Friday, January 4, 2019

Chapter III

The Paradise Road

During the Depression conservation meant keeping the tortured soil of what was once the Great Plains from leaving the Earth as dust, and keeping the yet-to-be tortured forests of the West from going up in smoke. To early conservationists like Franklin Roosevelt, this saving of forests meant roads, and so he upped the ante for more of them in the Northern Rockies. He kicked in the funds and manpower to the cash-starved ranger districts in the form of boys from poverty-stricken areas who were given a chance to learn a marketable skill, to earn a real paycheck every single month for the first time in their lives. 
Construction jobs like the Paradise Road were activities that the Selway country hadn’t seen before, and the Land lacked the time to take the full measure of it. It would be what it ended up being, and for the Upper Selway there was a learning curve. Such work, when it had been done there at all, had been accomplished with dynamite and men behind a farm implement known as a Fresno Scraper. This was the plow-like scraper blade originally developed to level orchard tracts in the sandy soils of California’s San Joaquin Valley so that they could be flood-irrigated more efficiently. They were mule-driven and slow by definition even in the best of circumstances, which the Paradise Road wasn’t. The Fresno Scraper’s adjustable-blade would revolutionize roadbuilding all over the world—and it’s still the prototype for monsters required in altering geology. Mountaintop-removal, tar sands, interstates, the Paradise Road, are all examples of what became possible with the various spawn of the Fresno Scraper. 
It’s true that the CCC crews were still using them in Glacier Park where they were grading out the Going-to-The-Sun Road, but that road was crazy-steep, and using such modern wonders like bulldozers with Appalacian boys who just recently started wearing shoes must have been viewed by managers at the time as borderline suicidal. The merely-steep country on the Selway, though, was slated by bureaucrats in Washington and on-the-ground rangers like Kelly and Brandborg to be one of the new palettes upon which the freshly-trained artists of the tank-tread technologies crawling out of the back end of World War I were to paint their futures, hone their nerve and prove what a bulldozer could do. Kelley understood its significance. He had been with the 20thEngineers in France building roads and logging trench timbers for the war (which they won!) and he sent a few early-generation bulldozers over Nez Perce Pass and down into Deep Creek for the boys to use.
“They were always breaking down,” Stewart Brandborg recalls eighty years later. “But they’d always find a way to fix ‘em up enough to keep ‘em going.” 
Which was, of course, what the boys wanted to learn, to fix ‘em up, ride ‘em, lust after ‘em, and finally make themselves useful in the tough new world where they knew there were going to be more roads, more bulldozers, over and over, as far as the eye could see, forever. 
As for the Paradise Road, it was burdened by default with its own conundrum. Who knows what Paradise is or isn’t for one thing, let alone where. This was a technicality, though, and not what stopped the road at the mouth of Whitecap Creek were Paradise Guard Station was located. What stopped it was World War II. The road had been scheduled to blast past the guard station and down the wild Selway River all the way to Moose Creek Ranger Station in the middle of what’s still considered “nowhere”. Then it was to arc west with the river for twenty more miles and out to the Selway’s meeting place with the Big Clearwater where it would connect with a companion road being built down from Lowell, Idaho to the north. It was to slice the last great hunk of wilderness left in the United States almost exactly in two just as the pioneers had been prescribing for the country for the century of settlement preceding the arrival of the bulldozer. It was to be the road that was going somewhere and doing something. 
It was also seen by most conservationists of the day as a progressive undertaking, creating jobs and safer, more efficient access for logging and firefighting, and if World War II hadn’t stopped all federal projects not related to the war effort and chased all the CCC boys into the Army or to the better paying shipyard jobs on the coast (as much as a dollar an hour) it would have been the road that would have decided once and for all what Paradise was and wasn’t. For his part, Big Brandy, who would go on to become one of Montana’s all-time great conservationists and wilderness advocates, didn’t flinch from the roading task.
