and hearing of the life he lived – both on and off the stage – I feel a genuine loss in having missed that opportunity. I look forward to rectifying that loss in the next life.

Rest in Peace, Ronnie Prophet.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.


Dust-filled Memories


I filmed a section of a LifeStory last week. This is when we set up our cameras in the studio and give people an opportunity to record some of the memories they have of growing up in their day and time. This one involved a woman who, as a child, lived through what is sometimes called “The Dirty Thirties” – a period more commonly known as the Dust Bowl. Her recollections were harrowing, leading me to try to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of this US environmental disaster.

Here are some little known facts about the Dust Bowl, reprinted from an article by Christopher Klein which first appeared on in 2012.

Families were driven out of the once fertile great plains by massive dust clouds–one that rose to 10,000 feet and reached as far as New York City.

1. One monster dust storm reached the Atlantic Ocean.

While “black blizzards” constantly menaced Plains states in the 1930s, a massive dust storm 2 miles high traveled 2,000 miles before hitting the East Coast on May 11, 1934. For five hours, a fog of prairie dirt enshrouded landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol, inside which lawmakers were debating a soil conservation bill. For East Coasters, the storm was a mere inconvenience—“Housewives kept busy,” read a New York Times subhead—compared to the tribulations endured by Dust Bowl residents.

2. The Dust Bowl was both a manmade and natural disaster.

Beginning with World War I, American wheat harvests flowed like gold as demand boomed. Lured by record wheat prices and promises by land developers that “rain follows the plow,” farmers powered by new gasoline tractors over-plowed and over-grazed the southern Plains. When the drought and Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, the wheat market collapsed. Once the oceans of wheat, which replaced the sea of prairie grass that anchored the topsoil into place, dried up, the land was defenseless against the winds that buffeted the Plains.

3. The ecosystem disruption unleashed plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers.

If the dust storms that turned daylight to darkness weren’t apocalyptic enough, seemingly biblical plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers descended on the Plains and destroyed whatever meager crops could grow. To combat the hundreds of thousands of jackrabbits that overran the Dust Bowl states in 1935, some towns staged “rabbit drives” in which townsmen corralled the jackrabbits in pens and smashed them to death with clubs and baseball bats. Thick clouds of grasshoppers—as large as 23,000 insects per acre, according to one estimate—also swept over farms and consumed everything in their wakes. “What the sun left, the grasshoppers took,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said during a fireside chat. The National Guard was called out to crush grasshoppers with tractors and burn infested fields, while the Civilian Conservation Corps spread an insecticide of arsenic, molasses and bran.

4. Proposed solutions were truly out-of-the-box.

There were few things desperate Dust Bowl residents didn’t try to make it rain. Some followed the old folklore of killing snakes and hanging them belly-up on fences. Others tried shock and awe. Farmers in one Texas town paid a self-professed rainmaker $500 to fire off rockets carrying an explosive mixture of dynamite and nitroglycerine to induce showers. Corporations also touted their products to the federal government as possible solutions. Sisalkraft proposed covering the farms with waterproof paper, while a New Jersey asphalt company suggested paving the Plains.

5. A newspaper reporter gave the Dust Bowl its name.

Associated Press reporter Robert Geiger opened his April 15, 1935, dispatch with this line: “Three little words achingly familiar on a Western farmer’s tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent—if it rains.” “Dust bowl” was probably a throwaway line for Geiger, since two days later he referred to the disaster zone as the “dust belt.” Nevertheless, within weeks the term had entered the national lexicon.

6. Dust storms crackled with powerful static electricity.

So much static electricity built up between the ground and airborne dust that blue flames leapt from barbed wire fences and well-wishers shaking hands could generate a spark so powerful it could knock them to the ground. Since static electricity could short out engines and car radios, motorists driving through dust storms dragged chains from the back of their automobiles to ground their cars.

