Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:
Stories from Camp Read's Past
For generations, summer after summer, scouts have been making memories at Camp Read. In 2020, the pandemic may have forced regular activities to pause, but campers from years gone by are sharing their stories here in an effort to fill in the gap. Read on to get your fix of Camp Read hijinks until we can safely fill a parade ground once more!
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February 16, 2020
Previously published in the Camp Read Association Newsletter, Spring 2020
Summer's End: 1961
John Harmon and I (Tom Hanley) were Scoutmasters of two Buckskin provisional troops in 1961. His was Woodsman and mine was Wilderness. Both were double troops of sixty-odd campers: two platoons of four patrols each. The Third Period had begun. The summer was coming to an end. He would be starting Harvard in a few weeks and I would be off to Notre Dame. We wanted to do something interesting to end the summer. A day paddling on Lake George earlier in the summer had whetted our appetites for more extensive canoeing.
We took a day off and begged a ride for ourselves and a canoe to the near end of Brant Lake. From there we paddled to the small hotel, Sunset Mountain Lodge, where we hung out, drank some beer and ate. Our plan was to paddle back to where we had put into the lake and then portage back to camp, with luck finding a ride the final stretch of the way. A little too much beer, a late start back, fog on the lake and twilight had us in the middle of Brant Lake on a dark night looking for cabin lights to guide us to shore.
Surprisingly, we made landfall not too far from the camp road. It was dark and late and I believe we walked the whole way back. Punchy by the time we approached Buckskin, we started talking about practical jokes and Fourth Period games. For some reason we thought that painting "Neal Lay is a Nork" on the bottom of the canoe and putting it in the dining hall rafters would be incredibly funny. Neal was the Assistant Director of Buckskin, Dave Armstrong the Director. Memory fails, but we made up a story about spacemen, I think, and that became the basis of the fourth period games that year.
Pretty nearly everyone survived the fourth period, but our interest in canoes remained dangerously alive. We knew that one of the camp canoes had to be brought back to White Plains to be used by the Council for merit badge training during the winter. John and I offered to paddle it back for them. Thus began one of the great events of my life. Is it possible to have a great experience and not be able to remember more than snap shots?
For some reason, the Powers-that-be as well as our parents consented to this trip. After helping dismantle camp, John and I sent some of our duffle back to Council by truck and put what we needed in the canoe. Someone, probably Art Boland, dropped us off upstream from the Fort Edward lock at the southern end of the Lake Champlain barge canal. This was our first challenge, how to convince the lock keeper that he should let us pass through in our canoe. Fortunately, a buoy tender came by and we went through with him. I can't remember how many locks we passed through with other vessels. The one that sticks in my mind is the last lock at Troy. This is a big lock and big boats use it. We went in just barely fitting near the stern of a large tug. The water fell quickly after the gates closed behind us. We kept up with the drop by grabbing successively lower rungs on a ladder built into the side of the lock. When the gates opened onto the Lower Hudson, the water beneath us erupted with froth and boil as our large lock-mate powered ahead.
We knew the River below Troy would be difficult paddling because of the effect of the tides. To counter this, John suggested we paddle with the tides day or night. One of us could doze while the other kept us going. This was a good plan. We had a Coleman lantern (which I still have and use - in case Dave Armstrong reads this - with the original generator) that we rigged in the bow and shielded so it wouldn't blind us. Once while John was leaning back on the duffle, nose in the air, I noticed a string of lights ahead of us. I continued to paddle until they were right ahead of us. It was a pipe that connected 3 dredges to the shore. We might just make it beneath it but maybe not. I was afraid to warn John fearing he might bolt upright and really get clobbered. His nose cleared by inches, and he awoke as we passed beneath it. He didn't sleep again.
The wakes produced by big cargo ships were another tricky aspect of the Lower Hudson. At first we thought it would be smart to keep our distance, not wanting to be capsized in the middle of the river. The first time we skirted the shoreline, though, we saw that the water pulled away from the shore as they approached, returning in huge waves as they passed. We decided to take our chances in deeper water.
After several days on the river, we decided to take a break, call home, and maybe drink some good water. We left our canoe at the dock of a small cozy town. After a short time talking to the locals we found that a ring of local thieves had recently been found stripping slow-moving freight trains of anything not tied down. Hurrying back to our canoe, we were grateful to find it in one piece and we left immediately.
Other memories include trying to sleep on rip-rap boulders while critters scampered in the nearby leaves, and trying to eat young feed corn which we had liberated from a field near the water. I especially remember with gratitude John's Father picking us up in Poughkeepsie at the end of the journey. I don't remember the river being particularly dirty, though we must have been there at about its worst just before Pete Seeger and others started their crusade. This was before styrofoam, plastic bottles, disposable diapers and six-pack straps.
