Pennsylvania Quiz


So to counter the boredom of the long winter nights, I propose a quiz about how much you know about Pennsylvania. Here are some questions that may provide you with some amusement as you sit next to the woodstove dreaming of warm spring days.

Without looking at maps of Googling the answers, can you name each county shown on the map?

Mark the county you live in.

How many counties share their name with their county seat?

How many counties are named after a president of the US?

Which county is named after a governor of a state other than Pennsylvania?

How many counties share their names with other states?

Which foreign province shares a boundary with Pennsylvania?

Which is the largest county in land area?

Which is the smallest county in land area?

How many counties share their names with a major river?

Which counties are named after inventors?

Which was the last county created?

What is the most popular township name?

What is the State Flower?

What is the State Dog?

What is the State Mammal?

What is the State Fish?

What is the State Bird?

What is the State Tree?

What is the State Capital?

When was the Pennsylvania Game Commission founded?

Is the Game Commission older than the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission?

When was Sunday hunting banned in Pennsylvania?

The founding agency of what eventually became the Bureau of Forestry is what agency today and when was it founded?

Today the Bureau of Forestry and the Bureau of State Parks are found in what Department?

In what year were the first Deputy Game Protectors appointed?

What is the State Motto?

Answers will appear later.

Okay you have scratched your head and various other body parts I prefer not to know about and searched atlases and maps and Google searched for the answers.  Or maybe you just went and had another beverage and shoveled some more snow. Either way here are the answers.Countywnames

There are 16 counties that share their names with their county seats. They are Philadelphia, Lancaster, Lebanon, York, Bedford, Somerset, Huntingdon, Clearfield, Indiana, Clarion, Beaver, Butler, Mercer, Erie, Warren, and Washington counties.

Four counties were named after U.S. presidents. They are Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe.

Clinton County is named after DeWitt Clinton, a former Governor of New York.

Four counties share their names with states. They are Delaware, Indiana, Washington and Wyoming

Ontario, Canada borders Pennsylvania in the middle of Lake Erie.

Lycoming is the largest county in area.

Montour is the smallest county in area.

Ten counties share their names with rivers in the state. They are Delaware, Susquehanna, Allegheny, Lackawanna, Juniata, Tioga, Schuylkill, Lehigh, Beaver, Clarion, and if you are so inclined add Erie with a great lake of the same name.

Franklin and Fulton counties are named after inventors though Jefferson and Washington could also be argued too.

Lackawanna was the last county created in 1878

The names of townships in the most popular order are:


FRANKLIN             18

JACKSON                 18

UNION                      18

PENN                        14

JEFFERSON                         11

LIBERTY                  10

PERRY                      9


WAYNE                    9

If you consider all the municipalities with Penn or some derivation of Penn in their name there are 23.

State Flower – Mountain Laurel,

State Dog – Great Dane,

State Mammal – Whitetail Deer,

State Fish – Brook Trout,

State Bird – Ruffed Grouse,

State Tree – Eastern Hemlock,

State Capital – Harrisburg,

State Motto – Virtue, Liberty and Independence, though some have suggested it should be “The best legislature that money can buy.” It is doubtful that this suggestion is true.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission was established in 1895 though in 1873 the first codification of what would become the Game Code was enacted.

The first iteration of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission was established in 1855 making it older than the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Sunday hunting was banned in Pennsylvania in 1873

The State Board of Agriculture which was established in 1876 and eventually became the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in 1895. The enabling legislation provided for the appointment of a Commissioner of Forestry.

Both Bureaus, Forestry and State Parks are in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources along with Topographic and Geologic Survey, Recreation and Conservation, Facility Design and Construction, Human Resources, and Administrative Services.

On April 11, 1903 The Game Commissioners were authorized to appoint “deputy game protectors.” Seven were appointed immediately. There were 30 by the end of 1903.

Snowstorms & First Responders

Rescue118 Middlebury Township VFD Rescue 11-8 with Rescue Captain Don Warren and Lieutenant Jim Ryan circa 1977

The Blizzard of ‘16 is receding into memory. Each day since the snow stopped falling brings more water running down the gutters. The snowpack is receding. Communities are struggling to get their streets plowed and cleared of snow – alleys will be cleared next week – maybe.  It was a generational storm; the kind of storm where parents will tell their children and grandchildren how they managed when 24, or 30, or 35 inches of snow fell that particular January weekend. To be certain, one thing that will change as the stories become retold is the depth of snow. Almost assuredly it will increase as time goes on.  This wasn’t too bad for us. We had no place to go and so we didn’t go out in the storm.  But there have been many times before, when heading into the storm wasn’t an option – it was required.

