Buck Brook #26: Undies in a Bunch

The summer of 1969, while I was exploring the Catskill Mountains of New York State, Merle Haggard and his band The Strangers were touring the Midwest. Years later I heard a radio interview with a band member. He told of passing a doobie around the bus when he saw an exit sign for a town in Oklahoma. He casually remarked, “l bet they don”t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.”

The guys on the bus had a good time coming up with things folks don’t do in Muskogee—and things they do do!

In late September, 1969, Merle Haggard and the band released a new album called Okie from Muskogee. The title song, written by Haggard and drummer Roy Burris, was at the top of  Billboard’s Hot County Hits by November 15th. It stayed there for four weeks. Indeed, Okie from Muskogee is still recognized as a “redneck anthem.” (See Wikipedia)

The next summer, with the Vietnam War (and the protests against it) still in full swing, we staff and students from Buck Brook Farm headed out to enjoy a local Catskills fair. When we got out of the van our “beads and Roman sandals,” much less our “hair all long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco,” left no doubt we were from “that alternate school” everyone had heard about.

Fortunately we were known for not causing neighbors trouble and we paid our bills on time, so we had a good reputation. The afternoon was spent checking out exhibits, rides and fair food, with no disrespect shown between anyone. 

Then came the evening dance—

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—the event where everyone gathered at the same place.

We Buck Brook bunch joined in dancing to the local band as it thumped away at well known standards from the forties and the fifties as well as many of the new songs folks were listening to on the radio that summer. After a half hour the band struck up, “I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee.” Everyone knew it was coming.

I glanced around the crowd and saw many adult spines straighten up, like seeing “Old Glory down at the Court House.” And many of those folks were staring at we bunch of hippies!

My reaction? I hate to admit it but I was raised knowing I was homosexual in the 1950s and my default response was to be challenged and afraid.

The students? Every one of them immediately gave out a joyous cheer, jumped to their feet and danced with abundant joy, their hair shagging wild in the air. All the other kids joined in. It is a great dance tune, after all.

We “adults” got over our bunched up undies, got a grin on our face, and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

I was so proud of those kids.

Car Camping #8: A Specific Tent

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. 

7 1953 Baumgartner

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. 

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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!

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Buck Brook #25: Adirondack Posh

Having spent my summers in the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, I was not sure what to expect of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. 

I was aware of the Adirondack’s reputation. Native Americans knew the damp, cold hills as the Dismal Wilderness and early European explorers figured they were right. The Romantic Movement of the 1800s, however, found the remoteness to be nature’s haven from the evils of industrialization. Romantic art bathed the morning mists in glowing reds and yellows. Popular poets and essayists inspired adventurers back to our primitive selves. Summer camps sprang up. 

Me? In the summer of 1970? Well, I didn’t expect it to be the young Western mountains I knew from the Sawtooths, with a maximum altitude of 10,751 feet. And I knew the Adirondacks (maximum altitude 5,344 feet) were a more rugged area than the beautiful Catskill Mountains (4,180 feet) where I had spent the last year. 

Me? Between curiosity and new adventure, I was all in. 

The Romantics were right when they painted the Adirondacks. The scenery is stunning and the air is as bracing as any I have enjoyed on a mountain morning.

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Even with all the glory of nature, however, what has stuck with me over the years was discovering how two centuries of providing the wilderness experience has left the “campgrounds.”

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Heading into the upper Adirondacks where we knew there was a place to make a base camp, my thoughts were a site with a designate fire pit and a trampled down area to toss a sleeping bag. Just like every other wilderness campground I had ever encountered. To my surprise a house was waiting for us!

OK. In the Adirondacks it was called a “lean-to.” But to me it was a three-sided house. It had a wood floor. It faced a well constructed rock fire pit that included seating on rocks and logs. And the structure was thoughtfully placed with its back to the wind. 

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A flat spot to sleep with no rocks or roots poking through sleeping bags? Protection from wind and rain and morning dew provided with a solid roof? 

