From the Archives, November 22, 2017

Camp Anecdotes: A Gift of Firewood, 1985
by Kerry Parker

There was some int’resting stories about [my Ford F-6] Old Blue.  One is the story that… we started doing these pranks.  So, Camp Stahlman had had trouble with their campfires; a couple of times hadn’t lit.  Oh we just thought that the greatest thing there ever was that Stahlman had troubles with their campfires.

So, low and behold, I got this idea that what we oughtta do was, and I was the instigator of it I guess, we ought give them some firewood.  Also in 1985, the year before, they’d put up these curtains in  Stahlman Dining Hall.  They’ve taken down now I believe.  But you couldn’t see out.  It was to keep the heat out of the dining hall and everything.  So we got this idea.  And the Waterfront and the staff all got together and they loaded Old Blue up to the top, I mean with this wet driftwood that was off the waterfront.  They’d piled it up there at the beginning of camp and then we piled on that truck.  And one day at lunch, there was four of us that went to the dining hall, and I can’t remember who all was in there, but we went over there on Old Blue… I drove the truck and there was three others.  The plan was we’d backed Old Blue up, I had it in gear, ready to go, motor running, and ready to dump this load of firewood right about where the flag pole was.   They went inside.  The other three went inside.  And two of ’em stayed over at the windows next to the flag pole, so they could  open the curtains back and the other one went up and told the Program Director he wanted to make a presentation to Camp Stahlman.

He went up and when he started the presentation, the guys started pulling the curtains back and the bed of the truck started to raise.  As they raised the curtain back and the bed started to raise and that stuff started to come off and then they [Stahlman staff] came running out of the dining hall about that time the wood hit the ground right there, jumped in the truck and on the running boards.  And I never see so many staff members come out of dining hall in my life!  Man, they were going to kill me! And Web Webster, big guy, helping us with the reunion this year [1999], he came out of that dining hall and he got on that running board and I mean, he was beating me through that window.  I mean, he was mad.  He was red faced and he was going to kill me if he could.  And all the others…

Realizing a good Program Director, Ernie Ragsdale, realizing, you know, that it was a prank, you know, that it wasn’t actually an invasion of Stahlman, and it was a prank and a good prank, he came out of the dining hall and he was yelling at ’em to get back up there, get back up there.  The other guys were getting in the cab of the truck, getting on the truck, trying to get out of there – those three guys.  And it was one of the best pranks.  Matter of fact, I would say it was the best prank that I ever pulled on anybody.  And we left it sitting over there.

And of course, as things go, why Ernie… ‘course Tom [Willhite] got involved with it a little bit and Jerry [Barnett], Tom wanted to know why was doing that.  He was all bristled up, you know. He didn’t actually say too much to me or anything like that.  But he told Jerry, “Jerry those boys are going to have to cut them pranks out, you know.  We don’t want to have that out here, you know.” So, to be the good people that we were, we let it sit there for, I don’t know how long it was, it was certainly all day that day and I’m not sure when, but we went back over, as good neighbors, as good Parnell neighbors, and picked it up and carried it off properly.  Ernie held his staff off of us while we picked it up.  They didn’t offer to pick up any of it either, by the way, but it was a good thing.

From the Archives, November 15, 2017

Camp Anecdotes: Trash Run
by Terry Rodgers, December 2000

The trash run on Saturday mornings continues to be a vivid memory even after
it being some 37 years ago. Usually the trash pick-up crew consisted of the
junior staff members and we knew we wouldn’t be going home for the weekend
until the job was complete. Each campsite had at least 2 55-gallon drums
that had accumulated trash all week. The thing was that after the Friday
night campfire, Stahlman furnished each site with all the watermelon they
could eat. So, by the time we got around to picking up the trash the next
day, they were brim full of watermelon rinds. I can remember Kerry [Parker]
and Skull [Jerry Barnett] both piloting the tractor that pulled a trailer
full of young staff members to each campsite. Each staff member bailed out
of the trailer like Navy SEALS from a PT boat to “rescue” the trash can.
That seem to be the most popular game to make this rather arduous task as
short and fun as possible. After picking up the drums, it was off to the
dump behind the compound to empty each of the drums individually.
Invariably, one was lost and the youngest member piled off into the dump to
retrieve it. Better not let the ranger find one in the dump (55 gallon drum
that is). Ferrying the empty drums back to the campsite was a sight to see.
I can’t say that we spent a lot of time setting the drum upright in the
correct spot. If I remember rightly I think Parker drove us by the entrance
where we flung the drum as far as we could and placed bets on whether it
would land upright or not.

After this ordeal was over, our parents were there to pick us up for a nice
relaxing weekend away from camp. You know, we never really had a chance to
clean up after the trash haul which could explain why we had to sit in the
back seat with the windows rolled down.

Your Camp Anecdotes

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been running a series called “Camp Anecdotes,” little short stories from staff members about their lives at camp. We have more of these and will continue to share them.

