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 periodically with new submissions.
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I Failed Cooking Merit Badge
August 6, 2021
Bill Langham - Rye, NY
I failed Cooking Merit Badge. Somewhere back in the 50s, I was a camper at Curtis S. Read Reservation at Brant Lake in the Adirondacks. Overnight showers brought on a damp, overcast morning with more showers predicted. Our group of aspiring outdoor cooks faced the ultimate challenge: beef stew over an open fire.
I like cooking -- and do it everyday. At our house, I do most of the cooking, lots of it from scratch, and go shopping several times each week to get the staple kitchen items I need and also to track down the specialty items that Melissa Clark of the New York Times often sends me hunting for. My route usually begins at Balducci’s (The Food Lover’s Market) in Rye Ridge for pumpernickel bagels, then on to the Liquor Pantry for wine before heading for COSTCO and the Stop & Shop in Port Chester for commodities like my favorite brand of club soda (Polar Premium Club Soda which seems to have magically replicated Mountain Valley’s formula at $1.29 a bottle versus $2.99 at Whole Foods). I frequently stop at Apple Farm on the Boston Post Road for fruits and vegetables. In the summer, I patronize Mangone’s Garden Center in Mamaroneck as they have the best Columbia County sweet corn delivered several times each week. I digress. This is a story about cooking at camp(s).
Some 40 or 50 years later, I returned to Camp Read as an Adult Leader when my son became a camper, first at Bob Rice’s Webelos Week where I learned to cook eggs in an orange peel and later as Scoutmaster for Troop 2 Rye at Buckskin and Waubeeka. Two things seem worth retelling here: The Pineapple Upside-down Dream Cake with Whipped Cream (Chilled) and Penne Rigate Primavera the year of the Norovirus. Well, maybe three things -- there’s also Buckskin Blackie, a pesky snapping turtle that we cooked and ate at Waubeeka one year...
How We Found the New Camp
John Farley & Bob Johnson
Your assignment is to take the camp truck, (who still remembers the green 1938 Dodge 1-ton truck? The one that got bellied up on a stone wall on V-J night! The one that John Hindle tried to drive to Pharaoh in 1950), and go to Camp Siwanoy where the Council shared facilities for the 1948 camp season. There you will load said truck with as many cots and mattresses as it will hold. You will then proceed to the newly acquired site in the Adirondacks where you will set up all cots in the “main building” for use by Council members who will be following in two weeks.
We packed basic camping gear, brought some food and off we went...
CSR in the Adirondacks: the Fourth Period Games
August 14, 2021
This part of Camp history is comprised of excerpts from Art’s book: From Early in the Morning; The Life and Times of Art Boland; Chapter 3: The True Story of Camp Read. (1) The first limited edition of the book was published in December 2000.
Art in his own words:
“I spent 18 years as the Camp Ranger and loved every minute of it. Alan Pospisil was my collaborating cohort on the maintenance crew. We did everything together, like cleaning the grease traps, taking the garbage to the dump and, when they upgraded it and called it the land fill, we kept right on taking the garbage there. And we walked the pipelines by the light of the moon and found all the bad breaks and fixed them soon.
CSR in the Adirondacks: the First Ranger, Part Two
August 14, 2021
A little more history from Jim Smith, former Staff Member and Camp Tomahawk Director, for those who did not know, but have often wondered....
To set the stage and bring you up to date from my previous story: it’s 1948, the Fenimore Cooper Council, B.S.A. had just purchased the Great Camp known as the Hermitage in the Adirondacks from C. L. Collins, Fred Smith was the Scout Executive and he had just hired Art Boland to be the year-round Ranger for the property.
As previously mentioned, Art was not only the Ranger, but was a major part of the program that set the tone for what became the “magic” of Camp Read. His unique personality was infectious, creative and fun. He liked to play games (charades), sing songs and create adventures.
This part of Camp history is comprised of excerpts from Art’s book:
From Early in the Morning; The Life and Times of Art Boland; Chapter 3: The True Story of Camp Read. (1) The first limited edition of the book was published in December 2000.
I hope you can get a feel for Art’s personality from his own writing. He was quite a character and made work and life fun! He was 85 when he wrote the book so his memory of events and their order was not as keen, understandably, as it once was.
His writing still contains Art’s warm and captivating style. For those of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with Art, it is possible to hear his voice spinning his life’s endless web of tales as you read along.
Art in his own words:
"I was talking with Lizzie Hill, the wife of the caretaker of the Heller Estate where I had worked the previous two summers. Her brother came along and told us that the scouts had just brought the Hermitage property and that they were looking for a Ranger to oversee it. Lizzie said I should go and see about it, for these jobs were few and far between, as the saying goes. Thanks to God and Lizzie Hill I got the Ranger’s job, which did not ingratiate me with some of the townspeople as I was practically an outsider and this was their town...
We welcome you to Old Camp Read
We’re mighty glad you’re here…
We’ll set the air reverberating
with a mighty cheer!
CSR in the Adirondacks: the First Ranger and Original Buildings
July 27, 2021
A little history from Jim Smith, former Staff Member and Camp Tomahawk Director, for those who did not know, but have often wondered....
