July 14 – 20, 2017Vol. 19, No. 6

Tearin' Down Pudge's House

by Rod Johnson

Whattaya' mean, "tearin' down Pudge's house," and who is "Pudge" anyway? Well, it's a bit of story and may take a few hundred words or so, but worth telling I do believe. Here we go.

Pudge Farnham was an old, white-haired man when I was just old enough to remember, circa 1953. He lived right beside my parent's house, not separated by more than 20 feet or so, right smack dab in the middle of Belgrade Lakes village. The house is gone now, but was located right across from the lime-colored house that we see today.

Pudge was an active fishing guide in the community during his heydays, but was on what one might call the latter end of that career. He still fished for his own food and did an occasional guiding job for a half-day or so, and he sold tidbits of fishing tackle out of what he called his "store," actually the front room of his rickety old two story house. I remember seeing him occasionally coming and going from the house, and also would see him fly fishing down at the dam, or spillway, as some call it.

During a period in the spring when the dam was open and fish were coming up into the spillway to spawn, many unskilled fishermen lined the point that we now call Peninsula Park. Most people fished with worms and caught a ton of small white perch. Pudge would stealthily work his way through the crowd to his favorite spot on the spillway granite wall, then toss a grey ghost streamer fly into the frothing water coming downstream from Great Pond. With small twists of his wrist and forearm he would work the streamer fly so it looked like a smelt coming upstream. Only the big fish would go after his bait and he pulled out some of the biggest hump-back white perch that I have ever seen, as well as an occasional salmon. The "worm dunkers" were in awe as Pudge quickly filled his bucket and worked his way out of the crowd and back up street to his house.

As the 1950s moved along, we kids saw less and less of Pudge wandering the village street. One spring or early summer, I'm guessing about 1958, I saw my Dad going into Pudge's front door with a couple of men, one of whom I knew was Harold Tukey, our neighbor and local game warden. The men returned onto the porch and were talking quietly and soon we kids, now early teenagers, got the word that Pudge had died in his bed. In those days it was not really uncommon for old folks to die at home alone and not have it known until the neighbors realized they hadn't seen them out for a few days. Another of our old guides had passed and the lot was waning each year.

Over the next year or so, my parents bought the vacant house and land from Pudge's daughter. Their intent was to tear the old house down and make room for a large flower garden that my mother had always wanted to put in. As fall and winter came on and the tourists had long since headed back home, my dad and older brother started to tear down the big house. In those days it was one board at a time, and seemed like an endless job. We youngsters found it fun to rip and tear a few boards off each day after school, and soon some of the unemployed village men and women came wandering across the lawn with their hammer or pinch bar. We started a small bonfire each day and tossed in what we tore off.

The project took on a village appeal and by the time the snow began to fly, only a cellar hole remained. We burned the bottom floor in place and it fell into the hand-dug cellar. In the spring, Paul Hammond came with many truckloads of fill, and the spot became a lawn. Half way through the next summer, mother had a nice round flower garden in the middle of the lot, which I think at least partially exists today.

I, for one, will remember Pudge Farnham as one of the best fishermen in town. There are pictures of him, his house and other guides hanging in the LRC building, as well as the Belgrade Historical records.

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.