I moved to Tioga County in the fall of 1976. The first day I arrived in early November, the lake at Hills Creek State Park was frozen over. Shortly after Thanksgiving that year people were on the ice fishing. It was a harbinger of the winters to come. That winter temperatures were routinely below zero and temps in the single digits were so common that people really got used to them. The following winter wasn’t any better. In fact it might have been worse. We didn’t experience the long days of numbing temperatures but we did experience snow – a lot of snow. Schools rarely closed for snow but they did that winter, and then in a fit of exasperation, they opened and told the students to get there as best they could.

Driving in the snow became so routine that six inches of the new white stuff was “just another day.” I had a new VW Beetle and I could go a lot places. I did find however, that once the snow got over the headlights it tended to bog down. A shovel and sleeping bag were constantly in the car, and more than a few times I climbed out through the window and dug myself out.

During this most recent storm in 2016 the fire and EMS folks were out in it, and the television stations and newspapers are full of accounts of their deeds. Social media has blown up with photos and stories. Those brave men and women did what needed to be done. Good job! It brought back memories of that winter of 77-78 in the Northern Tier.

I belonged to the Middlebury Township Volunteer Fire Department. It wasn’t a large company with a lot of apparatus but we did what we could with what we had. The one thing we did have was a lot of young eager members. We had a van that was set up to assist on medical emergencies. It was designated Rescue 11-8. We had EMT’s in the company and normally responded to ambulance calls in the township. One evening, during the height of a major snow storm we got a medical assist call. Rescue 11-8 was chained up and rolling to a call four miles from our station. The ambulance was coming from Wellsboro and it would be behind us.

When we got to the scene the 200 foot driveway up to the house was clear. Three young men were panting hard standing on the road to guide us in. The EMTs went to work on the patient in the house. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later, and we got the woman packed up and on the way. We thought we might have to treat the 3 men as well. They were the patient’s grandsons and started shoveling the 10 inches of snow when their father called 911. It took maybe ten minutes from the time of the call until we arrived on scene. They had surely set some kind of snow shoveling record. As we were leaving they were opening a case of Genny. It was just another evening in a Tioga County snowstorm.

Another memory that is still vivid in my mind is the morning a house caught fire in Chatham Township, the neighboring township to Middlebury. It was two days before Christmas. The air temperature was somewhere south of zero and it was about 4 a.m. when the tones went off.

“Structure fire, Chatham Township,” said the dispatcher followed by the address. “Companies 17, 11 and 16 due.” I shivered as I jumped out of bed and headed across the road to the station. I don’t remember who was driving, but I was riding in the cab of Engine 11-2, a 1975 Ward LaFrance with a 750 g.p.m. Hale pump and a 500 gallon booster tank. It suited the needs of the company nicely, and could fight a lot of fire.

As we pulled into the scene, an officer told us the pump on 17’s engine had frozen up in the sub-zero temps. We were to pull attack lines and hit the fire. The engine came to a halt and I bailed out of the cab and pulled the attack line. A foot of snow on the ground made hose advancement difficult but I stretched the inch and a half toward the doorway. There was fire blowing out of every window of the house. “Enough fire to go around,” we used to say.

As I was approaching 17’s nozzleman, standing in the yard, I noticed the water filling his inch and a half line. He turned to look at me and at about that same time I could see water hit the nozzle. It was pointed at me – and it was open! In the pre-dawn, double digit below zero darkness I could see the water begin to come at me in a circular pattern. It was somewhere between straight stream and wide fog and enveloped me. The little droplets – and there were a lot of little droplets -hit me and froze on contact. I was almost immediately encased in ice.

Five feet closer to the house or five feet away from the house and it might have been just some mist. In the maybe 1 second that it took for that kid to move the nozzle, I was right in the sweet spot. The cold was numbing, penetrating every opening in my turnouts, especially down my collar. I tried to advance but by then two other firefighters had donned the SCBAs from their suitcases in the rear compartment (Yes, I know it is hard to believe but that is how it was done then). They advanced the hose to the door but entry was impossible. I dragged the hose behind them. As I got closer the ice thawed and then refroze. We were ordered to back out. Collapse was imminent but I kept trying to advance. The fire was warm. The air was cold. But finally I was forced to retreat with the other men on the line. The fire had such a head start we couldn’t even save the basement.

As I walked back to the engine to crawl into the cab to try and find some warmth, the chief commented. “You look like a big red Popsicle.” Let me tell you, I felt like a big red Popsicle. Back at the station my red coat (yes we wore red turnouts back then) could stand by itself with its arms out. It took four hours to thaw my turnouts and maybe another day for them to completely dry. It was just another day. It was what we did.