With some input from Peter Scott Oberdorf, Tom Dietz, and Bill Daley. Mostly from memory with reference to Art’s book and the CRA Historical Guidebook.
In 1948 the Fenimore Cooper Council serving White Plains, Bedford and Brewster areas, purchased the property, the original Adirondack Great Camp of C.L. Collins. The property, known as The Hermitage, at the northeastern tip of Brant Lake became Camp Curtis S. Read. The original Camp Read, given in Curtis S. Read’s memory by his mother was located at Long Pond in Mahopac, NY. It was sold to the Town of Carmel for a town park. The proceeds, and a substantial gift from Sarah Lester of Scarsdale Troop 1 were used to buy the new property at Brant Lake.
Fred Smith, Council Scout Executive, was checking out the new property and looking for a Ranger to manage the property year-round. It was a stroke of luck that Art Boland, who had been working for the Heller Farm nearby, met with Fred for an interview. Art’s Scouting background helped him land the job. Fred made a choice that would turn out to be very fortunate for hundreds of future staff members and thousands of future campers that would follow. For Art became not only the Ranger, but a major contributor of program ideas that set the tone for what would become the "magic" of Camp Read. (This is a story in itself, so stay tuned for future additions to our story page.)
The new property included 750 acres of land bordered by the Adirondack Park and grew to 946 acres with the purchase of the Heller Farm Property (now the STEM Ranch). The original property had one small pond (Chub Pond or Rogers Lake - now Buckskin Lake, as we know it), and several buildings. It had been a Great Camp in the 1920’s called The Hermitage, owned by Col. Clarence C. Collins. There was no Ranger’s House or garage when you first came into Camp. In fact, the original entrance to the property was closer to the shores of Brant Lake where stone pillars still stand as the entrance to the Hermitage property. The second set of stone gates are just before the Ranger’s House and the third “gates” were inundated when the Waubeeka Dam was created and are now in the middle of Waubeeka Lake. On the top of the third stone pillar “gates” was a sign engraved: “Don’t Give Up Hope” designed by Hap Simmons and placed there in the early days of camp.
The sign originated from the fact that in those days the ride up the Camp road was through dense forest for almost the entire two miles. The 3rd gate and "Hope” sign was about a third of the way up the camp road and just when you thought you’d never get to the end, you’d arrive at camp. Hap also made the signs on the inside of the latrine doors: “Now to the Washstand, … Just Like at Home”. But those came later.
The first structures you came to after the “Don’t Give Up Hope” Gates were in a clearing on the left side of the road. A log cabin, originally known as the “old farm house”, was the first residence for Ranger Boland and his wife, Shirley. The cabin was dedicated to the Bolands in 1999, and renamed “Boland Lodge”. There were also two old barns, one of which is still standing. Once the Ranger’s House was built where it stands now by the shop, the old farm house was used for pre-staff lodging. Meals were served courtesy of Shirley Boland at the Ranger’s House.
As you continued up the camp road, the next structure was a little house on the left just past the road on the right that leads up to the Butler Building, Climbing Tower and the primitive camp sites that are all that remain of the original Camp Tomahawk. This house was built by the Lesters as a “doll house” for their daughter. It was 1½ stories high with 2 sections downstairs and a sleeping loft upstairs. The doll house was converted to become the first Health Lodge with an examining room and another section with beds for sick campers. When the dam was built to create Lester Lake, (the zip line pond, as it is known today), the Waterfront Staff used the “doll house” for living quarters until the new cabin (now mountain bike wash and storage) by Lester Lake was built. The “doll house” then became the Cook’s Cabin for the Tomahawk Kitchen Chefs.
Just a hundred yards or so up the road on the right was the main Great Camp Building, Col. Collins' old summer residence, which later came to be known as Lester Lodge. The stone wall that enclosed the rose garden still remains and surrounds the Bill Brucker Sr. Office (Summit Office, formerly Camp Tomahawk Office). Lester Lodge was the original Camp Read Office and had a large room that became the Staff Lounge, complete with a window to the Trading Post. A large porch ran across the building’s front offering wonderful views of Mt. Stevens. Living quarters for the Camp Director and his family were on the second floor. The other side of the main floor was used as the Nature Lodge. Butch Smith, Fred’s son, was the first Nature Director.
The Lodge was used for many years, but time took its toll. When Camp opened each season, someone had to crawl under the Lodge to hook up the plumbing. Each year, as the building settled into old age, the opening got smaller and smaller until it was no longer accessible. Regrettably, in 1963, its condition had deteriorated so much that it had to be demolished. But the stone wall remained. Many camp and campfire program was created on the porches of Lester Lodge and resulting Camp Offices.
Across the road from Lester Lodge was the Carriage Barn which was to become the Tomahawk Dining Hall. This building stood at the base of Stevens Mountain and had a full footprint storage area underneath. This basement area eventually became the Quartermaster's Shed. Originally, the basement had stalls for horses or cows, and the main floor of the Dining Hall was used for carriages with loft space above for hay.
