Seven Days in Texas -- The power of the Internet and Scouting.

During the first week of June, I was lucky enough to be sent by the University to Dallas, Texas, to present a paper at the '3rd International Applied Statistics in Industry Conference', at the Double Tree Hotel, Lincoln Centre. Due to air-fare costs, it was cheaper to spend a week over the other side of the pond than just three days, so I would be spending the whole week, Saturday 3rd-Saturday 10th in Dallas.

Now I am also on an electronic mailing list SCOUTS-L, a discussion list for Scouts and Scouters across the world, so I thought I might be able to get a contact or two in the Dallas area to spend a couple of evenings visiting Packs or Troops. I mailed the following message:

   To: SCOUTS-L Youth Groups Discussion List 
   Subject: Request to anyone in the Dallas area.

        I'm in Dallas, Texas for the week June 3-10, (at a Conference from
   June 5-7 at the Doubletree Hotel), and was wondering if there was anyone
   out there who runs/helps with a Pack/Troop in the area who wouldn't mind a
   'foreign' visitor turning up to a meeting to see what American Scouting
   is all about.
   P.S.    Reply by direct email to me (address in sig)
   ,------>          ,      ,    BAGHEERA             /\   |
   |Dr James `Baggy' Smith, Snr Res. Ass. ("`-''-/")._____   _..--''~`-.  {`}{'} |
   |Dept Math. Sci., Durham Uni., DH1 3LE `6_ 6  )   `-.  '''   (     )_`. '\/`  |
   | H: 0191 371 2159, W: 0191 374 3813   (_Y_,)'  ._   )        `._ `. `.`.__.~)|
   | Intl Guild of Knot Tyers member   _...`=='_..-_/  /-_____--'_.' ,'   `-__-' |
   | CSL 15th Durham (Elvet) Cub Pack (il),--''  (li),'    (l!'((!.-'            |
   |  LFC ISC Mem. No. 008595    web url |
   `-Web pages on Scouting, Liverpool Football Club and the Carling Premiership--'

The couple of responses I had hoped for eventually turned out to be six, of which three came to nothing, but I was lined up for two Troop nights and two days on District Cub Day Camp. (As it happened this trip coincided with the first week of the American school summer holidays.)

Saturday 3rd June

A 4.30 start to the day as I had to be at Teeside airport by 5.45 to book myself on the 6.45 to London Heathrow. This was to be a long day - I was expecting to get to my hotel about 8pm Dallas (2am BST). A nice pleasent flight on BM, followed by a 4 hour wait at Heathrow, a 3000+ mile flight to Washington - one of the world's most boring airports - not the sort of gateway to a country like America you would expect, another 3 hour wait at Washington (the plane was then delayed another 30 minutes due to 'impressive' thunderstorms near the airport) and finally another 1000+ mile flight to Dallas. By the time I reached Dallas it was 9.00 at night (03:00 BST) and the temperature was still in the mid 20's.

Sunday 4th June

Jet-lagged most of the day, I went for a walk in the morning to find the conference hotel - I was staying at a (lot) cheaper hotel about a mile (one 'large' block) away, and to see what else was around the area (and getting use to that American peculiarity - the four-way stop side, and the WALK, DONT WALK signs). After lunch I went back to the hotel to register and find out exactly when I would be presenting my paper, followed by dinner in the local shopping mall, and a nice relaxing cool walk around the shops - the afternoon were reaching the low 30's, and the weather forecast was for an improvement? in temperature during the week. Sunday evening I spent watching sports and old British sitcoms/comedies on Public Service Broadcasting TV (Red Dwarf, Monty Python, Black Adder, Fawlty Towers and Are You Being Served?!? being the main topics of conversation when the BBC was mentioned.) and wallowing in the cold air-conditioning of the hotel room.

Monday 5th June

Conference day 1, an 8.30am start, but this isn't an article about the conference so I will not talk that much about it. Wandered around the two local shopping malls to get some lunch (and wallow in the air conditionning, as the outside temperatures were reaching the mid 30's).

Scott, the Troop's Scoutmaster picked me up from the conference hotel at 5.00 and took me out for dinner at a local restaurant and then on to his Troop meeting (Troop 12, Circle 10 Council), we started with a 30 minute game of basketball. At 6.30 in the evening it was still in the mid 30's, and by the end of the game I was both hot and soaked. After that I was formally introduced to the Troop were I spent most of the rest of the evening talking about knots and Scouting in England (I had taken with me a Beaver, a Cub and a Scout uniform - thank you Barry to show them what our badges are and where they go) and learnt more about the differences between Scouting in the USA and Scouting in the UK.

They do not have a Scout Group for a start, each Troop and Pack is a separate entity, and boys only have 'informal links' with each other. Also in the Cub section, they do not have 'Sixes', but 'Dens', and these are separated according to School year, 1st graders being 'Tiger Cubs', 2nd graders 'Wolf Cubs', 3rd 'Bear Cubs', and 4th and 5th 'WeBeLoS'. They only start boys at one time in the year at the start of the School year in the Autumn, instead of when they reach their 6th/8th birthday as over here.

