Building rafts stands out as one of the most fun-filled Scout Pioneering activities. It incorporates all the planning, preparation, and Scout engineering that contribute to the richness of the pioneering experience, but when the structure can actually float and carry the participants, the pronounced element of happy success inherent in the process is undeniable. Through the years, raft building has played a major role in pioneering activities, and thanks to the often hilarious exploits of John Thurman during his extended term as Camp Chief at Gilwell, riding on a raft one has designed and built is part of a rich Scout Pioneering heritage.
Nothing provides the same kind of challenge and fun! Using the materials on hand to build it, and then embarking on a voyage across a lake is an adventure. Woodbadge training at Gilwell always used to include a day of Pioneering and the three main projects were towers, bridges and rafts. John Thurman never provided any clues regarding how to lash on the drums, though he did suggest that each one should receive a separate lashing. That way, if one drum was to come loose, losing it wouldn’t be the cause of an “unfortunate” chain reaction. Naturally, the bung holes should be positioned as high as possible and care should be taken that everything is lashed together tightly. As far as which comes first, constructing the framework in a complete assembly or in sub assemblies and then adding the drums, or lashing the drums into position and then constructing the rest of the framework, the former might be the better way to go. Laudable success has been experienced by adding the drums to a well-lashed framework that is spaced to accommodate the drums so they ride low and can withstand the strain brought on by simple tight wraps secured with two rope tackles. In this fashion, the drums can be placed on top of the tightly-lashed, well-spaced framework, and then when they are solidly in place, the raft can be flipped over to add all the accoutrements.
Creativity, and ingenuity come into play during the planning and preparation phases of raft building. During construction, team work and good lashing techniques are required. When it’s time to actually get it in the water and get it moving with everybody on board, there also needs to be an extra degree of cooperation.
Sink or swim, raft building and then, hopefully, raft riding is great fun. It’s just about impossible not to have a fantastic time!
I maintain, the MAJORITY of today’s Scouts love the kind of woodsy activities that provide old-fashioned, outdoor fun that’s involving and challenging. I further maintain MOST members of our organization feel camping and backpacking in the great outdoors are Scouting’s MAIN attraction. Even today, with all the appeal of the internet and advances in technology, Scouting is still outing—the kind of outing done primarily in wooded areas surrounded by nature. There’s simply no app for the experiences and memories born in that setting.
Of course, the BSA has to be concerned with keeping up with changing times. This makes sense. Creating interest and attracting new members is contingent on the assurance that what Scouting provides is YOUTH-RELEVANT! But, amidst the wide spectrum of diverse, new offerings available in today’s Scouting program, I even further maintain there’s always an irresistible fascination with what can be termed, “Old School Scouting,” i.e. the magical way things were done in the woods before the advent of all the mesmerizing, modern technology in the forefront of today’s society.
As evidenced in the present BSA literature and advancement program, there is a pronounced de-emphasis in traditional camping approaches—both in the front and backwoods. It is undeniable, and it appears we are straying further and further away from the traditions provided by BSA’s founders: Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard. I wrinkle my brow and ask, “Where’s all that great information and those inspiring descriptions illustrated by photos of real Scouts lighting a fire with a bow and drill or flint and steel, cooking a meal without utensils over a wood fire, or building a bridge using only ropes and poles over a creek?” It’s both irrelevant and a copout to simply dismiss or try to explain away this “dumbing down” of timeless campcraft skills by pointing to the principles of Leave No Trace. There is no correlation!
Once again, I maintain these and NUMEROUS other useful and fun techniques and activities can and still do contribute to the real appeal of even modern-day Scouting. It’s apparent, hand in hand with the world-class skateboard park at the Summit, the exciting addition of the STEM/Nova program, and all the “high adventure for the mind” merit badges like space exploration, digital technology, and robotics, a large population of today’s Scouts are STILL greatly enamored with acquiring the skill sets revolving around wilderness survival, the building of an impressive pioneering structure, and the creation of an awesome campsite. (See “Ideal Camp According to Baden-Powell” ) When it comes to hearing the “Voice of the Scout,” let’s make sure our youth are given the opportunity to choose that special outdoor voice that always has been and still is at the very heart of the experiences our movement has offered since our beginnings—the kind of rewarding, basic and challenging experiences that can only be found in Scouting!
