Hughes Remembers:

Hughes Acquatic Base Beginnings

8/3/93  Newell Hughes Remembers the Hughes Aquatic Base and Training Center. Note: This is a talk between Steve Odom, former Scout Executive of the Buffalo Trail Council and Newell Hughes, long time volunteer. 

Cosden had a property on the East Side of Lake Colorado City, also an employee recreation area that was called the Col-Tex Club. Cosden had become American Petrofina, or FINA by that time and had decided to dispose of the Col-Tex Club. One of our good Scouters in Big Spring, Sam Hunicutt, an official with FINA, had been given the assignment to handle the disposition of Col-Tex. He heard of our situation from our Scout Executive, Steve Odom. Sam contacted the upper management of FINA, and the decision was to donate the Col-Tex Club property and facilities to the Buffalo Trail Council, a decision for which we will be forever grateful. We received title in October of 1980.

When we first looked at Col-Tex, it appeared to be large enough to operate a small camp, and had a large dining hall-type building, some picnic shelters and a utility building. It was located on a point on the lake with waterfront footage on the main body, the Morgan Creek channel, and footage on a cove. Then, a big rain came and filled the lake up to spillway level. Steve Odom and I went and looked at it again, and we had a couple of buildings setting on what was almost an island and no land for a camp. The water was lapping on the part of the foundation of the large building that was nearest the lake. I remember Steve saying, "What are we going to do with this now?" So we had to either sell it or acquire more land.

I guess we were real lucky as we have been in a lot of our dealings with Scout camps because we have acquired enough land without paying any premiums. Actually, the first piece of adjoining waterfront land we bought was from Mr. Gainey, and he sold it to us for exactly what he had paid for it, even though land had increased greatly in value since he bought it. Other land that we wound up acquiring, was bought at the appraised value or less; so we didn't waste any money or pay an bonuses.

Numerous Patrons Helped

Numerous patrons made possible the acquisition of additional waterfront footage to add to the original gift, and a little over 8-acre tract of non-waterfront property that is now the Harie Hall Tent Camping area. Harie Hall of Big Spring provided our principal financial support for the development of the camp, and at first, she didn't want any recognition at all. But somehow or other, the tent camping area appealed to her and she allowed us to name it in her honor.

There is an interesting story connected to our acquiring the acreage for the tent camping area. There was a fellow over in Big Spring who had a place adjoining ours right on the lake and in addition he owned an additional eight or so acres just across the road from his place. This also made it right across our camp. We negotiated with him for it to use for larger group camping. We had money put up-in escrow and an agreement with him to buy it, when he backed out with a long story about his wife not wanting him to dispose of the land and threatening to leave him if he did.

We found out later that he didn't back out because of his wife, who did leave him later. The fact was, a couple had offered him more money; so he sold it to them. This caused us to have to change our plans for the development of the camp. Eventually, the couple who purchased the acreage came to a parting of the ways, and their splitting of their assets gave us another chance. They had ideas of getting rich off of it, but I explained to them that I wouldn't offer any more than the appraised value, and they could gain a tax benefit by making a gift of part of it. They accepted this, and we wound up getting it for less than our cost would have been if we had bought it from the original owner.  By being forced to wait about three years, we acquired our land and saved money.

At first, it appeared that we wouldn't be able to acquire much additional waterfront property at reasonable prices, because most of the owners weren't looking to sell. Circumstances seemed to come about to change that. and with patience, we accomplished our objectives. After our first acquisition, the Gainey land, we were able to buy an adjoining undeveloped lot because the owner needed money to take care of his elderly mother. Then another landowner developed an illness and decided to move; so we managed to buy a lot and a 'half adjoining us to the east. His brother had the other 'half lot, which he was then willing to sell. The last acquisition was the most expensive, but it had a mobile home on it, was well improved and landscaped, and in addition had a dock that reached out on the main lake side, the Morgan Creek channel.

All together, we wound up with thirteen and a fraction acres, which is adequate for a one hundred camper aquatic camp. We expanded the original gift of 400 waterfront feet to just under 900.

I was just an agent in the development of the camp and I didn't feel like I did enough to deserve the camp to be named after me, but anyway, it turned out to be a good investment in land and facilities and I'm very proud of the way It all turned out. It has really shown that it can meet a need in a dry part of the country. There is no setting a value when you can provide the kids with that kind of an aquatic program.  It is worth a lot more than we put into it. 

Steve Odom: Newell, after we acquired some money to do the renovation and development, you were kind enough to take over the volunteer job of helping plan the camp, supervising the workmen and hiring and supervising any contractors that were needed. This was a tremendous effort on your part, and a great story in itself. r know you have some interesting memories of things that happened.

Well, I tell you, for one thing, we had a man over there that knew everybody in the country. He knew where every surplus piece of pipe was out in somebody's pasture. A. W. Sullivan had been the Council's resident caretaker when it had Camp Lake Colorado City on the West Side of the lake. We relinquished the lease there and sold the improvements, which included the cottage he had been living in. He moved into a home of his own on the lake and continued to work for the Council as we developed what we had named the ColTex Aquatic Base, but what was usually called Camp ColTex. I used him as project foreman on the job.

A. W. had been in the army, and I'd say that he must have had a tremendous career in the army as a scrounger. In the service, there were people, scroungers, who could come up with cakes and pies for your messhall, while others were eating hardtack bread. A. W. was the best I ever saw at scroungin. So many of the things we needed when we were just about to run out of cash and trying to make it stretch until we got more money.

The first job we had to do was to put a roof on the concrete block wing of the dining hall. A good Scouter from Midland, Melton Post, was in the roofing business and came and put the new roof on as a donation. So, we started off with a bang getting things done. The whole facility had been put to many uses, including many parties, and mistreated until it took a whale of a lot of just cleaning up to start with. After we got it pretty well cleaned up, the grounds and the buildings, we started looking at what to do next.