The Dining Hall was a quite a grand structure, with a fireplace on the South end and a large picture window with a magnificent view of Mt. Stevens on the North. One of the great things about the Dining Hall was its acoustics. You could stand at the South end, talk normally, and be heard very clearly at the North end. This was great for announcements and leading songs, and for rainy day indoor campfires when needed. The fireplace was dedicated to Andrew Kalmykow III, a former staff member who passed away while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. Heavy snows and high winds on March 24, 2001 resulted in the Dining Hall's collapse. The only thing left standing was that fireplace, chimney and mantel, complete with dedication plaque intact.
Standing on the Lester Lodge front steps facing North, you would have seen a Bird Cage to the left of the Dining Hall (now Summit Base Gazebo). This Birdcage was re-created by Camp Staff (Dick Trier, Bill Brucker and Rich Lutomski, among others), as a gift in the late sixties, and is still standing. Dedication Plaques from structures no longer with us are displayed in the Birdcage. It is also used as the burial site for the Camp Read Association time capsule.
A large barn and small outbuilding were located across the road and east of the Dining Hall, towards the foot of Third Brother, near the trailhead to Spring Hill Pond and the Essex County line. The outbuilding was used as a tool shed for the maintenance crew and later served as Tomahawk's Trading Post. A “root” cellar was located to the left side of Lester Lodge, which is now gone.
The Butler Building now stands over the original Hermitage tennis courts. The Race Track and the Lookaway monument were all features of the original Collins Great Camp. Lookaway was Col. Collins’ favorite horse and apparently quite famous in its day, racing as far away as Providence and Delhi, near Albany. The Butler Building, which was added later, was so named because it was built by a company named Butler. In the sixties, this structure was home to the handicraft area and was also used for camp fires. Summit Base uses this area for Friday night meal prep for the scouts departing and returning from their treks, canoe trips and other high adventure activities.
When Art Boland started in ‘48, he cut acres of trees with a 2-man buck-saw (he had some help). The logs were transported to a saw mill in Chestertown where they were cut into 50,000 board feet of lumber for building tent platforms, dining hall tables, benches, wash stands and outhouses. Volunteer scouters came up on weekends in early June to do the work. These weekends were the “original” Eager Beaver Work Weekends and four campsites were built so that camp could open in 1949.
Well, I hope this helps to fill in some of the blanks, and to preserve some of the history of Camp Read.
Yours in scouting,
Former Staff Member and Camp Tomahawk Director
Pictures and descriptions of the original buildings and structures mentioned in this story can be found in the Historical Guidebook published by the Camp Read Association. This book is a field guide of the Memorials, Dedications and Landmarks at Camp Read. It can be purchased at the Camp Read Trading Post or via the CRA Website
The picture above is one of Shirley Boland’s sketches, featured in the book written by her husband, Art: "From Early in the Morning; The Life and Times of Art Boland."
(The Red Fin Press; P.O. Box Six; Adirondack, New York, 12808)
The sketch depicts Lester Lodge, the original residence of the estate, and was used for the first 14 years as the camp office and residence for the senior staff.
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. Click here for more by Hanley ➙
North Country Newt
Submitted by Greg Pitonza
Revised November 28, 2017 and September 2020
Contributions by Tim Haag
October 2, 2020
Edited by Bill Langham
October 6, 2020
Several years ago, a couple of us spoke about an interpreter strip based on the language, metaphors, colloquialisms and idioms used by Bob Newton (a.k.a. Ranger Bob, Newt, BMFIC, Rose, Newton for President, Ranger Emeritus . . .).
September 13, 2020
The Office: Denis Pisanello
Camp Waubeeka is the Curtis S. Read Reservation’s ‘Patrol Cooking’ camp. Units attending Waubeeka cook for themselves with supplies obtained from the Commissary, three times a day.
Denis Pisanello was the Waubeeka Camp Director and I was the Office CIT in the summer of 1982. Although the days in the office were long, Mr P. let me go to staff swim daily and make the assignments for staff to eat meals with the various units in their sites (this could have been a good opportunity to make some extra money but I was unaware of the power of this assignment at the time). One week, in a break from routine, I was sent to the camp’s Central Office in Buckskin to answer phones and operate the switchboard to provide 24/7 coverage. Once a day I was allowed to ring all the phones in camp, open all the lines together and listen to the resulting chaos.
My days went from breakfast to 9:00 pm under the influence of Mr. P’s humor, occasional wrath, and method of "innovative" problem solving: On a day when part of the food sent from the commissary had been omitted from each patrol’s bin, Denis proposed the following solution: under his direction, I pressed the big red emergency button, activating the siren summoning a member of each unit report to the parade field. When the runners arrived from each site we gave out the needed food.
Sean O'Donnell and Chris “The Colonel” Simone were two other influential staff members at that time. They came looking for me one night when I was out of camp past curfew, got me back to camp and said nothing more about the incident. Sean and Chris shared a coveted tent in the Waubeeka staff area. Their tent was a grand palace with various amenities including a balcony out the back with a great view of Brant Lake. An additional tent platform salvaged from the dump covered with tarps was a fine place to sit and view the scene.  The view took a little imagination, but if you knew what to look for, especially at sunset, you could catch a glimpse of glimmering water. Tree growth since then blocks the view of the lake.
