Camp Sol Mayer
The deed stated “As part of the consideration hereinafter described lands shall never be sold, mortgaged nor hypothedated and shall never be leased for oil, gas or other minerals. This land shall be used as a camp for Boy Scouts of America and for no other purpose; but such camp can be used by the Girl Scouts on occasion and at intervals, with the consent of the officers and director of the Concho Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America.” The deed was dated August 18, 1945.
During a meeting of the Council Executive Board, October 6, 1945, Sol Mayer reminisced that the site of the camp was his old stomping ground when he was ten years of age, he remembered catching a 62 pound fish in the San Saba River near the site and had a hard time getting it into Menard.
The first event held on the newly acquired property was the Council Executive board which met on the camp property on October 6, 1945. The first large scale event to be held on the new property was in May, 1946, when the council held a council-wide camporee attended by 350 Scouts and leaders. During May 1946, the first large-scale Scout activity was held when 350 Scouts and leaders held a council wide camporee on the site.
The first summer camp was held during the summer of 1947 with some 100 Scouts in attendance. The program was a high adventure camp patterned after the Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico. The program that first summer included horsemanship, rodeo, canoeing, swimming, Indian lore, hiking, leather crafts, archery and Scout activities according to Edwin S. Mayer, camping chairman of the council.
In the early days of the camp the Scouts maintained a "perpetual" campfire during their summer camp stay. On Saturday morning there was a water carnival, which included swimming, fancy diving, boat races and swimming contests. On Friday nights there were Indian dances and a display of Indian headdresses made during the week. Cost of the one-week camp, with all meals in the dining hall, was $7.50 per camper. Troops could elect to bring their own provisions and do their own cooking for no fee for the week.
The digging of a well in October of 1945 was the first improvement made on this beautiful natural camp site. A training lodge, which became the first dining hall of the new camp and a residence for the camp ranger, was begun in September, 1947, and was completed in early 1948. The lodge was built of stones from the nearby Fort McKavett, some of them from a frontier general store run by the Sol Mayer's father.
G. K. Lynch was paid $800 for two army houses on October 26, 1948. They were moved out to the camp, joined together by a single roof, with a walkway in-between the two small buildings, and became the trading post and later a storage building for the camp. This building is located between the first dining hall and the old ranger’s home.
The rock entrance gate was erected by Menard scouters in 1948. A storeroom between the ranger's home and the training lodge was built in 1948, as well as the ranger’s home was enlarged. A rifle range was added to the camp in 1950; and a dock on the swimming area and barbecue pit were erected by Texon Cubs and Scouts.
The camp was dedicated on September 19, 1950. Mr. and Mrs. Mayer were honored guests at the dedication which was attended by some 500 Scouts, Scouters and friends of Scouting. More than 100 flags, including 50 U.S. Flags, were on display. After the ceremony, presided over by H. C. Grafa of San Angelo, a barbecue was held for all in attendance. The camp is located about 20 miles west of Menard, Texas and just 3 miles east of Fort McKavett Historical Site. It was formerly known as the Brown or Opp Ranch.
This building, which served as the office and sleeping quarters for the Camp Director, was moved from Camp Louis Farr after that camp was closed. It was one of the buildings in the Carr Village. The screened in porch on the right of the photo was the entrance to the Lady's restroom facility. The present Camp Headquarters Building now stands in the same place as this building.
A new Ernestine Mayer dining hall was completed in early 1952 at a cost of $30,000. The main room of the dining hall, still in use today, is 35 feet by 90 feet with a large fireplace in the center of the longest wall. The rock for the dining hall and for most of the other buildings on the property came from the Sol Mayer Ranch located just north of the camp.
A new well was drilled closer to the dining hall so that water could be piped into the building. In 1957, an additional 8,104 acres was placed in a trust by Mayer’s will to insure the maintenance and care of the camp forever.