Snowfall – Beer and the Metric System

The current storm excepted, Carlisle is the garden spot of Pennsylvania. Well at least it appears that way in the winter. To the south they will get snow. To the north they will get snow. The weatherman will call for 8 to 10 inches of snow here in the valley and we will get two. Sometimes it is disappointing. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania we had the brunt of Ohio Valley storms coming through each winter. Six inches of snow in a storm was just another normal winter day. We went to school and life continued pretty much as normal. If there wasn’t ten inches of snow on the ground with more expected, it was a school day.

I spent four years in Clarion in the early 70s (my professors said it was the longest seven years of their careers) and the Ohio Valley effect and the Lake Erie effect contributed to a large amount of snow. I remember hearing that the only place that had more cloud cover days in the continental United States than Clarion was the Olympic Rain Forest in Washington. It’s easy to believe.

I spent the latter part of the 70s in Tioga County and endured days of sub-zero temperatures and blizzards that were phenomenal to witness and be out in. I thought things might be better when I moved south to Philipsburg. They weren’t! Then I arrived in Carlisle. After more than three decades here I am still somewhat amazed that South Mountain and North Mountain seem to block storms – the Blizzard of ’93 and the Blizzard of 96 being the exceptions.

Pennsylvania, on average receives 44 inches of snow per year. Of course snowfall across Pennsylvania will vary. The “Snowbelt” around Erie is tops, averaging 110 inches per year. Ask the students at Edinboro University how much snow they get during the winter and they will most likely roll their eyes, and a few may even provide you with some new words for your vocabulary.  Every winter stories come up about steelhead anglers who hit a storm or drove out of a snowstorm ten miles south of Erie but other than that, the weather to (or from) their steelhead fishing was almost perfect. In 2008 Erie had a whopping 165.7 inches of snow. Even if you are used to a lot of snow 13.8 feet of snow is a lot of snow!

Between 2000 and 2014, the data show that 2006 seems to be the year in which the least amount of snow fell across the commonwealth. Based on the averages Erie is the snowiest place in Pennsylvania followed by Ebensburg (81.2 inches), Warren (71.4 inches) and Philipsburg (52.2 inches). Harrisburg (20.2 inches) and Lancaster (21.7 inches) on average receive the least amount of snow during the winter.[1] However, the maximum recorded snowfall in Pennsylvania was recorded on March 20, 1958 when 38 inches fell on Morgantown, Berks County and the record snowpack on the ground was 60 inches on March 22 -23, 1958 at Gouldsboro, York County. People in other towns across the state will lay claim to having record snowfalls, or at least more than anybody else got.  In recent memory people talk about the snowfall of 1983. During that Friday storm 25 inches of snow fell on Harrisburg. I have a story about that for another time.

I used to work with a man who lived on the opposite side of the county from the rest of us. If we had a snowfall overnight and I said I had six inches of snow in the yard he would invariably say he had eight or nine. There is something about a snowfall that everyone wants to have the most – unless they have to shovel it.

It is normal to expect lows in January to hover around 19 degrees and highs to reach 35. In July one might expect highs around 83 and lows around 61.[3]  Of course different places around Pennsylvania will lay claim to various climatic conditions.  Smethport in McKean County is not far from Kane or Bradford which – depending on the weather forecast you are watching – will routinely be the coldest spot in the state.  It is the coldest for all concerned unless you ask the residents of Philipsburg or the students at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.  Center City

But I digress. Inches and feet of snow are the English measurement system of snow here in the U.S. An attempt was made to go metric in the 70s, but America was just not ready for it. Imagine measuring snow in centimeters or decimeters. The latter might be the preferred method. A decimeter is 1/10th of a meter – 10 centimeters – just shy of 4 inches.

But I have arrived at a more convenient method to measure snowfall – Beer Cans! Simple and straightforward, and a measure that everyone is familiar with, the “beer can method” can be used to measure snowfall with ease. (For those not inclined to drink alcohol a pop can works just as well). A conversation about snowfall might go like the following:

“How much snow ya get Bubba?”DSCN1550 (1024x768)

“About 2 cans. Just shy of a case.”

“Humph! We only got about a can and a half down here. What’d Jimmy get?”

“Well I heard up there they got a case.”

“My sister called from the other end of the state. She said they got a wine bottle and a half.”

The wine bottle is the method that is useful for those not inclined to participate in malted beverages or soft drinks. Hard core mountaineers who have to carry everything in on their back could use liquor bottles as well. DSCN1552 (1024x768)

What a boon this would be. Everyone could speak in terms that their peers understand, and it would give a boost to the economy. Before a storm people would rush out to buy bread, milk, eggs, snow shovels (what did they do with the one they bought last year?), toilet paper AND their favorite beverage. And it just might help ease the sound of the constant droning of the local TV stations telling us how bad the storm is going to be – has become – and was. “Ya don’t need a weatherman to know which way the snow blows.” Sorry Bob.