Since I was on staff with a variety of characters (multiplied by several years) it is easy to mix up my recall of correctly credited details but Sean had an interesting wardrobe for campfire skits. One memorable outfit which he wore for his campfire skit, Dear Liza, was a modest red & white gingham dress. Of course this was in the days before political correctness. 
Chris liked to wear goggles and direct weekend traffic with ping pong paddles.
Ranger Bob Newton
At that time Camp Ranger Bob (who served as ranger for 27 years from 1967-1996) always had his dog, Pep,at his side.  My daily wake-up call was the rattle of the snow plow lift on his truck. BTW, and contrary to rumors - Bob never had to wake me up with the sound of a shotgun blank. Time spent working alongside Ranger Bob has had a significant influence on my personal outlook and the life philosophies that have made me successful.
Ranger Bob’s unique personality, colorful language and unstinting work ethic and his demand for outstanding performance from those around him were an inspiration. He certainly inspired me as the following story shows --
At a critical time during my college years, it was Ranger Bob who made arrangements with Bob Towne  of Westchester-Putnam Council to send me to BSA National Camping School for Aquatics (although I was only 18) which led to a real life or death situation on the Sacandaga River. Part of my role during this summer, when the Summit and Waubeeka staffs were combined, was to instruct and certify a BSA LIfeguard to function as White Water Rafting Guide. My friend and tentmate at the time expected an easy-pass on the stringent requirements for this position and wasn’t taking the instruction seriously. He eventually did take the lessons earnestly and qualified for the Guide spot. During a rafting run on the Sacandaga that summer, a scout caught his foot while swinging on a rope 20 feet from shore. This required a ‘Go’ rescue by my friend/tentmate/student that saved the panicked scout. With the intensity of the situation, it was a rescue where lifesaving maneuvers had to be performed correctly for the safety of both my friend and the scout. Following the rescue, the scout was taken to the hospital and treated for broken bones in his foot. When the group returned to camp later in the evening we heard the accounts of the accident. Later I received a profound comment from my friend: his statement was essentially that what I required him to do to get BSA Lifeguard certified made the difference of keeping him safe and successfully making the rescue. This was significant, real and meaningful feedback that led me to start thinking about teaching others as a career.
This was also a significant lesson for me - it turned me around and led me into teaching.
1. The platform and the tarp over it were salvaged from the dump - it leaked badly in the rain. The patio lights (little owls, maybe?) were something Simone found. It was also close enough to the Range that shotgun pellets would occasionally rain down on it from the less skilled skeet shooters. [Note provided by Sean O’Donnell]
2. Sean O’Donnell was a theater electrician in the off-season while in college, and grabbed a few bits and pieces that wardrobe or props were discarding. There was a set of vaguely aviator-helmet-looking hats for Junior Birdmen, but Greg is referring to a modest red & white gingham dress, from Annie Get Your Gun, that was large enough to fit many of us, and got passed around for different characters, and handed down for a couple years at least after I’d stopped working there. [Sean O’Donnell provided these notes, too]
3. Pepper was Ranger Bob's dog (a grey medium sized poodle). He was nearly always by his side.
4. Bob Towne was a professional from the council who enjoyed his time in camp and was a positive influence on the staff. His management style was supportive of the staff, he dealt with problems calmly and effectively, and he had long term goals for the camp and staff. He was tuned into the mood of the staff and took a proactive approach when problems emerged, and had a voice/tone that captured your attention and created a positive feeling. *It was noted at the reunion last year, that he is 90+ and would have been there if possible..
About the Scout:
Greg Pitonza, Ph.D. presently teaches Middle School Technology in the Canajoharie Central School District. In 2019, he was selected as winner of the Regional Teacher of the Year Award. Coronavirus and subsequent Camp Read’s closing prevented Greg Pitonza from assuming the new role of STEM Ranch Director at camp this summer (2020).
Greg was a member of Valhalla Troop 1. He earned Eagle Scout in 1982. He first went to Camp Read as a Waubeeka camper with his troop in 1979 and then joined staff in 1982. In addition to his ongoing roles at camp, Greg spent several years as Scoutmaster of Canajoharie, NY Troop 81.
September 8, 2020
About the Scout:
Bill Daley started his journey through Scouting as Cub Scout in Yonkers Pack 14 in 1967. He joined Troop 14 in 1971 and continued his service as Assistant Scoutmaster until 1982. He is currently the President of the Camp Read Association and is the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award. Bill is well on his way to becoming a “Forty-Sixer”, with just three ADK 4000’ summits to go.
In 1974, he participated in a 2-week long specialty camp dubbed the “Mountain Men”, a high adventure camp that culminated in a five day backpack trip through the Adirondack High Peaks.
In 1977 Bill worked as a High Adventure Instructor and Canoe/Backpack Trek Guide. Bill was one of the first to be trained as an Association of Adirondack Scout Camps “Voyageur”. Here’s how this training paid off:
Adirondack Adventure ‘77
The year 1977 was historically significant for the Curtis S. Read Scout Reservation. It was the first year for “Camp Summit” in old Camp Tomahawk area. The previous summer it was running as a “High Adventure” program area in Camp Buckskin. I was the Buckskin Dining Hall Steward in 1976 but spent most of my free time at the area lobbying for my dream job at camp - a High Adventure Staff position. My diligence paid off as I was hired the following year.
