Walker Mountain PIT Project
Deschutes National Forest, Oregon, 1998
by Leslie Hickerson, District Archaeologist
I recently had the pleasure of hosting 12 wonderful volunteers who helped with ongoing maintenance work on three historic buildings at the Walker Mt. Lookout and Electronic site. FS records indicate that the stone cabin was constructed between 1914 and 1917. It is completely unique among administrative site complexes in the Pacific Northwest Region and, likely, the rest of the country.
Actually, the work of maintaining the historic character and National Register–criteria features began in 1996. With help from district personnel and Youth Conservation Corps crews, I relocated a 1930s-era privy from an abandoned ranger station elsewhere on the Crescent District. We lifted it with a backhoe, placed it on a trailer, and towed it up that pretty-steep-in-places road, and placed it over the current hole at the lookout. The collapsed, original Walker Mountain privy was dismantled, and any remotely reusable materials were salvaged. We also realigned many of the stones lining pathways between the lookout, garage, privy, and cabin.
The week before my volunteers arrived, I retrieved the donated replacement shakes for repair of the cabin roof with help from Jeff Baker’s Youth Conservation Corps crew and the forest’s heritage crew. It took the equivalent of 30 person-hours to sort the shakes, pull nails and staples, place them in boxes and feed sacks, and load everything into three pickups for the trip up the mountain. Many thanks to donors Arlie and Lynne Holm for the shakes. I also borrowed a fire-engine crew of two and began preparing the 1932 garage for painting by cleaning it.
Once the ladders, hammers, nails, paint, protective suits, gloves, masks, goggles, generator, power saw, garbage bags, window glass, and so on were gathered, we met on Monday, July 28, and went to work. The project goals are basically to return the structures closer to their original appearance. Through time and use, the cabin has undergone so-called improvements. It was wired for electricity and remodeled to include a concrete floor and porch. A ceiling was added at some point and another following that. Access and shelter for rodents led to the construction of several pack rat nests in the ceiling. Yuck!
We started on the south side of the roof, removing the old shakes. Once the roof was opened up, we moved on to the add-ons: ceiling and extra pole beams for ceiling support (too bad the nails had mostly pulled out). I’d had the electric company remove the wire from our pole to the cabin, but the conduit and switch box and fixtures were still there. The stove pipe still remained, and we had to clean out the fireplace and chimney. Guess who got stuck with the pack rat nests? Well, let’s say I volunteered.
Once we realized that the porch was in the way and that it was not part of the original construction, we took it off to facilitate the roof repair. All of the porch components were set aside for replication, probably during next year’s project. It’s amazing how quickly the look of a building can change when you put fresh nails into wood and slap on some paint. A lot of preparation was necessary, of course, which included removal of windows and nails, scraping and wire brushing old paint, filling holes with wood putty, sanding, and finally painting. I know all of this because I was up to my elbows in windows for three or four days the second week of the project.
A lot of effort also focused on painting the garage. After it was wire brushed and had a final scraping, painting began. I chose to give it a coat of primer paint as well as a final coat. The primer was surely needed, as we ran out with more than half of the building yet to go. By the next Monday, I had another five gallons to finish the job. We ended with about a gallon left after priming the windows, window frames, and most of the privy. We’ll use it to finish the job next year. I’ll never forget seeing a painter in one of the white protective suits against the white building. She looked like a head and hands without a body standing on a ladder because of the white-on-white effect!
Probably the highlight of the whole two weeks was the visit by former Cascade Forest Ranger Corley McFarland. Ranger McFarland walked up to our lunch gathering and asked if we’d seen any mules recently, as his had been spooked a little lower down on the mountain. Dressed in a vintage hat, jodhpur-style trousers, and puttees, McFarland was a true time traveler from the early 20th century. Thanks go to Willamette Forest employee Steve Coady for his reenactment of an early ranger encounter. Thanks also go to Paula, Creig, Glenda, Kita, Darrell, Kimberly, Bud, Eva, Ron, Sue, and especially Georgia. Without you, this project would never have been so rewarding, both for me and for the buildings. Next year, we’ll pick up where we left off, focusing attention on our lookout cabin and tower and on replacement of sill beams for the garage.