Category Archives: Camping and Hiking

Russell Moccasins, and Thoughts about the Past and Present

I recently found this catalog from the W.C. Russell Moccasin Company of Berlin, Wisconsin.  I was pleasantly surprised to open it and find that Russell Moccasins were not just for men.

Click to enlarge

The first pages show both men and women out in the wild, enjoying their Russell boots.  By the looks of the clothing and hair styles, my guess is that most of these were taken in the 1920s and early 1930s.   There is no date to be found in the catalog, but the front cover illustration looks to be more like a late 1930s or even a 1940s style.  Another hint is that the catalog reads that the company has been in business for over a quarter of a century.  Since it was founded in 1898, I know that is later than 1924.

The last clue is the style of the shoes.  These look to be late 1930s, or 1940s.  The trouble with sports clothing and shoes is that while fashion is considered, the styles are a bit more constant than a fashion garment or shoe.  But still, I’m leaning toward late 1930s for a date on the catalog.

This boot was a favorite for hiking and camping.  I’ve seen ads for very similar ones as early as 1922.  I have a pair in my collection from Abercrombie & Fitch, the famous outfitters for adventurers.

Click to better see the moviegram

I thought this “moviegram” showing moccasin construction was very interesting.  And just because I love them so much, here are better views of some of the women campers.

I look at a lot of old images, read a lot of vintage magazines and watch classic movies.  To my modern sensibilities, sometimes the things I encounter are disquieting.  The way people thought about race relations, animal rights, and the status of women can be vastly different from the way I look at these issues.

Right now I’m slowily reading my way through every issue of Life magazine, thanks to Google Books.  To be honest, I’ve been shocked at the language used when referring to people of different races.  Words that today we think are used only by ignorant racists were used freely in a national magazine.  Especially in advertising, women are portrayed as being glorified house maids, being concerned with trivial domestic problems while the man of the house works to support her.  There are photos of hunters surrounded by dead animals, in which sport hunting is glorified.

When I encounter such a disturbing image or passage, my mind has to remind my sensibilities that this was almost 80 years ago, and today at least people are aware of these issues and are working toward solving the injustices of life.  I don’t have to like what I’m seeing, but I have learned to put it in the past where it belongs.   Sometimes I think history lovers tend to over-glorify the past.  I love the images of the women I’ve posted here, and frankly have thought about what a great time it must have been.  I’m glad that the photos do not contain images of dead animals, which they very well could have seeing that they are, after all, in the woods and probably hunting.

Which brings me to the present.  I was really surprised to learn that the W.R. Russell Company is still in business, still producing boots in Berlin, Wisconsin.  I was all ready to link to their site when I encountered a page where customers are pictured wearing their boots, surrounded by their prey.  It was like it was 1933 and these guys were big game hunters in darkest Africa.

I live in an area of the country where hunting is still accepted.   Cars sport bumper stickers like “Hunt with your kid, not hunt for him.”  I realize that some people do still hunt for their food, and I know that hunting does help control animal over-population.  However, I cannot understand why any website that is trying to sell shoes in the 21st century would feature photos of great-white-hunter wannabes.    I respect the heritage of hunting.  It is how our ancestors survived.  But I do not understand gratuitous killing just to make the killer look manly.

My point here is not to bash hunters. My grandfather was a “fox hunter.”  I put that in quotes because in his case being a hunter meant that he and his buddies liked to dress in red buffalo check jackets, go camping, and let their hounds run loose.   My point is that we need to remember the past and to honor it.  But there are some things about the past that need to stay there.

UPDATE:  I have discovered that this catalog dates from 1940.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Made in the USA, Shoes, Viewpoint

Glenn Lowry Mill Campfire Girls, 1920s

I read a notice about a “summer camp fair” where parents can go and talk to representatives from all the area camps.  It seems a bit odd considering that almost all the clientele of these camps are flat-landers.  But anyway it reminded me of some pages from a photo album that I bought several years ago.

The photos were of a group of Camp Fire Girls, and there was also a printed article about their time camping and hiking in Western North Carolina.  Also included was a little song or chant:

I sort of assumed that the name of the camp was Glenn-Lowry, but I’d never heard of a camp by that name in this region, and a search turned up nothing.   In reading the article it mentioned “Whitmire girls” and that is where I got lucky.  As it turns out, these girls were from Whitmire, South Carolina, and they were all associated with the Glenn-Lowry Mill that was located there.

