By Mac Gardner
San Francisco's famous bay resembled a huge blue palette with big white moths whizzing by. It was an ideal day for sailboats but also a special August day for hiking the famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Casual walkers noted lots of Scouts along the way, each displaying a prominent red-and-white numeral 3 on his left shoulder. However, a closer peek at the uniforms revealed two different council shoulder patchesfrom the home San Francisco Bay Area Council and from the Housatonic Council, headquartered in Derby, Conn.
And a chat with any of the Scouts would reveal a most unusual fact: both troops are 85 years old.
Arrangements for this Troop 3-to-Troop 3 coast-to-coast get-together is a tribute to modern technology and good old Scouting persistence. It started in 1998 when the Troop 3 chartered to the Derby (Conn.) Methodist Church was putting together its major program event for 1999.
"We were already planning to fly into San Francisco to begin a trek of some Western national parks," explained Scoutmaster Randy Ritter. "It seemed logical to meet up with some other Scouts while we were [in the Bay area]."
Ritter searched the Internet for Scouting Web sites, andbingo!another Troop 3 popped up. "I hooked up on e-mail with Larry Chu, their troop committee chairman, and we met on one of my business trips out West," he said.
"After that, we stayed in touch via e-mail," Larry Chu recalled. "We worked closely with our chartered organizationthe Troop 3 Alumni and Parents Associationto make the arrangements for the visit."
As it happened, on the Saturday that Derby Troop 3 arrived, San Francisco Troop 3 was not available for welcoming duties. Its Scouts were just returning from a week at the local council's Camp Royaneh.
So Scoutmaster Ritter and his Derby gang of 17 boys and 8 adults settled into their hotel, sampled chocolate goodies at Ghirardelli Square, rode the famous cable cars, visited Alcatraz Island, and hiked some steep San Francisco hills.
"Whew!" was how Derby Scout Robert Liddel remembered climbing the hills. "I'm glad the Golden Gate Bridge was more level."
The Derby Scouts' day concluded with a seafood dinner at a Fisherman's Wharf restaurant, with Troop 3's Larry Chu and Scoutmaster Ronald Lee as their guests.
The next day, accompanied by their Scouts, Chu and Lee met the Derby crew at the hotel and introduced the two Troop 3's to each other.
Lots of smiles brightened an already sunshiny day as the Scouts exchanged greetings.
The troops set out to visit San Francisco's Chinatown, located only a few blocks from the hotel. The entrance to the famous neighborhood seemed the perfect spot for photographs of the two troops together, but heavy traffic made taking photos next to impossible.
No problem. Within minutes, a motorcycle policeman appeared and briefly redirected traffic, enabling photographs to be taken.
In Chinatown, the Scouts visited many colorful stores. They especially enjoyed the shop where they watched traditional fortune cookies being made, and each Scout received a gift cookie and fortune.
Down a side street, Scoutmaster Lee and his Scouts proudly led their guests to the Chinese Methodist Church. On Oct. 13, 1914, eight boys studied a worn copy of the Boy Scout handbook in the church's play yard. A plaque now marks that spot as the official start of Troop 3one of the oldest continuously chartered Scout troops west of the Mississippi River.
A bus ride took the Scouts to the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Beautiful sights in all directions greeted the Scouts as they prepared to hike across the famous span, and visitors and hosts alike took in the spectacular views. "I haven't taken this hike myself before today," admitted Jeffrey Eng, the smallest member of the host troop.
At the north end of the bridge, the Scouts headed east, for lunch at Camp Baker, a former military area. From the back of a pickup truck, the San Francisco crew served up a hearty menu of chicken and broccoli, sweet-and-sour pork, chicken chow mein, and fried rice. Second helpings were encouraged and enthusiastically taken.
"What a way to end a hike!" enthused a Derby Scout, wiping his mouth as he returned to the serving area for seconds.
The midday feast was followed by a cruise around the bay aboard a tour boat, with more beautiful sights for camera bugs. Then another bus ride returned everybody to the hotel.
The Scouts swapped patches, neckerchiefs, caps, coffee mugs, and council shoulder strips, and then exchanged reluctant farewells.
Leaders of both Troop 3's beamed as they shook hands one final time.
"This was a new experience for us," Scoutmaster Ron Lee said, "but our gang liked the fun and meeting new friends so much that we'll probably do it again."
"And it will be great to travel to Connecticut," said Larry Chu, expressing the hope that his Scouts could make a reciprocal visit, perhaps in 2001 in conjunction with a trip to the national Scout jamboree.
"Everything was top-ratenew buddies, great scenery, plenty of exercise, delicious food, and lots of fun," summed up Derby assistant Scoutmaster John Spinetti.
"The 'other' Troop 3 is a super bunch!"
Which is how the host troop would describe their special guests from the other side of the country.
Mac Gardner, a former professional Scouter and Scouting magazine staff editor, lives in Eureka, Calif.
Staying Alive for 85 Years: Five Keys to Troop Longevity
Randal Ritter, Scoutmaster of Troop 3, Derby, Conn., and Larry Chu, committee chairman of Troop 3, San Francisco, agree that five items head the list of what a unit needs to maintain the vitality that has kept both troops alive and thriving for 85 years.
Both troops cite the key factors of adult and youth leadership, chartered organization and community relations, and alumni support for their record of success since 1914.
Meet Troop 3 (East) and Troop 3 (West) On the World Wide Web
After saying goodbye to their hosts from San Francisco Troop 3, the Scouts from Derby Troop 3 had several tasks to perform before continuing the rest of their two-week trip.
They rechecked the details for visiting sites like Yosemite Park, Zion Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and others. They also worked on one more task. John Spinetti and the other adults produced a daily update to their Web site. With two cell phones, a laptop computer, and a digital camera, they kept families back home up-to-date.
To learn more about either Troop 3, check out their Web sites:
And it is not surprising that two troops with such rich traditions have each been featured at least once before in Scouting magazine.
"By unanimous consent, the show's longevity is credited to Edmund D. Strang, the best-known Scouter in the Housatonic Council, if not in Connecticut," Peterson wrote.
Strang, 82 years old in 1992, had appeared in the first show in 1924 and then served as the show's producer for more than seven decades. When the legendary Scouter died in May 1995, he was eulogized far and wide for his contributions to generations of Scouts in Derby and beyond.
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