Hometown Stories: Bill Crowl - Scouts Honor
By Rachel Singer
Bill Crowl: Scouts Honor
Every October, my husband and I attend a fabulous Halloween Ball. Costumes are mandatory and I take it very seriously.
Divine inspiration came in the form of Russell in the Disney film, “UP”. Ron would be a Boy Scout and I would be a Girl Scout.
We scoured eBay for months so that we could put together exactly the right look. Nothing could be store bought mind you, these costumes had to be vintage, they had to be classic, and they had to be authentic.
Packages began arriving from all over the country. We opened them with anticipation and on October 29th we were transformed. We were the “real deal”. It was a fun evening, yet no merit badges were earned.
Maybe our divine inspiration was really just a premonition of things to come. I could not have known that only a few months later, I would meet a true “authentic vintage and classic” Boy Scout by the name of Bill Crowl and that I would have the privilege of bringing you his Hometown Story.
Charles William Crowl, who was named for his two grandfathers, was born on August 9, 1932 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Depression was not just a headline shouted on street corners by newsboys; it was a way of life for Bill and his parents. The 1930’s brought 25% unemployment, the resurgence in popularity of board games and the formal launch of the Cub Scouts.
Bill looked forward to his 9th birthday, when he could don the uniform and join the ranks of the Cub Scouts. With only four months of scouting under his belt, the United States declared War on Japan and Germany, and so began World War II.
The Cub Scouts were put to work immediately. “Most of the neighborhood ladies had a coffee can in their kitchen, where they kept their old bacon grease, “ Bill recalled. “Our Cub Scout service project was to gather scrap metal, rubber and the cans of bacon grease. We were told that scientists would extract the glycerin from the bacon drippings and make nitro glycerin for bombs that would blow up the enemy.” I had to ask Bill if he thought this was really the case, “No,” he replied, “but they told us kids that we were going to help win the war, and we believed it at the time.”
“In youth we learn; in age we understand.” (M. von Eschenbach)
Some kids have a knack for baseball or art; Bill had a knack for explosives. In elementary school he had a chemistry laboratory in his basement. Today, parents and Homeland Security, would fret, but Bill busied himself making small bombs and fireworks. “I was the Boy Nerd Scientist,” he laughed.
“In 1952, we moved west for my mother’s health,” Bill shared. She had TB and bouts of pneumonia and the doctors felt a drier climate would be best.”
The Crowl family had relatives in Glendora, California, so with the beautiful weather beckoning, they settled in. Bill attended local college classes and worked summers as a rocket scientist. Ironically, his parents were never able to use the tried and true line on Bill, “it’s not rocket science.” Because for Bill, it was.
After fulfilling every requirement to transfer to UCLA in 1954 as a junior, Bill was told by the Registrar that he “didn’t meet the quota.” He recalled the afternoon vividly, “I stood up, reached across his desk and grabbed my dossier, and then drove straight to the USC Admissions Office. I don’t know if it was the look on my face, but I was ushered in immediately. I gave the Registrar my folder, he looked through it, and welcomed me to the University of Southern California”
Not only a Trojan, Bill became a member of Sigma Phi Delta, a social fraternity of Engineers. “Those were great days. The fraternity stressed education and professionalism in Engineering.
Bill was putting his rocket-science mind to work in 1956 as a Thermo-Dynamisist at North American Aviation (now a part of Boeing). He worked on military aircraft figuring ways to remove explosive gasses from jet engines so when the machine guns fired, the sparks didn’t blow up the aircraft. Bill took flying lessons, without the intent of getting his pilots license; “I just wanted to see how airplanes worked from inside the cockpit.”
Bill worked on the B70 Super Sonic Bomber and the F-107, the first plane to reach Mach 2 (double the speed of sound). “Those were proud days,” Bill smiled.
It was at a Sigma Phi Delta Alumni Fraternity Christmas party in 1958, that Bill met a beautiful red head by the name of Elizabeth Bodle. Their first date was at the Coconut Grove Nightclub in Los Angeles, and it happened to be Johnny Mathis’ opening night. Needless to say, Elizabeth was smitten and the two married in 1959.
The summer before he met his lovely wife, Bill took a trip through Europe for 30 days. Though he wouldn’t clarify if this trip was for business or pleasure, he did indicate that he had a Top Secret Security Clearance at the time…
Near the end of this European journey Bill boarded a train in Salzburg, Austria. He recalled a few moments of panic, “I was looking for a seat and wandered into this modern steel railcar. Immediately I sensed something was wrong, when the passengers began shouting at me. I finally found someone that spoke broken English and between the two of us, I realized I was on a train full of Czech Nationals traveling to Czechoslovakia.” This would not be an issue today, but in 1958, Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Soviet Union and was a communist nation. “I can’t imagine what would have happened if they had discovered my United States Passport and high level security clearance, “ Bill recounted, “but thankfully, I got on the right train heading to Germany.”
