Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flashback - Camping Under the Stars

Originally posted: Friday, July 5, 2013

All of us who lived in Cabin 6 (all 10 cabins got their turn) during our two week stay at Indianapolis Boys Club Camp, near Noblesville, Indiana back in - I dunno, about 1958-9 somewhere - were lined up for this memorable photograph. I’m sure the photographer did it on speculation that he could sell copies to the moms and dads of the campers. This one would probably be destined as one of the only ones of it’s kind. Of all the years, my brothers and I were privileged to go to BCC Summer Camp, this is the only time I can remember that a photo was taken the day of our “first overnight camp-out” under the stars.

Oh. If you don’t count the tall man on the right and count toward your left, I’m the sixth kid in the line-up.

Fully equipped and ready to hike into the deep, dark woods for our first - ever - camp out under the stars.
The camp was located on a large, wooded parcel of land (I don’t know how many total acres) near Noblesville, Indiana and we had everything a kid could ask for. We had nice wooden cabins with bunk beds to sleep in. We parked our suitcases and lined up our shoes neatly under the bottom bunk. We had to keep the place spotlessly clean, too. The Staff held inspections every morning before we could go to our scheduled activities - softball, flag football, archery, rifles and one more, which eludes me at the moment. We competed against the members of another cabin in one activity or another every day.

Then, there was the “White House” which was the restroom and shower house and also was access to the swimming pool. In the other direction and across the narrow bridge over the tiny run-off tributary to Hinkle Creek was the Dining Hall and kitchen - large enough for 100 kids, The Staff, 20 councilors and all the cooks, kitchen helpers and other people who made the place run. We had three good meals each day. Movie nights or sing-alongs in bad weather were also held there on Saturday and Sunday nights. One of the staff, Art Gorman was a pretty good guitar player and knew all the Boys Club Camp songs and a bunch of other.

In the afternoons, there were swimming lessons and advanced swimming lessons given by our certified Red Cross Swimming Instructor and we could earn skill level certifications upon passing those skill tests. This was all voluntary, of course, because only the non-swimmers were required to learn to swim. I think that was a great idea. As our instructor often said, “Even if a baby elephant fell into a lake or river, it would instinctively know how to swim. Man is the only animal that has to learn how.” I got to the Intermediate Level before I got too old to go to camp anymore. I also did the mile swim - which was about 69 laps of the length of the pool. I don’t know how I did that - mostly side stroke and back floating, I expect.

We had lots of free time for hiking, fishing along the creek, learning crafts, playing tether-ball, paddle-ball and/or read comic books on our bunks. The later was reserved for the rest period after lunch, every day. We were much too busy doing something different every day. These were city kids who “didn’t get out much” - as they say.

Once in a while, one of the Staff would take volunteers only who were swimmers for a “Creek Hike”. We put on our dirtiest clothes and tennis shoes, hike just down the hill past the bonfire area, then eased into the cold waters of Hinkle Creek and explored the area walking down the middle of the creek. We walked almost all the way downstream to the reservoir and back.

On special occasions, the camp bus would take a pre-arranged group of  swimmers and go out in the 15 ft. aluminum fishing boat with a 9.9 HP Johnson outboard and ride the surfboard, attached by a rope to the back of the boat and towed along in a quiet bay of the Morse Reservoir. We still had to wear life-jackets, though. It was like skiing, only slower and safer for us, but it was great fun.

While putting around the lake, we heard the story that the old Boys Club Camp was formerly located in the area of the Morse Reservoir before it became a reservoir. When the Indiana Department of Natural Resources decided to flood the entire area as a reservoir and nature preserve. The Camp had to be purchased and new land obtained to rebuild the camp. I remember one Staff member saying, “Right about here, is where the old camp used to be.”

What? There was nothing but water and the woods were clear over there! It was difficult for me to imagine an underwater village like our camp.

Of course, these days, the Indianapolis Water Company owns it and has sold all the land surrounding that reservoir for private use and homes selling upwards of $350,000 line the shores. Public access to the reservoir - which was once in the hands of the DNR has now been restricted only to the residents of the lakefront properties. IWC made a huge financial windfall on those deals.

Getting back to my story, ... in other words, the Indianapolis Boys Club Camp was a real nice place to spend two weeks in the summer. Boys Club members from all over the city came together at camp. My step-dad was a Boys Club member when he was a kid and he wanted to share that experience with us. We attended a lot of functions and my mom was active in the Lauter Boys Club Mother’s Club.

Now, about the camp out ....

After our evening meal, the boys in our cabin were told to dress warmly in long pants and a sweatshirt and report to the storage garage where they kept the lawnmowers, shovels rakes, life jackets, cane fishing poles, Army Surplus (donations) of canteens and cartridge belts, shelter halves, ponchos and blankets and mess kits for breakfast the next morning. The staff members would take the other stuff. We just took the stuff we would need including our own pocket knives (if we had one) and flashlights. Mom and dad prepared us well as I still had my Cub Scout knife.

