Excerpts from Don Wilson's "To Be A Forest Ranger"

First Day on the Job, April 18, 1927

Before we arrived at the Smoky Hills station, (Harold) Page, (Park Rapids district ranger), stopped at a farmhouse near the base of the tower hill and filled an eight gallon cream can with water. He informed me that this would need to last me for awhile.
At the Smoky Hills cabin, Page gave me a large brass key. It must have weighed at least four ounces. He said it would unlock the padlock on the cabin as well as the one on the lookout tower and went on to impress me with its value. It would unlock locks at many Forest Service locations, which made it still more valuable. He told me that if I lost the key there would be a $5.00 charge. That really impressed me. Five dollars represented nearly two days' pay.

Read more on the reporting for the first day

image:Smoky Hills Fire tower in 1927

First Night in a Tower Cabin, April 18, 1927

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.

Read more spending the first night in a tower cabin

photo: Cabin below tower

Fire Fighting Equipment

How well I remember the Buffalo pump tanks. They were tall and round, held approximately five gallons of water and had the carrying handle more than twenty-six inches from the bottom. They definitely had not been designed to be carried where there was brush.

Read more about the first fire fighting equipment

image: Buffalo pump tanks

Fire Fighting Technique

The year was 1931 and we had no sophisticated fire suppression equipment. Nearly all forest and grass fires were extinguished by strong men using hand tools. If water was readily available, it was used in back-pack pumps. Generally water was not available so long handle shovels were used to either beat out the flames or to dig a trench to keep the fire from spreading. To put out a forest, or even a grass fire was truly hard and disagreeable work.

Each forest patrolman was required to furnish his own transportation to get to the fires. My fire fighting car was a 1923 Model T Ford. In this touring car I could carry some back-pack pump tanks, a few long handle shovels and a couple of axes. For furnishing a car I was paid 3 1/2 cents for each mile driven.

photo: Man with shovels

First Patrolman Job

On April 1, 1928, I was informed of my first promotion in the Minnesota Forest Service. As of that date I was a forest patrolman and was to be assigned to the Longville patrol district. My salary was to be $90.00 a month and I was given the official badge.

Read more on becoming a patrolman

photo: Patrolman official badge

First Days of Slash Inspection

My introduction to slash inspection was to spend a week with Allen Stone, the patrolman-at-large, examining timber cutting operations north of Park Rapids. At each logging operation he would outline, at considerable length, the several factors that needed to be considered in determining a fire hazard. If we concluded that the timber cutting had created a hazard, we discussed how it might be reduced.

Read more on slash inspection

photo: Slash piles at inspection time

Reconnaissance Lunches

We usually carried only a sandwich for our noon lunch. If the main camp had been generous, we sometimes also carried a small can of tomatoes. A can of tomatoes was great for quenching one's thirst as well as satisfying hunger. We always hoped we would be near a cool running stream or even a lake at lunch time but seldom were. More often we were near a stagnant pond or deep in a swamp. We would lie down and try to get a drink by using our fingers as a crude strainer to keep back the largest of the aquatic life. To make it still less appetizing, swamp water was generally a brownish color. The presence of life in the water was the only way we had to conclude it was reasonably safe to drink.

image: Reconnaissance lunch

Read More stories from Don's Wilson's "To Be A Forest Ranger"

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