Archive for the ‘Lessons’ Category


Those of you who read this blog and follow me on Twitter (stevejb68) may have noticed that out troop has been having some rough times. Last month I sat down with the Boy Scouts during a troop meeting and discussed the future of the troop with them. We needed to make some changes. They seemed to be ready to do what needs to be done. Tonight was a night that really began to take us in that direction.

Tonight’s troop meeting would be the first one in which the new senior patrol leader and his assistant would really take charge of the troop. They had been elected last month but last month’s meetings were a little chaotic and not planned well. This month’s had been planned by the new ASPL (the only Scout who attended the patrol leader council meeting) and were planned out very well.

Even though I have been a scoutmaster for 29 years I have been finding myself being up in front of the boys too much during a troop meeting. Tonight would be different. I pulled my assistant scoutmaster off to the side when he arrived and explained that we are going to sit in back of the room tonight and let the boys run the meeting, something we should have always been doing but were not. I wanted to be behind the boys tonight, out of direct eyesight with them.

The boys did pretty well. Oh, everyone was a bit late coming to the meeting. Yes, there was some goofing off and joking around but they did get much of the meeting’s agenda covered. I only stepped in front of the troop twice for short moments; once to ask a few questions about the menu and plans for the weekend outing at the end of the month followed by a quick uniform inspection, and at the end of the meeting to give announcements and a scoutmaster minute. All in all, it was a successful meeting.

It will be interesting to see how things go during the next few meetings. Actually, for the next few months. I have decided to step back, like a scoutmaster should, and let the boys handle things. It is the best way for them to learn. Unfortunately, I have to re-learn a few things again. Or, may not so much re-learn as much as re-apply the things I already know.

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    We have all heard that being a scoutmaster or cubmaster will only take an hour a week. In the last article I wrote about how many hours it may actually take for a scoutmaster. But what if we take this further? If Scouting only takes one hour a week that means it will only consume 52 hours per year. But let’s be a bit more realistic. Instead of looking at hours, let us take a look at evenings and days per year. Here is an average year in my Scouting life:

    Troop meetings – 33 evenings
    Patrol Leader Council Meetings – 11 evenings
    Committee Meetings – 11 evenings
    Troop Parents Meeting – 1 evening
    School Night To Join Scouting – 1 evening
    Courts of Honor – 4 evenings
    Roundtables – 8 evenings
    Summer Camp – 7 days
    Weekend Camps (average 6 per year) – 18 days
    One Day Activities – 6 days
    Yearly Planning Session – 1 day
    Fundraisers (meals) – 2 days
    Troop Service Projects (varies per year) – 4 days

    Grand Total  = 107 days/evenings!

    This total surprised me. I did not realize that I give over three and one half months a year to the troop. And this does not count extra things like district or council training, evenings spent writing newsletters, working with boys on merit badges, or other such things. Wow.

    I would like to hear from other scoutmasters out there. Does this sound similar to the time you dedicate to your troop?

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      The Sauk River runs through the city of Melrose, the home of Boy Scout Troop 68. This river nearly cuts the city in half. It is not very large. In fact, A teenager could through a football across most portions of the river. Below the dam in Melrose, in the city park, a person can walk across the river and not even get your chest wet.

      The Sauk is an “old” river, with a lot of twists and turns as it flows from Sauk Centre to the Mississippi River in St. Cloud. It is actually a nice river for canoeing. It is quite scenic, and at times you will not see any signs of civilization. But it also has its challanges. There are curves of strong currents, downed trees, and the occassional wire fence stretched acrossed its width.

      Yes, you read that correctly. The Sauk River meanders through a lot of farmland and pasture. There are parts of the river in which a farmer owns pasture land on both sides of the river so he stretches a single wire across the river to keep the cattle from “escaping” the pasture. There are many wire fences along the bank of the river. Many of them are electified with enough current to keep the cattle from walking through it.

      In 1994, the troop was canoeing down the river for a weekend outing. We had permission from one of the farmers to camp overnight in his pasture. Between the river and the pasture was an electric and barbwire fence. The Scouts were very careful as they moved the gear from the canoes to the campsite. No one wanted to receive an electric shock.

