Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
He remembers faces and most names, but not all. Those mental blocks explain a person’s propensity to block certain unpleasant memories but do not explain the inability to recall happy events from the past. When it comes to the several warm reveries about the magnificent El Dorado National Forest in California, the Footloose Forester is inclined to write a seminal series of chronicles and chooses to use real names to insert into real places and actual events. Real names add veracity to stories, as long as the use of names is not intended to discredit or defame them. In that case, the Footloose Forester may relate a true story, but avoid using names in order to protect the dignity of the innocents in the telling.
This chronicle about the El Dorado National Forest, however; uses real names freely, to describe settings that existed so long ago that it is likely that nobody will be offended. The faces were there but not all of the names. It took several days to assemble enough of them to make sense from the standpoint of their regular jobs and the relationship with the Footloose Forester as they interacted over the course of more than two years. Here in reconstruction then, are a few memories that stimulate the personal nostalgia of a doting retired forester who unashamedly yearns for the yesteryear of his satisfying career… On the road…again!!!
On some days it was time spent with Pete Stoffel, or Frank Oyung, or Herm Zittel of the forest management cadre; on other days it was time spent with Warren Magnuson, Merle Brooks, Dick Vincent, Dave Barker, Bob Lewen and Larry Leel when we were working on camp construction projects as a team effort. And Bill Berry, Harry Veerkamp, Mike Berti, Reno Franchetti, and Doug Morris from the transient fire barracks at Pacific Ranger Station. Or in planning meals with Jim the log scaler who, along with the Footloose Forester, reluctantly accepted the jobs of food purchasing and cooking for the whole fire barracks crew during tree planting season, because we were much better at it than they were.
Or on fire control missions with Joe Gorrell and Al Swank and Keith Butts and Larry Cabodi when it came to discussions about firefighting plans and real-time execution. Time on the fire line also involved seasoned veterans from other ranger districts because timely fire control sometimes was a matter of proximity and available manpower. So, there were those times with Jack Quigley, Ron Carlson, Dick Hurley and Dave Noni from Placerville District whose jurisdiction and area of responsibility included a long narrow corridor along U.S. Highway 50 but cut through other districts. Time with Wynne Maule was a little of everything because he was the District Ranger and in overall charge of everything in his district. Other officials from other ranger districts also came and went. To be sure, the official inspections from Headquarters staff in Placerville were somewhat foreboding because headquarters people usually did not spend their time in places where things were running smoothly. But the day-to-day tableau of life on the El Dorado was deeply satisfying to the Footloose Forester who thrived on the routine adventures and the prospects of ever more exciting ones.
The one person who played a constant and consistent role in the whole operation was KMB662, our ranger district dispatcher named Barbara Stratton. Her voice could be overheard on the short-wave radio when we were in the small station house, and even when we were passing by outside. But most two-way contacts and very brief dialogues with the dispatcher were by two-way radio by a Footloose Forester who was usually at his campground headquarters 27 miles away. When Footloose Forester came on duty in the morning and called in: KMB662…939…4-16, it was a routine check-in announcing that he was on duty and on the air. If nothing exciting was happening at the moment, Barbara would simply say: KMB662…10-4…939. The 10-4 code for OK was quick and unambiguous, but overused by many people in other circumstances. It was reassuring, nevertheless; that everything was OK between KMB662 (ranger station headquarters) and 939, the truck-mounted radio receiver in the 1952 Chevy 4-on-the-floor workhorse pickup driven by the Footloose Forester.
They were a little clunkier in those days
Only when KMB662 initiated a conversation did it usually mean that something was in the air and the Footloose Forester was going to be part of the action. Those are the times we lived for.