Category Archives: Pennsylvania

The PA State Fish – The Brook Trout

The Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is the state fish of Pennsylvania. It was designated as such by the Legislature in 1970. The vote was 182-9. Similar legislation had been passed by the House four years prior but died in the Senate. The chief sponsor of the measure was Rep. William F. Renwick, (D-Elk County). While it sounds rather innocuous to designate a state fish it was actually a partisan debate that pitted warmwater advocates who wanted the Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) as the state fish against coldwater advocates who wanted the Brook Trout.

The Brook Trout is Pennsylvania’s only native salmonid that swims in its streams. It is a member of the family of fish that contains trout and salmon. But the Brook Trout is not a trout at all. It is a char, characterized by light spots on a dark background and is more closely related to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and Artic Char (Salvelinus alpinus) than it is to the Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) or Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) that have been widely stocked and, in many cases naturalized in streams across Pennsylvania. The Brook Trout is a popular fish being the state fish of Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as the Keystone State. In Dr. Robert Behnke’s authoritative book, Trout and Salmon of North America, he notes the distribution of the fish.

“[The range of the Brook Trout] covers much of northeastern North America. Northward, brook trout are native to the Atlantic drainages of Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, and to tributaries of James Bay and Ungava Bay….

Southward, brook trout are native to the Great Lakes basin and in headwater tributaries of the Mississippi River of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northeastern Iowa. In the northeastern United States brook trout are native to all Atlantic coastal drainages southward to Virginia and in parts of the Ohio River System of the Mississippi basin. In the southern Appalachian Mountains brook trout are native to higher-elevation streams draining both to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Mississippi (headwaters of the Tennessee River drainage). The southernmost natural distribution of brook trout (and of any species of the genus Salevelinus) is the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in northern Georgia.”

Behnke further points out one of the mysteries surrounding the Brook Trout. While it is native to the uppermost part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula it did not occur throughout the rest of lower Michigan. Whileit is found in Lake Superior it is not native to any of the other Great Lakes. Brook Trout found in the tributaries of Lake Superior are known as Coasters. They spawn in the flowing water and spend much of their lives swimming and feeding in the lake. Migratorial Brook Trout are also found on Long Island where they will spawn in freshwater and spend a considerable portion of their lives in saltwater. Those particular fish are known as Salters. Sea run Brook Trout in Canada’s Maritime provinces are legendary.

Original acrylic by Dave Weaver.

Brook Trout are amenable to aquaculture and as a result they have been bred in hatcheries across America and stocked indiscriminately. Where they have been stocked in the American West they are often considered an invasive species. This led to a comical incident a number of years ago at the Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. The aforementioned Dr. Behnke was the keynote speaker to the group of teenagers assembled for the camp. Bob lived in Colorado Springs and would come to the camp to talk about fish and in particularly trout. A number of the staff and instructors would sit in the back of the room to listen to Bob’s presentation. After all, when you have an opportunity to listen to the world’s foremost expert on trout, you do.  One particular afternoon I was sitting next to the presenter who was to speak that evening on TU’s Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. During the Q & A session one of the students asked Bob if he ever ate the fish he caught. Bob replied that two or three times a year he would go to a lake near where he lived and catch “a mess of brook trout” which he would take home and have a fish fry. When he said that I thought I would have to do CPR on the instructor sitting next to me. Fortunately, he revived somewhat when Bob explained that the Brook Trout had no business in the lakes and streams of the west and they were out-competing and driving out native species such as Cutthroats and Rainbows. In the West they are considered an invasive species and a nuisance.

An angler looks for Brook Trout in Kettle Creek in the late 1940s

The Brook Trout has long been associated with Pennsylvania trout fishing. Going back through some early sporting literature one can find reference to anglers catching sacks and barrels of fish. This happened everywhere from the legendary limestone streams of southcentral Pennsylvania to the large freestone streams of northern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania state fish is an aggressive fish and will readily rise to a dry fly.

Unfortunately for the fish, they live in some of the most fragile ecosystems – particularly the poorly buffered freestone streams – where timber, coal and petroleum are also found. The optimum temperature for members of the genus Salvelinus is 50o to 57o F, though as Behnke notes “Brook trout are the most tolerant of warm temperatures; in this regard they are more comparable to rainbow trout and brown trout than to other char.”

As the industrialization of Pennsylvania took place mountainsides were cleared of trees. The hemlocks (State tree of Pennsylvania) that provided shade to the streams where the fish lived were also prized for their bark for the tanning industry. As the hemlocks were cut the shade was lost and the streams began to warm. To add insult to injury, massive log drives down some relatively small streams destroyed habitat. Think of it this way: You are sitting in your living room quite comfortable in the summer when your electricity goes out. Now you are sweltering in the heat of summer. You get through the lethargy of summer and have just about begun to recover by the following spring when a bulldozer comes through the middle of your living room.  The choice is pretty simple; you have to leave or die.

After the timber was removed sediment by the thousands of tons was washed into the streams. Food in the form of insects that the Brook Trout depended on was smothered. Then fires burned unchecked across the mountains. Huge volumes of ash on steep-sided mountains washed into the streams not only adding to the sediment load but also altering the water chemistry, increasing pH and phosphorus levels. Trout populations in many watersheds were fragmented, leaving the fish in only the places where habitat remained marginal. It is unknown but it is widely believed that many populations were extirpated.

But small populations of Brook Trout survived, and as soon as conditions in the stream allowed, they returned. Perhaps not in the numbers they previously existed but they did return.

So where does the Brook Trout stand – or rather swim – today? According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the are about 86,473 miles of streams. Of that total number of streams 64% are capable of having habitat that will contain trout in that they are classified as Cold Water Fishes, High Quality Coldwater Fishes, Exceptional Value, and High Quality Trout Stocking.

According to Bob Schott, a longtime biologist with DEP who is now retired,

“Streams can be designated as HQ based on chemistry or biology.  If biology it can either be based on macroinvertebrate scores or Class A designation.  HQ streams do not have to hold a Class A trout fishery.  EV streams have to meet the criteria for HQ plus meet one of the other requirements listed in Chapter 93.4b.

Also, back in the early 70s many streams were designated HQ because the were in “Conservation” areas.  I believe it had to do with watersheds that were public water supplies.

Class A streams should be upgraded to HQ-CWF once the PFBC submits them to DEP.  There is a backlog and I have been pushing for a number of years to get the process moving.”

As Schott points out, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PF&BC) has its own system of designating streams and it sometimes doesn’t agree with DEP. The PF&BC have put together a GIS layer indicating that 15,860 miles of waters of the commonwealth are capable of supporting natural trout reproduction. That’s about 25% of the water DEP says should support trout. Scientists and policy makers don’t always agree.

Acrylic by Dr. Tom Sholseth

To make matters even a bit more confusing to layman, the PF&BC designates streams based on fish biomass. Class A Wild Trout Waters are the highest biomass class given to streams in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. They are considered to contain the highest-quality naturally reproducing trout populations in Pennsylvania. Class A Wild Trout Waters receive certain legal protections. For instance, they are typically classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as High-Quality Coldwater Fisheries. Most Class A Wild Trout Waters are subject to standard statewide angling regulations by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The official definition of Class A Wild Trout Waters is “streams that support a population of naturally produced trout of sufficient size and abundance to support a long-term and rewarding sport fishery“. These streams are considered to be the best angling streams in Pennsylvania.

There are different total biomass criteria for different species and combinations of species, but for brook trout alone, the minimum is 30 kilograms per hectare (27 lb/acre), and for brown trout alone, the minimum is 40 kilograms per hectare (36 lb/acre).

