Hughes Remembers:

Early Days of Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch - Part 1

4/7/93 Newell Hughes Remembers the Early Days of the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch.  Note: This is a talk between Steve Odom, former Scout Executive of the Buffalo Trail Council and Newell Hughes, long time volunteer.

It was strange how I got involved in finding the location that is now the 9uffalo Trail Scout Ranch. I was a volunteer in the Llano Estacado Council out of Amarillo, as a District Commissioner over at Hereford, and had been helping them out with plans for the camp they were building, Camp Don Harrington. I also did plans for Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, their long-range plans. I went down to Pecos to do an engineering job for the city, and got very well acquainted with some of the local Scouters and wound up doing a successful Boy Scout finance campaign. I found out the Council didn't have a camp.

Not long after, I went down to a ranch in the Davis Mountains owned by a paving contractor working on paving in Pecos. This was in 1946. As well as I can remember, during the hunting season, because my trip to the ranch was to go deer hunting. When I got back into Pecos, I talked to some of the good Scouters there about approaching the contractor, C. Hunter Strain, about leasing some of the ranch for a Scout camp.  I took some of them down there, and as we were coming in from our trip, one of our good Scouters said, "We're not going to lease that damn land," which was quite a surprise as they all thought it would be ideal for a Scout Camp. He said, "No, we're going to buy it." That was Emmett Beauchamp, who was the local representative for the power company, Pecos Community Public Service. A few years later, he served a couple of years as President of the Buffalo Trail Council.

The guys from Pecos that made that first trip down there with me were Emmett Beauchamp, Frank Meyers who owned a variety store and other stores; Frank Kelly, an elementary school principal; and C. J. Anderson, an engineer for the Red Bluff Water Company. Anderson was one of our early good pioneers, and years later in 1956 or '57 when we started putting in the water system at the ranch, did lot of volunteer work for me. He was a good hydraulics man and also a pretty good fundraiser when it came to getting pipe and stuff like that.

Buying the Camp

Mountains of Buffalo Scout RanchThe ranch was purchased for $75,000, which included interest and everything.  We paid for it in about three years. When the Council was negotiating with Strain to buy the land, I had gone back to Hereford and didn't get back for a couple of years. By the time I returned, the Buffalo Trail Council had gone ahead and bought it in 1947 from the paving contractor, Hunter Strain who was from San Angelo.  All this came about because Strain was being nice to the engineer on the job in Pecos and took me down to the ranch for a deer hunt.  At the same time we were doing the paving for the City of Pecos, we redid their water system, built a pipeline out to a well field south of Barstow, and put in place an elevated water storage tank that I had supervised the dismantling of at an air base in Biloxi, Mississippi.

I moved to Midland the first of January 1950 to work for the city to setup an engineering department. When I was working as an engineer for Pecos, I was still involved as a volunteer with the Llano Estacado Council, and my being in Pecos was temporary. 

One of the groups that I took down to the ranch when they had almost reached the point of deciding to buy included Lyle Deffebach from Snyder, Lyman Wren, Dr. Hardy from Big Spring and Lon Geer from Colorado City.  At that time both sides of the canyon where the dining hall is were covered with huge oak trees. A drought we had in the early to middle '50's wiped out nearly everything that was growing on both sides of the canyon. That provided much deadwood, and for a time, one of the projects of nearly every Scout troop was to go up the mountains and bring down firewood for the campfires. They had absolutely the greatest supply of firewood that I ever saw.  The Scouts had plenty of opportunities to get their Paul Bunyan Axemanship award. We used that as a part of our program, which also accomplished a cleanup that was badly needed.

