As we can see in this 1953 photograph from Baumgartner’s Campground on the South Fork of the Boise River, my folks were most resourceful at draping our canvas tarps over lodgepole pine frames to provide shade and keep out rain and frost. In the early 1950s we also had the small stand-alone tent you can see in the far left of this photo.
Tent was seldom used, only providing shelter on rainy nights. Otherwise sleeping under the stars and the whispering trees was what mountain campgrounds were for. Or so I assumed at six years of age. It well could have been our family of five had already outgrown being in the tent except to crowd together to escape inclement weather.
In my last Car Camping episode I told of my dad taking me along when he visited Pioneer Tent and Awning in downtown Boise. I spent my time amazed at the cash carriers zipping around the ceiling. My dad was spending his time giving measurements and specifics for a very large tent to be made from heavy canvas. That is what Pioneer Tent and Awning did at the time — they made things from canvas and leather.
Dad’s tent was designed to accommodate our five army-surplus cots and have room to walk around as well as space to store supplies we did not want to get wet. He also specified that the tent was to have vertical walls rising some four feet above the ground rather than be sloped all the way to the earth. There was no floor.
Dad made the rafter and three poles to support the tent as well as the ropes and spikes to keep the tent anchored and in shape.
The genius of those walls along the sides of the tent became apparent the first time it warmed up on a campground afternoon. Dad pushed up the walls and held them in place with sticks he had fashioned just long enough to do the job. While Mother read to us we enjoyed a delightful breeze while lolling in the shade under the hot canvas.
It was in that tent my sisters and I learned not to touch canvas when it is being rained on. Just the least brush on the wet canvas would cause drips, drips, drips that did not cease until the canvas had throughly dried. We had to adjust the location of our cots a few times but we caught on!
My dad worked full time for Idaho Power Company. He and Mom also operated a rental business out of our home. Or should I say they made a home in the machine shop of the rental business? Half the building was home and half shop.
The business rented a selection of trailers and two Ford tractors including a variety of implements to fit the tractors.
Dad observed that if he didn’t have trailers he’d have to drive a pickup truck so he could haul things. Our camping gear being an example.
It was the 1950s and light weight camping supplies were not an option. We’d be in the Idaho back country for a week and went well supplied for five people and a dog or two. Many of those trips we took off with pack horses to spend time in the wilderness and sometimes we’d just spend the time in a Forest Service campground. But even when we were in the wilderness we’d have a base camp that stayed behind, fully set up.
The first photos I have of our camps is from 1952, when my Dad bought a good camera and light meter. We’d wait for him to set all the adjustments and later look at the slides on the screen he unrolled like an upside down window shade. I remember the smell of that screen as it was pulled from its metal canister.
The next few Car Camping blogs will show how we roughed it through those hot days and cold nights in the outback.
The school at Buck Brook Farm had one large van for when special events were attended by multiple students and staff. In case I was ever the only staff member willing or able to venture on such events I was sent to the county DMV office to get a chauffeur’s license. Even without proper cap and livery, this lanky twenty-five year old from the hippie school managed to pass.
The only time I remember actually chauffeuring anyone in that extended van was to some event a hundred miles to the south — in the center of Manhattan Island. !
I had observed drivers in Manhattan, both as a passenger and a pedestrian. Zero to fifty between lights was the expected response to a green signal. And drivers were immediately responsive to your signal to change lanes but you better jump into that space they gave you or it was assumed you’d never mover over and the space was closed. The space was, after all, a good foot longer than your car!
By 1970 I had driven in Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle and San Francisco. What could be so different with driving a small bus filled with teenagers into Manhattan? I wasn’t even on a surface street when I found out.
The divided highways toward town turned into the West Side Elevated Highway — a crowded freeway squeezed between the Hudson River and the towering apartment buildings of the upper east side. Like everyone else I was keeping some eight feet behind the vehicle in front of me. Like everyone else I was going some fifteen miles over the speed limit, maybe 70 but it felt like 100.
And then the pavement just wasn’t there.
The car in front of the big van was still there. The car behind the big van was still there. But there was no pavement there. Just squares of rebar.
And between the squares of rebar were deep potholes of beat up concrete.
Without hesitation the van dropped some two inches off the surface of the road and began rattling out a very fancy rendition of Riverdance across steel squares and deep potholes.
This went on for some eighty feet before our tires hit the sharp two-inch edge that returned us to smooth concrete roadway, slamming the suspension hard into the van’s undercarriage.
