Stories: The Right Place to Go by Les Joslin

As I said in the post yesterday about the Women’s Forest Congress, I’m interested in posting stories.. so here is one from Les Joslin.

The Right Place to Go
By Les Joslin

One morning in June 1962 District Ranger Bob Hoag assembled his crew in the Bridgeport Ranger Station yard to line us out for the coming week’s work.

In addition to a range conservationist and a forestry technician who doubled as fire control officer—the latter still detailed to a Wyoming bug job, we were a fire prevention guard, a three-man fire crew, a three-man trail crew, and a veteran forestry aide and his recreation crew of one. That was it for an almost half-million acre Toiyabe National Forest district that stretched from the Sierra Nevada crest eastward to the Nevada desert. Ranger Hoag had to mix
and match these resources to cover all the bases. All, if needed, were firefighters.

Mrs. Hoag, he finished, had her hands full with their first baby and could no longer be district clerk. “Can any of you guys type?” he asked.
“I can!” I responded, before realizing what I was doing.
“Good. You are now also the district clerk.” And that was that. In addition to my fire crew duties, I would staff the office from time to time. I would type and file, answer the phone, greet visitors, take and report daily fire weather readings, and maintain radio contact with crews in the field. A bronze Forest Service badge centered on the left pocket flap of my uniform shirt, I would often be the only Forest Service representative visitors would meet.
I particularly enjoyed the public contact aspect of my part-time district clerk work. Most
ranger station visitors genuinely appreciated my assistance. Sometimes that assistance involved
more than information, directions, and permits.

Late in the morning on one of my office days, a worried looking visitor drove in and asked if I could help him with his dog.
“What’s wrong with your dog?” I asked.
“Porcupine quills,” the man responded as he produced a whimpering half-grown beagle with a face full. “Got ‘em at the campground a little while ago.
Fortunately for me, I wasn’t alone at the station that day. Marion Hysell, the fire control officer, had been back from that bug job for a few weeks and was getting ready to shoe Old Blue.
“Let me get some help,” I said, not committing myself further as I walked toward the barn. “I’ll be right back.”
I knew Marion would know what to do, and he did. We must have made quite a picture, sitting there on the front porch of the little office. As the beagle’s master looked on, wringing his hands, Marion skillfully extracted each quill as  I held the squirming puppy.

“Thanks a lot!” the man exclaimed as he climbed into his car with the dog. “I knew I’d come to the right place.”

The right place. That squared with my idea of what a Forest Service ranger station should be—and should always strive to be—the right place to go for help and get it.

Adapted from the 2014 third edition of Toiyabe Patrol, the writer’s memoir of five U.S. Forest Service summers on the Toiyabe National Forest in the 1960s.


3 thoughts on “Stories: The Right Place to Go by Les Joslin”

  1. Thanks, Les, this is a great story.

    I don’t know if I was trained or absorbed this somehow, but I would be afraid of doing something wrong (or perceived to be wrong) and resulting trouble.. litigation or whatever. Of course, I don’t have porcupine quill removal skills, either.

    Perhaps today we’d require a legal document with a hold harmless clause first? And I’m sure helpful employees are still out there, exercising good judgment.

  2. That was before BAR attorneys were allowed to run wild filing lawsuits against helpers who got blamed if the outcome was negative…not to leave out insurance companies ordering the client not to help/cross job descriptions or be uninsured…”the good ole days”. 1979 i drove a tree thinner working a 200 acre section of USFS down off of Mt. Taylor to the hospital who had fallen in slash and dropped his chainsaw across his leg…he lived and went back to work. Today had he died , the parents or wife would have had their BAR attorney trying to blame me for getting involved…changes occurred during the bush clinton years and we now live in uncharted waters aka any day could be up the creek without a paddle.

  3. But, Les… HOW did Marion take out the quills. I’ve heard using a fingernail clipper to cut off the tips, but then do you push them on through or pull them out backwards?


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