The Grouse Ridge Lookout

Recollections of the Tarweed Kid
A collection of Stories and an Oral Interview
with Frank M. Meggers, District Ranger, Camptonville 1927-1945

Grouse Ridge Lookout 1924

As I sat comfortably in the Nyack Restaurant on Highway 40 and looked north over the Sierra, that huge expanse of mountains and deep canyons, I spotted the Grouse Ridge Lookout (photo from 1924, right), which brought back memories of my early days with the U.S. Forest Service on the Tahoe in the fall of 1922.

After the fire season, in the latter part of October, word came from the Supervisor’s Office in Nevada City to report to District Ranger Carl Larsen at North Bloomfield. We were to prepare to camp at Bowman Lake, where a tent camp and mess hall were being readied.  The priority job was to finish the Grouse Ridge Lookout.

The money appropriated for the carpenters had run out.  It was imperative to get the lightning rod in place, followed by shutters all around.

This took some doing.  Our Bowman camp consisted of four 9' x 9' wall tents with wooden decks, cots and mattresses, and two men to a tent.  A larger tent served as our cookhouse and dining area. The Martis Peak Lookout man was chosen as cook, and rightly so. There were five of us to do the work, using a pick-up truck for transportation.

The first day, a woods road took us about ten miles, to within one mile of the lookout. Pack animals had been used to take materials to the top.  We hiked up with the necessary odds and ends in our packsacks. We weren’t the only ones in the country, however.   I remember a bunch of fifteen deer in prime condition, moving down country.  They were startled and they surprised us, too.

As forewarned, we dressed for the occasion; windbreakers over our two wool shirts, and even then, using newspaper sheets between shirts felt good.  We were getting up in high country and it was a cloudy and blustery day.

Well, sir, the first day didn’t go too well. The wind on the peak, at an elevation of 7,708, was against us. We worked inside the lookout, in the lower room, building shutters. The first two on the lee side went in O.K.  They were placed on the outside and hinged so they could be opened in the summer for shade.  The third shutter got away from us and the wind hit it just right; over the railing it went.  I think it’s still down there.

All in all, it was a bad day, too windy to place the lightning rod.  The instructions were very clear, to put the lightning rod in place immediately after completion of the roof. The carpenters had been gone for over a week and nothing had happened.

The next day, to our amazement, lightning had struck.  The main thrust was down the southwest corner of the lookout, where an 8' x 8' ft. timber was blackened on the inside and partly charred.  In the ground floor room, a corner post was split in half, following the grain of the wood.  That was the only damage that occurred.  We were indeed grateful and lucky that the lookout building hadn’t burned down.  When something like this happens, you realize your responsibilities.

Fortunately, the storm passed and, with less wind, we got the lightning rod in place, complete with at least one ground wire.  Four corners were grounded the following day.  It took us four days to complete the job with shutters latched for winter; even a glass insulated stool was included for the safety of the seasonal lookout.  

Updated 1/30/12