7. The swirling dust proved deadly.

Those who inhaled the airborne prairie dust suffered coughing spasms, shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis and influenza. Much like miners, Dust Bowl residents exhibited signs of silicosis from breathing in the extremely fine silt particulates, which had high silica content. Dust pneumonia, called the “brown plague,” killed hundreds and was particularly lethal for infants, children and the elderly.

8. The federal government paid farmers to plow under fields and butcher livestock.

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government purchased starving livestock for at least $1 a head. Livestock healthy enough to be butchered could fetch as much as $16 a head, with the meat used to feed homeless people living in Hoovervilles. The Soil Conservation Service, established in 1935, paid farmers to leave fields idle, employ land management techniques such as crop rotation and replant native prairie grasses. The federal government also bought more than 10 million acres and converted them to grasslands, some managed today by the U.S. Forest Service.

9. Most farm families did not flee the Dust Bowl.

John Steinbeck’s story of migrating tenant farmers in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” tends to obscure the fact that upwards of three-quarters of farmers in the Dust Bowl stayed put. Dust Bowl refugees did not flood California. Only 16,000 of the 1.2 million migrants to California during the 1930s came from the drought-stricken region. Most Dust Bowl refugees tended to move only to neighboring states.

10. Few “Okies” were actually from Oklahoma.

While farm families migrating to California during the 1930s, like the fictitious Joad family, were often derided as “Okies,” only one-fifth of them were actually from Oklahoma. (Plus, many of those Oklahoma migrants were from the eastern part of the state outside of the Dust Bowl.) “Okie” was a blanket term used to describe all agricultural migrants, no matter their home states. They were greeted with hostility and signs such as one in a California diner that read: “Okies and dogs not allowed inside.”

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Please Czech This Out

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Sometimes we just wait too long and then it is too late.

I spoke today with someone serving as caretaker for an elderly person. It is hard, especially when you’re caring for someone you care about. But the reality is that none of us are going to be around forever. We would be wise to take the opportunity while it exists to ask the questions and get information that will otherwise be lost for all time.

We offer a service that we call LifeStories. It’s where we sit an individual in front of a camera and ask them questions about their life: what their childhood was like; what events stood out for them during their lifetimes; what their fondest memories were. Their answers are recorded and preserved in a video format that can then be passed onto the family members, and preserved for generations to come.

Not doing something like this results in a hard lesson to learn. Inevitably, gaps in our understanding will come to light and we’ll wish we knew more about our ancestors and our family history.

Case in point: The above picture was found in a box filled with other photos belonging to my family.  I don’t know the people pictured. I don’t recognize the setting. I have no idea what the occasion was that prompted the picture to be taken. But it was apparently noteworthy enough to be included in a collection of our family memorabilia.

There is a clue. On the back side of the photo are non-English words scrawled in pen. I don’t speak the language. I’m thinking it is Czech, the nationality of my father’s side of the family. I post it here in case anyone can translate it for me.  It may be nothing. It could mean everything.  No way for me to know.

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I plugged it into a Siri driven translator and it came back with the following: “This is a shoe shooter Terom – the son of a bathtub slips the torch eo mu pomrala heraz feathers.”  Perhaps it is just me but somehow I think Siri’s translation may be a bit faulty.

If only I had taken the time and effort to learn more about my father’s parents and their past while they were here to answer those questions. #MemoriesMatter.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Have I Got A Girl For You!

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So I released the images taken at our corporate photo shoot today. What you see above was one of the pictures that made the final cut. Thanks to all who left positive comments. We agree… we think they turned out fairly well. Thank you to Stephen Flint Photography who worked with us throughout the process.

Seeing the picture, I couldn’t help but reflect on the passage of time. This past April, my wife and I celebrated our 26th year of marriage. Here’s what we looked like in our “infancy.”

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Personally, I think we look better today than we did back then. But then again, photo retouching has come a long way since those days.

