Troop 13 Rides The Rails. By Dave Kessler
I was fourteen year old Boy Scout with a little peach fuzz on my face but the scattered blonde hairs making up my peach fuzz were clearly outnumbered by my crop of adolescent zits. I felt like a full-fledged man as I was about to embark on the greatest adventure of my life.
I was one of the members of Scout Troop 13 getting ready to travel by train from Dayton, Ohio to Santa Anna, California for the 1953 Boy Scout Jamboree.
Curly, my Scout Master who didn’t have enough hair to make a decent comb-over but who clearly enjoyed his friendly nickname, gave the older boys instructions on how to safely shave while riding the rails. I wasn’t one of the older boys but I listened intently anyway.
Curly explained that the train car would sway from side to side and would sometimes buck in a back and forth motion that could easily throw a guy shaving off balance and cause him to nick or slice his face.
He also warned that water in the lavatory might splash up and get your clothes wet during a shave. He had strategies to cope with the nicking, slicing and splashing and he gave lessons so we’d be safe and not have wet pants.
He ran hot water into the lavatory, whipped up a lather with his mug and brush, painted the soapy lather on his face and neck but he didn’t pick up his razor. He then demonstrated the most important points of successfully shaving on a moving train.
Curly carefully folded a bath towel, draped it over the front edge of the lavatory, spread his legs and fell forward with his body trapping and holding the towel in place. The towel would soak up any splashing water and the spread-leg stance with the body braced against the towel lining the lavatory would allow a shaver to withstand swaying, bucking and pitching as the train rounded corners and climbed steep hills.
By the time we hit Saint Louis I decided that I was a big guy who needed a shave. I took my official Boy Scout toilet kit to the bathroom, ran the hot water, folded the towel, spread my legs and fell forward bracing myself against the towel on the lavatory. Then I whipped up a lather and applied it to my face and neck.
I was braced against swaying, pitching and bucking as well as anybody who ever attempted to shave on a train. I applied the razor and the blood letting began. Curly had failed to warn us about not shaving off zits.
In a matter of minutes I had cut myself eleven times, the water didn’t splash out of the lavatory but the towel was wet with blood. My blood. Then the whistle blew and the train slowly started up and pulled out of Saint Louis station. Maybe Troop 14 would have been a better choice.