      After supper, some of the guys became bored. A couple of them walked up to the fence and decided to see how strong the current was by giving it a quick touch. More boys joined the crowd. They noticed that some guys received a larger shock then other guys due to the soles of the shoes.

      They began experimenting. Two guys grabbed hands. One would touch the fence to see if the second would receive a shock. A third joined the line. It did not take long before all the guys had formed one line to see who would get a jolt, and how far the current would travel. After a short period the boys grew tired of this and began looking for other things to do.

      The following morning was cool. A heavy dew covered the ground. An 18 year old alumni of the troop who had joined us for the weekend walked out of the tent in his barefeet. He walked across the dew covered campsite and, for some unknown reason, grabbed the electric fence. His yelp was loud enough to alert the whole camp that the current was still flowing through the wire.

      As we loaded the gear into the canoes the Scouts were very careful handing the packs and bundles over the fence. No one wanted to experience the same shock that the eighteen year old had received that morning.

      View some pictures of the trip at http://melrosetroop68.org/Web%20site%20yearly%20highlights/yh94.html

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        The June outing for the Boy Scouts of Troop 68 was canceled due to a lack of transportation, so the Scouts came up with a Plan B. They would go on a one day bicycle ride on the Lake Wobegon Trail which happens to run through Melrose. The Scouts would bike to Albany, which is about 13 miles from Melrose, have a treat at the Dairy Queen, and then bike back. The trip went well, with almost no problems.

        So when the troop planned a ten mile bike trip to complete a part of a requirement for the Cycling merit badge to take place during a troop meeting, I did not expect any problems. You would think that after all these years of being a scoutmaster I would know better. You know, like “Be Prepared”.

        The problems began as the Scouts arrived for the meeting. Only half of them had brought a speed bike. Oh well, I thought, it is only five miles out and five miles back on an easy level trail, so I did not say much about it.

        We noticed that the chain on one of the “one speed” bikes was loose, and that the bike did not have any brakes on it. It was the only bicycle the Scout could bring to the meeting so we tried to make the best of it. We tried to move the tire back to tighten the chain, but only had partial success. Well, he would have to make the best of it.

        Before we left town we already had two incidents of the boys not following safe cycling rules. The first came at the first stop sign a block from where we started when a couple of the boys rode across the intersection without stopping. We stopped the troop and had a short talk about safety. Five minutes later some boys were talking to each other and not paying attention to the trail when they almost ran into a cyclist coming from the other direction. It was time for another talk. I told them that if there was one more offense we would turn around and everyone would be sent home.

        Things went fine until the chain began coming off the sprocket of that one bike. After it happened a second time I told the Scouts to only peddle forward, do not peddle in reverse. He followed those directions and did not have any more problems.

        Near the half way point of the trip the other adult, a mother, and I noticed that one boy seemed to be putting more effort in peddling his bike then he should be. We called for a stop and discovered that the rear brake was rubbing against his tire. An older Scout disconnected the brake line and we rode until…

        We discovered that same Scout actually had a loose rear tire that was now rubbing against the frame of the bike. And guess what? We did not have any tools along to fix the problem. We called back to town to our assistant scoutmaster who was waiting on stand by to come out with the tools needed to fix the problem. The mother exchanged bikes with the Scout and waited for the pickup to arrive as we headed on down the trail. We would hit the five mile mark, turn around, and come back. By then the bike should fixed.

        The rest of the trip was uneventful, but the boys and the adults were reminded of an important lesson. Even on a small trip we all need to Be Prepared!

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          The Boy Scouts of Troop 68 continued their theme of cooking during the June troop meetings. The first meeting we worked on breakfasts (see previous post). The second meeting’s topic was easy desserts.

          Cooking has never been a strong point with the Scouts of Troop 68 for some reason. At times, I get the feeling they would rather be doing anything then cooking or cleaning up. (I do not know if your troop is like ours, but some of the loudest patrol arguments happen when it is time for meal clean-up.) That is one reason we decided to work on our cooking skills this month.

