January 29, 2013

Sea Scouts / Explorer Scouts of Uptown

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

About 1949, 1950, when we were 14, we formed a Sea Scout / Explorer Scout Troop. All of us, even though we were inner city kids, were used to being out of doors.

As Sea Scouts we had a ship, the SSS Polaris, at Diversey Harbor. Each "man" had an oar, which was about 16 feet long and maybe 4 inches at the widest part where it seated in the oar locks. The oar locks were two wood "Belayin" Pins that fit into holes at the top of the gunwhales (pronounced gunnel). The oars were our responsibility and were in real bad shape when they were given to us.
We sanded them down and varnished them with a marine spar varnish; I reworked the leather around the area that fit into the oar locks.

Our "ship" was an old life boat about 16 feet long, very similar to the boats that are used for whaling.
We had to strip the old paint away, chink it with the traditional red flannel, then chalking compound, and sand by hand.

When the Skipper Bob French (my friend Dons Brother) was satisfied, we painted it. After two or three weeks, we left on our maiden voyage. We flipped the ship right side up, put the rollers in place, and with ropes attached, pulled it to the launch.

We would row out to and around the crib, about 2 miles. The skipper would announce that the smoking lamp was lit, so we would ship our oars and lite up. In those days we all started smoking at about 13/14. I smoked Marvels; they were 10 cents a pack and had a red rooster for a logo

We kept a good eye on the weather and never had any problems, the only danger we had was from a "CRAB"

Now we had five rowers on each side, each one with a 16 foot oar; if at any time a rower missed timing, the force of the water pinned the oar against the side of the boat. This caused the handle side of the oar to pin the rower against the gunwhale and could crush his ribs. When this happened the rower would call out "CRAB." All would stop, and the rower across from him would jump down on the oar handle, popping the oar blade out of the water.

We all took that as an opportunity to make fun of the "Crabee."

We took our girl friends with us at times, and let them take turns rowing. If their mothers ever knew!
I had to store the oar on my back porch and walk it all the way to Diversey Harbor, from 4737 North Kenmore to 2800 north along the lakefront.

Learning to row took teamwork, and that what scouting is all about.T his was about 60 years ago and my wife was one of the rowers and she still helps pull the oar.

Now camping was different; no girls were allowed. We were too afraid of parents even to suggest it.
There was a Boy Scout camp just off Higgins Road in Des Plaines called Camp Fort Dearborn. They had cabins but they were more like barracks We took our gear on the street cars and buses and it was one long walk from the end of the bus line to the camp.

Our best camping adventures was when we discovered La Bagh Woods at Foster and Cicero.
We would take our gear tents, sleeping bags, mess kits, all army surplus on the Broadway Streetcar to Foster and get off at Cicero; at that time Edens was under construction and La Bagh woods was wide open.

We camped a lot during the summer. We loved cooking on the campfire and never had a problem, until the rangers found us and kicked us out.

We camped in other areas. When we were in the Forest Service Patrol, we would plant trees and even helped fight a couple of small forest fires.

For us at Lawrence and Kenmore, La Bagh Woods became the great untamed frontier. It seemed so far away. Now I live in Harvard Illinois and it still seems so far away.

I think maybe the time is what is so far away.


old guy said...

Hey Bill,
There was also Boy Scout troop 864 at Clarendon park. In 1962 I went with them a couple of times to Fort Deaborn and had a great time. The scout master's name was Matt and his assistant was Rich. There were some real uptown characters in that troop.

bill Matteson said...

Bill, I still have one of them wooden "Belayin" Pins , I took it to school and made two out of Aluminnum in shop class and I still have one and one wooden. My brother was first mate.Mr leclar or somthing like that ( but I miss spell the name sorry) I do have a picture of the girls who was in the girls sea scouts.


clarendon park said...

do you remember a man named mr. van erkenswick who led a troop at clarendon park, I grew up with his children.

old guy said...

I just remember Matt and rich.
I know there were other leaders, just don't remember their names.

Anonymous said...

Erkenswick was the Stewart School Phy Ed teacher before Busgalia. He ended up as Principal around 1964???

old guy said...

I remember Mr Conway as gym teacher in the late 50's and early 60"s. I had always thought he was replaced by Busgalia.
Was Mr. Conway ever the principal or assistant principal?

GreenBeret said...

Yes I remember Stewart schools Mr, Conway by that time he was asst Principal and Mr B was Phys Ed teacher. I was a Boy scout and later an Explorer Post 2819 at Peoples Church Troop 819 from 65-70, In retrospect looking back those were good days. Also taking that Bus to the end of the line and walking to Camp Ft Dearborn, We lived near Lakeside/Sheridan and my weekends were spent many times at the Lakeside Theater for the 3 horror movies for 25 cents. In 1990s I chartered a Sea Scout ship and revived our old troop number using 5819, We ran about 12 years chartered by the American Indian Center, Funny how we return to our past after traveling the world,

Anonymous said...

Yea, you guys are right. I was confusing Conway with Erkenswick??? Did I really. Thing is I remember an Erkenswick!! But Damn if I know how I knew or heard of him now. I grew up around Agatite and Sunnyside near Hazel. I spent most of my time at The Boy's Club and Clarendon Park.

Anonymous said...

Just talked to my brother and he tells me he ran into Robert Erkenswick in a restaurant recently. He apparently is working or owns a construction company. He also mentioned a place on the web for "The Clarendon Boy's"


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