Pulliam Vall "Zeb"

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY
Vall "Zeb" Pulliam and Judy(Ellis)Pulliam

When I was 16, and my wife 14, we met at Warner’s Lake. Her mother and father had a camp on the north end. Her mother, Martha Hinman, was a direct descendent of the Warners who once farmed the land around the lake.

It was a hot summer day in the late 1940’s when my brother and I decided we would go swimming at Pangburn’s Beach, now the home of Willard and Jerri Osterhout. I was walking around the corner where the changing rooms were, and sitting on the counter was this gorgeous blond with long golden-brown suntanned legs whose name I learned was Judy Ellis. Little did I know then that I had just met my future wife and mother of our five children. We were married five years later and from that time on, we spent every summer at Warner’s Lake.

The first couple of years we lived with her uncle and aunt, Van and Millie Warner Hinman Straub, at their camp. Their camp was originally built and owned by Judge Harold J. Hinman and Lucy Warner Hinman, Judy’s grandparents. It was built of wood taken from the surrounding land. The land for the camp was given to the couple by Lucy’s father, Elias Warner, who lived in the big white house on Strevell Lane.

While we were living at the Straub’s camp, Judy and I, with the help of many of my college friends, moved an abandoned one-room house from Delanson to the property owned by Judy’s great-aunt, Grace Warner Strevell. An old man named Rudy had lived in it for years; hence it has always been known as “Rudy’s”. We fixed it up as a little bar where we could entertain our young friends without having to use the Straub’s camp.

The first camp of our own was at the northwest corner of the lake, which was called “Hillside” for obvious reasons. Hillside was owned by Aunt Grace Strevell. It had been rented to Wright and Jessie Westfall for many summers, until the camp was about to fall in on itself.

We were going to add a room and a bath onto Rudy’s so we could have our own camp. Aunt Grace offered us any lumber we could salvage if we tore Hillside down. The Westfalls had left the lake and she wanted to get it off the tax rolls. We took a good look at Hillside and decided to strike a deal with Aunt Grace. We would put a little money and a lot of labor into rebuilding the camp and pay all the taxes. In return, she would give us a ten-year rent-free lease. Aunt Grace went along with the deal, and we spent the next ten years in Hillside.

In a field near Hillside, we put a lighted volleyball court. Many times we played volleyball into the wee hours of the morning. There were several tournaments with other parts of the lake.

During the summer of 1968, we built a new camp on land given to us by Judy’s Aunt Millie. Doc Rockmore helped me with the construction, and then he and Sue lived with us and our then four children for the first year. During that time, Doc and I built a camp for them on the lot next door.

During the 60’s and 70’s, I recall the many good times we had with all the young people around the lake. I remember the time Dalton Marks had just been discharged from the Army and he and I spent most of a Sunday morning trying to use his Army parachute behind a motorboat. We started out with a 50hp motor, then up to a 75hp, and finally someone with a 125hp motor got Dalton up off the water. He went not even as far as the Wright Brothers did on their first flight, but it provided much fun for the crowds watching from boats and the shore. In fact, it attracted two sheriff patrol cars that had joined the crowd hoping to see one of us fly.

My contribution to showing off to the lake campers was confined to my use of what was called a flying saucer. It was a 48” round plywood disc, tapered at the edge and pulled by a motorboat with me on it holding a towrope. Getting up on it was not too hard to do, so I progressed to turning around on it and on to riding it backwards. This did not seem to stimulate any cheers from the shore so I had to do something to jazz up my act. I got a kitchen chair, and after getting up on the saucer with chair in hand, I put the chair on the saucer and got up on the seat of the chair. Keeping in mind that it took many dunkings in the water before I perfected the act. However, it still was not enough to keep the crowds at the water’s edge.

The following winter I picked up an old rocking chair with arms that seemed pretty strong and I cut the rockers off. The next summer I added to my water act by flying around the lake on the arms of the chair. I progressed to 360’s standing on the arms and then riding around the lake with my back to the boat. I remember for some reason I always was in the mood to do my act on Sunday afternoon when all three public braches were full of people. The most disappointing part of it all was I never got an invitation to perform at Water World in Florida. Oh, well.

In the 60’s and 70’s there were many more watercraft on the lake than there are today. I think that was mainly due too there being three launch sites that the public could use; Zwickelbauer’s, Pangburn’s (Osterhouts) and O’Hanlons. For years, at the Warner’s Lake Improvement Association meetings, all we ever talked about were weeds and how to control the number of boats using the lake. Neither of these problems was ever fully solved. Speaking of O’Hanlon’s beach at the southern end of the lake, it and several other places were prime watering holes for many of the young and old back in the 50’s and 60’s. Also on the lake were Zwickelbaur’s and Pang burn’s, the latter being best for breakfast and lunches, with Zwickies being great for a fine German dinner.

Off the lake were great meals and pizza at the Maple Inn and the Restseeker’s Inn. I can recall several times when we were in college, a bunch of us from the lake and some college friends retired to Hayden’s Grill to drink and play shuffleboard and darts. One of the guys played a ukulele and we sang and square danced until three or four in the morning. Tommy Hayden attempted to get us to leave about 1a.m., but there were always four or five final rounds. In fact, one night Tommy had to turn off the lights to get about 20 of us to go home so he could go to sleep.

I think the greatest things at Warner’s Lake back then were the Association’s dinners and field days. Almost every family on the lake would attend both functions, and we got to know others who would become life long friends. Also, our children would get to know other children on the lake and today they are the adults who are now taking over the leadership of the Association.

The Warners Lake Improvement Association was not only there, just to run the fun things. In the early days of the 60’s, the lake level would go down very low due to the man who owned the dam and the water rights for drawing off the lake water to grind grain at his mill in Berne. I recall some years we, at the north end of the lake, would have to put out a 120-foot catwalk to reach a level where we could float our boats.

We negotiated a deal with the mill owner that he would wait until Labor Day to open the dam for grinding grain. Even then the water levels were low because the dam leaked so badly. Later, we made a deal to buy him a diesel engine to use for grain grinding, but the levels were still to low. Finally, we organized a donation drive to out-and-out purchase the dam and water rights, which we did. Since then, we have rebuilt the dam and also have set up a dam fund to maintain the new dam. Today, the lake is adjusted to an acceptable level for everyone.

My wife and I raised five children who have enjoyed Warner’s Lake their entire lives and now their children are enjoying it. We have since moved into Judy’s aunt and uncle’s cottage after their deaths. Three of our children and their children reside at the lake in the summer. You could say that my wife Judy and her family have enjoyed Warner’s Lake for almost 200 years.