My father was wrapped in the Boy Scouts pretty seriously as a young man. In fact my father met my mother at the Boy Scout Camp on Wheeling Creek. So it was natural for my father to push me into joining the Boy Scouts. Michael Cox was the scout master for the troupe that operated out of Vance Memorial Church. Mr. Cox was a saint. Like myself Mr. Cox was either cursed or blessed with nothing but daughters. The scouts gave him a chance to be a dad to boys. Anyone that would take on such a task had to be a nominee for sainthood. Along with everyone else the troupe was home to the kids from the children’s home on Orchard Avenue. This was like adding seasoning to an already wild mixture.
Meeting at the church we tried to earn our Merit Badges. Some of the fathers tried to teach us the various skills needed to achieve the badge. We learned first aid, and had to know some basic bandages. The most important thing in the world was learning knots. Since I have been a sailor for over thirty years, those knots have served me so well. People always ask ” How did you learn to tie those knots?”. In the basement of Vance Church is the answer.
In the summer we went to the camp on Wheeling Creek and I can still remember the sacred ceremonies at the campfire up on the hill. Gary Caldwell was in the troupe and he was a husky young guy from The Children’s home. Even after fifty years I can clearly remember Gary running out of Wheeling Creek where we would swim. Gary had some childhood injury which required some sort of steel to be placed in his leg. Gary could sense when his leg would seize up from the could water and knew when he had to get out.
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Some badge required you to camp out in the winter. With some other scouts I made preparations. We had heard from some old timers that one way to keep warm was to build a fire in a pit. The idea was to let the fire burn down to red hot coals then bury them. Next you pitched your tent over the buried coals and the heat rose through the ground and heated the tent. About midnight or one the magic worked. The first bedroll was smoldering and seemed almost on fire. Laughing I told my friend you did not bury the coals deep enough. Soon my tent was also smoking and on the verge of flames. We never did sleep and took some ruined scouting equipment home with the stench of the fire.
Another memory was a camp out that would have some demonstrations from the State Police. One demonstration was tear gas. The State Trouper said he would pull the pin on a tear gas canister and toss it out in to the grass to demonstrate it. The Trouper said if you wanted to experience it you could run through the fog. This was like telling a group of idiot if you want to experience fire put you hand in it. Sure enough every scout ran through the tear gas fog. Wow, it burnt the hell out of you eyes and lungs. Boy Scouts were in their tents with wet rags on their faces suffering from the results of a riot that never took place. The whole demonstration was one of the first good rounds of Dare to be Stupid I ever played.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Mike’s blog, Kadizzled. He has generously agreed to look the other way while we pilfer his material that pertains to Wheeling.