Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

October 1955

By C. S. Webb
(Retired 1914)

This writeup endeavors to record some of the early day conditions existing in Region 1 when and after I joined the Forest Service; also, some of my personal experiences throughout the years, and a few involving associates in the service.

After high school I attended and graduated from a school of business administration in Pennsylvania, following a 2-year course. I had worked for logging contractors as office man and as log scaler during vacations while at school. After finishing school I worked during 1909 for a logger. During 1910 and part of 1911 I was employed by a railroad as assistant to the depot agent. Here I was engaged as shipping clerk, manifest writer, telegraph operator and ticket salesman.

About that time many people were migrating to the Northwest. Deciding to give it a try, I landed at Spokane, Washington, October 20, 1911. After resting up and seeing a couple of football games, I went to Elk River, Idaho, where Weyerhausers were building a large sawmill and the town of Elk River. Not finding anyone in dire need of a business administrator, yet pressed by the necessity of having a job, employment was gained with a building contractor. He had a contract to build row upon row of workmen's homes, a schoolhouse and other buildings essential to conducting the town's affairs. He had quite a crew, well organized, and we averaged putting up 3 houses per day, all of pretty green lumber. We laid hard maple flooring in the 6-room schoolhouse, and I recall that a few of us, using broken glass, scraped the whole floor. No sanders were available to us in those days.

The Elk River sawmill was up and had sawed and piled a few hundred thousand feet. The yards, planer, kilns, etc., were under construction. This plant and town stood virtually in a hole cut out of the dense forest cover of mature white pine, which surrounded the entire town, extending as far as one could see, and even beyond.

With the houses completed, the company had on March 1, 1912, imported 100 Bulgarians to perform the excavation and dirt-moving work in building the mill yards. No power shovels either. I was offered the timekeeper's job on this crew. Each man was asked his name, then we hung a numbered dog tag on him and identified him thereafter by his number. The Bulgarians were paid $1.15 a day. I drew $2 a day for 10 hours. When this job was finished in June, 1912, the Bulgarians left to build railroads in the woods, and I shook the dust of Elk River, Idaho, from my feet. Thus, I helped to build Elk River, a lumbering manufacturing town which became a ghost town some 25 years later.

I then entered the employ of the Milwaukee Land Company, subsidiary of the Milwaukee Railroad. They operated a large lumber plant at St. Joe, Idaho. Here I first came in contact with Ed Holcomb, then supervisor of the St. Joe, and Deputy Supervisor W. B. Willey, both now deceased. Having learned that the Forest Service was selling large volumes of white pine, as a salvage of the 1910 fires, to all lumber mills on the St. Joe River, I called on Ed Holcomb and was offered a job as a log scaler. Ed said that while I might be a pretty fair scaler, there were some skills practiced by the Forest Service with which I might not be familiar. He assigned me to work with Ed Smith, a veteran scaler, at the camps of Mr. Bronson, a contractor on Big Creek out of Herrick, Idaho. Bronson was logging for the Milwaukee Lumber Company, St. Maries, a Fred Herrick-owned outfit, having a railroad extending 16 miles up main Big Creek with a branch into East Fork of Big Creek. So began my initial employment with the Forest Service.

* * 1913 * *

The 1910 fires burned large areas of the St. Joe, Coeur d'Alene and Cabinet Forests. By now logging was brisk in these areas. The Wintons built a mill at Rose Lake, Idaho, and started cutting on Independence Creek in 1911, driving the logs all the way to Rose Lake. Herrick built the Milwaukee Lumber Company mill at St. Maries in 1911, and St. Maries Lumber Company -- a Michigan concern — built one there in 1912. This is the present Pugh Mill. Coeur d'Alene had the Coeur d'Alene Mill Company, Largey Estate interests, the Stack Gibbs Lumber Company — presently Browns Mill — and the William and David Dollar interests. McGoldrick Lumber Company was established at Spokane, the Export Lumber Company and Grant Lumber Company were at Harrison, and I believe Russell and Pugh were there. The Mann Lumber Company had a large mill at the west end of St. Regis cutoff.

Timber in the white pine belt swept by 1910 fires was mostly large old growth, quite sound, choice white pine. Logging was somewhat difficult, with big horses furnishing the skidding power. Horse skidding, chutes, flumes, railroads and river-driving were the means of transportation. There were no "cats," no trucks. Sleigh haul was employed a lot on Priest River, Pack River and the Kootenai. Big river drives were the order of the day each spring on the Kootenai, Pack, Priest, Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe Rivers. The "river pigs" had considerable leeway in moving about. The Milwaukee Road had been completed through St. Maries in 1910, so by 1913 the plants there that were logging by rail hauled their logs clear to the mill by rail. Milwaukee trains at that time did not run through Spokane. Early in 1915 the Union Station at Spokane was completed and the Milwaukee started routing its passenger trains through that city.

I went to work with Mr. Smith on June 21, 1913, at Branson's camp on Big Creek. We scaled the logs — two tiers of short logs — after they were loaded on cars. By this time deterioration of sapwood had rendered most of it unmerchantable. The timber over large areas had blown down flat on the ground under pressure of the heavy winds ahead of the 1910 holocaust. The timber therefore was not burned, nor checked to any appreciable extent. Some sapwood had blued but was firm. But, most of the logs were scaled inside the sapwood. Nothing smaller than about 14 inches at the top end was removed. We scaled out many trainloads of short logs which, even under these conditions, averaged 6 logs per thousand feet. It was choice white pine, running a high percent of clear, selects and shop. Stumpage prices - $2 per BMM.

