Del Norte People: Remembering spots along the way

By Chuck Blackburn March 26, 2014 05:41 pm

Dad's Camp back in the good old days.
Dad's Camp back in the good old days. Submitted photo
What are Shorty’s Camp, Dad’s Camp, Requa Resort, Kamp Klamath, Requa Inn and Chinook Camp? These were destinations for late spring and summer fishermen and tourists to enjoy their stay in Del Norte County.

The historic Requa Inn was always a draw for lodging, food and drink and owned back then by Elsie Larsen. I worked at Shorty’s Camp as a dockboy from 1950-1955, which were my high school years and first year of junior college at San Mateo. After the “’55 flood” wiped out Shorty’s Camp, I started guiding at Alvin and Juanita Larsen’s Requa Resort, which resulted in 30 years of fishing for salmon at the mouth; exciting stuff.

Dad’s Camp on the south spit of the river at the mouth was a yearly summertime destination for many shore casters, tourists and boat fishermen. The actual camp was up against the mountain south of the sand spit. Ethel’s Lunch was a portable eat shack that was moved out to a high sand dune just south of the mouth of the Klamath. It was a great gathering place for tourists and fishermen alike with its large campfire-like coffee makers and its hot apple and berry pies that came out of the ovens in the early afternoons. 

When I was a dockboy at Shorty’s Camp, Paul Connor would give me a $5 bill and I would hop into my racing hydroplane with the beautiful Indian head painted on the cowling and at 52 miles per hour, would be at Ethel’s Lunch in minutes. A hot pie was waiting and the pie was still hot when I got back to Shorty’s for a feast with Shorty and Paul Connor.

So many great memories of fishing at the mouth of the Klamath each summer. There were over 200 boats with the majority at the narrow mouth with others spread around the estuary up to the hole below Requa Inn. “Jack the Swede Husberg” fished that hole a lot and was called “Swede’s Ally.” Fishing the “slot,” as the mouth was called, was a fishing circus on the incoming and outgoing tides. Boats side-by-side on the river and the Dad’s Camp south spit lined up shoulder to shoulder with the old veterans occupying the “hot spots,” shore casters and boaters pure enemies, but when they joined on the beach at Ethel’s Lunch, best of friends.

Sport fishermen at the mouth of the Klamath River in the early days of fishing there.
Sport fishermen at the mouth of the Klamath River in the early days of fishing there. Submitted photo
Now let me share some history of Dad’s Camp as shared by Bonny Williams who was the wife of Juke Williams. A commercial fishermen who died of a heart attack years ago. Bonnie first was introduced to Dad’s Camp in 1946 and married Juke on the beach in 1948. Grandpa Charley Williams was a farmer and owned it, which was to become Dad’s Camp in the 1920s. A couple of fishermen from out of the area approached Charley about putting up a small tent and fishing at the mouth. Charley said yes and that was followed by others who were interested in doing the same thing. After this was repeated time and again, the decision was made to open a campground for a fee.

Charley Williams was born in 1849 and died in 1946. The next generation was Harry and Ethel Williams. Ethel was Yurok Indian. Harry was born in 1899 and died in 1964 while Ethel was born in 1900 and died in 1979.

Harry and Ethel raised quite a family. Daughter Dorothy Haberman was wife to Clell Haberman and they and five kids: Gary, Richard, Alton, Lyle and Rodney. Vivian Johnson and Bob had four kids. Chuck Williams and Pat had four kids: Chuckie, Sue, Stormy and Steve, who was lost at sea in a tragic crab season capsizing south of Point St. George. Tim Williams lived in the Bay Area and was the Stanford mascot when they were called the Stanford Indians. Juke Williams and Pat and Fawn Morris rounded out this great family.

Each summer all of the tourist and fishing camps started to receive trailers and campers as early as late May as the southwest started to heat up: Arizona, Southern California and Nevada. Most camps were filled by late June with some early fishermen hitting the river and trying to catch a late “springer.” Dad’s Camp was no exception as some of the family assisted in the set-up of facilities after the stormy winters. A dock for boats was a priority and then transporting the building out to the spit. In the early years it was taken in sections by a large boat to the site, but later years was put on “skids” and pulled on-site on a high point of the dunes above the mouth. We cannot forget the digging of the holes that supported the “out houses” that late in the summer were referred to as “Harry’s gas houses.” We would beach our boat, run up the incline in haste, out of breath, but would take a deep breath, enter the sanctuary and hope you could hold your breath until you were out the door. Then it was time for campfire coffee and hot apple or berry pie. We all miss it all.

Many of Williams’ family friends also would pitch in and help particularly at Ethel’s Lunch. Bob and Vera Rutledge of Lodi, who were ranchers, spent the summers. They both helped in the kitchen and Bob would also guide his friend Frank Hudson. They would only spinner fish during the best part of the tides. I can picture vividly Bob at the oars of a Tony Garoni square sterned row boat. They were both excellent spinner fishermen and Frank sat in the back seat with his rod angled down past the stern of the craft with the rod tip vibrating with the oscillation of the spinner with Frank’s big cigar pointing straight down at the rod tip. I loved watching them each day.

I still remember Chuckie Williams at a young age hopping into Dad’s Camp row boat after he completed his morning of work. Chuckie’s shoulders hardly stuck up above the gunnels. He would row the “slot” and drop his spinner close to the bottom. Another great sight.

Other friends that pitched in were Aunt Sadie, a Yurok lady who lived in the area. She loved to say howdy and serve customers at the Eat Shack. On occasions Alan and Vada McCovey helped at Ethel’s Lunch with Alan guiding clients who wanted to catch a fresh chinook salmon.

These are only memories today as they survived the great flood of 1964, but a great storm in the 1990s brought a large ocean surge onto the south spit and wiped out the camp, buildings, support facilities, Ethel’s Lunch and all. Not a sign of a campground left. The family made a decision to not rebuild. All of us who loved Dad’s Camp and the Williams’ clan still have our friendships and great memories and no freak of nature will destroy that.