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Fred and his canoe

This is a photo that Old Ralph took of Fred.

Look closely at his face. You can almost see that brain working overtime. Fred always had something up his sleeve. You knew, when you were talking to Fred, that you had to be on guard.

Old Ralph knew it.

I knew it.

But poor Abel – – – I am afraid his city upbringing left him a little naive. But he was about to learn. Or so I thought.

If I remember correctly it all started during trapping season a few years ago. You have to understand that when trapping you just could not walk into the woods and then walk your trap line to collect your bounty. By the time you got into the woods and on your trap line the day was almost gone. Short winter days, you know.

You had to build a trapping camphouse – – – nothing too fancy. Just a square building with a pot-bellied stove and enough bunks to sleep on.

This is Old Ralph, Fred, Abel and I towards the end of a trapping season. French Louie the hermit dropped by. Boy, did we have a hard time trying to teach him how to use Old Ralph’s camera.

Old Ralph and buddies in trapping cabin

That’s Old Ralph sitting in the rocker – – – with his hat on his lap. Now you can see why we call him Old Ralph. He is not really that old – – – he just misused his body working the iron mines and the lumber companies and the trap lines.

There I am – – – sitting in the folding chair with the leather strapping on the back and seat. Deer leather.

How do you like my cap? It is a fur cap lined with wool – – – made it out of a skunk hide. I should have showed off the black and white tail.

There is Abel laying in the bottom bunk. Young fella. That’s why Old Ralph is always thinking that Abel has a lady friend in one village or another – – – maybe even in both villages. Young fellas sometimes do that you know.

And in the top bunk is Fred. See what I mean? He always has one scheme or another ratt’lin around in his head. Nothing mean, just a little mischevious.

Oh yes, I lost my train of thought. Like I said, it all starting right there in that trapping cabin.

We had a lot of time on our hands at night. The trap lines had been walked. The skins had been de-fatted. And we had our fill of stew which was always on the pot-bellied stove – – – twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

We would eat our fill and then throw in a few pounds of beaver or muskrat; just enough to replace what we ate – – – and a few potatoes.

So I catch Fred trying to catch Old Ralph’s attention. Abel had his eyes closed as he lay in his bunk. Finally Old Ralph caught on to Fred’s signals. Fred winked at the both of us and spoke loud enough to get Abel’s attention.

“Remember that time the bear chewed on you? He thought you were a bowl of stew.”

Old Ralph played into Fred’s game.

“Oh God Almighty. Why did you have to bring that up? I been try’n to forget that episode.”

By that time Abel was up on his elbows and listening with intent.

The story went on and on and on.

Old Ralph supposedly had dropped his gun in the snow. The immaginary bear attacked. Old Ralph wrapped his coat around his arm and tried to fend him off. Fred fired a few shots before the bear dropped – – – – – – – – – – dead at Old Ralph’s feet.

Abel wanted to see the scars. Old Ralph rolled up his sleeve and showed Abel the scars he got from a buzz saw at a lumber camp. He attributed the scars to the bear.

“Yep, that old sow-bear sure tore into my arm. Fred fixed me up in the woods and we went to John Leaf’s cabin. John had some type of Indian poltice. It was a powder and he mixed some vinegar with it. Slathered it all over the wound. Wrapped my arm and I was as good as new in a few months.”

Abel , apparently, was in awe and Old Ralph was forever a hero to him. And of course Abel had to paint a picture of all that malarky.

Old Ralph fighting bear

The following year it was the same thing all over again. But this time it was Old Ralph and Fred and some cock-a-mamie story about a whaling trip off the shores of Massachusetts.

Now Abel should have known that those two tricksters had never been out of the Adirondack Mountains. But no – – – Abel just had to draw another picture as soon as trapping season was over.

It was based on Fred’s description.

“Boats thrown all over. Men caught between ropes and whale. Arms and legs gett’n torn off. Gulls waiting for a fresh meal.”

Old Ralph and Fred on whaling trip

Well the last laugh was on Old Ralph and Fred.

One day they were in Saranac and heard stories about where Abel’s paintings came from. They found out what Abel told everyone; he was using Old Ralph and Fred to come up with new ideas for his paintings.

Abel got rich selling his work in the cities. Old Ralph and Fred kept scratching out a living in the North Woods.

Abel had turned the trick on those two old tricksters.


Tahawas and Tomosky c