It was a nice day out when I arrived at the Scout House (Marcus municipal building basement). More amazing yet, there were scouts waiting for me to arrive, and I was early. Today was the day we had been waiting for since last fall, when the boys decided the location of this year's summer camp - Medicine Mountain Scout Ranch in Custer, South Dakota. This was going to be a fun- filled week of earning merit badges and seeing the sights in the Black Hills.
As the scout motto says "Be Prepared" we were. Every thing was laid out a few nights earlier just waiting to be loaded. We had an hour and a half before the scheduled departure time, just enough to get everything done. Assistant Scout Master (ASM) Judy Heidesch was busy collecting and organizing the last of the paper work needed for the trip. ASM Perry Groepper was busy checking over the boys' personal gear, preparing it for packing on the bus. And I, Scout Master Bob was scratching my head wondering how in the world we were going to fit all this stuff in such a small space.
We were on our way. We said our goodbyes to ASM Perry and ASM Judy as they would not be going on this trip. This week long adventure would be handled by Committee Chair Vivian Schleef, ASM Heather Krebs and I. First stop Hawarden. "Why?" you ask. Because that is where ASM Heather and her two scouts were at on family business. And in scouts we work around what ever gets placed in front of us. Besides, we were meeting them at Casey's. Last chance for a pit stop for several hours.
Things were going well, games were being played and good mix of team building activities and camaraderie was taking place. That is what I like about the bus. We can all travel together and enjoy each others company in the comfort of the bus. Yes I did say comfort. The way that the bus is arranged allowes for us to stretch out or sit at the table, or even in one of the seats up by the driver. We had our coolers of food and drink at our finger tips, life was good.
We had gotten fuel a while back and were headed to Chamberlain to cross the river. There is a nice rest area right before the river which is located up on the hill over looking it. The view is great and I was ready to stretch my legs so we pulled in. Everybody scrambled out of the bus to the look out point. Pictures were taken and we were ready to roll when ASM Heather asked if a camera she found belonged to any of us. Nobody claimed it. Wow, how awful to loose your camera at a beautiful place like that. I wondered if there were any pictures on it to help identify the owner. So the camera was turned on and the pictures were scanned, finally a picture of a person was found. It was a picture of a high school age girl in her swim suit. And the boys, the good scouts that they are, fanned out to find this young lady. And she was found getting into a car getting ready to leave the rest area. The camera was returned and she and her mother were thankful.
We decided to travel another hour or so before we made sandwiches for supper. So after everybody was back on the bus we headed out. The snack box was found and life was good, chips and cookies for all.
It had only been about 40 minutes since our stop when I heard what sounded like the muffler getting a hole in it. I thought to myself, boy this could get to be a long loud ride if the muffler gives out. I pull over to check on the muffler but it seemed fine, no holes. It was only one mile to the next exit so we pressed on to the exit where we could take a better look under the hood. We pulled into the parking lot of the quick stop style gas station and we popped the hood. With cell phone in one hand and tool box in the other I climbed up and started to look over the engine. Nothing obvious to me so I made a call to a mechanic I know (my brother Gary) and after some discussion and over the phone diagnosis I made an adjustment and all seemed well. We took the bus down an access road for a test drive and it seemed to be working just fine. Success! Or so I thought.
We pulled back out on to the Interstate and headed west on our way. We had about 100 miles to go to get to our destination for the night, Wall, SD. where we had a campsite reserved and it would mean only a couple of hours of travel the next day to get to camp.
Oh, how plans can change. It wasn't but 20 miles down the road when IT happened. Things were going fine, then out of no where there was a high pitched whine followed by a PING and then it was like some thing you see on NASCAR.
A huge cloud of white, blue and black smoke came out from under the bus and engulfed all 4 lanes of the interstate. The car behind us swerved all over the road. I pushed in the clutch, turned off the key and coasted to a stop on the shoulder of the road. Silence fell over the bus as the smoke began to clear. I looked out the back and saw a trail of oil and water on the road leading to our bus. I know what has just happened. I turned and told everybody "Guys, we just blew the engine. I don't know what we are going to do but we will figure it out." We suggested they say a prayer. I asked the other leaders to step off the bus so we could strategize and figure out what we do next.
"I don't believe it. We aren't even in the hills yet. We are on a flat stretch of road and we blow the engine." That was the first thing I said. But no sense crying over spilled milk, right? So we started bouncing ideas around. We knew we had just passed a camp ground one mile back in Presho so ASM Heather makes some calls and the next thing I know she tells me we can stay there the night. Now all we need is a ride, for 12 people and a load of gear. By this time I've called 2 different tow companies and one of them agrees to come and tow us back to town. I wonder if they will let us sit on the bus while they tow. Otherwise we will just have to hike it, it is only a mile back to town.
