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Title: Bill Bruce on Forest Patrol
Author: Arnold, Henry Harley
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Bill worked his way backward toward the tail group.]


BILL BRUCE ON FOREST PATROL

by

MAJOR HENRY H. ARNOLD

Air Corps

Author of

“Bill Bruce and the Pioneer Aviators,”
“Bill Bruce, the Flying Cadet,”
“Bill Bruce Becomes an Ace,”
“Bill Bruce on Border Patrol,”
“Bill Bruce in the Trans-continental Race,” etc.



A. L. Burt Company
Publishers—New York
Printed in U. S. A.


      *      *      *      *      *      *

  THE AVIATOR SERIES

  ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG AIRPLANE PILOT

  FOR BOYS 12 TO 16 YEARS

  By MAJOR HENRY H. ARNOLD
  AIR CORPS

  Bill Bruce and the Pioneer Aviators
  Bill Bruce, the Flying Cadet
  Bill Bruce Becomes an Ace
  Bill Bruce on Border Patrol
  Bill Bruce on Forest Patrol
  Bill Bruce in the Trans-continental Race

  Copyright, 1928
  By A. L. BURT COMPANY

  BILL BRUCE ON FOREST PATROL

  Made in U. S. A.

      *      *      *      *      *      *



CONTENTS

      I A VACATION IN THE WOODS
     II THE FORESTRY SERVICE
    III WOOD LORE
     IV DRAFTED TO FIGHT A FOREST FIRE
      V A FOREST FIRE
     VI BACK TO ARMY DUTIES
    VII WORKING WITH THE ARTILLERY
   VIII NARROW ESCAPES
     IX AN UNEXPECTED DUTY
      X CLOUDS ON THE SISKIYOUS
     XI INTO THE SMOKE PALL
    XII A FOREST PATROL BASE
   XIII THE AERIAL FIRE PATROL
    XIV DOWN IN THE TIMBER
     XV ON FOOT MILES FROM ANYWHERE
    XVI A LOOKOUT STATION IN THE MOUNTAINS
   XVII BACK AT EUGENE
  XVIII THE WEATHER CHANGES
    XIX FISHES LARGE AND SMALL
     XX MORE ABOUT FISH
    XXI THE EUGENE AIRDROME
   XXII TRAPPED IN MIDAIR
  XXIII A NEW OUTBREAK OF FIRES
   XXIV HUNTING A FIREBUG
    XXV THE END OF THE FIRE SEASON



CHAPTER I—A VACATION IN THE WOODS


“Wake up, Bill, there’s a big fish on your line.”

“I should worry,” replied Bill as he lay on his back on the bank of
the McKenzie River. “Let him do the worrying. I am having a marvelous
time just lying here thinking how wonderful it is to be here in the
Oregon woods. Perhaps in a day or two I will get sufficiently
accustomed to the big outdoors, the gigantic trees and the wildlife to
get enthusiastic over a fish. In the meantime, let him bite.”

Bill Bruce and Bob Finch were officers in the United States Army Air
Service. They had been boyhood friends in Flower City, Long Island. At
the outbreak of the World War they had enlisted as Flying Cadets and
had been sent to the Ground School at the University of California, at
Berkeley. They had both finished the ground work and then completed
their flying training at the aviation field near Lake Charles,
Louisiana.

A West Indian hurricane broke the monotony and routine of their
training at the flying school and Bill was sent as a test pilot at an
airplane factory. Bob had been sent to the aviation field at Mineola.
Bill’s new duties required that he test out the latest type airplanes
produced for the squadrons in France. It was here that he ran afoul of
the dastardly work of a German sympathizer.

While Bill had been at Berkeley, another cadet by the name of Andre
had become rabidly jealous of Bill. Andre had tried to discredit Bill
and make out that Bill had cheated in an examination. Andre was fired.
While at the airplane factory Bill had several narrow escapes, when
airplanes which he was testing were found to be maliciously damaged.
Andre was the culprit. He was caught, convicted, and was being taken
to the penitentiary, but escaped.

Later Bill was sent to France, presumably with plans of the latest
type airplane being produced, the Le Pere. While on board the ship, as
Adjutant, he made frequent inspections to insure that the regulations
concerning lights on deck were being carried out. On several instances
he escaped being assaulted on the dark decks by a very narrow margin.
His cabin was searched and it was quite evident that someone was
endeavoring to secure the plans.

Finally, as the ship was nearing the coast of Ireland, Bill saw
someone flashing lights from the deck. He tried to catch the
miscreant, but was not successful on account of the darkness. The next
day the ship was torpedoed. As the small boats were floating around,
the sub came to the surface and took someone from one of the boats
aboard. It was Andre. The Germans then tried to find Bill Bruce, but
were prevented by the timely arrival of the U. S. destroyers.

Bill served at the front in the 94th Pursuit Squadron with Freddie
Rickenbacker. He shot down his first plane, however, before joining up
with the squadron. He was shot down between the lines in No-Man’s-Land
and had several thrilling escapes during combats in the air, but came
out of the war with a wound, several decorations and the title of
“Ace.”

Following the war, Bill served on the United States-Mexican border
with the Ninth Squadron. The work of the squadron required that they
make frequent aerial patrols to prevent the smuggling of liquor, dope
and aliens into the United States. Here again they ran afoul of Andre,
who was masquerading under the name of Andrajo. Andre had organized a
large gang of cut-throats for the one and only purpose of smuggling.

The squadron helped the border officials materially in uncovering this
work. They were assigned the part of the border extending from San
Diego, California, to Yuma, Arizona. Captain Lowell Smith was
commanding the squadron and Bill Bruce was his senior flight
commander. The pilots had been able to catch an airplane in the act of
transporting dope, had broken up Andre’s attempt to make a forcible
entry into the United States with four hundred Chinese, and thus had
broken up the gang of renegades.

In the Fall, Bill had entered the trans-continental airplane race from
San Francisco to New York and return. Bill met Andre again before and
during the race. Andre sneaked across the line at El Centro and
removed all the safety wires and cotter keys from the controls of
Bill’s plane. For a while it looked as if Bill would not be able to
get to San Francisco in time to participate, but he arrived the
evening before the start.

Once in the race, Bill thought that he was entirely out of Andre’s
reach, but on the return trip Bill’s plane was completely burned at
Buffalo. Andre had again shown his hand. Bill secured authority to fly
another plane, and after many difficulties and much hard flying won
the race in spite of the fact that he landed at the finish with a dead
engine. It had been a most spectacular and uncertain race from start
to finish. Bill had won it by inches.

After the race the Ninth Squadron was relieved from border duty and
sent to San Francisco for duty. Here they established a new airdrome
along the shores of the bay almost within hailing distance of the
Golden Gate. During the Winter and Spring, the pilots had been kept
very busy with routine flying. It was now June and Bill Bruce and Bob
Finch had taken a few days’ leave to get away from military routine.
They had driven to Oregon by automobile and were spending their time
fishing along the McKenzie River.

“A fine young fisherman you are,” said Bob as he ran over and grabbed
Bill’s rod. “Did you come up here to fish or to day-dream?”

“Both,” answered Bill as he watched Bob struggle with the fish.

It was very evident that it was an unusually large fish, for it was
putting up a hard fight. The rod bent almost double when the fish made
a run for freedom. Bob was forced to let out more line to keep the
fish from breaking the leader or snapping the rod. Bill was entirely
satisfied to watch Bob’s endeavor to land the fish.

The stream was in general clear of snags and rocks, but there was one
large tree trunk with several branches in the water toward which the
fish always headed. To make matters more complicated, the banks of the
river were lined with small bushes.

“I should say that it was a large fish,” said Bill after Bob had
vainly tried for several minutes to bring it in. “It will get away
from you yet.”

“Why don’t you come here and take your own rod then?” asked Bob.

“You are getting along very well. I wouldn’t think of depriving you of
the pleasure of landing the first trout,” said Bill as he stood up and
walked over to the place where Bob was working with the rod.

“Get the net,” called Bob. “I am getting it in close enough for you to
catch him.”

The bank had a drop of about five feet. Bill took the net and stood
looking for a place to get down to the water’s edge without getting
his feet wet. He walked a short distance upstream and then slowly
worked his way down to the water.

“You poor boob,” said Bob. “How can you get the fish way over there?
There are a dozen bushes between us.”

“Swing your rod around this way,” called Bill.

“Come closer, I am not fishing with a telegraph pole.”

“Give me time,” said Bill. “This bank is slippery and I am liable to
get wet.”

“Hurry up,” answered Bob. “I can’t keep working this fish forever.”

Once more the fish gave a violent pull on the line and Bob had to give
it more line. Then he had the job of gradually reeling in the line as
fast as he could while the fish darted around in large circles in the
water. Once it made straight for the old tree trunk and both young
aviators were sure that the line would get afoul of one of the
branches, but by careful manipulation Bob managed to get the fish back
into open water.

Bill meanwhile worked his way along the bank toward Bob. The point
where the line entered the water came closer and closer to the shore.
Bill reached out with his net, but could not quite stretch far enough.

“Bring it in a bit,” called Bill.

“Your rod is almost bent double now,” replied Bob. “Do you want me to
break it?”

“Well, you’re the fisherman of this crowd,” said Bill. “It was you who
suggested a vacation in the Oregon woods. I admit that I don’t know
how to use this net. What do you do with it, immerse it gently in the
water under the fish or make a wild swoop with it and scoop up the
fish?”

“How do I know?” replied Bob. “I never saw one before.”

“I would rather have a shotgun and then I would be sure of getting the
fish,” said Bill. “Don’t slow up on bringing him in while you are
talking, for now that you have him this far, we ought to have fried
trout for lunch.”

Bill stood on a stone near the bottom of the bank. There was just room
enough for one of his feet. The other was dangling over the water. He
was holding on to a small bush with one hand and leaning out over the
water with the net in his other. Bob gradually worked the fish in
closer to the shore.

“Bring him in closer. Reel in on your line,” called Bill. “I can’t
stand down here forever.”

“I am trying to,” replied Bob. “There he is; catch him.”

The fish was now in close enough to be seen. It was a large fellow and
must have weighed about two or three pounds. For a while Bill could do
nothing but watch it as it worked its way back and forth against the
taut line.

“Well, do something,” called Bob.

Bill then gave a violent swing with his net. As it hit the water with
a splash, Bill lost his balance and fell prone into the water. For a
while, line, net, fish and Bill were all tangled up in one small
space. Bob did not know what to do. If he slackened up on the line,
the fish would escape. If he didn’t, Bill would probably break the
line.

“Get out of there, you will make me lose the fish,” yelled Bob.

The water was not deep and Bill came up after the splash in a kneeling
position. He blew the water out of his mouth and nose and looked
around. It was at that moment that Bob had called to him.

“You don’t think that I am here because I am enjoying it, do you?” he
replied.

Then it was that Bob realized that the tension on his line had ceased.
The fish was gone. Evidently the splashing around in the water had
been enough to slacken the line and the fish had taken advantage of
the opportunity to make its getaway.

“Well, the fish is gone,” said Bob. “You are a fine help. Come on out
of the water.”

“What’s going on here?” called a deep voice from the bank.

Bob looked around to see who had asked the question. He saw a tall,
lithe, dark-complexioned man in a grayish-green uniform. He wore a
broad-brimmed felt hat, with the crown coming to a peak, and had a
badge on his shirt.

“We’re fishing, and Bill fell into the water,” said Bob.

In the meantime Bill scrambled up the bank.

“I am the District Forester. My name’s Cecil. Have you a fishing
license? Have you a campfire permit?”

“What I should have had was a bathing permit,” remarked Bill as he
started to wring the water out of his clothes.



CHAPTER II—THE FORESTRY SERVICE


“I am Lieutenant Finch, and this is Lieutenant Bruce. We both are
members of the Army Air Service,” said Bob when Bill had ceased
speaking. “We have fishing licenses, but no campfire permits. We just
arrived here this morning and haven’t had occasion to light a fire so
far.”

“Babes in the woods,” remarked Cecil. “It is obvious that this is your
first visit in a National Forest. No one is permitted to light a fire
for any purpose in a National Forest during the forest fire season
without a campfire permit. It is fortunate that I ran into you when I
did, otherwise you might have been picked up by one of my rangers and
then it would have cost you something as a fine. First I will fix up
the permits, and then I will tell you something about these forests.”

Cecil then made out campfire permits for each of the two young
aviators. He then gave them a large size “Help prevent fires” slogan
to put on the windshield of their car.

“Let’s sit down,” said Cecil.

“You are both officials of the United States Government and, as such,
should know something about our forestry service and what it does,” he
continued after they had seated themselves on a log overlooking the
river. “As you look at these giant trees around you, they probably
don’t mean much to you. That Douglas fir over there is close to two
hundred years old. Some of those pines close by are just as old. You
can see that the lowest branches are over a hundred feet above the
ground. The tops of those trees are over three hundred feet above us.
An entire forest of those trees can be destroyed in a few hours
through the carelessness of a man who is enjoying a vacation in the
woods.”

“I never knew that trees grew so large,” said Bill. “I have seen the
giant Redwood trees in California, but I thought that they were freaks
of nature—that they were abnormal in timber life.”

“These trees are not as large in diameter as the California Redwoods,
but there are a great many more of them,” replied Cecil. “We have mile
after mile of trees as large and larger than these in Oregon and
Washington. In order to protect these trees, the government has set
aside certain forest preserves which are called National Forests.
There are 152 National Forests in the United States. Each of these
National Forests has a supervisor in charge. He has under him wardens,
rangers and lookouts. These men all work to detect and suppress
fires.”

“That is a large organization,” said Bill. “Why are so many men
needed?”

“The forests in the United States cover a large area,” replied Cecil.
“About twenty-nine per cent of the land area of the United States is
covered with timber. This timber is valued at six billion dollars.
Think of that. The Forestry Service has as its duty the protection of
that government property.”

“I never knew that there was so much timber in this country,” said
Bob. “We saw quite a lot as we drove up here, but six billion dollars’
worth is way beyond my comprehension.”

“There is a vast amount of timber here in the Northwest,” said Cecil.
“In fact about one fourth of all the timber in the United States is
located in Oregon and Washington. In spite of the fact that this
timber is worth money, most of the fires in the forests are caused by
the carelessness of man.”

“You don’t mean that they deliberately set the woods on fire, do you?”
asked Bill.

“They don’t mean to, but the results are the same,” replied Cecil. “A
camper forgets to put out his fire, he throws away a cigarette butt
without extinguishing it, or he lights a cigar or pipe and throws the
match down on the ground and the spark ignites the surrounding dried
leaves. Then a fire is started in the woods. That is the reason for
the campfire permits. It gives us a check on the people who come into
the forests. We also have a chance to warn them about the dangers of
forest fires and caution them as to the means that they should adopt
to eliminate any chances of fires.”

“That’s very interesting,” said Bill Bruce. “Heretofore all that these
woods have meant to me was just so many trees. Now I see the whole
timbered area in a different light. Can you tell us how you go about
locating a fire and what you do to put it out?”

“We have established lookouts on the highest peaks,” said Cecil. “Each
of these lookouts has a map. As soon as he observes a column of smoke
in the forest, he takes a sight on the fire and notes its bearing. The
adjacent lookout does the same thing. As a result we have an
intersection of two lines which gives the location of the fire. In the
case of a small one, the local warden will gather together a few men
and go and put it out. In the case of a large one, the forest
supervisor mobilizes as many men as he can from the surrounding
country and they try and localize it. In this way it burns itself
out.”

“What do you mean by a small fire and a large one?” asked Bill.

“A small one is usually caught as soon as it starts,” replied Cecil.
“A large one may cover thousands of acres and take hundreds of lives.
The Hinckley fire in Minnesota burned over 160,000 acres, destroyed
property valued at twenty-five million dollars and took the lives of
four hundred and eighteen people. That was an unusually large fire.
The Idaho fire covered larger acreage, but did not take as many lives.
That fire burned over two million acres and burned eighty-five people
to death. Recently we have managed to get the fires under control
before they get anywhere near that large.”

“What per cent of fires are caused by carelessness?” asked Bob.

“About eighty-five per cent of the 28,000 forest fires occurring each
year are due to human carelessness,” explained Cecil. “Each year we
hope that the number will be smaller, but the automobiles are bringing
more campers into the woods all the time. We are trying to educate our
visitors up to the point where they will consider the trees their
property as citizens of the United States and will guard against their
destruction just as if they were privately owned. You probably have
noticed the signs posted up everywhere cautioning people to use every
care to prevent fires.”

“Can you always extinguish a fire with man power?” asked Bill.

“It is sometimes very hard in the case of some of the larger fires,”
replied Cecil. “At times when we are about to throw up our hands in
despair, a providential rain will save the day. Then, on the other
hand, we may have a bad thunder storm and find as many as twenty or
thirty new fires burning where trees have been struck by lightning.”

Cecil took out a pipe and lighted it. After he had the tobacco
burning, Bill noticed that before throwing the match away, he broke it
into two pieces.

“Why did you break that match?” asked Bill. “I noticed that it was no
longer burning, and yet you seemed to be particularly careful to break
it before throwing it to the ground.”

“All real woodsmen use that means of being sure that they are not
dropping a spark when they think that the match is entirely
extinguished. There is no doubt of the match being out by the time
that you have broken it in half. That’s another thing, during certain
extra dry seasons, we do not allow any smoking at all in the forests.
I have bored you enough with this shop talk. May I join you in a
little fishing?”

“By all means,” said Bill. “We don’t know much about it. In fact, do
not know the kind of fish that we are trying to catch other than they
are trout.”

“You are liable to catch steelhead, rainbow, locklaven or brook trout
in the river here,” said Cecil. “What kind of flies are you using?”

“We aren’t using flies, we were using worms,” replied Bob.

“That’s no way to go trout fishing,” said Cecil. “It is not sporting.
Give the fish a chance. You can get your limit with flies, so why use
worms?”

“We didn’t catch any with worms,” replied Bill. “I thought that we
were going to, when I fell into the river, but the big one that we had
hooked broke away. We have some flies, but we did not know which to
use.”

“That’s a rather hard question to decide,” remarked Cecil. “Trout are
particular creatures. One can never tell at what they will strike.
Some days they will strike at flies similar to those you see flying
over the water. That is, if white flies are flying low over the water,
use an artificial white fly. However, that rule doesn’t always hold
good. I have been fishing when there were millions of live white flies
all over the water and the trout would not even rise for the one on my
line, but when I put a dark one on, I caught all kinds of fish.”

Cecil walked back to the trail along the river and secured his rod and
line from his car. Bill and Bob watched him carefully as he put on the
reel, wet his leaders in the water and then threaded his line along
the rod.

“I think that I will try a dark fly,” he said, as he attached a leader
to the line.

Both of the aviators were astonished when Cecil cast his line out onto
the river. The line went out with his casts at gradually increasing
distances until it was dropping his fly a good sixty feet from the
shore. The fly landed on the water without the semblance of a splash.
In fact, it alighted on the water very similar to the live flies which
occasionally dropped to the water’s surface. It rested for a moment
and then Cecil brought it back with a slight movement of the arm and
cast to another place. Bill was too much interested to do anything but
stand and watch. Bob, on the other hand, watched for a few moments and
then went some distance down the river and tried to emulate Cecil’s
graceful casting.

“One of the most important things to remember when fishing for trout,
is to stay out of sight,” said Cecil. “Trout are wary creatures and
can see you long before you can see them.”

There was a splash in the water near his fly and Cecil started to play
the fish. He did it entirely different from the way that Bob had. He
allowed the fish a certain amount of run, but consistently brought it
closer into shore and then finally threw it onto the bank with a
slight flip of his arm.

“Not so bad for a start,” said Cecil, as he unhooked the fish and held
it up for Bill to see. “A three-quarter pound rainbow. A few more of
these and we will have enough for lunch.”

“It looks easy enough when you do it,” remarked Bill. “I think that I
will try my luck.”

“You can never learn by watching someone else,” said Cecil.

“I will go upstream a little way,” said Bill. “You will have lunch
with us, won’t you?”

“Thanks very much,” replied Cecil. “I’ll meet you here at twelve
o’clock. Watch out for the steelheads. You will need a net if you get
a real large one on your hook.”

Bill walked a distance upstream and started to fish. He picked out a
place on the bank where the bushes were low and sufficiently open for
him to try casting. At first he had nothing but grief. His line became
tangled in the bushes and overhanging branches from the trees. It kept
him busy for quite some time disentangling his line. Once it was so
badly tangled that he had to cut off part of it. Finally he managed to
get it out on the water, but it landed with a splash and then only a
short distance from the river bank.

The more he tried, the worse it seemed, and then he managed to make a
good cast. His fly landed thirty feet or more out in the water. It had
no sooner struck the water than a small trout grabbed the hook. Bill
had a real thrill as he reeled the fish in. He brought it in so that
he could see it swimming around in the water. Then evidently he became
over-anixous, for he tried to throw it out on the bank, but instead
jerked the fish loose and it was gone.

Later when he looked at his watch and saw that it was time to return,
he had four small trout in his creel. He wound up his line as he
walked back to the automobile. Long before he arrived he saw the smoke
from a fire. Cecil was already starting lunch.

“How many did you get?” asked Cecil.

“Four,” replied Bill. “How many did you get?”

“The limit,” said Cecil. “Some of them are fair-sized fish. Some of
them not so large, but just the right size for eating. Have you ever
built a fire in the woods according to the approved method, which
eliminates all possibility of starting a forest fire?”

“No, I never have,” replied Bill.

“You should know how,” said Cecil. “You are going to stay here in the
woods for a while and it may save you a lot of trouble. I will show
you now.”



CHAPTER III—WOOD LORE


“Here comes Bob,” said Bill Bruce as they walked toward the campfire.
“I wonder if he had any more luck than I did.”

“How many did you get, Finch?” asked Cecil when Bob joined them.

“I managed to catch seven, but you should have seen the big fellow
which broke away just as I was about to land him,” replied Bob.

“That’s the usual fisherman’s story,” said Cecil. “You already have
acquired one of the prime requisites of a regular fisherman. The
largest fish always gets away. Let’s see what you caught.”

“That’s a fine rainbow,” he continued, as Bob pulled the fish, one at
a time, from his creel. “That one is a salmon trout. When we eat it
for lunch you will see that it is different from the others in that it
has salmon-colored meat. You caught a variety: rainbow, salmon, brook
and locklaven. Where were you fishing?”

“I must have walked five miles down the river,” said Bob. “I followed
up several streams for short distances, but I never seemed to catch
more than one fish in any one place.”

“That’s natural,” said Cecil. “I imagine that you were not very
careful about showing yourself over the edge of the bank. You probably
were seen by the fish before or as soon as they saw your fly.”

“Mr. Cecil is going to show us how to build a safe and sane campfire,”
said Bill.

“That’s a good idea,” said Bob. “If we are going to be in the woods as
long as we have planned, we ought to know how to build a fire that
will not start a forest fire.”

“I am glad to see that you have brought a shovel and axe with you,”
remarked Cecil. “You can never tell when you will need one or both in
the woods. Some Forest Supervisors require all campers to be equipped
with shovels and axes before they are allowed to enter a National
Forest.”

“Campfires are mighty easy things to start, but unless they are built
properly, you can never tell when they are completely extinguished.
The bed of pine needles, dried leaves and partially decayed wood in
all forests burn very easily, and it is extremely hard to be certain
that the fire has not worked its way under the surface. Many times
people have left their campfires believing that they were completely
extinguished when the entire area was honeycombed with sparks beneath
the surface. The campers left their fire thinking that they had done
their duty in regard to the rules and regulations concerning forest
fires. Shortly after they had gone, the sparks would burn through to
the surface and trouble would start for the fire-fighters. Such
occurrences are not confined to tenderfeet alone, for some men with
years of hunting and camping experience have been guilty of the same
neglect.

“In building a campfire, the first thing that should be done is to dig
up and clear away all the inflammable material in the vicinity of the
bed of the fire. If possible, the fire should be laid on hard soil or
rocks. Then a narrow trench toward the wind will furnish a draft. If
you notice, I have not much wood on that fire. A lot of wood is not
necessary for a hot flame. A small amount placed properly and renewed
as required will give a concentrated heat. Never allow the flame to
blaze higher than is needed for the cooking. When you have finished
and are leaving the vicinity, if only for a couple of hours, be sure
that the fire is out. You cannot put a fire out in the woods by
throwing dirt on it. Go to the nearest stream and get enough water to
thoroughly quench all signs of fire. The water must sink down below
the surface in soil like this and extinguish any sparks which may have
worked under the surface.”

“I see that you have your trout all ready for the pan,” said Bill. “I
think that I will clean mine.”

“Do you know how to do it as a woodsman does?” asked Cecil.

“I never cleaned one in my life,” replied Bill.

“I’ll show you how,” said Cecil. “It is the easiest way and also takes
much less time. Bring your fish down to the river.”

“There are lots of ways to clean a trout,” remarked Cecil when they
reached the water’s edge. “From the forester’s point of view, there is
only one right way. Take the fish in your hand with its belly up. Cut
a slit across just in back of its gills. Then all that you have to do
is to put your finger into the slit, grab a hold of the center of the
belly with the finger and your thumb and give a slight pull toward the
tail. The trout is cleaned. Three movements are all that are
necessary.”

“It looks quite easy the way that you do it,” said Bill. “Now I’ll try
it.”

Neither Bill nor Bob could do it anywhere as smoothly as Cecil when
they first tried it, but they became more expert as they practiced.
Soon they lost their awkwardness and took but a few seconds for each
fish.

“Now you have the idea,” said Cecil. “It’s a good thing to remember,
for it takes but a couple of seconds for each trout. However, don’t
try it on fish of a coarser type, for it will not work.”

“We have a steak that we brought with us,” said Bill when they
returned to the fire. “It probably will not keep much longer. We will
have to cook it, too. Bob, you had better get another pan ready.”

“Why not swing the steak?” asked Cecil.

“What do you mean, ‘swing a steak’?” asked Bill. “Is that a way to fix
it so that it will keep?”

“No, that’s a way to cook it,” said Cecil. “It always seems to taste
better after being cooked that way. I don’t know whether it is
imagination or whether the fragrance of the burning wood really does
permeate into the meat. Have you a griddle? If you have, we will try
it.”

“I’ll get the griddle,” said Bill.

Cecil took the griddle and suspended it by three wires so that it hung
in a horizontal position. He then attached the wires to a tripod made
from some saplings. By the time that he had finished, the trout had
been fried and were placed along side the fire to keep warm. Cecil
took the tripod and placed it over the fire. The steak was placed in
the griddle and gently swung back and forth just above the tops of the
flames.

“Get a stick, Bruce,” said Cecil. “You can swing this while I do
something else. As soon as the bottom starts to get brown, turn the
steak. That will keep the juice in the meat. It begins to look as if
we are going to have a real meal. I am sorry that some of my Oregon
friends did not happen along with a venison mince pie. If we had one
of them, we would be sitting on the top of the world.”

“It is nothing more than mince pie made out of venison instead of
regular meat,” he continued when he saw the surprised expression
written on the faces of the young aviators. “These Oregon people make
them during the Fall and Winter. If you ever get a chance, be sure and
taste one.”

In the meantime, Cecil was busy arranging the plates, knives, forks
and spoons on an improvised table on the top of an old tree trunk.
Smaller logs were brought up for chairs. So it was that Bill and Bob
ate their first meal in the woods. Trout, baked potatoes, bread,
butter, jam, coffee and, best of all, the steak. It was as Cecil had
said, “Better than when cooked in the ordinary manner.” It seemed to
have absorbed some of the pungent aroma of the burning wood.

Overhead the sun was masked by a roof formed by the thickly matted
trees. The smell of the timber land permeated the air, a smell which
one can only find in the forest. It seemed as if they were in the
wilderness, where they were the pioneers blazing the trail for others
to follow. To Cecil it may have been an old story, but to Bill and Bob
it was the thrill that only comes with a new and enjoyable experience.

“It seems a shame that civilized people should be responsible for the
destruction of such a place as this,” said Bill after a while. “It’s
all so beautiful, so entirely different from what we are accustomed
to. I’ll bet that the Indians never burned the forests intentionally.”

“I am not so sure about that,” commented Cecil. “According to the best
advices which we have, the Indians in some instances used to burn out
the woods so that they would not be bothered by the underbrush when
they were hunting. Once they started a fire, they never tried to put
it out. It always burned until it reached a natural barrier and then
burned itself out. However, ordinarily the Indians were very much
afraid of a forest fire, as it destroyed their villages. So it seems
that they liked to have the fires under certain conditions, but they
wanted to apply the torch themselves.”

“There must have been some mighty bad fires in those days,” said Bob.

“The lightning has always been responsible for many bad fires as far
back as we have any records,” said Cecil. “Then, again, the early
pioneers were not as careful as they might have been. There is one
case on record where a young fellow was returning home after calling
on a young lady who lived several miles away on another clearing. It
was almost dark when he started home. He was either afraid to go home
in the dark or was uncertain as to the proper trail to take. In any
event, he set a match to a long burr of a sugar pine. That made a very
good torch and served its purpose exceptionally well. However, when
the first one burned so low that it was about to scorch his fingers,
he lighted another one and threw the partly consumed one down
alongside the trail. He continued this all the way home, and as a
result there were many small fires, about equally spaced, burning
through the forest.

“That young fellow was quite proud of his achievement. He had found a
new means of illuminating the trail at night, but the early settlers
were not so pleased with his accomplishment. There were not many of
these pioneers in the locality and they had a mighty hard time in
putting out those fires. The pine needles along the trail burned fast
and furious for quite a while.”

“How can you tell the age of a tree?” asked Bill.

