Trees of heaven
September 7, 2006
By PAUL FATTIG
Emil Sabol, 82, became Union Creek Ranger District ranger 44 years ago and held the job
for four years. He and his family lived in this Civilian Conservation Corps building for part of the time. The district later merged with the Prospect Ranger District. (Mail Tribune / Jim Craven)
Former Union Creek ranger returns for a visit, and memories return with him.
When Emil and Dorine Sabol came down from Oakridge to check out the Union Creek Ranger District in 1962, they arrived on a balmy mid-September day.
“There was a nice early fall feeling in the air,” he recalled. “We looked at this area and saw it was heaven.”
Emil, now 82 and living in Portland, took the job as the district ranger 44 years ago this month, serving for four years. For the first time in years, the couple, married 56 years, visited Union Creek on Wednesday.
“I’m so glad we lived here when we did — we have wonderful memories,” Dorine said.
The Sabols and their three children, including one born while they were living in Union Creek, initially rented an alpine cottage built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s. The cottages are now rented out to the public.
Late last year, the Forest Service erected a sign to mark the site of the nearby CCC camp site. The sign was created thanks to a donation from the Oregon chapter of the National Association of CCC Alumni to the agency. Emil, who served in the CCC in his native Michigan, is president of the Oregon chapter.
A B-17 pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II who was captured after bailing out over Berlin after his plane was hit, Emil said he decided to go into forestry because of his CCC experience.
“The CCCs helped a lot of young people,” he said. “When I was in, I worked as a firefighter, tree planter, truck driver and assistant mechanic.”
Emil, who has a degree in forestry from Michigan State University, retired as assistant director of timber management for Region 6 after 38 years with the Forest Service.
Prospect resident Paul Pearson, 84, who was the district engineer when Emil was the local ranger, was on hand to greet his old boss and friend Wednesday.
So was Joel King, district ranger for the Prospect and Butte Falls ranger districts. The Union Creek district was merged into the Prospect district after Emil left the region. King presented the Sabols with a huckleberry pie, a specialty of nearby Beckie’s Cafe, a popular place the couple frequented in the 1960s.
Emil was district ranger during the 1962 Columbus Day wind storm, which blew over some 80,000 board feet of timber in the district. Their youngest daughter, Patty, was due to be born in mid-October.
“With that storm, all hell broke loose,” he said. “The highway was plugged with trees. But we finally got some crews going and they opened the road. We got in that car and headed out.”
They made it to a Medford hospital just before Patty was born on Oct. 15. The Sabols were fortunate: One Forest Service couple had their baby in their car before they reached Shady Cove.
Another close call came the following winter after Patty was born.
“We had just come from getting the mail at the office,” Dorine recalled, noting that daughter Jan, then 5, and a young friend wanted to play outside in the snow a little while.
“They were sliding down the snowbank when she went into the river,” she said. “I remember running through knee-deep snow to the river.
“She was clinging to the tree roots sticking out of the bank,” she added. “I pulled her out and put her into a lukewarm tub, then gradually warmed it up for her. I made her go lay down. Then I called Emil to come home and be with me for a moment. I was so upset.”
Then there was the time a bear was hounding the Union Creek District compound. The district staff borrowed a live trap from the Crater Lake National Park staff, baiting it with bacon and other goodies.
“The crew was very intent on getting the bear, but I told them not to shoot it,” Emil said. “But we could never get the bear to go into the live trap. He continued to raid the garbage cans.
“Well, the bear finally made a big mistake — he went over to Beckie’s,” he added. “About 3 o’clock in the morning he started scratching on the porch. That’s when they nailed him.”
Two waitresses at the restaurant, both accomplished hunters, shot the bear with a .300 Savage and a .32 Special, he said.
“When I came down for coffee early in the morning, those two women already had that bear skinned out,” he said.
While Emil served as ranger, the district was producing roughly 125 million board feet of timber a year, making it one of the top timber producers in the West. That amount is more than twice what the entire Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest now harvests annually.
It was during a national building boom when the agency was focusing on timber production, he noted.
“We had a good relationship with the national park people,” he said. “I remember they referred to our cuttings as ‘harvest areas’ instead of ‘clearcuts’ or ‘damned clearcuts.’ They recognized what our mandate was.”
However, he noted the district’s proximity to the park helped guide forest management in both Union Creek and Prospect districts.
“That highway from Prospect all the way to the park, nobody would have dreamed of doing anything but cutting danger trees and enhancing the look of the woods,” he said. “We felt a responsibility to have a good entrée into the national park.”
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.