Camp Woody 70s Memories
Camp Woody 70s Memories
Stories and Secrets of Camp Woody in the 1970s
Celebrating 50 Years of Camp Woody: 1956 to 2006
What follows is a collection of various mostly unrelated subjects that are part of my memories and impressions of life at Camp Woody in the 70s. Since they apply to multiple years, they are included here, as an overview of what camp was like in those years. I’ve made no particular effort to string the topics together, but they were all things that wove their way through all the years I served at Woody in the 1970s. For a more orderly account, a year-by-year diary, please see these two articles: Camp Woody 70s Year By Year 70-74 and Camp Woody 70s Year By Year 75-77 for even more photos, see the Camp Woody scrapbooks, organized by decade. I hope my random recollections and the fine photos that Travis North, Mab Boko and I took will bring back some fond memories for you.
In the summer of 1971, a counselor named Nancy on the left and Marianne and Gabie Boko on the right hang out a poster that illustrates the spirit of Camp Woody throughout much of the 1970s.
Introduction: This is the real, true story of an enduring camp landmark, the buoy swing, and how it came to be.
Lori Weisser enjoys the swing in the summer of 1971 (Travis North photo)
It is the summer of 1970. The Baptist missionaries of Alaska are holding a convention at Camp Woody. Karl Childs, whose dad is pastor of Community Baptist Church in Kodiak, and I (whose parents run the camp every summer) are bored out of our ever living minds! Suddenly I remember a swing that my old friend George Katelnikoff in Ouzinkie made in his back yard. The long polypropylene rope, tied to a high branch of a tall spruce tree, had a wicked arc to it. So we go searching for a suitable place for a similar swing. There’s a pair of tall trees near where the old board-seat swing used to be, and they’re situated at the bottom of a nice, steep hill. A little-used dirt road runs beside the trees, with good visibility in both directions, so traffic is not going to be a problem. Not finding any good branches that are high enough on either tree, I suggest a daring redesign: how about a rope tied between the two trees, with a vertical drop in the middle? We could get a crab pot buoy and tie it on the end, jump off the side of the hill, and get a pretty good arc out of it. Karl and I size up the distance between the two, and start guessing about how much crab line we would need to bridge the two trees and (forming a T) reach close to the ground. So we set off in search of line and buoy.
There’s only one person to ask for stuff like that: Darrell Chaffin. Darrell is the retired former station manager of the Woody Island FAA station, with a new log cabin up on the bluff. Lately Darrell has been making spare change storing crab pots on the meadow near the dock, using his old Dodge Power Wagon equipped with a boom and winch. If anybody has some spare crab line and a buoy, he does. Thankfully, Darrell has a soft spot in his heart for crazy teenagers, having raised two of his own. Soon Karl and I are busy measuring line and making a secure loop in the middle, tying the looped ends together with a generous length of sturdy halibut cord. Karl wisely allows for a lot of extra line on each side, because we’ll have to adjust it, and there has to be enough line to carry up the trees on both sides (think about it…it’ll make sense). Then we guesstimate the length of the drop from the loop to the ground, allowing for enough rope to tie up the buoy and reach the ground.
Karl climbs the tree closest to camp, and ties that half where he thinks it should be. I go and get camp’s tallest ladder, because the other tree has no branches for fifteen feet. Karl goes up the ladder, shimmies up the branches of the second tree (holding the rope the whole time) and tells me to help him measure the right distance. We come up with a reasonable approximation of center between the trees. Karl ties that side securely, and scampers back down. I get the buoy positioned where we can run off the hillside and leap onto it for our grand swing. We both try it, and are pleased with the springy effect the giant T attached to the two trees makes. When we jump on the buoy, we can see the two trees pull together and then bounce back, giving us a little upward thrust on the far end of the arc. Unfortunately, that is still pretty boring, for the arc of the swing is only about 20 feet.
I get an idea: how about using a ladder to get more height? We find a short wooden ladder behind the Boy’s Dorm and prop it precariously about halfway up the hill, tying some of the leftover crab line to the ladder and to a couple of little saplings. Karl tries the ladder, which is a little shaky (suspended in thin air and supported only on one side by ropes) and gets about twice the spring and twice the distance as previously. I try it, too, and am still tragically underwhelmed. We give the swing a C- on the excitement scale and go do something else.
The next day, I go to the swing alone, just to see if my C- appraisal still holds. I try a tepid little jump from the ladder, but as I jump off, I notice that a tree at the very top of the hill has a lot of low branches, and might make a better jumping off point. I gingerly climb the tree, holding the buoy rope with one hand, and survey my intended trajectory, as oblivious to danger as any teenager ever was. I note with satisfaction that the T of the rope is almost eye-level, and that the bottom of the hill (and the base of the trees that anchor the rope) is now a hefty distance away. This is bound to be a better ride. Balancing on a long branch, I jump into space, deftly tucking the buoy between my legs. Fantastic! What a trip! Whoosh, the buoy plummets toward the ground, when suddenly the spring back of the two tall trees propels me high into space. The trajectory places me far above the base of the trees, far out over the dirt road, and over the swamp beyond the road. This arc is almost eye level with the branch I jumped off of at its farthest point, and at least two stories above the road and the swamp. Yes!
The first photo of the swing: Karl Childs takes to the sky in the summer of 1970. Note the tip of a tree below him!
