A Stearman Biplane executing a water drop. c. 1964

Final Update: 04/11/2018 @ 1600
Departmental Reorganization
In early 1947, the Conservation Department's Division of Lands and Forests went through a major reorganization. Previously, each bureau was for all purposes autonomous, answering only to the bureau superintendent in Albany. Similarly, each bureau was organized and headquartered differently across the State.

With the passage of the Forest Practice Act and greater emphasis on forestry, the Division was reorganized into fifteen Forest Districts. Each was overseen by the newly created position of district forester who was responsible for the administration of all the various bureau activities within the district. In several cases, district rangers were promoted to these new positions as both titles required a degree in forestry. District Ranger William Petty was appointed to the position of District Forester, District 9 at Saranac Lake, Maynard Fisk, District 10 at Northville, Frank Jadwin, District 13 at Middletown, Earl Brockway, District 14 at Poughkeepsie and Stan Farmer, District 11 at Lake George.

The forest ranger's fire prevention, detection and control responsibilities did not include the entire state but only those portions shaded on the above map. Rangers were, however, dispatched to locations outside their area for fire responsibilities to address issues relating to State-owned lands.

For the first time, all of the Bureaus; Forest Fire Control, Forest Pest Control, Camps and Trails, Nurseries, Forest Investigations, Forestry and the Forest Surveyors were headquartered at one location; at the newly established District Offices.

New Division and Forest Ranger Insignia

In 1947, the earlier "tree patch" was replaced with a new insignia issued to all forest rangers as well as others members of the bureau. The original ranger patch included green lettering which was soon changed to red. Badges worn remained the same as those issued in 1927 until several years after the creation of the Department of Environmental Conservation in 1970.

The Division of Lands and Forests and the newly created District Forester position also had separate and distinctive shoulder insignia.

Additional Duties for Forest Rangers

According to a 1947 article in "The Conservationist", by this point in time, the ranger force numbered about 100. Their main duty was protecting some 17 million acres from the ravages of fire. At the same time, they were required to protect the State's vast land holdings from timber theft and misuse by the public. This was no small task when you consider that in the Adirondacks and Catskills alone, the State owned in excess of two and one half million areas and elsewhere in the State, hundreds of thousands of acres of reforestation lands.

When there was no danger of fire, rangers often worked in the woods building and maintaining hundreds of mile of foot trails, bridges and leantos. They also aided in the maintenance and operation of the State's 30 public campsites located in the Forest Preserve.

During the summer and fall seasons, searches and rescues for and of lost people became an ever increasing part of their job.

At the same time, the ranger position was still more a "way of life" than " just a job." There was still no work schedule or scheduled work week. Their employment rules dictated a six day week with no specified work hours. Rangers were expected to be available to meet the needs of the job. In dry times, when there was a serious threat of fire, they were required to be available 24 hours a day with no thought of time off. With the lack of adequate communications other than the telephone, they became like the fireman at the fire station, never out of ear-shot of the phone, waiting for the call.

This concept would remain unchanged until the late 1950's.

Rangers Transport Materials for Interior Headquarters Construction

Rangers found themselves involved with some major improvements in the remote areas of the Forest Preserve. Here they are using the Department's Grumman "Goose" to transport materials to Cedar Lakes in the West Canada Lakes region for the construction of an interior headquarters.

There were several such headquarters erected and staffed to provide guidance and assistance to the recreational users of the State's Forest Preserve.

Pictured here is the Cedar Lakes Interior Headquarters as it appeared in 1958.

Statewide Training at Bear Mt. State Park

For many years, forest ranger training was conducted at the Bear Mt. Inn on Bear Mt. State Park. This would be the beginning of annual training sessions to keep the rangers up-to-date with current fire fighting methods and techniques.

There have been many interesting and humorous stories told of these first statewide gatherings but none of them will be told here. Suffice to say, you can dress them up and place them in a formal setting but they were still a "rough and tumble" bunch of woodsmen.
Advances in Fire Weather Monitoring and Forecasting

Fire weather stations, similar to this one at Flanders Hill, Long Island provided valuable information to the Bureau of Forest Fire Control. Readings were taken three times each day and included wind velocity, precipitation, relative humidity and the moisture content of forest fuels, both fine fuels, (grasses and small brush) and heavy fuels (larger diameter materials). These were all important factors that influenced fire behavior.

From this raw data, it was possible to predict the level of the fire danger and the possible rate of spread on a day to day basis. These values were referred to as the Build-up and Spread Indexes. As days passed without any form of precipitation, the Build-up Index would increase indicating an increasing danger of fire. The Spread Index would vary from day to day depending on the velocity of the wind.

These two indexes would then be used to determine the "Class Day" of which there were five levels (Low, Moderate, High, Very High and Extreme). These would be the basic fire danger warnings posted on signs at Department offices, ranger stations and often at local fire departments.