It was Manhattan Island, folks. Shutting down the West Side Highway to fix a Manhattan-sized pothole sure would have messed up the commute.
As to me? I came away with an entirely new respect for the technology that goes into building four tires to survive city driving.
PS: Wikipedia tells me the West Side Elevated Highway was built between 1929 and 1951. In 1973, three years after our Manhattan adventure, the highway was shut down “due to neglect and lack of maintenance…” It was dismantled in 1989. Its replacement was completed in 2001.
For several days Dad delighted in reading the manual for our new 1952 Cadillac and discovering all the new features of this luxury “automobile” — versus all the “puddle jumpers” out there.
The first night the Caddy was home we kids were rousted out of our warm beds and led to the cold garage where he sat us in the front seat and pushed in the radio’s tuning knob. A motor’s rather loud whir had us discover the radio antenna rising out of the right side front fender. Pulling the knob out caused the same whir to make the antenna disappear back into the fender!
Dad’s excuse for buying the Cadillac was for its big V-8 engine, but an equally important feature was the heater. The heater blew out from under the front seat. The Manhattan had a heater unit hanging down under the dash on the front passenger’s side. All three of we kids would crowd on the front bench seat after a day sledding in the snow, usually crowding Mom onto the back seat. Having the heat come out from under the front seat meant both the front and back of the car had warm air blowing on our feet, so Mom no longer had to sacrifice so we kids could warm up.
Come to think of it, it was probably also a safety feature since Dad no longer had to drive on icy roads while being squashed against his door by three squirming kids.
When we returned to the horses after our jaunt to the top of Snowyside Peak we stopped for a snack and then pointed the horses toward the northwest, heading toward Pettit Lake. It wasn’t long before we passed Twin Lakes and then came to a large flat area beside Alice Lake. We were a half mile lower in altitude than we had been when on top of Snowyside Peak and the winds were passing over us from the other side of the mountains. It was late afternoon on a sunny August day. Time to pitch camp.
We kids gathered wood from the ground and dead snags hanging from the trees. Mom got dinner going. Dad laid out the tarp on which we blew up air mattresses and made our beds from the blankets that had been piled on the saddle bags atop the horses.
Yep, we carried blankets, not sleeping bags. But we did not carry pillows — a rolled up coat served just fine and it kept the coat warm for getting up on cold August mornings above 8,000 feet. Another trick we learned early in our Sawtooth hikes was to stuff the next morning’s clothes under the covers with us. It sure beat having to pull on freezing pants and shirts in the morning!
Once we were settled in Dad pulled the second tarp up over our beds to under our chins to keep off the dew. I remember falling asleep to the oily smell of that 1950s canvas tarp mixed with the fresh pine and cold and purity of mountain air. Bright silver stars filled the blackest of black sky.
The next thing I knew was waking to the smell of that tarp completely over my head. I pulled back the tarp to find two inches of snow blanketing every feature of a bright, sunny summer morning.
- Sasa Milo has an excellent post of his 2014 walk around the Alice – Toxaway Loop Trail, from which we accessed Snowyside Peak. His photos are way beyond what my dad was able to capture on the Kodachrome slides I have scanned for these posts. And he’s done a great job of capturing the little delights of the mountain trail as well as the majestic grandeur of the Sawtooth Mountains. His topographical map can’t be beat. CLICK HERE
• Here’s more on Fredlyfish4 who contributed the photo of Alice Lake.
Dad boosted my sister and I up the last four-foot vertical rock and we covered the final few feet to the tippy top of Snowyside Mountain. Dad then got right to work counting every one of those fifty-two lakes he had heard about and making sure it was true—you can see through the crystal clear water to the bottom of every single one!
My sister Vicky and I set right to work on the most important task of reaching the top of any peak in the Sawtooths — finding one of the boards that were always scattered about, getting out our pocket knives, and leaving our mark at the top of the world.
Some folks marked their arrival at the top of the world with an initial and perhaps a date or their age. Some made sure their name was complete along with other pertinent information like where they were from. I scratched a bit at my initials before putting that aside and checking out all those lakes. Vicky made sure her carvings were dug deep and would pass the test of weathering at ten thousand feet. But even she had time to check out the lakes before we headed back the same way we had come.
I doubt Vicky’s 1955 effort at permanence is still hanging around at the top of the fifth highest peak in the Sawtooth Mountains, so I’m passing witness here, in our modern means of recording our life’s summits.
~ Here are a few more of Dad’s slides from Snowyside Peak in 1955 ~
Arrowrock Dam on the Boise River was complete in 1915. For nine years it was the tallest dam in the world. It was built to hold back water to feed the newly completed New York Canal, the largest of the irrigation projects in the Boise Valley.