“That can’t be done until the tree is cut down,” said Cecil. “Each
year during the life of a tree a complete coating of fibre is formed
around the trunk of a tree underneath the bark. These coatings take
the form of rings and are called ‘Annual Rings.’ They are formed in
regular sequence around the center. By counting the rings the age of
the tree is determined.”

“Why go to all that trouble?” asked Bob. “If there is one ring for
each year and the rings are all the same size, why not measure the
diameter of the tree and divide by the distance between the rings?”

“It would be much simpler if we could do it that way, but
unfortunately the distance is not the same in any two different kinds
of trees, or even in the same tree,” replied Cecil. “There are many
things that affect the growth of trees. For instance, if a young tree
is crowded for light and room, the rings will be very close together.
Then if the surrounding trees dies or are cut down and the crowded
condition relieved, the young tree will grow much faster and the
distance between two rings may be the same as that between seven or
eight rings during the period of slow growth. Two trees growing side
by side, although they may be of the same species, may have entirely
differently spaced annual rings.”

“How large do trees get?” asked Bill.

“That depends upon the species,” replied Cecil. “One of the giant
trees in the Sequoia National Park was undermined by a creek a short
time ago and fell. That, as you know, was a Redwood. They made a cross
section of that tree seventy feet above the base and it measured
eleven feet in diameter. The tree was 280 feet tall and had a base
diameter of twenty-one feet. The annual rings showed it to be 1,932
years old. Of course those trees are the oldest living things in the
world.

“Other species do not get so large in the trunk but grow higher. You
yourself remarked about that flagpole at San Francisco. That tree must
have been over five hundred feet tall when it was standing here in
these woods, and yet its trunk probably did not measure over fifteen
feet in diameter. You can see some of the large Douglas fir and pines
over there. They have not such large trunks but their tops are well up
in the air. The average is well over three hundred feet. Take the
Juniper, for instance; it is rare that we find one over ten feet in
diameter. The foresters in Nevada made quite a news item out of one
they found up in the mountains at the head of Broncho Creek. It was
located at an altitude of about eight thousand feet and was a monster
of its kind. For its diameter near the base was fifteen feet. It is
rarely ever that we find a black walnut over fifty inches in diameter
when fifty years old. An inch a year is a rapid growth for that tree.

“Well, boys, this is all very pleasant, but I must be moving along,”
he continued. “It looks as if this is going to be a bad summer for
fires. The woods, as you can see, are well dried out, for we have not
had any rain for several weeks. If fires start, they will be mighty
hard to put out. As you may judge, I am a regular bug on this forest
fire business. I like the woods and am always working to protect it.
Nothing would suit me better than to be able to continue with you on
your fishing trip, where I could really enjoy the woods, but I have to
get up to the Supervisor’s headquarters in the Cascade Forest. They
had a bad fire there yesterday and it may be burning now. I may see
you on the way back. Much obliged for the lunch. Don’t forget to put
out your fire.”

“We are much obliged to you for starting us out right,” said Bill as
Cecil walked over to his car. “I hope that you can stop over with us.
Good-bye.”

The boys cleaned up after their meal and sat for a while loafing under
the trees.

“Where will we spend the night?” asked Bob.

“Let’s go up the river a little farther,” said Bill.

They poured water on their fire and were packing their equipment in
the car when Bill stopped working. He had caught the smell of burning
wood. There was no smoke coming from his campfire, but the odor was
unmistakable.

“Bob, there’s a fire somewhere around here. I can smell it.”



CHAPTER IV—DRAFTED TO FIGHT A FOREST FIRE


“There’s no fire, Bill,” said Bob. “You smell the smoke from our fire.
When we put it out, it smoked terribly and the odor is all around us.”

“No, Bob, our fire has been out too long. There’s a fire somewhere
near here sure as shooting. I can’t see the smoke, but I can surely
smell it.”

“Well, what shall we do about it?” asked Bob.

“There’s nothing that we can do for the present,” answered Bill.
“Let’s pack up and get going. We ought to pick out some place above
here on the river where we can make a good camp for the night.”

They packed their equipment in their car and started up the road. The
river was beautiful with the large trees on both sides. The sun was
still high in the sky and here and there, where the road came out into
the open, it seemed as if they had emerged from a tunnel. Everything
was so much brighter. There was practically no wind and they came to
long reaches where the river ran along for a considerable distance
without a ripple. At other places the river ran over rapids and the
splashing, bubbling water presented a decided contrast to the placid
surface of the other parts of the river.

As they continued, the river became narrower, the valley in which they
were traveling more confined, the sides of the mountains steeper and
the vegetation thicker. They were gradually ascending into the
mountains. Here and there they obtained a view through the trees of
the country ahead or behind. The mountain sides were thickly covered
with trees, which formed a beautiful green covering that followed the
contour of the ridges and valleys. Once in a while they saw an area
which had been burned over at some previous time. The snags, tall,
gaunt, white skeletons of what had been magnificent trees, were
scattered through the second growth timber. Nature was trying to
remove all traces of the fire with the small trees, but the snags
stood there as grim reminders of the forest’s former grandeur.

Here and there a pioneer had taken out a homestead and had cleared the
ground in the immediate vicinity of his crude buildings. Usually some
attempt had been made to cultivate part of the cleared area, but there
were always a few sections still covered with the stumps of trees
which had been cut. A couple of horses, several cows and some pigs
roamed through the clearing as the nucleus of future herds of live
stock. Bill marveled at the bravery of the men bringing their families
to such a wild section of the country.

They came out on an open space where the river made a sharp curve. The
road had been built on top of a steep cliff. Ahead of them was a
narrow cut in the mountains through which the river flowed. Beyond the
cut Bill saw what he thought to be a cloud of smoke. It seemed to be
as thick and dense as a rain cloud. Bob stopped the car when Bill
pointed at it.

“There must be a whopping big fire ahead of us,” said Bill. “I guess
that Cecil must have arrived there right in the thick of it.”

“You must have an awful good nose, if you could smell that from where
we were, five miles down the river,” said Bob. “It’s a fire all right,
and looks as if it were a big one.”

“Let’s go on up and see it,” suggested Bill. “It must be an awful but
fascinating thing to see.”

“All right, we are on our way,” said Bob, as he started the car again.

As they drove farther along the road the cleared spaces became less
frequent. The timber closed over the road and shut out the rays of the
sun almost completely. There was no doubt now as to the presence of
the smell of burning wood in the atmosphere. Finally they reached a
point where they were under the smoke. The sun was almost entirely
obliterated from view. It was just like traveling on a cloudy day.
Prior to their reaching the smoke cloud, the sun had reflected itself
from the bright leaves of the trees, but now there was just a red glow
which marked the position of the sun.

“We must be getting close to it now,” said Bob after a while. “The
smoke is so thick that one could cut it with a knife.”

“It’s probably farther off than we think,” replied Bill. “The wind is
blowing from the East and bringing the smoke toward us.

“I think that we had better stop here,” said Bob. “I don’t want to
lose this car, and if we get too close the fire may burn it up before
we can get it out.”

“We will probably run into the fire-fighters long before we get within
the danger zone,” said Bill. “With Cecil present, they probably have
certainly gathered a large bunch of men together to fight the fire.”

“We will go along a little farther and see what develops,” replied
Bob.

The road wound through the trees and followed the curve of the river
so that they could not see very far ahead. The visibility was further
restricted by the high bushes which bordered the road and the river.
They were driving slowly along a particularly narrow curving section
of the road, when Bob saw another car coming around a bend just a
short distance ahead. Bob slammed on his brakes. It looked as if there
was going to be a collision, for the other car was approaching very
rapidly. There was no room to pass, for the river was close on one
side and the other side was marked by large trees.

Bill and Bob could do nothing as their car had already stopped, but
the other was still moving forward. Bill at first thought of jumping
out, but he saw that the other car was slowing up and decided to stick
with Bob. The other car came to a stop just as the bumpers hit.

Neither Bill nor Bob had looked at the occupants of the car, as they
were too busy trying to make up their minds just how hard the two cars
were going to hit. Consequently they were watching the car rather than
the occupants. When they did look up, they saw Cecil at the wheel.

“Wait a minute,” said Bob. “I’ll back up and you can pass.”

“All right,” said Cecil. “That was rather close. This road is not very
wide and it is far from straight. I am sorry that I did not see you
sooner, but I was thinking about other things.”

Bob found it rather difficult to back his car along the winding road,
but he finally reached a point where there was room enough for the
cars to pass. Cecil stopped his car as he came abreast.

“Where’s the fire?” asked Bill.

“It’s about four miles up the road,” replied Cecil. “It’s burning down
the west slope of the next ridge.”

“We thought that we would go up and see it,” said Bill.

“I am afraid that you will do more than that,” interjected Cecil. “You
will have to go up and join the fire-fighting crew.”

“We don’t know much about fighting fires,” said Bob. “But we will do
what we can.”

“You will never learn any younger,” said Cecil. “Then, again, it is
one of the accepted laws of the Northwest woods that anyone can be
drafted to fight forest fires. We need all of the help that we can get
on this one, as it has the earmarks of developing into a rip-snorter.
Continue on this road for another three miles and then you will come
to Sam Crouch’s clearing. Turn there and leave your car at his place.
Then take your shovel and axe and follow a trail that runs almost due
east from his place. Out on the trail about a mile you will see the
first of the fire-fighters. Report to the forest warden, Earl Simmons.
He will give you something to do and tell you how to do it. I am on my
way back to Portland. It seems that several fires have broken out in
other parts of this district. I have to get back on the job. I am
sorry that I will not be able to go fishing with you again on this
trip. Good luck to you.”

Cecil had gone almost before he had finished speaking. Bill and Bob
watched the car disappear around a turn in the road and then all was
quiet for a moment.

“There goes our fishing trip,” said Bob. “I had hopes of finding a
nice place somewhere along here where we could fish for a couple of
hours and then make camp for the night.”

“We thought that we were getting away from the constraining
requirements of Army life, but we have apparently run into another
service which has just as rigid demands,” announced Bill. “I guess
that our fishing trip will be postponed for a while. Let’s go and see
what it’s all about.”

Once more they started up the river road. The next three miles were
covered very slowly as the road was not very wide and the curves were
almost continuous. For a while they were afraid that they would not
know Sam Crouch’s place when they came to it, but they were soon
disabused of the idea, for they did not come to any clearing. They
were passing through almost virgin woods.

Bob watched the speedometer with a view of checking up on the
distance. It showed that they had traveled three miles, but there was
not a sign of a clearing. Bob stopped the car.

“Here’s the three miles, but where’s the clearing?” he said.

“Shove along a little farther,” suggested Bill. “Perhaps your ideas of
three miles from your speedometer and Cecil’s idea are not
synchronized.”

“I don’t want to run right into that fire,” replied Bob. “The road may
lead right through it. We are so close now that I think that I hear
the flames crackling. Can you hear them?”

“I not only hear them, but also imagine that I can see them,” replied
Bill. “The fire is not far off, but drive around that next bend.”

They turned the next bend and came out at the clearing. Bob drove into
the cut-over area and stopped his car near the house.

“It’s the right place, all right,” said Bill. “I saw the name ‘S.
Crouch’ on the mail box by the road.”

There was not a soul around the house. The chickens and live stock,
the growing vegetables in the garden and the farm implements in the
yard indicated that the owner could not be far away, but he was
nowhere in the immediate vicinity.

“Is anyone home?” called Bill at the top of his voice.

There was no answer.

“I guess that it is up to us to find that trail leading east from here
without assistance,” said Bill. “There is no doubt about our being
near the fire now, is there?”

“You get the shovel and I’ll get the axe,” said Bob. “Let’s see if we
can find the trail.”

“There appear to be a flock of trails leading out of here,” said Bill
as they walked along. “We are going toward the fire, and I hope that
we are on the right one.”

The trail wound around as it mounted the ridge. It was just wide
enough for one man, so that Bill walked in front and Bob followed. The
smoke became much denser, the crackling of the burning wood much
stronger, and it seemed as if any moment they would walk right into
the fire.

“Cecil said that it was only a mile from the Crouch house,” said Bob.

“Well, we haven’t walked a mile yet,” replied Bill as he quickened his
pace.

They reached the top of the ridge and rounded a turn in the trail.
Bill stopped short, for directly ahead of him was a small, rotund man
standing with his back toward them.

“Is Mr. Simmons anywhere near here?” asked Bill

“You bet your neck he is,” replied the man. “I am Mr. Simmons. What
can I do for you before you start work on this fire?”

“Nothing,” replied Bill. “Mr. Cecil sent us up to help you.”



CHAPTER V—A FOREST FIRE


“You are just in time,” said Simmons. “I am sending out a crew to try
and limit the southern movement of the fire. Have either of you ever
fought a forest fire before?”

“Neither one of us,” replied Bill.

“You’ll soon learn,” said Simmons. “Most tenderfeet coming up here for
a vacation find it rather hard work and soon tire out, but you will be
a help as long as you last.”

Simmons turned and Bill noticed three other men standing by.

“Sam,” called Simmons, “you can take these two youngsters and do that
job. I will send those other men over to help Ridley.”

“This is Sam Crouch,” said Simmons as Crouch came toward them. “He
will be in charge of you. All that you have to do is to follow his
instructions. You had better get going, Sam.”

“Go over to that pile of tools and get another shovel,” said Sam. “One
axe ought to do for both of you.”

They started out down the side of the ridge. Sam Crouch had a shovel,
some gunny-sacks and an axe; Bill was carrying the same load. Bob
followed along with a shovel. Bill was rather put out that he had been
called a tenderfoot. He was determined that he would show them that he
had the strength and endurance of any of these so-called woodsmen. He
would show them when they started to work on the fire.

Crouch soon left the trail and struck directly through the woods. He
walked with a long swinging stride that covered ground rapidly. Bill
found that it took everything that he had to keep up. The bushes were
up to their necks. The branches caught the shovels and axes, but Sam
never slowed down a bit.

The footing was none too good. They were going down hill and the pine
needles were slippery. When they were not traveling on the needles,
they were forcing their way through dense underbrush with tangled
vines and ferns which caught in their feet and tripped them. At times
Bill had difficulty in keeping Sam Crouch in sight. When Bill stopped
to release his feet from a vine, Sam disappeared ahead, and then Bill
had to hurry to catch up. Sam never showed the slightest indications
of slowing down. It was always on, on, down the mountain side.

Occasionally they would encounter a tree trunk which extended across
their line of march. If it was comparatively small, Sam would jump
over it. If it was too large to climb over, he would turn along the
trunk and go around the end. Bill had to admit that he was getting
tired.

The mountain side seemed endless. Bill was sure that Sam had lost his
way and was wandering about through the forest aimlessly. He could not
see the direction that they were following, for the underbrush and
trees overhead limited his view to the immediate surroundings. He saw
Sam stop a short distance ahead. Now they were certainly going to have
a rest. When he came up to the woodsman he found out his mistake. They
had reached an extra large tree trunk bordering on a steep, rocky
cliff which took some maneuvering to pass.

The sun was completely hidden by the smoke, but the heat was stifling.
The crackling of the burning timber sounded as if it were a few feet
distant. Bill jumped backward when he heard the first falling tree.
The tree dropped with a crash which resounded throughout the valley.
He could not imagine what had caused the noise at first, for it had
come so unexpectedly. It reminded him of the first bomb that he had
heard when the Germans bombed the airdrome from which he was flying in
France—no advance warning, nothing to herald its approach, just the
crash and “wham” of the exploding bomb. After thinking it over, he was
sure that it was a falling tree which had caused the noise. There was
nothing else around which could have caused the same shattering roar.
It must have been a large tree, too.

They came out into the open and Bill obtained a view of the valley
below and the opposite ridge Crouch stopped to study the fire and make
up his plan for fighting it. He stood awestruck, watching the terrible
sight across the small valley. Bob came up and joined him. Both were
tired, but the sight held them spellbound.

The fire seemed to reach from the bottom of the valley to the top of
the ridge, and from one end of the mountain to the other. The exact
limits were not discernible on account of the thick foliage. Smoke was
boiling up with a rush over an area of about eight hundred acres. Down
along the McKenzie there had not been much wind, but here around the
fire a strong east wind was driving the smoke and fire before it. At
times the flames shot up into the air at least a hundred feet and then
died down and disappeared below the foliage. The smoke poured up
incessantly.

Although they were still at least a quarter of a mile away from the
near edge of the fire, the noise was deafening. Bill was watching a
large tree in the midst of the fire. The fire had evidently been
burning around it for some time, and it must have weathered prior
fires which weakened its trunk, for it suddenly fell with a crash that
sent a cloud of smoke and fire upwards with a roar. He could not tell
which was the louder, the shattering crash of the tree or the roar of
the flames. When the wind struck that column of smoke and fire, it
scattered sparks in all directions and new fires seemed to start in
parts of the forest hitherto untouched.

The fire had reached the tree tops in one section of the woods. Crouch
called their attention to that particular area. It was a sight which
would never be forgotten by either Bill or Bob. They were looking at
one of the most terrifying of all kinds of forest fires—a crown fire.
The flames seemed to be alive. They acted as if guided by some
diabolical hand as they carried their destruction onward. They leaped
from tree top to tree top with an incredible speed. At times their
motion was almost too rapid for the eye to follow. A sheet of flames
covered the tops of all the trees in that particular part of the
forest so completely that the green foliage below was completely
hidden.

“It’s a wonderful but appalling sight,” said Bill. “It fascinates me,
but makes me shudder to see such widespread destruction. It is almost
human in its method of operating. Think of the wasted force and power.
Those giant trees are stripped and destroyed as if they were match
sticks.”

“I don’t see what can be done to stop that,” said Bob. “It is far
beyond control. It’s a monster of a fire!”

“Just stick around and you will be surprised,” said Sam. “Oak Tree
Creek runs along the south end of that ridge. It has a wide meadow
along portions of its banks. We will try and keep the fire from
crossing that creek. I think that we can get away with it. Let’s go.”

They were off again. Bill was not so sure that he would be able to
keep up with Sam. He was setting a mighty fast pace. If Sam worked as
rapidly as he walked, Bill knew that it would take everything that he
had to hold up his end. Once more they were tramping through the thick
underbrush. The walking was hard, but it did not last very long, for
they soon came out along a small creek.

The creek did not come up to Bill’s expectations. He had visioned a
wide expanse of meadow land with a creek winding its way through the
tall grass. What they actually found was a narrow creek which followed
a natural cut through the woods. Here and there it ran through a small
open space where the trees did not meet. These open spaces were the
meadow land.

“I am going to start some backfires along this creek,” shouted Sam to
make himself heard above the deafening roar of the fire. “We will have
to watch them closely to see that they do not spread over to the other
side of the creek. If the sparks blow across, put them out at once
with wet gunny-sacks. I believe your name’s Bill?”

“That’s me,” said Bill.

“Well, Bill, you stay here and work along up the creek. I will drop
Bob off up the creek about fifty yards. In some cases you may have to
dig shallow trenches to stop the fire. In others the fire will stop
itself when it reaches the green grass. We can keep the backfires
under control and head them at the other fire. When the two meet our
work is done. Get the idea?”

“How about the fire spreading west?” asked Bill.

“This creek runs into Cow Creek a couple of rods down,” said Sam.
“Simmons has a whole flock of people working along Cow Creek.”

The backfires were started. To keep them headed in the right
direction, Bill in some places cleared away the dried leaves, but in
others it was not necessary, as the fires were started along the creek
bank. At times he found entirely different conditions where he had to
dig shallow trenches to confine the fire. Bob and Sam disappeared into
the woods, leaving a trail of smoke and flame to mark their trail.
Bill was alone. He was terribly tired, so tired that he could hardly
move.

He threw himself on the ground to rest. It was cool lying there and so
hot working with the shovel digging trenches. The walk had not been an
easy one, either. For a few seconds he took things easy and enjoyed
the cool shade by the stream. Then a burning snag fell to the ground a
short distance away. It was so close that Bill could see the column of
sparks mount almost indefinitely into the sky. The crash of that snag
jerked Bill to his feet and back to his job.

The fires were now all along the creek and the smoke was blinding. At
times the backfires became unruly and he had to work at full speed to
keep them under control. The heat became intense and everything that
he had on was soaking wet. His arms and shoulders were so fatigued
that he could hardly move them, but he kept on working.

Bill looked down the stream toward where he had started and saw that
the fire was dying out. This gave him confidence in the work that he
was doing. He could see that he was getting results from his tiring
efforts.

His hands, face and arms were covered with black from the flying ashes
and partly burned particles of wood or leaves. His skin was burned by
the heat of the fire. His hands were a mass of blisters from the
shovel and axe. It was the hardest work that he had ever done. How
long he had been at it, he did not know. It seemed as if hours had
passed since Sam and Bob had disappeared in the smoke.

One after another of the backfires joined with its neighbor. They
gradually extended farther and farther away from the creek until there
was a broad black belt separating the creek from the main fire. The
backfiring had been a success in that area if not in any other. The
main fire could not get across a space which had already been burned.

Bill continued to work up the stream. Soon he came to a place where
someone else had obviously worked on a backfire. When he was sure that
there was a continuous line of burned ground along the stream in his
area, he went back again to be sure that no new fires had started
while he was gone. Everything was as he had left it. His first
fire-fighting had been a success.

The main fire was much nearer, but Bill no longer felt any danger from
that. Let it come, it could not pass the wall which he had built
across its front. Bill sat down along the creek to cool off and rest
while waiting for Sam and Bob to return.



CHAPTER VI—BACK TO ARMY DUTIES


It had been a long, hard day for Bill Bruce. He had fished all morning
and had rested a while after lunch, but since the time that Cecil had
left, he had been working hard. The automobile trip to Couch’s ranch
had been only ten or fifteen miles and had lasted but a comparatively
few minutes, but the hike through the woods and the fire-fighting were
much different.

Exhausted by the hard hike through the underbrush and bushes, the
manual labor of fighting the fire had completed the job and there was
not a muscle in Bill’s body which did not ache and pain. He had no
idea as to the time of day. The smoke had obscured the sunlight so
that he could not estimate the hour, and he was too tired to even look
at his watch. He didn’t care much, either.

As a matter-of-fact, it was late in the afternoon when he finally
returned and sank down alongside the creek bank after his last patrol
along the fire line. How long he had been sitting there he did not
know, but it was beginning to get dark when he heard voices. The fire
was gradually burning itself out. The sharp, ear-splitting crackling
of the flames was much less audible. The smoke was just as thick as
ever, but the terrifying aspect of the fire was gone. Simmons had done
his job well. The fire had been conquered.

Bill recognized the voices as those of Crouch and Bob. He could not
see them, but heard them talking as they approached the place where he
was sitting. Bill jumped up in spite of his aching muscles.

“We left Bill along here somewhere,” said Crouch.

“Hello, Bill,” called Bob.

“Here I am,” replied Bill.

“Well, we did our part,” said Crouch when he came to where Bill was
standing. “It looks to me as if the fire has lost all its dangers now.
The men with Simmons can handle it from now on. Where is your car? If
I remember correctly, you said that you were tourists.”

“Our car is down at your place,” said Bill.

“That’s fine,” remarked Crouch. “I know a trail through the woods
along Oak Creek that leads out into the main road. By going that way
we will not have to climb the ridge we came down.”

“The sooner the better,” said Bob. “You can’t get back to your place
too soon to suit me.”

“What will we do with the forestry service tools?” asked Bill.

“Just bring them along,” said Crouch. “They will stop by my place and
collect them when they come out.”

It was so easy to say, “Just bring them along,” but every added pound
made Bill’s aching body feel like an open sore. He did not say
anything, but raised the shovel and axe to his shoulders and stood
ready to start. It was quite dark by this time, and following Crouch
along the narrow trail was quite a task. The trail turned at all sorts
of unlooked-for places. Limbs of trees and small bushes scratched his
face and hands as they walked along. Once he ran into a tree before he
saw it when the trail turned sharply.

Bill’s feet seemed so heavy that he doubted his ability to walk
another step. He turned around to look at Bob and could not see him in
the semi-darkness. That made him feel better. Bob must be as tired as
he was. Sam Crouch was walking along with the same swing that he had
used when they first met. The man was not human. It was physically
impossible for a man to work as hard as they had for a whole afternoon
and part of the evening and then be as fresh and energetic as Crouch
was.

The trail through the woods seemed endless. Finally they reached the
road and Bill hastened his steps to walk alongside of Crouch.

“Don’t you ever get tired?” asked Bill.

“Son, I have been doing this ever since I was seven years old,”
replied Crouch. “This is just a routine day for me. I like the woods
and am always waiting for an excuse to get away from people and
communities. I probably would be better off if I didn’t spend so much
time hunting and fishing, but the different game seasons come so close
together that I don’t seem to have much time to do much else. Right
now it is good fishing season. That will last pretty nearly all
Summer. Then the salmon will start running up the river. Down in the
valley we have good pheasant shooting. Occasionally we have wild
pigeon shooting. In the Fall there is always good deer hunting. Then
Winter comes along and I go out after bear and mountain lions. The
snows shut me in for a while after that and I am forced to stay home
for a few weeks. Taking it all in all, I do not have much time to work
on my clearing.”

“That’s what I would call an ideal existence,” said Bill.

As they talked, Bob came up and walked along with them. It did not
seem half as tiring when they were talking as when they apparently
covered mile after mile in silence.

“Have you ever seen the salmon run?” asked Crouch.

“No, I never have,” replied Bill.

“If you get a chance, don’t miss it,” said Crouch. “By the way, where
do you two fellows come from?”

“We are stationed in San Francisco,” replied Bill.

“You ought to get good fishing around there,” said Crouch.

“We haven’t been there long enough to get any fishing,” explained Bob.
“We were stationed down in the Imperial Valley until a few weeks ago.”

“What are you fellows, anyway?” asked Crouch.

“We are in the Army,” said Bill. “We are in the Air Service.”

“Do you fly airplanes?”

“That’s our job,” replied Bob.

“I’d rather hunt bears,” said Crouch. “The highest that I want to get
is up on the ‘poop deck’ of a horse. That’s far enough for me to fall.
Well, here we are at the shack. What are you going to do now?”

“Take our car and hunt for a place to camp,” replied Bill.

“No use of your doing that. I am here all by myself. I haven’t any
beds, but I can give you a room and you can spread out your blankets
on a couple of old mattresses that I have and sleep in comfort. You
must be tired and ought to get a good night’s rest. I can cook up some
grub for supper and then you can turn in. What do you say?”

“It’s too good to be true,” said Bill. “If you hadn’t asked me to
sleep in your house, I would have rolled up in my blanket out here by
the car and slept on the ground. I am just that tired. That was a
mighty big fire, wasn’t it?”

“Just a baby,” replied Sam. “Only about eight or nine hundred acres.
Why some of them cover that many thousand acres and we have several at
the same time.”

“I’ll get out blankets and bags while you help get supper,” said Bob
to Bill as they reached the house.

Supper, the laying of their beds and the short talk after supper were
like a dream to Bill. Both he and Bob were asleep as soon as they
landed between their blankets.

“Say, are you fellows going to sleep all day?”

Bill sat up. The sun was shining into the room. It was late in the
morning. His muscles were sore and he was stiff all over. Every
movement that he made started new pains through his body.

“I thought that we might go fishing this morning,” said Crouch.

“That’s an idea at that,” said Bill. “Bob, wake up, we are going
fishing.”

“You go fishing and let me sleep,” said Bob drowsily.

“Come on, breakfast is on the table,” said Crouch.

“All right, if I must,” replied Bob. “I don’t feel much like it,
though.”

“All the stiffness and soreness will be gone after we have been out
for a few minutes,” said Crouch.

So the days passed. The young aviators stayed several days with Sam
Crouch and learned more about wood life and the art of fishing than
they could have learned in several months by themselves. Finally the
time came when they wanted to push farther up into the woods. It was
hard to say good-bye to Sam, but they finally did, promising to look
him up again whenever they came back that way.

“Here’s something to take with you,” said Sam as they were about to
start away.

Sam handed them a glass jar. Bill looked to see what it contained, but
could not determine anything from its appearance. Obviously it was
some kind of dried meat. Sam saw the inquiry in Bill’s expression.

“It’s jerkey,” explained Sam.

“What’s that?” asked Bill.

“You don’t know what jerkey is?”

“Never heard of it,” replied Bob.

“I can’t eat all the deer meat that I get during the hunting season,
so I dry it for future use,” said Sam. “This is dried venison. I think
that you will like chewing it while you are fishing.”

“Thanks very much,” said Bill and Bob in unison as they started away.

That night they camped several miles away from Sam Crouch’s clearing.
As far as they could see, there was no settlement within miles. The
fishing was good and they were more than satisfied when they finished
their supper.

“This is really our first night out,” said Bill. “We started out with
the idea that we would camp every night, but have never done it
before. What will we do with our stuff?”

“Just leave everything as it is until morning,” replied Bob. “There’s
no one anywhere around here.”

“I don’t know whether that is the proper thing to do,” replied Bill.
“I guess that it doesn’t make any difference, though, for we have to
start back home tomorrow.”

The boys rolled up in their blankets and were soon asleep. Bill was
later awakened by the sound of something moving around his clothes. He
sat up and threw the beam of his flashlight around. It finally rested
upon an animal the likes of which he had never seen before. The animal
was eating or nibbling one of his leggins. Bill jumped up, and with
the movement there was no doubt as to the identity of the animal. It
raised its quills until it looked like a large thistle.

“Bob,” called Bill. “Here’s a porcupine.”

“Where?” asked Bob as he sat up.

The porcupine made no attempt to move away in spite of all the noise.
It sat quietly as if it were in its own domain. The only difference
was that it had stopped nibbling on the leather leggins. The aviators
knew that they could not catch it in their hands, so looked around for
something to wrap around it. While they were searching, the porcupine
ambled away and was soon lost in the darkness.