A modern form of this Forest Fire Danger Rating System is still in use today.

The New Radio Communications System Improved and Expanded

1950's Morrow Portable Radio

Two-way radio technology made great advances in the 1940's mostly due to the war effort. New radio equipment was purchased, like this portable from the Morrow Corporation. These were still operating on AM frequencies requiring 4' collapsible antennas. For transmitting over greater distances, there was a additional 13' wire antenna which required a weight be attached to its end and then tossing it over a tree branch for best operation.

1950's Morrow Tower Radio

The tower radios purchased in the early 1940's, and shown in the latter portion of Part 3, were replaced with this model which was smaller, lighter in weight and far more effective.

1950's Morrow Truck Radio

By 1951, sixty-six vehicles were radio equipped. In addition, radios were secured for six district offices, fifty-two fire towers and two aircraft. Forty-two rangers were issued the portable radios shown above.

These radios would be in service until 1964 when the Department purchased 394 FM radio units from the Motorola Corporation.

The Post-war Reconstruction Proved Numerous Improvements and Additions to the Bureau of Forest Fire Control

Prospect Mt. Fire Tower - A Bob Eckler Photo

Post-war reconstruction monies became available as early as 1947 to aid in the updating of the State's failing infrastructure. These monies helped rebuild many of the fire control facilities that fell into disrepair during World War II.

During the period from 1947 to 1951 five fire towers were moved to new locations and thirteen new towers were erected to fill gaps in the Bureau's detection system. Eighty-three fire towers received some level of improvement or repair. Most seriously affected were the telephone lines to many of the towers. Two hundred and twenty three miles of lines were rebuilt and an additional fifteen miles of new line constructed.

Prospect Mt. Cabin - A Bob Eckler Photo

Sixty-six of the observer's cabins were repaired and an additional seventeen new cabins were constructed. Beyond the tower sites and phone lines, one hundred miles of fire truck trails were upgraded and twenty-three miles of new roads constructed.

While the post-war monies did a great deal to bring the fire control facilities back to their original condition, the funds did nothing to replace worn and outdated fire fighting equipment. A crisis would soon follow that would cause the State to spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade or replace old and outdated equipment.

The Blowdown of 1950

That crisis occurred on November 25, 1950 when an extremely violent storm wreaked havoc across many areas of New York State. According to the History Channel "the so-called 'storm of the century' hit the eastern part of the United States, killing hundreds and causing millions of dollars in damages, on that day in 1950. Also known as the 'Appalachian Storm,' it dumped record amounts of snow in parts of the Appalachian Mountains. Forming over North Carolina just before Thanksgiving, the storm quickly moved north, striking western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia. These areas were blanketed with several feet of snow for several days and travel was impossible for nearly a week in some places.

An accompanying windstorm covered a far greater area. New York City recorded a 94 mile-per-hour wind gust. At Bear Mountain, just north of the city, a 140 mph gust was recorded. The winds throughout New England were of hurricane-like force. In addition, high tides and wind-driven surf battered the coastline. On the south edge of the storm, record low temperatures were recorded in Tennessee and North Carolina even without the wind chill. In Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, a temperature of 26 degrees below zero was recorded.

The storm was unique, however, because it featured not only extremely strong winds and heavy snow, but both record high and low temperatures. In Pittsburgh, 30 inches of snow fell in a blinding snowstorm. Further north, Buffalo saw no snow, but experienced 50 mile-per-hour winds and 50-degree temperatures. Paul Kocin, a Weather Channel expert, has said that this storm "had the greatest contrast of weather elements in probably any storm, including the 1993 March Superstorm."

The storm had a particularly devastating effect on major areas of the Adirondacks. Barbara McMartin wrote in 1994 "known as the big blowdown, it struck in November of 1950, and did the most damage in the western and central Adirondacks. This powerful northeaster affected 420,000 acres and was said to have caused a loss that ranged from a quarter of the trees to the entire forest cover. The loss was estimated at two million cords of softwood and forty million board feet of hardwood."

The Cold River country between Seward and Santanoni experienced the greatest destruction, followed closely by the Moose River Plains, but private tracts such as 60,000-acre Whitney Park, parts of the Adirondack League Club, or Finch Pruyn's 183,000-acre holdings were also severely damaged.

The storm was particularly devastating to old-growth forests. The wind came from the east and northeast, while the mature trees had grown wind-firm in the direction of more normal west winds. Because spruce had shallow roots, making them prone to wind damage and because they towered above the canopy of hardwoods, this most prized species was stripped from most virgin stands..."

