Bill Fordyce Interview, December 9, 2021


William C. Fordyce


Beth Hodder, Kjell Petersen



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Bill recalls helping fly a dead man out in a helicopter near Beartop Lookout, his lookout site. He discusses lightning hitting Beartop and thinking he was deaf and blind for a while. He watches a grizzly bear stalk and elk, and talks of eating food eleven years past its expiration date because a grocery resupply didn’t come. Bill says he found a box in the attic that had held human ashes of a former lookout and letters from girls to another lookout. Bill discusses his next lookout, Scalplock, in Glacier National Park (2014-2016). Bill remembers Henry, the previous lookout, who took his own live after suffering from depression. Bill says Henry talked about “baking a potato,” which was keeping his feet in the oven to stay warm, a tradition Bill continued. In 2015, Bill recalls U.S. Highway 2 being closed because of a fire, and Scalplock was wrapped in fire wrap. While Scalplock was closed, Bill said he was sent to Cyclone Lookout in the North Fork Flathead, and experienced a wind that split a crossbeam on the tower. In 2017, Bill says he was the lookout at Numa Ridge in Glacier National Park. He talks of reporting many fires, including the Adair Ridge and Moose Creek fires, and the Sprague Creek Fire, which burned historic Sperry Chalet. He also said he had a choral group visit on the Fourth of July, singing songs, and kids from a math camp, whose teacher played an Indian flute. Bill says his next lookout job was at the Corral Hill Lookout, Nez Perce National Forest. There, he recalls a Hereford cow scratching on the tower and shaking it, and dry rot on catwalk boards. He talks of difficult topography for watching fires. He says his next job was at the Middle Fork Lookout, Salmon-Challis National Forest, where he had a long drive to a remote lookout, with water three miles away. Bill recalls few visitors but lots of fires with smokejumpers. He talks of a Chinook helicopter at the Jenny fire “making it rain.” He tells of a black bear visit to the catwalk at l:30 a.m., leaving scat, and being struck by lightning two times, one that took out the repeater. Bill says he is not lonely at lookouts, and that his outlook on life changed as a result of being a lookout.


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Document Type

Oral History


Bill Fordyce; Patrol Lookout; Prairie Reef Lookout; Beartop Lookout; Scalplock Lookout; Numa Lookout; Cyclone Lookout; Middle Fork Peak Lookout; Corral Hill Lookout; Polebridge, Montana; Bob Marshall Wilderness

Original Date


Time Period

Twentieth century

Geographic Coverage




Original Collection

Northwest Montana Lookout Association Oral History Project, OH 453, Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana-Missoula

Digital Publisher

University of Montana--Missoula. Mansfield Library


Copyright to this collection is held by the interview participants and by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana-Missoula. Permission may be required for use. For further information please contact Archives and Special Collections: (406) 243-2053 /

Oral History Number

OH 453-020

Media Type

Moving Image; Sound; Text

Digital Format

video/mp4; application/pdf; text/plain

Run Time

01:09:47 minutes

Local Filename

OH_453_020.mp3; OH_453_020.pdf;

Bill Fordyce Interview, December 9, 2021