Before we go any further I want to clarify a point. Scientists use the metric system. A Hectare is a metric unit of measurement abbreviated Ha. A hectare is 10,000 square meters and is based on the basic unit “Are” which is 100 square meters. It is pronounced Heck – tare not “Hectoacre” or “Hecktacre.” An acre is an English unit of measurement and an acre is about 0.405 hectare and one hectare contains about 2.47 acres. If you can count to ten the metric system is easy; certainly more so than perches, rods, chains and feet.

The PF&BC has designated to this point 2,423.23 miles of streams as Class A trout water. The largest share 48% (1174 miles) is Class A Brook Trout. An additional 13.2% (369 miles) is designated as either Mixed Brook/Brown Trout, or Mixed Brook/Rainbow Trout.

Pen and Ink by Mark Sussino for Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited 1995

In addition the PF&BC has designated an additional 415.2 miles as Wilderness Trout Streams. According to the PF&BC, “Wilderness trout stream management is based upon the provision of a wild trout fishing experience in a remote, natural and unspoiled environment where man’s disruptive activities are minimized. Established in 1969, this option was designed to protect and promote native (brook trout) fisheries, the ecological requirements necessary for natural reproduction of trout and wilderness aesthetics. The superior quality of these watersheds is considered an important part of the overall angling experience on wilderness trout streams. Therefore, all stream sections included in this program qualify for the Exceptional Value (EV) special protected water use classification, which represents the highest protection status provided by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).”

Using the Pennsylvania’s interactive mapping system, software such as MapWindows, or you can purchase Mike Gogal’s Stream Map app for your phone to find the best trout fishing experience to suit your needs.

The brook trout is coming back. Thanks to efforts like Trout Unlimited’s Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, local TU chapters doing habitat restoration and watershed groups working to remediate Acid Mine Drainage, seepage from oil and gas wells, and other destructive forces Brook Trout are returning to streams where they have been absent for more than a century. It is important for anglers, foresters and others to keep an eye on our coldwater resources, report any problems you find and keep fire out of the woods.

State Symbols & Fire – Mountain Laurel the State Flower

Small pinkish white blooms appear in May and June. Photo by Joe Vatter

Every person who has spent even a little bit of time in Pennsylvania’s forests knows what mountain laurel is. Hikers are familiar with it as it impinges on trails and seems to reach out and grab at packs and clothing. Hunters are familiar with it for many of the same reasons and its ability to hide game. Tourists flock to areas where it is prevalent to see it in bloom. And wildland firefighters are familiar with it for not only its propensity to burn, but also for its thick matted roots that resist line building. It is a pretty, but not fragrant flower that blooms in May and June. It is a wonderous event to visit a forest when the laurel is in full bloom. The town of Wellsboro even has a festival “The Laurel Festival” in June to celebrate the plant, complete with a Laurel Queen, parade and all the other events found in small-town festivals of that sort. It is so popular in Pennsylvania that 84 out of 9835 small watersheds have ‘Laurel’ in their name (second only to Mill at 121). There are even 18 places named in the Pennsylvania Gazetteer referring to Laurel.

The plant blooms are a major tourist attraction. Photo by Joe Vatter.

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is sometimes referred to as calico-bush, or spoonwood. It is a broad leaf shrub that retains its leaves throughout the winter. It is a member of the heather family, Ericaceae, that is native to the eastern United States. The family of plants contains many common shrubs including huckleberries, blueberries, azaleas, cranberries and rhododendron. It can be found throughout the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Florida and west to Indiana.  Mountain Laurel is sometimes erroneously called Sheep Laurel, however sheep laurel is recognized as a distinctive species Kalmia angustifolia. The easiest way for a non-botanist to identify the two species is during the bloom. Mountain Laurel has light pink flowers and Sheep Laurel has darker, magenta blooms. The two species may be found in proximity to each other.

Mountain Laurel is the State Flower of Pennsylvania. (It is also the state symbol of Connecticut.) In 1933 the Pennsylvania General Assembly in a fit of indifference could not decide on a state flower. Some legislators favored the Pink Azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), others favored the Mountain Laurel. Compromise apparently was not an option. They passed two bills, one naming Mountain Laurel as the state flower, the other bill named the Pink Azalea as the state flower. Then they sent both bills to Governor Gifford Pinchot (a trained forester) and essentially said to him, “Pick one ya like!” Some accounts say that Gifford did not make the choice, but rather passed the decision on to his wife Cornelia. Whoever made the decision, Mountain Laurel became the State Flower of Pennsylvania on May 5, 1933.

The plant spreads by rhizomes sending up new shoots from underground.

WARNING: POISONOUS PARTS: All parts. Highly Toxic, Maybe Be Fatal if Eaten!

If for some strange reason you happen to ingest Mountain Laurel, you should know that symptoms. They include: salivation, watering of eyes and nose, slow pulse, nausea, vomiting, sweating, abdominal pain, headache, tingling of skin, lack of coordination, convulsions, and paralysis. It is an Andromedotoxin, a toxic compound C31H50O10 found in members of the heath family (Ericaceae). Honey made from the blooms of the plant can also impart the poisoning. In short if you eat Mountain Laurel it is going to mess you up.

Mountain Laurel is a heavy, hard and strong wood, but it is somewhat brittle. It has yellow sapwood and a yellow-brown heartwood with red spots. It has a green weight of 63 lbs/ft3. By comparison White Oak is 47 lb/ft3, Eastern White Pine is 22 – 31 lbs/ft3, and Eastern Hemlock is 50 lbs/ft3 when green.

The Janka hardness test measures the resistance of a sample of wood to denting and wear. It measures the force required to embed an 11.28-millimeter (0.444 in) diameter steel ball halfway into a sample of wood. This method leaves a hemispherical indentation with an area of 200 mm2. the measurement is in pounds-force (lbf). The rating for Mountain Laurel is 1,790 lbf., White Oak is 1,360 lbf., White Pine is 380 lbf., and Eastern Hemlock is 500 lbf.

The wood has been used for utensils (hence the nickname Spoonwood) furniture, bowls and other household goods as well as ornamental wreaths and roping. Until the 1960s, when man-made materials became widely used, the Mountain Laurel furnished root burls that could be substituted for expensive imported briar in the making of smoking-pipe bowls. The wood of these burls was far heavier, harder, and denser than that in the tree above ground, making it slow to burn from smoldering tobacco. Laurel briar is said to be inferior to the imported variety, but it still works for pipe bowls.

An “Old Hunter’s Tale” is that you will only find Mountain Laurel growing on the north side of the mountain. That’s pretty much false. If you use that as a guide to help you find your way out of the woods there is a good chance you will be spending the night in the woods, probably in a laurel thicket.

Mountain Laurel is usually an understory plant. During the past 100 years Mountain Laurel has spread and grown pervasively. After the Pennsylvania forests were turned into the “Pennsylvania Desert” at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Mountain Laurel had been subjected to fire, and destruction from timber harvesting. The regrowth

of the forests into the infamous “red brush” kept the laurel from being able to compete and its growth was stunted. As the middle of the century arrived the forest canopy reached above the maximum height of the laurel, and space became available for it to begin to grow with abandon. Destruction of the canopy by the oak leaf roller, gypsy moth and other forest pests allowed additional light to reach the laurel permitting it to grow and exclude other plants, notably trees.  While the plant is poisonous to humans, it seems to have little effect on white tail deer, who will browse it as a food of “last resort.” As 

Mountain Laurel is an understory plant that will often grow better when the canopy has been removed.a result, Mountain Laurel is not prone to overbrowsing by deer. It does, however make excellent cover for game. Many a young or novice hunter earned his stripes by following the directive to “Go through that laurel patch over there and kick something out.”


