A Tribute to My Dad
Some background first….
My Dad was born in 1925 and passed away in 2011. He taught me lots about the world and we shared many lifelong interests. He was my favorite hunting partner for most of my life, but we also “shared” hunting partners. Growing up, I knew most of his friends and partners. As I grew older, I was proud to introduce him to many of my friends and partners. One of them – Craig Kessler – has played a special role.
I met Craig Kessler when I was the Waterfowl Biologist for NYSDEC out of Stony Brook. Craig was first an avid gunner, then President of the South Shore Waterfowlers Association, then Regional Director for Ducks Unlimited. He grew up in Oakdale – on the other side of the Connetquot River – and I grew up in East Islip, hunting the west side of the Connetquot in Great River. After a long friendship, we both retired from our professions at about the same time – and have since worked together on many projects related to the grand sport of waterfowl hunting. We worked together on boats and gear, local gunning and history, and now biology and conservation. He first lured me into the Long Island Decoy Collectors Association (LIDCA) and then into the Long Island Wildfowl Heritage Group (LIWHG).
Long Island Wildfowl Heritage Group
Craig and I routinely discussed the waterfowl “situation” on Long Island – its ecology and its history. We had long spoken of recording the gunning history enjoyed by our Dads and by us. So, we worked through LIDCA to help document what we knew and loved. With the help of many veteran gunners, we produced two documentary DVDs, one on Broadbill and one on the Black Duck. But, it seemed there was little interest from public agencies about the waterfowl populations. We had many, many questions but no source for answers. So, Craig took the bold leap and created the Long Island Wildfowl Heritage Group. The purpose of the LIWHG is stated simply:
Honoring Long Island’s Waterfowling Past While Working to Preserve Its Future
Craig rounded up donors and set about funding research projects here on Long Island. There are currently two graduate students conducting investigations on Black Ducks and Broadbill. Dr. Michael Schummer of the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry oversees the work of Aidan Flores and Jake Chronister.
Subsequently, at LIDCA’s Annual Shows, Craig presents two LIWHG displays. The first includes the students and the progress of their work. The second includes one (or more) of the donors – to honor the gunning history within their own families. The Legacy Benefactor Honor Roll lists the LIWHG donors.
I was surprised at the 2018 LIDCA Show to see my Dad’s name among the Benefactors. It seemed a conspiracy of family and friends had been working behind my back to provide funding to Craig’s brainchild.
Of course, I jumped at the chance to put together the Benefactor display for the 2019 Show. It was held on March 2 in Hauppauge – at the IBEW Hall on Motor Parkway. I thoroughly enjoyed the “work” as well as watching others study and enjoy the exhibit.
The LIWHG Benefactor display was integrated with the main theme of the 2019 LIDCA Show: ATLANTIC BRANT~ Our Graceful Arctic Goose. We occupied a corner of the hall and the Great South Bay Ice Scooter TED SANFORD occupied the place of honor. We rolled the Scooter in just as we would over the beach – on Cedar rollers.
Many attendees were attracted to the TED SANFORD. Here my Mom is hefting a “special” Winchester Model 12 Featherweight. And, no, that is not an age spot on her hand. It was the inked-on decoy that showed she had paid her admission.
Here is the substance of the TED SANFORD, Jr. display:
EAST of ISLIP
Theodore Morrison Sandford, Jr. was born in 1925 in the house on Jackson Street where he grew up and lived much of his life. His father was born on a farm in Hauppauge now blanketed by the Long Island Expressway and the Suffolk County offices; his mother’s family had a farm nearby. Early in the 20th century, they married and moved south – to the Islips. Like many of their neighbors, they served the big estates (Wall Street money) south of Montauk Highway. His Dad began as a chauffeur and later worked for Doxsee in Islip where he trucked the seafood from Great South Bay and the nearby Atlantic into Fulton Fish Market in New York City.
Ted grew up in an East Islip that would be unrecognizable today. Carleton Avenue was not yet paved. On his way to school on Main Street (Montauk Highway) he could tend his trap line for Muskrat or Mink – in the Winter months – or fish for Trout in Champlin’s Creek in the Spring. What quickly became housing developments in the 1950s and 1960s was mostly wooded with Oaks and Pitch Pines.
Ted was a truly talented athlete – with hands, eyes, legs – and head – that helped him excel in Track, Football – when they wore leather helmets and played “both sides of the ball” – Basketball and Baseball – and much later Golf.
He was frequently featured during half-times at East Islip High’s Basketball games. He would show the fans in the bleachers what he could do from the foul line – and seldom missed.
His cool head and ability to focus helped him in perhaps his most unusual feat – this time from the pitcher’s mound. After striking out 3 straight batters in the ninth inning, the catcher somehow missed the final strike. The alert batter tore toward first base and beat the catcher’s late throw. So, three strikeouts but only two men out…. Ted just bore down and threw three more strikes past his fourth batter.
Ted volunteered to serve in the Marines – and jumped the gun a bit. He “fibbed” about his age and his Dad drove him into Whitehall Street in Manhattan to enlist when was just 17. He shipped over to the Pacific with the first Replacement Division on Guadalcanal.