“Well, he got away,” said Bill, as they again rolled themselves in
their blankets.

“He would have made a good mascot for the squadron,” said Bob.

“Unique but rather sticky,” said Bill as he dropped off to sleep.

About an hour later Bill was awakened again. He had the feeling that
there was something rummaging in the camp equipage. He threw his
flashlight in the general direction of where the supplies were piled
and was almost frozen stiff with fright at what he saw.

A large brown bear was mauling among the boxes and cans trying hard to
find something to eat. Not far off another bear was delving in the
garbage pit. Then there was a terrible crashing and smashing as the
first bear vented its rage against the pots, pans, and kettles. This
woke Bob.

“What’s all the noise?” asked Bob.

Bill didn’t know whether to answer or to keep quiet. The bears were
but a few feet away. If he said anything, it might attract the
attention of the bears. If he didn’t, Bob might call out again and
then that would attract them. At the present time they were busily
engaged in wrecking the camp and were not interested in either the
flashlight or Bob’s talking.

Bob did not need to get an answer to his question, for he looked in
the beam of the flashlight and saw what was going on. What was to be
done now? Neither one of the two young airmen could answer the
question. Bill finally decided that something must be done, so jumped
up and began clapping his hands and shouting.

The bear at the garbage pit stood up, but stayed where it was. It
looked as large as a house to Bill, so he stopped in his tracks
wondering whether to run toward or away from the bear. The other bear
ambled off a few feet and then turned around to watch the proceedings.
For a long time both Bill and the bear stood watching each other.

Bill again started shouting and then made another short dash after the
nearest bear. It walked slowly away for a few more feet and then
stopped and turned around. Bill began to lose his bravery just then,
for the bear seemed to look him straight in the eye. The effect on the
second bear was entirely different, for it made a dash to get away.
The direction it took was rather unfortunate for Bob, for the bear
headed right at Bob.

Evidently it did not see Bob stretched out on the ground, but Bob saw
the bear coming and dropped down flat in his blankets. The bear did
not have any designs against Bob, however, for it cleared him with a
bound and was off in the woods. The shout that Bob gave as the bear
reached his blankets was too much for the first one and it ambled off
and disappeared in the thickets.

“This is no place for a white man,” said Bob after the bears had both
gone. “I am in favor of packing up and getting out right now.”

“That’s all right with me,” replied Bill. “But I don’t think that they
will come back. I think that they are gone for the night.”

“You can stay here if you want to, but not for mine; I’m on my way,”
said Bob.

“Well, we might as well move on,” said Bill after looking at his
watch. “It’s only a couple of hours until daylight and that will give
us a good start.”

“Our vacation in the woods is over,” said Bob “Now we go back to our
routine flying.”

“We have had a wonderful time, though, and I am coming back,” said
Bill. “I am going to find out from Sam the next time, though, what to
do when bears invade our camp.”

They started back to San Francisco very much impressed with the life
in the forests. Each was determined to return as soon as he could, but
neither realized that they would return almost as soon as they joined
their squadron, but with an entirely different reason for the visit.



CHAPTER VII—WORKING WITH THE ARTILLERY


“How did you enjoy your life in the woods?” asked Captain Smith when
Bill Bruce and Bob Finch reported for duty at the flying field at the
Presideo at San Francisco.

“We had a fine time and found it very educational,” replied Bill. “I
never knew that there were so many different kinds of trees. We were
very fortunate in meeting Mr. George Cecil, the District Forester. He
is in charge of all the National Forests in Oregon and Washington. We
probably would have run into all kinds of trouble if he hadn’t given
us a start in the customs and manners of life in the woods. Then we
were drafted to fight a forest fire, and say, boy, if you want to get
action, join a forest fire-fighting gang. It is hard work, but the
terrifying, destructive grandeur of a forest fire is beyond
description.”

“You didn’t enjoy it any more than I did when those bears raided our
camp when we were asleep,” interjected Bob. “I wasn’t the only one who
was ready to start back home.”

“I must admit that our education was not quite complete in that
respect,” admitted Bill. “Before I go out again, I am going to get
someone to tell me what to do when a bear romps through your camp
after dark.”

“What did you do?” asked Smith.

“Just what a normal man would do,” replied Bill. “I was scared to
death when I saw the first bear and more scared when I saw the second
one, but I tried not to show it.”

“You have been having a vacation, and now you will have to get back to
work,” said Captain Smith. “We are observing the fire of the coast
defense guns this morning. Bruce will take the first shoot and Finch,
you take the second one. Sergeant Breene can use the radio, but you
had better give him your sensings of the positions of the shots with
reference to the target before he sends them down. You can get some
idea as to the distance the shot falls from the target by the length
of the cable between the target and the tug. You will shove off in
half an hour. Your plane is having a new engine installed so that you
will have to use Batten’s.”

“I don’t know much about artillery adjustment,” said Bill. “During the
war I was a pursuit pilot.”

“Now’s the best time to learn then,” replied Smith.

“Why the trick leggins?” asked Kiel, the Commander of the Second
Flight in the Ninth Squadron.

“I had no choice,” replied Bill. “A porcupine started to eat my best
ones while I was up in Oregon. All my others need cleaning too badly
to wear. These wrapped leggins are comfortable, even though they take
more time to put on.”

“I thought that everyone threw away those leggins as soon as they
could after the war,” said Kiel.

“It’s a good thing that I saved these,” replied Bill. “If I hadn’t, I
would have been waiting in my quarters now for my others to be shined
and repaired. Then you would have had to take this mission. From my
point of view, I would rather have had it that way.”

“Well, Sergeant, how’s the old bus percolating?” asked Bill when he
came out onto the line and met Sergeant Breene.

“A new engine is being installed in yours,” replied Breene.

“I know that, but how is Lieutenant Batten’s? That’s the one that you
and I are going to take out on this artillery mission.”

“I don’t know anything about his plane,” replied Breene. “His crew
chief takes care of it.”

“Well, get your flying togs, for we take off as soon as we can get the
bus warmed up.”

In a few minutes they were flying around over the reservation while
they checked their radio with the ground station at the airdrome. The
antenna wire hung two hundred feet below the plane and formed an arc
with the lead “fish” at the end of the wire. The fish was a weight
shaped in a stream line form so that the wire would ride steadily
through the air and hang well down below the plane.

Breene sent out the call letters and then Bill and his observer
watched for the O. K. panels. As soon as they appeared, Bill headed
his plane out over the Coast Artillery radio station. Once more Breene
sent out the call letters of the station. This was acknowledged by the
panel signal, “understood.” Then the airplane sent down a message
giving the number of the plane, the pilot’s and observer’s names and
the information that they were ready to observe the fire of the guns.
Each item was repeated so that the ground station would be sure to get
it. Finally the ground crew placed the panels in the position which
indicated “battery ready to fire.” Then Bill headed his plane out over
the ocean.

It is a sort of lonesome feeling to fly out over the ocean in a land
plane. The pilot always realizes that if his engine quits, he must
land on the water, and that his plane will float for not more than
four hours after hitting the water. Accordingly, Bill wanted to get as
much altitude as he could and at the same time accurately observe the
falling shots. If his engine quit, he would then be able to glide at
least part way back to shore. There is always the possibility of
having to swim after a forced landing in the water, as boats are not
always conveniently available for rescue work.

Bill climbed until he reached five thousand feet. The tug and target
were about twelve thousand yards from shore, and they looked absurdly
small. He wondered how the twelve-inch guns could ever make a hit on
the small pyramidal target built up on the float. The entire area over
which the target would be moved had been cleared of ships. Off to the
north there were two steamers running into the Golden Gate, and a
third leaving by way of the ship channel. As far as Bill could see,
there was no other sign of life between the shore and the Farallone
Islands, some fifteen miles out.

Bill had barely reached his position abreast of the target when he saw
the splash of a shell as it hit the water. The shell struck just short
of the target and then ricocheted and made another splash beyond the
target. It then bounded along the water’s surface with ever
diminishing leaps until it finally sank beneath the water’s surface.
Bill was so much interested in watching the shot that he forgot to
hand back a sensing to Breene.

Bill was brought back to the business in hand when Breene tapped him
on the shoulder. “Two hundred right, eight hundred short,” Bill wrote
on a slip and handed it to Breene. After a couple of circles around
the tug and target, another shot splashed, but this time much closer.
“One hundred left, two hundred over,” wrote Bill on the slip that he
handed back. Thus it went for some time with the shots making a group
around the target, which was moving along at a rate of about ten knots
an hour.

It was interesting work and Bill enjoyed it. He was doing his best to
send down corrections which would make it possible for the gunners to
make a hit on the target, but either its motion through the water or
the normal dispersion of the spots due to the ammunition would not
permit of a direct hit being made. The tug cruised back and forth in
the cleared area. The wind and tide evidently made it move faster in
one direction than in the other, for the shots did not fall the same
distance away during the two runs.

Occasionally Bill would fly the plane back over the shore to see if
any additional instructions were being sent up to him by the panels.
Each time the same panels were displayed, “Battery ready to fire.”
That being the case he must place his plane so that he could see the
shots when they fell. Once he was sure that the guns had been fired
but he had not seen the first impact with the water. The only location
of the shell that he secured was after its first bounce from the
water. He then sent down, “lost.” This indicated to the firing battery
that the observer had not seen the last shot.

Bill was out well beyond the tug when his engine started missing and
then quit altogether. He wanted to glide into shore, but knew that he
could not make it from five thousand feet. He had another chance for a
quick rescue, and that was to land as close to the tug as he could.
However, in order to do that he would have to glide through the
section through which the shells were flying. He did not know what to
do. Should he take a chance with the flying shells, or should he land
in a safe sector on the water and trust that the tug would see him
drop and come to his rescue?

He guided his plane in wide circles as he lost altitude. As he
descended he could see that the battery had fired on the data sent in
from Breene’s last report. Would the battery stop firing when they
failed to perceive any additional data, or would it keep on firing?
Their last report had indicated that the battery was firing very close
to the target.

Bill decided that he would not take a chance of getting hit by a
thousand pound projectile. He would land as close to the tug as he
could and stay out of the danger zone. As he dropped lower, he could
see that the sea was rough. He had not been able to pick up the high
waves from his high altitude, but now they were apparent. That would
take skillful piloting or the plane would be completely wrecked when
it came into contact with the water.

As he glided over the waves, Bill made up his plan for landing. The
wind was in the same direction as the moving waves. He could not land
in the trough between two crests, for that would require a crosswind
landing. He would try and set the plane down between two crests.

The wheels were now just missing the peaks of the waves as the plane
soared along. Just ahead was a rather high wave. Bill expected to drop
his wheels into the water just beyond that crest. The plane dropped
out from under him quite unexpectedly and the next thing that he knew
he was swimming around in the water. Breene was not in sight. Bill
came in closer to the fusilage and waited. Soon Breene appeared in the
water in front of the wings.

“Can you swim?” called Bill.

“Not so much,” replied Breene.

“Come around here and climb up on the fusilage,” said Bill.

The lower wing of the plane had been torn almost all the way off. As
far as they could see, the fusilage was still intact. The heavy
800-pound engine caused the nose of the fusilage to sink into the
water. Thus the only parts of the plane above the surface were the
tail surfaces, the top wing and the fusilage between the rear of the
wings and the tail group.

Breene worked his way around the wreck until he reached the tail
surfaces. Bill gave him a lift and Breene was soon sitting on the
empennage almost entirely out of the water. Bill could swim well and
stayed in the water, supporting himself by the rudder surfaces.

“This water is getting cold,” said Bill. “Can you see anything coming
this way to help us?”

The plane at that time was down in a trough and the crests towered
twenty or more feet above them.

“Not a thing in sight,” replied Breene.

“Wait a minute,” he shouted as the plane rose up on a wave. “The tug
is coming toward us full speed ahead. I hope that it has dropped its
cable and is not pulling the target.”

“It ought to get here before the old crate sinks,” said Bill. “I am
going to take off my shoes and leggins so that I can swim better if I
have to.”

Bill had just unwrapped about two coils of his leggins when he was
interrupted by an extra heavy wave which almost submerged him. The
plane was gradually sinking and he wanted to be ready for anything
that might occur. He might have to support Breene if the plane went
down before help arrived. In struggling to regain his grip on the
plane, he lost the loose end of his leggins.

Just then the tug came into sight and dropped a small boat. Bill
insisted that Breene be taken off first. Breene had no more been
rescued than the plane gave a lurch and sank beneath the water. Bill
turned loose the rudder surface but felt himself being dragged down.
The loose end of his leggin was caught in the wires of the empennage.



CHAPTER VIII—NARROW ESCAPES


When Bill Bruce felt the pull of the sinking airplane on his leggin,
he knew that he had to do some fast moving and some faster thinking to
escape being dragged to the bottom of the ocean. He was submerged
before he knew it. His only salvation lay in his ability to release
himself from the leggin or in the cloth band breaking. In the meantime
he was going farther and farther beneath the water’s surface.

It suddenly occurred to him that he might be able to unwrap the leggin
by rotating his foot about the taut part extending upward from the
plane. This procedure proved to be a success and in a few seconds he
emerged. When his head came above the water he coughed and spit until
he got rid of most of the salt water which he had swallowed. He had
not been under the water long, but it seemed much, yes, very much
longer than it actually was. He had been through a terrible ordeal and
his escape had been a narrow one.

When Bill had brushed the salt water from his eyes, he looked around
and saw the tug with its small boat standing near by. He swam to the
small boat and was taken aboard. In a few minutes they were back on
the tug and headed for the target.

“I want to pick up that target again,” said Lieutenant Small, the
Artillery officer in charge of the tug. “If you are all in, however, I
will head into the harbor and dock. If you can wait for a while, I
will pick up the target and cable and then we will steam back to the
dock.”

“I can wait for a while,” said Bill. “I am all right. I swallowed a
lot of salt water, but that won’t hurt me any. How did you get to the
plane so soon?”

“As soon as we saw your plane going down, I knew that something was
wrong,” said Small. “Ordinarily you fellows don’t get down that low
while you are out here. Then when you kept on going down, I told the
crew to cut the target cable. They hacked it off with an axe and we
went full steam ahead for the spot where you hit the water.”

“It’s lucky that you did, too,” replied Bill. “I was under the
impression that a land plane would stay afloat for about four hours,
but I know now that it won’t when it is damaged when it hits the
water. That old bus did not float more than thirty minutes, if that
long.”

“We timed it,” said Small. “It was just twenty minutes after you hit
that we launched the small boat. Eight minutes later the plane was out
of sight. I figure out that twenty-eight minutes covers the entire
time that it was afloat.”

“The plane must have been more badly damaged than I thought,”
commented Bill. “The landing gear must have torn off some of the
fusilage when it hit. In any event, I am glad that you arrived when
you did.”

The tug had almost reached the target by this time. The crew
maneuvered until they came along side the target and then caught the
loose end of the cable. It was a long, tedious job to pull the end of
the cable from the bottom of the ocean, but was finally accomplished.
Once more the target was being drawn through the water at the end of
the cable and the tug headed back toward the bay.

“What did you do with my plane?” asked Batten when Bill arrived at the
aviation field.

“Don’t you know?” asked Bill.

“We received a radio message from Breene telling us that you were
going to land, but why pick out the ocean?” responded Batten.

“You talk as if I had landed in the water eight miles from shore
through choice,” said Bill, somewhat peeved.

Bill was wet and most uncomfortable. He had been through a trying,
nerve-racking experience and could not see that Batten was joking with
him.

“It was a good plane, anyhow,” replied Batten. “Now I will have to
break in another one. You had a mighty lucky escape and showed good
headwork in getting away with nothing more than a wetting. I would
hate to have to swim around in that cold water and wait for a slow old
tug to come up and pick me up.”

The days followed along with regular squadron work. More artillery
observation, aerial gunnery and bombing and the maintenance of the
equipment. Then one morning Captain Smith told the officers that they
would have searchlight practice with the anti-aircraft artillery that
night.

Night flying was not a new thing to any of the officers of the
squadron, but none of them had ever before gone up with the one
purpose of dodging the searchlights. The drill was to give the
searchlight men practice in locating airplanes and holding the beam on
them at night.

Early in the evening the planes were all out on the line but Bill’s.
The mechanics had not quite finished the work incidental with the
installation of the equipment. Bill had just received a new airplane
prior to his return from Oregon. The old engine had been replaced with
a new one and then the radio, machine guns and bomb racks were put in
place. Bill hoped that his plane would be ready for the night’s
flying. Sergeant Breene was sure that it would.

The searchlight truck was placed at one end of the field and the flood
lights on the hangar were tested out. When it became dark, the lights
were turned on and the airdrome was as light as day. Beyond the ridge,
at the end of the flying field, the anti-aircraft searchlights were
throwing their beams into the sky. It made a beautiful sight.
Occasionally the beams from two lights would cross in the sky. The
operators would throw the beams from one side to the other, sweeping
the sky from the horizon in the north to the horizon in the south.

Smith took the first mission and his plane disappeared in the
darkness. It was not until he turned on his navigating lights that the
men at the flying field could locate him. He climbed his plane to an
altitude of over five thousand feet and then turned off the red and
green wingtip lights. As soon as he turned them off, the game of
hide-and-seek commenced. The searchlight beams were thrown around in
an endeavor to locate the plane.

Once in a while the plane would be caught in a beam and Smith would
dive, slip or make a quick turn. This made it necessary for the
searchlights to locate him again. It seemed as if they could not hold
the plane, for it was very seldom that they kept it in the glaring
light. When he flew with his navigating lights turned on, the
operators had no difficulty in keeping the plane in the beams, but as
soon as he turned them off, things were different.

Each one of the pilots took his turn after Smith had completed his
flight. Some of them were not as adept in handling their planes as
Smith had been and the beams played on their planes longer. After
talking with the other pilots as they came down, Bill was convinced
that this aerial hide-and-seek at night must be wonderful sport. He
was eager to get his turn.

“How about it, Breene, will we be able to get up tonight?” he asked.

“Everything will be ready in about fifteen minutes,” replied Breene.
“I have very little more to do. I had to connect up the bomb racks so
that we could take up some parachute flares.”

“That is not entirely necessary,” said Bill. “The lights here on the
airdrome will be sufficient to land by. However, I guess that we
better have them. In case of a forced landing we might need the
flares.”

“You are scheduled to go up next,” said Captain Smith to Bill. “Will
your plane be ready?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Bill.

“All right then, you will have the last flight, for it will be too
late for any more when you get down.”

Bill secured his flying equipment from the office and returned to his
plane. Breene had finished his part of the work and the other
mechanics had completed theirs. One of the men was climbing out of the
pilot’s cockpit when Bill started to get in.

The engine was warmed up and the lights tested. Everything was working
in A-1 condition. Breene climbed in the observer’s cockpit and the
plane was ready to start. Bill taxied down to the far end of the field
and turned the plane around. The beam from the field lighting set
illuminated the ridge beyond the buildings so that the minutest
details could be seen. Bill opened his throttle and took off.

The plane rolled a few yards and then was in the air. It climbed
steadily and crossed the ridge with lots of room to spare. Bill turned
back over the bay to get more altitude. The view which he saw was like
a touch of fairyland. Directly beneath him lay San Francisco. The
streets were outlined with their lights and could almost be recognized
by name. The trolleys could be seen traveling through the city.

Here and there ferryboats threw their lights across the waters of the
bay. The lighthouse on Alcatraz Island sent out its rotating beam,
which illuminated the shore line all around that portion of the bay.
The outline of the water was marked by the lights of the various
cities and small villages located along its shore.

On the far side of the bay Bill could see several railroad trains
coming into or leaving the station at Oakland. Beyond the Berkeley
Hills the lights of the cities in the Sacramento Valley broke the
darkness like stars in the sky. It was a beautiful sight, but Bill had
other things to do. He headed his plane back toward the ocean front.

His course was farther south than he wished and he tried to change it
by putting on right rudder. He soon realized that something had
happened to the plane—something was wrong with the rudder controls.
Bill was in a quandary as to what he should do. He kicked hard with
his right foot but could not get any response from the rudder bar. It
was solid in its position. He was now afraid to use his left rudder
for fear that it also would get caught. If he kept flying on his
present course, he would travel out over the ocean. That was not to be
thought of. On the other hand, suppose that when he used his left
rudder, the controls would lock in that position and he would have to
keep turning to the left. The situation was critical.

Bill pressed slightly with his left foot and the plane responded.
Furthermore, the rudder bar returned to a neutral position. He tried
to get some right rudder, but it was just as solid as formerly. By
this time the lights of the city were well behind him. He judged that
he was about five or six miles out over the ocean.

The one thought that entered Bill’s mind was that his controls might
lock in place. If that happened, he would have to follow the course
which the airplane took. Once more Bill shoved slightly with his left
foot and the plane responded. He held the foot in place with a view of
making a wide circle to get back to the landing field. He realized
that the circle with such a small amount of rudder would be a very
large one, but he could not take any chances of having the controls
lock and the movement of the plane thus be limited to a small circle.

Landing fields were scarce in the bay region. The city of San
Francisco was on a peninsula with the ocean on one side and the bay on
the other. The land between was thickly settled and built up. It would
be difficult to pick out a landing field in the day time and almost
impossible at night. Bill’s one chance lay in his being able to jockey
his plane, crippled as it was, back to the airdrome.



CHAPTER IX—AN UNEXPECTED DUTY


The bay with its lights along the water’s edge had now lost its beauty
for Bill. The night had become an agent which seemed to add further
dangers to the perils which already seemed to conspire against him.
Bill’s one idea now was to get his plane back to the landing field as
soon as he could. He then would try and jockey his plane into a
position which would eliminate the use of any right rudder in making
his landing.

The circle which he was flying was an exceedingly wide one. It took
him down the bay as far as San Mateo and he was loathe to make it
smaller. There was always the chance that his rudder bar should lose
all of its remaining mobility. He cut across the end of the bay and
approached Alameda. He could see the lights on the field and wondered
if he would make them safely.

The circle took him over the ferries plying between San Francisco and
the East Bay cities. Goat Island revealed itself by the lights of the
various buildings and the Naval Training Station. He was directly in
line with the landing field. He felt more secure now, for, with
everything going all right, he would not have to use any rudder to
make the landing.

Bill throttled the engine and started to glide to the ground. He hoped
that he would miss the three hundred foot flagpole standing somewhere
between his plane and the field. That caused him some anxiety for a
while, and then he realized that he must have passed it. His plane was
now a short distance from the lighting truck.

Bill leveled off and let his plane sink to the ground As the wheels
hit, he felt the plane veer to the right Bill gave it all the left
rudder that he could. The turn to the right ceased, but he had
over-controlled and a left turn started. He tried his right rudder and
found it to be ineffective as formerly. The plane turned rather
sharply and ended in a ground loop.

Fortunately they were not traveling very fast when the ground loop
took place, so that no damage was done. Bill did not even attempt to
taxi up to the line. He stopped his engine and turned to Breene.

“What in the name of all that’s good and holy did you do to this
plane?” he shouted.

“What was the matter, Lieutenant?” asked Breene in reply.

“Try the right rudder and see what you think,” responded Bill.

“Fry me for a porterhouse steak! What do you know about that?” said
Breene after trying the rudder. “The left rudder works all right, but
the right rudder just isn’t.”

“That’s no news to me,” replied Bill. “I found that out soon after we
left the ground. What I want to know is what’s the matter with it.”

By this time the other pilots and mechanics had arrived at the plane.
When Bill ground-looped in the beam of the searchlight everyone on the
field saw the plane make the abrupt turn. They naturally thought that
he had blown a tire or crushed a wheel as a result of turning too
sharply.

“Is that the way that you were taught to land an airplane?” asked Bob
Finch as he stepped up to the plane.

“Can’t you even make one good landing on your home field?” asked Kiel.

“We thought that we might have to order the meat wagon out,” said
Goldie.

“How about this night flying, do you like it?” asked Batten. “I will
give you instructions in landing at night if you want.”

“Don’t let him do it,” interjected Goldy. “He might lose his way and
land you up at Sacramento. I’ll teach you.”

“Go ahead and rag me, you bums,” replied Bill. “One thing is sure, if
I find the rat that has been tampering with my rudder control, I’ll
kill him on the spot.”

“What’s the matter with your rudder?” asked Captain Smith, who had
come up during the conversation.

“I have no right rudder at all. I haven’t had any since just after I
left the field.”

“Get out and let me see what the trouble is,” said Smith.

Bill climbed out and Smith took his place in the cockpit. The others
stood silently by while Smith tried out the controls. Finally Smith
tried to see into the cockpit with the instrument lights, but found
they were not powerful enough.

“Has anyone a flashlight?” he asked.

“Here’s one,” replied Sergeant Barney, the Chief Mechanic.

“That’s the most peculiar thing that I ever saw,” said Smith after
throwing the beam into the cockpit and trying the rudder. “I wonder
how that come to be put there?”

“What is it, Captain?” asked Bill.

Smith did not answer, but instead went head first into the cockpit. He
squirmed around for a while with his feet in the air and then started
working his way back again.

“Here it is,” he said when he had resumed his normal position.

He held a small board in his hands.

“What has that to do with it?” asked Bill.

“That board evidently fell or was placed in front of the rudder bar,”
said Smith. “When it dropped in place, it exactly fit the space
between the right side of the bar and the front cross members of the
fusilage. The result was that you could not have pushed your right
foot forward without breaking the cross members of the fusilage.”

“I wonder where it came from?” asked Bill. “Breene, who was working on
this plane with you?”

“Corporal Grabo and a recruit. I don’t know the recruit’s name. Who
was he, Barney? You sent him over.”

“Dixon,” replied Barney.

“I wasn’t in the cockpit at all,” said Grabo. “Let’s get Dixon and
find out what he knows.”

“I sent Dixon in to do some K. P. work,” said Barney. “He was in the
way out here and balled up everything that I gave him to do. Roll the
plane back to the hangar, you men.”

“One of you men go to the barracks and bring Dixon to the office,”
said Smith as he walked away.

Captain Smith was in his office when Bill arrived. He sat down and
waited as he was interested to learn why that piece of board was in
the plane.

“Come in, Dixon,” said Captain Smith after a while, and Dixon entered.

“Dixon, did you ever see this board before?” asked Captain Smith as he
handed the board across the desk.

“I can’t say that I have, Captain,” replied Dixon.

“Were you working in the cockpit of Airplane Number 1 this evening?”

“Yes, I was,” replied Dixon. “Come to think of it, I did have a piece
of board with me, but I don’t know if that’s the one, for I left it in
the cockpit.”

“Why did you leave it there?” asked Smith.

“Barney told me to clean out the cockpit and I couldn’t find a
dustpan,” said Dixon. “I took a piece of board with me to gather up
the dirt. I had just started to look for the dirt when Sergeant Barney
called me. I left the board there so that it would be handy when I
returned. I didn’t know that anyone wanted the board or I would have
put it back where I found it. It looked like a piece that someone had
thrown away.”

“Now listen to what I say,” said Smith. “Hereafter, don’t you ever
leave anything in any airplane which doesn’t belong there. This little
piece of board came near wrecking an airplane tonight. It might have
caused the pilot and a mechanic to lose their lives had it not been
for good headwork on the part of the pilot. Just remember that. That’s
all.”

Dixon was obviously too astounded to speak. He was a recruit and knew
nothing about airplanes or their workings. To him a piece of board was
just a piece of wood, and there was no more harm in leaving it in the
plane than there was in leaving it in the old farm wagon back home. He
saluted and withdrew.

“Well, there’s the whole story,” said Smith. “There’s nothing more to
be done about it as far as I can see. It is unfortunate that there are
such things as recruits, but we can’t have old soldiers without their
first being recruits.”

“I hope that the next recruit practices on someone else’s plane,” said
Bill.

As Bill left the office he stopped to read the notices on the bulletin
board. Aerial gunnery the next day, all pilots to be on the field at
eight o’clock. Bill liked aerial gunnery and looked forward with
pleasure to the next day’s missions.

Seven-thirty the next morning found all the pilots at their planes.
Each was testing out his engine or standing by while the mechanics
checked up on the synchronizing gear and guns. The targets which were
to be used were pieces of floating wood in Drakes Bay. Other pilots
were designated to do shadow shooting—that is, shoot at the shadow of
their own or another plane on the water.

Three planes of Bill’s flight were scheduled to take off first. The
planes, engines and guns were ready, ammunition had been placed in the
boxes and the pilots were sitting in their cockpits waiting for the
starting time. One of the planes had already commenced moving across
the field for the take-off when a messenger ran out onto the field and
stopped it.

The plane returned to the “dead line.” The pilot stopped his engine
and climbed out. Bill Bruce was in his plane and noticed the
proceedings. What it was all about, Bill could not imagine. The
operations order had been explicit in time and what was to be done.
The time for starting was passed. Smith was exceedingly particular
about missions starting on time and yet the flight was held up. Bill
decided to find out why.

“What did that messenger say to you, Bob?” asked Bill when he reached
Bob Finch’s plane.

“Told me it was the Captain’s orders that we stay on the ground until
further orders,” replied Bob.

“Did he say why or when we would go up?” asked Bill.

“He just said what I told you and nothing more,” said Bob.

“I will go over to headquarters and see what I can find out,” said
Bill as he walked away.

“Where’s Captain Smith?” asked Bill as he entered the Adjutant’s
office.

“He left for Corps Area Headquarters a few minutes ago,” replied the
Adjutant. “He gave instructions just before he left to hold your
planes on the ground until he returned.”

“What’s it all about?” asked Bill.

“I don’t know anything more than you do,” replied Maxwell.

