General Articles

Waldorf in the Wilderness

Outfitter Jack Russell caters to the famous, some of whom would as soon hook a guide as a salmon

IAN SCLANDERS September 1 1948
General Articles

Waldorf in the Wilderness

Outfitter Jack Russell caters to the famous, some of whom would as soon hook a guide as a salmon

IAN SCLANDERS September 1 1948

Waldorf in the Wilderness

Outfitter Jack Russell caters to the famous, some of whom would as soon hook a guide as a salmon

IAN SCLANDERS

JACK RUSSELL, happy-go-lucky proprietor of the “Waldorf of the Wilderness,” lit an oversized pipe and sank into a deck chair on the veranda.

As he relaxed and watched New Brunswick’s Miramichi River flow lazily past his door yard, a canoe approached. Boyd Hovey, one of Jack’s guides, was in the stern, paddling and scowling darkly. A New York society woman was in the bow, holding her fishing rod and beaming brightly.

“Look what I’ve caught, Mr. Russell,” she called as the craft scraped into the landing. “I’ve caught Mr. Hovey!” She tightened her line a bit and jiggled the tip of her rod gently to prove it.

“Ouch!” said Boyd. The hook of the fly was deeply imbedded in his left ear. “She caught me two miles upstream,” he groaned.

“Yes,” gushed the lady, “and, silly little me— I’d forgotten my camera. So we had to come back. I just must have a photograph of dear Mr. Hovey pretending to be a salmon.”

Dear Mr. Hovey posed for his portrait with admirable self-restraint. There is no record of what he was thinking, but it probably couldn’t be printed anyway. As for Mr. Russell, he has long since learned to take such incidents in his stride.

When you’re running a fancy sporting hideout in the tall timbers for wealthy customers you either cultivate a philosophical outlook or go crazy. Jack, who operates two of them, has cultivated a philosophical outlook.

His imperturbability has helped him become one of North America’s most successful outfitters. Outfitter, for some reason, is the word used to describe an individual who earns a living by providing visiting anglers and hunters with shelter, food, transportation, guides, advice, fish stories, atmosphere, mosquito repellents and sunburn lotions.

The advice, fish sfories, atmosphere, mosquito repellents and sunburn lotions are free. At places like Jack’s, the shelter, food, transportation and guides cost plenty.

Happy holidayers at Russell’s New Brunswick lodge pny $20 a day and up for board, lodging and the privilege of going

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Waldorf in the Wilderness

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hunting or fishing—but what a privilege. The Miramichi River rises in central New Brunswick and flows 135 miles northeast into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, draining a forest area thousands of square miles in extent. On its broad lower reaches there are two towns, Newcastle and Chatham, but above them, in the Russell country, there is only a very thin fringe of civilization, scattered settlements that peter out toward the headwaters into unbroken wilderness. The scenery has a rugged beauty and the guides give Jack’s place a genuine tail-timber atmosphere, while the salmon in spring and summer, the bear, deer, partridge and woodcock in the fall, are worth easily twenty a day to any sportsmanproviding he has it.

Jack Russell’s customers are housed in cabins surrounding the main lodge, to which they repair for meals and to gather about the fireplace evenings and swap fish stories. The place can accommodate 20 anglers at a time (a lot on any salmon river), plus any guests who may be off on jaunts up country.

Others in the nerve-racking profession of outfitting may have a larger volume of trade, but the daily-rate scale on which Russell operates provides him with a comfortable fivefigure income and his clientele makes up in quality as well as cash for any deficiency in quantity. It was Miss Anne Morgan, no less, who first dubbed the Russell Miramichi lodge the “Waldorf of the Wilderness”a considerate gesture because Russell has never bothered giving the place any official name. A sister of the late great financier, J. I’. Morgan, Miss Morgan roughs it in the Canadian woods with a personal maid in attendance.

On a desk in the lounge of the “Waldorf,” which serves Jack as an office, there is a framed motto: “Never worry until it happens. After it happens, the hell with it.”