Mountain Laurel will burn hot and fast, due to the waxy leaves and relatively dry thin branches and stems. However, it will survive, and in many cases thrive after a fire. The plant grows reproductive rhizomes some up to 30 inches into the soil, where they are isolated from even the most drastic fire effects. Some prescribed fires have shown that Mountain Laurel will re-establish itself quickly after a fire and outgrow laurel in unburned areas in as little as 8 or 9 years. Sometimes in areas where canopy mortality has been the greatest due to fire the Mountain Laurel will grow best.

Mountain Laurel has matted roots and will grow over and among loose rocks. Trying to cut a fire line through a patch of laurel, even with modern mechanized machinery is a difficult task. In drought conditions fire can travel along the roots and rhizomes deep underground, beneath a fire line cut to mineral soil, and cause fire to break out across the line.

In some forests, prescribed fire is being utilized to thin if not outright kill Mountain Laurel, but like the hardy Pennsylvanians who settled in the forests where the laurel blooms, it is here to stay.


PA State Symbols & Wildfire

Pennsylvania has several state symbols. A state tree, a state bird, a state fish, and so on and so forth. Most if not all are somehow affected by wildfires. The next few blog entries will explore how wildfire affects – positively, negatively, or some combination of both – these symbols. You might even be surprised to learn that in some cases, state symbols may be responsible for wildfires.

The Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

A stand of young hemlocks in a swampy area.

First and foremost, among them is the state tree, the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Adopted as the state tree on June 23, 1931, the hemlock has played a prominent role in forestry and forest products and other industries in Pennsylvania.

To be clear, the Eastern Hemlock is not the same as the infamous hemlock that Socrates drank. That is a member of the genus Conium, an herbaceous plant from the Mediterranean region. From this point on when hemlock is referred to, it is the Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) that is being identified.

The hemlock is a coniferous tree found in valleys, swamps and the dark, shaded understory of mature forests. It is a long-lived tree and can attain heights of more than 150 feet. From early surveys it is believed that hemlock once comprised as much as 19 percent of the undisturbed Allegheny Plateau forests.[1] The tannic acid in the bark of the Eastern Hemlock has a tannin content of between 8 and 14 percent. This made the bark of the tree valuable for the tanning of leather.

The trees were cut in early spring until about the end of June. This was the time of year when the bark was said to be “slipping,” and thus easily removed. Bark peelers, men who were hired to remove the bark from the fallen trees, used bark spuds and peeling chisels to remove the bark from the logs. The peeled bark, measured volumetrically in cords, was stacked in the woods, with the inside facing up to allow it to dry more easily. When it was completely dry the bark was hauled to the tannery and sold by weight.

As tanneries began to spring up across Pennsylvania the demand for hemlock bark increased. There was a prodigious amount of bark – and thus hemlock trees required to supply the ever-growing need for leather tanning. DeCoster notes:

 “The Pennsylvania harvest of hemlock in 1896 was estimated at 1.3 billion board feet. The peeled bark went to the tanneries, the logs went to the sawmills.”[2]

Stranahan noted the volume of hemlock needed to supply the tanneries.

 “Fifteen hundred feet of hemlock were needed to produce one cord of bark, and the nation’s tanneries were consuming 1.5 million cords of bark annually.”[3]

The Mosser and Keck Company tanneries in Allentown and Williamsport used 700 and 1,200 train car loads of bark respectively each year.[4]

While hemlock lumber was not as easily worked as the white pine with which it shared the forest, it was usable. The invention of the wire nail which replaced the cut nail allowed carpenters to securely fasten hemlock together and its use for framing and crating and other rough applications became more common as the availability of white pine dropped.[5]

Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock noted the use of hemlock in his 1895 report.

“Hemlock came into demand as a result of two causes. First. because the white pine was exhausted here, and second, because the hemlock was exhausted in New York state. It was not recognized as lumber so long as white pine continued abundant, and hence it was cut simply for the bark, which was to be employed in tanning. The logs in most instances were allowed to decay where they fell or to become the fuel to destroy the remaining timber when the next forest fire devastated the region.”[6]

The last sentence however, is a common misconception. The lumbermen who owned the stands of forest and the loggers who cut the timber knew what they were doing. Bennett notes:

“Hemlock trees were relatively easy to hand peel free of bark during an eight to twelve week period during the summer sap flow season. The customary practice was for the cutters to maximize peeled saw log and tan bark production during this limited summer season. The freshly cut slippery logs and bark were left to dry until the fall and winter season when they could more easily and safety be handled and moved to roadside or mill storage yards. This seasonal division of work enabled full use of available experienced woods labor.”[7]

He further notes:

“…mature old growth hemlock timber is thick barked. The bark contents of an unpeeled log amounts to over 20% of its total volume. To cut thru, skid, load, haul, and handle this excess bark fiber only added to the cost of the final lumber product.”[8] 

Simply put, the trees were cut, the bark was removed, and the logs left in the forest to dry in order to haul less weight to the sawmill, where they were eventually sawed into lumber. It is easy to deduce why Rothrock and other forest advocates – even to this day – decried the wanton waste of hemlock logs. Most first-hand accounts that saw the stark white hemlock logs lying in the forests saw them in the summer after they had been cut. Those who viewed the photographs taken of the cutover forests saw photographs that were also taken in the summer. But a picture speaks a thousand words and the logs in the black and white photographs easily gave the viewer a false impression.

Bennett strengthened his case.

“Some 25 years ago [prior to 1986 when the article was published] after I had become convinced the hemlock log waste story was a childish tale, I wrote a short article for the “Northern Logger” magazine. I challenged anybody to show me any hillside or forest area where the rotted logs were supposedly left to rot. I assured readers I could still show them the remnants of the old hemlock stumps where logs had been cut. In return they would have to show me the remnants of the rotted logs. Of course no one ever accepted this challenge – how could they – the logs were never left to rot, except for the odd and overlooked in the skidding operation. 

Even today many of the old hemlock cut stumps still stand two feet high as sentinel spires of those early harvest days. I have yet to find any rotted logs to substantiate this ongoing myth.”[9]

This author can attest to the fact stated by Bennett that even thirty years after the publication of his article, hemlock stumps are still visible in the woods but the logs that were supposedly left are nowhere to be found, even in detrital remnants that have decomposed into the forest floor or partially burned logs that would have left an ash pile.

As tanneries spread across Pennsylvania the value of the bark escalated and its destruction by wild fires was noted on several occasions.

The New Bloomfield Times, May 18, 1880

Williamsport, May 10. Forest fires are still raging in this part of the State, Sullivan county being the latest sufferer. The hemlock forest of that county have been burning for two or three days, and great quantities of limber are reported destroyed. The latest advices received here to-day are to the effect that two thousand acres are already burned over between Thorndale and Schreyvogels, and over fifteen hundred cords of bark belonging to Thorn McFarland & Co. here have been eaten up by the flames. The fire is still fiercely burning and promises to do still greater damage unless its destructive progress is arrested by rain.

The Forest Republican, July 14, 1886

A dispatch from Sheffield to the Warren Mirror, under date of July 10th, says: One of the most destructive forest fires that ever visited this section of the country is now raging near here in Forest county. The fire originated in a large bark slashing in which was piled several thousand cords of bark. About sixteen hundred cords of bark, together with several lumber camps, are now burned and the fire is not yet under control. Horton, Crary & Co, who own the bark, have a hundred men fighting the fire, and it is thought it will be under control before night.

Pittsburg Dispatch, May 11, 1891


Many Thousand Feet of Logs and Cords of Bark Destroyed.

Special Telegram to the Dispatch 

Keating Summit, Pa., May 10. One of the largest forest fires known for many years is raging south and east of Austin, on the land of F, H. and C. W. Goodyear. The fire has been burning since yesterday noon. It is estimated that 30,000,000 feet of logs and 10,000 cords of bark have been destroyed, besides 10 miles of tram railroad. Telephonic communications are cut off and it will be impossible to get full details until tomorrow. 

Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock reporting for the state forestry commission about which more is to come, noted:

The supply of hemlock is not only very limited, but none are more fully aware than those most directly concerned, that it too, is approaching extinction. The successful handling of large tanning plants makes it imperative that they should be kept at least reasonably active, and this demands a large annual cut of hemlock for bark. This, in turn, gluts the market with hemlock lumber. The end will come, and come suddenly, when both the pine and hemlock as sources of revenue to the capitalist and the wage earner of the State will disappear from within our limits. To the citizens of twenty years hence, it will appear incredible that with these facts before us, the close of 1894 showed no active measures taken for either protection or restoration of our timber resources.[10]

Metal salts eventually replaced hemlock bark as the principal tanning agent and the demand for bark fell.

Bark loading in McKean County

The methods of storing and transporting hemlock bark and logs in the 19th and early 20th centuries were conducive to the rapid spread of fire. Bark and logs were stacked along railroad tracks and sidings and piled as high or higher than the cars to which they eventually were loaded in a continuous line. The huge piles of bark were tinder dry.

Wildfires in the slashings would give off embers that would blow into the piles, or the steam locomotives would give off sparks. Once fire impinged on the piles it was difficult if not outright impossible to stop it.

Hemlock in McKean County

Burning piles of logs and bark caused disastrous losses and the Moores Run fire disaster was caused in large part by logs and bark piled immediately adjacent to the tracks.

Common woods found in Pennsylvania forests have different BTU values.  For example, dry white oak will release 24 Million BTU’s per cord, hemlock will release 15.9 Million BTU’s per cord and white pine will release 14.3 Million BTUs per cord. A cord is a measure of wood that is defined as a stacked pile 4 feet wide, by 8 feet long by 4 feet high.  The website notes that, “A cord is 128 cubic feet but because of air space between pieces the actual amount of solid wood may be only 70-90 cubic feet. This depends on the size and shape of the pieces and how tightly they are stacked.”[11] Because of this discrepancy they further note the weight of the wood in each cord. Considering that the wood is dry and suitable for burning in a woodstove the weights are: White oak – 3,757 pounds per cord, hemlock – 2,482 pounds per cord, and white pine 2,236 pounds per cord. The number of pounds per cord will vary significantly depending on the dryness of the wood. The BTU values will also vary as wetter wood will require more heat to drive out water in wood that is not sufficiently dried.  But these numbers illustrate that denser wood such as white oak will have more energy stored than the softer hemlock and pine.[12]

Despite its propensity to burn hemlock was used in wildfire suppression. Green hemlock branches were used by early firefighters to beat out the flames as fire crept across the forest floor. It may not sound like a good idea today but at the time it was often the best available tool for fire control.

Today hemlock accounts for about 6 percent of the forest in the Appalachian Plateau[13] and accounts for about 4 Billion board feet of sawtimber in Pennsylvania each year according to the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association.[14] The bark once so prized for its value in tanning is now used as landscaping material.

Hemlock trees in Pennsylvania are under assault. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA) often referred to as simply wooly adelgid, has begun a destructive path across Pennsylvania. According to the Penn State Extension, the insect pest arrived in the western United States in 1924. It first appeared in the east around 1950 and was discovered in Pennsylvania in 1973.[15]

It is a small, soft bodied insect that is barely visible to the unaided eye. The adelgids feed on the nutrients taken from the base of the needles. The needles turn brown or gray and then die. Because the critters are so prolific, infestations can kill a mature hemlock tree in one to four years. The presence of adelgids on the trees can be found by turning over leaves and looking for small white cottony egg sacs at the base of the needles. These sacs will be present all year but are more prominent in early spring.

The death of thousands of hemlock trees from HWA infestation, coupled with gypsy moth mortality of hardwoods, is part of the reason a fire complex in Monroe and Pike counties – the Beartown Fire and the Sixteen Mile Fire burned a collective 8,644 acres in April of 2016.

Foresters and entomologists are looking for solutions but for the large stands of eastern hemlock that have re-grown since the state was subjected to industrial logging a century ago, there is nothing that seems to be adequate in the control of the invasive pest.


[1] Quimby, John W. Value And Importance Of Hemlock Ecosystems in The Eastern United States

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, 1995

[2] DeCoster, Lester, A. The Legacy of Penn’s Woods: A History of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Department of Environmental Resources, 1993

[3] Stranahan, Susan Q., Susquehanna, River of Dreams, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1993

[4] “Mosser and Keck, Tanners of Union Sole Leather, East Allentown,” 1881,,

[5] Stranahan, Susan Q., Susquehanna, River of Dreams, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1993

[6] Rothrock, J.T. and Shunk, William F., Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for 1895, Part II, The Division of Forestry,   Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1895, Official Documents Comprising The Department and Other Reports Made To The Governor, Senate and House of Representatives of Pennsylvania, Volume X, Clarence M. Busch, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896

[7] Bennett, Arthur L., lt’s Time to Debunk the Myths of Early Logging Practices, Pennsylvania Forests, Vol. 76, No. 5 Sept.- Oct., 1986.

[8] Bennett, Arthur L., lt’s Time to Debunk the Myths of Early Logging Practices, Pennsylvania Forests, Vol. 76, No. 5 Sept.- Oct., 1986.

[9] Bennett, Arthur L., lt’s Time to Debunk the Myths of Early Logging Practices, Pennsylvania Forests, Vol. 76, No. 5 Sept.- Oct., 1986

[10] Rothrock, J.T. and Shunk, William F., Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for 1895, Part II, The Division of Forestry,   Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1895, Official Documents Comprising The Department and Other Reports Made To The Governor, Senate and House of Representatives of Pennsylvania, Volume X, Clarence M. Busch, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1896



[13] Quimby, John W. Value And Importance Of Hemlock Ecosystems in The Eastern United States

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, 1995

[14] Pennsylvania Forest Products Association,


100 Years Ago – 1918 ‘The War to End All Wars’ Affected Pennsylvania Forests

With America’s entry into the war foresters and crews for firefighting efforts became undermanned.  At Mont Alto student enrollment was down. Faculty left to join the Army. Even the head of the State Forest Academy, Dr. Edwin A. Ziegler, left Mont Alto and served as a commissioned officer during the war. Another prominent forester who would go on to serve in the AEF and later become prominent in forestry issues included Robert Y. Stuart, the last Commissioner of the Department of Forestry and the First Secretary of the Department of Forests and Waters. You can read more about Stuart and the others who contributed to the war effort in the new book, The Fires of Penn’s Woods, available from the author, at the Whistlestop Book Store in Carlisle, and online through Amazon.


The Fires of Penn’s Woods

The Fires of Penn’s Woods

New Book Details Wildfires Across Pennsylvania and How Pennsylvanians Responded to the Challenge

What is Happening in the Western States Now, Happened in Pennsylvania. Wildfires Raged Across Pennsylvania More Than a Century Ago

Carlisle, PA, December 29, 2017: Almost everyday news accounts show video and still photos of entire towns devastated by wildfires. Terms like “largest in history,” or “a community destroyed by a wildfire,” are common as news reporters in yellow firefighter shirts stand before the cameras. A hundred and twenty years ago the same kind of devastation was found in Pennsylvania. But it doesn’t take a 300,000 acre fire to be significant. If it is your family, house, barn or place of employment that was burned, it is immaterial whether the fire burned a thousand acres or two acres. The fire was significant!

As the great forests of Pennsylvania were cleared, the slash and debris left by loggers was prone to burn – and it did! Huge fires once raged through the forest of Pennsylvania. While certainly not on the scale of the fires that have burned across the American West in the recent years, the wildfires that have burned in Pennsylvania took lives, disrupted families and businesses, burned homes, farms and even entire towns. The fires provided the impetus for the founding of the science of forestry and wildfire control in the Keystone State.

