It was a cool, spring-like morning in West Texas. The sun had just peeped over the eastern horizon when a shrill whistle pierced the air from the west side of Odessa. A group of eager Boy Scouts and Explorers was standing close to the tracks at the Texas & Pacific depot, anticipating the arrival from El Paso of their special train, which everyone called the “TP [Texas & Pacific] Special.” The kids and their leaders were ready to board the train and head for the 1957 National Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pa. The “TP Special” had started in El Paso and would pick up Scouts all the way to Longview, and then roll on across the United States to Valley Forge, with many interesting stops and visits along the way.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to Washington D.C., where the TP Special was met by J. T. Rutherford, Congressman, 16th District of Texas. The kids did many interesting things in Washington. They visited the Capitol, the White House, and the Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials. At Arlington National Cemetery they saw the guard change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A trip that would never be forgotten was the visit to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington overlooking the Potomac River in Virginia. George and Martha Washington are buried at Mount Vernon, and thousands of Scouts visited their last resting place.
When the TP Special pulled into Valley Forge, the boys were shown to their camping area in the midst of a tent city so big that it was hard to believe was going up before their eyes. In only 72 hours there was 25,000 tents pitched. There were 52,580 boys and leaders at the Jamboree, and every one of them was at the opening night show. There were also 30,000 visitors. A theatre about the size of Yankee Stadium carved out of a hillside before the Jamboree held the Scouts and visitors. What a show! The massed flags on the big stage, Vice President Richard Nixon, the bands, the fireworks, and the story of Valley Forge. The fireworks would never be forgotten, as the Scouts looked skyward, they saw an illuminated cross and Star of David, as aerial bombs, parachute bombs, musical shells, and some three hundred aerial shells hissed and sparkled five hundred feet up in the dark sky.
Every day of the Jamboree things happened that would never be forgotten. A trip to New York and a visit to Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building, a boat ride out to see the Statue of Liberty, a visit to Radio City, and then a tour of the United Nations Building.
A special train carried the Scouts into Philadelphia for a visit to Independence Hall where they viewed the Liberty Bell, Carpenters Hall, where in 1774 the first Continental Congress met, and the home of Betsy Ross, who made the first American flag. A big treat for the Scouts was a tour of the World War II submarine USS Hake. The sub operated against German U-Boats for about a year out of Scotland and off the Azores.
In 1943 she made the long trip to the Pacific and by the start of 1944 she was in Philippine waters on patrol against the Japanese. At Valley Forge, Washington Memorial Chapel, a magnificent building, was inspired by the story of Washington’s prayer. The building is famed for its Carillon of 56 bells, and the Valley Forge Museum of American History. Among the many museum exhibits is Washington’s tent, or marquee, in which he spent the first week at Valley Forge.
A lot of tall tales were told at Valley Forge during the Jamboree. One of the tales said that if all the cows required to furnish the Jamboree milk supply were standing at 34th and Broadway and swished their tails together, the wind would blow off the top 57 stories of the Empire State Building. One of the West Texas kids was bragging to a group from the East Coast about how his group had brought a bald eagle to the Jamboree. He told his eager audience to come over for a visit and they could see him. When they got to the Texas area he showed them his Scoutmaster, an Eagle Scout for many years and bald as a billiard ball. The youth proudly explained, “There he is, a bald Eagle”. The flag-raising and flag-lowering ceremony was an event that every Scout wanted to see. Besides the U.S. flag, there were flags of every country that had Scouting, 63 of them! When they went up, they went up to the blare of bugles, and the thunder of drums, and when they came down, they came down to brass bands and bursting bombs. On the Sunday morning of the Jamboree, 13 different services were held, some lead by nationally known religious leaders, so the Scouts could worship according to the faith of their choice.
The Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s official aerial demonstration team, put on an unforgettable show. They did precision four-point and eight-point rolls, an inverted pass, aileron rolls, and vertical rolls. Climaxing the performance with the spectacular “bomb burst.” The planes headed straight up in a diamond formation. Then each one, with a roar from its after-burner, broke out of the diamond formation and left a track of smoke in the sky like an exploding bomb. Then they rolled and dove towards the ground, leveled off, turned, and at speeds up to 750 mph, roared into the “Wild Blue Yonder.”
On the final night of the Jamboree, the story of Baden Powell, the great Englishman who founded Scouting so many years ago, was told. Each Scout had a candle, and when the lights were turned off, some 52,000 candles flamed up to light the huge area. It was a moment that everyone who was there will always remember. And then the Jamboree was over, the tents came down, and a city vanished before your eyes. The Scouts boarded their buses, planes, and trains and left Valley Forge.
The Texas Scouts boarded the TP Special and began the long trip back to West Texas. There were stops along the way, the first was at Niagara Falls, and it was something to see the great falls, especially at night with the lights on them. Then there was a trip into Canada, and on to Detroit, the automobile capital of the world. There were a lot of things to see in this city, but the highlight was a tour of the huge Ford Motor Company. The Scouts followed along the assembly line and saw a shining new car come off the line in a matter of minutes.
Then the TP Special was on its way again. At Longview the Scouts began to unload, and as the train rolled on across Texas, one by one the groups left to return to their homes. Just after sunrise the train reached Odessa, and a happy but tired group of Scouts got off. As it pulled out, they took one last nostalgic look at it. The long journey was over, but would never be forgotten. It was the highlight of their scouting career.