The other day the family of Earl Cooley, the 7th Ranger here, came by the house. Earl was also a member of the first smoke jumper squad in the USA, and one of the two first jumpers ever to bail out of a plane onto a fire. Earl passed away last November, but his wife, daughters, grandkids and great-grandkids were all here to see the area. His daughters told me stories of how they used to steal jello from the cookhouse (just down the hill from the house) and climb into the rafters of the woodshed to eat it. The two oldest told me of the time they went and pilfered cigarettes out of a firefighter’s pack in the Ranger Station. They took them the 20 yards or so to the river, and hid on the bank. They wanted to be good friends with Smokey Bear, and that governed their choice of location. If anything went wrong, they could throw the cigarettes in the river, and be sure that the flame was out. At any rate, they each got good and nauseous, and then swore each other to secrecy regarding the whole event before going back up to the house. Dad the Ranger boomed “Have you girls been smoking?” and the younger said “Yep! And I can blow it out my nose, too!” So much for the secret, and they didn’t get to go to the Dixie Days festivities that summer, either, as punishment.
The family was here for five summers in the early ‘50s. When they lived here the lookout-bedroom hadn’t yet been added, the dining room was the master bedroom, and the upstairs was different, though the two bedrooms are nearly the same. The kids slept in triple-stacked cots. They were lucky enough to have an indoor bathroom by the time they were here, and they think it was bigger than the current one (for being a relatively huge house, the kitchen and bathroom are currently tiny). The floors were all polished hardwood, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re still there, under the cheap linoleum and butt ugly industrial carpet. There are still original, sweet and decorative iron vents to pass warm air from the downstairs up. When one of the girls had gotten in trouble and been sent to her room for the day, the others would smuggle crackers up through the vents to the ‘prisoner’.