Photos from the Colville National Forest’s archives offer a glimpse of what it was like to work in the woods of Northeast Washington during the early 1900s.
Being a Forest Service ranger was a lonely job, with travel by horseback or Model T, and duties including fire patrol, timber surveys and catching poachers. Working on a trail crew required living in a tent or line shack.
“I have to imagine that life was much less comfortable,” said Franklin Pemberton, the Colville National Forest spokesman. “It was all fieldwork. They were outside; they were on horseback; they were away from town most of the summer.”
Many of the photos are brittle and deteriorating. But through a $4,000 grant from the State Library Association, thousands of the images will be digitalized and put online for public viewing.
The effort is part of the Washington Rural Heritage program, an effort to increase public access to historic photographs and documents from the state’s smaller communities.
More than 100 organizations have used the program to get their photos online at washingtonruralheritage.org, said Evan Robb, the state’s digital repository librarian.
The Forest Service applied for the state grant in partnership with the Stevens County library system. The grant money was used to buy a scanner and hire a professional archivist to organize the collection.
By next summer, Forest Service officials hope to have the photos and documents uploaded to the Washington Rural Heritage site. The archives also include contracts for logging sales and grazing allotments, along with original homesteading cards and early maps of the 1.1 million-acre national forest.
“We love the idea of people having access to them – for research or for student projects,” Pemberton said. “They capture the heritage of Northeast Washington before photos were widely available to average citizens.”
Most people couldn’t afford cameras, he said. The photos were snapped by professional Forest Service photographers, or rangers who were assigned cameras for work.