Lookout Tower

Graves Mountain Lookout Tower

Graves Mt Lookout_300_300

The earliest fire “lookouts” lived in crude and primitive “rag camps”, as they were  called in the early 1900’s. The camp consisted of one man, a pup tent and a convenient  tree or high point where a fire finder was mounted. This point was called a “crow’s  nest”, and when smoke was spotted it was often necessary to walk 1o miles or more to  fight fire single handedly.

The Great Depression of the 193o’s brought together federal, state and private  forestry agencies in a common cause — protecting the nation’s woodlands against  wildfire. With the help of President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC),  lookout towers sprouted up across America. As time and funds permitted, log cabins  were built for more permanent lookout quarters, and towers of varying heights replaced  trees or platforms that had previously served as observation points.

The Graves Mountain Lookout Tower, constructed during the early 1930’s in the  Colville National Forest, actively functioned as a lookout station location for almost 50  years atop Graves Mountain. Graves Mountain overlooks scenic Sherman Pass in Ferry  County at an elevation of 5947 feet. It existed in its original form as a 75 foot high pole  tower with a 6’x6’ log lookout cabin on top, and a small log cabin for living quarters on  the ground below.

During the early years of its use, lightning-caused wildfires were too common,  conditions were too dry, and roads were far too few. There were no bulldozers or  chainsaws (only cross-cut saws) for fire fighting, and there were reported to be only two  government-owned trucks for use in the entire Colville National Forest. The tall  tower/ cabin structure “waned in the breeze and rocked in the wind”.

For years, forestry personnel had realized the need for tall towers that would  permit a person to live-in safely during his perpetual fire watch. Later in 1955, the U. S.  Forest Service replaced the original lookout tower on Graves Mountain with a shorter  one that stood only 30 feet high, and the log lookout cabin was replaced by a more  adequate 14’x14’ structure. Known as the L-4 style, it was a pre-cut fabricated kit that  was transported by pack mule to the mountaintop site.

As the system progressed, the regional forestry procurement officer developed  a boxed food ration plan in 30, 45, and 60 man/ day quantities. For example, a 30  man / day ration would serve one man for thirty days, or thirty men for one day. The  wooden boxes, often used as tables and chairs, were also designed by size and weight for  pack mules. In addition to rationing, a lookout cookbook was compiled and written to  provide good, simple non-fail recipes that could be prepared by the novice, since many  lookouts were young people who had never done more than boil water.

Lookouts were the backbone of our forest fire protection system for nearly half a  century. The daily routine of a lookout is an interesting story — the long hikes and long  months (usually June through October) of solitude; days spent perched atop tall crow’s  nests and wide-awake nights weathering horrendous windstorms; vast slopes carpeted  with lovely wildflowers one day and a snow blizzard the next; deer and mountain goats  at the doorstep, along with horseflies and gnats. In any event, the cozy little glass  cubicles occupied the choicest view lots in the world.