Bill returned to the planes and gave instructions for the pilots to
shut off their engines. There was nothing more to do but wait until
Captain Smith returned. The officers sat around and each gave his
version as to why they were held on the ground. Finally, after a wait
of about three-quarters of an hour, Smith returned in a motorcycle
side car and went into his office. Bill hurried over to the office to
get such information as he could.

“Take a look at this,” said Smith as Bill came in.

He handed Bill a telegram to read.

                                                “Salem, Oregon.

  “Request airplanes for use in detecting and preventing forest
  fires stop Over two hundred fires now burning in northwestern
  part of state stop More breaking out all the time stop Smoke
  pall so bad that regular lookouts can not see through stop
  Unless help is secured I am afraid that most of timber in state
  will be burned stop

                                                    Olcott,
                                                    Governor.”



CHAPTER X—CLOUDS ON THE SISKIYOUS


“Orders are being issued for the Squadron to leave for Eugene, Oregon,
where we will establish temporary headquarters,” said Smith. “We will
leave tomorrow morning. That is, part of the Squadron will leave in
the morning. The motor transport will leave at daybreak. I will take
off with ‘B’ Flight at soon after daybreak as we can get away. Bruce,
you will leave with your Flight when you have straightened up the
airdrome. We will probably be gone all Summer, so make arrangements
accordingly. Some of the planes will probably operate from other
places than Eugene, but just where I cannot determine until I have a
conference with the forestry officials after my arrival. Everybody
make the necessary plans to carry out the instructions just outlined.”

That was all there was to the orders. The Squadron Commander of “B”
Flight would take off, the enlisted men would leave with the motor
transport and “A” Flight would follow as soon as it had closed up the
buildings and made the necessary preparations for the safety of the
property. Bill Bruce had no idea how long these preparations would
take, but he hoped that he would be able to get away on the same day
as the rest of the Squadron.

For the remainder of the day the Squadron personnel were busy with the
multitudinous details attendant to their departure. Their first task
was the removal and storage of the bombs and ammunition which had been
installed in the planes for the gunnery practice. The machine guns
were taken off and packed away. The radio sets were tested to insure
their perfect working condition.

It was no easy job to select the proper equipment and clothing which
should be taken along. The personnel did not know the conditions under
which they would live in Oregon and accordingly had a very sketchy
idea as to what would be required. In this they could get help from no
one and each worked out the details according to his own ideas.

The transportation was thoroughly inspected and the necessary spares
put aboard each truck. It was decided to leave the searchlight truck
at the home station, as it was far too heavy for mountain roads and
bridges. The radio trucks were taken along, and with them all ground
radio sets. Everyone realized that radio communication would have to
be used continuously between the planes and any bases which might be
established.

The next morning Bill found that the truck train had departed long
before his arrival. All of the Squadron messing facilities, tools and
spares for the airplanes and engines, officers’ and men’s personal
equipment and surplus flying equipment were in the trucks. A short
time afterwards Captain Smith left with “B” Flight.

Bill Bruce immediately started to work, using the officers and men of
his Flight to clean up the airdrome and close the hangars and other
buildings. It was a long, tedious task, but was finally completed. At
eleven o’clock the planes were lined up ready for the take-off. Bill
taxied his plane to the end of the field and the others joined him in
proper position for taking off in formation. He had five planes in his
Flight. One of his pilots was absent on leave and would join the
Squadron at Eugene at a later date.

The Flight took off and, once in the air, the planes swung into their
proper places. Bill was leading and the other planes placed themselves
along the sides of a large “V.” Each plane was slightly above and
uncovered the one in its front so that the Flight looked like a flock
of ducks as it flew across San Francisco Bay.

The first part of the trip took them to the north end of the bay. They
passed over a portion of the fertile Napa Valley and then crossed the
coast range at an altitude of about five thousand feet. Here they
obtained their first extended view of the broad Sacramento Valley.
They flew for miles over the level floor of the valley. Here and there
they saw or passed over a small village or a railroad, but the greater
portion of the flight was over large ranches.

Their course brought them closer and closer to the Sacramento River.
At first it had been well off to their right and could be
distinguished only by the trees along its banks, but as they
progressed they gradually came closer to it and could make out the
bridges over which the roads and railroads passed. They noticed that
the towns became more numerous as they flew parallel to the river and
railroad.

The Sierra Mountains, with their snow-capped peaks, marked the eastern
boundary of the valley. Mount Lassen, the only active volcano in the
United States, thrust its head well above the surrounding mountains.
Straight ahead of them Mount Shasta seemed to stand as a direction
post indicating the proper course for them to fly.

They reached the rough, broken country at the head of the valley and
crossed the Sacramento River. Bill here changed his course slightly so
that they would pass to the west of Shasta. The hills beneath them
became higher and higher and their slopes were thickly covered with
rocks. The river wound its way through the hills far to the west, only
to appear unexpectedly beneath them as they climbed for more altitude
to pass over Castle Crag.

The terrain rose abruptly from the river to the top of Castle Crag.
This enormous mass of rock thrust itself almost vertically into the
air and culminated in numerous pinnacles of solid rock. It was easy to
see how it had obtained its name, for the general impression obtained
when looking at it was that of a gigantic stone castle. Its peak was
composed of many sharp needle-like points some seven thousand feet
above sea level.

On the northern side of the Crag the country dropped abruptly into
Shasta Valley. They were close to Mount Shasta by this time, and
although flying along at about eight thousand feet, they had to look
up into the air to see the snow cap of that peak, which was some
fourteen thousand feet above sea level. The sides of the mountain were
covered with trees for the first five or six thousand feet above the
floor of the valley, but beyond that the timber thinned out until the
mountain was bare for the last three or four thousand feet.

At the foot of Mount Shasta they passed over a logging camp nestled in
the thick forest. Ahead of them stretched the floor of Shasta Valley,
but they could not see the far end as it was covered with clouds. For
the next fifty miles Bill wondered what he would do when he reached
those clouds. He knew that the valley ended at the range of mountains
along which the Oregon-California boundary extended. He could not
cross those mountains unless he could get at least four or five
thousand feet altitude.

Bill led the Flight toward the railroad, for he knew that it made its
way through the mountains and he hoped to follow it. The planes
reached the clouds and dropped down to thirty-five hundred feet to get
under them. From that point on Bill followed the tracks. On both sides
the mountains rose well above the railroad.

As they progressed the ground rose and tended to meet the clouds until
they were soon flying along with barely any space between the planes
and the timber-covered mountain sides. The railroad tracks followed
the course of the stream, which flowed down the valley. The valley
became narrower and the tracks climbed higher up on the mountain
sides. At one point they passed a train standing on a siding waiting
to pass another coming from the opposite direction. The passengers
were standing in the vestibules or looking out of the windows at the
planes as they passed. The pilots passed so close that they could see
the minutest details of the people on the ground. It seemed to Bill
that he could almost have touched the train as he passed.

The valley was gradually getting narrower—the trees were higher and
the planes had less room for maneuvering. Bill turned around to see
how the other members of his Flight were getting along. He was
following the middle of the valley and had plenty of space for
maneuvering, but the flank planes were too close to the trees for
comfort. The Flight was limited in its movements by the clouds above
and the V-shaped cut through the mountains below.

As they gained altitudes the valley twisted and turned. Each twist and
turn had to be followed with great care by the pilots. The Flight
began to string out on account of the confined space in which they
were flying, the danger of hitting a mountain side or of running into
one of the other planes. The curves of the railroad and the stream
became more abrupt until Bill found it difficult to anticipate the
next turn he would have to make with his plane.

It was getting harder and harder to follow the railroad. Bill thought
that they should soon reach the crest of the mountains and start to go
down the other side, as the railroad by this time was almost in the
low clouds.

All of a sudden Bill saw that the tracks made a complete one hundred
and eighty degree turn ahead of him. The tracks had been steadily
climbing to gain altitude, and now in order to gain more they turned
back on themselves. Bill knew that he had led his Flight into a blind
valley. He must turn around and follow the tracks, but where did they
lead?

Bill had to make a wing overturn and come back, head on, at the other
planes. Each plane in turn slid over to the side of the valley as Bill
approached, but it looked as if he would surely collide with one of
them before he passed the last. However, he cleared by inches and was
maneuvering to pass the last plane when he saw that the railroad went
into a tunnel.

It is bad enough to have to follow a railroad through a twisting,
winding valley with barely enough room to handle the plane, but when
that railroad runs into a tunnel, then the leader of the Flight is up
against it to know just what to do. Bill had this situation
confronting him. He did not want to back-track down the valley, for
the clouds by this time might have settled down and shut off all
possibility of getting out. Something had to be done, however, and
must be done at once. The mouth of the tunnel was getting closer and
closer.

The side of the mountain disappeared in the clouds above the tunnel.
There was no way to tell how high that mountain extended above the
bottom of the clouds. Bill could see the trees with their trunks below
the clouds and their tops hidden, but that did not help any. He saw a
deer, standing at first in an opening between the trees, suddenly turn
and bound out of sight when it overcame its fright of the throbbing
engines. Bill right there wished that he could change places with that
deer.

He headed his plane straight at the mouth of the tunnel and then, just
before reaching it, pulled back on the stick and went up into the
clouds. Once in the mist, with all view of the ground cut off, he
hesitated about what to do next. If he leveled off too soon he would
crash against the sides of the mountain. If he held his plane in a
climbing position too long, it would fall off into a spin. He tried to
hold it at the same angle at which he had entered the clouds and hoped
that it was sufficiently steep to follow the contour of the abrupt
slope below him.

Bill held his plane in the climb for an appreciable period of time. He
thought that he must have crossed over the crest of the Siskiyou
Mountains and, accordingly, pushed forward on the stick. One of two
things lay below him, either the side of the mountain or a level
valley. In one case he would crash into the mountain, but in the other
he would come out safely into the open. Which it would be, Bill had no
means of knowing.



CHAPTER XI—INTO THE SMOKE PALL


When Bill Bruce went up into the clouds and disappeared from the view
of the other pilots in his Flight, for a moment the men in the planes
following were stupefied. It took some time for them to realize why
this seemingly unnecessary dangerous maneuver had been performed. Then
they came to a point where they saw the mouth of the tunnel and they
could visualize what was ahead. They had no time to question the
motives or judgment of their leader, for the tunnel was in their
immediate front and other planes were thundering in their rear. They
had no choice but to follow Bill Bruce. If they tried to turn, they
would run the chance of colliding with the following planes. So each
pilot in turn zoomed his plane into the clouds.

The Siskiyou Mountains run almost east and west, separating the Shasta
Valley from the Medford Valley. Their crest conforms for that short
distance, almost exactly with the boundary between Oregon and
California. The railroad winds and twists in all manner of bends as it
makes its roundabout way to the crest of the range. To one flying
above the tracks, the curves seem unusually abrupt, but there is no
other route for the tracks to follow in crossing the mountains. The
only alternative is an exceedingly long tunnel through the base of the
mountains. The expense of such a tunnel would be prohibitive on
account of its great length, while the tunnel now used through the
crest is really a very short one.

The railroad passes between two peaks. On one side is Pilot Knob, a
trifle over six thousand feet high and exactly on the border between
the two states. This peak received its name from the old pioneers who
used it as a landmark to guide them over the Oregon-California trail.
It stands well above the surrounding mountains and has a peculiar
shape which makes it unmistakable after once having been seen. On the
other side of the tracks is Ashland Peak, seven thousand feet high.

Bill Bruce saw from his map that these two peaks were somewhere
nearby, but their exact location he did not know on account of the
clouds. In order for him to get down into the Medford Valley safely,
he must pass between these two almost prohibitive obstacles. The sides
of all the mountains in that area are covered with large rocks, which
are interspersed with scattered trees. Such was the country over which
Bill Bruce was leading his Flight through the clouds.

As long as he continued in the direction which he was traveling when
he entered the clouds, he would be all right. However, if he deviated
from that course the slightest, he would surely crash into the sides
of the mountains. Such was the most hazardous situation into which
Bill had led his Flight. Bill had gone into the clouds blindly, but
once in them he realized the many obstacles into which he had
unintentionally led his Flight. He himself might make it through with
little trouble, but could the other members of his Flight also do it?

Bill came out into the Medford Valley and breathed a sigh of relief.
As far as he was concerned, he had passed through the dangerous zone
safely, but the others were still in the clouds. He wondered if he
should start flying in a circle and wait for the other planes; but
such a maneuver was unnecessary, as he had no more made his entrance
into the valley than the first two of the following planes came into
view. They were flying with the same distance and interval between as
when they had entered the clouds. They were followed almost
immediately by the other two and the Flight was soon in formation
again, headed toward their destination.

The clouds broke ahead of them and they had glimpses of clear sky.
They passed over Ashland and Medford, the two largest towns in the
valley, and saw the extensive orchards covering the valley. Ahead Bill
saw another range of mountains barring his way to the north, but he
did not anticipate any difficulties in crossing them. His planes were
now light on account of the gasoline that they had used in coming from
San Francisco, and they had a clear sky ahead.

Bill led the Flight on a direct compass course for Eugene. If
everything went along smoothly he would make it, but if he encountered
head winds, some of the planes might run out of gas before they
arrived. The pilots climbed steadily to cross the mountains ahead,
while the railroad disappeared to the west and entered the Rogue River
Valley at Gold Hill. When he reached an altitude of seven thousand
feet, Bill made an inspection of the country ahead.

There was nothing but mountain peaks as far as the eye could reach.
The sides of the mountains were covered with timber, and that timber
made a never-to-be-forgotten impression on Bill. It spread over the
undulating ground like a rich, velvety, green rug. Clearings were few
and far between. The streams and rivers wound their way through the
valleys, making the rolling green covering even more beautiful. It was
hard to believe that the trees over which he was flying were two or
three hundred feet high.

Here and there the smooth surface of the timber was broken by small
clearings. Each of these marked the place where some hardy homesteader
had settled in the woods and was making a home for himself and perhaps
his family. For the most part they were along stream beds where they
could get water. Some of the clearings had evidently been worked for
longer periods than others, for they were much larger. The houses and
barns which had been erected appeared quite diminutive on account of
the large trees standing near by.

Then other open spaces in the velvety green stood out to greet his
eye. These were also in many cases the work of man, but from such far
different causes. Large white snags stood like gaunt tombstones
marking the glory of once mighty trees. These snags could have
resulted from only one thing—forest fires. Where the fires were of
recent occurrence, the ground was still burned black, but in the older
fire areas the second growth timber had made its appearance and the
ground was covered by the small trees with which nature hoped to
restore the forests to their former grandeur.

Then, again, there were areas where man had left entirely different
marks resulting from his activities. The second growth timber had
covered the bare places, but there were no snags present. These were
places where the land had been cut over for lumber. In some cases the
sawmills were still operating and Bill could see the smoke coming from
the stacks of the boilers. He could make out the tracks of the narrow
gauge which hauled the large logs to the mill and the donkey engines
working some distance from the mill, furnishing the power by which the
logs were snaked to the narrow gauge tracks or to the slides.

When slides were used to send the timber down the mountain sides, they
showed up in a distinct, straight brown streak through the timber.
Bill saw one of these slides operating later an and was astonished at
the speed at which the enormous logs thundered down the track. The
logs passed with express train speed and the friction with the track
was so great that many of them were smoldering from the heat when they
reached the bottom.

Here and there Bill saw what he thought was the smoke of a forest
fire. There was no mistaking a fire when it was large, but there were
other columns of smoke ascending which Bill could not identify. They
might be coming from other sawmills or they might be small fires.

Off to the right stood Mount McLoughlin, thrusting its head well above
any of its neighbors. Later on, during the patrol, many times Bill was
to welcome the sight of that peak. It was ninety-five hundred feet
high and its top was almost always covered with a snow cap.

Suddenly Bill became aware of the fact that he could not see very far
ahead. There did not seem to be any clouds in the sky, but the
visibility became extremely limited. Gradually the haze grew thicker
around them. It had the distinct odor of burning timber. The Flight
had entered the dense smoke pall which covers the Northwest section of
our country during the forest fire season. It has not the appearance
of clouds, but is just as impenetrable to the eye. Clouds vary in
color from white, through gray to black. At times they have a
distinctive greenish tinge which always is indicative of hail being
present. The smoke pall has a dirty, grayish brown color which tends
toward a golden hue when the sun shines on it.

By this time Bill had led his Flight quite some distance from the
railroad. He had not seen any possible landing fields since leaving
the Medford Valley. The smoke pall had taken away some of his
self-confidence. He wanted to get back closer to civilization. Bill
changed his course so that he would soon meet the railroad again.

The Flight had now been in the air for over three hours. The tanks
held gasoline for a trifle over four hours. Bill knew that they would
soon have to land for gasoline. He looked to his left for the
railroad, but could see no signs of the usual open country which
bordered the tracks. As the country beneath them was wild and thickly
wooded, Bill headed the Flight still farther toward the west to reach
those tracks.

The smoke pall did not have a definite lower surface as clouds have,
but gradually changed into a haze and thinned out close to the ground.
Bill was gradually losing altitude and suddenly, through the haze, he
saw a small town. He flew towards it and then circled around to pick
up the landing field. He studied his map and knew from the
configuration of the town, the river flowing by, that he had reached
Roseburg. Another circle and he saw the landing field. Bill gave the
signal for breaking formation and landed.

A gasoline tank truck was waiting for the planes when they taxied to
the end of the field. Apparently they were expected, but how did
anyone know that they were going to land there, when Bill himself did
not know it? Bill set out to satisfy his curiosity.

“How did you know that we were going to land here?” he asked the
driver of the truck.

“Captain Smith told me that you would probably get in some time about
three o’clock,” replied the driver.

“What time did Captain Smith come through?” asked Bill.

“It must have been around eleven o’clock. It was before lunch anyhow.
They all went into town for lunch and left here about one-thirty.”

“The lucky dogs,” said Bill. “We haven’t had any lunch so far, and
from all indications we will not get any. Fill us up as soon as you
can, for I want to make Eugene this afternoon.”

In a short time the pilots and mechanics were busily engaged in
filling the tanks in the planes. Some pumped gasoline into the tanks,
while others put in oil. The water in the radiators was checked,
inspections made of the various parts of the planes and everything
possible done to insure a safe trip into Eugene.

“How long a hop to get in?” asked Bob Finch.

“Just sixty miles,” replied Bill. “We ought to make it in forty
minutes easily. There’s nothing to the trip now, for we can follow the
railroad if we have to.”

“I surely was surprised when you went into the clouds back there,”
said Bob. “I was following right on your tail and looked around to see
how close the other planes were. When I again looked to see your
plane, it was gone. Then I saw that tunnel and I didn’t know what had
become of you. I soon figured it out that you had hopped the ridge. I
had no idea how high that range was when I went into those clouds, but
I hoped for the best.”

“I couldn’t very well turn around,” said Bill. “There wasn’t room
enough. I had no other choice.”

“The planes are all serviced,” said Batten, who had just walked along
the line of planes.

“We will take off in ten minutes. Same formation,” replied Bill.

They followed the tracks for the greater part of the trip to Eugene.
The country was fairly open along the railroad, with many small towns
at intervals. Streams and creeks ran down from the timbered hills and
crossed the tracks to join large rivers which emptied into the
Pacific. The farther north they flew, the more dense became the smoke.
Appearances would indicate that the Governor was right when he said
that there was danger of the whole timbered area burning.

Bill saw the Willamette Valley open up ahead just as he reached
Cottage Grove. It was the first real open country that he had seen
since leaving the Medford Valley. The other valleys had been so narrow
that they looked entirely too small to amount to much from the
airman’s point of view, but Willamette was wide and had numerous
farms, orchards and open spaces. It was a real valley, but after their
flight from San Francisco to Roseburg the pilots knew that such
wide-open spaces would seldom be found in the Northwest woods.

Almost immediately after losing sight of Cottage Grove, Bill saw
several railroads converging and knew that Eugene was not far off. A
little later he jumped his plane over a small ridge and the city lay
almost at his feet. He saw the airdrome with the other Squadron ships
and led his formation low toward the flying field. He made a circle of
the town and then gave the signal for landing.

The planes came down to the ground, the pilots and mechanics jumped
out of the cockpits and the planes were lined up with those from the
other Flight. The Squadron was united again. It was ready for the
strenuous work of aerial forest patrol.



CHAPTER XII—A FOREST PATROL BASE


That night the officers and enlisted men secured living accommodations
in the town. After the truck train arrived, the enlisted personnel
would all be quartered in tents on the aviation field. In the meantime
they must occupy temporary billets in the hotels.

The next morning the Squadron personnel were out at the aviation field
quite early, for there was much work to be done. The only available
buildings on the field were a large frame structure which was to be
used as a storehouse, and a small one which was to be used as
headquarters. The officers were installing the furnishings required to
change the frame shack into an office. The mechanics were working on
the planes, performing the necessary maintenance and servicing
required after a flight.

Batten, the Engineering Officer, was making arrangements to insure the
planes being in serviceable condition the next day. Maxwell, the
Operating Officer, was busily engaged in plastering maps of Oregon all
over the walls of his office. Liggett, the Radio Officer, was checking
radio sets on the planes and supervising the erection of a radio hut
some distance away from the landing field proper.

Bill was inspecting the planes of his Flight when he heard someone
say, “Hello, old-timer, who would have expected to see you here?”

Bill turned and saw Earl Simmons, the corpulent forest supervisor from
the Cascade National Forest.

“I never expected, when you drafted me as a fire-fighter, that I would
make it a profession, either,” replied Bill, as he shook hands with
Simmons. “How did they pry you away from your bailiwick in the woods?”

“We are going to have a conflab here to determine how you people can
help us save what’s left of the timber,” replied Simmons. “Cecil is or
will be here, and Elliot, the State Forester, will represent the
state. I am glad that you came up and hope that you can stop this run
of fires that we are having.”

Just then an orderly came up and said: “Captain Smith presents his
compliments and requests that you report to him in his office.”

“I guess that this is the conflab,” said Bill. “You had better come
along.”

Upon arriving at the office, Bill saw that Smith, Kiel, Maxwell, Cecil
and another man, probably Elliot, were already assembled. After
introductions and greetings all around, the group settled down to
business.

“Gentlemen,” said Cecil, “the fire situation in this state is more
serious than it ever has been before. Every day new fires are breaking
out, and the old ones are getting larger. The smoke pall is so dense
that the lookouts cannot see through it. Accordingly new fires get
very large before they are reported and we send out a crew to fight
them. Smith, what can you do to help us out?”

“I am not very well acquainted with the fire situation, how you handle
the problem, or the organization which you have to work with,” replied
Smith. “I suggest that you outline to me on the map your present
working organization. Then I will have something to guide me when I
make a proposal. If I suggested anything now, it would be like
shooting in the dark.”

Cecil and Elliot then outlined on the map on the wall the limits of
the National Forests, and marked the location of the forest
supervisors’, rangers’ and wardens’ headquarters and the lookout
stations.

“The lookout stations, as you can see, are located on the highest
points in the vicinity,” said Cecil. “All such stations are connected
to the nearest headquarters by telephone. A fire is located from two
or more stations. They make intersections on the smoke and read the
azimuth. This is reported to headquarters and a fire-fighting crew is
immediately collected to go out and fight the fire. If it is an
exceptionally large one and is hard to get under control, either the
supervisor or warden usually makes a reconnaissance of the fire to
determine the best means of fighting it. That must be done on
horseback or foot and takes, in some cases, several days. At the
present time the lookouts are not of much use on account of the
smoke.”

“As I see it,” said Smith, “we can help you in detection and
suppression of fires, but not much in the prevention.”

“I am not so sure about that,” said Cecil. “As soon as it is known
that the airplanes are patrolling the forests, people will be more
careful not to start the fires. The planes will have a great
psychological value.”

“Perhaps so,” replied Smith. “The first thing that I want is a liaison
officer from your service to stay right here and represent your
department. We cannot talk your language and you can’t talk ours. In a
short time the liaison officer will be able to talk both.”

“That’s all right,” said Cecil. “I think that I will have Simmons stay
to start you out right and later replace him with someone else. Does
that suit you, Earl?”

“Suits me O. K.,” replied Simmons.

“With Simmons here,” said Smith, “we can start a set of maps which
will show the fire situation at a glance. All the fires can be marked
on the map in different colors.”

“I have a suggestion to make in that connection,” said Cecil. “In
order that a standard set of colors be used, we should all have red
pins to designate new fires that are verified; yellow pins for new
fires not verified; green pins for permanent smokes such as logging
camps, sawmills, etc., and black pins for fires that are burned out.
In that way there will be no confusion.”

“So be it,” replied Smith. “So much for the maps and the liaison
officer. Now my next suggestion is that we send out two patrols a day
from here, one going south to Medford and the other north to
Portland.”

“That will be all right,” said Cecil, “provided that these patrols
cover the areas having the greatest fire hazard. Let’s work it out on
the map.”

It took some time to work it out satisfactorily, as Cecil wanted to
get the patrol to cover the greatest possible amount of timbered area
and Smith had to be sure that the routes covered areas where there
were at least an occasional emergency landing field; that the routes
would normally take but two hours to cover; and that they would end
near a sub-base where the planes could be serviced with gas and oil.
The patrols finally agreed upon were:

  1. From Medford over the Cascades to Eugene and return over
  almost the same route.

  2. From Eugene over the coast range to the west of the
  Willamette Valley and end at Medford. To return over
  approximately the same route in the afternoon.

  3. From Eugene over the Cascades in the morning to Portland,
  and back over the coast range in the afternoon.

As the period of greatest fire hazard was during the middle of the
day, it was agreed that the patrols should start out at nine o’clock
each morning and land at the sub-base about eleven, and taking off
again about one o’clock, be back home at about three.

“How will you send in the information that you get?” asked Cecil.

“By radio,” replied Smith. “I also have a suggestion on that. I am
bringing up several extra sets. Why can’t you hire some amateurs and
have them run sets in each forest? In that way the Forest Supervisor
would get the fire data as soon as it was sent. We would save a lot of
time if we did.”

“An excellent idea,” said Cecil. “We will do it. When will your sets
be available?”

“As soon as the truck train gets in,” replied Smith. “Probably the day
after tomorrow.”

“What data will be in the message?” asked Cecil.

“We might just as well fix up a code now as any time,” said Smith. “We
will have a standard sequence for all messages. All data to be in code
if possible. KA starting the message would be the attention call. Then
VAI or the call letters of the ground station being called. FFF signal
that a fire was discovered. NF or OF meaning a new or old fire. T
followed by the number of the township. R followed by the range
number. A followed by the estimated size of the fire in acres. W
followed by the estimated strength of the wind in miles an hour, and
abbreviation of direction, as N for north or SE for southeast. PA
followed by the number of the patrol, and finally AR, meaning the end
of the message. How does that suit you? That is my Radio Officers’
idea. Liggett gets the credit for that if it is accepted. A complete
message would be received KA KA KA VAI VAI VAI FFF NF T26 R7 A300 W15
NW PA3 AR AR AR. Then station VAI would know that a new fire in
Township 26, Range 7, burning over 300 acres. The wind was 15 miles an
hour from the northwest and Patrol Number 3 was reporting it.”

“Its all right for us,” said Cecil. “It gives us all the information
that we need.”

“The patrols will send in messages every five minutes regardless of
the number of fires that they discover,” said Smith. “That will enable
us to keep track of their whereabouts. I don’t want any planes landing
in the timber and not knowing approximately where they are.”

“I also suggest that the Liaison Officer should send in a complete
report of all fires discovered by telephone as soon as the plane has
landed,” said Cecil. “I will have additional liaison officers at
Medford and at Portland.”

“That’s all right,” said Smith. “I am going to establish ground radio
stations at both those places in addition to the one here to receive
the messages that come in and check them when the plane lands.”

“When can we get started?” asked Cecil.

“We can make patrols tomorrow,” said Smith. “There will be no radio on
the ground to receive any messages, though. I would suggest that you
send up some of your men in the planes tomorrow to act as observers
and check on the fires now burning.”

“That will be fine,” replied Cecil. “I am not so sure that we have
located all of the fires now burning. That reminds me, how about
special planes occasionally for special patrols to enable my men to
get data as to how best to fight large fires? They could surely make
the tour of a fire by plane in thirty minutes to two hours that now
would take us several days on horseback or on foot.”

“Whenever you want one,” said Smith. “We will always have one plane in
the airdrome waiting for such service.”

“You may not appreciate it, but that is going to be a big help,” said
Cecil. “In order to fight a fire efficiently, we must know the
topography of the country. That enables us to efficiently locate our
fire lines. It is always better to stop a fire on a natural barrier
such as a stream, the crest of a mountain, a road, or an already
burned-over area than in the middle of a forest. The forester in the
plane can also get the wind direction and nature of the wood burning.
It makes a big difference if the fire is in second growth timber,
virgin woods or brush.”

“That is an easy request,” said Smith. “A plane will be ready any
time. Bruce, I am going to send Goldy and two planes from your Flight
down to operate from Medford. You make all the necessary arrangements.
The rest of the Squadron will operate from here. Simmons, you had
better get Goldy and tell him what it’s all about from your viewpoint.
The first patrol will start out at nine tomorrow. Bruce, you take the
south patrol, and Kiel, you take the north one. Goldy will start for
Medford at the same time and patrol the Cascades on the way down.”

“I will have my men here at that time,” said Cecil. “I will send down
a liaison officer with Goldy in one of the planes.”

“Can’t be done,” said Smith. “Two mechanics will have to go down to
work on the planes.”

“I’ll pay the transportation of one of them on the railroad,” said
Cecil. “He can go down on the evening train.”

“That will fix it,” said Smith. “I don’t care how the mechanic gets
there, so long as he is there to service the planes.”

“Well, Simmons,” said Bill as they left the office, “it looks as if
you had bought yourself a job.”

“One thing is certain,” replied Simmons. “I will know a lot more about
airplanes when this Summer is over than I do now.”

