Paul Mace's
Schafer Peak Lookout Tower Recollections

This page is a running diary currently being written by Paul Mace, who manned the Schafer Peak Lookout tower back in 1953 and 1954. He manned the original Schafer Peak Lookout tower, and the second tower was built towards the end of his second tour.
I'll try to get it updated now and then, when I can get a new story out of Paul.

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Chapter 1 - First Year 1953
After graduating from High School in 1952 I enrolled in forestry at Oklahoma A&M College (it's now Oklahoma State University). As part of the forestry program, the College got summer jobs for forestry majors. I went to the Dean's office and picked the job I wanted. I selected one on the Clark Fork District, USFS, Idaho. I had no particular reason for selecting that one but am certainly glad I did.

I didn't' know it was going to be manning a fire lookout tower or I probably would not have selected that job. When I found out, it was too late. I attended a training session with all the other lookout personnel in the Kaniksu National Forest to learn how to use the fire finder, radio, and get a general orientation.
Paul Mace

Sometime around the first of July I was taken up to Schafer Peak to open and set up the tower. There was a fellow who went with me to teach me the ropes. He was going to be on Lunch Peak Lookout on the northern end of the District and had previous experience. After a week he came down and I was on my own. It was a frightening yet exciting experience and I remember it well. I stood on the cat walk, a 19 year old kid from the oil fields of Oklahoma, over a thousand miles from home, alone, and responsible for spotting forest fires before they got big enough to cause serious damage.

I soon got into a routine and certainly enjoyed the life of a fire lookout. A routine day was waking at sun up, who could sleep with all that sun shining in, taking a look around to see if any fires had started during the night, and then moving into the days activities. One morning I would make a water haul which was from a spring 3/4 of a mile down the west side of the mountain in a 5gallon backpack, the next I would chop fire wood if I needed any, and the next day I would just goof off for an hour. After one of those activities was accomplished, I would prepare breakfast. I cooked my food on a small wood stove. Best I remember it had two burners and a small oven. It was only about 2 feet square. I had a cook book provided by the USFS that was especially designed for high altitude cooking. I enjoyed cooking primarily because a 19 year old boy likes to eat and it gave me something to do. A slab of bacon and several dozen eggs had been packed to the tower prior to my arrival so a typical breakfast was bacon and eggs, a small can of grapefruit sections, biscuits (the recipe was in the lookouts cookbook) jelly, sometimes gravy, and a pot of strong boiled coffee. Life didn't get any better than that.


Chapter 2 - Clark Fork
I knew a boy there in Clark Fork named Jigs Dawson. Was he any Kin? He was always happy go lucky and smiling.

I had a girlfriend there, Mary Ann VanStone. Her Dad was Dan VanStone. He was section foreman for the Great Northern RR and they lived in a company house which seemed like it was only about 20' from the tracks. I would go to see Mary Ann and we would watch TV (small screen B&W) and every time a train went by it would rattle the whole house. The VanStones were used to it. There was a big sister, Myrna, and a little brother.

There was a nice bar at the south end of town, the Playhouse Bar. The owner/bar tender was named Al (what bartender isn't named Al?). I would go in there with the big boys cause I wasn't a drinker. I remember a huge black wolf hide hanging on the wall.

There was a Texaco service station and cafe on the north side of the highway. We use to hang out there and drink coffee. The fellow who owned it was named Erickson the best I can remember.

Across the highway from there was a small drug store owned and operated by a little old lady named Clara. Her husband had been a pharmacist. When he died, Clara ran the business and only sold over the counter medicine.

There was a demented fellow in town, Albert Schindler, that everybody called Luke. Everyone teased him. I felt sorry for him and treated him with kindness. We were buddies.

Chapter 3 - Typical Day
I would spend the day just hanging out and looking out. Many people would get bored just looking all day but not me. I was from the plains of Oklahoma and had never been more than a couple hundred miles away from home. I had never seen mountains before and now I was living in them in a fire lookout tower. I could see three States and two Countries.

There were some old magazines that had been left there so I would read some. I liked to wood carve so did some of that. I carved out a little mouse about 2" high that resembled Mickey Mouse. One day I was surprised when about ten people from a hiking club in Spokane came up to visit. One of the ladies thought the mouse was so cute so I gave it to her. I did another one which I brought home to my sister-in-law.

Outside of the hiking club, the only visitors I had were some of the guys from the District. After about a month, the packer brought me a fresh supply of food and other essentials, like toilet paper.