But, this bonanza was to be short-lived. By the end of 1915, the removal of 1910 burned timber, except for cedar, came to an end. At this time (1913) I was paid $1,020 per annum. I boarded myself. Supervisor Holcomb drew $1,680 and Assistant Supervisor Willey was in the $1,440 bracket. These two boys held college degrees in forestry, but I had to make it the hard way.

However, everyone in the organization was kind and would give a fellow worker all the help possible. Associations were congenial, and hopes for the better in material conditions induced us to hang on. The aims and policies of the Service were, even then, on a high moral plane.

The Forest Service in 1913 had one characteristic which it still possesses - it could never get a man placed where it wanted or needed him. And, I think that was good. Fresh challenges developed the fellows, most of whom were natives and, like myself, had no formal forestry education.

After about 8 weeks with Smith on Big Creek, word came to me to report at McGoldrick's camp on Slate Creek to take over the scaling there. Of course, Slate Creek was only a few miles over the hill from our location in Upper Big Creek. But, we had no map, and I hadn't the least idea as to the location of Slate Creek. Smith advised that I go to Wallace, but we had no map and I hadn't the least ideas as to the location of Slate Creek. Smith advised that I go and proceed from there. On a Friday p.m., early in August, I rode to Herrick on the log train with all my worldly possessions, including the bedroll. There I took the train to St. Maries. From Herrick I could have walked by trail to McGoldrick's camp in one day. Saturday morning I took the boat "Flyer" out of St. Maries and went to Harrison where a connection on the O.W.R. & N. Railway conveyed me to Wallace for the second overnight stop.

At that time, I recall that the railroad up the South Fork of Coeur d' Alene from Kingston to Wallace passed through a dense stand of very large cedar. All the flat land along the river bottom had escaped the 1910 fire and supported a beautiful stand of clear cedar type, old growth and big. Now it is covered with mine tailings, but a few years ago (1948) quite a few of the large cedar stumps were still in evidence.

At Wallace this Saturday night (early August 1913), I met a man I had known at St. Joe - quite a character by the name of Joe Bush. He told me McGoldricks had a wagon road into camp on Slate Creek. He advised me to hire a livery team and on Sunday he would drive me to the camp. I got the team, and the next day we headed up Placer Creek. We reached the summit along in the afternoon, where we overtook a 4-horse tote team headed for camp with a load of hay. I climbed on with the driver and went into camp. Joe Bush returned to Wallace with the livery team. I never saw Joe again.

Here at McGoldrick's I looked up the foreman, a Frenchman whose name I don't recall. (The Government scaler had quit and pulled out a few days earlier.) He was logging by trail chutes into two ponds behind small dams. From these, one on Dam Creek and one on Flume Creek, he would each day open the gates and flume the logs into Slate Creek. A larger dam on Slate Creek would periodically splash the logs down Slate Creek, where they went into the St. Joe River and were driven and towed to the Spokane mill. Roy Lammers was walking boss over McGoldrick's various woods operations.

The foreman said that when the scaler left, all the scaled logs were flumed out and the others held in the two ponds awaiting my arrival. I took him at his word, proceeded to scale up on the water a mass of logs packed tight in each pond. I worked from daylight to dark for 3 days to catch up. Then I had it nice for about 5 weeks.

Word came in for me to go to the Bogle and Callahan operation on Little North Fork. I studied over an old St. Joe map in camp and talked with the foreman who knew the location of Bogle operation. I figured I could walk it cross-country through the woods in one day. My relief had come in one evening, so the next morning I rode the tote wagon back to the divide at the head of Placer Creek. In those days the Forest Service gave one a scale rule, scale book, stamp hammer and crayon. The rest — board, lodging, laundry, etc. — was up to the employee.

Upon alighting from the tote wagon, I hung my bedroll on one shoulder, my pack-sack on the other, and started out through the woods along the divide between Slate Creek and Little North Fork. Had a good big lunch in the packsack. It was quite a long way, but about 4:00 p.m. I reached a point where I could look down into the Little North Fork and see cutting operations and chutes at quite a distance. Then I headed straight downhill for the end of the steep log chute. I followed the chute to the creek and found the camp close by. Here the logs were loaded on cars, but I was informed the scaling was done at Bogle Spur, which was 9 miles down the logging railroad where the loaded cars were placed on a siding for freighting to the Milwaukee Road.

I got my supper at this camp, picked up my packsack and bedroll, and walked the 9 miles to Bogle Spur, getting in there just before dark. This was the middle of September 1913. Here I met Claget Sanders, who was stationed at Falcon Ranger Station and under whose supervision I was to work the rest of the season, scaling logs on cars with Dallas Galloway. This outfit was putting out 28 to 30 cars a day, which called for a fast-moving scaling team because the logs had to be scaled quickly after each train came in, 2 or 3 times daily. Sanders, retired in 1928 for disability, resided in California until his death late in 1954. Galloway left the Service for years, but later returned to the St. Joe to work as a guard, cook, etc., in a temporary capacity. He may still be around Calder, Idaho.

By the first of November 1913, this outfit closed down for the winter and I was furloughed. In October I had taken a Civil Service examination for scaler. When laid off, I returned to the Milwaukee Land Company and went to work.