The Mrs. Sol Mayer Scout Spirit Award trophy was a weekly award that was presented to the best troop in camp. The winning troop was determined by a vote of each boy attending camp. Troop 57 of Crane won the award in the summer of 1958 during the third week of camp. Ted Hogan was Scoutmaster of the Crane troop.
River Does Flood!
"One year I let my troop talk me into camping near the river. I mean very near the river. Some of the boys were almost able to lie on their cots and put their hands in the river. I warned them that they might wake up with snakes in the tent and that the mosquitoes would be very blood thirsty. Also, I reminded them, that if the river came down in a rise we should have to move our camp up to the next level above the river. All to no avail. The Scout said that I had promised that we would camp near the river, and that this was as near as you could camp, unless you were members of the Sea Scouts.
“In the hot daytime it was cool under the big trees, but the insides of our tents were covered with mosquitoes. However, the pesky critters hardly ever bothered us in the daytime. They waited until it got dark and then descended on us for the feast. As far as mosquito lotion was concerned, it was like putting syrup on pancakes. The lotions just whetted their appetites. After about three days and nights of this, I had made up my mind that we were going to move our campsite. I didn't have to make up my mind - Mother Nature took care of that. It started to rain - and then it started to pour. This rain didn't last as long as Noah's, but it must have equaled it in intensity. The river started to inching up into our tents and we had to move up higher to the next level of the river bank. I exercised great self-control. I didn't remind them, much, that the old man had warned against camping so near the river. The river was still rising, and we had to pick up our tents like the Arabs, except maybe not so silently, and move up to the next level.
“We were very smug in our belief that we had finally outsmarted the river. We felt sure that the river would not get up this high. I woke up the next morning and the water ws running through my tent. It was about four inches deep, but might get deeper. I hastily jumped up and started waking up the boys to inform them that the river had won again. Three boys were sleeping in a big Army tent. I hammered on the tent and roused them. One Scout, Jim, rolled off his cot and I heard him yell. When I got to him he was in a hole up to his shoulders. I pulled him out and then checked out the hole. Several years before this campsite was used for camping, a large deep hole on the site was used as a garbage dump. It had not been filled in, and over the years, grass and weeds had grown over the top. A thin layer of dirt had covered this over and made it appear to be solid ground.
“When the water came into camp, this was all that was needed to soften the top of the hole. When Jim came off the cot, he just went through the opening. I reminded the boys that if they had listened to me, The Great Wise One, all this moving and falling into garbage pits would never have happened. To this day, I am sure that my ‘I told you so's’ never did make much of an impression on the troop."
Gene Wilton, Jr., Roy Moore and Alan E. Ramsey, in 1987, held a one-week “Living on your Own” camp designed to teach outdoor skills to old Scouts and High Adventure Explorers. The group cooked all their own meals and took an extended hiking and camping trek to the Sol Mayer Ranch section of the camp.
Aquatic Camps were held from time to time in the summer to give Scouts an opportunity to specialize in just water activities. These camps were usually held following the regular camping season.
An Environmental Workshop was held at camp on May 5-7, 1989, by the Soil Conservation Service and the United States Department of Agriculture. A Scout could earn two merit badges during the weekend. The workshop was limited to the first 150 Scouts who signed up for the weekend. The event was oversubscribed.
A Ranch Adventure Grande Experience program was held on the 8,100 acre Sol Mayer Ranch from 1997 through 2000. The RAGE program was a hands-on program that immersed participants in the lifestyle of ranching. The participants lived in bunkhouses on the ranch; gathered eggs for breakfast; learned to shoot large caliber rifles, black powder guns and shotguns; hunted varmints; went on an all day-all night trail ride, learned to round-up cattle and goats; learned to rope and ride; and spent the night at Ft. McKavett.
The most successful year of the RAGE program was in the summer of 1999 when they had as many boys and adults as the last two summers combined. They had youth from as far away as the Sam Houston Council in Houston and the Rio Grande Council in South Texas. The Scouts completed the Horsemanship merit badge and many requirements for Archeology, Shotgun Shooting, Cycling, Canoeing and Climbing.
