Shelter Halves – Part III
by Steve Hanson
Co. C, 2nd U.S. Infantry, Sykes Regulars
On a company street, the regulations call for two paces (thats 56 inches, or 4-2/3 feet, or 1.5 yards) between tents on a street, and the same distance back-to-back for tents on different streets. However, many times, there is not enough room for regulation distances, and everything is miniaturized. Distances must be determined after we see our camp site and maintained in proportion throughout the camp The space between tents is ostensibly for health reasons, to avoid overcrowding, but it also serves as a place to store furniture and empty supply boxes and barrels used as makeshift furniture. It keeps them off the street so they dont get in the way of company formations. A pace is defined in Caseys as 28 measure out that distance at home and practice stepping that far its about an almost giant-step for most people.
When setting up your tent on the company street, align the front upright with ALL the other uprights ALL the way to the head of the street. Dont just look at the tent next door that idiot may have put it up crooked. If the other tents arent aligned exactly, use a good average to continue a generally straight line down the street Your front upright should be placed about 3 paces from the edge of the last tent on the street. That will give you about two paces space and half the width of your tent. Hammer it into the ground. Place the ridge pole on the front upright to determine the location of the rear upright, which must be exactly perpendicular to the street, hammer that into the ground, and place the ridge pole between them.
Button both rows of buttons on the shelter halves. Buttoning both rows greatly reduces the strain on any one button so it wont pop off and keeps the roof rain tight. One shelter half needs to be flipped upside down to do this After the halves are buttoned together and thrown over the ridge pole, loop the ropes at the ends around the uprights to hold the ridge pole in the notch and to tie the canvas, the ridge pole, and the uprights all together. Be sure that the uppermost shelter half stretches over the ridgepole to provide a roof cap so rain wont get in. We dont usually camp in the rain, but it does happen sometimes. Getting into the habit when its dry will keep you dry when it gets wet. It will also show a degree of veteran experience to do that automatically when you dont really need to.
Stake the front corners of the canvas down first, aligning with ALL the other tents ALL the way down the street – not just the next tent over, which may be crooked. Then stake the rear corners and then the centers. Make the tent generally tight without undue tension If it is too loose, it will flap in the wind and shake itself apart. If it is too tight, the temperature and dampness difference between night and day will stretch and shrink the canvas and ropes, and the pegs may pop out of the ground.
For those who want to try to do without the ridgepole, you will need two ropes of about 50-55 (or two men will need one rope apiece) to stake the uprights to the ground so the weight of the canvas doesnt pull them together, causing the tent to sag. Using one long rope from ground to ground and along the ridge would be incorrect because it is obvious that one man is carrying it instead of two. That also means two more ground stakes for the front and back This is more like a regulation tent but using field-expedient, rather than manufactured, uprights.
Remember, though, if the street we have been allowed by the organizers is narrower than the regulation 5 paces, the guy ropes stretching into the street from both sides may get in the way of company formations. Also, they will be a tripping hazard for someone not paying attention to where he is standing or walking, especially in the dark. In addition, many times, the tents of two streets are almost back to back with very little space between for guy ropes If we are going someplace where we know we will have a lot of space, the guy ropes are no problem. However, at a major reenactment, or someplace where we know space will be limited, the ridge-pole construction is necessary to save space.
In a bivouac camp, there is only one rule, clearly stated in Regulations and paraphrased here: The structures should not completely block any one side of the camp. If some natural barrier is there, it doesnt matter. The rule is so that, in an emergency, the company can form quickly in any direction on any side of the camp In a bivouac situation, field-expedient construction is the rule. You can tie your tent between trees; bend a sapling over and stake it to the ground as a ridgepole without uprights; spread your shelter half over the lower boughs of an evergreen, or some leaning deadfall, and lay under that; several people can button their halves together to make a large hotel (remember the rain watch where your seams are and where water may collect so your roof doesnt leak); make a lean-to of just one half, or a larger lean-to or soapbox roof of two or more halves; just roll up in it and sleep on the ground; etc. Anything goes. Just remember to leave gaps so the entire company can quickly move through the camp to form a line of battle on any side facing any direction. Again, this would indicate a veteran instinct.