St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
One of Bob's friends at Riordan told him that the city of San Francisco owned
property in Yosemite and rented cabins at reasonable rates to policemen and firemen,
who worked for the city. The city hired high school sophomores and juniors for ten
weeks, provided rooms and meals, and paid $500 at the end of summer to each
employee. They would work eight hours a day, six days a week, in one of the most
beautiful parks in California. Bob and Jim went to 25th and Fulton Streets in Golden
Gate Park. It was a one-room building, 30x40 feet, made of brick, in which the city and
the Red Cross rented office space. Six years earlier Bob and Jim had signed up for
swimming lessons with the Red Cross at the same brick cabin. They arrived early and
filled out the applications for employment. When they returned the applications to the lady,
she asked if they had a preference. "Preference for what?" asked Bob.
"You can work in the kitchen, garbage/cabin service, or maintenance," she
Bob spoke up and said, "Maintenance. Were real good with a hammer and a saw.”
Jim nodded and the lady wrote maintenance with experience. Bob and Jim would have
accepted being cabin maids or the garbage detail just to get there and earn the $500
dollars for the summer. They would know the first week of June if they were accepted.
Yosemite is a beautiful national park named by the native Indians who lived there
hundreds of years ago. It’s south of Lake Tahoe and east of Sacramento, starting at the
base of the Sierra Nevada range. It runs to a plateau meadow that lies at the foot of El
Capitan, a granite mountain rising three thousand feet and east to Hetch Hetchy Dam.
West of the Sierras is Lake Mather. The city of San Francisco owned the land around
the lake and created Camp Mather for city employees to enjoy an inexpensive family
vacation for a week. It offered majestic sequoias, clean air and water, with hiking,
swimming and fishing. During August there were more girls than guys and the lads were
in demand on Friday and Saturday dance nights. The dances at night and nature walks by
day were good opportunities to explore the great outdoors with curious young ladies.
The Saturday after comp testing, Bob and Jim received letters from the city
saying that they had been hired for the summer at Camp Mather. They had to arrive
before June 20th so that general maintenance could be done before opening day on the
first of July. It took about four hours to drive there in Bob's father's two-door, 1954 gray
Chevy. It had a three-speed column shift manual transmission. Edwardo wasn’t very
good using a clutch. Bordi would have cringed each time Edwardo ground into a gear. He
would say the same thing in Spanish each time. After a while, Jim asked Bob what he
was saying. Bob said that his dad was referring to the grinding of the gears as making
coffee. A two-lane road separated the mountain range as the car entered Yosemite Valley.
Bob and Jim had never seen such beauty before. The mountains were filled with trees that
seemed to touch the sky. Finally they saw a sign saying that Camp Mather was one mile
ahead. They approached a sign, turned right, and proceeded down a dirt road for three
miles. They reached a ranger station and identified themselves. The ranger let them enter
the camp. They stopped at the general store. An old leather-faced man wearing a Giants
baseball cap introduced himself, "Howdy, I'm Curly." He removed his cap with his left hand
and rubbed his bald head with the other. He laughed. "Well, there was a time when I had
hair." His hands were scarred from burns. Jim didn’t want to stare when shaking hands.
Jim, Bob, and his dad introduced themselves to Curly. Curly took them to the bunkhouse.
It was a cabin with two bunk beds, a table with four chairs, and a wood-burning stove.
There was a make shift table for luggage and a large dresser with nine drawers that were
shared. Two round carpets lay in front of the stove and entrance.
Curly said, “The first chore we have is to hike five miles to the dam, clean the
screens, and replace the filters. Did you guys bring fishing poles?”
Bob and Jim said no.
Do you guys have fishing poles?”
They said no.
Do you guys really have maintenance experience?”
Jim said, “Yes. I’ve spent summers with my grandfather in Golden Gate Park as a
gardener. He rents a corner lot to grow vegetable and raise rabbits. I’m pretty good with a
shovel and pick, and know what end of the hammer to hold.
Curly laughed. He appreciated Jim’s dry sense of humor. Curly was accustom to
hard work, and he was curious how city guys looked like they had been mending fences
and chopping wood. Bob explained that they were athletes and lifted weights.