The camp offers all kinds of aquatic programs, outdoor skills training, horseback riding, a repelling tower and recently a western cowboy program on the ranch part of the camp. Originally, the camp was the starting point for the six mile Fort McKavett Historical Tail opened in 1981. This is the only Historical Trail in Texas that offers both a patch and a medal upon completion of the trail requirements. A sixty-foot rappelling tower was ready for summer camp in 1983. In order to build the tower, they moved the staff area to the front of the old dining hall on the river.
Tractor In Water
Wind Shear Event
He crawled out of the tent and found that all the tents in the staff area had suffered the same fate. Staff members were staggering out of their tents, some not quite sure what was going on. The staff was immediately mobilized and sent to all the campsites to see if the troops were OK.
It was soon discovered that Troop 1, who was camped in Lonesome Pine, in front of the dining hall, had suffered major damage. All their baker tents were down., the latrine was flattened and they had at least one badly injured Scout from a picnic table having been blown into him. The camp medic was immediately called and the kid was placed on a stretcher very gently as they thought at the time that his back was broken. The ambulance came in from Menard and the kid was transported to the hospital for x-rays of his back. They discovered that, fortunately, he had a bad bruise on his back from the table hitting him but no other injuries. All the troops camping on the river were upset because they had been awakened by the staff inquiring as to their status and were unaware that anything had happened! Troop 1 was moved into the dining hall for the night and everyone finally got back to bed about 3 am after the staff tents were put back up.
The next morning the ventilators from the roof of the dining hall were found on the other side of the highway where they had been blown by the wind. The oak tree in front of the ranger’s residence had several limbs broken off, but they were still in the tree as the wind blew so hard it did not allow the limbs to fall to the ground, but just blew them into the tree itself. Later, it was determined that the camp had suffered from wind sheer and not from a tornado as had been suspected.
Camp Was Mud
The next morning everything was soaked, including all the tents, equipment and especially the ground. Troops started checking their wet tents in and prepared to go home. The quartermaster had the troops pitch the tents in front of the headquarters building and anywhere else they could find room. The staff suddenly realized they had a mess on their hands as camp was to open the next day at 2 pm at Camp Fawcett and everything was wet!
The “Blue Goose” was the only vehicle capable of driving in the mud around camp to pick up all the program supplies and kitchen supplies to bring them to a central area to load on other trucks. There was so much mud that the truck kept getting stuck at each area. Everyone had to get behind the “Blue Goose” and push as hard as they could. Of course, with the duel wheels spinning, mud was thrown up on everyone behind the truck. In addition, when they would walk, their shoes got covered in mud until they were walking at least an inch off the ground. It was a miserable day for everyone.
The staff got pretty frustrated by the time everything finally got loaded and headed to Camp Fawcett. They realized they could not fold all the tents, pack all the gear and get off to Camp Fawcett in time to set up camp, so they called the Scout Executive. He mobilized a group of Scouters who came down to camp and folded all the tents while the staff was loading all the other gear. When the staff got to Camp Fawcett, the camp director had them all jump into the Nueces River to clean off before they begin to unload all the gear.
A Real Tornado Hits Camp
At the activity building, the wind blew something into the north wall, pushing it inward about 2-3 inches. The tornado also damaged canoes, rowboats, staff tent platforms, some twenty-five trees, broke one power pole and downed some power lines. Many volunteers came out and helped with repairs and cleanup so that summer camp could open as scheduled in June.
One Friday night, the Order of the Arrow was having a calling out ceremony down on the river at the far western end of the camp in 1980. Wynn Alston remembers a fire that happened that night during the ceremony. It was his first year on staff, and he was deaf that night because of an ear infection. He could not hear what was going on in the ceremony, but was down there to be tapped out for the Order of the Arrow. He was walking back from the ceremony, after having been tapped out, when everyone started running past him on the way back to the main camp. He kept asking people who ran past him what was wrong but couldn’t hear a word they were saying because of the ear infection. He didn't know what was going on but continued walking down the road.
