Thursday, June 4, 2020

1994 - That Time I Was An International Arms Dealer For Camp

George (right) and Tom (left) working on Moose (center big green thing).

1994 - That Time I Was An International Arms Dealer For Camp
(40 Summers 40 Lessons Series)

Background - Camp Bluff Lake has been a resident camp for youth for over 70 years. For a portion of that time, the volunteers and staff acquired, restored, and maintained a World War II era half-track that was driven from Glendale, CA to the San Bernardino Mountains where the camp was located. It became a vital piece of equipment that helped the staff and volunteers move equipment, keep roads open, and make its way across the forest service roads in and around the property. In 1994, it threw a track and became inoperable. 

Here is my story:
The phone rang in my office and as I answered, George, our Board Chairperson, immediately exclaimed, “We’ve got ‘em.”
I knew instantly what he was talking about since my return as the Camp Director at Camp Bluff Lake. I had spent most of my teen years at the camp and since a faithful day in my 18th year, it had been my goal to be the director.

George had spent the better part of the previous 3 decades as a key volunteer and was currently the chairperson. We had been searching for tracks for the piece of equipment, affectionately known as “Moose” for the last 7 months since it became clear that one of the tracks had seen its final days. He and his son, Tom, had spent hundreds of hours making sure that Moose would continue to provide a service to those who attended volunteered and worked at the camp.

The camp was situated at the end of a five-mile long forest service dirt road that was essentially closed from December 1 to May 1 most years when the weather was cooperative. Moose had been used to haul fallen trees and the occasional flatlander who ventured to the roads with their lifted new 4x4 as well as many other essential services that no other vehicle could provide.

The call was a result of months of searching and the board had nearly given up all hope that it was even worth pursuing. George, well he was relentless and a “never say never” person. He was convinced that we could not loose Moose. There had even been an offer from someone in Big Bear who offered to purchase it and do a makeshift repair to get the half-track operational again.

Since my return to the Camp that previous spring, I had been worried about the true cost of operations and Moose was one of those variables that you could never quite measure. George and Tom had spent so much time in maintaining Moose for nearly three decades. I saw perhaps a few hundred dollars a year in basic maintenance cost for oil filters and springs and such. It never amounted to an outrageous amount. I did know that the George had been footing the bill for some time or some of the larger expenses. He was a true volunteer. He raised money; he showed up for work weekends, he spent weeks of his vacation at camp during the summer. He involved his entire family and he gave. In every sense of the word, he gave.

Ever since I had become part of the administration at camp some 7 years earlier, he would never tell me what to do. He would just say something like ask yourself, “how does this help camp? If it is a good decision, which will help the kids, then that’s the right thing to do.”

It was through this filter that George taught me to operate and how he determined that Moose was an asset and we had to have it repaired. It was a clear united vision and it required different skills from different people to complete. George really introduced me to an infinite mindset that I have built on from decade to decade.

This was just at the beginning of personal computers and while we had email and chat rooms, there really was not an internet, as you know it today. I found a guy in Oklahoma who I had read about in a journal about restoring military equipment. I tracked him down and got a phone number that was somehow his house number. (People used to have phones in their home before the MCPE – Modern Cell Phone Era).

The guy, Chris, called me back and we discussed World War II surplus military equipment. It was not so much a discussion as him telling me where and when it had all been and where it all ended up. So, it seems that during the Reagan administration, what was left of WWII surplus was sold to the country of Jordan, in the Middle East.

I knew at that moment that our agency’s administration would not allow me to travel to the Middle East in search of tracks for an outdated piece of equipment. I did know that we would not be able to function without some larger piece of equipment like a tractor or otherwise that in the mid-90’s would cost at least $20,000 or more.

Ultimately, we spent about $1700 per track and found a few donors as well as using that year’s allocation from our operations budget for vehicle repairs that we acquired the tracks. Chris made the connections and began the shipping process from Jordan and all that was required through customs and somehow delivered at the end of Forest Service Road 2N10 in the San Bernardino Mountains.

I think of George often and the lessons that I gained under his guidance and mentoring. Things like, ask people to donate when you install a water heater; Bluff Lake water is good for you; executive committee meetings are best done in a hot tub serving wine. His leadership demonstrated what John Maxwell calls his law of victory. “Unity of vision, diversity of skills, plus a leader is needed to win. Leaders find a way for the team to succeed.”

I know now that my friend and mentor, George, was always thinking of ways that helped us succeed in no uncertain terms. He did not always measure victory in the form of dollars and gains. He measured it in the ways that served the youth that we could influence. What a great definition for leadership.

George (right) and yours truly at camp circa 1995.

Postscript – Moose was eventually purchased by the gentlemen who lived in Big Bear. He restored it and maintains it to this day. Every now and then, reports of a World War II half-track driving on Skyline Road come into the local police department.

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