NOTE: Ted lost the second “d” in Sandford when he joined the Marines. It turns out that the Islip Town clerk who issued his Birth Certificate had dropped the letter – and it went unnoticed until scrutinized 17 years later. There was apparently no arguing with the USMC.
Ted and Haze
Ted Sanford and Hazel Case – from nearby Bayshore – found each other in time to build a strong marriage that lasted 62 happy years.
Ted began his long career with the State of New York as a Game Warden for the Conservation Department (now DEC). His stint was brief, though, because Civil Service rules soon favored another. Although Ted was a veteran of 2 wars, his military service was overshadowed by that of another veteran who had been disabled in war. So, Ted moved over to State Parks.
Nevertheless, he remained dedicated to conservation. He was a founding member – it’s first Secretary-Treasurer – of the Great South Bay Waterfowlers Association (now SSWA).
Ted later sent two of his sons to Camp DeBruce – the conservation camp in Livingston Manor in the Catskills. Both Ted III and Steve worked for DEC; the younger son went on to his own long career in natural resource conservation – serving as DEC’s Waterfowl Biologist in Stony Brook during the 1980s.
Ted knew his way around boats. Right after WW II, he sailed his Gaff Sloop SNOOTY out of Champlin’s Creek. He held a Captain’s License when operating the State cruiser out of Fire Island (later Robert Moses) State Park. And he built and owned numerous vessels throughout his life. He used the State cruiser (below) to take my Mom to Southside Hospital for my birth in July 1953.
I re-named SNOOTY to WILLET – and Ted enjoyed sailing it on Bellport Bay.
Ted worked for New York State Parks for about 40 years. For most of his years on Long Island, he was a policeman with the Long Island State Park Commission. Because he worked rotating shifts, he was able to hunt ducks and geese most days. More than once – after a midnight shift – he would fall asleep in the Scooter, basking in the morning sun.
Police work often puts one in touch with the “rougher” elements of society….
Horseman, Pilot, Sailor, Angler, Trapper, Hunter
Ted and his cousin Wally Rafford would muck out the stables on the Idlehour (Vanderbilt) estate in Oakdale – in exchange for learning to ride. He later rode horseback at times for State Parks.
Ted held a Pilot’s License for a time. This airport never “got off the ground” – and became Islip Speedway.
He enjoyed both fly-fishing in nearby creeks and surf-casting at Fire Island Inlet.
Ted hunted deer in the Catskills, the Adirondacks and in Quebec.
He began his archery with a White Ash longbow – but upgraded to a ‘glass recurve made by Bear.
But, duck shooting was his deepest passion throughout his life.
On many an afternoon, we would catch the falling tide together.
Al Hicks and I took The Grand Old Man – he was only in his early 60s at the time – up to St. Lawrence County for a nice early-October shoot.
Here we are north of Gilgo Heading – with Gadwall, Black Duck and Brant out of my Sneakbox.
Ted made his last triple – 3 shots at 3 different birds – when he was 82 years old. On his last waterfowl hunt – January of 2011 – he made a nice double on Brant – one hard right and one hard left. He was 85.
Like his son, Ted enjoyed solitude and spent many days afield by himself. However, he had a network of gunning friends that he kept throughout his life. Charlie Horal ran a gas station on Main Street in East Islip all his working life. It was a gathering spot for sportsmen for many decades.
Brud Skidmore owned East Islip Lumber. He built several boats and taught my Dad about working wood and gunning Broadbill.
Dick Simmons was a surveyor in East Islip. Ted worked with him – and the two families hunted together.
Richie Simmons must have taken this photo – because he is missing from it. Left to right are:
Eddie (Mark) Simmons, TMS, Dick Simmons, Barry Tuma, Robin Simmons, myself, Scott Sanford
For over 20 years, my good friends Craig Kessler and Fred Wertz took my Dad and me gunning. They both took great care of their “special guest” – and guided his last hunt on the bay in January 2011.
It was Al Hicks’ idea to invite Ted along with us to Upper & Lower Lakes one Fall – ’twas a stroke of genius enjoyed by all. The gunning party included Mike Scheibel, Jamie Woods, Al, TMS and myself.
Ted always looked forward to opening weekend – usually near Columbus Day – at Pencil Brook Farm. There were plenty of Wood Ducks for us all – including young Pete Woods.
Mark Wesner is another Washington County gunner who enjoyed many days afield – or at least around the breakfast table – with Ted.
Herter’s Model Canada Black Duck Decoy
Ted took a liking to over-size decoys early on. He hunted over 7 of these balsa birds for many seasons – 6 Blacks and 1 drake Mallard. Sadly, they were all stolen sometime in the late 1960s. Note that Herter’s – being a midwestern company – called this species “Black Mallard” in its 1955 catalog.
I vividly recall him re-painting this rig. The whole family gathered ’round on the enclosed front porch while he put the iconic eye-stripe and cheek flecking on a drake Black Duck.
Zip Zoubek Goose
Life-long friend Charles “Zip” Zoubek made this Canada Goose decoy for Ted in the 1950s. A long-broken bill was repaired decades later – and the original paint was revealed. (BTW: Zip allegedly earned his nickname from being the slowest guy on the baseball diamond.)