“My ideal camp is where everyone is cheery and busy, where the patrols are kept intact under all circumstances, and where every patrol leader and Scout takes a genuine pride in his camp and his gadgets.” — Lord Baden-Powell
It should be the same today! It really should! Today’s Scouts cheerfully pulling together towards the common goal to make and keep their camp comfortable and organized, everyone doing their part and helping one another—that’s sheer poetry! The fun the Scouts have is inherent in putting into action the timeless Scout skills they’ve acquired to create a site that is amazing. Their camp is their very own, personalized outdoor home away from home. They are remarkably proud of what they’ve accomplished as reflected by their useful and ingenious camp GADGETS, and exemplified by their shining ability to function as a well-run Scout patrol.
An Opportunity Identified: Last spring, on April 12-14, a Scout Expo was held on the extensive grounds of the Myrtle Beach Speedway in Myrtle Beach, SC. for the purpose of increasing public awareness and celebrating Scouting throughout the eleven counties of the Pee Dee Area Council. Units were invited to camp overnight on Friday and Saturday, and from 10:00 to 5:00 p.m. on April 13, the Expo’s festivities were open to the general public. To promote Scouting, all units were invited to set up a fun, and/or informational display.
A Challenge Accepted: To contribute to the overall impact of the event and to increase awareness of the Order of the Arrow, the Chicora Chapter of Santee Lodge 116 received permission to set up their own exhibit. They wanted to communicate and share with everyone in attendance that members of the Order of the Arrow were capable of providing an outstanding activity—one that provided real interactive fun, and one that promoted camping by demonstrating advanced Scout skills.
Addressing the Opportunity and the Challenge: To take advantage of this opportunity, the chapter decided to challenge itself to assemble a Scout Pioneering exhibit—one that would engage and impress Expo attendees. It would be a special rope bridge. But, instead of the typical single or double A-frame versions, an elaborate design was developed featuring two 5’ climbing towers.
What They Did:
They formed a Pioneering crew made up of chapter members who readily volunteered to participate.
They fine-tuned the project design and gathered together all the materials needed.
They provided themselves with the pioneering skills required to build a safe structure.
They formalized a plan of action for actual project construction, with assembly procedures and building assignments.
They made meal plans and camping arrangements for all crew members.
They organized a schedule for manning the bridge to assure it was used safely and properly during the seven hours of Expo festivities.
They carried out all their plans
Who was involved: Twelve members of the chapter rendered cheerful service in building the project on Friday, maintaining and supervising its safe operation on Saturday, and disassembling the structure on Sunday.
The Costs: The only money involved was the cost of Friday evening’s dinner for the Pioneering crew, and the price of registration for those brothers who were not already camping with their troop.
The Success: The success of Scout Pioneering can be measured in two ways. One, did those building the project complete it safely and effectively? Two, did the completed project accomplish whatever it was designed to do? Their efforts were successful on both counts. The chapter brothers cheerfully worked hard and worked together building a project that was stable and strong. When the work was done, they proudly shared the fruits of their labor with numerous, appreciative Scouts and Expo guests.
The Result: For seven hours, their display enjoyed a continual stream of eager Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Expo visitors. The Council-wide Scout Expo was well-attended. Though there was not an exact count, it is easy to say that throughout the day, hundreds of people crossed the bridge, supervised and safe-guarded by the helpful Order of the Arrow attendants. The Expo organizers were very happy with the participants’ response to the OA exhibit, and the Pioneering crew regularly received high praise from Expo attendees.
The Benefit: The Chicora Chapter’s original intention in setting up a Scout Pioneering exhibit at the Expo was to benefit both Scouting and the Order of the Arrow, by contributing to the overall impact of the event, and by providing those attending with positive exposure to our Brotherhood of Cheerful Service. Because their display was so cool, and because its presentation was so impressive, the conclusion is that in both these lights, they hit the ball out of the park! In line with an honor organization that promotes camping, they wanted to have Scouts associate the Order of the Arrow with advanced Scouting skills that are functional and fun. For many, it was the first time they ever got to try a rope bridge. For everybody, it was the first time they ever saw a monkey bridge with a double platform! The exhibit was well-manned and the cheerful Arrowmen looked great with their sashes symbolizing the service they provided to their fellow Scouts and Expo visitors.
The Future: As an outgrowth of the favorable impression made at the Scout Expo, opportunities to serve their district and council are on the rise. In October the chapter was asked to build a traditional Double A-Frame Monkey Bridge at a District Webeloree. Then in November, they received a request to assist in an afternoon team-building session during a multi-district Boy Scout Camporee, by presenting Pioneering activities as patrol challenges. More and more arrowmen are becoming aware of the fun and positive impact this kind of service provides, and an increase in participation by other chapters throughout Santee Lodge is foreseen.
