I just recently finished my last summer ever as summer camp staff at my Boy Scout camp. It was a bittersweet experience for me because I have spent the last eight summers of my life there, and done quite a bit of growing up and maturing on that property. I owe a lot of who I am today to the fellow staff that I worked with and the environment that I spent so much time in. Loud Thunder is special to me. It’s special to all of us who have had the privilege of working there and none of us like to see it maltreated or abused.
To prevent some of that abuse and maltreatment, the council pays a person to live on camp year-round and maintain it. They are a caretaker of sorts and are tasked with making repairs and keeping the property neat and tidy. This job was done for many years by the brilliant and highly competent Arlin Neumann. He was a beast of man and an encyclopedia of camp knowledge. While his maintenance area (the shop and storage near the ranger’s house) was messy, he knew exactly where everything was and kept it all in its best condition. Unfortunately, Arlin got old and was no longer able to perform as he once had, so he retired. Before he retired, he offered to continue working at camp and taking care of it, as he was able, for free—provided he was allowed to live at the old lower camp ranger’s house. Council told him he could not and that they were not interested in the free labor.
So the camp hired a man named Steve Hughes. Steve was funny, he told lots of dirty jokes and had a positive energy. He was always on the move and never seemed to tire. His first year on the job he tore everything out of maintenance and cataloged it so that he would know exactly what he had at his disposal. Then he overhauled the entire area and organized. Every single tool had its place. I mean, every. Single. Tool. If you borrowed something, a hammer, for example, you had to sign it out and sign it in. God help you if you didn’t put it back where it belonged. This was great because if you needed a tool, you would know exactly where to find it. Steve did a great job for a couple years, then moved on.
The next year we hired a gentleman named Jim Bott. He was older than Steve, his children were all grown up and living on their own, but he was not out of his prime, by any means. And his first year as ranger he was everybody’s friend. Always cracking jokes and lending a hand wherever he saw it needed. And Jim’s greatest attribute was his ability to coordinate volunteer help for big projects. The camp really started looking nice. In 2010 his wife had to be some place else. We didn’t see Jim that year. However, he was much more withdrawn the next year. Quieter.
This is where our problems with Jim start. Because his inherent asshole-ish-ness came to the surface. If Jim didn’t like something associated with you, you were put on his hit list and he just would not talk to you. If you couldn’t help him with a project, you were one of The Enemy. Jim even started a “Camper Wall of Shame” in maintenance where he would publicly post who had caused him to do extra work (i.e. mopping a floor, spreading some mulch). When the council got a new program director, she told him to stop and he did. Until she left this year, then he added to the list some more.
Jim has also developed a strange mentality where he believes that the camp is his property, not the Council’s, and that anytime people use it for camping, they are living on his land. So he really hates when resident camp rolls around for six weeks every summer, because then he has to cope with the fact that thirty or so high school and college students are living and working “in his back yard” and that there will be a couple hundred adolescents there every week. For whatever reason, he fails to realize that resident camp is where the vast majority of his budget (the one he blows through by May because he thinks if something breaks it needs replacing rather than repairing) comes from.
Now, he could have that mentality if he wants it. Thinking something doesn’t hurt anybody. But Jim couldn’t keep anything to himself. He started driving around camp on his John Deere Gator making lists of things he felt that the summer camp staff was doing wrong. This summer he started taking pictures. He actually walked into the dining hall as the dining hall staff was cleaning it, took a picture of the mess they were cleaning up and said, “You guys suck.” Then he left.
Jim is also a passive aggressive person. If he is upset with you, he will never tell you what he is upset with or why. Last summer he started acting like a dick to me because he thought I had stolen two ladders from a work weekend I wasn’t at, and that I was leaving maintenance a mess every time that I went in there. Did he come and address his concerns to me? No, he told my boss and my boss’s boss. If they hadn’t told me what he was saying, I would have no idea why he was mad at me.
This summer was a little different from last. Last summer Jim would make a list every Saturday of things that we had not done to his liking. Then he would show up to our staff meeting just as we were getting ready to leave to talk to our camp director about it. He would keep her at camp late complaining to her about us just to make her 24 hours off from camp a little bit less enjoyable. Strangely, we did not get a list like that this summer. Instead, during our last week of camp, he gave our archery instructor (not somebody working on closing camp down like me) a list of everything that we had left unfinished last year. The best point on his list was a complaint that the pool had shut the pool down and packed away their gear perfectly, but he still had two more weeks of pool use to get out of it so he had to get it all back out again. He didn’t make prior arrangements with the aquatics staff to leave what he needed out. They did not know that the following two weeks would need everything in the pool area, so they did their jobs and put their program away.
This new list of his, though, has seemed to backfire. Because after last summer he complained to the council that we simply could not put camp away correctly and left the place a mess. They agreed to give him two summer camp staffers for two days (paid) after camp to help him put everything away the right way. Lucky me, I was one of those two!
I was ready to work at 8:30 AM Tuesday morning only to be disappointed when I saw his list of things to do. Collect brush that he had trimmed AFTER CAMP HAD CLOSED, burn the brush, pull out an old flagpole, fix the telephone poles that mark places to park in the parking lot, clean up the trash around the dumpster (probably a fair thing to do), clean up the trash (one bucket) around Handicraft (again, something the Handicraft staff ought to have put away), cut down a tree, rake dirt (which he decided we couldn’t do since he hadn’t received the dirt), and then even more brush. Also on the list was to go to lower camp and remove the copper from the old ranger’s house along with fittings from the lower pool house.
We can only assume that because we made sure that when we closed down program this summer we hit what was on his list from last summer, that he didn’t actually have anything for my friend and I to do these past two days. So he invented work for us that should be reserved for Order of the Arrow work weekends.
But enough about Jim’s time at camp. Let’s take a look at what he failed at this summer. After he started taking pictures of our screw ups, I took it upon myself to return the favor and document his effect on this camp.
First and foremost is safety. One of the biggest concerns when people camp is what we call “widowmakers,” large, dead trees or branches that can fall on tents and kill its occupants. One would think that before we have a few hundred young people and their leaders come running around camp that we would send people with chainsaws through campsites to clear out the hazards. Not so with Jim, for whatever reason. Because we actually had a tree land on a tent this summer. Yes, the tent was occupied. However, the tree only barely hit the corner of the tent so it’s not quite as bad as it could have been. Those campers got lucky because all of the big pieces of wood fell around their tents.
In our Calumet Back campsite, there is a gigantic, dead oak. It lords itself over everything in that site and is a disaster waiting to happen. Jim did not remove it before camp because, at some point, somebody else would do it for him. As a result, we the staff sweated bullets all summer because we were worried about it coming down.
Those were the two biggest hazards, otherwise the biggest problem with trees is how abundant the dead ones are. They are everywhere from campsites to our tree farm and Jim just doesn’t fell them. It’s a shame because Arlin put a lot of work into those trees.
There’s probably a lot more to add, but I’m tired and want to go to bed. I’ll put up a photoset and see if I can’t put a description with each picture to describe what he’s done wrong with it.
Anyway, you have a good one.
don’t die wondering.
"I don’t like patterns or rules. That’s why you can’t buy into that shit. You gotta go your own way. And you, my friend, are going your own way." - Sam Rockwell as Owen in The Way Way Back