Photo by Jim Spahr
Vol. 52, No. 14
Washburn High School,
Minneapolis, Minnesota
August 5, 2006
30th Anniversary Issue

Boy Scout Troop 104: A Memoir
By Brad Johnson

(Writer’s note: My apologies to anyone whose name escaped my memory.)

Upon information and belief, the names of these troop members are: Front row: Timmy O'Brien, Mike "Kabooby" Kavoukjian, Curtis Steel, Lane Jorgensen, Tom Schlink, and Gary Mracek. Second row: unknown, Bruce Trautman, Dale Soldat, Brad Johnson, and Craig Arndt.
Third row: Steve Hetland and Richard Larson

One of the institutions in the Kenny neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s was Boy Scout Troop 104. Scouting was one of many activities to choose from but, with its green uniforms and red kerchiefs, was probably the least cool. Nevertheless, roughly 20 Kenny fifth graders joined the troop in the spring of 1969. Normally, half that number would have joined and those tenderfoot scouts would have been evenly distributed across the four patrols – the Mustangs, Eagles, Panthers, and Wolves. With twice the normal number, a fifth patrol – the Hawks - was added and was comprised entirely of 11-year-olds. The Hawks included: Mike Kavoukjian, Steve Hetland, Dan Carlson, Lane Jorgensen, Tim Brustad, Curtis Steel, Ronnie Berg, Mike Sudit, Rich Larson, Bruce Trautman, Wayne Fimon, and Tom Schlink. Other 11-year-olds who joined the troop that year included Kevin Ballman, Chris Wright, Dave Sanford, Jim Zobel, Morgan Kreps, myself, and others.

Troop 104 was led by the legendary scoutmaster Kasmer “Cash” Dykoski, known to all as “Mr. D.” He was in his 60s, silver-haired, sparkling-eyed, and built like a barrel-chested bantam rooster with the commanding presence of a drill sergeant. If there was any man capable of dealing with twenty 11-year-olds turned loose in the woods, it was Mr. D. Nevertheless, we found ways to try his patience. The Hawks, in particular, pushed his buttons. When he reached his limit, he’d exclaim “settle down or I’ll whap you!” (Although, I have no recollection of him actually carrying through on his threat.)

Gather a group of former Troop 104 scouts together and the stories will go into the wee hours. Several stand-out in my memory.

Skiing at Nemadji
One of the most resourceful things that Mr. D. did was to convince Hoigaards to outfit the entire troop for free with used ski equipment (lace-up boots, cable bindings, and wood skis!). He took this a step further by leasing U.S. Forest Service acreage south of Duluth along the Nemadji River and building a ski hill – complete with an A-frame chalet and rope tows powered by old cars. While the word “chalet” conjures up images of quaint huts nestled in the Alpine woods, this was basically aspen trees nailed together in the shape of a massive tent and covered with plywood and tar shingles. The hill was cleared by boys with chain saws and axes, yelling “timber” and running like hell to get out of the way of falling trees. Dinner was Dinty Moore Beef Stew from a can and bologna fried directly on the top a wood stove. Water was supplied by a hand-pump and the bathroom was an outhouse. The only heat at night came from a large fireplace that was usually cold by morning. Winter overnights were about as close to winter camping as you could come without being in tent. A favorite prank was to climb into the front seat of the old car powering the rope tow and step on the gas. You’d know if it was successful if you could hear screams, curses, and the clattering of skis as boys fell all over each other.

Summer Camp at Many Point
Summer camp was held for two weeks every July at a primitive campsite on a remote peninsula at Many Point Scout Camp. Similar to Nemadji, we did all of our own cooking and cleaning up over wood fires. Hygiene was minimal and generally limited to periodic baths in the lake using sand-encrusted Fels Naptha soap to prevent or slow down poison ivy outbreaks.

Letter home. Click letter to enlarge.

Fireworks in the form of sparklers, Black Cats, and bottle rockets were a staple form of entertainment. The intensity was kicked up a few notches one summer when someone brought up a cache of high-powered fireworks (M-80s and Silver Salutes). Before long, practically every kid had purchased a few and squirreled them away in his tent. Each night there would be a series of random explosions that would send Mr. D. and the dads out to the campsites in search of the perpetrators. Especially concerned about the safety risks was a Minneapolis Fire Department firefighter dad. After a few nights of this, Mr. D. launched a plan to get rid of the fireworks. He sent the firefighter dad on an errand to buy pies in Detroit Lakes. Mr. D. then called a troop assembly and announced that all fireworks could be blown off in the next hour – with no recriminations. All hell broke loose. Entire packages of Black Cats ripped off, sounding like machine gun fire. Bottle rockets went screaming back and forth between campsites in artillery barrages. M-80s and Silver Salutes were tossed into urine pits and garbage pits, sending their contents spraying over nearby tents. People hit the dirt seeking cover. Fortunately, other than persistent ear-ringing for a few days, no serious injuries occurred.

Canoe Trips in the Boundary Waters
One of the perks of still being in scouts at the age of 14 was the opportunity to go on the annual canoe trip in the Boundary Waters. We were too young to fully appreciate the wild beauty of Northern Minnesota and often regarded these trips as a lot of work. A typical day was long stretches of canoe paddling broken up by half-mile portages through the mud, capped off with the daily ritual of setting up and taking down camp.

With our limited free time, one of the few idle pleasures was fishing. It was on one of these trips that I witnessed the best fishing story that didn’t involve a fish. I can’t remember who was casting, but Chris Wright was sitting nearby on the shore whittling. The angler misfired the reel’s release button; the Daredevil lure came back and hooked Chris’ glasses on the nose bridge. Before anyone could react, the cast went forward and Chris’ glasses went flying into the lake. Fortunately, Chris didn’t get a scratch and his glasses were found in the clear water.

Even though the main players in these stories are the kids, a constant presence throughout was Mr. D. He was a willful leader who provoked strong emotions. When we were scouts, we constantly complained because he had high expectations for our behavior. He expected us to show up for troop meetings every Monday night, to stand up straight when he said “attention,” to clean our pots and pans instead of flinging them into the woods, and to work together as a team. As the years change our perspectives, we remember him instead as the man who taught us how to ski, swim, cook, deliver first aid, chop wood, build fires, and generally be resourceful young men. He provided an environment where it was relatively safe for a bunch of boys to goof around with axes, fireworks, and fish hooks.

Mr. D. passed away in 1991. Mike Kavoukjian and I paid our respects by attending his funeral and burial at Fort Snelling. It was a cold winter day, much like a Nemadji weekend, when the American Legion color guard gave him a final 21-gun salute. It was a fitting goodbye to the only drill sergeant that most of us would ever know.

About the Author...

Brad Johnson lives in Edina, Minnesota, with his wife Peggy and daughters Emily and Laura. He works for ING Employee Benefits.

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