Los Tulares is a quarterly publication of the Tulare County Historical Society that appears in March, June, September and December. Members of the society look forward to receiving their issue in the mail every quarter. It serves two basic purposes. First of all, it keeps members informed about news and activities of the society, but more importantly it documents the history of Tulare County. Through stories and articles from contributing authors, Los Tulares has become a trusted source for our county’s history. Published continuously since 1948, Los Tulares is an amazing source for researchers throughout the world. The editors work hard at keeping it the pride of the society. The issues are fully indexed, and back issues may be ordered through our online gift shop.
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Please enjoy the following story from the March 2021 publication of Los Tulares:
She’ll Never Stay
By Leatrice “Lea” Evinger Dotters
The year was 1944. World War II was in full force. The invasion of Europe was underway. America’s young men were battling, flying and dying. There was a definite shortage of manpower in the States in the workforce, and women were taking on and filling a great many non-traditional jobs. The U. S. Forest Service was one of the last bastions of male-only employees, but they too were shorthanded and that had to be why an 18-year old, 115 pounds-when-soaking-wet female was asked to “man” Buck Rock Lookout.
My application noted “woods experience, work as an observer for the U.S.A.F Aircraft Warning Service, and secretary to the agriculture instructor at my high school.” So perhaps that caught someone’s attention. I am sure when they saw me reporting for work they questioned the wisdom of the choice. It was related later they said, “She’ll never stay.”
When I was installed as the lookout in early June, the fire control officer, Frank Watson, warned me that he often set off smoke bombs to test the alertness of his lookouts. In the five months I was there he did not do so. What a way to psych an employee in that position!
My first day on the lookout, before I’d had any instruction on the fire finder, I spotted a smoke to the east. There were still patches of snow around the lookout so I didn’t think there was much danger, but I cranked a short and a long ring on the magneto telephone and reached the ranger station at Pinehurst, reporting the smoke. My conversation was interrupted by a voice on the line, “This is Ernie Cecil at Horse Corral. I’m sorry Frank, I forgot to notify you. I’m burning needles.” Score one for the lookout!
The late summer was filled with thunderstorms arising from the tropical storms that developed to the south and worked their way north to explode with a vengeance over the Sequoia National Forest. We could count on a storm every weekend, and the following week meant watching for flare-ups of fires from lightning strikes. The largest fire of the summer was actually on the Sierra National Forest, across the Kings River on Tombstone Ridge. The fire crews had to pack by horse and mule into the fire from Crown Valley and it took two days to reach the fire. It probably burned 200 acres. The pack trains traveled down the ridge overnight. From the lookout I could see their Coleman lanterns moving down the ridge.
Forest Service employees in those days were credited with two and a half days leave per month. Lookouts were expected to staff the lookout 24 hours per day and since there was not manpower for relief, one stayed put and accumulated leave pay. I did not leave the lookout until October 31st that year. It had been a long fire season and on that date the first real winter storm rolled in. So much for not sticking it out!
Note: Lea was the first female fire lookout to staff Buck Rock. She served as the first Secretary of the Buck Rock Foundation and was on the board of directors for 14 years. Lea is a member of the TCHS and resides in Visalia and Pinehurst.