Friday, August 31, 2007


I wish I could turn back time and visit the Ponderosa again. Yes, the Ponderosa that was the stage set for the television series “Bonanza,” in the town of Incline Village along the shores of Lake Tahoe. We went there in 2000. Sure glad we did that, because it was sold to a condo developer in 2003.

In the morning we boarded a hay wagon hitched to the back of a tractor to make the 2,000-foot climb from the shore of the lake to the ranch. On the way up, they staged a wagon “robbery” and the female bandit “shot” one of our Scouts. It was good for a laugh!

At the top, overlooking the cobalt-blue lake far below, an all-you-can-eat breakfast was served. The cowboy cooking the pancakes had a 30-foot griddle on which he made hundreds of pancakes per minute!

After breakfast, we roamed the “town” (false fronts) of the actual Virginia City from the show. I remember there was a hilarious comedy play out front (I specifically remember one of the not-too-bright bank robbers tried to hide in a privy that blew up. They constantly called the Liberty Bank “Library Bank,” and made many comic references to the greenhorns of California, which is 2 miles away). A world lasso champion dubbed “Coyboy Cal” demonstrated lasso and whip tricks the likes of which I’ve not seen before or since. He could cut a newspaper in half with a whip—right down the fold—while you held it inches in front of your face!

There were farm animals to be petted, and gold to be panned. They had one of those gravity-defying mystery mines. We paid fifteen bucks to have the photo above taken in a photo souvenir place. It was printed while we waited.

On top of all of this, you could take all kinds of photos of yourselves in the actual Cartwright house from the show. I always get a special tingle when I see some place I’ve been in a movie or on TV.

All of this cost us each about twenty dollars. I’m glad I got to share the experience with some of my Scouts!

Some sage advice: while your troop is jetting here and there to do some high-adventure program, you’re missing the best stuff! Take the byway instead and explore some down-home America. It’s not gonna wait around forever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Last week, a youth leader told me that they had failed to start a Scouting group because the parents thought Scouting was “wussy.” The parents preferred to put their sons in sports.

The strongest, bravest people I have ever known in my life were once in our Boy Scout troop. The young man standing next to the tree in the blog entry below is an example. He was 12 when that photo was taken. By the age of 15, Dale could bench press 480 pounds and burst a tennis ball with bare hands.

But what impressed me most was how he saved a life one night. He heard some commotion in the courtyard of his apartment building, and stepped outside to see the security guard being stabbed by an assailant with a knife. While young Dale didn’t exactly rely on Scout skills, he overpowered and disarmed the attacker and saved the security guard’s life.

Wussy, eh?
By the way, he didn’t seek at medal for that, but his family got a month’s free rent

Sunday, August 19, 2007


This cedar tree used to grace the summit of Sentinel Peak at Sam Houston Area Council’s El Rancho Cima. It was a welcome spot of shade; a place to rest on hot, sunny days, and a place to gather for stargazing in the Texas hill country evenings. The hundred-year-old tree was our gift from God to our camp.

A severe thunderstorm blew the beloved tree down in May, 1985. It was God’s will, but some could not accept that. Within the next couple of years, the council bulldozed a road to the top of Sentinel Peak, leaving a large, ugly scar. Then they stuffed the top of Sentinel Peak with dynamite and blew a hole in the top big enough to swallow a car. After adding some soil, they planed a nursery tree in the hole. It survived less than a year, so bigger one was planted. This one was deliberately girdled by someone and consequently died also. I think they are on tree number 4 or 5 now. None of them measures up to the original, however.

The troop that blew up the top of Sentinel Peak received kudos for their conservation project. That’s right—conservation project!

Would you agree this is conservation? Sometimes our troop has been assigned “conservation projects” at camp that are questionable, like damming up creeks and destroying trees. I think that the goal of conservation should be to preserve the land and limit man’s impact upon it. Planting trees to control erosion, removing trash, installing erosion breaks on trails, and so forth—that’s conservation. With the top of Sentinel Peak no longer solid limestone, it’s destined for accelerated erosion. We could have served the environment better by installing a plastic tree.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


An article about Scouting “expanding the tent” to include immigrant youths prompted discussion on the Boy-Scout-Talk list yesterday. In the article, they state that the Boy Scout council in Framingham has 150 immigrants in their soccer program.


I can’t help but wonder if Boston is going to do what our district did a decade ago. Here follows the story of how a short-sighted chase after corporate donations for “at risk” Scouts ended up leaving a bitter taste…

We tailored our program to serve an immigrant population back in the '80s to accommodate the shift in demographics of the area we serve. At that time, no Spanish literature was available--we had to translate everything. The boys were bilingual, and did most of it themselves.

The youths we recruited turned out to be great Scouts. Many of them did not enter this country legally, but they had no future in their former country and wanted to become Americans. These boys were naturally outdoor people, naturally physically active, expected to work to pay their own way, and reluctant to take charity. Our first Eagle didn't have legal status, so it was an extra hassle because we didn't have a SS number for the application. We had a good thing going--these fellas won many district events and set a council record for camping, 58 nights under canvas in a single year.

So what happened? Our council came along and created "urban" units for "at risk" boys in direct competition with us. We were told not to approach our local schools any more to seek new members. The "urban" boys were given everything--uniforms, camps, even personal equipment--with our FOS money! And the result after a decade of this was hundreds of Hispanics on the district rolls, with very few active in the programs. And they were not real programs, bypassing the advancement requirements the district felt were inconvenient!

