Gold Butte Lookout
Gold Butte was a model partnership project between the SMS and US Forest Service. The connection for the partnership was made by Ron Johnson, a retired Forest Service dispatcher who devoted himself in his last years to the preservation of lookouts everywhere. As the Oregon Chapter head of the Forest Fire Lookout Association, Ron told District Archaeologist Cra Kelly that "the Sand Mountain Society is who you need to get."
Sadly, Ron (who was born the same year Gold Butte Lookout was constructed) passed away just after getting Don and Cara connected, and the SMS dedicated the effort to their fallen comrade. It was a real pleasure to see Ron's sister and his children at the dedication ceremony in 2006.
The plaque at left is mounted to the firefinder stand at restored Gold Butte Lookout, honoring lost friend and preservation advocate Ron Johnson. "RJ" was also sewn into commemorative hats.
By the field season of 1999, the 65 year-old structure was infested with carpenter ants and on the verge of falling down. "There is no question in my mind that the building was on the verge of going away. A heavy snow year probably would have meant curtains for the old lookout," says Don Allen Jr. "When we had the building down to the wall framing, the ant-eaten framing in the south wall broke in half with only slight encouragement. The original framing was that devoid of mass."
Gold Butte was one of the last lookouts used in perhaps the most densely lookout-saturated District in the country: Detroit Ranger District. Only Coffin Mountain Lookout oultasted Gold Butte in terms of duration of service on the District, and even today Gold Butte is used as a lookout during periods of extreme fire potential.
Gold Butte is the Sand Mountain Society's most extensive restoration project to date. The vast majority of materials were salvaged form the original building, and even an outhouse and a woodshed were constructed from shorter lengths of recycled material. During the project, the SMS salvaged the remains of nearby Sisi Butte Lookout (on an urgent basis). The lumber from Sisi was largely folded-in to Gold Butte and its outbuildings.
The SMS spared no expense on this project: Gold Butte Lookout may be in better shape than any other L-4-style lookout on the west slope of the Cascade Range, and thus is poised to represent its era for a long time.
More than 50 SMS volunteers donated thousands of hours to the project between the years of 1999 and 2007.
Bill Joy and Rob Hoeye (whose father staffed Gold Butte Lookout in 1959) enjoy a rare moment of rest on the front steps of the lookout in 2004.
There were four people who devoted over 1,000 hours to the project, including many off-site by Tim Nidever cleaning old paint from surfaces one square centimeter at a time with a putty knife and a heat gun.
Tim Nidever (at left) was recognized by the USFS for devoting over 1,000 hours of labor the the restoration project. Seen here preparing materials in his garage during the off-season, Tim did much of the rehabilitation of individual boards.
The 8-year project was capped by a well-attended dedication ceremony that featured the words of District officials Rod Stewart (Reso
urce Assistant) and Paul Matter (District Ranger) as well as Don Allen Jr. and Rob Hoeye of the SMS.
District Archaeologist Cara Kelly (left), Don Allen Jr, and Cathy Lindberg (Forest Heritage Program Manager) at the dedication ceremony.
The Gold Butte restoration received widespread acclaim, including the national "Windows on the Past" award, which was given by the Forest Service in 2007. More importantly, the project drew together the people of the District, the Forest, and the SMS to a common cause, and an opportunity to express their appreciation for history.