Jim Gardner- struggling camper – competent craftsman #159

With one exception, when I write an IPWG focused on one person, I ask for permission and for specific information.  In this next IPWG I planned to tell the story of the flooring and cabinets in the Lane cabin.  The key person was Jim Gardner.  I knew much of Jim’s story, and asked him to put the basics into an e-mail.  I was fascinated with his response, and so I send it on to you..   

The source of the flooring is GNH lumber here in Greenville   The Walt Ingalls’s grandson had been a DL camper.  For many years Walt had unloaded  and stored the maple flooring for a man who installed gym floors.  The installer retired without telling Walt, and several years later Walt found wood still stored in a back shed.  After checking with the retired installer, DL was called.  Could DL use the wood?  Thousands of dollars worth of maple gym flooring delivered on time at no charge.  

Jim Gardner’s DL story and journey:

I was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1953 to older aged, nominally Christian, mid 40’s parents, who took a Sociology Professorship at Alfred University, Alfred, NY in 1962.

After an absolutely awful first school year stateside [failed 4th grade], I arrived at DL for the first time as a physically soft, little bit chubby, spiritually dead, introverted, emotionally closed and guarded, sexually abused, 9 year old boy; whose grandmother strongly felt all children should be out from underfoot during the summer vacation season.  She heard about Deerfoot from then music director Ted Deibler and decided to give my parents that gift by financing my time at Deerfoot for 8 to 10 weeks [pre and post camp one year] from 1962 – 1966 [Woodsman – Pioneer].  DL ended for me in 1967.  I went home after two very devastating Indian Island sessions in 1967 – I left spiritually deconstructed and shattered though I did have a couple of victories – I finally climbed the ropes coarse initial climbing rope and I ran my first mile run, then subsequently two mile run.  This is the first year that the run to the pig and back began.

My greatest joys as a Woodsman were Handcrafts, BB gun riflery, and swimming, and the singing [hymns and camp songs]; the rest was really, really very hard [physically, relationally, activity skill sets, emotionally].  My first Doug Mountain hike was a 5 mile, body aching, tantrum.  Looking back I was an unholy mess that God began to clean up and reshape over the next four summers.  That first summer, Mrs. Deibler introduced me to Jesus Christ, as a “Friend and Savior,” during in Old Hardwood Bible Classes.  On through the following seasons, the Deiblers, Chief Jim Fenton [a military man who instituted calling all staff “Chief” and using “boss” and “beak” instead of swearing], Jay Barns, the Gill brothers and Barnett brothers, Dave Naysmith, and others, all believed in me, guided me, and laid the attitude and spiritual foundation for my life today – which is I am afraid a consistently inconsistent love for God’s words, for His people, and for those who need to know Him.  I excelled to Masters Level in swimming and advanced well in a number of other areas.  I found over time that as I follow Jesus, there are not always answers but there is always His assurance that He is “with me where ever I go”… “Jesus is with me I know”.

After 1967 until 1985 I returned to DL only twice for a few hours- in 1971 for an alumni weekend and again on my honeymoon in June of 1978.  I did not recognize the DL I once knew and was very uncomfortable with what I saw and felt.

[Funny on me — at the alumni competition in 1971, Jay Barns and I faced off for fastest fire build, boil of water, and burn through rope on back to back fire pits.  Having first choice, I chose the “wind to my back” fire pit; built first fire and it was very hot.  Wind carried my fire over to Jay’s water pot and his rope.  He won.  Lesson learned: the wind to one’s back is not always the best situation!  ~!~]

My wife and I settled in Greensboro, NC, joined and loved Westover Church – a family of believers and followers of Jesus Christ that attempted to live 24/7 what I only saw those first 4 summers at Deerfoot.  My mother died 6 months later, after seeing her youngest married and “settled down.”  All through the years I received the DL Tracks and was aware of a new director that coming to Deerfoot in 1982.  DL was making sense again; I liked what I read and began to care about what was going on there once more.  One item, in the 1985 spring DL Tracks, caught my eye – Needed: axe handles for campcraft axes.  Holy Spirit nudged, I called and introduced myself to Chief Chuck – I knew a David Petty [DL camper in 1930 -1932], an elder at Westover Church, and owner of a hardwoods manufacturing facility that made hardwood tool handles, bats, and ladder rungs.  Mr. Petty was delighted to connect with DL again and every year after that until he died in 2003, he supplied axe handles to DL.

During that conversation Chief Chuck probed and asked about me and my connections with DL.  It came out that DL was in need of a temporary Maintenance Director because Brent Karner would be tied up with Tucker Lownes building the Gazebo.  With my 7 years as hardware sales, 2 years as a remodeler’s helper, 1 year of automotive training at a local community collage, and a deep and once again awakening love for Deerfoot – I seemed to fit the bill.  I was scared to death!  Never been there or done this before!

