Henry Musial, Tuckaway Shores, Interviewed by Jeff Gurrier
How did you first discover Pawtuckaway Lake?
I knew Pawtuckaway from way back. My wife and I didn’t have any kids at the time so we decided we should do something with our free time. In the old days having a camp on a lake in New Hampshire was a workingman’s vacation. It was a lot of work, but it was a different kind of work than you did all week. If you were up here doing it then it was because you didn’t mind working. It was the same thing for everybody.
We just drove up cold turkey, looking around. I had fished Governor’s Lake frequently so I knew the area a bit. We saw that Hans Brustle had started his development so we came up and looked at some land down in Tuckaway Shores. Boy, when you think about it, the lots really sold for peanuts in comparison to today.
What model car did you make your first trip to the lake in?
I’m pretty sure the first car I came up in was a two-toned, green, 1952 Pontiac. I use four-wheel drives in the winter. I graduated school in 1945 so I got my first four-wheel drive in 1955. I’ve had one ever since, so winters up here have never been a challenge.
Did you build a camp on your property?
We bought the land and the following year I started building the cabin. My wife and I built our house ourselves with the help of my brothers-in-law and their wives. They would cook and stuff while the guys worked on the house. We would work on it during the day and then go home at night. It was 22 miles each way. It took a couple of years. But, once we got a roof on it and the chimney built then we stayed all weekend.
The smart thing that I did was put in a foundation. Everybody was putting their camps on posts back then. Well, because of the slope of the land, I was going to have to buy a lot of fill. When I checked the price it was going to cost the same as putting in a foundation. So, I put in a full cellar, which is the smartest dumb thing I ever did. Because, from then on it was easy, we built the camp and gradually turned it into a year round place where we could stay all winter. I hate to admit it but it was mostly my wife’s idea. She’s smarter than I am.
Where were you living at the time?
I lived in Manchester. I had a gas station there that I opened in the early 1950’s. My son runs the station now. We never intended to live on Pawtuckaway full-time. Back then there were no houses here. There were maybe 3 or 4 people living on the lake full-time. Everybody else was strictly summer and weekend people. We’ve never stayed year round; I always go home on Sundays. I came up primarily to goof off and stay busy on the weekends.
You mentioned that there were only a few full-time residents on the lake when you first came?
The full-timers were all German woodcarvers. There was Hans Brustle, Peter Meindl, and Werner Sachs. When the Germans first got here there wasn’t a road at all to this side of the lake. They had to come up the dam road, over by Dolloff Dam. The State maintained that because of the dam. They would take canoes and row across the lake with their supplies. They rowed wood and paneling across the lake. Some of it they cut on the spot.
I wasn’t here then but that is what they told me. I have to believe them because when I got here there wasn’t even a road to this side of the lake. At that time, before the State Park, Mountain Road ended where the little store Kindred Place is (no longer in operation—ed.). There was just a trail beyond that, just like the road down to our place was just a trail. The State extended the road when they put in the State Park.
Hans Brustle and Peter Meindl bought a piece of land on Mountain Road so they could control access to the lake and not get cut off from their property. Peter left me his half of that land in his will. I wasn’t entitled to it he just did that. I did a lot of things for him because he was such a nice guy. He didn’t owe me that.
Hans Brustle was very stern and very smart. You had to give him credit. He had to be a visionary person to do what he did. There wasn’t anything out here. He did a beautiful job planning out the developments and putting in the roads. He left that all to Mrs. Whitney; she was their only relative. They are nice people. I knew Peter Meindl better than the others; we spent a lot of time together.
Those Germans were all nudists. It didn’t bother me; in fact, I think I was a little jealous. Out on Peter Meindl’s deck he had strips of cloth hanging there in case somebody walked in unannounced. Back when we first got here they had signs everywhere. They had a sign further down the road that said “Sound Horn”, because of their nudity.
I should have had more of their carvings. When you drove down Meindl Road there must have been 6 or 8 signs, I’m not exaggerating they were big, maybe 4’ wide. There was a sign at the end of the road that was larger than life size. It was a man with an ax. It said Peter Meindl, Woodcarver. That disappeared one day. There were signs for “chipmunk crossing” and “toot your horn”. Peter even carved totem poles. Those signs were all stolen.