John went on to become an M.D., and I became a Geologist. Both of us have retold the story more times, probably, than our families, friends and acquaintances would care to remember.
Peter Oberdorf helped with this narrative.
Pete Oberdorf, Camp Read Association board member, suggested I write up some reminiscences from my time at Camp Read approximately 1956 as a camper and later on staff through 1962. My deadline was summer of 2019, but I blew that. Some dates are a little hazy, as are a few facts, and names and places in camp were quite different from what they are today. Pete and others (Bill Welch, Andy Gerrie, and Colette Connolly from Scarsdale Troop 2 and John and Tom Harmon from Troop 3) have helped me remember things through the mists of time.
My home troop was Troop 2 from Scarsdale. We came to Camp Read as a home troop, I think, the summer of 1956 when I was a rising eighth grader. Mr. Michaels was our Scoutmaster at home and his Assistant was Mr. Hall. I think Mr. Hall took us to Camp Read as Scoutmaster. This was my first year at Camp Read. I don’t remember much about that year except we built a dam and it afforded me the opportunity to earn enough merit badges to become Eagle Scout.
I graduated from Immaculate Heart of Mary grade school and I was a rising freshman at Scarsdale High School in 1957. I missed the summer of 1958 at Camp Read when our troop went to Philmont and I had my last half summer at Camp Winape in Vermont.
I applied for a job at Camp Read in 1959 (rising sophomore) and found myself working in the old Dining Hall, now gone, which was opposite Lester Lodge. One of my co-workers was a fellow named Alfie. We were about the same age. There was another guy who played the piano. In addition, there was the chef and two guys who assisted the chef and did the serious kitchen work. Lester Lodge housed the chef (who kept a couple of dogs with him), his two helpers and the camp administrators. There was a staff room with a ping pong table and the trading post on the right side of the building; the nature center headed by Butch Smith had a room or two on the back left side of the building. One of the things I remember most about the old dining hall was a basement full of army surplus stuff that the Camp Ranger had acquired. One commodity was hardtack, entombed in wax paper and a thick wax covering. There were a lot of parts of things, pieces that would not work without additional parts that either were not requested or were never sent.
In summer, 1959 (rising HS Junior), I was on the way to the kitchen again, but Jules Pillar asked if I wanted to be attached to a provisional troop. The Buckskin dining hall had been built in 1957 and several campsites were built nearby to establish Camp Buckskin. The older part of camp where I had worked the previous year was now Camp Tomahawk. Neal Lay had one provisional troop and I was assigned to Dave Armstrong’s Wilderness site. A friend from Scarsdale, John Harmon of Troop 3, was Neal’s Assistant Scoutmaster. These were two great provisional scoutmasters. Dave had served an apprenticeship as ASM for the legendary Kit Fearon and would tell stories about Fearon’s patrol of the day building a fire and boiling water for his morning shave. We also hosted a pizza bake using a reflector oven for the top patrol in our troop, a tradition established by Fearon. I still fold a blanket in a reverse “S” the way we were required by the Fearon protocol. Dave and Neal fostered a friendly competition between our troops. Dave was SM, I was Assistant SM, and I think we had a Senior Patrol leader. There
were four patrols of eight scouts apiece.
One of my Troop 2 friends, John Quigley, worked in the woodcraft area. He was an expert with axes and could light a vertical match with either hatchet or axe. He also did staff dueling like Friar Tuck, choreographed but painful if you lost track of where you were; and, he spit fire, great programming for campfires. Quigley graduated from the Air Force Academy and had a career as an economist. He passed away recently, a tenured professor in economics at UC Berkeley. At the end of the year I suggested that the scouts empty the hay from their mattresses onto the parade area in front of the new dining hall.
In 1961 I graduated from High School and was on the way to Notre Dame. That summer I was elevated to Scoutmaster of Wilderness but it had been doubled in size so I had two ASMs, and eight patrols of eight scouts apiece. Dave Armstrong took over as director of Camp Buckskin and Neal became his assistant. Dave smoked a pipe, an affectation I later copied. Someone that year mixed some chopped up rubber bands into his pipe tobacco. Not a pleasant experience for Dave. John Harmon took over Neal’s campsite as Scoutmaster. I think I tried to emulate Dave, but I was never the personality that Dave was. I am humbled to trace my Camp Read lineage back to Fearon through Dave. One of the most memorable parts of that summer was John and me taking a canoe to Brant Lake for a beer (Utica Club, UC) and a paddle. We must have been dropped off. There was a little restaurant by the lake along Route 8, Sunset Mountain Lodge, with a bar called Harvey’s named after the proprietor. After relaxing with hamburgers and beer, we saw it was getting late and decided we had better start paddling back up the lake to the camp road. It was a dark night and the northeast tip of the lake was pretty far away.
