Ye Old Menogyn Guides
"This Was Camp Menogyn"  by John Johnson, Guide in 1949
(1)  "When Break-in Training Really Was"

Our new boss, and new Camp Menogyn Director in the summer of 1946, was a man named Phil Brain, who had just recently been honorably discharged from the Army after service for some three years in a Prisoner of War camp in Japan. And as near as we could tell, he was also the full and complete camp staff that first year after WWII When we boarded the old orange school bus that Phil had acquired someplace, he waved goodbye, and climbed into his new Studebaker in south Minneapolis (and any kind if a new car was almost impossible to get right after WWII) with another man, whom we soon learned was a Y Secretary from Chicago. He was going with Phil and the other seven of us, his intrepid campers, to learn more about wilderness canoe trips. And boy, did he learn.

In 1946 the hi-way was two-lane black top all the way to Grand Marais, and then at the top of the hill after turning north, it became the gravel Gunflint Trail. From there on to the old landing at the East end of Bearskin Lake, it was never straight nor flat for more than about 100 feet at a time. When you met an oncoming vehicle, and thankfully there were very few of them, both had to nearly stop to let the other squeeze by. It was during one of these squeeze plays, this time challenging a fully loaded logging truck for space, that our heavily perspiring driver got us over too far to the right and the bus slid into a three foot deep ditch. It wasn't the ditch that was the problem, it was the fact that the bus high-centered, and then laid over on its side.

The logger stopped and offered to send back another truck to pull us out. After considering all of the alternatives, of which there really were none, we accepted. About an hour later another vehicle appeared, but it was a black four door sedan, and was headed in the opposite direction. The back window rolled down, and the face looking at us was that of the Governor of Minnesota, Luther W. Youngdahl. He offered his help, and that of his driver (a State Highway Patrolman) but we couldn't think of anything that they could do. So we thanked him for the offer and prepared to settle down for the rapidly approaching night.

Just as we were deciding how to sleep on bus seats leaning at a 45 degree angle, a logging truck raising a cloud of dust, roared to a stop. The driver hopped down, pulled out a stout rope, and in five minutes had us on our way. Camp Menogyn was sure a great place for adventure, we all decided, and we hadn't even reached it yet.

(2)  "Clearing the Site"

That first morning, in one of the three small real log cabins that were the total buildings at Camp Menogyn in 1946, all seven of us campers, still sleeping soundly after having been up half the night because of our late arrival, weren't really ready to get up and face a clear cold morning. But then Camp Director Phil Brain opened the door and said "Breakfast in 10 minutes." It was 6:30 am. We moaned and groaned a little, but it didn't do any good, so we allowed our hunger to overcome our desire for the warmth and comfort of the wooden bunk beds, with one inch mattresses, that had been fitted tightly into the only "Camper's Cabin."

The second cabin was the "Dining Hall," we were told, but soon it had been given the name "The Mess Hall" by our little group. And now that it was daylight we could see that there was a third cabin. It was the "Staff Cabin," and storage depot where all the canoe paddles and pack sacks, and other gear was stored, and where Phil, his Chicago "Y" friend who had joined us, and other staff members, if any, could call home.

After a fast breakfast, as we all felt we hadn't eaten for a month (which is probably still the case with campers) Phil outlined the days activities in his quiet manner. There would be water safety and canoe paddling training, and then practice in clearing and setting up a camp site starting right after we had straightened up our cabin. The "training" didn't take long, as part of it was to overturn a canoe, and practice righting it and getting into it full of water and paddling to shore. We were all convinced that the ice had just gone out the previous day, and it sure got us moving. We were through that drill in record time. Then Phil told us to dry off, put on some dry clothes, and get ready for the "Camp Site Clearing" practice, as it was time to run through that final step in our indoctrination.

It turned out that the area where we were to practice camp site clearing for a typical group of eight or ten campers to set up their tents, and build a little fire place, was up toward the other end of West Bearskin Lake. But Phil assured us that the practice in paddling would be real beneficial. And then Phil and his Y partner from Chicago got far enough ahead of us, so that our struggling to keep the canoes pointed in the right direction, and occasional exclamations of frustration, and laughter, didn't bother him.

The site we were to clear for the six tents and campfire turned out to be a really nice site, near as we could tell, and even had a little protected bay. But it was covered with underbrush, tall trees, and a lattice work of fallen timber in various stages of decomposition. It was difficult to even walk and climb through, and the nice little bay was blocked by fallen trees. It was even difficult to find a place to pull up our canoes, which were the original heavy canvas and wood models. We seven campers felt clearing a camping site shouldn't take more than 30 minutes or so, but we hadn't really gotten to know our leader very well, as yet. Phil gave us all our assignments, which we felt were a little exaggerated, and it seemed like were going to clear the way for more like sixty tents than six. But having already learned that our leader did nothing without forethought, we accepted out fate and went to work.

(3)  "The Missing Link on Saginaw (Camp Menogyn)"

Ever try cooking for 28 hungry campers over two open fires, out of one pot per fire, deep in the Minnesota Northwoods. Well, I did and I hardly knew how to boil water over an open fire when we pushed off from the then brand new Menogyn "Campus On The Bay," as we called it. But as a rookie guide, cooking for any size group of hungry campers was apparently in my job description. Things were a bit less formal in those days, and wilderness camping carried with it the assumption that campers would learn what they had to know as they went along.

