Posts on Aug 2022

Raquette Lake Fire Department Celebrates 75 Years

75 years of Raquette

After the disastrous fire in February 1927, residents of Raquette Lake decided it was time to establish their own fire protection. In March of 1936 a petition and hearing was held to create the Raquette Lake Fire District #2. In order to cover a larger area and to get the fire company going, the Fire District #2 was dissolved, and the Raquette Lake Fire District #3 was formed in 1947.


In November 1947 the Raquette Lake Fire Department was organized. The first fire engine was built by “Bing” Aldous from used and donated parts. Until the fire house was built in 1950 it was stored in Bing’s Garaage.


In 1948 the fire district purchased its first official fire truck and it is currently being refurbished.

The Raquette Lake Ladies Auxiliary was organized in 1953 and holds fundraisers to support the on-going efforts to fund the new building which is being constructed across route 28 from the location of the current fire house. Over one million dollars has been raised to fund the new Fire Department building with the new construction slated to be completed in 2023.

By Lorraine Esposito

For the Adirondack Express

This year, the Raquette Lake Fire Department is celebrating 75 years of service.

The members of the Raquette Lake Fire Department would like to honor those who came before them, recognize all who are currently serving, and express appreciation for those who will carry on the legacy into the future. We would like to give thanks to the countless volunteers and the support of our community. All residents are invited to celebrate 75 years of volunteer fire fighting with the Raquette Lake Fire Department on September 5, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the Village Green.

The day will be filled with fun for the whole family. We will begin the day at 8 a.m. with music by Ryan Leddick and free coffee and donuts sponsored by Stewart’s Shops. At 11:30 a.m. there will be a parade which will showcase equipment used in firefighting including various engines and tankers. The parade route will begin at the Raquette Lake School and conclude at the Village Green where the day’s events will be taking place.

Admission is free. There will be food, games and races, a bounce house, family activities, raffle baskets, costumed characters, antique firefighting equipment and historical displays and more.  The Fire Department will be serving hot dogs, hamburgers, deep fried turkey sandwiches and Steamship Round beef sandwiches. At 1 p.m., Mitch Frasier will be performing on the green. At 6 p.m., Michelle Howland and Tyler Peter will be performing and the long awaited boat raffle winner will be drawn. Be sure to get your last minute tickets at the event for a Qwest 18 foot triple tube pontoon boat with Suzuki 115 HP 4 stroke outboard engine with a genesis trailer.

All proceeds will go to continuing the mission of the Raquette Lake Fire Department as we begin the move into our new firehouse.

Special pictorial postmark cancellation on September 2

The past and present officers and members of the Raquette Lake Fire Department would like to extend our appreciation for all the help and support we have received in the past 75 years. We would like to commemorate this special event with a pictorial postmark cancellation. This will take place on Friday, September 2 at the Raquette Lake Post Office from 1-3 p.m. Anyone wishing to join, donate, or wish additional information are asked to call (315) 354-4644.

A bit of history

The Raquette Lake Fire Department was organized in November of 1947.

The first fire engine was built by “Bing” Aldous from used and/or donated parts. The fire truck was stored in Bing’s garage.

A fire house was built around 1950 with land donated by Laurine and Bert Gardner. Materials were gathered from donations, and volunteers donated their time to build the fire house on its present location on Rt. 28.

Today’s squad

Currently, the Raquette Lake Fire Department is made up of 67 Members, two fire trucks, a fire boat, a rescue snowmobile, and an ambulance. The department provides fire protection, including emergency medical service calls, fire calls, hazardous condition calls, technical rescue calls, and other calls such as assisting the public or false alarms.  Be it on shore, on the lake, across the lake, in the woods, or on a mountain, the RLFD is available for any and all emergencies.

Over the past years they have responded to medical and trauma emergencies, motor vehicle accidents, boating accidents, water and ice rescues, search and rescues, as well as the more common structure, chimney, car and forest fires.  They are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  

Raquette Lake Ambulance Squad is a part of the all-volunteer Raquette Lake Fire Department. Its 76-mile ambulance transport to Utica is the longest in NY State. The fire department and ambulance squad participate in mutual aid and 911 Dispatch by Herkimer County. We would not be able to do the job without mutual aid from crews along our hospital route. Advanced life support providers from Inlet, Old Forge and Woodgate regularly hop on our “rig” to assist. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of the EMS squads in our neighboring communities.

The Auxiliary

Supported by the RLFD Ladies Auxiliary (organized in 1953) The Ladies Auxiliary holds numerous fund raising functions to support the ongoing maintenance on the fire house, apparatus, and equipment. Some of these fundraisers include the Strawberry festival, pancake breakfast, hunters dinner and spaghetti and meatball dinner. The Ladies Auxiliary currently has 17 members.

The Big Auction is one of the events that pull in hundreds of supporters. This year’s auction raised $38,042 with two anonymous matching donors to support the fire department.