Maybe, just maybe, we can add foreign intrigue to Bill’s resume.
Marriage, two children and a brilliant engineering intellect, took Bill on a career path that reads like a travelogue through the Western Seaboard.
Between 1961 and 1994 the Crowls traveled between Washington State, Carson, Las Vegas, Running Springs, Sacramento, San Bernardino and almost all points between.
As an engineer with Boeing in the early 60’s, Bill ran tests and developed theories to prevent corrosion on civilian aircraft. It was in this capacity, he worked on Air Force One for President John F. Kennedy.
Around the same time, Bill diligently labored on Boeing’s KC-135 Stratotanker, a behemoth plane primarily used to re-fuel aircraft during flight. “I was once given a ride in the KC-135, “Bill stated, “I got to sit in the extreme tail where the fuel boom operator sits, looking backwards and straight down at 30,000 feet-scary.”
In another one of those full circles that seem to run through the fabric of Bill’s life, his grandson, Steven Schrader (USAF) was a crew chief on the KC-135 many years later.
New York City announced in 1964, plans to construct a complex called the World Trade Center, the price of gasoline was .32 cents a gallon and Bill Crowl, thanks to a Barry Goldwater lapel pin, became an industrial oil man with Texaco. A thoughtful Bill recalled, “It was a fascinating job, I was able to see the inner workings of major industries from oil refineries and huge farms to steel mills. I met fascinating people that gave me an education in my field that I could only dream about. I was kept very busy, because everything that moves has to have a lubricant.”
It was on January 1, 1987, that Bill and Liz Crowl crossed the threshold into another chapter of their lives, literally and figuratively. They purchased a home in Valencia, where they still live today. A very tall palm tree and Old Glory on a flagpole are landmarks that you have arrived.
Upon entering the Crowl home, your eyes immediately go to the gallery of poignant and striking artwork throughout. I couldn’t help but be drawn towards the watercolors and sketches. They were stunning. All the more so when I saw the signature in the bottom right corner read “E.M. Crowl”. Elizabeth M. Crowl nee Bodle is able to transform paper and canvas into images that captivate.
It actually may have been subtle brainwashing that steered Bill towards laying down roots in our valley of oaks. He shared with me a memory of his father.
“Growing up, my dad always told me stories of the great Wild West, and I loved listening to them. It turns out they were all based on the movies of William S. Hart! My dad was his biggest fan.”
It came as no surprise to me to learn that Bill is on the Board of Directors and is a favorite docent for the William S. Hart Museum. In 2008, when Huell Howser filmed an episode of his “California’s Golden Parks” series, Bill was invited to give Huell a filmed tour of the Hart Mansion. It still plays regularly on KCET-TV.
Santa Clarita was a short drive from Universal City where Bill was made Chief Lubricating Engineer for Texaco. He considered this his “dream job.” He explained, “This was the job I aspired to the moment I started at the company. I just didn’t know it. I inherited the legacy of all the minds that came before me,”
After 7 years, Texaco “reorganized” and gave Bill an early retirement from his “paying job,” allowing him more hours each week to volunteer for the many organizations that greatly appreciate and value him.
Bill, with Liz in tow, have ventured together through the game of life. No matter where they lived or in what field Bill was working, he was always tethered to the Boy Scouts of America. From Cub Scout, Star Scout and Cub Master, Bill has proven he is a man of integrity. The Scouters in the Bill Hart District, signed him on as their Assistant District Commissioner in 2003. He has never slowed down. The pinnacle of his scouting career occurred this past January 2012, when Bill was awarded the coveted “Silver Beaver.” The highest award the Western Los Angeles County Council can give to its volunteers.
Bill wears his Silver Beaver award proudly around his neck and told me, “You don’t seek this award, the Beaver seeks you.” Bill Crowl is ever humble.
Fate can be as unpredictable as a current carrying you in a myriad of directions, circling one way and then bringing you back in a different direction. Sometimes you just need to float along and let the waters carry you where they may.
Perhaps, 70 years ago, while collecting scraps and bacon grease for the war effort, the future presented itself to a young Cub Scout. A future that would bring him full circle back to this very day…He caught sight of a young man in a lab working with high-tech grease on his country’s military aircraft. That same man, insightful, growing into his middle years, reaping the benefits of an exemplary family and career. The reflection wavers for a moment and then he sees the kind and gentle soul he is today, the wise gentleman who gives, but expects nothing in return.
The Cub Scout smiled as the image faded and he saw a man looking forward not back, a man living by his own motto, “Doing My Best Since 1941.”
Charles William Crowl, you are a very good man.