A Dip in Robinson Creek

Part of the Toiyabe National Forest’s popular Honeymoon Flat Campground lies along Robinson Creek.

 It had been a snowy winter and a wet spring. In terms of fire danger, that was good and bad. Fuels were moist, but the wet spring of 1963 had produced a bumper crop of flash fuels—mostly that inadvertent Siberian import, cheatgrass—that would cure by midsummer. Bridgeport District Ranger Bob Hoag expected a busy fire season, and Fire Control Officer Marion Hysell’s small fire organization was as ready as it could be. It was my second summer on the district—my first as fire prevention guard, and I’d been lined out with a full bag of fire prevention duties.

When the telephone sounded the Bridgeport Ranger Station’s three rings about dinner time on July 11, the fire crew figured it was the first human-caused wildfire of my three-week-old fire prevention guard career. The three-man fire crew and I were dispatched not to a fire but to a flood…sort of…at the Honeymoon Flat Campground on Robinson Creek.

The crew and I arrived to find a large Jeffrey pine had fallen into the creek and was diverting water into lower-lying campsites. That tree had to go, and we soon figured the best way to make it go was to put a chain around its trunk and winch it out of the channel. Perhaps anticipating such a need, John had driven his own vehicle, an International Harvester Scout equipped with a winch, to the scene while the rest of us responded in a Forest Service rig.

We had the winch. We had the chain. All we needed was someone stupid enough to brave the swift, icy waters and hook the chain around the tree trunk. For some reason, the guy who a year earlier had told the district ranger he could type—and wound up filling in as district clerk—told the crew he was a pretty good swimmer. Some people never learn!

I took off my boots, wrapped a safety line around my waist, attached another line to the chain, waded in upstream of the target, and let the current sweep me about a dozen yards to the offending tree. Once there, I pulled the chain to me, secured it around the trunk, and signaled the crew to pull me back. That they did and, while I shivered in a blanket next to a blazing campfire demonstrating the difficulty of drinking generous campers’ hot coffee while my teeth chattered, John revved up his winch and, along with crew muscle, finished the job.

Those campers thought the Forest Service was okay!

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.

4 thoughts on “A Dip in Robinson Creek”

  1. Great story, Les — thanks. Reminds me of a time when my timber marking crew came across a family in a car stuck in mud along a remote road, late in the day. We did what we thought was a good deed and used a tow chain and our 4×4 six-pack Dodge truck to pull them out. They were so grateful and went on their way. Our district ranger wasn’t happy. When he learned about what we’d done, he chewed us out, saying we ought to have left them there and called for a tow truck once we were back in radio range. Maybe that was the by-the-book way, but it wasn’t the right way. If the same thing happened today, I’d pull them out.

    • Steve, I can understand head shed concerns about potential liabilities consequent to “getting involved” but think capable agency personnel should be trusted to use good judgement to ensure it pursues–and, importantly, is perceived as and appreciated for pursuing–the welfare of the public it exists to serve.

  2. I always thought that The Responsible People such as Rangers had to follow those rules and tell employees what they were for liability reasons.. and to have your back in case you thought for whatever reason you couldn’t help.
    I was on a biz trip to Oslo and my R&D colleague rented a car and let a foreign national drive it..so I thought that wouldn’t be allowed but I didn’t mention it as she was the foreign travel expert and did research in the Soviet Union involving renting helicopters as I recall (my recall is a bit smudgy over the years). We also got into a minor accident while he was driving and somehow she dealt with it and no one got in trouble. Those were the days.. 🙂


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