“And I will know a lot more about your forests,” replied Bill.



CHAPTER XIII—THE AERIAL FIRE PATROL


Bill Bruce had no conception of the size of the State of Oregon until
he started out on his patrol the next morning with Forester Kotok. His
patrol route covered the Siuslaw and Umpqua National Forests. Starting
southwest from Eugene, it led to Marshfield on the Pacific Ocean and
then turned to the southeast to Medford. On the return trip the
turning point was almost due west of Medford and then direct to
Eugene. Both the outgoing and return flights covered a distance of
about two hundred miles. Normally it could be expected that a two
hours’ flight would be sufficient for the two hundred miles.

When a pilot is flying a forest patrol, he cannot always fly the
direct route. He diverges from his course to accurately locate and
secure the limits of each fire which he sees. Then, again, the smoke
pall may obscure the tops of the mountains and require for safety’s
sake that the plane be flown through valleys or around peaks to reach
the destination. Thus on most patrols, while the flight could be made
in two hours if the sky was clear and there were no fires located,
during the fire season the plane might be out as long as three or even
three and a half hours.

The general elevation of the terrain over which Bill was to fly was
about four thousand feet, but here and there mountain peaks stood
above the five thousand foot mark. The area was almost entirely devoid
of habitations and completely covered with a dense growth of timber
except where logging companies had operated or fire had left its
terrible scars.

Before leaving the ground, both Bill and Kotok provided themselves
with maps of the southwest corner of the state. These maps were
mounted on boards so that they could be easily handled in the plane.
Kotok desired to accurately plot the limits of every fire seen during
the flight so that a record could be made of the fires then burning.
Accordingly, Bill looked forward to a flight of three hours, if not
more, before they reached Medford.

They had no sooner left the ground and headed over the large expanse
of unbroken timber before Bill realized that he was going to find it
rather difficult to accurately locate himself on the map. There was a
strange similarity between the different sections of that area. The
mountains were all covered with timber, roads were few, there were no
railroads at all after leaving the immediate vicinity of the airdrome
and the details of the ground all looked the same. He realized that he
would have to orient himself by the rivers and streams or become
hopelessly lost.

The smoke pall made it practically impossible to distinguish the few
landmarks which were present. Everything was considerably dimmed by
the smoke. He had the choice of flying under the smoke and skimming
the tree tops or of flying above the smoke and dropping down through
when a fire was sighted. During the first part of the patrol Bill flew
under the smoke.

The first forest fire was sighted before they had been twenty minutes
out of Eugene. The smoke rising from the burning timber joined to that
already hanging in the air made an impenetrable barrier ahead of the
plane. Bill guided the machine around the area, while Kotok obtained
data as to its size, nature of material burning and the limiting
natural features. Bill then flew a short distance north to the
railroad in order to accurately locate the fire. It was a rather small
fire, covering between two hundred and three hundred acres.

After getting the data concerning the first fire, they continued on
their patrol. They picked up one fire after another. Some were quite
large and evidently had been burning for a considerable time. Others
were small, which would indicate that they had started but recently.
At times it was necessary for Bill to fly right over the fires as they
were bounded by high mountains with peaks extending into the smoke
pall.

While flying over the burning timber, Bill thought that he could hear
the crackling fire above the deafening roar of his engine. The trees
sent pillars of sparks and smoke high into the air when they fell. The
heat was intense and the air so rough that it was terrifying. The air
conditions put a severe nervous strain on Bill, for there was always
the possibility of his engine cutting out. If that had happened the
plane would have been forced to land right in the midst of the burning
trees, for with the limited ceiling the plane was just clearing the
tree tops.

The bumps threw the plane around so violently that Bill was kept busy
continuously working the controls. One wing dropped and Bill threw the
stick across to bring it up. Before he had the plane level, the nose
went down and the plane dropped at a terrific speed right toward the
burning inferno below. Several times they missed the tree tops by
inches. However, Kotok, at first more or less nervous on account of
the conditions under which they were flying, was soon hard at work
making his notes.

The heat from the fire finally sent the plane up with a bound into the
smoke cloud overhead. Once in the cloud, the fire became a glow
against the haze and then finally disappeared. Bill turned and looked
at Kotok for instructions as to what was to be done next. If Kotok was
through with that fire, they could continue the trip. If not, Bill
must dive through the smoke and brave the turbulent air above the
burning timber again. Kotok gave a sign which Bill interpreted as
meaning that he was through. Bill headed his plane along the patrol
route.

Gradually climbing, they soon emerged above the smoke cloud. They had
reached an altitude of seven thousand feet. The ground was hidden,
except when occasional mountain peaks penetrated through the cloud.
For a while they flew along above the cloud, following the compass
course. Then Kotok pointed to the right and Bill turned in that
direction.

There was a peculiar hemispherical hump protruding above the general
level of the upper surface of the smoke cloud. It looked like a
mushroom thrusting its top through the ground. As they came nearer
they could see that there was a violent disturbance of air around that
hump. The smoke had a golden glow which indicated a fire beneath. The
much needed data could never be obtained without dropping through the
cloud. With the troubles and dangerous flying conditions which Bill
had encountered above the last fire still fresh in his mind, Bill
hesitated about plunging down into the unknown.

As long as they remained above the smoke, Bill could see what was
ahead of the plane and all dangers of crashing into mountain sides was
eliminated, but driving a plane down into that thick smoke was
different. They had been sent out to get information, however, and
that data could not be obtained without seeing the fire. Accordingly
Bill pointed the nose of his plane down and hoped that they would not
run into anything before emerging from the smoke into the murky air
beneath.

Bill was not so sure that he was going to like forest patrol flying if
it necessitated much of this blind navigating. A little of it was not
so bad, but when a pilot was required to fly for mile after mile
through the muck and haze of countless fires, it put a different
aspect on the subject. Bill endeavored to get a glimpse of the ground
beneath as he circled down to the fire, but it was impossible. He was
up against a proposition of putting his entire trust in Lady Luck. If
she was with him, they would come out all right. If not, then it would
be too late to worry.

Lady Luck was kind and the plane came out into a small timber-covered
valley. The fire was some distance away and Bill turned his plane
towards it. He had enough ceiling under the smoke to fly around the
fire without any appreciable danger. The first impression they had was
that only a small area was in flames, but as they flew around it was
apparent that this was a large fire. Bill had no idea how Kotok was
going to locate it on his map. Just where they were, Bill did not
know. He had lost his location when they went up through the smoke
twenty or more minutes before.

Judging from the manner in which Kotok jotted down notes, he knew the
location accurately. He may have obtained it from the small river
which twisted around between the mountains, or it may have been the
bald, rocky peak on one of the mountains which oriented him. In any
event, this district was entirely similar to all the others as far as
Bill was concerned. Bill had to admit that he was lost. He knew that
the ocean was off to the west thirty or so miles and he could reach it
by flying a compass course. In the same way he could reach the
railroad by flying in the opposite direction, but that did not help in
getting the accurate location of such a fire as this one was. Bill
estimated that it covered at least two thousand acres.

When Kotok had completed his work, Bill again headed in a southwest
direction. Suddenly they came out over a small bay opening into the
ocean. Bill made several circles to get the lay of the land. He saw a
railroad crossing the bay and continuing to the south along the bay
shore. He located himself at last. They had reached Coos Bay.

Bill reluctantly left the low ground along the bay shore and headed
back into the timber-covered mountains. The smoke pall was not so
thick as they progressed to the south. There were fewer fires and
accordingly they made better time; with the decrease of the haze, Bill
was able to fly at a higher altitude and thus they could cover a much
greater strip of the forest in their search. That was more like the
flying that Bill had depicted that aerial patrol would be.

They skirted a mountain and came out into a valley. A stream and
railroad ran along side by side in the valley. From there on the
flight was easy. The railroad led into Medford and they landed about
thirty minutes after picking up the railroad. The flight had taken
three hours and a half, but even at that they were both on the ground
removing their flying equipment before Goldy’s plane came into sight.

“How many fires did you locate?” asked Bill when Goldy had climbed out
of his plane.

“We picked up twenty-four,” replied Goldy. “How many did you get?”

“Eleven,” replied Bill. “I can’t very well see how fires can be
started in the country we came over. We must have flown for a hundred
miles without seeing a single sign of any habitations.”

“I guess you are right at that,” commented Kotok. “The area we flew
over and will go over again this afternoon is perhaps the least
explored of any in the United States. The southwestern part of Oregon
has practically no settlements and there is no excuse for anyone going
into it unless he is a timber cruiser or a hunter. A man could get
lost there and he never would be found. He would have to find his own
way out.”

“What’s a timber cruiser?” asked Goldy.

“A man whose business it is to make estimates of the amount of timber
in a woods,” replied Kotok. “The logging companies usually have timber
cruisers go over a section before they start operations. Thus they can
form an idea of the amount of lumber they will be able to get out.”

On the return trip Bill and Kotok flew deeper than ever into that
little-traveled section of the state. The afternoon sun threw its
beams onto the leaves and made the green carpet of trees passing
beneath the plane seem like a beautiful picture. The fires were very
few for the first part of the trip and the flight very pleasant, but
after they reached Rusty Butte and turned to the north, conditions
changed. It was there that they ran into the smoke cloud again and had
more dirty flying.

They reached the Umpqua River and had but fifty more miles to do when
they saw an enormous fire The ceiling was so low that they had to fly
along just above the tree tops, and from that low height could see the
men working around the fire. It also was apparent that the fire was
confined to a bend in the river where the river turned almost back on
itself. Thus by building a fire lane across the bend the fire would
soon burn itself out. Bill at once saw the great value that an
airplane reconnaissance would be to the man in charge of a fire crew
there. In a rough section like that, a man would take hours to work
his way through the timber and over the mountains to get that
information. Kotok undoubtedly saw in a few minutes the proper place
to place the fire break.

They picked up a few more fires before reaching the Siuslaw River.
Most of them were small and apparently under control. They had reached
the area adjacent to the Willamette Valley. Here there were a few old
fires about burned out, but none of those blazing furnaces which
threatened the entire forested area like the larger ones farther away.

Bill landed his plane on the airdrome and was glad to be back at the
base. It had been hard flying with the thought continuously in his
mind that if his engine stopped he would have to land in the trees. It
would not have been so bad had the ceiling been unlimited so that he
could have gained sufficient altitude to at least try and glide to a
burned-over area or land in some second growth timber, but the thought
of making a landing in the tops of trees which were two or three
hundred feet above the ground was not so pleasant.

“Did you get them all?” asked Bill as they walked to the operations
office.

“I think so,” replied Kotok. “My map shows twenty-three fires.”

“How did you locate them without any landmarks?” asked Bill.

“You may not realize it, but I have been operating in this country for
a long time,” explained Kotok. “I have been fighting fires here for
the past seven years. These mountains all mean something to me and
they all have different shapes, covering of trees or rocky formations
by which each is distinguished from the others.”

“They all looked alike to me,” said Bill. “Perhaps, before the season
is over, I will be able to tell one from the others, but not now.”



CHAPTER XIV—DOWN IN THE TIMBER


The patrols over the forest continued day after day. As the planes
landed, the master map in the operations office became more and more
spotted with its colored pins. The number of pins constantly
increased, but the colors changed with the condition of the fire.
Everyone was working to have the pins all black as soon as possible,
for black pins meant that the fire was out and therefore presented no
further danger.

The truck train arrived and the added equipment which it carried made
operations easier for everyone. The enlisted men pitched a camp in a
grove of trees adjacent to the flying field. The tents were all in the
shade. A large tent with a fly covered the kitchen and storeroom.
Wooden tables and benches were built for messing. A large tent fly was
erected over the tables to provide shade and keep out rain, if any
should come.

Radio stations were established at Eugene, Portland and Medford. With
the establishment of these stations, the reports of fires were almost
instantly received and sent to the forest supervisor concerned. The
smaller sets were sent out to the forest headquarters for use of the
amateurs. This further expedited the reporting of fires, as it was no
longer necessary to rely on the telephone lines, which in some cases
might lead through as many as five or six centrals.

The amateurs operating the sets in the forests were usually boys on
vacation from school or college. They were eager to get out into the
woods and much interested in the radio. Their enthusiasm and interest
materially assisted in the efficiency of the radio. Accordingly, it
was very seldom that an amateur station was reported as being out of
order or the operator not on the job.

The number of new fires decreased each day and the fires reported were
controlled much sooner than before the Squadron arrived. However, the
crying need was rain, and lots of it. The woods were dry as tinder and
a single spark was sufficient to start an enormous fire. This was
especially true in the sections well out beyond the line of
habitations bordering the valleys. A general rain would dampen the
ground in the forests and at least tend to prevent fires from
starting.

The hot Summer days also increased the fire hazard by driving more
vacationists into the woods. In spite of everything that the Forest
Service did, some of these campers would go away leaving their
campfire burning or throw burning matches or cigarette stubs into the
woods. It was a constant fight to try and secure conformity to the
fire rules and regulations.

Simmons returned to his forest for a short time and returned with a
story which showed the psychological value of the airplane patrol. He
was in his office one morning when a camper came in and asked for the
forester in charge.

“I am he,” replied Simmons.

“I came in to give myself up,” said the camper.

“What for?” asked Simmons.

“I left my campfire burning this morning when I left my camp, and that
airplane patrol flew over a little later,” replied the camper. “I know
that he saw the fire, and I also know that he saw me coming down the
trail. He would catch me sooner or later, so I am giving myself up.”

“We will go right back and put out that fire,” said Earl.

As it happened, the airplane observer had caught the fire and reported
it by radio. Simmons and the camper returned to the camp site and the
camper extinguished the fire. Then Earl escorted him to the county
seat, where a judge fined the camper for not extinguishing his fire.
It was all over within a few hours, but the camper had learned a
lesson.

The airplane observer might or might not have been able to see the
camper going down the trail in his automobile, but that did not enter
into the case. The whole proceeding showed that the average camper
knew of the airplane patrol and was accordingly more careful.

Some time later Goldy was on patrol from Medford. He had not been out
for more than twenty minutes when he picked up the smoke of a new
fire. The location and size were sent in by radio and picked up by an
amateur at the supervisor’s headquarters in the Umpqua Forest. The
warden left immediately for the location reported and found a
homesteader burning slashings.

After extinguishing the fire, the warden escorted the woodsman to the
nearest judge. The case was tried, the man found guilty and the fine
imposed without delay.

The airplane observers picked up the smoke five minutes after the fire
was lighted. The amateur operator picked up the message and notified
the warden almost immediately. Twenty minutes later the warden was on
the scene and the fire was extinguished. Another half hour and the
case was being heard in court and sentence pronounced. Thus within an
hour after the fire was started the man had been convicted and had
paid his fine. He never knew how the fire was discovered and why the
warden had arrived so quickly until it was all over. It mystified him,
for things had happened so quickly. The warden explained to him how
the observers were flying overhead with all-seeing eyes and could
discern even the smallest of slashing fires. It was rather a bitter
pill for the woodsman to swallow, but he had learned that when forest
regulations were published it was expected that they would be obeyed.

“Bruce,” said Captain Smith one day, “I want you to go out on a
special patrol. There are a few fires along the crest of the Cascades
which we are not getting. Fly a course from here to Mount Thielsen,
turn there and then go direct to Medford. Return over the same route.
If you start now, you will get into Medford about eleven o’clock.”

“Who will I take along as observer?” asked Bill.

“All the regular observers are on routine patrols,” replied Smith.
“You will have to take one of the mechanics who can operate radio.”

“I’ll take Sergeant Breene, then,” said Bill.

“That’s all right. Go ahead,” agreed Smith. “Your patrol number will
be five.”

“Get your flying togs,” said Bill Bruce to Breene. “We leave in five
minutes.”

“What do we take in the plane?” asked Breene. “I have not made any of
these trips yet.”

“You put the equipment in the plane every time that it goes out,” said
Bill. “Why ask me that?”

“That was different,” replied Breene. “I didn’t have to go on any of
those trips.”

“Two canteens filled with water, two emergency ration outfits, two
revolvers and ammunition,” ordered Bill. “I will take care of the maps
and pencils.”

In a few minutes they were on their way. For some time the low smoke
cloud had made it necessary that they follow the Middle Fork of the
Willamette River. The sky cleared materially by the time that they
reached Diamond Peak, but did not allow them to get as much altitude
as Bill would have liked. They picked up several small fires, which
were sent in by radio after Bill gave Breene the data in code form. It
was too much to expect that a mechanic could accurately report on
forest fires while flying over absolutely strange country. Breene was
now finding it just as hard to locate himself accurately as Bill did
on his first trip.

All traces of the smoke had disappeared when they reached the Umpqua
River and Bill climbed to the nine thousand foot level. The mountains
to the south stood out distinctly in the sky. Directly in their path
were Mount Thielsen, ninety-one hundred feet, and Mount Bailey,
eighty-three hundred feet high. Mountains with their tops above the
seven thousand foot level were numerous. To the east the visibility
was almost unlimited and one range after another sloped off from the
Oregon High Desert further to the east.

Before reaching Mount Thielsen, they passed over Diamond Lake. It was
located in a valley between Thielsen and Bailey. Just why lakes should
nestle in the valleys along the crest of this high mountain range,
Bill could never understand. In California there is a long chain of
lakes which extends from the middle of the state to the Oregon line.
These lakes are also located amidst the highest peaks of the Sierras.
It is a topsy-turvy condition of topographical features that allows
water to be plentiful among the mountain peaks where it should run
off, and have extremely arid land down in the plains.

Bill’s thoughts were far afield from his engine as he cruised along
over Diamond Lake. He had about ninety-five hundred feet altitude and
everything was running smoothly. There was no reason why he should
think of his plane. Also there was no reason for looking for forest
fires, as they had not seen any for the last twenty or thirty minutes
of the flight. Bill was brought back to the business at hand with a
jerk. His engine started an intermittent miss.

He looked under the plane for a possible landing field. There was
none. The lake was out of the question as the timber came right down
to the water line. He had no idea of the nature of the country ahead
of him and reasoned that it might be even worse than that which he had
already passed over. He had no option, he must turn back.

With the start of the turn, the missing increased alarmingly. The
engine was now giving just enough power to keep the plane in level
flight. Bill tried to retain the altitude that he had, for, seemingly,
he had a long distance to go before he could find any kind of a place
to land his plane. He remembered having flown over a burnt-over area
some distance back and headed in that direction. The area was covered
with snags and second growth timber, but it was better to take a
chance in that then in the towering trees which covered the ground
under him.

The engine sputtered and spit as if showing its displeasure at being
made to work when not in perfect condition. The R.P.M.’s steadily
dropped until it was doubtful if any power at all was being obtained.
Meanwhile the plane continuously lost altitude. Bill scanned the
terrain ahead, vainly seeking the burnt-over area. He knew that if it
did not show up soon that he could never make it, for they were now
gliding along with an almost dead engine.

Bill tried to picture the results if they were forced to land on top
of the giant trees. He pictured the plane supported by the mass of
limbs some two or three hundred feet above the ground. Suppose that it
turned out that way, how could they get down? The lowest limbs were
usually a good hundred feet from the ground. They did not have any
ropes of any kind with them in the plane. He thought that they might
use the wire controls from the plane in an emergency, but he hoped
that he wouldn’t have to. Then the thought came to him: suppose that
they became stranded on the tree tops and could not get down. They
would starve to death.

In the meantime they dropped below the surrounding peaks and were
gliding over the valleys. The burnt-over area came into view as a
small speck in the distance. It was a big question whether or not they
had altitude enough to make the distance.

Down, down, down dropped the plane. The trees came closer and closer
to the landing gear and the distance to the burnt-over area decreased
slowly. If they made it, the margin would be a scant one. Bill pulled
back on his stick so as to save every foot that he could. The plane
seemed to be barely moving forward, but they were not dropping so
fast.

It was nip and tuck all the way, but they finally cleared the trees
along the near edge by inches. Bill tried to pick out the most likely
place to land, but it was a problem, for there was no likely place.
Large, grotesque, weather-beaten snags stood up everywhere. Then Bill
saw a small section with the snags widely separated and made for it.
The plane missed some tree trunks, skimmed over the second growth
timber for a few yards and then settled down until the wheels hit.
When the landing gear became entangled in the small branches, the
plane went up on its nose and then dropped down bottom side up.



CHAPTER XV—ON FOOT MILES FROM ANYWHERE


As the plane started to turn over on its back, Bill debated as to
whether or not he should unfasten his safety belt. The somersault of
the plane had come so suddenly that he did not have time to do much
debating and had left it fastened. When the plane came to rest, he was
glad that he had.

Both Bill and Breene were suspended head downwards from their
cockpits. While they hung there the loose articles in the plane
showered all around them, falling to the ground. Bill then looked
carefully around and saw that they were some six or seven feet above
the ground. It was too great a distance to fall on one’s head, and
therefore great care had to be exercised in loosening the belts.

“Be careful when you loosen your belt,” said Bill. “You will hurt
yourself if you fall that distance on your head.”

“But, Lieutenant,” replied Breene, “I can’t hang here forever. The
blood is rushing to my head. I am not a blooming monkey.”

“Let your conscience be your guide,” said Bill. “I am going to try to
get down feet first.”

“Just how does one get his feet past his body from a position like
this?” asked Breene.

“That’s what I am trying to figure out,” replied Bill.

With the plane upside down, there was nothing for the hands to grasp
to support the weight of the body. The cockpit was so small that Bill
could not force his head and shoulders alongside his waist. Then
again, gravity working against his every move, made it more difficult.
Finally Bill hooked his feet under the rudder bar and opened his belt.
The force of his weight falling that short distance pulled his feet
from the bar and he found himself doing just what he had tried to
prevent—falling head first.

“Be sure and go down feet first, Lieutenant,” he heard Breene say as
he dropped.

Bill stretched out his hands and landed on them. The force of the fall
was taken up on his arms and shoulders. He was out of the plane O. K.
Breene watched Bill fall and then opened his belt. As he dropped he
doubled up like a ball. He hit on his shoulders and rolled over on his
back. Both were out without any physical injuries.

“Lieutenant, I have been flying with you for some time,” said Breene,
“and I must say that you have picked out better landing fields than
this one.”

“Depends upon the way that you look at it,” replied Bill. “Compared
with the rest of the country hereabouts, I think that this is probably
the best landing field in the vicinity. In fact I am glad to have had
the opportunity of trying it out.”

“Which way do we hike?” asked Breene.

“All I know is that it is a long way to civilization,” replied Bill.
“We will take our canteens, emergency rations, pistols and the
airplane compass. With the compass and the map, we ought to be able to
hit the Umpqua River. We can follow it down until we reach some sort
of habitation.”

“How are we going to get the compass?” asked Breene. “Everything but
the compass seems to be here on the ground waiting to be picked up.”

The compass was just beyond their reach, even though they stretched to
their utmost. Finally Bill stood on Breen’s back while the sergeant
was on his hands and knees and was able to get his hands around the
compass. He yanked, twisted and pulled, but the instrument board was
stoutly built and the compass could not be budged. All this time Bill
was moving around on Breene’s back with the heels of his shoes digging
into Breene. Breene stood it as long as he could and then squirmed.
Bill lost his balance but clung to the compass. When the confusion was
over Bill was sitting on the ground with half the instrument board in
his hands. They had secured the compass.

“No matter which way we go, we are going to have some rough
traveling,” said Bill, as they stood by the plane. “We can follow the
creek off to the east and hit the river, or we can head to the west
and hit another creek and follow it to the river. The latter route is
shorter, but I doubt if we find any trails either way.”

“You are the boss,” said Breene. “You select the route and it will be
all right with me.”

“We are on our way,” said Bill, and headed out through the underbrush
to the west.

Each had his canteen, emergency rations and pistol. Breene carried the
compass and Bill had a map mounted on a board.

“By the way,” said Bill before they had gone far enough to lose sight
of the plane, “did you send in any radios?”

“Sure I did,” replied Breene. “I sent in one when the engine first
started to cut out. I sent one every few minutes afterward. The last
one I sent said that we were about to land in the timber.”

“Did you give them any location at all?”

“I told them that we were over a lake when the engine started missing.
Then I told them that we had turned around. They were the only
locations that I knew anything about. I never saw this country before,
Lieutenant.”

“Perhaps they will be able to figure about where we went down, and
perhaps they won’t,” said Bill as he started ahead again.

The traveling was rough, for the woods were practically devoid of
trails. Once in a while they would come across a game trail, but these
animal paths seldom led in the direction which the two marooned
aviators wished to go. The high hills and mountain sides prevented
them from selecting a compass course and sticking to it. They were
continually turning and veering around to miss obstacles.

Bill figured that they should reach a stream running to the north
about five miles from their plane. It was about eleven o’clock when
they started walking and they had not reached the stream by one. The
five miles shown on the map as the distance to the creek was in a
direct line, but just how many miles Bill and his mechanic had walked,
neither one had any idea. However, the stream had not been reached.

Finally they arrived on the top of a ridge and sat down to rest. They
could see that the ridge pointed east and west. Accordingly the
streams in the vicinity must run the same direction. Where was that
stream toward which Bill had been heading?

He studied his map as they sat there and was convinced that the plane
had landed several miles farther north than he thought. Actually it
made no difference, for all of the streams in the district flowed into
the Umpqua. After a short rest they started down the end of the ridge
and came to a stream. No matter what happened now, they were assured
of water.

The going was harder along the stream bank than through the timber.
Streams have a habit of picking out the most impossible places to cut
through hillsides, wash away soft ground and form ravines or deposit
large stones and boulders. If the airmen were not floundering around
in mud, they were slipping over rocks or climbing up steep banks. All
of these obstacles were in addition to those normally found in a
forest, such as tangled vines under foot, thick underbrush, numerous
tree trunks and a myriad of ferns. It was a case of forging ahead as
best they could.

Both of the airmen still wore their helmets and summer flying suits.
The helmets protected their heads from the sharp points on the
branches, and the flying suits protected their uniforms. Bill tried to
follow their route down the stream on his map, but had to give up.
There were too many small streams in that country which were not
indicated on the map. About sundown they stopped for a longer rest
period.

“When do we eat?” asked Breene.

“Right now if you want to,” replied Bill.

“What will I eat?” asked Breene.

“You have an emergency ration, eat some of that.”

“I am not that hungry,” said Breene. “I tried one of those some time
ago and it tasted like sawdust mixed with sausage finely ground and
then baked. I’ll save mine until tomorrow.”

“It probably won’t do either one of us any harm to go without eating
tonight,” replied Bill. “We still have a long distance ahead of us
before we get to civilization. I think that we may as well stay right
here and shove on tomorrow.”

“How far do you figure that we are from the railroad?” asked Breene.

“About fifty miles air line,” replied Bill.

“I think that you are right, Lieutenant. We can’t get there tonight.”

“I have never tried sleeping on pine needles,” said Bill. “As I did
not bring any mattress or blankets along, I think that this will be a
good time to see how soft a bed pine needles make. My feet are sore
after that walk. I am going to soak them in the river.”

They took off their shoes and soaked their swollen feet in the water.
The rough ground had left its mark of blisters and rubbed spots on
their feet. Neither one was wearing shoes fitted for hiking through
the mountains and neither one could have walked much farther that day.

Bill picked out a place in the woods where the rocks stood out above
the ground and built a fire. He had just gotten it well started when
he heard a shot back in the woods.

“Did you shoot, Breene?” he called.

“Just getting my supper,” replied Breene, who appeared a few seconds
later with a mountain grouse.

“That looks much better to me than the emergency ration,” said Breene,
as he held the grouse up for Bill’s inspection.

They cleaned and plucked the bird, and then Bill was about to put it
on a pointed stick to toast when Breene interrupted him.

“Wait a moment, Lieutenant,” said Breene. “We must have salt on our
meat.”

“Where are we going to get it?” asked Bill.

“Right here,” replied Breene as he fished in his pocket.

“How come the salt in your pocket?” asked Bill.

“I have never forgotten the time that you and I were lost in Mexico
without any salt,” explained Breene. “No offense to you, but I always
carry it now when we go out together.”

“I am glad that you did this time,” said Bill.

“Slide this stick through the bird,” said Breene. “Now we can hold it
over the fire and rotate it so that the bird will cook on all sides
and not burn.”

They sat in silence while the bird sizzled and cooked over the fire.
Occasionally Breene would take a sharp stick and test the meat to see
if it was sufficiently cooked. Finally it met his requirements and he
removed it from over the fire.

“I hope that we do not run out of the grouse country until we reach
the railroad,” said Bill as he ate the meat off half the breast.

“I don’t find this hard to take at all,” remarked Breene. “It gets
dark quickly down in the valley, doesn’t it? A few minutes ago I could
see the sun shining on that peak across the way, and now it is almost
dark. I am going to dig a hole in these pine needles, get a drink from
the river and turn in.”

“That walk tired me out, too,” said Bill. “I am going to do the same.
I think that we had better keep the fire burning, for I don’t want any
more bears using my camp as a thoroughfare like they did the last time
I was up here in these woods.”

“Are there bears here?” asked Breene.

“Lieutenant Finch and I only saw about three,” replied Bill.

“I don’t think that I will go to bed,” said Breene.

“They won’t hurt you if you do not hurt them,” said Bill.

“You may know that, I may know it, but do the bears know it?” asked
Breene. “No, sir, I am going to sit right here by the fire all night.”

“Suit yourself,” said Bill, and curled up in the pine needles.



CHAPTER XVI—A LOOKOUT STATION IN THE MOUNTAINS


Bill found it rather hard to get to sleep. The pine needles were not
as soft as they seemed at first. Then there were the usual noises that
are ever prevalent in the forests. The creaking trees, falling
branches, small animals wandering through the darkness hunting for
food, and occasionally a larger animal coming down to the river for
water. Each in turn gave Breene a start and he was continually calling
to Bill.

