As an 8-year-old, all James Gatton dreamed about was becoming a Boy Scout.
He grew up around troops who made their frequent camping trips at the family-owned Gatton Rock campground.
“Always had a soft spot for the Scouts,” Gatton said.
He thought his time had come when his father took him to a Scout meeting in the 1930s, but the fun was short-lived. A farmer, Gatton’s father didn’t have time to continue running him back and forth to meetings.
“I went to one campout, never to go back,” Gatton lamented.
This summer, after 74 years of waiting, the 82-year-old finally was declared a lifetime honorary Scout of the Clear Fork Valley Troop 4126.
“Boy, the tears just started coming,” Gatton said. “I told the young fellas ‘I bet you’ve never seen a grown man cry before,’ but looking around the room, several of the Scout leaders were also wiping their eyes.”
Pumping his fist into the air with pure excitement, Gatton said it was one of his proudest moments.
“I so appreciated that,” Gatton said. “I always wanted to be a Scout and I finally made it.”
A 14-foot totem pole with elaborate carvings of the history of the Clear Fork Valley Troop 4126 earned him the honor. The pole was put up this spring at the troop’s cabin at Palm Park.
“It was so nice of him to think of us, so we thought we would return the favor and make him an honorary member,” said Randy Echelberger, Scoutmaster for Troop 4126.
Gatton carved and painted the totem pole by hand, using nothing more than a few tools and his own artistic ability. The project took him more than 409 hours to complete.
“I don’t profess to be a big-time carver, but it’s fun,” Gatton said. “But boy, once you cut something off, it’s gone, so that’s a big reason why it takes so long.”
According to the log Gatton kept of every minute he spent on the project, 50 hours alone were devoted to drawing out life-size patterns of the animals he would later carve into the pole.
The time he put into the work while battling shingles was proof of Gatton’s lifelong devotion to the Boy Scouts, his son Mark said.
“I knew from working with him for 40 years that he’d figure out how to make it happen,” Mark said. “Nothing he’s done has ever really surprised me — when it comes to wood, he’s at a different level than any other guy.”
The designs were carved in a Fraser fir, which also had significance for Gatton. Donated by Van Ross Wade of Wade and Gatton Nurseries, the tree was planted in 1961 by former owner and family friend Cy Wade.
As per the tradition of the totem pole, each of the pole’s carvings represents a part of the story behind Troop 4126, Gatton said.
Gatton said he carved a beaver at the base of the pole to represent the hard work the Scouts must put in to earn their badges and achieve the ultimate goal of becoming an Eagle Scout.
Above that stands a mighty bear, which represents strength, humility and respect, and a carving of the troop’s cabin, built in 1940, representing its roots.
Following almost every totem pole design, Gatton also included an illustration of the sun, which symbolizes healing, energy and relationships with inner beauty. An eagle stands atop the pole for healing, strength, power, wisdom, cunning and new vision.
Gatton’s interest in carving started just four years before designing the pole. He was at a Paul Bunyan show watching the men shape wood with nothing but chain saws and thought, “well, that could be a good hobby for me.”