Irritate the Summer Camp Directors

The biggest part of my experience at the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch has been since 1950.  There were so many things that I found attractive at the Ranch. One thing, I used to irritate the summer camp directors because, as a Scoutmaster, on Monday after checking in camp, my Troop would take off and not back until Friday. There were two different times that we hiked to the McDonald Observatory. My first camping experience at the Ranch was in the summer of 1951. My Scout Troop was Troop 53 from Terminal, now the Midland Airport. We were living out there because that was the only place we could find a vacant spot to live in.  At that time, between 2500 and 3000 people lived out there in all the Airforce built barracks and buildings. There weren't any rental houses in Midland, and I wasn't sure at that time that I wanted to buy a house.

During the Christmas holidays between Christmas and New Year's, I took a Troop down to the Ranch for a winter camp.  We operated winter camp several seasons. It was one of the best camping situations I ever experienced because as soon as it got dark, and the kids got into their sleeping bags, you'd have to kick them out the next morning.  You wouldn't hear anything from them all night. No problems, once they got in the sack and the temperature was 25 or 26 degrees, they didn't get up and prowl.  That was where I first became acquainted with Oley Hedrick.  Oley was single at the time and Scoutmaster of the Troop sponsored by the First Methodist Church in Midland.

Road to Camp

Steve Odom: You were involved in the building quite a number of the facilities at the Ranch, and I remember your telling me an interesting story about how the road got paved, and the number of people who lost the oil pans of their cars driving in and how many gates there were. before the road was improved.

I very vividly remember the gates. There were seventeen of them between the highway to Ft. Davis and the Ranch. It was just a rocky, rough road that could change its character every time there was a big rain.  I had a friend up in Plainview who was chairman of the state Highway Commission at that time. He had made a trip to Russia, and I got him down here to speak to the Midland Lions Club about his trip.  I had known him for years and Scouted with him, and had another motive for getting him down here.  I told him I wanted to take him on a trip when he came. I took him to the Ranch.  We got in and out without any problems, because I knew enough about that so called road not to hurry it, and talked to him all the way down there and back about that terrible road.  Somehow it worked out at the next meeting of the Highway Commission that the road in to the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch was designated as a state ranch road.

That meant the state would maintain the road, but it still wasn't paved.  The state gave four or five of the counties in the Buffalo Trail Council the option of giving some of the money they received from the state to be used on the road.  The maintenance section out of Pecos built the road.  Ft. Davis County had agreed to do the maintenance, but they didn't do too much and the road got in pretty bad shape.  It had been built to minimum specifications, and the pavement didn't stand up to the heavy traffic it was getting.  So, after about three years of poor maintenance, we were fortunate the state highway department took over and made it a full ranch road with state maintenance.  Ever since then, we have had good maintenance.

I have also done some special things. After I had left the City of Midland and went to work for the State Highway Department, we were going to have a Wood Badge Course at the Ranch. There was a big snow and ice storm with the Wood Badge staff due to come in, and I contacted the maintenance superintendent of State Highway District 6.  Even though the Ranch was in District 5 out of Del Rio, the maintenance department for District 6 went down and cleaned the ice and snow off so the staff could get in during the ice storm.

We've had pretty good relations with state bureaus of all kind.  The head of the State Highway Patrol out here was promoted to Austin as state commander of the Patrol.  Pat Spear had been a good Scouter with us when he was first in Pecos and then in Midland.  After he went to Austin, the Buffalo Trail Council selected him to receive the Silver Beaver award, and the problem was to get him back for a surprise presentation. I called up his boss, and he said not to worry.  Pat would be there. The funny thing was, he sent Pat out on an errand for him and suggested that as Pat had lived here, it would be OK to take his wife along. They came to the Council Annual Banquet over at Odessa, and I was watching for them when they arrived and got them to my table.  Pat and his wife were escorted up for the presentation, which I made.  That was the only time I ever hear Pat use anything near profanity.  When I shook his) and, he pulled me up to him and whispered, "You SOB."

Water Well

Steve Odom: Good relations with the State Highway Department and the Highway Patrol have been very important. Later on we'll talk about the big flood that isolated the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch, where both of these organizations played important supporting roles. Tell us' about drilling the water well at the Ranch.

