May 1930 Adirondack Canoe Trip

Written by Bill Toporcer, my father.  This is an account of a week-long trip to and across the Adirondack Mountains.  The original notes were typed in 1988, two years before his death in 1990.  I am transcribing from that typed copy.

May 15, 1930 – Thursday

Rain made starting doubtful this morning, but at 9:30 I decided to leave. It was 10:30 when I said goodbye to Mabel, Ruth, and Bob and got into the car with George. He drove me to beyond Egypt – 14 1/2 miles. He had to be back at the ball park at 11:45, so could take me no farther. Shook hands with him and waved goodbye as the car took a turn out of sight.

I walked nearly a mile, then received a lift to Lyons in a fast moving truck. Driver made short stops at Palmyra and Newark. Had a pleasant conversation. Walked about a mile out of Lyons. Next got a lift to Syracuse. Driver a middle-aged man, a very fine person. Enjoyed the ride with him. Walked from the heart of Syracuse over 5 miles. Very much traffic, but no rides. Finally a lift that was bound for Clinton. I alighted at the Rome road about 2 miles beyond Sherrill, deciding to avoid going through Utica, where I would no doubt have to walk a good deal. Got a lift into Rome from an Italian. He was coming from southern New Jersey, having driven 400 miles since “half past two – two o’clock” this morning. A rattling old car, but it traveled at a fast clip. Rome not very inviting, approached from the south. Walked a considerable distance beyond town. A couple of short lifts to Lake Delta; then a very welcome ride through the Lansing Kill Gorge to about nine miles from Boonville. The driver was a farmer, shrewd after a fashion, a talkative person, but one to whom I took an instantaneous liking. He remarked on many things and he pointed out a few interesting things along the way, one of them a very old tunnel, the entrances of which are now blocked by earth and rock, but still to be seen if one knows where to look. Old Black River canal, now out of use, is beside the road. There are numerous locks. When we reached his home the farmer expressed his pleasure in my company and remarked that he was sorry he was not going farther. “You can pitch your tent right out here,” he added, indicating the yard. But I said I would walk another mile, trying for one more lift. I walked nearly a mile, but got no lift. I had my eyes watchful for a spot to camp, one that would be near the road, but hidden from it. I found it, a level, grassy spot on the incline between the old canal and Lansing Kill Creek, below it. I crossed on one of the locks. I looked over the situation and unslung my pack. It was past seven o’clock – twilight. I had very little time. I pulled out the tent and the hatchet (the top things in the pack, so the tent could be pitched at once in the event of rain and, because in the event of breaking camp in the rain, everything would be packed under shelter).

I cut a pole about 6 1/2 feet long and five or six sticks for pegs. The tent was up in less than ten minutes. I hastily pulled handfuls of grass and various green plants, which I tossed on the tent floor for a “mattress” for my bed. Over this went my poncho, then the sleeping bag and cover. I sat down on the bed and ate an uncooked supper of all-bran with evaporated milk, raisins, and sugar, an orange, a pat of butter, and an apricot or two. Although I had not eaten anything but an orange since breakfast, I was only ordinarily hungry. It was 8:10 when I finished eating. I had cut the evaporated milk can with my scout knife and used it as a candle lantern. I undressed, wiped my body with the towel, put on fresh socks and underwear, and went to bed.

The scenery between Rochester and Syracuse (Routes 31 and 5) is very fine, typical Finger Lakes countryside. From Syracuse to Rome is too populated and there is too much traffic. Lansing Kill Gorge is a splendid, wild, narrow valley, bounded by heavily forested hills. Unfortunately, I saw it after sundown.

In spite of all the skiing of the winter and all the walking of the spring, my feet were in miserable shape this evening. I had walked about 11 miles, on macadam and concrete, and the soles of my feet were hot and blistered. It is the result of wearing different fitting shoes and socks. I went up and down Marcy* in a day last fall in the same shoes without an ache. When I got back to New York, my feet had burned in street shoes. So it is. It was painful for me to move about when pitching camp.

I am running into details again, when I have only time for outline, but it is the details I enjoy. What I thought and felt is more to me than where I was or what I did. I regret that I cannot write out the most pleasant thoughts. The chief regret was leaving home – parting with what I like of life at home – parting from George and Mabel, Ruth and Bob. They are a great deal to me. They do not see where my pleasure comes in leaving good home, good meals, good surroundings, for a series of discomforts. I must own up that often on a trip like this I wonder why I do it myself. The first few days – with thoughts of recent interests fresh in mind, are always hard for me – whether it be camp, Keene Valley, or any other change of place and activities. Then, when I round into the new order, its loveliness grows, and leaving it becomes likewise sorrowful. So, I hope, it may be with this trip.