Esposito, Lorraine, (2022.08.26). Day of Festivities Set for September 5th, Adirondack Express, accessed 8/29/2 accessed 8/29/22

From Oars to Props: The Transportation Evolution in Long Lake

by Hallie Bond, Town of Long Lake Historian

The Adirondack Canoe Classic, known to many of us as The 90-Miler, is coming up! On September 10, we can stand on the bridge over Long Lake and cheer on those brave souls who are paddling or rowing all the way from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. They will be traveling an ancient route, one that has seen the full range of propulsion options, from human to the gasoline engine. The death this summer of Tom Helms, proprietor for nearly half a century of Helms Aero Service, reminds us that in one Long Lake family we can see most of this evolution happening on this lake over the past 160 years.

Fig. 1 Caption: This sketch of Bill Helms was published in 1858 as part of an article about an Adirondack trip that included a stop at the Helms place on Forked Lake; the quotes are from that article.

By 1858, Tom’s great-great-grandfather William (1824-1908) and “his good natured wife” Rachel (1833-1902) were living a typical Adirondack settler’s life for the time, farming, taking in boarders, and guiding from their “tidy log shanty” near the south shore of Forked Lake. That “shanty” consisted of two rooms and a loft, in which lived the Helmses, their six children (all under the age of eleven), two regular boarders, one hired helper, and any tourists who happened by. Bill farmed (hay for his sheep, horses, and oxen, and buckwheat, oats, and potatoes) and took “sports” out for fishing or hunting, assisted by his four deerhounds. Rachel looked after the children, cooked for everyone, and probably tended the kitchen garden. Like so many settlers moving into the central Adirondacks at mid-century, he had been born in Vermont, and earned his cash income primarily by looking after the tourists.

            Helms’s place was situated well to catch those tourists, since it was at the carry between Raquette Lake and Forked Lake, part of the “great central valley” of the Adirondacks, a water route with just a few short carries from from Old Forge to Saranac Lake and the route of the modern 90-Miler (now with some shortcuts). It was also handy for Little Forked Lake, Cary, Sutton, Bottle, and all the delicious little ponds to the north. This territory has been off-limits to hunters and fishermen since not long after Bill’s time, when William C. Whitney began assembling Whitney Park.

            Like participants in “The 90,” Bill Helms and his fellow guides travelled by water. Unlike most of the modern paddlers, the guides of the last century traveled by guideboat, rather than canoe or kayak. Guideboats are rowing craft which evolved among the Yankee settlers of the region, rather than canoes and kayaks, boats propelled by paddle that were traditional among the indigenous inhabitants. They are distinguished by their special, lightweight construction which makes them easy to carry between waterways.



Fig 2 Caption: David Helms carrying a guideboat at his Grove House ca. 1885

William’s second son David (1853-1934) continued the family tradition of hospitality and guiding. About 1883, at what is now Deerland on Long Lake, he established Grove House where he guided and, with the help of his wife Eunice (1856-1918), took in boarders. Their guests included serious hunters and fishermen and whole families. The artist A.F. Tait was a great friend of the family, and in the Town Archives is a cabinet photograph of Mrs. Polly Tait,  inscribed to Mrs. Helms, who had helped deliver the Taits’ two sons in town. Dave was a public-spirited man, donating land for the Deerland School in 1890. He served as postmaster for the Grove Post Office for fifteen years, and as soon as he moved to Grove (as the settlement was then known), Dave got behind the project of improving the track from his place, where the road from town ended, to Blue Mountain Lake. In 1899, he sold his hotel to A.D. Brown of New Jersey and built a house across the road.


Fig. 3 Caption:  Oakman Helms’s launch equipped for firefighting (right).


            While Bill and Dave Helms took their hunters and fishermen around the central Adirondacks in guideboats, a new means of transportation was available by the time David’s son Oakman (1884-1956) went out on his own. Oakman adopted the gasoline engine. By 1908, Oakman had a gasoline-powered launch which was used in fighting the great 1908 fire that destroyed Long Lake West and probably, in quieter times, ferried people up and down the lake. By the 1930s, he was living in the house across the road from the Grove House, and had built a commercial garage adjacent. The house, now empty, and the concrete foundations of the garage, still sit at the corner. From there, Oakman ran a car service, taking people from the train station at Sabattis or Raquette Lake to one of the town’s hotels, boarding houses, or their own camps. He would go farther afield, as well. In 1938, he drove to New York to fetch the Browns, owners of Grove House (which they had renamed Deerland Lodge). Like the hotel, the post office had changed names, and Oakman was postmaster of the Deerland Post Office. And like his father and later Helmses, Oakman worked for the community in matters such as seeing to the arrangements for a ball at the Forester’s Hall in the first decade of the twentieth century. The Hall, which is now an antique store, was quite the venue for balls in those years, with LaPelle’s Orchestra often providing the music.

