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Boy With the U. S. Foresters

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Steven desJardins and Distributed Proofreaders


  _Photography by U. S. Forest Service._]




  With Thirty-eight Illustrations from Photographs taken by the U. S.Forest Service




  To My Son Roger's Friend



  Much of the wilderness is yet but little trod. Great stretches of virginforest still remain within whose dim recesses nothing is changed sincethe days the Indians dwelt in them. The mystery and the adventure arenot sped, the grandeur and the companionship still pulse among theglades, the "call of the wild" is an unceasing cry, and to that call theboy responds.

  But if this impulse to return to the shelter of the wilds be still sostrong, how greatly more intense does it become when we awaken to thefact that the forest needs our help even more than we need its sense offreedom. When we perceive that the fate of these great belts of untamedwilderness lies in the hands of a small group of men whose mastery isabsolute, when first we realize that national benefits--great almostbeyond the believing--are intrusted to these men, surely Desire andDuty leap to grip hands and pledge themselves to the service of theforests of our land. To breathe the magnificent spaces of the West, toreveal the wealth and beauty of our great primeval woods, to acclaim theworth of the men who administer them, and to show splendid possibilitiesto a lad of grit and initiative is the aim and purpose of




















  The Giants of the Forest and the Men Who Safeguard ThemA Forest Fire out of ControlGood Forestry ManagementBad Forestry ManagementThe Tie-cutters' BoysDeforested and Washed AwayAs Bad as Anything in ChinaHow Young Forests are DestroyedWhere Sheep are AllowedCowboys at the Round-upPatrolling a Coyote FenceReducing the Wolf SupplyWhere Ben and Mickey Burned the BrushThe Cabin of the Old RangerStamping It Government PropertyWilbur's Own CampJust about Ready to ShootTrain-load from One TreeWilbur's Own BridgeWhere the Supervisor StayedMeasuring a Fair-sized TreeRunning a Telephone LineNursery for Young TreesPlantation of Young TreesSowing Pine SeedPlanting Young TreesWhat Tree-planting Will DoThe First Conservation ExpertSand Burying a Pear OrchardNo Water, No Forests. No Forests, No WaterWith Water!"That's One Painter Less, Anyhow!""Smoke! And How am I Going to Get There?""Keep It from Spreading, Boys!""Get Busy Now, When It Breaks into the Open!"




  "Hey, Wilbur, where are you headed for?"

  The boy addressed, who had just come through the swing-doors of anoffice building in Washington, did not slacken his pace on hearing thequestion, but called back over his shoulder:

  "To the forest, of course. Come along, Fred."

  "But--" The second speaker stopped short, and, breaking into a run,caught up with his friend in a few steps.

  "You certainly seem to be in a mighty big hurry to get there," he said.

  "We don't loaf on our service," answered the boy with an air of pride.

  His friend broke into a broad grin. He had known Wilbur Loyle for sometime, and was well aware of his enthusiastic nature.

  "How long has it been 'our' service?" he queried, emphasizing thepronoun.

  "Ever since I was appointed," rejoined Wilbur exultantly.

  "I'm glad the appointment has had time to soak in; it didn't take long,did it?" Wilbur flushed a little, and his chum, seeing this, went onlaughingly: "Don't mind my roasting, old man, only you were 'way up inthe clouds."

  The boy's expression cleared instantaneously, and he laughed in reply.

  "I suppose I was," he said, "but it's great to feel you've got the thingyou've been working for. As you know, Fred, I've been thinking of thisfor years; in fact, I've always wanted it, and I've worked hard to getit. And then the Chief Forester's fine; he's just fine; I liked him everso much."

  "Did you have much chance to talk with him?"

  "Yes, quite a lot. I thought I was likely enough to meet him, and p'rapshe would formally tell me I was appointed and then bow me out of theoffice. Not a bit of it. He told me all about the Service, showed mejust what there was in it for the country, and I tell you what--he mademe feel that I wanted to go right straight out on the street and getall the other boys to join."


  "Well, he showed me that the Forest Service gave a fellow a chance tomake good even better than in the army or the navy. There you have tofollow orders mainly; there's that deadly routine besides, and you don'tget much of a chance to think for yourself; but in the Forest Service achap is holding down a place of trust where he has a show to make goodby working it out for himself."

  "Sounds all right," said the older boy. "Anyway, I'm glad if you'reglad."

  "What I like about it," went on Wilbur, "is the bigness of the wholething and the chance a chap has to show what he's made of. Glad? You betI'm glad!"

  "You weren't so sure whether you were going to like it or not when youwent in to see about it," said Fred.

