Washington Trail Blazers

A Few Trail Blazer Memoirs

Jack Brandmeir

Jack Brandmeir

Jack Brandmeir at Nordrum Lake, 1957. Photo by Clayton Kilbourn

My Trapper Nelson pack from Trager & Sons is forty-six years old this month. It's actually my third one, but this one has the most tales to tell. Like myself, the board and straps are a bit raggedy but the bag itself is still in good shape. It symbolizes a long and eventful life from which I hope to share a few characters and adventures.

It has been my privilege to hike with most of the founding Trail Blazers. We were hard working, sometimes unemployed, craftsmen, clerical, services kinds of guys. A few had college degrees. There were no Ph.D.'s or MD's until Dale "Doc" Timberlake, who is a good story by himself.

About 1950, a neighbor and I decided to fish three lakes southeast of Skykomish. He had an inflatable which I visualized as a W.W.II fighter plane raft. It turned out to be at least a six-man with lots of hardware. This neighbor had only a rucksack and was an excellent salesman, so you know who carried the boat on his loaded Trapper Nelson. We struggled up the trail and set up to fish the upper lake. Here comes the rain, a downpour. My buddy noted that "we don't have to be home until tomorrow night. Let's go down to Skykomish and find some girls." I replied, "We are both married and besides if you don't know any more about girls than you do about mountain fishing, it would be a waste of time. Let's go to the lower lake, set up a good camp and go fishing."

The rain let up a little as we approached the lower lake. There under a huge tree on dry ground sat an old (to me) guy smoking a short pipe. He and I swapped stories for awhile. He told me about the Trail Blazers. As a matter of fact, he had just planted the lake. The pipe smoker was Charlie Yadon. In 1952, Gordy Herbert was President. It was Gordy who administered the oath and presented me with my TB pin. By 1954, I was Secretary/Treasurer. In 1955, the club split those two jobs into separate offices. Yours truly was then Vice President and became President for 1956.

Walt Fohn and I were stocking a couple of lakes on the ridge that leads to Necklace Valley. Walt had to respond to nature's urgent call, so he left his pack in the trail and took off into the brush.

`Twas a bright sunny day. One might doze if he didn't have to keep the fish can moving. The flowers bloomed, the birds sang and the bees hummed. Then came the most anguished shriek you ever heard. Walt tore past me so fast I thought a bear was after him. With a big splash, Fohn sat in the ice cold creek below. He had been stung by a yellow jacket right on what the medics call the sphincter. I did not volunteer to remove the stinger. While laughing so hard, I couldn't have anyway.

The stocking of Holoman was a great success but I wasn't. Cecil Schmidt was the leader straight up the mountain. The lake wasn't named yet. Later, we named it "Holoman" for Smitty from the Chinook jargon meaning: "a man without children." Schmidt was still a bachelor. Ah, but I digress.

My 1945 boots had completely worn out. I asked Con Mattson if he had a spare pair. He said, "No, but Ted Ahl (driver for Evergreen Trailways) is making so many long hauls he isn't getting out much." I called Ted's and sure enough he was out on the highway, but his wife would leave his boots out for me. With new laces and a good whale oil job, I was ready to go. Just try to follow Schmidt under, through and over (never around) with boots that are falling apart. I was dying all the way in with pains and blisters. On the way out, I was afraid I might not die. The boots cracked, stitches broke, the soles were flapping like those of Barnum and Bailey clowns.

Some of the guys caught some 12"-14" trout, so Smitty must have been there before. A martin stole their fish from a snow bank and I poked a hole in my one-man with a fork in my hip pocket. The gravel road from the base of the mountain to the cars was like walking on fire, especially after a boot heel fell off. What a bummer!

Until I ruined Ted Ahl's boots I did not fully sympathize with a visitor who helped Jack Pfister and me restock the Cougar lakes above Jack's cabin. (Pfister had traded an old car for a mining claim.) This visitor had been told that he needed sturdy boots. He wore the most sturdy boots he had - a pair of pointy toed cowboy boots, high heels and all. I don't remember rain, but I do recall wet brush, mud and creeks. Some of those cow punching stitches let go; a heel came off and a sole began to go. The poor fellow made it in and out again without complaint, but we never did see or hear of him ever again.

Another bummer was the restocking of Nine Hour, Buried Hatchet and Rainy. I had been putting in long hours at the UW for several years on an MBA and Ph.D. Trail Blazer trips? One per year, the minimum to retain membership.

These lakes were favorite "fish after work" places for "Crazy George" (Lewis), as distinguished from "Quiet George" Kniert. Lewis would go like a tiger tank for an objective and trails were incidental. To shorten the story, I was physically soft and I pooped out completely. I was ready to nap in the rain and brush whether I ever woke up again or not. Lewis and Harder shepherded me out of there.

Oh! We do have fun - like the time Joe DeSanto and myself and others made a long one-day drag; again in the rain. We got caught on the side of a mountain when darkness clamped down. "No sense breaking our legs in the brush or taking a fatal dive. We can hear creek water not far ahead but it sounds like it's in a deep gully. We'll stay right here and find the cars in the morning." Comes dawn after a long, long tarp night. About two hundred yards directly above us on a steep clear-cut sat the cars. We'd have passed them had we kept going, but not by much. That creek gully was deep and steep. You all know how loyal your dog can be. One of our guys made a lot of one-man trips. I used to worry for his safety. However, he always took his dog along. The dog even had his own pack.

