Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Game Warden Files (career in brief)

Over the years, many times I've made halfhearted attempts to write down some of my experiences as a Game Warden--a New York State Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO), to be exact.  I'll start again here and see if it actually turns into something this time.  It may or may not run in order---we'll see how...or progresses.

This career in law enforcement all started when I was very young, probably four or five, and my interest in law and order took form.  It probably started from watching westerns and such things as Tales of the RCMP, and progressing through the years to The Everglades...lots of that type of TV influence.  That interest was encouraged--or at least humored by parents and even more so by my grandfather who let me spend Sunday afternoons at his house "hunting bad guys."  With the bolt out of his old single shot .22, I'd prowl the house and make arrests (generally in the dark reaches of the root-cellar) of imaginary people for all manner of evils committed in that little burg of East Chatham, NY.
I took a lot of interest in the outdoors and when my grandfather became the Justice of the Peace in the mid-1960's, each year he'd give me his outdated copy of the NY Fish and Wildlife Law which I would devour.  Many years later (1978) when I took the test that would lead me to my career as an ECO, some of that old text was still in the law and I had to read and answer questions on it during the test.  I'm sure that those memories helped.
When I was about 13, I received a scholarship to attend the New York State Conservation Camp DeBruce in Livingston Manor, NY.  My folks delivered me there on a Sunday afternoon and picked me up the following Saturday.  During that week we learned to tie trout flies--never did master that; were shown how to trap fur-bearers--didn't do much for me either; had some lessons in forest management--interesting, but not career-setting; and got to meet a couple larger than life Game Protectors, as they were then called.  That seemed to set the path in motion.
In the 60's and 70's there was not much information out there for following a career choice like mine.  My high school guidance counselor found the closest thing he knew about and hooked me up for a forestry curriculum at Columbia Greene Community College, then in Athens, NY.  It wasn't sending me down the right track, and college wasn't really for me anyway at that point in life, so I left after a year to pursue other fields, seeming to abandon the dream of becoming a Game Warden.  The major thing I did gain from college was that I met the girl who would become my wife and partner on the journey.  Though we were "just friends" then, the friendship stayed alive with an occasional phone call and letter and, on June 29, 1974 we were married.  As I type this Peggy Lester Pitcher and I have been married for nearly 39 years, and are more in love than when we said "I do."
After leaving college, I worked on furnaces and drove an oil truck, then drove a truck delivering dairy feed for Blue Seal Feed.  It was during the feed truck days I really reconnected with my "friend" Peggy and the relationship turned serious and led to our marriage.  It was also during this time I connected with a local legend, Johnny Bell.  He was another truck driver for Blue Seal, and was also a part-time patrolman for Chatham Police Department.where he had acquired the status of a legend.  For all he was and wasn't, he was a good friend and mentor to me, and got me started as a part-time officer with Chatham PD.  I started my career in law enforcement on June 5, 1975.  I became full time with CPD in 1978.  That job got me into a basic police school which got me into a seasonal job with the NY State Park Police, Taconic Region.  Along the way I did some time also with the Columbia Co. Sheriff's Office also.  
In 1978, all the police work I'd been doing plus my year in college qualified me to take the Civil Service test for my dream job.  Though the job had been titled Game Protector when I had first encountered it, then become Conservation Officer, it was now Environmental Conservation Officer, a job with all the same authority as the New York State Police.
Thought I'd done alright on the exam, there'd been no contact about jobs so I had pretty well given up on ever wearing that green suit; but one day in 1981 I was called for an interview.  I got on a train in Hudson, NY, rode to NY City and soon found myself sitting across from Capt. Dennis O'Reilly, a long-time friend who had recently been promoted to Chief ECO in the NY City Region, and Lt. James (Jay) Molinelli.  I'll never forget being almost speechless as I looked out the windows of the conference room in the south west corner of #2 World Trade Center on that clear summer morning. NY Harbor was busy, there was blue sky and puffy white clouds as far as I could see--which was quite far that morning.  I thought, "Gee...I could like it here."   Though I did OK on the interview, they opted to hire right down the list, taking the top four or five from the 10 or so they'd interviewed.  I was number 7, so my dreams went back in the box.  However, I stayed in touch with Dennis O'Reilly, who had been a friend before either he or I was in the law enforcement business, and he kept telling me that I needed to come to NY City for a visit to "check things out," so it should have been no surprise when I got a call asking me to come to Albany, DEC Headquarters, for another interview in April of 1982.  There was going to be a Basic School for ECOs starting soon and they were filling a few more positions before it began.  Was I interested?   I asked for a physical before the interview because I'd had a life-long problem with my eyes, and didn't want to get my hopes shot down after I'd been offered a job.  I got through the eye exam--barely, I might add--and got an appointment for an interview the next day.  In the morning, my wife left for a conference before I headed for my interview.  As she was getting in the car, we looked around at our mobile home on rented land and thought "what have we got to lose?"  She called me that night and asked "Well?" I replied "Dennis is sitting on the couch, what does that tell you?"  Her response: "GO FOR IT!"
The die was cast, we were on the way to a new adventure.  She got home from her conference Sunday evening, I dumped her clothes out of the suitcase, packed mine, and headed to  Albany to be part of the Fourth Basic School for Environmental Conservation Officers.  I was sworn in the next morning, April 19, 1982, and settled in for sixteen long weeks of basic training.  The position to which I'd been appointed was in New York City.
About a month before graduating, we took a weekend and headed to New York to have a look-see.  I was going to be assigned to Brooklyn and would have to live somewhere in that borough--Kings County.  We found an apartment we could handle in a pretty decent looking neighborhood, made an agreement with our perfectly stereotypical Brooklyn land-lady, and shortly, with two little boys moved to 6517 Ave. N, Brooklyn.  We were now "CITY PEOPLE!"  I had the dubious distinction of being the "Game Warden of Brooklyn.
We stayed in Brooklyn from Sept. 1982 until February 1984, when we moved to Sharrotts Rd., Staten Island.  In September of 1985 we had our third child.  We stayed until June of 1986, when there were a few openings in upstate areas that we liked the looks of.  It was down to either Saratoga or Fulton Counties and we'd have taken either.  The choice was taken out of our hands when an officer with more seniority chose Saratoga.  That left us with Fulton.  On Peggy's birthday, 1886, we closed on our first house, on Rosewood Ave., Johnstown, and on our anniversary had a truck packed and were northbound.  We settled in and on by the Fourth of July Weekend that year I was finally a country game warden.
Johnstown was a great place to raise kids.  We had a good neighborhood, decent school system and lots to do.
We were there about 17 years.  After our youngest was out of high school we sold that house and moved to the quiet little hamlet of Meco.  I retired from DEC in 2008 after nearly 27 years of service.  I now work as a part-time deputy for a sheriff's office nearby and as a part-time patrolman for a small PD a short distance away.  Almost like I've run full circle.  That's the short version of the career.

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