Wednesday

Hannah and I rolled in at 2:00 with very little in the truck. Most everything we need for Puckaweekend has already been brought up, but I received a mysterious package from Sean’s friend Darius earlier in the week. I was instructed not to open it until everyone arrived. Darius, who couldn’t make it this year, is a fearsome sysadmin; the box makes me nervous.

Hope there’s enough here to last us through the first night…

I turned up the heat in the keep, hooked up the plumbing, and headed to the big trailer. It smells much better now; the AirWicks and DampRid have done a great job. I set out two new containers of DampRid, turned on all the electric heaters and ceiling fans, then fired up my propane sunflower heater in the living room. Shouldn’t take long at all before this place is nice and toasty.

Back outside, I hopped in the truck and went down the road to Lynn and Carol’s to get the pop-up camper out of their pole barn. I parked it along the brick garden and took a few minutes to fill the bird feeders. Almost ended up starting the weekend with an injury by placing the ladder over a mole tunnel. I hate those burrowing vermin. Once that was done, I headed back to the pole barn to blow the leaves away from the buildings and the pit. It was 3:15 and I was just getting started when Red and Gunner showed up.

Casa del Voight.

We unpacked some of his supplies and provisions, set up his cooler by the deck, and settled on a spot to set up the pop-up camper. It’s going up on the other side of the three tall cedars to the east of the big trailer. Sticking to the same spot as last year would put him uncomfortably close to the new outhouse location. I got the mower running and mulched all the leaves around Red’s new yard, then we towed the pop-up over with the green ATV. Had it set up in no time and plugged into the power pole. Red unpacked the rest of his stuff and I tested the pop-up’s propane heater. Works like a charm and should make for comfortable sleeping arrangements.

The first of many, many drinks.

Red fished out the unburned branches and limbs from the pit while I made some more passes with the mower. There are still a lot of leaves on the trees and I’m not collecting anything, but this will at least give us some open paths through the yard. On one of my passes down the driveway, the mower deck started belching white smoke. I figured a stick had gotten caught up in the belt, but when I removed the top cover I found a blown-up pulley just laying loose. I have no idea where it even could have been mounted because the belt seemed like it was still under tension and contacting all of the blade spindles. I removed this “appendix” pulley and slapped the cover back on. The mower ran just fine. I guess it just wanted to be more efficient.

I finished trimming around 5:30 and Red and I took the blue ATV out to the marsh so I could show him the battlement. It was met with approval and we toasted the new structure with a few bottles of New Glarus. Red moved his Traverse over to where the truck box used to be after checking the area for puncture hazards. It makes a nice mini parking lot. We hung out in the keep for a bit until around 7:45 when I turned off the propane heater in the big trailer and left to pick up our Colorado contingent at the Appleton airport. United started offering direct flights from Denver to Appleton earlier this summer and the prices are comparable to flying direct to Milwaukee. It’s a much shorter drive for me, so I’m all for it.

After stopping at my house to pick up the decks of Cards Against Humanity that I had forgotten to bring earlier, I parked outside of the airport terminal and stood in the bed of my truck to get a better view of the three possible exits. Sean and his cohorts were welcomed to Wisconsin by a large, bearded, beflanneled man yelling, “HEY, SNOWFLAKE!” at the top of his lungs. After bear hugs and handshakes, we quickly loaded everyone’s luggage into the back of the truck and put Appleton in the rear view.

High-energy dogs.

On the ride back to Puckaway, I got to meet Luby (Alex) and Dopps (Mike) for the first time in person. Both of them have been regulars on the PMC Slack for a while now, but this is their first trip to Wisconsin. Per Red’s prior instructions, I called him as we were passing through Ripon. When we pulled into the yard just before 10:00, we were greeted by a moderately drunk Red, a burnpit primed for digging, and freshly mixed Old Fashioneds. Puckaweekend was underway.

