It was great to be back in McCall ID where I spent four summers 50 years ago.
The first summer I was taken out West by my late college friend Jim Czarniecki, accompanied by high school buddy Rich Dryden. Rich and I were too late to sign on to the USFS but got jobs as a park rangers at the local Ponderosa State Park. Interestingly, my sophomore HS career recommendation came up with this career choice.
I then had three years fighting fires with McCall Helitack, with the first season starting on trail crew. I had ticked the box on the USFS application that I could ride a horse, so this is what I got. They quickly sussed me as a city kid when I walked up to the wrong side. My problems were compounded when I wrapped the rope for the mule train around the saddle horn instead of ‘around’ it. Head haunch Bob Derek chewed my ass, but I learned quickly.
The Dorris family of McCall was extremely kind to me, putting me up for these summers May-Sept. They had 13 kids so, as mom Mary said, I was just taking the place of those who’d left. It was like a 2-center holiday – flitting between Glasgow to study and McCall to fight forest fires. Some of the habits I left behind, like chewing tobacco in Idaho that didn’t really translate to Scotland.
I had great conversations over three days in McCall. I’d not met up with these folk for 50 years, but it was just like yesterday. The stories flowed, grown by the years. Jim Davis was my mentor for those years, three years older than me and already two tours in Vietnam behind him. Karen Dorris put me up, still grieving from the loss of her husband Rob.
I bugged Mike Dorris for 2 days to take me up. We flew up to Seven Devils to see the scenery and forest damage from both pine beetles and fires. I don’t recall the frequency of fires in my day. The USFS was into 100% suppression back then, so we were choppered out to put out a 1-tree lightning strike. Since then, some fires have been allowed to burn, and there is an on-going fight among conservationists, the USFS and commercial interests (loggers and tour companies) about both access and fire suppression. Mike’s father, Bill, was a man of few words – a couple that I do recall him speaking was to criticise the ‘forass service’. Like father, like son.
McCall itself remains the playground of Boise and has expanded beyond recognition. As I walked around, events flooded back, and I recalled with fondness the memories from this seminal period in my life and career. While I didn’t take the skills of sawyer and fighting a fire with a Pulaski into my business career, many of the lessons from the USFS and leading a team shaped my career.