The Northwest Montana Chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association (NWMT-FFLA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of historic fire lookouts on Federal and State lands in Northwest Montana. As part of their preservation and documentation activities, members of NWMT-FFLA 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.
This collection includes 4 interviews.
Dale Zorn 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.
George Ostrom 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.
Julia Osborn 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.
June Ash and Gordon Ash
June Ash 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.