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My time at Camp Lackey was the happy time of my childhood. There were good and bad times at the camp, but all together it weighs heavily on the good side. I miss the people. I miss the experience.
We’ll see how much time and energy i’m willing to throw at the project, but I hope to chat with the YMCA, some of the mountain rescue folks, and maybe the Forest Service. I thought about contacting the Press Enterprise (local newspaper) and seeing if I could dig up a 1949 article about the Lackey’s donating the land to the YMCA. I do interviews as a primary part of my day job, so it should be a useful chat if I can get in touch with anyone who knows more about the history of Camp Lackey.
Keeping in mind this is based on memories more than 20 years old…
The trip up the hill would start at the YMCA in Hemet / San Jacinto. There were 3 yellow school busses, 2 for passengers, 1 (seats removed) for luggage. The trip took roughly 1 hr on paved roads, followed by roughly 1 hr on dirt roads. We usually sung camp songs on the way up and the way back down.
The dirt roads have a series of switch-backs (hair-pin turns). For a school bus, the switch-backs were a challenge because the bus couldn’t get through a switch-back in a single turn. The bus had to make part of the turn, back up a bit, make part of the turn, back up a bit, and so on, until the bus cleared the turn. This was quite the adventure, especially for new kids, for anyone sitting in the back of the bus. The back of a school bus is several feet behind the rear wheels. The driver, in navigating the switch-backs, would back the rear wheels pretty close to the edge of the road. For anyone sitting in the back, looking down out of the window, there was a scary drop below. Thinking back on it now, the back seat of the bus wasn’t more than about 5 feet above normal ground level and the downhill slope from the wheels to the very back of the bus couldn’t have dropped more than another 5 feet or so. The drop from the back seat to the slope below couldn’t have totaled more than 10 or 12 feet, but it was still a memorable part of the trip.
After the camp was shut down someone put a road gate in, about 9 miles along the dirt road, about 2.5 miles outside of camp. If you visit the camp now, this is probably the closest you can get before having to hoof it the rest of the way. Of all the times i’ve visited the camp since 1987, I found this gate open or unlocked on 2 occasions. The road gets much more challenging after this gate. Also, even if you do happen to find the gate open / unlocked, you probably ought to leave your vehicle outside of the gate in case someone comes along while you’re inside the gate and closes it? Yes, the odds of that might be very slim, but the negative payoff (having your vehicle locked in, having to find a way out on foot) is big, so be warned.
One part of the trip that the busses didn’t seem to have too much trouble with, but most other vehicles (even the Ghost) found challenging was a section of road, not more than 100 – 200 yards long. The problem was the road here was very dry and powdery. When the road was maintained (throughout the years the camp was in operation) it was a hard part to get past, but not impossible. In the years since, much of the powder has worn away, leaving huge boulders partially exposed. A car or even a normal 4 wheel drive vehicle should avoid trying to drive past this point. For 4 wheeled vehicles, I wouldn’t try it without a Humvee, Hummer (H1), Pinzguaer, or a quad. I would imagine 2 wheeled vehicles (bicycles, motorcycles) would have less of a problem. The big thing to remember about this section of road is that it’s downhill into camp. That means you might be able to get past this section going in and then find yourself stuck going back out.
Considerations: I don’t know who owns the land. The surrounding area is part of (I think) the San Bernardino National Forest, so non-street legal off-road vehicles are probably illegal. Make sure you have your Forestry Adventure Pass. Bring a cell phone, a GPS unit, water, and toilet paper. I’ve camped along the dirt road (outside of the gate) in the past and, though I had to work a bit to find a good signal (Verizon), I have been able to get 1 or 2 bars up there.
Ah, yes, the Gromble would be proud…
When I was on staff one year there was this girl (might have been staff, might have been a counselor). I don’t remember her last name, what she looked like, or her personality. What I do remember is that 2 of the guys I was sharing half of one of the staff single-wide mobiles with had this idea. They were returning to our room around 2:30am. I was already in bed, but I wasn’t quite asleep. I lay there with my eyes closed, waiting for their noise to die down so I could go to sleep. As I listened to them talk, they decided to get a marker and write ‘I love Alyssa’ on my cheek. They argued about whether I was asleep or not, then they tried to creep silently toward me. I waited until I just barely felt the marker touch my cheek, then with a sort of ‘grab you’ hand gesture, turned and yelled ‘yaaah!’ at them. Oh, it was good. I think I got a few ‘f-you Perkins’s’ from them, but since they were trying to play a prank on me, there wasn’t much they could say really. Good scare though.
This is how it usually worked when I was there.
Sunday: The old kids would ride down the hill and the new kids would ride up. Sunday was spent settling in, getting assigned to cabins and so on.
Monday - Thursday: Roll call (same thing as 'formation' for those of you in the service), then chapel, then breakfast, then activities. For these 4 days there was a chart of which of the 12 cabins went to which activities (about 4 or 5 per day, per cabin). The idea was to make sure everyone had a chance at the higher-interest activities and to make sure each camper tried each activity at least once. Lunch was in between activities. Dinner, then campfire, then everyone went off to their cabins to bed.