With many people who could still remember the great fires of 1903 and 1908 there was genuine concern that history might repeat itself. The State was quick to act and provide tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for what many thought a pending disaster. In addition to the equipment pictured below, seventeen seasonal forest rangers were hired to supplement the existing force.

Preparations For Extreme Fire Conditions

Twenty-seven slip-on units, constructed by the inmates at Wallkill Prison, were supplied to forest rangers for fire fighting efforts. A slip-on unit consisted of a steel tank with a capacity of 100 to 300 gallons of water, a gasoline-powered pump and small diameter hose line often referred to as a booster line. They were referred to as "slip-ons" because they could be loaded and secured in the bed of a ranger's truck for the duration of the fire seasons, which normally occurred in the spring and fall, and then removed during other times of the year.

1952 Chevy Ranger Truck outfitted for fire fighting

Seventeen one-ton trucks were purchased and each equipped with a 150 gallon slip-on unit, a additional portable pump, several hundred feet of hose, Indian Pumps, and hand tools for twenty to thirty fire fighters.

Summit of Blue Mt - Forest Ranger Elmer Morrissey in a US Government Surplus Power Wagon

Seven Dodge Power Wagons also supplemented the ranger's motor vehicle fleet and each was equipped with a 300 gallon slip-on unit like this truck driven by Forest Ranger Elmer Morrissey atop Blue Mountain.

District Ranger Vic Schrader and Hunter Mt. Observer at the garage on the summit of Hunter - Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

Seven jeeps were also added to the motor vehicle fleet for work in areas where the use of larger trucks was impractical.

1953 Chevy with Forest Ranger Coral Couchman to the left and District Ranger Vic Schrader in the vehicle - Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

The district rangers were each provided cars for official business purposes. Pictured are Forest Ranger Coral Couchman and District Ranger Vic Schrader of Catskill.

Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

Thirty four portable pumps like this Pacific Y Pump and 50,000 feet of hose were purchased.
Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

One thousand Indian Pumps were purchased from the D. B. Smith Company of Utica NY along with .............

Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

hundreds of fire brooms, fire rakes, shovels and other hand tools, all for a disaster that never materialized.

Department of Civil Service Announcements

In 1951 the district ranger position had changed little in recent years. The job was a Civil Service position filled from a list created as the result of a competitive examination. The work week remained at six days and district rangers were subject to call at any time.

To be eligible to sit for the examination a candidate must have graduated "from college with a degree in forestry and three years experience in general forestry work, including forest fire control, or graduation from a one year course at a recognized forest ranger school and six years of ... experience."

The forest ranger position, as well, had changed little in recent years. It too was a Civil Service position but, unlike the district ranger position, was classified as non-competitive meaning that no written examination was required.

Forest rangers were required to work a six day week and were on call 24 hours a day.

In order to be considered for appointment a candidate must be a high school graduate or equivalent and have at least "three years experience in lumbering, forestry, woods experience or other satisfactory experience which would provide a good knowledge of forest work, including forest fire control and suppression."

To take advantage of a candidates personal knowledge of a particular area, personnel were recruited for the area where a vacancy existed.

Modernization of the Forest Ranger Uniform

Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

The ranger uniform, established in 1927 and later modified in 1932, included the riding breeches, leather puttees, green tie, Stetson hat and new ranger insignia, as shown here being worn by Forest Ranger Daniel Showers of Tannersville. This configuration was worn by many uniformed organizations of the time and is still currently worn by some police agencies around the country and in Canada.

In the early 1950's, the puttees and breeches were replaced with a more conventional style of trouser, but the green tie, Stetson-style hat, and ranger shoulder insignia shown here, worn by District Ranger George Stewart, are still worn by the rangers today.
The Cold River Fire

On July 17, 1953 the rangers worst nightmare came true. A fire in one of the most heavily blown down and remote areas of Adirondack forest - the Cold River region.

What ensued was termed a "campaign fire." District Forester Bill Petty acted as Fire Boss from his headquarters at Saranac. District Ranger George Youngs served as the Line Boss, coordinating efforts on the ground. The fire was divided into six sectors with a district ranger or forest ranger in charge of each.

The use of pack horses to bring equipment and food to the fire from Shattuck Clearing proved inadequate so a bulldozer was brought in to widen the trail for jeep and truck travel.

The greatest amount of effort went into construction over two miles of fire line through areas of 50 to 100% blowdown.

Twelve portable pumping units came into play in combating the fire. It was most fortunate that the fire occurred in the immediate proximity of the Cold River.

The fire was declared "under control" two days later but wouldn't be declared totally "out" for weeks or even months. It was patrolled regularly for the remainder of the month of July and at times appeared to be dead. But then, after a few days of warm, dry weather, there would be signs of smoke visible in areas of softwood duff inside the fire line. It wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude that the fire wasn't completely out until the cold weather came in the fall.
The Forest Ranger Position Gains Open Competitive Status

Although forest ranger positions were previously made from civil service lists, no written examinations were required. That changed in 1958, when, for the first time, candidates were required to take a written examination.

