It's the biggest Boy Scout Jamboree ever: 30,000 scouts from 50 states and countries such as Japan and Australia. And for a week's stay here, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America, they have pitched 15,000 tents on what has turned into 7,000 acres of mud.
Tropical Storm Bob was an uninvited guest at the Jamboree late last week. And even the Boy Scouts found it hard to "Be Prepared" for the torrents of rain and high winds that overturned dozens of tents, ripped limbs from trees and tipped over several of the 1,400 portable latrines.
Despite Wind and Rain
"I'm not worried about the rain," said 14-year-old scout Paul Chambers of Los Angeles' Troop 882. "It's the tornado watch I don't like."
Calling on all those promises to be brave, the scouts continued to have a good time, despite rain, winds and threats of tornadoes and hail. The Jamboree, which began last Wednesday and concludes Tuesday, offers activities ranging from traditional fishing, hiking, canoeing, tomahawk-tossing and tug of war to thoroughly modern scouting interests: computers, the space program and handicap awareness. Trading patches and pins with other scouts is also very big business, as some scouts wait in lines for hours to purchase the more sought-after ones.
For the scouts from Los Angeles, the storms ranked second only to a performance by the Beach Boys in catching their attention.
"The storms are great. That's basically all we've had," a soaking wet Jeff Elliott of Beverly Hills said. He was clinging to a drenched Apple Computer bag he'd gotten at an exhibit. "It's a challenge.
"Look at them," Elliott said, pointing to some scouts working furiously around their tents with picks and shovels. "They're digging trenches (for flood drainage). We've already done ours! Not that it will hold up."
"The storms are very fun," an equally wet Joey Berson of Mar Vista said. "All of a sudden, it just happens!"
For scout Sterling King of Los Angeles, the storm meant that "our sleeping bags are drenched."
Troop 852's tents arrived late and when the rains hit, they had to hike to other shelters, sleeping in commissary and hospital tents. But at week's end, their only medical mishaps were the laryngitis experienced by their songleader and "Benjie kicked a cot in the dark and sprained his ankle," one scout explained, "in the hospital tent!" That was considered very funny by the scouts.
Asked what they liked best about the Jamboree, the Los Angeles scouts almost unanimously shouted, "The Beach Boys!" The singing group put on a concert to open the Jamboree, which takes place every four years. The Oak Ridge Boys, another popular singing group, and First Lady Nancy Reagan are scheduled to make appearances as the Jamboree closes Tuesday.
Kenny Takahashi, a 12-year-old from Los Angeles, said he enjoyed meeting scouts "from Japan and Australia." He also enjoyed "shotgun shooting, rafting, sleeping, hiding from the rain and getting away from the smog."
What They Missed
But the Los Angeles scouts, asked what they missed, had plenty to say.
"The beach," one sang out.
"Our girlfriends," another said.
"Real weather," another answered.
What about your sisters?
"The older ones," a scout said. "Not the younger ones."
How about your mothers?
"No!" the majority yelped.
But 12-year-old Curtis Tachiki was willing to swim against the tide and admit that he missed his mother, prompting a chorus of groans.
"And my doggy," Tachiki added, winning back peer approval.
"I miss Killer, my cat," Tom Fogle of Woodland Hills chimed in.
Asked what scouting was all about in the 1980s, most of them said it was a valuable learning experience.
"We've learned you can't cook eggs and hash browns over charcoal," Willie Shattuck, 15, of Westlake Village said. "It takes about 10 hours."
While Boy Scouts have campfires, they no longer cook over campfires, Shattuck explained.
"We use propane stoves," he said. "But even with propane stoves, you're roughing it, because you only have so many bottles of propane."
They have learned about people from other places.
"The Texans," said Fogle, bringing laughter from his fellow L.A. scouts. "The way they talk, the expressions they use are neat: 'Over yonder.' "
One group of scouts was chosen to re-create the first camping-out excursion of the Brownsea Scouts, on Brownsea Island in the English Channel in 1907. They wore vests, knickers, ties and caps and took on English accents for the occasion. The Boy Scouts were founded later, based on the adventures of the Brownsea Scouts.
Scout officials have been preparing for this massive undertaking for two years, and the 30,000 scouts and leaders gathered here on the grounds of Fort A. P. Hill quickly made up the 15th largest city in Virginia.
According to statistics compiled by the Boy Scouts, it would take 100 hens 4 1/2 years to lay all the eggs the scouts will consume here, along with 7 1/2 tons of sirloin steak, 6 tons of bacon, 3 tons of salami and bologna, 3 miles of link sausage, 10 tons of breakfast cereal, 6 tons of granola bars, 5 tons of raisins, 15 tons of dried fruit and 400 gallons of mustard. After two days of camping, two scouts were in a hospital, recovering from appendectomies.
Hospital and religious service facilities were erected on the camp site, as well as outdoor showers made of bare plywood.
There were also plenty of natural showers.