Jim jumped in and said, "You know, Curly, lifting bails of hay and sacks of feed."
Curly laughed and said, "Yeah, sure. Next you're gonna tell me that you got
“My mom has a cat named Cuddles,” said Jim.
Curly laughed and said, "Cuddles. That's rich."
Curly told Bob and Jim that the day began at six. Bob’s father said that he was an
early riser. They had supper, when for a walk around the lake, and went to bed early.
Edwardo had breakfast with them, then left in the morning for San Francisco. Bob and Jim
thanked Edwardo for the ride to Camp Mather. Bob and his dad shook hands. Edwardo
said something in Spanish, and Bob acknowledged.
After Bob’s dad left, Curly gave Bob and Jim a list of daily chores that he expected
to be done by lunch consisted of cutting grass, sweeping, watering plants, painting, and
pruning the trees. Then in the afternoon they repaired anything mechanical or electrical
with a motor. Jim understood how a gasoline engine worked in a car, but electricity was
new to him. He asked a lot of questions. He noticed that they had two bunk beds. Curly
had told them to sleep on top. Jim asked who the other guy was and Curly replied, "Gene."
Gene was about the same age as Curly in his late fifties, had short hair that he
cut himself, and squinted most of the time because he wore a pair of $3.00 glasses that
he bought in Lodi. Curly continued, "We were park rangers. Now we are semi-retired. For
you youngsters, that means we work in the summer up here 'cause it's so pretty and I hate
breathing air that I can see." Gene and Curly had worked at the camp the last six years.
They were forest rangers and had fought forest fires when duty called. Once they
were caught in a back draft, and suddenly were surrounded by fire. They saw a break in
the firestorm and ran for it. Curly tripped and fell. Gene came back to get him and the
wind shifted. While deciding which direction to run, a fiery limb fell on Curly, setting his
shirt on fire. Gene rolled Curly on the ground and put the fire out. Curly had burns on his
chest, hands, and back. They heard voices in front of them, but couldn’t see anyone. A
spray of water cut through the fire and a voice yelled, "RUN!" They ran through hell and
survived to tell about it. Both suffered smoke inhalation and burned lungs. Curly had
second degree burns on his hands, chest, and back. Gene had damaged his lunges from
the heat and smoke. They retired on disability, and now supplemented their craving for
fresh air, giant sequoias, and mountain stream fly fishing with summers at the camp. Gene
was handy with anything electrical and Curly was good with motors and machines. Both
were good fishermen and campers. They enjoyed telling tall tales.
Bob and Jim had arrived on the June 20th . The others arrived June 27th and
worked in the kitchen, the cabins, or garbage details. Bob and Jim quickly realized how
lucky they were. The kitchen detail was second best compared to maintenance. Roscoe
was the kitchen manager and a great cook. He was a black gentleman from Mississippi,
with a big smile and a round body that endorsed his culinary arts. Roscoe could sauté a
roast, create a sauce, serve it with greens and twice-baked potatoes, and you were
treated to great southern cooking. Some of the guys who worked the year before called
Roscoe, mom, because only a mom could cook so well. The cabin duties consisted of
greeting new arrivals, taking their luggage, and showing them to their cabins, the mess
hall, and the outdoor showers. These guys made beds each day, empty trash, and did
general housecleaning. The guys on garbage detail had to dump garbage cans in a
collection truck and clean the showers and the bathrooms. They were called "honey
dippers" because they used a large suction hose to remove the contents of the portable
sanitary stations. They were also called the shit patrol. Sullivan was the leader of the patrol
for the second year. His father was a captain in the police department, and knew
someone, who knew someone to get a summer job for his son at Camp Mather. Sullivan
was a tall, slender guy who always looked confused. When you spoke to him, you could
see the words bounce off his head. Sullivan wondered how two new guys got easy duty.
Jim explained that they didn’t have Sullivan’s good luck to venture where beauties had sat.
Sullivan had to think about that for a while. His mind began to percolate, and his eyes
rolled around. Soon all of the power to recall such vast quantities of knowledge surfaced.
Sullivan was able to interpret the conversation, and felt relieved of the burden to reason.