“What’s that?” asked Breene on one of these instances.

“What and where?” asked Bill sleepily.

“There,” replied Breene, pointing into the darkness.

Bill looked in the direction which Breene pointed and saw a pair of
shining eyes. They had the bright shine and green tint of a cat’s
eyes. Coming out of the darkness they looked as large as two
baseballs. Bill was wide awake after looking a short time into those
luminous spots standing out against the otherwise dark background. The
impression that he received as he looked into those eyes was both
fascinating and terrifying. They must belong to one of the various
species of mountain lions, thought Bill.

“Maybe this will make him stop staring at us,” said Bill as he aimed
at the eyes with his pistol and pulled the trigger.

The roar of the explosion echoed back and forth through the woods and
broke the stillness of the night. Immediately following the sound of
the pistol the woods became alive with moving creatures. Apparently
the campfire had attracted all manner of animals which, at the sound
of the pistol, found business elsewhere which would tolerate no delay.
The shining eyes were gone.

“Go out and take a look to see if I hit him,” said Bill.

“Not on your life,” replied Breene. “I have a distinct aversion to
cats at night, more especially in the dark. It can wait until
morning.”

“I haven’t lost anything out there either,” said Bill as he moved a
bit closer to the fire.

Breene did not sleep much that night. Bill tried to sleep, but did not
have much luck as his bed was rather uncomfortable. Both were glad to
see the light break over the hills and know that the mysterious noises
of the forest would no longer bother them.

“I don’t know what you are going to do, Sergeant,” said Bill, “but I
am going to take one of the cakes of chocolate from my emergency
ration and make myself a cup of chocolate to drink.”

“I would greatly prefer coffee for breakfast, but I can stand
chocolate,” replied Breene.

They used the cups from their canteens and heated up their drinks. It
was rather a slim breakfast, but was better than none. A few minutes
later they were striking through the brush along the stream bank. The
stream became much larger as they progressed and they also encountered
an old trail which they found passable in spots. It was much better
than struggling through the virgin woods.

They had been traveling some four or five hours since leaving their
camp when Bill heard the drone of an airplane engine. He stopped and
listened. The stream they were following was deep down in a valley
with high hills on both sides. He could not possibly see that plane
unless it flew directly overhead. Bill thought that if he could get a
glimpse of the plane he could form an estimate of his present
location. It would not do much good in regard to cutting down the
distance which they still had to go but it would satisfy his
curiosity. The airplane apparently was still some distance away.

“Breene, I am going up on this mountain to see the course that plane
is flying,” said Bill. “You wait for me here at this stream junction.
I will be back in a short time.”

“I would have thought that you had seen enough airplanes in your life
without climbing mountains to see another,” said Breene. “I will wait
for you right here.”

Bill climbed up to the top of the ridge. He was afraid that he would
not reach the summit in time. The airplane was not far off when he had
first heard it and would probably be out of sight before he reached
the crest of the ridge. Bill crashed through the underbrush like a
scared deer. He reached the top of the ridge out of breath. He had not
stopped on the way up to listen for the plane, so had no idea whether
or not it was still within sight. He came out into an open space which
had recently been burned off and saw the plane.

The airplane was circling around a mountain top but a short distance
away. At first Bill could not figure out why it was circling. There
were no signs of forest fires, but when he studied that mountain the
reflection of the sun on a highly polished surface met his eyes. In a
few seconds it disappeared. He examined the top of the mountain very
carefully and was sure that there was a lookout station on the top of
that ridge. Bill wished that he had brought the airplane compass with
him so that he could get the bearing of the mountain. He estimated the
distance to the lookout to be anywhere from four to six miles, but
distances looking across depressions are very deceptive. Perhaps it
might be ten or twelve miles the way they would have to travel. In any
event, he was glad that the plane had circled the lookout to drop its
message, whatever it might have been. Perhaps the pilot was throwing
over a bundle of newspapers. Bill himself had often done that while on
patrol.

After carefully studying the topographical features of the mountain on
which the lookout station was located, Bill descended the ridge to
join Breene.

“Sergeant, there is a forestry lookout station not over ten or twelve
miles from here,” said Bill. “I think that we will head for that.”

“As far as I can see, that is more than we have been heading for
during the past twenty-four hours,” replied Breene. “Let’s go.”

They worked their way around the bottom of the ridge in an endeavor to
reach the opposite side without climbing to the top. Several times
Bill doubted the wisdom of the proceeding, but once having started,
was reluctant to change his plan. He found that he could not tell when
he had reached the other side, for there were so many small valleys
and gullies coming down from the top. Finally they reached the bottom
of a hog-back which Bill thought pointed in the direction in which the
lookout lay.

“Give me the compass, Breene,” said Bill. “I am going up on this
hog-back and get a bearing to the lookout.”

“I thought that you might ask for the compass when I hurled it at a
wild creature which was about to invade our camp last night,” replied
Breene. “I had every intention in the world of getting it this
morning, but with the making of chocolate and everything, I forgot all
about it, just the same as you did about that big cat which you shot
at last night.”

“I didn’t come within a mile of that cat when I shot last night,” said
Bill.

“I probably didn’t, either, when I hurled that compass,” replied
Breene.

“A fine woodsman you have turned out to be,” said Bill as he started
up the hill. “Wait for me right where you are.”

Once having reached the top of the ridge, Bill found it difficult to
find a space sufficiently open to get a good view. He tried one place
after another, but could not get a clear view through the trees.
Finally he thought that he had the lookout spotted, but was not sure.
The mountain upon which it was situated did not look the same from his
present position.

“I am not sure that I have it spotted,” said Bill when he returned.

“I know how we can get in touch with them,” said Breene.

“How?”

“Start a forest fire,” explained Breene.

“Yes, and pay a fifty-dollar fine,” said Bill. “Not for mine. Come on,
let’s go.”

Once more they started through the tangled underbrush. Bill tried to
keep the sun in the same relative position so that he could keep the
proper course. He was glad that the smoke pall did not extend over
this section of the state. He led Breene over ridges and valleys,
streams and gullies, and never deviated from what he thought was the
direct line to the lookout.

They reached the highest point on a ridge and Bill stopped. He wanted
to check up on his course. Once again he hunted for an open space and
came upon a rocky stretch where there was no foliage. He looked in all
directions, but could see no signs of the station.

He was lost. The station had disappeared as if by magic. He started
his search all over again. He made a careful scrutiny of the mountain
peaks in front of him, but could see no signs of the lookout. He was
about to give up and start for the Umpqua River when Breene called to
him from the other side of the ridge.

“That’s a funny-looking place for a homesteader to live,” said Breene
as Bill came up.

“Where?” asked Bill.

Breene pointed it out. Bill examined it carefully.

“Why, that’s the lookout!” he exclaimed. “It’s in exactly the opposite
direction from where I expected it to be.”

“Is that what you were hunting for?” asked Breene. “Why, I saw that a
quarter of an hour ago.”

“You would have saved me a lot of worry if you had told me when you
first saw it,” said Bill. “We can’t miss it now. Let’s go.”

The station was just across a valley and the going was not so
difficult, as they found a trail in the bottom of the valley which led
to the top of the mountain. It was late in the afternoon when they
came out into the open space which surrounded the lookout station.
They saw two buildings, the lookout tower and a small shack, evidently
used as living quarters. They walked up to the tower and Bill called
out, “Is anybody home?”

“There sure is; come right in,” replied a voice from within, but it
was a woman’s voice.

Bill and Breene entered the small one-room shack and saw a woman
sitting at a large table. The sides of the building were open,
enabling her to overlook the forest for miles in all directions.

“I believe that the lost are found,” she said when she turned and saw
Bill and Breene. “Are you the two aviators who dropped into the woods
near Diamond Lake yesterday? How did you find this place?”

“We are the same,” replied Bill. “I saw something shining in the
sunlight when I was on a mountain top about ten miles back there.”

“I have been receiving all kinds of messages about you ever since you
fell into the woods,” the lookout replied. “Telephone first and then
the airplane patrol came over this morning and dropped a message
concerning your disappearance at the same time he dropped my papers.
The shining light that you saw was from my hand mirror. I sent
reflections on the mountain sides on a chance that you might see them.
Sit down while I telephone in that you are O. K.”

While she was telephoning, Bill tried to remember her name. He had
heard that there was one woman lookout in the Forestry Service, but
had not paid much attention when he heard the name. Now it was gone.
The lookout gave him no clue when she telephoned. Her message was
simple: “Lookout on Black Rock Mountain speaking. The two aviators who
fell into the woods near Diamond Lake just reported in here. Neither
one hurt. I will start them down tomorrow morning. Send out someone to
meet them on the Tiller trail. Did you get that O. K.? Good-bye.”

“I don’t imagine that you have had much to eat,” she said. “One of you
sit here and watch for fires and I will get you some supper. I am
about famished myself.”

“I’ll take care of the station,” said Bill. “Breene, you help with
getting supper.”

When they had left the tower, Bill studied the map. He located Black
Rock Mountain and Tiller. They were safe as far as hunger was
concerned, but were still many miles from civilization. Just how long
it would take them to get back to Eugene he did not know, but he was
going to get something to eat soon. That was the big thing right
now—food. The trip down the mountains to the railroad could take care
of itself. Then Bill remembered the lookout’s name. It was Mollie.
Lady Luck was riding with him again, for they had found a lookout
station in the midst of the wilds of the forest. If Mollie had not
been throwing reflections with her hand mirror, he and Breene would
now be facing a cheerless, foodless night in the woods.



CHAPTER XVII—BACK AT EUGENE


“Come and get it,” shouted Breene when the supper had been prepared.

“How about someone watching for forest fires?” asked Bill.

“There’s no use watching any more today,” said Mollie. “Most of the
fires start during the middle of the day. It is very seldom that I can
pick a new one after sundown. There are exceptions to the rule,
though. Several years ago there was a maniac who went from one place
to another in the forest starting fires. They would break out in the
most unexpected places at the most unusual times. It was weeks before
we were sure that they were being willfully started, but there was no
other explanation which would explain the succession of fires at most
extraordinary times. We finally caught the miscreant and that ended
further trouble from that source.”

“What kind of a man was it who would deliberately set these woods on
fire?” asked Bill.

“He was crazy,” replied Mollie. “He thought that he had a grievance
against one of the foresters and took that means of getting even.”

“You must pardon my inquisitiveness,” said Bill. “I am trying to learn
something about the woods. What kind of a grievance could anyone have
against a forester?”

“That’s all right,” said Mollie. “Ask all the questions that you want.
This fellow had a fairly large herd of cattle and used to graze them
in the forests on the mountain sides during the Summer months. By
doing this he derived several benefits. The cattle were high up on the
mountains, where it was much cooler than down in the valleys; there
was considerably more grass and other green vegetation in the forests,
and the cattle were out of the fly-infested areas of the lowlands. The
Forestry Service charges a nominal fee per head for this privilege.
The charge varies for cattle and sheep. The half-demented fellow had
availed himself of the privileges of the Summer grazing in the forests
for several years without our knowing it, but when we found out that
he was grazing his herd in the woods, we sent him a bill.

“Even at that, he was getting out light, for the bill only covered the
charge for the current year. He took the stand that he never paid
before and therefore he had the right to graze in the woods free. He
considered it his privilege as a taxpayer. Naturally the Forest
Service denied him the privilege of sending his cattle into the
forests without paying for it.

“I guess that the poor fellow brooded over the matter for some time
and then became a nut on the subject. The only way that he knew of
getting back was to set fires in the woods. It was such an unnatural
thing to do that we did not suspect him for quite a while. Finally the
evidence was piled sufficiently high to convict him.

“He is the only person whom I have ever heard of who has maliciously
set fires in the woods. Others have started them through carelessness
or have been negligent, but to deliberately burn down the trees of the
forests, why I cannot conceive of such a thing.”

Bill studied Mollie as he ate the supper of baked beans, potatoes,
coffee, bread and jam. He figured that she was about forty years old.
The outdoor life had bronzed her skin so that she had almost the
coloring of an Indian. Her duties, where she was entirely on her own,
far from the help of others, had made her exceedingly quick of thought
and action and self-reliant.

“How does it happen that you have the position of lookout?” asked
Bill.

“My husband had the position first, and he was killed in fighting a
fire,” she explained. “I then took the examination and secured the
position. I liked the woods so much that I could not give it up. I can
think of nothing more beautiful than the sunlight on the leaves of the
forest. This is my lifework and I will never willingly give it up.”

“Do you stay up here all year around?” asked Breene.

“No,” replied Mollie. “That would be too much of a good thing. This
peak is cut off from the valley lands after the first hard snow in the
Winter. I usually come up during the last of May or the first of June,
depending on how hard the preceding Winter was. Sometimes we have had
to blast the snow out of the roads with dynamite to get through in
June. That is more particularly true of the Sierras down in California
than up here.”

“Did you have a lookout in California?”

“I had one near Tahoe for a long time, but I decided that I wanted a
change and was transferred up here,” replied Mollie.

“Don’t you get awfully lonely?” asked Breene.

“Never. There is always something to occupy the time. If it isn’t
forest fires, it is the wild life of the woods. I have seen deer,
mountain lions, porcupine, coons, grouse, eagles, and I don’t know
what else right out here in the open near my shack. Once I saved a
fawn from a fire and made a pet out of him. I put a bell on his neck
and he stayed around for quite a while. When he was about two years
old he started wandering about the forests. He would come back here
occasionally, but his visits were shorter and shorter. I haven’t seen
him now since last Fall. I hope that no one has shot him.”

“Have you picked up many fires this season asked Bill.

“This has been the worst season that I have known for many years,”
answered Mollie. “We haven’t had any rain since the middle of May and
the woods are awfully dry. It doesn’t take much to start a fire. Most
of those that I have picked up have been small ones, which were quite
easily put out. We are lucky down here in that the smoke pall hasn’t
reached us yet. It will be down here before the season is over,
though, unless we have rain.”

They washed up the supper dishes and sat in front of the shack on a
bench where they could see the clear sky. The sounds of the woodland
wild life which had so excited Breene that night before were ignored
by him now. The mere fact that there was a building close by was
sufficient to make him disregard everything but his own weariness.

“How often do you go down for supplies?” asked Bill.

“I never go down more than once or twice after the season opens,”
replied Mollie. “I have a country storekeeper down the trail a piece
who brings my supplies up. I think that it is time to turn in, as you
boys must be tired. I have nothing to offer you but a couple of
blankets. You can roll up in them either on the office floor or out
here in the open. Take your choice.”

“I think that I will take the open air,” said Bill.

“I will, too,” remarked Breene.

It was not light the next morning when Mollie woke the two airmen.
They were dead tired and slept well. Mollie had breakfast ready when
they arose.

“Why didn’t you call us sooner so that we could have helped with
breakfast?” asked Bill.

“You needed the sleep and I didn’t,” said Mollie. “You have a long
hike ahead of you, while I haven’t.”

“Follow that trail all the way down the mountain,” said Mollie as she
started them out after breakfast. “About the time that you reach
Boulder Creek, the trail will widen considerably. You will probably
meet someone from the Forest Supervisor’s office along about noon.
Good luck to you.”

“Thanks for helping us out,” called Bill and they started down the
ridge.

The trail was easy to follow and not hard on the feet. Occasionally
other small trails would join theirs and they would be doubtful as to
which was the proper one, but by keeping moving in a general southwest
direction they came to Boulder Creek without losing their way. Here
the trail widened and could almost be considered an unimproved road.
They rested a while at the creek and then started on.

They had been traveling but a few minutes when they heard horses
approaching. Soon they saw them come around a bend in the trail. A
mounted man was leading two saddled horses. He stopped as he came up
to the two airmen.

“Well, you must have started early,” said the horseman. “It is only
noon and you have crossed Boulder Creek. I expected to meet you on the
other side. My name’s Robins. I work in the Forest Supervisor’s
office.”

Bill introduced himself and Breene.

“Well, climb aboard, unless you are hungry,” said Robins. “I stopped
for a while down the trail and watered the horses and ate my lunch. I
also got an early start.”

“We can eat the sandwiches which Mollie gave us as we ride along,”
said Bill as he mounted.

“I don’t know much about these creatures,” said Breene, as he
struggled to get his legs afork the saddle.

“Neither one will run away with you,” said Robins.

The rest of the trip was very pleasant. They reached Tiller in the
late afternoon and then pushed on to Perue, where they spent the
night. The next day they hit the main road at Canyonville and then
rode into Myrtleville, where they reached the railroad.

“This is some country,” said Breene to Robins. “It took us just a
little less than two hours to get to that place in the woods where we
landed, and here it has already taken us almost four days to get this
far back, and we aren’t home yet.”

“You don’t waste much time when you travel in your airplanes,” said
Robins. “I cannot imagine getting to Diamond Lake in less than two
hours. Every time I have gone up there it has taken several days. I
guess that you can find your way home from here. I will start back.
Good luck.”

“Thanks for the buggy ride,” said Breene, and Robins left them
standing on the station platform.

A couple of hours’ wait for the train and then they were en route to
Eugene. The train trip seemed endless, as they were both eager to get
back to their quarters so that they could change their clothing.

“You had us worried for a while,” said Captain Smith as he greeted
Bill at Eugene. “We did not know whether you had made a safe landing
or had cracked up.”

“I did both,” replied Bill. “I made a safe landing, for neither one of
us were even scratched, and I cracked up a perfectly good ship so that
it will never be flown again. I set it down in the only open space
that I could see within miles. That place wasn’t any too open. The
second growth timber was eight or ten feet high.”

“Batten flew down there and saw the plane and noted the character of
the country in which you had landed,” said Smith. “He also said that
had you not selected the spot which you did, your plane would probably
be hanging to the tree tops a couple of hundred feet from the ground.
We were all much pleased when Mollie, the lookout, ’phoned in that you
were O. K. I have already sent down for another plane for you. Batten
and Goldy are taking some game to San Francisco. They got a late start
but hope to get in tonight. They will bring your plane back with them
tomorrow.”

“Just think of it,” said Bill. “You casually remark that Batten and
Goldy are going to fly from here to San Francisco today and come back
tomorrow. On that trip they will cover a distance of about nine
hundred or a thousand miles. Breene and I have been five days covering
a little less than four hundred miles. Give me the airplane every
time.”



CHAPTER XVIII—THE WEATHER CHANGES


During the next few weeks the patrols became monotonously routine. The
hot, dry weather continued and the fires broke out with a regularity
which nonplussed the foresters and the aviators. New fires were picked
up in spite of the smoke pall, but it was mighty hard work. The
aviators were having their fill of flying over the forests, but with
each patrol they became more experienced and could locate the fires
with an accuracy that was astonishing. It was a question as to how
much longer they could stand the strain, for the constant flying over
timberland, where landing fields were conspicuous by their absence,
showed its effect on the smooth flying of the pilots. The Flight
Surgeon had already sent several of them into the woods on vacation to
rest, something that they would not do while at the base.

The critical fire situation which existed in the woods was shown by
one patrol on which Kiel carried Forester Oglesby over a particularly
bad area. They discovered four new fires all within six miles of a
lookout station. One covered four hundred acres and another over two
hundred acres, and yet the lookout could not see them on account of
the smoke pall. When Kiel thought that he had about half completed the
patrol, he handed Oglesby a note asking which direction he wished to
go to finish the patrol. Oglesby then returned the paper to Kiel. On
it he had written, “Take me home. I have counted thirty-one fires and
have seen all that I can stand for one day.” Rain was needed, and
needed badly to save the woods.

The Weather Bureau predicted rain, and the appearance of clouds
indicated that there might be some precipitation, but in the meantime
the clouds made the situation further complicated by decreasing the
already limited visibility. The smoke and clouds joined together into
an impenetrable mass of murky haze. That made the flying much more
difficult, but did not assist in limiting devastation of old fires nor
in preventing new ones from starting.

“I wonder how much longer this dry weather can continue?” asked
Simmons of Bill as they stood out in the airdrome looking into the
sky. “There are plenty of clouds, but not much rain that I can see.”

“The weather map gives every indication of rain within a short time,”
replied Bill. “One day’s good soaking would put out all the fires that
are now burning. It would also wet the woods so that new ones could
not start so easily.”

“I hate to admit that anyone could be so mean and despicable as to
deliberately set the woods on fire, but it certainly looks that way to
me,” said Simmons. “The fires are breaking out with too much
regularity to be accidentally or carelessly started.”

“I can’t imagine anyone being so malicious,” replied Bill.

“I said that I hated to admit that I had such a thought, but I have it
just the same,” explained Earl Simmons. “You must have studied the
fire map and seen how the fires start in one place and then new ones
start just a short distance away. This procedure has been continuing
now for several days.”

“Captain Smith presents his compliments and directs that you report to
his office,” said an orderly who came up to where they were standing.

“Both of us?” asked Bill.

“Yes, sir, both of you,” replied the orderly.

“Something gone haywire somewhere, or Smith would not send for both of
us,” said Earl as they started toward the office.

“Come in and sit down,” said Smith when they entered. “Goldy started a
patrol from Medford, but had to turn back on account of engine
trouble. Just before he turned he thought that he had spotted an extra
large fire between Abbott Butte and Rogue River. He could not verify
it. He picked up what he thought was large columns of smoke arising
from the timber and then his engine started acting up. He went back.
Landed O. K. at Medford. I would like you two to go out and verify
that fire.”

“We haven’t much ceiling,” said Earl.

“The fire won’t stop burning just because there is a low ceiling,”
replied Smith. “If it is as big as Goldy thinks it is, it must be a
corker. We haven’t had any reports of any fires in that vicinity prior
to this.”

“We’ll take off in ten minutes,” said Bill. “Can you be ready, Earl?”

“I’ll be there waiting for you at the plane,” replied Earl.

Bill wondered how he would get to that location and either verify or
determine definitely the absence of that fire. The mountains were
several thousand feet high. The clouds in the Willamette Valley were
but a couple of thousand feet high. He would have to follow the
different valleys which headed in that direction and hope that the
clouds did not drop down in front of the plane and block his way. He
studied the map and made plans accordingly.

Bill secured his flying togs and went out to the plane. Earl was
already in the cockpit. Breene was warming up the engine. As soon as
Breene was satisfied that everything was functioning properly, he
throttled the engine and climbed out of the cockpit. Bill got in and
the plane started on its way across the airdrome.

Soon after leaving the airdrome Bill found that the flying conditions
were exactly as he had anticipated. The smoke joined with the clouds
to form a brownish gray mass of mist and haze that prevented his
getting more than three thousand feet above the floor of the valley.
If the ceiling did not get any higher than that, he would never be
able to make the jump over the passes from one valley to another.
However, he would make a good try at it and do the best that he could.
He headed the plane toward the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.

The valley was wide enough so that he had no trouble in navigating up
to the time that they reached Fall Creek, but beyond that whisps of
clouds seemed to drop below the main mass and threatened to cut them
off from the upper valley. When he could, Bill went under the
low-hanging clouds, but after a while they hung right on the tree
tops. Even at that he sometimes went through, but he could never tell
what he was liable to meet on the other side. It was a dangerous
proceeding, but could not be helped. Bill’s mission was to get to the
reported fire, and if it was humanly possible he would do it.

The old Military Road ran alongside the river. This road had been
constructed years before when the covered wagons were bringing
settlers out over the Oregon Trail. While Bill found the going rather
hard, he thought of the greater troubles that the old pioneers had
when they traveled the same route. They had no idea what they would
find when they reached their destination. Indians might ambush them
anywhere along the trail, the trail might become so impassable that
they might have to abandon their wagons and proceed on foot, but they
forced their way ahead in spite of all obstacles. Bill watched the
road turning and twisting its way through the river valley and tried
to imagine that he saw a wagon train coming down the valley toward
him.

The wagon train in actuality was another low-hanging cloud, and Bill
had plunged his plane into it before he came back to the present from
the past. He dropped down as low as he dared in an endeavor to see the
ground beneath, but the mist must have been right on the ground. Then
he emerged from the cloud as suddenly as he had entered it. Below them
was a small village called Lookout. They were getting fairly well up
into the mountains.

He reached Oakridge, the last town along the road. Beyond the town,
the valley turned and twisted with almost unbelievable abruptness.
Bill had to keep a sharp watch ahead to prevent the plane colliding
with the hills along the valley. He followed its broad sweep to the
south. Soon he would reach the place where he had planned to leave the
Willamette Valley and cut across the mountains to the Umpqua Valley on
the side.

The clouds seemed to remain at about the same altitude above the
trees, in spite of the general rise in the ground. He reached the
entrance to Staley Creek Canyon and hesitated before entering it, for
it looked impossible. He made a circle and then started up the canyon.
The plane had gone but a short distance up the Staley Creek Valley
before they ran into a terrific rain storm. They could not see
sufficiently far ahead to insure their safety. Bill turned back and
started down the Willamette again.

Once again he found his path barred. The river valley was completely
closed ahead of them by a mist that lay right on the ground. Bill knew
that the valley had so many sharp turns that it would be folly to try
and fly blindly through that mist. He was in a pocket with no chance
of getting out. In the meantime there was the added danger of the rain
storm driving down into the area in which he was flying.

Bill searched the terrain and saw another canyon leading to the south.
He turned his plane into that and found that it was much narrower than
any of the others that he had flown through. The fog seemed to hang
higher. Perhaps he might get through. The air became much rougher and
with the rough air came a slight rain. Bill flew through the rain and
found that the floor of the valley was gradually getting closer to the
plane. He could not climb any higher, as the clouds were just above
his top wing. In fact at times he flew through the lower patches of
mist.

Finally he reached a point where he was missing the tree tops by
inches and, before he knew it, the ground had started dropping from
beneath the plane. They had reached one of the small creeks which
empty into the Umpqua. Bill did not even realize it at the time, for
he was busy fighting the bumps in an endeavor to keep his plane from
striking the mountain sides. Then all of a sudden it seemed as if the
flood gates of the heavens had opened on them, and, to make matters
worse, the lightning flashed and blazed all around the plane.

Bill hoped that they would escape being hit by lightning. He had never
heard of a plane being hit by lightning and did not want to be an
interested party in the first of such cases on record.

The rain fogged his goggles so that he could not see. He wiped the
water off with his gloves, but was compelled to use one hand
continuously for that purpose in order to see at all. At best he could
see only a few feet from the plane. There was no place to land
anywhere in sight. In fact, he had not seen a place where even a crash
landing could have been made for the past forty minutes. His safety
and that of Earl Simmons in the rear cockpit was dependent upon his
getting through into the open.

The ground was surely dropping beneath them and Bill was certain that
they had now crossed the divide. A steep ridge projected abruptly into
the valley. Bill had but a few seconds to make up his mind which way
to turn to avoid it. If he turned one way, he would run into the main
mountain. If he turned the other, he would come out into the clear. He
swung the plane around to the right and hoped for the best.

Then he saw that he had taken the right route, for the valley opened
up with another creek coming in to join the one they had been
following. For several minutes Bill was busy banking the plane in one
direction or another to miss the tree-covered sides of the ravine
through which they were flying. The rain continued to fall in
torrents. There was one consolation: the forest fires would surely be
quenched by this downpour. That thought was consoling, but it did not
help Bill in his present situation. He did not know how much longer he
could continue to see the ridges ahead sufficiently far to miss them
with the plane. He hoped that the rain would cease, the clouds would
raise or an open space large enough to land the plan would make its
appearance while he still had control of the plane.



CHAPTER XIX—FISHES LARGE AND SMALL


That flight up the Willamette and down the Umpqua was ever afterwards
a nightmare to Bill. There were so many times when the difference
between life and death rested upon his moving that heavy three
thousand pound plane in a fraction of a second. Sometimes he missed an
unusually high tree by a fraction of an inch when he was sure that he
would hit it. Once he did not miss a tree, but was fortunate in that
the landing gear merely smashed its way through the small top
branches. Other times he was forced to jump up into the clouds to
escape colliding with a hill which suddenly loomed up ahead. It was
tough going all the way, with no let-up.

By the time that they reached Steamboat Creek the rain had slackened
somewhat and the clouds had risen. The flying was easier, but as far
as being safe was concerned, they were far from being out of the
woods. The valley still had many sharp bends which could not be
foreseen. Bill had to fly that plane all the way and fly it every
minute.

They came to a place where the river made a turn of almost a complete
circle. For a while Bill was sure that he had turned up one of the
tributaries to the river. He did not see how such a large river could
meander around so much. Just as he was about to turn back, he saw an
exceptionally bright area ahead. River or no river, he would get into
that section and get away from the abominable weather that he had been
flying through.

Suddenly the valley opened and Bill saw a railroad track stretching
across his path. He was out of the mountains and somewhere near
Roseburg. Bill turned along the railroad and instantly searched the
ground for the landing field at Roseburg. The rain was now falling
steadily, but not so hard. The town came into his view and he circled
it several times before he could locate the landing field through the
falling rain. Another circle and he dropped his plane onto the ground.

The plane stopped rolling and both Bill and Earl jumped out.

“What a ride,” exclaimed Earl.

“Let’s put on the cockpit covers and then get out of the rain,” said
Bill.

“O. K., let’s go,” replied Earl.

They fished out the canvas covers and put them over the engine and
cockpits. Then they crawled under the wings of the plane to get out of
the rain.

“I never want another ride like that one,” said Bill.

“I will never know how you missed some of those ridges and hills,”
said Earl Simmons. “Sometimes I never saw them until you had turned
the plane and they were under the wing. Then when that extra heavy
flash of lighting whizzed past the plane, I thought that we were
surely hit. It didn’t miss us by more than ten feet.”

“The worst part of it was that it blinded me so that I did not see a
hill directly ahead,” replied Bill. “I came near running into that
hill without knowing that it was there. I rubbed my eyes to get them
back to normal and there it was almost on top of us. The old bus
certainly came around beautifully when I kicked her over.”

