Press-Republican

December 18, 2011

Remembering the Captain

GORDIE LITTLE, Small Talk
Press-Republican

---- — How could I not take time to remember my long friendship with Captain Frank Pabst? There are so many indelible connections. Things were different when we first met. Our bellies were smaller. In later years, photographers needed wide-angle lenses when they tried to keep both of us in the frame. To say the Captain was larger than life would be an understatement.

Frank would call and invite me to meet him so he could explain his ideas or vent about why somebody wouldn't espouse his views. He had a way of expressing his frustration that you couldn't forget. You never walked away without knowing where he stood. Just ask his wonderful wife, Ann.

History of the Lake Champlain region is one of the strongest ties that bound us. Frank would sit across the table, explaining why he was passionate about the area's past. I soon shared his enthusiasm and have spent the ensuing years feeding that passion.

He told me of the historic treasures on the floor of Lake Champlain, and my appetite was whetted. I never knew where we were headed when he said, "Gordie, jump in the car. I want to show you something." I always went and was never disappointed. He once took me to a spot near AuSable Chasm to show me the remains of an ancient steamboat. He drew a word picture of what it looked like in its prime and explained where it fit into the historical scheme of things. I was amazed.

The Captain constantly kept me enthused enough to talk often about local history on the radio. He would join me on numerous occasions while we pontificated about that passion.

He told me of his diving group, his salvage work and all his other endeavors. He decided to teach me scuba diving in his inimitable way. He put the tanks on me, and we descended into the murky waters of our "great" Lake Champlain. We swam around a wreck, and I realized my air was running low. I was certain my first dive would be my last. I grabbed at Frank and pointed to my throat. He shrugged and turned away. I was doomed.

What a kidder. He finally reached up and over my head, turning on a spare air supply. I was saved!

I have an old black-and-white photo showing me sitting on the side of the YMCA pool in downtown Plattsburgh. It was taken before the diving group jumped in with a weighted tree, enjoying a Christmas party on the bottom.

He called me when local teens found two cannons in shallow waters off Cliff Haven, and we recorded the process of raising the heavy artillery units from the lake. That tape remained in his possession, and I followed the controversy of the cannon for years.

He called me when he first raised the British flagship "Confiance" anchor and wrapped it in wet burlap near the shore. They later decided to return it to the water and brought it up again later with great ceremony. Its discovery changed history.

Another time, Frank told me to meet him, and we drove to Montreal at speeds far too fast for conditions on snow and ice, touring more country-music night spots there than I knew existed. I still have no clue how the Captain got us back home safe and reasonably sound.

During my last years on the radio, I was privileged to chat regularly with Frank on Sunday mornings, promoting his Good Ship Juniper and all the good times he gave folks, myself included.

Calvin Castine and I set up the camera awhile back and did a TV interview with the Captain on his Cumberland Head front lawn with the beautiful lake in the background. What a perfect setting for two old guys to cement their friendship.

Bon voyage, Captain Frank. Sail away to who knows where, and give me a call sometime saying, "Come on, Gordie, I want to show you something really neat."

Have a great day. Please, drive (and sail) carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the "Our Little Corner" television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com.