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Gather 'round the (Virtual) Campfire:

Stories from Camp Read's Past

Paul Knudsvig

July 6, 2020 (Rye, NY)

Gomez Got 'Em!

If you've been a Scouter (especially a Cub Scouter) for more than fifteen years in the Westchester-Putnam Council, you know that one of the greatest Scouters and characters to grace our ranks was John Gomez. This story exemplifies the Character (and character-builder) who was our dear John Gomez.


Bob Rice and John Gomez were the Directors of the Robert W. Rice Webelos Resident Camp during Week I at Camp Read for nearly 40 years. Bob did the play-by-play and John did the color commentary. They always held court in Blackfoot. Quite the team, by 2005, they had honed every aspect of the week's program to perfection, as well as their distinct contributions to the week.


2005 was my first year at Camp Read. Accompanied by my son, I was as a Den Leader at Webelos Resident Camp.  I was introduced to all the Sunday traditions of check-in, the swim test, Joe the Cook’s fabulous first-night feast and the staff campfire. But the greatest tradition I encountered came on Monday afternoon, when "the ladies", as John would fondly say, finally got to use the Blackfoot showers...


It was my great pleasure to be relaxing around Blackfoot at the right moment when all the Webelos were "away in the field" for boating, swimming and archery for the afternoon and the women had their first assigned time for the Blackfoot showers.


Bob and John always used the winter storage shed as their quarters. Just in front of the shed, there is a very straight-standing tree of about the same diameter of a utility pole...perhaps a white birch. One of John's most important pieces of camp gear was an old, steel electric outlet box.  On Sunday evening, I noticed said box attached to said tree by a couple of small bungee cords, at about eye-level.  Obviously, this got my attention.  I was afraid to ask Bob about it, for fear of asking a stupid rookie question.  So I collared John and asked what was up with the utility box.  He just said, "You'll see, when the time comes." And he left it at that.


So, it’s now Monday afternoon. One of the women in camp was also a rookie.  When the designated shower time came, John was on the lookout for when she headed to the showers.  Once she had been away for a while, John came over to me and said, "Go mill around the flagpole (about 30 feet away) and watch this!  It works every time!"  He then proceeded to retrieve his electric razor, plugged it into the electric outlet, switched the razor to battery mode and started shaving.  At about this time, I noticed that most of the experienced staff were all randomly mingling within about 20 yards of the utility box.


After a few minutes, the "mark" came walking back into the camp with her wet hair up in a towel.  She practically broke her neck doing a double-take of John shaving and practically skipped over to ask John if she could use the electric outlet for her hair dryer.  John, being the gentleman he was, said, "Knock yourself out!  You're more than welcome to plug in!"  She rushed to her tent and quickly returned with her hair dryer.  She gleefully plugged it into the electric outlet, but couldn't turn on the hair dryer.  Her face dropped.  She shook the dryer and tried the second outlet. Can you believe that still nothing happened?  Exasperated, she turned to John and asked what could possibly be wrong.  After all, this was a brand new dryer, since she wanted a small hair dryer to pack for camp.  John played dumb and, continuing with a straight face, said, "Well, let me see."  She handed the dryer to John and he pretended to scrutinize the fine-print on the manufacturer's label.  After said "careful examination," he handed the dryer back and said, "Oh, I think I see.  You're never gonna get enough amp's here.  You'd need live electricity." He then again plugged in his razor and continued to shave for a couple of seconds, after which he unplugged the razor and continued to shave and asked her if she had battery mode.  At first, the "mark's" face went blank.  Then she realized what was happening and her face went red...might have been a blush, might have been rage...I'll never know.  Now, on cue, the rest of the staff and John started laughing and the "mark" joined in.  The red from her face disappeared after a few seconds of laughter.  Later, John told me that this had been an annual tradition for many years.


But wait!  Don't touch that dial!  John wasn't done.  He got maybe the greatest Scouting "twofer" of all time! The cat came back.  It wasn't the very next day;  but the cat came back on Friday.  Recall that on Friday of Week I, the BSA National Accreditation Team tours Camp Read and came through Blackfoot Friday morning. The utility box is still standing duty.


The purpose of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Camp Accreditation Program (NCAP) “is to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of every camper, leader, visitor, and staff member while participating in a BSA accredited camp.” As it turns out, Blackfoot got a perfect score, with one glaring exception: Blackfoot was written up for an old, steel electric outlet box WITHOUT the REQUISITE weatherproof cover!


Once Steve Hammonds saw this in the write-up, he knew EXACTLY what was going on.  He was able to point out that there is no electricity in Blackfoot and that the old, steel electric outlet box is purely for cosmetics, ambiance and cultural enlightenment.  Blackfoot was returned to a perfect score.


Once the word got around Camp Read about the Utility Box Incident, I thought John would "bust his buttons" several times over.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a man more proud of a great achievement. That afternoon, the Scout Exec (Jack Sears, in those days) came by Blackfoot to congratulate Bob and John for the perfect "score."

About the Scout:

Paul Knudsvig, Life Scout, 1974, Troop 47, Vinton, Iowa. Paul has been active as a Scouter from his early experience as Cubmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster and as this tale relates, a Den Leader at Webelos Resident camp under the tutelage of Bob Rice & John Gomez. His "home" summer camp was Camp Wakonda at the Howard H. Cherry Scout Reservation in northeast Iowa.  In 1975 he was the troop's summer camp Scoutmaster. He loved Camp Wakonda, but will admit that he didn't know what a Scout Reservation was until he got to Camp Read. Among his favorite places on earth are Camp Read, Clear Lake and wilderness fishing on the Minnesota/Canada border ('bout 30 miles northeast as the crow flies from the Northern Tier).

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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