First Waterfront Director
I was the first waterfront director at Tomahawk.
My first trip to Long Lake was in the summer of 1953. We rented a boat from Kunz Marine near what is now Prop’s and crossed to the Fisher Cabin at what became Campsite 1 and then Cherokee. Then we hiked around a fair amount and got a feel for this wonderful place. I'm not sure if I fell in love with the property that was soon to become our camp right then or on the next trip later that summer.
I then met Axel Nielsen who had sold the land to the Scout council and he became a friend and idol for me. What would we have had without Axel? I think we made a third trip that summer.
In the summer of 1954 a modest start at a camp was made. Fish Foster was camp/waterfront/cook etc. director that summer. Ben Flood would make a trip from Neibel each week to assist Fish with water activities. It was then that we decided to locate the Main Beach at its location in Chippewa (a camp name I did not know or use at the time).
The winter of 1954-55 during Christmas vacation, Ben and I hiked in and measured layout and water depths for the new pier.
The ponderous metal pier was a real treat after the terrible one at Neibel, where a large crew was necessary to put it in and take it out. The lumber was donated by the railroad. All bulky, creosote covered wood. Each section needed four to six guys to carry it to the water, a large plank at each section. The platform at the southwest corner took at least eight really lifting. Whenever it was warm the creosote would leak out; many swimmers would get burns and many swimming suits were ruined.
However, putting the metal dock (really a large Erector Set) together at Tomahawk that first spring of 1955 was still a chore. The water was very cold in June and Ben Flood and I were left alone after the first day. Shaking, chattering, and with blue lips we managed. It was actually pleasant to spend evenings, warm, and clearing campsites or nailing roofing on the dining hall!
Probably the most dramatic part of the move was changing from basically provisional camping to unit camping. This was a vast improvement over what I was used to when I worked for Minneapolis Viking Council five years earlier.
Tomahawk worked well that first year because all of the staff worked very hard and the directors were fantastic.
I was eager to return as I was privileged to for two more years. Already many changes were taking place. As troops were spread out a significant distance along the lakeshore we had to provide instruction and supervising was scattered. Most aquatic activity was at Main Beach.
A passing comment on how things have changed over the last 50 years: In 1956 I decided to grow a beard. It was a fine one but a parent saw me and complained to the office in St. Paul. Instructions came down that I would shave before I could be paid. We had a very understanding camp director and he suggested that he would hold my checks and if I shaved at the close of the season he would give me my pay. It was a forced savings plan.
At the 50th reunion several persons told me about being beached by me for two weeks! I'm sure that that was an exaggeration. But safety was paramount in my mind the summer of 1956 when a real nightmare occurred. A very experienced troop was camping independently on the island about a mile north of the main beach. One of the leaders was epileptic and during physical exams I was called up to the dining hall where they were being conducted. After consultation it was decided that he should sign a waiver. However, the last day of their week, while taking down flags, he had a seizure, rolled down a small hill and ended up face down in the lake. He was the only drowning at Tomahawk during my eight-year watch over St. Paul-Indianhead Council water activities. I will never forget it.
During my time at camp we had no boathouse on the beach. Spring and fall all boats and canoes had to be carried to the dinning hall and a few to Lake Nielsen. It was no simple task. I devised a way to carry the 14-foot AlumaCraft boats alone—like carrying a canoe. I don't think anyone else did it that way.
My real joy was teaching non-swimmers but also countless aquatic Merit Badge classes—rowing, canoeing, swimming, lifesaving and some sailing. It’s a pleasure for me to recall all of the wonderful times and Scouters and Scouts that I had the good luck to work for and with.
Sincerely, Dave Fihn.