Tag Archives: Pioneering for Scouts

1974 Pioneering Pamphlet Revision with Some Vintage Action Photos!

Though there have been some changes and modifications through the years, in most respects, pioneering in the Boy Scouts remains constant. Why Pioneering!

The following text has been extracted from the Introduction to the 1981 Printing of the 1974 Revision of the BSA Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet. Most of the action photos have been scanned from the Pioneering Projects section. (Many are also featured in the GREAT 1976 printing of  the 1967 revision of the Boy Scout Field Book.)

Crossing a Stream on an X-frame Monkey Bridge!
Crossing a Stream on an X-frame Monkey Bridge!

Remember Robinson Crusoe? He was the guy who was shipwrecked on a desert isle and managed to survive. Of course he was lucky—he salvaged a lot of useful equipment. But his story makes you wonder what you’d do if the same thing happened to you.

Have you ever thought what you’d like to have if you found yourself all alone in a wilderness with no chance of escape? So let’s make the problem easier—you can choose just one item, one “tool,” to take with you.

Interlocking the Trestles on an Single Lock Bridge!
Interlocking the Trestles on a Single Lock Bridge!

Only one tool? Impossible, you may think. The guys who have this merit badge would be very likely to choose rope. For with it anyone skilled in the outdoor arts of pioneering can build many useful things.

It’s one of the oldest tools we know. Thousands of years ago, primitive men twisted vines or plant fibers to make rope that they used to attach handles to their simple tools. Ropes were used in building the pyramids.

Lashing on Walkway Cross Spars!
Lashing on Walkway Cross Spars!

In Central and South America, Indian tribes were crossing deep valleys on rope suspension bridges long before the first explorers arrived from Europe. And with the help of rope our own pioneers could, when they had to, build a temporary bridge that would enable woman and children to cross a stream safely. They could build a raft to carry a winter’s catch of fur to market.

Take a look at this pamphlet, and you’ll discover why rope would be a good “tool” to have in the wilderness. Everyone of the requirements depends on rope. Pioneering, in the Scout sense, means being able to construct a great variety of things with poles and rope. In order to build a bridge without nails or a tower without bolts, the builder needs ropes—plus the knowledge of how to use them. Most pioneering is concerned with lashing poles together to make something—usually temporary—that makes living in the outdoors a little easier.

In pioneering, the use of knots and lashings is of supreme importance. A wrong knot, an insecure lashing, or a weak rope could lead to disaster. Did you know, for example, that tying a Bowline in a rope cuts its efficiency by 40%? And that a Square Knot reduces the rope’s efficiency by 50%? Which means that it’s only half as strong as an unknotted rope. Knots, turns, and hitches weaken a rope by forming a bend that distributes the load on the fibers unequally.

Lashing on Walkway Floor Spars.
Lashing on Walkway Floor Spars.

All this knowledge comes in handy in pioneering—but our wilderness has shrunk so much that the average troop no longer can go into the woods and cut the trees needed for building a rope-lashed tower. However, there are isolated areas where Scouts might get permission to clear out some trees, and the thinning might make the ones left standing grow better. A troop that can acquire poles this way should keep them perhaps on a campsite—and use them over and over.

Lashing Together a 24' Signal Tower Side!
Lashing Together a 24′ Signal Tower Side!

Most often the best bet for anyone who wants to learn pioneering is summer camp. Here there will be the poles, the ropes, and—just as important—someone with the skills to teach you how to make Square Lashings, Diagonal Lashings, and Shear Lashings. Ever hear of a parbuckle? Can you tie the required 10 knots and explain their use? The best way to learn is by observing someone who already knows.

Our pioneers were good at improvising. They had to be. Without being able to improvise they never could have settled the wilderness., built bridges and houses, and turned it into the comfortable communities we live in today. Scouts who want to try their hands at pioneering will learn to improvise—and will be using some basic engineering principles that still have plenty of applications.

Hoisting a 24' Signal Tower!
Hoisting a 24′ Signal Tower!

For example, engineers working in mountainous areas often use rope conveyers in preference to rigid railways. The aerial cableway used in the construction of the Hoover Dam in Colorado consisted of six steel-wire ropes crossing a 1,256-foot span. The “bucket” or carriage they supported could carry 150 tones of excavated material away from the site at one time or bring in the same amount of concrete from the mixing plant.

Tightening the Lashings on a 24' Signal Tower
Tightening the Lashings on a 24′ Signal Tower!

You need not wait until you get to summer camp to begin your own pioneering. Even in a big city, you can learn to tie the knots and find out the best applications for each. Learn how to make Eye, End, and Short splices. And learn how to make lashings by building scale models. A scale of 1 inch to 1 foot is convenient and easy to use: This means that a tower 24 feet tall will scale down to 24 inches in your model.

