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It Ain't Junk-- I'm Going to Eat Off It!

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It Ain't Junk-- I'm Going to Eat Off It!
Phil Jose

Okay boys and girls, listen up. In the last article on gun safety, I spouted a lot of rules and regulations at you. The nature of the subject made it unavoidable. However, we're going to compensate a bit here. This is going to be fun. What I intend on doing is to send you on a scavenger hunt. You're going to look through every second hand store, attic, and basement within a frightfully large radius. And the prize is-- an outfitted camp! (Everything except a tent. We'll cover that by itself later.)

So what's it going to take to start getting that camp gear collected? Right now, since you're just starting out, follow a rather simple rule: If it looks old, use it. And if it doesn't look old, leave it at home.

Remember, the whole purpose of your being in camp is to leave behind the twentieth century and all its attendant paraphernalia. As a result, there's some things you might think at first harmless to take with you, but are actually no-no's:

Aluminum. Lawn chairs and aluminum cookware are out. Aluminum didn't show up until the later part of the nineteenth century, and at the time was a rarity.

Plastics. The only exception here will be a well-camouflaged cooler. (More on this later.) Eating utensils, chairs, tables, etc. won't be allowed in camp.

Radios. No one wants to hear them, and they're usually forbidden outright in camp. Now I know of some folks who keep a very small one in their tents so they can sneak an occasional listen to the ball game, but it's self-defeating. You're trying to leave your twentieth century frame of mind behind, including instant communication. That leads me to:

Cell phones. I don't care if little Jennifer is going to be stranded at soccer practice, you should have thought of that before you left the twentieth century. There is no more an unwelcome intrusion into my weekends in camp than a participant yammering banalities into one of those ugly plastic things. Leave 'em at home.

There's one other thing I want to bring to your attention. There are some events that will allow graniteware cookware while others will not-- it showed up late. If you're going to use it, double-check the flyer for the event to see if it's disallowed.

All that being said, let's start work on a very basic equipment list:

Eating utensils: For plates and bowls, look for tinware, pewter, wood, or plain white heavy crockery/ceramic. Likewise with drinking cups, only you have a lot of latitude for design and color. The older the knives, forks and spoons look, the better. (But remember, no plastic handles!)

Cook gear and fire-tending: Keep in mind that you're going to be cooking over an open fire that you're going to build in a fire pit that you've dug. So the very first piece of cook gear needed is-- a shovel! (Old and ratty's fine, just make sure the handle's good.) The next piece of equipment is an ax to split wood with.

You're going to need a grill. A lot of the ones you're going to see for sale will have collapsible legs so they stand above the fire. Be careful not to kick the leg out from under it.

Along with the grill are a couple things. You're going to need a long fork for turning your edibles over the fire. Another necessity is an iron tripod, which is three separate long pieces you can either use as a frame over your fire pit or formed into a tripod.

Your skillets, pots, and pans should be either cast iron or copper. For hanging pots and pans from the tripod, you'll need a collection of S-hooks. Finally, remember some wooden spoons to cook with.

The best cooking buddy that you're ever going to find is a dutch oven. These are great, sturdy, cast iron beasts, a sort of a pot with a flat bottom and three stubby legs. You can cook conventionally with them, or set them right down in the fire. Turn the lid over and you have a griddle. Put it rightside up on the "dutch" and you can scoop hot coals on the lid, and your grub's cooking from the top down. It may take a little to develop the knack of cooking on one, but it's a skill well worth learning. You'll agree the first time you butter up a hot, golden brown biscuit that you've just baked over your own fire.

There's one additional piece of gear that is incredibly handy: the blowpipe. It's a length of tubing, usually copper, several feet long you use to blow forced air into a reluctant fire. You put one end in the fire, the other to your mouth, and blow. Here's a safety must: When using a blowpipe, always, always, always move your mouth from it before inhaling. Otherwise, you suck in a lungful of superheated air, which will cause injury.

Another piece of camp gear that I want to mention here is water buckets. These take form in wood, canvas or metal. When you fill them for cooking and wash water, keep them near the fire, just in case you need them. In fact, at some doin's, it's required to have a water bucket or two near your fire.

Bedding: Here you're allowed some latitude. At most events, cots, sleeping bags and air mattresses are all fair game. Strip the pillows and blankets off your bed. If you have a quilt or comforter that you don't mind getting wet and/or dirty, it's good form to put it on top; it looks good.

Tables, chairs, etc.: Go with wood. There's different types of folding wooden tables out there that are accepted and handy to transport. Likewise with the chairs—you'll find different types that either fold in, or are in two pieces, one fitting into the other for transport. Make sure anything wooden that's going to sit outside your tent is not only stained or painted, but sealed as well. (They will get rained on—a lot!)