Two days passed, and Sullivan stopped Jim. Sullivan was upset, and he asked
what Jim meant by the remark where beauties had sat. Jim explained that each morning
Sullivan had the rare privilege of purifying the shrines that these young virgins sat on. Only
Sullivan could get so close to where the furry cave had rested. The next day Sullivan
approached Jim in the mess hall at lunchtime, and thanked Jim for explaining it so that
even he could understand it. Jim gave Sullivan his cornbread. Sullivan smiled and thanked
his new friend.
Bob and Jim had spent the first week cleaning the screens at the dam. The dam
was used by the camp, and was the main source of water for the city of San Francisco.
The screens trapped leaves, twigs, and small animals that had drowned. The water was
filtered through the screens and went through a fine mesh to capture small particles. Then
the water was treated with chemicals to kill parasites. Curly always said that nature did
a pretty good job on its own. Gene checked and lubricated the pumping machinery. Curly
directed Bob and Jim to the screens. One day Curly asked Jim to get his shovel by the
tree. Jim walked to get the shovel and stepped on a rattlesnake. It coiled in a circle ready
to bite him. It shook its rattle and waved its tongue preparing for battle. Jim never had
confronted a rattlesnake before. He thought if the snake attacked, he would use the
bottom of his shoe to block the snakebite. Then he realized that he was too scared to
move. Curly came around the tree and got the shovel. "Don't move," said Curly. Jim was
so scared he stopped thinking when he heard the rattle. He tried to talk but couldn't. He
was focused on the snake's tongue waving at him. Curly got the shovel, and with one
swing cut off the head of the snake. Jim saw the head go flying, but the headless body
continued to shake the rattle. Curly cut off the rattle. The snake was six years old because
it had six rows of rattles.
Curly skinned the snake, and said that he would make a hatband with it. That night
Curly invited Bob, Gene and Jim for prairie stew. It consisted of potatoes and onions that
Curly had grown, and a prairie chicken. Bob and Jim thought that wild chickens roamed
the prairie, like buffalo or elk. It tasted like chicken. Bob and Jim were hungry from the
long hike home. Gene bought some rolls from the general store that came in handy
soaking up the gravy. After dinner, Curly showed Bob and Jim the rattlesnake hatband that
he had made. Gene lit up his corncob pipe. Jim asked Curly, "What state was the prairie
Gene looked at Curly. Then Curly smiled and said, "Some come from as far as
"I’ve never seen one in a store in San Francisco," said Jim. Curly started to chuckle.
Curly explained that the prairie chicken was the catch of the day. Bob quickly understood
and looked concerned. "We ate snake !" said Bob.
Suddenly, Jim’s dinner began to rise and twist like a whirlpool. Curly asked if Jim
was getting piqued. "No, I‘m not getting sick," replied Jim.
Gene, Curly, and Bob had a good laugh on the city slicker. Curly teased Jim for
days about the prairie chickens that roamed the range. Curly would ask, “Hey, Gene,
how big do the wild chickens of the prairie get?”
Gene replied, “The ones in Texas get pretty big, maybe six, seven feet tall.”
They laughed all night. Jim did not mind. It was worth the ridicule because Curly
had killed the snake. Jim told Curly that he brightened up Curly’s summer, and that Curly
should appreciate him. Curly said that he would appreciate him about as much as a
twenty-dollar gold piece on his way to Madam Zanovia’s Cat House near Sparks, Nevada.
It was the first Friday in July, and the first dance that night at the camp. There
were more guys than girls, and the gents had to entertain the ladies. Sullivan felt that he
personally knew each young maiden. The dance began at eight and ended at ten. There
was a box of 45 records and an old phonograph to dance to. Most of the records were
from the late fifties like “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, “Come Softly to Me” by the
Fleetwoods, “Sleep Walk” by Santo and Johnny, and “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin.
Bob and Jim hung around for an hour, then they went down to the lake. They sat on the
beach and looked at the reflection of the moon on the lake. Bob talked about Joan, and
Jim talked about his acquaintance with Lucy. Bob said he was getting serious with Joan.