Pioneering merit badge is not one of those required for Eagle. But in a time when most people have no understanding of what our ancestors had to know to live in the wilderness, pioneering is a cultural tie with the past, an emergency skill worth learning, and a real test of your cooperative spirit. The patrol or troop has to work together as a team, and learning the give-and-take in carrying out a construction project is as important as learning the technical skills of pioneering.

Introduction to Pioneering

Link to: Older Pamphlet Info.The following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:

Pioneering is the knowledge and skill of using simple materials to build structures that are used in a wide range of Scouting activities. These skills are sometimes referred to as “backwoods engineering.”

Down through the ages, people have used ropes, spars, and simple hardware to build bridges, towers, and even their own shelters. In the early development of our country, pioneering methods were used in mining and transportation, to clear the wilderness, and to build roads and bridges. So it is understandable that the term “backwoods engineering” was applied.

The same skills can be used by Scouts to build pioneering projects ranging in complexity from a simple camp gadget to a signal tower.

Whatever the project, the same applied principles of physics, geometry, and math are used to build pioneering projects and structures. But, keep in mind that all the information (in this pamphlet*) is eventually used for a practical, hands-on application—that is, to build something.

Pioneering is a good foundation for many Scouting activities. You must learn, and then use, such disciplines as planning ahead and teamwork. You can also put to use the basic skills learned in rank advancement, such as knot tying.

But most of all, pioneering provides a practical way to experience the joy of accomplishment when you’ve built something that is needed for yourself or others; it can be something that makes living in camp easier and more comfortable. Pioneering can be both fun and challenging when you use your skill and knowledge to choose the right materials (ropes and spars) and build a usable structure.

The basics of pioneering, such as tying knots, making lashings, using rope tackle, constructing anchors, and basic rope knowledge can be done at home. The projects and structures (shown in this pamphlet**) can usually be constructed with materials available at summer camp or at council camping events.

* SAFE PIONEERING

* ROPE-TOSS-LOG-LIFT CHALLENGE

ROPE FOR PIONEERING AND CAMP USE

KNOT-TYING TERMINOLOGY

TIMBER HITCH

ROUNDTURN WITH TWO HALF HITCHES

ROLLING HITCH

BUTTERFLY KNOT

CARRICK BEND

CONSTRICTOR KNOT

WATER KNOT

PIPE HITCH

PRUSIK

SPLICING ROPE

* MAKING ROPE

WHIPPING

ANCHORING PIONEERING PROJECTS

ROPE TACKLE

LASHING

JAPANESE MARK II SQUARE LASHING

MAKING A TRESTLE

BRIDGE WALKWAYS

PIONEERING PROJECTS

** SINGLE TRESTLE BRIDGE

** SINGLE LOCK BRIDGE

** SINGLE A-FRAME BRIDGE

** 14′ DOUBLE LADDER SIGNAL TOWER

** DOUBLE A-FRAME MONKEY BRIDGE

PIONEERING KIT

 

Pioneering Projects

Author: Adolph PeschkeThe following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:

PIONEERING PROJECTS

The craft of building with ropes and spars continues in remote areas throughout the world today. Scouts can apply the skills of knot tying and lashing to build pioneering structures that are needed to make living in camp a little more comfortable. Whether you build a simple gadget, or a bridge to provide a shortcut to the swimming pool, pioneering can be rewarding and fun.

The pioneering projects shown here, along with the suggested sizes and lengths of spars, are intended for building “boy-size” structures; that is, projects that can be built by boys of Boy Scout age.

You don’t have to build a huge tower to learn the skills and enjoy the fun of pioneering. These projects are designed so that you can build them in a few hours with a minimum of equipment and supplies. Yet, you will still learn how the basic pioneering skills of knot tying and lashing must work together with the design of a structure to produce a sound, safe pioneering project.

Building these projects will be much easier if you put together a pioneering kit first. The success of any project is directly related to the planning and preparation you put into the project from the beginning.

Here are some things to take into consideration before you build a pioneering project:

  • Decide on the type of project you want to build. Take into consideration the equipment, the number of people needed, and the time required to build it.
  • Check the site where the project is going to be built. Collect all the information that you will need when building the project. For example, are there any natural anchors for guylines? How wide and deep is the creek where a bridge is to be built?
  • Make a rough sketch of the project or work from an approved plan drawing. Along with the sketch, have a list of equipment that includes all the equipment you’ll need. You don’t want to start a project and later learn you need something you don’t have.
  • Select the necessary spars you’ll need for the project, making sure that you have enough spars with the proper butt diameter and length to build a safe project.
  • Determine the size and lengths of all the ropes needed for lashings, guylines, etc.
  • Before you start building, determine if the project can be divided into subassemblies for ease of lashing and erecting. Assign crew members and a crew leader to each of the sub assemblies, based on skill level and experience.
  • Go over the plans with all the crew members. Assign only one person to give signals when raising all or part of the structure.
  • As you’re building the project, frequently check the progress to make sure it is being done with safety in mind.

