Tales of Vashon

There is nothing more fragrant than the steam from an open pit of bean-hole-beans drifting thru camp. There were three gold colored cans in the pit and each weighed 30 pounds loaded. They were used to pack frozen strawberries in before the scouts got them. It took two or three Boy Scouts with shovels to lift one of the cans of beans from the ashes in the 4 x 6 foot hole. By sliding a shovel under the can, one could drag the beans out the end of the pit and it was hot work. Bean-hole-beans took place every summer at Camp Thunderbird off Nicholson Creek. Before Camp Thunderbird there had been Lost Camp up Shingle Mill Creek. We looked for Lost Camp, but never found it. It’s probably still lost. The fire pit for the beans was dug the day before and filled with four foot logs and branches. It took hours for the boulders that lined the pit to get white hot. The lidded strawberry cans were set on the ashes and the hole covered. For hours it smoked and fumed while the beans cooked. By midmorning the smell of the ham and beans had drifted all over camp. The cooking of the beans took place at a jamboree of a local nature. Few of the Vashon scouts had money for uniforms. We stood out at the big Boy Scout Jamborees like the one at Three Tree Point, across the sound from the ferry dock on the north end of Vashon. It was where we learned to tie knots like the sheep-shank, square knot or bowline. In order to teach us that you can’t push a rope, the leader laid one out on the ground and showed us how it could be used to pull things. He then asked one of us to take the other end of the rope and push it back to where it was. The rope couldn’t be pushed. It just gathered itself in a series of loops. We were totally frustrated.

Near the campout, somebody shouted, “Stand back, the thing is losing its parts”. There was an old guy there who had built himself a gyro or helicopter out of lead pipe. I guess they called it a gyro because it gyrated. The old man wasn’t there because he was part of the jamboree. He may have come down to fly his gyro because he knew the Boy Scouts were going to be there or he just heard all the noise. We couldn’t see how the thing could ever fly. It had two little red-ram-jets, fired with a spark plug and made quite a racket as the jets twisted the home made rotor blades around in a circle. It made the lead pipe affair rock from side to side, but couldn’t get it up off the ground. It sounded like 50 elephants all breaking wind at once.

The Boy Scouts on Vashon weren’t much for rank, more like renegades who would rather make camp and cook than earn merit badges. There were more than 30 of us. When we stood for the colors, every three-fingered salute looked different.

If you have ever slept in a lean-to out in the cold, you will understand that the open front is an invitation to the wind. At Camp Thunderbird each patrol had a lean-to and each lean-to had a name.

The Eagles were out on the snout of a ridge. You couldn’t even see the bottom of the canyon; the brush was so thick. The Panthers were on the same ridge about 100 feet toward the main camp with trails intersecting. The Bear and Raccoon patrols were on the other side of the camp from the Eagles, with the council hut in between. They didn’t get much sun. The council cabin was two or three times the size of the other cabins with a covered fire pit in front of it. The shake and pole cover was 10 feet high, if memory serves me. The gate to camp was a totem pole; the Thunderbird was on top with his wings outstretched.

There were 6 or 8 guys in each patrol and each lean-to had the same number of canvas bunks or more. Uncle Bruce was our Scout leader and he worked in a shipyard where they were taking apart ships from WW II. Troop ships didn’t have very fancy sleeping arrangements as the bunk consisted of a piece of canvas strung on pipes with rope. The canvas served our purposes well as we used a rectangle of poles to support it. Only the council hut had canvass bunks, the rest us slept on bare split cedar boards.  Most of us had a blanket roll that couldn’t keep out the cold. One scout had a black Labrador that would sleep down at the bottom of his sleeping bag and keep his feet warm. It was tough when there was snow on the ground.

The scout meetings were held at the Youth Center, which was north of town where the county library is now. We always had a big fire in the stone fireplace. A field just north of the building was mostly filled with Scotch Broom and a good place to hide when we played capture-the-flag.  We stormed the hill of our enemy, little white rags streaming out of our pockets, as we stealthily crept up to the place where the flag of the enemy was held. If one of the other half of the troop, the enemy, was to grab the white rag out of your pocket, you were considered to be dead and no longer of any use. Bruce Briton wasn’t called sergeant because they don’t have sergeants in the Scouts. To us he was Uncle Bruce; and he taught us most of what we knew about the outdoors and at the end of the evening, the scouts would all sit around the stone fireplace with a roaring fire and listen to Uncle Bruce tell stories of boys who lived in caves at the beginning of time and how they hunted mammoths on the ice. He learned the stories from books and would always come back to the next part of the story at the end of the next meeting.

When the beans were ready we had so many mouths to feed that the people coming back for seconds were waiting at the end of the line for more.