Tuesday, July 31, 2007


This picture is not some tropical paradise. It’s in Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch in southwest Texas!

When the topic of Texas camps comes up, Buffalo Trails gets more than it’s share of attention. It’s even advertised occasionally in Scouting magazine.

Then: I first attended this camp in 1972 as a boy. I hated most of it. The campsites had no shade, so they were uninhabitable in the 110+ degree heat. The trading post was a wooden shed. I do remember the new dining hall had the luxury of a swamp cooler, and local performers came in to entertain us during the noon meal with popular music.

Later: In 1992 we attended the camp with my current Troop 1197. The campsites had not improved, but the creek was running and you could actually go swimming right out in back of our tent. It was still hot in the daytime, but we awoke to a windstorm about 3:00 every morning. A series of horns positioned along the canyon blared out reveille (from a cassette tape) at six in the morning, but by then, one of the camp donkeys had already found our tent and licked our faces.
The staff was so over-trained that they were afraid to have any fun. This was good for merit badges, but meant that other activities suffered. There were no skits or songs at the campfires. There were no contests of any kind. I found out that the reason was the troops in Midland would carry the rivalry too far, quarreling with each other back home long after summer camp ended. (Boy, I’ll bet 1990 or 1991 must have been out of control.)
The Horsemanship program was great that year, so we came back after camp was over for a special cavalcade. We had the whole camp to ourselves. They left plenty of food ready-to-heat in the dining hall walk-in. With only 14 participants and 4 staff, the pool was never crowded!

Recently: A couple of years ago, the troop visited BTSR again. Every troop in camp that week was from Houston (not their council), so some of the “big troop” problems we have at home migrated there with us. Shelters had been added to the campsites. The MASH-style PA system was silent. The troop next to us tried to take over our campsite, the other campers were noisy until well after midnight, and some idiot (boy) kept taking pictures of other boys in the shower. None of this was BTSR’s fault. But the staff promoted drinking in their offensive campfire skits. Some of them were drunk during their “party” on Thursday night, and somebody smoked pot in the campers’ bathroom during closing campfire.
Our boys expected a great Horsemanship program, so they signed up for the merit badge. They only rode a horse for 5 minutes inside a small pen. Not so exciting. On the other hand, Climbing Merit Badge was the best I’ve yet seen, using a real cliff wall for rappelling.

What do you like or don’t like about this Davis Mountains camp?

By the way, don’t be fooled by the picture. It’s the Notch, of course, but the photo was taken in 1992. It doesn’t normally look like that!

Monday, July 30, 2007


What’s worse than a Haunted Camp? How about a Horrible Camp? See if you can top this one:

Although we paid a site reservation deposit a year in advance, we arrived to find another troop in our site. The council booked more troops than sites.

The staff took our older boys under their wing and coerced them to perform skits at the campfires as staff. The troop was unable to perform skits at the campfires because our leaders were with staff!

The staff at this camp participated in “vendettas” whereby they conspired to fail all boys from selected troops on their merit badges.

…it gets worse…

The aquatics director disobeyed the “no diving” signs at the pool and cracked his head on the cement. He went to the hospital and didn’t return.

The trading post did not stock required projects for Basketry or Leatherwork Merit Badges.

Campsite “raiding” and thefts happened daily.

One of our older boys, who then thought he was camp staff, began punching other boys in the face. The camp refused to honor my request to send him home.

…and the coups de gras…

After campfire on Friday night, the boys had been told (yes, the entire camp) that they were to go to Sentinel Peak for a program and NOT bring any adult leaders. The staff gave them beer!

Where was this dystopia? Our own council’s El Rancho Cima, summer of 1988. It took 3 years for the council to investigate our complaints and make an apology. Thank God things change!

