Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Old Campaigner Restored

I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old [campaign] hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

Among a number of 1940s-1950s Scouting items recently donated to the Unadilla Boy Scout Museum was a Boy Scout Campaign Hat once belonging to Unadilla Scouter Kenneth E. Davis. “The hat was so badly crushed we were going to throw it out. In fact we fished it back out of the dumper when we heard about your museum,” said his son Richard as they were preparing his father’s house for auction. The museum reluctantly accepted the sorry piece of felt and immediately set off on an internet search on how to clean it and put some snap back into the brim of the ol’ Campaigner.

A quick check of the Troop 1 BSA Unadilla NY Book of Names, the official roster of nearly every Scout or Leader who joined the troop since 1910, showed us Kenneth was an active a member of the Troop Committee in 1954 when the troop met on Tuesdays at the Presbyterian Church, and again in 1955 when son Richard joined the troop; Kenneth continued to serve on the Troop Committee at least until 1963, when Richard’s brother James also joined the troop. At that time, Troop 1 had a roster of around 40 boys and met at the American Legion Post on Tuesdays. None of the family appear on the roster after 1964—father Kenneth, sons Richard or Jim.

An examination of the hat itself revealed Kenneth’s initials K.E.D. on the sweatband, the logo of the Boy Scouts of America and the manufacturer’s mark of Sigmund Eisner Co., Red Hook, N.J. National Outfitter from 1910-1932. The Sigmund Eisner Co. was the official manufacturers of Boy Scout, Army, and National Guard uniforms and the supplier of Troop 1 Unadilla’s first uniform in 1910, essentially a boy-sized version of the doughboy uniform the company supplied the U.S. Army.

This hat-in-hand, so to speak, appeared to be similar to Eisner’s No. 503 17 oz. Regulation Scout Hat, but made of lighter-weight (4.1 oz.) olive drab felt, with a grommet ventilated crown, two grommets on the brim to let the shoestring chinstrap pass through, an olive drab grosgrain ribbon band and three rows of brown stitching along the rim. A 1916 Scouting catalog listed an Eisner Regulation Scout Hat as costing all of $1.90 but Kenneth’s hat has some earmarks of a hat made in the late 20s or 30s. –less of a peaked crown, ribbon instead of the leather band and machine stitching on the brim. That this could be the hat that Kenneth wore in his own youth is collaborated by his also-donated personal Handbook for Boys that shows on the My Scout History page he was a new Tenderfoot Scout in 1930, just two years before Eisner’s was out of the Scout uniform business. Along the way, someone, perhaps Kenneth himself, had replaced the original detachable lace ties with a silver and brown woven lanyard style chinstrap.

We quickly learned that you need a light hand and work carefully if we wanted to restore a felt hat that is antique or expensive or if it had sentimental value. What this particular Boy Scout campaign hat was short on in antiquity or cost, it certainly made up long on sentimental value. This “lid” (the military term is "cover") sat on the head of a Boy Scout who could look back almost to the founding of our venerable troop in 1910, and as an adult Scouter look forward to the 50th Anniversary of BSA in 1960. By some small miracle it fell in our hands 50 years later after a last minute rescue from oblivion during the year when the BSA and our troop are celebrating their 100th anniversary. We think it deserves a chance at restoration to take a valued place in our exhibits that tell the story of oldest continually chartered Boy Scout troop in the nation.

We began by brushing the hat with a soft-bristle hat brush to remove any loose dirt and dust from its 50 year stay in a closet and recent trip to the dumper. Fortunately, the sweat band inside was not badly stained and there was only minor damage by insects along the underside of the brim. Other than being crushed nearly flat and wadded into a rough ball, the hat was in remarkably good condition. We first gently brushed the crown and brim counterclockwise, and then brushed the top of the hat toward the back to loosen debris and lift the nap of the felt.

We then removed a couple stubborn lint or fuzz balls with painter’s tape and used a small car vacuum cleaner with a brush head to clean out around the inside of the thin leather sweat band. We gradually reshaped the crown by first using steam from a steam iron to make the hat soft and pliable, then opening up the crown and putting the dimples back in the right places with our fingers. We reshaped the flat brim by pressing it flat with a medium warm iron over a
damp towel on the ironing board. We did not have a hat form so we wadded up some absorbent paper toweling to fill the crown and dried the hat over a plastic coffee can overnight.We next sprayed on a hat-stiffener product especially made for felt hats to allow it to keep its shape without residue. We had been told not to use spray laundry starch or hairspray that can cause build up and residue over time, so we went looking on the internet to find a hat care product specifically made for stiffening felt hats. We found at Pete’s Western Wear Store a product called Scout Felt Hat Stiffener (Go figure—how could we go wrong with a product named Scout Felt Hat Stiffener?) for $10.95 that restored the hat’s body and shape without affecting its texture, tone, or color. We also ordered the companion Scout Felt Hat Cleaner For Dark Colored Hats at $7.99, although our campaigner didn’t require much cleaning. "http://www.petestown.com

Many of the vintage felt items Troop 1’s Boy Scout Museum receives— felt patches, wool
uniforms, pennants and campaign hats—have moth holes or pin holes. Sometimes there is nothing that can be done, other than dry cleaning or fumigating to prevent any further infestation. (For example, the 1935 and 1937 felt National Jamboree patches are notorious for being eaten right down to their gauze backing material and yet still go for relatively high prices on eBay.)

We have seen some real magic done by utilizing a sharp pin to work the existing material into the hole. Pinning takes some patience and a steady hand but you can improve the appearance of a mothy Scout hat by teasing some of the surrounding felt into the hole like a woolly crack filler. A little steam from an iron and a shot of stiffener before pressing with the iron will make the hole nearly invisible.

We conclude this essay with a little information on the Campaign Hat (or "Smokey Bear Hat," but that is another story!) and its association with the Boy Scouts:

Baden-Powell was British, but picked up the habit of wearing
a Stetson campaign hat and kerchief for the first time in 1896 in Africa during the Second Matabele War. It was during this time that Baden-Powell, already a cavalryman, was befriended by the celebrated American scout Frederick Russell Burnham, who favored the campaign hat. In the African hills it was Burnham who first introduced Baden-Powell to the ways and methods of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and taught him woodcraft (better known today as Scoutcraft). When Baden-Powell first re-wrote his handbook "Scouting for the Army" into "Scouting for Boys" he included sketches of boys as "scouts" wearing the campaign hat.

(Above right) Frederick Russell Burnham, American military scout and friend of Baden-Powell during the African Second Metabele War favored the campaign hat.

An excellent reference on the construction and use of the military campaign hat is at Doughboy Central, http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/camph.htm and Wikipeida has a good intro to the use of the campaign hat in Scouting at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campaign_hat#BoyScouts"

Donald Tuttle, Troop 1 BSA Unadilla Historian

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