As a kid I was fascinated by the massive spillway that passes to the north of the dam. Unfortunately it seems running the spillway is tough on the bull trout that call Arrowrock Reservoir home and use of the spillway was curtailed some time ago.
Until this year. We have a record snowpack and it seems running the spillway has become an option!
I checked it out on Thursday, May 18, 2017 and sure enough the spillway was running! Here’s a little three-minute movie about it.
The day after I posted this video of the spillway running I checked the spillway out again. It has warmed up and the snowpack in the upper elevations is melting. The spillway is no longer running. It is gushing —
After our successful adventures skiing a mighty five foot drop in front of the old farm house, I set to finding a local ski area so everyone could experience their first ride on a chair lift.
This was 1969, long before the internet, and I don’t really remember just how I went about finding a place to ski somewhere near the western part of the Catskill Mountains. I suppose I hunted for ads in a magazine. I know you are far too young to remember them, but magazines were kind of paper blogs.
Regardless how I found it, I did come across what sounded like a superb hill. It was across the Delaware River in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. It was not a particularly large ski area, just one side of a rather short mountain, but it did have a chair lift running up the side of what looked like a fairly gentle slope. A first-time skiers paradise.
We packed into the van and headed on winding roads through the forests.
A surprise was in store.
It was a nice sunny day and the “ski resort” looked good as we drove in, a cozy lodge looking through the bare hardwood trees surrounding the groomed run.
I knew from their brochure there was only one run. Yet I was immediately struck by how small this “ski mountain” was. Perhaps a 700 foot drop. And, yep, there was an actual chair lift packing people up the left side of the open run. On the other side of the run was something I had never seen — a line of snow making guns running the full length of the run.
Between the lift and the guns was an treeless hillside some 500 feet wide.
And that was it! The entire “ski mountain”!
But it was a ski area all the same and we were all glad to be adventuring. I parked. We opened the doors. And instantly my second shock at skiing the Poconos came rattling through my brain.
Take a hill full of folks skiing. Add two metal skis to everyone on the hill. And then make the hill a dome of ice.
Not snow, which dampens the sound of skis. Especially metal skis.
The racket was astounding. Amazing. A thousand small caliber rapid fire machine guns would have been drowned out by the sputtering clanks of chattering skis echoing over the countryside.
During a break from skiing the good folks in the lodge explained the snow cannons were not run on the weekends so the skiers can enjoy the run. We were there on a weekday.
We all learned how hard it is to fall on ice. And what it is like to move through a fog of blasting ice crystals spewing from water cannon. And we never went skiing again.
I got to Buck Brook in the fall of 1969 and it wasn’t long before the snow was gathering. Having been raised at the base of a ski mountain in the West, the staff and students figured I’d make an excellent ski instructor.
“Just take the kids out to the hill in front of the farm house …” was the Head Master’s solution to finding a place to get ski legs under folks from ten to twenty-two.
Well. The “hill” in front of the farm house was about fifty feet long. The snow by this time was close to two feet of powder. Less than a third of the the “hill” in front of the house was steep enough to pull skies through that much fluff.
But you ski what there is to ski. So we got together on a sunny afternoon after rounding up boots and skis and poles. Kids and staff figured out the double-laced leather boots of the time and got somewhat used to tromping through snow in stiff boots while carrying awkward equipment to the front of the farm house. They struggled with the cable bindings, the bane of “safety” requirements until step-in bindings were developed. And we lined up on top of the hill.
I don’t remember having much to say but am sure I explained some principles of the snowplow turn. Mostly I remember just pointing my skis downhill and letting ‘er rip.
I’ve never been much of a powder skier and don’t know why I didn’t think to have everyone sidestep down the hill to pack the snow. The run was perhaps fifteen seconds long but enough to have me thinking this just might be a lesson that turns everyone off to skiing.
I stopped and turned and watched as Chaney, another staff member, turned to the hill, held her poles out, and started to slide. Within two feet she was in trouble and within four she was making a spectacular display of flying snow covering her face and getting into every possible opening of her less-than-ski-worthy warm clothes.
A complete disaster. What was I doing? What to do now? Failure, failure, failure.
Then Chaney popped up out of her white lump in the snow and declared,
“THAT WAS FUN ! ! !”
Everyone immediately pointed their skis downhill, held out their poles, and let the snow fly.
By the end of the day I was looking for the closest ski hill for a soon-to-enjoy outing.