Scenic U.S. 12 stretches west from Lolo Pass near the Idaho-Montana state line to Orofino, Idaho. I had traveled that narrow, winding ribbon of roadway running parallel to the Lochsa River on several trips to Idaho. However, I had never stopped at the Lochsa Historic Ranger Station, located between Milepost 120 and 125, until the summer Lee and I drove that route through the Clearwater National Forest. The Ranger Station is worth a stop, telling the history of rangers tending the vast acreage of picture perfect fir trees stretching their skinny heads toward heaven’s blue.
Built in the 1920s, the ranger station’s historic log structures, outfitted with period furnishings and tools, are open for touring during summer months. Audio presentations describe early life at the station and the escape of over 200 rangers during the 1934 fire that destroyed thousands of surrounding acres of forestland. The recording relates that as fire spiraled up stately firs, leaping from one pointy treetop to another, the rangers raced to the Lochsa River and immersed themselves until the roaring flames passed.
The modest superintendent’s house served his family only during summer months. Winter snows start early and lie in white patches into late spring, isolating the back country of the National Forest. The kitchen table remains set with Forest Service china, prompting one’s imagination that the ranger’s supper simmered on the wood cook stove. All building materials and furnishings for the cabin had to be packed in by mule. The 370-pound bathtub was skidded sixteen miles to the site.
Experienced packers innately knew the weight of each bag loaded onto the mules. Ranger station lore tells of a heavy desk in the head ranger’s office balanced on one side of the animal with bags of foodstuff and a ham on the other.
Behind the house and garden, four adjoining buildings form quarters and a kitchen for the fire rangers and a storeroom for supplies and perishables. A workshop displays their gear, including a 40-pound pack each man wore on work assignments in the thick fir woods.
We visited with volunteer hosts who live on the site between Memorial Day and Labor Day, taking up residence in one of the log structures. The couple portrayed a sense of living history, completing daily tasks as the rangers and the superintendent and his family did almost a century ago with only an oil lamp for light inside the dark walls of the cabin.
A parking lot accommodated our 40-foot motorhome and tow vehicle.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com
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