Jim said that Lucy was just a friend. Bob continued to talk about Joan. Jim listened. When
the dance was finished some of the guys took the jeep to Tilly's Cafe for a slice of
homemade pie or cake. It was six miles from camp on Highway 120. Tilly's was a truck
stop for loggers and truck drivers at the base of the Sierras. It looked like a barn in the
middle of nowhere.
Tilly was a husky German lady in her late forties, and was respected by all. Curly
said that she was pretty good at throwing an ax. The barn was old and dusty, and a haven
for stray cats. There were wooden picnic tables with white tablecloths and wooden
benches. The counter had ten red leather stools. The daily menu was on a blackboard that
hung on the wall behind the counter. There was a jukebox on the left side of the barn and
an ax stuck in the middle of a bull's eye hanging on the right wall. Tilly teased and said that
when a cat died, it would become the blue plate special for the day.
Tilly wore bifocals, spoke with a German accent, and stood about six feet tall.
Her sister Greta took orders and served the customers. Greta was older and walked
with a limp. She was chubby and short, resembling a fluffy biscuit with tiny arms and
legs. Both ladies always had friendly smiles and seemed genuinely happy when greeting
customers. Besides lost cats, there were occasional lost men who did chores for a meal,
then be on their way. Tilly did all of the cooking. She didn’t cook any of those fancy
dishes, just meat and potatoes, fried chicken, fresh pies, cakes and cookies. The only
vegetables served were corn, green beans, and peas. Potatoes were fried, baked or in
German potato salad. Tilly baked fresh biscuits each day, and when you walked in on
Sunday mornings for a mountain breakfast, the smell of hot fresh biscuits filled your
senses and appetite. Curly, Gene, Bob, and Jim were there at sunrise every Sunday, and
were the first served. Curly and Gene ordered a mountain breakfast consisted of four
eggs, three strips of bacon, a slice of ham, hash brown potatoes, a short stack of
pancakes, a plate of toast, coffee, and if there was room, a slice of homemade apple pie.
Bob and Jim were growing boys, but rookies compared to Curly and Gene. Bob and Jim
had a tall stack of pancakes, a slice of ham, and coffee. Gene finished a mountain
breakfast with a slice of apple pie.
Somehow Gene was hungry again at lunchtime, and he would mosey on over to
the mess hall for some of Roscoe's southern cooking. Sundays were special. Roscoe
cooked country-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy for lunch. Dinner consisted of
fried fish, greens, cornbread, and peach cobbler. Roscoe dipped the fillets of fish in a
batter made of flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and a hint of garlic. The cornbread was hot, and
soft, and when you separated one in half, the steam and the scent of corn filled your
senses with delight. Roscoe had a way of cooking vegetables that had flavor, not like
boiled tasteless vegetables. Roscoe and Tilly were great cooks. Sometimes the guys
created a debate about who was the best cook, Roscoe or Tilly. The guys at camp got into
a rousing discussion and asked Roscoe to refresh their memories with a sample of his
talents. Roscoe would oblige, and the guys would once again confirm that Mom was king.
Of course they would have the same debate at Tilly's. She gave the guys cookies. When
they finished the plate of cookies, they bowed to her as queen of the Sierras. Greta
thought that the guys were crazy and laughed.
Sometimes Curly and Gene went cat fishing on Saturday and Sunday at dusk.
Bob and Jim tagged along, and sat as far as possible from the bait. Catfish have a keen
sense of smell. Curly had perfected his surefire catfish bait, a rotten shrimp head with a
clove of garlic inside. He hooked the head with the clove of garlic inside the fish head so
the hook came out the other side of the shrimp head. It stunk so bad that Jim told Curly,
"Damn, Curly, this bait will keeping the bears away for a year."
One time Sullivan instigated a fight with Jim. Jim walked away. If they fought, Jim
would get blamed for starting the fight and would have to leave camp, because Sullivan
had seniority and the Rangers would have believed him. Jim waited a week to get even.
Suddenly the guests started complaining about a foul smell coming from the showers. It
took Sullivan two days to find the rotten shrimp heads. Curly knew by the smell what it
was, and who had done it. Curly said Sullivan's frantic behavior looking for the fowl smell
for two days was, "as jumpy as a fart on a hot skillet."