  "Oh, yes, I was. I knew I was going to like it all right. But I didn'tknow anything about where I might be sent or how I would be received."

  "I think it's just ripping," said his friend, "that it looks so good toyou, starting out. It makes a heap of difference, sometimes, how a thingbegins."

  "It surely does. Right now, the whole thing seems too good to be true."

  "Well," said the other, "as long as it strikes you that way I supposeyou're satisfied now for all the grind you did preparing for it. But Idon't believe it would suit me. It might be all right to be a ForestRanger, but you told me one time that you had to start in as a FireGuard, a sort of Fire Policeman, didn't you?"


  "Well, that doesn't sound particularly exciting."

  "Why not? What more excitement do you want than a forest fire! Isn'tthat big enough for you?"

  "The fire would be all right," answered the older boy, "but it's thewatching and waiting for it that would get me."

  "You can't expect to have adventures every minute anywhere," saidWilbur, "but even so, you're not standing on one spot like a sailor in acrow's nest, waiting for something to happen; you're in the saddle,riding from point to point all day long, sometimes when there is atrail and sometimes when there isn't, out in the real woods, not inpoky, stuffy city streets. You know, Fred, I can't stand the city; Ialways feel as if I couldn't breathe."

  "All right, Wilbur," said the other, "it's your own lookout, I suppose.Me for the city, though."

  Just then, and before Fred could make any further reply, a hand was laidon Wilbur's shoulder, and the lad, looking around, found the ChiefForester walking beside them.

nbsp; "Trying to make converts already, Loyle?" he asked with a smile, noddingpleasantly to the lad's companion.

  "I was trying to, sir," answered the boy, "but I don't believe Fredwould ever make one of us."

  The Chief Forester restrained all outward trace of amusement at thelad's unconscious coupling of the head of the service and the newest andyoungest assistant, and, turning to the older boy, said questioningly:

  "Why not, Fred?"

  "I was just saying to Wilbur, sir," he replied in a stolid manner, "thata Forest Guard's life didn't sound particularly exciting. It might beall right when a fire came along, but I should think that it would bepretty dull waiting for it, week after week."

  "Not exciting enough?" The boys were nearly taken off their feet by theenergy of the speaker. "Not when every corner you turn may show yousmoke on the horizon? Not when every morning finds you at a differentpart of the forest and you can't get there quick enough to convinceyourself that everything is all right? Not when you plunge down ravines,thread your way through and over fallen timber, and make up time by asharp gallop wherever there's a clearing, knowing that every cabin youpass is depending for its safety on your care? And then that is only asmall part of the work. If you can't find excitement enough in that, youcan't find it in anything."

  "Yes--" began Fred dubiously, but the Chief Forester continued:

  "And as for the responsibility! I tell you, the forest is the place forthat. We need men there, not machines. On the men in the forest millionsof dollars' worth of property depends. More than that, on the care ofthe Forest Guards hangs perhaps the stopping of a forest fire thatotherwise would ravage the countryside, kill the young forest, denudethe hills of soil, choke with mud the rivers that drain the denudedterritory, spoil the navigable harbors, and wreck the prosperity of allthe towns and villages throughout that entire river's length."

  "I hadn't realized there was so much in it," replied Fred, evidentlystruck with the Forester's earnestness.

  "You haven't any idea of how much there is in it. Not only for the workitself, but for you. Wild horses can't drag a man out of the Serviceonce he's got in. It has a fascination peculiarly its own. The eagerexpectancy of vast spaces, the thrill of adventure in riding off toparts where man seldom treads, and the magnificent independence of thefrontiersman, all these become the threads of which your daily life ismade."

  "It sounds fine when you put it that way, sir," said Fred, his eyeskindling at the picture. "But it's hardly like that at first, is it?"

  "Certainly it is! Does the life of a fireman in a big city firedepartment strike you as being interesting or exciting?"

  "Oh, yes, sir!"

  "It isn't to be compared with that of the Forest Guard. A city firemanis only one of a company huddled together in a little house, notgreatly busy until the fire telegraph signal rings. But suppose therewere only one fireman for the whole city, that he alone were responsiblefor the safety of every house, that instead of telegraphic signaling hemust depend on his trusty horse to carry him to suitable vantage points,and on his eyesight when there; suppose that he knew there was alikelihood of fire every hour out of the twenty-four, and that duringthe season he could be sure of two or three a week, don't you think thatfireman would have a lively enough time of it?"

  "He surely would," said Wilbur.

