Nick and The Pioneer Crew (Bernie Lerner)

April 3, 2016

     In many ways, the history of Brooklyn Camps is the life story of Nick Dale.  Nick was the youngest campmaster in the history of the Camps, leading Wapoga in 1929, and with Morty Hyman, started Winter Camp, and helped build the original Brooklyn Council Ring. 

     

     Unfortunately, one of his later assignments from TMR was to tear down that Council Ring.

     
     As most of us know, Nick left the camps to become a New York State motorcycle trooper.  Nick, incidentally, was the State pistol champ for a number of years.  This career almost ended when he was run off the road by a speeder in the Adirondacks and lost his leg in the accident.  The State Police retired him to a desk job at Babylon, L. I., but Nick couldn't stay away from the reservation, and as soon as his pension went into effect, he bought out Van Atta's, married Mae and settled in.
     
     Dale had no further official capacity at TMR until World War II started, and he was then drafted by TMR to try and hold the Brooklyn Camps together.  His official title then was administrative director, but for the war years as far as the camps were concerned, he was Wacondah, maker of miracles, and the dispenser of all wisdom, sky hooks, and instant staff reassignments.  He was also the head of all the successive Pioneer Crews for the duration.
     
     My personal stint on the Crew came in 1943, and it was a season to remember.  During the war, the pioneer crews were assembled by Nick each year out of TMR camp and staff alumni who were already nominally in service or on medical discharge.  Most of us had been sworn in, and were all awaiting call-up orders: to OCS, Air Corps, Medical Corps, Nisei regiments, etc.  In 1943, the Crew numbered initially about ten, plus our cook, the famous Seebeck, replete with war stories about "Black-Jack" Pershing from the last Big One.  Nick assembled us in early May, and we used the old Apelachi mess-hall both for sleeping and eating, but we virtually lived in "Big Red", the Brooklyn truck.
     
     Nick would show up for a personal reveille every morning, and after joining us for breakfast would produce his "little list" for the day.  Our job was to set up the camps, and the daily list included building new tent platforms, setting up the tents, getting all the docks ready, painting them, cleaning out the septic tanks of the old willies, blazing trails, rebuilding overnite sites, etc.  Nick didn't just supervise these activities, he joined in when we couldn't restrain him in time. It took us six weeks of work to get the camps set up, during which time the crew diminished slightly as the telephone calls came in relaying army orders.
     
     It wasn't all unrelieved labor.  Nick taught us marksmanship in our free time.  His demonstrations included some impressive tricks, like laying two tin cans side-by-side, about a bullet's width apart, going back 20 feet, and then making them both jump sideways with a single shot between them.  Or sticking the ace of spades out on the Apelachi dock, and shooting out the ace (the small one in the upper corner) from 25 feet.
     
     Those of us still left after the 4th of July, when camp opened, became staff.  Nick was A.D., and my rank of Asst. A.D. entitled me to be Waterfront, Hike-Master (I used a bicycle) or whatever staff vacancy opened up when someone got called to active duty.  Camp was a refuge and an R & R stop for ex-campers home on leave or recovering from combat wounds, and we had some illustrious free-loaders like "Two-Gun" Ishkin, resting up for a week after his third TBF was shot down.  My call-up came in early August, when I was out in the middle of Rock Lake in Morty Hyman's kayak, and Nick sent a canoe out with my orders.
     
     For those campers who came after the war, the fact that the Brooklyn Camps were still there can be attributed almost entirely to Nick Dale.  He ran the camps single-handedly for the war years with the typical Dale touch.  When one of the patrols were trying out smoke signals at sunset from the top of Tusten Mountain, and the local newspapers misinterpreted it as a flying-saucer visit, Nick hastened to confirm this.  The wire services then picked up the story, and Nick was very proud of the telegram he got from one of the guys in the Pacific theatre of operations indicating that they were glad to hear that the camps still had their share of extra-terrestials.
     
     I came back in '48 for a stint under TMR as steward in D2, but the camps seemed sedate and tame after the free-wheeling and free-loading of the earlier days.  Or maybe I was getting older.  For those of us who were pre-TMR alumni of Camp Brooklyn, particularly those who had the distinct privilege of serving under Nick, the action by then had shifted to deer camp at Nick's during hunting season, but that's another set of stories.

 

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Ten Mile River Scout Museum

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