This is an excerpt from a book I am writing about the Bushmen, an inter-regional hot shot crew in it's formative years in the mid 60's headquartered in the Entiat Valley. I was lead hoe for two years while financing my schooling at Seattle, U.
The next day we went up into the center of the fire, and Chuck seemed real nervous. There was a lot of unburned trees to our left and we were working our way out from almost the center of the fire to the edges. It was real hot and we worked for a long time. We noticed that Claussen was getting real clumsy with his tools and acting kind of crazy when we took a break. We checked his skin and determined that he was coming down with heat prostration.
We proceeded to take off our asbestos fire shirts and cut some poles, shoved the sleeves over the poles and tied them off and took some more clothing and made old Claussen a stretcher. We started quickly walking out of the area heading back from where we had come. About this time we got word over the radio that the spotter plane was measuring a lot of uncombusted gases and feared the fire might be getting ready to blow up. We noticed no wind. It seemed peaceful.
The plane was trying to make contact with our crew but we lost contact. He was trying to tell us the fire was blowing up and to get the hell out of where we were.
We were already on our way, trotting down the trail with a delirious Claussen bouncing around on our makeshift stretcher. About this time, Claussen, who had been lying on the stretcher during a short break, as we all switch sides to carry him again, gets more delirious and starts to get up and starts talking about putting out the fire. We shove Claussen back down on the stretcher and take off down the hill at a very, very fast walk. At the time, we were awfully tired ourselves and didn’t realize how sick Claussen was, but we threatened to take a shovel to his head, if he got up off the stretcher again, and that, plus our keeping moving and carrying the litter down the hill, seemed to placate him.
We tied him up a little just for good measure. I remember really talking to Jim for probably the first time in my life, trying to calm him down. It was really amazing to us that he was that determined and from that day forward, we never had any bad things to say about Jim again.
He was still a dufus fucker and we would kid him about it, but for the rest of the time, we did it with more of a good natured edge to it, rather than derision. Meanwhile Chuck was exhorting us to double time our pace and I seem to remember that towards the end we were going triple time. What with Classen to carry on the stretcher, this was quite a chore, but we were so scared by now and pumped up about Claussen, that our bodies could have taken just about any pace needed to get us out of there.
I remember some of the guys were taking the whole thing a little more non-chalant than I thought they should and were not really going fast enough.
“Don’t worry Charlie, nothings going to happen”
“Bull shit it’s not. This fire is going to blow up and I’m not going to get sucked into it. Let’s get the fucking lead out you assholes”. And so it went as out of the woods we flew like a shit wagon lurching down a dark alley with Claussen talking his fool head off and the rest of us switching off and spelling the litter bearers.
Pete slipped on his way down while holding on to the litter and in order to keep from dropping his side of the litter, he put his hand down into the fire and got a little burned on his hand. He didn’t say anything about it at the time, just apologized for being clumsy. I didn’t learn about this until the fall of 2002 when one day Pete and I are going out on his sail boat and we are talking about that particular day and Pete mentions his hand getting a little crispy.
Anyway, we finally got out to a bus and skeddaddled out of there. A little later our radio crackles back to life and we make contact with the plane, who thought for sure he had lost a 25 man crew and he was thankful we had gotten out safely.
The next couple days we fought that fire and devoted ourselves to some inglorious mop up. Claussen got one day off and the next day I think it was, he was out trying to find the biggest hotspot he could find to put out. He finally found one up on a hillside that most of us were too lazy to walk up to. The crazy bastard was so pre-occupied with the fire, that when the helicopter with the bucket of water hovered over his head, he kept right on fighting until the water cascaded over his head and sluiced him down the hillside. We all got a big kick out of that one. It was one of the funniest episodes of firefighting technique that I had ever seen. I mean, Jim slid quite a ways down that hill: the water just swept him right off of his feet. Normally you could spend a couple of summers and never have a helicopter drench you with water. He showed us again that he was one crazy mother.
In school, you see, he was the bookish type, kind of an aspiring scientist. This macho image, no matter how he tried, just didn’t really fit. But he had earned his stripes. Pete reminded me of how Jim couldn’t even do jumping jacks in the usual manner but would have his hand and feet flying in a disjointed manner all over the place. I remember it was really crazy to watch him do cal. No sense of timing or coordination.
This was also the fire that Louie Hogland did his famous throwup. It was breakfast, and the cooks were getting ready to serve up their famous green egges. These were made from powdered egges that were left over from world War 11. When Louie was told what was for breakfast, he threw up right in the line. Just walked a couple of feet away and heaved a little. Then he smiled and said, “I think I’ll pass, if its all the same to you.” The rest of us heard about it quickly as word came up the line. I can still picture him, wiping off the mess with a flick of his wrist, just the way you would if you were getting rid of a little snot off of your nose and with as much panache as is possible with that type of maneuver. Old Louie. His actions spoke louder than all the words.
That evening, when we returned, the whole camp knew us by Louie’s antics. What a hoot. The cooks would say, “O yeah, you’re the crew with the guy that threw up right in line.” Want another helping of our finest?” And they would dig down deep to find some putrid thing to put on our plates.
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