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Lookout Guard Recalls Summer Jobs in the 1950’s


A fire lookout in the 1950s, Lois Christiansen Eagleton of Umpqua, Ore., vividly remembers the four summers when she earned about $250 a month for college.

The first two summers she looked out over the Three Sisters Mountains in Central Oregon. The next two summers, near Fossil, Ore., in Eastern Oregon, she had a panoramic view of what she called a “string of pearls,” snow-capped peaks stretching from Mount Shasta in California to Mount Rainier in Washington.

Eagleton used a fire-finder to plot smoke and lightning strikes and with a hand-cranked telephone called in coordinates to headquarters. During thunder and lightning storms, she stood on a wooden “lightning stool” with legs inserted into glass insulators.

She recorded every airplane--its make, altitude and flight direction. A third job was to routinely wash the windows surrounding her 14-by-14-foot cabin. She carefully rationed 10 gallons of packed-in water to last a week for everything, including drinking, cooking and bathing.

Today, with few exceptions, airplanes or cameras have replaced fire lookouts. The U.S. Forest Service rents some retired lookout towers as vacation cabins in Southern Oregon for $50 a day.

Source: Eagleton, Lois C., Personal interview. 25 Oct. 2014.

Dr. James S. Long was an As It Was contributor until his passing in January of 2016. He met editor Kernan Turner when Kernan spoke to the Roseburg writers’ club about contributing to JPR's As Is Was series. His contributions to As It Was ranged from a story about the recovery of whitetail deer at the old Dunning Ranch to the story of Nick Botner’s private orchard near Yoncalla created to preserve over 3,000 heritage apple varieties.