The Fires of Penn’s Woods is a detailed historical account of how fires –some quite large and some quite small – impacted Pennsylvania and shaped what is today a sustainable forest that has re-grown from the Great Pennsylvania Desert – the land that was left after industrial logging virtually cleared the state of its trees by the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Until now there has not been a comprehensive history that has documented wildfires in Pennsylvania to this extent. This thoroughly researched and meticulously detailed book describes how the science of forestry, wildfire prevention, and fire control has grown in Pennsylvania. This book is a must read for firefighter, foresters and others with an interest in Pennsylvania history.

The author, Michael Klimkos is retired from the PA Department of Environmental Protection. For twenty-five years he was a volunteer firefighter and a member of wildland firefighting crews. He has previously authored, A History of Trout Unlimited and the Environmental Movement: 1959 – 2000, (2003), and compiled and edited The Letort: A Limestone Legacy, (2015). He is the past editor of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide magazine. Mike is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association. He writes from his home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The book is available through Amazon, as well as other retail booksellers. For information on how to obtain a signed copy, or find out where the author is doing a book signing or presentation, visit the author’s website at

The Fires of Penn’s Woods

By Michael J. Klimkos

2017, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Library of Congress Control Number:  2017919450

ISBN: 10: 1981712410



6” X 9” – Paperback

350 pages, plus index

3 appendices

527 Endnotes

Shop owners and book re-sellers please contact me directly for pricing and details.


100 Years Ago – October 1917

America was embroiled in the “War to End All Wars” and times were different. This week’s blog provides a look at what was happening in the fall of 1917.

The Fulton County News, McConnellsburg, PA, October 18, 1917

In the face of the fact that Pennsylvania has just passed through the worst forest fire season since 1908, Chief Forest Fire Warden Wirt reports that the average fire burned over just about half as large an area as in 1915, while the number of thousand-acre fires is twenty-five percent, under the 1915 record.

The total number of forest fires reported during the 1917 spring fire season is 1,746. The number reported in 1915 was 1,191, and in 1916, 1,013. The average area burned per fire was 157 acres in 1917; in 1916, 306 acres; and in 1916, 152 acres.

The full season for 1917, which is opening favorably, will probably reduce the average for the whole year to less than 140 acres.

The records of the Department of Forestry show that the fire wardens had to cope with unusually difficult weather conditions last spring. Two fires burned in January and even in February, a very unusual occurrence. During one week in May over a hundred fires were burning every day, the number of fires for this one week being 843, almost half the total number. The total area burned over was 275,097 acres, the total direct loss was $567,972, and the total cost of extinction was almost $35,000. Indirect losses, such as damage to watersheds and losses to labor, probably amount to several millions of dollars in addition to the direct timber loss.

Of the twelve counties which had over 50 fires each, Schuylkill leads with 108, followed in order by Luzerne with 92, Monroe with 88, Centre with 81 and Dauphin 72. Of the nine counties which had over 10, 000 acres each burned over, Dauphin leads with 20,757 acres, followed by Lycoming with 20,093 acres, Elk with 18.389 acres, Luzerne with 17,622 acres, and Centre with 15,949 acres. Of the nine counties which suffered losses of over $20,000 each, Juniata leads with a total damage of $71,714. followed in order by Lycoming with $57,609, Centre with $35,492, Luzerne with $29,458. and Blair with $25,765.

One hundred and eighty of the fires burned less than one acre; 1232 burned less than 100 acres; 1658 burned less than 1,000 acres and only fifty-nine burned over a thousand acres each. The largest single fire burned over 6,200 acres in Juniata County, and caused an estimated loss of $62,570. The second largest fire burned over 5,000 acres in Jefferson township, Dauphin County, but the damage was estimated at only $5,000.


Fish Family Grand Slam

This past weekend I accomplished something that isn’t all that uncommon. I caught a wild brook trout, a wild rainbow trout, and a wild brown trout, in the same county. Granted they were two different streams that provided the fish, but they were all wild. It was the “Pennsylvania Wild Trout Grand Slam” so to speak. The only native that was missing was the Lake Trout, Salvelinus namaycush. As I released the wild brown back into the environment where he was spawned, it got me thinking, how hard would it be to catch all the members of other families in the same county, or watershed or some other geographically defined area? Which county or waterbody would you go to?

To catch three of the four trout in Pennsylvania the answer to the question is relatively easy. Go anywhere there is a stocked stream and you are likely to fulfill the goal. If the brook, brown and rainbows are to be wild, the question gets a little more difficult. To catch all four Erie County – and by extension Lake Erie is probably the best bet, though I have yet to hear of a brook trout coming from Lake Erie.

Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush

Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis

Brown Trout Salmo trutta

Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss

Excluding lakers, the counties where I would go to catch the other three wild trout would be Cumberland, Westmoreland, Franklin and Somerset.

What about the other families of fish?  Where would you go to catch all the members of the sunfish family Centrarchidae?  There are 30 species of sunfishes found in North America. To be sure, not all of them live in Pennsylvania. So I have abbreviated the list, to just those that are common in the Keystone State.

Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus

White Crappie Pomoxis annularis

Rock Bass Ambloplites rupestris

Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides

Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu

Green Sunfish Lepomis cyanellus

Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus

Redear Sunfish Lepomis microlophus

Pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus

Longear Sunfish Lepomis megalotis

Redbreast Sunfish Lepomis auritus

It might not be possible to find all of the species in one county or one drainage, but the two counties I would consider would be Huntingdon, at Lake Raystown, or Tioga with Cowanesque, Hammond and Hills Creek lakes leading the likely places. The Susquehanna River below Sunbury is also considered.

The perch family, Percidae might be the easiest list to fill. Three species are that you have to consider in this category: walleye, yellow perch, and sauger.

Walleye Sander vitreus

Yellow Perch Perca flavescens

Sauger Sander canadensis

I’ll leave out the other members of the family Percidae which includes the darters. I suspect I would have to go to somewhere in the Ohio River drainage to catch all of them. The Allegheny River on the Westmoreland / Allegheny County line would be a good place to start, or even a little farther upstream where the Kiskiminetas enters the Allegheny in Armstrong County.

The family Moronidae includes Striped Bass, White Bass and White Perch. This could be a tough one as their natural ranges do not overlap.

Striped Bass Morone saxatilis

White Bass Morone chrysops

White Perch Morone Americana

I would be inclined to go to the Delaware River for these.

For shad the lower Susquehanna or the Delaware River would have to be the choice

Shad, the members of the family Clupeidae, are difficult to find in Pennsylvania. The lower Susquehanna River in Lancaster or York county would be my choice to find the two prevalent species, though I wouldn’t rule out the Delaware River.

American Shad Alosa sapidissima

Hickory Shad Alosa mediocris

The pike family might be the most difficult grand slam to achieve in Pennsylvania.

Last but not least, and probably the hardest to catch all four species is the family Esocidae – the Pike Family. This family includes:



Grass or Redfin Pickerel Esox americanus

Chain Pickerel Esox niger

Northern Pike Esox Lucius

Muskellunge Esox masquinongy

I would probably go to northwestern Pennsylvania for this quest. The French Creek drainage would be a good starting point. Also the Allegheny Reservoir (a.k.a. Kinzua Lake) is a likely starting point. I would also consider Tioga County, though finding a northern pike there may be a bit problematic.

I have not included any of the minnow family, or suckers, drum or other fish that may from time to time show up such as Pacific salmon.

I am curious about your thoughts on this. And by the way, all the species mentioned can be caught on a fly. A “Fish Family Grand Slam on a Fly” or a “Fish Family Grand Slam on the Same Fly”; now there is a challenge.

The Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC – Part 4 of 4

Pepper Hill

On Wednesday, October 19, 1938 the Lock Haven Express weather report stated, “Rain tonight and probably Thursday morning, colder on Thursday, and in central and west portions tonight.” The paper noted it had been 80o F. the day before.[i] The same paper reported that two small fires had occurred the day before, one near Haneyville and the other in Paddys Run. The Harrisburg Telegraph was predicting temperatures near 78o F with rain to follow.[ii]  The fall of 1938 was dry. While spring rainfalls had been near normal, the summer and fall proved much drier with precipitation 2 inches below normal.[iii] A killing frost had hit the northcentral part of the state on October 7 followed by higher than normal temperatures. The forest was tinder dry.

On the morning of October 18, 1938 a series of fires broke out near Lick Run and Jerry Run in Cameron County. The fires burned throughout the day and men from camp S-132 at Hunts Run were detailed to fight the fires. Additional men who had returned to camp from their regular duties were sent out to work the night shift after eating dinner. They returned to camp at 5:30 a.m. the following morning.

Along the First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek, about four miles upstream from its confluence with Sinnemahoning Creek, at a place called Pepper Hill an arsonist had set fires on the west side of the valley. Truck driver, George Poloski was dispatched to check on the report of a wildfire in the area. At noon Poloski phoned District Forester Charles Baer to report the fires and returned to camp S-132 to eat and pick up the fire crews.

Two crews were dispatched from camp S-132. Both crews had been on the fire line all night and had only a few hours sleep when they were dispatched to the blaze. Crew 1 had 25 enrollees and was led by foreman Adolph Kammarath. Crew 2 had 22 men and was led by foreman Gilbert Mohney. The 49 men were exhausted from the previous night’s fire duty.

When the crews arrived on the fire scene they found four separate fires. A decision was made to attack the smallest fire. The terrain where the fire is located is some of the steepest to be found in Pennsylvania. Crew 2 under Foreman Mohney began building a fire line on the right flank of the fire, while others in the crew began backfiring. The going was tough and in 45 minutes only 200 feet of fire line had been constructed. The crew was instructed to move to the top of the mountain and construct a downhill line. As the crew proceeded to the top of the mountain the men became separated with some men stopping to rest while others moved on. At about 3:30 p.m. the crew noticed that the wind had shifted and the backfire they had set below had jumped their fire line and was burning toward them. The fire assumed the shape of a horseshoe. The fire burned on the panic stricken crew’s left and right as well as behind them.

Some sought shelter in the rocks. Others raced toward the summit in an effort to get away from the fire. The flames caught the men. In all the fire claimed eight lives. Foreman Gilbert Mohney, 38 of Ridgway, Basil Bogush, 19 of Conemaugh, John Boring, 19 of Johnstown, Howard May, 18 of Erie, and Andrew Stephanic 18, of Twin Rocks all perished at the scene of the fire. Ross Hollobaugh 18 of Rimersburg died the next day at Renovo Hospital. Stephen Jacofsky 17 of Johnstown died the next day at the hospital in St. Marys. George Vogel who was believed to be from New Kensington died November 2, in Renovo.

Over twenty others were injured in the fire, many requiring hospitalization. Peter Damico was severely burned, transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. and eventually returned to duty at camp S-132. Enrollees Kiliany and Gaydos were credited with leading many of the crew to safety.

In an ironic twist of fate rain began to fall about the same time the men were trapped and the 134 acre fire was extinguished, not through the efforts of the firefighters but rather by the heavy rain that fell that night.[iv]

In the days that followed federal, state and county officials began an investigation into how the fire started and how and why the men were trapped. Initial reports found in the press had the size of the fire at 800 acres, names were misspelled, and the hometowns were somewhat disorganized. George Wirt was the P.D.F. & W. investigator but the main investigation was conducted by federal and county officials. Cameron County District Attorney Edwin Tompkins would lead the county’s investigation. On October 22, 1938, three days after the fire Tompkins stated that “improper supervision” led to the deaths.[v] Tompkins said he would convene an inquest into the deaths and he “would subpoena everybody with the slightest connection with the case.”[vi] The C.C.C. investigation was under the direction of Colonel C.D. King, Commander of the Indiana District of the C.C.C. which covered Cameron County. Captain Alton Miller, Sub-district Commander and Lieutenant Rodman Hayes Cameron Camp Commander were the C.C.C. officials on site for the investigation.

On Monday, October 23, 1938 a mass was celebrated at St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church for the seven dead. At the Hyner Camp, the flag was lowered to half-staff and taps was played in remembrance of their fallen comrades.[vii] Robert Fechner, Director of the C.C.C. sent condolences to the families of the deceased.[viii]

On October 31, 1938, District Attorney Tompkins began an inquest into the Pepper Hill Fire. The inquest was expected to last three days. Tompkins was concerned that the fire was arson caused and that improper supervision had led to the deaths.[x] The testimony began with parents of four of the deceased in attendance.

Early testimony of the witnesses indicated that they did not believe the fire could have started from others burning in the area, and trains and discarded smoking materials were also ruled out as sources of ignition.[xi]

On November 2, 1938 Earl Getz, supervisor of camp S-132, testified that “the youths had received some experience fighting fires in September.” When Getz was further questioned about how much training the men had received he refused to answer, stating that the information was in the records turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was conducting its own investigation. Lieutenant Rodman M. Haynes, reserve officer at the camp admitted that the book C.C.C. Safety Regulations Relating to Forest Fire Fighters, had not been issued at the camp until two days after the fatal fire. He also testified that no other regulations or information concerning the fighting of forest fires had been posted at the camp.[xii]

Later testimony from the C.C.C. men reported they had worked on roads all day of October 18 and then had been on a fire through the night. They had gotten only six hours of rest before they were dispatched to the Pepper Hill Fire.[xiii] As testimony went on, survivor enrollees testified about the conditions they faced, how they escaped and tellingly that they had not received any classroom instruction in firefighting.[xiv] The testimony in the Coroner’s Inquest concluded on November 10, 1938.

On November 12, 1938 the coroner’s jury of “experienced woodsmen” decided after hearing nine days of testimony that the fire’s cause was incendiary and set by “some person or persons unknown. The jury also found camp officials guilty of “laxity and negligence” and recommended that any officer in charge of the camp be reprimanded and disciplined in accordance with army regulations.[xv]

Though Tompkins’ inquest was closed the Pepper Hill Fire would have long-lasting ramifications in the C.C.C. and in forest fire fighting.

The CCC Declines

The Civilian Conservation Corps had passed its high water mark. Enrollments were down, largely in part to an improving economy. War in Asia, the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe were beginning to drive the economy. On January 18, 1939, Robert Fechner asked Congress to make the C.C.C. a permanent part of the federal government.[xvi] Congressman May of Kentucky, Chairman of the House Military Committee suggested giving the C.C.C. enrollees military training.[xvii] Director Fechner was quoted in the press as opposing military training in the C.C.C.[xviii]

In January of 1939, Robert Fechner made a proposal that the C.C.C. become a permanent agency of the Federal government. His proposal asked for permanent civil service status for the enrollees to continue the work they had been doing. Fechner’s proposal met with resistance from Congress, much as the same proposal from Roosevelt had a couple of years earlier.[xix] Fechner was, however opposed to compulsory military training of the C.C.C. He said, “I do not believe there is any need or justification for compulsory military training or military training of any character as the term is usually understood in the CCC.”[xx]

Not only was enrollment dropping due to increased jobs in the private sector but other problems began to crop up in the C.C.C. The Federal Security Agency (FSA) was created by Roosevelt to consolidate several offices and boards under one director. The C.C.C. lost its status as an independent organization. Fechner was furious and considered resigning.[xxi] Despite the changes the agency moved on.

