As part of NWMT/FFLA's preservation and documentation activities, members are conducting oral histories with former lookout personnel and their family members.
The interviews are held as Oral History Collection OH-453 at Archives & Special Collections,
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library,
University of Montana.
August 01, 2018
Cathy Schloeder 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.
August 25, 2018
Kjell Petersen 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 attending 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.