* Bill had climbed Mt. Marcy, N.Y. State’s highest peak, some twelve times, mostly in the winter, twice on snowshoes and once on skis

May 16, 1930 – Friday

The first streaks of dawn were welcome to me. It had rained in the night, but the tent was scarcely wet, and this mostly in the form of drops that could be shaken off. I munched a few raisins to tide my appetite to breakfast. Broke camp after making a repair on the knapsack, one of the buckles having torn a hole in the canvas to which it was riveted. I used a couple of rivets, a piece of leather, adhesive plaster, and a needle and thread.

It was raining lightly when I took to the road. My blistered feet ached badly. In less than a half mile I got a lift to Boonville – about 8 miles. The driver, a young fellow, had a rifle in the car, which he used to take a shot at a woodchuck he asw about 150 yards from the road. He missed – which pleased me. I engaged him in conversation to detract his attention from looking for other woodchucks. I saw a large bird, which I think was a great blue heron, but kept the observation to myself.

I had breakfast in a lunch room in Boonville; half a grapefruit, Pep with milk and sugar, a glass of milk, and a cup of coffee. Walked out of town. Two short lifts of less than a mile each, then a third lift to Alder Creek. Some walking and two lifts of short distances; then a ride through to Old Forge with two men – school teachers, one quite young. They stopped at Thendara for coffee and doughnuts. Invited me to eat with them. I accepted a cup of coffee. It was 10:20 when we reached Old Forge. I limped down to the nearest dock. Inquired about canoes, rates, expressage of canoes from R.R. points, carries, etc., from a Mr. E. L. Marks. Said his rates were $1.25 per day, or $7.00 per week. Lightest canoe 50 pounds, Old Town model. Expressage about $5.50 from Saranac Lake and about $5.00 from Tupper Lake. I told him I was informed that canoe rates were $1.00 per day, $6.00 per week. I could not afford to pay more. This rate I got from him. I paid him $16.00, for which I got a receipt. $6.00 is for the canoe for one week. The $10.00 is to cover expressage and deposit. He is to mail me a money order to Keene Valley covering the deposit as soon as the canoe is received by him. I am to send the canoe express collect. His receipt contains these arrangements.

He attached a carrying yoke to the gunwales, I selected two paddles – one of which I tied to the canoe with a rope; and at 11:23 I shoved off for points northeast. My pack was in the bow. It was cloudy. There was a gentle wind at my back, which aided me greatly throughout the day. It was nice through the narrows to First Lake. I put around the point abutting it from the west, and read my map before crossing between the island and the north shore peninsula to Second Lake. Swallows flew about me for several miles, seemingly wishing me a pleasant trip. I christened the canoe Swallow. I entered Third Lake at 12:30, and emerged into Fourth Lake from the channel at 12:45. I kept to the south shore of the lake, passing close to the points but running offshore between them. Summer camps and cottages on both shores, but without occupants except for native workmen who, no doubt, were putting in stovewood, joining water and sewer pipes, etc., in preparation for the summer season.

I had my first taste of swells and small waves whenever I approached a jetty or a point. It was 2:10 when I docked in the channel at Inlet – good time. I drew the canoe up on a rickety pier and went to the village close at hand for lunch of a malted milk, chocolate, and fruit. Then I purchased a few groceries – potatoes, carrots, two eggs, graham crackers, and fruit. I reembarked as rain commenced. It approached a shower as I paddled for the east shore of Fifth Lake, but it had ceased by the time I docked beside the macadam road. I shouldered my pack for the first carry. It goes uphill at a gentle slope for a half mile on the road, then about 80 yards along a dirt drive to Sixth Lake. I counted my paces on the return for the canoe. I figured the total distance as 950 yards. I was greatly pleased how easily the canoe could be carried with the yoke. I called it an Easter bonnet in replying to a good natured remark a man made about my “umbrella.”

I kept to the south shore of Sixth Lake and passed under a highway bridge to enter Seventh Lake. This I crossed to Seventh Lake inlet. I watched for a suitable campsite but saw none to lure me from going to Eight Lake and to spend the night at a lean-to I hoped to locate. Quite a way up the inlet I saw the landing at the carry, but, supposing it to be a summer cottage pier, and observing I could proceed farther up the channel, I passed it by (a costly error in time and effort), and made a landing about a quarter mile beyond it. An automobile road is close to the terminus of navigable water. Up this I carried my pack – probably a mile – until I saw Eighth Lake, through thick trees on my left. I left my pack on shore, realizing I had not come via the carry, and started back for the canoe. It was getting late – nearly 6 o’clock Standard Time. Nevertheless, I decided to do some exploring. About a quarter mile back toward where the canoe was was a very inviting dirt road. This, I learned later, leads to Uncas. It is given on the U.S. Topo sheet, but the auto road is not. I took it and struck the regular carry road, which crosses the Uncas road. I turned north along the carry to make sure of where it reached Eighth Lake. There was the lean-to, facing the lake and providing a good view of it. There were also two fireplaces where one may pitch a tent. After debating two alternatives, I decided to go back on the carry in the hope of retrieving the canoe and returning via the carry. It was 7/8 of a mile to the landing. How to get to the canoe? I took to the woods along the bank of the channel and found a place I could cross over, beyond the canoe. Reaching the canoe, I paddled against a strong wind and rain back to the carry, and trudged to the lean-to with the canoe on my back. I embarked on the lake and retrieved my pack. I was dog tired. It was 6:50. Between my aching feet and my tiredness from exertion I called it a day’s work; but there is no rest for the wicked or the weary, so I hustled through camp preparations. This consisted of chopping a little wood, cutting three balsams for browse, cooking supper (potatoes, carrots, bacon, coffee, graham crackers and fruit). There was also the problem of making my bed. It was 10:30 when I turned in, but not until I had punctured five or six large blisters on the soles of my feet.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I will be adding more to this in the coming week or two.