          The seven Scouts who attended the month’s second meeting divided into three teams. Each team was in charge of making one dessert. Everyone would get a chance to try each dessert at the end of the meeting. The three desserts for the meeting were chosen to show the boys how quick and easy it was to prepare some desserts. The first was a cheesecake. The second was a chocolate pudding pie. The third was a cake with frosting.

          The cheesecake and pie were very easy to prepare. Both were made using a pre-made graham cracker pie crust. Once the ingredients were mixed they were spread evenly in the pie crusts and then placed into the refridgerator for thirty minutes. Of course, on a camping trip they would have been placed in a cooler. The cake took a little more work since a dutch oven was needed. I had started the coals about 15 minutes before the troop meeting began. By the time the cake mixture was poured into the pan the dutch oven was heated and ready to use.

          As the cake baked and the other desserts cooled the Scouts played a game of football. I took the time to mix the frosting for the cake and prepare the plates and silverware for the taste testing. By the time the boys finished their game the desserts were ready to be eaten. They began with the pie, then the cheesecake, and finally the frosted cake. There was not much left after the boys, two adult leaders, and two parents had eaten their fill.

          Then came the magical moment. A fourteen year old Scout who is known within the troop as being very “energetic” made the comment that, “I am full of sugar.” His stomach was full and he could not eat another bite. Luckily, we did not have sodas for the boys to wash it all down with. They were already on enough of a sugar high when they left the meeting.

          Hopefully, we will start seeing some desserts made with supper on upcoming camping trips.
          .

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            Troops and Scouts are beginning to travel to Philmont Scout Ranch for two weeks of adventure and fun. The year was 1986 when I first participated in a Philmont trek with five youth from a troop. Here is an except of our first day on the trail from my journal of that trip:

            Today we begin our ten day trek. We began the day by having our group picture taken. They take it at the beginning of the trek while we are still clean and handsome. We will probably not be very clean after the ten days in the back country. We boarded our bus, which was to take us to our drop off point, in the early afternoon. The route took us past the troop leader training center and the Kit Carson museum. It was a mile and one half trip from our drop off point to our first campsite.

            Greg made sure that we knew how to use a map and compass before we started hiking toward the camp. Our first one and a half miles. In a way it was exiting. It was a short preview of the sixty six others to come.For many of the crew members it was the first time wearing a fully packed backpack for more then a few hundred yards. We made it to the camp without any problems.

            We had just finished setting up camp when a pair of mule deer walked walked by the outskirts of our site. We became like statues instantly. The deer paid little attention to us. After a few minutes they wondered on, but in that brief moment they had given us our first taste of how well man could be a part of the wilderness also.

            It was time for supper. Out came the food, pots, and stoves from the various packs. Along with the equipment came our first problem. We had bought two new backpacking stoves shortly before we had left on the trip. We had tries to light them only once before we left on the trip. It had seemed easy enough. But now that we were on the trail, and not one of us could remember the proper way to light the things. “Get the instructions,“ someone said. But we didn’t have the instruction along on the trip. I had left them on the kitchen table back home. Oh well, it was no big deal. We would figure it out. I tried lighting the first one, and almost got burned in the process. The stove had sprung a leak and the whole thing was aflame. The only thing I thought of, as I tried to blow it out, was that if I was not quick enough I could have the stove blow up in my face. It was not a pleasant way to start a ten day journey.

            After the fire was extinguished, Scott began to work with the other stove and soon had it lit. At least we would have one stove that worked. This evening’s supper consisted of beef stroganouf, sour cream and vegetable soup, and peas. All dehydrated, of course. Greg, our ranger, came up with this great idea of putting all of it into one pot at the same time. It would save cooking time, he told us, and make a minimum of dishes.

            Suddenly, I found myself beginning to dislike this ranger. Being an extremely picker eater myself, I was concerned about eating trail food as separate dishes. A suggestion to mix everything together in one pot caused me to have a slight amount of paranoia. Needless to say, I did not eat much supper that evening, although everyone else seemed to get their fill.

            Just a little lesson there for all of you heading out on your trek – Be Prepared, and check your equipment thoroughly before you leave home. And don’t be a picky eater. You can read the rest of the journal, and see pictures from the trip, by checking out:
            http://melrosetroop68.org/highadventure.html
            .

