Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In Pursuit of Merit Badges and Classic Cars

 Coveted Merit Badge Found at LeMay –– America's Car Museum

The Museum offers a free photo with this classic 1923 Buick for all visitors.
I have read many books about how to raise my son in our American culture. However, none of them describe the special little invisible switch that flips on immediately when a boy is presented with the opportunity to compete with other boys and display his honor with a collection of round badges on a green sash over a khaki shirt. This little secret switch probably explains why the Boy Scouts of America has been around more than 100 years. (Founded February 8, 1910)

I imagine that boys envision themselves in their Class A uniforms covered in sparkling ornaments, colorful badges, flying ribbons with eagles and epaulettes, like miniature field marshals, marching about and spying which badges each boy was able to achieve this past summer. 

And this summer being nearly over, and one of the last weekends before Labor Day holiday, it was an imperative to my son that he attempt as many badges as can be mustered up before the September awards ceremony.  I had even signed up as a merit badge counsellor and museum volunteer to hasten the process.

Luckily, my son and six of his troop mates had the opportunity to participate in the Traffic Safety Merit Badge Workshop offered as one of the three newly launched BSA Merit Badge Workshops designed and held at the LeMay –– America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington this year:
  • Traffic Safety
  • Automotive Maintenance
  • Model Design and Building
    So much work for this little round patch

Cheez-Its and Classic Cars

Cheez-Its flew, elbows jabbed and the squirrel-like chatter about the kid who barfed ALL OVER camp this year ­preoccupied four of the boys from Troop 582 in the back seat of my pickup truck as we drove in carpools 50 miles to Tacoma, in pursuit of the coveted Traffic Safety merit badge.  

We were early for the workshop, so the other two parent chaperons and I decided to fill the boys up with lunch at the Pacific Grill CafĂ© on the upper floor of the museum.  The boys mostly ate hot dogs and hamburgers, one kid had a salad, and one kid had a bowl of ice cream, which he promptly delivered back to the main floor lavatory, closing it down for a few hours for clean up (a different kid from camp). One kid brought Rolled Gold Tiny Twist mini pretzels with him to be inserted into his eye sockets for cell phone photo-ops. The boys behaved well otherwise, while we waited for our guides, Carolyn and Jim, to start the workshop with a tour. 

Seat Belts, Rear View Mirrors and Acetylene Headlamps

Carolyn Dunand, education coordinator, our guide, instructor and designer of the program, met us with museum volunteer Jim Graddon, a retired Police Chief for the City of SeaTac. Jim was also a boy scout and still honors his pledge to "do a good dead every day."  The boys were lucky to have him volunteer that day.

It was the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, so the main floor featured 50 years of Mustangs on display. The guides pointed out different safety features throughout the years and how they influenced design. Like my 58 Studebaker Silver Hawk (the first pony car), the 64 ½ Mustang offered the right rear view side mirror as an option––two lane roads were still scarce. Even seat belts did not show up as standard until the mid 60s in the US. 

My son became interested once we reached the antiques.

Acetylene tanks and other gas mixtures were the high-tech solutions of the day to fuel headlamps on this 1906 REO and other turn of the century coaches. I'm told that the cars went so slow that headlamps were really there to let the horses know a car was coming.

After a few more cars, the boys had a chance to monkey around in the Family Zone until their workshop began.  Another bathroom break––the sick kid was feeling better––and they were ready to start.

Not Webelos Anymore

Carolyn had set out colored pencils, a worksheet and drawing paper in a special classroom in the Family Zone. She began with a power point addressing most of the material in the scout merit badge manual. She officially introduced Jim, who elaborated on driver safety and driving markers that the police look for in intoxicated motorists.  The last guest speaker was Jason Wennstrom, manager at Old Town Bicycle in Gig Harbor, also a museum volunteer. He gave a lecture on bike safety with a full array of reflective material as props.  I think the boys will remember the impact of blinking bike-lights, flashlights and yellow reflective tape in the darkened classroom.  

Jim finished the merit badge requirements with a hands-on demonstration of safety checks on his own car in the museum parking lot and instructed the boys to go home and perform the checks on their own family cars.  The whole workshop took four hours and comprised 19 exercises to qualify for the merit badge requirements as described in the official manual. When I asked one of the boys how he liked the workshop, he politely complained about the amount of writing and studying it required. I told him that he was no longer a Webelo and that Boy Scout badges are very hard to earn, so he should be proud of himself for the hard work he did.

Time for one last bathroom break then, we were on our way home.  We spent the drive back snacking on what crackers were still left in the Cheez-It box, or wedged in-between my truck's back seat and pointing out drivers who were not following the rules of the road.

Good books to read on raising boys: Michael Thompson and Dan Kindlon, Raising Cain.  
     Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley, Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys.  
     Michael Gurian, The Minds of Boys.