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!
This page will be updated weekly with new submissions.
Have a story of your own? Please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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The Doctor(s) will see you now...
August 6, 2020
When I joined Troop 1, John Hindle was the scoutmaster. I do remember running into John at the Westchester Council offices. He admonished me for wearing a Camp Read kerchief, rather than the unique and distinctive Troop 1 kerchief – white silk, with a red border. He was very proud of Troop 1.
I’m embarrassed to say that I never made first class. Twice, I took the Morse Code test, and twice I failed. The second time, the review board took pity on me, and merely required me to spell my name in code.
I attended Camp Read in 1954, 1955, and 1956 -- an experience I treasure.
Among my most vivid memories from those years are:
(1) hikes to Pharaoh Lake, where we collected leeches in tin cans;
(2) in three years, never having sat at a table in the dining hall that won the Chief Fong award for neatness (correlation does not imply causation);
(3) setting a tent-mate's bed so the legs were right on the edge of the tent platform, causing it to slip off the platform as soon as the victim sat down on the bed;
(4) taking advantage of the fact that the heavy white mugs in the dining hall were always turned upside down when you took your seat for a meal; by filling a mug to the brim with milk, you could sometimes induce an unwary diner to unconsciously turn the mug upside down and drench the table (perhaps there was some causation involved in my never having had Chief Fong placed at my table);
(5) evening taps;
(6) bug juice -- the drink of choice at the dining hall;
(7) the unbeatable aroma of Adirondack air;
(8) what we lifeguards were told to do if a swimmer was struggling to keep his head above water: reach, row, throw, tow, go!;
(9) "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly"; and
(10) the camp staff, and all they put up with from the scouts.
I stayed with Troop 1 until my family moved to Ohio in 1957 – a few days after I graduated from East View. (I learned more in three years at East View than I did in three years at Glenwood High School in Canton.) But I treasure the experience, and am saddened that scouting seems to have lost its luster in the 21st Century. Dr.Hamm
About the Scout:
Bill Hamm, Ph.D., 2nd Class Scout, Troop 1 White Plains, is an economics consultant at the Berkeley Research Group with high-level experience in both business and government.
August 8, 2020
I am an Eagle scout, as well as Order of the Arrow. I have only positive memories of the whole Boy Scout experience and think I learned a great deal about discipline, leadership, the outdoors, and teaching, which became my profession.
I’m not sure about the troop number in White Plains. My vague memory is either or both 13 and/or 73. And also a vague memory of meeting at Ridgeway School but also at the conservative Jewish synagogue.
I have fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Read.
I remember getting a root beer after dinner at the camp store and looking up at the mountain as the sky gradually darkened.
I remember hiking up Mt.Stevens with my parents on visiting day—my mom struggled but my father was pretty spry for an old guy.
I remember the overnight hikes—struggling hard through an area of large rocks, my pack heavy on my back, one of the senior leaders putting his hand under the pack to help me with the weight.
I remember earning Lifesaving Merit Badge: the first time I couldn’t hold the struggling counselor but for the second test I let my nails grow. After I got him in the carry when he started to struggle I dug my nails in his armpit. “Ok,” he said, “you got it.“
And I remember one overnight I wasn’t in the mood and they let me stay in camp and I read for hours from a book of great American plays.
And I remember the test for Nature Merit Badge of identifying wild plants. I was pointed to something I thought might be purple fringed orchid—a highly endangered species with just 7 plants in the whole camp. I wasn’t sure, so I made as if I were going to pick it to look closely—the counselor grunted a warning. “Purple fringed orchid?” I asked, innocently.
7. Yes, and the great bluebrries on Mt. Stevens!
I'm wondering how many other ex-scouts see a direct line, as I do, from scouting to my counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian, politically very left (so far to the left I fall off the planet occasionally) adult life. What is a revolutionary but a grown up Eagle Scout??
About the Scout:
Dr. Roger Gottlieb, Ph.D. Eagle Scout, White Plains NY, Professor of Philosophy, is the award winning author or editor of 21 books of philosophy, religious studies, environmentalism, and contemporary spirituality. His latest book is “The Sacrifice Zone.”
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).
July 25, 2020
When the Turtle Beat the Turkey: A True Tale from Waubeeka
Each year I would cook a ‘Garbage Can Turkey’. Basically a turkey was fastened to a metal pole driven into the ground, it was covered with a metal garbage can, the can was surrounded with hot burning charcoal. After 3 or 4 hours, depending on the weight of the turkey, the can would be removed and the turkey would (hopefully) be cooked.
