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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘Glacier National Park

Waterton Lookout

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Continuing with the story I wrote back in 2002 after getting my mother to describe her memories of her and my dad’s time in Glacier National Park in 1947…

More about life on the lookout…

Glacier Park is actually part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. I see Porcupine Ridge showing up on current park maps, but not the Waterton tower. Waterton Lake is a long narrow lake that runs north-south, the approximate middle of which crosses the US-Canada border. The town of Waterton is in Canada. The Waterton Lookout Tower is not on the top of a mountain. It was situated on a small outcrop on the edge of the ridge with a view of three different valleys.

Waterton Tower Lookout on Porcupine Ridge as viewed from below and from above.

My folks both grew up in well-to-do households in Minneapolis, MN. As newlyweds, they were now living without running water. Betty said the outhouse wasn’t that big a deal because she had visited a good number of them back in those days. She said bathing was all of the sponge bath type. She only recalls washing her hair up there one time. Water was heated on the propane-powered stove.

In the photos you can see the countertop level was quite low, to stay below the windows. The springs for the bed are something Ralph had scrounged that could be rolled up and packed on a horse. He also acquired an old mattress and then built the frame out of spare lumber found on the sight.

Dad would walk daily to a spot where snowmelt flowed out of a pipe encased in concrete. He hauled the water in a pack on his back. Mom said she made the trip once, but it involved traversing a very narrow ledge and she would never try it again. Back at the lookout, he would fill a barrel located in the enclosed space beneath the floor of the tower. At the beginning of their stay up there, he made a conscious effort to keep the barrel full, because as the summer progressed there would be a point when the snow that served as the source would all melt away.

Mom had never really cooked meals. She tells of being told by Ralph that she needed to learn how to bake bread from the woman she was staying with after returning from Miami. With only a few chances to practice before finding herself on the mountain, she ended up having to hone her skills on the fly. Luckily, the people who were on the tower before [Mom and Dad] had left a lot of flour. She said her less successful loaves were edible while still hot out of the oven. They would eat their fill and then make something of a game of taking turns tossing the rest over the edge and listening to see how long they could hear it tumbling down the ravine. They would then guess what animal was going to find it first.

One day when she was having trouble with making a pie, she said Ralph stepped in and put his hands right into it and whipped it up and made a pretty good pie. The payoff from his days as a cook on the trains.

She didn’t go back down during the span of their six-week duty at the lookout. They were resupplied once during that time. However, there was a point when Ralph absolutely had to have some milk (and ice cream, she whispered) and plotted to go down on a weekend while she was on the payroll. She said he literally slid down the side, shortcutting the back and forth of the switchback trail. He needed to catch a scheduled launch to get him across the lake to the town of Waterton. Later, back across the lake again, at the ranger station, they let him load up one of the horses with items for the trip back up. Once on the ridge again, the stirrups were tied up to keep them from catching on anything and the horse was allowed to wander back down on its own.

Ralph on the trail with water on his back, Betty on the trip up to the lookout.

Mom described witnessing lightning dance down the wires that ran to the ground when the tower would take a hit. She said there weren’t many instances of major cracks of thunder, but there were almost daily storms and plenty of lightning. They were required to record the location of lightning strikes. Those spots would get special attention the following mornings to see if any fires were born.

At dusk, they would locate and count campfires and match them with the number of registered campers. The bed my dad had built was level with the windows, so they could prop up on their elbows over their pillows and see from there. They would report to the ranger station at least once a day via telephone. There was a single wire strung from tree to tree. During the time they were on the tower, there was only one instance when a lightning strike started a fire. Dad was prepared to set out to the location to fight it, she said, but it ended up being taken care of by a crew from below.

Their idle time allowed a chance to feed chipmunks that became regular visitors and watch deer that would wander close. When asked about other daily tasks, Mom mentioned that the windows needed washing almost every day. She said Ralph did that mostly. She had no experience washing windows and he ended up re-doing ones she cleaned anyway. He had worked in a filling station, she pointed out, so he was well practiced at it.

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Written by johnwhays

March 3, 2020 at 7:00 am

Recalling Stories

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“Betty on way to Apgar Lookout. 6-18-47” [that was in ink, then there is this in pencil] “Pictures lie. In spite of how she looks she was so exhausted she could hardly breathe”.

