Osterhout, Willard

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY
Will and Jerri Osterhout

Our family moved to Warner’s Lake in November of 1970. For several years after that, we ran a snack bar, beach and a marina with a launch ramp, boat rentals, dock space and a gas pump. After we closed the beach and snack bar, we continued to operate the launch and rent boats until 1997 when we lost part of our house to fire. At that time, we decided to retire.

During our time here at the lake, we have gained many fond and often amusing memories. Swimming cost .50c but patrons thought that should apply only if you went in the water. Many days we would have a full beach with everyone enjoying the lawn chairs and using the rest room and at the end of the day we were lucky to $20-30 dollars in the till. I solved that problem the next year by going to a general admission and many people were appalled that I could do such a thing. One lady I remember would bring her daughter swimming on the weekend and she would sit at a table in the snack bar and buy one cup of coffee and read the entire Sunday paper. After a couple of times of her holding up a table for hours, I informed her she would have to read her paper in her car. When we first opened I believe we charged $3.00 for a boat launch. One family of 5 would launch their sail boat and two of them would go sailing while the rest of the family sat on the beach. After a couple of weekends of this, I informed them they would have to pay the general admission for those who stayed behind or load all of them onto the sail boat. Needless to say they stopped coming. In the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, the State maintained a trout-stocking program at Warner’s Lake. Each spring they would stock 2500-3000 rainbow trout. During this time, after April 1st when the trout season opened and the ice melted away from the shore, enough to provide some open water, fishermen and women would line our waterfront (elbow to elbow) to fish for these trout. There was always a 55-gallon drum and some firewood on the beach so they could build a fire to warm themselves. Many times, people would gather at our window inside to watch these dedicated fishermen as they fished during a spring snowstorm.

Another aspect of the trout fishing was those who chose to fish at night. Everyone would fashion some kind of reflector with a snap hook on it that would mount on the oarlock of the boat. They would hang a Coleman lantern on the hook so it reflected into the water. This would attract the trout. Favorite baits were worms (either night crawlers or dug) and whole kernel corn. Many fishermen believed that their success depended on which worm or which brand of corn you used! As if the fish could tell. Every fisherman had his or her favorite spot to night fish. There were many evenings when you could see a couple dozen boats with their lanterns scattered about the lake. All of this trout fishing ended in the 70’s when the state stopped their stocking program.

Boat rentals were very popular and the rate our first year was .50c an hour. We soon learned what a nightmare that was trying to keep track of the times people went out and when they came back. The next year we went to a day rate of $5.00 for a 12ft row boat and $7.00 for a 14ft boat. It took people a while to get used to that concept, but it made it a lot easier for us.

One of my favorite stories to recall is about the man who decided to rig the mast on his sailboat across the street in our parking lot prior to launching. Unfortunately, he forgot about the telephone cables hanging along the highway and as he backed across the road, his mast got caught and flipped his boat off the trailer into the middle of the highway. Traffic was tied up until the mast was removed and we found enough people to pick the boat up and put it back on the trailer.

Along that same vein I recall one of our more famous boat launches was accomplished by a polish friend of mine. Now I know many of you will assume that his ethnic heritage had something to do with it but I don't think so, but you can judge for yourself. This gentleman had a great deal of trouble backing up his boat trailer so he came up with the following solution. He would unhook the boat and trailer and he and his large son would walk it down our boat launch. It was only a 16ft boat with a 30hp outboard on the back so he thought it would be no problem. If any of you are familiar with the boat launch it is rather steep. Well they started down and the trailer started to pick up speed so the large son let go and his father was on his own. Have any of you ever seen a grown man running down a steep boat launch holding onto the tongue of a trailer until he is waist deep in the lake. I was standing on my deck at the time and burst into uncontrollable laughter. I made it my duty to remind him of this new form of boat launching whenever I got the opportunity.