“That was the grandest exercise…for my dad,”Stewart  explained of those years when Montana was teeming with unemployed loggers, millworkers and cowboys, “in finding these capable seasonal workerswho could go into these camps and give guidance to these young fellows in the skills of woodsmanship—trail maintenance, phone line maintenance, operation of equipment.”A bunch of boys who’d never worn shoes before were put at his disposal, and no good socialist (which was what Big Brandy essentially was) was going to let them get away without a little education. 
He took those greenhorns from Appalachia and, before they ever climbed onto a bulldozer, had them sit down for a few days. He’d go over mundane, required subjects like safety and basic firefighting skills, but then he would go on and teach them some history, a little social science and a few other things that his upbringing in the cooperative-riddled plains of late 19thCentury Minnesota had given him a passion for. Like Gifford Pinchot and many of the first rangers, Big Brandy believed in “social forestry”, the “wise-use” (read: slower-use) of resources so that the rural communities that depended on them could thrive into perpetuity. 
“We Americans have not yet learned to live in the same environment, generation after generation,” he would say to local civic groups he spoke to.“As individuals we have been able to move on to new land when the old farm wore out. As a nation we have moved on to exploit new frontiers”. Decades earlier, Pinchot had enshrined such radical thinking in his 1907 manual, "Use of the National Forest".
“What the West needs is people who come to stay,” he wrote. “The man who skins the land and moves on does the country more harm than good. He may enrich himself and a few others for a very brief time, but he kills the land. He cares nothing for this, because he does not stay in the country, but moves on to new fields and repeats the skinning process. It is he who is the greatest enemy of the home builder.”
It happened that the summer before Charlie Enbretzon and Stewart had given the Lantzes a ride over Nez Perce Pass, the Brandborg family had entertained the elderly Pinchot at their home. Edna and Guy had moved to a comfortable house on 715 South Third Street in Hamilton a couple years before from Grangeville, Idaho, another small, neatly manicured ranching community just on the other side of the Bitterroot Range where Guy had been Assistant Supervisor of the Nez Perce Forest and where, on February 2, 1925 their son, Stewart was born. 
The family spent summers with him riding the ranges and mountains of the Salmon River and Hell’s Canyon Country while Guy was stationed there and when they moved to Hamilton they continued the theme of making many outdoorsy friends, including their close friend, Major Kelley who, as a token of their esteem, would come over for dinner and to socialize and smoke. This small-town lifestyle would eventually keep Stewart out of World War II since he suffered so terribly from asthma inflamed by second-hand smoke. But second hand smoke was a concept lying far in the future, and no one was thinking about such things, including Major Kelly and Gifford Pinchot.
Hamilton, like Grangeville, was idyllic in 1937. Power mowers hadn't been invented yet, and so South Third Street was quiet enough when Pinchot drove up in his big Packard sedan in front of the Brandborg house. Young Stewart remembers being as impressed that Packard was driven by an African-American chauffer as much as by the car. Major Kelley was also there, and the three foresters turned their backs to the family hearth to dry their pants out after their day-long jaunt in the woods.
They had been up in the mountains that day looking at the Lick Creek logging sale, which Pinchot’s foresters had lain out and sold to the Anaconda Copper Company in 1906. That was the year that Pinchot came to the Bitterroot foothills to inspect the sale for the first time along some Bitterroot faces that his newly created Forest Service was offering up for bid. Montana was full of residents prone to independent thought and quaint euphemisms. They also knew which side of their bread the butter was on, so they didn’t waste any words distilling the region’s sole corporate behemoth, the Anaconda Copper Company, down to two words—the Company--so that everybody in this sparsely-populated state would know exactly what they meant when they said them, including Gifford Pinchot. 