After a diesel mechanic maintenance class funded by Deerfoot, I arrived as Chief of Maintenance for the 1985 season with my family: Charlotte and my two children Carolyn [5] and Michael [3], moved into Owl for the summer, and were never found during staff hunt.  Steve Trampe was Guide Leader and Andy Brown Woodsmen Section Chief.  It was a very intense time for me and I don’t know how well I really did.  Somehow I was to be responsible for DL physical plant, cajole the maintenance staff to step up to the plate, begin the process of thinking about preventive maintenance, assessing the life expectancy of existing structures, the possible need for additional structures, be a good father, be a good husband, be concerned about spiritual welfare of myself, my family, and my crew, and I consciously chose to take on way more than I should have.  I felt I was on display and I felt I needed to be perfect instead of letting Christ be perfect through me.  Chief Chuck graciously coached and mentored me a great deal that summer and since then.  I really appreciate him more and more through the years since then for his Christ centered love for me and my family and his striving for excellence in partnership with God.

[Another funny aside on me, one day off my family and I hiked the Dug Mountain trail up for a picnic, a look around, and back down for supper over at Tapawingo.  Carolyn [5] and Michael [3] had a ball, no complaints, and carried their own supplies.  What a contrast to my fitful one way first assent!  I was ashamed and I grieved for my Woodsman counselors 23 years before.  What a joy to see them having fun and taking the trail as it was.  At least I could see that God was doing something right by Charlotte and me.]

The Maintenance Dept. came of age that summer — even to the point of buying an engine for a broken down Voyager Canoe Trip van near Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada.  Brent Karner and a couple others of maintenance staff drove up there, and did an engine replacement by the side of the road, becoming DL Boss heroes.    DL Maintenance Dept has matured well since then under Brent Karner’s andKen Hoffman’s able leadership.  Woohah God!

That summer gave me the tools and confidence to go into business for my self as a handyman the following summer and to continue to believe in the mission of DL.  God made funds and skills available since then to regularly support DL operations though contributions of money, tools, and time.  Since 1985 I return often for DL projects and work weekends.  If I lived closer I would have loved to be at every work weekend.  I have sorely missed some of those projects.  As it is, I get to those I can; it is a 1550 miles road trip and gas has not gotten any cheaper, I drive my truck 13-15 hours at 9 to 10 mpg with all my tools so I won’t have to borrow DL’s tools that someone else needs to use and to have available for use some specialized tool that DL does not yet possess.  Some times I leave a tool behind at DL just because it will be more useful there than on my truck.  Handcrafts program’s tools are also a hot spot on my radar.

Work week ends and projects I participated in:

  • 1985 July 4th the first time for Class A fireworks at DL.  While retrieving a passenger van from the Adirondack Garage in Indian Lake, I found out that huge building out back was a fireworks factory and warehouse.  Chief gave me $200 to return there to sweet talk and buy all the culls and sale items I could from the Indian Lake Fireworks Co.  The proxy Insurance coverage and maintenance staff’s covert installation of the fireworks, set up the shock and awe from the campers.  BOSS, again Chief Chuck made maintenance staff into heroes.  Good time had by all.

    Telephones came to DL.  Helped in hook up of Old Hardwood, Tripping, Health Center, and Lookout and made “natural wood” boxes to hide phone connections.

    [Special note:  Bill Gardner was a gem of a man to my wife Charlotte.  He was the only one of the male staff other than Chief Chuck that summer that always made a point to say hello and acknowledge her presence on camp.  This really blessed her a lot.]

  • 1987 Health Center 2nd floor dormer bump-up as one of the many hands taking instruction from Charlie Karner.

    One of those days Chief and I had one of his famous walkabouts exploring the purchase of new vans instead of fixing up the old vans.  Someone was offering 2 new vans.  My opinion at the time was to, instead of buying the new vans; give maintenance staff tools like the kitchen staff had to do a responsible and an excellent job.  Build a separate fully stocked mechanical shop and make it the maintenance staffs responsibility to have the older vehicles up and running safely and on time.  Why farm out the responsibility… give the boys the maintenance equipment, tools, and supplies to work with, help them become needed responsible men and heroes in their own right.

    [Special note One day Chief Chuck traveled through Greensboro and supped with us and told wonderful stories to Carolyn and Michael at our home.  He saw the twin to the DL cross stitch on our living room wall and commissioned Charlotte to make one for the dining hall.  He made Charlotte a hero and a part of Deerfoot.]