The subject of the exam included the principles and practices of forest fire control; maintenance and operation of forest fire fighting equipment; the construction and maintenance of fire control facilities; the principles of supervision; general forestry practices; forest surveying and record keeping.

Air Support Increases
Photo courtesy of the family of Forest Ranger Daniel Showers

For many years the forest rangers have experienced excellent success using aircraft for spotting fires, dropping fire fighting equipment and transporting fire fighters and supplies to remote areas.

In 1958 the Department took delivery on this DeHavilland DHC-3 "Otter." The "Otter" was capable of taking off from either land or water and was the largest of the Department's aircraft. With specially mounted water tanks on its floats, it could drop water on a going fire, then land on a nearby lake or pond, and re-fill the tanks while taxiing for take-off.

This was a great advantage over the Department's two Stearman insecticide spraying bi-planes pictured to the right that had been modified for forest fire fighting. They had to fly to a nearby airport or airstrip in order to re-fill their tanks.

The Otter shown above had its career abbreviated by a crash in the Adirondacks in September of 1959. While on a fish stocking flight, the Otter went down on the side of MacNaughton Mountain after taking off from Lake Clear Airport. There were five people on board of which four survived the accident. One of the crew, Chester Jackson of Saranac Lake, was killed in the crash.

Up to that point the Department was very pleased with the performance of the Otter so a second ship was ordered from DeHavilland and delivered in 1960. This plane had improved fire fighting tanks and an automated electro-mechanical fish stocking system which eliminated the need for cabin crew when performing stocking operations.

The Forest Ranger Force Withdraws From Long Island

On September 1, 1959 the Conservation Department withdrew from active participation in forest fire control in Nassau and Suffolk counties thereby transferring this responsibility to the town supervisors and the local fire companies.

Four of the five rangers employed on Long Island opted to retire rather than transfer to other locations in the State. Forest Ranger Walt Teuber (left) transferred to Hancock in Delaware County; District Ranger Ed Richards moved to Albany where he became the Supervising District Ranger and Forest Fire Observer Bill Snell (right) retired.

The rangers would return to Long Island in 1984.

The five remaining towers at Bayshore, Flanders Hill (pictured here), King's Park, Stony Hill and Telescope Hill were removed the following year.
A Permenant Conservation Exhibit Established at the State Fairgrounds at Syracuse

In 1961 the Department established a large, permanent exhibit at the State Fairgrounds at Syracuse. Pictured at the opening of the exhibit are District Ranger Vic Schrader, Supervising District Ranger Ed Richards, a local media commentator, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, The NYS Fair Queen, Forest Ranger Coral Couchman and Forest Ranger Stan Engel.

Fire Tower exhibit at the State Fairgrounds

Forest Ranger Stan Engel explains New York's fire towers to fair visitors.

Supervising District Ranger Ed Richards

Supv. District Ranger Ed Richards is explaining the various tools used in forest fire fighting.

Forest Rangers Petrie and Mang

Forest Rangers Don Petrie and Frank Mang inspect the fire weather station and fire danger warning system exhibit.

The exhibit included all bureaus in the Division of Lands and Forests. Here you see one of the Bureau of Forest Recreation's Adirondack Leantos.

Here a Department forester put the finishing touches on part of their wood utilization exhibit.

The B-47 Tragady on Wright Peak

It was January of 1962 and the "Cold War" was raging. About a year earlier Nikita Krueschev made his famous speech at the United Nations where he pounded his shoe on the desk. Five months later 18 Russian Ships were repelled from the delivery of missiles by the US Blockade of Cuba. America was never any closer to nuclear war than at the time.

To prepare for every eventuality, the Strategic Air Command Wing at Plattsburgh Air Base practiced low level bombing runs on a site at Watertown NY. On January 16th something went terribly wrong. One aircraft, out of radio contact and seriously off course, would never return to Plattsburgh.           

The aircraft, a B-47E StratoJet crashed on Wright Peak just south of Lake Placid. A search went on for seven days until the debris was spotted. The report stated that parachutes were visible. With this information, Forest Rangers Jim Lord and John Hickey led a small search party to the summit of Wright Peak. Upon arriving at the summit, well after dark, they said they simply couldn't find anything. It was extremely dark, the snow was very deep and the winds exceeding 70 miles per hour, forced them off the mountain.

The following day searchers returned and found remnants of the aircraft but no survivors. The deployment of parachutes was due not because those onboard had jumped to safety but rather due to the impact of the crash. Searchers returned for the following two weeks searching for remains. Those rangers involved in the search and recovery have since declined to describe what they found as simply too horrific to talk about.

