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June 2024
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Short Sad Saga of a Texas Horny Toad
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Rutherford & NJ
Posted by: Ken @ 6:15 am

Horned ToadAs a Cub Scout, I longed to grow up into a full-fledged Boy Scout. I worked through the ranks—first the Bobcat pin, then the blue uniform and the Wolf, Bear and Lion badges… and finally WEBELOS, whose motto was a secret anagram made up of letters from each Cub rank. We were privy to its meaning: “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts.” Once I turned 12 and graduated out of the Pack and into St. Mary’s Rutherford Troop 8 my zeal faded somewhat, and I never made it to Eagle. However, I really enjoyed the hikes and the nature study.

The highlight, and the finale, of my scouting career was the Historic 1950 National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. It was only the second such gathering—the first, in Washington, DC,  was to have celebrated the 25th anniversary of the scouting movement in 1935, but it was postponed until 1937 because of the polio epidemic. The event was awe-inspiring. The tents of 45,000 boys and their leaders filled the historic battleground. Insignias and patches were actively traded. After a couple of days nearly everyone’s uniform was unadorned, except for strands of various colored threads outlining where mothers had labored to affix badges and home town patches, formerly so proudly displayed.

Klondike Derby PatchOne emblem that I absolutely refused to trade was my hard-won white Klondike Derby patch. It celebrated my participation as a member of a team of “huskies” who pulled a homemade sled over a quarter mile course at Garret Mountain in the dead of a late 1940’s winter. Significantly, it was a particularly warm day and it had not snowed for weeks, so we dragged the contraption, or what was left of it, over mud, brush, gravel and rocks to a triumphant finish. No, I would not trade that badge for anything… well, almost.

A troop from Lubbock, Texas occupied the tents nearby. We marveled at their exotic accents. I coveted their captives— a cardboard box full of Texas Horned Lizards. I watched as one kid after another traded away his earthly possessions in return for a scaly creature. Their supply dwindled down to only two or three “toads.”

Finally, I could stand it no longer, and entered the traders’ den. They drove a hard bargain, seeing the greed in my eyes. I parted with my pocket knife, all my loose change, and of course my “Rutherford New Jersey” shoulder strip and troop emblem, but they ruthlessly insisted on having my Klondike Derby patch as well. The pain of hearing the felt tear away from my shirt pocket was soon overshadowed by glee. I placed the lizard into a paper bag and carried it with me and even kept it at my side as I slept. Nothing, including appearances and 4th of July speeches by both President Truman and General Eisenhower, was better than having my own “Horny Toad,” whom I imaginatively named “Tex.”

Eagerly, I anticipated bringing it home to New Jersey, to show all my friends and enjoy seeing how jealous they would be. We returned home late, but before bedtime I prepared a habitat for my new pet, a large glass bowl with sand and a rock. First thing in the morning, anxious to make the animal feel that it had returned to sunny Texas, I placed its enclosure out in the center of our back lawn, away from any un-desert-ly shade. He seemed happy and became quite active. The neighborhood kids were duly impressed, watching it bask in the noonday sun. I went into the house for lunch, then hurried back to see Tex.

He was lying very still, probably enjoying the Texas-like climate, or so I thought. When Tex failed to respond after I poked him, I got worried. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation had not yet been invented, but if it had I probably would have been puffing for hours. Hyperthermia was not then in my vocabulary, but that is what killed Tex.

That marked the end of my scouting career. I never filled the vacant spaces on my uniform shirt, just didn’t have the heart. I still miss the Klondike Derby patch and wonder whether that sharpie from Lubbock will be selling it on eBay one of these days. 

4 Responses to “Short Sad Saga of a Texas Horny Toad”

  1. George(slats) Sladovich Says:
    Ken:Glad you were a scout,I should have known.Sorry about your pet.That time in your life it was very important. You have such great stoties to tell.
  2. Peter Froehlich Says:
    Thanks so much for sharing your memories. As a former Rutherford Boy Scout and son of a lifelong Rutherfordian bird lover, your blog was a treat to find!
  3. Ken Says:
    I came across this Scouting Magazine Web page that is all about the Garret Mountain Klondike derby. I did not realize until now, that the patch I earned that day in 1949 was for my participation in the very first of this long line of Derbies in North Jersey:

    The oldest of its kind

    Every winter Scout councils, districts, and troops hold Klondike derbies from coast to coast. But the annual derby at Garret Mountain Reservation in West Paterson, N.J., is billed as the oldest continuous event of its kind. First held in 1949 under the auspices of the now-defunct Tamarack Council, the derby today is run by the Broken Arrow District of the Essex Council. (The Verona-based council took over that part of the Tamarack Council’s territory in 1986; the rest went to the Fair Lawn-based Bergen Council.)

    A Klondike derby is a test of Scout skills and endurance. In the best of all possible worlds, patrols pull special sleds (called “sledges”) over a rugged course covered by a blanket of snow on a cold winter’s day. But as Broken Arrow District chairman Joe Fucito pointed out: “Snow’s a little iffy here. You’ve got to go farther north to be pretty sure it will be present on derby day.” In northern New Jersey, the mean annual snowfall is only 26 inches. More often than not, the Klondike derby is contested on a bare forest floor. And that was the case for the golden anniversary event last January (1999). Only skimpy patches of snow were visible. Although a pale winter sun and light wind put the windchill at about the freezing mark, it was clear to all that this wasn’t the Klondike…

    …Klondike Al Welenofsky has taken part in 47 of the 50 Garret Mountain Klondike derbies. He joined Troop 147 in October 1949, too late for the first derby. He missed another during his Navy service and a third when he and a friend spent a year and four days canoeing and portaging from coast to coast. (He is an avid adventurer. He has climbed the highest peaks in 47 states and hiked the real Chilkoot Trail.)

    The Garret Mountain Klondike Derby has changed over the years, Welenofsky said. In the 1950 derby there were only 15 sledges and all the teams had Scouts aged 11 to 17. Today age limits are imposed, and most Scouts 15 and older compete in an Open category rather than with the younger Scouts. “I would say that some of the events may have been more hazardous years ago,” Welenofsky opined. “For example, we had an event where you crossed a creek by either a rope or log, and you had to get your sled across, too. There was another event where you climbed a cliff maybe 10 feet high and hauled your sled up. So maybe some of the events have gotten a little tamer to make it more safe.”
  4. Tina Says:
    Thanks for the story! My father was a young scout in 1937 in Schenectady, NY. He sold more raffle tickets than anyone in his troop to earn a trip to the World’s Fair in NYC. He borrowed money from an older brother to purchase his neckerchief with “Schenectady” embroidered on the corner. It was the much sought-after trade at the World’s Fair but he wouldn’t trade it for a pile of other neckerchiefs from around the country. We’re glad he didn’t, because now my son wears it for special occasions. He’s on his way to the Jamboree this morning, but Grandpa’s neckerchief is safe at home!

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