We really want to have some of the local Hispanic boys back. But they are not going to even look at us when they can get a free ride in the competing "urban" units. Sometimes I think even Boy Scout councils themselves do not put Scouting ethics into practice, and the result poisons the Scouting environment.

I'm not sure whose tent is expanding. Some members of our unit developed a commercial targeted at Spanish-speaking parents, promoting Scouting as an alternative to the gang culture so rampant here. (The picture above is one of the storyboard shots from the commercial.) National in Irving approved the commercial, the local Spanish TV stations agreed to run it no charge as a P.S.A., and a local TV station agreed to produce the commercial for the Boy Scouts. Incredibly, our own council didn't want to do it!

So I wonder what is really going to happen in Boston. Are they going to bring diversity to the traditional units there who provide a great program already? Or are they just going to sign up a bunch for show and put them in a "separate but unequal" tent?

Please tell me again why we can't give those 150 soccer boys a REAL SCOUT program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Scoutmaster Steve of Troop 68 in Melrose, Minnesota, posed a question about Eagle conferences on his Scoutmaster’s Blog today. Some of the replies spoke of Eagle Scouts “aging out” after their Eagle Court of Honor.

In our troop, however, becoming Eagle is like being saved. You can’t be “saved” and then not change your life as a result. You cannot earn Eagle, you become Eagle. And that requires a Scout of unselfish character, whose focus in all of life is helping others. He cannot be helpful in Scouts and be a jerk in school and be a real Eagle.

The young man pictured above, Luis Gonzales, is a real Eagle. He lifts people up. He encourages people. He continued his service in our troop after we awarded him the Eagle medal, after he was 18, to train new Hispanic adults who were starting new troops, and to write a Spanish commercial to promote Boy Scouting. He still visits me about once a month.

Luis doesn’t have to be this way. He could beat up Oscar De La Hoya if he wanted to. But he had to have a good heart to become a real Eagle, as he will always be. Real Eagles are not fickle.

On the Scouting trail, I occasionally meet a young man who was awarded the Eagle medal early, say, at the age of 13. Sad to say, though they wear the insignia, you will know them by what they do—vulgar language among friends, boasting, an arrogant air of entitlement—that tells you they are yet self-centered.

I only have 3 Eagles to my credit in 27 years of Scouting, but I sleep well knowing that these 3 are real Eagles, whom I can trust as my best adult friends.

Both our council and the National B.S.A. push leaders to rack up more Eagles because the increasing numbers look good. Is this good for Scouting, or short-sighted?

Did your troop ever award a Scout the rank of Eagle only to have regrets later? Would you send a Scout to an Eagle board of review if you knew he did not conduct himself like a Scout outside of your troop?

Monday, August 6, 2007


The mercury reached 97 today in the Bayou City. In spite of global warming, this summer has been cooler than any I can remember. Yet every time August or September rolls around, I wonder why I am still living here!

Fourteen years ago today I took this picture at sunset. We had hiked up Cascade Canyon and over Hurricane Pass over the last two days, spending the night at Sunset Lake on the west side of the Tetons. We had already worked our way over much deep snow, but we weren’t prepared for what lay between Sunset Lake and Death Canyon. We became stranded right where this photo was taken, and had to camp in the middle of the trail!

Years later, I learned that 1993 was a record year for snowfall in the Rockies. Six feet had fallen on the Tetons at the end of July—just one week before we hiked over. Even with the hardship, it was all worth it. The Teton trip is still the most memorable of all my 17 high-adventure trips to date.

What’s your most memorable summer getaway?

Saturday, August 4, 2007


Arturo is the boy on the left. This was his very first campout, a backpacking trip to Lost Maples Natural Area in the Texas hill country. The year was 1985.

You see, Arturo was special because he was the first Scout who joined our troop who did not speak English. He had only been in this country for a month or so, just enough time to pick up his first English words. He got them from a Michael J. Fox movie, “Teen Wolf.”

It happened when we were heading home, just after we turned south on FM 1623 from Stonewall, Texas. (insert “Jaws” theme here) Suddenly he pushed his fingers up into his hair and, like an exited toddler, announced his brand new words…Teen Wolf! And he sort of looked like a teenage werewolf!

Everybody started laughing, so he did it again. And again. I started laughing, too, so I pulled off the side of the road. The side doors of the van popped open and the passengers spilled out onto the grass—ROFL, except it was RIGL (rolling in the grass laughing). It was very contagious, and we were parked there over 20 minutes before the effect of Arturo’s first English words had run its course.

We’ve had a few ROFL spells since, but have yet to top this. What’s the funniest thing that ever happened in your troop?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


At least in Troop 1197 it does.

It begins with Patrol Leader Training, where we give each patrol leader a set amount of this “Funny Munny.” We get most of it back by auctioning off the food items that leader can use to cook with on PL training weekend. They will earn some of the dough back depending on the quality of food they serve. They will also win some back by winning games which are part of our training process.

For the rest of his term, the SPL hands out Funny Munny for things such as uniform inspection performance, participating in a service project, recruiting a Scout, advancement, and so forth. The TLC decides how much dough will be given and for what reasons.

At the end of the leader’s term, the Funny Munny accumulated by each patrol is counted, and the winning patrol gets a prize. It may be a campout where they don’t have to work (staff cooks and cleans for them) or a day trip to somewhere fun.

This out-of-the-box idea has been around our unit for years. A decade ago, the patrols were awarded colored yarn to hang on their flag. Later, we used fake coins made out of those key tags which have an aluminum rim. The advance in computer technology allowed us to mint Funny Munny.

Throughout the years, this has been a good motivator and a good tool for an SPL to have in his bag of tricks. Please share unique program ideas your troop uses!