Forest Service Summer

by Backwoods Boy

Chapter 2

Tuesday, July 4, 1967

The clouds rolled in right after sunset, bringing with them their own fireworks display. The two lookout towers began reporting lightning strikes in the northern part of the district around ten o'clock.

With a full canteen attached to his belt, and hardhat and headlamp in hand, Logan joined the trail crew and the forestry technicians in the work-center office, where they perched on chairs or sat on the floor around the perimeter of the room. It was a waiting-game, familiar to some, but new to Logan and most of the others.

The work-center supervisor cross-referenced the information provided by the two towers to pinpoint the strike locations on a wall map. An experienced observer, dispatched in a pickup to a strategic high point, improved the accuracy. With smaller, site-specific maps, teams of two were dispatched to each strike that showed any signs of a flare up, which was pretty much all of them.

Logan and Gary, a sixteen-year-old trail crew member, were among the last to be sent out. Around midnight, they threw two Pulaskis, a sheathed handsaw, a shovel, and a chainsaw into the back of Logan's government pickup and headed out on gravel roads unfamiliar to both, searching for the abandoned logging road that should take them to within fifty yards of the fire.

Logan knew Gary only by sight and, thanks to Carl's observations, by reputation - he was a high-school athlete and a hard worker. Neither had done this before and both were nervous. While Logan drove and watched the road, Gary navigated, using his headlamp to check the map.

"I think it's coming up soon... Here, I think."

Logan pulled to a stop and checked the map.

"Good eyes, Gary." He looked at the map. "Is this the first side road you've seen?"


Logan pointed at the map.

"I think we need to go about two hundred yards further to this next one. What do you think?"

Gary checked the map again.

"You're right. It's the second one. Sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about, buddy. It's teamwork. That's why they sent two of us." He chuckled. "That way we can get lost together."

With the mood lightened, Logan continued on the main road. Gary pointed.


This one was at the bend in the gravel road, where Logan expected it to be.

"Good show."

Logan pulled the pickup onto the shoulder and parked. Using the radio in the truck, he checked in with the work center. They had no hand-held radio. From this point, they were on their own. Logan opened his door.

"It's show time."

Logan put on their pre-loaded fire pack containing a couple extra quarts of water, a first aid kit, a box of K-rations each, a compass, and a district map. Putting on their hardhats and headlamps, the boys grabbed the hand tools. Logan looked at the heavy chain saw.

"It's about a half-mile in. If we need the chainsaw, I'll come back for it."

Moving at the most rapid pace their headlamps would allow, the two boys set out towards the fire. The storm had passed, but the rising first-quarter moon provided little assistance. Logan made conversation.

"I'm glad it's close to this old road. Some of those fires were going to require a lot of bushwhacking. Not cool at night."

"No shit."

Keeping track of the time and the turns in the road, Logan stopped at the estimated location. It was pitch black below the road where the fire was supposed to be. They walked a short distance in each direction, peering into the brush and trees. Then, back at their original location, Gary spotted it.

"There. See the light flickering?"

"Yep, that's it. Good eyes, buddy."

It took a couple of minutes to reach the site, by which time the fire had become much clearer. They stood back and assessed the situation. Logan provided comments on what they were both looking at.

"The lightning struck that taller tree - the one that's about fifty feet tall. See the way the bark is stripped off?"

"Yeah, I see that."

"There's no sign of fire in that tree, though. It must have jumped to the smaller tree and set it on fire. That one's pretty well burned out now except for the ground around it. Maybe a tenth of an acre, I think. It's not going anywhere, but we need to build a line around the burned area and then put out the fire. We'll drop the shorter tree towards the east, so we need to make enough line to enclose the tree once it's down. We can leave the big one. Got anything to add to that?"


"Okay, let's do it. We're lucky it's a small fire - shouldn't take too long."

Now it was simply a matter of doing the grunt work. It took a little over an hour to build the line, using the shovel and the adze side of the Pulaskis. With about ten minutes of hard work, Logan brought down the smaller tree using the sharp blade side of the Pulaski and the hand saw. Then it was a matter of throwing dirt on the lingering flames and checking the downed tree carefully. Within a couple of hours, the job was done.

In the dim light of early dawn, Logan made some notes for his report and then used his compass to pinpoint the final location. Finished, they headed back to the truck.