I have forgotten something. The ladder! The two rope trees are not perfectly perpendicular to the one I have just jumped out of. My arc is not exactly straight on the return swing. The ladder we originally used is still suspended out over the slope of the hill, and I am powerless to stop or steer this gargantuan pendulum I’m sitting on. I crash ignominiously into the ladder, thankful that we hadn’t stuck it too far into the ground. Bruised but exhilarated, I dust myself off and hobble away in search of Karl (and glad enough that my spectacular wipeout was not observed by anyone). We soon make much better use of the ladder, placing it against the tree at the top of the hill. We take turns cutting branches, keeping the sturdy one I had first used as my launching point. Karl takes his turn, and his whoops and hollers confirm my diagnosis: Right On! Far Out ride!
The author (Tim Smith) gets ready to jump, while his brother Kelly awaits his turn. (1971, Mab Boko photo)
A view of the buoy swing from the jumping tree, looking down across the road. The person on the buoy has just left the tree. (Travis North, 1971)
A view from beneath the buoy swing looking up the hill, at an approximate 45 degree angle. The tall tree in center right is the jumping tree at the top of the hill. (1974)
A rare photo taken from the swing, looking toward the Boy’s Dorm, 1971. Note the angle and the height. I was holding a bulky, heavy Yashica 120 twin lens reflex camera at the time, and had already started down by the time I could aim and shoot the thing!
The rest, as they say is history. For over three and a half decades, the swing has been the stuff of legend: a place to explode your senses and prove your mettle, a natural high in every way. Granted, it isn’t particularly safe, and a modicum of common sense is required, but it is one of the most beloved and memorable parts of the Camp Woody experience. Once, a conscientious board member secured its removal (for which I bear no ill will, being an adult now myself!) But back it came a couple of years later, by popular demand. The current swing is actually a replica of the one Karl and I built in 1970, lovingly restored by Ty Harper. It sports new rope now, and a fine wooden platform with railings on the tree at the top of the hill, instead of the rickety old branch. I can tell you as a young feller in his fifties that the thrill of jumping out into space and onto the buoy is as potent as ever! In 1998, when I had the privilege of serving as lay pastor for the Junior High camp, I walked up to the swing hill as campers took turns catapulting themselves into space. I overheard a few of the kids saying, “I wonder if the old guy is going to try it?” I calmly climbed the ladder, jumped out and onto the buoy, and enjoyed my turn. They were rather surprised until I told them, “Of course I went. I designed it!”
Still swingin! The buoy swing in 2005, from the bottom of the hill looking up, showing the full length of the ropes (wide angle, in the sunset)
Famous Chaffin Hospitality (A visit with Darrell and Yule Chaffin)
Introduction: Over the years, the Smith family and the rest of the staff at Camp Woody had a very special relationship with our neighbors on the island, Darrell and Yule Chaffin. Darrell retired from the FAA in 1967, and he and Yule built a charming log cabin on the bluff, trading a small plot of Mission property for a few head of cattle he had roaming the island. By the 1970s, Darrell and Yule have a nice spread in Smartville, in the California mining country, where they spend the winter. But come spring, they return to Woody, and spend as much time there as they can. Come along with us as we visit the Chaffins in the 70s.
This view out of the Chaffins’ cabin window is perhaps the most spectacular on Woody Island. This region beyond Una Lake, known as Garaboon, is a favorite subject of island photographers. Travis North photo
It is late June, the only practical time to put together a Senior High camp, since so many of us have to work when the cannery season starts up. The campers have just gone home, and the staff has spent the day cleaning the place and catching our wits as we gear up for the next round of campers. We’re exhausted as usual, but tonight we are in for a special treat: we’ve all been invited to the Chaffin’s cabin for cookies and cocoa. And it’s all ours for a song. Darrell and Yule love to hear the campers sing, and Kelly and I are almost relatives; they’ve known us all our lives. We all hike up the hill and over the ridge to the lovely cabin on the edge of the cliff beside Una Lake. We clamber into the snug little cabin and notice the spectacular view of Garraboon Point out one window and Chiniak Bay and the mountains behind the Coast Guard base out the other window. What a place to live!
Yule Chaffin stands outside their cabin, looking off toward Garaboon, with Barometer Mountain in the background, in this 1969 photo by Joyce Smith.
Yule has done everything. She has been a flight trainer for fighter pilots in World War II, a school teacher, an amateur naturalist, a fabulous photographer, and most recently, an author. Before we leave tonight, she will sign complementary copies of her Koniag to King Crab book on Kodiak and Woody history. The book features five photos taken by “young Timmy Smith of Ouzinkie,” so I’m pretty proud of it, too. She has a wealth of stored knowledge about local history and customs, and seems to know almost everyone of consequence in the Kodiak area. The out of state camp staff members pepper her with questions about life in this beautiful corner of Alaska, and I always hear something I never knew before. Yule is sporting a new metal hip, without which she would be unable to get around her beloved Woody. She sports a slight limp, but has had only a little trouble getting down the hill to pick a few flowers for her table.
Yule Chaffin, Alaskan writer and authority on Woody Island history, at her table in the cabin on Woody, in the summer of 1975.
A portrait of Darrell Chaffin in action, in this printer copy of a photo taken by Yule sometime in the 1960s. She always called him “Red”.