The animal carvings were life-like; you would have even shot one if you saw one of them. Peter Meindl had carved a full sized Indian with the full headdress and feathers running all the way down its back. The kids stole that and went over by the dam and smashed it all up. The Germans all ate cheese and rye bread so they made breadboards. My wife Priscilla has a beautiful breadboard that Peter made for her. We wouldn’t dare use it because it’s so beautiful. It has flowers all carved around it. They made a good living just at woodcarving. Their ultimate insult to each other was, “You are not a wood carver, you are a whittler”. That was the ultimate insult from another wood carver. They were all excellent carvers, though.
You said you knew Peter Meindl well?
Peter was kind of a nice guy. When he was real sick near the end of his life, my wife Priscilla and I were the only ones coming out here in the winter back then. Peter lived out here full-time and didn’t see many people. A farmer would plow the road for him. We came up every Saturday afternoon. I would buy a bottle of Chivas Regal and go over to visit. He’d have a little too much to drink and I’d have to pick him up and put him in the bathroom and then pick him up and put him in bed. After about a month of that his doctor called me up and said, “That’s not a good idea, drinking with Peter”. I said, “The guy sits in that window looking out, doing nothing, looking for me and my wife to walk over on snowshoes and visit him”. The doctor said, “Forget I mentioned it”!
I know a few stories. Peter Meindl was getting real old and those German wood carvers had only one speed: slow. One day Peter had gone over to pull a few boards from the dam and he got too close in his canoe. It sucked him right down over the dam. The canoe and all went right over. We had to hoist him up and carry him back home. He didn’t get hurt really, just a little banged up. He went over so fast I don’t think he had a chance to get hurt, except maybe his feelings!
Did you have any other neighbors when you first bought your land?
Bob Schmitt, Sr., Charlie Cleveland, and the Richardsons all bought property on Tuckaway Shores before me. There were five Richardsons—a mother, father, and three girls. And, boy, if everyone had neighbors like that it would be a good world to live in. They’re all gone now but one. And, nothing stops her. She’s in her eighties but she still drives her motor home down to Florida every winter by herself. The Richardsons bought the land, chopped down the trees, hauled them to the mill, made the lumber, and built the house. The whole family built the house, including the girls and the mother.
We had a pretty tight community back then; there were only half a dozen of us. So, you either had a tight community or you didn’t have any friends. We worked a lot and then we’d get together on Saturday night to drink beer. We did a lot of fishing but we also did a lot of work. We hung out with Walter Chase. He was from Somerville, Mass. We mostly fished and drank a little beer together.
Did you have to maintain your road when you first bought land here?
We had to maintain our own road before the town started doing it. Since I had a service station I always had a truck and a plow, so we’d come up and take care of our own road. Then Palmer Hurd built his second place and he took care of everybody. Palmer was “Numero Uno” to everybody up here. There is a little memorial for him down at the intersection of Meindl and Brustle Road. That’s where he died.
Palmer had just left my place, drove down the road, started to make the turn down Brustle Road and he never stopped turning. His truck just came to a stop and that is where he died. That’s the way he wanted to go, still doing stuff. There is a memorial right there where his truck stopped. His family had a ceremony for him at his house after he was cremated and the cars were lined up all the way out to the main road.
He was a real introvert. If he visited you, then halfway through the conversation he would say, “Time to go” and he would get up and head out. You never knew what triggered that. One time we were talking and we mentioned his old buddy that moved to Florida. He said, “I should really go down and see him”. Next thing you know he and his dog drove all the way down to Florida. He always had a dog with him. He didn’t stop anywhere, just drove straight there. He saw his buddy for half an hour, turned around and drove all the way back! That’s gospel, I’ll tell ya.
Palmer used to build chimneys. He built a chimney for a guy once and built it right into the side of the guy’s house. The guy didn’t want to pay him. So, Palmer waited for him to leave and went back with a forklift. He took the forklift, picked up the chimney and tore it right off of the house and left. The guy screamed at him and he just said, “Well, it’s my chimney; I can do whatever I want with it”.
I always hated to do something for him because pay back was forever and ever. It wasn’t very fair. He had a whole group of old codgers in Raymond he hung out with. You didn’t dare ask him for anything. If you asked him where you could get some wood, the next thing you know there would be 12 cords piled in your back yard. If you couldn’t find a plumber and asked Palmer if he knew anyone, then the next morning there would be a knock on your door and a plumber would be standing there. He needed a valve for a tire once. I have hundreds of those things hanging around the gas station. So I must have brought him ten. Well, you’d think I gave him a hundred dollar bill! I heard about those friggen valves for the next six months!
