From 1974 to 1978, we lived in Southern Florida, in a waterfront community called Lighthouse Point. When we moved there, my son was 10 years old, and my daughter was 11. And, because of my fond memories of my own scouting experiences, I persuaded my son and my daughter to become Scouts.
To encourage my son to participate, I volunteered to be an assistant scoutmaster of his troop. I will admit, I was not especially active, but I did host a few meetings at my house, and I taught several of the boys, including my son, to shoot so I could certify them for their Marksmanship Merit Badge.
In 1977 my son was scheduled to go to a ten-day scout summer camp at Camp La-No-Che in Paisley, Florida, which was about fifty miles north of Orlando, and about 250 miles from my home.
The troop had two regular scoutmasters, and always previously, the two of them took the boys up to the camp. However, this year one of the scoutmasters could not get time off work, so I reluctantly agreed to assist the other scoutmaster.
Two days before we were scheduled to leave, that scoutmaster had a family emergency, so I was left being the only qualified adult available and was informed I would have to take them there on my own.
Twelve boys were scheduled to go to the camp, ages ranging from 10 to 15. The scoutmasters assured me it would not be too difficult as the two oldest boys in the troop, both 15 years old, would assist me. As I also had my own son, who was then 13 years old, to help me, I was not overly concerned.
To take the boys to the camp, I rented a 15 passenger van and drove them up there. As would be expected, during the five-hour drive, trying to make the boys behave necessitated much pleading, shouting, and even the occasional threat.
When we arrived at La-No-Che, I checked in at the HQ building, and we were assigned a well-isolated campsite down a dirt road about ¼ of miles away.
The main area where the camp HQ was located consisted of four buildings, a large mess hall, a crafts and game building, the HQ building with an included Infirmary, and a dormitory for the camp staff. Our site consisted only of wooden pads to keep the tents off the ground and a latrine with showers.
The day we arrived initially went well, as the two older boys and my son were very helpful in setting up the camp. I was beginning to feel optimistic.
That optimism faded quickly that night as the youngest scout, 10 years old, was so lonely for his parents that he cried himself to sleep. So, instead of just being a scoutmaster, I now had to assume the role of being a babysitter, and I spent hours the first few nights comforting the kid until he fell asleep.
Things were going along well during the following days, except boys from the other campsites began reporting various personal possessions were disappearing from their tents, such as knives, hatchets, compasses, radios, etc. Surprisingly, except for a Leatherman Tool, nothing seemed to be missing from our site.
We then learned that various tools and supplies were steadily going missing from the Crafts building, like punches, leather materials, woodworking and leatherworking tools, etc. It reached a point that many of the activities had to be curtailed entirely for lack of supplies and the necessary tools.
My two older boys on their own volunteered to help the camp staff search for the missing items, and it made me proud of them. Although they had already been helping me with the younger scouts, this showed me they also had some personal initiative.
On the sixth or seventh day, I don’t remember which, I was summoned in the morning to report to the Camp leader at the HQ building. I had no idea why as we had only spoken a few words up to that time. When I arrived, he was alone and informed me that there was a problem. Without saying anything further, he told me to take a ride with him in his truck.
We drove out of the camp to a nearby farm, where I was stunned to find the owner, a crusty wizened old man I learned was the former county sheriff, holding my two clearly scared 15-year-old boys at gunpoint next to an old pickup truck.
I asked the farmer what they had done, and he told me he caught them this morning trying to steal his truck. He then showed me a bunch of stuff in the truck’s bed, which appeared to be some of the camp’s missing crafts items.
I asked him what he wanted me to do, and he calmly said he just wanted me to be present when he executed the two boys. He said they were obviously good for nothing, and he would just tell the authorities afterward they tried to jump him and escape.
He said his only question now was which one he should shoot first.
He then gave me a sly wink, and I noticed the chambers on the cylinder of the pistol he was brandishing at the boys were all empty.
The boys now openly went clearly from being damn scared to being totally terrified. One of them started shaking and begging him not to kill him, while the other dropped to the ground and began whimpering and bawling like a baby.
After waiting a long while for effect, the farmer finally said these assholes kids weren’t worth his wasting bullets on. He told us to just get them the hell out of here and out of his county. He said if they’re still around tomorrow, they’re both dead!
We loaded the two clearly relieved boys into the back of the camp leader’s pickup after they told us where they had hidden the rest of the stolen property.
We drove to where the boys said, and in a copse of trees, wrapped up in a tarp under a pile of leaves, we found all the stolen items. We were amazed at the amount of stuff that was there. It was apparent a lot of the kids did not know their property was even missing.
We made the boys load the stuff into the truck and drove back to the camp. After making the boys unload all of their loot, I told them to go get packed and be back here with their personal gear within 30 minutes, or else we would return them to the farmer. That definitely got them both motivated.
While we waited, the scout leader checked the train schedule, and we learned there was a train heading to Fort Lauderdale that would be stopping in about two hours at DeLand, Florida, which was closeby.
I then called the boys’ parents and luckily reached both of their mothers. I told them what had transpired, leaving off the part about threatening to shoot them. I gave the mothers the arrival time for the train. After apologizing profusely, both of the mothers promised to reimburse me for their son’s train fare.
When the boys arrived, we searched their personal gear to make sure there were no stolen items. We then drove the boys to the train station. After buying their tickets, we stayed with them until they had boarded the train and left the station.
Later, back at my campsite, I told the rest of the boys in my troop about who was responsible for all the thefts and what had happened. I even told them about the farmer threatening to shoot the boys as I knew they would enjoy the story. I was sure doing that would end up biting me on the butt somehow, but I thought it was hilarious.
About an hour later, I was summoned by the camp leader to come see him at the HQ. I suspected it was to be officially reprimanded by him and the other scoutmasters for not properly controlling the two boys.
When I arrived, I was surprised that only the camp leader was waiting for me. He asked me to take a drive with him again. He did not offer any explanation, but I assumed it was to go back and see the local police or the farmer about pressing criminal charges or something similar.
Instead, we drove about two or three miles away to a rest stop off the highway. After we pulled over and stopped, the camp leader got out and grabbed a six-pack of cold beer out of a cooler in the bed of the truck.
He then passed me a beer saying, “If anyone needs one of these, it is you.” And yes, we proceeded to finish the six-pack before heading back to the camp.
All the boys got their stolen belongings back, and the remaining stay at the camp was relatively uneventful. It actually became fun for me as on each of the remaining afternoons, the camp leader and I made a beer run out to our favorite rest area.
When we returned home, I learned that the two boys never arrived at the Fort Lauderdale train station. They must have gotten off at an earlier station to avoid their parents. I heard about a week later that they both had been arrested in the Florida Keys for shoplifting. I don’t know what happened to them afterward; however, both parents paid me back for the tickets I had bought.
I knew that my telling the other scouts about the farmer would have repercussions, and I was right. Due to my apparent perverse sense of humor, several scout parents decided that my services as an assistant scoutmaster were no longer required.