Though I knew Mel Friesen earlier than 1950, I wasn't present for the unloading of the barge and the initial building of the cabins in the spring of 1951. In late spring of that year, Mel asked if I would consider coming to Santa Catalina Island to work for the summer. I was twenty two years old at the time and served as the chapter president of my InterVarsity group. I was hoping to graduate from college in June of 1952 but because I was short on units, I committed myself to attending the summer session at Sacramento State. I told Mel that I would come to CBS immediately after finishing the summer session in mid July.
Mel picked me up at the harbor in Avalon along with some supplies in Pirate I(one) and informed me that since I was a Navy veteran, I would be the first Skipper of the boat (after him)! The Navy had trained me to be a Fireman/Metal Smith Striker, not a seaman. But God was very good at using my limited skills from working in a service station during high school and college. One day the Pirate would not start. (This happened often.) Mel tried to shout instructions from the shore. That sort of worked but still the engine would not engage. Finally he consented to row out to the boat and give me a hand. But after a few minutes of staring into the engine compartment, breathing in gasoline fumes, and rocking in the boat, he couldn’t hold lunch down and paddled back to shore. By this time I was feeling woozy too. But praise God the motor finally came to life just in time for me to race to town to pick up some people and probably a part for the boat. By the way, that's me on the bow of the boat in the white shirt.
What’s for Lunch?
Rattlesnakes became my passion that first summer. I think I eliminated at least five, one that was quite good size. I nailed its head to the now large Toyon tree outside the snack bar door. I cut the skin around its neck just behind its head then pulled the skin down like a lady removes her hose. When I cut it off at the rattlers, all of its insides were neatly in a membrane sack and the skin fell off "slick as a whistle".
During July of that first summer in 1951, there were just a handful of us living in camp trying to get it ready for operation. They included Mel and Helen Friesen, my friend Maurice Murphy, Cecil, who was a skid row alcoholic Mel found in Los Angeles, two others, and me. We were very much living by faith and often there was not enough food to eat so any wildlife we captured made it to the dinner plate. That include the rattlesnake I caught. Helen cut the clean white meat of the snake into a number of pieces and deep fried them like battered chicken. I remember that it was sweet and delicious what little meat there was on the snake’s bones!
Another fare we often had was Pacific Barracuda. Maurice had taken to fishing, particularly 'cuda and so we would go out in the early morning and bug the party boats who came over at 4am or so in the morning waking some of us up. The boat's paying customers didn't like us getting too close to the chum they had thrown in the water to attract the fish. We would just barely stay out of casting range and usually catch some rather nice ones near the 30 inch/5 lb size. Helen enjoyed cooking fish more than snakes and the others could stomach these better also.
Digging the Cesspool
There was a lot to do and we worked hard. When not driving the boat, I was given the job of assisting Cecil, the fellow from skid row, digging the cesspool for the main deck kitchen. Cecil had already dug a hole four to five feet in diameter and about twelve feet deep. I helped him dig another two or three feet but ground water in the creek bed began to seep in. I decided that we should start lining the wall of the pit with brick before the whole thing caved in on us. My grandfather sold masonry products and I had learned a few things about brick-laying from him.
Cecil would get the bricks and hand them down to me. I 'ashlered' them in about a 4 ft diameter circle. It took several days or weeks, I can’t quite remember. When I neared the top of the hole however, my irregular apprenticeship with my grandfather showed its short comings. I realized that I had to reduce the diameter of the well to a much smaller size to put a cap on it so that no one would fall in. The goal was make the opening point of access to the cesspool at ground level. In the process of battering in however, I miscalculated and the access pointed ended up being two feet or more above ground level! For years afterwards, volleyball players ran into the brick dome. The lump finally disappeared in the 1980’s when a new waste system was installed.