I was a provisional camper in Tomahawk from 1971 through 1974. During that time, I developed a love for the Adirondacks fueled by the backpacking trips to Pharaoh and Whortleberry. The culmination of my camp experience was the “Mountain Men”, a specialty camp held in the Fourth Period of my last year (camp ran four 2-week periods back then). Much of the development for the High Adventure programs came from the Mountain Men and Aquatics specialty camps of that era. In 1975, I was selected to attend a month-long canoe camp in Northern Ontario, Canada as the guest of one of my Home Troop’s former Scoutmaster (story for another time). It was there that I honed my skills in canoe trekking.
In the spirit of the Specialty Camps of the early ‘70s, we wanted to do something big for the Fourth Period. “Adirondack Adventure ‘77” was the name given to a 2-week combination canoe and backpack trip through the heart of the Adirondacks. It was set up as a provisional troop and we ended up with about 10 participants. Area maps and guidebooks were consulted before coming up with the route. However, there was a flaw in our plan.
Tom Sensenig was the lead guide and I was his assistant. Tom is an outdoorsy type (think Grizzly Adams) who was brought on during the Second Period to iron out some “growing pains” that the Summit Staff was going through. He was a pleasure to work with and had a great sense of humor. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that without Tom’s help, Camp Summit may not have survived the summer and who knows what the future would have looked like. I digress… now back to the story.
The trip was to start paddling at Blue Mountain Lake after a visit to the Adirondack Museum. The plan was to work our way to Raquette and Forked Lakes and end up on Long Lake. There we would re-stock, drop off the canoes and start backpacking. The backpacking portion was the same route as we did with the Mountain Men in 1974: the trek would start on a portion of the Northville-Placid trail, traversing the various rivers, brooks and ponds into the High Peaks. The high point of the trip (literally) would be on top of Mount Marcy and the group would end at the Adirondack Mountain Club Lodge at Heart Lake.
Blue Mountain Lake to Long Lake
I remember it was a cold and misty start to the trip, paddling into a head wind through Blue Mountain Lake (perhaps foreshadowing what was to come). The next few days went along without incident until we reached the end of Raquette Lake. Tom and I were in the lead canoe of our fleet of brand new canoes, purchased specifically for the program. At the start of the waterway that connects Raquette and Forked, we saw white water.
After scouting the rapids,Tom and I determined that it shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate (even with our inexperienced crew - famous last words!) The most difficult section required passing through a small chute, immediately pivoting left to miss a large boulder followed by a hard-right thus avoiding the downstream eddy that followed. After taking our boat through unscathed, I proceeded downstream and waited as Tom stood on the large boulder to help guide the next boats through. The first two made it through but got soaked. The next two pairs made it through the chute and boulder maze but then managed to capsize their boats in the eddy despite Tom’s expert coaching (apparently there was some left side, right side confusion in all the excitement).
The next thing I saw was one of the packs floating downstream. Before I could yell “Didn’t you guys tie your packs in?”, it was obvious that they had because the center thwart of the canoe was still lashed to the pack (not a good sign). Next came the empty boat with the bow and the stern sticking high up out of the water, bent like a horseshoe. We dragged the canoes to shore to access the damages.
With Tom standing on the bow of the canoe and myself on the stern, we had the canoe balanced like a see-saw on a log. Just about this time, we noticed some people on shore taking pictures of our efforts as we attempted to straighten it out (I wish now I had asked them to send me copies of the photos). They then told us that there was canoe carry around the rapids that we’d (somehow) missed in our planning stages. Whoops!
We were able to get the aluminum canoe straight enough to paddle, re-attached the center thwart with nylon parachute cord and patched the holes with first aid tape and candle wax (at least we followed the Scout Motto - Be Prepared). The other capsized boat was also in need of some repair… and did I mention that these were brand-new canoes? We got underway after the repairs and thankfully no one was injured (other than the guides already questionable reputations). Everything got quite wet, including most of the sleeping bags but we had a remedy for that too.
Buttermilk Falls & Long Lake
A highlight of the Canoeing portion of the trip was swimming at Buttermilk Falls. It lies between Forked Lake and Long Lake and we knew of the carry around that section. The falls had some nice rocks and pools that were perfect for cooling off. It wasn’t that we didn’t get wet enough earlier that day, but this time had our bathing suits on and while less exciting, it was actually fun.
We arrived at our camping spot along Long Lake late in the afternoon but still had the problem of the wet sleeping bags. Tom and I decided to take the wet bags to the town laundromat while the rest of the group got dinner together. It was about a 20-minute paddle and another 15-minute walk up the hill. When we got to the place, they were just about to close. We explained the situation, they were nice enough to stay open for us. The “adventure” continued even on what should have been a nice quiet paddle back to the campsite. It was nearly dark when we got back to the boat and on the return trip we could hear a plane coming down the lake. The plane was heading for the village and just missed hitting us. We had dodged yet another bullet, and everyone had dry bags to sleep in.
