The Scout

Yesterday at lunch an employee of mine told me that all four of his children, all under the age of ten, each had their own IPad. Yep… that’s what I said too! “That’s NUTS!” He put his hands on his hips and looked at me like I was 100 years old and said “You know… it’s not just something to play with. It teaches them stuff too. How to solve problems, how to fix things…” But his voice faded into the background as I thought back to a time when my father gave me a gift that probably elicited a similar reaction. The Scout.

I was 10 years old when my dad gave me the small, green, 4-wheel-drive jeep type pick up truck made by International Harvester. It was good enough to drive in the woods but not legal to drive on the highway. Since I was in elementary school, this described me as well, so we were a perfect fit.

For the next few years I would drive the Scout around and around and around a self-made off road racetrack in the woods next to my parents hardware store on Old 41 (where Stan’s Subs and the Literacy Council are now), until the Scout would break down, catch on fire or get stuck. When it broke down, I would fix it myself, replacing broken axels, springs, the clutch, or whatever else was wrong… learning by doing. When I got it stuck or flipped it over on its side, I would work by myself with a shovel, scrap boards and a car jack for as long as it took to get it moving again. Although at the time I thought I was just having fun, I was actually learning valuable lessons in problem solving, the laws of physics and mechanical engineering, as well as building self reliance and confidence.

It also fed the inventive side of me, like when I attached a snorkel to the Scout, which allowed me to drive it under water when my buddies and I traveled in the swamps east of Bonita. The Scout would bubble along quietly while our grinning disembodied heads glided along the surface of the dark brown swamp water. But, being a preteen boy, I was also inspired to engage in some rather questionable creative behavior (don’t try this at home!) like towing one of my buddies little brothers behind the Scout on a piece of plywood.

In all fairness, I have to give a great deal of credit for this idea to my friend Billy. (You’re welcome Billy!) He came up with the idea and also supplied his little brother Danny as a test pilot for what he believed would be a new sport. Amazingly, while his big brother sat in the back of the Scout as spotter, little Danny managed to stay on his wooden sled, tied onto the back of the Scout with a thirty foot long rope, for over a minute before it plowed through a palmetto patch at twenty miles an hour and became airborne. When Billy saw his screaming little brother flying through the air clutching the piece of plywood, he realized that he had just invented the sport of parasailing, and in his excitement yelled WHOA! Now, I thought that WHOA meant stop, so I slammed on the brakes, which caused little Danny to make a perfect crash landing into the back of Scout on top of his brother. (Let’s see you do that with an IPad!) I thought this was hilarious… until the plywood came smashing through the Scouts back window. And although we had broken the window and possibly a couple of laws, I have to point out that we did not break Danny… at least physically. To his credit, Billy’s little brother never squealed on us. So to show our gratitude we let him ride inside the Scout… most of the time.

I’m not sure that my father intended the Scout to be a teaching aid, but as I type this story on my IPad… I do remember him nodding his head and smiling as he watched me crawl out from under the hood, turn the ignition key and bring the Scout back to life, one more time. Thanks Dad.

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