The Company had been well on its way to skinning the Bitterroot Valley by then, particularly the private lands opened up for settlement in direct contradiction to the 1855 Hellgate Treaty made with the Salish people, promising them the Bitterroot Valley as theirs forever. But the words in such treaties were just promises made by a government that had as many soldiers to break them as the grains of sand shoveled away by skimdiggers on a Salmon River bar, and so a railroad was built up the valley and the People were then forced out, first by starvation and finally by a rude military escort, while the settlers cheered (some cried) and then, in collusion with the railroad, the Company started converting the valley’s cathedral stands Ponderosa Pine that formed “a chain of forests shading the west side of the valley” into cash. 
The Company reasoned that they were ripe for the picking. It was too tempting, too easy to access the giant trees along the broad flat valley bottom and its tributary canyon creeks that had enough current in the springtime to float the logs down to the Bitterroot and then to Hamilton, where a dam and a state-of-the-art mill had been built. These were the five-to-eight foot diameter, hundred-foot-tall, ancient Ponderosa that no longer exist because they were giants, never to be replaced in our time or maybe any other. It took less than twenty years for many of the valley’s new residents who were true believers in "settling the country" as well as a government inspector who came to make sure that the government’s toothless “Timber and Stone” Act of 1872 was being adhered to be appalled. 
When the Company desired more, they found that the board feet still existing grew within the confines of public lands newly “locked up” by Pinchot’s brand new Forest Service, and in 1906 the Company wanted everyone to know that it would have those board feet. This new government agency of Teddy Roosevelt’s, the one currently claiming public ownership of those logs it counted as theirs by simple right of conquest, this was something the Company knew it would have to deal with for a little while, but only for a little while. It fully expected to have its way soon enough with the Forest Service, as it was accustomed to having with everything and anybody else who got in its way. Eventually the wood would be theirs again, soon enough. And so it was. 
Old-time foresters during this time referred to the trainloads of giant yellow logs heading down the Bitterroot to Missoula and Butte on flat cars as the “golden stream”. Sometimes a single log would take up a whole flatcar, and the old-time foresters knew that if the Company kept ravishing its own holdings the way it was bent on doing it wouldn’t be long before it would demand the right to ravish the public’s virgin stands, and the low-elevation old-growth Ponderosa that rose like pillars out of the bunchgrass hills would be gone for good. The Golden Stream would cease by 1940 if not before. These foresters, including Pinchot and later, Brandborg and Kelly, knew this as a function of simple math in the form of mill capacity, and they were right.
Pinchot was attempting to change the equation with his new brand of “social forestry”, and in the early 1900s he and a few of his followers thought they could eventually work simple math to the forest’s advantage if they were as patient as the trees they were trying to grant a reprieve to, and trees are nothing if not patient. The Lick Creek sale, then, was one of the first attempts by the new Forest Service to introduce a European concept into the equation of large-scale logging in America. “Selective-cut” logging was the practice of not taking all the pumpkins at once but to cull through the stand, pick out the best and leave the rest to grow more for the twin purposes of later profits and community stability, two purposes that the Company saw as frivolous. The sale was set to be the largest in the Northern Region, and Pinchot’s foresters painted trees, took notes, and generally made a special effort to do their best with the available science available to them. Pinchot came to Montana in 1906 and made some personal, on-site modifications. Then the Company got its logs, but with some new restrictions that they and all future corporate logging operations would ever-after resent. 
The Lick Creek sale became a prototype of sorts, for what the first Roosevelt Administration was trying to accomplish with forests nationwide, and the site became a de facto test for the long term effects on the health of the Land with Pinchot’s revolutionary “scientific forestry” applied. By 1937, photography was still coming into its own as a scientific tool, and the Bitterroot Forest’s new supervisor, Guy Brandborg (he arrived in 1935) set up permanent stations matching the older photo stations Pinchot had originally used, so that future foresters could make decisions based on factual data. Naturally, then, when Pinchot came through the area that year on a tour of his old stomping grounds, he stopped by the Lick Creek sale, and was led around on a rough and tumble inspection tour by Guy and Kelley in the wet summer rain.
