I had been a scout as a kid, but I had never been a scout leader until I was asked to be a wolf den leader when I was over 60, retired, and had the time. This was a church job, and I have never turned down a church job, so I jumped right in. The challenge was that eight-year-old boys have an attention span of about ten minutes, and I needed to keep them busy for an hour. In an effort to get organized, I researched possible indoor and outdoor activities and possible field trips, and I developed a spreadsheet showing each week’s planned activities with the materials needed. I arranged off-site visits to a fire station and the library and arranged for mountain hikes and swimming parties in our pool. Carpentry and other craft activities were great for winter indoor activities. One week I arranged for a good friend, Val Paulsen, a building contractor, to help the boys build tool boxes from pre-cut and pre-drilled stock. The boys loved that activity, although they needed a lot of guidance.
I learned to loved those boys and looked forward to each week’s meeting. The boys loved the activities, and I believe were fond of me, as well. They enjoyed the swimming parties at our pool. I invited the boys’ mothers and their other children as well. I enjoyed sitting and talking with the mothers while the boys swam. For lunch, I employed my well-honed skills at grilling hot dogs, and the mothers brought side dishes.
At least two adults are required at every scouting function, and after a couple of years, my male co-leader was replaced by a woman. I expressed my concerned about the appearance of my sharing the leadership position with a woman, so I was released, only to be called to the position of Scout Committee Chairman. The Bishop said I had done too good a job as den leader.
About that time, Val Paulsen, who helped the boys build tool boxes, was asked by the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America to organize a “Jamboral.” This is an overnight event for the entire Great Salt Lake Council held once every 3-4 years for about 14,000 boys and leaders. There are mostly outdoor and a few indoor activities for the boys, including obstacle courses, mud races, running races, bridge building, and a midway with space for over a hundred booths.
This Jamboral was to be held at the Deseret Peak Complex just west of Tooele, Utah, in September 2013. This complex has a lighted, state-of-the-art BMX (bicycle motocross) track, offering an opportunity for BMX, which is seldom included at a Jamboral. Val Paulsen knew I was a former BMX racer, and he asked me to put together a BMX activity as part of the Jamboral.
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BMX is something I got into when I encouraged my sons to get into it. My older son Jason raced motorcycles and had suffered a bad break in his arm from an accident during a motocross practice back in the early 1990s. Since his motorcycle was only about a month old and he was probably out for the season, I suggested he sell it while it was still new and he could get a good price for it. After his arm healed, I recommended racing bicycles instead of motorcycles. Bicycles are much lighter when you crash and they land on you and they don’t go nearly as fast as motorcycles.
Several years before when Jason was in high school, he was considering helping a friend mow lawns for a summer job, but I suggested he work where he could learn something more useful such as a bicycle shop. He took my advice and got a job at a local bicycle shop and eventually put together a very good mountain bike out of spare parts from the shop.
Jason took me up on my suggestion to race bicycles and resurrected an old BMX bike I gave him for Christmas about ten years earlier. He began racing and his younger brother eventually followed suit. They both took to BMX eagerly and soon became top racers in their classes. He, his younger brother Michael, and I began going to BMX races together. Someone described a BMX event as “five minutes of fun crammed into three days.” I began to race in the 50 and over age group just to pass the time. I made a lot of friends locally and several others whom I regularly saw at the national races around the United States. We attended races from Boston to San Diego, and we always went to the Grand Nationals in Oklahoma every Thanksgiving weekend. I always looked forward to it. I also raced in Japan on one occasion. BMX gave me some quality time with my two sons, Jason and Michael.
BMX is categorized by age and gender, which makes it a family activity, but the women in our family did not have any interest in BMX. I have two daughters, but my oldest daughter Amy was not available because she was doing a surgical residency in Washington D.C. What fell through the cracks, however, was spending time with my youngest daughter Julie. I missed out on spending that kind of time with her, but she had no interest in BMX. As far as my wife Nancy was concerned, I had not been her significant other since Michael was born. She had her life and I had mine. We only went places together when she needed a husband for window dressing.
As one thing led to another and my interest in BMX grew, before I knew it, I was fourth in the nation in my age group, I was sponsoring a BMX racing team, and paying salaries to professional racers. I eventually purchased a BMX bicycle manufacturing company, Staats Bikes, from Steve Staats, a California aerospace executive. Steve had a son who raced BMX, so he had his aerospace engineers design a BMX bike. They researched the tubing options available and the best design for a BMX bike and came up with a bike that was the number one bike for the American Bicycle Association for several years running. His daughter was running the business for the most part, and Staats Bikes had been providing our team with bikes when, tragically, his daughter was killed in an automobile accident coming home from a BMX race in Reno. Steve Staats wanted out of the bicycle business, so at Jason’s urging, I wrote Steve Staats a check for his company, including inventory. Jason had been working for our computer consulting company, but I don’t think his heart was in it, so I gave him Staats Bikes to do with what he could. He had a business degree from the University of Utah and he loved bikes, so I figured it was a good match.