It was still a dangerous place to work. On February 13, 1939 Captain Edward Jelens, a C.C.C. supervisor at Renovo died from injuries he received in an automobile accident on January 21st.  Five enrollees from the camp at the Gettysburg battlefield were injured when their truck overturned on June 8, 1939.[xxii]

In another incident, First Lieutenant Crenson E. Davis, commander of Camp S-116 near Clearfield disappeared on February 1, 1939 when he went to Clearfield to cash payroll checks. The 26 year-old was initially feared to be the victim of bandits.[xxiii] On March 8, 1939, Davis was arrested in Texas when he tried to enlist as a private in the Army under an assumed name.[xxiv]

As projects were completed camps began to move and shift. Enrollees were transferred to other camps as the camps were phased out. On May 12, 1939, Company 2328 at SCS-6 at Shelocta began to disassemble their buildings and move them to a new site near Homer City.[xxv] Maryland was unable to fill its quota of enrollees and Pennsylvanians were used.[xxvi]

On June 15, 1939, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that civilians, rather than Army officers would now be in charge of the C.C.C. camps.[xxvii] In early July Roosevelt announced that Paul V. McNutt would head the FSA.[xxviii]  Later in the month it was announced that Pennsylvania would be allowed to furnish 6,042 enrollees of who 344 would be war veterans.[xxix]

In July of 1939 work was progressing on what was to become known as the Wayside Rest Memorial. The project, two miles east of Emporium on route PA 120 was to be a memorial to the eight C.C.C. men who had lost their lives as a result of the Pepper Hill Fire. The memorial was conceived by Father Paul Giegerich, chaplain of the C.C.C. district. Each enrollee and officer was asked for a small contribution to the project, often just a nickel or dime. C.C.C. enrollees and officers from across the state contributed to make the project a reality.[xxx] On October 19, 1939, one year to the day after the Pepper Hill Fire, the Wayside Rest Memorial was dedicated.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland starting the war in Europe. The C.C.C. which had been in decline because of a lack of enrollees was further hampered by a lack of manpower, as American industry was roused out of its deep slumber of The Depression and jobs became plentiful.

Another blow to the viability of the C.C.C. came on December 31, 1939 when Robert Fechner died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he had been for the past five weeks after suffering a heart attack.[xxxi]

The CCC would continue until 1942. As the demands for men and materials for World War II increased, the CCC became an anachronism and funding for the program was eliminated as the world went to war.

[i] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, October 19, 1938

[ii] The Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, October 19, 1938

[iii] NOAA, National Climatic Data Center,

[iv] Schultz, Michael, Pepper Hill: A Tragedy, Wildland Firefighter, February, 2001, along with multiple other references including Ely, Warren, in Forest Fire Warden News, 1981, and multiple press accounts by UPI, AP, and INS.

[v] Bradford Evening Star and The Bradford Daily Record, Bradford, PA, October 22, 1938

[vi] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, October 22, 1938

[vii] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, October 25, 1938

[viii] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, October 27, 1938

[ix] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, October 29, 1938

[x] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, October 31, 1938

[xi] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 1, 1938

[xii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 2, 1938

[xiii] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, November 8, 1938

[xiv] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 10, 1938

[xv] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 14, 1938

[xvi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, January 19, 1939

[xvii] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, January 21, 1939

[xviii] The Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh, PA, March 4, 1939

[xix] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, January 19, 1939

[xx] The Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh, PA, March 4, 1939

[xxi] History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Lasting Legacy, Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, Inc., Edinburg, VA, 2010

[xxii] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1939

[xxiii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, February 2, 1939

[xxiv] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, March 8, 1939

[xxv] The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, PA, May 20, 1939

[xxvi] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, March 28, 1939

[xxvii] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 16, 1939

[xxviii] The Evening Sun, Hanover, PA, July 11, 1939

[xxix] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 24, 1939

[xxx] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, July 21, 1939

[xxxi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, January 1, 1940

The Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC – Part 3

Life in the camps was generally good, though many arrived at camp unprepared for what lay before them. Many of the men were from cities and had never dreamed that places like Leetonia, Livonia or Laquin even existed.

The camp day began with reveille at 6:00 a.m. followed by physical training with breakfast at 6:30 a.m., then sick call, policing the camp and at 7:15 trucks were loaded with men and tools and they set out for the day’s work. At 4:00 p.m. the men returned to camp for flag lowering, dinner, and announcements. Following dinner the men had free time until lights out at 10:00 p.m.[i] the men were fed nourishing meals three times a day and many thrived on the food and increased vitality.

There were problems and complaints to be sure. Many of the complaints centered around bad food, dirty quarters, vermin infested bedding, bullying and hazing. The Army, which ran the camps, investigated the complaints and wrote most of them off owing to the personalities of the men.

As with any group of people when put together, personalities conflicted and sometimes it led to trouble. At camp NP 2 near Gettysburg a riot broke out on the night of March 26, 1934. Following the riot, Lieutenant James McDonnell commandant of the camp held a summary court and immediately discharged two men. It was reported that lights were smashed and bunks were destroyed in the barracks. It was reported that further action would be taken against other suspected leaders in the riot.[ii] In the summer of 1934 three men from the Shingle Branch Camp were arrested for creating a disturbance in Renovo.[iii]

The camps were segregated. Black enrollees were in separate camps. Other camps were largely comprised of men from the same area. For example a camp may be composed of men from western Pennsylvania, or southern Alabama. Some of the camps located in close proximity to each other that allowed for the men from the camps to meet in the local towns caused those regional and racial animosities to come to the surface and cause problems. Camp NP2 was a segregated camp and this probably played into the mix. In another incident a shooting occurred at the Medix Run Camp in Clearfield County. Though the shooting was not fatal, it was a serious incident and turned over to the Clearfield County courts for adjudication.[iv] Another near riot with racial undertones happened at a camp near Kane on August 3, 1933. The Kane Republican reported that the seven were dismissed from the C.C.C. and sent home.[v]

On June 23, 1937 enrollees from the camps at Cooks Run and Two Mile Run, both near Westport in western Clinton County met on the streets of Renovo and began to fight. The riot which involved over 250 enrollees was caused by regional animosities. The Cooks Run camp was southern men and the Two Mile Run camp was comprised of Pennsylvanians. Though the Civil War had ended some 72 year prior, there were still grudges. Despite the fighting no arrests were reported.[vi]

Despite problems the C.C.C. enrollees became community members for the time they were there. On June 15, 1933 two C.C.C. men from the Hyner camp rescued a young girl from drowning in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River at Renovo.[vii]

As the program evolved, projects in areas concluded and enrollments were up camps were scheduled for closure. Another factor involved in the closings was 1936 was an election year. FDR in an effort to balance the federal budget proposed cutting the program despite its success. When the proposal was made to Congress both parties rebelled, Roosevelt backed off his proposal to reduce the camps to 300,000 men.[viii] In 1937 twenty camps were closed in Pennsylvania and 56 remained open.[ix] The year of 1936 is generally considered the “high water mark” of the C.C.C.

The C.C.C. was so prominent in American life and culture that Paramount Studios produced a movie, “It’s A Great Life” starring Joe Morrison and Paul Kelly, that detailed the life of the C.C.C. in 1936.[x] The movie was filmed in California and enrollees participated in the film project.

On March 17, 1936 one of the most devastating floods to ever hit Pennsylvania began. Known as the Saint Patrick’s Day Flood, practically every section of the state was affected. The C.C.C. proved invaluable in rescue and recovery efforts, helping the stricken people during and after the flood.