The idea of camping as recreation  in the US arose a generation or so after people who were pioneers and moving into new territory pretty much had to spend their traveling nights camping.  What had once been a hardship was now thought to be a fun way to escape the city and modern life.  In many ways it was a pursuit for the middle class and the wealthy, as the poor factory workers had neither the time nor the money for extended leisure.

But things were different in some mill towns, and it seems that Whitmire was one of the lucky ones.  The wife of the owner, Evelyn Coleman who was from Asheville, worked to develop educational and recreational resources for the workers and their families.  The company ran a YMCA, a bowling alley, and a skating rink.  There were baseball teams and clubs for the kids and for the mothers.  And in the early years, there was a group of Camp Fire Girls.

On this occasion, the girls were camping at Camp Minnehaha, which is located about ten miles southeast of Asheville, near the little town of Batcave.  From there they traveled around the region, taking day hikes to some of the most popular spots – Mount Pisgah, Chimney Rock and Blowing Rock.  It must have been a very big adventure for girls living in a small South Carolina cotton mill town.

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Von Lengerke & Antoine, 1939 The Time of Your Life Begins Here

Von Lengerke & Antoine was the less famous branch of Abercrombie & Fitch.  Located in Chicago, it has a colorful history that includes Al Capone, but it was overshadowed by the company that acquired it in 1928, A&F.   Still, it was one of the great 20th century sporting goods stores and their catalogs are a delight for people (like me) who love vintage sportswear.

An interesting thing I found today:  comedian Bob Newhart worked briefly at Von Lengerke & Antoine in the late 1950s, and he tells about it as only he can.

The sunglasses made famous by General George MacArthur, the Ray-ban Aviator.  And yes, they really were new, having been introduced in 1937.

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100 Years of Girl Scouting

The Girl Scouts of America celebrated their 100th birthday yesterday.  I celebrated by looking through this 1933 handbook that I found the the Goodwill Store a few weeks ago.  It’s a fascinating look at how scouting and the education of girls has changed.  The book contains not just the guide to the outdoors that one might expect, but also such topics as “The Girl Scout Homemaker” and “Taking Care of Younger Children.”

When I was about ten, my greatest ambition in life was to be a Girl Scout.  Unfortunately for me, our community did not have a troop.  One day the rumor started going around school that a troop was forming at the church that was located next to my school.  There was to be a meeting on a certain day, and all the girls could join up.  On the appointed day, a group of girls gathered at the church, eagerly awaiting the Girls Scout Leader, for for some odd reason, no one showed up.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure that I was the one that started the rumor, as though I could somehow will my wish into being!

Years later I finally did become a Girl Scout, as a co-leader with a friend of mine.  I am positive it would have been more fun at ten than it was at 35!

All illustrations are from the 1933 edition of the Girl Scout Handbook

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What I Didn’t Buy – Trapper Nelson Indian Board Backpack

As a collector of women’s sportswear, I’ve been very tempted to veer into the vintage sports equipment world.  A canvas golf bag with a few hickory shaft clubs would look great with that vintage golfing frock, wouldn’t it?  Or how about a nice pair of ice skates to go with the 1940s skating dress?

Thankfully, common sense continues to prevail here.  As of yet the only real equipment pieces I have are a pair of 1940s roller skates that were a gift, and my own 1970s tennis racket.

But I did love seeing this vintage backpack.  I know absolutely nothing about it, but I did find this old blog post in which a lot of people sang the praises of the Trapper Nelson.   Hopefully someone will stumble by with some  information.

According to the seller’s tag, this Pioneer Brand Trapper Nelson Indian Pack Board by the Jones Tent and Awning Company of Vancouver, dates from the 1920s.  Since this is a #3, it is possibly newer than that, as these were made for a very long time.    It was priced at a healthy $125, and I have no idea if that is a good or a bad price.  I do know that old canvas bags are currently in vogue, due partly to exposure in certain blogs that love that heritage, “authentic” look.

And speaking of which, in the past year I’ve noticed that flea market and antique booths are getting darker.  I mean that literally, as the omnipresent white painted shabby look seems to be waning.  Considering that Shabby Chic by Rachel Ashwell was published in 1996, and by that time the look was already quite popular, I’d say it’s time to move on.  But what the heck will happen to all that white painted furniture?