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I had never been to an event like a Jamboral, and I needed a plan. I went back to spreadsheets to design a series of clinics to teach the fundamentals of BMX to as many boys as possible. I would need BMX bikes and helmets for each boy. The track had a hydraulic starting gate with eight positions as good as any used in national races, but I needed someone who could operate it. I was hoping to get help from some bicycle shops that sold BMX bikes. I figured if we could gather enough equipment for two or three gate drops of eight riders each, we could keep continuous races going. We also needed volunteers to help manage the track, give basic instruction to the riders who had never raced BMX before, make announcements, help repair bicycles, and get the track in shape.
We had about 6-8 months’ lead time to put it all together. The track was lighted, and we planned on racing from 5 pm to 11 pm on Friday and from 8 am to noon on Saturday.
We began having meetings, some at Val’s house for the eight to ten key people and some at the Council’s headquarters near the University of Utah for everyone involved. We held breakout sessions at the Council meetings for leaders throughout the Great Salt Lake Council who were given responsibilities for each major function. The attendance for the BMX sessions was depressing. At most, I had three people show up. I gave them handouts and we discussed what was needed, but the follow-through was dismal. I had no way of knowing what any of the leaders who had attended the BMX breakout sessions were doing since there was no system established for feedback. One guy said he would contact the bike shops north of Salt Lake so I would contact the rest. I created a flier and visited most of the bike shops in Salt Lake City.
I also corresponded with the American Bicycle Association(ABA) which manages the BMX racing in Utah. The ABA wanted to support us, but the event was being held on the same weekend as a national race in California. One of their local BMX race tracks is Rad Canyon, a Salt Lake County facility at about 5400 West on the Old Bingham Highway. I knew many racers and track managers at Rad Canyon from my BMX days and tried to get them interested enough to offer support, but due to the race in California, the serious riders would not be available. I asked to have some fliers posted at the track with information on the event and instructions to contact me if there was any interest, but I got no response. I spent several evenings at Rad Canyon during practice sessions and races trying to speak with anyone who could authorize a booth or some other kind of representation of Rad Canyon at the Jamboral, but I was ignored.
My best support from bike shops was from Canyon Bicycles in Draper, The Bicycle Collective in Salt Lake City, and Salt Cycles in Sandy. Canyon Bicycles let me borrow a couple of bikes and made sure they were running in top condition. Salt Cycles helped me with supplies such as tires, tubes, and other spare parts. I was able to buy what I needed at their cost or below. I had a connection with Salt Cycles. It had been the “Staats Bikes” store that my son Jason operated as part of the Staats Bicycles operation. Jason sold the store to one of the guys who worked for him when Jason received an offer to be the BMX product manager for GT Bicycles in Connecticut.
Most of the bicycles for the Jamboral came from The Bicycle Collective on Main Street and about 2300 South in Salt Lake. They solicit donations of old bicycles and hold training sessions on how to service and repair them. They loaned me about ten bicycles and some helmets, but the bikes all needed a lot of work; that is where the tires, tubes, and other spare parts from Salt Cycles came in handy. I got more helmets from Lake Town Bicycles in West Jordan.
I visited the Deseret Peak Complex in midsummer and found that the track had not been used at all this season and maybe not for several seasons. The track was covered with weeds and was going to need a lot of work. The problems with the economy had caused Tooele County to lay off all the Deseret Peaks staff expect for one part-time guy. The starting gate was in a storage building adjacent to the track, and I was told it was in working order. Although I had raced BMX, I had never operated the gate nor been involved in setting one up. I was given the number of the person who had operated it before, but when I called him, he said he was not going to be available. I just figured I could muddle through with that, too.
We were able to get a tractor to cut the weeds and roughly groom the track, and the Wednesday before the event, a crew of scouts and leaders worked on the track with rakes and shovels and got it in good enough shape for racing. However, on Friday, the day of the event, it rained heavily in Tooele County. I went out to the track at 3:00 pm on Friday and found that the rain that morning had left a lake in the middle of the track. BMX racers can’t go through mud, let alone water. I had a real problem. Another scout leader arrived, and we tried to come up with a solution. There was a lower area off the track that we thought could hold the water that was on the track if we could move the water from the track to that lower area. I had a 5-gallon bucket in my truck and he had an ice chest. We began to bail the water. It did not take long for us old guys to wear ourselves out hauling water, so we rolled over a 50-gallon drum to hold the water. Another leader came by and found a hose, and he had the idea of syphoning the water from the drum to the lower area. That seemed to work. Now we could bail the water into the drum without filling it up as the water was being syphoned out. We had to work in bare feet because our shoes kept getting stuck in the mud. We eventually got the water off the track and were left with just the mud.
Val Paulsen came by to see how we were doing, and as we looked at the track, I told him I did not think we could race on that mud. Val found a Bobcat, and more importantly, some dry dirt and began to bring the dry dirt to the track. Val made trip after trip for several hours hauling dry dirt to cover up the mud. As he was hauling the dirt, more volunteers magically began to appear. It was not long until we had about 20 scouts and leaders with rakes and shovels placing Val’s dirt where it was needed on the track and smoothing it out. I did not know where all these people came from, but I was overjoyed with all the bodies. We did not make the 5 pm starting time, but by 8 pm, we had a track ready for racing.