In 1957, the summer before we started the water well project, we had gone through a dry summer and we hauled water in.  I hired this fellow to come down and drill a water well on a per diem basis. And he worked on it, it seemed like, forever. He called me one night and said, "Newell, I'm going to have to give up.  I'm not making any hole.  We're down about 400 plus feet and I can't get any further.  It's like bouncing a tennis ball on concrete." He was using a cable tool rig, which is what everybody down there had been using.  I told him we had about $6,000 plus in the hole, and I'd like him to try a little more.  He told me that he had already moved his rig to Pecos. He'd already pulled out.

So then I contacted my brother-in-law in Ozona, who was in the drilling business.  He called one of his compadres in Cyanosa to go down there with a rotary rig.  I knew he could make hole with the kind of rock bits he had, and he made a deal at $25 a foot. He moved in, set up and started drilling. He tilled two feet and broke through. The water rose to within 67 feet of the surface. That stream of water was under pretty good pressure.  All in all, the well was drilled to a depth of 419 feet.

The last time I had anything to do with that well, which I guess was 8 or 10 years ago when we had to replace the electrical cable to the submersible pump, I ran a check and the water table had only lowered about an inch and a half.  The well still supplies water for an olympic size swimming pool and a camp full of Scouts, even though we couldn't set as large a pump as we'd like because the hole is crooked.

The pump we have in there produces 72 gallons per minute. No doubt, if we had a good straight hole that could be reamed out to accommodate a larger pump, we could pump in the hundreds. 

First Water Tank

With a good well the next project was to get a water tank. The City of Midland had a storage tank out at Hogan Park that wasn't being used.  I went to the city council to con them into giving it to us for use at the Ranch. The city attorney at that time said they couldn't give us the tank; so I bought it. I gave them a dollar for it.

And then, a fellow that I had bought a house from was in the trucking business, and I conned him into hauling the tank down there.

Between Ft. Stockton and Ba1morhea an old boy came over a hill behind him and ran up on the back end of the truck hauling the big tank.  The load was overwidth and 11, but legal.  It was able to proceed on, and we unloaded the damaged tank just off the highway at the Ranch road.  I called his insurance man, and he went down and inspected it.  I got Mapp Tank Company out of Odessa to come and strip it down plate by plate and haul the plates in.

This was a very fortunate accident, because the only place we could have put the tank if it had been intact was down low, close to the well. We had Mapp repair and assemble it higher up, near where the camp ranger's home is now located. This gave us the height and gravity pressure to operate the water system in the wintertime without a pressure pump.  Then it dawned on us, after we got it up there, repainted and with all gaskets replaced, that we couldn't have gotten the original intact tank through a single gate on the road in.  We not only had a practically brand new tank, but had avoided tearing up all the brand new gates on our newly constructed road.

This tank lasted from 1958 until the late '70's when the tank was replaced with a new one in the same location thanks to a grant from the Davidson Family Charitable Foundation.  I didn't approve of the fact that the new tank was only half as large as the old one, but they had put another small tank on up Goat Cave Canyon.  That second tank was unnecessary, but was put there because of concern with the water pressure.  All that was needed was to put back the original two-pump pressure setup instead of trying to operate the entire system off one pressure pump.

Dining HallSteve Odom: Newell, another interesting story that you may know something about is the Moss Dining Hall. Did you have anything to do with the dining hall being built in its original form?

Originally, no. The first one-they built consisted of a roof and screened in open air siding on a concrete floor, in conjunction with the old house that was there.  When I first saw the place, the old house was a rock building, which is still the storeroom within the kitchen. The walk in cooler on the end of the storeroom was added later.  In 1951 when we went there for winter camp, we got screen that had some kind of coating on it so the wind wouldn't blow through. Then, in 1958, we had enough money from a capital campaign in 1957 to buy the Clyde Cowden place for the Scout Service Center in Midland, where it is now.  We had originally tried to buy a piece of property out on North Main, but were prevented by deed restrictions. We wound up spending half the amount we had anticipated, which tickled me to death because we had enough money to build the swimming pool at the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch.

