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As part of NWMT/FFLA's preservation and documentation activities, members are conducting oral histories with
current and former lookout personnel and family members.
The interviews are held as Oral History Collection OH-453 at Archives & Special Collections,
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library,
University of Montana.
We are interested in the reason you are visiting our Oral History site.
Are you a former lookout, interested in lookout history, a researcher, or another reason?
We're looking for suggestions to improve our interviews and the names of people, with their permission, who might be interested in being interviewed.
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Leif Haugen Interview
January 05, 2022
This interview spans Leif Haugen’s entire lookout career: Mount Morrell, Mt. Henry, Numa Ridge, and Thoma. Along with experiences on the lookouts, Leif discusses knowledge and experience he gained on how to live on a lookout and do a quality job; the Park Service and Forest Service organizations; and his role in creating the volunteer lookout program for the Forest Service. Leif is a lead lookout for the Park Service and Forest Service and heads the volunteer program.
Bill Fordyce Interview #1
December 07, 2021
Bill Fordyce discusses being born in St. Louis and moving as a child to Sheridan, Wyoming where he lived on a dude ranch. He describes his family later moving back to St. Louis, but Bill couldn’t take city life and left after high school for the West. He said a friend in Helena, Montana suggesting he apply for a lookout job and was hired in 2009 for his first lookout job at Bearhat Lookout for the Lewis and Clark National Forest. He discusses being sent to work with no training, his first fire was one tree, and his season ending with the death of his mother. In 2010, back at Bearhat, Bill remembers reporting a mule breaking a woman’s knees. With a storm coming, a helicopter barely got her out. Bill’s most traumatic season was 2011 because he experienced responding to a death. The interview was stopped at this point because of technical difficulties.
It was continued as OH 000-020 on December 9, 2021.
Bill Fordyce Interview #2
December 09, 2021
Bill recalls helping fly a dead man out in a helicopter near Beartop Lookout, his lookout site. He discusses lightning hitting Beartop and thinking he was deaf and blind for a while. He watches a grizzly bear stalk and elk, and talks of eating food eleven years past its expiration date because a grocery resupply didn’t come. Bill says he found a box in the attic that had held human ashes of a former lookout and letters from girls to another lookout. Bill discusses his next lookout, Scalplock, in Glacier National Park (2014-2016). Bill remembers Henry, the previous lookout, who took his own live after suffering from depression. Bill says Henry talked about “baking a potato,” which was keeping his feet in the oven to stay warm, a tradition Bill continued. In 2015, Bill recalls U.S. Highway 2 being closed because of a fire, and Scalplock was wrapped in fire wrap. While Scalplock was closed, Bill said he was sent to Cyclone Lookout in the North Fork Flathead, and experienced a wind that split a crossbeam on the tower. In 2017, Bill says he was the lookout at Numa Ridge in Glacier National Park. He talks of reporting many fires, including the Adair Ridge and Moose Creek fires, and the Sprague Creek Fire, which burned historic Sperry Chalet. He also said he had a choral group visit on the Fourth of July, singing songs, and kids from a math camp, whose teacher played an Indian flute. Bill says his next lookout job was at the Corral Hill Lookout, Nez Perce National Forest. There, he recalls a Hereford cow scratching on the tower and shaking it, and dry rot on catwalk boards. He talks of difficult topography for watching fires. He says his next job was at the Middle Fork Lookout, Salmon-Challis National Forest, where he had a long drive to a remote lookout, with water three miles away. Bill recalls few visitors but lots of fires with smokejumpers. He talks of a Chinook helicopter at the Jenny fire “making it rain.” He tells of a black bear visit to the catwalk at l:30 a.m., leaving scat, and being struck by lightning two times, one that took out the repeater. Bill says he is not lonely at lookouts, and that his outlook on life changed as a result of being a lookout.
Gene Miller Interview #1
February 04, 2021
Gene describes growing up in Montana’s Swan Valley and how that helped him decide to become a U.S. Forest Service lookout. Miller talks about his 38-year tenure as a lookout, including Priscilla Peak, three lookout towers as a relief staffer, and 37 years on Blue Mountain. He tells about several fire incidents, including the inside phone melting after a lightning strike and igniting a fire under the lookout. He recalls a diverse range of visitors to the tower including Russian and Chinese delegations, pot smokers, an arsonist who was starting fires along the road, and the Hells Angels.
