History of Buddy Vines Camp
By John C. “Buddy” Vines

Buddy Vines Camp was founded by my grandfather, John Aaron “Buddy” Vines in 1915, the same year that the creation of Bankhead Lock and Dam took the Locust Fork branch of the Warrior River from a small stream to the thriving waterway it is today. Buddy, or “Papa Buddy,” as we called him, thought that a fishing camp would prosper on the new Bankhead Lake, and he was right. Later that same year, my father, Charles Chelsea “Charlie” Vines was born, and so began our camp’s family legacy.

The next few years saw the construction of many of the camp’s first cabins, made with pine and oak trees harvested right from our property. A sawmill was constructed on the lower end of the camp, and cabin construction went into high gear. By 1916, three, two room cabins were nestled in along the river’s banks, and the cost to rent a cabin during the camp’s first year of operation was simply the price it cost to construct it. My father told me it cost around $15 to build a cabin at that time.

Back in the early days of the Camp, we offered weekend rentals, but this practice was swiftly discontinued after a few local politicians were caught using their weekend getaways to entertain girlfriends. My father wasn’t too keen on hosting a stream of angry wives looking to claim their wayward spouses, and he decided firmly that “Life is too short spending it breaking up domestic disputes.” It was clear that a close screening of rental prospects, and yearly rentals to families only marked our future direction.

Papa Buddy and his wife, my grandmother, Daisy, lived in the camp in a large two story heart pine house that we called “The Big House.” The upstairs served as their living quarters with a big two story porch that surveyed the camp. A downstairs portion was dedicated as a store that sold fishing tackle, soft drinks, candy, Vienna sausage, sardines, and soda crackers. Our top-selling beverages included Grapico, Upper Ten, and RC Cola.

Although today most of our guests cruise around on all manner of ski boats, pontoons and wave runners, back then, the majority of our visitors didn’t own a boat. Many of them would bring a small outboard motor in the trunk of their car and then rent one of the camp’s wooden jon boats that my father built. As a child, I “helped” him build them in his shop, and he was an expert boat builder. His boats were well constructed, extremely fast, and highly sought after. As plywood and other modern boat materials were not readily available, they were solid oak, constructed entirely of honey brown oak planks.

I vividly remember watching him work on the boats, skillfully allowing a gap of about one-eighth of an inch between the boards to allow for expansion once the boats were waterborne. After construction, he would launch them in shallow water, and naturally, they sank straight to the bottom. But after three days spent expanding on the river’s murky bottom, the boats would be rescued and bailed out, and they rarely leaked a drop.

Over the years, the camp went through much growth and in 1956 when Papa Buddy passed away, Charlie and his brother Marlin Vines took over the camp full time. In the 1960s, Marlin decided to pursue a career in the men’s tailored suit business and left the operation of the camp to my father.

In the late 60s, it was time for my sister Jo Ellen and me to enter college, and our family needed more income than ever before. My mother, Kathryn and my father decided to convert a portion of the Big House into a restaurant. My father worked tirelessly to turn the old house into a presentable restaurant, and spent hours out on the river every day catching fish to serve. Eagerly anticipating our restaurant’s opening night and the crowds that would flock to sample our delicious food, we stored up hundreds of catfish fillets in our old deepfreeze. But on May 16, 1969, the night before we were to open, the deepfreeze caught fire and burned the Big House to the ground, taking with it most of my family’s life savings.

It was then that we felt the true meaning of the term “family” camp, when countless locals and renters both past and present began pitching in to help us re-build our livelihood. Although we’ll never get back the Big House, my father’s huge arrowhead collection, and the furnishings we lost that day, we gained a renewed sense of community that is still felt in our camp today. In the spring of 1970 we officially opened our doors again, serving fresh catfish dinners, steak, chicken, and hamburgers. Ours was undoubtedly one of the most successful restaurants on the river, sometimes serving as many as 100 people in one night.

On one occasion, when the week’s fishing had been slow and the restaurant had been booming, we completely ran out of catfish. Only one table of guests was left in the restaurant, and of course, they ordered catfish. After our guests finished their salads, I heard my dad’s boat coming up the river as he was returning from running his trot lines. I raced down to meet him at the pier, and we hurriedly dressed several nice blue cats. My mother Kathryn selected just enough for our guest’s meals, breaded them, and quickly dropped them into the waiting hot peanut oil. After tasting their fish, one of the guests remarked, “Mr. Vines, these fish are delicious! Are they fresh?” My father, who’d just come in the door and hung up his hat, replied, “You have no idea, lady!”

Once college tuitions were paid and our family had recovered some of our savings lost in the fire, my father, who always valued his freedom more than money, shut the restaurant down. The building became a small store and gathering place for the residents of the camp. For forty years, we held Sunday morning bible study on the porch, and hearing the word of God while looking out over His creation is a memory I will always cherish. Today, this building still serves as a gathering place for various parties and camp functions.

In 1995, my father passed away. Then, in 2014 my Mom passed at the age of 94. Today, my wife Maria and I run the camp with a little help from our daughters, Chelsea Lee and Tila. We have thirteen cottages and seventeen mobile home rental spaces which generally stay full. The Camphouse is the Camp gathering place. We rent it for all types of parties and have even hosted three weddings! The summers will always be our busiest times on the water, but fall gatherings centered around Alabama and Auburn games have become very popular as well.

If you have not tried our boat ramp, come check it out! I’ll bet I have had 100 folks tell me it is the best one on the river!

Since 1915, the camp has seen a lot of changes, but it was then and always will be the people who make Buddy Vines Camp what it is. And while the camp may not be for everyone, those for whom the fit is right wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world.