Swimming Pool

Swimming PoolIn 1958, we got the Scout Service Center, the Ranch swimming pool; the waterwell finished and started the paving of the road into the Ranch. It was quite a year. We couldn't get anyone of these things done now for the total price of all of them in 1958.

I got an old boy who had been building swimming pools when the swimming pool raze really got going here in Midland, and conned him into building the swimming pool at the Ranch. It was strictly tailored made for the spot. We built it on top of the ground and filled in around it.  You couldn't dig it cause that was solid, solid rock. I had to use a little blasting powder because there was one big boulder we couldn't move.  It was about 15 feet in diameter, and I ran all the fencing crew off before setting the charge. We had some Mexican laborers working on the site, and when they saw what I was doing, they left before I popped the cap. They didn't have to be told. The slope of the land was just right for the pool, and where it dropped off gave us a place for the deep end and the filter area. We had the pool ready to go within two days of the opening of summer camp, but without a fence.

I ran into an old boy at the airport from whom I had bought fencing for the City of Midland. He was salesman for the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.  I told him what I had in mind, and he said, "Well, I'll. tell you what I'll do.  I'll ship you the fencing out of Houston if you'll get somebody to erect it."  I contacted a man with a fence company here and agreed to pay the expenses of a crew if he'd send them to put the fence up. The day we opened camp for that session, he finished the pool fence. They stayed overnight in order to cleanup the worksite and pick up their tools. He saw the kids come in for camp, and it so happened that he had two boys that came to camp. About two weeks later, I asked him how much we owed. He said after seeing that bunch of kids come in and how they acted when they saw that swimming pool for the first time, and that he had two boys there, he didn't have the heart to charge anything. So I woundup getting the whole fence donated, material, erection and all.


Steve Odom: Well, there's one more story and then we'll call it quits for the night. The dining hall was named after Mr. Paul Moss. Was he a judge or something?

He was a district judge out of Odessa. He gave the Council three buffalo, two cows and a bull, and they were at the Ranch when I came back to the Council in 1950.  One of the cows died and they had the head mounted.  I guess it was a year or two after that when the other cow died. The old bull buffalo got pretty lonesome and he took to visiting the neighboring ranches. There wasn't any fence that could hold him, including the tremendously stout corral at the ranch. When he took a notion to leave, he left. He was big and could jump over a fence six foot high, usually taking two or three of the top rails with him, but he'd go over it. That wasn't real good public relations with our neighbors. If they had a corral that they had some special cow in, he'd go in and visit her.

Finally one day, I was down there for a weekend and had gone into the dining hall when the caretaker came in, white as a sheet.. He said, "Mr. Hughes, we're going to have to do something. That old buffalo is getting dangerous. He tried to get in the pickup with me."  Sure enough, I looked out and the front end of the pickup was all bashed in. So, I told him let's go do something about it.  I had a deer rifle in my car, and I got it and went down and caught mister buffalo and shot him.  Tommy Lara, the foreman from the next ranch, our neighbor, helped me skin him.  Tommy took the meat to a locker plant in Balmorhea and the head to San Angelo to be mounted.  Coming in, I stopped in Odessa to tell Judge Moss because I didn't want him to hear it by rumor.  I told him what I'd done and why, and he said he could only criticize one thing, "You waited too long."  All three buffalo heads are now mounted in the Buffalo Hall plus another one that came off Judge Moss's ranch west of Odessa.

For more interesting stories about Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch from Newell Hughes go to:

Newell Hughes Remembers - Part 2
Newell Hughes Remembers - Part 3

We want to thank David O'Neill for providing us this transcript of the talk between volunteer Newell Hughes and Steve Odom, former Scout Executive of the Buffalo Trail Council.  We also want to thank Kevin Morris for permission to use photos from the Tatanka Lodge web site.

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