Oakman’s son Herbert (1916-1998) worked in the garage until World War II began, when he and his brother Gilbert enlisted in the Army Air Force and furthered their involvement with gasoline engines. Oakman held a farewell banquet for them at the Hedges in Blue Mountain Lake. Gib became a pilot in a B-24, and was shot down in 1944, spending the rest of the war in a German prison camp. Herb served as a B-24 navigator. He was wounded and received a Purple Heart, but flew thirty successful missions in his time overseas. The brothers both came home as first lieutenants.


Fig. 4 caption:  This poor reproduction of a snapshot nevertheless captures the optimism of Gib (left) and Herb Helms with their new business and new children (daughter Linda and son Tom) about 1947.

Herb had learned to love flying during his time in the service, and along with Gib and their younger brother Edward, started Helms Aero Service in 1947. Ed put their first plane in the trees and decided flying wasn’t for him; Gib left the business a few years later, leaving Herb as sole owner. He leased town land alongside the beach for his base, establishing Long Lake’s identity as “the town with the planes on the beach.”

            Within a few years, Helms Aero Service had two regular pilots and four planes, each suitable for a different purpose. They flew for both government programs and private citizens,  stocking fingerlings in remote ponds, flying regular fire-spotting runs, assisting researchers tracking radio-collared deer and surveying beaver ponds, transported summer residents to and from their estates and hunters and fishers to remote ponds, and flew lumber to backcountry locations for camps and outhouses. They searched for lost hikers and planes, landing once on Lake Colden to evacuate a man complaining of chest pains. One of Herb’s early customers was the fabled hermit Noah John Rondeau, who, when he needed a dose of “civilization,” would stay at the Adirondack Hotel. Before returning to the woods, Rondeau would pick out his groceries and leave them with Herb, who would fly them up the Cold River and drop them at Rondeau’s hut. And, of course, he took sightseers on short runs to see the Adirondacks from a new perspective.

            Just as Herb’s grandfather and great-grandfather had had to know the woods intimately to guide their customers to a place to catch a fat trout or shoot a noble buck, so did the early bush pilots need to know the mountains. Norton “Bus” Bird (1908-2000) started a flying service a few years after Herb and used the memorable ad slogan, “Fly With Bird.” Bus remembered that the early pilots “flew contact,” without instruments, and the cardinal rule was never lose sight of the ground. They had to assess the local weather in the little pockets where they landed, as well as the routes in and out. Bus also remembered that Herb Helms “no doubt had more time in the air than any bush pilot in the state.”

Fig 5 Caption:  Herb Helms and Nelson Rockefeller, just one of his high-profile customers.

Herb’s son Tom (1946-2022) followed his father into the military. When he came home, he obtained his commercial pilot’s license, married Julia Sandiford, and joined the business just in time for the State Land Use Master Plan to go into effect with its prohibition on motorized vehicles in wilderness areas. This was a major blow to the Park’s seaplane pilots, reducing the number of lakes they could land on by 700. Herb fought the State in court for years, joined as plaintiffs by Tom and the other two seaplane operators, Payne’s Air Service and Bird’s Seaplane Service, saying, as their lawyer put it, “the airplane is unique in that it has the least environmental impact of any vehicle” in terms of the amount of time it is noisy on a given lake (about 30 seconds according to Helms) and the damage it does to the area surrounding the lake (none). Flying also benefits people who might otherwise not be able to get into the wilderness. The pilots never could prevail against the state and supporting conservation organizations, however. Ironically, after the bans were firmly in place, Tom landed on an otherwise prohibited lake to rescue Anne LaBastille, then a commissioner of the Adirondack Park Agency, and her dog. Latterly, Helms Aero Service lands regularly on only about eight lakes.

Tom took over the business in 1998 when his father died. The work now is different from when his father started flying almost 80 years ago. These days, the main business is taking families up for 15-minutes sightseeing flights and moving fishers and hunters to the backcountry, although they will still aid in rescue operations or report signs of fire—particularly important as the state no longer uses fire towers. For most of the 75-year history of commercial bush pilots in the Adirondacks, there were three operators: Helms, Payne’s, and Bird’s. In the summer of 2022, there are two, Payne’s in Inlet and Bird’s in Raquette Lake.  Helms in Long Lake is slated for re-opening in 2023. 

Fig 6 Caption:  Tom Helms in the office of Helms Aero Service.

When asked by the Adirondack Explorer to name his favorite views in the Adirondacks, Tom Helms remembered “climbing out on a gray day just after a hard rain shower that gives rise to wisps of fog; the wet woods are gleaming, and the fog looks like white yarn tying to a green patchwork quilt. Flying late in the day near the mines at Tahawus below broken clouds, and when the sky clears in the west, the low, strong sun finds a hole next to Santanoni and shines on a dense shower just past Mount Adams. We can see two complete circle rainbows, brillant and compact…. But then a sight of yellow tamarack in a swamp in late fall is special, too. Pretty much every view is.” We thank him, and the four generations of Helmses before him, for sharing their special views with us.

Written by Long Lake Historian, Hallie Bond

Long Lake