Why Scouts on a train is a good thing

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Friday, August 10, 2018

Boy Scouts on the Capitol Limited. Bob Johnston

Bob Johnston's story this week about the Southwest Chief and Scouting reminds me of the time I could have traveled by Amtrak to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, but:

 I was too busy.

 I didn't have enough money.

 That's a lot of time to be gone.

 I have a girlfriend.

Et cetera. Et cetera. 

 I'm not old, but I'm old enough now to understand those arguments from long ago kept me from a unique experience and what would have been one heck of a train trip.

 Anyone who has spent enough time in Scouting in the U.S. hears about certain "must-do" events before you age out of the program. A national jamboree is one (that I also didn't do) and visiting Philmont is another. In short, Philmont is ten of thousands of acres of open land and campsites near Cimarron, N.M., dedicated to being a safe place were youth and their adult leaders can enjoy nature and challenge their own physical and mental endurance.

 One highlight that was advertised years ago was the week-long backpack trek to and from the summit of Mt. Baldy — no refrigerators, no electronics — just you and your troop of fellow scouts.

 There's another part of that, of course, the train ride to get to Philmont. Scouts in California and the Pacific Northwest probably don't do this, but for the easterners, the cheapest, most dependable way to move 20 to 40 boys at a time was to get coach seats on Amtrak and go west. I knew a few of the guys who went the last year I was eligible to participate as a youth. What they must have experienced on the train getting to know one another — and strangers — better, boggles the mind.

 They would have changed trains at Chicago Union Station, for sure, and walked around a city that's leagues beyond our hometowns near Jamestown and Salamanca, N.Y.; Smethport and Bradford, Pa. In their travels, they would have met rich and poor, job seekers, transients, and idle travelers. They would have shared food: packaged or badly done or decent, but expensive. They would have made memories and cemented friendships.

 In other words, they probably had an eye-opening experience on the train, even apart from the camping adventure.

 I am fortunate to have had other very good opportunities in my life, but sad I did not make this journey.

 The Southwest Chief's future remains shrouded in doubt. I wonder just how much longer we will, as a country, offer world-enhancing experiences to young people for the cost of a ticket to ride. The Scouts' annual pilgrimage to Philmont remains one of those rare, precious things.

Just a thought.

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