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 History of Camp Stearns by John Crane

Note: Camp Stearns In this article refers to the original Camp Stearns.

It is unknown when this article was written.

From the Memoirs of John Crane.

In the summer of 1935 the boys wanted me to attend Scout camp with them but I declined for some reason. I went every year after that. There was to be a National Scout Jamboree in Washington, DC, in 1936, the first one ever, but because of a poliomyelitis scare, it was canceled. No polio vaccine had yet been invented and the disease was rampant throughout the country and very contagious. There seemed no cure other than that of Sister Kenny from Australia and she was just winging it with massage and hot packs.

The Jamboree was rescheduled for 1937 and I attended along with seven others from Excelsior including Mick and Bob WuIf. Each Scout had to have, all new, two shirts, two pair of shorts, two pair of stockings, one pair of garters, one pair of shoes, one wide brim hat and a belt, all official Boy Scout items. I don't recall the cost of the uniforms but I believe the trip, complete with railroad transportation and food in Washington was one hundred twenty-five dollars. The town had to pitch in to send Mert Eastlick as his Dad was out of work. We rode a chartered train from Minneapolis to Chicago where we were shunted into the yards to await an engine from the next railroad, which would take us on to Washington. We were climbing on and off the train and wandering about when our adult leaders called to us to get back on as the engine was coming. I stayed on the steps and was hanging onto a railing when the engine hit the cars fairly hard. I fell and hit the ground, which were mostly cinders. My knee was lacerated but one of the leaders patched me up. Streaks of black cinder dust remain in my knee today.

For ten days we camped on the banks of the Potomac River, in fact, about forty feet from it. The river has a tide, being so close to the ocean. Once when the tide was out we moved a Scout, sleeping on his cot, to the edge of the river. The tide rose and when he awoke he was ten feet out into the river and getting wet.

We never walked far in Washington, which was actually a rather small city at the time. It didn't go population crazy until the war began in 1941. The locals would offer us a ride anywhere because they were trying to see how many boys they could meet and from how many states. I got an autograph from Paul Siple, the Scout who had, a few years earlier, accompanied Admiral Byrd to the South Pole.

For our annual summer Scout camp, all troops in our Minnetonka District went at the same time to Camp Stearns near Annandale. The land for the camp had been donated by the grandfather of Bob Lundsten, one of boys in our troop. I don't know how the materials were paid for although Mr. Stearns owned the lumberyard in Hutchinson. The cost per boy in those days was seven dollars and fifty cents for the ten days of camp, an average of thirty-five cents a meal and that could not have paid the salaries of the cooks and the waterfront director as well as bought the food. There must have been a subsidy. All leaders were, of course, volunteers. For boys who couldn't afford camp, a few citizens made donations. Various fathers drove us to camp on Sunday afternoon; others picked us up on a Thursday. Each district camped during it's own scheduled ten days.

The rustic dining hall and other buildings including The Question Mark had been built by volunteer leaders and by the fathers of Scouts from all over rural and small-town Minnesota, from Excelsior west. My Dad and I had been there during the construction; we rode out with Mickey and his dad for the work sessions in their model "A". There was a swamp on the campground where wild raspberries grew and during the summer the campers would fight off the mosquitoes and pick the berries and the cooks would prepare fresh raspberry shortcake for lunch.

During the summer of 1942 I took a position at Camp Stearns as the program director. I had to arrange the daily schedule for swimming, eating, and campfires and of course did some counseling in merit badges. I also led the singing after meals in the dining hall. Yes, me, the non-musical Crane. Go figure.

Everyone in camp ate at the same time in the dining hall and the food was prepared by hired adult cooks. Boys doing their own cooking at their campsite didn't begin until after WW 11.1 also drove injured boys to the doctor in Annandale. One boy was chopping with a double-bitted axe about as long as he was tall and somehow cut his bead which bled profusely. With a towel on his bead to contain the blood I drove him to town and waited while the doctor sewed him up. Another time a boy drove a hatchet blade between his toes. One boy lay down in the road and waited to be run over and when that didn't happen, walked into the lake to drown himself. I phoned the chairman of his troop committee who came to take him home.

It was 1948 (?) when Many Point Scout Camp opened. I was working for the Minneapolis Area Council at that time and was assigned to write the menus for the camp's first year. Those menus were also sent to Camp Stearns. As the first boys came into Many Point I was moved to Camp Stearns as the assistant director under Earl Cameron. Once a week Earl and I would drive the cooks, formerly with a circus, to Maple Lake so they could have a breather and a couple of beers. Earl told me he rode a horse to elementary school in Michigan and stabled the horse in a neighbor's barn. I asked what town. Elsie he said. That's where my grandfather's brother lived, I said, and his farm was just a block from a little country school. What was his name, Earl asked? Frank Searl, I said. Yes Earl said, that's where I left my horse. Frank Searl's barn. Small world.

That fall I attended Schiff Reservation in New Jersey and entered professional Scouting full time though I only stayed in it a year.



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