38 Special Years – “rangerdan” Retires

38 years. One company. That’s a pretty good stretch for anyone.

 

Dan Damon, BTSR Ranger
Dan Damon, BTSR Ranger
For Dan Damon or “rangerdan” as he prefers to be known, 38 years made a pretty good career as a camp ranger for the Boy Scouts. 30 of those years were spent at BTSR. It’s easy to understand how a person might become attached to a place after that amount of time. Almost as easy to comprehend is how a group of Scouts and Scouters (volunteer and professional alike) might become attached to someone who had given the kind of service Dan Damon has.

 

Damon shoeAlthough his official retirement date is not until December 31st, he’ll become a little more scarce at camp beginning October 2nd when his former residence is remodeled to make way for a new camp ranger. After November 26th, he’ll be on vacation and will be settling into his new home which is still within easy driving distance from camp.

 

Damon 092006We invite all those who have known and had the honor to work with Dan Damon to a special celebration commemorating his service at a retirement ceremony which will be held at BTSR from 4:00 to 6:30pm on Saturday, September 26th. The ranch will be closed to camping that weekend. Please RSVP by 9/24 with Gracie at (432) 570-7601 or gracie.quintela@scouting.org.

 

For more information on Mr. Damon’s career and a brief history of the last 30 years of BTSR, read on for a bio penned by rangerdan himself.

 

Dan Damon thought he knew what he was getting into when he arrived at Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch November 15, 1985 to take on the duties of Camp Ranger.  After all, he’d spent most of the last 8 years as Assistant Ranger at El Rancho Cima, one of the largest and most popular Boy Scout summer camp destinations in the state. But nothing in those years in the Texas hill country could have prepared him for the steep challenges facing him at the Scout ranch.

“When I interviewed in September, I told Gerald Petty (Associate Scout Executive in 1985) that I wasn’t a cowboy, wasn’t a welder.  He said that was ok, they were pretty big on “on the job training” out here.  So after I arrived, my first task was to locate the camp’s 17 head of horses and mules, somewhere in the mountains. The Council had a list of animal names; no description, no markings, no I.D. I spent my first two weeks in the saddle, on a borrowed horse, with a map and compass. I stayed lost most of the time, but I found a few, brought them back.  Then a friendly Border Patrol pilot spotted the rest of the herd about 8 miles west of headquarters, and with some help from volunteers and neighboring cowboys, we brought those back to the house pasture.”

“My next task was to take the cutting torch and welding machine down to the headquarters corrals and prepare to build new pens. More on the job training.”

There was lot more to learn. An Eagle Scout with a Bachelor of Journalism from UT, Damon’s Scouting background and ability to communicate opened doors for him throughout West Texas.  Great men like Charlie Ross, Dub Watley, and Jim Harrison befriended him, offered advice, gave direction, and provided endless assistance.

Dan married Nola early in the same year they moved to the Scout ranch, and she commuted to Alpine to pursue her career as a Nurse Practitioner for most of their married life.  They split up in 2013. Their daughter, Kathy, was born in June of 1988, and she grew up in the ranger home on the Scout ranch. She went to school in Fort Davis, graduated from Sul Ross State University, and now teaches kindergarten in Midland.  Kathy and husband Matthew Harty are raising “the perfect” grandchildren, Aubry Candance (5) and Damon Matthew (infant) in Odessa, Texas.

Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch was known as “the ranch that beads built” with a tradition of honoring men and boys who volunteered their labor with a colored plastic bead, one for every weekend.  Scouts and Scouters strung these beads on “coups”; some older men had strings of beads that stretched to the ground. Damon had to direct the efforts of diverse, and sometimes contentious groups of people towards building and maintaining a quality facility. There was a lot of politics. He made a deliberate effort to greet every group that came to the Scout ranch, and to thank every individual who made an effort for their time.  Sometime in the 1980’s, he was branded with the  nickname “rangerdan,” and it stuck.

Most of the materials for building and maintaining the camp were gifts as well. Damon was responsible for gathering up anything and everything that the Scout ranch might need.  So again with map and compass, this time driving a half-ton Ford towing a single-axel trailer, rangerdan roamed West Texas collecting donated horses, steel pipe, furniture, building supplies,  and even food to feed the volunteers.

“I’d drag back to camp at midnight, loaded with crap Jed Clampett wouldn’t have hauled.  But that was all there was to build a camp out of. I wrote a lot of thank-you letters in those days,” said Damon.

BTSR’s fortunes have always been tied to those of the oil patch, and as the petroleum industry began to climb out of the doldrums of the “bust” of the 1980’s, business at the Scout ranch began to increase as well. Boy Scout troops from all over Texas began to visit BTSR, and the program expanded beyond the headquarters area.  But there were some hiccups along the way…

“In 1987 I received a call from some mouthy bureaucrat on the east side of the state asking about the Little Aguja Creek Pondweed. I’d heard of this plant from an SRSU biologist that used to visit regularly, never paid it much attention. After about an hour of trumpeting the importance of this ‘rare and endangered’ plant and touting the legal significance of the Endangered Species Act, Mr. Bureaucrat advised me that I needed to ‘fence off all the waterholes’ and ‘prevent Scouts from entering the creek’ so that the horses and children wouldn’t ‘disturb’ the Pondweed.  I thought he was nuts, and hung up on him.”  That set off a chain of events that consumed a great deal of 1987 for Damon, and brought the Buffalo Trail Council, BSA squarely in opposition to the federal government.  It gave also gave focus to anti-government, anti-regulation landowner sentiment that had been simmering throughout the Davis Mountains for many years.  The Council ultimately lost the battle, and the potomogeton clystocarpus was declared an endangered species, but in the face of outraged landowner hostility, the federal government lost momentum, and little protective action was ever taken.