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              Boy Scout Troop 68′s theme for the month of June is Cooking. Each troop meeting will cover a different area of cooking and give the Scouts a chance to sharpen their cooking skills a little. During the first meeting we will do breakfasts, the next will be desserts, and the last will be suppers. Of course, everyone is looking forward to desserts.

              The troop usually meets at one of the city parks during the summer months, but this month we will meet in my backyard. The troop’s storage shed sits next to my garage so it is easier holding the meeting here instead of loading up all the gear needed and bringing it to the park. Much easier to put everything away also.

              It was thirty minutes before the first meeting of the month during which the Scouts would be making pancakes and omelettes. As I began to take the gear from the shed it began to lightly rain. “Oh well,” I though, “I guess I will have to set up the stoves in the garage.”

              The light rain continued throughout the meeting but the Boy Scouts did not seem to mind. After opening the meeting with the Pledge of Alligience and the Scout Oath, and a brief intro about cooking today’s items, they began having fun cooking an evening breakfast, and then eating their creations. They could have cared less that they were in a garage.

              They tried various ingredients in their omelettes. They tried making pancake batter at different consistencies. They discovered thick pancake batter is as challenging to fry as batter that is too thin.

              As the last scrambled pancake was scraped out of the frying pan, the dishes and stoves were cleaned and stored away in the shed, and the floor was swept. Then it was into the basement of the house for game time which included card games, darts, and ping pong.

              As the meeting came to a close we discussed the June calendar, this month’s camping trip to Duluth, and the upcoming court of honor. The Scouts ended the meeting with the America Yell, and then the parents arrived to take them home.

              It was great watching the boys as they had fun cooking breakfast at 7:00 in the evening. They had a good time trying new foods and working on their skills. I hope on the next camping trip they put those skills to use.

              Next week is desserts. I have a feeling the meeting will be even more fun as the boys try making a cake in a dutch oven, and a pie, and a cheese cake. My mouth is already starting to water.

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                I once wrote that as an adult Scouter we need to watch the language we use, and be sure to not use bad language in front of the boys. After all, if we use foul language then what right do we have to tell the boys not to use it?

                We also need to be aware of the words we use in regular speech. Be aware of what you are actually saying, and how you say it. Younger Scouts may believe virtually anything you say and could take it very literally. I am sometimes amazed that things I say “off the cuff” are the things that the Scouts remember.

                Beware of how you pronounce your words, or you may find your Scouts picking up your bad speech habits, or worse yet, start teasing you about them. Here are a couple examples that happened to me.

                I was invited for supper by a family that had two boys in the troop. As we sat around the table for the meal, I noticed the younger of the two Scouts begin to use the word “basically” a lot. In fact, he was drawing attention to the word as he used it. And he was using it a lot. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been using the word quite a bit when I talk to the Scouts. This Scout was poking fun at me! We all had a good laugh about it, but needless to say, I basically stopped using the word for awhile.

                The Cougar Patrol made a career of picking up my little language quirks. I never realized that I answered the phone by saying “yellow” instead of “hello” until they started using it on me.

                The troop, lead by the Cougars, once worked one of my ways of speaking into a skit during our annual Laughs For Lunch Show. It seems that I would say “not chet” instead of “not yet”. All the boys involved with the “Is It Time Yet?” skit said chet instead of yet during the skit. They thought the inside joke was hilarious. I think the audience thought they had a speech impediment.

                The best example of young Scouts believing everything a scoutmaster says happened to me during a troop committee meeting. During a discussion, one of the mothers stated that her son said something like, “Well the scoutmaster said it, so it must be true.” Another mother chimed in that her son was the same way. “The scoutmaster said it so that must be the way it is.” It was at that moment I realized the power that language has over the younger Scouts, and the power that a scoutmaster has in general.

                Peter Parker’s uncle said in the first of the Spiderman movies, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Well, I do not know if being a scoutmaster counts as one having great power, but I do know the position comes with great responsibility. We need to think before we speak, and talk good, or basically we can expect to have the Scouts talking just like us. Whether we like it or not.

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