Whisky Peak Lookout
Whisky Peak Lookout has a long and colorful history that included a winter of service as one of the most remote Aerial Warning Service outposts in southern Oregon during the winter of 1942. Like several other fire lookouts, Whisky Peak's hearty winter occupants stood watch for Japanese planes in back-to-back 12-hour shifts, enduring the brutal winter conditions characteristic of the site's lofty elevation.
That winter, the staffer's dog, Two Bits, slipped on ice and fell over the 800-foot cliff on the north side of the mountain. He was believed with reasonable certainly to be forever lost, but the plucky Two Bits reappeared at the lookout about a week later, rattled and injured, but alive and resilient. The story of Two Bits made national news, and he was featured in Life magazine as a symbol of American wartime perseverance.
Whisky Peak was also staffed at one point by Howard Verschooer, who would later succeed Ron Johnson as Oregon Chapter head of the Forest Fire Lookout Association.
Whisky Peak Lookout was abandoned for fire detection purposes in the mid-1970s, and gradually but steadily fell into a state of disrepair.
In 1988, when the SMS sent letters throughout the Pacific Northwest Region in search of an abandoned lookout cabin that might be donated for relocation and use at Sand Mountain, there were only two positive responses: both were from southern Oregon. One of those lookouts was Pearsoll Peak on the Siskiyou National Forest, and the other was nearby Whisky Peak on the Rogue River National Forest. The inquiries were sent out in the middle of winter, so... based on verbal descriptions of the structures and knowing that Whislky Peak was identical in design and vintage to the original Sand Mountain Lookout... the SMS opted to take Whisky Peak sight-unseen.
In those days the Siskiyou National Forest had a regional Helitack Crew, and -- in the true spirit of partnership -- the Siskiyou's Archaeologist, Janet Joyer, said her Forest would help the SMS relocate the materials, reagrdless of which structure they chose to relocate. This was a huge boost to the SMS.
In the end, after much lamentation, the SMS chose Whisky Peak, and Janet Joyer happily followed-through with her offer of helicopter assistance.
In return for Janet's kindness, when Whisky Peak Lookout was fully restored at Sand Mountain, the SMS set-about restoring Pearsoll Peak in place to return the favor. This set the SMS onto the restoration course that it follows to this day.
When the snows finally receded in June 1989, SMS founders Don Allen Jr. and Bill Joy arrived at the lookout to begin salvage operations, "Our hearts sunk when we first laid eyes on the building," Don said. "Not a pane of glass was intact in any single window opening -- all of them had been shot-out. There was broken glass all over the floor."
In spite of this and the fact that the roof was failing in multiple locations, an important percentage of the original lumber (including most of the interior wall and ceiling material as well as the exterior sheathing) was salvaged by the SMS in June of that year. Materials were graded and then bundled, using a banding tools borrowed from the Siskiyou National Forest.
Lumber salavaged from Whisky Peak Lookout is bundled for transport
About a week later, when weather conditions were right for the work, the Siskiyou National Forest Helitack Crew (led by Bob Del Monte) assisted (as promised) with removal of the bundles, which were left stacked near the trailhead at a wide spot in the road. Not wanting to leave the materials where they lay over the busy 4th of July weekend, Don and Bill headed south from Portland.
As they soon learned, U-Hauls are not so easy to find on 4th of July Weekend, and the only truck they could find in the region was a rickety old model in Merlin that needed a headlight replaced. Don and Bill virtually had to promise to make a bee-line to the auto parts store in Grants Pass and replace the headlight before the U-Haul representative would let them take the failing, gasping truck.
The helicopter work provided by the Siskiyou National Forest was a major factor in facilitating the relocation project
They loaded the U-Haul the afternoon of July 1 and drove it back north to Santiam Pass, parking along the Santiam Wagon Road near Mosquito Lake just after midnight. In the early morning hours of July 2nd, Don and Bill stashed and camouflaged the materials from Whisky Peak in the trees in the "saddle" at Sand Mountain. They returned the U-Haul to Merlin before heading back to Portland, having covered nearly 1,200 miles in two days, much of it on mountain roads in a U-Haul.
Most of the lookouts built in the 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were prepared as "kits." Typically, the receiving Forest's name would be stenciled on the top pf each bundle. In the case of Whisky Peak, the bundles were stenciled with the now defuct "Crater Lake National Forest." Some of this stenciling can still be seen on the inside of the attic at Sand Mountain.
Bill Joy off-loads bundles of lumber salvaged from Whisky Peak in early morning fog at Sand Mountain
On July 9, 1932, less than two years after Whisky Peak Lookout was constructed, the Crater Lake National Forest (which included parts of California and Oregon) was divided into other National Forests. Whisky Peak then fell under the jurisdiction of the Rogue River National Forest (Davis 2005) until the Rogue River combined with the Siskiyou National Forest in 2004.