  "Aside from the fact that there are not as many people involved, that'snot unlike a Forest Guard's position. I tell you, he's not sittingaround his shack trying to kill time." Then, turning sharply to theolder boy, the Chief Forester continued:

  "What do you want to be?"

  "I had wanted to be a locomotive engineer, sir," was the boy's reply,"but now I think I'll stay in the city."

  "It was the excitement of the life that appealed to you, was it?"

  "Yes, sir. I guess so."

  "True, there's a good deal of responsibility there, when you stand withyour hand on the throttle of a fast express, knowing that the lives ofthe passengers are in your hand. There's a good deal of pride, too, insteering a vessel through a dangerous channel or in a stormy sea;there's a thrill of power when you sight a big gun and know that if youwere in warfare the defense of your country might lie in your skill andaim. But none of these is greater than the sense of power and trustreposing in the men of the Forest Service, to whom Uncle Sam gives theguardianship and safe-keeping of millions of acres of his property andthe lives of thousands of his citizens."

  The Chief Forester watched the younger of his companions, who wasstriding along the Washington street, and casting rapid glances frombuilding to building as he went along, as though he expected to seeflame and smoke pouring from every window, and that the city's safetylay in his hands. Smiling slightly, very slightly, and addressinghimself to the older boy, although it was for the benefit of his newassistant that he was speaking, the Forester continued:

  "It's really more like the work of a trusted army scout than anythingelse. In the old days of Indian warfare,"--both boys gave a quick startof increased attention--"the very finest men and the most to be trustedwere the scouts. They were men of great bravery, of undaunted loyalty,of great wariness, and filled with the spirit of dashing adventure. Theywere men who took their lives in their own hands. Going before the mainbody of the army, single-handed, if need be, they would stave off theattacks of Indian foes and would do battle with outposts and pickets. Ifthe force were too great, they would map out the lay of the land anddevise a strategical plan of attack, then, without rest or food often,would steal back to the main body, and, laying their information in thehands of the general, would act as guides if he ordered a forwardmovement."

  "But how--" interrupted Fred.

  "I was just coming to that," replied the Forester in response to hishalf-uttered query. "A Forest Guard is really a Forest Scout. There havebeen greater massacres at the hands of the Fire Tribe than from anyIndian tribe that ever roamed the prairies. Hundreds, yes, thousands oflives were lost in the days before the Forest Service was in existenceby fires which Forest Scouts largely could have prevented. Why, I myselfcan recall seeing a fire in which nearly a thousand and a half personsperished."

  "In one fire?"

  "Just in one fire. What would you think if you were told that in aforest in front of you were several thousand savages, all with theirwar-paint on, waiting a chance to break forth on the villages of theplain, that you had been chosen for the post of honor in guarding thatstrip of plain, and that the lives of those near by depended on youralertness? If they had picked you out for that difficult and importantpost, do you think that you would go and stand your rifle up against atree and look for some soft nice mossy bank on which to lie down and goto sleep?"

  "I'd stay on the job till I dropped," answered Wilbur quickly andaggressively.

  "There's really very little difference between the two positions," saidthe Chief Forester. "No band of painted savages can break forth from aforest with more appalling fury than can a fire, none is more difficultto resist, none can carry the possibility of torture to its haplessvictims more cruelly, none be so deaf to cries of mercy as a fire.Instead of keeping your ears open for a distant war-whoop, you have tokeep your eyes open for the thin up-wreathing curl of smoke by day, orthe red glow and flickering flame at night, which tells that the timehas come for you to show what stuff you are made of. On the instant mustyou start for the fire, though it may be miles away, crossing, it maybe, a part of the forest through which no trail has been made, plungingthrough streams which under less urgency would make you hesitate to trythem, single-handed and 'all on your own,' to fight Uncle Sam's battlesagainst his most dangerous and most insistent foe."

  "But if you can't put it out?" suggested Fred.

  "It has got to be put out," came the sharp reply, with an insistence ofmanner that told even more than the words. "There isn't anything else toit. If you have to get back to headquarters or send word there, if allthe Rangers in the forest have to be summoned, if you have to ride toevery settlement, ranch, and shack on the rang
e, yes, if you have torouse up half the State, this one thing is sure--the fire has got to beput out."

  "But can you get help?"

  "Nearly always. In the first place, the danger is mutual and everybodynear the forest or in it will suffer if the fire spreads. In thesecond place, the Service is ready to pay men a fair wage for the timeconsumed in putting out a fire, and even the Ranger has the right toemploy men to a limited extent. Sometimes the blaze can be stoppedwithout great difficulty, at other times it will require all theresources available under the direction of the Forest Supervisor, but inthe first resort it depends largely upon the Guard. A young fellow whois careless in such a post as that is as great a traitor to his countryas a soldier would be who sold to the enemy the plans of the fort he wasdefending, or a sailor who left the wheel while a battle-ship wasthreading a narrow and rocky channel."