Sometimes, when the weeks at camp fill for year after year, the camps forget who the paying customers are. No Scout or Scouter should have to put up with this kind of thing. It’s okay to go out-of-council once in awhile!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


By the year 1990, we were weary of our own council camp and nearby councils’ summer camps. I don’t remember how we found out about Camp Don (Golden Spread Council), or even why the boys chose that camp to try.

Golden Spread is a much smaller council than Sam Houston Area. Less than 200 Scouts attended camp. Camp Don Harrington is in the upper part of Palo Duro Canyon, where it is sheltered from the Texas panhandle winds; where cool air settles in as soon as the sun goes down.

Camp Don was the first camp that had YooHoo chocolate drink. They offered some other things I haven’t seen since:

When you checked into camp, they gave you the vinyl patch keeper and a camp patch, pictured above. They came with a small booklet. By meeting the requirements in the booklet, you could earn a number of segments during the week. When the requirements were met for a segment, the trading post would sell you the segment for 5 cents, and there was a stapler there so you could give yourself instant recognition. The segments encouraged you to visit the program areas and participate in everything Camp Don had to offer. Both boys and adults could earn segments. For instance, you could earn the Vespers segment by attending one of the camp’s vesper services and holding one for your own unit. You could earn the one with the flag on it if your unit volunteered for a flag ceremony. Others were more individual, like archery or handicrafts.

Other smart things this camp did included paying 5 cents at the trading post for an aluminum can (to keep litter under control) and renting fishing poles for a dollar a day.

Often summer camp becomes bogged down with tired programs, mundane merit badge classes, and worn-out campfire fare. Sometimes I remember an old program or an old skit that deserves to be born anew for the Scouts of today. Camp Don’s patch segment thing is an idea with merit.

What unique ideas have you seen at summer camps? What camps have impressed you with program and staffing?

Sunday, July 22, 2007


When I was a Boy Scout, back in the days of 8-tracks and lava lamps, we used to spend our idle hours on the bus or around the campsite sharing bits of pop culture. I remember we spent weeks trying to figure out the meaning of all of the lyrics in Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The script for the movie “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” was a sure-fire conversation starter well into the ‘90s.

Then something happened. I call it “nichification.” It’s the fallout of 400 channels and 100 Internet radio stations. There’s almost a niche for everybody in the country. All this bandwidth gives us freedom from having to entertain ourselves with whatever everybody else is watching, but the downside is that we find ourselves alone in our niche.

Ever gone to a theatre and watched a movie by yourself, then found out no one you know saw that movie? What good was it if there’s no one to discuss it with? Sharing our experiences with others brings us into the community. And it’s nice being part of the community—your friends, your church, your city, your Scout troop and patrol.

Today’s music scene is a nichification disaster. All of those people walking around with iPods in their ears rudely shut out the community surrounding them. So much mediocre music exists now that the odds against two people knowing the same new song are approaching certainty.

Now I’ll admit that the hype served up around American Idol is annoying. But I have to give it credit for bringing a little “community” back to the music scene. If a song is featured on that show, there’s a pretty good chance you can have a conversation with somebody about it.

Our Scout troop is talking about going together to the Simpsons Movie this weekend. We haven’t been to a movie as a troop in years—primarily because of nichification: they can’t agree on what to see. But for the last 17 years, the Simpsons has provided that common thread that entertains our Scouts. Everybody loves the Simpsons. Scouts even make up Simpsons trivia questions to pose to each other.

Thank you, Matt Groening & Company! Your parodies, characters, sound bites, and gags entertain us while we are Scouting far away from the television.

Okay, your turn…
What’s your favorite Simpsons one-liner? Mine are the sage advice from Homer: “Trying is the first step toward failure!” and Marge’s admonition that Homer “couldn’t predict six o’clock at five-thirty.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


It’s so often that bit of silliness that makes a high-adventure trip so memorable.

On our way to the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado, we made a stop at Alabaster Caverns in Oklahoma. The caverns were closed at that time while a new lighting system was being installed, so the boys would not have the usual pictures as souvenirs.

