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Saving the Chief

In last week’s article, ‘Where’s the Chief?’ (Which can be found at, I explained my connection to Chief Woapalanee and all those summers spent in his shadow at Brandon Little League. I affectionately referred to him as Chief Knockahomer.

I was dismayed to see him removed from his post at the West Entrance to the Park, but understood with the Chief being in a weakened condition; the good folks in charge had no choice but to take him down. Public Safety is job one for Mayor Gabriel Campana, the Brandon Park Commission and Vince Matteo, Chief of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Saturday morning a couple weeks back after reading Mark Maroney’s article in the Sun Gazette about why the Chief was taken down, I knew there was only one thing to do, track down his whereabouts and save him!

It began with a phone call to Larry Allison Jr. Larry is a friend and owner of Allison Crane and Rigging. He lowered the Chief down and gave him his first and possibly last ride.

I explained my intention to check the Chief out with my own eyes and hopefully save him from the wood chipper. Larry thought it was a great idea. He also informed me where the Chief was laid to rest and of the severe damage the bugs had done to his base and lower core. Larry offered to help in moving the old Indian and to give him a call if I needed any other help. Thank you Larry.

I went and inspected Chief Knockahomer who laid within 20 yards of a large mulch pile to where I read someone had deemed his fate to be returned to the earth. I guess it was to be a little bit of him spread throughout the area.

His base was rough and bottom core eaten away, but the remaining two thirds or so of the Chief looked promising. Of course it needs some cosmetic work but definitely appeared worth saving!

Next call, Mayor Gabe and my let’s “Save the Chief” speech. It was bright and early but the Mayor was quick to answer my call and an easy sell. See he didn’t want the Chief to be spread around Williamsport in the form of mulch either. He was a big fan of the big Indian and quickly jumped at and supported my idea of restoring and saving the Chief.

He then informed me Mr. Vince Matteo and the Chamber owned Chief Woapalanee.

I called Vince who was vacationing in California; it was probably 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. West Coast time when I told him of my plan and wanting to save Chief Knockahomer. I could tell by his reaction he thought maybe I had been smoking the peace pipe.

As I explained a little more in detail of my vision and how many folks I had watched over the years take pictures of the Chief and how he had become a landmark and greeter to Brandon Park and Williamsport he agreed it would be worth a shot to save the big fellow. He warned me of the Chief’s unstable condition.

Vince became very supportive upon returning home from the West Coast or maybe it was the fact I was hassling him in the early hours of the morning?

He entrusted Chief Woapalanee to me and offered his help along with that of the Chamber if needed. Never thought I’d be responsible for a 24 foot Indian Chief, you just never know where life will take you.

Who could help me with this project? I called Levon Whitmeyer, he coaches my sons in baseball but more importantly teaches at Penn College, has great contractor skills and I figured he would know someone to help with the Chief. He had just the right guy in mind.

My next call was to Professor Brian Flynn of Penn College, he is the department head of Art and Design and wood sculpture is one of his many talents.

I know Brian from his wife Joanna and son Ben. Ben grew up with Jimmy. I coached him in hoops and watched him become an outstanding player in both baseball and basketball.

I know what you’re thinking – it always seems to come back to sports with me. You’re right; I have met so many great people and made so many wonderful friends and connections through athletics. Never did I think they would help me find the right man for the job to save a wooden Indian Chief. Brian was quick to accept the challenge.

We met and he gave Chief Woapalanee a good going over. I cannot thank him enough. The Chief is now his patient. Upon the completion of his exam Brian recommended that he should reside inside after his reconditioning. This gave him the best chance for long-term preservation. Helping Dr. Flynn will be the good folks from Thompson’s Power Equipment. Travis Ward and a rather large Stihl chainsaw will remove the non-salvageable base and assist Dr. Flynn wherever needed. Tip of the cap to RD Slingerland and his son-in-law Travis for the surgical help.

Next up, Gary Parks, Executive Director of the Thomas Taber Museum. Mr. Parks does an outstanding job not only of preserving Lycoming County’s history but in finding new exhibits and adding to the Museum’s collection of artifacts.

There is already a Chief Woapalanee exhibit, what better to add to this than the actual wood carving itself?

I enjoyed our conversation and know Mr. Parks will provide the perfect home for Chief Knockahomer, although I could tell he wasn’t really thrilled by the nickname, he was overjoyed to bring Chief Woapalanee into the Museum.

I would like to thank Chamber Chief Vince and Mayor Gabe for all the support.

Saving the Chief would not be possible if not for Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, Brian Flynn and the good people at Penn College. Also a tip of the cap to Gene Schurer and daughter Pam and Aquarius Pool & Patio, they have offered to assist in any way they could.

My right-hand man of history, Lou Hunsinger will have more on the project as it unfolds and the real life Chief’s history from the 18th Century.

God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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