Walker Mountain Lookout Repairs IV
Deschutes National Forest, Oregon, 2000
by Leslie M. Hickerson, FS Archaeologist
This was the fifth season of maintenance, rehabilitation, and repair work at the Walker Mountain Historic Lookout in the extreme southeastern corner of the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon. The cumulative total of the work comes to about seven weeks of employee, contractor, and volunteer effort to restore the 1930s lookout facilities and the 1917 native stone cabin. The 2000 field season was two weeks long and included 11 volunteers.
We were fortunate to have folks with good carpentry skills the first week, when the focus was replacing the east side of the 1934 garage roof and building a shutter for the garage window. With two people nailing and two more sorting shingles, they soon developed a rhythm of measuring, sorting, and passing shingles back and forth.
Replacement poles for the 1917 cabin were gathered, peeled, and stored on-site for future use. Because of the time it took for the garage roofing job, we could not complete the porch reconstruction. We have, however, procured most of the materials, and time permitting, we will complete this later in the fall. Removal of a concrete slab dated 6-19-64 revealed a layer of flat pieces of native stone that had been used as a landing. This rock layer is clearly visible in an undated photograph from FS files. Although it follows the sloping contour of the ground and creates an uneven surface, it fits the original character of the cabin much better. The corners will need to be repaired with new stones to accommodate the new posts.
Perhaps the most tedious but ultimately rewarding job was washing, priming, and painting the interior walls of the stone cabin. Imagine the surface area of a flat wall, then double it to get the surface area of uneven stone walls. Some of the walls were plastered over with mortar or concrete. Most of the interior had previously been painted white or cream. We went after every square inch of wall into which we could poke a paintbrush. The differences in appearance and feel before and after were dramatic. Two of the painters even went to the trouble of staging a grand opening, complete with flowers, a checkered tablecloth, and a ribbon cutting. This writer was given the privilege of “officially” opening the cabin for lunch. It is surprising what just a little bit of paint (well, nearly five gallons) can do to spruce up an old building.
Other odd jobs completed this season include painting of replacement siding on the garage and touch-up painting of the privy. A rock retaining wall was started for the trench parallel to the west garage wall. It will be reinforced further after the coming winter and spring runoff. The original lookout shutters were moved inside the garage for storage and will probably serve as patterns for replacements, since they are deteriorated.
During privy repairs in 1998 and 1999, a new footpath evolved between the garage and privy. This year, we outlined the route with rocks to help direct traffic away from remaining live vegetation. The rather xeric climatic conditions and poor soils in the area tend to limit ground cover and understory growth on the summit. Once disturbed, vegetation takes a long time to come back. Outlining this trail in the style of preexisting paths was one way to retain a route while protecting surrounding undergrowth and grasses.
Week 2 of the project found us with a smaller, but no-less-dedicated and -energetic crew. After figuring out how to go about systematically gathering up the cans from a dump associated with the site, we spent a few hours bagging things by 5-m increments before getting into the sorting and cataloging jobs. How many evaporated milk cans does it take to feed one lookout for 30 or 40 years? Besides these ubiquitous items, other common can types were sanitary cans; meat, fish, coffee, tea, chocolate, tobacco, spice (cinnamon?), mustard, and coal oil tins; and one lonely Log Cabin Syrup can. Items of interest were the pair of possible circuit breakers, an intact brown glass Clorox bottle from inside a length of stovepipe, an alarm clock, a clear glass medicine bottle starting to turn purple from sun exposure, and a pair of leather boots.
A number of these items served as inspiration for one volunteer with a vivid imagination and wonderful artistic skills. After finding both of the leather boots, the group started devising a story about “Lars, the Lookout,” and his girl, “Flora.” Various other artifacts were woven into the story of love lost and found on a mountaintop. Charlie Vincent did a wonderful sketch of the fictional story that certainly fits the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Some wise suggestions were also made during Week 2 about the future “livability” of the cabin. Making it “rat proof” was the first one. This was thought to be more important than replacing the porch for some reason! Curtains were suggested for looks, if not function. Evidence of previous curtains came from a single metal adjustable curtain rod and curtain rings found in the pack rat nest in 1997. Hanging copies of the panoramic lookout photographs and prints of some of Charlie’s sketches on the walls was suggested to enhance the history and setting to help educate future visitors. Another suggestion was to mount some of the recovered artifacts as a display for interpretive purposes. We ran out of time and were not able to complete a brochure about the site, as planned, but this may become a future winter PIT project.
I sincerely thank Kent and Gail Waggoner, Cindy Burns, John Cecil, Bud LaForture, Ralph and Debbie Ploger, Bud Rice, Charlie and Marion Vincent, and Don Sohler for their cheerfulness, ingenuity, dedication, flexibility, and patience. The project’s success is based on the help of our generous volunteers. We also would not have gotten so far without the skills of Pete Cecil, our trusty carpentry consultant. The cabin will become part of the FS cabin rental program and will be available for rent starting next summer. See you on the summit sometime!