I staged the second photo for my Mom’s birthday. I call this pairing: None the Worse for Wear
Herter’s Broadbill Decoys
Ted’s favorite birds were Black Ducks and Broadbill. He hunted the latter mostly from his Ice Scooter. He began with 7 over-size balsa decoys from Herter’s…
…but quickly switched to the foam Model 72s. The latter soon became a standard wherever Broadbill were pursued.
Ted soon learned that Durlon – Herter’s brand of styrofoam – and outboard gas do not mix. He arrived at his tender one morning to find just the hollow Tenite head, its brass screw eye – still attached to the anchor and line – and the cast iron keel. The body had dissolved entirely. Nevertheless, he gunned over about 2 dozen Broadbill decoys throughout the 50s, 60s and into the 70s.
Herter’s Goose Decoys
Although Geese were uncommon during his earlier years of waterfowling, Ted always used at least some goose stool in the rig to increase visibility – and “just in case”. His first goose decoys were 7 over-size balsa decoys from Herter’s…
They did not ride the seas of Great South Bay very convincingly – and he switched to the much larger foam Model 92s when they became available in the 1950s.
Wildfowler Black Duck
This Atlantic Coast model cork Black Duck was made in either Old Saybrook or Quogue. Ted hunted 10 of them for many years. He never re-painted or re-sealed them. So – as with many cork decoys – they began to take on water during a long day’s hunt. One was never recovered because it “sank at its mooring” during one hunt – and was not missed until it was too late.
Wildfowler Mallard Pair
These Atlantic Coast cork Mallards – either Old Saybrook or Quogue – are different from the Black Ducks in 2 ways: they lack pine bottom boards and the undertail is cut at an angle. The latter feature enables them to stow on the deck in a stool rack.
Herter’s Model 72 Pintail
Ted was always busy. Even though he hunted most days of any duck season, often it was just briefly at either end of the day. For many years in the 1960s, he hunted the Timber Point Country Club in Great River. He commonly would “run down to Timber for the last half hour” or so. For such hunts, he carried just 2 or 3 decoys. He had a pair of Herter’s Model 72 Mallards and a single Drake Pintail of the same “make and model”. All were the early series – with brass hardware and flat bottoms. The anchor was a small pyramid fishing weight with a light cotton line.
Camouflage Parka and Chest Waders
Ted began hunting waterfowl after he returned from World War II. At that time, most gunning attire was available in solid colors – Olive Drab and Dead Grass Tan were common. Late in the 1950s, though, the pattern known as “WW II camo” became available. Hodgman offered some of the earliest camouflage-patterned raingear to duck hunters. He probably bought his first one at Babylon Sporting Goods on Main Street (Montauk Highway) in the Village of Babylon. A long camouflage parka – in tans and browns suited to saltmarsh – and a pair of solid brown Red Ball waders were his standard gunning attire for many seasons.
Winchester Model 50
Suffice it to say that this gun felled thousands of waterfowl from when Ted bought it in 1954 – until his last hunt in January 2011. Both the gun and the gunner were remarkably reliable. In his final “at bat”- at age 85 – he doubled on Brant.
Remington Model 11
This 16-gauge Remington Model 11 “Sportsman” was the first shotgun Ted bought after returning from WW II. In a simpler time, he purchased it at his local drug store – Podolak’s on Main Street in East Islip.
Ted worked for State Parks for much of his career. But, he always worked extra jobs to support his family. In the 1950s he worked at Oakes Machine Shop in Islip.
While there, he made dozens of these mushroom anchors. He milled a mold for the lead “mushroom” itself – and made a jig to bend the plastic-coated stainless steel bails that slipped over the heads of his Broadbill stool. The anchors held the birds in place while gunning – but the edges of the anchor beat up the soft foam chests of the Herter’s Model 72 decoys.
Like many other gunners, he used parachute cord for anchor lines. The OD color and rot-proof nylon were improvements over cotton line – but the stretchiness made any knots or tangles a challenge.
Ted was a very skilled wood worker – and ran a cabinet shop for many years. For a few years, he worked out of the boat shop at East Islip Lumber Company. He built BROADBILL there under the experienced eye of lumberyard owner Brud Skidmore – who was another devotee of Broadbill gunning on Great South Bay. This 16-foot garvey was one of several vessels that Brud gave the name of his favorite quarry.
The boat was used year-round and Ted built a removable “winter cabin” for it so it could serve as a tender to his Scooter.
The TED SANFORD
Ted acquired this Great South Bay Ice Scooter when he lived at Fire Island – about 1954. Like many other gunners of that post-WW II era, he covered it with fibreglass to keep it tight and dry. Morris Niehemeyer was a friend who started a company in Lindenhurst – Neehi Protective Coatings – and supplied Ted with all of the necessary materials. Although it has been patched and maintained over the years, most of the ‘glass skin on the TED SANFORD was put there by Ted Sanford – more than 6 decades ago.
Scott, Ted and Steve surround their Mom – proud Sanfords all.
The full story of the TED SANFORD is told at: https://stevenjaysanford.com/great-south-bay-scooter/
All the best,