Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 2

January 1955

By David Lake
(Retired 1940)

I well remember the year of creation of the National Forests—1905. The only reason I did not get started with the Service at that time was that I was then homesteading and wanted to try my luck at farming; also, I had to make final proof on my homestead and could not handle two jobs at once, so I waited awhile.

In 1915 I was appointed as administrative guard for the North Snowies and was requested to pick up the office equipment at the Rodgers Ranger Station, a distance of about 10 miles from my place. (The ranger was being transferred and had left everything behind.) Well, to make it short, I did so, and then decided to write the forest ranger at Judith Gap regarding the matter. In the outfit there was an old Oliver typewriter. The first one I had ever seen. I put in two sheets and wrote a full page letter, listing all the property. It took about one-half day, and then I found that I had put the carbon wrong side up. This was my first error.

My next error was as follows. I made an S-22 timber sale of 200 lodgepole pine poles and failed to mark them. And before they were cut I was appointed as forest ranger and had moved away to the South Belts, a new district. I turned everything over to my brother, Leon L. Lake, who was appointed as guard in my place. When the time came to close this sale, he inspected the cutting area, found that the cutting was done on private land, and so reported it. I was then asked why I had sold timber from private land and why I did not mark the timber. That took a lot of explaining, and I thought I was finished before I had gotten started. I was learning the hard way.

In the late 20's we were rebuilding telephone line on Belt Creek, near Neihart. We were putting the Forest Service wire on high poles 20 to 45 feet, with long crossarms. The boys were all taking turns in climbing and tying in. One ranger, name not given, had, as was his habit, been doing a lot of talking, expounding his knowledge and ability, including telephone construction. When his turn came to go up he stepped up to the pole, a 45-footer, looked up, hesitated a bit and finally said, "Boys, I am a married man with a family of kids; I'll be damned if I'll climb it."

Sometime during the 20's one of my sheep permittees who had been running sheep on the top of the Belt mountains, had been having trouble with bears, so finally the local Deputy Game Warden decided to go with him and kill the bear. They arrived at the camp and went out together to look for the bear. The sheep owner said to the Game Warden, "I will go around this small canyon, and you stay here and watch. Should he move out on the hillside you can't fail to see him."

The day was warm, and the Game Warden, after looking for a long time, began to feel sleepy, so he sat down behind a log and went to sleep. He did not know how long he had slept, but when he woke up, he got up and made some noise, and what should jump up from the other side of the log, but the bear he was looking for. His gun was at some distance leaning against a tree, and the bear left there fast.

Again in the 20's, the Winnecook Ranch Company was running sheep in the Big Snowies. They had a camptender named Sam, who was packing supplies from the Blake Creek Ranger Station over the summit. In his pack string he had one that would not stand for shoeing behind. I arrived at the station one day just as Sam was getting his outfit ready to go up the mountain. Sam said, "I wish I could put shoes on that mule, as I am afraid he won't stand the trip without them." I was fairly handy at shoeing horses and told Sam that I would be glad to help shoe the mule. But we would have to throw him, as he was a vicious kicker and we did not want to get hurt. We put ropes on him and after a lot of trouble got him down, but he still kicked and struggled. But finally I started to work on his feet, and pretty soon Sam said, "What's wrong with this damn mule, I don't like the way he looks, he rolls his eyes so funny." I took a look, and said, "Hell, that mule is dead, he has broken his neck in his struggles." We had started to take the ropes off when we saw a car coming through the lower gate. We straightened up to meet the new arrivals, the manager of the Winnecook Ranch Company, Elwyn Dole, and the owner, Stillman Berry. They came up all smiles, shook hands and said, "Guess you are shoeing the fractious mule." "Yes," I said, "We were trying, but the damn mule is dead." At that their smiles turned into frowns. "Well", I said, "since the mule is dead, we can't do any more, and I am past due on Timber Creek to scale logs. I'll have to go. You boys will have to drag the mule out and bury him." So the manager and the owner of the Winnecook Ranch Company, the largest outfit in this part of the state, had to dig a hole and bury the mule.

One night, November 18th, at midnight, I got a phone call from my per diem guard at the Rodgers Ranger Station, saying they had a bad fire on the head of the Middle Fork of Spring Creek, and would I come over. So I gassed up the old Model A and started for the fire. I arrived around 3:00 a.m. The cold wind was blowing about 40 miles per hour. They had around 10 men on the fire who were all about to freeze to death. There were snow patches all around and the fire would run where there was enough grass or other fuel. We spent the balance of the night shoveling snow on the fireline and finally got it under control. The snow saved us that night.

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Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010