For nighttime, you're going to need at least two candle lanterns. They come in all sorts of different and acceptable forms. However, if you want something pretty, go with punched tin lanterns. They have small holes punched in patterns around the back and side. When the candle's lit, it throws a pattern of light out that's beautiful.

Why at least two? Remember that sometime at night, someone's going to have to make that long, long haul to the port-a-pot. Stumbling in the dark when you really have to go is no fun. Neither is sitting in the dark because someone else really had to go and took the lantern to the port-a-pot. Get two.

Now that you have a basic idea on what you need, where so you find it? It depends on where you enjoy scrounging. (Remember, I warned you I was sending you on a scavenger hunt.) Here's a few ideas to get you started:

Ransack your home. I'm serious. This is where you're at least going to find bedding and eating utensils. Do you have any candle lanterns that are just there for decoration? Go for it. (So what if it looks like your home's been plundered by the Visigoths? You won't be there to see it, anyway.)

Yard sales, flea markets, junk stores, the Goodwill, etc. Possibilities abound here. Remember for right now, your rule of thumb is "If it looks old, use it." An old, beat up chest becomes clothing storage. The price looks right for that cast iron cooking pot, snap it up. Start keeping your eyes open wherever you go.

To the above list I'd also add any basements and attics you have access to. Keep in mind that others' junk is destined to be your treasure.

If you're still stumped, remember all the contacts and catalogs I've mentioned in previous articles are helpful, though not as cheap. You'll be paying for both newness and shipping from them. (Besides, it's nowhere as fun.)

Of course, don't forget the events themselves. As a matter of fact, I'd suggest buying the ironware for your campfire here. You know it will be period proper, and you won't be paying some pretty stiff shipping charges that the mail order folks would add.

Here's a daunting thought: What about making some of your own stuff? Actually, there's very little involved on putting handles on a knife or cutting some tubing and calling it a blowpipe. You'll have a needed piece of equipment, and the pride and satisfaction of accomplishment. Besides, making things for yourself is good practice for when you're ready to start blanket trading.

Like everything else in this hobby, getting your camp together is going to take time and money. I know how frustrating it is to want to spend that first weekend in camp and not have the equipment to do it. While you're still collecting you gear, you can put your time to good use by "daytripping" events. Dress up, head out, and have fun. While you're having fun, be sure to drop some cash at Traders' Row and the blanket traders. Meanwhile, while you're on walkabout through camp, keep your eyes open. Look at the different camps and note things like styles of chairs, tables, lanterns, fire irons, etc.

Keep in mind that while matching camp gear to persona isn't an absolute necessity when starting out, you're going to want to eventually. If you haven't bought an item yet, you might as well do enough research to buy the right item when the time comes. So be sure to ask a lot of questions while daytripping.

So far we've covered the fine art of scrounging. Let's touch on another art that's of equal necessity: That of stowing Twentieth Century gear. I hope that I'm not going to burst anyone's bubble here when I tell you how to cheat. However, there are a few exceptions to the ban on Twentieth Century goods that are almost universal, (coolers and bedding come to mind,) as well as places to stow them.

In the vast majority of rendezvous, there's an unwritten rule that if it's in your tent, it's no one's business. Any event that doesn't adhere to this rule is too uppity for you right now, anyway. You can keep your cooler, etc. just on the inside of your tent fly for easy access, but keep in mind that tents have a habit of getting real full, real fast.

An alternative is to put it in a pile outside of your tent, either on the side or in back. Make sure that it can be completely covered with either a piece or canvas or blanket.

When you're just starting out, you're not going to have a collection of period proper chests, etc. for transporting your gear. That means you'll be hauling a lot of cardboard or plastic boxes. The simplest way to get these out of sight is to throw as many as you can back in your vehicle after you've set up.

Right now, it's not how much authenticity your camp has, but how well it's displayed. Make it a point of pride that when the event opens to the public, your camp looks as out- of-place as possible in the Twentieth Century. Get that plastic egg caddy out of sight as soon as you're done breakfast. Police your camp for aluminum beer/soda cans. Get the trash and the plastic bag that's holding it out of sight. Start drinking out of a cup or mug. The list goes on, and you'll soon get the hang of it.

A quick summary would be to remind you that the initial outlay in starting a camp is going to involve a lot of footwork and some hassle—it all comes with the territory. But then comes the day when you realize that it's all come together. You have a nice and comfortable camp, and you decide to start picking up the odds and ends to not only make it more authentic, but uniquely yours. (And why not? After all, it's your home.) Once past that initial outlay, you'll find ongoing pleasure in adding to the details.

Meanwhile, start scrounging.

Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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