The next day we met up with the re-supply truck and trailer that would take the canoes back to Camp Read. Bob Newton, the Camp Ranger was driving the truck. Earlier in the story, I had mentioned that the canoes we had wrecked were brand new. Bob takes tremendous pride in everything about camp and he makes sure that you will respect the camp equipment or there will be hell to pay. Knowing that, I was fearful of what Bob would say about the damaged canoes and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint him. When I told him about the incident and he inspected the boats, his first reaction was “Jesus!” and then after a pause, cocked his head to the side and said, “was anyone hurt?” I told him thankfully no and he replied, “well, that’s all that matters”. He never spoke to me about the incident again. It was then that I fully understood the kind of man Bob is and why so many hold him in high regard.
Northville to Placid Trail: Mt. Marcy
The Backpacking leg was less adventurous than the canoeing portion but none the less memorable. If anyone has ever hiked in the High Peaks during the 70s it can be summed up in one word, MUDDY! If I recall correctly our week was also quite wet. The fact that no one had properly bathed or done laundry (other than the sleeping bags) in more than a week and the wet conditions, most of our clothing, equipment, and crew started to smell like wet dogs. The only saving grace that we all were in the same condition. It also meant that we didn’t have much company when we camped.
Tom and I did decide to take one deviation from the intended course (here we go again!). The trail around Henderson Pond takes a sharp dip to the South before meeting up with the trail from the Upper Works and then heads Northeast up Calamity Brook. We figured we could save some time (again famous last words) by bushwhacking between the trails. The terrain was easy going by High Peaks standards and it also led to an awesome discovery.
Upper Works in Newcomb is an old iron mining community dating back to the 1820’s. During the bushwhack,Tom kicked something that had a hollow, metallic sound to it. He stopped to investigate and dug up an old cast iron kettle from the mid-1800s. He wanted to keep the artifact and decided to tie it to the top of his pack. The problem was whenever Tom would move the wrong way; the heavy metal pot would clunk him in the head. Nonetheless, he was determined to bring this trophy home and the bump on his head was a small price to pay.
The group ended up socked-in by the weather at Flowed Lands for a full day before we could get to climb Marcy. If the rain continued, we would be forced to abandon our plan to climb Mt Marcy. Fortunately, the weather cleared in time for us to summit Marcy. It was well worth the wait - it’s hard to match the awesome views from the top. It was all downhill from there (literally) and we made it to Adirondack Lodge (and welcome hot showers) without further incident.
I went on to become an Adirondack Voyageur and guided many canoe treks in years that followed. Never again did I miss a carry and consequently didn’t wreck any more canoes. I still love the Adirondacks and venture off in its wilderness every chance I can. Tom went on to work for the US Forest Service and still has the cast iron kettle in his possession.
I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed thinking about those days and writing about it.
August 29, 2020
Snorkeling and Staff Hunts in 2021: Things to do in the meantime
I woke up this morning and thought to myself, today would be the beginning of Week Five at camp. As the summer has progressed, thinking about what would be on the camp schedule has been nearly a daily occurrence. In the mornings, I have often remembered some of the daily wakeup call music that has been played in recent years in the staff area, and at least once “heard” in my mind the morning bugle calls played by the troop I spent several summers with between my years on camp staff. Having spent seventeen other summers on staff since 1982, and most recently, the last five years as Director of what is now the fourth camp on the reservation (STEM Ranch), the camp oriented summer calendar has become an ingrained part of my time orientation. I would guess many of you have had similar thoughts and memories based on the magic of time at Camp Read.
Even before the State of New York decided not to allow resident summer camps to open this year, it was rightly decided Camp Read could not open this year. Doing this has kept us safe from the spread of COVID at camp, but the camp experience has been greatly missed. 2019 celebrated 100 years for Camp Read, but I understand camp was forced to close during WWII. Since then, camp has held over seventy years of continuous service with varied season lengths. My understanding is that camp consisted of 4 two-week sessions many years ago. I recall during the 1980’s there were years when a seventh week of camp was open for a variety of specialty camps (featured in Boy’s Life during that era), and a few years ago, camp was forced to close at the end of Week Five due to the Norovirus. Despite other changes, difficulties and losses that have occurred at camp, each time our summer home has reopened with a fresh perspective and commitment to maintain its many traditions. When the Buckskin Dining Hall completely burned, countless people responded by getting the former Tomahawk Dining Hall operational to keep camp open and the following year a more efficient and tremendous new building became part of the camp identity. There was a year when CIT’s were sent home early to save money (believe it or not), but now the program is bigger, has a dedicated director and camp site, and provides a more comprehensive and well-rounded training experience. Long time staff have moved on leaving memories of people who gave 110% and had great influence on all at camp. Many of them have continued to support camp, and new leading characters have stepped up. Other changes that may have been “losses” to those before them, but replacements and improvements have made camp better. Do any of you remember the old camp switchboard at Central Office? Having spent a full week 24/7 in the office to answer outside calls and connect phones in camp, the new communication systems are more reliable with greater utility. Trees that were once landmarks have regrown, or become improved spaces for a better program. Next year, camp will reopen and the campless summer will be part of camp history.