We had been broken down on the side of the highway for over 30 minutes and nobody had stopped to see if we needed help. Where was the highway patrol when you needed them? We would just have to get ourselves out of this jam. I got on the phone with the MMC superintendent because they had a bus for sale but they had just sold it and the new owner was picking it up that very day.
Another 10 minutes passed and still no one stopped. It looked like we would be hiking the mile back to the camp in Presho. But wait! What's this?! A large charter bus was slowing down and stopping. Finally some outside assistance. "Hi. My name is Dan. Do you guys need any help?" the driver asked. I told Dan the tale of the "Death of the Scout Bus" and how we had made arrangements to spend the night in the town behind us. He said he could give us a ride as he was "Dead Heading" back to Rapid City. He just needed to call his dispatcher and let them know he stopped to help us. When Dan returned from his bus he said it was ok for him to help us out. So I asked the big question, what will this cost us? He said not to worry about that. They always stop and help other busses out, no charge. In the mean time ASM Heather and ASM Vivian had been talking among themselves and came to me, just as Dan gave me the good news, to ask if he could take us to Rapid City. Dan said yes and in fact he told us there was a KOA campground just a couple blocks from the bus garage. He would call his dispatcher and get us the phone number. I turned to the boys and hollered with a smile on my face "Boys! Off the bus! We need to load all our stuff on the charter". The look on their faces said it all "YES!!"
The boys all got off the bus and stood in the ditch; I opened the back door and began the process of unloading. The first thing off was the new kitchen patrol box, this took several of the boys help as this is large and fairly heavy. Next I ask Dan to assist me, so the boys were not on the roadway. It took us over an hour to load the Scout Bus so I was wondering how long it would take to get unloaded and onto the charter bus. I started handing Dan item after item, he handed them to one of the boys who then took it over to the ditch by the charter bus. 5 minutes pass and I was still handing things out when ASM Vivian asked Dan if it was ok for her to start loading his bus, and it was. Another 5 minutes pass and the same process continued, I handed stuff to Dan, he handed it to the boys and they took it to Vivian who loaded it in one of the 4 large compartments in the belly of the charter bus. This must have looked a little like the clowns getting out of one of those really small cars at the circus because more and more stuff kept coming out of the bus. Finally the last of the Troop items were off the bus and all that was left was some personal gear. The boys gathered the last of their gear as the adult leaders did the same. Wow! We did the transfer in less than 20 minutes. As Dan repositioned the last of the gear in the belly of the charter bus he looked at me and asked "Where did you have all this stuff on that bus?". You see we filled 3 Ω of the bays under the bus completely full.
It wasn't but a couple of minutes after we finished loading the bus when the tow truck driver (Tony) arrived to pick up the bus. Tony said he could handle it and we would see him in a week on the way home.
It was a good feeling to be on the road again, we still weren't sure how we would be getting to camp in the morning or how we would be getting home in a week but we were all safe and on our way to a camp ground in Rapid City.
Everybody was settling in, some of the younger boys up front watching the road out the front window, the middle age boys in the middle of the bus and the older, soon to be Eagle Scouts sitting in the back. I was sitting with the other adult leaders thankful for Dan and Grey Lines for giving us a ride. Discussing how we would get to camp and then transportation for our tour day on Wednesday. So we started to hatch a plan that started with making a phone call to the Scout camp to let them know our predicament, only one thing, no one would be there until the next morning to answer the phones. By this point in time the idea of a rescue party has been hatched involving 3 drivers and 3 vehicles and a small trailer. It might need to be executed in the morning if we can find no other way to camp.
I went back to the front of the bus to ask Dan what his company would charge to get us to camp, afraid of his answer because it was no longer on his way home and charter busses don't come cheap. He looked over at me and said not to worry; he had made all the arrangements to get us to camp by the 2 o'clock check in deadline! He had made a call to his wife, Cindy, to tell her he would be late and gave her the details why. They decided they would help us get to camp. She proceeded to make arrangements with a neighbor, Craig who had a pickup and a small trailer, and Dan and Cindy had two vehicles. His only concern was whether all the gear would fit.
This was unbelievable! Here a complete stranger was going out of his way to help us. And he has enlisted others to come to our rescue in the morning. Dan, Cindy and Craig were a gift from God, an answer to the prayers we all said along the side of the road. This is a testament to the good name Boy Scouts have around the country. These boys are our future leaders and they learn from the example set by the adults around them. What a great example set by complete strangers on compassion and helpfulness, two virtues which need to be instilled in all people.
