Merry Packers of Yesteryear

A good friend who worked in the Forest Service before the 1964 Wilderness Act asked me if I had heard of a Merry Packer. I had not heard of them. He then described this motorized contraption that ferried equipment up trails in remote areas. The full picture is here.

My friend Tom commented about their use:

“Look!”
I looked. It was hard not to. We had just broke camp and started down the trail when the morning fog boiling up out of the canyon burst a hole a couple of miles away across the gorge, and in that hole, perfectly framed in corpuscular rays, sparkled a waterfall. It was quite a sight… and possibly my last!
 
Landers stumbled on a raised root in the trail just as he pointed with his right hand at the waterfall. His left hand on the throttle squeezed involuntarily as he struggled for balance. The little engine revved, kicking the mechanical mule in the ass just as we came out of a switchback. We came WAY out. I was up front, leaning back on the handles, supposedly steering, hopping and tiptoeing over rocks and roots, my feet on the ground only now and then.
 
We were having way too much fun again with this thing, and, way out here in the Douglas fir forests of the Wind River District above the Columbia River Gorge, no one was looking….and we were getting paid, too! Without having to carry gear, we moved fast, almost effortlessly, and we cleared a lot of trail……until Landers spotted that waterfall. I was lifted in the air about two feet before going over the edge, followed by all of our stuff – chainsaws, axes, sleeping bags, raingear, food, canteens and mosquito nets. Only a sleeping bag landed on me as I tumbled. Thank God that machine missed me. Landers fell on his face in the trail, laughing.
 
 The adults in the Forest Service had declared us the Trail Crew, showed us how to start this thing, then sent us into the wilds. Its called a Merry Packer. They’re like those deer carriers, but motorized. Are they still around?”

I hadn’t seen one in all my years in the Forest Service. I’m sure they were used a lot, in trail construction, before the restrictions on “motorized use”. On a recent trip to Zion, I saw, maybe, its replacement, in this more modern world. I’m sure that they had to fly this machine up to this strategic spot on the East Rim Trail.

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21 thoughts on “Merry Packers of Yesteryear”

  1. The three-man trail crew on the Bridgeport Ranger District, Toiyabe National Forest, on which I served from 1962-1966, used a similar wheeled and motorized device called a “go-buggy” for moving heavy gear and stuff in the backcountry including the Hoover Wild Area until passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 designated the Hoover Wilderness and motorized and mechanized equipment was no longer permitted.

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  2. My first job with the USFS with the Tahoe Nat.Forest, out of Foresthill Ca. was on a trail crew of 4-5 men. We used a Merry Packer and had a love hate feeling about it. Love it for what it could haul, hated it because on steep or rugged trails it would go down, need to repack it and keep it moving. At time the front guy might be lifted off the ground. It had one wheel in he middle. 2 guys took turns operating it and the rest worked the trail. No one volunteered to run it.

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    • I recall that specific Merry Packer very well. The Tote Goat was handy too and lots more fun. I was on the Foresthill trail crew ’64, ’65, and ’66.

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    • I recall that Merry Packer very well. The Tote Goat was handy too and a lot more fun. I was on the Foresthill trail crew in ’64, ’65, and ’66.

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  3. 1956, just out of high school. I was to man the fire lookout on top of Bear bones Mountain, Cascade Range, Oregon. The load was a heavy wood burning stove w oven, 200 plus pounds. Fortunately I had a seasoned mountain man on the back with the throttle. He lifted up and I was on the front holding down and supposedly steering. The trail switch back to the right because of a cliff. Next thing I was hanging out in space much like the above comments. The guy killed the engine and coasted back and he put it up against the mountain side. Later he told me it was over 600 feet straight down. I don’t recall how we got that machine around and up to the lookout but we did it. That was one of two times I came with in inches of dying on that mountain. I’m 80 now, still get the shakes thinking about that. The lookout experience was great otherwise.

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  4. The Merry Packer (why don’t we have a photo?) was like a big stretcher, with two poles, left and right. One guy in front; one in back. Instead of a taut canvas between the poles, there was a trapezoidal frame, with a canvas or rigid basket. Underneath: one wheel with a soft tire, and a little geared-down gas motor. It would putt along at walking speed, and on smooth terrain, go uphill like a power mower. But trails have logs and rocks and steps and wash-outs and streams to ford, so the two guys had to pick up the packer and its load like a stretcher, and carry it over the rough spots, or pull/push it up the steep steps. I guess its big advantage was as a power wheelbarrow at a remote work site, moving rocks and site-built timbers. Horses and mules would have been better most of the time.

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  5. I have never seen or heard of a Merry Packer until today. I was at yard sale and there it was. It was so different from any thing I had ever seen. I had to buy it and this winter I will get it going. I see that they were made in Edmonds,wa. From what I read it quite a hand full to operate

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    • I would like to see pictures and see if it is similar to the one we used back in 1956. See my comment above. Ron Rife, Davenport, Ia.

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  6. I just acquired a merry packer from a garage sale. I am excited to get it running. I does look like a challenge to operate. I will post a picture of it soon.

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  7. I just got a merry packer from 1950 0r 1960 I just wanted to know is there any infomiaon about it if any web side plz let me know ty

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  8. i want to see a picture soon as possible. No pack mule could have carried that wood stove/oven stove we hauled up to Bear bones Lookout. 1956

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      • “Pete the Packer” came up with three, maybe four mules really loaded. Enough wood shingles for the roof, gallons of paint for inside incl. floor, and white for outside and some red for the big numbers I had to paint on the big shutters for the windows. That was ID numbers for aircraft to see easy. They dropped smoke jumpers in remote areas that I reported on. The mules also had concrete , window pains, stove pipe etc,

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  9. I ran a youth trail crew out of the Columbia Gorge Ranger Station in the summer of 1975. One day we had to use a merry Packer to take boulders up the Eagle Creek trail about 3/8/ of a mile to drop to masons reinforcing the base of the cliff. This is the trail the CCC built by blasting a shelf in the cliff face for the first 1/2 mile (and other places). We put 2 300 lb. boulders in the merry packer and away we went. I was warned by the ranger not to tip or lose the load along the way because masons were below and might be crushed. The packer was long, the front crewmember was 12′ to 15′ in front of me which became a problem when we came to a tight left hand turn, so I pushed down my handles, which lifted the crewmember in front about 3′ off the ground, made the turn and set him back down on the trail. He was a little pissed. While he was off the ground he had gone out over the cliff with a wonderful view of the creek, the masons etc. all 200+ ft below. When we got back to the trailhead for the next load he told everyone what I had done to him, and they all insisted on having a turn. We made at least 12 runs that day and everybody except me got to experience a unique view of the Eagle Creek trail.

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  10. I have a merry packer that I purchased in Sedro Wolley, WA in 1999. It was complete, , I have thembut in bad shape. This year I have begun resurrecting it. It is quite a project. The tire was rotten and finding a new tire thus far has been impossible. The chains in the reduction were rusted I have removed them and freed them up. The motor is a Kohler, but there is no carb. It is free, but I need parts to complete it! I may use a HF Predator motor if I cannot get the needed Kohler parts. I even have a 3/4” plywood box that fits the machine. I live in Chehalis, WA. I would love to be able to see a rebuilt model to be able to facilitate my projects completeness!

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  11. I was on the 3 man trail crew on the Union Creek District of the Rouge River NF in 1966 just out of High School. Waldo Jonson the trail boss designated me to operate the Merry Packer. This was the most miserable piece of equipment I have ever had the pillage to be around. For the first week or so it ran me. After that it got to where it wasn’t to bad.

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