4 thoughts on “May 1930 Adirondack Canoe Trip

  1. I found your blog while doing research on a Old Town canoe that I am restoring. It was once owned by E. L. Marks of Old Forge NY. My canoe probably wasn’t the one your father took up the chain(Mine is the 17 foot Charles River model). I do think the whole process that your father went through on his trip is very interesting. Thank you for posting this.

    BTW- This is some of what I was able to find out about E.L. Marks. I hope you find it interesting too:

    He was a Mason with the North Woods Lodge No. 849 F. & A.M..
    In 1878 he successfully hatched and planted the first lake trout ever reared and propagated In the Adirondack Mountains
    He was Superintendent and built the the Fulton Chain Hatchery he Adirondacks N.Y. in 1889.
    in 1907 he was listed as one of the Members of Brown’s Tract Guides in the Central Adirondacks
    In the 1910 Census he was 52 has wife was Dorothy S. (46), daughters Betsy K.(8) and Ada (3), and son James H. (10). The census also states that he is the proprietor of a “boat livery”.
    He was a “lifetime” member of the Old Forge Fire Department (25 years or more).
    E. L. was also Justice of the peace for “WILMURT, HERKIMER COUNTY, NY”
    In 1935 the state conservation department cited Emmet Marks as the “Godfather of Adirondack Fishermen”.
    He lived from 1856 to 1945.

    Article from the RED BANK REGISTER, MAY 28,1936.
    Emmett Marks, veteran pisciculturist and the first man to hatch and plant trout in Adirondack mountains waters, celebrated his 82d birthday recently at Old Forge, New York. According to Mr. Marks he was born in 1854, “surrounded by fish,” on a neck of land extending into Lake Ontario at Peninsula, New York. When 16 years old he became associated with Seth Green, dean of American fish cultures to and originator of modern methodB of fish propagation at the Green’s Caledonia, New York, hatchery. In 1876 Mr. Emmett journeyed to Old Forge, where he constructed a small hatchery and hatched 200,000 trout, which he planted In Central Adirondack lakes. Since then he has planted and caught fish in virtually every lake and stream In the central Adirondacks. In 1881, at the request of the California Fish commission, he sent 450 adult striped bass from the Shrewsbury river at Red Bank an transported them across the continent, where they were Introduce Into the waters of San Francisco bay Despite extremely hot weather while, the fish were being transported lost only 26 of the fish enroute.

    1. Hi, Aaron –

      What a wonderful surprise your comment is. I’m still transcribing the remainder of the trip, trying to put it in a book form through Blurb/BookWright. Yes, the information about E. L. Marks is very interesting to me. As a kid (1950s) I spent time camping with my parents, first at 8th Lake and later at Brown’s Tract. I’m familiar with Old Forge and what’s called “The 90-Miler” (yearly canoe race over the route my father took). I live in the Adirondack foothills north of the park (St. Lawrence County).

      I’m curious. Do you have a date for when your canoe was constructed? It’s wonderful that you’re restoring it – lots of work in doing so! I would love to see any photos you have of it before/during/after restoration. And are you living in the Adirondacks?

      Thanks so much for your research on Emmett Marks. I’m not sure where I might put it, but it seems to me that it could flesh out my dad’s story a little. Maybe it could be in the end notes.


      1. Hello Judy,
        Very sorry for the late reply.

        I live in Denver Colorado. I happened to buy the canoe from a school teacher that transplanted the canoe here from Old Forge. Her family acquired it in 1970. They used it at there camp in Old Forge before she brought it to Colorado.

        The Old Town Canoe Company kept meticulous records for their canoes. Here is a thread on the WCHA Forums for the complete build record of my canoe:

        And here is the thread for the restoration:

        By the way a gentleman on the WCHA forum, Benson Gray thought your father’s story was very interesting. He felt that it might make for a good article in the Wooden Canoe Journal. If you want to get this story published I’d think they would be all too happy to do so.
        Here is the forum for the journal:

      2. Well, as you probably noticed, it took me a lot longer than I’d planned to transcribe and post the diary. I’m just on my way out the door for a weekend trip, but will check out these links when I return next week. Many thanks for taking the time to send them to me!

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