DSCN3673 (1024x768)

Sunday morning, January 24, 2016. Let the digging begin






[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center, Climate Data Online,

[2] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC),

[3] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center, Climate Data Online,

Red Sky In Morning…..

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight.  Well it proved trueDSCN3660 (768x1024) DSCN3667 (768x1024)Twenty-four hours after the first photo was taken it looked like this in the back yard and still falling one to two inches per hour and drifting.  The photos do neither scene justice.

DSCN3669 (768x1024)And twelve hours after the storm stopped. It was a record here.  The old timers had a saying, “Deep snow never falls on frozen ground.” Let me tell you, Friday afternoon before the first flakes fell the ground was frozen rock solid hard.

There must be some other weather sayings. Any ideas?

Pennsylvania Gold

On April 2, 1681 Penn’s Charter was published and so it became official that an English colony named Pennsylvania was established. The colony named at the insistence of Charles II as Pennsylvania in honor of William Penn’s father Admiral Penn, included the method of annual payment to the crown, “two beaver skins to bee delivered att our said Castle of Windsor, on the first day of Januarie, in every yeare; and also the fifth parte of all Gold and Silver Oare, which shall from time to time happen to be found within the Limitts aforesaid, cleare of all Charges.”  Thus the first mineral royalty agreement in Pennsylvania began.

I looked down into my glass for a moment and then responded to Joe.  “If I was going to look for gold in Pennsylvania I would probably head to the southeastern portion of the state”, I told him. “We would like to think there are large placer deposits in Pine Creek or Kettle Creek up north but the reality of it is the igneous and metamorphic rocks of southeastern Pennsylvania probably have a better certainty of containing gold than of finding placer deposits in the wild northern streams of the state.”  Joe nodded in agreement and said I was pretty much on target.

It was 1983 and we were in a bar in Ebensburg, PA.  At the time we both worked for DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation, Joe as a hydrogeologist and me as permit specialist.  We had been detailed from our normal duties to the local office to assist with a backlog of permit reviews.  That evening, following work we checked into the motel and met in the bar to await the rest of our colleagues to head for dinner.

The discussion about gold began innocently enough.  We had begun discussing work and somehow moved to the subject of precious metals of which there are few to be found in the ground near Ebensburg.   When we had entered the bar we were the only two there besides the bartender but within a short period, people on their way home from work stopped in and before long there was a crowd.  We were oblivious to the crowd as we discussed the hypothetical places to search for gold.  But we had mentioned the magic word – Gold!  The crowd was hanging on our every word even though we weren’t yet aware of it.

I set my empty glass on the bar and motioned for the bartender to set up another for Joe and me.  Joe had his glass up to his lips and was draining the last of it when he stopped and looked sideways without moving his head.  I followed his gaze and looked around.  The entire barroom, maybe twenty people were waiting for our next words.  Stunned into silence I sat there as the bartender tapped another draft and slid it across the bar.  I moved my hand to a dollar bill I had laid on the bar but a voice behind me said, “Those are on me.”

I turned to look at my benefactor .  He was about six feet tall and thin with a blondish brown beard.  His angular face was topped by a baseball cap that had the name of the largest local coal company embroidered on it and he was dressed in the blue work clothes – lighter shirt and darker pants with his name on a patch over the shirt pocket – that was a common uniform of those who worked in the surface coal mines in the area.  He was about our age, maybe a little younger and he had become captivated when he heard the magic word – gold! in the conversation between Joe and me. Soon other patrons of the establishment heard the magic word and somehow must have realized Joe knew this “geology stuff” as one later described it

I looked around the room and it seemed as every eye was on us and every ear was waiting hear what we next had to say.  Joe’s reaction was pretty much the same as mine.  I thanked the young stranger for the beer he bought.  “I would have expected to go to Potter County to find gold,” he said with an almost air of dejection, “It seems like that’s where it ought to be.”

Before I could respond Joe interjected that was the wrong place to look for it.  Though placer deposits may have washed down from the north during one of the glacial epochs, the chances of finding gold were much better where other metals such as lead, copper, zinc and iron were found.  He swiveled on his barstool, took a drink from his glass and proceeded to talk to the rest of the bar who were hanging on his every word.  Joe explained the fundamentals of geology and told them why the southeastern portion of the state had a better chance of producing gold than the wilds of the northern tier.  It was the anti-Yukon phenomenon.

