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David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier. Members of Boy Scout Troop 15 of Bristol, Tenn., use the friction method to start a cooking fire Saturday during the Klondike Derby. From left are Chris Harr, Ryan Tate and Tyler Miller.

Youngsters test Scouting skills in annual Bristol competition

February 14, 2010

The plaza in downtown Bristol smelled of wood smoke Saturday, as scores of numb-fingered Boy Scouts cooked their lunches in the annual Klondike Derby. (Original story featured on Tricities.com. Written by Daniel Gilbert)

The scouts built the fires by hand as one of 10 challenges testing their knowledge and know-how at the day-long competition. The 21 patrols that attended the derby ran the gamut in experience, and employed varying degrees of sophistication in using friction to start a fire.

Chris Harr, 16, and Tyler Miller, 17, furiously whipped a “fire bow” back and forth, drilling a wooden peg attached to the bow into a wooden groove that began to smoke. Aided by a char cloth – a cotton towel converted into a slow-burning fuel – the two Life Scouts of Troop 15’s American Eagles Patrol created a flame within 45 seconds.

As other patrol members blocked the wind with a wool blanket, they blew on the kindling to grow the fire, which was soon snapping and devouring snow flurries. In no time, the flames were ready to cook the “hobo packs” of potatoes, hamburger and deer meat wrapped in foil.

“We do this for fun,” Miller, of Blountville, said of the bow-method of fire-starting. He estimated he and his fellow scouts had started 30 some fires this way before.

As the Boy Scouts of America organization turns 100 years old, the Klondike Derby in Bristol can claim to be the longest continuous such event – 41 years – in the Sequoyah Council, which encompasses 15 counties in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, according to Anna Booher, commissioner for the Ocanosta District. The derby is preceded by a “continuous fire” started last Friday, and before which scouts have presented their colors every night since.

Scout patrols participated in the derby tote sleds – fashioned after dog sleds, but without dogs – around Bristol, where they are tested on first aid, knot-tying, compass and orienteering skills, citizenship knowledge, and other areas.

A younger group of newly-minted Boy Scouts got their lunch started with a “hot spark” – a metal alloy and a scraper that functions like striking flint with steel – dryer lint, char cloth, and a Bristol Herald Courier. It took them about 10 to 15 minutes, said Jesse Hernandez, 11, of Bristol, Va., as he toasted a hot dog on a skewer.

Officially known as the “Lightning Patrol” and unofficially described by many as the “Cool Hat” contingent for their eye-catching headgear, Hernandez and his fellow scouts said the day’s activities proved challenging but instructive.

“The sled has been really heavy,” said Hernandez, who wore a jester’s cap. He pronounced his blackened hot dog “better than microwaved.”

Tanner Hutton, 10, said he found the first-aid training useful.

“We learned how to treat someone who’s in shock,” said Hutton from beneath a hat adorned with what looked like bright, oversized gumballs.

“When someone is vomiting, we learned to turn them on their side so they don’t drown” in their own vomit, he said.

Nearby, George Denny, 12, and his fellow scouts of the Troop 160’s Falcons Patrol, offered a reporter Ramen noodles that they were having for lunch. Boy Scouts, after all, must be helpful, friendly, courteous and thrifty.

The Falcons Patrol sled was flying a flag that read “Bird Bombers,” and was intended to convey something about the sled’s look: shiny black speckled with white paint splotches, symbolizing bird, ahem, bombs.

Dan Heglar, a 22-year-old card-carrying Eagle Scout, surveyed the scene.

“A lot of what this does is, kids would not be able to light fires in their backyards,” said Heglar, a veteran of at least five Klondike Derbies and now an assistant scoutmaster for his old Troop 3. “It’s cold, it’s snowy, but they’re still out here having a good time.”

Now an auto mechanic, Heglar said he’s giving back to the organization that taught him lasting lessons. Asked to name an example, Heglar thought for a minute.

On one of his first camping trips with his father years ago, “it rained a holy monsoon,” he said. “I’ve never forgot a raincoat since then. I have one in the car now.”