Gene and Curly gave Roscoe the catfish caught from the previous night. Roscoe
cooked the fish, and joined them for supper. Bob and Jim were Catholics, and had to eat
fish every Friday. It was a sacrifice that the Church made mandatory. Jim tolerated fish,
but Roscoe made fried fish taste as good as fried chicken.
On the Fourth of July, Curly and Gene drove Bob and Jim to the ranger station
on top of the summit for a spectacular view. The sky seemed so close that they could
grab a star. Bill Franklin was the ranger at the station. He had just bought a new 1963 red
Stingray Corvette. Ranger Bill let Bob and Jim sit in the car for a while. They enjoy the
smell of a new car. The car had leather seats, a five-speed transmission, possitraction,
and a 327 with a four-barrel carburetor. It had 350-horsepower at 6,000 rpms. The next
time they visited Ranger Bill, he took Bob, then Jim, for a ride in his Corvette. Jim had
found something that took the place of hitting a homerun. There were three things in life
that Jim now wanted: go to college, get a good job, and buy a new Corvette.
By mid-July more guests with daughters were arriving, and the girls quickly out-
numbered the gents. On Friday and Saturday night dances the lads were in demand.
Sullivan loved it. At the end of the dance he escorted the maidens on a nature walk. He
would explain the habitat, the animals, and the history of the camp. It was amazing how
someone so dumb could become so brilliant in the presence of ladies. Bob and Jim were
comfortable with their jobs and the guys at the camp. Jim talked about coming back next
year. Bob said he might, but he missed Joan. They wrote to each other daily.
One Saturday night Bob spotted a careless six-pack of beer that one of the honey
dippers had bought. There was a camp for girl scouts about four miles east. The shit
patrol visited the ladies on occasion with gifts of beer. This was one six-pack that would
not corrupt any girl scouts. Bob took the beer as Jim stood lookout. The unsuspecting fool
had left it by his change of clothes while taking a shower. Bob and Jim had had a beer
every now and then, but never three. They had to relieve themselves of the used beer.
and went behind the bard. There they saw an old tractor near the shed. It was parked
near a pile of wood used for the fireplace and stove in the cabin. The keys were in the
ignition. Bob jumped on the seat and turned the key. The motor started. Bob stepped on
the clutch, and shifted it into gear. He thought he would go forward, but he backed up into
the pile of wood. Some of the logs rolled and hit the side of the tin shed, waking up Gene
and Curly. They came out in their red long johns and saw Bob riding the tractor like a
drunken cowboy on a Brahma bull. "Turn the damn ignition off," they yelled. Bob found the
ignition and turned it off. Curly and Gene said Bob and Jim looked like two drunken
greenhorns. Bob and Jim said Curly and Gene looked foolish dressed in red underwear.
They laughed at each other for a while, until one of the camp rangers came by and asked
what the ruckus was about. Curly said, “Everything’s under control."
Bob and Jim re-stacked the pile of wood the next day. When they went to lunch,
Baker asked them if they knew anything about a six-pack of beer. Bob said, “I thought I
saw Sullivan with a six-pack of Coors." Baker's eyes opened wide when Bob said,
"Sullivan!" Two days later the guys heard that Sullivan was sitting on the throne in stall two
when suddenly he was covered with ten pounds of flour. Then Sullivan discovered that the
toilet paper was missing to wipe his ass. He pleaded for mercy and after five minutes a roll
of toilet paper was thrown in. Sullivan could at least take care of one of his problems. He
still had to walk back to his cabin at ten in the morning covered with flour. He was seen by
most of the ladies he had impressed on the previous nature walk. The next Friday and
Saturday night dances were lonely events for Sullivan. He no longer pleased the maidens.
The following week a new crop of maidens arrived and Sullivan was back in the saddle.
August 20, 1962 was Bob's last day on earth. They often went for a swim at sunset.