It turned out that a Scout, who had remained behind in his campsite, had decided to light the gasoline lantern sitting on the table under a dining fly, because it was getting dark and he was apparently getting a little frightened of the dark. No adults were in the campsite with him, and he did not know how to light the lantern. In the process of trying to light it, the lantern flared up and caught the dining fly on fire.
The fire was seen by some other Scouts, and they had ran down to the ceremony site to sound the alarm. Fortunately, the Scout was not hurt, but he learned a very valuable lesson about lanterns and tents. The ruined dining fly was purchased by the troop from camp, the ceremony went on to completion and all was well.. The camp was very fortunate not to have a more serious incident that night.
Summer Camp Not Held
After the swimming pool was built in 1978, they were also responsible to see that the pool water was safe to swim in. This meant daily checks of the pool, its chlorination system and the ph of the water. They also mowed the campsites and activity areas of the camp prior to any major activity. Without their constant work, the camp would not have been as inviting as it was. There have been at least five camp rangers at Camp Sol Mayer. They were:
W. G. “Buddy” Wyman - 1949-1967
During the time that Houston McCoy was Camp Ranger, the two bedroom home was expanded to include a den, master bedroom, larger dining area, new kitchen, and enlarged and modernized the bathroom. Later, a fireplace was added to the den. In addition, a large metal maintenance building and concrete block flammable storage building were built behind the home in 1976.
Thousands of Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Explorers have attended summer camp or an activity at Camp Sol Mayer. From 1945 to 1991, over 29, 480 Scouts had attended summer camp, 2,430 winter camp, 9,200 Cub camps and over 50,000 Scouts had attended a weekend troop campout at the camp.
The most Scouts attending
summer camp occurred from 1968 to 1975 when the camp was having 1,000 in
camp. In 1973, there were 1, 110 Scouts in summer camp. Swimming
has always remained the most popular activity in camp. More Scouts
earned the Swimming Merit Badge over the years than any other merit badge.
The San Angelo Rotary Club provided funds in 1971 to build a campsite north of the dining hall. The campsite was named Lonesome Pine due to the lone pine tree that was planted there. Troop 1 used that campsite for many years as they could spread out their tents into a larger square and still have room left over.
That same year, a cinderblock shower and staff center were build north of the old dining hall. The staff promptly put their wooden platforms up against the pavilion, as part of the new facility, so they could step from their tent directly onto the concrete in muddy weather as grass was hard to grown in that part of camp. They enjoyed the new hookups for the washer and dryer and having a picnic table and lights to use at night. Needless to say, it was hard to get a good nights sleep with the lights on, people washing and drying clothes and the slamming of the heavy spring loaded door to the restroom part of the facility.
A master plan was developed for the camp in 1975 under the direction of Jack Moore, Scout Executive, and a member of the National Engineering Service. Shortly after that, a major capital campaign was held to raise enough money to completely redo the camp. All the buildings on the camp were in dire need of repair, and additions and new buildings were added.
The first new air-conditioned building added to the camp in many years was the Central Service Building built in 1977. The building included an office for the camp director, a camp program office, a kitchen, meeting room for 60 people and separate men and women restroom facilities. At one end of the building, a combination trading post and quartermaster with a shelter for two picnic tables was built. One of the unique features of this new building was an enclosed wall display area for the council patch collection in the meeting room. Up until that time, the council had no place to display the old patches of the council. Attempts have been made to grow trees in front of the building but to date all attempts have failed. For some reason, trees just will not grow in that area.