During those years the standard Tuesday evening meal at Waubeeka was sliced turkey with gravy, so we just skipped the turkey and got extra fixin’s from the commissary. The staff would be invited and everyone enjoyed a huge turkey dinner.
One year one of our scout parents, Dr. Michael Klemens, a world-renowned herpetologist, came to camp for a few days. The boys loved it as he explained to them everything they ever wanted to know about snakes, frogs, turtles, and salamanders. Dr. Klemens even went to the Nature Lodge as ‘guest lecturer’.
He had heard that the Buckskin waterfront had been terrorized the prior year by a large snapping turtle, so he brought along a turtle trap to catch it. One evening the trap was set in Buckskin Lake, and the following day it was retrieved with a huge snapping turtle in it. That turtle was nearly the size of my garbage can lid.
The turtle was quickly and mercifully dispatched on the chopping block with a swift blow from an axe, and everyone marveled at the severed head still snapping at a stick. Another dad assisted with the necropsy and later all the internal organs were laid out on a cardboard tray. Later when I returned to the site, he excitedly pointed out that the heart was still occasionally beating. The boys were going wild.
That evening everyone (except myself) enjoyed some fresh (boiled & grilled) turtle meat for dinner. [Editor’s Note: Bill Langham cooked the Buckskin turtle and ate a piece. Turtle dark meat is tastier than the white meat.]
The following day a second, less impressive, turtle was caught in Waubeeka Lake and similarly dealt with, but no BBQ. The smaller shell was left in the Nature Lodge, and the larger one went to some museum. That was the year when the Turkey dinner was upstaged by the Turtle.
Michael Klemens, Ph.D.: "All the specimens collected at Camp Read, including both snapping turtle shells, were deposited at the American Museum of Natural History where I have been on scientific staff in the Dept. of Herpetology since 1979."
Simon E.L. Riker remembers the execution: "I recall it taking several swings of the axe... "swift and merciful" may be a telling through rose colored glasses."
About the Scout:
John Graham was Scoutmaster at Troop 2 Rye for many years - among his many contributions to the troop, John served as Summer Scoutmaster at Waubeeka during Week II. This delightful story is part of Troop 2’s ancient lore and surely provided many interesting dinner table discussions on “What did you do at camp?”
Rye, NY - June 29, 2020
It had to be 1957, maybe 1958, but it was my Ganoobie year at Camp Read. Troop 1 White Plains went to camp each year on the bus from County Center as Provo Scouts. Back then few troops attended as home units.
Each camp session was two weeks long. The highlight of the second week was a 3-day backpack into the Pharaoh Wilderness area. As far as this 12-year old kid knew, Pharaoh was a mythical land far beyond the mountains bordering camp - Stevens, Little Stevens and #8. The only entrance was through the fabled Farley’s Gap. The staff at Read talked about ‘the Gap’ as a challenge to even the most experienced hikers with its boulders, intermittent steam, slippery rocks, mosquitoes and other creatures too numerous to relate. I couldn’t wait to go!
Our troop, the Voyageurs, would leave Monday morning after breakfast in the Buckskin dining hall. In the wee hours Sunday, I made a trip to the larry, its red kerosene lantern a beacon in the night and the only light available for navigating the rocky path from my tent. On the way back, I stubbed my toe on a rock. On investigation, I’d torn the end off my big toe. First aid for cuts called for application of antiseptic (stinging merthiolate!!!) and bandaging up the hanging flap of skin as best I could in the limited middle of the night light, all without waking my tentmate. With departure just hours away, I certainly did not want to alert staff and miss out on this Camp Read rite of passage.
My boots were hand-me-downs from my Great Aunt Mary’s gardener - a short-statured man with small feet. My feet were pretty big for a 12-year old and the boots were a tight fit, especially in the toes. With my bandage-job, they were really tight. I managed to hide my hobble down to breakfast. We picked up our packs and equipment set off for the Gap.