Palmer used to go to Peter Lyle’s house for dinner two or three times a week. After he went to his house he would go to somebody else’s house. At the funeral ceremony all the stories came out. Turns out he had breakfast at Joe’s then he had breakfast at Harry’s and on and on. Then he’d come over to our house. I don’t think he ever cooked himself a meal, in fact, I don’t know how many times he had breakfast each day. We didn’t realize how many friends this guy had. The whole town of Raymond came out for him. There were people from everywhere.
Palmer lived in the log cabin just up the road from Tuckaway Shores. We put that log cabin up in two weekends. There must have been a hundred of us up there helping him. Everybody just haphazardly knew what to do, because we were never in each other’s way. That was how well Palmer was liked. He built Betty Butlers place, too. But he moved to the log cabin later.
Betty Butler? Now there’s a woman. Every morning she would go out fishing for hornpout and bass, go in the house, clean ’em and eat ’em the same day. Anything fresher and you would have had to eat them raw, running. Every day the same thing: bass for breakfast. Old Betty was a wonderful person. She was like Palmer Hurd, everyone knew her, and everyone loved her. She was the closest thing you’ll find to a frontier woman. She had 2 or 3 crazy otters for pets, they were hers and nobody else’s.
How has the lake changed over the years?
There isn’t much that I miss about the way the lake was. You know, there isn’t as much solitude now but if you’re looking for that then go out in the woods. There’s plenty of quiet and solitude out there. The one thing I think I do miss is the deer. On a Sunday I would always see 4 or 5 deer. I walk the back roads on Sunday and I used to always see their tracks along the soft edges of the roads. Now I don’t see them. That’s progress, they tell me.
We stayed out here all summer when our kids were growing up. We came up all winter too. Actually, our kids were brought up here. On Saturdays and Sundays on the lake when our kids were little there would be 500 people out water skiing. That’s a little exaggeration, but it was so busy you couldn’t do anything on the water with all those boats. That was the early 1960’s. They were all summer people. On Sunday, by God, the kids were skiing at 5:30-6:00 AM. They wanted to get the first licks in before everyone got out there.
The lake is so quiet now because everybody lives here. It’s not a treat like it was for our kids. They would come up and go nuts in the water and then go back to the city. Kids up here can decide to play in the water for 15 minutes and then decide to go home. The only time a kid goes on the lake now is to get away from doing homework! Once you turn your camp into a house the whole picture changes completely.
Of course, it’s getting a little quiet for us now because our kids are grown up and the grandkids are grown up. My grandson is driving now and my granddaughter is 14. So, the life style changes. My generation is different from today’s generation. We never locked our doors. Maybe that’s because there wasn’t anything worth stealing! You could never be jealous of anyone because everyone had the same thing you had: nothing!
What was the lake like before the State Park was built?
In 1957 there weren’t any camps in South Channel and the bridge to Horse Island wasn’t there, either. Before the State Park used Horse Island as a camping area, the loggers used it to keep their horses on over the weekends. There was a lot of logging up here during the 1930’s and 1940’s and back then they used horses for a lot of the work.
The loggers would stay up here all week but when the guys wanted to go home for the weekend they needed a place to keep their horses. So, they built a wooden footbridge over to Horse Island and on weekends they walked their horses over there and then pulled up the bridge. There was plenty of food on the island for them; there really weren’t any people up at the time. They would come back on Monday, put the bridge back in and pick up the horses on their way back to work. That’s how Horse Island got its name.
There were 3 or 4 camps up by the Fundy boat launch, a father and three sons. There was never an argument when the State offered them money to sell their camps for the State Park. I heard they got top dollar and left happy. They paid them off and then came and torched the camps. I didn’t see the money, but that is what I heard.
There was another camp up the hill where a guy who raised dogs lived. You could hear them barking a mile away. I think that guy lived entirely off the land. He hunted, killed, and ate everything right off the land. He had a beautiful place; the view was fantastic. I didn’t know him. I might have said, “Hi” to him a couple of times because I used to hunt up back there. It wasn’t easy to get in there. There wasn’t a road up there; it was more like a set of tracks in the woods.