* * 1914 * *

Early in April a wire from Ed Holcomb requested that I report for duty April 15. I did so, and was assigned on the Bogle Spur scaling job again until the first of November. I had been appointed from the register and that fall was transferred to the Kaniksu for the winter, having been instructed to go to Falk's Ranch on the East Side road. There I met Dean Gregory for the first time. Dean and I roomed and boarded at Falk's. We scaled about two million feet of white pine in large decks along the banks of Priest River where, the following spring, it was rolled in and driven to Beardmore's mill at Priest River village.

On completion of that job, I was instructed to go to Dalkena Lumber Company No. 3 on Cottonwood Creek, as a scaler, for the winter. I walked it via old Camp One, crossing from the East Side road on the Whitetail Butte tote road. When I reached the river the boat was on the opposite side, and I skipped across on the logs then floating in the river.

What impressed me most on this trip was the unbroken stretch of forest which I passed through. From a short distance out of the town of Priest River (the Italian settlement) clear through to my destination on Cottonwood Creek, there was one vast expanse of white pine forest. Now and then the log house and barn of a homesteader would be seen in a small, natural meadow. Around the Whitetail Butte area were a few sections of dense lodgepole type. Otherwise, I passed through a solid uncut stand of old growth white pine type, unmarred by any fires of note. Associated with the predominant pine were large, mature larch and fir trees, occasionally a spruce, and cedar poles in abundance.

It is safe to say that on Priest River there were millions of straight, sound cedar poles 30 to 90 feet in length. Many of the Northwest cedar companies took poles from here. At that time the Forest Service was following the theory that much of this land would, after removal of timber, be listed for homestead entry. This same theory was held for the relatively level area immediately above Swan Lake on the Flathead. As a result, the practice was to cut all timber 12 inches d.b.h. and over, and all cedar poles, and make a broadcast burn of the slash. After burning, when the stony soil was exposed, there was no desire to homestead it. The land that was homesteaded was taken up for the timber values thereon.

Up here on the Kaniksu, logs and poles were skidded up to sleigh roads, and many were decked on the roads from October till the time of heavier snowfall and freezing weather. Sleigh roads were cleared before snowfall, and the little grading necessary was done mostly by hand. When heavy snowfall and cold weather set in, teams and sleighs were employed to keep the snow packed down, thus, smoothing and evening up the road surface. Water tanks on sleighs sprinkled the roads at night, and "rutters" built on sleighs were run in this slush, forming ruts which froze and served as grooves in which loaded sleigh runners could follow.

These roads were located on a favorable grade to the river landing. Water grade was most desirable, but if they had to go down a hill from one bench to another there was no hesitancy in doing so. During hauling season the ruts were sanded on the steeper sections to slow up the sleighs and avoid crowding the horse team too hard. Any load that the team and a booster team could start at the woods loading point could be taken into the river landing without trouble. The sleighs running in the ruts were easily steered and there were no adverse grades on these roads.

The logs were sometimes loaded on sleighs with a team in crosshaul, using a decking chain to roll the log up skids, but ordinarily a horse jammer was used. With this device, and using a well-trained team in crosshaul as the motive power, the logs were hoisted rapidly. The crew consisted of a taildown man, two hookers, top loader and the crosshaul teamster. Big loads were hauled, and there was rivalry between camps for the biggest load of the winter.

The Dalkena Company had a hard-bitten old German, a real character, as a foreman at Camp Two. His name was John Speck. Not far away the Humbird Lumber Company, with mills at Sandpoint and Kootenai, had a tough old-time foreman called Moonlight Joe. The moniker was credited to Joe's slave-driving tactics, it having been claimed that he worked his men such long days they often left and returned to camp by moonlight. Great rivalry existed between John Speck and Moonlight Joe O'Meara for the biggest sleighload of the season. Loads of 22 and 23 MBM of short logs were not uncommon, but one time Joe selected logs figured out to best fit a 14-foot bunk, set them aside, and build up a load of 28 MBM, which he landed at the river, beating John's record for this winter of 1914-15.

* * 1915 * *

Sleigh roads broke up about the 15th of March 1915, on the Kaniksu. I had been at Camp Three all winter and John Speck was foreman at Camp Two. Speck put in an enormous landing on the river in Camp Two territory, designed to employ 12-horse teams and one steam donkey to work skidding direct to this landing. His objective was to grab a lot of logs off the area within three-eighths mile of the river and get them into the water before time for the river drive to start. I was assigned to scale this landing for a period of about 20 days. Donkey logs came in tree length and were bucked on the landing. Speck furnished a man to wield the stamp for me if I would scale the input. Many days I scaled and recorded 2,000 to 2,200 short longs in a 10-hour period. After supper 1 would add up the 20 to 22 pages of figures. So, truly, I could not have been in a worse spot had I been serving on Moonlight Joe's setup. At least, so it seemed to me.

Early in April, this job done, I went to the camp of the Fidelity Lumber Company, whose mill at Newport was later acquired and now is operated by the Diamond Match Company. This camp was at Pine Creek near Falls Ranger Station. The white pine and cedar poles were of finest quality. Large, select white pine butt cuts usually had to be short — that is, 12 feet long — so they could be moved with horse teams. I recall scaling a 12-foot butt log of white pine, 1,142 feet BM, without a defect in it. During this winter's work, I was responsible to Al Feary, who was the ranger in charge of timber sales. Mallory Stickney, Meyer Wolff's successor on the Kaniksu, was supervisor, and Fred Forsythe was deputy supervisor.

