My husband, Leland, likes to tell one of his favorite adventures as a boy scout. In 1953, Leland was about eleven years old and lived in Satsop, Washington, with his uncle, Frank, the Scoutmaster for the local Boy Scout troop, That summer, the eleven Boy Scouts made a two-day trip into a nearby region to reforest a field with tree seedlings given to them by a local Forestry Agency.
The boys rode to the planting site in the back of the assistant Scout leader’s truck along with their camping gear and 3-4 flats of pine seedlings in little cups. They set up camp near a river and prepared for the project at hand.
First the restoration site had to be cleared of natural brush or branches, which was gathered and stacked on the far side of the planting site. Leland also remembers picking up litter, bottles, and refuse left by previous campers.
The Forestry Agency provided the scoutmaster written directions of exactly how the tree planting process should take place. The scoutmaster used pre-measured strings to measure approximately 15-20 feet and drove a stake into the ground to indicate where each seedling should be planted.
The scouts followed behind across the grassy field. Natural grass and weeds was cleared about 15” around each stake. This allowed the sunshine to warm the seedling and prevented weeds from encroaching. The scouts dug a hole with a hand spade and tapped in the seedling, then progressed to the next stake. Over the next two days, the scouts planted several hundred trees.
Prior to the trip, Leland’s Aunt Emma had made a batch of homemade root beer for the scouts’ camping trip. Not having enough coke bottles to bottle the root beer, Leland and his cousins approached a local tavern owner, who loaned them a case of brown stubby beer bottles, requesting the return of the bottles after the camping trip.
During the bright summer evening following a hard day of planting trees, the boys sat on the side of the hill above the road, laughing and joking and drinking Aunt Emma’s root beer bottled in the brown stubby beer bottles.
Drivers on the road below saw the Boy Scouts, still in their uniforms, laughing and rolling around on the hill, apparently drinking beer. One driver called the local authorities when she got home, scandalized that the local Boy Scout troop should behave in such an unseemly manner.
As the case of root beer dwindled and the boy’s behavior became more rowdy, the sheriff drove up, responding to the call of drunk and disorderly Boy Scouts drinking beer up on the hill.
The scoutmaster explained that the root beer was bottled in borrowed stubby brown beer bottles. The explanation was sufficient to send the sheriff on his way. However, it is unlikely that the jubilation that followed was the satisfaction of the scouts' hard work planting trees, or their amusement at the sheriff thinking there was real beer in the brown bottles. More likely, their hilarity was the result of Leland’s cousin adding raisins to Aunt Emma’s crock of homemade root beer, making it a light alcoholic drink. The following year, only soda bottles were used and Aunt Emma kept a closer eye on her crock of root beer.
The story of the tree planting and the homemade root beer was a closely guarded secret, told only around subsequent campfires where bottles of store bought root beer was the only type of soda allowed.
If you enjoyed this story, please share some of your own childhood memories that resulted in misunderstanding or humorous outcomes.