Darrell is less talkative, especially in the crowd we’ve made. But soon he shares his own stories of the building of the FAA station, their own experiences when they moved to Alaska after the War (and first stayed in one of the buildings now known as Camp Woody) and his adventures as a skilled hunter. He is not one to brag or stretch the truth, but I know that he has his own share of magnificent Dall Sheep, bagged on some remote mountainside on the Alaska mainland. He and Dad soon get into a conversation involving skiffs and outboard motors and which vessels have been using his crab pot storage services lately. Darrell seems to know almost every skipper out there, with a story about every one. Except that unlike some of the local storytellers, Darrell knows how to keep some things in confidence, and I never hear him say a contrary word about anyone. Neither does Yule. It just isn’t their way.
When we first walked in the door, Darrell had politely put out one of his trademark cigars, but the scent still lingered as we gathered in the cabin. Some people hate cigar smoke, but not me. For the rest of my days, a whiff of cigar smoke will whisk me back to that cabin and the wonderful experiences I’ve shared there. And as we walk back toward camp in the orange twilight of a late summer evening, I realize that it’s the people we care about that make a place like Woody Island so spectacularly beautiful. I’ve seen Woody Island alone, many times, and I’ve always been charmed by its amazing diversity of beauty. But when you’re surrounded by loved ones, the place just seems that much more beautiful, almost as if we begin to see it through their eyes as well as our own. A visit with the Chaffins always gives me the same sensation, of seeing the island afresh through their eyes, and of somehow imparting my love for the island to them as well. Darrell and Yule are surely kindred souls on this awesome island.
The 1975 counselor staff poses in front of the Chaffin’s orange fireplace in this Polaroid (photographer unknown). Front row: Diane Chestnut, Kathy Arita, Debbie Sullens. Middle row: Bruce Adams, Larry Le Doux, Cody Custer. Back row: Joe Ritchie (a favorite visitor that summer, standing behind Bruce and Larry) and Tim Smith (hand on Cody’s shoulder).
A group of staff and friends sing in Chaffins’ cabin, summer of 1976. L to R: Tim, Pam, Bruce, Michelle, Carol North. A prize Dall Sheep trophy hangs over Bruce’s head out of frame. (photo by Travis North)
The author poses with Darrell and Yule outside their home in Smartville, California, in 1975. They helped pay for Dad to come to my college graduation in 1976, and let Debbie and me stay in this house for part of our honeymoon in 1977. Yule helped get me started in photography by publishing five of my photos in her book, Koniag to King Crab while I was still in gradeschool.
Oscar, Camp Dog
Oscar, Camp Dog, with tail a-wagging.
Introduction: Oscar was our brother. Kelly and I both agree on this, with no denigration of either one of us. Oscar was a mutt, probably Black Lab and Shepherd mix, but he was our brother. I have never known another dog that was as capable of immersing himself into the affairs of humans, or that could make as many friends as Oscar. Our sister Robin brought him home shortly after the 1964 Tidal Wave, much to the consternation of our parents, at least at first. After his “chew the shoe” phase, Oscar turned into a bright and cheerful companion, very well trained by his absolute lord and master, our Dad, Norman Smith. Oscar knew a lot of tricks, and loved to perform them. His weakness was not steak, but Graham Crackers. And he was an intuitive and empathetic member of the Smith household in Ouzinkie. But every summer at Camp Woody (from 1964 to 1977) Oscar really came into his element. He seemed to be everyone’s best friend, and never met a kid he didn’t like. Oscar often served as a bridge between the shy and withdrawn kids and the rest of us, because no one could resist Oscar. He was just a good guy.
Dog-Tired: Oscar in a puddle beside the road near Sawmill, summer of 1970
Oscar was not without his doggish flaws. His worst offence was that he would find some dead seal on the beach and roll in it, returning triumphantly to camp grinning from ear to ear, as if he had just discovered the world’s best cologne. We’d have to take a bucket of suds to him then. He also thought of himself as the guard of the camp, and barked appropriately at anyone who walked up the road from the dock (tail wagging energetically in a weird circular motion). Sometimes he would mistake Dad for a stranger until sight and scent corrected him. Then, as Marianne Boko observed, he would blush furiously (through black fur?), tail between legs and all teeth showing, while trying to bury himself beneath the clover. Dad would just pat him on the back and call his name, and all would be well. Another drawback was that he was a singularly inattentive regular attender at chapel services. Many a visiting pastor looked down below the podium with chagrin to observe Oscar snoring loudly, chasing something in his sleep. Everything was always forgiven, of course. The thought of banning him from chapel was never even considered; he was our brother, after all.
Carol Chapman discovers Oscar’s weak spot in this 1974 photo.
Oscar loved the hustle and bustle of a camp full of kids. He would run himself ragged whenever the kids hiked anywhere, and plop himself in the nearest puddle to cool off. But he was polite at cookouts, only occasionally scarfing down a dropped hot dog. Anywhere near a Smith, he would know to wait until given the “ok!” before eating anything. And he was known to even bow his head at mealtime prayer, while carefully giving Dad a sideways glance to see when he was through. One winning characteristic of Oscar, at least in my mind, was that he didn’t lick. If overcome with emotion, he would push the top of his head against your leg and wag his tail slowly. He also was known to take your hand in his mouth while walking along beside you, which I guess is even worse than licking, but endearing nonetheless. Perhaps his strangest behavior was after the campers left. If Oscar thought he was alone, he would go up on the ramp that connects to cabin 4 and 5, look out past the volleyball court toward the dock, and moan. He never howled like most dogs. But after all the campers had gone, you could sometimes hear an almost inaudible, moaning “O…….o…….oh” escape his lips as he gazed upon the vacant volleyball court and empty roads. That’s strange behavior for a dog, but not so strange for our emotional little brother.
