The Tarzan Rangers

These tales of the Tarzan Rangers are courtesy of the Spencer Family Collection, and provided by Gil Spencer, SGPA’s current historian. Gil’s father, Ray Spencer, was one of the Tarzan rangers, and kept the Tarzan Ranger Logbook. SGPA expresses its sincerest gratitude to Gil and the Spencer Family for allowing us to share these stories, quotes, and images.

Good Fellowship…

In the heart of the Sleeping Giant Park, a tale of camaraderie, adventure, and dedication unfolded. This is the story of the Tarzan Rangers, a group of college-aged men who, in 1925, united with a shared passion for the great outdoors and the preservation of nature. Their motto, as penned by Bernie Abrams, known as “Tarzan,” was simple yet profound:

To promote good fellowship and good health through outdoor activities, also preservation of the forests and of wild life.

The Tarzan Rangers were not just any group of friends. They had a unique bond, symbolized by the nicknames they gave each other. Among them was Raymond Spencer, affectionately called “Buddy,” and others with nicknames that included “Buffalo Bill”, “Smokie”, “Ho Hum” and “Bananas”. Their adventures often centered around the nearby Brockett-Mann cottage and the fire lookout tower, both nestled on the Third Ridge of the Sleeping Giant (learn more about the cabins on the Giant, HERE).

The Hornet’s Nest

In their quest for a permanent base, the Rangers sought permission from the Brockett Family (owners of the third ridge) to build a cabin. Brockett obliged, and also granted permission for the Tarzan Rangers to use lumber from the fire tower. Except for the lumber, every bit of construction material had to be transported up the mountain. Tarzan wrote in his journal:

Whoever said mules were stubborn didn’t say half enough. We had four rolls for roofing to bring up, and so Joe and I each took a roll, and we tied the other two on “Ballingers” burro. Everything went well until we started the steep climb then the burro just rolled over on the roofing with his feet in the air and wouldn’t move. So Joe and I did the muleing the rest of the way. When he emerged from the woods with the tar paper as one of his friends joked, “Don’t worry about the paper, I’ve got a jackass coming up with it!”

When completed, the Tarzan Rangers named the cabin “The Hornet’s Nest”, and it became a hub for activity and camaraderie on the Giant. The group officially opened the cabin on Jun 6, 1925 with a welcome party:

Well, we had the ‘grand opening’ today. The place isn’t quite complete, but the crowd is having a good time just the same…

Life on the Giant

The Hornet’s Nest was a hub for social gatherings, including visits from women whom the Rangers were courting. A chaperone would, of course, be present on these dates. These ladies, upon their initiation, were humorously referred to as the “Royal Order of the Rafter Owls”. Among the regular visitors was Mildred DelSole, who would eventually marry to Ray Spencer (“Buddy”). They would hike up the Sleeping Giant every Sunday, and are pictured on the right of the accompanying photograph.

One of the challenges of living on top of the Giant was sourcing water. A spring lower down the ridge provided fresh water (and did not freeze solid in the winter), but it was hard work to haul buckets of water up to the Hornets Nest. Being an enterprising bunch, the group rigged a pulley system to the top of the ridge, significantly increasing their water-collecting capacity.

The Tarzan Rangers lived on the Giant almost year-round. The journal entry below recounts one particularly cold morning on February 8, 1926:

“Gee! It sure is some cold. Had a good fire going when we went to bed, but by morning it was out and we couldn’t put the “Moc’s” on. It was 10° below at 8 A.M. Have to chop holes in the ice to get water.”

Today, there remains evidence of the pulley system and the foundation of the Hornet’s Nest – though they are difficult to find without a keen eye and knowledgeable guide.

Festivities & Holidays

The adventures of the Tarzan Rangers were not limited to the cabin. On November 26, 1925, the Rangers celebrated Thanksgiving in style. The following feast was packed up to the Hornet’s Nest and cooked on-site: Roasted Mt. Carmel Turkey with dressing; Mashed potatoes; Mashed Turnips; Boiled Sweet Potatoes; Celery; Cranberry Sauce; Bread & Butter; Pumpkin Pie; Cider; Wine; and Coffee. Tarzan noted in his journal:

So full, I can hardly move. It’s a good, thing Thanksgiving only comes once a year, or we’d never be able to move. It was some job bringing the stuff up but it was worth every bit of the effort. There were five of us, “Smokie” Gus, “Lone Wolf” Bob, “Buffalo” Bill, “Banana” Bill, and “Tarzan” Bernie.” Lone Wolf was chief cook with every one else assisting. All our girl friends donated towards the party, so there were plenty of pies, cake and candy. Gus ate so much he couldn’t sit up anymore, and had to lie down on the bunk. After the feed we listened to the Cornell-Penn. Football game on the Radio.

The next month, Christmas was celebrated:

Rather cold today. “Buffalo” Bill brought up the decorations and then put them up. There is a wreath for each window and other holiday fixings. They make the place look pretty nice.

The following year, on July 4th, 1926, we learn of a vibrant celebration on the 3rd ridge, complete with fireworks and camaraderie. Tarzan and Buddy showcased their playful side, setting off fireworks in tin cans, leading to some amusing mishaps.

Over at this place lots of new fire-works were discovered. Buddy and Tarzan were shooting off big salutes in tin cans. Tarzan didn’t want to lose the cover of one on the cans so he laid a heavy piece of wood on top of it. He stood behind a chair when he lit the cracker, but he soon called out, “Oh, see the pretty fireworks.”…Of course Lone Wolfe had to get jealous and the next thing we knew Bob had an oversize finger from holding onto a cracker too long. The firework displays in the surrounding towns was very beautiful, and were enjoyed by all present. The only trouble being that a body couldn’t look everywhere at once.

 Further journal entries recount Christmases and other holidays spent atop the Giant.

The End of an Era

In April of 1928, tragedy struck. Near midnight, flames were seen rising from the third ridge. Before any of the Tarzan Rangers could make it to the summit, the Hornets nest and nearby Brockett-Mann cottage had been burned to the ground. The photos to the right illustrate the complete destruction of the cabin, and the devastation was memorialized in Tarzan’s journal:

The little cabin on the mount which was built with much effort is no more, but the memory lingers on.

The legacy of the Tarzan Rangers is a testament to the enduring spirit of adventure and the deep bond of friendship. Their story, intertwined with the Sleeping Giant, serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving nature and cherishing the memories we create within it.