However, we’d also like to hear YOUR stories.  Take a few minutes and write down your two or three favorite camp staff stories.  Keep it clean, but tell the story in as much detail as you would like. Send it on to and we’ll make your story part of “the archive.”

And, hopefully, we’ll post it here in the near future!

From the Archives, November 1, 2017

By Ward Akers, Jr. – edited from taped interview, July 26, 2001

We used to, we used to…. You didn’t have any dumpsters or anything back then, you just dumped it all in a sinkhole up there. We had a sink hole in behind the barn, the old barn that was up there. Huge sinkhole. Sink hole’s where the ground goes away. Well I mean, every year, we’d come back and it’d be sunk again. It’d be empty. All year long we’d take the trash and we’d dump into that sink hole and at the end of camp they’d go and pour about, oh god, ten or fifteen gallons of gasoline and kerosene and whatever and they’d burn that sinkhole out. I didn’t, I only went on time, this one time I went up there to do it with them. We were cleaning up camp. It must have been the same crew that did it every year because they just had a ball doing it. All this trash and whatever and then they’d pour this long thing down through there and they’d get back and they’d light that damn match and it’d run up there like whatever and it hit that thing. I mean, they must have overloaded it or something. I mean, there were No. 10 cans, 50, 60 feet in the air. You’ve never heard such an explosion all your life. I mean, it threw trash everywhere. It took us two or three hours to get that place cleaned up. They used to blow that sinkhole. Just burn it is what… They were trying to burn it, but this time they blew it. It was funny. That’s when I was about my first year or second year I was up there.

From the Archives, October 25, 2017

by Russ Parham

Mr. Tom Parker. Many others could fill in more details about Mr. Tom Parker than myself, but he was another one of those men that I, for one, looked up to as a mentor during my first years as a staff member. Mr. Parker was a school teacher in Sparta TN, and while I am not sure if he ever worked at Rock Island, I do know that he was at Boxwell – Old Hickory Lake — while it was being constructed. He used to tell a story about when some portions of Stahlman were still under construction in1959. As I recall the story, it had rained a good portion of the week and everything was muddy (I am sure that the construction work compounded the normal problem). Early one morning while still laying in his bunk, he heard a faint cry. This caught his attention, as well as that of another older staff member. At first they thought they were hearing things because they would hear this very faint call for ‘help’ and then silence for some time. This cycle of a faint cry for help then silence when on for some time until Mr. Parker decided to investigate. I remember him telling it took awhile to even determine the direction of this distress call. Finally they ending up at Shower House # 3 and found a young scout who had fallen in a small hole. The mud was so thick and the surrounding ground slick that the young fellow could not climb out. They were able to rescue him with no incident but I am sure that ‘unknown’ scout never forgot the incident.

Mr. Tom Parker was the director of the Conversation Yard at Camp Stahlman for a number of years during the 60’s and 70’s. This was a time before the emphasis on ‘environment,’ when Soil and Water was a required Eagle merit badge. Each year Mr. Parker would show up for camp in his old 19?? Chevy truck, painted white, which everyone referred to as the ‘White Phantom’. He always loaded the back of his truck and sometimes a small aluminum boat with mason jar after mason jar filled with biology samples of birds, baby pigs, and other sundry animals all preserved in formaldehyde. Mr. Parker loved the Scouting program and expected you to do your best. Anyone who has taken Soil and Water under him, remembers spending the entire 2 – 4 p.m. period (or more) under the dining hall exhaust fans on the north side of Stahlman kitchen taking his test. We were expected to read and understand the entire merit badge pamphlet. To this day I still remember his definition of conservation: “Conservation is the wise and efficient use of our natural resources, so that they be of the greatest use for the largest amount of people for the longest amount of time”.

Very few scouts ever worked on Bird Study merit badge, but each Sunday afternoon during the Scoutmaster’s Roundtable Mr. Parker would always announce that ‘anyone wishing to take Bird Study merit badge should meet me at the flag pole at 5:30 a.m. starting Monday morning’. He generally followed up this announcement with a show of hands of Scoutmaster who knew of scouts interested in Bird Study. I must assume that when these adults reported back to their scouts that they had to get up before 5:30, most backed out. I remember Mr. Parker venting frustration when no one showed up after promising him they would be there.

During the late 70’s Mr. Parker also doubled as the camp medic because of his background with the rescue service in White County. One true story that he told still sends shivers down my back. One day he was cutting tree limbs with a chain saw. At one point a branch popped back forcing the running chain saw into this throat. Mr. Parker had the skill and the presence of mind to take a dirty handkerchief and hold it against the gash in his throat while he drove himself to the hospital! When he arrived at the hospital, the doctors requested that he remove the handkerchief so they could examine the wound. Mr. Parker refused until they had a surgical team ready. Of course, he missed a couple of years from camp after this, but in the late 70’s he did return with his voice intact and still able to sing ‘Ole Man River’ — one more of his trademarks and talents.