At the wedding of Debbie Sullens and Timothy Smith in 1977, Oscar wears a corsage made especially for him. (Page photo)
Oscar was never happier than when lying in the sun, surrounded by campers, front paws nobly crossed like some canine prince. Incidentally, when Debbie and I got married under the trees by Tanignak Lake in 1977, Oscar got his own boutonniere and wore it proudly as he escorted people to the ceremony. Ok, so I’m anthropomorphizing him an awful lot! But everyone who attended camp while he was there agrees he was a mighty fine dog. And to Kelly and to me, he was our brother, so there!
Swim Lake Switches
In the years after the Tidal Wave, Camp Woody had a problem. The beautiful Mirror Lake, which once had been a fine swimming hole, was now a brackish lagoon. Tanignak Lake, also close to camp, was the water supply. What to do about swimming? Finally an enterprising cabin group blazed a trail across the island to the far side of Ehuzhik Lake. They used old bed posts and planking to bridge the swampy areas, and created one of the most picturesque trails on the island. It wound its way through some of the original virgin forest on the north side of Ehuzhik, terminating at a sandy lake shore close to the ocean beach. The lake bottom was squishy and muddy, but a few yards out became a nice deep swimming hole.
The far end of Ehuzhik Lake (near the ocean beach) was a favorite swimming spot into the 70s. 1972 Travis North photo
Swim Lake beach in 1974, from a really good climbing tree I discovered nearby.
This location was camp’s swim spot for almost a decade. But it was off Mission property. So some campers and I helped to blaze a trail to the other end of Ehuzhik, whose southwest corner is on camp land. This trail winds up and down some pretty steep hillsides directly behind High Inspiration Point on the hill above Tanignak Lake, before crossing some swampland into deep forest on the far side of Ehuzhik. It’s not as nice a beach as the other end, being made up mostly of flat gravel rather than soft muck. There’s also not a large beach area for sunbathing or campfires. However, kids have a deep swimming area just a few yards offshore. The other end of the lake, unfortunately, was the site of a plane crash, which scattered debris in the water and onshore, making it unsuitable.
The “new” swimming hole, on the near (Southeast) end of Ehuzhik Lake, as it looked on a foggy day in 1977. Some kids wanted to go swimming anyway!
Don Wells, a visiting friend, shot this scene of the same day, a little to the left: a nice campfire and marshmallow roast after the swim. The young man on the left with a hood is Mat Freeman.
In 1998, when I returned to Camp Woody as a lay pastor, I discovered a much-changed island. For one thing, since the Mission’s cattle herd is long gone, so are most of the trails. Except for the occasional bovine deposit, those trails were like little highways all over the island. That summer I searched for my old trail, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Devils Club and Salmonberry bushes covered everything. So Ty Harper and I took some surveyors’ tape and an axe or two and blazed a new trail, keeping only to Camp property, and ending almost exactly where the mid-70s swimming hole was developed. The kids were of a different generation, however. Even though the trail’s inaugural use was on a bright, sunny day, only a couple of kids decided to swim. The camp eventually hopes to develop a well sufficient for drinking water, so that Tanignak Lake can be used as a swimming hole. But I hope that Ehuzhik trail will stay open, because it’s a pretty little hike, and that lake is also a beautiful spot. Before Evan Jones died, he had hoped to use that end of the lake as a site for a little vacation cottage for Mission staff. I hope someone finally does; it would be a great location.
Ehuzhik swim lake as it looked in 1998, near where the trail was re-blazed by Ty Harper and me. The swimming hole is to the right, out of frame beyond the lily pads.
Ingenious Fixes (including the never-before heard tale of “Beef on Tap”)
Camp Woody’s facilities are mostly World War II buildings, and in the 70s, the electrical and water systems were of that vintage. This meant a lot of creative energy had to be expended to keep the place up and running. Norm Smith, Bob Boko and various volunteers from town often had to quickly improvise a repair that would hopefully last the season. In the 50s and 60s, electric power was supplied by the Evangel’s spare generator, for a couple of hours a night. The camp bought a funky propane-powered refrigerator that didn’t need electricity, and used it for years. In the mid-60s, the camp bought a nice, bright turquoise Onan diesel generator, which Dad installed in the concrete building that had once housed the World War II generators. He built a special muffler out of a 55-gallon drum, which helped to keep the noise down. Maintenance and frequent refueling kept Dad busy when he wasn’t running the skiff back and forth to town or serving as camp pastor. Sometime in the late 60s, the camp got KEA (Kodiak Electric Association) to splice into the FAA station’s power lines, and all that fuss went away forever.
The water supply was a different story altogether, and remains a challenge even to this day. In the first decade or so of camping on Woody, the camp used an electric pump and the Navy’s old intake lines to push water from Tanignak Lake past the camp buildings up the hill beyond the swing and above the barn. There it trickled feebly into a large, covered water tank (which we called the tower). The intake lines were rusting, and the pipes from the pump to the tower were actually wire-wrapped wooden tubes of about ten inches in diameter, and we never had enough pumping power to put more than about six feet of water into that tower. We were, however, able to get the water as far as the hydrant near the dock, which also may account for our inability to fill the water tower! It was a leaky, wood-pipe system built just before World War II, and it was remarkable that it worked at all.
Tanignak Lake, source of Camp Woody’s water supply, is a pretty and peaceful spot, even on a rainy day. (Tanignak is also the source of the name for this website, of course!)