  "What starts these forest fires, sir?" asked Fred.

  "All sorts of things, but most of them arise from one commoncause--carelessness. There are quite a number of instances in whichfires have been started by lightning, but they are few in number ascompared with those due to human agency. The old tale of fires beingcaused by two branches of a dead tree rubbing against each other is, ofcourse, a fable."

  "But I should think any one would know enough not to start a forestfire," exclaimed the older boy. "I'm not much on the woods, but I thinkI know enough for that."

  "It isn't deliberate, it's careless," repeated the Forester. "Sometimesa camper leaves a little fire smoldering when he thinks the last sparkis out; sometimes settlers who have to burn over their clearings allowthe blaze to get away from them; when Indians are in the neighborhoodthey receive a large share of the blame, and the hated tramp is alwaysquoted as a factor of mischief. In earlier days, sparks from locomotiveswere a constant danger, and although the railroad companies use a greatmany precautions now to which formerly they paid no heed, these sparksand cinders are still a prolific cause of trouble. And beside thiscarelessness, there is a good deal of inattention and neglect. Thesettlers will let a little fire burn for days unheeded, waiting for arain to come along and put it out, whereas if a drought ensues and ahigh wind comes up, a fire may arise that will leap through the forestand leave them homeless, and possibly even their own lives may have topay the penalty of their recklessness."

  "But what I don't understand," said Fred, "is how people get caught.It's easy enough to see how a forest could be destroyed, but I shouldthink that every one could get out of the way easily enough. It musttake a tree a long while to burn, even after it gets alight, especiallyif it's a big one."

  "A big forest fire, fanned by a high wind, and in the dry season,"answered the Chief Forester, "could catch the fastest runner in a fewminutes. The flames repeatedly have been known to overtake horses on thegallop, and where there are no other means of escape the peril isextreme."

  "But will green trees burn so fast?" the older boy queried in surprise."I should have thought they were so full of sap that they wouldn't burnat all."

  "The wood and foliage of coniferous trees like spruce, fir, and pine areso full of turpentine and resin that they burn like tinder. The heat isalmost beyond the power of words to express. The fire does not seem toburn in a steady manner, the flames just breathe upon an immense treeand it becomes a blackened skeleton which will burn for hours.

  "The actual temperature in advance of the fire is so terrific that thewoods begin to dry and to release inflammable vapors before the flamesreach them, when they flash up and add their force to the fieryhurricane. It is almost unbelievable, too, the way a crown-fire willjump. Huge masses of burning gas will be hurled forth on the wind andignite the trees two and three hundred yards distant. Fortunately, firesof this type are not common, most of the blazes one is likely toencounter being ground fires, which are principally harmful in that theydestroy the forest floor."

  "But I should have thought," said Wilbur, "that such fires could onlyget a strong hold in isolated parts where nobody lives."

  "Not at all. Sometimes they begin quite close to the settlements, likethe destructive fire at Hinckley, Minnesota, in 1894, which burnedquietly for a week, and could have been put out by a couple of menwithout any trouble; but sometimes they start in the far recesses of theforest and reach their full fury very quickly. Of course, every fire,even the famous Peshtigo fire, started as a little bit of a blaze whicheither of you two boys could have put out."

  "How big a fire was that, sir?" asked Fred.

  "It covered an area of over two thousand square miles."

  "Great Caesar!" ejaculated Wilbur after a rapid calculation, "that wouldbe a strip twenty miles wide and a hundred miles long."

  The Chief Forester nodded.

  "It wiped the town of Peshtigo entirely off the map," he said. "Thepeople were hemmed in, ringed by fire on every side, and out of apopulation of two thousand, scarcely five hundred escaped. Flight washopeless and rescue impossible."

  "And could this have been stopped after it got a hold at all?" askedWilbur seriously, realizing the gravity of the conditions that some dayhe might have to face. "Could not something have been done?"

  "It could have been prevented," said the Chief Forester fiercely, "andas I said, in the first few hours either one of you boys could have putit out. But there have been many others like it since, and probablythere will be many others yet to come. Even now, there are hundreds oftowns and villages near forest lands utterly unprovided with adequatefire protection. Some of them are near our national forests, and it isour business to see that no danger comes to them.[1] Think of a firelike that of Peshtigo, think that if it had been stopped at the verybeginning a thousand and a half lives would have been saved, and thenask yourself whether the work of a Forest Guard is not just about asfine a thing as any young fellow can do."

