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RodF
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PostThu Oct 11, 2018 8:52 pm 
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DRY CREEK GUARD STATION
PRELUDE TO CORRIGENDA
by Al Nickelson

Post high school graduation work in Seattle was OK but was somewhat boring.  Tearing tickets as a doorman at the Orpheum Theater provided access to attractive usherettes but they  didn’t seem interested in a skinny, awkward and penniless guy living with his parents and about to start life as a student at the University of Washington and who incidentally had  no idea of why he was starting higher education.  Washing trucks at Buchan Bakery garage wasn’t much better but I learned to maneuver the large vans between the concrete pillars of the building using the side view mirrors without adding any scratches or crumpling  fenders. Fall quarter 1952 at the University ended for me with a temporary job with the US Post Office sorting letters during the Christmas  rush.  After surviving the academic year (just) I jumped at the prospect of working  for the summer with the US Forest Service when recommended by a friend to the District Ranger at Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula.  A city raised kid, I had always wanted to live out in the “country”- be a farmer, live the rural good life.  Here was my opportunity.

As a first time summer employee with the Forest Service and not being a forestry major,  I was assigned to the least desirable post in the district which turned out to be a guard station on the shore of Lake Cushman in Mason County.  The lake was created in 1926 when  the city of Tacoma constructed a hydroelectric dam on the North Fork of the Skokomish River which empties into Hood Canal near the town of Hoodsport.  After attending two weeks of guard school I was escorted to my new post on the south side of the lake where Dry Creek empties into the ten mile long body of water.  All of the merchantable timber was harvested before the valley was flooded by the dam but unusable logs, branches and standing snags were left when the water started to rise.  Since the only land approach to the station was a two mile trail from Staircase Park Station at the upper end of the lake,  the most direct journey to Dry Creek Station was via a ten foot skiff from a parking spot on the road which traversed the length of Cushman lake into Olympic National Park.  In 1953 my first crossing in the Forest Service wood skiff powered by a five-horse Johnson outboard motor was a rather sobering experience.  Logs and other floating detritus were everywhere and ghostly snags rose up from the bottom of the lake,  some above and some just below the surface of the water.  I remember it was a cloudy day and the whole impression was very somber.

DRY CREEK DRAINAGE AS SEEN FROM LAKE CUSHMAN ROAD
DRY CREEK DRAINAGE AS SEEN FROM LAKE CUSHMAN ROAD

My first view of the “station” was not much more encouraging.  It consisted of a clapboard shack measuring six feet by about ten.  Inside was a steel frame bunk cross-wise at the end of the room, a 3X2 foot table that folded up against the wall and a galvanized water bucket.  A small cast iron wood stove rounded out the Spartan furnishings.   (The station building was located only a few feet from Dry Creek so obtaining water was not a problem).  So-called “sanitary arrangements” were left up to the guard (me).  In those days there was little concern about giardia or other stream water bourne diseases and indeed I collected my drinking water from Dry Creek all summer without ill effect.  The isolation of the station certainly allowed me to achieve my fantasy of rural living,  sometimes far beyond what I had hoped for. 

Dry Creek Guard Station had been sited to allow the guard to monitor the area and prevent fishermen from entering the creek drainage.  Some years earlier (in 1947 I believe) the drainage had been logged.  Contrary to modern logging practices  the slash from timber harvesting along Dry Creek had not been piled for burning during the wetter part of the year.  Consequently the area was considered a fire hazard during the summers. 

The State Game Department, in cooperation with the Forest Service, had closed Dry Creek to fishing.  The Forest Service posted the guard to enforce the stream closure and protect the site from smokers and careless campers.

The Dry Creek Guard was provided with a “Packmaster”radio - state of the art in those days.  This device was attached to two shoulder straps and allowed the guard to patrol the area while carrying this thirty pound monster on his back.  I was expected to report into the Hoodsport Ranger station once each morning and evening - more often during fire weather. So human contact most weeks was limited,  unless one counts watching the cars go by on the road across the lake.   Besides patrolling the area there was not much work to do at Dry Creek.  There was scattered brush and detritus along the lake shore to be piled for later burning in the Fall, maintenance to be done on the Forest portion trail to Staircase in the Park and brushing on the former logging road which ascended the mountain parallel to Dry Creek itself.  (This access needed to be clear for pack trains and fire fighters in case there was a fire along the creek drainage.) That was it - other than keeping a sharp eye out for sneaky fishermen who lusted after the succulent trout found in the Creek.

