THE EMPIRE BUILDER
It was a summer night in July, 1977. The last rays of sun were disappearing behind the Rocky Mountains. Amtrak’s Empire Builder was working its way through the foothills toward a pass that by morning would take it through the formidable range that lay ahead. The conductor was making his way through the train, turning out the lights as he went. As he entered the sightseer lounge, the single remaining occupant was a small sandy haired boy. Eleven year old JL Douglas was trying to take in the last of the scenery illuminated by the rays of the setting sun.
“You had better get back to your coach with the rest of your group,” warned the conductor. “It’s ten o’clock and we are turning out the lights.”
“Yes, sir,” replied JL as he sadly left the lounge car. He hit the door openers and carefully stepped across the floor joints in each vestibule as he entered the next car. He counted three coaches back to make sure he was in the right car, then began looking for the rest of his Scout troop.
JL loved riding on the train and he tried not to miss a single thing as they sped along the tracks, but it was now dark and he knew that before morning they would reach their destination, a little town called Cedar Valley, Montana. All of his fellow Scout members were looking forward to this week- long trip; but for him, the best part of the trip would be over once the train reached Cedar Valley.
He, eleven other Scouts and two scoutmasters had left Minot, North Dakota, that morning and were going to spend a week camping in the Table Mountains above Cedar Valley. He wasn’t looking forward to this camping trip at all; in fact, he was dreading it.
JL loved the mountains and would have loved to spend the week camping with his father, Luke Douglas, or his grandfather, James Douglas, or along with his best friend, Dennis Johnson. But his father, a navigator in the Air National Guard, died in a plane crash last fall. His grandfather lived way up in Canada and he had seen him for only a few minutes at his father’s funeral. His only lifelong contact with his grandfather was one long hug from him as he told JL he had to go before somebody recognized him. His best friend, Dennis, was along on this trip, but JL didn’t like being with all these other boys.
JL didn’t have many friends. He was small for his age and didn’t do a lot of things very well. He was always making mistakes and doing the wrong thing. He had trouble remembering and following instructions. In school he had trouble concentrating. His mind was always wandering off and he would end up daydreaming. He was very uncoordinated and was poor at any kind of action sports. All the other boys made fun of him.