Friday: Hike day. Everyone (campers, counselors) was supposed to go on a hike. A few people remained behind (infirmary customers for example), but most went. The campers were anywhere from 8 to 17, so there were different hikes to choose from. The Gnolls was a roughly 2.5 mile hike over mostly level ground, along mostly dirt road. This was the easy hike. The Land Of The Fallen Giants was around 11 miles (round trip) I think. This was the medium hike. The 21 Mile Hike was 21 miles long (round trip). I think this one went to the top of Black Mountain. This was the hard hike and, unlike the other hikes, was an overnighter, with hikers returning on saturday.
Saturday: Free day. You didn't have to stay with your cabin group. You could go to whatever activity you felt like. Packing up to go home in the evening.
The campfire was the end of the day meeting where we heard camp news, sung camp songs (Cat Came Back, Kumbaya, etc.), and did skits. We also had one of the staff members dress up as Captain Immaculate, who would remind campers to always pick up their trash.
After regular camp activities were over and the campers had gone to bed each night, staff members would occasionally use the pool (clothed, thank you very much). One rule we always stuck with was that no one ever used the pool alone. Part of the fun of swimming in the only major, open water source for miles around was that it attracted animals. This wasn’t a problem with land animals because we had a fence. The fence didn’t stop flying animals. At night, that meant bats. The bats would dive-bomb the pool, scooping up a bit of water in a fly-by, then fly off into the night. The bats were pretty good at avoiding us, but it was fun to see the reactions of first-time night swimmers when they realized what had just flown past them.
I had an experience one year that stuck with me for the rest of my life.
When we went to camp, no one was allowed to have cash. No…that’s not entirely correct. I think the deal was that the campers weren’t allowed to use cash to buy anything (candy, sodas, paper, toiletries) from the camp store. The way it worked was you’d buy a card with 40 (I think) boxes around the edge. Each box stood for a quarter, so $10 per card. As you bought stuff from the camp store, the person working the store would punch out the corresponding number of boxes on your card.
One year there was a fundraiser, taking donations for some cause or charity or whatever. We were allowed to spend part of our card-money to donate. Everyone in my cabin donated, but I didn’t want to. They eventually, through peer pressure, convinced me to donate. It wasn’t more than a couple of dollars or so, but it stuck with me. It burned into me that I hated anyone influencing me to donate my money to any cause. It turned me off to charity forever. I understand in my head now what I experienced then, why it made me feel the way I do now, and that it shouldn’t be an excuse for me to never donate to any cause, however just. I determined there and then that no one- no fundraiser, no beggar, no religious group- no one period would ever get another penny out of me. I know it might be kind of unfeeling or Scrooge-ish, but that one experience forever erased any trust on my part of such activities.
There is a bright side though. Later in life, when I was offered alcohol, tobacco, and so on, I had already had this experience with peer pressure. I knew about other people trying to pressure me into doing things I didn't want to do and I knew that there would be consequences I wouldn't like. I was able to say no.
About twice per year, on average, someone at camp would get hurt (broken leg, broken arm, etc.) badly enough that it would warrant a medivac flight out of camp. I never did get to see it though.
The Ghost was a dually utility truck the camp used for supplies (inbound) and trash (outbound) (bagged). Trash runs were nice because even though we didn’t get to do anything in town other than the occasional gas stop, at least we got to see civilization once a week. The Ghost was used to drag sections the dirt road, by dragging sections of chain link fence with weights on top along parts of the dirt road. It was also used for the occasional emergency run to the hospital- emergencies that weren’t dire enough to warrant a helicopter. The Ghost, gutted, remained parked at the camp for a number of years after the camp closed. One year (I don’t remember which) someone eventually hauled it away.
Lanyards were always my favorite craft at summer camp. For a bit of shameless self-promotion, here's my lanyard page.
It was always nice to get letters, even if you were only there for 1 week. Partly to avoid homesickness, partly not feel forgotten, and partly to not be the only person in your group that didn’t get a letter. Anyone who got a letter had to sing Grey Squirrel.
Grey squirrel, grey squirrel, swish your bushy tail.
Grey squirrel, grey squirrel, swish your bushy tail.
Wrinkle up your little nose, stick a nut between your toes.
Grey squirrel, grey squirrel, swish your bushy tail.
I learned about hand brakes one summer. Of course, I was already heading downhill on the bike course and the only brakes I had ever used before were the pedal-backward kind. Fell over into a bunch of pine needles and pine cones, no big deal. There was one section (much later on the course) we called ‘dead man’s curve,’ with a mattress tied to the tree at one corner. You had to be going pretty fast for that to be an issue and (even after learning about hand brakes) I was never that fast, so it was never a problem for me. Still, it did get used enough to warrant being there.
Pine cones everywhere. This wasn't a problem most of the time, but occasionally we'd get a squirrel chewing on a green pine cone way up in the branches. The squirrel would either bet startled or tire of the pine cone and drop it. It was dangerous if it landed directly on your head. I heard of this happening to a couple of people, but in all my time there I never saw it happen.
I've never seen a bear anywhere on this mountain. From news articles over the years, I would assume there are bears on the mountain, but i've never met them. I'd definitely check with someone who knows more than me, but I think the basic rules are to keep your food suspended high above ground, away from where you're sleeping, and to always make lots of noise. That way anything you might encounter has had a chance to hear you and run away. Raccoons- If you make the mistake of taking food to your sleeping area, you may wake up with a raccoon sitting on you, eating your stuff. Always a chance of rabies, so watch out. I've seen the occasional deer along the road, but the only time I saw one in camp was when I visited the camp by myself and made a good deal less noise.