On one trip, the dog got separated somehow - lost. The fellow back tracked, searched, called, whistled - no pooch. As I recall, the man had to report for work the next day or risk losing his job. So, the dog was a goner. No midsize city dog would survive long in that country. Skunks, porcupine, badgers, cougars and bears plus starvation were not pleasant prospects. The man searched every evening after work right into the following Friday night. Saturday (or maybe it was Sunday) John Nitzinger finally found his friend; dirty, tired, hungry and wet, but otherwise okay. I can imagine that reunion of loyalties. Quite a guy, that Nitzinger.

Did I tell you that Dale "Doc" Timberlake did research on using anesthetics on fish? He came up with a formula that he put in water and then added live fish. Soon the fish quit swimming. They seemed to nap with gills barely moving. They didn't need much water, used very little oxygen and didn't fowl the water with bodily waste. Fish were actually shipped around the country that way; salmon and steelhead brood stock. That was the beginning of using jugs instead of heavy fish cans with water and ice that had to be kept sloshing to aerate. A full fish can could weigh as much as ninety pounds, but sixty or so was more usual.

The lead covers were made by a Jack O'Brien team from deep sea diver's belt weights. They kept the fish and the air in the cans, but certainly didn't make the load any lighter.

Even before that, O'Brien came up with an aerator made from an automotive fuel pump powered by wires to his jeep wagon battery. They worked real well on long road hauls, and you didn't have to have a man jiggling the cans the whole way.

One of the Barrie brothers had a homemade canopy on his pickup truck. It was rather neat; using a hand crank to raise and /lower an over-shell, i.e., drive low and camp high. The only problem was that whenever he volunteered this outfit to go stock lakes we spent a lot of time changing flat tires. We used to give Barrie a bad time about used rag tires. It finally occurred to some of us that with two men up front, five more in back, three loaded fish cash, seven backpacks, the canopy, a full load of gasoline and a few spare tires the load limits were exceeded by at least two to one. Barrie was willing but the tires were weak.

We were on an overnight someplace in Rainier National Park. As we made camp about five p.m., "Doc" Timberlake and I set up fresh linens on a windfall with two crystal stem glasses. His pack yielded the gin and vermouth; mine, a shaker. I vigorously performed the ceremony. We congratulated each other in mutual admiration for a day's work well done. We had to chug-alug our martinis, however, when the other packers physically charged us. Speaking of charges, Dale and I paid heavy fines, about 50 cents each, at the next meeting, but agreed the enjoyment was worth it.

The best mountain fishing I ever had was on a fourteen-mile hike into the Jordan lakes with Ralph Scherf. We repaired a log raft on the crystal clear upper lake. Then we trimmed the underside of wet flies and added dry fly goop to fly and leader. You could see a flash thirty or forty feet down as 17" Montana Blackspots rocketed to the lure. If you missed your split second set, you could see the trout go deep, deep, deep. If the fish missed, it shot right up into the sunshine. If you set it just right, you had a long battle of runs and jumps on your bamboo rod. One was enough for supper. We each took two home. The many released may have maintained the fishery; blackspots being a variety of cuts.

This could go on forever because one story reminds of another. There's my wild ride with a broken ski leg in a tension splint. Then there is Carlson who skied with a broken ski leg in a cast and proceeded to break it again. Smiling Fred Engle was a big, strong, cheerful kraut who whittled wood figurines with his pocket knife. Scherf battled a Foss tug towing boom logs. In his 8-foot plywood dinghy, he lost; was almost killed, but collected. Pfister's cabin near old man Prufer (? Poofer) and the dynamite cache stirs some memories as does the hermit of Goldmeyer Hot Springs. There's Gus Waidman, master of the fly rod; Goathead Kilbourn and the Railroad Police; Quiet George Kniert ; Al Gove's VW van and Smitty's Canadian oatmeal mush. Smitty tied every fly there is and displayed them on a big board. A master machinist, he made the first "stick it in a log" 35 mm camera mount. Jack McKail and the Lawyer brothers were mountain horsemen whose animals packed many a fish can many a mile.

The club paid for repairs when somebody put a fist through a wall at the TB dance. I'm not saying it was Henry Hoff or Paul Butler, but they always mixed it up as soon as they had enough party juice. Just having a little fun!

Jack O'Brien had a 4 x 4 Jeep Wagon and a trailer. Several of us went perch fishing with O'Brien at the Seep Lakes in January. Mattson had a two slice `em method that turned a perch into two boneless filets. It was so cold that the fish stayed perfectly fresh. As a fact, our boots froze to the trailer floor with our feet in the boots. Fortunately, we carried down sleeping bags and plenty of Kentucky/Tennessee anti-freeze. When Mattson cranked up his harmonica and then sang in Swedish for an encore, we had no choice but to finish the jugs before he could get any more.

There are thirty years of adventures before my active period with TB and thirty more since. There are more TB stories in the collage of memory. Maybe this jack of many trades and master of only a few will write the entire autobiography one day, except that nobody would believe it.

Auf Wiedersehen, Jack