  [Footnote 1: While this volume was in the press, forest fires of theutmost violence broke out in Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Over twohundred lives were lost, many of them of members of the Forest Service,and hundreds of thousands of acres of timber were destroyed.]

  Wilbur turned impulsively to his chum.

  "You'll just have to join us, Fred," he said. "I don't see how any onethat knows anything about it can keep out. You could go to a forestryschool this summer and start right in to get ready for it."

  "I'll think about it," said the older boy.

  The Chief Forester was greatly pleased with the lad's eagerness toenroll his friend, and, turning to him, continued:

  "I don't want you to think it's all fire-fighting in the forest, though,Loyle; so I'll give you an idea of some of the other opportunities whichwill come your way in forest work. I suppose both of you boys hate abully? I know I used to when I was at school."

  "I think," said Wilbur impetuously, "that a bully's just about the worstever."

  "I do, too," joined in Fred.

  "Well, you'll have a chance to put down a lot of bullying. You looksurprised, eh? You don't see what bullying has to do with forestry? Ithas, a great deal, and I'll show you how. I suppose you know that aforest is a good deal like a school?"

  "Well, no," admitted Wilbur frankly, "I don't quite see how."

  "A forest is made up of a lot of different kind of trees, isn't it, justas a school is made up of a lot of boys? And each of these trees has anindividuality, just in the same way that each boy has an individuality.That, of course, is easy to see. But what is more important, and muchless known, is that just as the school as a whole gets to have a certainstandard, so does the forest as a whole."

  "That seems queer," remarked Fred.

  "Perhaps it does, but it's true none the less. In many schools there aresome boys bigger than others, but who are not good for as much, andthey're always picking at the others and crowding them down. In thesame way in a forest there are always some worthless trees, trying tocrowd out the ones which are of more value. As the trees of better valueare always sought for their timber, that gives the worthless stuff agood chance to get ahead. One of the d
uties of a Forester, looking afterhis section of the forest, is to see that every possible chance is givento the good over the bad."

  "It's really like having people to deal with!" cried Fred in surprise."It sounds as if a tree were some kind of a human being."

  "There are lots of people," said the Chief Forester, "who think of treesand speak of trees just exactly as if they were people like themselves.And it isn't even only the growing of the right kind of trees, but thereare lots of ways of handling them under different conditions and atdifferent ages. Thus, a Forester must be able to make his trees grow inheight up to a certain stage, then stop their further growth upwards andmake them put on diameter."

  "But how can you get a tree to grow in a certain way?" asked Fred inutter amazement.

  "Get Loyle here to tell you all about it. I suppose you learned that atthe Ranger School, didn't you?" he added, turning to the younger boy.

  "Yes, sir. We had a very interesting course in silviculture."

  "But just to give you a rough idea, Fred," continued the Forester, "youknow that some trees need a lot of light. Consequently, if a number ofyoung trees are left fairly close together, they will all grow upstraight as fast as they can, without putting out any branches near thebottom, and all their growth will be of height."

  "See, Fred," interjected Wilbur, "that's why saplings haven't got anytwigs except just at the top."

  "Just so," said the Forester. "Presently," he continued, "as these youngtrees grow up together, one will overtop the rest. If the adjacent smalltrees be cut down when this tallest tree has reached a good height, itwill spread at the top in order to get as much sunlight as possible. Inorder to carry a large top the diameter of the trunk must increase. So,by starting the trees close together and allowing one of them to developalone after a certain height has been reached, the Forester haspersuaded that tree first to grow straight and high, and then todevelop girth, affording the finest and most valuable kind of lumber.That's just one small example of the scores of possibilities that lie inthe hands of the expert Forester. By proper handling a forest can bemade to respond to training, as I said, just as a school might do."

  "I can tell you a lot more things, Fred, just as wonderful as that,"commented Wilbur.

  The Chief Forester nodded.

  "I'd like to hear you myself," he said; "I'd rather listen to somethingabout trees than eat. But I've got to go now. I'll see you again soon,Loyle," and with a parting good wish to both boys, he crossed the streetand went on his way.


  Conditions which tax man's resources to the uttermost, and where perilis the price of victory.

  _Courtesy of U. S. Forest Service._]


  All the smaller wood is used for cord-wood, the brush is in piles readyfor burning, and the young trees are left to grow up into a new forest.

  _Photograph by U. S. Forest Service._]


  Forest cut clear and burned over, all the young growth destroyed, andnothing left except costly replanting.

  _Photograph by U. S. Forest Service._]