Now that I've brought up the subject, I would like to discuss the outhouse. The little log structure that's on the Web page. It brought such great comfort, in more ways than the obvious. As I sat on the hole (for the lack of a better term) and looked out in an easterly direction there was a view that I have found unequalled. On the left side of the door there was a rock ledge with little wild flowers growing out of the cracks and crevices. There was a Douglas Fir growing to the right of the outhouse, visible in the picture on the Web page. Branches from this tree hung down in view from my perch. Through this framework of the door, rock ledge with wildflowers, and Douglas Fir branches was an outstanding view of Scotchman's Peak, the king of all mountains in North Idaho. I've seen picture post cards of Scotchman's Peak and they are beautiful but nothing is as breathtaking as the view through the door of the outhouse on Schafer Peak Lookout.

Chapter 4 - Communications
Communication with the District Ranger Station was by radio. All lookouts and ranger stations were on the same frequency so I could keep up on all Kaniksu gossip. The radio was powered by 20 -30 9 volt dry cell batteries. They were the old style about 3x3x6" all hooked up in a wooden box beneath the radio.

There was an old style battery operated telephone mounted to the pedestal of the firefinder. It was connected to another phone down at the trailhead on the road. I never heard it ring so doubt that it was even working. I never checked the batteries or even to see if it had batteries. It was just there.
Paul Mace

I would check in with the RS in the morning after 8:00 and in the evening before 5:00. The protocol was that you missed two days checking in and they would come see what the trouble was.

When a smoke (that was the proper term) was detected it was reported to the District RS. To locate the smoke you sighted through the fire finder to get the compass reading or azimuth. After estimating how far away the smoke was it was radioed to the RS. I don't remember exactly how many smokes I reported in the summer of '53 but it seems like 20 -30. None of them turned into a big fire and most of them were human caused along the highway or railroad right of way.

One Sunday morning about two weeks after I had manned the tower I was doing my usual morning scan. I saw a smoke coming from close to the Hope saw mill. At first I thought it was drifting from the Hope mill but finally decided it wasn't. I was a little reluctant to call it in because it was about 8:00 Sunday morning and I really didn't want to disturb the dispatcher if it was not a bonified smoke. I finally decided to go ahead. Abut 45 minutes later the District Ranger radioed that he had gone to check the smoke. It was a brush fire that a man had set thinking that being Sunday morning and that close to the Hope mill nobody would notice and hadn't acquired the necessary permit. The District Ranger was very complimentary which naturally boosted my confidence, moral, and ego.

On the ceiling above the fire finder was a list of false smokes. These were mostly sawmills that constantly burned waste wood from the lumber making process. Listed was the name, azimuth, and distance from the lookout tower. When I spotted a smoke I went to the false smoke list first.

There was another radio in the tower. It was my portable FM. I only listened to it at night because the daytime was taken up with the old radio soap operas, forerunner to today's daytime TV soaps. There were no radio stations that constantly played music as there are today. The nearest to it was a program in the evening called, "Lucky Lager Dancetime". It was sponsored by Lucky Lager Beer and played all the current popular songs. By about 8:00 the interference would drown the station out and I would turn it off and turn in.

Before I would turn in though, I would have one more look. It was so peaceful watching the day end and listening to the night begin. Almost every night I could hear porcupines grunting at the bottom of the tower doing what ever it is that porcupines do at the bottom of a lookout tower in northern Idaho as the night begins.

My final act of the day was to make sure the door was down and latched on the cat walk around the tower. I didn't do it because I was afraid, I did it just because.

 


Chapter 5 - Squirrels and A Visitor
One evening just at dusk I was lying on my bed looking at one of those old magazines when I felt the tower begin to shake. It was obvious that someone or something was coming up the steps. I hadn't latched the catwalk door yet. I jumped out of bed scared to death and saw a fellow through the window as he made his way onto the catwalk. I was mightily relieved when I recognized him as a fellow who worked at the District. He was somewhat of a vagrant working here and there as he made his way through life. He had grown tired of working for the Forest Service (he had been there about two months) and was on his way to Lakeview, about 10 to 20 miles away, to get a job in a mine. He called himself a "ridgerunner" 'cause he didn't use vehicles or roads. He had arrived there by walking along the mountain ridge. He had stopped to spend the night. He left the next morning heading south down along the ridge.