Once the CO boys had their gear stowed, I got out the package from Darius and nervously opened it. Inside were several bags of Mama Zuma’s Revenge potato chips, a jar of Da Bomb ghost pepper nuts, and a note that read, simply, “PREPARE YOUR ANUS.” Good advice, given the contents. We sampled the wares, downed our Old Fashioneds, and gave Dopps and Luby an abbreviated tour of the Puckagrounds, including another trip to the battlement where we shared a bottle of Dragon’s Milk. It’s nice to be working with proper villains again.

An ominous sight.

We headed back to the burnpit to begin the annual excavation. I got some tunes going on the pole barn jukebox, set up the halogen worklight, and hooked up a trailer to the blue ATV. It wasn’t long before we had quite the crater. I rolled the spool that was leftover from this summer’s wiring project into the pit and it sat flush below ground level. This will be a great base for the first fire; tons of fresh air can get underneath. We started pulling lumber, old railroad ties, and phone pole cutoffs from the driveway woodpile and began building our bonfire base. It was at this point that we lost Luby as a contributor. He was chooglin’ something fierce and needed his shovel to walk. Welcome to Puckaway, sir. You’re doing it right.

That’s what I call chooglin’.

Only an hour into Puckaweekend and already a man down, we decided to call it a night. Dopps and Luby settled into the big trailer and Red and Gunner took the toasty-warm pop-up. Back in the keep, I pulled out the already-dressed futon for Sean before retiring to the bedroom with Hannah.

Thursday

Woke up feeling slow and groggy around 7:00. Let Hannah out and went back to my room to watch some TV and finish the boot-up process for the day. Sean got coffee going using the new grinder and the excellent varieties of beans that he had pre-shipped for the occasion. Since we didn’t have any Bailey’s on hand to cut the coffee with, we improvised with some butterscotch schnapps. Everyone gathered on the keep deck and sipped coffee as we steeled ourselves for the log day ahead of us. The dogs kept busy chasing each other around the yard and Dopps and Luby got a more thorough tour of the grounds now that we had some daylight.

Men about to experience pure food-based joy.

A little before 10:00, Red and I corralled our pooches in the keep and we all piled into my truck to head to town. First stop, of course, was Aunt Judy’s, where our waitress was in a playfully cantankerous mood and gave Red a bunch of grief for not placing his order with specifics. Stomachs full, we lumbered to Piggly Wiggly and loaded up on supplies, making our way back to camp around 11:30.

The afternoon was spent lumberjacking. I got the chainsaw going and finally finished carving up the big oak that fell last year during deer camp. With that out of the way, I made it back to the last driveway woodpile and started trimming the trees on and around it. There were a couple of nearly horizontal midsize oaks thanks to this summer’s wind storm. As I chainsawed, the guys collected and ran relays to the burnpit with the ATV and trailer. Wasn’t long before we had a mighty pile of logs and brush. The chainsaw, which had been uncharacteristically hard to start, kept acting up on me, eventually rattling its own muffler loose. One of the retaining bolts had fallen out and no matter how tight I got the remaining one, it wouldn’t stay in place. At least we got a lot done with it before it decided to quit.

When your enemy goes to ground, leave him no ground to go to.

While the guys continued to collect logs, limbs, and branches, I fired up the green ATV to try to pull out the rotting stump by the ruins of the old woodshed. After several jerks and tugs, it got loose but wouldn’t tip over, so I floored it in 4WD reverse until I was down in a set of tire ruts. I put it in park, applied the parking brake, and started reeling in the winch cable. With the ATV too entrenched to be dragged forward, it was the stump that had to move. I managed to unearth it and flip it completely over. I look forward to reducing it to ash this weekend.

Looks safe to me.