All that remains now is the plaque memorializing those brave men, Aircraft Commander,1st Lt. Rodney D. Bloomgren, Co-Pilot, 1st Lt. Melvin Spencer, Navigator, 1st Lt. Albert W. Kandetzki and Observer, Airman 1st Class Kenneth R. Jensen, who lost their lives and bits and pieces of the aircraft can still be found scattered about the mountain top.
Forest Rangers Continue to Maintain Offices in Their Homes

Since the creation of the ranger force, rangers were not required to report to a certain office or other Department facility at the beginning of their day. Instead, rangers were required to maintain an office in their homes for the purpose of issuing camping permits, burning permits, providing general information and answering questions and requests from the public.

In addition, the forest rangers name and number appeared in the local phone directory under "Conservation Department" so the public could reach them at any hour of the day or night.

Further, each ranger was provided a sign to be erected in front of their home to make it more convenient for the public to contact them.

Every convenience was given to the public with little thought as to the impact on the rangers and especially there families. But that was simply the way things were back then.

The only situation that was more difficult for the rangers and their families were those who worked out of a state owned facility like the Blue Mt Lake Ranger Station. Ranger and Mrs. Perryman, for being provided a house in which to live, endured visits from the public at all hours of the day and evening, seven days a week, who would be less than pleased when the ranger wasn't there to answer their questions. Conversely, people living in the area seeing the ranger's truck at his headquarters in the middle of the day would be somewhat taken aback that he was out in the woods -- working. It tended to be a no-win situation for all who resided in State-owned headquarters.

The Protracted Drought of the Early 1960's

Photo courtesy of the NYS Conservationist Magazine
A severe drought gripped the entire State in the early 1960's.

The most severe of these was 1963. While the September Fire Build-up and Spread Indexes were fairly benign, the Drought Index was over 300 due to rainfall deficiencies of between 2 to 10 inches across the State.

The first week of October began one of the worst fire seasons since 1947. On October 13th the Governor issued a Proclamation closing all the forest, woodlands, and open lands of New York, excepting Long Island. This prohibition included both public and private lands. It also prohibited all forms of open burning and suspended the current hunting and fishing seasons. A week later the prohibition was extended to cover Long Island.

By the time the month was over, the forest rangers, supported by 250 other Lands and Forests personnel and numerous other State and local agencies, extinguished 562 fires. In addition to the Department's Division of Aviation's five aircraft, help came from the Department of Public Works (now the DOT), Civil Defense, the Office for Local Government and the various State Parks Regions. Lands and Forest personnel, in addition to regular times, put in 33,000 hours of overtime. While other fall fire seasons have been severe, 1963 was the most deserving of the title "Red October."

With the five year drought all but over by the end of 1965, the forest ranger had responded to 7,280 forest fires that burned over 68,521 acres during the period.

During that period there were individual fires that were unique for one reason or another. The Pottersville Fire in 1965 was notable for its extraordinary flame heights and the total devastation it left behind.

Another fire that deserves mention was the Queensbury Fire that began April 18, 1962. This was a surface fire that developed into a crown fire that burned over 1000 acres, damaged 15 homes, injured numerous residents who were trying to protect their property and jumped Interstate 87 before it was finally brought under control.

                              Courtesy of Glens Falls Fire Department Historian J.P. Jones

The Varied Causes of Forest Fires

There were several major causes of forest or wildfire.
Debris burning has historically been near or on top of the list of causes of forest and wildfires in New York State. Whether it be in a burning barrel or a fire set on the ground, the results were often the same.

Because of a lack of understanding of potential fire danger, especially in the spring months, homeowners were totally unprepared when the worst occurs.

Hunter were especially problematic in years when there occurred an extended fall fire season. Their careless use of lunch fires and smoking materials were responsible for numerous fires in the fall of 1963, previously refereed to as "Red October." There was a "woods closure" signed by the governor prohibiting entry on any lands public or private for the entire Adirondack with the exception of Hamilton County. The county fathers vehemently objected to the closer as it would have a devastating impact on their limited economy. The governor acquiesced and Hamilton County burned.

Railroads have historically been a serious cause of wildfire in New York from the early 1800's to the 1970's. The absence of steam locomotion following the advent of the diesel engine reduced, but did not eliminate railroads as a potential cause of wildfires. Even though diesel engines were equipped with spark arrestors, a somewhat misleading term, for they did not prevent sparks from escaping the stack but rather, broke them up into fine particles that usually cooled before they reached ground. The key word here would be "usually."

The Conservation Law required railroad companies to clear all flammable material from their rights-of-way when it was deemed necessary by the then Conservation Department. In days past massive crews would start in early spring each years to accomplish this task. This task was done begrudgingly, but never the less done, because any fire that occurred on the right-of-way of a railroad was prima facia proof that the railroad started the fire and was therefore responsible for the suppression costs.

