Up a creek without a paddle

By John Ford Sr. | Mar 25, 2010
John Ford Sr.

As I scan through the diaries, I certainly never lacked for activity during October 1981. Every single day seemed to present a challenge of some sort.

The busy season for wardens was just beginning with the opening of duck hunting season.

I hated working duck hunters. Every time I attempted the task with a sense of dutiful vigor, some major catastrophe seemed to occur. I seldom came close to bagging a duck hunter for a violation but, instead, found myself caught in the middle of a fiasco.

I'd much rather have been chasing night hunters as these violators were well aware of their crimes. But obviously, my duties required enforcing all the rules and regulations. I couldn't pick and choose by what type of species the violators were pursuing.

That old saying, “up the creek without a paddle,” actually happened to a couple of brother wardens Oct. 3, 1981.

Wardens Bill Pidgeon and Doug Tibbetts decided to sneak into my area in an all-out effort to harvest a few duck hunters violating the rules. Launching their boat in Carlton Bog in Troy, they planned to work undercover. They'd bag a few ducks of their own, while keeping a watchful eye on other hunters.

Carlton Bog is a large swamp noted for a variety of waterfowl. It's a desolate area of wetland between Troy and Detroit. A main channel flows through the middle of the rural bog, surrounded by a large body of water and marsh grass. It's typical habitat for all types of waterfowl. Most of the bog was in my assigned patrol area. It was a favorite area for many duck hunting enthusiasts.

Late in the evening of Oct. 3, I was en route to Unity to meet with my partner, Norman Gilbert to work night hunters.As I headed for the rendezvous, I heard Warden Tibbetts muttering on the radio, “Help! Is there anyone out there? Hell-o, anyone there?”

It obviously didn't sound like a distress call, but more of a call of frustration from a lack of response. I quickly replied, “What's up, Doug? Are you all set?”

Doug responded right back. “We need a little help here, John. Can you grab your state boat and bring it to Carlton Bog. We're stranded up at the far end of the bog,” he grumbled.

"I'll be en route shortly,” I informed him.

Soon afterward, I met up with my partner, an agitated Warden Gilbert. “What the hell is that all about,” he disgustedly sputtered.

Norman was quite disgruntled with the two bordering wardens. In his opinion, they had committed the cardinal sin of sneaking into another warden's district without letting him know of their intentions. Personally, I could not have cared less. I was quite pleased to know someone was willing to tackle the dreaded chore of working duck hunters, thus saving me the effort.

We all were in the same business. It really wasn't as if we had a designated border that had a “no trespassing” sign on the other side.

Norman, obviously, did care. He sputtered, “To hell with them. I think we ought to leave them there! They've got no *$#-damned business going into your district without telling you."

The fact that both Bill and Doug had earlier tormented my poor working partner by sneaking into his territory, and advising folks that he had retired and they were taking over his district, didn't help their cause. Norman's phone rang off the hook with people wishing him well in his retirement. He was forced to explain their devilry, and he adamantly advised folks that he was not retiring now, or in the near future.

Bill and Doug both were practical joksters. But by the same token, they were good wardens. Most of us took their actions in stride, almost always expecting the unexpected. But in Norman's case, their devilry had become a real bone of contention. A serious one at that.

“We can't just leave them there,” I said.

"To hell we can't,” he responded. “It'll teach them a *#*&^-damned good lesson.” It was as serious as I'd ever seen the old boy.

Eventually, I persuaded my partner that we should go to their rescue, which we did. But not without Norman voicing his total disgust and disdain for the wardens who suddenly found themselves in a rather precarious situation.

As darkness settled in and the last group of hunters departed the bog, Bill and Doug decided they had accomplished their mission for the day. Bill had attempted to start the engine, but it wasn't secured to the boat's stern and it quickly spun off the boat, plunging into the deep water.

As if that wasn't bad enough, they suddenly realized they'd forgotten to bring their paddles.

For them, the old adage of being "up the creek without a paddle” was a reality. Thank God they had their portable radio.

They managed to find a small board, and Doug attempted to use it as a paddle. But for every 20 feet he went forward, the wind blew them back 25 feet when he took a break.

Thus it was on that cold dark night of Oct. 3, 1981, when under the cover of darkness, Warden Gilbert and I slowly towed our cold, hungry coworkers along the stream of Carlton Bog. All the while, Norman sat firmly perched in the front of the boat scowling at his two brother wardens. He stared at them like an angry father ready to take his sons to the woodshed for a well-deserved whipping.

He was not a happy camper by any means – and the boys obviously recognized this as they humbly held onto the tow rope for the slow journey back through the bog. I simply smirked at the tension. I was pleased to know I wasn't the only warden to work duck hunters who occasionally ended up in a mess.

Bill, a member of the state dive team, spent the next day retrieving the outboard motor from the bottom of the bog. This time, he and Doug brought paddles for the boat and other necessary equipment to get to and from the area.

As for Norman, well, let's put it this way – he didn't offer to help them in any way.

This was yet another fond memory for the diaries; one which still today brings a smile to my face.

Searches and water rescues were among our tasks. Seldom however, did we rescue our own. A week later, I'd be involved in more of the same activity, this time involving the public.

Unfortunately, those incidents were not humorous, nor did they have happy endings. Three in a week was rather unusual for this warden, who seldom responded to such calls. Stay tuned for next time, when more water rescues come your way.

In the meantime, thinking of my pals Bill and Doug stranded in the dark on Carlton Bog, still "quacks" me up!

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