Plans to Grow: The more the Pioneering skills are developed through learning and application, the greater will be the capacity for sharing these skills through the construction of interactive Pioneering displays, while exampling cheerful service! Those who appreciate the fun in using only poles and rope to build a useful structure, who enjoy working together as a team utilizing specialized skills to get the job done, and who have experienced the sense of accomplishment that goes along with completing a Pioneering project that illustrates “old-school” Scouting know-how, need no coaxing when invited to do it again and again! The chapter just found out that a local pack has requested they build a simple Single A-Frame Bridge with twin walkways for their outdoor Webelos crossover ceremony this February. But, they’re most excited by the largest venture coming up in April! Santee Lodge is hosting this year’s Dixie Fellowship at Camp Coker. With the input of the Chicora Chapter Pioneering Crew and with the help of many other, eager lodge brothers, Pioneering crews will be erecting an enormous gateway flying the American flag, the Order of the Arrow flag, the World Scout Crest flag, and the state flags of NC, SC, and GA. These six flags will surround a 10’ banner welcoming everyone to the Dixie Fellowship! The OA Pioneering Crews will also build a 12’ Swing Boat and 10’ Atomic Pile for intermittent fun during the Fellowship. With over 1,000 OA brothers in attendance, sharing the satisfaction inherent in serving Scouting and promoting the Order of the Arrow through well-presented displays of Scout Pioneering will be a blast! (See: Pioneering at the 2014 Dixie Fellowship.)
Sustaining the Idea: The idea is fostered that if provided the wherewithal, in every OA lodge there are many Scouts who would enjoy building fun and useful Pioneering structures that are really cool. There are also those closely involved with Scout Pioneering who would be very happy to make it a priority to help equip and train fellow arrowmen, so they can implement their own program and serve their councils in like fashion. Building Pioneering projects provides outdoor fun that quite simply stands the test of time. The Native Americans did it in a big way, and so did the folks who settled our country. Especially today, even with a modern emphasis on the high-tech, the fascination with old school Scouting skills always persists. This is evidenced by the joyful responses well-built Pioneering projects consistently receive. The Order of the Arrow is steeped in rich Scouting traditions, and hence provides wonderfully fertile grounds for a welcome resurgence of the timeless Scouting skills that are embodied in Scout Pioneering—a golden opportunity to both promote Scout camping while exampling cheerful service during Scouting events!
Furthering the Mission and Purpose of the Order of the Arrow: For 100 years, the Order of the Arrow has inspired numerous Scouts, both young and old, by linking a love for the outdoors and camping with the cheerful rendering of service to our fellow man. When, in preparation for an organized Scouting event, arrowmen dedicate their time and skills to the building of an impressive, interactive pioneering structure, they are setting the stage for something very special. In addition to enhancing the event’s impact, their accomplishment carries with it a dual purpose. One: a properly presented and well-built Pioneering project in itself promotes a love for the outdoors and camping. Two: unselfishly giving their time to share the fun inherent in their work, by answering questions about their project in a friendly manner and providing safe guidance in its use, is the kind of action that inspires, motivates, and indeed exemplifies the cheerful service that embraces the watchwords of our order.
Using the 14′ Double Ladder Signal Tower as a point of reference, here are the plans for a very tall campsite gateway that stands out (and up) and serves as an impressive feat of Scout engineering. One of the perks included in this project is it provides an opportunity for new Scouts to experience hoisting a “boy-sized” structure replete with their own special colors e.g. their patrol flags.
Since this 14-foot structure isn’t climbed on, the spars can be considerably thinner in diameter. Bamboo is ideal. Lashing on those flags attached to each corner creates a spectacular effect and hence the name “4 Flag Tower!”
Note: This design is not self-standing. Therefore, using it as a gateway at a camporee or Scout Expo with the necessary guylines requires an area wide and deep enough to accommodate a 16 x 16-foot space.
four 2-1/2 to 3-inch x 14-foot leg spars
six 2-inch x 8-foot X-brace spars
four 2-inch x 6-foot X-brace spars
four 2-inch x 6-foot support spars
six 2-inch x 4-foot leg spreader
forty-five 15-foot x 1/4-inch lashing ropes
four 25-foot guylines
eight 24-inch pioneering stakes
Assemble the 4-foot sides. Begin by laying out two pairs of 14-foot spars for the tower legs, side by side, 3 and 1/2 feet apart. Be sure the butt ends are even at the bottom so the tower will stand up straight.
NOTE:All lashings need to be very tight.
Lash the legs together starting with a 4-foot bottom leg spreader about 6 inches up from the butt ends. Lash on a 4-foot middle leg spreader in the middle of the 14-foot legs (7 feet up), and a 4-foot top spreader about 3 inches from the top of the 14-foot legs.
