Trail Crew

On the left, as we looked down the hillside, lay 125 acres of recently logged forest. It was a mass of broken branches, snapped saplings, chest high brush and many stumps that once supported 200 foot tall Douglas firs. To clear those acres and prepare for replanting the whole clearcut had to be burned, a slash burn, it is called. On the right lay original forest, with tall trees and thick brush. Our job was to surround the clearcut with a firetrail, ten feet wide with a dirt path down the center that fire could not creep over. We had to build this path on the edge between the forest and the clearcut. To me, just out of high school, it looked like an impossible task, to ring the clearcut with a firetrail.

Our crew consisted of a foreman and eight to ten workers. Manuel had been leading trail and fire supression crews for several years and he knew his business. The rest of us knew only follow his directions. Two men worked the chain saws, cutting a broad swath along the route marked by the forest edge. Two other guys would clear and hold brush for the saw operators, freeing them to cut non-stop until either they or the saws ran out of gas. These men were followed by two more axe-wielding workers, who sometimes used machetes to cut back the undergrowth that was too small for the chainsaws. A couple more would drag the cut brush well into the slash zone. Next came men with Pulaskis and shovels, digging a two foot wide path down to bare earth. A good crew could usually do both sides of a hillside clearcut in a day. Many clearcuts had roads across the top and creeks at the bottom, making those areas easier to deal with.

By noon we would have a good portion of one side trailed and I was always amazed to look back up the hill and see a real trail where once had been thickets of vine maple, slash remnants and sticker bushes. Each member of the trail crew had a job and as long as that job was done things went well. Those in the lead knew that they had to finish their part before the next stage could commence. Those at the end knew that they had to see dirt before they could relax. No one could go off on their own and all had to follow the route laid down by the foreman. If someone had been dumb enough to start hacking at the brush on a tangent to the established route they would have let down the next part of the team and not performed as expected. They would have been canned. So that did not happen. But the whole process of building a firetrail reminds me of working on a committee with sub committees. Each person has a job to do but it has to been under the direction of the chairman and the rest of the committee. No one can go off on their own plan.