Roger Thompson: Horsin’ Around 1-24-11
Fort Collins, Colo.
I went to work the first of June for the National Park Service. I had signed up the last of the summer before when I left a ranch job in Montanan on my way home to Texas. I had been excited about the job all through the winter while in college; it was a job of a lifetime. I was to be back in the back country of Yellowstone National Park with a pack string supplying a fire lookout and then work as a smoke chaser when they spotted any fires in my district.
It sounded like a fine job, doing just what I wanted to do. We had spent a week in class learning how to pack mules with the correct weight in each panniers (a canvas pouch with loops to slip over the cross bucks of the pack saddle). We also learned how to use pole climbing spikes on our legs with a safety belt to go around the pole or tree. These were used to string a single telephone line from the road to the cabin and then up to the fire lookout station.
It would be my job to keep the lookout supplied with food, water, and wood for the summer as well as be on call for fires from lightening strikes through out the summer. I was also given the job of picking up the mail for the lookout man when in town on weekends and taking it to him.
My cabin was a tent stretched over a wood frame with a door made out of 1-by-6’s up about 4-feet and then 2-by-4 rafters for the tent. It had a double bunk bed with thin mattresses and my sleeping bag over that. I had an old army sheet metal stove set in a box filled with dirt for heating and cooking. A hitch rack was next to my tent cabin for saddling and unsaddling. My horse and mules were to be tethered out in the meadow where there was plenty of grass. The first time I saw it was like a dream come true.
Helicopters were not that advanced yet so we used pack animals. The only ones were the two man Bell choppers used in Korea to remove wounded soldiers. They had been tested and useful there but not to carry heavy loads like now. So when I got orders to take my horse and pack string up to the corral by the road I was a little nervous.
I was given a trail to follow from Mammoth Hot Springs to my corral and headed out. I had done plenty of hiking in the mountains but never given a place to go following a particular trail that I didn’t know. We had looked it up on the map, so I was not supposed to have any trouble. If so I could cut across country and follow the road.
All went well until I came to a creek that because of spring runoff was way over its banks. I looked at the rushing water and had never tried to cross rushing water like that, having been raised in Texas it was new to me. So I radioed the main office in Mammoth and told them what was planned. They agreed and so I followed the flooding creek down to the road and continued on to my destination.
I spent a great summer alone in my cabin and my horses as well as learning how to pack.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.