It was a beautiful summer morning. The birds were waking up, and letting the world know they were present. A gentle downslope breeze blew any residual smoke away from them. Even in summer, it was cold in the early morning hours. Now that they weren't working, their light jackets were barely enough to keep them warm.

Back in the truck Logan checked in. Then he turned to Gary and offered his hand.

"Good job, Gary. It was a pleasure working with you."

Gary grinned happily as they shook hands.

"Same here, Logan."

Having showered, eaten a quick breakfast, and then crashed at around eight in the morning, Logan was far from happy when Gary woke him up at noon.

"The boss says we gotta go cut down that big tree. Anything that gets hit by lightning is supposed to be cut down."

Logan sat up on the edge of his bed.

"You gotta be fucking kidding me. There was no fire in that tree."

"I know, but it's apparently a regulation."


Logan got dressed, grabbed his hard hat and equipment, and followed Gary out to the truck. By this time, his humor had improved a little.

"Sorry about the language earlier, but this is just... stupid."

Gary chuckled. "You mean fucking stupid."

Logan laughed. "Yeah, that's exactly what I mean."

At the familiar turnout, Logan didn't bother to check in. It was daylight and no different than any other daytime task as far as he was concerned. He picked up a Pulaski and the thirty-pound saw with the twenty-four inch blade, while Gary grabbed the gas can and tool kit, and they headed for the site they both knew well.

Logan's familiarity with chainsaws was limited. He was used to cutting sections off downed trees in clearcuts, and then splitting them into the free firewood the Forest Service provided in the campgrounds. He recalled the instruction he'd received on his first day. His boss had handed him the chainsaw.

"Here's your saw. Here's how you start it and stop it. Go ahead and start it and cut a one-foot slice off the end of that log."

When Logan had performed those steps satisfactorily, there was one more piece of information

"Here's a map of the clearcuts where you can find firewood."

That was it. He'd figured the rest out on his own. Felling a tree would be a new experience, but he'd been around loggers at home enough to know how to go about it.

The tree had an obvious downhill lean. It was about eighteen inches in diameter, smaller than the saw blade. This was all good news. He made the undercut with the saw, knocked out the block with the Pulaski, and then provided Gary with what little instruction he knew.

"Get behind me and to one side, about fifty feet away, where you have a clear escape route. Watch the top of the tree, and if it comes your way, run like hell."

When Gary had complied, Logan started the saw and went to work. It took him about five cautious minutes before the tree started to fall. He turned off the saw, and just for the hell of it let out a yell.


The tree went exactly where he had planned. Now it was Gary's turn to give the praise.

"Good job, Logan!"

"Thanks, buddy. Now let's walk the length of the tree and make sure there's nothing warm."

There was no sign of fire at all, either past or present. The only benefit to taking it down was that Logan got some good experience - experience he would use again before the summer was over.

The boys took their time returning to the pickup. On the way home, they stopped by a stream and sat beside it for an hour getting acquainted - and consuming a box of K-rations each. They were getting holiday pay - no use getting back before dinner. Logan wanted to verify a rumor.

"Did you have a good time at Miner's Paradise?"

Gary laughed. "Carl told you about that, I guess."

Logan grinned. "Yeah, he told me he took you there to get educated. How was it?"

Gary smiled reminiscently. "It was an interesting experience. Ever been there?"

"Can't say as I have."

"You get your choice of the available ladies of the evening. You pay by time and the services you want. They set a kitchen timer - they've got one for each room - monitored in the kitchen by an attendant. When your time's up, she knocks on the door. I got my rocks off in time. Carl bitched all the way home because he had to pay for extra time."

"They let a sixteen-year-old in?"

Gary shrugged. "They weren't checking ID."

"Raincoat required?"

"Nope, optional."

"And you opted out?"

Gary grinned. "Does Smokey Bear shit in the woods?"

Logan laughed. "It's interesting you can get laid at a whorehouse when you're sixteen but you can't buy a beer until you're eighteen. And that's twenty-one in most states." He looked at his watch and stood up. "Let's head back. It's quitting time."

As he dropped into bed immediately after dinner, Logan thought about the whole experience, and congratulated himself on a job well done. He felt sorry for Gary, who would be building trails the next day. At least he had the day off - and he was going on a float trip with Danny.

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