One morning I woke up and was "fogged in". I could barely see the ground 30 feet below. I noticed a "fool hen", some kind of grouse, sitting on a stump directly below where I was standing. I thought if I could kill him it would make a good and different meal. I got a rock pick head which was in with the tools, why a lookout would need a rock pick I don't know but I took aim and let it drop. It was a direct hit and I had fried "fool hen" for supper. I remember that I didn't want to pick the feathers and have them all over the place so I skinned it. It really wasn't all that good.

A hawk flew over one day and every gopher (Colombian ground squirrel) on the mountain squeaked and dived into it's burrow. I let them come back out and resume their activity and then I played a dirty trick on them. I took a page from one of the old magazines, folded it into a sail plane, and launched it from the tower. Every gopher on the mountain hit the dirt again. I didn't do this very often but it did provide me with occasional entertainment.

To made it up to the gophers, though, I gave them a treat. I fed them eggs. The fresh eggs that were packed up to the tower about two weeks before I got there were beginning to look funny when I cracked them. There was no refrigeration so I kept the eggs in an air cooler under the catwalk. Even though they didn't smell bad I decided that after a month of only air refrigeration that I'd best get rid of them. I had always wanted to throw an egg and now was my chance. I had a couple dozen of them to throw. I let go with one and hit a big rock several yards from the tower. Several gophers scurried away but then came back and begin to eat the egg. I know that gophers are vegetarians but evidently enjoy a little protein when it's available. I would go out every day until the eggs were gone and give the gophers an egg treat.

Chapter 6 - End of the 1953 Lookout Season
Before I close down the tower for the winter I remember another incident, swarms of ants. When I went up to the tower at the beginning of the season, I was given a questionnaire and a vial for collecting data and specimens on the ant swarms that would come during the summer. Some university in Canada was conducting the research.

I really didn't know what to expect until one morning as I was going through my early routine I noticed a few ants flying around the north and west side of the cabin. More and more kept joining the swarm until it reached its peak about 9:00. There were thousands of ants. They were so thick I couldn't see clearly out of the north and west windows. They were about 1//2 inch long and were of two colors, red and black. It was obvious this was a "honeymoon" swarm. They were there for only one purpose, to mate. I don't remember whether the males were black or red and the females were the opposite color. After about an hour the activity was over and they would begin to disappear. By 11:00 they were all gone. This took place for about a week and then I never saw another winged ant until the next year.

Toward the end o August the temperature began to cool down and it begin to rain more. Word finally came to close the lookout down. I did it in about two hours and went down the trail to meet my ride back to the Ranger Station.

That evening a fellow that worked there took me and the fellow who had manned Lunch Peak Lookout into Sandpoint for a night on the town. I remember how noisy it was after being in the quiet for two months. I also drank my first beer ever. I don't remember if it was an Olympia (Olie), Bohemian (Bo) or a Lucky Lager, the three most popular brands, but I remember it tasted good. I guess that was my rite of passage.

A few days later I left Clark Fork to go back to College.

Chapter 7 - Beginning the 1954 Lookout Season
Another fire lookout season got under way with only one thing different. Over the winter at college I had learned to smoke. My brand was Lucky Strike. However, I wanted to save money so I bought a carton of Bull Durham cigarette tobacco to take with me to the lookout. Luckies were a quarter a pack and Bull Durham was a nickel a sack. It came in a little white cloth bag with a yellow draw string and a package of O.C.B. cigarette papers attached to the side. If I was going to continue my habit I would have to learn to roll my own.

My morning routine had an addition. Now when I finished breakfast I would sit back, roll a cigarette, pour a cup of coffee, and give the countryside a good looking over. Life couldn't get ay better than that.

Chapter 8 - Building the New Lookout Tower
In August a crusty old packer started bringing up the materials and supplies for a new tower. He had a string of eight mules and there was no question as to who was in charge. He would get there after noon and I would prepare him a meal before he headed back down the trail to get ready for the next day.

He was unfriendly which suited me fine 'cause I didn't have anything to say to him anyway. He certainly didn't look like what I thought a Forest Service packer should look like. He wore a dirty felt hat, not a cowboy or western style but a dress hat which was common in those times. He smoked a curved stem pipe which he only took out of his mouth to eat or spit, which he did often. He was skinny. He wore a gray work shirt, baggy blue jeans, and ordinary boots, not cowboy style. The one redeeming feature was he packed my water so I didn't have to be water frugal any more.

The tower and cabin were pre cut. There was an engineer that was in charge of putting it all together. There were two guys from the District to help. I was the cook. I prepared breakfast and lunch for four of us and the packer joined us for the evening meal. It was all done on that little 2X2 foot wood stove. Needless to say the meals were not fancy. The only really bad thing was heating the water for washing dishes and cleaning. I had to heat water for everyone to "bath" with. It's a wonder that little stove didn't melt down.