A word about the appearance of the project: Part of the skill in building with ropes and spars is to select the spars that are best suited to the structure. In some situations, the supply of spars might be limited.

It is not necessary for your project to be picture perfect, but rather that it is structurally sound. If one or two spars are a bit longer than required, that’s fine as long as the lashings are in the proper location for strength and the diameter of the spars will carry the load applied.

Try to avoid cutting off the ends of spars and ropes just to fit a certain project, especially if you’re working with spars from a pioneering kit. The next crew might want to build a different project and could use the spars and ropes at the original lengths.

The spars used for a pioneering project should have the bark removed for two reasons. Bark beetles and other boring insects can seriously decrease a spar’s strength, and inspection is easier with the bark removed. Also, if the project racks, the bark under the lashing can be loosened, which in turn makes the lashing loose and adds to the possibility of making the whole project wobbly and unsafe. (And, bark under a lashing can be rubbed off in the process of setting up a project.)

Note: Any pioneering structure that is to be a permanent camp improvement should not be left with only lashings. It needs to be bolted together for safety and maintenance.

Why Pioneering!

John Thurman
John Thurman

Some special quotes by JOHN THURMAN, Camp Chief, Gilwell Park from 1943-1969 pertaining to pioneering in the Boy Scouts:

Because It’s FUN!

There are few activities which, properly presented, have a greater appeal to the Scout and Senior Scout than Pioneering and ever since the introduction of Wood Badge training, Pioneering has been given a full share in the programme of Scouters’ training. In the summer months when Scouters at Gilwell are building bridges, towers, and rafts, and boys are in camp it has been all too common to hear from the boys such remarks as, ‘I wish we did that in our Troop’ or ‘We never do anything like that’.”


Why Pioneering? To me the over-riding reason for presenting Pioneering is that boys like it. Some years ago we started providing simple equipment which Troops in camp at Gilwell can use. The demand is insatiable. Year by year we add more, but we never provide enough; because as one Troop sees another using the equipment and building a bridge they want to try it also and the desire to do Pioneering spreads like a contagious disease throughout the camp.

“But there are reasons for Pioneering other than the fact that boys like doing it. B.-P. wrote: “I am inclined to suggest to Scouters that in addition to the technical details of knotting, lashing, and anchorages, there is an educative value in Pioneering since it gives elementary training in stresses, mensuration, etc., and it also develops initiative and resourcefulness to use local material. Additionally, it gives practice in team work and discipline.’ In other words, Pioneering is practical and character building: the two essential ingredients of any programme material for Scouts.”

These projects are all built by troops in the Northern District in Gauteng, South Africa. This district holds regular inter-troop Pioneering competitions, as well as a Scouter's competition. The above photo shows the winning Scouters from 2008, 1st Athol, in front of their 35ft-span suspension bridge, built in 4.5 hours.
The winning Scouts from 2008, 1st Athol, South Africa, in front of their 35ft-span suspension bridge, built in 4.5 hours.

“The modern cynic may think it is all very old-fashioned but the short answer to this is, ‘Yes, of course it is, but so is breathing and sleeping and other things that mankind has been doing for a long time.’ It does not follow that because an activity has been used for a long time it is out-dated and, in fact, I am prepared to say that there is more interest in Pioneering today than ever before, perhaps because facilities have improved and perhaps because some of us have made an effort to present Pioneering to the Movement in a more imaginative and varied way.

“Quite apart from that, though, Pioneering is not old-fashioned in its purely technical sense. I was showing a Managing Director of a large civil engineering firm round Gilwell when a Wood Badge Course was pioneering near the Bomb Hole. He displayed very great interest in the Pioneering and looked closely at all that was happening. From our point of view there was nothing unusual going on; this was a usual routine exercise with two or three bridges being built, a couple of towers, and a raft. As we walked away my civil engineering friend said, ‘I am delighted that the Scout Movement is still doing this: it is tremendously important. Despite the fact that modern machinery and equipment is magnificent there often comes a time when a man has to use ingenuity and improvise in order to move the job forward and the engineer who has the spirit that your kind of training produces is the man we want in our business.'”


And, relevant to this endeavor:

“I hope that Districts will more and more accept responsibility for making pioneering equipment available to be borrowed or hired by any troop. The more expensive things become the more necessary to work on a communal basis, and the Scout community is the Scout District. I know the problems—somewhere to store the gear and someone to look after it, but these are problems which a live District can overcome if real determination is there to give Scouts pioneering practice, and I am satisfied that it comes high in the list of things Scouts want to do. Determination remains the enduring answer to most problems.”