We had grown up reading Jack London and memorizing Robert Service for various school classes.  After all who can forget Buck or London’s spellbinding writing?

“Spring came one once more, and at the end of all their wondering they found, not the Lost Cabin, but a shallow placer in a broad valley where the gold showed like yellow butter across the bottom of the washing pan…..”

This was indeed the promise of riches.  Anyone who had the fortitude and gumption headed to the Yukon at the turn of the twentieth century.  As Service said so eloquently,

“….There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;

It’s luring me on as of old;

Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting,

So much as just finding the gold…..”

It seemed we had burst their bubble; their hope of achieving wealth in the wilderness or at least what accounted for wilderness in Pennsylvania in 1983.  Two of our colleagues, entered at about that time and we politely excused ourselves.  As we left we heard the excited discussion begin about ‘gold in them thar hills.”  We laughed about it later, how we had almost started the Pennsylvania Gold Rush.  Imagine, Alaskans coming to Pennsylvania to stake a claim and Californians who followed would have been called Eighty-fivers.


Igneous rocks found in southeastern Pennsylvania and the quartz associated with them is the likely parent source of gold found in most streams. The streams in southeastern Pennsylvania have produced some gold flakes, “pin head” nuggets (that is those that are about the size of the head of a straight pin) but the most common find is “flour gold” which is gold flakes the size of flour grains.

Despite Joe’s premise that gold is mostly found in the south east corner of the state some placer deposits of flour gold have been found in the glaciated regions of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Geologic Survey (2001) reported that gold was found at Cornwall Furnace in Lebanon County where an estimated 67,000 ounces of gold were mined between 1742 and 1973 when production ceased at the quarry. The Grace mine near Morgantown in Berks County also produced a small amount of gold.  Both of these mines were predominantly iron ore mines where gold and silver were associated with pyrite and were recovered by refining the pyrite.

Since 1978 recreational gold panning in southeastern Pennsylvania has become a popular hobby.  The Geologic Survey estimates that maybe as much as 2 ounces of placer gold has been found by recreational methods.  Jeri Jones, of Jones Geologic Services in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania agrees the number is probably correct.  He goes on to further state that most flakes found in Pennsylvania are pinhead size even though some nearly a half an inch are occasionally found.

Recreational prospecting in Pennsylvania has a small but dedicated core group. He based an estimate of prospectors on the membership of the chapters of the Gold Prospectors Assoc. of America and several other smaller prospecting clubs as about 400 in Pennsylvania.  Jones hosts a seminar on panning for gold the last Saturday of July at Spring Valley County Park in York County.  The event regularly draws around 200 people from the “just curious” to the experts.

As this is written gold has been priced about $1,103 per ounce, so even at today’s prices don’t expect to get rich searching for gold in the Keystone State. It is doubtful that anyone ever made, or will make a living panning for gold in Pennsylvania.


Non-motorized equipment such as shovels and pans do not require any permits but larger motorized equipment does require permitting through the Department of Environmental Protection.  Before heading to the stream with visions of riches, the prospector needs to consider all the aspects of the regulations.  For more information visit, keyword: Prospecting.

Other helpful links include,

But if you do find gold, it probably isn’t a great idea to talk about it in a bar.

Pepper Hill – Cameron County

DSCN3525Standing at the bottom of the mountain and looking up, one can get a sense of how steep the mountain is, but it cannot be truly comprehended until you climb up the mountain and look down. Pepper Hill isn’t a town or a village. Yet it is a place that is forever etched in the historical memories of wildland firefighters.  Located in Cameron County, Pepperhill Run (the official name on the U.S.G.S. Sinnemahoning quadrangle topographic map) flows into First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek from the west, about two and a half miles north of the village of Jericho, where First Fork meets Sinnemahoning Creek.

It is in this section of Pennsylvania where some of the steepest local relief can be found. Looking at the Sinnemahoning quad, it is mostly green with thick ribbons of brown wrapping tight to each other. The brown lines on the map indicate 20 foot contour intervals and on this map in some places they are so close together they almost shade out the green between them.  From the bottom of the mountain, where you access Pepper Hill Trail, to the top is a vertical distance of some 1160 feet. The horizontal distance is only 3200 feet, about six tenths of a mile.  That is roughly a 36 percent grade.  It can, and has been climbed by people; some for recreation, some in panic, and some to pay tribute to the lives lost on the mountain.

Pepper Hill and Civilian Conservation Corps became linked forever in 1938. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created under the Emergency Conservation Work Act of 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program had been a huge success, taking boys from ages 17 to 25 and putting them to work in the woods, building roads and trails, parks and dams, and when needed fighting forest fires. The number of CCC camps in Pennsylvania was second only to California and the tasks these men performed are still visible today. There are parks, roads, trails, dams and other infrastructure that stand as monuments to the work these men did.