It was quarter to 11pm the first day. What an adventure it had been! We'd blown the engine in the scout bus and by the grace of God been given a free ride on an empty charter bus to a camp ground in Rapid City, and we had just arrived. Now we must empty the bus, set up camp and get to bed. We have a big day in front of us tomorrow. Dan said he'll be back about 11 in the morning to pick us up.
Breakfast was over, clean up was done and we were just finishing the packing for the next leg of our journey when Dan arrived. We needed to load the heavy items first so the boys grabbed a hold of the kitchen patrol box and brought it to the trailer. After seeing it again Dan asked Craig, "What does that remind you of?" as he pointed to the boys carrying the patrol box. Craig replied "The Ark of the Covenant in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark". And that is how our new, never been used kitchen patrol box has come to be know as the "Ark".
We finished loading the gear and again every body wondered how we had put all that stuff on the scout bus because we filled the 3 vehicles to capacity. We were off and were making good time up to the point where the road became a trail and there was no way the car was going to make it if we kept going. I guess the GPS doesn't know it all. So we all turned around and headed back the other way, it's a good thing all roads in South Dakota lead to Medicine Mountain Scout Ranch, because we made it there just in time to check in.
Now I'll leave it up to the boys to tell all of you about their week in camp, and all the fun things they did. The Scout Ranch rented us a 15 passenger van for our touring trip so all that was left was getting the boys home.
Phone service in the camp was spotty at best. ASM Vivian had the best reception. We had to stand by Zach Groepper's tent, hold our head slightly to the right, then raise our left leg and we might get a signal. I could text but had no phone service. So with little ability to communicate we started the process of organizing a rescue party. On Wednesday we went sight seeing and finally my phone began to work. While at Crazy Horse Monument I made about an hour's worth of phone calls, getting a handle on what needed to be done. Several options were proposed but when we did the math it was cheapest to send 3 vehicles out to get us. We had 3 volunteers to drive: ASM Perry Groepper, ASM Hunter Heidesch, and ASM Vivian's husband Joe Schleef. Joe would drive his super crew truck, Hunter would drive my Mercury, and Perry would drive Jim Hoefling's super crew truck and pull his own small trailer. The plans were made and we would see them on Friday.
The rescue party arrived right on schedule late Friday afternoon and was soon introduced around camp as "the rescue party" ASM Perry was like a kid in a candy store when he found out I could arrange for him to fish for rainbow trout in the camp's lake. And fish he did, Perry caught 4 very tasty fish and shared his bounty with the whole troop. Thanks Perry! They were delicious.
The week of camp was almost over. Closing campfire was done and all that was left was to get a good night's sleep and pack up and leave. We decided to let the boys sleep in. We wouldn't get them up until 6:30 (all week it had been 6am sharp). Things went well for the most part; once again we had to pack a mountain of gear into 3 separate vehicles. Boy, I sure missed the bus.
We left camp on time and were headed for home, but first a couple of sightseeing items. Originally we were going to go through the Bad Lands and visit Wall Drug on the way out but with the way things worked out we were going to visit them on the way home. Next stop: The Bus. We stopped in Presho to pick up the last of our stuff out of the bus. We spent about 30 minutes stripping out the storage racks and other items. We lined up for one last photo with the old girl and it was done. No more bus. Now originally Tony said he was not interested in the bus and we would have to find someone to come and get it. But God works in mysterious ways because he must have changed his mind as he asked if he could trade me the towing charge for the bus. I said deal and with that Troop 113 no longer had a bus.
We headed for home with only one stop left; food. We had the number for Pizza Hut in Mitchell so we called ahead and in 30 minutes or less we would be sitting down to a pizza feast.
We made it home around 11:30pm, an hour later than planned, darn time zone change messed up my schedule. We unpacked all the gear and stowed it in the Scout House. The trip was officially over. What a week! This is one summer camp the boys and a few leaders will never forget.
So÷now it is time for a "New Beginning" in our GMAT 113 (Greater Marcus Area Troop 113) history. I believe that we need to replace the bus. With all that the boys learn from using the bus as transportation I feel it is vital that our troop gets a new bus. We will start some new traditions in the bus, make many lasting memories and learn much needed leadership and social skills. I know owning and operating a bus is not cheap but it is also not right to keep asking the same leaders and adults for the use of their personal vehicles. So at this time I am asking all of you to help us in our quest for a bus to replace the one that was put to pasture on this last trip. This is your time to step up and help shape our leaders of tomorrow by funding their needs today. If you would like to donate to the Bus Fund please send it to Troop 113, P.O. Box 184, Marcus, IA 51035 and we will see that it is used for that purpose. If you want a receipt please just let us know.