If you’ve never been through Farley’s Gap, it is steep, winding among huge rocks and boulders, often slippery when wet. It threads a narrow path between #8 and Little Stevens mountains, rising all the way from Rogers Lake (now Buckskin Lake) to reach a plateau. The trail passes Crab Pond, Whortleberry and then the magnificent Pharaoh Lake reveals itself. About half way through the Gap, my toe was killing me and it became apparent that it was time to let someone know of my condition. Pretty sure it was Ron Luna, our Provo Scoutmaster, who interceded, re-bandaged my foot and understanding my motive to not miss out on the hike, encouraged me to continue on. Whether Ron made this decision clothed as a teachable moment for me or whether he simply had no desire to return to the now deserted camp, I will never forget the next few days - exploring Whortleberry and my first time visiting the shores of Pharaoh.
On a Fourth of July in the Aught-Twos, as Summer Scoutmaster for my troop, I was determined to take my son and several older Scouts on an overnight to Pharaoh through the Gap. In desperate need of an 18-year old ASM to satisfy 2-deep regs, I agreed to take a visiting Eagle Scout, alumni from another troop who was camping with us in Frontier. This unusual scout had arrived with several large cardboard boxes which he stashed under the spare cot in my tent. I later learned that the boxes contained a complete set-up for a Zip line. I discovered this when returning from some errand to Buckskin Office, I heard the sound of an axe and timbers crashing. Curious as to who was chopping trees down in a scout camp, I soon discovered that it was my Eagle scout pinch-hitter ASM. He’d already cleared a 15x60-foot alley through the trees and erected the headend of his zipline project, a lashed-up pioneering tower of 15-feet. Somewhat taken aback, I asked whether he’s lost his mind and also, was he a certified climbing instructor (or whatever BSA credential you need to run such an operation. Hearing no response but that he thought the kids would enjoy it, and desperate in my need for “2-deep” later in the week, I relented, if that’s the word, and said go ahead and finish your project. And insisted that there be no ‘freelancing’ on our upcoming trip to Pharaoh.
We took equipment from Summit for our expedition including some out-of-date 50-feet of climbing rope, tents, and cook gear. And set off on the 4th of July. The trail from CSR to Pharaoh had fallen into neglect and we had trouble locating the trail head out of Voyageur. We took what I thought was the right bearing and set off on a very warm morning.
I had not been through Farley’s Gap since the 50’s as described in Limp. Needless to say, we got quite lost, somewhere encountering the Reservation boundary fence halfway up #8. Who even knew there was a boundary fence! It did provide us with a hiking guard rail and we followed it until we reached the Gap, sometime well after lunch. When we exited the Gap, there were no markers or blazes and we again set off bushwhacking our way through a hot afternoon, eventually reaching not Pharaoh Lake but a hunter’s deer camp late in the day, bushed and ready to resign. We pitched camp, had our supper and crashed at dusk.
It was a night to remember as nearby towns rotated their 4th of July fireworks. We couldn’t see anything but the reports surrounded us in Quadraphonic sound. We left in the morning, never got to the lake and took the long way home, out Pharaoh Lake Road to Beaver Pond Road to Palisades and back to camp. Oh, and my hand-picked 2-deep Eagle Scout/Woodsman had failed to securely attach Summit’s climbing rope to his pack and it was lost on the way out.
Troop 2 Rye spends two weeks at CSR - Week I at Buckskin, Week II at Waubeeka. During the transition weekend one year, we decided to head out for Pharaoh, on the lake road, rather than the Gap as we had a lot of ganoobies. I hooked my college freshman son up with a dad coming up from Rye to visit his son for the weekend.
Our hike in was uneventful - we had a pleasant picnic lunch at the outlet end of the lake, crossed the foot-bridge and headed up the western shore trail, looking for a good spot to go swimming.
Finding an appropriate entry point, we tied our safety line to a tree and set out our lifeguards in deference to Safe Swim, and everybody went swimming. As near as I can reckon, this was most likely the 50th anniversary of my first time at Pharaoh Lake. What a joy it was to swim with my son at my favorite place in the world.
About the Scout:
Bill Langham, Star Scout 1959, was a member of Troop 1, George Washington School in White Plains. He has been active in most of the roles in Scouting as an adult volunteer. He is currently editor of the Camp Read Association Stories Project.
Camp Read and Pharaoh Lake Wilderness are among his favorite places on earth.
July 11, 2020
The Buddy System & Other Stories
My buddy, Jim Finneran, and I left for my first and only camp experience in July or August of, I believe, 1957. I was just shy of 11 years old. This was probably my first adventure away without family. We took the bus from the County Center in WP.