The Scouts did their swimming and boating in the San Saba River. Following a couple of summers where the river was less than desirable for swimming, an Olympic size swimming pool was built by Gary Pools, Inc. of San Antonio on the west side of camp in 1978. The money for the pool were donated by the J. Phillips Robbins family of Fort Stockton. The pool fence and filtering system was built that first year. It was not until 1981 that the dressing room, showers and restroom facility were built. The plaque at the pool reads:
Jim Robbins Memorial Pool
This memorial made possible by the James Philip Robbins family, relatives, J. Lloyd Patton, friends of the Robbins family and Scouting.
In the early 1960s some 800 pecan trees were planted on the camp. They planted pecan trees for shade, and they had to plan a tree crop in order to get 60 acre feet of water from the river. The water from the river was used to water the trees through an irrigation system. About 1/3 of the trees died and efforts to replace them with other trees have failed due to lack of enough water to keep all the trees alive. The trees are now over 30 feet tall in some places. From 1975 through 1989, a hundred additional Arizona Ash, pecan and other trees each year were planted on the camp, but less than thirty of those trees exist today.
That same year, 1975, fifty dump truck loads of topsoil was moved to various areas of the camp to eliminate some old roads that ran in front of the buildings and for landscaping around the new Central Service building. A new underground telephone system was installed by the Telephone Pioneers of Texas. This system replaced one that was installed by the same group in June 1973 with overhead wires. The House of Telephones in San Angelo provided space and parts to rebuild all the telephones. Washstands were installed at three new campsites that were built the previous year along the river. A new split-rail fence was installed between the camp entrance and the dining hall parking lot. The fence rails were obtained for 50 cents each from Christoval when they tore up the old railroad track between San Angelo and Christoval. Some of the railroad ties still had 1929 date stamps in them from the year the railroad was built. A new physical fitness course was built behind the Central Service Building.
The water for the camp was first pumped from a well and later pumped out of the San Saba River through a sand filtering system up to a storage tank at the dining hall. As the rules of the State Health Department became more stringent, it became apparent that a new source of water had to be found for the camp. A new water well was drilled in front of the dining hall in 1977, just west of the flag pole, to replace the old pump system. It was capable of pumping 50 gallons of water a minute. Within a few years, however, the well dropped to 5 gallons per minute.
During that time, two wells were drilled by LeRoy Hanusch of Eldorado. Both wells were good, but the one closest to the water storage tank was selected as the water source for camp. The other well had been drilled on the extreme west side of camp. The installation of pump, pipes and automatic control were installed under the supervision of AD “Gus” Clemons Company of San Angelo.
After a few years, it was discovered that the well in front of the dining hall had dropped to 5 gallons of water a minute. It was first thought that water ran from the river to the well, but it was discovered that the water was just a pool under the ground that was filled by rain water. After drilling another five wells on the camp property and not finding any that produced more than 5 gallons minute, they moved across the highway to the ranch and drilled another well. Although it was a good well, it had brine water and could not be used in the camp. Finally, a well was drilled across U.S. 290, and enough water was found for camp. This well was at least a mile and a half from camp. Later, in the 1990s, a 50 gallon per minute well, that had been used by the oil company to pump water into their oil wells to increased production, was added to the system. This well was located two miles from camp. The water at the camp today is provided by four wells located on the camp and ranch.
A new chapel was built in 1980 which would seat 200 people for both chapel and campfires. The chapel followed the same design that was used at Camp Fawcett and each row of seats was poured a layer at a time until all ten layers were completed. One year, in late 1980s, a flood rose just one row of seats from the top of the chapel. The area was also used for Friday night campfires and for Sunday opening campfire. The chapel was dedicated to the honor of H. C. Grafa. The plaque on the huge oak tree at the top of the hill reads:
H. C. Grafa original trustee
of Camp Sol Mayer and Scout Ranch, Council President two different terms,
having served Scout over 40 years. In grateful appreciation this
memorial Chapel is dedicated June 19, 1980.