Modern technology at the time produced a variety of mechanical devices, one of which was the track or weed burner. Railroads were especially eager to use such device to clear brush and weeds along certain stretches of right-of-way that were prone to wildfire. There were two tests conducted to determine feasibility, one in the Catskill and one on the western Adirondacks. The Adirondack test lasted only one hour when it was quite clear that such a contraption was not suitable in the wooded and remote areas of the region. Railroad employees spent the remainder of the day extinguishing fire that escaped their right-of-way onto both State and private lands.

Statistically, one out of ten wildfires is caused by lightning. Lightning caused fires generally occur during the summer months and can strike anywhere. The notion that lightning will strike the highest point or highest tree is a total fallacy.

It was a rare situation when a lightning caused fire would consume any acreage at all. Most were limited to the tree that was struck and a very small area around its base, seldom burning no more that 1/100th of an acre.

Lightning often strikes a single tree in some remote forested area composed of even age and height trees. These often produce very little smoke, making them extremely difficult to locate. Even when spotted by a tower or an aircraft, it's no easy matter to locate them. In the adjoining picture, lightning struck a tree, splitting the bark open to the ground and then caused a small fire.

Numerous lightning caused fires occur every year in the remote areas of the State, going undetected, they simply burn themselves out.

A New FM Radio System is Procured

Radio Technician Roland Patnode installs a new Motorola FM Radio in a forest ranger truck.

Following two years of serious forest fires, and the poor performance of their then out-dated radio system, in 1965 the Department purchased 394 FM solid-state radio units to outfit every ranger, ranger vehicle, district office and fire tower.

Radio Technician Roland Patnode makes adjustments to one of the new Motorola mobile units. At that time, the Department had only three technicians across the State to install and maintain the new system.

A Motorola FM Tower Radio Unit from Overlook Mt.
With the new system, and all towers being provided with the type of radio pictured here, forest fire observers now effectively took on the role of dispatcher in times of emergency.

A Motorola 'Lunchbox' Portable Radio
Rangers, being issued the mobile unit shown above and the portable radio shown here, were now able to go about their daily duties even during periods of high fire danger, as they were always in contact with one or more of the local fire towers. Previously, before this new system was acquired, rangers were required to stand by at their headquarters in order to receive direction from their supervisors or reports of fires by telephone.

Air Support Bases Established at Glens Falls and Orange Co Airports

Photo courtesy of former Forest Ranger Captain Lou Curth

By 1964, the Department had two Aircraft Operations bases, one at Glens Falls and a second at the Orange County Airport to support it's fire fighting efforts.

Photo courtesy of former Forest Ranger Captain Lou Curth

The crew is loading the recently acquired TBM (a World War 2 vintage torpedo bomber manufactured by General Motors), purchased by the Department from Stoltzfus Air Service in Pennsylvania, in preparation for take-off. The white containers next to the truck on the left are a wetting agent. The red bags in the back of the dump truck contain the a fire retardant known as Phos-Chek. It's also been said that a combination of water and ground asbestos was used but there currently is no confirming documentation available.

About that time, the two aging Stearman and the Otter, while still in use, were being phased out in favor of the TBM and a leased Chase aircraft from Stoltzfus. Much of the aerial fire fighting fell upon a newly acquired TBM, pictured here. The TBM had the capability of dropping 600 gallons of wet-water or retardant at tree-top heights.

Most fire fighting operations used wet-water which was simply water with a detergent additive.

Also used was a fertilizer-based true retardant called Phos-Chek. This was a red powder that was mixed with water to enable application. It was both effective and environmentally safe according to the manufacturer. It was designed to stick to the fuels in advance of the fire thereby rendering them inflammable. Caution had to be exercised when using it, especially when dropped from tree-top heights as it could break off trees up to about 6 inches in diameter as pictured to the right.

The leased aircraft was this 1949 vintage Chase YC-122C Aircraft capable of carrying 1600 gallons of wet-water. The chase flew on fire fighting missions for the State in 1964 and 65.

Photo is courtesy of retired Forest Ranger Captain Ray Wood

At the same time an air-ops center was established at the Warren County Airport, a second was develop at Orange County Airport in the southern Hudson Valley.

Pictured is Airport Operations Forest Ranger John Behrens in front of a leased Ag-Cat spray plane capable of dropping 200 gallons of wet-water or retardant in either a spray pattern or dump mode where the entire load was released in a matter of seconds.

Photo is courtesy of retired Forest Ranger Captain Ray Wood

Ag-Cats were used extensively in the lower Hudson Valley. They were generally leased from local spray companies located in the region.

Photo is courtesy of retired Forest Ranger Captain Ray Wood

Orange County also supported the Department's TBM when working in the region.