Now that’s Adirondack posh!

Car Camping #7: Store of Marvels

Somewhere in my kid-hood, I’m thinking between eight and ten years old, I remember Dad taking me along when he went to Pioneer Tent and Awning. It must have been 1954 or so. The large store was on Main Street at 6th in downtown Boise. 

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I had no idea what Dad was doing there but I discovered three things: One, the building had a very cool white horse on the roof. Two, on entering the shop the smell of leather and oiled canvas opened my nostrils as my lungs drew in as much of that heavy aroma as I could manage. And third, there were wires hanging all over the ceiling. 

It was the strangest ceiling I had ever seen.

Just then a little jar zipped along one of the wires, whipped around a corner, and landed in what looked like an office on the balcony overlooking the first floor. I followed those wires back to the other end where each wire stopped at a different sales desk. Thanks to as much attention as a boy can muster in a new store it wasn’t long before I saw a clerk put papers in a jar, screw the jar to a lid attached to one of the wires, and pull down on a wooden handle attached to the wire with a short rope. 

The jar flew with amazing force and was slamming to a stop in the office in no time! From then on all I did was wait for another paper with payment to be sent whizzing to the office to be processed. Yes, even at that age I deduced the wire system replaced having cash registers being responsible for collecting payments. Who would have thought of such a thing? 

Writing this account, I learned the jars zipping around the ceiling were an early version of the pneumatic tubes banks now use to get cash and payments from our cars to the teller. Called Cash Carriers, the version in Pioneer Tent and Awning was a Wire Carrier. The mechanism the clerks used to send the containers zipping to and fro is called a catapult. 

If you ask me stores should still have wires catapulting jars around the ceiling if only to keep kids busy while mom and dad shop. Like I said, this is for the kids. I promise I won’t be standing in your way gawking at the ceiling.

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PS – I couldn’t help but give more information on Wire Carriers. Here is the Wikipedia link.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash_carrier.

PPS – I tried to find a good video of a Wire Carrier in motion. Alas, dear reader, you’ll have to search for one yourself. 

But I did find this most satisfying homily to The Rise and Fall of the Cash Railway. I am not the only child hanging on to the magic of those flying jars. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Dylan Thomas and many others have paid homage. 

The article also describes a fairly common disaster I had not thought of. It reprints a 1903 article from New Zealand involving a proper patron bringing her “big handsome dog” into a large dry good store during the Christmas rush. The dog had been trained as a pointer and was perfectly behaved. Then the patron’s cash went zipping to the cashier. 

I can only imagine if our completely undisciplined dog Flip had joined my Dad and I at Pioneer Tent and Awning …  

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-cash-railway

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Buck Brook #24: Adirondacks Abuzz

In the summer of 1970 one of the Buck Brook staff planned a hiking trip in the Adirondack Mountains. The Adirondacks are fabled for their beauty and only 200 miles north of the Catskills where our campus was located so a half dozen of the students and I jumped at the chance to join him.

Catskills Location

Catskill location

I have no idea where we drove to in the Adirondacks or what trailhead we parked at or what mountains we went off to climb. But I well remember our plan — we’d arrive at the trailhead too late to make it to our permanent base camp so we planned to walk for an hour or so, set up an overnight camp, and the next day reach a high altitude camp where we could leave our eighty pound packs and adventure out to explore different peaks. 

It was a pleasant day when we parked at the trailhead and we all enjoyed a trek up a slight slope until we came to a wide meadow near water. We had walked for an hour and a half after a long ride in the van and were glad to roll out our sleeping bags. 

Then the slapping began. And the waving. And the dancing and cursing. The mosquitos had found us and had told all their friends a most tasty picnic had conveniently brought itself to them.

So many mosquitoes were an assault on the expectations I had from having been raised in the desert climate of southern Idaho. There was no way I was going to be in mosquito infested mountains for a week with no repellent so I volunteered to head back to the van, get to the nearest town, and stock up on spray. 

One of the students said he’d trot along and off we went. 

