The Rat Pack

Each morning amidst the transparent stemware and linen napkins in the Branding Iron dining room, residents gather for breakfast and conversation. The picture windows reveal flowers and bushes amidst trees with their intimate canopy. Sounds of laughter interrupt the usual breakfast clinking and casual conversation due to the entertainment going on. No, it wasn’t something Sammy Davis said or the demeanor of Dean Martin in this place that stimulated the joviality, rather an acrobatic squirrel who willingly risked death by climbing on a crafted wooden arm that, with his additional weight, revolved rendering the furry passenger upside down. The squirrel was willing to endure that humiliation due to the cob of corn affixed to the arm he climbed. Once he assumed this inverted position he remained for a meal.

Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford weren’t here either. The infamous rat pack I refer to was made up of the fearsome foursome of bachelors who resided at this luxury Dude Ranch of an RV Resort out in the middle of the Florida wilderness known as River Ranch, a popular destination and winter home for camping couples.

This rat pack was perhaps even more diverse and talented than the original. We were made up of the quartet of marketing mastermind and musician Robert Maxwell Case, Retired IBM executive manager and all-around nice guy Art Burch, steel fabrication and engineering genius Gene Malick and myself, Dave “Letterfly” Knoderer the mural painting and performing horse guy. During the nine winters I spent at River Ranch, from 1986-1995, this group remained intact and inseparable.

The morning get-togethers were intensely stimulating. Each personality brought passion for an individual obsession, the range of which at the table made the scope of conversation especially diverse. Robert the computer programmer had a variety of projects underway at all times. His background was with Kodak in Rochester in marketing and management.

Robert was helpful with my early marketing attempts. He explained in detail how the consumer responded to advertising and how associations are formed in regard to quality in an industry. His expertise in this field influenced me as I began to establish the name Letterfly in the RV industry. I was a good student.

Robert would edit, suggest improvements and even typeset my early ads. The strategies learned were effective as Letterfly became known as number one among the mural artists in the RV community.

Gene, recently retired, was here to relax and fly his Navion trainer. He had completed a successful career putting up prefabricated steel buildings and later, towers for the emerging communications field. He told colorful tales about his ability to get a tower erected over a weekend using clever but not so kosher erection methods to elude officials with regulations and bureaucracy.

He was valuable to his customers with this ability to get in and get out. That characteristic carried over into these early morning yak sessions. After an hour, he was ready to get up from the table and go.

Now he likes to fly his antique aircraft – the same plane used to teach young pilots and actually used as spotter planes in Korea. Gene savored the thrill of freedom that came with altitude from an era and a craft that many heroes flew to victory, insuring ours.

Art Burch was here too, very popular with the residents as instructor of line dancing at the weekly exercise sessions. Over breakfast, my sidekick and I went over the mural projects both planned and underway.

There we were, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the quartet of bachelors at the dude ranch.  All for one and one for all.  This rat pack brought an air of mystery, a note of color and a splash of intrigue. All the elements combined to elevate each one of us higher than, as individuals, we could accomplish alone.


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