Saturday, February 6, 2010

100 Years Of Boy Scouts - 2

And here's a story of one of my adventures at summer camp.

While living at Dyess AFB, Texas, near Abilene, I was in Boy Scout Troop 96 from 1968 through 1972. Every summer we attended a week-long camp at Camp Tonkawa. Camp Tonkawa is about 15 miles southwest of Abilene just past Buffalo Gap. Our troop always managed to get Camp Ute which was the most distant camp from the main offices. During our week long stay we were involved in many productive activities, the least of which was known as "burning off the latrine."

The latrines at Camp Tonkawa were solidly constructed. And they needed to be to tolerate the abuse of hundreds of Boy Scouts. Ours consisted of a cement pedestal over a deep pit. A wooden seat with a lid was fastened to the pedestal with several large bolts. This was surrounded by a wooden privacy fence. Every day we would "burn off the latrine." The purpose of this was to rid the pit of insects and reduce the odor. In reality it was just an excuse to play with fire, but the idea of getting rid of the insects was a good rationalization. Everyone agreed there was something discomfiting about a grasshopper jumping onto your exposed underside.

But I digress. The process was this--we splashed a little bit of Coleman fuel into the pit, lit a wad of toilet paper, dropped it in and let the fuel burn. Nothing very exciting, but like I said, it was an excuse to play with fire.

On this particular day a fellow scout and I took it upon ourselves to perform this important daily ritual which was our right since we were the first to think about it and grabbed the Coleman fuel before anyone else. We entered the latrine and closed the gate behind us all the while engaged in an involved conversation about something (probably really important) that took our minds off what we were doing. I opened the lid and started pouring the Coleman fuel while we talked. After all the fuel was gone we realized that all the fuel was gone.

I remarked, "Hey, I've never poured that much before." We both shrugged our shoulders and he lit the wad of toilet paper. Down it dropped. Suddenly a huge fireball was quickly rising towards us. If you've ever seen the movie Backdraft, the scene where the fire swiftly rolls out and consumes everything matches the memory I have of this. Never having seen fire racing up to my face before, I panicked and slammed the lid down. I would shortly learn what a big mistake that was. We both turned towards the gate, took one step and--BAWHOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!

A hot blast slammed us from behind. Contained within that hot blast was a sizable amount of toilet paper and stuff did not care to guess which peppered our backsides and silhouetted our bodies against the gate and fence. The seat blew free of the bolts that, until this moment, had successfully held it to the cement base for so many years. As the seat rose on the fireball it deflected the blast, along with the vaporized filth, outwards. The seat rose on the column of flame for about 10 or 12 feet on, as witnessed by our astonished fellow scouts outside the fence, and fell back down. My buddy and I walked out stiff-legged, our arms outstretched to the sides, with all kinds of nasty stuff stuck to our backsides.

Fortunately, we were right next to the showers so we turned on the water and cleaned up before anyone could take our picture. Everyone had a great laugh and my buddy and I were not awarded with the notoriety that went along with destroying property in such a cool manner.

I don't know why we didn't in trouble, but our scoutmasters did ban the practice of "burning off the latrine" after that.


Spokane Al said...

Wow - what a great story. I am glad you came out alive to share it with the rest of us.

Aunt Judith said...

Hank, you really should write up all your Boy Scout ( and other childhood/adolescent stories...). How many more are there? This one is even funnier for those of us who knew your Dad...

Unknown said...

Great Story... I spent many summers at Camp Tonkawa with Troop 296 from Dyess AFB... LOL.. This was from 1993-1998, the troops might be related.. I worked summer camp staff for several of my camping years there... Great story...

Unknown said...

Great Story... I spent many years at tonkawa as member of troop 296 from Dyess AFB.(1993-1998).. That might be the same troop as troops tend to be 3 numbers now...:)... I do remember some good stories but this is a good one. I'm sure Catapillar Lake was still in use when you were there..