MAJOR FENN'S COUNTRY
A history of the lower Lochsa, the lower Selway, the upper Middlefork of the Clearwater, and surrounding lands. (excerpts)
by Neal Parsell
The CCC was one of the first of many new government agencies set up in 1933 to help deal with the economic depression that began in 1929. The objective was to furnish employment for young men from 17 to 25. The U.S. Army built camps and supervised the enrollees in everything except work projects, which were run by federal conservation agencies. Participants had to enlist for six months and could reenlist for up to two years.
Many Forest Service people were skeptical about this program and thought it wouldn't last more than a few months. Some also doubted that unskilled boys from Eastern cities and the rural South could accomplish much. However, the Roosevelt Administration pushed the program with vigor, and soon the woods of northern Idaho were full of CCC enrollees from all over the nation. In August 1934, some 2,475 of them helped fight that Pete King-McClendon Butte fire.
The first CCC camp in the lower Lochsa-Selway country was set up in 1933 at the mouth of Canyon Creek on the Lochsa. It was a seasonal camp. Most of the enrollees were from New York, and he worked on a road from the Lochsa to Van Camp lookout. In 1934, attend camp was established at Glover Creek on the Selway that was occupied by about 80 enrollees from Chicago area and a few local participants. This was also a seasonal camp. The projects were construction of steel bridges across the Selway and Meadow Creek, together with initial work on the Fog Mountain, Indian Hill, and Falls Point roads.
A 1935, a year-round 200-man camp was built below the ranger station on O'Hara Bar. The first enrollees to work out of this camp were from Illinois, but after the fall of 1936 most of them were from Arkansas. A few were local.
All the enrollees try to get duty in spike camps, which were run by the Forest Service. Food for these camp was brought locally on competitive bids and was much better than that served in the main camp. In addition, there was little if any military presence in the spike camps.
Since almost all of the enrollees arrived on the Selway totally inexperienced in the work they were to do, on-the-job training was an important part of the program. Many skilled craftsmen and equipment operators were hired. In addition, Camp O'Hara had an education program, which was conducted after hours and was voluntary. An educational adviser on the camp staff determined the needs and interests of enrollees, then tried to find persons among the Army officers, the Forest Service people, and the enrollees themselves to serve as instructors. Classes in basic literacy were always being held; at one time, 83 of 150 enrollees at O'Hara could neither read nor write. Other classes were set up on almost any subject if an interest existed and an instructor could be found.
In addition to the 12 buildings at the new ranger station, the CCC laborers, working beside experienced craftsmen, built bridges, roads, and telephone lines. They also did some trail and lookout construction and became an important part of the fire control organization. They learned fast and were willing workers. Forest Service skepticism about the program vanished early.
Construction of Fenn Ranger Station was fully underway by the fall of 1936. The next year, an administration building, two warehouses, and two garages were completed. By the end of 1938, a cookhouse, gashouse, and one residence had been added. Another residence, a bunkhouse, and a powerhouse were completed in 1939. The barn was built in 1940.
During this time, other CCC crews worked on road construction. By 1936, the road from the forest boundary near Tahoe to Lookout Butte, which had previously been pioneered by Forest Service crews, was widened and improved with CCC labor. The Fog Mountain Road had been completed. By 1937, roads to Indian Hill and Falls Point lookouts were finished, as was a road from the Lochsa to Big Hill. The last major project, a road up Swiftwater Creek that joined the Tahoe-Lookout Butte road, was completed in 1939.
The other major CCC project from 1936 to 1941 was construction of new telephone lines from Grangeville to Fenn Ranger Station and from Grangeville to Elk City. Rights-of-way were surveyed and cleared, poles were set at regular intervals, and the wires were supported by crossarms on the poles. These lines were the forest's primary communications system until commercial telephone service became available.
By the fall 1939, Fenn Ranger Station was ready for occupancy, and Middlefork and Selway district employees began moving from O'Hara, Pete King, and Number One. The new station had meeting rooms, a cookhouse, a bunkhouse, and a gashouse they were used by both districts, but each district had its own warehouse, garage, and office space in the administration building. Each ranger had a house in the garage on the site. Electricity was furnished by hydroelectric plant which use water from Johnson Creek.
Fire occurrence in 1940 on the Nez Perce and Clearwater was the highest in history, but that year the forests had more men to fight them than ever before. Both forests had several CCC camps, and Clearwater also had a large force working in white pine blister rust control. Each district at Fenn manned at least 12 lookouts, and both had large project crews. So despite the large number of fires, manpower was available to attack them.
CCC Telephone Lines
Commercial telephone service in Idaho County was limited in the late 1930s, and the increasing use of electric power caused problems where Forest Service ground-return lines were near power lines. In 1941, the CCC finished a "metallic" telephone line between Fenn Ranger Station and Grangeville which overcame these problems.
This line was not attached to trees; poles and crossarms were used throughout. The poles were cut from standing dead cedar taken from wherever it could be found and treated with creosote. Number 12 copperweld wire was used, with two wires to a circuit. The wires were crossed over each other without touching (transposed) according to a predetermined scheme: this eliminated interference from electric power sources.
O'Hara CCC crews also built to metallic line between Grangeville and Elk City. This line was designed by Bell Telephone and had a "phantom" circuit: 3 circuits were run on four wires. Everyone was skeptical about this, since it seemed to defy common sense, but the instructions were followed exactly and when the line was finished, it worked as promised.
A metallic telephone line was also planned between Fenn Ranger Station and Selway Falls, but it was never finished past Twenty-Three Mile Creek. Two ground-return lines ran from there to Selway Falls Cabin.
The metallic telephone lines were expensive to maintain, and as soon as commercial service became available in the early 1960s, the Forest Service left the telephone business. The line between Kooskia and Lowell was sold to the highest bidder. "It brought $1.00," Lochsa District Ranger Louis Hartig recalled, "and at that I had to talk the man into bidding."