Since it was still light out and we were all sober, we decided to pivot to firearms. Red brought up his old PC tower to be ceremonially executed so I rolled a log over to the east end of the yard to prop it up. We took turns with the .357, Red’s new .22 revolver, the “second chance” .22/20 gauge over/under shotgun, and the tactical .22 rifle. After several dozen rounds of various ammunition, we decided the tower had been properly perforated and we should trade these small, controlled explosions for a large conflagration. After some snacks and drinks on the deck, we headed to the pole barn where Sean, Red, and I (aka, the Officers) each took a 60-year-old road flare and tossed them into the gas-primed brushpile together. The first fire of Puckaweekend was lit.

The inaugural fwoosh.

The rest of the evening was spent drinking, bullshitting, and tending the fire. Hannah surprised me by sticking around the pit with the rest of us; she must be getting over her fear. Red brought some glorious steaks from Beck’s Meat Market in Oshkosh and got them going on the grill around 6:00. I missed dinner with the rest of the crew thanks to a long nap brought on by overindulgence, but managed to snag my cold but still delicious steak from the fridge later in the evening. Not long after that, I was out for the night.

Friday

Like one of those St. Bernards with a barrel of whiskey, just dumber.

I woke to the smell of fried sausage links a little before 8:00. Already, the day was off to a great start. Red was busy in the keep kitchen with multiple skillets, the coffeemaker, and the toaster. The true benefit of upgrading the electrical grid has finally revealed itself, even if it still needs some tweaks. We had to move some of the equipment to a different outlet so it wasn’t all on a single circuit. At least now when we have to reset a breaker, it’s a matter of going into the keep’s bedroom closet and not trudging out to the big trailer. Our perennial camp cook provided us all with a delicious breakfast of sausage, eggs, hash browns, toast, and some strongly brewed and stiffly mixed coffee. I enjoyed my plate on the deck with some thoroughly Baileyed java.

Such a marvelous machine… The tractor ain’t bad either.

After breakfast, we turned our attention back to the pit. A few ATV trailer loads from the woodpile were enough to get it reignited, but it was a relatively small blaze compared to what we usually have around here. Jeremiah pulled in the driveway at 11:00 with his wonderful tractor and sawyer goodies in tow. Red wasted no time in making sure Jeremiah had a drink in his hand. Armed with an Old Fashioned and a stogie, Jeremiah unloaded his trailer and used the forks on his tractor to grab some of the bigger, heavier phone pole segments from the woodpile. He trucked them over to the pit and built a mighty lattice, topping the stack with the stump I had winched out the day before. Once the creosote started burning out of the phone poles, the fire kicked into high gear and stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Red, on self-imposed cleanup detail.

Not content to simply burn wood that was already laying around, Jeremiah got out his chainsaw and dropped a dead birch from the southeastern part of the yard. We all divided and conquered, with some guys hauling birch logs while the rest of us helped with carving up a fallen tree from behind my bird feeders. Present Red got mad at Past Red and took it upon himself to clean up all of his spilled aluminum cans behind the ruins of the woodshed. For the time being, my Husqvarna is out of commission, but the gas “chainsaw-on-a-stick” pole saw does an admirable job trimming branches and cutting smaller logs. By mid-afternoon, the burnpit was over 10 feet in diameter, dangerously hot, and had an incredible amount of additional fuel queued up for immolation.

Hannah was much more relaxed around the fire this year.

We all took a break and sat around the fire for a while, except for Red who was constantly scanning for empty drinking glasses and righting wrongs as soon as he saw them. At 3:30 came the triumphant return of Chris Tacheny who missed (and was missed) last year. True to form, Red greeted him with a drink and made sure it never ran dry for the rest of the night. Introductions were made between Tach, the CO boys, and Jeremiah, then we all hung out on the deck for a while, taking periodic breaks to feed more wood to the pit.