During the winter of 1971-72, our good friend Tom Arcolano decided he would build a wooden boat strictly for use on Warner’s Lake. It was 16ft long, 4ft wide and had a flat bottom for stability. The power was supplied by an antique 19hp Johnson Sea Horse. It was launched in the spring of 1972 and was christened “The Blue Goose” by Jerri Osterhout. The name came from the lovely dark blue color used to paint it. The Arcolano’s and Osterhout’s used the “Goose” for many years, and when it was retired, the front was cut off and used as a doghouse for many more years. The remainder of the craft was used for kindling wood to start many a warm fire in the Osterhout’s wood stove.

The Blue Goose

Dan Stadler, a good friend of Jerri and myself, launched his older wooden boat one beautiful warm summer day. He had his wife and daughter with him and was checking the boat out after replacing the steering cables. You remember those old cables that wrapped around a drum behind the steering wheel under the dash. It seems that Dan had them on wrong because when he turned right, the boat went left and it created quite a sight until he got back to shore where he could fix them.

One Fathers Day, a young man rented a rowboat to take his father fishing for the day. Upon their return the son beached the boat and jumped out. He grabbed the front of the boat to pull it up on shore at the same time his father stood up in the back of the boat; you know the rest of the story, a big splash as dad took a swim. I’m sure that is a Fathers Day he will never forget.

As all you boaters know, you must put your drain plug in before you launch your boat. How often people forget to do this and we watch on shore as they try to figure out where all of the water is coming from inside their boats. My wife can often be found standing on the porch reminding people to check their drain plugs.

At one of our Lake Association Dinner Dances, my friend Tom Arcolano won the infamous Bacardi Rum Canoe. A beautiful bright red inflatable craft with the logo printed on the side. It was very popular and we used it for years. There were many disputes over whether the adults or children got to play with the float.

Tom Arcolano in the Bacardi Rum canoe

A special attraction at Osterhout’s Beach was a 15-foot high fiberglass aqua slide mounted out in the water. It became very popular and always had a line waiting to go down it. You could go down it any way you chose, except standing which was not allowed. I recall one night after my wife and I had retired for the evening, a relative who shall remain nameless, and some of his friends decided to go skinny-dipping. The large Aqua slide we had in the swimming area had to be wet down before you could use it. Unfortunately, this individual had never heard that before and neglected to do so. Have you ever heard a wet bare bottom sliding down a dry fiberglass slide before? It makes your hair stand up on end. If you didn’t know who the skinny dipper was that night, you sure could tell the next day by the way this guy was walking, and how he sat down!

Frank Arcolan at the top of the aqua slide

One Sunday morning a man arrived early to use the beach. We didn’t open until 11:00 so he sat in his bathing suit in a lawn chair and read his Sunday paper. About this same time, I was walking by my workshop at the corner of the building and noticed a couple of bats hanging under the porch. I decided I should get rid of them before we opened. I got a can of wasp and hornet spray from my workshop and gave them a quick spray. One immediately fell to the ground; the other however had enough strength to flutter towards the beach. You guessed it, that bat landed on that mans shoulder and slid down his chest onto his lap. Never before have I seen a man leap out of a lawn chair like that scattering his paper all over while doing a bazaar little dance across the beach.. I quietly slipped into my shop out of sight while trying to control my laughter.

For a couple of years, the East Berne Businessmen sponsored ice-skating at our house on Wednesday nights and on weekends. A sizeable area was kept plowed and occasionally was flooded to provide smooth ice. It was illuminated in the evening. This encouraged the entire town to enjoy the splendor of this beautiful lake.

As you all know, Loch Ness has Nessie, Lake Champlain has Champ and in 1998, Warnie (so named by Lee Jones) appeared at Osterhout’s on Warner’s Lake. Warnie was a strange looking green, yellow and orange sea serpent that showed up one summer and every summer since. Many visitors stop by to say hello, especially those with small children with them. It can’t be determined at this time how long Warnie may stay at Warner’s Lakes, but he sure does love his time here, and he has a big smile for everyone who stops by to see him.

"Warnie" The Warner's Lake Sea Serpent