The trees out in the State Park are all second growth forest; there were fields and clearings up there. Back in the 1940’s they had logged it all off, mostly using horses as I said. I never saw any of the farms that were up there but I heard about them. There were narrow gauge railroad tracks running up into the Pawtuckaway Reservation and down to the lake that the loggers used. The horses would pull the logs out of the forest on carts that ran on those tracks. When I first bought my land there were still railroad ties in the trail that ran to my place. My road was originally a narrow gauge railroad track.
On the trail just past the Kindred Place store, more toward Prevere Rd, you could walk up and see an old colonial out there. Kids had taken to drinking in that abandoned house and burnt it down by mistake. They used to use that trail all of the way up through the hills with model T’s. Model T’s stand maybe 4 feet high so they could get through there. I’ve seen some Model T bodies and axels back up there. If you broke down, you pretty much left ‘em where they were; what else were you going to do?
There used to be a small house on Dolloff Dam, over on the right side of the dam. I remember Mr. Jones who lived there because I’m a mushroom picker. I wear long pants because I’m always running into the woods to look for mushrooms. Well, anyway, I used to sneak up to Mr. Jones’s house because he had good mushrooms that would grow up along the sides of his house.
One of the first places down in what is called Tuckaway Shores now was Rev. Hawkins’s camp. That is Dr. Munger’s camp today. That camp was originally a carriage shed that they hauled all the way from Raymond. The roads were really bad then; you would hardly consider them a road really. That was some undertaking. They converted that carriage shed into a camp and then kept adding on to it over time.
What did you do for fun?
We did a lot of fishing. We saw a lot of fish, really a lot of fish. We used to have hornpout off of our little beach. I haven’t fished for them for a while. We used to get a lot of eels in comparison to now. We do get them sometimes, just not as much. Eels can get pretty big. The only thing is, when you have to clean an eel it’s murder because they’re so slimy. You have to use a towel to hang on to them. Then you skin them like a banana peel. There’s no backbone to them. They’re all meat.
Originally there were only large mouth bass in the lake, and then the State began stocking the lake with small mouth bass. The alewives were put in the lake as a nursery for Great Bay. I don’t think the alewives have had any effect on the size of the bass. But it has had an effect on what lures you use. The bass have so many alewives to eat they won’t even look at a worm. Why eat a worm when you can have a hamburger. Now I have to catch some alewives for bait; that’s what the bass want.
What we used to do in the winter is go ice fishing. Up until last year I went every weekend. I went out Saturday and chopped the hole, went out Sunday morning and put the tackle in. I caught 90% pickerel and a few yellow perch. I maybe caught one or two bass in all the years I ice fished and that’s 35-40 years. Ice fishing used to be party time on a Sunday morning. It was a lot more communal then; there were less people staying here year round. The summer people would be all gone. It was a different life style.
The State drained the lake twice to work on the dams. We thought it would kill the fish. Each time the fish came right back. We went fishing the next year and couldn’t believe it, the fishing was great. It was probably one of the best years. I think the fish all got trapped in the big holes. The big fish sat in the hole and ate every little fish that got trapped down there with them. It was easy pickings.
Out in Fundy there’s a floating island. There used to be 15 or 20 nests with red wing black birds. Now you’re lucky to see one or two. There are some grackles and some nasty snakes. Something we don’t have any more is bull frogs and frogs. If you parked your boat and fished for a while all you could hear was a bullfrog serenade for hours. I think there is something going on worldwide with frogs.
Do you have a Garden?
Are you kidding? Do I have a garden? A Polack without gardens, that would be sacrilegious. At home I have one tomato garden, a garden with beans, and another by the garage. And, we’ve got one up here at the lake, too.
What grows? Anything you want to nurture. You’ve got to plant something that you enjoy looking at. To me flowers are beautiful no matter what. These water lilies are beautiful. Some people think they’re a pest but I like them.
Is there anything else you you’d like people to know?
Weekends after Peter Lyle moved here I had a weekend dog. I think that dog could tell time and knew the calendar, too. It wasn’t three minutes after we arrived on the lake and Roger, he’s the dog, was right there on my deck. Roger didn’t even go home on the weekends; he would sit on the deck and stay there all night. If the weather was bad I would let him in and let him back out in the morning. Roger was one in a million, I’ll tell ya. When it came to weekends, he was strictly my mutt.
July 8, 2006