Cub Scouts Climb the Tower - Purple Mountain Press


by Norman J. Van Valkenburgh
illustrated by Russell V. Van Valkenburgh

From Chapter Six--The Tower:

They climbed the tower in relays, Russ's father first with three of the cub scouts. When that group descended, Uncle Paul went with three more. Then Russ's father climbed up again with the remaining two boys. When it was Russ's turn, he looked questionably at the line of steps that went up and up and almost to the sky the way it looked. He wondered if he would be scared as he climbed. The first flight of steps stopped at a landing. The next flight climbed in the opposite direction and also ended at a landing. By the fourth landing, they were higher than the trees that circled the edge of the clearing. The wind blew across the top of the mountain and the entire structure swayed with it. Russ and the others held tightly to the railing along the sides of the steps. Higher and higher they went. The steps were narrower as they climbed and the landings became smaller and smaller. The wind seemed to be stronger as they reached the next level and the next. The sway of the tower seemed to move it in a circle, round and round in the wind. They held tighter and tighter to the railings. The very last flight of steps ended at a trap door in the floor of the cab. Casey stood inside, holding the trap door open. "Come on in," he said, "Welcome to the top of the world."

The square-shaped cab was small, hardly big enough to hold the five of them. The four walls consisted of metal siding about three feet high topped by glass windows all around. Two of these were open and a cool wind blew through. The roof was also metal and sloped to a peak. A wooden flag pole was fixed on the outside of one corner of the cab and an American flag at the top waved in the wind. Casey told them he put the flag up first thing in the morning every day he was in the tower and took it down each evening just before he left.

In the very center of the cab was a pedestal which held a circular disk on which a map was mounted. A metal post was set in a hole in the center of the disk and it held a long, metal bar with raised sights on each end. Casey explained the map was made of U.S. Geological Service quadrangles covering much of the land area that could be seen from the tower. The post in the center was at the exact point on the map where the tower was located. The bar swiveled on the post and, by using the sights at each end, could be pointed directly at the smoke rising from a forest fire. Casey could read the directional bearing from the edge of the disk, estimate the distance to the smoke, and locate it on the map. Then, he could relay that information to the forest rangers over the telephone that hung in one corner of the cab and they could quickly put out the fire before it did any damage.

Casey gestured around the wide countryside that stretched in the distance. "There's Tannersville," he pointed, "And Hunter. Look over here, that's the Spruceton Valley and the road you drove to the bottom of the mountain."

Each boy wanted to know where his house was and Casey tried to find them. Even when they used his binoculars, they couldn't be sure they were looking at their house or another one, they were so very far away. When it was Russ's turn to try the binoculars, he wanted to find the hill on his grandfather's farm and the picnic rock. He thought he saw the hill, but wasn't really sure. He waved in that direction anyway, just in case his grandmother happened to be waving at him. Once all the boys had made the climb to the top of the tower and were back on the ground, Russ's father said, "It's a little early for lunch. Let's take a walk over to where the tower used to be when I first hiked the mountain. It's less than half a mile and an easy trail."

When they reached the site, Russ's father was surprised to see it had grown in with small spruce trees and was no longer the open area he remembered from years ago. He showed them where the tower had been and pointed out the remains of the foundation of the cabin that had been moved with the tower to the actual summit of the mountain.

"When I came up here, I always camped near the top of the ledge on the Spruceton side of the mountain. I wonder if I could find that place again?"

He took them along a path through the trees. Or tried to; that is, it too was grown in and hard to follow. But he knew where he was going and they soon came to the open ledge of rocks that rimmed that edge of the mountain. The view ahead looked directly down the Spruceton Valley. Russ's father looked at the trees in back of them for a few minutes. "It should be right there," he said. He led them through the thick trees to a small clearing that just barely held them all. "This is where I camped when I was not much older than you. Right there," he said, pointing to a corner of the little clearing, "is where I pitched my tent. It looks the same as it did then. I slept a good many nights here, but that was long ago. Well, enough of that." Looking at his watch, he said, "It's nearly noon, we'd better head back for lunch." Lunch! With the excitement of the morning, Russ had forgotten about lunch. He wondered what they were going to eat. All of them, including his father and Uncle Paul, had left their packs and everything except their canteens at the lean-to. Must be, he thought, they were going back there for lunch. When they reached the tower, Casey was waiting. "Everything is in the jeep," he said. "Why don't you eat on the porch. You'll be out of the sun there." The three of them—Russ's father, Uncle Paul and Casey—unloaded two cardboard boxes and a big cooler from the back of the jeep and carried them to the cabin. "Come and get it," Russ's father called.

One box was filled with sandwiches—ham, cheese, sliced chicken, and Russ's favorite, tuna fish salad. The other box was filled with bags of potato chips and tins of chocolate chip cookies. Best of all, the cooler held jars of lemonade and, even though it was a warm day, ice cubes still tinkled against the glass sides of each jar. Russ's grandmother, mother, and Aunt Shirley had baked the cookies and made the sandwiches and lemonade early that morning so they could send it all up the mountain with Casey. He ate lunch with them and enjoyed it as much as they did. He sat in a rocking chair on the porch and told them about his work on the tower, the people who hiked the trails and stopped to visit with him, what it was like to be alone on the mountain during thunderstorms, and the forest fires he had spotted. He said Russ's mother had asked him that morning if he thought the boys had been safe during the storm of the night before. He said he told her the lean-to had survived a number of such storms in the many years it had been there and he was sure he'd find everyone all right when he passed. Even so, when he got to the tower, he had called her to assure her all were well and not to worry anymore.

This book for young people recounts the adventures of a den of cub scouts on a two-day hike to the Hunter Mountain fire tower. Their night in a lean-to part way up the mountain is shattered by a frightful thunderstorm. The next day they reach the summit and meet Casey, who staffs the tower and watches for forest fires. It is based on a true story and is told by one of the adults who chaperoned the 1963 trip and is illustrated by one of the former cub scouts.

Norman J. Van Valkenburgh is a retired, 32-year veteran of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. During the concluding eight years of his career he served as Director of Lands and Forests and was responsible for all the state's fire towers. This is his first children's book but his seventh book published by Purple Mountain Press, which include four mysteries: Murder in the Catskills, Mayhem in the Catskills, Mischief in the Catskills (a mystery novella with five short stories) and Murder in the Shawangunks and two works of non-fiction: The Forest Preserve in New York State in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains and On the Adirondack Survey with Verplanck Colvin.

Russell V. Van Valkenburgh was born and grew up in West Kill in Greene County. He attended the School of Hotel Management in Delhi, the Culinary School at Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania, and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He is now chef at the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

46 pages, illustrated, 5.5 x 8.5, 2000. Ages 10-12.
$6.00 booklet--A Purple Mountain Press original

Copyright © 1998 Purple Mountain Press. All rights reserved.