sand mountain society

Wildhorse Lookout

The SMS received a distress call in the spring of 2008... Wildhorse Lookout, it was learned, had collapsed from the same heavy snows that had done so much damage around the state that year.  Janet Joyer, Heritage Program Manager for the Forest, soon identified Wildhorse Lookout as "The top heritage priority on the Forest," and she made a compelling case for restoration of the historic building.  

Wildhorse Lookout has a long and storied history.  The original structure served as an Aerial Warning Service (AWS) outpost during the winter of 1942, maintaining steady watch for the anticipated Japanese invasion of the American mainland... an invasion that never fully materialized.  Lookout staffers during this period were specifically trained to spot Japanese aircraft. 

A few years later, Wildhorse Lookout was actually crushed by snow for the first time in 1946-47.  The present tower and cabin were constructed at that time, likely re-using many elements from the original cabin.

The reconstructed Wildhorse Lookout tower in 1954

In the 1970s, the original windows were replaced with aluminum frame windows, weakening the cabin and contributing to the catastrophic failure in 2008.

Now -- for the second time in its history -- the lookout will reassembled... this time by the SMS.

The quality of the lumber salvaged (perhaps for a second time) is apparent in the photo at right. Note the stenciled letter "L" as well as the notes by the original builder in blue grease pencil.  These two features are consistently seen in lookouts known to have been constructed in the 1930s, perhaps suggesting that these materials were recycled after the cabin collapsed the first time.

The salvage effort in 2008 was followed by the SMS contracting with Singletree and Associates to refurbish tower components that were damaged when the lookout cabin came crashing down.  The SMS assisted with that effort, as well as the large-scale clean-up in 2008.


At left: Don Allen Sr. pulls clean-up duty in the summer of 2008. 

The SMS will be back to Wildhorse in 2013 to construct a replica outhouse very near the original location.



At right: Bill Joy (SMS) and Janet Joyer (Heritage Program Manager for the Rogue River-Siskiyou Nat'l Forest) work to remove nails from salvaged shilap roof sheathing.

Upon completion, it is expected that Wildhorse Lookout will be made available to the public through the Forest Service's Recreation Cabin Rental Program.  The SMS is dedicating the restoration effort to long-time friend Roger McAlister, a devoted member of the SMS who passed away at the age of 78 in 2000.  Commander Roger McAlister was a retired Navy fighter pilot who was stationed for many years in post-war Japan, and who was renowned for his oneness with his flying machine.  In his retirement, Roger enjoyed flying his 1955 Beechcraft Bonanza, often giving SMS members aerial tours of our work sites.  

It is likely that Roger buzzed by Wildhorse Lookout in his lifetime, since he flew his plane to Bandon on a regular basis for maintenance "because no one can beat my mechanic."  An accomplished painter, Roger was Chair of the Art Department at Lane Community College for many years until he retired to his home in Blue River with his wife, Stevi.  He also was a regular contributor of watercolors featuring fire lookouts that were depicted on SMS holiday greeting cards for ten years running.




At right: Roger McAlister helps add the final touches to Sand Mountain Lookout in 1990.

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