When the legs are joined with the three 4-foot spreaders, lash on two 6-foot X-brace spars using square lashings to lash the ends to the legs, and a diagonal lashing where they cross, forming a trestle in the bottom half of the legs (see diagram 1). Three of the ends are lashed to the outside of the legs, and one on the inside, so that a slight gap is created where they cross. As the diagonal lashing begins, this gap will be cinched together with the timber hitch. Repeat the whole process with the other two 14-foot legs.
Join the 4-foot sides. Turn both sides up horizontally, parallel to one another about 5 and 1/2 feet apart. Make sure the bottoms are even.
Lash on one of the 6-foot support spars directly above the 4-foot middle spreader (see diagram 2).
Lash another one of the 6-foot support spars directly under the 4-foot side spreader at the very top.
Now, lash on two of the 8-foot X brace spars diagonally between the two 6-foot supports using square lashings to lash the ends to the legs, and a diagonal lashing where they cross forming a trestle in the top part of the wide (6-foot) side (see diagram 2). Three of the ends are lashed to the outside of the legs, and one on the inside, so that a slight gap is created where they cross. As the diagonal lashing begins, this gap will be sprung together with the timber hitch.
Lash the other side. To make the lashings on the other side, you have to get the whole crew together to carefully lift and roll the tower over 180° so that it’s laying on the X-brace, and the other sides of the 4-foot sides are easier to get to.
Repeat the same procedure as before.
Lash on the middle X-brace. This X-brace is what will keep the four sides from racking. Lash the two remaining 8-foot X brace spars diagonally across the legs just under the 4-foot middle leg spreader (see Tower Gateway Schematic on the top of this page). Use square lashings to lash them to the legs and a diagonal lashing where they cross. To accomplish this, some crew members will have to hold up the top of the tower so that there is better access to all four ends of the 8′ X brace spars.
Lash on the flags. If you want a flag or flags to fly from the top of the tower, lash the flagpole(s) to the top of each tower legs using a couple of tight round lashings.
Anchors and guylines. When all the lashings are done, move the tower to where it will be hoisted. Before actually hoisting the tower, lay out the position of the four legs on the ground. Then determine where the four anchors for the guylines will be placed to steady the legs of the tower.
Using the pioneering stakes, build four 1-1 anchors. Each should extend 16 feet, 45° out from the leg.
NOTE: Make sure the flags are unfurled before hoisting the tower.
Hoisting the tower. You’ll need a whole crew to do the hoisting. Get ready to hoist the tower by delegating the following:
One signal caller who tells the crew members when and how fast to pull on the ropes.
One safety officer who observes for all safety considerations and signs of trouble during the hoisting.
Four Scouts to serve as “Lifters” to lift the top 6′ support spar that’s on the ground. Their job is to first left and then push the tower up.
Two Scouts, one on each of the 2 guylines attached to the legs, to make sure the tower isn’t over pulled and topples over
Four “Pullers” who will use the two guylines as hoisting ropes to pull the tower until it is standing
When everyone is in position, the signal caller should direct the Scouts on the hoisting ropes (the pullers) to hoist the tower into position, while the lifters start lifting. Care should be exercised not to over pull the tower.
As soon as the tower is standing, four Scouts should temporarily tie the guylines to the anchors using a roundturn with two half hitches.
Heeling the tower. If the tower is uneven, you can heel the the butt ends of the legs 4 to 6 inches deep as needed to make it more level.
Tighten the guylines. As soon as the tower is in position, go to each of the anchors and untie the Roundturn with Two Half Hitches and replace it with a rope tackle. Use the rope tackles to hold the tower steady, by gradually applying strain to each of the four guylines at the same time. Do this by tying a butterfly knot in each guyline about 6 to 8 feet from the anchor. Then wrap the running end of the guyline around the forward stake of the anchor and back through the loop in the butterfly knot. When rope tackles are tied to all four anchors, gradually tighten the lines. Apply enough strain to each of the guylines to hold the tower firm and in a vertical position. Then tie off the rope tackles and secure the running ends with half hitches.
The following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:
Before you begin learning new knots, you need to know some of the basic terms used in knot tying. You should become familiar with these terms and use them as you learn how to tie the various knots.
Running end and standing part. These are two of the most common terms used in knot tying. The running end is the end of the rope that is used to tie the knot. This end is sometimes referred to as the working end. The rest of the rope is the standing part.
Overhand loop. An overhand loop is formed when a loop is made so that the running end of the rope is on top of the standing part. It can be formed anywhere along the standing part of the rope in the same fashion.
Underhand loop. And underhand loop is formed when the running end of the rope is placed under the standing part of the rope.
Bight. A bight is formed by doubling back a length of the rope against itself to form a U.
