In his 1937 call for narratives, Gifford Pinchot implored the Old Timers to send him "anecdotes," remembrances that might serve to illuminate the past and fill in the gaps of the historical record. Over and over, Pinchot received more than he could have imagined. The narrative of J.B. Lippincott, for example, sent to Pinchot in January of 1938, was particularly poignant. Pinchot wrote, "I have read with keenest interest the two incidents you have so graphically described, and I am particularly delighted to have them. The details of both had gone out of my head, although the general outline was clear in my memory."
Lippincott, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrographer stationed in California from 1900-1903, sent a two-page narrative in which he recalled being present in the Oval Office at a decisive moment. In 1903, he recalled President Theodore Roosevelt turning to Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot. "Gifford, is this all right?" asked the President. Pinchot replied that it was. "It" was the decision to grant rights-of-way for water storage sites on public lands in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, at Lake Eleanor, and for power canal rights-of-way down Cherry Creek (the outlet of Lake Eleanor) and in the main canyon of the Tuolomne River below the Hetch Hetchy dam site. These rights-of-way provided a much-needed new water source for the city of San Francisco.
While subsequent generations debated and continue to debate, and mourn, the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy, we learn from Lippincott's "anecdote" that by 1903, San Francisco had already outgrown its water supply and was seeking an additional new source "adequate in quantity and quality" to meet public demand. Lippincott wrote: "The city was then being served by a private water company which naturally did not favor bringing in a new and superior water supply. Their opposition was by the indirect process of stimulating protests of "Nature Lovers" to the "desecration" of the Forest Reserve for utilitarian purposes."
There is rarely a dull moment in the Old Timer narratives. J.B. Lippincott describes President Theodore Roosevelt's reaction to First Forester Pinchot's approval of the memorandum that provided a new domestic water supply for the city of San Francisco with an outlet at Cherry Creek: "It is all right with me," said the President, "except there are two r's in Cherry."