Saturday, March 29, 2014

USFS Summer 63-64, a learning experience

The summer before and after HS graduation in 1964 I worked for the US Forest Service in the Fremont Nat'l Forest in Silver Lake, Oregon. Located in SE Oregon around 100 miles south and east of Bend, it was then one of the most remote places in the state. Vast areas of high desert, mountains forested with ponderosa and lodgepole pine, Silver Lake had a population of maybe 20 people, excluding the perhaps 50 people on the scattered ranches within 60 miles. The town of Silver Lake had one each of a gas station, cafe, bar and post office. The cafe doubled as a bus stop for the once a day Trailways bus going to and coming from Bend.

The headquarters where I worked, under construction:

Each summer the 'Us Fuss' as we called the USFS, would hire around 10 people to augment the permanent staff of around 8 to build trails, fight fires, and whatever tasks the district ranger would come up with. The first summer, 1962, I was the youngest at 16. All of us were young, the oldest being a fellow who was just out of the service, a geezer of 24 or so.

We lived in a bunkhouse, back and to the left of the area shown above.  Our meals were at the cafe nearby, at breakfast we'd get a lunch bag to eat out in the field, and dinner would be followed by a trip to the bar, where our age didn't seem to matter to the bartender, who also ran the post office.

We'd spend our days out in crews of 3 or 4, building trails, repairing the few campgrounds, and when they occurred, fighting the fires, usually lightning-caused.

Because of the distances involved, and the fact the 'roads' were often just dirt tracks off across the high sagebrush desert into the forest, sometimes we'd spend the night at cabins that were built in the Fremont.

The last summer I worked there, there were two additions to our ranks that were notable. Two young men from Brooklyn, NY. This was during the era of LBJ's Great Society initiatives, designed to fight poverty and racial inequality. One small program of this was designed to get young black men out of the urban ghetto and into the work force.

That summer, a couple weeks after most of us had arrived in early June, the district ranger, a Clark Gable look-alike with a pencil-thin mustache named Dude, told us we'd be receiving two young men from NYC.

A few days later, two of us drove one of the Studebaker trucks used by the government then the half mile to the wide spot on the road that was Silver Lake to meet the bus. Two young black men got off, both around our age, looking dazed. I try to imagine what it must have looked like to them, nearly 100 hours on a bus, from the inner-city of Brooklyn.

For most of us, these were the first blacks we'd met. I kid you not. Sounds weird now, but back then Bend, population 8K, had no blacks. I wish I could remember what I said to them at that point, but I don't. I know we loaded them into the back of the truck (only one bench seat in front) and we took them back to ranger station for the summer.

I remember all sorts of unforeseen things came up. Training, for one. All of us had used axes, shovels, etc as part of life growing up. Most of us had used a chain saw, and we all could drive. They had no experience with any of those, neither of them had ever driven a car.

A couple weeks of 'training' ensued, and we 'trainers' had no idea how to teach anything. I remember some near-decapitations with the chain saw, some pretty good gashes from axes, and several dents in the trucks. I also remember it was a lot of fun. In the weeks that followed, we overcame the initial awkwardness,  and actually got to know one another. They told us of their everyday lives in Brooklyn, some of their stories had us agog. One of them even got a straw cowboy hat like most of us wore by the end of summer.

The 'high' point of the summer came in late August, when we decided one evening to drive the miles to Lakeview, a cowboy town of then around 3K people south of us. Around 5 of us including our two new guys, trouped into a bar. Quick, complete silence occurred, followed by the bartender yelling that we couldn't bring 'those guys' into his bar. There were several local cowboys who got up from their stools.

The next morning early Dude came to the county jail and got us all out, told the Sheriff he'd 'handle it', and drove us back. He never said a thing about it to us, except we were to 'Stay the hell out of that place'.

Hell of a good summer, and I learned things about myself that stood me in good stead in the years ahead.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daylight Savings Confusion, or Chicago Had it Right

The old rock group, not the city.

Back when dinosaurs walked the earth (when I was a kid), DST was a different thing. Until the Uniform Time Act was passed in around 1966, it was left up to local governing bodies to decide to change the time in spring and fall. In Oregon it was at it's most confusing in the late 50's into the early 60's. Cities took to it, welcoming the extra light during hours children were outside.

Outside the towns, not so much. Oregon was then still mainly agriculture and logging.

People who's work hours started with first light, loggers, ranchers, etc didn't care what actual time it was, just that there was enough light to work. Ranchers said their cattle didn't wear wristwatches.

The result was that most rural areas did not change their clocks, while most (but not all) towns did. It even got more confusing: some towns used DST Monday through Friday, but not on Saturday and Sunday.

The net result was as the group Chicago sang, "Nobody really knows what time it is...". If a rancher outside Bend drove into town it might be an hour later when he crossed the city limits. Unless it was Saturday. If you were living in town, you might have to change your clocks Friday and Sunday evening. Bend had two small towns within 20 miles, with frequent trips by people on weekends to shop or visit. It may or may not be the same time there. If you were a farm or ranch kid, you had to remember the school bus was on a different time zone than yours. 

Now retired, I find myself going with the ranchers, I get up when first light filters through the blinds, and when I'm tired I go to bed.