There is an identical motto on his desk at the second lodge he operates on the Bonaventure River, 280 miles north in Quebec’s Gaspé country. For a while, there was one on the desk of a deep-sea fishing establishment he opened in Florida to occupy him in the winter. Then there was a hurricane.

Anchored to the strongest palm tree he could find, he watched his Florida investment blow away. “After it happens,” he said, “the hell with it!” When he heads south now, as he does each December, it’s for pleasure, not profit.

At the age of 67, Jack Russell has a sprinkling of silver in his sandy hair, but his weather-bronzed face is boyish. Mis blue eyes survey the world with shrewd good humor. He’s not tall, but broad-shouldered, with the muscles of a man who can pole a canoe upstream or pack a sack through the bush.

Host to the Famous

He’s a blend of rugged outdoorsman and brisk business executive and his clothes express his personality. With a conservative and expensively tailored suit, he likes to wear a brightly checkered lumberjack shirt and hobnailed logging boots.

His guests, besides paying him handsomely, are guaranteed to chase boredom. He may sit, in the evening, and listen to Van Wyck Brooks, the critic, talk about his book, “The Flowering of New England.” Or Jack Sharkey, the former heavyweight champion of the world, may be recounting famous ring battles: or Walter S. Gifford, president

of American Telephone and Teiegrup. may lx* giving the inside story of deals that are Wall Street history. Or Robert R. Young may be telling how he plans to streamline the rolling stock on his railways.

Or perhaps it will be H. T. Webster, famed cartoonist of The New York Herald-Tribune, cracking jokes in his own quiet way, or I)r. Clarence C. Little, the scientist, explaining why he bred a special strain of mice for cancer research.

Cartoonist Webster, creator of The Timid Soul, occasionally uses Jack Russell as a subject . His appearance in the comic strips brings him fan mail.

“I saw you in the funnies,” a Detroit girl wrote. “Are you a real man? Oh, 1 know you must be!”

Jack replied briefly but courteously in the affirmative. A few days later he received a second letter from Detroit— an ardent avowal of love and a proposal that he and the damsel “flee together to the deep forest.”

He had to decline the invitation. As his attractive wife Jill pointed out with amusement, he had too much to do to go gallivanting in the evergreens.

One of his duties is answering enquiries from people who are coming to stay with him for the first time. Sample enquiry: “Should my wife and I bring evening clothes?” The answer: “No,

just bring your night clothes and be sure they’re good warm flannel.”

He gets some strange requests. The president of a Boston bank asked whether his dog could accompany him on a 55-mile trip on the Miramichi. “My dog will pay your regular rate and will require his own canoe and guide.” the banker wrote. “He will give no trouble, as I have a small whistle with which 1 can control him perfectly.”

Guide Bert Pond volunteered to play nursemaid to the dog and learned, too late, that it was a 140-pound Great Dane. The banker’s patent whistle didn’t stop Fido from bounding out of the canoe and into the woods after the party had shot Half Moon Rapids, a vicious stretch of white water 50 miles up river from Russell’s lodge.

A city-bred critter, he was silly enough to mix it with a porcupine and finally turned up looking like a pincushion. It, took two hours to extract the quills. And if you’re canoeing down the Miramichi and see a metallic object shining in a pool below Half Moon Rapids, it will be the banker’s whistle.

Poker-faced Guides

If Fido made a clown of himself in the wilds, he may console himself with the fact that human beings—even very important human beings—often lose their dignity in new surroundings. Guide George Briggs realizes this.

Jack Russell asked George to go to New York with him, to a sportsmen’s show. He offered to foot all expenses.

“Thank you, no,” said George. “You couldn’t drag me there.”

“Why not?”

“Beaeuse,” said George, “the folks in New York would laugh at me.”

“Why would they laugh at you?” Jack demanded.

“Well,” said George, “1 laugh at them when they come here, don’t I?”

George, of course, doesn’t laugh out. loud at those who are placed in his expert care, but Russell himself admits privately that there are moments when the temptation is overwhelming.