Somehow, in the dark of night we found the correct takeout and walked the canoe on our shoulders back to the Buckskin dining hall. Dead tired, we hoisted the canoe onto the rafters, painted “Neal Lay is a Nork” on it and fabricated a story that would be used for the end of summer camp-wide games.
At the end of the summer of ‘61 John and I convinced the powers that be that we could paddle a canoe down the Hudson and deliver it to White Plains where it was needed for winter instruction. Art Boland dropped us off at Fort Edwards above the locks of the Champlain Barge Canal where we faced our first challenge: we had to convince the lock master to let us through with a larger boat. We repeated that process at the Troy Locks. It was an adventure described in an earlier issue of this newsletter. John’s father came to get us at Poughkeepsie.
The summer of 1962 was my last at Camp Read. I was SM of a regular size troop on the outskirts of Camp Tomahawk. I wish I could remember some details from this summer, but it is a haze. I remember assembling on the Retreat Field above Lester Lodge before meals and, running around in a loin cloth, tapping scouts for Order of the Arrow. Once, I was in charge of bringing a group up Little Steven’s Mountain to be invested. Dressed only in loincloth and carrying a blazing kerosene-soaked bum wad torch, I brought my group before the guy in charge (Don Siegle?). Rather than presenting the scouts to him with appropriately solemn Native American words, I whispered in his ear, “I can’t remember.” The ceremony continued without a hitch.
1961 was the summer a group of us from my provisional troop hiked around Pharaoh Lake during the traditional overnight camp. Tom Harmon, John’s brother, was in the group. From our campsite on the south side of Pharaoh Lake we hiked northeast along the eastern shore to a mountain top at the northeast end of the lake, then bushwhacked west and found a trail we followed to the top of Pharaoh Mountain. Finally we headed south to the north shore of Pharaoh Lake and then back around the west side to our campsite.
One of the years, and I can’t remember which, Tiny Sperling, Ranger for Purdy Scout reservation in White Plains, the location of Council headquarters, asked me if I could drive a stick shift. I said “Yes” even though I had only experimented with column shifts in a junk yard. He said he needed a truck driven from the reservation to camp. I was to use 9W up the west side of the Hudson. Tiny said the truck would probably burn more oil than gasoline and set a case of motor oil next to me as he said goodbye. A couple of false starts with the clutch may have given him pause, but I was on my way. No problems.
I remember personalities. The great Art Boland: raconteur extraordinaire. He could drive anything, fix anything, and start anything. I always wanted to drive Big Red 9 a Dodge PowerWagon) and the D9 (CAT Bulldozer). He was a gift to anyone needing an idea for a program. I am glad I maintained contact with
Art and his wife for quite a few years after camp. Ken Hadderman was a provisional scoutmaster and taught history at White Plains High School. He enjoyed his command voice and was famous for beginning his announcements with “For the good of the camp…” and had a very proper demeanor. His leading “Master Musician from Curtis Read” always produced gales of laughter from campers as he demonstrated the bass drum, flute, and violin with manic gusto, sending his wire framed glasses flying.
Jules Pillar, mentioned above, had a dry sarcastic sense of humor. I enjoyed him and am grateful he suggested moving to Dave’s troop.
I remember setting up and tearing down campsites during pre and post camp: humping 9X9 and 14X14 baker tents to the campsites produced lots of sore backs, blisters, and camaraderie.
The weekends between camp periods were sometimes exciting. We hitchhiked back and forth to Lake George Village, visited Fort Ticonderoga, and even took a trip to Tanglewood.
Peter Oberdorf and the others mentioned above have helped jog my memory on a number of aspects of this text, but I have to claim responsibility for any points of inaccuracy, and would welcome any clarifying comments. There are so many people, campers and staff, I remember as faces or jobs, but fail when it comes to their names and vice versa.
I majored in Geology at Notre Dame, earned Masters and Ph.D. in Geology at Indiana University, taught Geology at Hunter College in NYC and at Columbus State University in Columbus, GA from which I retired in 2006 as Department Chair and Professor of Geology. I used and taught topographic maps and air photos throughout my career and realized a few years ago that I had my first experience teaching map skills and terrain association using topo maps when I was ASM to Dave Armstrong in Wilderness in 1959, that is, for 57 years. I think he learned from Kit Fearon. My Ph.D. dissertation was centered in the Tobacco Root Mountains of Southwest Montana and required hiking and camping for a week at a time.
Leading weekend and longer field trips since has required introducing students to the joys of camping. My experiences at Camp Read prepared me for many aspects of my profession.
Thomas B. Hanley
December 23, 2019