Our Scoutmaster Remembers One Unforgettable Camping Trip in 1957
It was a winter hike weekend like many others we had taken. A few inches of snow covered the ground as Mr. Paul Galanka & Mr. Arnold Sward parked their cars on the near Shore of China Lake in Putnam County. We were to hike across the frozen lake to camp in a really run down shack on the hillside of the opposite shore ( e.g. It had a very leaky roof and since the footings were settling with age the entire shack was tilted toward the lake at about a 30 degree slope to the floor). This was a favorite spot, however, which we called “Mr. Chater’s Place” after the senior member of West Center Church, Yonkers who let us camp there whenever we wanted. This was a Friday of a 3 day weekend outing that was forthcoming.
It was a special weekend for me as I was to cook for everyone as the final requirement for Cooking Merit Badge….which I needed to complete for my Eagle Scout Award.
Although snow was forecast, my friend John Slater & myself decided to “rough it” outdoors. Since everyone else opted to the “cabin” we had a dozen WWII “shelter halves” which we buttoned together into a real “Taj mahal” under the hemlocks. Everything was going well until we awoke in the wee hours of Friday night when our tent caved in under the weight of a few feet of new snow that had fallen as we slept. Wet with snow we de-camped into the shack for the rest of the night.
The next morning, I awoke to cook breakfast for everyone. A few problems were readily apparent: the eggs were frozen into rocks as was the butter and the milk. Scrambled eggs were prepared with a hatchet!
It was still snowing with a total “white out” so Mr. Galanka decided it was time to call the weekend over and head for home. We would leave all our gear where it lay and depart with maximum haste since no end to the snow was in sight. That was when it was determined that Mr. Sward was having a heart attack!!! A few of us were dispatched across the frozen lake---now waste high with snow still accumulating by the minute! We were to call 911 at the neighbor’s home where we had parked the cars and ask for an ambulance to be dispatched. We were then to return with this neighbor’s toboggan sled to evacuate Mr. Sward across the lake.
With great difficulty this was accomplished and by the time we arrived at the house with Mr. Sward bundled in the sled, the ambulance had mercifully arrived with chains on the tires and flashing lights flashing through the still dense snow falling.
Next was the chore of digging out Mr. Galanka’s 1948 Ford …which was only big enough for the driver and 4 passengers…but now we had two carloads of Scouts since Mr. Sward was no longer driving & none of us had driver’s licenses. We put on the chains on the Ford’s tires by lying in the fender high snow; got the car started due to Mr. Galanka’s automotive expertise. Another problem presented itself: the windshield wiper of the old Ford could not move the snow as fast as it was falling. So while Mr. Galanka drove to the Brewster NY Central Railroad station ( it was a cinch we weren’t going to make it home by car!) myself and one other Scout had to lean out both right & left front car windows and pull the wipers back & forth with our shoe-laces that we had tied to each wiper arm. Let me tell you, that was one cold drive!
When we arrived at the Brewster station, we parked the car and entered the station to wait for the next southbound train to arrive. At the payphone we called home to my parents who then set about organizing a few other parents to drive to the Bronxville Station to meet us when our train arrived.
Since this was a camping trip, Mr. Galanka was the only one with a wallet & money to speak of. We sat there in the station and pooled every last cent to buy our train tickets…when we were through we had a few pennies & nickels to spare but everyone had a ticket home.
On those old NY Central trains they had fabulous heaters in the passenger cars; we quickly stripped off every piece of wet clothing that we could and still stay decent for the other passengers. There were clothes hanging everywhere…it looked like a refugee train from Dr. Zhivago!!!
Arriving home we fell into bed that Saturday night knowing that we had been resourceful and survived!
The following day we received a phone call that Mr. Sward was doing fine in the local hospital….and that was the beginning of the “goof” that went around Troop 4 that “it was Howard’s great cooking that gave Mr. Sward his heart attack!”
The next weekend we went back to Mr. Chater’s Place and uncovered & recovered all our gear; the lake was still waist high in snow so that was no simple task although the bright sunny day was cheerful enough…. Until I realized, as the cars were almost fully packed, that I had neglected to get my hatchet from the shack. Since this was a sentimental item given to me by my father from his Scouting days, back across the lake I went to recover this last item. By then we had a fairly packed trail across the lake so it was easier going. AND To this day, whenever I backpack on a snowy winter weekend, my mind invariably goes back to those two memorable days in 1957 with Troop 4 at Mr. Chater’s Place.