This collection contains interviews detailing the work of forest fire lookouts in Montana and the Northwest. The interviews were conducted from 2016 to present by Beth Hodder and other members of the Northwest Montana Lookout Association (NWMTFLA). NWMTFLA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of historic fire lookouts on Federal and State lands in Northwest Montana. The interviewees discuss their time working as summer forest fire lookouts, what the job entailed, and the fires they spotted. They also describe daily life including packing in food and water, encounters with wildlife, and the solitude. The original interviews are held as Oral History collection OH 453 at Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana-Missoula.
In 2021, the organization changed its name from Northwest Montana Chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association to the Northwest Montana Lookout Association. Visit the NWMTFLA website to learn more about the organization.
This collection includes 12 interviews.
Bob Folkestad and Marj Folkestad
Bob Folkestad recalls how growing up in Montana, then visiting to hike, camp, and fish after his family moved, influenced his decision to work for the Forest Service after high school. He discusses applying for a fire lookout position in the summers while attending Seattle ... Read More
Cathy Schloeder speaks of growing up in the Canal Zone in Panama, and moving back to the United States at the age of 13. She describes her college studies, in both California and Montana, and her move to Montana. She further accounts how she and ... Read More
C. Kjell Petersen
Kjell Petersen talks about staffing the Snow Peak and Beaver Ridge lookouts as a U.S. Forest Service employee, starting in the late 1960s. He recalls how his lookout was struck by lightning three times in one afternoon, hauling water, calling in a full moon as ... Read More
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 ... Read More
Gene Miller describes growing up in Montana’s Swan Valley and how that helped him decide to become a U.S. Forest Service lookout. Miller talks about his 38-year tenure as a lookout, including on Priscilla Peak, three lookout towers as a relief staffer, and then 37 ... Read More
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 ... Read More
Greg Morley describes his experiences working at Jumbo Lookout in the Flathead National Forest for a year during the 1960s. He talks about why he chose to become a lookout, then describes where the lookout was located, traveling to it by horseback, and what sorts ... Read More
Ivan O’Neil discusses his experiences as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout at the Pioneer Ridge Lookout in the Flathead National Forest in Montana. He recalls lying about his age to get a summer job on a brush crew at the Coram Ranger Station in ... Read More
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 ... Read More
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 ... Read More
Kay Rosengren describes her experiences working with her husband Keith at Numa Ridge and Apgar lookouts in Glacier National Park. She tells how she and Keith came to Montana in part because he loved the outdoors. She talks about their friendship with the Park’s ranger ... Read More
Thomas Arthur Jones
Thomas “Tom” Jones discusses his experiences as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout at the Mud Lake Lookout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area in Montana. He recalls fighting forest fires for two seasons before getting an opportunity to work as a lookout. Jones describes ... Read More