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 CCC Camp S-132 at Hunts Run, east of Emporium 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 on the fire line. They returned to camp at 5:30 a.m. the following morning.

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.[1] The same paper reported that two small forest fires had occurred in the area 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.[2]  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.[3] 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.

Along the First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek, an arsonist had set fires on the west side of the valley upstream from Jericho. 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 of 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 day’s and 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 on the north side of Pepperhill Run. Crew 2 under Foreman Mohney began building a fire line uphill 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. Some men stopped 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 on the downhill side.

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. He recovered and eventually returned to duty at camp S-132. Enrollees Kiliany and Gaydos were credited with leading many of the crew to safety on a large rock since named, Survivors Rock.


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.[4]

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 PDF & 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.[5] Tompkins said he would convene an inquest into the deaths and he “would subpoena everybody with the slightest connection with the case.”[6] The CCC investigation was under the direction of Colonel C.D. King, Commander of the Indiana District of the CCC which covered Cameron County. Captain Alton Miller, Sub-district Commander and Lieutenant Rodman Hayes Cameron Camp Commander were the CCC 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 Camp S-75 near Hyner, the flag was lowered to half-staff and taps was played in remembrance of their fallen comrades.[7] Robert Fechner, Director of the CCC sent condolences to the families of the deceased.[8]

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.[9] 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 other fires burning in the area, and trains and discarded smoking materials were also ruled out as sources of ignition.[10]

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 CCC 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.[11]

Later testimony from the CCC 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

Though Tompkins’ inquest was closed the Pepper Hill Fire would have long-lasting ramifications in the CCC and in forest fire fighting. The rules and guidance for firefighting would change. Before the Pepper Hill disaster and other fires that claimed lives of other CCC enrollees and others, men and boys were often sent into the most dangerous situations with little or no training. Training would be “on the job” and survival was often a matter of luck. Today a person without the proper training isn’t allowed near a fire.

Seventy-seven years and eleven days after the fire we stood at the bottom of the trail and looked up. The state forest trail leads along the south side of the valley and the first three quarters of a mile or so is an easy gentle climb. But it was apparent from looking at the map that the climb would become more difficult. At about the point where the small stream splits, below the pipeline the stream crosses to the north side of the hollow and the climb becomes more difficult. Switchbacks in the trail take you first east and then west, and then back east. The climb is steeper, the trail is narrower and our climb became more difficult.

The fire had burned along the face of the mountain and not too far into Pepperhill Run Hollow. As we ascended the forest changed from hemlock to a mixed oak forest. Tall mature trees closer to the valley floor, give way to brush and pole-stage timber. Some trees appear to be clinging to the mountainside with effort. As we make our way closer to the top loose stone becomes more prevalent and frequently our steps dislodged loose scree and we paused to watch it roll through the dry leaves, down a hundred feet or more.

At last we attained the summit. We made our way along the trail to Survivor Rock. It was here that enrollees Kiliany and Gaydos climbed onto the rock with others and saved themselves while the fire burned around them. I looked at my watch. It had taken us two hours to make the climb. The firefighters who survived had less than half an hour, and they had no trail to follow.

We doffed our knapsacks and sat on the rock. It was a cool October day. Far below we could see First Fork shimmering in the sunlight that periodically broke through the clouds. The last vestiges of fall colors clung to the trees around us, below us and across the valleys. The forest isn’t the brush and saplings the firefighters encountered. Now it might be characterized as late pole stage or a forest in early maturity. The effects of the fire cannot be seen. Time has eroded them away.

We ate our lunches and from my pack I produced a small bottle of single malt scotch. We toasted the brave men who were killed and injured on the mountain. We shouldered our packs again and began the descent.

Once one has been to the top of this hallowed ground, it is easy to visualize how a fire could have spread so rapidly and the men overrun. A breeze from the southeast hit our faces as we began to hike out. “That’s all it would have taken,” I think to myself, “Dry fuel, steep terrain and little breeze.”

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

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

[3] NOAA, National Climatic Data Center,

[4] 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Anglers Wrote History

In 2013 I began a project to document the history of forest fires in Pennsylvania. It began with an innocent comment. I was working on preparing the 2014 conference for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association (POWA). The conference was to be held in Shippensburg. As part of the conference I was looking for interesting topics that the visiting writers could take back with them. There is no shortage of things to do in the Cumberland Valley.