While we were working on the track, more people with BMX experience began to show up who could set up the starting gate and assist with managing the riders. A bike shop from Davis County came, along with a factory racing team they sponsored. They even had people who knew how to operate the gate.
I had forgotten that while filling out forms earlier in the year, I had requested a sound system, and someone showed up with a sound system. We had music and we could make announcements. I set up a canopy I had borrowed from Salt Cycles (with the name of my old company on it) to cover the sound equipment. A few more bikes and helmets showed up, too. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that no one came from Rad Canyon. They are always trying to recruit riders and missed out on an opportunity to introduce themselves to about 1,000 new riders.
I had designed clinics to teach the boys the basics of BMX riding. BMX is not just pedaling over mounds of dirt, but using those mounds of dirt to increase speed. As a rider encounters the front side of the mound, his weight slows him down, but if that rider can jump over the front of the mound and land on the back side, his speed is increased. As gravity pulls him down, the slope of the mound pushes him forward, increasing his speed. Therefore, jumping is a critical part of BMX and is where all the aerial acrobatics of BMX originate. I was too old for bicycle back flips when I began BMXing, but I did understand the basic fundamentals of racing, and I practiced my “bunny hops” regularly. Good BMXers practice sprinting and bunny hopping whenever they get a chance. Some of the racers on the team I sponsored would go down to Pioneer Park and practice “bunny hopping” over men sleeping on the grass in the park. (Maybe I could speak with the Mayor about a program that would encourage bicycle riding while at the same time discourage public intoxication.)
The problem with the clinics is that I assumed I would have some kind of control, but as the scouts wandered up to the track and saw other scouts wearing helmets and riding BMX bikes around the track, they wanted to get on a bike and give it a try and did not want to wait for instruction. I am certainly not a strong disciplinarian, and there were scout leaders at the gate giving advice to the boys as they waited for the gate to drop. With 11,000 boys at the event, the number of boys wanting to ride grew rapidly. The clinics had no chance. There were also too many leaders and too much activity for any one man to control. All we could do was herd the boys toward the track and be sure they had a bike and a helmet. I organized the transfer of bikes and helmets from the riders crossing the finish line to the riders waiting in line for a bike and a helmet. The excitement illuminating the faces of the scouts as they crossed the finish line made all the work far more than worthwhile.
The BMX event seemed to be in good hands. It was getting late and I began to think about something to eat and where I was going to sleep. I had a tent and sleeping bag, but they were still in my truck. It was getting cold, and the good camp sites were taken. Val came to the track to check on how things were going, and he told me where I could get dinner and that there was a room in the main building where I could sleep since I had privileges offered to key personnel. I had some dinner and returned to close down the track. About midnight, I looked for the sleeping room. I saw Val’s wife and she told me where it was—behind a bandstand where a band was still playing to a large crowd. I parked my truck as close as I could to the sleeping room, pumped up my air mattress and carried it, my sleeping bag and a small bag through the crowds into the building. The floor of the room was covered with about 50-60 sleeping bags laid out for other people who had already gone to sleep or were about to go to sleep. I was able to find enough room in one corner to lay down my air mattress. The outside temperature got down into the teens that night, and I was really happy to have my little plot of floor in that warm room. I felt bad for those boys in their tents out in the cold, but not bad enough to keep me awake. After all, camping out in the cold is the kind of training expected for Boy Scouts.
Taking my dirty clothes off (and were they ever dirty) before I climbed into my sleeping bag was tricky in a room full of women and children, but I managed and slept like a baby after I thanked God for the miraculous turn of events since I had arrived ten hours earlier to see the track under water.
The next morning, I found where I could get some breakfast. It was outside in the cold, but it was a good hot breakfast. We did not have many riders until the sun came out and the temperature began to rise, but we were going strong by 8:30 am. A few more bikes and helmets arrived, and we ended up with about 20 bikes and an equal number of helmets for the scouts to use.
At 10:30 am we thought it would be fun to hold some formal races by age group. A bike shop representative offered some promotional items we could use for prizes for the winners. Some young women who were hanging around agreed to record the names of the competing riders, and they announced their names as they arrived at the starting gate. The formal races were a big hit. The Jamboral was officially over at noon, but due to the long line of riders, we did not end until well after 1:00 pm.
We had no way of knowing exactly how many riders rode the track, so I put my math degree to work. The gate with eight riders was dropping every 30 seconds for about 9 hours in total; that figures out to be 8,640 rider gate drops, but many of the riders rode repeatedly, so I think 2,000 scouts would be a conservative number, and at least half of them had never raced BMX before. So we were able to introduce BMX racing to approximately 1,000 scouts. These numbers are wild guesses, but close enough to measure the success of our BMX event. Amazingly, all the bikes and all but one helmet were returned in good condition.
I did not get a chance to check out the other events at the Jamboral, but I was told afterward that the BMX event was the biggest and most popular activity. I can’t take much of the credit for our success; too many people were involved. I wonder how uneventful it would have been if there had been no rain and if I had known in advance how many people would show up to help.