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Dixon Wall C

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My Philmont Scout Ranch Experience 1950
By Dixon Wall C
Saturday, February 04, 2012

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Philmont was great. It was really well done.

Philmont Scout Ranch--Philmont is located in NE New Mexico, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Cimarron. The altitude ranges from 6600 feet at base camp to 12,441 feet (12,491 feet according to 1952 Texaco map) at the peak of Baldy Mountain. In 2005, it appears that the longest camping trip is 12 days, and it costs about twice as much as my 23-day one did, in 1950, not adjusting for inflation. I got most of the information above from the web in early 2005, by searching for items under PhilmontScoutRanch. Our group, the Port Arthur segment of Wagon Train 157, consisted of Rick Palmer, Owen Meredith, Jerry McInnis, 2 or 3 other boys, and me. We had signed up for the longest trek available then. We took the train up there, and it was an interesting trip. When we got to Dallas, I decided to go in search of a Baby Brownie Camera. Rick Palmer, a friend of mine from junior high school went with me. I found one and we were not gone long, seemingly, but when we got back to the station, a woman met us, and told us the train had left without us. We were told we would have to fly from Love Field in Dallas to Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth to catch up with the train. We were taken upstairs to a busy office and handed off to a man. We sat for what seemed like a long time while the man shuffled papers, talked on the telephone etc. I can still picture him in my head 59 years later! Finally, he took us down to a car and we drove to the airport. The flight took all of my spending money, and I was too timid to ask my dad to send more. It was my first flight. The rest of camp went pretty much as scheduled, for me, anyway. Early on, a bunch of us Southern boys were sitting, talking. when a group of Northern kids came by. An older boy, maybe 16 years old, stopped and said, in his Yankee accent,, "I just love your accent." I said , "I just love your accent. He replied, But I'm from Boston. I have no accent."

We were joined by several boys from another town, from the Rio Grande Valley. I remember David Alvarez and Frank Al Jones.  One time when we were having mail call, they called out Frank Jones, and he complained that they didn't call out “Frank Al Jones.” Some of us who hadn't received any mail kind of underestimated the depth of his problem. Another time, when the whole group were on a survival hike for 2 days and one night, he and David Alvarez and I were assigned to the same group. He sat down on some pine needles while David and I were getting ready for the night, etc. I asked Frank Al Jones if maybe he could help. He thought about it for a moment, then said with determination, "All right, I will!" What a team-mate. David was the son of a minister, and was very likable.  We probably would not have theoretically survived if I hadn't cheated and secreted the upper 1/2 inch of a strike-anywhere match in my scabbard! There was no flint to be found at the site. Maybe we should have brought a chunk of flint or a magnifying glass with us to do it legally. I wonder how the other groups managed! The only other thing I remember, besides a cold night, was making strawberry-leaf tea. There were a few wild strawberries, about 3/8 inch or less in diameter. We made the tea by boiling the leaves, and we did have some sugar, legally. The last I heard of Frank Al Jones. was when I was in a movie theater near U.T. and his name was paged. He probably was sulking because they didn't mention, "Al!" In the dark, I could faintly make out his figure, making his way to a telephone (that was well before cell phones). I didn't try to find him after his call.  ("Jones" was not his real name).

We rode horseback for several miles, about nine, I think. On this trip we went through a storm, with mothball-sized hail stones, and my straw hat felt like it froze to my head. Rick had a pith helmet, which turned out to be the perfect headgear, at least for this segment. It looked a little nerdy, but after all, Rick and I were both nerds! He said the sound was pretty spectacular. The rest of our daily hiking trips consisted of about 90 miles of hiking, about 5 miles a day on the average, with backpacks to carry our personal gear. We had burros to carry the cooking gear and group things like that. One of the boys who wasn't too fit had his back-pack carried on a burro for one or two of the higher altitude hikes. On one of our longer trips I had lost my canteen. Then we got a rumor that some animal had drowned in the spring at the next stop. Probably a standard rumor, because the water was fine!

Rick had an accident that put him in the hospital for 10 of his 23 days. He was guiding a burro when the animal picked up speed, going down a small hill, and Rick reached out to slow himself with a tree. Unfortunately, there was a small twig growing out of the tree, and it punctured his hand. I can't help thinking of the story in the bible where a man tried to steady the ox-cart carrying the Ark, and when he did it he was struck dead!  Rick survived, fortunately.

Near the end of camp Dad wrote and asked me how my finances were. It was too late to mail anything and it didn't occur to me he could wire some cash if I called him--he probably was aware of this possibility and assumed I would have the gumption to think of it. (Wrong.) I was able to earn some money by washing my scout leader's T-shirts. I earned enough, to buy a Philmont ring, one 1950 dollar. That's about all I wanted anyway. Some of the leaders wore red jackets with a charging black buffalo on their upper left corner. When I got home I ordered one, but found you had to be a leader to get the charging black buffalo. I prefer to pay cash, anyway. I don't know what happened to the ring or the jacket. I probably lost the ring and the jacket became moth fodder, as it was wool. It probably fed a large number of hungry moths--It was my first service project, like as not.

When Rick had been back with us a few days, we were in the headquarters camp. One thing that stands out in my memory, was a set of showers, with water heated by wood. Rick and I sneaked over to the showers after dark, loaded up the water heater with wood, then took a most welcome long shower. I had gotten pretty grimy from being bathless for almost 3 weeks, and he seemed to enjoy it, too.


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