ORANGE — Doug Allen has had the sort of fulfilling life in Scouting that I used to read about in Boys Life magazine as a kid: Beginning as a Cub Scout at age 8, Allen found outdoor adventure and camaraderie. He made Eagle Scout at an early age and went on to be an adult leader of a troop that goes on two-week canoe trips into Canada and 80-mile backpack hikes through the Sierra. He included 'Eagle Scout' on his job resumes and wound up with a job building a space station. There probably wasn't a Scout of his generation who didn't dream of someday building space stations.
My own Scouting career wasn't so idyllic. I lasted one year in the Cub Scouts, where our den mother's dry yard was all we saw of nature. With watered-down Kool-Aid and stale cookies, I'd swear she turned a profit on our 15-cent dues. Our motto may have been "Be Prepared to Suffer." For the slightest infraction of unstated rules we'd be compelled to crawl through a gantlet of paddling fellow Cubs. Once, upon winning a paper drive, we were awarded a wood-burning kit, which we never saw again. The final straw came when we did a show for parents in which our pack lip-synced to Beatles records, and they made \o7 me\f7 be Ringo.
Maybe that's why I turned my back on Scouting, becoming a bitter journalist, while Allen builds space stations and is still so taken with Scouting that he has amassed a collection of thousands of rare Boy Scout items. It's practically enough to fill a museum, and that's what he hopes to do someday.
Some of his collection is on display (and some for sale) at Nix Books (2820 E. Chapman) in Orange, while more of it crowds the study of the Orange home he shares with his wife, Sharon, and three teen-age sons.
He has 1930s jodhpurs, '50s flint fire-starting kits, an ashtray commemorating the 1953 Scout Jamboree held in Orange County (from which our Jamboree Boulevard derives its name), felt-cased canteens, merit badges, axes, first-aid kits, belts, ancient issues of Boys Life and two copies of the Scout Grail, the 1910 handbook by Boy Scouts of America founder, naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, including a signed copy from Seton's own library.
While most of his collection is devoted to American Scouting, he also has several rare items from Britain, where Scouting was originated in 1908 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. He was a hero of the Boer War, where he had organized boys in a courier corps, also using them as medical aides and scouts.
Baden-Powell was encouraged to develop a civilian version of that corps at home, Allen said, because "there was a lot of concern in that time before World War I about the listlessness and directionlessness of boys, concern that boys would go bad if they didn't have anything to hold onto. Here in the U.S. they had the same concerns."
While others in the growing hobby of Scout collectibles tend to specialize in particular areas--collecting merit badges, for example--Allen says he collects everything. "I'm interested in the history of Scouting, and every item you come across tells you a little more," he said. If those jodhpurs could only talk!
The early Scout uniforms in the United States were often surplus Army doughboy uniforms, and that is of some historical import, Allen said.
"At first there was a lot of resistance to Scouting from pacifists. There was quite a pacifist and isolationist movement then. I have some slogan pins from the time, 'I didn't raise my son to be a soldier,' 'No entangling alliances,' things like that. And these sectors thought the Scouts were militaristic because they wore uniforms that were the same color as military uniforms, or even surplus doughboy uniforms."
Until it was recognized by Congress in 1916, the Boy Scouts of America was only one of several scouting organizations duking it out for prominence in the United States. Others had similar names, such as the American Scouts and the Scouts of America. Some of these groups drilled with rifles and did other military training.
Early Boy Scouting was decidedly more pacific, though, if relatively rustic by today's standards. Even city boys then usually weren't far from a rural area, and Allen relates that it wasn't unusual for Scouts to take to the woods for a week or two with no adult supervision.
"Some of them would even fell trees and build cabins. They might live in it for a whole summer, hunting game or bartering with local farmers for eggs and milk. They might only get a visit from a Scoutmaster on a weekend. Things were a lot different then, where I guess parents weren't afraid to let their kids run off to the woods for quite a length of time and live on their own," Allen said.