Beating the approaching dusk and traveling without heavy packs we covered that trail in record time, found five or six cans of repellent, and got back to camp before dark. Everyone was glad to help empty some of the spray, saving plenty for the rest of our journey. 

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The next morning we sprayed ourselves, broke camp, and started the four or five hour hike to find an appropriate base camp. Within twenty minutes we noticed there was not a mosquito to be heard. Day after day and night after night we never encountered another annoying high-pitched buzz. Only when walking back through the very spot we had camped the first night were we confronted by that annoying sound. It didn’t last long enough to bother unpacking the cans of repellent. 

Yes, we did have to add those cans of spray to the weight on our backs for the entire trip. But I was still glad the two of us had made that extended dash.

Car Canping #6: 1952 & ’53

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.

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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. 

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Buck Brook #23 – Gassed

Once a week at Buck Brook Farm we gathered together and committed GI. Don’t ask me what the term “GI” had to do with scrubbing the kitchen, but gather and scrub we did.

On one such gathering several students and I were assigned to the walk-in cooler and it came time to mop the concrete floor. 

I’ve always been dedicated to doing a good job while using as little time and effort as possible. I had also learned ammonia is great for cutting grease and bleach can’t be beat for sanitizing surfaces. Bleach also has the advantage of turning things white, a selling point when getting concrete to look clean. So, several good of glugs of both ammonia and bleach went splashing into the mop water.

I was rewarded with a medium boil immediately activating the mix and a noticeable mist rising from the bucket. 

Just then the the kitchen manager happened to need some help at the stove so I left my station and went to lend a hand. I was so proud of my cleaning concoction that I immediately told the manager about it, flourishing the story with how active the mop bucket was with the bubbles and mists.

And my reward for solving the war on grim and germ? — A kitchen manager dropping parts of the stove as she went screaming toward the walk-in. “Get out! Get out now,” she repeated as she ripped open the door and grabbed the mop bucket and scurried to the kitchen door. She dashed to the middle of the school’s driveway and threw the solution on the ground, all the while yelling, “stay away — stay away.”

Who would think my two favorite cleaning products would combine to produce chlorine gas? And that chlorine gas quickly damages lungs and can soon lead to death? 

Perhaps I should have paid more attention in eighth grade chemistry. 

In case you, dear reader, were distracted during those tender years, here’s a web site with helpful hints on what common products to avoid mixing. 

Personally the whole experience has me reluctant to mix chemicals the pharmaceutical industry tells me to toss down my gullet.

Car Camping #5: Low Rider

As soon as we got our new 1952 Cadillac with it’s powerful V-8 engine we were headed out on a camping trip to Atlanta, Idaho. With the trunk of the car stuffed and pulling a trailer loaded with canvas tent and tarps, cotton mattresses, wood-and-canvas army cots, canned food, cooking supplies and clothes we hit the rocky dirt road heading up the Boise river. 

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The operative word being “hit.” 

All was well until we were driving around Arrowrock Reservoir. We were some some thirty-five miles away from home and ten miles an a rocky dirt road. Dad noticed the gas gage going down much faster than he expected — and we started to smell gasoline. A quick stop on the narrow road and a check under the car revealed a steady little leak from the gas line, no doubt from the rock we had scrapped over. 

We drove another mile or so to find a place to turn the car and trailer around and headed back to Boise. Dad drove as fast as he dared, not wanting to rip another gash on the very rough road back to the highway. The road to Arrowrock Dam  had not been paved at the time. 

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Once we were on Highway 21 we made a dash to the Caddy dealer. The shop figured we had a teacup of usable gas in the tank when we arrived.

Now that I’m writing about it I wonder how worried my folks were about the gasoline spewing under a car with hot exhaust pipes. Glad I didn’t think of it at the time. 

At the time most cars had leaf springs in the rear, not coils like in the front. The next day Dad had two extra leaves installed on each side, giving our fine Cadillac the suspension of a truck. We never had to turn back from a trip to the mountains again. 