Damon’s interest in the horse program had been one of the attractions that lead him to take the job at BTSR, and that subsequently lead him to try to learn more about the creatures that inhabited the corrals. He started taking classes at SRSU in 1989 with the idea of earning an associate degree in Farrier Technology, but ultimately ended up (in 1995) with a Masters of Agriculture. Knowledge and experience he gained at the Range Animal Science Center was critical to keeping the remuda in good health as the BTSR horse program expanded.

The 1990’s saw continued growth of the summer camp program at the Scout ranch, under the leadership of Camp Directors Sam Howell and Mark Smith. Both became Damon’s life-long friends. It was also a decade of drought and lean budgets.  As the out-of-Council numbers grew, local participation declined. Damon took over as Scoutmaster of Troop 30 in Fort Davis for a few years, and considers helping young men to Eagle Scout rank as one of the most important accomplishments of his life.

In January of 1999, a landowner to the west of BTSR called and asked rangerdan to “come over for a visit.” It was an unusual request, and involved a 4-hour 4-wheel drive commute, but Damon drove over and was introduced to a proposal for the largest land acquisition Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch had been offered since its inception in 1947.  Following 4 years of haggling, surveying, intrigue, and involvement by at least 5 non-profit organizations, in May of 2003, BTSR expanded its boundaries from about 6,000 acres to today’s 9,013 acres.

Demands on rangerdan time doubled.  The Council embarked on ambitious plans for two new remote staffed camps, reworked the roads on the new property, and purchased a variety of off-road vehicles.  Summer camp attendance exploded, and an aging, failing infrastructure, never intended for use for so long by so many, demanded constant attention.  After 2000, there were lots of new faces at the Council level as well.

Around the millenium, the SRSU Archaeology Club, under the supervision of Bob Mallouf, undertook a series of explorations at the Indian Paintings. BTSR accepted the task of supporting the amateur archaeologists during the digs, and Damon became driver, cook, and occasionally shovel-bum for the group.  This association lead to his deep fascination with the pre-historic native Americans who inhabited the Trans-Pecos, and lead to some amateur archaeological adventures off-camp.

Climactic change had come to play an increasing role in the operation of the Scout ranch.  The never-ending drought of the ’90s did finally end, and the Scout ranch saw some greener years. But sudden flooding, dryer-than-dry periods, and catastrophic freezes exceeded even the extremes common to the Davis Mountains. When the RockHouse Fire roared north from Marfa, through Fort Davis, and ultimately throughout the Scout ranch in April of 2011, it had plenty of fuel to consume. The holocaust charcoaled more than 90% of the Scout ranch. The summer camp that followed was a misery. The needed, prayed-for rain finally fell, but instead of soaking in, ran off in torrents. Roads washed out, trails disappeared, and Little Aguja Creek ran black with ash and soot for two years. Repair and maintenance gave way to emergency salvage. The Goat Cave Canyon flood September 12, 2014 destroyed much of the infrastructure on the east side of headquarters, damaged several buildings, and filled the maintenance area with mud and rocks. It was a savage blow.

With the extremes of weather and subsequent erosion came extremes in Damon’s life.  His mother passed away, he divorced, he had rotator cuff surgery on his right arm after more than a year of pain. On the bright side, he gained a small inheritance which enabled him to buy 30 acres in Menard, he became a grandfather, twice, and took up dancing with his sometime fishing partner, Ms. Lydia Huber.

While the Council hired Damon to tend to the maintenance and security of the Scout ranch, he is perhaps best known for his antics as “Samurai Dan”, slicing watermelon and hurling insult humor at Scouts during summer camp picnics.  What started more than 40 years ago as an effort to speed the dreary feeding of an endless line of hungry boys turned into a comedic routine with a machete’, raggedy-man costume, and “edible sculptures.”  Whether serving a timid 11-year old from the end of “a yard-long knife,” or screaming “is that a fly?” and splattering watermelon debris under the flat of his blade, Samurai Dan turned the mundane into entertainment for hundreds of Scouts every summer.

As “life after Boy Scouts” approaches, Damon acknowledges that he has much for which to be thankful. A life lived in the out-of-doors, a career in service to Scouting, and the company of the boys, men, and women that camped at the Scout Ranch leaves no cause for regret.  The “on the job training” paid off, and for thirty years he learned, worked, and developed the largest, and now most successful Boy Scout camp in the state of Texas.

“I’ve ridden the best, I’ve worked with the best, and I’ve done my best. It has been an honor, and a privilege, to serve the Scouts and Scouters of west Texas.”