An automobile drove up to the side of the field and someone started
across the field toward the plane.

“I never thought that we would have any spectators a day like this,”
said Bill.

The man approaching had on a raincoat and large hat, so that they
could not see his features. Furthermore, neither one was interested in
the identity of the man, as they did not expect to see any friends on
such a miserable day.

“Hello, birds,” said the visitor. “Where did you hail from?”

There was something about the man’s voice which sounded familiar to
Bill, but he could not place it. The wing shielded his face from view
and Bill edged over to make a more complete scrutiny.

“Came down from Eugene,” replied Earl.

“Do you know a chap by the name of Bruce up there?” asked the man.

“If it isn’t Sam Crouch,” exclaimed Bill. “What are you doing down
here? I thought that you were upon your clearing on the McKenzie.”

“I also have a shop down here,” replied Sam. “I am glad to see you
again. How about a fishing trip? You can’t fly in this weather, and
this rain will continue for several days. What do you say?”

“I am game,” said Bill. “How about you, Earl?”

“Nothing would suit me better,” said Earl.

“We couldn’t get away from here today, anyhow,” said Bill. “Let’s go
into town and we will talk it over.”

They rode into town and Bill sent a wire telling where they had landed
and that they were held up by bad weather. He ended it by saying that
unless there was some urgent need for them back at Eugene, they would
stay at Roseburg for a couple of days.

“The fires will be out by tomorrow,” said Bill. “They don’t need us
now, and will not for a couple of days.”

“The lightning may start a few new ones,” said Earl. “However, no
patrols can be made as long as it rains like this, and we will get
back before they start in again. The weather man says that we are in
for several days of rain.”

“Bring on your fish,” said Bill. “When do we start, Sam?”

“First thing in the morning,” replied Sam. “I will stop at the hotel
for you. The salmon have started to run and we can get some salmon
eggs for bait. We ought to have a wonderful trip. We will go up by the
hatchery. I will see you in the morning. I have to go and round up
some tackle.”

“Can’t we help?” asked Earl.

“No, thanks, I have all afternoon to do it,” replied Sam as he went
out the door of the hotel.

Late that night Bill received a telegram from Bob Finch at Eugene. It
read: “Wait for me. I’ll be there in the morning. Bob.”

“It looks as if we will get a late start tomorrow,” said Bill to Earl
after he had read the wire. “I wonder what time the morning train gets
in?”

“I think that there is a train that leaves Eugene this afternoon,”
said Earl. “By taking it, Finch could get here quite early tomorrow.”

As a matter of fact, Bill was awakened the next morning by Bob
pounding on the door of his room at the hotel.

“How did you know that we were going fishing?” asked Bill after Bob
had entered.

“With Earl Simmons along and the hunting season not opened, what else
could you do with a couple of days here?” replied Bob.

“Well, you will never guess who is going to take us out,” said Bill.

“I give up before I start,” said Bob. “Who is it?”

“Sam Crouch. He has a store down here and met us at the aviation
field.”

“It looks like a put-up job to me,” said Bob. “You and Earl, one of
the most ardent fishermen in the state, start out for Medford and end
at Roseburg, where you meet Sam Crouch, another fish enthusiast. I’m
glad that I could horn in.”

In a short time they were all in Sam’s automobile headed up the Umpqua
River. They drove about fifteen or eighteen miles up the river and
stopped at the hatchery. Neither Bill nor Bob had ever seen a hatchery
before and immediately began asking questions.

“Tell me something about the hatchery and what it is for?” asked Bill.

“I hardly know where to start,” said Earl.

“Why do they have hatcheries?” asked Bob.

“To increase the number of fish which are incubated from the eggs,”
replied Earl. “The salmon lay their eggs in the sand and gravel in the
bottom of the rivers and creeks. The eggs stay there until they hatch
out. While they are incubating the other fish eat them, in spite of
the fact that the large salmon try to conceal them by covering the
eggs with sand. Then, again, as soon as the small fish comes out of
the eggs, they are in turn prey for the larger fish. You can
accordingly see why a very small part of the eggs ever bring forth
fish which grow to any size. The hatcheries take the eggs and hatch
them out, as you will soon see, in small basins. They hold the small
fish for some time and then plant them in the streams. In this way the
young fish, called fingerlings, have more of a chance for their white
alley.”

“How do they get the salmon to come to the hatcheries?” asked Bill.

“They don’t have to,” replied Earl. “Salmon have a peculiarity which
makes it easy for the hatchery people. When spawning time comes,
salmon always return to the place where they were born. The young ones
gradually work their way down to the sea and go out into the ocean.
Just where they go, no one knows, but after a period of three to five
years they come back up the streams in swarms. They never mistake the
streams, but always come up the one which they went down years before.
The Fishery Department has determined this by tagging the salmon and
then catching the same ones years afterwards.”

“Let’s go over to the river and let them take a look at the fish
coming upstream,” said Sam.

They walked over to the river and Bill and Bob were astounded at the
sight. There were thousands of fish working their way upstream. It
looked as if a person might walk across the river on fish.

“What happens to all these fish?” asked Bill.

“In the bygone days the Indians used to spear them as they came
upstream to spawn,” said Earl.

“If you went downstream a ways you would probably find people spearing
them now,” interjected Sam.

“After they spawn the large fish die,” continued Earl. “The banks of
all the streams in the Northwest are literally covered with dead fish
after the run is over.”

Earl led the way to the racks where the fish were caught. The racks
were so arranged that the fish could get upstream through the bars,
but could not get downstream. Inside this large area there were
thousand of salmon which soon enter the hatchery to have the roe
removed.

They then went into the hatchery and saw pool after pool so arranged
that there was a continuous stream of fresh water running through each
one. In some were the eggs. In others there were fish of various
sizes. It seemed to Bill that there could not be that many fish in the
entire world. The small fish just hatched out were so small that they
looked more like young tadpoles than fish. Outside in the racks the
salmon were of various sizes, from three feet in length up to four or
even five feet. Some of them were tremendous. It was hard to realize
that just a few years before these giant fish were as small as the
minute wiggly things in the pools in the hatchery.

“Have you seen enough?” asked Earl after a while.

“I think so,” replied Bill.

“Come on, then, and we will go fishing.”

They left the hatchery and went downstream to a point where a small
creek emptied into the river.

Here Earl handed Bill a three-pronged hook and told him that they must
get some salmon eggs for bait.

“Put that hook on your line and I will tell you which of the fish to
snag. Then you bring it in to shore and we will get the roe.”

Bill assembled his rod and threaded his line. He attached the hook and
announced himself as being ready.

“See that large fish out there just holding herself against the
current?” asked Earl. “Her top fin is just a few inches below the
surface of the water. Cast your line over and snag her.”

Bill made a cast and missed. He tried again and the hook caught in the
top fin. He reeled in on his line and looked around for further
instructions, only to see Earl and Sam sitting down on the bank
laughing at him. He knew that he had been caught at a tenderfoot
trick, but just what it was he did not know.



CHAPTER XX—MORE ABOUT FISH


“What are you fellows laughing about?” asked Bill. “I caught the fish,
didn’t I?”

“Bring it into shore,” said Sam.

Bob Finch was as much in the dark as to the cause of the merriment as
was Bill. Bill tried to reel in his line, but the fish would not
respond. He fought against every move on Bill’s part. Bill soon saw
that he had a task in front of him. The fish was snagged in the middle
of the body and, accordingly, could use all its power against the pull
on the line. If he pulled hard against the fish, he would break his
line or snap his rod. If he didn’t pull, the fish would run downstream
and take the line with him.

It seemed as if every move that he made was anticipated by the fish.
Try as he would, he could not get that fish closer to shore. It was
about twenty feet from him when he snagged it, and it was still twenty
feet away. The fish started to run and Bill gave a yank on the line.
The rod bent almost double and then the tip broke with a snap.

“Bring him in,” yelled Earl between peals of laughter.

“Don’t let him get away,” yelled Sam.

“I thought that you said he was a she,” said Bill.

“We must have made a mistake,” said Earl. “You have snagged the
largest buck salmon in the stream. You have to bring him in now or you
will lose your rod and line.”

It was all clear to Bill now. They had picked out the largest buck
that they could see and had him cast the hook to catch it. They knew
that the chances were ten to one against his landing it. Bill made up
his mind that he would bring that fish into shore even if he broke
every section of his rod.

It was not such an easy job, but little by little he worked that buck
salmon into shore. The closer it came, the more astonished he was that
he could move it in the water. Finally he had it in close enough for
Bob to catch in his hands. Bob picked up the struggling fish and was
covered with a shower of water.

“What shall I do with it?” asked Bob.

“Take out the hook and throw it back,” said Earl. “We can’t get any
eggs from him.”

Bob released the fish and it went scurrying through the water to join
the numerous others which were moving upstream.

“You did better than most of the other tenderfeet who come up here,”
said Earl. “Ordinarily they break their rods and lose their lines and
never bring the fish anywhere near the shore. You landed your fish and
you ought to be proud of it. We will get a boat here and go fishing.”

They walked a short distance down the river and came to a place where
a boat was tied up to shore. A man was standing by the boat.

“Tom,” said Sam, “drive the car down to the highway bridge. We will
meet you there some time this afternoon. Did you bring the rifle?”

“Here it is, Sam,” replied Tom.

“We’ll see you later then,” said Sam.

“What are you going to do with the rifle?” asked Bob after they had
started to float down the river.

“Get some salmon eggs for bait,” replied Sam.

“You can’t fool me again,” said Bill. “I’ll let Bob shoot the salmon
eggs.”

“This is no joke this time,” said Earl. “It is the easiest way to get
them.”

“Do you want to shoot first, Bob?” asked Sam.

“I’ll bite, but what do I shoot at?” asked Bob.

“I’ll pick out the fish and you shoot it,” said Sam.

He handed Bob the rifle and pointed to a fish near the boat.

“Get that one,” he said.

The fish was within four feet of the boat. It seemed to Bob that he
could touch it with the muzzle of the rifle. He aimed at the fish and
fired. Just where the bullet went was a mystery to him. The fish never
even budged from its position. One thing was certain: he had not made
a hit.

“I aimed right at that fish,” said Bob, “but never hit it. Are there
any bullets in the gun?”

“Look at this one before you load,” said Sam as he handed Bob a
cartridge.

Bob examined the cartridge. Apparently it was all right. Once again he
aimed at the fish and fired. Another miss. Bill was just as mystified
as Bob. There was no doubt that the bullet went into the water, but it
certainly did not hit that fish.

“Let me try it,” said Bill.

Bob handed the rifle to Bill and sat down to watch the proceeding.
Bill loaded the rifle and took careful aim. The boat was steady, so
that there was no reason why he should not make a hit. He aimed right
at the fish and carefully squeezed the trigger. He watched expectantly
for the fish to show some signs of being hit, but it didn’t.

“Give me the rifle,” said Earl.

Earl took the rifle and apparently did not aim at all. He fired, and
almost immediately the fish began to struggle in the water and then
floated to the surface. Sam pulled it into the boat.

“Now you see that it can be done quite easily,” said Sam.

“It’s easy enough if you know how,” replied Bill. “One thing is sure:
either we have phony ammunition or we don’t know how.”

“You are absolutely right, it is easy enough if you know how,” said
Earl. “It’s like cutting a pencil with a dollar bill. Everything is
not done exactly the way it looks. Maybe the pencil is actually cut
with the dollar bill and maybe it isn’t. The chances are ten to one
that it isn’t, but it looks as if it was during the act. You don’t aim
at where the fish seems to be, for it isn’t there. The water makes it
look where it isn’t. Accordingly, you must shoot where the fish really
is, and not where it appears to be.”

“Take this oar and put the end in the water. Now does it look
straight? No. It appears to be bent. The water causes the light rays
to change their angle and you always see a thing much closer to the
surface than it really is. Therefore you must aim under the object
which you expect to hit.”

“I should have known that,” said Bill. “That is simple physics, but I
never thought of it.”

“We have the salmon eggs and now can start fishing,” said Sam.

They cut open the salmon and took out the eggs. They put them into a
can and then rowed the boat out into the center of the river. Here
they allowed the boat to drift while they fixed their lines and baited
their hooks. It was a most pleasant way to fish. There was no labor
connected with it. The boat floated slowly down the stream with the
lines drifting behind.

It had been drizzling slightly ever since they had been out, but so
much of interest had happened that neither Bill nor Bob had noticed
the rain. Occasionally someone would get a strike. They had caught
several small trout, but no large ones. Earl was the first to get a
real strike.

“Reel in your lines, for I have a fish that is a fish,” he cried
suddenly.

Sam was not fishing at the time and he took hold of the oars so that
he could maneuver the boat while Earl played the fish. Bill and Bob
were trying so hard to reel in their lines that they snarled them.
Everything was in a mess, but Earl managed to keep the fish out of the
tangled lines. It began to look as if the tangled lines might have to
be cut. Sam could not always move the boat so that the fish would
clear them, and Earl could not play his fish to keep it clear forever.

“What’s the matter?” asked Sam. “Can’t you get your lines in?”

“We have them untangled now,” said Bill as he started to reel in
again.

It was quite evident that Earl had quite a large fish on his line. It
played around the boat in large circles. Once it ran right at the boat
and Sam was quite busy keeping the boat in such a position that it
would not run under the keel. If it had done that, the chances were
that the line would have parted or the leaders broken.

Finally Earl brought the fish up to the side of the boat.

“Where’s the net?” asked Bill.

“We don’t need a net,” said Sam. “That’s what we brought the rifle
for. See if you can hit it.”

Once again Bill took the rifle and aimed at the new target. It was not
as large as the salmon, but it was a magnificent trout. Bill aimed at
a point about four inches below the trout and fired—another miss.

“This fish is closer to the surface,” said Sam. “Wait until it stops
moving so rapidly and try again.”

This time Bill did not aim so much below and when he fired the fish
came to the surface, belly up.

“Now you see that there’s no, trick to it, don’t you?” said Earl. “All
you have to do is to aim where the fish is and not where it isn’t.”

So the morning was spent, drifting slowly down the Umpqua River. The
forest fires, the fight for their lives in the clouds the day before,
the other troubles which had bothered them during the routine
performance of their duties, the drizzle which made them wetter and
wetter, were all forgotten.

“How about pulling in for this island for lunch?” asked Earl as they
came abreast of a large island in the river.

“I am ready to eat,” said Sam. “How about the rest of you fellows?”

“I am ready any time,” said Bill and Bob together.

A fire on the shore in the lee of a large tree trunk, baked potatoes,
roasted corn, Earl swinging a steak—what more could a man desire? No
wonder Sam liked the outdoor life in the woods. They had not seen
anyone but their own party since leaving the shore near the hatchery.
It was like being out in the wilderness.

After lunch they fished for a while from the shore of the island and
then continued their trip down the river. Bill realized that the
salmon were not as numerous in the water as they had been near the
hatchery.

“Where have all the salmon gone?” he asked.

“This is the first part of the run,” said Sam. “The racks cause a
block in the river and there is a congestion at that point. A little
later, if there is a large run this year, the river will be full of
them all the way up to the hatchery. There’s the bridge ahead of us. I
guess that our day’s sport is over.”

“I am of the opinion that we have had about enough,” said Earl. “I am
soaked through, and as I have no other clothes with me, I will have to
go to bed until these dry.”

“It will be about time to go to bed anyhow when we get to the hotel,
so what’s the difference?” said Sam.

They reached the bridge and shoved the nose of the boat ashore. Tom
was waiting with the automobile. They had caught a fine lot of fish.
The catch included steelhead, rainbow and salmon trout. The largest
was a fine fat fellow, twenty-three inches long, which weighed about
six pounds.

“I think that we ought to move the squadron up here for station,” said
Bill after they reached the hotel. “It’s much more fun going down the
Umpqua River in a boat than being hauled out of the cold waters of the
Pacific by the crew of an Artillery tug.”



CHAPTER XXI—THE EUGENE AIRDROME


The three days’ vacation at Roseburg passed much too rapidly for Bill
and Bob. They would have liked to stay there for a much longer period.
Earl Simmons wanted to get back to Eugene. He liked this form of
recreation as much as either Bill or Bob, but his real interest in
life was the protection of the forests.

Each day along the Umpqua gave additional surprises to the two young
aviators. It seemed that there were no end to the things that the
oldtimers in the Northwest woods knew and the tenderfeet from San
Francisco had to learn.

The day before they returned to Eugene, they were fishing along the
river and casting out into the water from the banks. It required quite
a bit of practice before either Bill or Bob could make their dry fly
land in the water with the ease and grace of an expert fisherman.
Finally they became sufficiently adept to get occasional strikes.

Bill had been fishing a pool which was surrounded by large rocks.
Every time that he made a cast, a large fish struck at the fly.
Somehow Bill could not hook the fish. The longer this game of “catch
if you can” lasted, the more determined Bill became to land that fish.
The other members of the party watched him for a long time and then
left to fish in other places, but Bill stayed right there.

It was most discouraging not to be able to hook that trout, for from
the violence with which it came after the fly, it was sure to be a
large one. Bill finally made his best cast of the day. The fly sank
lightly onto the water and then, by slightly jerking his rod, Bill
made the fly skim across the water. That was too much for the trout.
He seized that fly and started out across the river with it. Bill
flipped the end of his rod upward to send the hook home and the
struggle was on.

The line left the reel sounding a tune which all real fishermen know
so well. It went out so rapidly that Bill wondered if he would lose
all the line before the fish stopped its run. At that stage of the
game Bill was decidedly nervous. He had never before snagged such a
fish as this one was. He knew that if he tried to stop the trout too
suddenly, the line would break. Bill applied gradually increasing
pressure on the reel until the rush was stopped.

The trout made several mad rushes after the first one, but none were
as fast nor as long as the first one. Once in a while Bill would get a
glimpse of the fish as it darted through the water, but the fish was
out of sight again almost immediately. The thought uppermost in Bill’s
mind now was, “Could he net that fish before it broke the line?” The
rushes became shorter, and it was apparent that the fish was getting
exhausted. At times it would allow Bill to bring it in almost to the
rock where he was standing, and then without the slightest warning it
would sink to the bottom of the pool with a speed that bent the rod
double while the line was going out.

The fish finally came up and Bill worked it around to where he could
use the net. In his excitement of netting the trout, he almost lost
his rod and line, but he never risked the loss of the fish. Bill was
so elated that he did not try to remove the fish from the net or the
hook from its mouth. He carried the rod, net, and fish back to the
road and waited for the other members of the party. He was still
sitting there holding the netted fish when Sam Crouch came up.

“What have you there?” asked Sam.

“You tell me,” said Bill. “I finally caught it, but what kind it is I
do not know.”

“It’s a nice big brook trout,” replied Sam. “I guess that you have the
largest one caught this day. I have several that I thought were large,
but none to compare with that one.”

The others returned and Bill felt quite proud of his accomplishment as
each in turn admired his fish. They returned to the hotel and unloaded
their fishing gear.

“You had better take this fish, Sam,” said Bill. “We leave tomorrow,
and I cannot use it.”

“Let me see that fish,” said a stranger who came up as Bill was
handing the trout to Sam. “I think that you have a gold button trout
there. We will take it into the hotel and measure and weigh it.”

“What’s a gold button trout?” asked Bill. “Do you have to pay a fine
for catching one? Is it unlawful?”

Both Sam and Earl burst out laughing at Bill’s questions.

“You poor boob,” said Earl, “that means that you have probably caught
the largest trout reported during the fishing season. The Portland
_Oregonian_ has a contest each year and gives a gold button for the
largest trout caught.”

The fish weighed seven pounds and two ounces and was twenty-six inches
long.

“My name’s Pratt,” said the stranger. “I am a reporter on the
_Oregonian_. I will send your story in to the paper and you will be
notified later if you get the gold button.”

The story of the catch was recounted and with it ended the fishing
excursion at Roseburg. Bill could not quite understand why anyone
should get a prize for going out and enjoying himself. Later in the
season he received the gold button. Two short periods of fishing in
the Oregon woods had elevated Bill from the rankest kind of an amateur
fisherman to one whose catch was broadcast all over the state.

Bob Finch left that same night by train for Eugene after vainly trying
to get Bill to agree to have both Earl and Bob ride to Eugene in the
rear cockpit. Bill settled that question when he called attention to
Earl’s rather portly figure and asked how they could both get in the
cockpit. Bill and Earl left by plane early the next morning, Earl
anxious to get back to work and Bill reluctant to leave.

“Thanks for the good time, Sam,” called Bill, and the plane started on
its homeward journey.

The rains had cleared the sky of all the dense smoke. Here and there
small fleecy clouds stood out as reminders that there had been a rain
storm, but the visibility was such that the occupants of the airplane
could see for miles in all directions. As they flew along Bill
obtained his first clear view of the high peaks which marked the crest
of the Cascade Mountains. Although these peaks were a good forty miles
away, the air was so clear that they were plainly visible. The Three
Sisters, a large, massive mountain with three peaks quite widely
separate, came into view just as they sighted Eugene. The tops of all
three of these peaks stood well above ten thousand feet. It seemed
remarkable to Bill that he had never been able to get a glimpse of
them before, as they were decidedly the most conspicuous mountains of
the entire southern part of the range.

“Well, we have another job on our hands,” said Smith when Bill
reported. “The city of Eugene wants to establish this as a municipal
airdrome. In order to do it, they are going to float a bond issue. We
are going to lend our support by having a field day here tomorrow. We
will have aerial and ground events. Dignitaries from all over the
state will be present. Among others, Governor Olcott will be here.”

“What part am I to play?” asked Bill.

“You had better go in and work that up with Maxwell,” replied Smith.
“When you have finished your draft of the events, I will go over it
and either approve or disapprove.”

“Well, here I am, Buddy,” said Bill as he sat down, by the desk in the
operations office. “Captain Smith said that I was to help you draw up
the list of events for the field day tomorrow.”

“It’s a fine time for you to be showing up after I have all the hard
work completed,” said Maxwell. “I think that I will pick out a real
job for you.”

“Go to it,” said Bill. “I have had such a good time during the past
few days that I can stand anything now.”

“Do you mean that?” asked Buddy.

“Sure I do,” replied Bill. “What have you on your mind?”

“We will go over the list of events as they appear on the program,”
said Maxwell. “In the morning the squadron baseball team will play the
local team. In addition there will be a trap-shooting competition in
which both an officers’ and enlisted men’s team will compete against
anything that the local people bring on. Then we will have an early
lunch given by the Chamber of Commerce, during which the celebrities
will tell why Eugene should have an airdrome. In the afternoon we will
have some formation flights, a radio demonstration in which someone
will broadcast from an airplane through a loudspeaker, and finally you
will jump from a parachute.”

Bill did not know whether Maxwell was joking or not. He looked at the
paper on the desk and, sure enough, the last event was for a parachute
jump. As far as Bill knew, there were no parachutes in the squadron.
The only ones that he had ever seen were those used during the war.
All balloonists were equipped with them and the crews of the German
airplanes wore them. In fact, Bill had the distinct recollection of
having seen a German plane shot down and the observer jump with his
parachute, thereby escaping with his life. To the best of Bill’s
knowledge, the only parachutes for airplanes in the United States were
those still in the experimental stage.

It looked to Bill as if Maxwell were playing a joke on him. There
would be no harm in agreeing.

“That’s all right with me,” said Bill.

“We will get Captain Smith to O. K. this and then we can arrange for
the details,” said Maxwell.

“How are you getting along?” asked Smith, who came in about that time.

“Everything is all arranged, much easier than I thought possible,”
replied Maxwell. “Here is a list of events.”

Much to Bill’s surprise, Buddy Maxwell handed the paper to Captain
Smith with the parachute jump still included. He had made no attempt
to erase that event. Perhaps they have obtained a parachute from
somewhere.

Smith went over the list and commented upon each event as he came to
it. He gave instructions as to how he wanted the details arranged.

“I want each Flight leader to lead his own Flight in the formations,”
said Smith. “I will have Liggett take the radio demonstration.”

Then he saw Bill’s name entered for the parachute jump.

“Did you volunteer for the parachute jump?” asked Smith.

Bill was caught. There was no way out now. He had told Maxwell that he
would jump, thinking that there were no parachutes. Obviously there
must be some available now, or Captain Smith would have shown some
surprise when he read the event. There was only one thing to do, and
Bill did it.

“Sure, I volunteered,” he said.

“Have you ever jumped before?” asked Smith.

“Never in my life,” replied Bill.

“That makes no difference, you have to start some time,” said Smith.
“Fortunately, Sergeant Ruhs has just arrived from Dayton with
instructions as to how the parachutes shall be worn and how you get
out of the plane with them on. You had better see him right away and
get your instructions. I approve of the schedule of events.”

So there were parachutes, and a parachute jump was going to be part of
the field day after all. Bill had never even seen one at close range.
He had never had the slightest desire to try one out, and,
furthermore, he realized that the thing he desired the least of
anything in the world was to make that jump the next day.



CHAPTER XXII—TRAPPED IN MIDAIR


Bill left the headquarters building with a heavy load on his mind. As
far as he could see, he had put himself in such a position that he had
to make that parachute jump. He went to the supply building and found
Sergeant Ruhs. Several parachutes were spread out on the floor and
Ruhs was inspecting them.

“Sergeant, you never told me that we had received those parachutes,”
said Bill.

“No, sir, I didn’t,” replied the parachute sergeant. “They came while
you were down at Roseburg.”

“How many are there?” asked Bill.

“Enough to equip each plane with two and then have several for
reserve,” replied Ruhs.

“Are they standard articles of issue now?”

“Regulations will soon come out requiring all Army pilots to put on a
parachute for every flight,” replied Ruhs. “The orders will be very
strict about it. As soon as the orders arrive, all pilots and
observers will have to wear them every time they go up.”

“How can a pilot get into his plane and handle his controls with one
of those bulky things strapped to his back?” asked Bill, whose idea of
parachutes was limited to the large, bulky balloon type chutes.

“You evidently haven’t seen the latest model,” said the Sergeant.
“This new type is called the seat pack. You sit on it in the plane
just the same as you would a cushion. The straps fit over the
shoulders just snug enough to operate satisfactorily, but not so tight
as to be uncomfortable.”

“Well, I might as well break the sad news to you,” said Bill. “I
volunteered to jump from a plane during the demonstration tomorrow.
Tell me all that I must know beforehand.”

“I am sorry that you volunteered, Lieutenant,” replied Ruhs. “I was
hoping to have that pleasure myself.”

Bill looked at the Sergeant in surprise. Ruhs had intimated that it
would be a pleasure to jump from a plane.

“Have you ever jumped?” asked Bill.

“Several times,” replied Ruhs. “I rather like the sensation and take a
jump at every opportunity.”

That statement changed everything for Bill. He would jump now to get
the experience. If he had to wear a chute on all flights, he ought to
know how to use it. Some day something might happen to the plane and
he would have to jump. That being the case, he might as well eliminate
all tendencies of hesitating to jump from the plane right now and not
wait until circumstances made an immediate jump imperative.

“Tell me what I have to do, then,” said Bill.

The parachute Sergeant picked up a parachute and arranged it so that
the pack was suspended from Bill’s back.

“This is a back type,” said Ruhs. “When you jump tomorrow you will
have two chutes on, a back pack and a lap pack. That is to insure that
at least one will open. While we have never had a failure, it is
always well to be prepared for the unforeseen. These chutes are
training type. That is, they are much larger than the service packs.
The larger area gives a greater supporting surface and you will not
hit the ground so hard. You can open both of them as you drop if you
wish.”

“How hard do you hit the ground with one of these?” asked Bill.

“With the service type, it is about the same as jumping from a
fifteen-foot wall. With the training type, the falling speed is much
slower.”

By this time Bill had both chutes strapped to him. One pack was on his
back and the other hanging down in front of him.

“Now what do I do when I want to jump?” he asked.

“Climb over the side of the plane and count three. By that time you
will have cleared the wings, tail surfaces and landing gear. Then pull
this ring. The parachute will fly out and open up. The best jumpers
always bring their rings back with them.”

“How can you find that ring when you are flying through space?” asked
Bill.

“It doesn’t make much difference whether you find it right away or
not, for you will be sure to find it before you drop very far. I have
found out that even though I am falling head first, I have had no
difficulty in locating the ring.”

“Don’t you drop down feet first?” asked Bill.

“You start that way, but before you get the chute open you will have
turned quite a few somersaults in the air. The main thing is to count
three after leaving the plane, and then pull the ring far enough so
that the pins holding the pack together are entirely removed from the
lugs.”

“Is there anything more?” asked Bill.

“That’s all there is to it,” replied Ruhs.

Bill removed the chutes and started for town. If Sergeant Ruhs had
made several jumps, there was no reason why Bill shouldn’t make one
and get away with it.

Bill found that he could not concentrate on the various events which
were taking place the next morning. He was nervous about the jump in
spite of all attempts to view the matter in a matter of fact way. The
morning dragged interminably. The Governor and all the other officials
inspected the field and planes. The baseball games were played and the
trap-shooting events took place, but Bill found it hard to concentrate
on them.

There was a large crowd out at the field by the time that the luncheon
was served. The speeches were finished and the pilots started for
their planes.

“Here’s wishing you luck,” Bob Finch said to Bill.

“I am glad that I am to be the first officer in the Squadron to jump,”
replied Bill. “Some of these days some of the rest of you may have to
jump under circumstances not quite so favorable. At least I will know
how it feels.”

“I will take mine when I have to,” said Bob. “It takes nerve to jump
overboard just for the experience, and I can’t see myself doing it
now.”