About the first of May, 1915, I returned to the St. Joe and was again assigned to the Bogle and Callahan job, where Oscar Hopkins had become successor to Bogle and Callahan and was running a one-camp show to clean up the fire kill sale made to St. Maries Lumber Company in 1912. In the fall of 1915, I again went to the Kaniksu and back to the job at Dalkena Camp Three. By now Stickney had left the Service to engage in cranberry culture in Massachusetts; Forsythe was supervisor; Feary the deputy; and Toots McEwan was my boss.

* * 1916 * *

After finishing the winter at Priest River, I returned to the St. Joe and was assigned to the Gregory operation at Adair on Loop Creek. Here a large flume carried the logs from the woods to the Milwaukee Railroad. Cutting of fire kill had ceased; most of the logs now were green or partially so.

In June 1916, District Timber Sale Inspector C. E. (Skip) Knouf, came to Adair with Roscoe Haines, who shortly before had succeeded Ed Holcomb as supervisor of the St. Joe. Holcomb had resigned to take up a dairy business on the coast in Washington. They offered me a job as forest officer in charge of all timber sale activities on the St. Joe, with headquarters at Avery. This was acceptable and I took my wife of one year and rode to Avery on the C. H. St. P. & P. Railroad.

At this time F. A. Silcox was district forester. John Preston was assistant in charge of silviculture (Timber Management) in the Missoula office. C. Lee Baker was an assistant in his office. Dick Rutledge, now retired and living in Billings, was then Chief of Operation. J. A. Urbanowicz, who soon after this was convicted of absconding with or misappropriating federal funds to his own use, was district fiscal agent.

Up to this time no living quarters were furnished for anyone except the district rangers. Their quarters were pretty rough, usually of log construction without any modern conveniences. Stations such as Avery, on a road or railroad, were usually fixed up well enough for a man to keep a wife and family there if they were willing to rough it. The back country stations usually consisted of a hut and a bunkhouse, both small of logs, which would provide shelter for the ranger and a small crew. At these stations women were taboo. If a ranger was married, his family stayed behind in town during the summer. In winter he might sometimes be home, but usually not for very long. Most rangers were paid $1,100 per annum, but a few of the older ones were getting $1,200. Most of them had to furnish one to three equipped saddle and packhorses.

In 1916 there wasn't a road on the St. Joe above St. Joe, Idaho, and the one from that town down to St. Maries was a very rough wagon road. Main transportation was by river to St. Joe and by rail to all points above that town.

Avery then was a distribution center for supplying six other ranger districts. Several strings of 10 animals each were maintained at Avery for packing the supplies and equipment out to these districts. The Calder and Clarkia Districts had not yet been established, but the Palouse District (Princeton) was in operation. Seldom did anyone from the supervisor's office visit it.

If and when a ranger station dwelling was authorized, the district office would allot the forest $600, which usually was credited to the district ranger with instructions to go ahead and build a dwelling. Usually quite a lot of contributed time was provided him and the carpentry and other workmanship was a bit on the rough side. Even so, it was sometimes surprising how much the $600 produced.

At Avery I needed a place to live. Haines sent up enough lumber to build two tent frames having 4-foot walls. He provided a 14 x 16 tent and fly for living quarters and a 10 x 12 with fly for the culinary department. We had a wood-burning heating stove in the big tent and a little wood-burning cook stove in the other. The tents were set on one platform, end to end, with a breezeway between - and, believe me, it was breezy - the whole thing. We carried our water from a pump about 50 yards distant, and took our baths in an oversized galvanized washtub. A couple of gasoline lanterns provided good light. Such were the conditions that young brides put up with in Forest Service work in 1916 and earlier, and even much later in some places.

We lived in a small tarpaper-covered shack at Bogle Spur; in a two room rough-board shack at Adair; and now in two tents at Avery, with water at some distance from the shacks in every instance. Our boys and girls today wouldn't do it, and I doubt if they could, since never having experienced such conditions, it seems doubtful if they would be able to manage it. But, the advancements and improvements made since those days certainly have increased efficiency immensely and have made for a comfort we had not known up to this time.

The Forest Service was a pretty small outfit in 1916 and for some time thereafter. I recall a detail to Timber Management in 1911 when the complete district office, except for the fiscal agent, had its quarters in the old federal building over the present post office space at Missoula. The aims, objectives and purposes were few in comparison to those of recent years. Principally, the job was visualized to be, (a) manage and conserve the timber and range resource, (b) protect timber and range from fire, and (c) get listed and patented all lands which were classified as agricultural in character. Water resources, erosion control, training programs, personnel management, recreational use, information and education, road construction, and many other present-day concerns were never mentioned in those days. There were no motor vehicle accidents to investigate and report on. Yes, life was simple.

My assignments to logging camps were over. In 1916 and 1917 we sold green white pine from sec. 20 just above Skookiim Canyon on Turner Creek and Turner Flat, and along the mouth of Bird Creek to St. Maries Lumber Company. The stumpage rate for white pine was $3.50 cents for mixed timber and 50 cents for slash disposal. It was logged by George Ripley. He had a trail chute in Turner Creek. His logs were driven to St. Maries. His hay, oats, equipment and supplies were packed in from Avery. I marked all this timber for cutting without ever having had any instruction or training whatsoever. The results no doubt testified to that.