During the past thirty-eight days and now, feelings about camp are a range of emotions like those when you can’t go home. This year, we have experienced a reverse of homesickness. I’d call it camp sickness, but camp is home. As I have coped with this void in my life, I have often thought of the people I’d likely be in contact with during the summer. They include – other staff, scouts, leaders, adult volunteers, and a variety of friends from past years at camp. The availability of cell phones and different online forums has given some relief by contact with others having similar thoughts, recollections and reactions. It doesn’t replace camp, but offers a dose of meaningful contact and positive connection with what we know our “normal” lives should be.
As long as all of us wear our masks, maintain social distance, stay clean, and take care of ourselves, in ten months camp will open again in whatever form the normal/normal takes. “Normal” is not always associated with camp compared to life off the reservation, so feel free to substitute it with the word “usual” or “typical”, although many of our memories are based on the “unusual” (you know what and who you are). Maybe next year would better be defined as a return to the usual unusual? Either way, it will again be a powerful and magical experience for those who are fortunate to spend another visit, or season at camp. My box of camp t-shirts and other items is in a trunk ready to go forty-six weeks from now.
In the meantime, there are many things you can do to get through this awkward set of emotions at other places we might call home. While my wife has gotten used to having the house to herself during the summers, I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed to stay in the house, but a cot from camp under canvas would oddly offer a sense of comfort. At the same time, I haven’t been compelled to find one and spend a night with the crinkly noises and sound of sliding on a plastic mat, the sag of the net of wire links holding it up, and the pinch/bite of a cot spring. Skipping the experience of “sleeping” on a cot, there are some other ways to make it through the rest of the summer.
Here is a list of activities and experiences to have a sense of camp. Some may seem “artificial”, but remember camp is typically seen as the “real” world anyways.
Continue phone and electronic communications with others about camp and the wide array of related topics.
Set up and participate in a Google Meet, Zoom or other online gathering format (be sure to wear appropriate clothes and check the setting of your online image – there are some funny pics online of people who haven’t).
Read “Bears, Bible and a Boy – Memories of the Adirondacks” by Jesse David Roberts about his life on the current camp property. Copies of the book are rare, but it is online at pilgrimcamp.net. Go to https://www.pilgrimcamp.net/chapters-1-2.html to get started.
Read chapters from “For Joys We’ll Ne’er Forget: Curtis S. Read the Camp, the Reservation, the Complete History 1920-2009” (it is also identified as ISBN-10: 1441538259, or ISBN-13: 978-144538253). In addition to adding to your perspective of camp, you may also take some time to think about your role in the book (or other electronic forum) of camp history starting in 2010.
Go to the Camp Read Association website and read some of the earlier editions of this newsletter. The topics include a variety of historical and legendary accounts, current association news (such as reunions and camp staff gatherings), updates on Association projects at camp, and an earlier newsletter included an article about a floating Mazda on Waubeeka Lake).
Check out an updated view of camp from the webcam on the barn at the New Farmhouse (now STEM Ranch). See https://www.wpcbsa.org/read/camp-read-webcam/
During the few years I was away from camp, I did coursework and internships for “Expressive Arts Therapy”. (Relevant note - While Art Therapy relies on an interpretation by someone else, Expressive Arts Therapy is based on the experience you have expressing your thoughts). Here are some ways you can experience camp in your own way. The process can provide powerful ways to get in touch, vent, contemplate, self-medicate, etc. in a productive and meaningful way. You might even consider sharing them in future newsletters (or donating artworks for the auction at the 2024 Reunion).
Create a video from past pics and clips (try it with comical narration, background music you associate with camp, or interject text of meaningful quotes).
Write, type or record a story about camp. See CampRead.org/stories for past experiences, fictional events, how camp changed your life, or any point of reference connected to your time at camp. Here are some prompts you could use to get started – During the summer of …, Everything was going well until …, The best part of camp is …, It was a good thing it didn’t …, The staff member who changed my life …
Create an infomercial about camp, a program area, etc. Or, a presidential campaign commercial endorsing Probee or the Buckskin Bear.
Make a list of things like – the ultimate camp staff dream team, reasons camp is better than my favorite theme park, the most likely staff member to …
Sketch a comic book of camp superheroes, their superpowers, adventures, and varied tales. You might have flying picnic tables, a reincarnated camp vehicle, an alpine slide from Summit (Camp Tomahawk) to Brant Lake, Buck the ultimate camp director, a wormhole through the Waubeeka Caves to another world or time, the STEM Ranch Robotic Rodeo, a time traveling Trek canoe, supercharged camp van or bus, talking trees or camp wildlife, or many things that might be considered “normal” at camp.
Draw or paint a picture based on your most iconic image of camp. To make this easier, draw a grid over the image and another on your workspace to make it easier to create based on consistent proportions and placement of outlines.
Make a string marionette camp mascot with scraps of wood, clay or other objects to create the feet, body, hands and head. Each one can be tied to a t-shaped paddle made from two sticks or rulers. Between the suspended items, fabric can be stapled or glued to the suspended parts forming legs and arms. Then other things can be added to enhance the character of your marionette. When completed it can be hung up as a reminder of camp, used in a video, brought to camp for debut at a campfire, or passed along to someone who may appreciate a “piece” of the camp.
For those of you who are more electronically/application literate, a story can be written or animation made in collaboration with others from camp. This might be done as a live event, or through a series of additions when passed from one person to the next.