The dynamics between Kelley and Brandborg were interesting. Kelley started making his way in the world as a miner in California when he fourteen, “separating small grains of gold from large masses of earth” as he put it. He knew a thing or two about labor, in other words, and this qualified him as one of those old-time people Guy habitually appreciated. Their families became close probably even before Kelley appointed him supervisor of the Bitterroot, and they didn’t see any inherent problems with roads brought into such a big country that had so few of them. This was Pinchot’s stamp, the greatest good for the greatest number, and it was the progressive outlook for its time. Putting impoverished men to work with gainful, dependable employment was the rule of the day for land management, right out of the “Use Book”, in fact, and few, if any, rangers could look past the critical needs of those afflicted with an existential economic depression and conjure up too many negatives for putting desperate people to work. Both Brandborg and Kelley, in fact, did have misgivings in the opening up of the public’s timber base and watersheds to the big mills who had used up all their private stumpage and were now eyeing the last of the public realm. But they thought in terms of watersheds then, and they never thought the big mills would ever want the high-country lodgepole, Pinchot’s “protection forests” that were to act as buffers for the “golden stream” of harvestable pine. 
“The question,” Pinchot wrote in another publication, “is not of saving the trees, for every tree must inevitably die, but of saving the forest by conservative ways of cutting the trees. If the forest is to be preserved, the timber crop now ripe must be gathered in such a way as to make sure of other crops hereafter.”
Conservation was a farming term, and forestry was farming. Henning, Minnesota, where Guy grew up, was a farming community, and Guy’s father, Charles, was a farmer. He also ran a grain coop that competed against locally entrenched business interests and which got him into a lot of trouble, and this was the progressive map of the world as it stood in 1937, and Guy was his father’s son. 
As Pinchot backed himself up to the fire, he reiterated to his listeners what he had written in his Use Book thirty years before, that Democracy could survive only through the maintenance of a productive resource base. He also charged Brandy that if he wanted to be a good forester he’d better defend sound practices like Lick Creek.
“Goddamit Brandy”, Major Kelly added, “you’d better do it!” And so for the next four decades, that’s what Guy “Brandy” Brandborg did, and he got into a lot of trouble for doing so.
The Forest Service, in essence, was created under such assumptions, but unbridled capitalism, as we know, was not. The Anaconda Copper Company held a monopoly on power in Montana before the Forest Service was invented, and it took a dim view of foresters in general, and foresters in particular who had the inclination to preach the Pinchot gospel of “selective-cut” and “democracy” in the same breath. The Company maintained that what Big Brandy (and by extension, Gifford Pinchot) preached was seditious. “You could have abundance for this generation but poverty for your children,”[v]Big Brandy once said before a local civic group, and it wasn’t a decade after the three foresters backed themselves up to the Brandborg fire that Guy would be forced to endure a House Un-Amercan Activities Committee (H.U.A.C.) inquisition for what The Company considered his unforgiveable transgression of not bringing the mountains down low fast enough to suit their bottom line. It’s worth noting that, according to Stewart, some of the CCC boys disagreed with what was too much and not enough. 
“You find many people back in the Bitterroot Valley,”he recalled a half a century later, “who have reunions, cite the wonderful experience and what a difference it made in their lives.”
Of course there were also the CCC boys who couldn’t see how such progressive distractions as Big Brandy gifted to them could keep them employed like government-work projects combined with big, greasy bulldozers, the second-had kind that needed fixing a lot and were cantankerous in more subtle ways. Most of the CCC boys were just itching to get on top of that kind of thing, not social studies, and the small towns of the Bitterroot are still crowded with their philosophical offspring, those who genetically love government work projects while hating the government. This, by the way, may be the best thing you can say about the peculiar strain of socialism that’s been as American as rhubarb pie since its beginnings, that at least the people who claim to hate it now are wearing shoes. 

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