Saturday, November 10, 2012
Camping and the "Over & Under" patch
When we went camping and the temperature at night dipped below freezing, we were awarded an "Over and Under" patch which was sewn on the sleeve of our blue sweater. The patch was awarded only the first time you earned it, so subsequent freezing nights brought no additional award.
Spending the night in a tent in below-freezing cold was no easy feat, since our tents and sleeping bags were not as effective in keeping out the cold as modern camping equipment.
Our tents at Linton Hall were military surplus cotton canvas, not as effective as nylon in keeping out the wind, especially since the tents were made up of two halves, with each cadet providing his half of the two-man tent, and the two halves were buttoned (not zipped) together. The tent halves were only for the side/top of the tent; there was no bottom part, and one cadet's poncho would be laid on the ground inside the tent. Our sleeping bags went right over the poncho, with no pad to insulate from the cold or the hardness of the ground. If camping in winter, there would be fallen leaves that you could put under the poncho, and a thick layer does work well, both as padding and as insulation, but unfortunately the officers did not like the messiness of too many leaves under the poncho, so you had to do it without being noticed, and in order to avoid being noticed, couldn't really put too many leaves.
Since there was no bottom to the tent, the sides touched the ground but the wind still managed to pass through.
My sleeping bag, as well as pretty much everyone else's, was filled with polyester fiber; which is good enough for an indoor sleepover, but far less effective than feathers and down at keeping you warm. Such sleeping bags probably existed (since feathers existed long before polyester was invented!) but I don't recall anyone having one.
Besides a tent half and a sleeping bag, each cadet at Linton Hall also carried (should I say lugged) a tent pole and (I think) four pegs for the tent. Officers also carried a folding military-type shovel, which could be used to hammer the pegs into the ground, smooth the ground under the tent and remove any protruding rocks, or lent to a "poor soul" assigned to latrine duty.
Latrine duty meant digging a trench next to a fallen log, for the rest of the campers to use as a toilet. I was lucky enough to never be chosen for latrine duty (definitely not a sought-after job) so I am not too familiar with the details. If you needed to do a number two, you would pull down your pants and sit on the log. I am not sure whether the person who had just gone to the bathroom would throw some dirt into the hole to cover up (umm, how do I say this politely?) his solid waste product or whether everything remained there until those with latrine duty covered up the hole at the end of the camping trip. If you needed to urinate you could just go in the woods without using the latrine, or (this is the first time I'm admitting this, after more than forty years) if it was at night and it was really cold and scary to leave your tent, you could unzip your sleeping bag on the side nearest the tent wall, lift up the side of the tent wall a little bit, and pee out the tent, all while hoping that the ground sloped away from the tent.
Although flashlights weren't provided as part of the camping gear, many of us at Linton Hall had one, and it was definitely an advantage if at least one of the two cadets in each tent had one. Camping trips were also occasions when we could consume our secret stash of candy that we had brought from home expressly for the camping trip (I was not alone in doing this; it was quite common at Linton Hall Military School, so common in fact that the Commandant had told us that if we had candy, we wouldn't get in trouble for it, but just had to consume it that evening and not leave it in the tent, where it would attract wild animals. Camping trips were also occasions in which being slightly out of uniform was allowed -- instead of the regulation knit cap, some had other hats, one even had a coonskin cap.
I think that there were times when the over and under patch could be earned during a regular camping trip, but I also remember an overnight trip where we pitched out tents very close to the Linton Hall school building, on the other side of the driveway, just past the cedar trees that line the driveway. There was no latrine dug that time and we were allowed to use the bathroom in the school basement, but had been warned by the Commandant that if we stayed there more than five minutes or so (to warm up under the excuse of using the bathroom) we would be disqualified from the Over Under patch. We also each got a cup of hot cocoa that night; I don't recall it being provided on other camping trips. The reason for camping close to the Linton Hall school building was so if anyone got so cold he couldn't stand it, he could go back to his dorm and sleep in his own warm bed, but forfeiting the chance to be awarded the patch.
For those who've never slept in the cold, sleeping becomes next to impossible; the body's survival mechanism keeps you awake, and shivering, in order to keep your body temperature from falling. The cadet I shared a tent with couldn't stand it, and he decided to go back into the building. I don't remember him telling me he was giving up, it's likely that he went to the bathroom to warm up, and then decided to go upstairs. After a long while I realized he wasn't coming back, so I got out of my sleeping bag, put my sleeping bag inside his, and with a double sleeping bag managed to spend the night outdoors and earn my Over and Under patch. And no, sleeping inside two sleeping bags isn't cheating, any more than having a better quality feather-filled sleeping bag would be cheating. I still have the patch I earned at Linton Hall Military School. That's a picture of it.
Copyright 2012 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
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