The Wisdom of Roy Buchanan

In 1931, the Green Mountain Club formed the Long Trail Patrol and appointed Roy O. Buchanan as its director. Roy and groups of students maintained hiking trails, built new shelters and made repairs to existing ones. Roy’s enthusiasm for the outdoors and love of Vermont’s mountains have inspired generations of hikers. In this article, Ridge Lines correspondent Daan Zwick shares seven things he learned from Roy.

When I was a boy in Burlington during the 1930s and 1940s, I was fortunate to be in the company of Roy Buchanan on many occasions. Some of these were Burlington Section hikes, but more frequent opportunities came during my summers as caretaker of Taft Lodge (1939-41). During these years, the Long Trail Patrol, led by Roy, worked on the trails and did cabin repairs. Being with Roy was always a learning experience. He had a very gentle way of showing you just the right way to do a job. I would like to pass on some of what I can remember about that education.

How to Make a Low-Tech Level
Roy always wanted his constructions, a cabin floor, a bunk, or a bench, to be level. He would place a plate containing a thin layer of water on the surface he was constructing, and when the water was evenly distributed over the plate, his surface was level.

Backwoods Stove Repair
There was a large cast iron stove in Taft Lodge. One of the stove lids over the firebox had cracked into two pieces. Roy had me scrape the cracked edges clean while he took some wood ash from the firebox and mixed it thoroughly with a handful of salt and some water into a thick paste. He spread this paste on the cracked edges of the two pieces of stove lid, pressed them together, put the lid in its place on the stove, and built a small fire in the stove. An hour later, we had a solidly-repaired stove lid that lasted as long as the rest of the stove. (Out of curiosity, I recently ran a Google search of “wood ashes and salt”. Three of the first ten search results described this exact technique for repairing old stoves.)

Instant Nourishment on the Trail
Roy had a simple trail drink, which I soon adopted. He would fill a cup about half full of boiling water, stir in a bouillon cube, and fill the rest of the cup with canned evaporated milk. It was delicious, refreshing, nutritious, and simple to prepare. If you made only a nail hole in the can to pour the milk, you could seal it up again with a twig or match stick, and put the can in the stream to keep it refrigerated for further use.

Free Frozen Treats
Roy introduced me to a maple sap treat. In the early spring, I would look for small icicles dangling from twigs on maple trees. Broken off, they could be sucked like a Popsicle. They were very sweet because a lot of the water in the sap would freeze solid, leaving a higher sugar concentration in the juice that dripped from the trees.

Privy Seats
Another skill Roy taught me was to keep my eye out for small birch trees that were deformed into growing with a sharp curve, rather than a straight trunk. Once that curve was cut out and split in two, I would have a comfortable toilet seat to replace the one that the porcupines had chewed.

Comfy Bed Platforms
Roy suggested that when new shelters were built, the bunks should be constructed as soon as the snow was gone. He said that beds made in the spring were much more comfortable.

How to Warm Up Quickly
One spring the Burlington section had a hike from the Notch up to Taft Lodge. We got caught in a hard shower before we arrived at that shelter. Once in the cabin, everybody took off their wet outer clothes and hung them on lines strung all over the cabin, shivering while waiting for the fire to get hot enough to warm the cabin. But not Roy. He kept his wool clothes on as he busied himself in the cabin. He said his body heat would dry all of his underclothes – then, when the cabin was warm and dry, he could take off his outer damp shirt and hang that up to dry if necessary.

Read the Winter 2009 installment here.

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