Visitors to Dry Creek Guard Station were few and far between.  The Forest Service District Assistant made it up perhaps three times during the summer and occasional fishermen came ashore to fish the creek and were turned back by me.  By far the most memorable visitor I had was Leonard who came with his tent and camped near the station for about a week.  I had first met Leonard when I participated in a local Seattle church youth group.  The attraction for me was the presence of several very good looking girls with whom I hoped to make points of some kind or other.  Leonard was a deacon in the church and the attraction for him, I believe, was the presence of young men in the youth group such as myself.  Yes, Leonard was gay.  Leonard did not press himself on me or my male friends in the church group but given the slightest encouragement he probably would have.  There was considerable discussion among the members of the youth group about Leonard’s sexual persuasion and some mild joking.  So it was with some hesitation when I agreed to his request to visit me at Dry Creek.  I made it as clear as I could that the station building was so small that it would accommodate only one  person and that he would have to bring along a tent.  On the agreed day he arrived, parked his car next to mine across the lake and I ferried him across (with his tent) and he set up camp just down the beach from the station.  He was a good cook and I enjoyed a great improvement in my meals for that week.  Leonard found that he could manage one the many large logs that floated about the lake and used it frequently as a boat,  paddling happily around for long periods of time.  The unusual thing about his impromptu boating expeditions was that he wore no bathing suit.  A good many parties of fishermen were astonished to see this middle aged  man astride his log sporting nothing on his exterior but a grin.

There were, of course, wildlife incidents at Dry Creek.  I seldom was able to get a complete night’s sleep because of the mouse activity.  These little creatures were everywhere.  At night they rustled through everything: food items, clothing, reading material and even drowned in the water bucket.  No matter how many strategies I employed they were a scourge.  I purchased spring loaded traps, I clobbered them with sticks when I could see them.  They seemed to increase in number five times as fast as I dispatched them.  I even resorted to shooting them with the only firearm I had at the station: my .270 deer rifle.  I remember shooting one that was on the floor and could not find the carcass.  I could only assume that the bullet sucked the animal down through the hole it made in the floor.  I never did solve the problem of rodents at the station.

I think that for sheer dramatic proportions the incident with the black bear was even more significant for a green horn fire guard.  I had hunted deer for several years prior to living at Dry Creek but had never encountered a bear.  In those days, because of damage black bear did to young Douglas Fir saplings on tree farms, the season was open for bear all year.  Thus when I spied one while on patrol up Dry Creek with rifle along I decided a bear skin might look good on the floor of the station (if it would fit those tight quarters) and later grace my parents’ living room.  The animal was about 150 yards across Dry Creek canyon when I shot him and it was an hour before I was able to reach the dead animal.  It took another two hours to drag him into the cool of the creek bottom and several more to skin him out.

Obviously, I was late reporting in to the ranger station that evening.  There was a small amount of alarm and questions about my tardiness in making the second call of the day.  I bent the account of the bear incident slightly describing the animal as “not wanting to get off the trail” This was accepted and relief expressed that I was OK.  That ended the bear incident until the district assistant made a routine inspection visit to Dry Creek.  As we hiked the upper reaches of the logging road along the creek Red Williams asked where I shot the bear.  I indicated that it was, as a matter of fact, just about where we were standing.  He looked about for the remains of the animal and finally asked where was the bear?  My alteration of the real story was revealed when I pointed across the canyon where I had spotted the bear.  However, with a little head shaking all was forgiven.
                                                                                                 
VIEW OF LAKE CUSHMAN AND COPPER MOUNTAIN FROM DRY CREEK GUARD STATION SITE
VIEW OF LAKE CUSHMAN AND COPPER MOUNTAIN FROM DRY CREEK GUARD STATION SITE

The Dry Creek part of these notes would not be complete without an account of the archeological expedition my wife Shirley and I made in 2003 to the site of the Dry Creek Station.  We were traveling along Hood Canal and I was regaling her with tales from my Forest Service days and she suggested that we might hike the two miles along Cushman Lake and try to find evidence of the old station.  (I believe I might have been the last guard posted there.) We made the hike in along the lake, crossed over the creek and found an impromptu campground for fishermen.  I could not locate the site of the station building closer than fifty or one hundred feet.  I was looking around the shoreline of the lake when Shirley called me over and pointed out the remains of the bed frame I had slept on over fifty years before.  We took a couple of small samples of the bed springs which now reside atop my file cabinet.