In 1917 Ripley moved to Flat Creek on the St. Maries River where he was the first man in North Idaho to use caterpillars (Holts) for skidding. Baird and Harper at Warland, Montana, started to use them soon after, but not until about 1921 or 1922.

In the fall of 1918, I was transferred to Kalispell. Here I succeeded Howard Flint in charge of timber management. Howard was transferred to the Kaniksu as supervisor. We rented a house in Kalispell which had hot and cold running water and a bath, the first innovation of this sort we had been able to land after about 3 years of marriage. This was a pretty delightful setup and we stayed there for 5 years.

* * 1919 * *

This was a bad fire year. I was assigned for the fire season to the Essex District, Flathead, where 14 crew-sized fires occurred. The district extended from Paoli to the Summit on the south side of the river. No roads, no pack trails, no pack or saddle stock, no lookouts, no telephones, and no men, except one at the station at Essex. We could pick up a few men at Essex, but for the most part, when firefighters were needed they were ordered by wire from Kalispell.

I recall one small fire of about 40 acres some 2 miles up Essex Creek. An old foot trail paralleled the creek. We got a crew from Kalispell, among it several husky high school boys. The crew of 25 men walked in, each carrying his bedroll and fire tool. Three boys were selected as back packers. The food was all cooked at Essex by Mrs. Frank Liebig, and each meal packed in on time to the firefighters on the line. This was about a 2-mile jaunt. We had two crew fires on Bear Creek above Java. Each time we had to wheel our 25-man outfits (two of them), including tools, mess and bedding, on a push car for a distance of about 400 yards from the station up to the Great Northern depot. Large mallet engines were in use out of Essex as pushers on freight trains as far as Summit. At the depot we would pile our outfit and food supplies, purchased at Essex, up on the engine pilot and tender, and in the caboose. At the point nearest the fire the train was stopped and we unloaded.

Sometimes we moved the camp by back pack down only to the creek. Other times we packed it a mile back from the railroad for setting up. When ready to move out, we would flag a helper engine running light on its way back down the hill, pile on our equipment, climb in the caboose and return to Essex. The division superintendent at Whitefish had instructed the roadmaster and train crews to help us out and they were very cooperative and cheerful about it.

Our only means of travel through the district, other than on foot, was by gas speeder which we had permission to operate over this main line. With the numerous curves, tunnels and snowsheds on the line, this speeder travel was indeed hazardous. Scheduled trains could be figured out pretty well, but there were the helper engines and an occasional special which at times caught us pretty short. Several times, to my knowledge, only quick, cool headed action in getting that speeder off the track averted an accident and possible disaster. As I recall, no accident ever occurred, and Forest Service men were using speeders a great deal from the Summit to Eureka.

During the summer of 1919 there was a large fire on White River, tributary of the South Fork. Men were walked in from Holland Lake - two or three hundred of them. All supplies and equipment were packed by animals from Coram. It took a pack string 7 days to make a round trip. Needless to say, this was another of those earlier-day lost causes. A road was started up the South Fork in 1921, and I believe completed to Spotted Bear in 1923.

In 1919, and for some years before, the Kalispell Lumber Company operated a band mill by the railroad on Dickey Creek. They decked logs on Dickey Creek and by use of splash dams, drove the logs down this small creek to their mill. Frank Liebig (retired in 1935 and died in 1950) was in charge of this sale. He had a few large decks to scale that fall, and I went along one morning to assist him. Previously, Frank had set a medium-sized bear trap under one of the log piles, expecting to get a small black bear which had been hanging around there. He hadn't told me of the trap, but he was carrying a small single-shot .22 rifle. As we came up fairly close to the log deck, a huge grizzly came rearing and screaming out from under the deck. The trap was holding the bear but didn't appear too secure. Frank pulled up his gun. I said, "Don't shoot him with that thing, Frank; if the trap doesn't hold, he will get you." But, Frank pulled the trigger and the grizzly dropped stone dead. Frank had done that before, knew the exact spot in the ear to place his shot and that was what he did. We skinned the bear and Frank had another trophy.

As I recall, it was this year that Ray Woesner, timber salesman on the Blackfeet was in a cruising party on the North Fork of the Flathead, and while running stripline, came suddenly upon a large female bear with two cubs. The bear came after Ray and he turned and ran down the hill, the bear after him. Soon he came to an old, dry buckskin (tree without any bark left on it), which had fallen and lodged at about a 30 degree angle into a larger fir. Having good calks on his boots, Ray ran up the buckskin and didn't stop until he was about 20 feet off the ground up in the fir tree. The bear stopped at the base and sat down a few minutes. Soon she left and whipped the cubs back away from the tree.

Ray then came down, the bear returned and Ray shinnied up the tree again. This was repeated a second time, and then the bear laid down close under the tree. It was getting late, and if Ray didn't get out of there soon, darkness would be upon him before he could reach camp. Thus, he conceived the idea of smoking her out. He gathered and rolled a large ball of dry tree moss and lichen, struck a match to it and tossed it down alongside the bear. Soon the duff and litter started burning rather briskly, and the bear got up and ambled over the hill. Ray didn't come in for supper, and by dark the other fellows were getting worried. They took lanterns and started to look for him. They met him a short distance from camp. He told of his experience, and said he was a little late because when the bear left and he came out of the tree he had an incipient forest fire to put out and nothing to work with except his Jacob staff and jackknife.