The first thing needed was a dock. We had sufficient rowboats, canoes and a couple of sailboats all left over from Camp Murphy on Lake Thomas. Just having them on the ground made it look like an aquatic camp. We started building a dock by building the frame on shore and moved the finished part down to the water, floated it into place and anchored it. The water was very low, and the pilings that were left over from a previous dock were actually all on dry land. 

The area between the end of our floating dock that was anchored on land and the walkway leading down to it was filled up with beer cans and bottles and junk of all kinds. When we got around to paving our parking area and driveway into the camp, I had the paving contractor bulldoze the area that would have been underwater if the lake hadn't been so unusually low, and haul the junk out of there. As well as I remember, he hauled five loads out in his big 15 cubic yard trucks. This made a clean swimming area next to the dock when the water came up. We were very fortunate because when we started, what was planned as our swimming area was dry enough to clean the bottom. It is very seldom the lake is that low. Then the rains came at the right time and raised the lake level enough to give us about five feet of water, sloping down from the shore.

Our end product for the dock included about fifty feet of flat ramp and then another fifty or sixty feet of hinged walkway, one end resting on the floating dock and the other end hinged on the land side; so even though the lake cnanged-in level, our dock would always be far enough out to be in the water. The rains that raised the swimming level also raised our floating dock, but the hinged walkway down to it still descended about ten feet. The next rains floated the dock up until it was level with the walkway from the shore. In fact, it was slightly higher than the flat ramp leading out to it. The lake isn't a constant level lake by any means, and these changes in the level proved the design of our dock. As far as I know, the water level since then has always useable. It has turned out to be a very good lake, and a good location.- 5 -

We had another experience with rising water. During the heavy rains, the water table had risen to where it was forcing water up through the slab of the dining hall so that it was pushing the vinyl floor tile off. The foundation of the building was constructed so it actually served as an inverted tank. We'll probably always have a problem with that, because the building slab is located right at or below the spillway level of the lake, and the lake has been known to fill up to that level or above during heavy rains, even in dry West Texas.

This same thing has happened with some of the public buildings in Midland.  In fact, where I got the idea on how to handle our problem with the dining hall was from work I had done on water in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Midland. We constructed a french drain. which is a fairly primitive way of draining basements or water from under slabs. It is a ditch partially filled with gravel, with a perforated coIlector pipe running through it. This leads water, including that which runs off the roof, away from the building. It's not a permanent remedy, but except in years when we have exceptional rain fall, it should be adequate. As far as I know, we haven't had any more problems.

One of our good and very dedicated workmen, Shorty, came out one morning in his little pickup and parked it at the top of the bank beside our walkway going down to the dock. He looked up from work in a while and his pickup was gone. That little pickup had moved between-the posts we had put up to keep parked cars from doing what-it did, barely touching on either side and rolling on down the hill into the water. When he spotted it, it was just going under. I don't believe there was any way that Shorty could have driven his pickup through there on purpose without hitting a post, because the spacing allowed less than an inch on each side. The cab_of the pickup was tight enough and it had enough impetus from its trip down the slope, that it floated out fifteen or twenty feet before it started sinking. 

A fellow that lived in Coahoma, who had moved some buildings from Lake Thomas for us, had a big truck with a long boom on it. We got him down there and he picked it out with that long boom. He thought it was so funny that he didn't charge anything for the trip.

By the time we started on the ColTex camp, practically everything was gone from Camp Murphy on Lake Thomas. The Council had sold the property and what buildings we hadn't already salvaged at an Order of the Arrow work weekend. Salvaged lumber from Murphy was used at the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch in building the new Camp Ranger's home. The buildtngs we moved from Lake Thomas were a gift from our good Scouter in Snyder, Lyle Deffebach. Lyle had given us his place on Lake Thomas. It was a typical Lake Thomas waterfront site that didn't have any water because the lake had receded far from it. There was a nice little cottaage and a small building that was plumbed and sort of a spare bedroom.  Next to the Deffebach place was an uncompleted dwelling that had been started and the folks moved away.  Lyle had persuaded the owners to give this to us also.

We moved Lyle's cottage from Lake Thomas to Camp ColTex and rebuilt it to be our Camp Ranger's residence. We also moved the small building and located it near the Dining Hall. It has had various uses, including cook's quarters and health lodge. We salvaged out the uncompleted dwelling and got a lot of good lumber from it. Much of the lumber we used at ColTex came from that.

The dining hall at Camp ColTex came with a kitchen, but it wasn't in too good a condition, was too small and didn't have the equipment for cooking for large groups like we do at Scout camp. There was a large hallway, and we enlarged the kitchen by moving one of the partition walls, taking over part of the hallway. The Assistant Scout Executive, Gerald Petty, had been operating summer camp at the Buffalo Trail Scout Ranch, and had experience with camp kitchen needs from that. He and I planned what should go in the new kitchen. We put in stainless steel equipment, a big restaurant type refrigerator and a large deepfreeze. In addition, we moved a walk-in cooler from the Scout Ranch which became surplus there when the Ranch acquired large coolers from the remodeling of the hospital in Odessa. We installed this walk-in just outside the kitchen door and built a room around it.

With this enlarging and re-equipping, the kitchen is probably as fine a facility as any camp that size has. It can easily handle more than the capacity of the camp. I understand that some of the equipment we put in has been replaced now due to a different style of feeding that is currently being used, where items such as deep fryers aren't needed.

The original hallway of the dining hall was large enough to have a dance in, and the five foot width that I took out of it to enlarge the kitchen didn't hurt a bit. This also enabled us to enlarge the two rest rooms, making them handicap accessible.

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