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"of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt" - John Muir
"the wild is not the opposite of cultivated.  It is the opposite of the captivated” - Vandana Shiva
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Ski
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PostThu Oct 11, 2018 9:43 pm 
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up.gif

hunting mice with a .270 - gotta love it! lol.gif

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"I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
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Gregory
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Gregory
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PostFri Oct 12, 2018 5:31 am 
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I spent the last memorial day weekend there all by myself.All I ever wanted for my birthday as young kid was to go camping there with my father. Thirty years ago I and a friend spent several memorial day weekends there, traveling across the lake in a skiff. This was before they drained the lake and harvested the old growth stumps and such. You had to pay attention coming into there which kept the ski boats out.I do not remember an old cabin but I was there to fish the lake. Spent some time just watching the insane amount of traffic on the other side of the lake these days.

I hiked the trail this year all the way up the mountain. Very few people continue past the creek crossing. There really is not anything up there but a hot dry trail

On my way down the mountain, I spooked a young couple. They were sitting on a log hugging each other as I came around the corner. They thought I was a bear coming to eat them. When the young lady realized it was just a sweaty old man{I am only fifty-one?} she let go of her boyfriend and pulled out her smartphone and got busy. There is no cell service there I suspect it was just a nervous habit. I do not understand this crazy fear of the black bears here.I told them they did not need to worry about bears But the damn mice now them you have to watch out for. They did not get it. So then I asked them if they saw the lion crap in the middle of the trail. This got their attention again. I circled both piles on the way down with my carbon fiber walking stick.

Thanks for sharing your memory.
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JustJoe
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PostTue Oct 16, 2018 1:32 pm 
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RodF wrote:
Leonard found that he could manage one the many large logs that floated about the lake and used it frequently as a boat,  paddling happily around for long periods of time.  The unusual thing about his impromptu boating expeditions was that he wore no bathing suit.  A good many parties of fishermen were astonished to see this middle aged  man astride his log sporting nothing on his exterior but a grin.

That part of the story had me laughing out loud!  Can you imagine the chafing, literal and figurative, that man would have had to deal with? eek.gif

Thanks for sharing the memories! up.gif
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alnick
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PostTue Oct 30, 2018 9:50 am 
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I had no idea, until I read your post, that Lake Cushman had been drained sometime after I was posted at Dry Creek.  Do you know what year.   Al
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RodF
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PostTue Oct 30, 2018 1:11 pm 
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alnick wrote:
I had no idea, until I read your post, that Lake Cushman had been drained sometime after I was posted at Dry Creek.  Do you know what year.   Al

In winter 2011-12, Tacoma Power lowered Lake Cushman by 50 feet to repair leaks in the core wall of the earthen embankment adjacent to the dam.  This revealed large areas of the lakebed that have been underwater since the dam was built in 1926.  Our "Ranger Rock" shared her photos of the old logging road and railroad beds among the stumps on the lakebed here and here.

I think the lake level has otherwise been maintained near full in recent years, especially during the summer recreation season.  But in earlier years, Tacoma Power sometimes lowered it in autumn in dry years to maintain river flow or power production?

--------------
"of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt" - John Muir
"the wild is not the opposite of cultivated.  It is the opposite of the captivated” - Vandana Shiva
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reststep
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reststep
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PostWed Oct 31, 2018 5:13 pm 
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Thanks for the story.
That was back when the road continued up to the Flap Jack Lakes trailhead.
When was the bridge built across the end of the lake?

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"The mountains are calling and I must go." - John Muir
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alnick
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PostThu Nov 01, 2018 4:44 am 
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Rod:  Many thanks for the information on Lake Cushman draw down. Also, the Moss connection lead me to good stuff on the Dosewallips where I worked as a fire guard for a number of Summers in the fifties.  Al Nickelson
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RodF
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PostThu Nov 01, 2018 3:56 pm 
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reststep wrote:
When was the bridge built across the end of the lake?

FS2451 causeway was built in 1957.

--------------
"of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt" - John Muir
"the wild is not the opposite of cultivated.  It is the opposite of the captivated” - Vandana Shiva
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