Tents were set up below the tower for the crew to live in. I stayed in the tower, continued to watch for fires, cook, and sleep. My day would start before sunrise and end after sundown.

The new tower had treated timber legs. These were brought up using two mules for each pair of timbers. Two mules in line with a timber lashed to each side. The packer had a time getting the mules turned around the switch backs on the trail. Poor mules.

The tower legs were set in concrete as were the deadmen at each corner. All of this required a jackhammer to make the holes in the rock for the concrete. This was accomplished using an air compressor operated by an airplane engine. I don't remember why the airplane engine but my guess is it was the only thing big enough to do the job.

Vern Erickson, District Ranger, and Al Safford, Alternate District Ranger, brought the compressor and engine up to the tower on a contraption called a "mechanical mule." It was a glorified motorized wheel borrow with the two handles and controls in the rear and two handles in the front so the operator up there could help stabilize the thing. By the time thy wrestled that thing for three miles up the rocky moderately steep trail they were near exhaustion. What they thought would be a fun trip turned into an unpleasant ordeal.

I was not there for the completion of the tower because I had to go back to school. I did come back to work at the Clark Fork District the next year and went up to see the new tower.

It was a thing of beauty. It is my understanding that after 18 years of service it was abandoned.

Chapter 9 - The Letter Home - August 10th, 1954
Dear Frances, Jack and Dennis,

Iím now full-up to the brim after partaking of a sardine sandwich, 4 cups of coffee and a piece of huckleberry pie.  Tonight though, Iíll really be living.  I have a chicken to fry with all of the trimmings.  The Packer, who is packing up the new tower, is eating his evening meals with me.  This will give me a little more practice at cooking.  Next week there will be a crew of 5 men up here to start work on the new tower.  I have been appointed chief cook and bottle washer for them.

Monday, when the men get here, we will all go down around the bottom of the tower and set up tents and the like for our future homes.  My fire finding equipment will be set up on the ground and I will resume work as a lookout plus the job as cook.  I donít know how I will fancy to the cookís job, but I think Iíll enjoy it.  Iíll be getting some good experience and besides, these Forest Service guys will eat anything as long as they donít have to cook it.  Iíll enjoy the company and really enjoy the roughing it down on the ground living in a tent.

Iím the envy of all the other lookouts in the forest.  Every now and then one of them will call up and ask if theyíve chopped the tower down yet.  You see, thatís exactly what they do when they canít burn the old tower.  They just saw off a couple of the legs and down she goes with a bang.  It sounds real exciting.

The Ranger rode up yesterday on his horse to look the situation over.  He stayed about an hour.  He was quite pleased with the neat appearance of the tower.  It aught to be clean though, thatís all I have to do from morning till night is keep this thing picked up.

Paul Mace

I had the packers buy me a ukulele and bring it up.  I really make this old mountain ring with music.  At least I call it music and the porcupine, chipmunks and gophers havenít moved off yet; so I guess it sounds all right to them.

I donít know if I told you or not, but I have one of the largest and hardest water hauls in the forest.  It takes me an hour to go down and back with 5 gallons of water on my back.  This has caused me to be very conservative of water.  Now, however, that packer has specific orders to pack my water up to me on mules when I need it.  I get 30 gallons (one mule load) at a time.  Boy itís really like the Waldorf up here now.  Iím the most wasteful thing that walks now with all that water.  Now if they would only pack my wood up here everything would be fixed.

My hair has grown out long again, but I plan to get it cut off before returning home.  I also have a nice beard which I have shaped up like the old ďSouthern GeneralsĒ wore them.  Iím really quite proud of it, especially when I put on my confederate hat.  The Ranger, who is usually down on any of his men wearing beards, just looked at it and chuckled.  Thatís nicer than anything he could have said to me.  You are unfortunate though, in that Iíll shave it off when I climb down from this hill.

Guess Iíve chattered long enough so Iíll quit and groom by beard and practice on my southern accent some more.  It wonít be long Ďtill I come down from here and I really want to give the Clark Fork girls a thrill this time.

Lotís of Love,

Po

 


Chapter 10 - The Fall of '55

I stayed out of school for the fall semester of 1955 to go elk hunting there in north Idaho (that's another story involving Dan Vanstone who was Mary Ann's father and Scott's grandfather which I'll tell at another time).