Despite their efforts, not all were happy with the program. Pittsburgh mayor William N. McNair, a long-time critic of FDR and his administration blamed the flooding on the efforts of the C.C.C. McNair was quoted as saying, “As long as these boys are in the woods we’re going to have floods.”  He blamed the C.C.C. for clearing brush and cutting trees in riparian areas allowing for faster runoff causing the floods. In concluding his rant against the program he also stated, “And in addition to causing floods these boys cause forest fires. I’ve seen them go out for a hike or lunch and throw their pop or milk bottles under bushes. What happens? Along comes the wind and exposes the broken glass. The sun hits the glass and you have a fire. I want to take these boys out of the woods.”[xi] Whether McNair actually believed what he was saying or was just bloviating to score political points in the wake of the devastating flood is unclear.

L.S. Gross, Supervisor of the Allegheny National Forest was quick to respond to Mayor McNair’s charges, and without naming him directly it was clear that Gross was pointing out the fallacy of McNair’s accusations. He detailed how the state had been hit by an unusually large amount of precipitation over the past winter and it rapidly melted. Gross pointed out that the forest duff had been reduced by years of unregulated logging and fires thus reducing the water holding capacity of the forest floor. “Removal of vegetation over widespread areas on the watersheds has not been undertaken. The construction of forest roads and other developments represents an area so insignificant in comparison to the forested area of the state that such an assumption that the CCC is at fault is incredible. The real fault lies in man’s carelessness with fire in the forest.”[xii]

As 1937 progressed, the economy was beginning to improve. Young men were finding gainful employment and enrollment was beginning to drop. As a result camps began to close and consolidate. Across the country 60 camps would be closed because of the drop in enrollment.[xiii]

It wasn’t all trees and clean air. There were accidents and tragedy involved with the C.C.C. On June 28, 1933, Thomas Fox, 18 of Philadelphia, was killed when he fell from a service truck. Fox was a member of camp S-70 near Waynesboro in Franklin County. It is believed he was the first C.C.C. enrollee killed in the line of duty. The camp was one of the first in Pennsylvania having been erected on May 6, 1933.[xiv]

The first fire related death occurred on August 19, 1933. Stanley Ferguson, 19 of Owego, NY, was killed fighting a forest fire in Idaho when a tree fell on him.[xv]

A bizarre incident claimed the lives of two enrollees on June 30, 1933. The men were killed at the C.C.C. camp at Pine Grove Furnace, Cumberland County, when lightning struck the tent they were in. The dead were identified as Robert C. Armstrong and Herman B. Chuderwicz, both of Pittsburgh.  Lawrence McGuire also of Pittsburgh was taken to the Army Medical School hospital at Carlisle and recovered. [xvi]

George Roberts of East Berlin, Adams County was injured when his motorcycle collided with a car near Mount Holly Springs on  August 7, 1933. He was a member of Camp S-55 at Landisburg. It was reported he suffered a fractured skull and broken arm.[xvii]

Returning to their camp at Shingle Branch, Clinton County, on September 2, 1933, a truck carrying 12 C.C.C. men overturned killing William Arnold, 22 of North Bend and injuring the others. The men had been on a detail to pick up provisions in Lock Haven for the camp. Descending a grade, the truck went out of control and overturned. Arnold died of a broken neck.[xviii] On September 19, Henry Appenzeller of Philadelphia became paralyzed when he reached above his head to put away some dishes in the camp mess hall. Appenzeller was involved in the accident on September 2, and was treated at Renovo Hospital for an injury to his shoulder and lacerations to his hand. Following his paralysis he was transported to Renovo Hospital where x-rays determined he had two broken vertebrae in his neck. He was transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. for further treatment.[xix]

M. Fink, 42 of Ridgway, was fatally injured when a large tree he was cutting fell on him at the camp near Croyland on November 4, 1933.[xx] Judging by his age Mr. Fink was probably an LEM.

Not all injuries were work related. Nello Collette of Camp Lowell Thomas, near Trout Run, Lycoming County died of a fractured skull on March 21, 1934. “The unfortunate incident was from a boyish fistic combat.”[xxi] On May 7, 1934 a canoe capsized on Lake Mokoma at Laporte in Sullivan County. William Kelly, 24 of Philadelphia drowned in the incident.[xxii]

Vehicles continued to prove dangerous to the C.C.C. enrollees. On July 23, 1934 several C.C.C. men in a truck on the way to a forest fire from their camp a Duhring, Forest County , were shaken up but none required hospitalization.[xxiii] A couple of months later on October 19 Franklin Page died from injuries he received when he fell from the back of a truck and was dragged some distance when his foot was caught in the rear gate of the truck. Franklin, of Sharon, PA was a member of C.C.C. camp S – 76 at State Camp.[xxiv] The following spring, on May 28, 1935 a truck carrying 25 C.C.C. enrollees overturned near Kane. Three of the enrollees required hospitalization at Kane Hospital.[xxv] The men were responding to a forest fire near Chapel Forks, McKean County. And on July 18 two men were injured when a truck carrying equipment to the new C.C.C. camp west of Huntersville, Lycoming County, ran off the road and upset.

The deadliest incident in the history of the C.C.C. occurred on Labor Day, 1935 in the Florida Keys. A hurricane, struck a C.C.C. camp of 684 veterans.  In the aftermath 44 of the dead were identified, 238 were missing, and 106 others were injured.[xxvi]

On May 1, 1936, Daniel Dallas of Philadelphia and assigned to the Tobyhanna Camp, Monroe County died of injuries sustained in a truck accident on April 28. The truck with 17 men aboard was responding to a forest fire when it overturned. Dallas was thrown against a rock. He was transported to a hospital in Scranton where he died. Three others were injured in the accident and required hospitalization.[xxvii]

On April 30, 1937, Donald C. Kresskey, 20 of Bethlehem died at the Renovo Hospital from injuries he received when a ledge of rocks on which he was standing gave way, crushing him. Donald was a member of the Two Mile Run camp. By all accounts the C.C.C. was a comparatively dangerous place with an injury rate of seventeen per thousand in 1935, many of the accidents were related to motor vehicles.[xxviii]

The worst firefighting tragedy occurred on August 22, 1937. A fire in the Absaroka region in northwestern Wyoming claimed the lives of 11 firefighters, and injured scores of others when they were overrun by fire. [xxix] But Pennsylvania was not immune to death from fires. The worst was yet to come.

[i] Pennsylvania DCNR, The CCC Years,

[ii] Altoona Tribune, Altoona, PA, March 27, 1934

[iii] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, August 3, 1934

[iv] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, July 15, 1933

[v] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, August 4, 1933

[vi] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, June 24, 1937

[vii] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA,  June 15, 1933

[viii] History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Lasting Legacy, Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, Inc., Edinburg, VA, 2010

[ix] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, September 30, 1937

[x] The Daily Courier, Connellsville, PA, February 14, 1936

[xi] Altoona Tribune, Altoona, PA, March 27, 1936

[xii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, April 2, 1936

[xiii] The News-Chronicle, Shippennsburg, PA, June 4, 1937

[xiv] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, June 29, 1933

[xv] Lebanon Daily News, Lebanon, PA, August 19, 1933

[xvi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, July 1, 1933

[xvii] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, August 7, 1933

[xviii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, September 5, 1933

[xix] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, September 19, 1933

[xx] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, November 4, 1933

[xxi] New Castle News, New Castle, PA, March 21, 1934

[xxii] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, May 7, 1934

[xxiii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, July 23, 1934

[xxiv] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, October 20, 1934

[xxv] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, May 28, 1935

[xxvi] History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Lasting Legacy, Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, Inc., Edinburg, VA, 2010

[xxvii] The Plain Speaker, Hazleton, PA, May 1, 1936

[xxviii] Speakman, Joseph M. Into the Woods: The First Year of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Prologue Magazine, Fall 2006, Vol. 38, No. 3, Washington, D.C

[xxix] The Morning Herald, Uniontown, PA, August 23, 1937