Camp Geiger Hammerhead Day Number 22

Each year, supporters of Camp Geiger gather to offer a day of service to the camp, performing whatever work needs to be done. This is known as a ‘Hammerhead Day’ and is a tradition stretching back more than two decades. On April 26, this year, adult members of Troop 451 travelled to Missouri to volunteer to prepare a renovated campsite, “Short Arrow”. Ten volunteers (Messrs. Covington, Curtis, DiCiaccio, Goodnight, Hatter, Koonce, Lueking, Martin, Rawson, and Wawczak) gathered at Grace Baptist Church early Friday morning. Once car assignments were settled and gear stowed, three vehicles hit the road for parts north. In the lead was the ‘sachemobile’, with three august occupants, followed by a large SUV and a minivan carrying the lesser mortals.

The progress to Missouri was punctuated by periodic pauses: breakfast at Rudy’s BBQ in Denton, snack, gas, and stretching stops, and lunch along the way. Humor was abundant, including a recurrent reference to the sending of various articles of clothing and furniture from K-Mart.

Our intrepid band arrived at the camp, just outside of St. Joseph, MO, in the late afternoon. We weary travelers unloaded our gear at the Goetz Lodge. This old log building is as fancy a camping accommodation as I can recall. Its ambiance was like that of a luxury north woods cabin. The large main salon featured a great flagstone fireplace and many comfortable, thick-cushioned chairs. It was a setting that encouraged friendly conversation. Goetz Lodge has four sleeping rooms, each with four bunks. Thus, the facility offered ample room for the ten of us staying there. The floors are hardwood and the bunks had quite decent mattresses.  The lodge has central heating and each room even had its own mini-fridge! Roughing-it we were not! Sadly, we will not have such luxurious accommodations when we return in June for a week of Scout Camp.
Once sleeping arrangements were secured, we repaired to the dining hall. This building harbors a large, circular main room whose roof is supported on large wooden trusses that span from the outside walls to a central ring high overhead. This distribution of thrust is therefore somewhat like that of a dome. As with many of the facilities we saw, it is much nicer than I had expected from a summer camp. Our hosts offered us a dinner of nicely-prepared steak for sandwiches, green beans, toasted rolls, etc. as well as iced tea and some sort of ‘bug juice.’ Conversation was minimal as folks focused on feeding.

After dinner, we toured a bit of the camp. Geiger has a newly-expanded shooting sports area, including an extensive, well-appointed shotgun range. It lies in a heavily-wooded ravine and offers trap, skeet, and sporting clays. We saw at least 16 shooting stations, delineated by white piping to direct the shooter’s attention to his own field of fire. Each station has one or two electric launchers, well-stocked with fluorescent orange ‘pigeons.’ While inspecting these facilities, we saw several deer and a wild turkey. As darkness fell, we returned to Goetz to get well-rested before our big day.

We awoke at 6:00 and were in the dining hall before 7:00. We dined on eggs over easy, biscuits and gravy, bacon, and home fried potatoes, all fresh from the kitchen. Sufficiently-fueled, we headed off to locate Short Arrow campsite and settle into our day’s assignment. A short walk downhill from the dining hall took us to our goal.

By contrast to other campsites at Geiger, at Short Arrow, the Scouts will be housed in tipis. The conical tents are closely patterned after the famous shelters of the plains peoples, differing only in being covered in a canvas fabric rather than buffalo hides. Each tipi will accommodate four scouts and their gear.

The Short Arrow site overlooks the Missouri River, seen here as a distant glimmer of silver among the trees. In summertime, the foliage completely obscures the view.
For the volunteers from Troop 451, the mission was to prepare pads on which to erect the tipis. The major issue here is drainage. Once the tipi has done its job keeping rainwater off the scouts and their gear, the deflected water must drain away from the tent or the floor will become sodden. This issue is of special importance at Short Arrow since the site lies at the base of two steep, wooded slopes.  To deal with potential water accumulation, the plan was to build octagonal forms about 22 feet across. On a base of large, sharp gravel, we were to lay down a circular run of perforated drain tubing and connect this to a four-foot deep sump. Then we would spread out two or three truckloads of pea gravel in the form, covering the drain pipe and making a floor for the tipi. Thus, each tipi will sit upon an enormous French drain. Rainwater runoff will percolate through the gravel. Any buildup will seep into the drain and flow from there to the sump where it will have time to soak into the soil.
We were off to a slow start on a cool, grey Missouri morning. Recent weather had made it impossible for the camp staff and other volunteers to get the site ready before we arrived and we were idle for some time in the early morning until further site preparation got under way. For example, some branches of a huge old tree that overhung the campsite had to be removed before the pad was built (since the great branches would fall on the site when they were cut and some of these branches would have made good-sized trees in their own right; the tree in question was standing when Lewis and Clark passed through on their way to the Pacific!)  The fellow doing the tree surgery was well-equipped and clearly experienced at his task, which he had completed before we broke for our midday meal. He even had most of the felled branches sawn up and hauled away.
We did get the materials unloaded from the flatbed truck, allowing it to be moved to make way for the heavier equipment. This included two Bobcat tractors, another small Case front-loader, two small-ish power shovels (each had a cab to house its operator so they were not all that small, simply not huge), and two different dump trucks (one for sharp gravel, one for pea).