Photo is courtesy of retired Forest Ranger Captain Ray Wood

Two pilots awaiting their next missions are reclined against a pallet of Phos-Chek fire retardant.

Air Support Expanded to Include Its First Helicopter

In 1965 helicopter N600, a Bell 204B Cherokee, joined the Department's fleet of aircraft replacing the DeHavilland Otter. Generally referred to just as "600", it soon proved its worth in fire fighting, reconnaissance and search and rescue operations.

Usually piloted by "Ace" Howland, 600 became the work-horse of the Department supporting all Divisions as needs arose. It was powered by a single 1100 horsepower Turbo-Shaft engine. It's been said that due the fact it was powered by a single engine, there was a certain amount of vibration always evident. It could be heard in the pilots voice when he communicated by radio with units on the ground. Many old rangers can still recall Ace's wavering voice as he'd say: "Gore Mt from Helicopter 600 out of Albany en-route to Saranac Lake."

Supervisory Support Increases With the Addition of Four Assistant District Rangers

In 1966 the position of Assistant District Ranger was created and appointments were made in the four largest districts. The following forest rangers were the first to be promoted to these new positions: Ephraim. R. Nason to District 9, Ray Brook; Martin Hanna to District 10, Northville; Charles Severance to District 11, Warrensburg and Robert N. Bailey to District 13, New Paltz.


Firefighting in the Classroom

The "fire simulator" is just what the name implies. It was a system of three slide projectors which projected on a 7' by 7' screen the image of a going fire.

Trainees sat at the command table equipped with a two way radio and telephone to direct the suppression effort. Those operating the simulator could cause the fire to grow in size and change direction all with an animated smoke column. The training taught the trainee to size up the fire, deploy men and equipment and to deal with sudden emergencies such as the fire changing direction or a fire fighter being injured on the line. This was the most realistic form of fire suppression training at that point in time.

Some Visualized the Rangers Future Included Forest Recreation and the Maintenance of Interior Facilities

During the 1960's much went on in the areas of both land acquisition and forest recreation. With vast amounts of monies available from both the State and Federal Government for recreational facilities and 1960 Parks and Recreation Land Acquisition Bond Act the Division of Lands and Forest Programs were growing in leaps and bounds.

Historically, it was always the responsibility of the rangers to maintain the Bureau's fire control facilities. Pictured here is Forest Ranger Holton Seeley affixing safety screening to the Kane Mountain Fire Tower.

For those who ever wondered how to paint the roof of a fire tower the picture is a graphic example. Planking is placed through two adjacent open windows. Then, in this case, Forest Ranger Clyde Black applies weight to the planking while a very trusting Ranger, Vic Sasse steps out on the other end and paints the roof with a long handled roller.

In 1967 the roof on T-Lake Mountain Fire Tower required replacement. To the left is Forest Ranger Gerry Husson who loaded the Department Helicopter N606 with materials while Forest Ranger Frank Waggoner, on the right, off loaded materials and assisted with the installation of the new roof.

A Paul Hartmann Photo

The maintenance of the telephone lines up to fire tower and in to interior headquarters were always the responsibility of the rangers and observers. Forest Fire Observer Howard Graham tests the Cat Mountain line before embarking on the five and one half mile trip to the tower.

Fallen trees, lightening and even critters as large as beavers have been known to put tower phone lines out of service. This work remained the responsibility of the rangers and observers until the last tower closed in 1990.

A Paul Hartmann Photo

With vast amounts of both State and Federal monies, the rangers found themselves deeply involved in the development and maintenance of recreation facilities. In some areas the Bureau of Forest Recreation has sufficient staff to supervise campsite and trail crews. In other areas this responsibility fell on the rangers shoulders. Here a ranger supervised trail crew takes a break while clearing the foot trail to Cage Lake in southern St. Lawrence County.

A Paul Hartmann Photo

Interior structures were also constructed and maintained by the rangers like this foot bridge over the Oswegatchie River.

A Paul Hartmann Photo

It seemed that every forest district had a ranger or two who were quite proficient at leanto construction. Here, Forest Ranger Chuck Johnson is finishing up a newly constructed leanto at Cage Lake. This was the first of several prefabricated leantos built at Conservation Department shops and then flow in by helicopter and erected on the site. The old practice of cutting material on site was discontinued due to public opposition and pressure.

A Paul Hartmann Photo

Another of those prefabricated leantos at Sand Lake in northern Herkimer County gets a coat of linseed oil and burnt umber applied to its cedar shingle roof by Forest Ranger Ray Shurtleff.