Paul Mace

Anyway, the local residents that worked for the Clark Fork District every summer used snow on Scotchman's Peak as an indicator for how soon they would be laid off work and start drawing their unemployment checks. They called it "rockin' chair" time. Unemployment in the winter was an expected way of life for a lot of the people that worked in the lumber industry. I was told that the unemployment office had a mobile office that would come over and park in front of the Playhouse Bar every two weeks to make signing up easy for the recipients.

One morning in September (I think) they were all excited because there was snow on the very peak of Scotchman. As the fall progressed so did the snow line down Scotchman Peak.

Soon we were getting some snow there in the woods where we worked clearing, piling, and burning slash left from the summer's logging operation. One evening after a cold wet day in the woods my buddies and I went to the Playhouse.

The owner's name was Al and he was one of those that was knowledgeable in most things. His wife, Penny, helped him. She was a rather exotic looking woman which naturally attracted the men's attention. Anyway, that particular evening I asked Al what he would drink if he had been working in the cold wet woods all day.

He set a glass before me, put a pat of butter in it, then some sugar cubes and a shot of dark rum. He then produced from somewhere behind him a pot of boiling water and filled the glass. He put a swizzle stick in it and said, "hot buttered rum".

It was probably a combination of being with my good buddies, Al, a good looking woman flitting and flirting from table to table, and the warm atmosphere of the Playhouse Bar that made that hot buttered rum the best drink I've ever had. A simple drink that I've tried to duplicate many times but failed. Boy do I miss the Playhouse Bar.


Chapter 11 - "Canned Gopher"

There was a pit west of the tower to be used for disposing of garbage. That's a misnomer because I never had any garbage to dispose of. I disposed of it right down my gullet. I did have tin cans to get rid of so I guess you could call it a tin can pit.

Anyway, one day I heard a real racket down at the pit: clanging, squealing. I looked down and saw a gopher going crazy. It had a can on the end of one of it's front legs. I started down to the little fellow's rescue.

When I opened a can I would leave about a quarter inch of the lid attached which served as a hinge. After I had emptied the contents, I would fold the lid down into the can and toss it.

This gopher had reached into the can to retrieve some food I had left behind and when he tried to pull his paw out it wedged between the lid and side of the can. The harder he pulled the tighter it held.

As I approached he got enough slack and his paw cam out. Off he scurried none the worst for wear. But as I went back to the tower I got to thinking. It was a good thing he got free before I got there, because if I had tried to pick him up he would eaten my hand alive. Gophers have a real set of incisors. Luck was on my side that morning.


Chapter 12 - "Pack Rat in the Cellar"

There was a root cellar about 20' north of the tower where I stored my canned goods. It was small, naturally, only about 3' cubed with two shelves.

One day I went to get something from it and discovered a pack rat had set up house keeping. He had started to bring in all the usual stuff. He was not particularly afraid of me as I could watch him for long periods. But when I made a move to reach into get something he would scurry out through the rocks behind.

One day I went to fetch a can and discovered he had chewed all the labels off the cans and was using them for nesting material. It made it rather interesting though 'cause I never was quite sure what I was going to eat until I opened the can.

One day I opened the cellar door and much to my surprise my little friend had been replaced by a much larger and very ugly rat. He had a distinct "Roman" nose. This made me mad. This intruder had to go.

I remember reading about an experiment somebody had done with nicotine to prove how lethal it is. They had taken a rabbit, shave a small place on it's back, and placed a drop of nicotine on it. Within a few minutes the rabbit went into convulsions and died. Ah hah! This is how I would get rid of the intruder.

I took a cover from one of the magazines I had and rolled it into a blow tube. I made flour and water paste to hold the tube's shape. I then made a dart by taking a small piece of wood, carefully putting a strait pin through it, and then encasing it in a piece of cloth. It worked great.

Next I rolled me a Bull Durham cigarette, took a cloth, took a big draw, pursed my lips and blew smoke through the cloth. A black tar like residue collected on the cloth where I had blown. This I assumed was just about pure nicotine.

I gathered the residue on the pin point and went to the cellar. Sure enough, there he was. I quietly took a deep breath, aimed the best I could and blew. Of course the instant I blew he jumped and my dart went off target anyway. Not daunted, I tried again a little later, and again a little later, and again the next day, many times again. Finally after several days of trying many times a day he left. I guess he figured it wasn't that good of a home and looked for other digs. It wasn't long until the original rat was back and we all lived happily ever after. At least until they started building the new tower and I had other things to entertain me.


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