At 5:00, we got our final arrivals of the night when Runge and Joe Moehr pulled in. No need to make Runge a drink; he brought his own bottle of Crown and was on a mission to empty it. Mission accomplished. This is the point in the evening where no amount of notes, checking with the rest of the guys, or reviewing the time lapse videos could help me write this log. We all just got supremely choogled and had a fun night of fire-tending and palavering. Details are hazy, but at one point Camp Cook Red provided an excellent meal of beef stroganoff, there were multiple trips to the battlement, lots of tunes were blasted from the pole barn, and Tach got to watch Christmas Vacation. Dopps kept busy glass-shaping using beer bottles and the heat from the pit. Jeremiah and Runge seemed to be in a race to see who could get drunker (they both won). And the pit was well-fed all night long.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I dropped off for the night a little after 11:00. Tach bunked with Red in the pop-up, Jeremiah got the back bedroom in the big trailer, Joe took the couch in there, and no one really knows when, where, or even if Runge slept.

Saturday

Tach, Jeremiah, and the CO boys revived the pit around 7 am. Jeremiah fired up his tractor, threw some more ties on the fire, then switched out to the bucket attachment to flatten the ground around the depleted woodpile. That thing’s almost completely gone, which is something I thought I’d never see.

I woke to the sound of the tractor and smell of another excellent Red-provided camp breakfast. A man could get used to such luxury. Enjoyed my meal with some coffee on the deck and was ready to start my day in earnest. I did a quick headcount and was relieved that we didn’t lose anyone overnight.

Our annual reverse-Santa Claus visit occurred around 9:45 when Scrapper Paul pulled in with his truck and a new, taller trailer. It always amazes me how easily we prove the axiom, “many hands make light work” because with ten men dedicated to the task, we had Paul’s truck and trailer nearly overflowing within 90 minutes. Jeremiah’s magical tractor was a huge help as we never would have been able to unearth some of the larger items otherwise. The outdoor scrap pile is a fraction of its former self and some big-ticket items like the old red garden shed, circus-painted axle, and busted snowmobile trailer are now gone. There’s a good chance that when Paul shows up next year, we won’t be able to provide him with enough for a full load. That’s mind-boggling.

As noon approached, Tach got his chili going in the crock pot and I fired up the mower to clear leaves in the south yard so we could play some Viking Chess. Luby, Tach, and I played Runge, Joe, and Dopps while the rest of the crew kept the pit fed. Afterwards, we took a late lunch break to enjoy Tach’s chili.

The Viking Chess, uh, field? pitch? arena?

Farmer Joe pulled in at 2:30 and, after the greetings and a tour of the battlement, we moved some mowers and boats out of the way in the southeast corner of the pole barn so he could claim his prize: a giant air compressor. My dad wanted to try to sell this thing, but decided to gift it to Joe for all the help he’s given us with clearing things out in Mayville. I’m just excited to gain the floorspace.

Need a lift?

Farmer Joe, Dopps, and I all supported the weight of the nearly 6-foot tall monstrosity as we hand-carted it from the back corner to the garage door. Once we got it outside, Jeremiah’s big sexy tractor did the rest of the work for us as we carefully guided it onto the forks and then to the back of Joe’s truck. Joe also took a propane grill off my hands. Everybody wins!

Woodpile? What woodpile?

Jeremiah had apparently gone too long without felling a tree and had been eyeing up the big, forked maple to the southeast of the big trailer. It’s got a mean lean to it and is hollowing out at the fork, making it a perfect candidate for sacrifice and slabbing. We hooked a pull rope up to my truck to try to direct one of the trunks away from the big trailer (not that I’d be upset if that building got crushed) and Jeremiah began his cuts. He was worried that, as it fell, it would finish splitting vertically causing the two trunks to diverge, so we cleared the area.

Well, it ended up doing exactly that, snapping the rope to my truck in the process. One of the trunks dropped perfectly into an open spot of the yard, but the other one got hung up in some tall pines, snapping the root ball of one of them and setting it at quite an angle. The top branches ended up scraping the big trailer as it dropped, but no real damage was done. Jeremiah was disappointed that he didn’t get a perfect drop, but I was certainly happy with it.

