Schafer Meadows Guard Station
Flathead National Forest, Montana, 2003
by Tim Light, FS Archaeologist
Between July 26 and August 3, 2003, FS archaeologists and six PIT volunteers completed a PIT project at Schafer Meadows Guard Station on the Spotted Bear Ranger District. The volunteers included Nick Makris (Port Richey, Florida), Robert Chandler (Anaconda, Montana) who volunteered at Star Meadows in 2002, Sue Haas (Greenview, California), Patrick Light (Missoula, Montana), and Carol Poppenga and Tom Darnell, with Vesper the dog (Milton-Freewater, Oregon). Pete Brown from the Montana State Historic Preservation Office joined us for the week for his first taste of historic preservation of log buildings in a wilderness setting. Each of the volunteers contributed 70 hours of labor plus their travel time and expenses getting to the project. Project lead was FS Archaeologist Timothy Light, with assistance from Kyle McGuire and Lisa Keibler. Bill Crane, Rich Sievers, Tad Wehunt, Raina Phillips, Ann Percell, and Amanda Shotzberger provided invaluable help with logistics, cooking, and on-site assistance. Personal gear for the volunteers and much of the food and materials were packed in by the inimitable Bob Starling.
The guard station is located in the Great Bear Wilderness on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Although Schafer has the only active airstrip in the wilderness, we hiked in the 14 miles from the Morrison Creek trailhead. The weather was warm but not hot, and we had a good hike with lunch on the gravel bar at Morrison Creek. Imagine our surprise when arriving at Schafer to be met by a small plane wreck on the trail. Just the day before, a pilot misjudged the length of the airstrip, ran out of room, and went through the fence and down the bank. He was all right, but the plane was not. The volunteers were equally surprised by the excellent turkey dinner with all the fixin’s that the Schafer crew had ready for us.
The next five and a half days were focused on the restoration of the carpenter’s shed, a 11¼2-story log building constructed about 1930 and used as a wood shop and for tool storage. We removed the porch, pulled out the rotten sill log, removed the old foundation, dropped some trees to serve as the new sill and porch joists, dug and poured new footers and piers, and, using hand tools, cut and inserted the new sill log and reconstructed the porch.
In addition to the new sill log and porch joists, we also needed a log for a temporary support beam to hold up floor joists and the cabin while we removed the rotted sill log and foundation. To accomplish this, Tad and Amanda instructed the PIT crew in the fine art of the crosscut saw, and all who wanted had the chance to try it for themselves. All were wearing the appropriate protective equipment.
Other highlights of the week were watching Tom crawl under the cabin to dig out room for the support beam and then setting the jacks, seeing the moose cow and calf hanging out behind the horse corral on Friday, swimming in the Middle Fork every evening after work, helping Tad make a new horseshoe pit, doing repair work and rebuilding the corral gate, and, last but not least, making the dovetail notch and seeing the new sill log with notch slide into place just like it grew there.
Like most of the buildings at Schafer, master log craftsmen “Big Vic” Holmlund probably built the carpenter’s shed. Vic, a 6-foot-6-inch-tall Swedish immigrant, was a master at hewing logs and creating compound dovetail notches. He worked for the FS during the summers from 1924 to 1927 and again from 1929 to 1934 and probably built many of the backcountry log buildings. Big Vic has become something of a legend to the heritage folks on the Flathead NF because of the quality of his work, and we are constantly aware of the standards he set. During the restoration of the Schafer Meadows Guard Station, we regularly asked ourselves, “Is this how Big Vic would do it?”
It was a great week with great volunteers. We’d like to think we at least came close to meeting the standards set by Big Vic, and we certainty added many years of productive life to the carpenter’s shed at Schafer Meadow.