Wednesday, August 20, 2008



Teen Ranger
by Doug Evans

During World War II Mount Rainier National Park underwent many drastic changes. All of the eligible male employees were gone to the military. To compensate, Congress allowed the hiring of part- time and seasonal employees down to age sixteen. This opened the door for me. My first day of NPS employment was April 15, 1944 at the age of sixteen. I was classified as a junior laborer at $0.675/hour.

My first jobs were with Chief Park Naturalist Howard Stagner in the park museum at Longmire. I glass mounted hundreds of 35 mm slides, as was the custom in those days. One morning we discovered that the bottom of the oil heater had burned through during the night and the entire museum, down-stairs and up-stairs, was filled with oily soot. I spent many days cleaning up the mess. Then, during the summer of ’44 I worked with the blister rust crew and as a fire control aide out of the fire shed at Longmire on a hot shot crew that spent the summer doing trail maintenance. Luckily we had no fires.

During the winters of 1944-45 and 1945-46 my job was to assist the Paradise district ranger, Gordon Bender, with weekend ski patrols to Paradise. The Paradise road was open only two miles above Longmire to the Powerhouse turn directly across the road from today’s Cougar Rock Campground. Despite this, and the tight rationing of gasoline, a few hardy and determined skiers continued to come on weekends. So, each Saturday and holiday morning, Gordon and I would strap the skins on and ski up the trail, past the powerhouse on the Paradise River, past Narada Falls, and on to the Paradise ranger station. Sometimes we had to dig down to the second story window to get in. An oil stove burned in the ranger station all winter so it was always a welcome relief to get inside. We would then raise the flag and dig out a welcoming entryway to the door so visitors could see that the ranger station was opened and manned. During the weekend we would open the NPS community building where there was fire wood for skiers to build a warming fire in the fireplace. And, we’d inspect Paradise Lodge and Inn for possible snow damage. On Sunday evening we checked the area to insure that all skiers were gone and then ski back down the trail to be sure that everyone was safely out.

These patrols were greatly eased during the 1945-46 winter when the U.S. Army loaned NPS two M29 Weasels, the tracked vehicles built by Studebaker specially designed for over snow use. One of these had a heavy plywood passenger cabin, the other was canvas topped – a convertible. During especially cold and stormy days we’d take the covered model with its warm heater. On pleasant weekends we would take the convertible. They were great fun to drive and to ski behind. The Weasels did not relieve us of the responsibility to patrol the trail down from Paradise each Sunday evening. Being the junior one, this duty fell to me. I loved it! I never tired of skiing the trail from Paradise, down past Narada Falls, down along the Paradise River past the powerhouse and to the road where Gordon would meet me with the Weasel for the ride back to Longmire. This was a most fabulous job for a high school teenager. And, what a perfect beginning for my subsequent NPS career.
PHOTOS: Army M29 Weasels at Paradise Ranger Station, winter 1945-46