* * 1924 * *

By now I was on the Coeur d'Alene as logging engineer, succeeding Phil Neff who had transferred to the district office. McHarg was supervisor, Ashley Roche, deputy supervisor with the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe administered as one unit by McHarg. My work covered the timber management activities of both forests. I bring in this year only to brag about one good job accomplished. During my spare time I camped over in Fourth-of-July Canyon and examined all the lands in there (several thousand acres of cut-over and young growth), owned by the Winton Lumber Company. McHarg and I worked up a deal with Winton's and traded some timber for these lands, getting them for $1.51 per acre. The last time I was in there, I looked the area over rather extensively, and really felt proud of one job I had had a part in doing for Uncle Sam.

* * 1928 * *

By now I was in Timber Management with Koch, working as district timber sale inspector, having taken up this work in 1926. In the spring of 1926 and 1927 the district had small appropriations for insect control in the Big Hole of the Beaverhead. The first large special appropriation ($100,000 for Big Hole insect control) came to the district in the spring of 1928. District Forester Fred Morrell, Elers Koch and Jim Evenden agreed that the district would be under the scrutiny of Congress in the expenditure of this huge sum of money. Morrell emphasized that it behooved the district to get a dollar's worth for every dollar spent.

The Big Hole, due to poor roads and no snow removal, was a tough country to invade before late spring. We had to go in from Divide. The road by Crystal Springs to Divide was graveled; but from Divide to Wisdom and all roads throughout the Big Hole Basin were dirt. The only good time to travel then was when they were hard-frozen, or along in August. But, this insect control job had to be completed between the times snow depth would permit starting and insect emergence necessitated completion. The work period was about May 1 to July 1.

After some discussion as to who would be put in charge of the operation on the ground. (I had heard it would be Phil Neff), Koch informed me in March that it was to be my job and to start making plans and get going. (I thought then and still do that it was through the sinister influence of Neff that I drew that one.)

On the 20th of March, with Tom Crossley (retired) and a Model T pickup with Ruckstell gear, a start was made for Wisdom. It took Tom and me two days to make the trip. We set about getting acquainted, determining the best location for campsites, and how best to get to them. We rented a small space for office and headquarters, enlisted Bob Strong's services to keep track of accounts, rented a barn for a storeroom, and ordered 14 complete camp units, including all equipment but no food supplies. We let a contract to have all our stuff hauled from Missoula and Butte to Wisdom.

The Beaverhead ranger (Ramsey) at Wisdom had an old army truck (Pierce Arrow) with hard-rubber tires. He also had a one-ton Dodge truck purchased the previous year from insect funds. These were useless to us now, but did do much service later on after some of the roads dried out. We hired a 4-horse team and 3 or 4 men and started moving the camps out and setting them up. The earlier ones were hauled out on sleighs. Wagons were later used part way and equipment transferred to sleighs to complete the trips.

As we got camps set up and snow depth would permit, we were provided with forest officers from various places in District 1 and other districts, and organized and trained spotting crews so as to complete spotting well ahead of treating. Red Stewart, Monk DeJarnette, Tom and Harvey Terrill, and others of the then younger group led these spotting crews.

Art Keyes, the local blacksmith, who later applied his trade in the Forest Service at CCC camps, had two fine well-bred and well-broken saddle horses. In hauling out camps on sleighs, I led the way to each campsite, using the Model T as far as it could go, then riding the sleigh - going on foot part of the time to select the route when we reached the end of established roads. Keyes kept insisting I use his saddle horses, since they needed to be worked. He didn't want any pay for them. Finally, one day I decided to ride his bay, a splendid animal; but before doing so, I drew up a contract and hired the horse. Art didn't want that, but after I told him the facts of life, as far as I was concerned, he signed the contract.

We were going far out that day to a location about 15 miles southeast of Wisdom. As we crossed the long, open route of no road, through sagebrush, I headed the horse on a straight line for the mouth of the creek in which the camp was to be set up. The 4 horse sleigh team was following about 100 yards behind, with some 8 inches of snow on the ground. The saddle horse was going along at a brisk walk when suddenly he seemed to drop right out from under me. He knew he was in a bad fix, and began to whinny. He had stepped into a bottomless boghole which was camouflaged with thin ice and coated with snow, and thus blended in with the surrounding area. I dismounted in a hurry and hung on to the long reins. The horse floundered and struggled, but kept sinking more and more. I stood on firm ground and tugged to hold his head up until the team arrived. The teamster unhooked his lead team, slipped a big rope through the pommel of the saddle and tied it securely to the saddle. Then he hitched the lead team on and hauled the bewildered saddle horse out of the hole. Fortunately, the latigo and other saddle rigging held in lifting the horse out. He was a sight, with layers of slick, black mud all over him. We used wads of hay to wipe him off, put a blanket on him and walked him around for a time. He apparently wasn't injured. After a while I mounted and rode him the rest of the day.