While this was going on most of the Scouts were signing up for Summer Camp which they were heading off to two weeks later. The Scouts main summer camp is a large affair, where they go to a camp which is staffed by Scouter's and older Scouts who run activities for the Scouts to take part in, the boys therefore complete 'Merit Badges', the American equivalent to our 'Proficiency' and 'Activity' badges.

At the end of the evening, I was made an official member of the leader's 'Chicken' patrol, with patrol emblem, T-shirt and cap, which you will may well have seen me wearing. On the way home we stopped for a drink at one of the local petrol stations, (I had never seen a 64oz cup before -- but I know everything in the US of A is supposed to bigger and better!?!, and Texas doubly so)

Tuesday 6th June

Conference day 2, again a very early start, I had to be at an 8.15 meeting to finalise details about my talk, (which was to be at 2.15 in the afternoon), again suffering the effects of jet-lag - finding it difficult to stay awake during the talks - or was that the quality of the talks? My talk went fine, over-ran slightly, due to the next speaker failing to turn-up but was well recieved. After the talk I nipped back to my hotel to pick-up my things and wait to be picked up for American Troop night #2, this time by the Scoutermaster's wife (this Troop was only two years old, it was started with nine boys, they now have fifty-three boys on their books). After an enjoyable meal at the Scouter's home, I was taken to Troop 336, Longhorn Council's meeting, and had an enjoyable evening again talking to the Scouts and the Leaders about the differences between UK Scouting and US Scouting, and about the difference in weather, size etc. between the UK and the US. I was made an honourary member of the Troop, and in particular the leadership patrol, the Teddy Bears (hence the woggle you'll see me sometimes wear) Hug Me! Squeeze Me!.

To which the Scout's respond Hunt Them! Shoot Them! ?

Although the scale of the roads was much greater than ours (it had to be their cars were generally much larger than over here, a Volvo 750 would be considered small, most people had Station-wagons - near Ford Transit size cars), not just in the width of individual lanes, but also in the number. My hotel and the conference hotel were on the LBJ freeway, a 6-8 lane freeway, with a 2/3 lane service road running along either side, the road surface is generally concrete, and not in very good condition, and the speed limit is only 55 miles/hour. Although lots of people have 'speed trap' warning devices in their car, so they drive fast at 65-70 mph. The other thing to note is that their petrol is only a third of the cost of hours.

Wednesday 7th June

During the Troop meeting, one of the Scouter's mentioned to me that the National Office of the Boy Scouts of America was in the Dallas Metroplex, in Irving, halfway between Dallas and Fortworth, and that they would give me a guided tour. I decided that as I was this close, it would be a good place to visit. So three bus rides from the hotel, I found my way to the BSA National Office (as Dallas like many other cities is 'Blocked', the buses generally either go N-S or E-W, so it was one N-S, one E-W and the other one roughly E-W). There I was given a guided tour round the office, and met some of the program organisers, and found out a little bit more about the structure of Scouting in the US, as well as receiving a few freebies, including a set of the original Cub Scouts of America POGs, a couple of Badges, and various handouts and books.

After lunch and the last couple of talks at the conference, I decided to go sight-seeing in down-town Dallas (again using the Public transport, the 50 minute journey just cost $1 each way, it being a fixed price for any trip). The walk down Elm Street would have been a nightmare for claustrophobes, with sky-scrapers towering fifty plus floors above. The main tourist attraction in down-town Dallas is the Sixth Floor exhibition in the Dallas School Book Depositry, about the assassination of the United States President, John F. Kennedey on Novermber 22nd, 1963. The hour and a half that I spent wandering around it was not really sufficient to take everything in, it was informative and well worth the visit. The other new tourist attraction is a bigger than real life statue(s) of a cattle drive in about an acre of landscaped land. Down-town Dallas stands out as a pimple in the middle of the metroplex, most of the rest of the metroplex is relatively flat, they generally have enough space to expand side-ways rather than needing to go straight-up into the air, except in high value areas, like the city centre.

Thursday 8th June

Thursday morning was an early start, I had to be in Richardson, one of Dallas' satellite cities for 7.45 to get on the School Bus to take me to North Trail District's Cub Day Camp. The district consisted of about 65 Cub Packs and a similar number of Scout Troops (a lot larger than Durham City, which has about 15 and 10). Cubs in America are not allowed to camp without one of their parents being present on site, and so each year they have a week of day camps, running from 9.00am to 3.30pm-ish, where the boys attend each day, doing various activities. The camp was based at Camp Wisdom, a 334 acre site to the south-west of Dallas, which was donated to the Scouts by the owner nearly 80 years ago. Most of the Camp site was covered in Juniper woods to give shade.