Our Camp Director in 1948, Phil Brain, had been my Menogyn guide two years earlier, and I had assured him that I was positive there would be no trouble cooking for these 28 apparently starving guys from Minneapolis Washburn High School. Of course I had hoped that there would be at least one wilderness cook in the group. But there wasn't. I was saved by a peculiar set of circumstances. I was already an hour late in preparing the first nights dinner when two of them volunteered to help. In another hour all of our allotted dried food had been cooked, and carefully set out on the customary overturned canoe that was our serving table.

By now the campers were so hungry that they fought to get to the front of the line and in the process several got pushed into our table, and over it went. All of my carefully prepared dinner hit the rocks and slid down into the lake. It was a disaster....and in another way, it was a blessing. Although my campers were already suspicious about my cooking ability, they were never to be quite sure. And when I told them that all of them would have KP duty for at least one meal the rest of the way, they discovered that cooking meals was an important part of camping, and really seemed to enjoy this little special "privilege," even surrounded by buddies constantly needling and kidding them The next day we started to jell as a team, until something else happened.

Our campers were carefully instructed never to leave a portage until the following group had crossed the portage and could see which way they went. But canoe number four didn't wait for number five on an early afternoon portage, and number five didn't know whether to go left or to go right from the next portage dock. They waited for # 6 to arrive, and jointly they decided that the lay of the hills made turning left more logical. It might have been logical, but it was the wrong way. So they did their duty and waited for number 7 to arrive and also pushed off in the wrong direction. We were on a trail where my little flotilla was stretched out over as many as three seldom traveled lakes, and news tends to travel slowly under those conditions.

About four pm I reached our chosen camping spot, with the three canoes who were following me arriving on time and in good shape. We set up camp and got things ready for the three canoes with the food to arrive. They were canoes 5, 6,and 7. When # 4 had paddled into camp, they advised me that they had lost of sight of # 5 about three hours earlier, but figured they could find their way alone. Not good news. I called my bowman, a husky kid and strong paddler, and we set out to retrace our steps. After just two lakes of backtracking, I figured that I had better take care of those I had, and because the remainder had all of our food they should survive until they figured things out. Back in our new camp, my first four canoe campers had already set up their tents and gathered wood for our fire.

These kids were really catching on fast. I told them what the problem was, and that their friends would probably find them before dark, but not to go looking for them, except on that one lake. They liked the whole scene. Now it was exciting, and they were like on a treasure hunt. Not one comment about being hungry. Two even said they would try to catch a couple of fish for dinner, forgetting that those lost canoes had the pots and pans, as well as the food. In the meantime I had checked my map, and confirmed that with hard paddling and fast porting my bowman and I could reach the top of the Gunflint trail by about 7 pm.

This would give us at least two hours of daylight to get to camp Menogyn and back to our campers, with food. All we had to do was find a car we could use. At the top of the Trail, we told our story to the outfitter. He immediately offered to let me use his car to drive back to the Camp landing at the East end of West Bearskin, the one the camp was still using. (Not the much closer one across the lake) I had no immediate way to reach Menogyn at the other end of the lake. But when I stopped the car there was a fishing boat just a hundred or so yards off shore. I hollered to him, and he came to shore to see what I wanted.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back at the nearly deserted Menogyn explaining to Phil Brain, that I had lost half my campers in the woods, and that the other half were probably getting hungry by now, but not to worry, everything would be just fine. Phil, who had survived about everything life could inflict, never said a thing. This was just one more small bump in the road. In what seemed like only minutes, our camp cook, Dave Clutter, had cooked up two large pots of stew, had parted with his last three loaves of bread, and I was in the camps motorized Barge being hauled back to that East end parking lot.

When I reached the top of the Trail again, the light was fading, and my exhausted 18 year old bow man was sound asleep. But he quickly came to life, and together we re-crossed the three intervening lakes and barely lit portages, and reached camp, being guided in by a bright camp fie. The campers had figured we might be needing it. And guess what. The missing five canoes had gotten together some three lakes and three portages away, and with a map of their own had figured out where to go. They had arrived about an hour after I had gone for food. They had all had a marvelous dinner, and had developed into a real close knit team. What a difference overcoming a significant problem, by themselves, had made. And when they had polished off that great Dave Clutter meal we had brought them, as if it were dessert, everyone was really happy for the first time. They had solved their own problem, and they had done it their way.

Phil assigned another camper and me to clear the fallen trees from the bay, so that we could bring our canoes around the point and pull them ashore. Wading into the cold water, with a soft muddy bottom broken only by occasional rocks, including a huge one right in the middle, wasn't the real problem. The problem was finding a way to drag what seemed like countless dead trees out of the water and muck, and get them up on shore where someone else could burn them in one big campfire. At noon we discovered why Phil had brought a bulging pack sack with him. When he called us together from our various assignments, he had turned over a canoe, and had what he called a "trail lunch" spread out on top of it. All of the sandwiches he had made were gone in less than a minute, claimed one of my fellow survivors of the morning, and others argued that it took half that time.

After a relaxing 30 minutes, Phil said something about moving a little faster so we would have time for a swim before dinner, and sent us back to work. By that time feeling had partially returned to my semi- frozen legs, and it was time to go back to the bay we were creating. In fact we were starting to call it "Our Bay.' At six pm that evening, Phil re-appeared from the woods (where we learned later he had been working on the site for a Directors Cabin and a couple of other buildings) and said that with another day or two we would have cleared a decent camp site. But, he said it with that little half smile of his, and we collectively heaved a sigh of relief. It was very quiet in our Campers Cabin that night, but if our little group had been able to see ahead a few years, it would have been amazed at what others had built on that now sacred site.