The maple flames ended up taller than the pole barn.

This thing was huge and we were left with a lot of branches and limbs to carve up. With the Husqvarna on injured reserve, I once again turned to my chainsaw-on-a-stick for trimming. It’s actually perfect for this; saves on a lot of bending and squeezing into tight spots between branches. 

As we were relaying ATV trailer-loads of maple sacrifice to the pit, Dusty and Jordan pulled in, setting a record Puckaweekend attendance of 12. We were down to 11 again after about an hour, however, as Farmer Joe needed to get back to his many bovine ladies and left around 6:00, and then down to 10 after Runge got called home.

Night vikings.

We had the rest of Tach’s chili, some of my wife’s delicious meatballs, and a few pizzas for dinner and spent the rest of the night drinking, talking, and tending the fire. Some of the guys got a night game of Viking Chess going under the bright spotlight of the pole barn, but I called it a night relatively early and was in bed by 10:00.

Sunday

Woke up to rain a little before 7:00, so I made the rounds around the grounds to ensure we hadn’t left out any equipment or gear that shouldn’t get wet. Dusty and Jordan made an early departure around 8:15 and were followed 20 minutes later by Tach and the CO boys. He’s dropping them off at the Minneapolis airport. Kind of a bummer to end the weekend with crappy weather, but at least it held out as long as it did.

Pine burns HOT.

Jeremiah used his tractor to tilt the snapped pine away from the big trailer and then dropped it. We carved it up and fed it to the pit—which was completely undaunted by the light but steady rain—along with the rest of the branches from the maple. Red, as is his way, did a thorough job of cleaning up in the pop-up, keep, and big trailer while I tidied up in the pole barn and Jeremiah began setting up his Alaskan sawmill. Red, Gunner, and Joe Moehr were on their way out a little after 11:00. 

Jeremiah harvested some beautiful slabs from the maple trunk and got them set up to dry behind the pole barn next to the oak pieces from last year. These will need to sit for two years before they can be worked with, but that means the oak will be ready next fall. I’m excited to see what we can do with this stuff.

I helped Jeremiah pack up his gear and load the tractor onto his trailer and he was headed home a little before 2:00. It had stopped raining around noon, but I was debating whether or not to collapse the pop-up or come back up after it had dried out for a while. By 4:00, most of the water had evaporated, so I took it down but grabbed the big container of DampRid from the big trailer and placed it inside as an extra precaution. I hooked this up to the green ATV again and towed it down the road to Lynn’s pole barn where it’ll spend the winter.

After a little more organizing in the pole barn, I walked through and locked up the big trailer, then started packing things up in the keep. I took one last walk around the grounds to admire the progress we made this weekend, gathered the pooch, and we were on our way a little before 6:00.

Coda

This is now the fourth Puckaweekend log I’ve posted to puckaway.net. It’s still incredibly humbling to me that I get to host this gathering, that I get to host it here, and that we’ve built such a mythology around it that two guys I’ve never met in person decided to fly 900 miles from Colorado to Wisconsin to experience it for themselves. When I wrote the log for Puckaweekend 2015, I had the following to say and it still holds true: 

Much more than many hands making light work, Puckaweekend is when I get to open this place, my favorite place in the world, to good friends who appreciate it the way I do. It’s when I get to step back and enjoy the hard work I put in up here over the rest of the year. This is the continuation of a tradition that started many years ago, back when I’d spend the long Teachers’ Convention weekend up here with my grandpa—with my hero. A tradition I continued even after he passed away. It’s an honor to share this with you, gentlemen. More than any project I finish here, progress I make, even more than bringing my wife and boys up here (as that’s more about forging new traditions), it’s Puckaweekend and the food, fire, and fellowship with you guys that keeps my grandpa’s memory alive and burning bright up here. It’s a beautiful gift and I truly can’t thank you all enough for it.

Until next year, gentlemen.