The area is replete with places to visit. Carlisle, Shippensburg and Chambersburg are historic towns. Gettysburg is not far away. There are old iron furnaces, the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum, the Appalachian Trail Museum, the Army Heritage Museum and the Pennsylvania Forest Fire Museum, all within a short drive of the conference location. Since the conference was to be held in May, spring gobbler hunting was available and of course the Cumberland Valley boasts of some of the best limestone stream trout fishing in the world.

I was talking with a friend who was the fire chief when I was an active firefighter, and he suggested that perhaps a topic that might be of interest would be the forest fire that burned from Caledonia to Dillsburg in the early part of the twentieth century. That’s a distance of about 27 miles in a straight line. That must have been one big fire. I went to the Cumberland County Historical Society and searched the microfilm records for the fire in question. I found only one reference to a fire on South Mountain. It was quite succinct. “Smoke is bad in town (Carlisle) today from the fires burning on South Mountain.” It didn’t give much information beyond that.

After digging around and searching on-line, I found that the Gettysburg paper and the Harrisburg newspapers were more descriptive of fires that ran across South Mountain. I realized then that the question wasn’t, “Was there a huge fire on South Mountain?” The question became, “Which fire are you talking about?”

As I collected the material I thought there might be enough material for a book. I began to search for accounts of forest fires across Pennsylvania and was surprised to find that in many areas of the state, huge forest fires burned, they destroyed entire towns, and often they claimed lives. And so I began the effort to compile a history of forest fires in Pennsylvania.

It has been interesting. One of the things I have found is that it might be easier to make history than to write about it. It occurred to me that perhaps it would be easier to write history from an angler’s perspective. One who knows anglers and has been around them enough is sure to note that some are prone to exaggeration and some never let the facts stand in the way of the story. So it is with tongue planted firmly in cheek that I give you an angler’s version of early history in Pennsylvania. 

If Anglers Wrote History: A Brief History of the Colonization of Pennsylvania

When Columbus arrived in the western-hemisphere he wasn’t searching for spices or gold.  He was searching for fish.  Marco Polo, returning from the Far East, had brought back with him stories of a smooth bodied fish with a bright pink stripe on its side and spots on its tail.  The fish was quite palatable and put up quite the fight on the tackle of the time (silk lines and bamboo rods don’t you know).  It was Marco’s stories of this fish of the Pacific Rim that stirred the restless hearts of men and thus began the golden age of exploration.

But did Columbus find Polo’s exotic fish?  No!  Instead he found bonefish, tarpon and the occasional barracuda.  After he returned to Spain and told his stories of bonefish, tarpon and tobacco, a myriad of other anglers followed him.  It wasn’t long before explorers began searching out new angling adventures in the “New World”.  Ponce de Leon claimed he was looking for the fountain of youth.  Really he was searching for 10 pound largemouth bass.  The Spanish and Portuguese explorers that sailed the coastline of what is now America were following stripers and blues.  Cabot, an Italian, sailed for the English in search of Atlantic salmon.  Hudson, an Englishman, sailed for the Dutch searching for Atlantics and stripers.  The quest for quality angling in the New World was on.

The Dutch were the first to occupy what is now Pennsylvania.  At that time, they were primarily fly tyers though, and as such were not as much interested in exploring new waters as they were in securing new sources of fur dubbing.  Thus the fur trade flourished.  But they weren’t there long before the Swedes, led by Peter Minuit landed and established a colony in what is now Delaware.  The Swedes were primarily plug casters having copied their Scandinavian neighbors in a tradition that lives to this day.  They found ample opportunity to fish and their colony flourished.  They expanded their fishing opportunities up the Delaware to what is now Chester.

In the meantime, the Dutch had learned from their European neighbors that not only were they good fly tyers but they were also quite handy with a fishing rod.  The sport caught on quickly in the Netherlands and as usual got over-crowded in a hurry.  Thus they were forced to move to the New World.  They were led by the ever-capable angler, Pete Stuyvesant.  After paying too much for the purchase of Manhattan they set up their fishing camp (there wasn’t even an Urban Angler or Abercrombie & Fitch or an Abbey & Imbrey located there at the time).  The Dutch became proficient in learning all the streams from the Hudson drainage to the Delaware drainage.  However they were not great conservationists.  They tended to kill their limit (which at the time was as many as the angler and his indentured servant could carry) and because of this the streams still bear the names of those original Dutch references.  Hence today we have the Schuylkill, Bushkill, Beaverkill, Fishkill and Battenkill to name a few.  Beavers and Fish attest to the Dutch ability for collecting fly tying material and fish.  The bush must refer to novice casters with little patience and sharp hatchets.   And apparently Schuyls were too easy to catch and as a result are now extinct as no angler now can attest to never having seen a live Schuyl.

