The Warden’s Son

Written by Lt. Deming Lindsley

I became aware that my father had a job that was different than most when in 7th grade a fellow I didn’t know wanted to take me outside of school and throttle me because my “old man was the Warden.” When the phone would ring and someone would ask, “Is the Game Warden there?” my mother would respond–“Yes, the Game Protector is here, who’s calling please?” (She would always correct them with Dad’s proper title.)

A New York State Game Protector didn’t make much money in those days and our vacations consisted of going to a state campsite for a picnic. Dad did get about three weeks vacation, which he took during the summer to work at a second job to help make ends meet. In the early days of my youth, the Protectors used their own cars for patrol, putting red lights and sirens behind the grill and paying out of their pockets for a muffler torn off on an old back road. A 1956 Dodge, push button automatic, was the one I remember. I put many miles on that car with my imagination, waiting behind the wheel for Dad to return from talking to some informer, complainant, or violator. Being eight years old and not being able to see over the steering wheel while touching the peddles at the same time didn’t stop me from being in hot pursuit of some fish and game violator. Being a dedicated officer, and covering 500 square miles in six townships in Sullivan and Ulster Counties, Dad was busy and always on the run. I don’t remember him having much time for his son, so to compensate he took me with him on patrol whenever he could. The most frequent place, and where I was of most use, was boat patrol on Swan Lake. Dad had a state-issued, 14-foot boat with a 10-horse motor. Now, picture if you will my father, who is 6’3″, weighing 250 pounds, in the back of that boat steering it with the bow pointing towards the heavens. He put me right up in the front, my weight being just enough to bring the bow down so he could see where he was going as well as the next boat to check. Now I realize it was also a good tactic. The guy with the short bass on the end of a rope stringer (which could easily be cut when he saw the Warden coming) didn’t expect anything until it was too late, when he saw this guy and his kid approaching one late afternoon. I can remember him saying as the ticket was being written, “This your son?” “Yep,” Dad replied, “that’s my boy!” I don’t think he noticed me sticking my chest out as far as humanly possible.

A 1958 tan Ford was the first state car issued to the Game Protectors. It rusted out after the second long winter, so Dad and I stuffed newspaper in the trunk to fill the holes that allowed the dust from many miles of dirt roads to float around inside the car making you think you were in a cloud.

The time I recall most vividly was the dark, autumn night during the busy deer season of 1963. Dad worked a long hard day and still wanted to be out there this particular cold night. Dad made it home for his usual warmed-up, late supper (which mother never complained about preparing), and I came into the kitchen to refresh my memory of what he looked like. Being a Friday night with no school in the morning, he said, “Want to go patrolling?” We got into his newly issued ’63 black Plymouth, now equipped with the first two-way radios. I remember him checking in “10-8”, which he explained meant “in service.” I was a little confused, however, when I asked who he was checking in with, and he told me no one was there except another car in some other distant county.

Well, off we went to remote part of this patrol area and I was instructed to keep watch and wake him if I saw a car. With the first week of deer season behind him and little time for sleep, he dozed soundly for half an hour, when my eager eyes observed a car coming in our direction. With one word, Dad was awake and we were on our way, blacked out. Watching the spotlight scan the woods, Dad spoke softly, “If they have a gun, we’ve got ’em.” The next thing the over-anxious night deer hunters saw after being pulled over by this ghost car that came out of nowhere was this big hulk of a man with a hand bearing a 14-1/2 wedding band, coming through the open window. They heard the deep, powerful voice saying, “Hand me out that rifle! Butt first! Carefully, sir!” Off to the judge’s house we went with the bad guys close behind. After their guilty pleas and the $300 minimum fine were announced, the hunters left a little poorer, minus one rifle, but a lot wiser. The judge’s wife brought out the coffee for Dad and a big glass of milk for me and said, “So this is your boy.” “Yep,” Dad answered as I stuck my chest out again, “this is my boy.”

In 1965, Dad was working blacked out this particular night when a car was noticed coming in his direction. Not wanting to be “made,” he quickly backed into a field and promptly struck a tree that he didn’t see in the dark. The next day we spent two hours in our garage putting on a new bumper that he had bought from a junkyard so he “wouldn’t have all those reports to fill out.” I’m not sure when it was that I remember him having his hand on my shoulder as he talked to a friend. I was looking up at my father standing tall with his shoulders always back, wearing that green uniform with the black stripe running down the trouser leg, and the big 3″ gun belt with all those bullets in two neat polished rows. I was thinking to myself–this, this is what I want to be when I grow up. Just like my Dad.