Ram’s Gulch – Short Term Camp
Ram’s Gulch short term camp was probably patterned after Toad Hollow, a cabin camp near Buffalo, conceived by Conrad Meinecke, Buffalo Scout Executive, in the period Ram’s Gulch was first purchased. The site consisted of 44 acres just off the Jarnesville Quarry Road near the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad line to Tully, near the limestone ledges of Greenlake Park (Seneca Turnpike) and not far from Drumlins. It was owned by Onondaga Council, B. S. A. 1919 to 1970, when it was sold to Allied Chemical Co. (Solvay Process Co.). One of the avid supporters of its purchase was Fred Faulkner, then Scoutmaster of Troop #23, Calvary Baptist Church, (I was his Assistant Scoutmaster). Ram’s Gulch was sold for $89,160 in 1970.
When Ram’s Gulch was in operation, Troops were encouraged to construct Troop Cabins on the site for “year around” short term use. After a considerable problem with vandalism by unsavory characters the Council secured a Ranger-Caretaker, Mr. Jones. By then troops had agreed to allow the use of “their” cabins by other troops under proper supervision. At the peak of the program there were 5 Troop Cabins on the site.
I knew Ram’s Gulch intimately from 1922 until the END. My Dendrology professor, Dr. J. E. Lodewick of the New York State College of Forestry had received permission to use it in the autumn of each year for several field trips. I assisted him and in 1928 fell heir to his job. Ram’s Gulch was one of the most beautiful forest glens I have ever seen. It had towering, straight as an arrow, tulip-trees along the northern shelf below the cabins, and scattered among the hemlocks, many other woodland species of interest to us. Off the property to the east, on the flat was a tiny bog with pitcher plants, and rare scattered poison-sumac shrubs. I used Ram’s Gulch every autumn for 34 years and my successor Dr. Edwin Ketchledge continued for several more. During all this time, I saw little evidence of Scouts using most of the wooded area for games or other activities of the sort that I remembered when I was a 12 year old Scout in H.F. Lee’s (“Pop” Lee to us) old Troop 5. All I saw was Scouts milling around the cabins, seemingly without much to do! Since I was not in Scouting during these years, this is probably unfair criticism and I’m sure there are many other former Scouters’ still around who could better write of Scout activities there, but to me there were only occasional highlights when someone like Bill Wadsworth arrived and his outdoor leadership “magic” changed the picture at once!
My only “official” connection with Ram’s Gulch was for 5 years during World War 11 when Dr. Rooks, Onondaga Council Camping Chairman, of the Camping Committee, asked me to be “responsible” for the place. We were most fortunate to have old Mr. Jones as “Ranger”. He took a real interest in the boys and kept a sharp eye out for what went on.
One day, I was talking with him in his “cabin” when suddenly the door burst open and a young scout exploded “There’s a great big snake out there – it’s 12 feet long!!” Jones and I looked at each other, and I said, “Guess we better look at it – maybe it’s 6 foot long.” That’s what it was, a somewhat torpid old black snake slowly crawling along. An interested group of Scouts looked on. I cut a stick with a fork at the end, and gently placed it behind the snake’s head, followed by my hand. I expected it would instantly lash around my arm – but, no, it was as “tame” as a circus pet! I got the boys strung out along it at about 18 inch intervals, and at the word we all lifted it carefully off the ground. Meantime, Mr. Jones had gone for his Graftlex camera, and he took several pictures before the snake was gently lowered back to the ground where “he” slowly crawled away. This behavior was a once in a lifetime experience. Only a few times have I ever seen a disturbed black snake. They never liked my company and always disappeared in a flash.
As a possible contribution to the war effort, we laid out a “training” trail over the roughest terrain we could find ending down at the brook over which there was rigged an overhead pole for going across hand over hand. We tried to leave everything “natural-like” and used only woodsy trail markers.
For some years before I “took over”, certain scouters had accumulated a large pile of old chestnut telephone poles. Twas said they were to build a “leaders” cabin. After waiting a couple of years, I sent to the New York State Conservation Department and got the plans for an Adirondack Leanto. This we built with the labor of Scouts and Scouters from several troops. We made two dandy hemlock bough beds – the boughs nearly two feet deep – soft and wonderfully fragrant. They lasted only two or three weeks! By then the leaves dried out and fell off, but the branches still made a springy base upon which to build up a new layer of green stems. Before this could happen, all the original stuff was pulled out and used to start fires in the fireplace out front! We made several other attempts but it was no use. Few if any knew that you never tear apart an “old” bough bed. You just keep adding new stuff on top – at least for some time.
One day, a youngster came up to me with a leaf and asked what it was. I took it, slowly looked at both sides, felt of the teeth along the edge and finally said, “Do you suppose it could be a red mulberry?” He gave me a withering look which said how could anyone be so ignorant?
Moosewood (William H.) “Well, would you believe it if you saw a picture just like it in a book?”
Scout “Yes, I guess so.” Moosewood “Mr.Jones has a little green covered tree book. You might borrow it,and bring it back here.” That’s what he did.
Moosewood “Now, why don’t you look up red mulberry in the index?” Scout turns to a certain page and there’s a picture that’s almost a “dead ringer” for his leaf.
He compares the two carefully and glancing up at me with new respect says, “You did know what it was after all, didn’t you?” I just grinned. For once I was able to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t tell him I wrote the book! (Trees of New York State).
Old Mr. Jones was plagued by various things that the boys did. A few of them must have had parents from the “old country”, and were used to pouring a little kerosene on the kindling in their wood burning stoves. Anyway, sometimes after a winter’s weekend in a cabin, Jones found that instead of some kerosene left in the lantern, there was a cake of ice he had to thaw out! The boys had used the kerosene for starting fires, and then filled the lantern with water! After years of trying to teach the campers a few “basics” he used to complain to me that they never remembered anything even though he’d taught them over and over. By then I myself had taught enough years to know that he had fallen into the trap common to old teachers. He had indeed taught these things many times, but not to the same boys. Generations had come and gone!
One of the water “rams” carried water up to the Gulch’s storage tank. The other much older and more powerful one boosted water way up to Alexander’s Cobblestone House at the top of the hill – a very great vertical distance for such a ram, not exceeded by any other such ram, at least in this part of the country, I was told.
And now it is all over, the cabins and part of the woods are swept from off the face of the earth to be replaced by a superhighway connecting link.
But there must still be thousands of scouts and scouters who have memories of the beautiful woods, and down below
the stream where lurked an occasional speckled trout.
by William Harlow
(This account of Ram’s Gulch Camp was written around 1980)