D-6 CUPOLA
(1916 to 1929)
R.H. SPRAY, April, 1995

 


D-6 CUPOLA      The first real live-in lookout cabin was designed and built by a mountain guide who has become a legend in the Mt. Hood region. Lige Coalman made his reputation climbing Mt. Hood (over 586 recorded climbs). Part of that reputation came from his work with the Forest Service in designing and constructing the first fire lookout in the Northwest on the summit of Mt. Hood.
     In order to do this, Coalman, Dee Wright (Forest Service packer), and a number of mutinous Forest Service crewmen had to mulepack and backpack over 4,000 pounds of building materials to the summit. The crewmen at times refused to backpack to the summit because of adverse glacier conditions and because of the low pay. Many quit and walked off the job.
     Coalman did most of the carpentry himself. This was fortunate since he did considerable extra reinforcing and double construction in anticipation that he would be the one to rely on the structure for his safety. This is probably why so many lookouts of Coalman's design still survive today.
     The structure, now called a D-6 Cupola, was completed in 1916 and was staffed by Coalman through 1919. After Coalman called it quits, Mt. Hood was staffed every year until disrepair and changing fire detection philosophies closed the lookout for the last time after the 1933 season. This first continuously (more or less) manned lookout was very successful, probably because it was the first and because of the dedication and capability of Lige Coalman and those who followed him.
     As you might expect, the lookouts who served on Mt. Hood experienced many trials and tribulations. One of the worst events occurred in 1924. A lightning storm hit the mountain, and the building was struck many times resulting in a fire in the cupola. The lookout had to choose between choking smoke and the raging storm outside. After thinking about the fire and the 50 gallons of kerosene, gasoline, and alcohol stored in the building, he chose the storm. After struggling part way down the mountain, spraining his knee in a fall, and suffering hypothermia, he crawled back to the cabin. Fortunately the fuel had not exploded, and the fire was out. However, the building was severely damaged, and he had to be evacuated after the storm for medical treatment.
     The Forest Service attempted to construct a new lookout on Mt. Hood in 1940. A late season start and early storms resulted in the materials being transported only to Crater Rock (10,500'). The year 1941 brought little progress because personnel were needed on wildfires, and, of course, the onset of World War II put an end to further construction. Neatly piled, tarpaulin covered materials are probably still buried in snow and glacier at Crater Rock.
     The D-6 Cupola was a 12' x 12' frame structure with a 6' x 6' second story observation cupola in the center of the building. Both the first story living quarters and the cupola have a continuous band of windows. Most original D-6's had shutters over all windows, but most also were modified in this regard. The few that I have seen completely lost hinged shutters on the first floor. These were generally replaced with removable plywood shutters that were stored under the building or in a nearby outbuilding. Many lost the cupola shutters, probably to wind. Cupola shutters that hinged upward were generally replaced with shutters that lowered downward and rested on the roof of the first floor. An excellent example of a D-6 Cupola, and a rare one at that, exists on Black Butte. At this writing it is in dire need of rehabilitation (attention Forest Service and potential volunteers!).


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