 

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, I Didn't Buy...

Camp Greystone, 1930s

It’s not often that I run across a neat little collection of this type.  It’s not a recent collection; it was made by Sarah Elizabeth Jetton of Davidson, NC in the early 1930s.  It is a collection of her own camp memorabilia.

Sarah attended Camp Greystone, located in Tuxedo, NC, for at least four years – 1931 – 1934.  Because she was in her late teens and early 20s during these years, I’m assuming she was there as a camp counselor.  During this time Sarah was attending college, first at Salem College, then at Davidson.   From that fact, we can deduce that Sarah’s family must have been well off, as this was the height of the Depression, and college was a real luxury during those days.

While I couldn’t find what Sarah’s father’s occupation was, it is possible he was in banking, as both Sarah and her only sibling both choose banking careers.   I’ve been reading a biography of Henry Belk, who with his brother John Belk established the Charlotte, NC based Belk Department stores.  According to the biographer, Le Gette Blythe, this area of North Carolina was somewhat insulated from the financial troubles of Wall Street.  Belk used a system of supply that worked directly with the many textile manufacturers of  central North Carolina, and by cutting prices most of them were able to stay afloat, and to even grow during this time.  (My father had three sisters who left the mountains during the Depression, went to the Charlotte area looking for textile jobs, and found them.) This surely made for a happy banking situation.

At any rate, Sarah kept all her camp souvenirs, and a dealer had bought the entire lot at the sale of her estate.  I was attracted to the booth by the sweater, which was such a great item, but he rightly refused to sell just it, vowing to keep the collection together.  So I decided to pass, because I knew this is a collection that will mean much more to the right buyer than it would to me.  Still I gave it serious consideration, and it was only the subsequent purchase of two 1920s frocks that made any further consideration pointless!  (in other words, I was broke!)

Camp Greystone is still in operation today, and is still run by the family of the man who founded it in 1920.  It is located in Tuxedo, NC, which is just south of me near the South Carolina line.  Tuxedo was started as a mill town when a textile factory was built there around 1907.  As a source of power, the company built two lakes which quickly became summering spots for hot flatlanders.  Before long there were several summer camps along the edge of the lake.  It’s quite picturesque, with vintage cabins and boathouses dotting the lake shore.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

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The 1930s Travel Trailer Camping Craze

The 1930s saw the rise of an odd phenomena considering the the world was in the grips of an  economic disaster.  In 1930 Arthur Sherman started manufacturing travel trailers.  You would think that the Great Depression was a poor time to start a business, but Sherman’s Covered Wagon Company was wildly successful.

People had been auto camping for years, and saw it as an economic alternative to traditional travel where there were train fares and hotel bills.   Times might have been tough, but people saw camping as a way to continue travel.  Many travel trailers were homemade, and even a  manufactured one could be bought for as little as $300 (about $4700 today).  Trailers were sold by the thousands.

The press was partially responsible for the trailer boom.  Magazines from Popular Mechanics to Woman’s Home Companion heaped praise upon the benefits of trailer camping.   Bouyed by all the hype, the trailer companies over-produced in 1937, which led to disaster for many of them, including Covered Wagon.   The market was saturated, and the slow economic recovery was halted by a series of strikes in the auto industry.  Many of the companies barely made it to 1942, when the US military began buying travel trailers to use as military housing.

At the same time, many trailer owners were forced to park them for the duration, forming trailer parks that were more like permanent addresses.  And after the war, many young families turned to travel trailers in an effort to find housing.  Trailers were still built as a travel home, but just barely.  This was shown in the  1953  Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez comedy, The Long, Long Trailer.  By the next year companies started making the trailers wider – 10 feet, and it soon became obvious that the trailer industry was diverging.   Travel trailers remained small, but house trailers, or mobile homes grew and grew.

Considering how many of these were made in the 1930s, they are not commonly seen today.  I know where a couple of them are parked, and I’m betting they have been there since the 1940s.   Most of the vintage travel trailers we see today are from the late 1950s and newer.  To learn more about vintage travel trailers, there is a great book, Ready to Roll, by Arrol Geller and Douglas Keister.

Today’s illustrations are from a 1936 Covered Wagon catalog.

Here’s an old post I did with an inside view of a 1940s trailer.

And finally, a not-to-be-missed photo essay from Life magazine.

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