In Warrensburg it was in the person of Gib White. In District 7, Canton it was Ranger Chuck Johnson. Each had a knack for doing a fine job in constructing these three sided structures, predominately on Forest Preserve Lands. In this case the leanto was pre-fabricated at the Warrensburg CD Shop and then dismantled and moved to a site on Tongue Mt. where it was reassembled.

Greater Emphasis was Placed On Boundary Line Maintenance

Boundary line maintenance was a major portion of the ranger's job, especially during the winter months. With literally thousands of miles of property boundaries across the state, in many ranger districts it could constitute a full time job.

It was of critical importance that boundaries be identified and well marked to prevent the intentional theft of timber from State-owned lands. In some areas the rangers and Lands and Forests crews worked together, while in others the responsibility fell pretty much entirely to the local ranger.

Forest rangers have had law enforcement among their responsibilities since their inception in 1912. While it was often low-key and sometimes reactive, it was none the less an important part of their job. But the force was beginning a transition from a reactive to pro-active organization. This was partly due to the Federal Highway Beautification Act of 1968, a pet project of Ladybird Johnson. The law called for the regulation of roadside advertising signage, establishing size limits, off-set distances and calling for their elimination all together along certain scenic highway corridors. It was the ranger's who aided the District Foresters in insuring that the Adirondack and Catskill Sign Law was in compliance with the Federal regulation.

In the mid 1960's the Conservation Department established hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails to provide opportunities for people engaged in this new found recreational pursuit. Along with those who were content to ride the established trails, there was an element that had little respect for the resource and left all forms of litter, defaced signs and structures and venturing off the marked pathways, all in violation of Conservation Rules and Regulations.

To enable the rangers to effective patrol State lands for violations, the Department, limited by "Buy-American" guidelines at the time, purchased more than 20 of the current model of the Polaris Colt. While not the worst possible choice of a sled for woods patrols it was still far from the best. Many rangers opted to use their own personal snowmobiles rather that venture too far on a 350 pound plus sled that was prone to overheating when run at slow speeds.

The Adirondack Sign law work and snowmobile patrols were two examples of the ranger force's early pro-active law enforcement work.
Search and Rescue Becoming a Major Responsibility

With the growing number of people using the outdoors, search and rescue was becoming more and more a part of the ranger's responsibilities. In October 1966 a young man by the name of Peter Gade failed to return from archery hunting in the woods near Sagamore Lodge not far from the hamlet of Raquette Lake.

After an exhausting six day search in often poor weather conditions, Gade was located by a group lead by Forest Ranger Gerry Husson and Conservation Officer Frank Lamphear. Gade was communicative but unable to move on his own. A Conservation Department helicopter extricated him from the wooded area to the Old Forge Airport where he was further flown to Syracuse for medical attention.

This was one of the first truly large searches in which the ranger's were involved. The effort included such agencies as the State Police, the Civil Air Patrol, the CD's Aviation Unit, the Raquette Lake Fire Department and numerous volunteers. When the search was completed 784 man-days of effort were expended.

Forest Rangers Take A Step Towards Proactive Law Enforcement

In 1968, the first formalized training in law enforcement was given the force at Hidden Valley in Lake Luzerne. Forest rangers have been charged with enforcing the fire laws and regulations relating to State own lands as far back as 1912, but most of these activities were, as previously mentioned, of a reactive nature.

With increasing problems with open burning and the public's growing use and abuse of State own lands, the forest ranger force was rapidly evolving into a pro active law enforcement organization.

Fire Towers to Be Replaced With Aerial Detection Reconnisence

1970 brought an overhaul of the fire detection system. Previously, it relied on as many as one hundred and two fire towers across the State with the greatest number of these in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. More than twenty aerial detection flights would replace nearly seventy fire observation stations.

Some of these towers were within the bounds of newly designated "wilderness areas" in the Adirondacks and were deemed non-conforming structures that would be removed during the early 1970's. Others were sold to the owners of the land on which they stood while some were sold to any interested bidders.

About forty of the closed towers were classified as "stand by" and would receive a minimal amount of maintenance so they could be re-opened in the event of serious fire danger. Thirty-five remained operational for another twenty years with the last being fazed out in 1990.

Pictured here is District Forest Ranger James Lord discussing to aerial detection route with a new contractor.

Forest Ranger Ray Murray Loses His Life On an Early Fire Detection Flight
A Murray Family Photo
Aerial detection got off to a rough start with a fatal accident on the first detection flight of the 1970 fall fire season in western New York. Just after take-off, the plane piloted by Jack Marvin crashed in the village of Hammondsport seriously injuring himself and District Ranger Bob Roche. The only immediate fatality was Forest Ranger Raymond Murray
of Addison, New York. Several days later, pilot Marvin succumbed to his injuries.

Pictured to the right is the memorial in Ranger Ray Murray's honor at the Steuben Co. Civil Defense Training Center in Bath, NY.