This can be done with the running end (as shown on the left), or anywhere along the standing part (as shown in the middle). Bights can vary from a few inches to a few feet in length. A bight doesn’t have to have a sharp bend. It can be “open” (as shown on the right). In this case, the running end of the rope is alongside the standing part of the rope, but is not crossed over (which would form and overhand or underhand loop).
Take a turn. The term take a turn means to wrap a rope around a spar or stake so it continues off in the same direction. The friction this creates will give you a grip on the stake or spar that will help you hold the strain on the line. It also gives better control in taking up or letting out a line.
Roundturn. To make a roundturn, wrap the rope completely around a spar and bring the running end back along the standing part of the rope. A roundturn gives you even more grip in holding the strain on a line, and is the basis for tying several knots, as when making a Roundturn with Two Half Hitches.
Bend – A bend is a knot used to join two lengths of rope.
Bight – A bight has two meanings in knotting. It can mean either any central part of a rope (between the standing end and the working end) or an arc in a rope that is at least as wide as a semicircle. In either case, a bight is a length of rope that does not cross itself. Knots that can be tied without use of the working end are called knots on the bight.
Binding Knot – Binding knots are knots that either constrict a single object or hold two objects snugly together. Whippings, seizings and lashings serve a similar purpose to binding knots, but contain too many wraps to be properly called a knot. In binding knots, the ends of rope are either joined together or tucked under the turns of the knot.
Capsizing – A knot that has capsized has deformed into a different structure. Although capsizing is sometimes the result of incorrect tying or misuse, it can also be done purposefully in certain cases to strengthen the knot
Decorative Knot – A decorative knot is any aesthetically pleasing knot. Although it is not necessarily the case, most decorative knots also have practical applications or were derived from other well-known knots. Decorative knotting is one of the oldest and most widely distributed folk art.
Dressing – Knot dressing is the process of arranging a knot in such a way as to improve its performance. Crossing or uncrossing the rope in a specific way, depending on the knot, can increase the knot’s strength as well as reduce its jamming potential.
Elbow – An elbow refers to any two nearby crossings of a rope. An elbow is created when an additional twist is made in a loop. An example is when tying a Butterfly Knot.
Flake – A flake refers to any number of turns in a coiled rope. Likewise, to flake a rope means to coil it.
Frap – Fraps are a set of loops coiled perpendicularly around the wraps of a lashing as a means of tightening.
Friction Hitch – A friction hitch is a knot that attaches one rope to another in a way that allows the knot’s position to easily be adjusted. Sometimes friction hitches are called slide-and-grip knots. They are often used in climbing applications. Good examples of a friction hitch are the Rolling Hitch and Prusik.
Hitch – A hitch is a knot that attaches a rope to some object, often a ring, rail, spar, or post.
Jamming – A jamming knot is any knot that becomes very difficult to untie after use. Knots that are resistant to jamming are called non-jamming knots.
Lashing – A lashing is an arrangement of rope used to secure two or more items together in a rigid manner.
Loop – A loop is one of the fundamental structures used to tie knots. It is a full circle formed by passing the working end of a rope over itself.
Loop Knot – A loop knot is the type of knot that forms a fixed loop. It is created either when the end of a rope is fastened to its own standing part or when a loop in the bight of a rope is knotted. Unlike a hitch, a loop knot creates a fixed loop in a rope that maintains its structure regardless of whether or not it is fastened to an object. In other words, a loop knot can be removed from an object without losing its shape.
Noose – A noose can refer to any sliding loop in which the loop tightens when pulled.Open Loop – An open loop is a curve in a rope that resembles a semicircle in which the legs are not touching or crossed. The legs of an open loop are brought together narrower than they are in a bight.Seizing – A seizing is a knot that binds two pieces of rope together side by side, normally in order to create a loop. The structure of seizings is similar to that of lashings.
Setting – Setting a knot is the process of tightening it. Improper setting can cause certain knots to underperform.
Slipped Knot – A slipped knot is any knot that unties when an end is pulled. Thus, tying the slipped form of a knot makes it easier to untie, especially when the knot is prone to jamming.
Splice – Splicing rope is a method of joining two ropes done by untwisting and then re-weaving the rope’s strands.
Standing End – The standing end (or standing part) of a rope is the part not active in knot tying. It is the part opposite of the working end.
Stopper Knot – A stopper knot is the type of knot tied to prevent a rope slipping through a grommet or as a temporary whipping.
Whipping – A whipping is a binding knot tied around the end of a rope to prevent the rope from unraveling.
Working End – The working end (or working part) of a rope is the part active in knot tying. It is the part opposite of the standing end. (Working End is another name for Running End.)