"First Forest Service Nursery in District 6 located on the Columbia National Forest at Wind River. I assisted Mr. Miner for one season in 1914 at this nursery." Photo from the narrative of Albert K. Weisendanger, Mt. Hood National Forest.
In his 18-page narrative narrative sent to Gifford Pinchot from Portland, Oregon in the fall of 1940, Thornton T. Munger described himself as a "one-man research section" and a "one-man silvics section" sent to tackle various jobs in the field and forest. The work of the Old Timers required a pioneering spirit with a willingness to experiment, particularly when it came to the planting of various tree species.
Pinchot requested that each Old Timer send "the reason or influence that made you go into forestry." On this topic, Munger wrote:
"The first suggestion that I should choose forestry as a profession came to me from my sister Eleanor (Mrs. Philip P. Wells) when I was a freshman in Yale College. She said, 'Why don't you take up this new thing, forestry, that Gifford Pinchot is starting. You like the out-of-doors and he says the country needs foresters and it is a fine life for a young man.' The Yale Forest School, founded by the Pinchot family the year before, was only a few blocks from my home. It was attracting much attention as a new field of activity and with a natural bent towards studying and collecting flowers, and a love of the outdoor life it was natural that I should take her suggestion to heart."
Munger's life story is representative of many young men gifted with an opportunity to serve. In the summer of 1902, Munger attended an 8-week course in forestry held at the Yale Forest School in Milford, Pennsylvania. After a summer of field excursions and lectures by experts such as Pinchot, Overton Price, and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Munger applied for a position with the Bureau of Forestry to make a study of white birch and poplar in Maine. Salary: $25 a month. Munger wrote: "I counted rings, made stem analyses, learned woodsmanship under our French Canadian ax man, and got my first real taste of primitive life in the Maine wilderness and liked it."
Like many of the Old Timers, Munger crisscrossed the country in his youth, traveling from Maine to Milford, from Milford to Alabama and on to the Pacific Northwest. Reflecting on his early training at Yale Forest School, Munger wrote: "In the two years of the forest school hours were forgotten," he wrote Pinchot. "There was keen zest to learn all about this new field. The call of the country for service and the lure of the West whetted our enthusiasm. Employment on graduation seemed assured."
As Pinchot read Munger's letter, he drew a vertical pencil line on the right-hand side of the text next to points where Munger made him smile: "It is evidence of the vision, progressiveness, and scientific spirit of the Forest Service that even under the pressure to take over the administration of a tremendous acreage of almost unknown and undeveloped public forests with a ridiculously small crew of very young men, research was not neglected....the courage of the Forest Service and of its young personnel in tackling jobs of all magnitudes and degrees of complexity is quite amazing. And it is still more amazing that throughout the Service most jobs were accomplished acceptably."
Munger, it seems, went West to resolve "sylvical problems" between lodgepole pine and western yellow pine, the former being a low-value species while the latter a "highly desirable species." His narrative describes a detailed journey to what he calls the "theatre of conflict" in lonesome landscapes of the American west. In one instance, he lands in Crescent, Oregon, a one-house town with a sign that read:
Prineville 84 miles
Silver Lake 45 miles
Klamath Falls 100 miles
Eugene 115 miles
Munger's narrative describes a major project assigned to him in 1908, the study of growth and yield of Douglas Fir. "Nothing was known about this most important species," he wrote. "No volume tables were available, the location suitable for study had to be ferreted out....we scoured the region (of Oregon and Washington) on horseback, in wagons, on logging trains, but mostly on foot, hunting for even-aged immature stands suitable for our mensurational work. We felled trees for tree analyses and measured sample acres in stands of various ages all day and worked on our notes in the evening--or sometimes when we were camping fished for a mess of trout. We moved often and boarded at farmhouses, logging camps or country hotels, frequently putting up our tent when sleeping quarters were not available inside. A walk of three or four miles to work was thought nothing of, and 25 miles a day were not unusual when I was scouting."
Munger's work on the Oregon National Forest, (now the Mt. Hood National Forest), consisted of experiments in "direct seeding" at a time when there was no significant quantity of nursery stock available. After a day's trip from Portland by train, stage, and horseback, and making camp in a one room log cabin near the planting site, it began to snow. But nothing stopped Munger. "The local forest officers and I set to work planting our seed in spots, but the snow soon got too deep for that and and we hurriedly broadcasted the pine, maple, and chestnut seeds we had left, packed up, and left before we were trapped in there by too deep snows, and it was late at night before we got to a cabin and pasture below the snow line and in the rain belt."
Another trip Munger described was to the Wind River nursery, (pictured above, then on the Columbia National Forest and now on the re-named Gifford Pinchot National Forest), where he studied forest yield and reproduction on "the logged-off land of one of the first, if not the first, national forest timber sale of any consequence in the Douglas fir region."