The Camp theme was dinosaurs, with each group of boys being given a dinosaur name. The Cubs all wore Camp T-Shirts, the Cubs were yellow, the Webelos - orange, the chaperones (leaders and parents going round with the Cubs) - red, the junior campers (a creche - for the chaperones' and staff's younger offsprint) lighter yellow/pink, the staff - grey and the camp directors - blue. So everyone knew who everyone was. All in all there were about 70 Cubs and 130 Webelos.

In the morning I was taken around the different activity bases by to of the programme directors, on their morning rounds: Crafts, Games, Archery, BB guns, Forester, Readyman, Swimming, Oudoorsman, Naturalist, and Papooses the Junior campers, being introduced to the staff and boys. The campsite had about a dizen individual troop areas, plus a large (50+ acre) Camporee feel, a large communal dining room, a staff headquarters, a large archery range, and shooting butts, and three or four large covered areas.

Each day the camp staff have to put on a lunch time activity to keep the boys amused while they digest their lunch time meal, and to give the base personnel a rest. Today's was an Egg Drop, where each boy had had to bring an egg, protected by some means, so as not to break when dropped from a moblie platform about thirty feet up (one thing you soon realise is that the Americans don't use metres/litres/kilos, but good old feet and inches/pounds and ounces/gallons and pints - although the latter only have 16 fluid ounces - to add to the confusion these aren't quite the same as UK fluid ounces). Of the 180 or so eggs that were dropped, about hald of them survived the fall, others cracked under the pressure.

After lunch I assisted the naturalist, to produce 'deer-foot' plaster plaques, with the assistance of four deer legs. At the end of the afternoon all the Cubs descended on the camp 'amphitheatre' a concrete 'hot-seat' (zero-shade) for the close of day notices, where I was introduced to the rest of the Cub Scouts and leaders. The amphitheatre had a full PA system including a radio-mike set-up. Then it was home in the School Bus, and back to civilization and air-conditioning, and nice cool showers. (The temperature didn't drop below 83F - 28C that evening)

Friday 9th June

Another early start, this time I wasn't getting the school bus out to the camp site, but being picked up from the hotel by the Camp nurse, so I got to the site before the Cubs. Once the boys had arrived I spent the morning wandering from activity to activity, having a go as and when I was invited. Lunch times filler activity was a solid-rocket display, with rockets going 300-400 feet up into the air. The campsite is also home of the Dallas Bird's of Prey centre, with a whole host of American owls, hawks..., and a pair of iguana.

After lunch I was given a guided tour around the camp museum, a potted history of Camping on the site, in the Council, and in America as a whole, with large collections of patches, neckerchief slides (woggles), neckers, uniforms books, and other memorabilia. It was then the end of camp (for the Cubs and some of the Webelos) with the closing ceremony and presentation of the camp awards to the staff, and the final lowering of the Star's and Stripes. The afternoon temperatures topped 100F (38C)! and that was without the concentrating effects of the concrete.

After talking with one of the leaders at the Camp, they suggested I phone one of the local Scouters who would be interested in swapping badges, so another local phone-call (free!) I organised a badge swapping session, and more chats about Scouting and the Order of the Arrow, my camp jacket now has long sleeves.

Saturday 10th June

The return journey started at a more leisurely place, not having to be at the airport until eleven o'clock, so I had a nice long relaxing morning sitting around the hotel, watching television and reading the papers. This time, the weather was worsening in the Dallas area with severe thunderstorms approaching, hence the plane I was to return on was late, and then we finally got out on to the tarmac, we were in a long queue of planes waiting to take off, a three hour delay meant that all the spare time we had at Washington was gone. Fortunately, the Washington-London plane was late taking off, and I managed to catch it (a two-minute connection, rather than the standard three-hours). Again at heathrow (it was now Sunday morning), the connection was tight, but I made it to the last plane with ten minutes to spare (after a very quick jog from terminal 3 to terminal 1), and back onto Teeside airport (which at 9.00am in the morning was about 8C (40F), about 20C (45F) lower than the same time in Dallas the same time the previous day, and finally to Church Parade on Sunday morning with about two minutes to spare.

I learnt a lot while Scouting stateside, and hopefully some of the Cubs and Scouts I talked to learnt something about UK Scouting. Some of the standard questions/statements were:

I would like to thank (Troop 12) Scott, (Troop 336) Lisa, Sonny and Tony, and (Circle 10 Cub Camp) Bill, Terry and the rest of the Leaders for making my trip to Texas a very enjoyable one, giving me a chance to find out more about American Scouting, and a chance to tell them a bit about Scouting in the UK, and proving without doubt that Scouting is a world wide family. Sometime I hope to return to the States once more to Scout perhaps on Summer Camp, as my two Scouting trips (this one to Texas, and my previous trip to Connecticut with my old Troop from Norwich) have been very informative and fun, and have shown me that Scouting is a World-wide family. In fact the Beaver motto summed up my trip perfectly Fun and Friends And very importantly I would like to thank all of those who subscribe to SCOUTS-L because without out its existance, my stateside Scouting would never have happened.


 ©1995-2014 James Smith