Five men took the same picture for 40 years

Lake Copco, California (CNN) – A festive photo of five friends taken every five years in the same California lake for the world to see despite one man’s recent cancer scare.

They snapped Photo #9 on Wednesday, 40 years after they were first photographed in 1982 at a prefabricated cabin in Lake Copco along the California-Oregon border. Their tradition spread 10 years ago – and again in 2017 – when published their story and photos.

Some guys were openly afraid that it was a picture of four friends this year rather than the first five pictures as teenagers.

“I was crushed,” said John Dixon, who lives in Santa Barbara where the friends first met. “We were worried that there would be an empty space on the seat where we were taking the photo.”

Dallas Burnie, who was seated in the middle of a series of photos that repeated the poses of the first shot, told CNN he had a large cancerous tumor removed from his left leg in 2019.

“My cancer – liposarcoma, I knew something was wrong for months,” said the primary school teacher.

“I’ve been out of school for five months. I can’t run anymore, but I’m sure I can walk.”

Bernie walked easy around Lake Copco on Tuesday evening with Dixon, Mark Romer Cleary, John Moloney and their host John “Wedge” Wardlow.

They haven’t all been together since the last photo in 2017. Bernie’s cancer and pandemic have made their reunion difficult.

But first, the food

John “Wedge” Wardlow is frying tacos Tuesday night in his protective gear.

Paul Verkamen/CNN

So the night before the photo was taken, they gathered for another five-year tradition – eating wedge tacos.

Wardlow stuffs the meat into hard taco shells and fry it very hot, wearing gloves and safety glasses to protect from splashes.

Jokes flew.

“Salt is the main ingredient,” Wardlow laughed.

“We’ll all be drinking water at midnight,” Moloney said.

“And the #@$! cardiologist,” Rumer Cleary said.

Two friends looked out the window from their seats.

“Bald eagle,” they shouted.

The majestic bird, with its characteristic white head, flies over the cabin, as if to bestow the spectacle with splendor and conditions.

Other animal sightings on Tuesday included the bobcat, deer, and cattle.

Taco dinner 2022. Another tradition for the five friends.

Taco dinner 2022. Another tradition for the five friends.

Paul Verkamen/CNN

Friends, often chatting in rapid bursts over each other, noted that Oregon was across the lake.

40 years of tradition

By midday Wednesday, it’s time for the main event.

Take the latest photo on a 79-degree day worthy of a travel brochure cover. The five diverged and froze when I took pictures on the Nikon D800. They have been seated in the same order and in the same positions they have been sitting in since 1982.

Lake Copco, 2022. Left to right: John Wardlow, Mark Romer Cleary, Dallas Burnie, John Moloney and John Dixon in 2022.

Lake Copco, 2022. Left to right: John Wardlow, Mark Romer Cleary, Dallas Burnie, John Moloney and John Dixon in 2022.

Courtesy of John Wardlow

Hat always rests on Rumer Cleary’s knee or knee. Moloney holds a jar in his right hand. Bernie’s right hand is located inside his right knee.

“It’s good to be back here knowing that cancer is not going to take away what we’re doing,” Bernie said.

It is about friendship.

The five men told CNN they ended up in a German museum exhibition about friendship. Their photo was featured in Costco magazine.

Once again, their photos went viral, circling social media sites where their looks were ruthlessly dissected and praised.

“There are some stupid quotes you can’t put into any articles,” Wardlow said.

The five friends have been gathering in the same cabin on Lake Copco for four decades.

The five friends have been gathering in the same cabin on Lake Copco for four decades.

Courtesy of John Wardlow

“There were responses to[the three of us]going without a shirt. Some said we looked good, and he was brave after 50.”

Four friends are 59 years old. Rumer Cleary is 58 years old.

Rumer Cleary points out that the images are surreal and says sometimes, strangers will stop him.

“It happened to me for a number of reasons,” said the software engineer who founded Occam Networks. “I’m 6ft 6ft and have facial hair. They won’t pick it up right off the bat. You look familiar, I can’t figure out why.”

The way back to the beginning

The five friends, all graduates of Santa Barbara High School, took the first picture in the now-familiar setting in their late teens using an automatic camera timer in 1982.

They are reunited at the Copco Lake cabin built by Wardlow’s grandfather in 1970.

They’ve been fishing, picnicking, grilling, picking berries for homemade pies and cheating on each other over the years.

Moloney described late-night knocking on walls, bedroom-throwing firecrackers in retaliation and relentless harassment.

Dixon admitted that he called Wardlow “Wedge” because of his definition of the shape of his friend’s head after his haircut.

“I hated the nickname,” Wardlow said. “So, hold on.”

Five friends have been taking the same photo in the same position in the same cabin every five years for the past 40 years.

Dixon is the only one still living in Santa Barbara, running a tourist website,

Moloney is a photographer who lives in New Orleans. Rumer Cleary is retired and lives in Portland, Oregon. Wardlow is a film director and photographer who lives in Bend, Oregon.

Burnie, an Air Force veteran, entered his 23rd year of teaching in the fall in Northern California.

A cancer survivor does not worry about the future of the image and his health.

“But I’m terrified of sitting on that fence,” Bernie said.

“As we get older, so does the fender. We’re getting a little bit older and heavier. This bench and fender sit about 30 feet tall. I worry one day about hearing it crack.”

Such talk led to gallows humor and Burnie showed a picture of the tumor that had been pulled from his leg,

“It looks like a triangular tip,” Bernie laughed, pointing to the triangular cuts of meat that were common in Santa Barbara County.

The friends all smiled and said almost in chorus, “Okay, that’s Do. “

After four decades of jokes and friendship, it was only fitting that they mock the tumor that nearly spoiled their photography traditions.

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