Jack was 49 when he gave up his amateur standing as a sportsman and drifted into professional outfitting. Before that he had worked, fished and hunted in various parts of the world.

Wherever he’d wandered, he’d had Bis tackle and guns with him. Brought UP in California, by New Brunswick-

p irents. . e had gone to sea in La ' . .vuf.c Islands trade, first in sail, then in steam. He had barnstormed throu ta the United States with a racing car in the days of Barney Oldfield.

He had sold Fords for the first dealer in California, where he went through the San Francisco earthquake and fire.

He was in Petrograd, selling Studebakers to the Russians, when the revolution broke out. He escaped via Siberia, Manchuria and Japan and wound up back in California, where hr tried his hand at movie-making in the era of custard-pie comedies.

It was there that he met and married a beautiful Scottish ballerina named Cora Gilfillan—Jill, for short—who had a dancing role in Cecil B. de Mille’s epic, “The Ten Commandments.” After a spell in Hollywood, the team of Jack and Jill moved East and Jack was eventually appointed export manager for Chrysler Corporation, which kept him shuttling back and forth between offices in New York and London.

By 1928. the Russells thought it would be nice to leave big cities behind and settle down in the backwoods. They’d vacationed in New Brunswick and fallen in love with the Miramichi Valley, so they chose it as the site of their personal Shangri-la. Their intention, then, was to loaf for the rest of their lives.

Their rustic residence completed, Jack and Jill roamed the countryside, canoed on the river, caught salmon, shot big game, heard the legends of the Miramichi from the lips of old-timers. It was wonderful, at first, but Jack grew restless. A man can have too much idleness.

Pleasure Into Business

“I’ve stayed with lots of outfitters,” he told Jill one day. “I know what sportsmen expect of them. Now I’d like to be an outfitter myself. What da you say we go into business?”

Jill said, “Okay”—and that launched the Russells on another building program. They surrounded their lodge with log cabins—each cabin with plumbing, heating and furniture comparable to that in an excellent hotel.

Their neighbors cautioned them against the venture. Didn’t Jack and Jill know that sports wanted to rough it when they came to the woods? But in the winter of 1929-1930 Jack went to Boston, New York and other centres with several reels of Miramichi movies he had taken himself. He showed t h \sa to sportsmen’s clubs and returned with his accommodations fully booked for the 1 930 season.

“It. wasn’t hard to get started,” he recalls. “My old game was selling. 1 just sold ”

Although Jack’s leap into outfitting coincided with the dawn of the dism il 1930’s, it was so successful that he expanded his establishment every year through the depression. Lumbering, the economic mainstay of the Miramichi, was dead then and the employment he provided helped many a New Brunswick family weather bad times.

Meanwhile, he extended his operations to “Sun-up Lodge” on the Bonaventure in Quebec, taking over a string of salmon pools there from a group of Americans. He also took his ill-fated fling at Florida.

The jol) of an outfitter looks, on the surface, to be about the most pleasant you could imagine. But that’s just on the surface. On any salmon river, no matter how good, there are unpredictable spells when the fishing is either poor or nonexistent. The guests don’t blame nature; they blame the outfitter. They drive him to distraction if he’s a worry wart.

There are sports who have t . bossed like children. In this categol y are elderly men who apparently don’t know when to get in out of the hot sun, or when to stop eating, or that they are no longer young. They want to make trips that would literally kill them. Jack has to see that he or his guides keep them in line.

Last year in New York he called on an ageing client, who is president of a major oil company. The man’s secretary told him that the boss could just spare 10 minutes because he had to attend an important directors’ meeting. But, once Jack was in the inner sanctum, the oil tycoon insisted on swapping yarns.

“We’d better break this up,” said Russell, after 10 minutes had passed. “Your secretary told me you were due at a meeting.”

“Look, Jack,” roared the old angler, “you regiment hell out of me up on your river-—but here in New York I regiment hell out of other people! Now, as I was saying, I cast a Rose of New England over the spot where I had seen this big one rise . . .”