Undaunted, Paul, Brian, and Dayle bought these cheap plastic “power rings” that were in the Alabaster gift shop. Where I might have bought a useful postcard or an item of real Native American craft, boys are not so discerning. What kind of power this dollar’s worth of plastic scrap lends the wearer, I’ll never be sure, but the boys did “battle” with the rings far into the next state.

After our backpacking portion of the trip, we spent a relaxing day on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The train climbs from Durango to Silverton, where it makes a 2-hour lunch layover before returning. We ate lunch in a historic hotel in Silverton, where some of the boys ordered their first buffalo burgers.

While waiting for the food to arrive, 17-year-old Paul came from the restroom and approached me with this puppy-like pleading look on his face.

“Mr. K,” he said, “I dropped my power ring in the toilet!”

“What do want me to do about it?” I asked. It was clear that he expected me to go in there and get it.

“I didn’t realize until it was too late,” Paul explained, “but if I flush it, the ring might go all the way down!”

Poor, poor Paul! We all had a good laugh. Oh what kinds of favors the Scouts expect of their leaders! This time Paul would just have to say goodbye to that ring.

Someday we’ll go to Alabaster Caverns again and buy Paul another ring… then send it to him at his Navy A.P.O.!

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Boy Scout Adventure: Solving the mystery of the Marfa Lights

Folks shopping for young adult literature without lewd content may want to give THE GHOST OF MOUNT CHINATI a try. This short, innocent novel reads like a Saturday Afternoon Special on PBS. It is an old-fashioned story, reminiscent of that nostalgic Leave it to Beaver and Lassie fare from decades past.

The main character, Corbie Ransom, has an unusual name. But he is an unusual kid, too. Corbie is a Boy Scout—an exceptional Scout at that—relocating to West Texas from California. He makes new friends and a few enemies as well. The events that follow are confined to a handful of simple, stereotypical characters, who talk in stilted speech. Reading this as an adult, it seems unrealistic, but I think younger readers will care more about whether the plot moves along than whether the characters talk in contemporary slang.

LeCroy holds the reader’s interest well in this book. Any boring, dead parts have been edited out, leaving a lean story. A surprise twist ending wraps it up into a neat package, but still leaves tidbits here and there for the reader to ponder on. This book is not really about ghosts. But it is a satisfying little adventure, worth the read.

Visit the the publisher's website for the book's description.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Here’s one of those situations where the boys temporarily bypass the literal interpretation of the 11th point of the Scout Law. But that’s okay.


There was a surprise waiting for us at Camp Urland (Three Rivers Council, Woodville, TX). A recent flood had washed out the dam. What had been a perfectly good fishing and canoeing lake was nothing but a slippery, slimy mud pit. Canoeing was off of the schedule. In addition, the weather that January weekend was chilly and drizzly. Apparently whatever else the Senior Patrol Leader had planned was no good in rain.

When I was a boy, we would have sat around in our tents playing cards and complaining about the weather. But not these guys! They started a game of “Follow the Leader” in the empty lake—jumping, sliding, and tumbling after each other, through all of that muck. After more than two hours of this, they came back to camp covered in so much mud they looked like giant chocolate bunnies. Thank goodness the camp had cold water showers in each campsite!

I do not remember anything else about this campout. I suppose it was well worth getting so unclean, just so that this outing would be memorable.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Although, basically, the Boy Scout program has a great safety record, there remain those situations that make us Scoutmasters nervous.

When I was a new leader, I found that the first time any boy tried to use an axe was unsettling. It was hard to look! But you have to teach them, and it takes practice. After a year or two, I became a seasoned leader, so I was no longer haunted by axes.

I am now a grizzled leader, having been through untold numbers of mishaps (not disasters), so I don’t get excited very easily. Calmness is a real asset in an emergency. But the one thing I am still nervous about is lightning.