On this job Jim Evenden provided the technical assistance and advice, and training of spotters. He inspected the treating work regularly. Phil Neff assisted me in the over-all supervision. Treating was largely by cutting infested trees, skidding with one horse into log piles, and burning the piles - practically all lodgepole pine. Joe Kircher inspected us for the Washington office, and Senator Burton K. Wheeler paid a visit as a representative of the Congress. Both gave us a clean bill. We operated 14 camps of about 25 men each, using about 40 single skidding horses, a pack - string and the 2 old trucks. When the project was about half done, I got a new Ford pickup - the first Model A in the region.

Joe Kircher arrived one evening from Missoula, driving a Dodge. Since I was unable to accompany him the following day, I detailed someone else to go with him to a camp which I considered the easiest to reach. That evening I met Joe at the office and inquired as to how he had made out. "Not very good," said he. "How far did you get?" I asked. "Oh, just about one and one-half miles to that first gate. We got stuck there in a mudhole and just got the darn car out about an hour ago," said Joe. But the next day Joe and I took the Model A and made the rounds successfully.

We treated about 96,000 trees at an over-all cost of about $1.05 per tree. But, due to an extensive infestation to the south on the Salmon Forest, our work on the Beaverhead proved of little benefit. Large insect control projects handled on the Kootenai in the spring of 1929 and on the Coeur d'Alene in 1930 were very effective.

* * 1929 * *

This was a bad fire year. It was my misfortune to draw four camps on one side of the Sullivan Creek fire on the South Fork. I arrived there August 13. It was a whale of a big fire by then. Supervisor Lloyd Hornby (now deceased) was on the fireline at the head of Soldier Creek when I arrived. He left a few minutes later and I did not see him again until my arrival in Kalispell, fresh off the fire, on October 3. That was one of those summers when day after day conditions were explosive, the least spark touching off an inferno in a matter of minutes. It was while I was on this fire that the Teakettle Mountain blaze started, burning everything up both sides of the Middle Fork as far as Nyack.

I had some good men as foremen, such as Jim Hellman and Jim Yule, both now retired, and forest officers from other regions and localities. I don't recall all their names offhand. Once a week we would get a hell-twister and no humidity. August 23 and 30 were our worst days - banner burning days. The fire was so big and the firefighters so scarce that we never could get lines closed between "blowup" days. Charlie Hash, Assistant Supervisor, (killed by lightning in 1932), was on the upriver side with 3 or 4 camps in Tin Creek. We were on the downriver side. Strategy was to keep the fire from going upriver and burning out the whole South Fork drainage; so the upriver side had preference in drawing available firefighters; hence, we on the north side could never get sufficient men to do the job quickly enough. The occurrence of the Teakettle Mountain and other large fires also drained the manpower supply. There were no power saws, bulldozers, trenchers or other mechanical devices, other than Pacific Marine pumps. The job had to be done with men and hodags.

By August 30, the fire was determined to reverse itself and go downriver. That morning we started a fresh crew of 15 men, just shipped in from Butte, on the job of trying to stop the fire from crossing back over Soldier Creek and going down river. This trouble spot was about two miles up Soldier Creek. John Spencer from Region 4 had a crew further down the creek and close to the river, trying to restrain the spread in that area. At noon he sent a messenger saying that everything was O.K. on this sector and looked pretty safe. At 1:00 p.m. a messenger came, much out of breath, with a note from Spencer to the effect that the fire had broken away from him and looked bad. The crew on our sector had its hands full too at the time.

From where we were I could see that Spencer's sector had blown up to a major conflagration. I hurried down there to determine what our course of action should be. Upon arrival, I found Spencer's crew had been chased out and were busy setting their camp out on an island to save it from burning. The crew I had left was in a pocket, fire on two sides, burn on one side and green forest on the fourth side. They were in danger, except that a way through the previous day's burn to the river was available.

I hurried back to this crew to find that they were fast losing their hold on parts of the upper sector; in fact, the fire had crossed their line in several places. But, since the lower sector was lost, there was little point in trying to save this one. The foreman was instructed to take his crew and their tools and go through the previous day's burn to the river, which at this time was not difficult to wade at a point just above a good sized island. I kept six men and we packed up two pumps and about 1,600 feet of hose we had been using, and placed them in a safe place in the old burn. When we came out a half hour later, the foremen and both crews were at camp. We setup the camp on the east side of the river.

The cook and two or three other camp men had become frightened and headed down the road. I knew if they stayed on the road they were safe.

After awhile they arrived at Elk Park, the cook carrying a bar of soap which he had picked up as he left camp. After resetting our camp and assuring them it was safe to return, all came back. There were about 100 men in camp, and I assumed that all had gotten out safely, since each foreman had stated he brought in all his men and the fleeing cooks had returned.

The next day, however, the timekeeper, who was a theological student and a bright chap, told me one man was missing. I recognized his name as a fellow who had been working on the pump and hose crew. I hadn't held him back to assist in moving equipment into the burned area because he acted rather queer and seemed weak, or badly frightened. He had been sent out with the foreman. The foreman said he counted at the river and all men were present as they went into the river to wade across. Some of the crew said that the missing man had been uncommunicative, that they thought he was frightened, and that after arrival at camp he kept on going down the road. A check revealed that he had not been seen below. A search was made of the river for three miles below the crossing. A six-man crew systematically grid-ironed the earlier burned area that these men had traveled through, all to no avail.

