by Dave Mele
Formed April 1965
When Baden-Powell was asked
the exact date Boy Scouting began, he would sometimes hesitate when giving
an answer because the ideas that became the basis for the program were taking
shape in his mind for a number of years before he finally published “Scouting
for Boys” and founded the movement in 1908.
Much the same situation exists for the beginning of the Old Goats. Childhood
memories can sometimes be unreliable but I seem to remember first being
aware of the term “old goat” in a verbal exchange which occurred between
Fred Sachs and Bob Allen while I was at Sabattis Scout Camp as a boy. The
last time I attended Sabattis with my old troop was in 1962. The words stuck
in my mind from that day but as a young scout I didn’t have the nerve to
call Mr. Sachs anything other than “Sir’. During those years I thought he
was pretty strict and you just didn’t mess around with Mr. Sachs.
The next Old Goat recollection I have occurred two years later in May of
1964, when I was 15. Our troop had packed up all its gear and we were waiting
for our rides to arrive to take us home after a spring camporee at Highland
Forest. As we all sat around leaning against our packs trying to find ways
to kill time, I took out my pocket knife and (for some reason that I really
don’t remember) proceeded to whittle “Old Goat” into the side of a piece
of firewood. I gave the carving to Mr. Sachs as a kind of a joke. I later
learned that he took the block home and displayed it on his fireplace mantle
for years afterwards.
In 1965, I made an Old Goat banner that Mr. Sachs always hung from his very distinctive red Baker tent. The banner was made from a piece of red felt approximately 10 inches wide by 12 inches long suspended beneath a stick onto which a goat’s head cut out of white iron-on material was attached. A face was drawn onto the head and the words “Old Goat” were stenciled on either side. Mr. Sachs first displayed this banner at the Spring Camporee held at Morgan Hill State Forest on the weekend of April 23 – 25, 1965. This weekend has traditionally been acknowledged as the “official” beginning of the Old Goats. The first photo I have of this banner on his tent was taken in May of 1967.There is another photo taken in May of 1968 of him with the banner in front of his tent at a spring camporee held at Jamesville Beach Park.
Better physical evidence of the term Old Goat again appeared in the form of a sign which I made for the Troop 99 gateway for the Council Camporee held in May of 1966 at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool. The sign was round, approximately 18 inches in diameter, painted on Masonite with a red background and navy blue border (Troop 99 neckerchief colors). In the middle was a goat’s face, the numbers 99 and 225 and the letters “FWS” (Fred W. Sachs). The gateway consisted of two 10-foot signal towers located approximately 9 feet apart with two poles strung horizontally between them. On these towers and poles were a number of signs with the Old Goat sign mounted to the right of the troop sign overhead between the towers. This sign still exists today and is currently located at the Scout Museum at Camp Woodland. By now I was a senior scout who had been camping with Mr. Sachs for seven years and found him a lot less intimidating. The term “The Old Goat” would show up in a conversation once in awhile back then but
I was still careful when I used it. It was meant to be funny. I never wanted it to be taken as disrespectful.
As an aside to this, Troop 99, in promoting the patrol
method, created the “Old Goatee Award” which was presented to the top patrol
in the troop to display with their patrol flag. This was nothing more than
a piece of fur shaped like a goat’s beard and attached to a leather thong
so it could be tied to a flag staff. To earn the award, patrols were judged
on uniforming, camping, scout skills, etc. This award was created by the
boys in the troop at about the same time as the Old Goat thing was growing.
An interesting footnote is that Fred Sachs was
actually the Scoutmaster of Troop 225. He had five sons and not all
of them chose to join his troop. He became affiliated therefore along
with his “other’ sons with Troop 99, which was my old troop, and he
sat on the Troop Committee. Since both 225 and 99 were relatively
small, they often combined to go on camp-outs together. This is why
you sometimes see two troop numbers connected with Fred’s name.
I entered college in September of 1968 and lost
touch with scouting. After graduation, I got a job and later got married,
bought a house and had a son. During this period, I had little contact
with anyone in scouting except occasionally through work. Ironically,
I ended up employed by the Onondaga County Parks Department at Highland
Forest, where I had first camped as a boy in 1959.
As my son grew, I got back into scouting in order to share it with him.
To my surprise and pleasure, many of the men who had been leaders during
my scouting years were still active. And, to my greater surprise, some
of them had banded together and formed a group called “The Old Goats”
for which I was given credit.
I am very honored and flattered by all this but not always sure of my
feelings regarding it. It’s hard to explain, but it’s sort of like winning
a prize for something when you didn’t know your name was entered. You’re
happy you won but a little confused as to how you got there and how you
should react. The “goats” even made me an honorary member of their group
in May, 1990 and, to top it all off, a full member (#20) in October, 1996.
As an adult looking back at those years, I now realize that the “Old Goat”
term was the awkward expression of a boy who profoundly respected and
loved a man who was one of the toughest taskmasters he would ever know.
Fred Sachs always demanded a lot of “his” scouts and they were the better
for trying to give it to him. As I grew older during those years and in
the years since, I’ve become aware of the very kind and caring man behind
the tough facade he allowed others to see. He lived by the high standards
he expected from us and we learned by his example. His greatest legacy
was the enduring lessons he taught and the qualities he personified that
helped influence me and dozens of others; I still have very vivid images
of him after all these years. He will always have a special place in my
memory and an even greater place in my heart. It is fitting that he should
forever be known as Old Goat Number One.