When everyone was equally equipped, we hit the trail - single file - behind our Staff Leader, Jim Andrews, while another Staff Leader, Walt, brought up the rear. We walked along down the hill in front of all the cabins, down past the big log circle where we held the huge bonfire campfires, across the concrete bridge over Hinkle Creek and along the winding trail for what seemed to be a long time. We learned along the way what poison ivy looked like, so we could avoid it. Then one of the guys slapped a bush with his hand and he found out what Itch weed was. He sure itched a lot until he could was it off in the creek later.

Climbing the final grassy hill, full of wild black raspberries, we came across a deserted building that was locked. We got no explanation except, that it was out of bounds. Then, we received our instructions as a group about how to put together the shelter halves and to team up with a bunk mate for the night. I picked my buddy, Dennis Black because his dad and my dad were in the Korean War together.

We put together the the two rows of snap buttons along the top and back of the shelter halves together, inserted the two, three-piece poles into their brass grommets and staked-out the perimeter with wooden tent pegs. Then, we ran the guide ropes. Our tent was tight, smooth and looked good. We used the poncho as a ground cover and slept under our blankets in our clothes. Some guys who were a little afraid, even slept in their shoes in case they had to make a run for it. Where they would run to, was anyone’s guess. It was neat. By that time, Mr. Andrews had the campfire going.

We sat around the campfire, just talking about how cool this was and thinking how grown-up we were. Then Mr. Andrews pulls out a box of graham crackers, a bag of marshmallows and some Hershey bars from his haversack. You guessed it, we were going to find ourselves a green stick, sharpen the end with our pocket knives and roast marshmallows for “S’mores”. It was my first time for that too.

Then, it was time for ghost stories. Staff Leader, Walt and Mr. Andrews knew some good ones. The scariest was the one about the couple parked in the woods-kissing and listening to the radio news about a dangerous escaped man with a hook for a hand. (Remember that one?) Just for kicks, the other day while at Barnes & Noble, I looked up camping ghost stories. Some of them were still being told to young people at their first campfire, too. All except the one about Flip-Flop-Flamingo, Jr. I never did get all of that story. He must have been a local monster legend in these woods.

There we all were, under the stars, in our U.S. Army tents, drinking from U.S. Army canteens for the first time. It was a beautiful night, except there was an owl in a nearby tree and one of the kids just couldn’t sleep. “Walt, Walt, there’s a birdie in that tree.” He just kept repeating that, over and over. We told him to shut up and go to sleep. There wasn’t anything that Walt could do about a birdie in the tree.

Early the next morning, we awoke and the campfire was still going or else someone got it going again. Mr. Andrews and Walt, handed out two strips of bacon, an egg and a piece of white bread into our opened U.S. Army mess kit for breakfast. If you still had your pointed stick from last night, you could make toast. “Now campers”, he said, “you need to cook the bacon first so that you’ll have grease in your mess kit pan to fry the egg.” I traded my egg for two slices of bacon with the promise to give him some of my grease. Good trade.

The hike back to our regular camp and cabin seemed shorter, somehow. We all made sure all our gear was cleaned, dusted off and dry, then turned it in at the equipment garage. The rest of the day would be a long one. We slept, pretty much the entire hour after our noon meal because we really didn’t get much sleep the night before. There must have been too many twigs under the poncho floor of our tent or something. Maybe it was the ghost stories, maybe it was the excitement of it all.

Today, however, was skills test day for the Order of the Match. If you could build a fire large enough to roast a hot-dog using only dried leaves, twigs and very small branches, light it with only one match and keep it going long enough, you became a lifetime member of the Order of the Match. It took me a couple of hours to find the stuff and two failed attempts, but I finally learned. When the Staff hands out the awards at the Final Campfire, Order of the Match members get called up by name in front of the whole camp assembly and presented with a burned-tip, wooden kitchen match tied to some lanyard material and a small safety pin. It was a badge of honor.

It truly was a true privilege to be able to go to Indianapolis Boys Club Camp. Mom and dad scraped together some hard-earned cash to send each of us for two weeks - there were three boys in our family. I don’t know what it cost, but as far as we were concerned, it was worth it to us. Probably gave mom and dad a break, too.

Upon arriving home from my first trip to camp, I discovered that mom had donated my one-eyed Teddy Bear to someone else (or the trash). I was heartbroken, but she said that now that I was a grown-up camper, I shouldn’t need such things. I think later that year I got into Paint-by-Numbers kits. It wouldn’t be too much longer that I’d be in junior high school and get a chemistry set, microscope set and learn to build model cars, tanks and airplanes.

Camping away from home without my parents was the beginning of growing-up. I did send a postcard home every now and then; written in pencil, in big letters, in cursive on a three-cent, plain postcard. Mom saved them all for a long, long time.



  1. enjoyed the story. I was a Girl Scout for a few years, wasn't crazy about the GS uniforms as I recall, but I don't remember camp being that exciting other than the Boy Scouts being on the other end of the segregated camp! haha

    1. I loved camp. It was the highlight of my summer for several pre-teen years. The only female was the camp nurse and the Camp Director's wife. We were all too young for girls.