This portion of exposed wooden water pipe was formerly beneath the road bed beside Cook Bay on Long Island. Camp Woody used this type of water pipe until the mid-70s.
Then one spring, shortly before camp was to start (the usual time for disasters) we discovered that the wooden pipes had collapsed sometime in the winter. No matter how hard we tried, no water reached the tower, and we discovered a sizeable swampy spot where the water was leaking out. Dad, the Mission and various people from the Community Baptist Church put their heads together and came up with an elegant solution: a new intake line of PVC pipe, and a pressurized holding tank of about 60 gallons or so, right at the pump house, which kept the camp with a steady supply of water. The lines were tapped off just past the Boys’ Dorm, and the tower was retired forever. Its planks later got recycled as a new dam for Tanignak Lake, but that’s a story from the years I wasn’t there. The good news about this new system was the added ability to chlorinate the water, but the PVC water line (more like a three-inch thick, stiff hose) was a real bear to fill with water every spring. It had to be primed and sunk in the lake, or the little water pump would only suck air. Many’s the time I was out on the lake in a rowboat, furiously pouring pitcher after pitcher of water down that little hole until the line finally sank. Likely as not, it would be a rainy day, and anyway I was always soaked because of my bad aim. That year, all new plastic pipe, both in the ground and in the buildings, was installed. Camp had an all-new water system, and rusty water was gone for good.
“Beef on Tap”
While we’re talking about water supplies and ingenuity and stuff, it falls on me to share with you the infamous, semi-secret tale which Larry Le Doux dubbed “Beef on Tap.” It was before camp, 1975. Most of the staff had arrived, and we were preparing the buildings for the summer rush. The water supply was up and running. A couple of us took a break from work and hiked down the north side of Tanignak Lake. Almost at the far end was a tree which some years before had fallen into the lake, with its roots still attached to the bank. Tangled in its branches were the bloated remains of a cow that had wandered out onto the winter ice and fallen through by the tree where the ice was too thin. Just leaving it there in our water supply was out of the question, but it was a delicate matter to cope with. First of all, we were sure we didn’t want the whole world to know, and second, we especially did not want the whole rest of the staff to worry or get sick over it either. Third, it would be tricky to remove the carcass, especially in secret. Operation Udder Disaster had begun. Dad enlisted Darrell Chaffin’s help, who drove down with his red Dodge Power Wagon boom truck, some spare rope, and a large green canvas tarp he didn’t expect to see again. He also kept a little dinghy with an outboard pulled up on the near shore of Tanignak, and that became a key component in our enterprise. Somebody took the boat down to the fallen tree and delicately roped the animal to the dinghy (I don’t want to think about that job!). It was a long haul to drag the carcass the length of the lake to where Darrell winched the bloated body onto the tarp spread on the shoreline. Then the whole mess was gingerly roped together and tied securely to his boom line. I say “the whole mess,” but owing to the condition of the cow, there’s no guarantee we got it all, and I suspect we didn’t. We’ll just have to let the matter drop.
A beautiful tree-lined section of the Tanignak shoreline glows in the summer sun. The “Beef on Tap” episode took place near here, where the deep water came close to the trees.
By now the cow was wrapped in green tarp and suspended midair under the boom of the Dodge. The next step was to slowly drive it through camp, around past the BOQ and down the road to the dock. The drive through camp was the most delicate, because we didn’t really want anyone else to see. We had sweetly asked some of the women to please cook us up something nice (we thought it ok to appear chauvinistic when our real motive was the chivalrous protection of their constitutions and the reputation of our water supply!) With nothing more to do, I ducked back into the dining hall before the boom truck passed, and went to the far side, engaging the ladies in some chit-chat while the truck drove past within sight of the windows. None of them noticed, but I saw the secret package, bedecked in green tarp like a giant banshee floating along in front of the red truck, dripping suspiciously all the way. I suppressed both gag and chuckle and kept our little secret.
Darrell Chaffin saved the day with his boom truck. This photo was taken in 1972.
Emil Norton, Jr. was waiting at the dock with his little seiner. He had the inglorious job of unhitching the mass from the winch cable and tying a length of rope to it so it could be towed out into the channel. This accomplished, Emil eventually sent it on its merry way (may it rest in peace, or at least in pieces). I don’t recall if Emil stayed for dinner, but the rest of us guys took an unusual interest in washing up beforehand, and I don’t think we had much of an appetite for awhile. Sitting around the benches, sharing knowing looks with each other, we soon were swapping morbid puns, completely over the heads of the ladies who had been kept out of the loop. Sometime during the meal, after pouring a drink of water and saying “soup, anyone?” or “care for some bull-ion?” or while pointing to a serving dish down the table with “please pass the udder one,” Larry slyly mentioned something about “beef on tap,” and the name stuck. In the meantime, the rest of the staff remained oblivious, used to the boys talking nonsense and sounding incomprehensible. To this day, Bruce, Cody, Kelly, Emil, Larry, Darrell, Dad and I have been the only ones to know this delightful tale, until now. And I hope my fellow conspirators will forgive me (and correct any errors). In the meantime, drink up! Tanignak Lake water is among the best tasting in the world, and we had a small hand in keeping it that way in the summer of 1975.
