Ed Littlehales' memories of Mount Thorodin Lookout

The following excerpts are from messages sent to Sondra Kellogg [former Mt. Thorodin lookout in 1960 and 1962, and director of the CO/UT FFLA chapter since 2007].

From an email from Ed to Vi Schweiker, copy to Sondra, dated December 4, 2003

My appointment as an Under Forest Guard SP 2 at $1260 per annum was effective June 10 thru Sept 22, 1941. And they charged me $5 bucks a month as quarters allowance to live in that birdcage. No electricity, no radios. Jus the sometimes phone. Battery operated AM radios were very new and probably too expensive for me. As a 20 year old kid just thru my junior semester at the NYS College of Forestry at Syracuse University, I was broke, so I hitchhiked out to Boulder and reported to Ranger Art Randall that Monday morning.

We got into his pickup and headed for the hills. He explained to me that the tower was under construction and I would be supervising a 5 man CCC crew to build the cab on top. His pickup got stuck 1/2 mile below the spring where the crew was camped, so we each shouldered a pack of provisions for the work crew. We had not gone far before I had trouble. No one had ever told me about elevation and ability to breathe.

The steel legs had been built the summer before, so we built the cabin. Most everything went up to the tower on our backs except the stove, the roofing squares and the windows. A couple pack mules carried them to within a few feet of the tower. We did the rest.

My duty hours were 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No one ever told me about a 40 hour week. Maybe such did not exist in those days. I did get a Saturday night off in mid August. I told Ranger Randall I was getting cabin fever, and he came up Sat AM to monitor the tower and let me drive his pickup for a trip to Boulder for the night.

Trails - That was the only time I ever traveled to the trailhead near Pinecliff by road. I walked the trail down to trailhead every three weeks for mail and provisions he brought up and left in a tight box at the lower end. I am guessing that trail was the original CCC trail you and Sondra [former Mt. Thorodin lookout staffer and director of the CO/UT FFLA chapter] spoke of. When I transferred from Atlanta RO to the Denver RO in 1963 I took my wife and kids to the tower by that trail. It was the same tower cab, as I remember. Sondra told me it had been blown off a couple of times, but I think it was the same one we built.

Her memories were of a jeep road. Jeeps had not yet been invented for civilian use - no 4 wheel drives at all for that matter. Supplies came up to the spring camp in a dual wheel open stake truck, along with equipment for the CCC camp. The crew foreman was a grizzled old carpenter - wonderful man - and the cook was a black man - also a great person. They were most helpful in understanding how little I knew and provided a fine indoctrination to the work.

I have many memories of the summer - most good. Perhaps my best learning was that of self sufficiency and self discipline. Yes, I did get talking to the little squirrels (marmots?) I did worry when I started listening to them talk back to me and we had conversations.

Art and Dorothy Randall divorced when the USFS posted him to some godforsaken District in Wyoming. She wanted to stay in Boulder, so she did. A nice lady. She explained to me why I could not boil potatoes. I had never heard of a pressure cooker! Or the lower boiling temp of water at high elevations. Art went back to his home state of Maine where he became a professor of Forestry at the Maine forestry college at Orono.

From a letter dated December 1, 2003

As I recall, the trail head was in Pinecliff where Art Randall (ranger) brought my vittles. It was a bit NE of the tower, as I remember. Look down the phone line and to the left. I could see Art in his pickup at the clearing down there.

The spring on the other side is where the construction camp with the 7 man CCC crew stayed. I was the USFS "officer in charge." What a misnomer that was. I didn't know butt from first base, but I learned an awful lot from the old grizzled carpenter foreman.

Cairn? Vague memory. Was it not on the rocky point N of the tower? And the twisted tree, Yes. And your old mountain lion YES! Scared the bejabbers out of me when I went down to the spring and returned at dusk. No firearms at the tower.

A lightning hit took down 7 spans of phone line and cut the wire holding the scaffolding in place for roof construction. Cut the wire into pieces about 5 inches long, bent it into U shapes, and landed on several steps down near the bottom. I found the burned grooves in the steps when I took Edna and the kids up there in 1963.

I got the line restrung in 2 days, but couldn't get the phone to work. Had to rewire the insides as it was all burned. Yes, the switch on the pole was pulled. But it was a Westinghouse phone and I had a GE instruction book.

I was still working on it when I saw Randall's pickup down in the clearing. He was loading his horse for the trip up. Seems that the operator in Boulder could hear me, but I did not hear her. Art cautioned me, saying the operator claimed never to have heard such colorful language!

Nearly lost it while inspecting the phone line. 7 spans (860 feet) were down. The wire was hanging down from the pole. The burned pieces were malleable - not stiff. But the piece hanging down had a charge of static left in it, and it kicked me on my back into the rock piles. Had that been real electricity - as from live wires across the phone line, I would have been history right then.

...My pay was $105 a month, and they deducted $5.00 a month for rental of that birdcage atop the mountain. $1260 per annum was the lowest SP 1 pay scale in all Government.

From an email dated January 2, 2004

1. Acrophobia - You mentioned some people feared climbing the tower. I had few visitors that first year, but one stood out. I knew visitors were coming, but was surprised when I heard a call for help. A terrified woman was clutching the railing a few steps below the tower. Her husband called for help. She would not move up or down. I decided the best thing was to her in th tower and calm her down.

We peeled her rigid fingers off the rail and half carried her the last few steps into the tower cabin, where we succeeded in quieting her down. But she refused to leave the cabin or een get off the bed. She wanted the blanket over her head. The afternoon was waning, and we knew that somehow we had to get her out of there. At her husband's request, I had fed her a couple of aspirin (with glasses of my precious water). We finally let her keep a towel over her head while we CARRIED her, fet first, off the tower. Took a bit of persuading to even get the towel off as she was still very upset. I got a big hug while her husband caught verbal hell all the way down the trail. Several others were frightened - even refusing to climb the tower, but she was the worst.

2. Cistern - You mentioned the cistern which was filled with snow the previous winter. Great idea, but they had coated the inside with tar when they built it, and using it for any purpose was futile. ALL water came up 1 1/2 miles from the spring on my back in a canvas sack with straps.

3. Laundry - What little I did was at the spring. In retrospect, I must have been pretty gamey by summers end.

4. Racial awakening - I reported for duty June 10, 1941 and worked with the CCC crew building the cab. On Wednesday, June 18, the foreman (Johnson was his name, I think) decided all 8 of us should go into town and listen to a Joe Louis fight on a tavern radio. We piled into the 1 1/2 ton dual wheel stake truck and went into Boulder. There I faced my first racial problem. Our cook was [black] and the proprietor was hesitant about letting us in. We all refused to go in without him. The USFS must have had a good reputation as he relented after I promised there would be no problems. We did get a large booth way in back, had a couple of beers and got back to the camp later that night. I guess Louis won.

My lookout duty in the tower started June 20, even though a couple of weeks more work by the crew was needed. My tour ended Sept 20 with but one day and night off the latter part of August. So much for the 40 hour week!