Strangely enough, one of the things I recall, is that I had recently discovered Orange Crush Soda and really liked it. I filled my canteen with it for the long trip north. Somehow, Crush from a canteen was not the same; I do not believe I ever drank it again.
So after a day on the bus, we arrived at Camp Read, where Jim and I shared a tent. We were put in the Green Snake platoon; “don’t tread on us”.
It was summer, hot and sunny, so at the first opportunity Jim and I headed for the lake to go swimming. I ran, dove off the dock and swam about half way to the raft before I noticed Jim was not with me. I looked back to see two life guards pulling him back onto the dock with a lot of coughing and sputtering. I did not realize that he was not a strong swimmer and he did not realize he was jumping in over his head. Excitement, but no damage done, other than ego and embarrassment.
Each day we had inspection of our tent in our uniforms. Prior to the first inspection I noticed that my shoes needed polish. Not having time to polish them, I waited until the inspector was close, wet my thumb with spit and rubbed the dry, unpolished portions enough to make them look brown. Every day I promised myself I would get them properly polished. Never happened.
The other event I vaguely remember, is that near the last night of our stay there was to be an evening meeting out in a field, for a bonfire (campfire?) and ghost stories etc. Jim and I got there with our platoon and sat down in the field... on top of a ground bee hive. They found us quickly and did what ground bees do. I was suddenly being stung in multiple places as was Jim. We were told to hurry to the infirmary which was quite a distance away.
As we ran to the infirmary, we killed several more bees that were still in our clothing. I expect all the stingers were still in us, pumping their pain.
All in all, I loved Camp Read, especially the rugged mountains and lakes. Unfortunately, it was my one and only camp experience but I live in the mountains now, in Townshend VT, near Stratton Mtn. Ski Area. I still find them stimulating.
Jim Finneran shared two brief recollections.
1. He denies getting stung on Pawnee Field at a Council Fire.
2. He will never forget the sheer abundance of blueberries on Mt Stevens.
About the Scout:
Mike Adrian was a Scout in Troop 14, St John’s Elementary School, White Plains, NY. Don Papcy was the regular Scoutmaster; Chris Fearon was the Scoutmaster at camp.
June 29, 2020 (South Salem, NY)
A Lesson in Site Selection
In the early 1950’s (I think '53 & '54) I went to Camp Read, two weeks the first year and four weeks the second year. In the second year I signed up for the Camping, Cooking and Pioneering merit badges which involved a three-day hike. The plan as explained by our leaders (we had a map) was to head north on the old logging road out of camp, intersect another logging road on the left, find a place to camp for the night, then continue on the next day to Pharaoh lake and camp there for the second night. On the first day after hiking over 10 miles, we came to a paved road and
concluded after consulting the map, that we had missed the connection to the other logging road.
Since it was getting late in the day we needed to find a place to camp for the night. Our leader scouted the area and found a field where we could set up our camp, I assume with the permission of the owner. We set up our camp, had dinner, did the usual scout things and went to bed in our pup tents tired from hiking all day. Very early the next morning I woke up to the clanging of a bell. I opened the flap of the tent (pup tents have no windows) and peered out at a forest of cows’ legs. We had camped in the cows’ pasture and were now in the middle of the herd. The rest of the hike was uneventful and I added three more merit badges to my collection.
On another occasion I had some down time in the afternoon so I went to my two-man tent. Sitting on the platform at the front of the tent I decided that the rotten stump in front of me was a trip hazard and needed to be removed. I got my Boy Scout hatchet and proceeded to eliminate the stump by chopping it into a million chips which covered the ground for three to four feet around the front of the tent. Having eliminated any part of the stump above ground level I put the hatchet away and went about my scheduled activities for the rest of the day and did not return to
the tent until after dark. When I returned I was amazed to see the ground in front of the tent was glowing, every chip of wood from the rotten stump was fluorescent.
About the Scout:
At home I was in the Armonk troop, whatever that was. I went to camp by myself, not with a troop. There was just one camp divided up into camp sites numbered 1 thru 6, I think. I do not remember any of the names. All the camp sites were up the hill behind the canteen. The canteen was where you got your mail, bought candy and other scout items if you had any money. Everything was at the north end of the road.
Scouting and especially Camp Read was a great experience for me and I am sure set me on a course of enjoying a lifetime of camping and the outdoors.