Bob Boko (left) and Norman Smith lean on the camp truck after some hard work. They helped to keep the camp running with sometimes little more than their ingenuity and determination. (Taken in the late 60s, Joyce Smith photo)
The FAA had a full-sized village on the far side of the island, and had installed all-new power and phone lines from Kodiak in the mid-50s. But the World War II submarine net station which originally had constructed and used the camp buildings had also originally had phone and telegraph lines, served by an underwater cable. The lines had even gone across to Long Island to serve Fort Tidball, and hikers near the arch could still find the little wooden shack that had served as a repeater station. Darrell Chaffin, always resourceful, decided to try to locate the phone lines on the Kodiak side of Woody Island, to see if any of the pairs were usable after all these years. He found the cable, and its other end on the Kodiak side, and persuaded someone at the phone company to help him test each pair, with the hope of finding phone service. I don’t remember how many pairs the cable originally featured, but he eventually found five or six that still somehow worked! He then put in his own phone line, all the way up to his cabin by Una Lake, and brought another line close to the Camp Woody sign. Somebody installed a drop for the camp, and we got a phone.
A portion of the original World War II phone cable which stretched from Kodiak to Long Island, and has since worked itself out of the ground near the Natural Arch. Darrell Chaffin actually got the Kodiak-Woody link of this cable to work over 30 years after it had last been used!
I wasn’t aware of this ingenious development until one day I heard a phone ring in the dining hall! This was not the usual CB traffic! Woody had always felt remote, separate from town, an oasis of undomesticated serenity. I was of mixed feelings on having a phone. But on the other hand, how cool is it to go and find an almost four decade-old World War II cable and manage to make it work? The phone lines functioned for about three years, until some boat snapped the Kodiak to Woody cable with its anchor and the land link broke forever. Today, of course, it’s a different story. Chaffin’s cabin and the camp both have microwave radio-based phones, and cell phone service covers the whole island. Last summer (2005) I received a phone call at my house in Fontana, California. It was my brother Kelly, calling me with his cell phone from the flats near the old Fort Tidball machine shop on Long Island! To anyone familiar with how remote and isolated those islands used to be, this is nothing short of amazing. How times change.
The FAA Goes Away (The Closing of the Woody Island FAA Station)
The FAA Station on Woody Island as it looked in the 1960s from the air (over the channel between Woody and Long Island). Official FAA photo via the Yule Chaffin Collection
In the early 1970s, the FAA station closed down, replaced by automated machinery that could be serviced periodically by technicians who lived in Kodiak. The trend had been coming for some time. In 1964, the three huge towers on the road to Sawmill Beach had been dismantled (we were already using the towers’ old power station, which had been dragged across the island to camp in 1961, as our chapel). There had been times in my early childhood when the FAA station had seemed like an intrusion on our use of the island. Hiking overland to the Natural Arch always meant traipsing across their yards and through a fence to get to the trail. And the station was a modern oasis in the midst of an otherwise “pristine” island, with its own school, rec hall and fire station. My ambivalence toward them was pure prejudice on my part, and not supported by any of the available facts (akin to the extreme Alaskan’s prejudice that a mile-long beach with someone else’s campfire at the far end is “too crowded”). In all the years that Darrell Chaffin had been station manager, he and Yule had cultivated a wonderful sense of community between all residents on the island, and had become close friends of Camp Woody. Darrell had even made sure that usable materials that the FAA was about to throw out (the FAA dump was near the old tower site) got officially diverted to the camp’s use. If any money changed hands, it wasn’t much. The flatbed camp truck, Lurch the Van, and the outside paint that was used on the chapel, Boys’ Dorm (BOQ) and craft house were all provided by the FAA under Darrell’s leadership.
The FAA Station on Woody Island as it appeared when Darrell and Yule Chaffin lived there, with green lawns and boardwalks. Two orange and white towers can be seen in the valley to the upper left. Photo courtesy Yule Chaffin Collection. This is from a color photocopy, so the color is a little off, but it gives a hint of how neat and clean and homey the station was during the Chaffin years. Later, the houses were all painted different colors, and the apartments in the rear left of the photo had a nice three-color scheme, giving the place an even more cozy look.
The Fedair IV was the ferry between the FAA station and Kodiak, making several trips a day for the years that the station was in operation. Passengers would sit on benches in the little box on the stern of the boat, to stay out of the weather. All high school students who lived on Woody Island took this boat twice daily as their school bus! The boat also made yearly trips to an unmanned FAA station at the south end of Kodiak Island. For many years, Bill Torsen, whose wife Beryl was a frequent camp cook, was the operator of the Fedair IV.
My strange attitude toward the station abruptly changed in the fall of 1965 when I had occasion to stay on Woody for a couple of months. We had to have a place to live until the workers using Baker Cottage in Ouzinkie were finished building the new dock and store, so we remained at camp that fall. I got to ride across the island every day in the big yellow panel van (that we later dubbed “Lurch” when camp inherited it) and go to school in the one-teacher schoolhouse at the FAA station. I got to know the kids who lived there, had sweet turnips from Yule Chaffin’s garden every day as part of my lunch, and was absorbed for a short while into the culture of that close-knit little village of FAA workers. Forever after, the FAA station seemed a friendly and welcoming place.