Most of Russell’s guides have accompanied him to the United States to visit the homes and offices of customers. This comes under the heading of education. The rivermen get a glimpse of how their sportsmen live and work and gain a better idea of how to take care of them. When they see an ulcer case dining on crackers and warm milk, they sense that three plates of beans at a sitting might not be good for him in the woods.

The diet of their charges is one of the things an outfitter and his staff must watch. Unfamiliar exercise and fresh air give the average middle-aged or elderly business executive a ravenous appetite. If he bolts too much food he ruins his digestion and his fun.

Jack’s worst moments are caused by chronic complainers. One person who grumbles constantly can turn a whole camp into a wailing wall. Occasionally, for the benefit of general morale such an individual is firmly invited to pack up and scram. Jack has given the hum’s rush to a man whose fortune is estimated at $75 millions. On the other hand, there are people who can keep everybody in high spirits even when the fish aren’t taking.

Murder in the Bush

In the evening at the “Waldorf” the conversation often spins around the lore of the Miramichi. The river and its valley have a strange magical quality. Even the milk train has a bit of glamour. It’s called the “Dungarvon Whooper,” after a lumber woods’ ghost.

A century ago the cook at a logging camp near Dungarvon was murdered. His spook is supposed to have been scampering around ever since, emitting blood-curdling whoops. Two of Jack’s guides claim to have heard the whoops close at hand, after a new fall of snow, and to have hunted for miles without finding any tracks belonging to an animal capable of making such a sound. The train’s whistle whoops, too. Thus the name.

Long Ík'fore there was an Unknown Soldier, the Miramichi had an Unknown Woodsman. His body was found one spring by rivermen canoeing from Half Moon to Ludlow. They buried it on a point. The wooden cross they placed over the grave was inscribed: “Unknown Woodsman.”

Annually the first men to canoe from Half Moon to Ludlow after the ice is running stop at the grave and briefly bare their heads.

The Miramichi has its own “telegraph system.” Even the natives are amazed at the speed with which news

^reads by word of mouth. If a man deep in the forest cuts his foot with an axe. or shoots an albino deer, it will be known in settlements many miles away within a few hours. The late Arthur Train the author who frequently fished at Jack Russell’s, contended in on ' of his s ories that only mental telepathy could account for the Miramichi “grapevine.”

In more remote districts, the residents have a vernacular of their own. They have a habit of starting their sentences with the word “hello.” “Hello for being tired,” they say. Or, “Hello for being hungry.” Or again, “Hello for saying good-by.” An illegitimate child is a “moonlighter.” When things go well, they are “logging.”

The Miramichi is one of very few rivers where the angling of spring salmon or kelt is permitted. A kelt is a salmon which has been under the ice all winter. In most streams it is a poor half-dead specimen unfit to catch or eat. But in the Miramichi it comes through in fighting trim and will battle nearly as hard as a salmon just in from the Atlantic.

Fishing for kelt starts the day the ice breaks up. It’s a cold, dangerous pastime, but enthusiasts are crazy about it. They flock to the “Waldorf” and other camps on the river from all over the United States. Jack Russell has hauled them in by horse and sleigh when the snowdrifts on his road were too deep for cars.

Early Bird

Typical of them is Derben Willis Bartholomew of Plainfield, N.J., who has “seen the ice out” annually for 11 years. He wears a fur-lined suit designed for an Arctic explorer. He has two of these in case one gets wet and he needs a change. He also wears furlined flying boots and a fur ctp Bartholomew stays on the Miramichi eight or 10 days. He told me his annual visit costs him approximately $1,500.

The law is that kelt must be caught with a barbless hook. An angler may kill one a day but must release the others unharmed after bringing them to the side of the canoe. Bartholomew hooks an average of five a day and they weigh from eight to 15 pounds. He usually frees them all.