Even I don’t recall all the details of stories I’ve gathered over the years, despite having actually written many of them out. Yesterday, I was hunting for a picture in my personal digital archives that I wanted to include in a record for my mother’s profile on WikiTree. I located it near a chronicle I’d written from stories my mom was telling me about their days in Glacier National Park in Montana in the 1940s.

I enjoyed re-reading the details of my parents’ story so much I decided to share it here. I was writing it back in the summer of 2002 and a cursory search through Previous Somethings didn’t reveal any indication I’ve already shared it on this blog before now.

This segment is served well by a little of their backstory of that time, prior to getting married…

Mom & Dad, late 1940s

In the later years of WWII my father, Ralph, was working in Detroit for Minnesota Mining as their Personnel Manager. He had been denied entry into the armed forces due to a combination of hayfever, allergies, and a paralyzed soft palate from polio that made it difficult for him to swallow. The Detroit position had opened up as a result of the employee exodus to the military.

During the summers of his college years, Ralph had worked for the Great Northern railroad as a 3rd cook. Mom points out that that is primarily a dishwasher, but that he did learn to cook some things, including making pies. He told her that when the trains went through Glacier Park in Montana he used to hang out the door to look at the mountains and experience the great relief of being able to breathe, enjoying air free of his allergens.

During the war, my mother, Betty, was serving under the Navy in the WAVES as a yeoman, 3rd class petty officer doing office work. She says she started at that rating because she had gone to business school and had worked for 3 years. Before long that advanced to 1st class, but she claims it happened faster than usual because of the activity of the war. She was stationed in Miami.

In September 1945 my parents both returned to Minneapolis to attend the funeral of her father who had died during a fire in the home. Her sister was in the hospital with a broken back and a broken arm. At that time they discussed plans for marriage. They looked around for places to live. Ralph had been looking some while in Detroit. There seemed to be nothing available. They looked at what was available in the seedier parts of Minneapolis but found nothing they considered livable. They were NOT going to live with my father’s parents, and my mother’s family was now confined to a small apartment.

When Betty returned to her post in Miami, she found it had been decommissioned. Her office was gone! They struggled with what to do with her. She had just two months left before the prescribed time for her discharge. She talked them into moving it up, and they gave her the two months.

Meanwhile, with all the personnel returning from overseas, my father saw that he was not long for his present position and headed home to Minneapolis. They were both back in Minneapolis before Christmas, 1945. Ralph found a position selling insurance, but never really settled into the role.

On a day when he was suffering from his hayfever in downtown St. Paul, he went past the Great Northern building and decided, “I oughtta go in and see if I can get a job in Glacier Park.”

The hotels out there were run by the railroad and they would hire kids for the seasonal summer work. There was one job open: Purser on a tourist launch. He did that all summer in ’46, staying in the main hotel. While he was out there he met all the park service people. At the end of the season, he stayed on, using the spare beds near one of the Glacier Park ranger stations, and he worked helping stock snowshoe cabins used by the rangers when they went out into the park to check things through the winter. Eventually, he ended up living with ranger Dave Stimson and his wife Kay. By the time I was born, over a decade later, they would be known to us as “uncle” Dave and “auntie” Kay.

During the next winter, he worked for their highway dept driving snowplow across the mountain passes. When the park department started talking about plans for the next summer, Dad learned they were thinking about hiring married couples to staff the fire watch lookout towers. This set the stage for my parents’ unique start as husband and wife.

Betty and Ralph were married in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April of 1947. They stayed overnight in St. Cloud at a family friend’s place (due to the friend’s insistence at the wedding) and then went on to Brainerd to a cottage owned by the Elliott family. Everything was done on a shoestring. After a couple of days, they came back and packed everything they owned, including wedding presents, and prepared to drive west.

Apgar Lookout Tower was the one at the headquarters of Glacier Park where the “lookouts” were taught what to do in case they spot fire. Waterton lookout, where Betty and Ralph would be stationed, was on Porcupine Ridge. Back then, the man was paid through the week, and over the weekend they paid the wife. That was how the plan devised to use married couples was able to get 2 pairs of eyes for the price of one.

Mom and Dad didn’t go up to their tower until after the 4th of July and they were only on the lookout for about 6 weeks, but this was how they kicked off life together. They lived day and night on this fire lookout tower on a mountain in Glacier National Park in Montana.

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Written by johnwhays

March 2, 2020 at 7:00 am