Part of the FAA Station village as it looked in the late 1960s, after a fresh coat of paint. The fire hall is the bright green building with the yellow stack on the left. The flag is flying in the front driveway of the school, out of frame to the left. “Lurch” the Van is to the right. (Mab Boko photo)
So the FAA station residents had always been the best imaginable neighbors, watching over camp property 24/7 during the winter months, and often helping us haul or fix things. FAA workers’ kids had frequently been enthusiastic campers. We used their roads to get to many of our favorite beaches. So my assessment was decidedly unfair. There was only one negative episode in the entire two-decade relationship with the FAA station. Two rowdy boys, with their new Honda 50s, had buzzed across the island to the campgrounds, broken in, and taken the cam silverware. They then proceeded to throw the kitchen knives through most of the windows in the dining hall. When the kids were caught, both sets of parents were shocked, and extremely apologetic. This was not the environment that Woody Island was known for. The parents threatened to take their boys down to the dock, and dump their prized motorcycles into the channel. I’ve never seen anyone so seriously furious! Dad and Mom graciously said that an apology was sufficient, and I the boys’ little Hondas were spared that day. There was never again even a hint of trouble from anyone on the island, and when one of the families was transferred to another FAA station, the boy gave his motorcycle to Dad.
The FAA Station in 1972 from the valley below (Elephant Lake is out of frame to the right). Darrell Chaffin and his wife Yule ran the station like a close-knit family, and included the camp in the clan. It was a spectacular site for a village, with cliffs beyond the houses and a panoramic view of the channel and Long Island beyond. Only the metal building in center right remained by 2005. Travis North photo
The FAA folks crossed paths with camps on numerous occasions, such as when, about once a week, they would drive their shiny red fire truck across the island, past our buildings, down to Tanignak Lake. There they would test the pumps and hoses for awhile and then drive back to the fire hall. It kept their machinery in operation, and was fun to watch. In the summer of 1972, they rented a 16mm copy of “Song of the South” to show in their rec hall, and loaned it to us for a couple of weeks thereafter. The staff saw it three or four times one weekend, and memorized most of the lines. For the rest of the summer, we would quote it to each other like so many members of a secret society. “Everybody Has a Laughing Place,” said one of the songs, and that summer Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear et al provided us with our laughing place, courtesy of our friends at the FAA station.
Campers pose at the official-looking FAA Station sign, in the summer of 1971.
But the station closed down, and the property and buildings became a part of the Leisnoi Alaska Natives claim. The station came to an inglorious end in the late 70s when one of the buildings caught fire in a raging windstorm. The wind was in just the wrong direction, and when the smoke cleared, seven buildings had burned, leaving only one of the apartment buildings, the school, one house, the crumbling “rec hall” and one transmission building still standing. All but one of those cute little houses on the cliff were destroyed. A couple of years ago, the entire hillside was leveled, leaving only a dilapidated machine shop halfway up the hill to indicate that there had ever been something there. I found the site to be a profoundly sad place, and the former residents of the FAA village that I talk to refuse to even look at it. For them, and for me, it’s like a gravesite.
The remains of the FAA Station, viewed through the window of the surviving apartment building, 1996. The burned foundation of the other apartment building is in the foreground. The schoolhouse to the right had a collapsing roof, but the building I took this photo from was sturdy, with minimal damage, and could have been restored. Only a grassy meadow remains now.
The FAA Station hillside as it looked in the summer of 2005, a grassy hill where once a thriving village and vital navigation center stood.
Some (Unusual) 1970s Traditions:
Try Sleeping Through This! (Music to Wake Up To)
Throughout my time on staff at Camp Woody, I was responsible for waking up the campers. In a tradition begun by my Dad in the 1960s, I would string up a couple of dilapidated old movie projector speakers to an old tube amp and pump music through them as loudly as the old equipment would bear. As annoying as this probably was, regular campers still found this to be a favorite feature of each day. I’d always begin with the old Seekers song, “Come the Day,” with its driving 12-string and pounding bass line:
I know that one day soon a song shall rise,
You’ll hear it with the sleep still in your eyes,
You’ll waken to a brand new day,
And you’ll hear bells ringing, voices singing, far away!
Lift up your voices and sing this song,
Let the whole world hear it, loud and strong,
And you’ll hear bells ringing, voices singing, far away!
(By Bruce Woodley, 1966)
I also used the Wilson McKinley’s “I Know the Lord Laid His Hands on Me” and Andrae Crouch’s “I Didn’t Think It Could Be (Until it Happened To Me!)” Various (noisy) oldies, plus oddities such as the bagpipes version of “Amazing Grace” or a theater organ version of “When the Saints” would creep in to the mix, partly because Dad’s choices in the early days were often so perverse. Nothing I would ever play was nearly as likely to arouse such murderous annoyance as Dad’s xylophone record of the “Glory March” or his dreadful pipe organ and bird calls record. Yecch! Later in the 70s, as Christian Rock became more available, I’d regularly throw in One Truth’s “We Have a Reason to Rejoice” or Love Song’s “Don’t You Know.” But I’d always close with a quieter number like Cat Stevens’ version of “Morning Has Broken” or One Truth’s “Beautiful Savior.”
Our ultimate auditory experiment, however, was when Kelly and I linked all available speakers and amps, propped them up outside the camp kitchen facing across the lagoon, and played the Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” for Kodiak on July 4, 1976. Several people walking on the beach below the Mission, miles away across the water, heard the music as though out of thin air. (By request, I plan on putting together some sort of annoying music alarm for the Fiftieth Anniversary Reunion in summer of 2006, since I’ve got most of my old LPs here and I even have some of Dad’s old records.)
The “Boner” Awards (No Kidding!)