The island in the river supported dense patches of willow, and men had been sent to search there. On the third day, with the reorganized crews out on the new, and what was to prove the final control lines, I decided to devote the day to searching the river, as there was still no trace of the missing man. I started at the crossing above the island. From the river bank I could see a small patch of white in the dense willows on the island. I waded over to investigate, and found the man, dead. He apparently had broken rank as the crew was crossing the stream and went out on the island. The undertaker-coroner from Kalispell came in for the body.

This man had been living in Butte with his parents. As soon as he was discovered missing, we had checked to see if he had returned home. When he was found and his parents advised, they told us he had been subject to heart disease, and consequently hadn't worked much in late years; also, that they had prevailed on him not to go out on a fire crew. I was much chagrined over the several days' delay in finding the body.

* * 1931 * *

By now I was on the Kootenai as supervisor, following a short hitch on the Coeur d'Alene. I succeeded Frank Jefferson (now deceased), who had moved in to the regional office. Conditions at all stations here were very primitive. There was no map of the forest other than a very inaccurate old drainage map; and no roads except a very poor one up the Yaak and on over the divide coming out at Rexford. Only a half-dozen improved lookout points existed, and consequently little telephone line. My hope was to improve some of these conditions, but that was not to be in 1931.

On July 9, a fire got away from a Kaniksu crew down toward Moyie, and did it blow up and race! By 6:00 p.m., it had burned across the heads of North and South Meadow Creeks and into Spread Creek over a wide front. That fire, under a strong wind, traveled a straight-line distance of 14 miles before we could get a man on it. Bert Bealey, ranger at Upper Ford, and now at Coram, was the first to arrive, with 6 men and a 25-man outfit. Later we had up to 1,400 men on this fire and were bothered frequently with fires occurring on other parts of the forest. All of us fought fire exclusively from July 9 to September 7, when a light rain came. One man was lost this year in an F.F. crew as a result of heart failure. I don't recall any accidents or a single injury.

In the fall of 1932 a little relief money was provided through the Hoover Program, and Bud Daugherty (now at Kalispell), with a small crew built a road up Pipe Creek nearly to Turner Station.

In 1933, we were allotted 4 CC camps, and in 1931 the 4 CC camps returned and sufficient Dev-Nira and Imp-Nira funds were allotted to hire 200 men all season. In these two years, we built many miles of low-standard road, new towers and houses on dozens of lookouts, and telephone lines to serve them. A good start was made on a topographic map of the forest, and we built all the ranger stations as they stand today, except the Libby Station and the residence structures at Sylvanite, Warland and Rexford. The latter three were remodeled. The airfields at Troy and Libby were also constructed during those years. Times were hard, men plentiful, and the local populace was very appreciative of the employment provided by the Forest Service.

It was in 1932 that Charlie Powell, ranger at Rexford, overheard a conversation at a trail camp between two Pinkham Ridgers, indicating that the Ridge-runners planned some incendiarism. He promptly reported this to me. The Ridge-runners were a rather canny clan who migrated from the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky years earlier and took homesteads on Pinkham Creek and Pinkham Ridge. Their chief pursuits were stealing tie timber and moonshining, but occasionally they would set a few fires, "just for the hell of it - to bother the 'Govment' men," and also to provide a few days' work. A bad epidemic of these fires was experienced in 1922.

Their planning in 1932 was to make lots of work. Bill Nagel, supervisor of the Blackfeet, and I hired an undercover man to go to Eureka to loiter and fish and get in with the Ridgers. He took an old Ford, rambled around the country, got acquainted with all of them, and finally joined their planning discussions after being accepted into their confidence. They completed their plans and set a date (August 22) for setting a string of fires from Edna Creek on the Blackfeet clear through to Sutton Creek on the Kootenai. A man was appointed to go into each drainage and the approximate spot was prescribed where he would set his fire. The complete plan, which was pretty thorough, was reported by our man directly to Nagel at Kalispell. This man was always around Eureka in the daytime, and whenever he had anything to report he drove into Kalispell during the night and was back before morning. We never phoned or wrote to him, nor did he to us. He was an ex-forest officer known to Nagel and me as a fully reliable man.

The day before the scheduled setting of the fires, we had two or three men in the vicinity of where each fire was to be started and quite a few others at anticipated places of travel by the Ridgers in or out of the woods. Our men met several of the Ridgers, who appeared very surprised to see someone. Our fellows saw others they did not meet, and likely our men were seen, too. We had hoped to catch at least one or two Ridgers in the act, but not a fire was set. Our undercover man was out on the fire-setting expedition with one of the Ridgers and joined in their talks after they returned to Eureka. They had tumbled immediately to the fact that we had gotten wind of their plans, since everywhere they went they encountered someone. But, they never suspected our undercover man, and to this day, old timers there are wondering how we got next to their plan. I have never heard since of any attempts at incendiaries in that area. Previously, there had been several outbreaks, and one man served time in Deer Lodge for setting a fire on Pinkham Ridge.

* * * * *

The spring of 1936 I transferred to the regional office and served there in various capacities, first under Major Kelley and later under Pete Hanson, until I retired on June 30, 1949. The years 1936 to 1938 were mostly devoted to appraisal work on the N.P. Land Grant case.

The Forest Service was five years old when I had the privilege of joining with a lot of good people in its work. Now as I have written the foregoing in 1955, the Service is celebrating its 50th year of service to the public. It has always been a good, efficient organization.

Unloading from eight-wheel trucks. Neils Lumber Company, Libby, Montana, Kootenai National Forest, 1921.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010