Gene Miller Interview #2
February 26, 2021
In this second interview, Gene Miller provides more information about growing up in the Swan Valley in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He describes the wildlife that lived in the area including bears and a young coyote who found Gene companionable. Miller tells more stories about his time as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout, focusing on the wildlife there. He talks about visits from mountain goats and blue grouse, listening to elk bugling, and watching his dog chase pikas. Other wildlife incidents include finding evidence that a mule deer got its antlers caught in the ground wire for the lookout phone, feeding peanuts to Golden Mantled ground squirrels, picking huckleberries alongside a bear, and seeing wolf tracks. He also tells about a time when his dog refused to go home with a packer after Gene was helicoptered to the hospital with appendicitis.
Gene Miller Interview #3
March 04, 2021
Gene Miller’s third interview follows his many years of fire experiences, from harrowing lightening strikes around and beneath his lookout that sparked fires to winds rocking the lookout, to large hail storms. He watched first from several lookouts during several years with many large fires, including a powerline fire that hit Patty Canyon, and a smokejumper whose joke to a firefighter resulted in an arson fire that burned Hellgate. He also experienced snowstorms and being evacuated from Diablo Lookout with a truck whose battery had died. He begins with stories from his childhood in the Swan Valley and 40 degree below zero weather.
Bob & Marj Folkestad Interview
January 22, 2021
Bob recalls how growing up in Montana, then visiting to hike, camp, and fish after his family moved, influenced his decision to work for the Forest Service after high school. He discusses applying for a fire lookout position in the summers while attending Seattle Pacific College. Folkestad describes working two summers on the Ashley Mountain Lookout from 1962-1963. He talks about taking his dog Tana with him, receiving supplies by mule train, cooking for himself, and eating a lot of Spam. He recalls the visitors he had including his parents, and young men from the Dominican Republic who were staying at a resort nearby and training for the priesthood. Folkstad notes that visiting with them influenced his decision to become a Christian missionary. He talks about the physical layout of the lookout, mentioning its size and the few outbuildings around it. He reminisces about accidentally calling in a fire that turned out to be moonlight glinting in the trees. Folkstad describes the fire traffic procedures for calling in smoke sightings and lightning strikes, emphasizing that being a lookout required constant surveillance to familiarize himself with the territory. He discusses working on the Castle Rock Lookout in the Cascade Range from 1964-1966, and then the Sand Mountain Lookout for part of the summer of 1967. Folkestad concludes by discussing his missionary work in Mozambique and South Africa, noting that being a lookout provided him with ample time to study the Bible.
Kay describes her experiences working with her husband Keith at Numa Ridge and Apgar lookouts in Glacier National Park. She tells how she and Keith came to Montana in part because he loved the outdoors. She talks about their friendship with the Park’s ranger Adolph Opalka and his wife Marian, who mentored the Rosengrens when they arrived at the Numa lookout. She reminisces about other rangers, lookouts and people she and her husband worked with during their time as lookouts. She also tells stories about their many wildlife encounters such as the porcupine she befriended, the deer who would come and knock on the stairs to be fed, and the pack rats who nested in the floor, as well as an aggressive black bear who chased her husband. Rosengren describes working as a dispatcher out of ranger stations in the Park and relaying messages about many things, including several grizzly bear attacks and getting tobacco dropped to smokejumpers.
Greg Morley Interview
August 8, 2019
Greg describes his experiences working at Jumbo Lookout in the Flathead National Forest for a year during the 1960s. He talks about why he chose to become a lookout, then describes where the lookout was located, traveling to it by horseback, and what sorts of commodities it did and did not contain. Morley talks about the thunderstorms that occurred during his time as a lookout and how he was able to explore the area when the days were foggy and still. He discusses how he obtained food and water, what he cooked, where he slept in the lookout, and how he kept the place clean. Morley also recalls his encounters with wildlife including a black bear who visited the lookout when it smelled food and mountain goats who wandered around the porch. He then describes working for the Forest Service in eastern Montana, then as a planner for the Oregon state parks. He talks at length about eventually quitting to build canoes and moving back to Montana. He concludes by telling stories about fishing in Montana and more encounters with wildlife.
Cathy Schloeder Interview
August 01, 2018
Cathy speaks of growing up in the Canal Zone in Panama, and moving back to the United States at the age of 13. She describes her college studies, in both California and Montana, and her move to Montana. She further accounts how she and her husband applied to work the Hubbard Lookout and her transfer later to the Union Peak Lookout. Schloeder describes both the lookouts she operated, including power, water, layout, and life living up on the lookouts. She also accounts for how the first line of attack against strikes and fires at the lookouts occurred, and tells a story about her cat and dog who accompanied her.
