Chapter Forty-One: Entering The Twentieth Century

NOTE: "Semi-Rough: A North Country Journal," is now available as a complete book, that includes these on-line essays and more. If you'd like a free pdf to download to your computer, send me a note at and I'll email you a copy.

Sunday 7 July 1996 - This was a landmark night for camp - THE FIRST TIME IN ITS ALMOST 70 YEAR HISTORY THAT IT HAD BEEN LIT WITH AN ELECTRIC LIGHT BULB.

Here's how it happened. Earlier in the day, we had taken a long walk through the woods to McLoughlin's, then back over Dummer Hill past the new Faulkenham cabins. Everybody was there - Reggie, sons Bruce and Dennis, and Dennis' daughter Becky - and Paul Howland, another Dummer old-timer, and we ended up visiting for a couple hours before walking home. On previous walks, we had seen the cabins, but had never been inside, so we were given the grand tour. We noted that one cabin had a large refrigerator, electric lights, and electric heaters, all run by a commercial-size gas generator housed in a shed behind the house.

One of the things I love best about Camp is the quiet. Their generator wasn't horribly loud, but there was never a break in the mechanical background noise; it wasn't what I dreamed about for us. Still, the ability to occasionally have light not supplied by oil lamps, and to occasionally have heat other than that from the wood stove, had a certain appeal.

The journal picks up: Later, while I was clearing rocks/brush from the barn area, Dennis appeared in their Jeep. He loaned us his old 650 Honda generator to see how we like it. Nice people! He also brought gas, oil, extension cord, and an electric light!

We got the loaner generator started in the evening, and tried a little TV (picture a little wavy, like it was reacting to the pulse of the generator), a little computer (fine - Sally played Tetris, and did a little genealogizing), and a 60-watt bulb (read for about an hour - amazing; it easily lit up one whole side of the room). We had set the generator down the outhouse path beyond the woodshed. It is pretty loud even with the door shut and windows closed. I put the wheel barrow on its side between us and the generator to insulate the sound - better, but still not a "wilderness experience". The newer generators are supposed to be considerably quieter, so we could certainly live with one. It would be nicer, however, to charge batteries with it during the day and have "quiet power" at night.

At 2210, after I shut off the generator and was opening windows, I heard coyotes put up a good howl out in the direction of the powerline.

In a nutshell, that last sentence expressed my conflicted feelings between generator (lights, computer) and no generator (hearing the coyotes howl). Bruce was not in a hurry to get his equipment back, so we continued to experiment and evaluate. We bought a big fluorescent shop light: Hanging over the table, it fully lights the south half of the room, and you would have plenty of light for reading in bed. It was fun. Still, the noise was not desirable, and we were concerned about how the power surges from Dennis' old generator might affect our laptop computers. We decided to go to town, and see what was available in the way of newer models. We found a small Honda that was very quiet, and that had advanced surge protection, and on 22 August we were the proud owners of our very own power source. We tried it that night with fluorescent light and computer: quite satisfactory, and with the big outside door closed and the generator behind the woodshed, you could barely hear the noise.

We didn't use the generator at lot. Through the spring and summer, the days were long, and there wasn't a need for much illumination. Also, lights brought bugs, which found us well enough all on their own. By late September and early October, however, the nights were long enough for us to crave an extra couple hours of better light than that given by our kerosene lanterns.

We never used the generator to provide heat, relying instead on the wood stove, occasional use of a propane space heater, and extra clothes and blankets. We did use it to power the computers, and also a television (formerly run on batteries) for sports events and an occasional movie. We eventually upgraded to a TV set with color, and a screen big enough to actually see something on. All things considered, having the generator didn't change our life at Camp a great deal, but it was nice to have.

* * *

Actually, there was one Twentieth Century innovation that pre-dated the generator. Some time around 1990, Calista was having some health problems, and her doctor recommended that she improve her diet. At the time, we lived at Camp pretty much on canned goods and food items that would keep unrefrigerated for a couple days. She managed to acquire a propane-powered refrigerator, such as might be used in a travel trailer, and that increased the menu possibilities tremendously. It was a nice change to be able to include a few "perishables" in our weekly trips to the market.

The refrigerator was old when Calista acquired it, and needed regular cleaning to keep the fuel lines free of carbon build-up, but in general it was a pretty trouble-free appliance for many years. It finally gave up the ghost in 2006, and then we discovered that completely off-the-grid camp refrigerators were not that easy to find. (Most needed an electrical source, as well as propane.) We began trying to get a new one in July 2006, ended up living with ice chests the rest of the year and the beginning of 2007. Finally, we had our new one up and running in July 2007. Our one year of no refrigerator, after a dozen years of having one, reminded us of how "soft" we were getting with all this new-fangled stuff.

* * *

Friday 19 June 1998 - Ppt. last evening 0.07”. Half-and-half day, lots of sun, brief showers midday. Low 59.9F, high 75.4F. Thunder began rumbling about 2000.

We spent much of the day in Berlin and Gorham shopping and buying a Cellular One phone. Afternoon, listened to the golf tournament on radio/TV, and read. I went for a brief walk 1940-2000, out to the new pad and back, but too warm and mosquito-y to want to go farther [mosquitoes really not very bad, but more than we’ve had the last week or so].