Jim considered Bob a better swimmer than he. They swam to the diving platform that was
200 yards from shore. They sat on the platform and talked about stuff. Then dove in to
swim back. Bob always got to shore before Jim, but not this time. Jim got out of the water
and looked around. He called Bob’s name. Silence. He panicked and swam out,
searching, calling, and hoping that he would see his best friend again. Some of the guys
heard Jim yelling for Bob and called for help. Jim was getting tired and he began to realize
the cruel truth. Bob had drowned. Jim swam back to shore, and fell on his knees to pray.
He cried uncontrollably. Curly came with a blanket for him. Jim was cold and shaking. A
crowd was gathering, and Jim felt very conspicuous. He wanted to go back to the cabin.
The next day the sheriff called Bob's father and told him the bad news. They had
dragged the bottom of the lake and found Bob with his fists clenched. He died fighting.
Bob's father became hysterical. Bob's mother was upset that the sheriff had not called
earlier. The sheriff said that telling them at eleven o'clock at night that their son was
presumed drown wouldn’t be fair to them. Bob's dad went into shock, and a doctor
came to sedate him. Bob's parents were in no condition to drive to Camp Mather to claim
the body. When Joan found out, she was in disbelief. Joan's father drove to Camp Mather.
He assisted the sheriff in the transfer and transport of Bob's body. A Hearse was used to
bring him back. Jim returned with Joan's father, following the Hearse. Monsignor De
Marco said a beautiful eulogy. Jim was one of the pallbearers. Most of the guys cried, but
Jim held on until they walked out of the Church and the bells began to toll. Then Jim
started to cry. All of the emotion in him gushed out.
The finality of death sunk in. The sound of Bob’s voice, his laugh, and the twinkle in
his eye when he spoke of Joan, were gone forever. Jim lost his best friend, and Joan lost
her first love. She moved to Denver, lived with her aunt for two years, and completed
high school. She and Jim wrote to each other on the holidays during high school. She went
to the University of Colorado, and Jim never heard from Joan again.
An autopsy revealed that Bob had a degenerate heart, and died when it failed.
He had inherited it from his father. Bob's death was more than Edwardo could accept.
He died of a massive heart attack two months later. He was forty-six years old. Bob's
mother sold the house. She and Bob’s younger sister Maria moved to Miami. They had
relatives there and resettled their shattered lives as best they could. Maria was two years
younger than Bob. She always was glad to see Jim. Bob teased her saying that she had a
crush on Jim. He liked Maria and thought that she liked him. He wrote to Maria for a year.
Her replies came less frequent. Then the last letter that he sent came back, addressee
unknown. Jim never knew what happened to them. He missed Bob, Maria, and Joan.
Thus ended the courtship of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Jim no longer saw Lucy. He asked his mother if she had seen Lucy. She said
that Lucy’s father had died in an automobile accident about the time he left for camp.
Lucy’s mother had sold the restaurant and their house. Her family had moved to Los
Angeles, and lived with her mother's parents. Lucy had been busy working at her
parent's restaurant. Jim was busy with school, sports, and working part time jobs.
During the winter Lucy’s father drove her and her sister to Mission Dolores High School.
Jim did not see her until April at the bus stop. She still had the most beautiful smile that
he had ever seen. It was hypnotic. He liked her very much, and thought she liked him.
He thought that he would surprise her one time, and waited for her at Mission Dolores High
School. She was with her sister and girlfriends. She wasn’t happy to see Jim asked, "Are
you crazy? What are you doing here?" He felt as if he just arrived from another plant. He
thought that she would be happy, but she was mad. Her girl friends asked Lucy if Jim was
her boyfriend. She said, “No way!” He was embarrassed. It hurt him to stand there and be
laughed at. He was confused and left quickly. On the way home he thought that it would be
better in the future to let the girl make the first move. That way he knew her intentions,
and he wouldn’t feel like a fool. Jim was disappointed. He thought she liked him. He felt
empty inside. He realized that he wanted to have a girl friend. Lucy was the first girl who
broke his heart. He always remembered her beautiful smile, and the sensation that he felt
the first time he saw her.
Farewell Lucy. Farewell first love.
During the summer of '62 Jim had a lot of fun with Bob and the guys at camp. But
that was now a hollow memory because he had lost his best friend and the only lady who
had touched his heart. The brothers always said that life wasn’t fair. How true the reality.
More next week...