When the troop was young, we were camped one weekend in an established campsite, a clearing among the trees. Around three in the morning, this unforecasted storm came out of nowhere. It wasn’t like we were naked to the weather on top of a mountain or anything. As risk management goes, we were camped in a relatively safe area, in canvas tents and not near the tallest trees.

The storm had not taken Risk Management Training. It did not care about our safety. Several times during that storm, I felt my hair stand on end a few seconds before the lightning bit right in to the ground between our tents. Prayer was the only form of risk management available, and I assure you, every one of us used it!

As some unfortunate Scouts in Utah learned in 2005, you can never be 100 percent safe from lightning. Those Scouts were hit while they were inside a wooden shelter.

As you head out on another Scout adventure, what risks worry you the most?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Once every so often I find myself having to sort through pictures looking for something, and stumble across places I miss.

Sam Houston Area Council’s flagship camp is El Rancho Cima, a Texas Hill Country camp along the Blanco River between Wimberley and Blanco. When we were a young troop, we camped there often. From our campsite in the Horseshoe Bend section, a mile walk took us to this little oasis in the otherwise arid scrubland. Nicknamed “The Bathtub,” it reached a depth of about ten feet. Cold water from the Frio Spring upstream came in the other end, which formed a gentle slope that made for a gradual walk-in for those of us older folks who need time to adapt to chilly water. Scouts have no such requirement, and after the lifeguards had checked for debris, they were eager to jump in from the ledges above.

The picture was taken in 1983. All that remains of the Bathtub today are the rock ledges. Frio Spring was dependent on an aquifer whose water table has since been drawn down. Silt filled in the pool, and now mature trees have grown in the silt. The Bathtub has gone completely dry.

To those of you from the Houston area—surely we weren’t the only troop that knew about this place… .

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Our second Eagle Scout, Max, took Computers Merit Badge at Camp Post in 1996. Computers weren’t as commonplace then as they are now, but the ranger there had it set up so every Scout could have hands-on experience. That week, Max developed a passion for computers.

Max signed up for one of the first computer courses offered in our school district that fall, encouraged by his experience at camp. They spent week after week learning the history of computers—you know, how they took up a whole building and so forth. Then they practiced on a cardboard keyboard. Finally, at the end of the semester, they were introduced to an actual P.C. But they weren’t allowed to USE it!

Thanks to a camp ranger who cared enough to offer a real computer class, Max went on to work for Compaq just before HP bought them out. He now uses those skills serving in our navy, where he services weapons guidance systems.

Have you ever had a merit badge begin a Scout’s career?

Monday, July 9, 2007


Some time ago, I made a decision to feature Boy Scout characters in my first novel, VIOLENT NIGHT. Now that I’m about to release my second book, HAUNTED CAMPS: The Campfire Stories of Scoutmaster B.C. Justice, I’m confronting the need to build an Internet presence.

So I set up a MySpace page. Talk about swimming in shark-infested waters! It’s like Las Vegas the time we took Scouts there (I’ll detail that in another entry)—a den of vice and filth. I searched for the keyword “Scout” and found a hoard of entries putting down the B.S.A. as well as the leaders and boys who participate in it. Page after page. It’s discouraging. But I bravely put up my profile anyway. Although I put that I am there for friends and networking, what I get is friend requests from women trolling for a date. Did they look at that mug on my profile? (Likely not.) Anyway, now I could “search for a friend” by looking for people with Scouts in their profile. I found ONE. It was ME!

I haven’t seen any television advertising for the Boy Scouts since that one with delinquents trashing an alley back in the ‘60s. It’s up to us to build the image of our program. So I am making it my personal mission to publish entertaining stories about Boy Scouting—in my books, on this blog, on other people’s blogs, and MySpace, too.

By the way, putting your profile on MySpace is free. It’s kind of lonely being the only Scouter in there. I could use a few Scouting friends to help spread the message—especially to that young MySpace crowd—that Scouting is about making a difference instead of wasting your life!