  • 1988 Hutch Cabin log kit and roof:  This time I flew into Albany, I met and fell in love with John Foley, and so many others.  I see the faces but the names elude me.  What a crew!  Just a worker bee but I will never forget it.  Got in trouble with Chief – I wouldn’t get off the roof to go catch the plane back to Greensboro.  They had to just about tie me up and carry me off the roof.  Chief was not a happy camper!
  • 1990 Canoe Paddle Rack.  My daughter Carolyn [10] attended Tapawingo for the first time and my son Michael [8] and I came to help out at DL that same week.  Chief Chuck and I had a “discussion” about the felt need for a canoe paddle rack.  I insisted that it be a sturdy permanent structure that would house at least twice or more times the number of paddles on hand.  22 years later it is still there and the rack is full and fits in with real quality of the whole physical plant at Deerfoot these days.
  • 1995 Lane Cabin Finish:  I was in awe when I arrived that spring after it had been built!  Another quality, quality DL volunteer job!  Wow!  (cabin completed in October ’94) My son Michael [12] and I came when Chief had called us to come and shepherd the installation and finish of flooring in Lane Cabin.  We were joined by a really enthusiastic crew.  Brent Karner could not be there till first session started because of his work schedule.

    The donated 5/4” Rock Hard Maple gym floor materials were mixture good boards, water damaged rotten fungus impregnated wood, and foul smelling mouse pee and feces laced through out.  What a mess!

    We, and the Lane Cabin floor crew, picked through the bundles of flooring culling out the really crappy stuff and installing the sound good wood starting down stairs.  We ran out just at the end of the 1st floor.  We did not have any for the upstairs!  The culled wood was black, all colors and sizes of fungus, mold, and mouse pee.  Useless!  Or so I thought.  As a plan “B” we pulled those boards back inside, scraped each board, and pulled the thickness planer from the well stocked maintenance shed to plane 1/16th of an inch off each side of each board.  At least it looked clean but it still was not “perfect” in my eyes.  It was variegated blue, pink, black, yellow, white, and a normal maple color with most of the true maple grain of the wood obscured or gone.  It was the best of a less than ideal situation: it was hard enough to use as flooring and I was glad that the imperfect wood would be upstairs out of sight.  Ken Hoffman found an ultra fast cure water based urethane gym floor finish that allowed us to re-coat every few hours after the floors had been sanded smooth, and as we came down to the wire for camp to start and Brent to arrive with his family.  I think we got 8 or 9 coats of finish on [screened and dusted between each coat].

    Brent Karner arrived and he and I inspected his new digs.  The whole team received kudos for a good job.  Whew.  Then he went up stairs…  Shame and dread and sorrow were my emotions when he saw that upper floor.  I do not know if Brent was nudged by the Holy Spirit or not; but he shocked me by falling down on his knees and literally inspecting and caressed that ugly floor as though it was a piece of fine furniture!   He turned to me and said “Spalted Maple! Spalted Maple!  Do you realize I pay an arm and a leg for Spalted Maple for my furniture?  I have Spalted Maple for my bedroom floor!”  I was stunned; the guys on the team were heroes! Lesson learned:  I am spalted and ugly to me, God sees me otherwise, redeemed me, and takes pleasure in me.  Wow!

  • 1996 Kitchen Cabinets – Lane Cabin — The next spring Dave Reese (head of Maintenance at Houghton Academy) and I made and set the kitchen cabinets for Lane Cabin.  Brent Karner is a furniture maker.  How could I build anything that would meet his level of craftsmanship for him to use?  Never built a set of cabinets from scratch before, usually I just installed store-bought cabinets for customers.  We constructed the cabinets out of MDO plywood [good 2 sides], purchased from Curtis Lumber, which would made the cabinets largely water resistant and stable even if they never got a coat of finish on them.  It was a nerve wracking challenge; but isn’t that way life at Deerfoot is – always putting one a little out of one’s comfort zone to make one grow in dependence on God?  God is awesome and we did it!  Brent liked them too.

My dad passed way in 1993 with many personal issues unresolved.  I felt it unfair and I went into depression and by the end of 1995 I needed to let my business go fallow and go back to work as a hardware salesman for the next 5 years.  I took up the reins again in 2000 installing window blinds commercially by the 1000’s for a few years.  My old clients also began calling me again and by 2005 I was again in full swing with my own business.

  • 2003 Finishing touches to Kitchen Remodel and addition of new walk in cooler. I made shelves for kitchen and storage.
  • 2005 Owl construction / reconstruction – Built and installed the “L” shaped kitchen cabinets for Owl out of 7 ply knotty pine plywood — the second set and last set of cabinets I have ever built from scratch.  Also formed and installed the solid hardwood counter top made from the amazing haul of wood from the town of Speculator.  Crazy Paul Scott [mason and roof sealing at chimneys on many buildings] came up with me.
  • 2006 Spring Work Weekend Guide Lodge garage – Built 3 each screen doors for Guide Lodge garage.  This was the 1st time making doors from scratch.
  • 2007 With Char while Peter [10] and John [12] were at 1st session.  Built kitchen “chess” table from scrap hardwood and built latex glove dispenser holders for kitchen.
  • 2010 Quiet Place refurbishment with Chief Chuck and Bart Schenkel
  • 2011 Porch posts on Founders and Old Hardwood. Carolyn [31] and Michael [29] and me – just worker bees and extra hands for kitchen and for porch posts.

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