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.
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.
Some special quotes by JOHN THURMAN, Camp Chief, Gilwell Park from 1943-1969 pertaining to pioneering in the Boy Scouts:
“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, generally speaking, Scouts 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.”
“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.'”
“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.”
The well-known, time-tested, traditional Monkey Bridge is perhaps the most familiar of all Scout pioneering projects. It’s frequently featured at Scout Expos, Camporees, Scout Camps, and is often a central attraction at public gatherings where Scouting is represented.
The following instructions and guidelines are provided by Adolph Peschke, taken from the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:
Using a double A-frame to build a monkey bridge is a departure from the usual X-frame that supports the foot rope and hand ropes. This new method has two distinct advantages over the X- frame version. First, the double A-frame provides a wider base making it less likely to tip over. The second advantage is that the positions of the A-frames can be adjusted so the span between the hand ropes can be narrowed for better balance as you make the crossing.
Building the A-frames. The first step in building the monkey bridge is to build four A-frames using the 8-foot spars for the two legs, and 6-foot spars for the ledger. Lay out the first set of three spars (two legs and one ledger) on the ground in position for lashing. Before lashing, drive three stakes, as follows, to help you make all four A-frames the same size: Drive a stake at the top to mark where the leg spars cross. Then drive stakes to mark the positions of where the bottom ledger crosses the legs. This will also indicate how far the legs are spread apart. Now you can lash the four A-frames together, laying them out one at a time using the stakes. Remember that all three lashings on the A-frames are square lashings, even though the spars cross at less than 90˚ angle.
Double A-frame. When you have four A-frames, you can lash two of them together to form a double A-frame. (see figure 140). Lay one A-frame on the ground and then put another on top of it so that the bottom ledgers overlap one-half their length (approximately 3 feet). The first step in lashing the A-frames together is to go up where the two legs cross (the X formed by one leg from each A-frame). Then with a good tight square lashing, lash the two legs together.
Note: The point where these two legs are lashed together is where the foot rope will rest. You can adjust the overlap of the two A-frames to adjust how high the foot rope will be off the ground. Also note where the tops of the A-frames are, because this is where the hand ropes will be. To complete the double A-frame, stand it up so the butt ends of all four legs rest solidly on level ground. Lash the two bottom ledgers together where they overlap with three strop lashings. Now repeat the entire process to build the second double A-frame.
Site preparation. Before you can erect the double A-frames, you need to prepare the site. Begin by stretching a length of binder twine along the center line of where the monkey bridge is to be built. Working from the center, measure 10 feet toward each end to mark where the A-frames are to be placed. They should be 20 feet apart. Then mark out another 10′ from each A-frame to where the anchors are to be built.
Note: These dimensions are for building a bridge with a 20-foot span. This is the maximum span for a bridge using a 50-foot rope. The extra 30 feet of rope is needed to have 15 feet of rope at each end for the proper distance from the A-frames to the anchors (10 feet) and for the knots at the anchors (5 feet).
Build the anchors. The foot rope will be attached to anchors at both ends. Before erecting the double A-frames, build a 3-2-1 anchor, or a log and stake anchor, 10 feet from where the A-frames will be erected (see figure 141).
Rope grommet. After the anchors are built, attach a rope grommet with a ring or shackle in it. (You can make the rope grommet with a 10-foot length of 1/2-inch diameter polypropylene rope. Tie the ends together using a carrick bend, and permanently secure the ends with some strong twine).
Position the A-frames. Prepare to erect the monkey bridge by moving the A-frames into position no more than 20 feet apart. Lay them down on the binder twine that marks the center line of the bridge.
Hand and foot ropes. Now you can prepare the foot and hand ropes for the monkey bridge. Lay the foot rope in a straight line off to the side of where the A-frames are laying. Then lay the two hand ropes on the ground next to each other so they’re parallel to the foot rope and 42 inches away.
Stringer ropes. Now you can add the stringer ropes that will go from the foot rope to the hand ropes. Start by tying the center of an 8-foot long stringer rope (use 1/4-inch manila rope) at the center of the foot rope, using a clove hitch. The stringer rope is tied around the foot rope so that both ends are 4 feet long. Add two more stringer ropes on both sides of the center stringer rope (so there are five stringer ropes in all), tying them about 4 feet apart. Tie one end of each stringer rope to one of the hand ropes, again using a clove hitch. Then do the same with the other ends of the stringer ropes, attaching them to the other hand rope.
Assemble the bridge. You’re just about ready to assemble the bridge. First place a piece of heavy canvas (called a “saddle”) in the V formed by both double A-frames. This will protect the foot rope and allow it to slide a little in the V without interfering with the lashing rope.
Now get the crew together to erect the bridge. You will need a safety officer to watch for any problems that might occur, and a signal caller to tell the crew members what to do. You will need two Scouts to lift and hold each double A-frame in place, two more Scouts to lift the foot rope into the V of the double A-frames, and two more Scouts to lift the two hand ropes into place at the tops of the A-frames. Lift everything into place. Then, holding the A-frames steady, temporarily tie the hand and foot ropes into the rings of the grommets using a roundturn and two half hitches (see figure 142).
Tighten the foot rope. Now you can put a strain on the foot rope. It’s not necessary to use block and tackle since this will put too much strain on the lashings, anchors, and the foot rope itself when there is a load on the bridge.* Whatever strain three or four Scouts can put on the foot rope by pulling it by hand will be enough. As soon as the bridge is used a few times, there will be a sag in the rope. This is fine because it means that you are working with reduced strain on the foot rope as a safety measure.
Tighten the hand ropes. Next, tie the hand ropes to the top ends of the A-frames. First, loosen one end at a time from the anchors. Then, use a clove hitch to tie the hand rope to the top end of the leg of the double A-frame. As you’re tying these clove hitches, adjust the strain on the sections of the hand ropes between the double A-frames to match the sag of the foot rope. Also, adjust the length of the stringer ropes so there is even strain between the foot rope and both hand ropes. After the hand ropes are tied to the tops of the A-frames, move down and retie the ends of the hand ropes to the rings in the grommets using a roundturn and two half hitches.
Final testing. With caution, one crew member can get on the bridge as all lashings, anchors, and knots are observed by the safety officer and all other crew members. Make adjustments as required. Then secure the running ends of the hand ropes and foot rope with a piece of cord. Safe operation calls for only one Scout to be on the foot rope of the monkey bridge at a time.
LIST OF MATERIALS FOR DOUBLE A-FRAME MONKEY BRIDGE
eight 4-inch x 8-foot A-frame legs
four 3-inch x 6-foot ledgers
fourteen 1/4-inch x 15-foot lashing ropes for Square Lashings
one 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch x 50-foot rope
two 1/2-inch x 50-foot hand ropes
five 1/4-inch x 8-foot stringer ropes
six 1/4-inch x 10-foot lashing ropes for Strop Lashings
six pioneering stakes for each 3-2-1 anchor
eight pioneering stakes for each log-and-stake anchor
one 5-inch x 4-foot spar for log-and-stake anchor
two 1/2-inch x 10-foot polypropylene ropes for rope grommets
two pieces of scrap canvas for foot rope saddle
binder twine for anchor tieback straps
* It has been found that a rope tackle in the foot rope at each end (not a block and tackle) tightened by one Scout is an excellent procedure to maintain the optimum foot rope tension, and an easy-to-use remedy for too much sagging due to repeated, heavy use and over stretching. There are other configurations used to initially tighten and keep the hand and foot ropes at the optimum tension during use, depending on the weight the bridge must withstand and the amount of traffic it will bear.