That same year, the old original rangers’ residence, now called the Central Lodge, was a converted World War II barrack’s building and was the first home of “Buddy” Wyman and his family. It was later rocked on the outside to cover up the clapboard exterior. With the help of the Civil Engineers at Goodfellow Air Force Base, the interior was gutted, and a concrete foundation and floor were installed. The roof was reinforced, and a completely new interior was built. This included electricity, plumbing, a new kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area, insulation, new windows, wall covering and ceiling. The building was also air-conditioned for year-round use. Ray Kedziora of San Angelo was the contractor on the building. Terry Williams of Big Lake built flag poles for all the campsites and donated a portable barbecue pit to camp. Later, a climbing wall was added in 2007 to go with the rappelling tower shown on your right.
Camp Sol Mayer - Summer 2006 and Beyond
In 2009 and 2010, summer camp was only held for two weeks, but in 2011 it was once again held for three weeks with 206 Scouts in attendance.
High Ad-VENTURING Get-a-Way Camp
Although the weather was wet at times, the camp included Scuba training, skeet shooting, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, astronomy, black powder, shotgun, rifle, pistol, climbing, rappelling, games, a horseback ride, golf, frisbee golf, leadership classes, and a visit to Fort McKavett and the Caverns of Sonora.
Their fee of $125 for youth and $50 per adult, covered nine meals, Discover Scuba Training costs, program materials and a custom High Ad-Venturing Camp patch. Go HERE for photos of the Venture Camp.
In the summer of 2010, some 178 youth and 62 adults attended Boy Scout Summer Camp over two sessions of camp. For the past two seasons, the council has used mostly volunteer staff.
West Texas Ranch Adventure 2009 - 2011
The boys came to camp on Sunday, check in with their troop, and then tell the leaders they will see them at the end of the week. They would then bring their gear to the corral and load it onto the ranch truck that headed to the base camp. The wranglers (staff) would help the Scout pick out a horse and tack to fit the individual boy's needs. They would then saddle up and practice riding in the 150’ X 300’ arena before heading to the base camp on the Sol Mayer Ranch. Once the Scout was at base camp he would unsaddle, brush and feed their horse then set up their gear for a night under the stars.
Each day on the ranch offered a new experience for the crew while fine tuning their riding skills. They learned to care for their horse and tack, trap with a trapper, round up livestock, cook on a campfire and do predator calling with the local game warden.
The food for the ranch adventure was cooked over a fire or in a cowboy wok using only fresh ingredients like fresh farm eggs, venison, vegetables, hamburger, etc. And a cobbler cooked in a Dutch oven as a treat!
Each Ranch Adventure Scout was able to complete requirements for the horsemanship and cooking merit badges. Only 15 slots per week were available for the ranch adventure.
2007 Winter Camp at Camp Sol Mayer
Each morning of camp started with a flag ceremony followed by a hearty breakfast. Throughout the day each Scout got some time to complete up to four merit badges. In the evening after a well prepared dinner and retreat ceremony, the camp had an opportunity to join in on fun and games. The evening activities ranged from board games, to movies, and camp fire presentation put on by all of the campers in attendance. Sunday Morning, December 30th, closed the week's events with an all Faith Vesper Service and than a farewell ceremony where all that were in attendance received a commemorative 2007 Winter Camp Patch. Many merit badges were earned.
Some 122 Scouts, leaders
and staff participated in the 2008 Winter Camp at Camp Sol Mayer.
New Central Shower
Summer camp continues to
be held each summer with two weeks being held in 2012 with some 120 youth
in attendance. A special committee has been appointed by the Texas
Scoutwest Council to see what direction the council needs to go in the
future as it pertains to summer camp.
Go HERE to view a map of the camp as it is today. The map was made by Wynn Alston, webmaster of the Concho Valley Council's web site.
Information from A Thousand Campfires by James T. Henderson, 1991 and Panjandrum A History of Scouting in the Concho Valley Council 1911 - 2001 by Frank T. Hilton. Additional Information was provided by Wynn Alston, a longtime summer camp staff member.