Saved By My Forest Service Uniform- Guest Post by Les Joslin

Les Joslin as a fire guard in the 1960’s.

My 1960s Toiyabe National Forest fire prevention guard job wasn’t without its risks.

Late one afternoon, after a busy day in the Twin Lakes area, my patrol route continued around Sawmill Ridge, twice crossing Buckeye Creek as it wound through open stands of Jeffrey pine carpeted with sagebrush. The reddish bark of the pines blazed against a backdrop of fused greens and blues in the late afternoon sun. Dark shadows had already captured Flatiron Ridge and soon would advance across Buckeye Canyon. The wind was whipping up, carrying the pungency of the dry forest.

“All stations, this is KMB-400 with the weather.” The voice of Waldo VanArsdale, the Toiyabe’s veteran dispatcher, suddenly boomed over the radio to remind me how late in the afternoon it was. The fire weather forecast, always at four o’clock, was the same it had been for weeks: hot, dry, and windy. Additional fire precautions—even closing the forest—were being considered.

At the head of the Buckeye road, I noticed a campfire flickering next to an apparently unoccupied vehicle—a pickup with a large camper body. Occasional sparks blew from the fire into nearby duff and brush.

Clambering out of the patrol truck cab, I took a quick look around and concluded that, unless someone were inside the camper, extinguishing the campfire would be my job. I knocked on the camper door and waited. There was no response. Only as I turned to begin putting out the fire did I hear a reply.

“Just a minute, please,” a woman’s voice trembled. There was a rustling inside the camper. I turned back.

The camper door swung open and I found myself staring down the barrel of a small .22-caliber pistol grasped in a trembling hand. The woman, clad in a bathrobe, looked me over furtively and then, obviously relieved, gasped, “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t notice your uniform! My husband has gone fishing and I’m here all alone.”

I continued to stare, transfixed by the weapon in her hand. Then, after a few moments—which dragged on like eons—and another “I’m sorry,” she smiled, glanced down, uncocked and lowered the pistol.

I blinked, swallowed hard, and managed a few words. I don’t recall exactly what I said to the woman, but I do recall that my words were very reassuringly polite and reflected my profound concern for her safety. The pistol was not mentioned—as if I were accustomed to being greeted at gunpoint and hadn’t even noticed. But I wasn’t. And I had.

The dryness in my mouth and the pins-and-needles sensation I felt as I drove off betrayed my realization of just how close I had come.


Adapted from the 2018 third edition of Toiyabe Patrol, the writer’s memoir of five U.S. Forest Service summers on the Toiyabe National Forest in the 1960s.

1 thought on “Saved By My Forest Service Uniform- Guest Post by Les Joslin”

  1. My “held at gunpoint” story occurred on Bly Ranger District of the then Fremont NF in the 80s. We were doing some tree improvement work, looking for trees to select to collect cones from, and the maps were not so great at distinguishing private from FS land. Apparently we picked the wrong road to go down and were not greeted with great hospitality, to say the least. At the time, the rumor was that some Bly residents had illegal activities going on such that they were more sensitive to intrusions. At that point.. err.. gunpoint.., I sincerely wished we had a green truck instead of a white rental!
    Later when I worked on the Eldorado, I was told that there were areas that you needed to be highly careful in or not visit at all due to what we might call extremely sensitive rural inhabitants. Perhaps this has changed due to legalization of marijuana?


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