And that is how our luxury Cadillac always had its ass in the air, nose pointed down, as we toodled around town and drove the highways. Only when we were roughing it in the Idaho mountains did our Cadillac appear the way it was designed. 

Buck Brook #22 – Spilt Milk

I am ashamed of two times during my year at Buck Brook Farm. 

One was when I was driving the pickup on the back roads of the Catsill Mountains. There were three students in the bed of the truck and they were insisting on standing up, looking over the cab of the truck with the wind on their faces. Were they enjoying their inner motorcycle Wild Ones? Their inner tail-wagging, tongue-flapping happy Black Labs? 

I had said they need to sit down and I got pissed. I stomped on the brakes (not at a speed that could toss them out, just make them feel how dangerous it is) and I came storming out of the cab in a hissy fit worthy of the Church Lady catching her teens playing doctor. It was just stupid. The kids did sit down but I still see the look of “what a jackass you are on” their faces.

The second ridiculous fit was one afternoon when it was my turn to do the cooking. 

Students were generally banned from the kitchen unless they were doing chores and none of us were to eat from the kitchen other than at meals. How else could we know the kitchen would have supplies when it came time to feed everyone? 

While I was pulling large pans of chicken and sauces and rice around our commercial range one of the older students came in and headed to the walk-in cooler after having grabbed a drinking glass. As he opened the door I asked what he was up to and he said he wanted some milk. I told him he could wait until dinner. He rather shrugged that off, opened the door and started pulling the lid off the big metal can that held our cow’s milk. 

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As he reached for the ladle that hung next to the milk can I looked at a fellow staff member and commented that since he wants milk we should make sure he gets plenty. The other staff member got a twinkle in his eye and we picked up the milk can and poured the entire contents over the student’s head. And told him to clean it up.

Ya think we had one unhappy teenager on our hands?

He ran to the barn and started pulling on the cord that rang the fire engine’s brass bell, loud and clear for all to hear. That was the only time during my year at Buck Brook that a Community Meeting was called. Everyone came running to the library to settle a mutual crisis.

The student gave his case of my overreacting and I should clean up the mess. I stood my ground on being in charge of the kitchen. Students and staff voted and the student was not happy about walking back to the kitchen to clean up spilt milk.

When he finished and was walking back to the library I headed to the kitchen to finish dinner. We exchanged a smile in the hallway. I liked that guy and hoped my smile did not come off as a triumphant smirk. I also thought I could have just let him have a freaking glass of milk.

Several days later some of us were chatting and he said he had amazed himself as we passed in the hall that day. “All my life I’ve felt consumed with hate and anger when things like that don’t go my way. But I wasn’t upset with you at all. Not one bit. I think that’s cool.”

I have always been too impatient to be a good educator. But I guess my impatient jackassery did some good that day.

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Car Camping #4: The Cadillac #4, Engine Switch

The reason for buying the 1952 Cadillac was the car’s big V-8 engine. 

Our family had grown to five and our camping supplies were early 1950 technologies. Heavy canvas tents. Coleman stoves. Canned food and iron skillets. Supplies that once fit in the trunk now required a densely packed trailer. 

Cadillac V-8 engines were big, powerful and reliable. Just what we needed to get over the high summits of Idaho’s rugged Forest Service roads. Roads that still remain surfaced with the dirt and rocks the landscape provides. 

The greatest disappointment of the Caddie turned out to be that big engine.

After a few trips to the shop Dad mentioned how he was surprised at how unreliable the engine was. Sure, it was more reliable than the Model A Ford he had kept running for his folks through the 1930s and 40s. But it sure needed more fussing over than he had expected from a Caddie V-8.

The shop fessed up that the Cadillac motor factory had burned down shortly before our car was manufactured so General Motors had installed Buick motors. They had equal motor-mounts so were handy to toss in but they did not have the horsepower the car was designed for. 

Dad never agan bought a  GM product. 

(But I think the switch was his fondness for Mercurys — the first car he bought on his own.)