Still, digging out this old wedding photo reminded me that it almost didn’t happen. I think I blogged about how I met my future wife while doing a play in Orlando. We were cast opposite each other. She caught my eye immediately. What I didn’t know at the time was that I also caught hers… just not in the way I would have wanted. She shared with me much later that she tried to set me up with a girlfriend of hers. Apparently I was good enough for a friend… but I didn’t quite exceed past that bar. At least not at the start.

Fortunately I was too obtuse to pick up on the hints that she wanted to introduce me to someone. Sometimes being unaware works out for you. What did Forrest Gump say? “Stupid is as stupid does.” I’ll take that kind of stupid every day because sometime during the long rehearsal period I must have grown on her. She eventually stopped dropping the hints about getting together with some “friends” and just decided to spend time with me.

Personally, I think she made a good decision but I can’t speak for her.  (Well, I could but I’ve learned not to – stupid is as stupid does, remember?)

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.


Everyone Has A Story To Tell


It is the tagline we use in the marketing for our LifeStories product: “Everyone Has a Story to Tell.” And because of what I do, I am in the unique and privileged position to hear many of them. I found myself reflecting upon some of the people I’ve met and the tales they have told since I opened my studio.

There was the WWII fighter pilot who told me about the dogfight he had with a Japanese Zero during the great Marianas “Turkey Shoot.” At one point the Zero, who was out of ammunition, tried to ram him in mid air, passing so close over his head he could actually count the rivets in the fuselage.

There was the mom of a world champion waterskier who would fill me in on what it was like in the early days of competitive waterskiing with story after story of her daughter’s journey.

There was the ex-musician who was working as a laborer here in Central Florida who had just learned that an album he made some twenty years ago had become very popular in South America and was getting a lot of radio play. He was on his way down there to make a personal appearance.

There was the documentary filmmaker who was finishing up a project on powerlifters and had some bizarre encounters with some of the colorful characters who hang around the periphery of that sport.

There was the combat veteran who was involved in the Battle of Midway. He watched the entire conflict from his perch on a 30 foot searchlight tower armed only with a rifle. Mere days earlier he was sharing a bunkhouse with Hollywood director John Ford who would regale him and his other bunkmates with stories of his movies and the celebrities who starred in them.

And recently I sat with a woman whose parents bought a three masted schooner in 1948 and beached it by a NJ boardwalk in order to convert it to a unique gift shop/tourist attraction. It became the signature landmark of the entire community.

What’s your story? And how can I help you not only to tell it but preserve it so it can be retold to future generations? Call us to get started.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Dating Advice… For What It’s Worth…


How do you know when you have met The One? It’s a tough question to answer. The easy response is that you’ll just know. But that doesn’t help much when you’ve yet to meet that someone special. I recently responded to another blogger’s post who was opining on how hard it is in today’s society to find a potential life partner. I can relate. I was 36 years old before I met my wife. So I am in a relatively good position to be able to offer some words of advice.

We almost never find the things we’re looking for when we expend all our focused energy looking for them. My glasses seem to know how to hide from me when I’m frantically searching the house for them. The minute I stop looking and just go about normal activities, that’s when they appear. They may be in the refrigerator but if I hadn’t started cooking dinner, instead of turning seat cushions upside down, I never would have found them.

It is the same with relationships. The people we meet when we are so focused on trying to meet someone special will generally turn out to be disappointments. It’s the people we meet when we are pursuing the interests that motivate us… the interests that drive us to be our best selves… they are the ones that have the greatest possibility of being part of something deeper and more substantial.

My wife was older and divorced with two kids (10 and 13) when I met her. According to a Cosmo article she read, the odds they gave for her finding a new partner was somewhere between slim and none. She chose to ignore the magazine’s skewed insight and instead trusted in her faith. She stopped trying to meet someone and just pursued those things that enriched her spirit. Lo and behold, those same things interested me too. And so we met while pursuing joint interests, we clicked, we dated, we married. And here we are some 26 years later still enjoying life together.

My advice to that blogger was not to search for a partner. Search instead for that which fulfills your spirit. Among the people you meet when you do will be that someone special with whom you can build a shared life.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio of Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio cassettes, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.