The “boner” awards had to have been one of the weirdest traditions at Camp Woody, dating from its earliest days. The awards were held at the end of the noon meal, and usually emceed by my mom, Joyce Smith. She would take nominations for the stupidest or funniest event of the previous 24 hours (called a “boner”), and then everyone would vote for the favorite “boner.” It was really just a popularity contest, and certainly not as vicious as it sounds. The infractions were typical boo boos: dropping something, falling out of bed, falling, general clumsiness and the like. Debbie says her award was when she had her sweatshirt under her as she sat at the camp benches, and nearly tripped over it when she tried to get up. Not an earth-shattering event by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the winners could have won something on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” if such a thing had existed then. The winner would wear a calf’s or dog’s skull (what is that thing in the pictures?) until the noon dishes were over, and then wear a small rib-eye bone on a yellow ribbon for the next 24 hours. We’d sing for the winner: “Around his neck he wears a yellow ribbon, he wears it for the boner that he pulled (yesterday/just today).”
The recipients of the award from each day at camp had to compete with each other for “Boner of the Week,” which meant that you got to have a skull of your own, inscribed with black felt marker, memorializing your name, camp and year. Marianne Boko was our best calligrapher, and usually did the honors. The skulls were never in short supply, because there were always a variety of dead animals whose picked-clean skulls would show up in the woods or even on the beach. The fact that such a skull was a stark reminder of the dangerous nature of our Alaskan life never even entered our heads. Seen through the eyes of a volunteer fresh from California or Arizona, the concept of wearing dead animals’ heads around our necks as punishment for innocent mistakes might have been perfectly horrifying, but everyone I knew took it in stride.
A montage of “Boner” awards clockwise from top: the author (Tim Smith), Oscar the Camp Dog (probably a gag photo), Debbie Sullens, Travis North. The proud winner (?) would wear the large bone for an hour, and then have to wear the one worn by Debbie until the next day’s “award” ceremony.
Although this ceremony was funny and popular (or at least expected), the tradition died out by the late 70s, and will not be revived, I’m sure. In today’s self-affirming culture, no replacement “punishment” is likely to appear. Yet it was a lot of fun for most of us, most of the time. Incidentally, although I have dozens of photos of campers with the “award,” I decided against showing any of them, opting for some staff members instead. The “Boner Award” remains one of Camp Woody’s most bizarre traditions from its early years.
“Persecution” in the Barn (The Underground Church Service)
Camp Woody in the 1970s was deep in the era of the Cold War, and many of the people we knew (Nina Gilbreath, for example) had actually escaped Communist persecution. We also heard stories of the “Underground Church” in Iron Curtain countries, and some of those anecdotes would show up in sermons or lessons from time to time. Around 1971, the staff began a new tradition, to help us understand what it was like for many of our fellow believers across the world. It was known as the Underground Church service, and it would take place in the barn.
The service would typically begin in the chapel, with scriptures about standing firm for Jesus, and testimonies from the book of Acts about Christians who faced persecution. Then the cabin groups would be dismissed to go to the barn by twos and threes, quietly. Once everyone was in the barn, we would read more scripture (by flashlight, with the sliding door shut) and then pray for the persecuted church.
Suddenly the end door would burst open, and several men dressed in dark clothing would rush in and take away anyone who looked like a leader (planned in advance, of course). A makeshift drama would result, with Dad calling to us, “Stay true to Jesus!” and his captor shouting, “Shut up, you old fool!” or something equally dramatic. When the leaders had been whisked away, one of the remaining staff members would ask the campers what they would have done if this were a real persecution. Would they know enough of God’s Word to be able to stand for the truth without a leader? Would they be strong enough to remain true to Jesus even if it meant arrest and persecution? It was tough medicine, and perhaps too zealously acted by some of the Navy and Coast Guard men we got to do the abducting. But no one who experienced an Underground Church service was likely to forget it, or its underlying lesson.
The Mission barn as it looked in 1970. The building is still there, and is now used to cure the lumber that is cut at the camp sawmill. It is one of the few surviving World War II warehouses in the Kodiak Island area. It was used in the early days of camp as the chapel, then as a site for skits and rainy day activities. The barn was the site of the famous Underground Church services that were held for the older campers.
After the drama was over, the “bad guys” and the abducted ones would return to the barn, to reassure the campers. Then the cabin groups would be dismissed to their cabins to discuss the service in their devotions and to get ready for bed. It is supposedly a different world now, and I’m sure such services would not be popular with some segments of the Christian community. But our purpose was to make the plight of persecuted Christians real to the campers, and it certainly did that. In our world today, the Iron Curtain is down, but China, Viet Nam, Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia and most of the Arab world are not hospitable to the Gospel and in fact are persecuting believers as I write this. So a little reminding is always appropriate. One of the songs I sang in the 70s ended with a verse that said:
“So two by two and three by three they walked in His footsteps on that Gospel Highway,
Two by two and three by three, walked in His footsteps on that Gospel Road.
And they would die in prisons and in lions’ dens, they would die on crosses and on spears of men,
But when one fell back, two more would start again, walking on that Gospel Road!”
Woody Island, with little Bird Island in the foreground and Long Island beyond, as seen through the Plexiglas copilot window of a Grumman Goose. Camp Woody occupies a land grant (owned by the Kodiak Baptist Mission) of over 600 acres, or over a third of the island.
I hope my random recollections have brought back some pleasant memories for you. I’d love to hear from you if you have your own Camp Woody story. For a diary of the 1970s, please see the series “Camp Woody 70sYear By Year.” You can find other links and my email listed below.
Sincerely, Timothy Smith, spring 2006
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Written by Timothy Smith, web author. See the About Me page for more information. Always feel free to send me comments, suggestions or corrected information about this article or any of the articles on this site. (Write to: Tanignak@aol.com)
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