100 Years of Protecting, Managing, Educating: Excerpts from To be A Forest Ranger

Don Wilson's First Night in a Tower Cabin, April 18, 1927

photo: Cabin below towerBack down at the cabin I first made myself a sandwich and brewed some coffee. As I ate the sandwich I had my first real look at the inside of the cabin. It had not been occupied since the previous fall. Dana Worrall had helped build it and had been the only one to live in it. Dana began work the year before and was now the forest patrolman in the Park Rapids district. There was plenty of dust and dirt just from having been left vacant. My first thought was to scrub the floor. Then I looked at the eight gallon cream can of water. I had been told to bring groceries for a week. Maybe that can of water would need to last a week. I decided to just sweep the floor.

There were three rooms in the 16' x 24' cabin; a kitchen, a bedroom, and a so-called living area. The living area was also the place where the fire fighting tools were stored. The partitions between the rooms were boarded up with shiplap, surfaced boards with overlapping edges, but these boards went only up to the height of the eaves. The rooms had no ceilings. There were door openings between the rooms but no doors. The outside walls were exposed 2 x 4's.

The furnishings were rather meager. In the living area stood two kitchen chairs, a table, a wood burning heating stove (New Maple Brand) and a woodbox. The sloping woodbox lid opened to reveal stenciled lettering which read, "Keep this lid closed." A kerosene lantern hung from a wire in the middle of the room. In the bedroom was a double width, double deck steel bunk with springs and mattresses, a couple of pillows and some blankets. There was nothing else except the nails that had been driven into the walls for clothes hangers. A strange and definitely musty smell was in the air. I could not decide if the odor was from the mattresses and blankets or due to the fact that the place had been closed for so long. I opened all the windows wide.
In the kitchen was a wood burning cook stove. It was really small and later I learned it was often referred to as a watch-fob size stove. There was a tiny table and two more kitchen chairs. A couple of wooden orange crates were nailed to the wall for cupboards.

One look at the dishes convinced me that I would need to sacrifice some of my precious water from the eight gallon cream can. But there were not that many dishes and washing them was not going to take that much water. The tea kettle and the coffee pot were gray enamel. The coffee pot, wider at the bottom than at the top, was strictly for boiling coffee. A four quart blue enameled kettle had evidently been dropped a few times for it had some sizable spots chipped off both on the inside and outside. I also found a large galvanized dish pan, much too large for the orange crate cupboard and undoubtedly intended for some kind of camp use, and a large bread pan - the kind in which three loaves of bread might be baked at one time. One large frying pan, made of thin steel, was bowed up in the middle from too much heat and very much rusted. It took me a half hour to clean the frying pan so I could use it. Everything else was tin ware. The plates were old, well used and somewhat bent. The one quart dish-ups, a substitute for serving bowls, the six tin cups as well as the tableware, showed many rust spots. This was my first experience in eating from tinware.

The cups were a lesson in themselves. They had tin handles that were fastened only at the top rim of the cup and if the cup was filled, the handle would bend. When filled with hot coffee, all the heat of the coffee was immediately transferred to the handle and cup. If I could have hung onto the handle, the hot tin cup would have burned my lips. Since the coffee cooled faster than the tin cup, I soon learned to drink cold coffee.
I spent an hour washing dishes and scouring off the rust spots. I fried myself a pork chop and heated up a can of beans. Then I had to wash dishes again. I found rust spots on the tin dishes I had washed only an hour before and had not yet been used. I washed them again. Apparently I was not getting them dry enough. The wood burning stove was still warm so I put the tin dishes upside down on the stove top. I also put the tableware on the warm stove top. Now they were really dry and the rust spotting problem was solved. I had finished the dishes in the meager light of a kerosene lantern.

I still had to make my bed. In with the blankets I found a double length cotton sheet blanket which was meant to be folded over to make both the top and bottom sheet. The other blankets were double length camp style, all cotton and not an ounce of anything else. When the weather was cold one would need to be strong just to hold up enough of them to keep warm. Later I learned that most everyone referred to them as wooden blankets because they were so stiff and provided so little warmth.

It had now become very dark. For several reasons I went to bed without even looking at the time. There was no reading material there and I had brought none with me. In any case the meager light given off by the kerosene lantern made for poor reading. It had been a long and exciting day and probably because I had been excited about the new job, I had slept little the night before. Since it was still rather warm, I left the bedroom window open.

I was not to be in bed long. I had been to sleep but suddenly found myself standing up. A howl of some sort had taken me completely out of bed. It took a few seconds to realize where I was and what the noise had been. On the farm I had heard the coyotes howl many times but they generally were across the fields and at least a half mile away. This sound came from under the bedroom window but I knew what it was. There was not any question but that it had been a coyote. But the sounds had stopped. In my sudden exit from the bed I suppose I made some noise and scared the coyote away. Without bothering to close the window I went back to bed and there were no more disturbances that night.

(Excerpt from Don Wilson's "To Be A Forest Ranger" pages 10-13, PDF pages 20-23