The accepted formula is that it takes one minute per pound to subdue a salmon. The fish strikes the gaudy feathered fly with explosive force. Its first reaction, then, is to leap clear of the water, shaking itself madly ir. an effort to get loose. When this fails, it streaks downstream, with the current for an ally. The fisherman’s reel screams as Salmo salar, the king of fish, races off. The salmon fights until the last iota of its strength is drained—and, pound for pound, no fish is stronger. A 15-pounder, swimming from the sea to upriver spawning grounds, has no trouble leaping a 15-foot waterfall.

Salmon angling, with some men, is the consuming passion of life and a ritual more than a pastime. They deify the Leaper, with its beautifully proportioned silver-blue body. They sit up far into the night discussing its secrets. Why does it rise at a fly? Does it, or does it not, feed in fresh water? Such questions are debated with fanatical fervor.

The flies with which salmon are caught are not flies at all, strictly speaking, since t hey resemble no insect. They are the most elaborate lures used in any kind of angling and one of them, not more than an inch in length, may be compounded of a dozen materials of a dozen colors from a dozen parts of the world. Tying them is an art handed down from father to son.

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One view is that salmon jump at the flies because the brilliant baubles annoy them. Another is that the gay trifles remind them of whatever it is they eat in their years at sea.

Fisherman first and outfitter second, Jack Russell can hold forth long and eloquently on the mysteries of Salmo salar—so much so that Edward A. Weeks, Jr., editor of the Atlantic Monthly, persuaded him to write an article on the subject. When this was published a typographical error caused the word “smolt” (describing a young salmon before it heads for the sea) to appear as “smelt”—a smelt, of course, being a sardine-sized species of food fish.

Across the continent, salmon anglers rose up in righteous wrath and told Weeks in very positive terms what should be done with a self-professed expert who didn’t know a smolt from a smelt. Some of their letters were run in a subsequent issue with a footnote. This said that the mistake was one of the most grievous in history—the most grievous, in fact, since a misprint had turned the “life” of a saint into the holy man’s “wife.”

None suffered more anguish from the “smelt” boner than Russell, for he is one of those to whom an Atlantic silver is a sacred thing. The biggest salmon Jack has captured weighed 43 pounds. That was in Norway. His biggest in Canada tipped the scales at 37 pounds, but he still tries almost daily during the angling season to better his Norwegian record.

When he fishes, it’s a wonderful performance. His fly shoots out straight and true and lands exactly where he aimed it. For practice, Jack, Jill and their two boys—Bill, 18 and Jack, 16— cast at corks, matchboxes and chips of wood tossed into fast-flowing water. They seldom miss the target. Jack Jr., when he was 12, was offered $125 a week and expenses to give a casting exhibition in New York.

Russell plans, some day, to put his fishing and hunting experiences into a book. There will be a chapter on his father, the late William Russell, who gave him one of the finest heritages a man can have—a real love of angling— and who traveled from California to New Brunswick at the age of 83 to catch one last salmon before he died.

There will be a chapter on Jill, the ballerina who preferred the wilderness to the stage; and a chapter on how young Bill and young Jack caught their first fish; and a chapter on guides and a chapter on guests, both desirable and undesirable.

There may also be mention of the day Jack Russell drowsed and woke up and thought he was asleep. He was gliding downstream in a canoe, with one of his rivermen navigating, and the sun was falling through the overhanging trees and dappling the Miramichi with gold. In this enchanting setting, he opened his eyes and there before him were two nymphs right out of mythology.

They were birthday-naked, save for veils of the filmiest gauze, and they stood like statues, in classical attitudes, on a red rock carpeted with moss. As he came abreast of them, the goddesses stayed motionless, but one of them slowly winked.

“Hello, Jack,” said a familiar voice.

Glancing beyond the gorgeous creatures, he saw one of his guests, an artist, busy at an easel.

“A couple of models I know happened to be touring hereabouts,” grinned the artist. “Suit the scenery well, don’t they?”

“Yes,” said Jack Russell, “they do. Bring ’em back for dinner when you’re through. Nice day, isn’t it, ladies?”

Nothing, not even nymphs, can shake a good outfitter’s composure' ★