The sumps were drilled-out with the help of one of the Bobcats sporting a large auger bit while the other Bobcat hauled away the piles of dirt dug from the pad sites. After the sumps were drilled, we dug channels for the connecting pipe from the pad site drainage tubing to the sump. Each pad site was excavated to a depth of 10-12 inches with the help of the two power shovels. For many of the sites, once they were dug out, we were actually able to position the sump lower than the drain tubing.

Mr. DiCiaccio supervises the drilling of a sump
Once we spread a base of sharp gravel, another crew of volunteers assembled the form. This was a bit challenging since the octagons were not regular – five sides were eight feet long while two ten-foot sides were separated by a six-foot side. This elongates one portion of the octagon, making a sort of small porch area from which to access the tent.

When the form was laid-out and staked in place and the drainage tubing set up, we spread the pea gravel. Sometimes we were able to get the dump truck operator to maneuver so that the load could be dumped inside the form. At other times we simply had to shift the stones with rakes and shovels. As the heavily-laden trucks went back and forth, they churned up the damp soil until finally it became almost unable to support the trucks. Delivery of one load ended up with the dump truck nearly axle-deep in muck. It took the help of a Bobcat to dislodge it once it had dumped its load.

We had time to complete one site before we broke for lunch. This was a fine feast of quite good steak properly cooked, baked potatoes, more green beans, salad, iced tea, etc. (just the fuel to carry us through a long afternoon!) In all, perhaps 90 folks volunteered for the camp that day, working on various projects the camp needs to have completed before the first session begins in June. Some folks graveled one of the camp’s roads, for example; others prepared trim boards and conduit for new lighting in the dining hall. Down at Short Arrow, there were eleven of us from 451 (Bill joined us that morning), another 8 or so folks from a troop in Kansas City, and 4-5 equipment operators. The large number of volunteers was a blessing. It meant that even during the most intense periods of activity, we could stop to catch our breath without disrupting the work.
Needless to say, this made for a long day of labor. We were tasked with constructing 8 of the 12 pads needed but even though we worked until dusk, we completed only seven. We even skipped the ice cream social (highlight of any Hammerhead Day) so that we could continue working. Thoughtfully, the powers-that-be set aside some ice cream for us to enjoy later. Given all the hurry-up-and-wait and other challenges that we faced, we acquitted ourselves reasonably well. That evening, the dining hall was closed so we headed in to St. Joe for hot wings. Upon our return to camp, we hit the dining hall to treat ourselves to some ice cream (well, in truth, a lot of ice cream; for some of us, a whole lot of ice cream!)
It wasn't all just standing around leaning on our shovels (but that's when there was time to snap a few pictures).
Once back at the lodge, we turned in for a well-deserved rest. Sunday we breakfasted at a Bob Evans restaurant before hitting the road for an uneventful return trip. The highlight of our homeward trek was a stop in Oklahoma to sample some justly-famous fried pies, thus assuaging some of the bitter disappointment some of us experienced on the way up (and the rest of heard much about).

In sum, it was a fine weekend of work and fellowship, affording the opportunity for us to be better acquainted with our fellow volunteers. It was well worth the time and effort. We even got cool hats commemorating our participation.

Laying in the drain for the first pad.



Spreading gravel.

NOTE: since this piece was written, we have learned that because of the uncooperative weather this Spring, the Short Arrow site could not be completed in time for use this season. We hope to return next year to see the fruits of our labors put to good use.

A finished pad.


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