'We Can Build Anything!'
By Layne Cameron
A dream begun 35 years ago with a Scout tree-planting project culminates in a camporee filled with impressive pioneering projects and construction of a log cabin.
In 1965, Robert Heuser had a dream. He would plant hundreds of white pines on his property in Lawrence, Mich., and the saplings would someday provide the logs for building a cabin for Scout activities.
On an April weekend 35 years later, nearly 500 Scouts and Scouters from the Southwest Michigan Council arrived on Heuser's 80-acre spread to help make the dream reality. The occasion: a district camporee featuring one activity, pioneering. The highlight: first stages in constructing Heuser's 24-foot-by-32-foot "dream" log cabin.
When he launched his dream, Heuser was Scoutmaster of Troop 197, which is chartered to the Lawrence United Methodist Church. He hosted troop meetings and camp-outs on his land and used tree planting to get Scouts involved in a conservation project. Scouts regularly trimmed the trees to grow straight and true.
But with changes in troop leadership, interest in meeting and camping at "Mr. H's Place" dwindled. Heuser's dream dimmed but did not die.
The time is now
In the Pathfinder and Wabano districts, individual troops host district camporees. When Troop 197 was tapped to organize the spring 2000 encampment, current Scoutmaster Lisa Daniel convinced the troop committee that the event should (1) have enough activities so campers could complete the Pioneering merit badge, and (2) be held at Mr. H's Place, where her two brothers had spent so much time as Scouts.
Robert Heuser himself helped to make the case. "I told the camporee organizers about my dream of building a cabin so the boys could seek shelter in foul weather and camp in the winter, and how I wanted Scouts to build it," he said.
With the concept approved, Troop 197 went to workbut not before calling for additional assistance from Joe Donovan, Scoutmaster, Troop 171, which is chartered to the Kal Haven Trail Lions Club.
Thirty volunteers spent as many as six weekends cutting down almost 70 trees. Tractors pulled the logs into a clearing, where Joe Tetreau, a woodsman and cabin builder who one of the assistant Scoutmasters recruited, towed in a portable mill and stripped and milled the logs to size.
"Joe Donovan and I and committee members from both troops took a year and a half to plan and prepare," Lisa Daniel said. "The last eight months have been the most intense. It was like planning summer camp."
All that planning and preparation paid off. Even the weather cooperated. "Last weekend we had three inches of snow on the ground," observed Jeff Cortright, Pathfinder's [then-]district executive, basking in 70-degree sunshine as the camporee got under way.
Six knotty stops
Groups of Scouts navigated six stations, eager to complete requirements for the merit badge. The first stops dealt with basic skills such as knots, lashings, and splicing. Older Scouts demonstrated various knots while younger boys eagerly received instructions and carefully practiced each one.
From the knots station, Scouts traipsed across a dam to the rope-making site, where they grabbed basic do-it-yourself wire-and-wood ropemaking devices. Then, after much twisting, turning, straining, and struggling, most were able to form the beginnings of a recognizable cord.
Seeing a larger picture
With a grasp of pioneering basics, Scouts began to realize what type of structures they could build with just poles, rope, knots, and lashings.
"Pioneering is a skill that goes back beyond the birth of Scouting," said Cortright, "but I think it is still popular because Scouts can build big projectslike towers, bridges, and cabins. It gives them excitement from start to finish, and then they can enjoy what they created."
At the advanced stations, each group of Scouts added a segment to the construction of a signal tower and a monkey bridge. The payoff of preparation hours practicing knots and lashings in church basements and school cafeteriaswas now apparent.
"At first it was just a bunch of knots we had to learn," observed Tenderfoot Scout Steven Derhammer, Troop 211 of St. Monica Pastoral Council in Kalamazoo. "But out here, with our imaginations, we can build anything!" His troop not only added a layer to the tower but also constructed a tripod staircase.
Much preliminary work on the cabin had been completed prior to the camporee. Along with prepping the logs, a site was cleared next to a small pond, plans were drawn up, and the concrete foundation poured.
Now, with expert guidance from Tetreau, the Scouts and leaders used the one-layer-at-a-time principle of building the cabin, as they cut and placed the crucial base of logs atop the concrete foundation.
"Getting the first logs in place correctly is critical," cautioned Tetreau. "If these are off, even the slightest bit, the entire cabin will be off."
"The finished cabin will have a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a loft," Robert Heuser pointed out. "It should be a nice place for troop meetings and special events like a court of honor."
Several council staff members and unit volunteer leaders circled the cabin admiring the Scouts' handiwork. "It's really important to challenge kids today and to get them outdoors, away from video games," one of them remarked. "And a weekend with a project like this really brings those elements together."
As the gloaming crept over the camporee, many Scouts filed past the construction stations to ponder what they had created in a single day. In earning the Pioneering merit badge, they had constructed a functioning span affording safeif somewhat unsteadypassage across a pond's shallow channel, erected a 15-foot signal tower, and begun construction of a solid foundation, three logs deep, at the cabin.
"It would have taken me a year to earn this merit badge, and we did it in one weekend," observed Tenderfoot Scout Mike Rotgers, from Troop 217, chartered to Westwood [Mich.] United Methodist Church, as he admired the monkey bridge. "This isn't just a model we builtit's a real, live bridge we can walk across."
But the tower and bridge were only temporary; at the end of the weekend, they were taken down. Scouts and other volunteers, however, would later complete the cabin.
The skills the Scouts learned at the camporee would prove equally durable, certain to be useful many times during their years in Scouting. And the memories of what they helped build in earning their Pioneering merit badge will probably last a lifetime.
Layne Cameron is a frequent contributor to Scouting magazine.
Thank You, Lady Bird
The availability of an abundant supply of logs for the pioneering camporee and Robert Heuser's cabin can be credited in part to the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson. As first lady in the 1960s, she promoted a nationwide highway beautification program, which resulted in the federal government planting trees along the corridors of the Interstate highway system.
In southwest Michigan, the trees to be planted were stored at Heuser's fruit farm. When the program ceased, more than one million of them remained unplanted.
"I called the nursery and asked what to do with the trees," said Heuser. "The owner told me the program was finished, so the trees were mine now."
November-December 2000 Table of Contents
Copyright © 2000 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
|The Boy Scouts of America||http://www.scouting.org|