Chapter 16

Preparing to Return Home

Toward the end of the season, sometime in September, I was relieved and told to report to the smokechasers cabin at the foot of Bussel Peak. Although I had been detached to the Forest Service, I was still under the jurisdiction of the CCCs and had several days to report to Emida and catch a troop train heading east.

I started out the next morning down the trail until I came to a creek. I knew that the creek flowed past the cabin, and as the bottom was very shallow and flat, I figured I could save myself several miles of walking on the trail if I followed the creek down, which I did. The walking was not too difficult, although there were many large boulders in the bed and the creek had cut itself a steep gorge for most of its length. The walls of the gorge were thirty feet high or thereabouts, which was about the width of the creek. After I had walked for an hour or so, I stepped around a large boulder, and there, fifteen feet away, was a large black bear. 

Although it was only three or four feet high, at the time it looked more like ten. We saw each other at about the same time and, with lightning clarity, it occurred to me that perhaps the bear was unaware of the laws governing such fine legal points as assault and battery, or even mayhem.  Therefore I courteously decided to leave the vicinity at a very rapid rate. To my unutterable joy I found that I could move faster than a speeding freight train, and could leap tall boulders at a single bound, much as a later comic book hero. While sailing gracefully over a boulder, I looked back and found that the bear was as courteous at I was, since he was frantically scrambling up the walls of the gorge. The thought occurred to me that I could now slow down, but I ignored it.  I reasoned that since I was going at such a rapid speed, slowing down could take some time, but it was not until I was out of breath that I made any attempt to do so. 

After a time I came to the smokechasers cabin on the bank of this creek and walked around toward the front where I saw a large mule deer buck and several does blocking the door. A mule deer is half again larger than a whitetail, but knowing full well that deer are timid creatures, I walked confidently towards them, convinced that they would soon break and run. But the buck merely lifted hit head and stared at me. The closer I got, the larger, sharper, and more formidable his horns began to look. It soon became apparent to me that although I knew a great deal about deer, these stupid deer knew absolutely nothing about them. I was finally forced to go around back and rap on the window. The smokechaser came out and escorted me to the door. He told me that the deer were quite tame and that he had been feeding them all summer. But I refused to trust deer that refused to act like deer. Besides, I had had quite enough of animals for one day. 

 A Day in the Saddle

I spent the night there and the next day an assistant ranger drove up in a pick-up truck. A packer who had cleaned out a lookout for the winter arrived with eight fully-loaded mules and two saddlehorses. The ranger asked me if I wanted to go back with him in the truck to the ranger station, or come down with the packer. I had never rode a horse before, and besides I had my guitar with me. I could picture myself like the singing cowboys in the movies, riding along singing while all the girls along the way swooned over my manly appearance. Alas, I was in for a rude awakening.  For one thing, the packer refused to allow me to carry my guitar since it might spook the horse. He tied it on one of the mules. Secondly, the saddlehorse I was to ride had nothing but a hackmore with a short piece of rope tied to it. When I complained bitterly that his horse had reins while mine did not, he said it wasn't necessary since they all knew the way home.

Each mule had a hackmore and rope. When the packer wanted all the animals to get some place at the same time, he tied them all together in a line. In this case, since they all knew the way home, he unclipped the ropes and allowed them to set their own pace.  So, in a couple of hours, we were strung out for miles. At first I found my ride delightful, but after several hours I found myself getting terrible cramps on the inside of my legs. So I got off the horse and led him while I walked. I mounted again, but soon was forced to walk again. And so it went, the rides and walking becoming shorter and shorter. By this time, even the mules had passed me. I hadn't seen the packer since shortly after we had started.  Toward late afternoon I was in agony, and could not decide which was the more painful, walking or riding. I finally came to the ranger stable two hours after the packer had come in. I believe I must have walked more than half the way.

The assistant ranger and a couple more men must have been in on the joke, since they knew I was a tenderfoot who had never ridden a horse before. I got a great deal of razzing when I reported to the station since I had to eat standing up for a few days, and even lying down was sheer agony. 

In a few days I was on my way back to the camp at Emida. Since more than half the camp had come to the end of their enlistment or were being transferred, some of the boys had made up a small camp paper on a mimeograph in which was named the most outstanding attributes of the various men who were leaving. Since I was in the habit of telling some rather tall stories while working with most of those boys, I had the somewhat dubious honor of being listed at the biggest liar in camp.

 The Trip Back East

We were soon on a train for the dreary ride back east. I say dreary, since the great plains were ahead of us and we were often sidetracked for the fast freights and hotshot passenger trains, and also to pick up more cars on the way with more boys going east. By the time we hit Chicago we must have had at least twenty cars in our train. We were sidetracked in Chicago when we experienced the only amusing incident of the whole trip.

You must remember that our CCC uniforms were surplus from World War I.  Anyway, an overdressed dowager drove up in a Cadillac with a uniformed chauffeur and, thinking us an Army troop train, brought a bushel of oranges which her chauffeur passed out to us while the lady kept saying "Give those Germans the devil, boys. We solemnly promised that we would.

We eventually arrived at Penn Station in New York, and instead of taking the subway shuttle to Grand Central, an Army sergeant met us and said he had a line of Army trucks to take us there. For baggage I had a barracks bag and two trunks. Since I could carry no more than the barracks bag and one trunk, and the sergeant refused to allow me to make two trips, I was forced to abandon one of the trunks. I stuffed articles of clothing from the trunk I planned to discard into my bag and left the trunk on the platform. The trunk was mostly filled with fossils I had picked up in Idaho. I have often wondered what the person who found the trunk must have thought. I can imagine that he must have decided that anyone who would collect a trunk full of rocks must have also had rocks in his head. 

 The Rutland Run

From the Grand Central we took a train which was even slower than the troop train, until we hit Vermont. There we changed to another train belonging to the Rutland Railroad, which brought us to Malone, New York. From there we took trucks to another CCC camp at Brasher. Perhaps I have oversimplified our trip east.

We started with a long troop train from the west, but cars were dropped off from time to time. From Vermont we took a regular passenger train, since there were not that many of us.  Bear in mind that at this time the New York Central owned most of the stock of the Rutland Railroad, and the Central deliberately pauperized the Rutland to avoid competition from it. Thus, the locomotives and rolling stock of the Rutland were quite antiquated. We came across Lake Champlain on a wooden trestle which was shaky enough to scare us at times, and the train was abysmaly slow. One wag among us changed the name of the railroad to the "Rest, Relax and Repent." After a few hours of this snailís pace, many of us were tempted to get out and walk, but decided against it, since we were not expected until the train got there. 

My stay at Brasher was not very exciting. It had nothing to compare with the West. One unusual feature was some enormous sand dunes on which we planted trees to attempt to hold them in place. These dunes had been advancing across the country for years and one could see denuded land and demolished farms in their wake. They moved slowly but inexorable and, oddly enough, left little sand behind them on their journey. I also met a boy from Malone named Frank Hodges. He identified himself during a conversation as a relative of mine, since his mother was a Recore from Malone. I wish I had pursued this further but at the time I felt that since my mother came from a large family, I simply had too many relatives to keep track of. I must admit that subsequent information proved me right.