C Kjell Petersen Interview
August 25, 2018
Kjell talks about staffing the Snow Peak and Beaver Ridge lookouts as a U.S. Forest Service employee, starting in the late 1960s. He recalls how his lookout was struck by lightning three times in one afternoon, hauling water, almost calling in a full moon as a fire, and mountain goat trapping by Idaho Fish and Game. He also describes being on a lookout during September 11, 2001. He tells the story of another lookout who mistook a herd of elk for wild horses and another lookout whose car got a flat tire and rolled into the timber. He concludes by discussing his appreciation for the solitude the job provided and how some of his most memorable experiences included watching sunrises, sunsets and the stars.
Thomas "Tom" Jones Interview
May 18, 2017
Tom discusses his experiences as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout at the Mud Lake Lookout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area in Montana. He recalls fighting forest fires for two seasons before getting an opportunity to work as a lookout. Jones describes his living quarters, communication equipment, and daily chores, including hauling water in a canvas water bag. He also describes hauling gear in by horseback and hiking into town for supplies. Jones reminisces about some of the interesting fires he saw and how lonely he often got living in the wilderness by himself.
Ivan O'Neil Interview
June 16, 2017
Ivan discusses his experiences as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout at the Pioneer Ridge Lookout in the Flathead National Forest in Montana. He recalls lying about his age to get a summer job on a brush crew at the Coram Ranger Station in the Flathead National Forest, which led to getting a job as a fire lookout the following summer. He describes the lookout quarters, his food and other supplies, and visits from other fire lookouts. O’Neil talks about nearby lookout stations, such as Battery, Canyon, and Wildcat, some of which were not manned. He also talks about his primary duties which included watching for fires and lightning strikes and recording them. O’Neil describes serving as a smokechaser on several fires and reminisces about daily life as a lookout.
George Ostrom Interview
August 31, 2017
George discusses his childhood in Montana, including his time spent in a mining camp where his father worked. He describes his decision to become a fire lookout during the 1940s, working mainly at the Battery Lookout above Quintonkon Creek. Ostrom talks about the equipment he used, the telephone lines he maintained, and his daily routine which included fetching water from a spring near the lookout. He tells stories about his time as a lookout and mentions the wildlife he saw and the kinds of food that he stocked and prepared. Ostrom also recalls working as a smokejumper during the 1960s, and later as a radio announcer. A portion of this interview has been restricted at the interviewee’s request.
June Ash & Gordon Ash Interview
November 11, 2016
June describes the summer of 1952 when she and her husband, Rod Ash, worked as fire lookouts on the Big Swede Lookout in the Kootenai National Forest near Libby, Montana. Ash tells how they moved from Berkeley, California, after attending college for their lookout jobs with the U.S. Forest Service. She shares memories of their time as lookouts, and notes the Big Swede was a hub of activity and they entertained a number of visitors including railroad workers, members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and people from other lookouts. Ash describes baking bread and making jam on a wood stove, and doing laundry both on the stove and at the laundromat. She recalls how their time as lookouts had a positive impact on their lives even after they returned to California to teach, telling how they purchased a summer cabin in Condon, Montana, returned often to visit the Big Swede, and became lifelong Forest Service volunteers.
Dale Zorn Interview
September 16, 2016
Dale describes his childhood in Chester, Montana. He talks about working for the U.S. National Park Service as a fire lookout on Mount Brown soon after he married. Zorn recalls packing supplies up to the lookout, melting snow to get water, and the accommodations and modern conveniences that were available to him and his wife. He also reminisces about his daily responsibilities as a lookout which included chasing lightning strikes. Zorn discusses married life as a lookout and mentions what he and his wife did to pass the long hours such as play cards.
Julia Osborn Interview
November 1, 2016
Julia talks about her father, Joe Osborn who was a former smokejumper, forest fire lookout, and university professor. Osborn discusses her father’s childhood in Muncie, Indiana, and his time Purdue University. Osborn describes how her father, a Quaker and a conscientious objector, joined the Civilian Public Service during World War Two and volunteered as a smoke jumper in Missoula, Montana. She discusses how her parents met and their honeymoon in 1948, which was spent working at a fire tower. Osborn describes her father’s activities such as accessing the lookout, collecting snow for water, and getting re-outfitted by packers.
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