When the English saw how the Dutch were prospering this was too much for them.  After all they claimed the Delaware and Hudson and pretty much everything else on the Atlantic seaboard because John and Sebastian Cabot had claimed that land for England in their voyages of discovery; and besides it made perfect sense.  The English had established fishing camps at Jamestown and Plymouth.  Now they needed to consolidate their holdings.  So with the pretext of threats of violence they took over New Amsterdam from the Dutch and named it New York.  Nary a shot was fired because the shad were running and Pete Stuyvesant and the boys were out fishing.

What is now New York and Pennsylvania came under the proprietary rule of the Duke of York an ardent dry fly fisherman.  Maryland was given to Lord Baltimore a bait fisherman and sometimes wet fly angler.  There was still plenty of room for everybody and with the colonies widely separated these different philosophies did not conflict. During this time, the boys at Jamestown were already dreaming up bass boat configurations and working on early versions of spinner baits.

Admiral Penn was an accomplished angler in the deep sea.  He once took King Charles II out fishing and even though they succeeded in landing a giant bluefin tuna, King Charles spent most of the day hanging over the rail.  Hence the term upchuck!  Because of this trip the King said he owed the Admiral, but the Old Salt croaked before the King could pay him back.  Well, along comes the Admiral’s son Bill, who approaches King Charlie thinking he was to be repaid in gold or silver, or at least a good Wheatley fly box filled with the latest patterns.  But does the King do this?  Nooooo!  Instead he gives young Willy a sizeable chunk of the New World which he forces him to rename Pennsylvania against Willy’s protestations.  The king figured this would get the peace loving beatnik out of his hair, and he would never have to hear about that darned boat or fishing again.

As it turned out, this wasn’t such a bad deal after all.  The young proprietor acquired the latest tackle and with some cronies set out to go fishing.  Penn had been schooled not only at the finest schools in England but had spent some time in France  and as a result he was equally versed in fly, lure and bait fishing and was inclined to use the tackle that was the most productive at the time.  Thus we have Pennsylvania settled by some peace loving hippies who insisted on setting up their commune in the middle of Philadelphia.  But they were happy and that’s what matters.

Well the English, being the English because they couldn’t be anything else, decided that this happy land that was so full of fish wasn’t good enough.  They were used to the urban setting of angling and this new world wilderness wasn’t their cup of tea.  So they advertised for settlers.  What did they get?  You guessed it.  They got Germans. Not just any Germans mind you but bait fishing Germans!  They got minnowites by the scads and dunkers…well nobody has to tell you what they fish with.  And Pennsylvania got a bunch of other sects of anglers as well including a few Poles (who were known as great rod makers), Austrians, Swiss and Latvians. William Penn, being the man that he was, thought this was okay though, and welcomed them all.  It seemed that the streams of Pennsylvania were limitless and there was room for everybody.

Of course all these people intruding on the streams and spooking fish really ticked off ol’ Lord Baltimore.  This put a sizeable crimp in their being able to catch fish for Friday dinner (as was required by the decree from the Italian who ran their church).  So after a lot a bickering and not a little bit of gunplay two surveyors Mason (who later gained fame for the canning jar) and Dixon (who also gained fame as an inventor of lures for bass) settled the dispute by drawing a line as the border between angling for all and fly fishing only, and setting up size and creel limits.

Now the French were a bit perplexed because this dude named Champlain had claimed just about all of the fishing in Canada and most of New York and Western Pennsylvania for the French.  Now here were some English interlopers and their friends trying to poach on their property.  Excuse me but wasn’t that punishable by death in England?   So the French do the only practical thing to do.  They posted all their land and whenever the English showed up they stoned the crick, usually with musket balls.  Well this turned into what is now called in America as the French and Indian War.  In Europe they fought this thing for seven years and it was called a soccer match.  Uh, no I mean the Seven Years War.

Well, at any rate, the English decided they had just about enough of French spinning anglers and set a dry fly loyalist by the name of Braddock with his faithful ghillie named Washington to take over the fishing club in downtown Pittsburgh, except it wasn’t called Pittsburgh then. Well the French and their Indian allies decided to surprise the old boy and met him upriver and opened a big can of “whup ass” on him.  It was humiliating defeat for dry fly purists in the new world.  A little while later the English again sent another dry fly purist by the name of Forbes to take over the fishing club.  He was again accompanied by the bit more nervous ghillie Washington. But the French in the meantime had run out of good wine at their fishing club and their supply of treble hooks was dwindling, so they abandoned it before the fly guys even got near.  And thus ended the French and Indian War.

It probably didn’t happen this way, but if you give a fly fisher a computer on a cold winter day when he can’t get to the stream you can see how history can become distorted.©