tar heel photographer

Tar Heel Photographer: Carlyle Chambers

Story and photos courtesy of Lisa Chambers McCall |

Local photographer Lisa Chambers follows in her father’s footsteps through her passion for photography. Her version is land-bound, though, as she doesn’t share his penchant for jumping out of planes, camera in hand.

img100Dubbed “Tar Heel Photographer” by local newspapers, PFC. F. Carlyle Chambers was a specialist in the Army, stationed first at Ft. Campbell Kentucky, and going on to graduate from the United States Army Airborne School – “Jump School” – at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1951. Chambers grew up in Caswell County, North Carolina – the inspiration for “Tar Heel” in his army nickname – and spent the years before his army career working as a photographer at Sears in Greensboro, and then the WSJS television station.

After Jump School, Chambers was assigned as a Division Photographer for the 11th Airborne Division. He participated in Airborne demonstrations, taking pictures for the Army and local newspapers. Chambers covered Operation “Snow Fall” in January 1952, carried out by the 11th Airborne at Camp Drum, New York. He also covered the 82nd Airborne Divisions from Fort Bragg, in “Ex Snow Storm,” a joint Army training exercise in upper New York State. His dramatic photographs were even published in The New York Times.

After his exciting Army career, Chambers met his future wife, Nancy at a roller skating rink in Danville, Virginia where he was a skate instructor and often said he “swept her right off her tar heel photography carlyle chambersskates.” The Chambers settled in Pennsylvania where he started a business that was the logical choice for the “Tar Heel Photographer,” Chambers Photographers. He specialized in school photography and captured thousands of smiles for yearbooks.

Both Chambers and his wife were members of the local Civil Air Patrol Post 617 – he as a pilot and Nancy as the Post’s first female ambulance driver.

During the tropical storm Agnes flood of 1972, Chambers, a private pilot, photographed the devastation from the air and compiled a slide presentation. The program, for which he received an award, was seen on televisions throughout the country and at presentations, including a Pentagon briefing and a program at the National Civil Defense headquarters. Chambers was promoted to Captain of the Civil Air Patrol. Two copies of the slides from the Agnes photo essay exist; one is at the Pentagon and the other was left to his children.

Chambers was often tapped to drop supplies in areas where vehicles couldn’t reach, or providing emergency transport, like flying a sick baby to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania from Williamsport.

Lisa tells stories of her dad with admiration of both his perseverance and dedication, but also his love of adventure. His tragedy-defying flight to transport blood is one story that she remembers vividly.

In late October 1972, Chambers made the news while flying to Pittsburgh to transport blood for a 20 year old leukemia patient at the Williamsport Hospital. On this emergency flight, the navigational equipment on his plane became inoperative and the heavy cloud coverage at that altitude made generator-powered navigational equipment necessary to remain on course. The radio, also generator powered, became weaker and thick clouds obliterated visual contact with the ground. Lisa remembers her dad telling the story of how he had no idea whether or not there were other aircraft around him.

tar heel photographerHe climbed to 8000 feet, above the cloud cover. The Federal Aviation Administration officials in Cleveland declared an emergency.

His plane was sighted near Franklin by a DC-6 air cargo plane, which had been alerted through FFA communications. The DC-6 led Chambers to Erie, where a hole in the cloud cover made visual contact with the ground possible. The landing gear was extended manually because of the lost generator power, and he landed successfully. He continued via a Bradford CAP plane to Pittsburgh to pick up the blood, but that would not be the end of the problems. On the approach to Williamsport Lycoming County Airport with the blood, again the plane lost part of its navigational equipment. Because of foggy conditions, it was decided to fly on to Avoca, near Wilkes Barre, and transport the blood back to Williamsport via state police.

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