If music is a comfortable medium, time can be used to rehearse for future events with other people from camp, or maybe create a new song based on your own lyrics.
Another productive use of time could be the production of something to be used at camp. Consider a device/object for use in a campsite or program area, make a model or display to be used as a visual aide for merit badge instruction, and other objects to be used at camp in the future. While the item may not be as expressive, the process, time spent and contribution can be a rewarding use of your time.
The resources and ideas above may help make the summer social distance from family and life at camp less difficult. Find a way to “experience” a part of camp that is most comfortable and enjoyable for yourself. My usual excuse for using time to get in touch with activities like those listed above is “it is cheaper than therapy”. Writing this article has been one of my ways to stay balanced and get a piece of camp. My hope is you may have identified with some part of this, to make your time away from “home” at camp a little easier.
During 2021, the masks at camp will be used for snorkeling and lifesaving, and social distance will be time for yourself or running from scouts during a staff hunt. See you then.
July 6, 2020 (Burnsville, MN)
Fog in the Kitchen!
Standing outside the Tomahawk Dining Hall waiting for the flag raising and breakfast, campers and staff would look up and see Mt Stevens in all its glory in the background. Occasionally, the morning fog would roll in, thick as pea soup, and the mountain would disappear. It was then that the Tomahawk Acting Company  would jump in and react in a panic. The mountain had disappeared and possibly been stolen or abducted by aliens. We also knew that when the morning fog burned off it would be a great day.
It also needs to be said that among the toughest tasks for a Camp Director is finding a food service that would deliver in the middle of nowhere. Next, a cook to feed hundreds of campers and staff using a relatively ancient stove. Surviving on a diet of Cool Whip and Pringles Pop Chips would have been difficult to say the least.
Over the years, the Tomahawk Dining Hall had many cooks. The one I remember best was Teddy. He was a nice guy and very helpful (even if he did get the sugar and salt containers mixed up) but he was out of his element in the Adirondack wilderness.
It was a Sunday morning, in between camp sessions, and we were expecting the next group of campers that afternoon. I was in the dining hall with a project spread out on a table when Teddy came running out of the kitchen. He was complaining that he couldn’t cook because of “all the fog in the kitchen”. We went back into the kitchen and indeed the stove was shrouded in thick, fog-like smoke. The kitchen was on fire! The floor was burning underneath the huge cast iron stove in the center of the room. Teddy had taken the smoke to be the morning fog that occasionally covered Mt Stevens.
Things were a bit of a blur after that. We grabbed fire extinguishers, called the Brant Lake Fire Dept, and got the fire out. Dick Trier and I spent the rest of the day underneath the dining hall kitchen in the soot and charred timbers shoring up the floor, fighting the black flies and trying to keep the stove from dropping through the floor.
I never saw Teddy after that. He may have hopped on the camper bus back to civilization. It’s too bad he wasn’t a scout as a kid, I’ll bet he really would have enjoyed his time at Camp Read.
About the Scout:
Bob Gwinn, Eagle Scout 1964, Troop 69 Manlius, Onondaga Council, Syracuse, NY. Camp Read Staff 1967, '68, '69 in various capacities and Assistant Reservation Director in 1974. I was not a scout in WPC and actually it was Washington Irving in the 60's when I first went to camp. I was a member of Manlius Troop 69. Manlius is the town where Green Bar Bill (Bill Hillcourt) retired. After I graduated from college I started my career in education as a teacher at Fox Lane Middle School in Bedford, NY and continued to work with the scouts at the council and district level. I think my work with the scouts helped me get the teaching job. I did my Woodbadge at Schiff Scout Reservation (the national camp where the founders hung out!) in 1973. The program was not as well known back then and only a few scouters got involved. Frank Turnbull was my mentor.
I've stayed involved in scouting now for 60+ years. My son is an Eagle Scout and my granddaughter is well on her way to achieving the same.
11516 Galtier Dr
Burnsville, MN 55337
1. The Tomahawk Acting Company was not a theater group but rather members of the staff who put together some amazing skits and programs in and out of the dining hall. Jim Smith was the camp director and he assembled an amazing group including myself,Tom Dietz, Denis Pisanello, Trier, Dan Rile and others who were provisional scoutmasters. Our repertoire included Uncle jokes, walk ons, Stubby Scout (Trier +), Little Nell, songs with guitars, Jim's Lion Hunt and inspirational stories, and many old time staff members who came back as Special Guests to do their special thing or song, such as Ken Hadermann and "Master Musician from Curtis Read".*
2. Back in the 60's General Foods in White Plains would send their surplus or trial food products up to camp. When Cool Whip first came out we had all we could use and more. If you wanted to you could put jello on your Cool Whip bowl instead of the other way around. Pringles Pop Chips were not the Pringles potato chips you see today. They were cone shaped, like Bugles, and probably made out of corn. Apparently they couldn't be sold as the butter fat content was too high. At least that's the story we were told. All I know is the raccoons wouldn't even eat them.
*The Master Musician
"I am a master musician and I come from Curtis Read.
I can play on my (violin, trumpet, drum etc)"
Then Ken would dance and prance around the dining hall playing the instrument and for the good of the camp, you had better make sure you played along!
What a show!
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.