Thursday 9 July 1998 - Low 53.4F, high 76.1F. Partly cloudy day, but lots of blue in between. Fairly humid. We were off the hill 1100-1600 shopping in Berlin, getting the mail, etc. 1840-1940 I walked out the logging road to “Bunchberry Bog”, and back, again. We returned our cellular phone to Radio Shack, after trying on and off to place calls from Camp. Apparently service is still pretty “iffy” north of Nansen Park. Presumably, the company that is buying out Cellular One is going to put up more towers next year, so maybe one day...

One modern-age utility that we wished we had a Camp - for convenience but also for safety - was a phone. If we wanted to make a call, we walked or drove down the Hill to Bacon's or Emery's, and used their phone. That was okay in general, but wouldn't be for any real emergency.

By 1998, cell phone service was wide-spread but, alas, not in our part of the North Country. After our aborted attempt, we pretty much put it out of our minds. Nothing seemed to have changed in 1999.

Tuesday 11 May 1999 - Low 33.8F, high 56.8F. Clear, windy all day. The trees are really leafing out, now. I took a bird walk in the morning, down through the glades, then bushwhacked my way back below the field on the edge of the cedar swamp. As I went, I flagged a loop trail. After lunch, I went back down and started clearing the trail, which will start just above the dump.

In the evening, we walked out to our pad, found one of our regular archery hunters stuck in the mud hole on the hill below the pad. He had a cell phone and had called for help, so we stayed and visited with him for a half-hour or so while he waited for rescuers. His help still hadn’t come when we walked back in to camp about 2000. We told him we would give him a ride to somewhere if his friends didn’t show up, but he didn’t come in, so we presume they eventually came. [NOTE: The most interesting upshot of this meeting was that we found out that a U. S. Cellular cell phone will reach the outside world from camp. More later.]

Friday 11 June 1999 - Low 41.7F, high 78.3F. Blue skies all day, only a few clouds, calm, low humidity. Deer flies still bad, other bugs moderate.

Once again, we were off the Hill much of the day. We went back into Berlin to talk to the U. S. Cellular salespeople about service on the Hill. The sales rep loaned us his phone to take home until Monday, then we’ll decide if we want to sign up. After that, we went to Lancaster to do a little shopping - ended up buying two bittersweet plants (a male and a female). On the way back up the hill, we visited for awhile with a full house of fishermen at the Gun Club.

The rest of the phone story: As soon as we got back to camp, Sally sat in her chair and called the U. S. Cellular salesman in Berlin, with no trouble at all. He immediately called us back. Later, we called Sara and wished Tom a happy birthday. Another milestone - the first long distance phone call ever made from camp (by us, anyway).


Today, when it's unusual to see a person who doesn't a "smart phone" in their ear or in their hands, it's hard to convey how amazing and satisfying it was to make that first call from Camp. Our previous bows to civilized life had been "nice," but this bordered on "necessity." Phone service still wasn't great - it was hard to get reception inside the house, and we usually had to go out in the field to get a satisfactory signal - but it was still wonderful.

* * *

Our final move into the Modern World actually came in the Twenty-first Century. It wasn't a necessity, but any means, but it was fun. We had tried televisions at Camp probably since the early '70s. Battery-operated, black-and-white, and with screens a little bigger than a postage stamp, they seldom received more than one channel. In 1999, we purchased a large antenna, and erected it just below the house, and found we actually got reasonable reception on several channels from New Hampshire and Maine. Just before we left for Oregon that year, we bought a slightly bigger (but still small) color TV.

Through 2000 and most of 2001, we had the color TV run by generator and the big aerial, and did just fine. We never watched a lot of TV, but we both liked to watch golf (Sally's cousin was on the PGA Tour, and doing pretty well), some other sporting events, and the occasional news program. Sally really liked the Summer Olympics and the Tour de France, but we couldn't get much coverage of those on the channels available to us. That got us thinking about satellite TV, and wondering if you could run a satellite off a little generator.

Monday 20 August 2001 - Some blue early, but lots of stratus developing until fully overcast. It rained heavily in the 1300-1400 periods, was dry but overcast until after dark, then some lighter rain began about 2100. Calm. Low 54.7F, high 73.8F. Few bugs.

We went into town for the mail, then on to Shelburne to Al’s TV to talk about getting a satellite dish. It sounds like it is feasible, and Al will come out soon [maybe tomorrow] and see what he can install.

Tuesday 21 August 2001 - It rained on and off in the night, but never heavy and not for very long at a time. Ppt. to 0800 was 0.67” [a little over 0.5” of that in the hour-long rainy period yesterday afternoon]. No more rain after about 0730, cloudy-bright the rest of the day, sometimes almost cloudless. More clouds again toward evening. Low 59F, high 78.4F. An obvious new hatch of blackflies, but not bad.

Al’s TV came out - finding his way to our crazy back-country location, and even braving our primitive entry road with his van - and installed our new satellite dish. Great reception. Al was here all morning, then we spent a little time learning to use it, and preparing a better place on the shelf for the TV and the satellite “brains.” The rest of the afternoon we were indoors reading, listening to the radio, etc. In the evening, we did the loop out our road and back across the Kelly Cut. Almost no bird sights or sounds today - a few hummingbirds, ravens and doves.

Satellite TVs, and walks in the woods. The new century had arrived on Dummer Hill.

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