It was in 1948 when I first discovered the Camp Dodge swimming pool — back at a time when the old military facility seemed a long ways from anywhere. My discovery came in a round-about way.
Several months before, my grandmother, Phoebe Elsberry, had been a patient of the Lutheran Home in Madrid (now the Madrid Home.) On Jan. 16, 1948, a fire had destroyed the home. Many of the patients were wheeled out in their beds to escape the flames. Fortunately, everyone survived.
Out of necessity, the patients were transferred to barracks at Camp Dodge. Little did I suspect, when I first accompanied my parents to visit her, that a huge swimming pool would be located nearby.
I was just 8 years old and my swimming experience was limited. In fact, the only swimming pool I had ever splashed around in was Carr’s Pool in Ames.
I’ll never forget the first time we popped over the hill in Dad’s ’48 Ford and saw Camp Dodge’s huge pool stretched out in front of us. It looked more like a lake than a pool.
Immediately came the realization that I had no swim trunks. Like I said before, a swimming pool was the last thing I had expected to see.
Mom had a suggestion. She said that because I was a little kid, no one would notice that my swim trunks happened to be boxer underpants.
Ya, I was a little boy alright, but I still didn’t cotton much to the idea of going into a public swimming pool in my underpants.
But the pool looked too good. It was a hot Sunday afternoon and there was no better way to cool off than to be in a pool. My hesitation quickly disappeared and within minutes I was part of the pool scene.
As my parents watched from a grassy slope near by, I mustered up the courage to jump in.
I soon discovered that although the pool looked big from the road, that was nothing compared to what it looked like when you were in it.
Not being a good swimmer, I cautiously made my way into the shallow end. Most of the bathers there were kids, too. As I surveyed the scene, I couldn’t help but be amazed as to how far away the other side of the pool appeared. It was more like an ocean.
As my courage began to build, I slowly turned in a clockwise direction and took in all the activity around me.
The sound of older kids and grown-ups drifted in from the deeper section. It seemed as though the entire pool was alive with humanity.
At eight, and in my underpants, the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself, so I quickly decided the best place for me was in the 3-foot deep section.
Trouble was, all the action seemed to be taking place in the deep water where the diving boards were positioned.
Besides that, there was a big platform in the middle where swimmers could sit and rest. That was the cool place to be.
It didn’t take long for me to abandon my suit worries and swim out to the platform. I climbed aboard and looked around.
Everyone there was a lot older. That didn’t make much difference because most the guys all seemed to be interested in the girls who were there sunbathing. This kind of action didn’t interest me in the slightest, so I decided to go back to shallow water.
As I dove off the platform I could feel my pants slipping. Before I knew it, they were down to my ankles. Fortunately, I caught them there. It was the last time I ever went swimming in my underpants!
That was long, long ago. The pool closed in 2002 and no longer exists – the victim of “progress.” At one time, it was listed as the largest filtered outdoor pool in the world. It was also on the National Register of Historic places. Better still – it was a fun place to be (even in boxer shorts.)
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.