The afternoon’s flying events started with the two Flights leaving the
airdrome in formation. Each was led by its Flight leader. The two
formations went through various evolutions and then joined together
into one large “V”. These planes had scarcely landed before the radio
plane went up, and Lieutenant Liggett kept the crowd interested by
telling stories, singing and giving information as to what he could
see. He talked into the radio installed in the plane, and the
monologue was repeated through the loud-speakers on the ground.

In the meantime Bill was getting his parachutes adjusted. Captain
Smith watched him for a moment and started away, only to return.

“I think that I will fly the plane from which you jump,” he said. “I
will take you up to two thousand feet and head into the wind. You must
estimate the velocity of the wind so that you will drift back to the
field after your chute opens. That shouldn’t be so hard, for the
airdrome is quite large.”

“I would be very much pleased if you would pilot the plane,” said
Bill.

“I will get the plane started now, and as soon as you get fixed up, we
will take off,” said Smith as he went away.

“Are you sure that everything is all right?” asked Bill.

“I packed these chutes this morning,” said Ruhs. “They should function
perfectly. Remember, do not pull the rip cable until after you have
counted three. When you land, bend your knees slightly so that you
will not get so much shock.”

“I’ll try and remember everything,” said Bill, and started for the
plane.

He found it rather cumbersome walking on account of the two parachutes
hanging from his shoulders and the web straps around his body. He came
up to Smith’s plane and climbed in. Everything was ready for the jump.

The day was clear, not a cloud in the sky. A slight wind was blowing
from the northwest, but not sufficient to drag Bill after he had
landed with the parachute open. There was a big crowd assembled along
the danger line in front of the plane watching the two airmen. Bill
heard the loudspeaker report: “Bill Bruce is now about to take off to
make his parachute jump. I think that Captain Smith is piloting the
plane. I can’t see who it is from here, but it looks as if the plane’s
number is ‘0’, and the Captain never allows anyone else to fly his
plane.”

Smith taxied across the airdrome and the plane was soon in the air.
They climbed until they reached the two thousand foot mark and then
Smith headed into the wind and flew toward the airdrome. Bill watched
the ground pass under the plane, but hesitated in plunging out over
the side of the cockpit. He at once realized that it took more nerve
to actually make the jump than it did to agree to make it while
standing down on the ground.

Smith throttled the engine and gave Bill the signal to jump. Bill
stood up in the cockpit and steeled himself for the ordeal. He wanted
to make sure of having that ring in his hand when he had counted
three, so he grabbed the ring before climbing out of the cockpit. He
stepped up on the seat and held onto the side of the fusilage with one
hand and the ring with his other. The hundred-mile wind made it hard
for him to retain his balance and he swayed back and forth against it.

Bill put one leg over the fusilage and the wind pressure became more
intense. It threatened to drag him back along the fusilage. In his
efforts to stay in the cockpit, he pulled the parachute ring and the
chute went out of its pack.

Fortunately Bill had one leg still in the cockpit and could retain his
grip on the plane. More fortunate still, the parachute did not open
but went out like a string and streamed straight to the rear just over
the tail surface. Bill did not know what to do next, so he stayed
right where he was.

Captain Smith was watching when Bill pulled the rip cord. He
instinctively grabbed the collar of Bill’s flying suit to help hold
him in the plane. They were now in a most perilous situation. If the
parachute now opened, it would drag both of them through the tail
surfaces and probably both would be killed. If Smith released his hold
and the chute opened, Bill would be dragged through the same surfaces
and he would be killed or severely injured. The tail surfaces would
then be so badly damaged that the plane would be uncontrollable. In
that case Smith would be out of luck, for he did not have a parachute
on.

Both Smith and Bill had the same thoughts at identically the same
time—they were in a mighty bad fix and could see no way out.



CHAPTER XXIII—A NEW OUTBREAK OF FIRES


Captain Smith at once saw that he was risking the lives of both Bill
and himself by holding on to Bill’s flying suit. Accordingly he
released his grip and confined his activities to the plane and began
thinking of a possible way out of the dangerous situation they were
in.

There was still a big chance of the parachute’s opening and dragging
Bill from the plane. If that happened, Bill might or might not be
carried through the tail surfaces. Then, again, the parachute might
not open. Remote as that possibility was, they could not afford to
take any chances. Every effort must be made to get the streaming chute
away from the tail group. Smith immediately started to figure how it
could be done.

Bill in the meantime saw that by staying where he was, he not only was
risking his own life but was jeopardizing Smith’s as well. Bill
realized that something must be done at once whereby he could fall
free of the plane without being carried backward by the trailing
chute.

Bill climbed over the side of the fusilage, being very careful while
doing so not to increase the probability of the chute opening by
giving it any unnecessary motion. He reached the top step safely and
then stepped down to the lower one. From that position he could see
that the streaming shroud lines were inside of the elevator horn and
that it would take some little maneuvering to get them clear.

From Bill’s point of view there was but one way to do it. Somehow or
other he must work his way back to the tail group and throw those
shroud lines clear. He looked around to see how it might be done. To
climb back on top of the fusilage was out of the question, as that
would make it practically impossible to throw the chute clear. The
only other method was for him to work his way back along the control
cables which ran alongside the fusilage.

Bill immediately bent down and grasped the control cable with his
right hand, while he held on to the fusilage with his left. When he
was sure that he had a secure grip, he released his left hand and
grasped the cable with it. At the same instant his foot slipped from
the lower step and he found himself hanging from the control wire. The
force of his fall had caused the cable to cut his hands severely, but
he held on just the same.

In the meantime, while watching Bill, Smith was thinking out a method
whereby he could so throw the plane through the air that the shroud
lines would be cleared of the elevator horn. He thought that it might
be done by slipping the plane through the air. During such a motion
the plane would not have the same resistance to the air as the chute
and might possibly move away from the chute. When that time came, Bill
could drop with some degree of safety.

Thus it was that both Smith and Bill started working with the same end
in view. Bill worked his way backward toward the tail group, stopping
every once in a while to try and throw the shroud lines clear with one
hand while he retained his grip on the cable with the other. Smith put
the plane into a steep side slip and watched the parachute to see what
effect the sideward motion of the plane was having.

Several times Smith slipped the plane with no apparent results.
Meanwhile Bill Bruce was working his way farther and farther to the
rear of the fusilage. Finally Bill reached a point within a few feet
of the leading edge of the stabilizer. Here he again tried to throw
the shroud lines clear with one free hand. Smith at the same time put
the plane into an almost vertical slip. The shroud lines moved across
the surfaces, jumped the horn and strung out clear of the plane.

As soon as he saw that the shroud lines were clear, Bill dropped off
into space. The crowd on the ground saw all of these maneuvers, but
could not imagine the reason for their taking place. They saw the
streaming chute and knew that it should not be that close to the
plane. They also saw that Bill was still in the cockpit when he should
have been clear of the ship. None knew the perilous situation which
confronted the two airmen. Everyone, however, realized that something
had gone wrong and that the two men were fighting for their lives.

When Bill dropped from the plane, as far he could see, none of the
rules and instructions which Sergeant Ruhs had given him before going
into the air could possibly be put into effect. In the first place,
one parachute was already open and it was not necessary to count
three. Then, again, it would do no good to pull the ring of that chute
now, no matter how hard he pulled it. Ruhs had said that the chutes
always open. Would this one open or should he pull on the ring to open
the other chute?

Bill had a hard time to think logically while falling through space
with the string-like parachute streaming down after him. He was afraid
that, as his body tumbled around while falling, the first parachute
would wrap itself around the second one and keep it from opening. That
being the case, the sooner he pulled the rip cord on the second chute,
the better off he would be.

It was fortunate that Smith had climbed to about twenty-five hundred
feet before giving Bill the signal to jump. Otherwise things might not
have turned out so well for Bill. They had lost about five hundred
feet while trying to get the chute clear of the tail group, and then
Bill had fallen another thousand feet before he tried to open the
second chute.

That drop of a thousand feet had taken scarcely any time at all, and
Bill did not realize that he had fallen so far. He began to search for
the other ring with one hand. At the time he was falling head
downwards. He instinctively raised his hand toward his head to reach
the ring, but it took what seemed to him to be hours before he found
it. He gave the ring a pull, and kept on pulling until the wire was
clear.

The pilot chute came out with a snap and then Bill felt his speed
slacken with a distinct jerk. He looked up and saw that the second
chute was open. The first was still in the form of a streamer. With
the opening of the chute, Bill started a pendulum motion, his body
swung in a large arc below the chute. The length of the arc gradually
decreased until he was hanging suspended directly under the center of
the silk umbrella-shaped chute. He looked up at it with astonishment,
for he had no idea that it could possibly be so large.

While he was still looking upward the first chute opened, and each one
forced the other out at an angle. Bill was hanging down between the
two. Bill looked down at the ground. It seemed as if he was hardly
falling at all, the drop was so slow. He found it rather a pleasant
sensation—after the chutes had opened.

Bill had been too busy fighting for his life when he was about to
leave the plane to think of anything else but clearing the chute from
the elevator horn. He could not make up his mind whether or not he
would have been a little afraid to jump under normal conditions. One
thing certain, the thought of fear of jumping had not entered his mind
after he had inadvertently opened the first chute.

The wind was drifting him across the aviation field. Evidently all the
maneuvering in the air had taken but a very short time, although it
seemed that hours had passed.

Bill watched the ground come closer and closer. He was aware of the
fact that Smith was circling around in his plane, but Bill never
looked at the airplane. Smith drew away as Bill came down close to the
airdrome. Bill bent his knees slightly as he neared the ground and
then he hit. It was not a violent jar, but the wind carried the chutes
along while Bill was on the ground.

Two twenty-four foot parachutes afford a large surface for the wind to
catch, and had the wind been much stronger, Bill would undoubtedly
have been dragged along the ground. Ruhs arrived alongside almost as
soon as Bill hit. He grabbed the top shroud lines and pulled them
down. The chutes immediately became deflated and dropped to the
ground.

Bill got up on his feet and the crowd cheered when they saw that he
was not hurt. It had been a terrible ordeal, but both Bill and Smith
had come off unscathed. Bill’s hands were cut from climbing along the
cable, but that was not worth considering when there were so many
worse things which might have happened.

Ruhs untangled Bill from the shoulder braces and said, “You can ride
back in the ambulance if you want to.”

“Not for mine,” replied Bill. “It looked for a while as if I would be
in no fit condition even for an ambulance, but I am all whole. I will
walk.”

“How did your chute come to open up before you were clear of the
plane?” asked Captain Smith when Bill reached the line.

“I was afraid that I would not be able to find the ring after I
dropped into space,” replied Bill. “Accordingly I held on to the ring
while I tried to climb out. I lost my balance against the wind
pressure when I stood up, and, in trying to regain it, must have
pulled open the chute.”

“Next time you had better wait until after you count before grabbing
the ring,” said Smith. “I doubt if we will always be as lucky as we
were today. I don’t understand now why that first chute did not open
and drag you out of the cockpit.”

“Neither do I,” said Bill.

“Weren’t you scared to death up there when your chute fouled the
plane?” Bob Finch asked Bill as they were returning to town that
evening.

“Bob, I didn’t have time to be scared. There were too many things to
do if I wanted to make a fight for my life. In a time like that it
would have been fatal to be scared.”

The next day, when the operations office opened, there were several
radios and telephone messages waiting. Those messages came from the
various forests. The rain had put out all the large fires that had
been burning before. The lightning had started quite a few new ones,
but there were others which had started in districts where no
lightning storms had been reported.

“I cannot account for all of these fires in the area to the
southeast,” said Simmons as he placed pins in the map to show the
approximate locations of the new fires reported. “However, these which
are reported over in this area have me buffaloed. There is no rhyme or
reason for their existence. There were no thunder storms anywhere near
them. It rained hard enough for all the old fires to have been
extinguished, and yet here is a string of new fires starting. Look at
them, all in a row. What started them?”

“Perhaps there was a small local thunder storm over there,” suggested
Kiel.

“How could that have been possible without the lookouts and the forest
wardens knowing it?” replied Simmons. “That doesn’t sound reasonable
to me.”

“Are you trying to infer that there is someone out in the woods
deliberately setting fires?” asked Bill.

“That is exactly what I am driving at,” replied Simmons. “I thought so
before the rains started, and I am more convinced than ever now. The
fires are breaking out at too regular intervals and times to be
resulting from carelessness. Furthermore, Bill Bruce, you and I are
going out in a plane this morning and catch that firebug.”



CHAPTER XXIV—HUNTING A FIREBUG


“Why are you so sure that there is a firebug?” asked Bill.

“When we came back from Roseburg there were but twelve fires burning
in the whole state,” replied Earl Simmons. “Eleven of them were new
ones which had been started by lightning, and the twelfth was the
large one over near Three Fingered Jack in the Sanitaur Forest. The
air was entirely clear of smoke and it looked as if the fire season
was over.

“The tourists have all cleared out of the forest with the rains,
thereby eliminating any further trouble with them. It is too early for
the hunters to start out, and accordingly we won’t have any need to
worry about their carelessness for a while. The lightning fires were
all under control on the day following their start. The large fire
over in Sanitaur was almost extinguished by the rain and is now under
control. That being the case, according to all past precedents, I was
entirely justified in believing that the fire season was over.

“Now what happens? Without any reason new fires break out over in the
Buck Peak—Mary’s Peak region. Are they like normal fires? They are
not. The first one starts in the vicinity of Buck Peak and they break
out at almost regular distances toward the north. It may be a
coincidence that they are at regular distances, and each succeeding
one starts at about the time that it would have taken a man to arrive
from the last one. I don’t think so. I think that there is some maniac
over there who is deliberately setting the woods on fire. Will you
help me get him?”

“I am perfectly willing to go out and try,” replied Bill. “However, I
don’t think that we will make as effective a team as if I had someone
in the rear seat who could use the radio.”

“Who says that I can’t use the radio?” asked Earl. “I was a commercial
telegraph operator for several years. Furthermore, I have had a radio
of my own ever since they came into common use. Why, during the winter
months I amuse myself by building them. If you don’t think that I can
operate the set in the back of your plane, ask Liggett.”

“The joke’s on you,” remarked Liggett, who was standing by listening
to the conversation. “Earl has been operating these sets ever since we
arrived.”

“Then why the deuce didn’t you send out a few messages when we were
making that special patrol and were caught in the storm?” asked Bill.

“Why didn’t you release the generator propeller before we started, and
I would have,” replied Earl.

“I give up,” said Bill. “We will start out whenever you are ready.”

“I want to get together with you and study the map before we start,”
said Earl.

“Will you go out on the regular patrol or be an extra one?” asked
Captain Smith. “It is time for the regular patrol to start.”

“You had better let the regular patrol go out as usual and then we
will not arouse the suspicions of the firebug if we get started a
little late,” replied Earl.

“Here’s the way that I figure this thing out,” said Earl as he and
Bill sat at a table with a map spread out in front of them. “This
fellow, whoever he is, is traveling by auto. He either goes into the
woods as far as he can with his auto and then travels a short distance
on foot and starts these fires, or he gets out of his car and then
starts the fires without walking any farther than is necessary to
insure the safety of his car. Once he has started a fire, he gets into
his car and travels north for a few miles on the nearest road and
repeats the performance.”

“The location of the fires would indicate that something like that is
happening,” replied Bill.

“Now, here’s my plan for catching him,” said Earl. “We will wait for
the report of the patrol which is just starting. That will give us the
location of any new fires. Once we plot them on the map, we can make a
guess as to the place where he will probably start the next one. We
can get there by plane almost as soon as he can by auto. Accordingly,
if he works true to form, we will catch him in the act. That is, of
course, providing that you are willing to fly low enough to see a
single man running along a road.”

“I think that you have your nerve in even suggesting that I might not
be willing to fly low over the timber after what we have been through
together,” replied Bill.

“All right then,” said Earl. “As soon as we determine the spot where
we think we will need help, I will notify the nearest forest
headquarters equipped with radio. They will have some forestry men
standing by in an auto who will be dispatched to the place where we
direct them from our radio. From then on we will have to drop messages
on the auto and direct them in the chase. How does it look?”

“Entirely feasible,” said Bill. “All we have to do now is to wait for
the patrol plane to report the new fires, if any, in that district.”

The patrol had not been out for more than twenty-five minutes before
it was sending in fire reports. The first ones were concerning the old
fires spotted the day before. Then came data concerning a new fire.
Even before the location had been given, Earl had its approximate
location marked on the map. Earl missed the second new fire by about
five miles, but it showed that the principle upon which he was working
was correct.

“What do you say now?” asked Earl after the observer had stopped
sending from the patrol plane.

“You hit the first one almost on the spot,” replied Bill. “The second
one you missed a little, but not much. Let’s get going.”

“Wait until I send a message to the supervisor in the Mary’s Peak
area,” said Earl.

“Is the plane all right?” asked Bill as he ran to get into the
cockpit.

“First-class condition,” replied the mechanic.

“We will check in with the amateur station at Glenbrook on the way
out. We can’t afford to waste any more time in getting to Elam,”
called Earl as Bill motioned for the mechanics to remove the blocks
from the wheels.

“O. K.,” replied Bill.

Bill did not try to gain any altitude for a while, as speed was
essential to the success of their plan. His plan was to arrive over
Glenbrook at about four thousand feet. He hoped that Earl would start
sending to check the set long before they reached the place, and then
the O. K. panel would probably be waiting for them when they flew over
the station.

They were flying along at three thousand feet when they reached
Ferguson. Then Bill felt Earl poking him in the back and, turning, saw
that a note was being passed forward to him. Bill took the note and
read it. “I can’t get any juice from the generators. Did you remove
the safety wire from the generator propeller before you started?”

Bill shook his head, “No.” To land and take off the safety wire would
consume a lot of valuable time. Something else must be done. It was
necessary that the radio function. Otherwise, the plan could not
succeed. Bill wrote a note and handed it to Earl: “Do your stuff as
you have never done it before. Put that emergency stick into the
socket in your cockpit. Follow the movements that I make as I pilot
this plane. Learn what you can in the next few minutes, for I am going
to climb out on the wing and kick the generator fan loose. You are
going to pilot the plane while I do it. I don’t care if you never
before have piloted a plane. That makes no difference. Get busy.”

Earl was perfectly willing to try and follow Bill’s instructions. At
first he over-controlled just like any new student would. Then he
seemed to be able to keep the plane on an even keel. Bill did not
touch his stick for some time and the plane ran along perfectly all
right. Bill then started to climb out onto the wing.

He had one leg outside of the fusilage and the plane started to veer
to the right alarmingly. Earl was giving it too much right rudder.
Bill motioned for the correction but had no success in making himself
understood. He returned to his cockpit and put the plane on an even
keel. Once more he was about to get both legs out of the cockpit, but
this time the plane started to climb at such an angle that he knew it
would stall. Bill was able to correct it by leaning in and pushing
forward on the stick.

Bill learned by this time that Earl was so intent upon trying to fly
the plane that he could not see any of the signals which Bill gave for
correcting the position of the plane. It was up to him to get out on
that wing, kick the fan loose and get back into his seat as soon as
possible, and do it before the plane was entirely out of control.

Bill waited until the plane settled down into a level flight again and
then started to climb out on the wing. He had both feet on the wing
and was about to move forward to the leading edge when the nose of the
plane again went up at decidedly too great an angle. Bill hesitated
and tried to get Earl to push the stick forward. Earl would not even
look at him. Earl had his eyes glued to the inside of the cockpit.

Bill decided that the same thing would happen every time that he left
the cockpit. Accordingly it was just as safe to get the job done this
time as it ever would be. Completely ignoring the dangerous angle at
which the plane was climbing, he continued to work his way forward. By
the time that he reached the leading edge of the wing, the plane had
almost lost all flying speed. In a short time it would fall into a
spin. He must get back to the cockpit as soon as he could. Otherwise
the plane would certainly fall and be out of control during the fall.

Bill did not take much time to consider what was the proper thing to
do. He was in a position now from which he could stoop down and give
that fan a kick and break the safety wire. It was doubtful if he could
ever get there again, judging from the erratic way in which the plan
had traveled through the air during the past few moments.

The few seconds spent in kicking that fan loose might be the ones
needed to save the plane from falling into a spin. On the other hand,
it might fall into a spin before he could get back to the cockpit even
though he did not try and release the fan. Apparently it made no
difference.

Bill grabbed the front cross brace wires, stooped down and kicked the
fan. He felt the safety wires break and knew that the fan was loose.
The plane then went into an even steeper climb. Bill hoped that the
old Liberty engine would keep on reliably pumping its four hundred
horsepower into that propeller. He also hoped that the plane would
maintain its present speed until he could get his hand on the stick
again.

The plane was just staggering through the air. Any increase in the
flying angle would surely send it into a spin. Bill started back
toward the cockpit and in his hurry slipped on the smooth laminated
wood which protected the wing surface. He caught himself in time to
keep from slipping off, but lost several seconds. Once more he started
moving back to the cockpit. If he could only make it before the spin
started. A DH in a spin takes a considerable altitude to come out.
Sometimes they do not come out regardless of the altitude at which
they are flying. Bill had a scant two thousand feet when he started to
climb out of the cockpit the first time. He had lost some altitude
since that.

Could he get there in time to save the ship?



CHAPTER XXV—THE END OF THE FIRE SEASON


Bill lost no time in getting back into the pilot’s seat. He caught the
plane as it was falling off onto one wing. By skillful manipulation of
the controls, he changed the movement into a nose dive. He knew that
they were now safe. A short drop and they would regain flying speed.
The plane went down into the dive, gradually picking up speed, and
soon Bill pulled it out into a level position and they were flying
along normally. Once more they were headed toward Glenbrook, where
they could check their radio.

They hopped over a few timber-covered foothills and the town of
Glenbrook came into view. It was not much of a town, but a branch line
of the railroad followed a small stream and terminated there. The
forest headquarters was easily picked out on account of the panel
already stretched out on the ground. Earl had started sending with the
radio as soon as Bill had regained control of the plane. Bill picked
up the O. K. panel and dipped his plane in greeting to the amateur
operator who he knew would be watching from below.

Bill knew that the radio operator would immediately send word to the
foresters waiting at Elam and Adler that the plane was on its way. He
turned his plane to skirt Buck Peak and then crossed Beaver Creek.
Here he saw the first of the fires, which were still burning and which
circumstantial evidence indicated had been lighted by the firebug.
Beaver Creek had proved too great a natural barrier for the fire to
cross. To the south and southwest there was nothing to check its path,
and it had spread rapidly in that direction. The fight made by the
crew on the ground to bar its progress was clearly shown from the
scene of desolation extending below them.

The fire had evidently started on a comparatively narrow front. Then
the strong wind had spread it out over a broad area. The fire crew had
attempted to stop it along the crest of a ridge, and had almost
succeeded, for the width was appreciably narrowed down to almost a
point. Then on account of the lack of men, or for some other reason,
the fire had surged through that narrow opening and spread to an even
wider area than before. From the viewpoint of the airmen, it looked as
if that fire had almost been guided by human hands.

Sensing that it was hemmed in on all sides, the fire had taken
advantage of that one small unguarded strip and had broken through
with an irresistible rush, burning fiercer than ever. Bill and Earl
could see the crew working ahead of the fire. These men were
backfiring, making fire breaks, standing by natural barriers and doing
everything humanly possible to vanquish that fire monster. Forest
fires always left an indelible impression on Bill’s mind. They seemed
to him to be magnificent and awe-inspiring on account of their
relentlessness and the apparent unlimited power, but at the same time
they were terrifying as he saw the area of complete destruction which
followed in their wake. Thus, in a few minutes’ time, timber which had
taken hundreds of years to mature was completely effaced,
deliberately, or through carelessness by the hand of man.

Bill did not pause in his flight on account of the fire, but traveled
along at his hundred-mile an hour pace. He picked up a second and then
a third fire. He thought that the third fire might be the one near
which they would find the firebug and looked around at Earl for
instructions. Earl waved him on.

Off to their left was Mary’s Peak. Somewhere along the road which led
down its sides the forest men were waiting. Bill was about to head
that way in an endeavor to locate them when he saw a small smoke
coming up through the timber almost directly ahead of them. He pointed
the nose of the plane down and headed straight for that smoke.
Gradually losing altitude, as his plane thundered along at an ever
increasing speed, he was barely skimming the tree tops when he reached
a point directly over the smoke.

He passed over that fire at a speed far too great to pick up any
details on the ground, but Bill did get a fleeting glimpse of a road
which ran close by the fire. He had come down so low that the radio
antennae wire was torn off by the tree tops. In his anxiety to get to
that fire as soon as possible, he had forgotten all about the
antennae. From now on the radio was useless. All messages would have
to be dropped.

Bill pulled his plane up into a reversement and was back over the fire
almost immediately, but traveling at a much lower speed. He saw a man
running through the underbrush in a cut-over area not more than fifty
yards from the fire. It was up to him now to keep that man in sight
until help arrived on the ground. Bill looked at Earl and knew by
Earl’s smile that he, too, had seen the man. The mere fact that he was
that close to the fire and was running when seen was sufficient in
Bill’s mind to brand him as the man who had started the fire.

Another circle and they lost the suspect. Bill made a wider circle,
always keeping the road on both sides of the fire in sight. Sooner or
later the firebug must come out on the road to get away from the
burning timber. Then Bill saw an automobile standing alongside the
road several hundred yards from the fire. He flew slowly and low over
the car and obtained sufficient data regarding it to enable him to
write a good description of the auto.

Bill again circled the car and wrote: “Brown roadster on mountain road
running southeast from Adler. Hold the driver. Roadster now headed
toward Adler. Will keep you advised as to its location. Bruce.” He
handed this note back to Earl.

The forester took the note and read it. He nodded his O. K. and Bill
headed the plane toward Adler. If the foresters on the ground were at
Adler, everything would be fine, but if they had gone up the mountain
toward Elam, things might not work out so well. Just then Bill turned
around and saw the firebug climb into his car and start down the
mountain road.

Adler came into view after a few minutes’ flying. It was a small
village, and standing in the middle of the street was an automobile.
Bill flew low over the scattered houses and caught a glimpse of
several men standing by the car. These men stretched out a white sheet
on the ground. There was no doubt now but that they were the
foresters. Bill made a quick turn and dropped back right over the car.

When they had almost reached a point over the car, Earl stood up in
the cockpit and threw a message overboard. He had tied a piece of
cloth and a stone to the message. The stone tended to make it drop
straight downward and the streamer to make it visible from the ground.
Earl, however, had misjudged the speed of the plane and the message
dropped onto the roof of a nearby house.

Bill was almost frantic. Suppose that the firebug should run through
the town while the foresters were climbing up to the roof to get that
message. Something must be done at once. Bill made another circle and
Earl tapped him on the back. Simmons was writing another message. When
the message was completed, Bill made another dip over the car. As he
passed, he saw a man on the roof of the house searching for the first
message. The second one dropped at the feet of the men by the auto.
While making a circle to see if they understood, Bill saw the other
men jump into their car and start off toward the mountain road,
leaving one of their number still on the roof of the house.

Bill headed his plane for the nearest point on that mountain road. He
caught a glimpse of the brown roadster turning off the road into what
seemed to be a deserted homestead. Bill then made wide circles around
the deserted buildings so as to give the impression that he had not
seen the firebug turn off the road.

The firebug stopped his car and ran around the first building, which
appeared to be an old barn. He then disappeared from view on the other
side. There was no way now of telling where he had gone. He might be
in the old barn or he might have gone into the underbrush beyond. Bill
continued his wide circles and wrote another message to the pursuers
on the ground. It read: “Search abandoned homestead over which I will
circle. Bruce.”

Earl received this message and, after reading it, nodded his approval.
Bill continued his circling so that he could watch both the road and
the building. The foresters’ car came into view, tearing up the
mountain road. Bill flew low to attract its attention and then, when
it had stopped, Earl again demonstrated his ability as an aerial
marksman by dropping the weighted message into the edge of the woods
alongside the car. Bill did not wait to see if they picked it up, for
he did not want to lose track of that brown roadster.

He circled around over the old homestead. The car was still there, but
there was no sign of the firebug. He might by this time be in any one
of the three buildings or be in the woods a good distance away. Bill
tried to catch a glimpse of anything moving under the thick trees, but
came to the conclusion that if he did, it would be by the merest
chance.

The foresters came up the road and stopped at the entrance to the
deserted clearing. Four men jumped from the car and started toward the
brown car. One of them stayed by the roadster while the others began a
search of the buildings. I saw one of them enter the old barn and
wondered if the firebug was armed. If he was and started shooting, he
might get away before the foresters could surround him.

The time passed mighty slowly for Earl and Bill as they watched the
developments from their aerial grand-stand seats. Neither one could
get any idea of what was happening on the ground. The only one of the
foresters whom they could see was doing something to the roadster,
just what, neither one could make out. The others were still in the
buildings. Both Earl and Bill were eager to be of some active
assistance, but realized that it was impossible.

Just then they saw two of the foresters run toward the old barn.
Evidently things were coming to a climax. The man by the car stopped
his work and watched the old building. A cloud of smoke shot out of
the roof of the barn. The firebug was true to form even when cornered:
he had set fire to the old barn as a last resort. He hoped to escape
under cover of the smoke and excitement when the fire started burning.

His ruse failed, for in a few minutes Bill saw four men emerge from
the rapidly burning building. As they came out into the open some
distance from the burning building, they stopped to make their captive
fast to a nearby log and then the foresters returned to prevent the
spread of the fire from the burning building.

Bill flew low over the tree tops. He wanted to get a look at this
demon who had deliberately fired the woods. As he flashed by, the
firebug raised his head and shook his fist at the plane. One glimpse
was sufficient for Bill to establish the identity of this criminal.
His old enemy, Andre, was again in the hands of the law. The forest
fire season in Oregon was over.





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