The highest and most difficult to reach stations were summer only stations, occupied as weather permitted between April 1 and December 1. The stations that would be year round were given improvements to winterize them. For example, 1/2 inch thick insulating material would be nailed to the roof sheathing. On the side walls below the windows, building paper was added, then sheathed 1/4 thick reject fir plywood was placed. For the windows, a glazed sash for the upper half of the windows was secured. Malthoid paper was recommended for the floor covering protecting the floor from tracked-in snow and water, and making the floor warmer. Stoves were added if they didn't have one, even a 7x7 tower type cab would get a stove with an improvised stack. Shutters were completely removed as heavy snow would destroy them. Heat in the lookout would build icicles which had to be removed with a stick daily. Stairs and handrails leading to the tower cabs were salted and shoveled daily. Toboggans for hauling supplies, wood, snowshoes or skis were provided for each observer. Even a small supply of gear was cashed outside each lookout as an added safety precaution in case the house should burn down. Towers over 40 feet high were not recommended for use as they were noisy in moderate to strong winds and climbing up to the cab was hazardous. Ground houses were to be used instead.
AWS relates to fire lookouts. It became apparent I would need to understand the AWS program and locate all the stations, in order to ensure I would not miss something in my quest to visit all fire lookouts in the Cascades and Olympics. A huge benifit doing this were the many historical nuggets of information found about dozens of fire lookouts. Over time, I will add all information learned to the specific lookout pages of sites used for AWS during WWII.
In the early summer of 1942, the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) program was initiated under the direction of the U.S. Army when the county was in eminent danger of attack from Japanese forces. The AWS started with mostly city and town posts manned by volunteers under the Civil Defense Agency. The program would get enlarged by August of 1942 to include forest fire lookouts being activated as temporary Aircraft Warning Observation Posts. The U.S. Forest Service became the coordinating agency for the AWS in National Forests, National Parks, Indian Reservations, State Lands and Private Forests. But there wasn't always a fire lookout available in the locations needed for a observation post. The Forest Service was asked to develop observation posts in these regions and money was allocated for this. Usually a sleeping cabin was built, sometimes a converted garage was buit, other times it was a new lookout tower or even just a tent camp placed. Most all these rural positions were paid as finding persons to man them was very difficult.
Observers were required to report all planes seen or heard twenty-four hours a day. They would then report Army Flash messages (plane sightings) by telephone or radio. Information pertaining to the number and type of planes, the altitude and flight direction were all given. The army wanted a double line along the Pacific front close enough together so that each station would only be required to observe from 2.5 to 3 miles (so 6 miles). One reason for expanding to fire lookouts was the concern about smoke hazes in summer making visibility extremely poor for the lower observation posts. Using lookout stations, guard stations and in some cases ranger stations would "fill in the gaps". Originally, the fire lookout posts were only expected to report airplane flights during daylight hours, when Fire Control personnel is normally on duty. Originally, this was thought it would be a "strictly voluntary contribution and no additional employees were planned." Well, in a short time, it became a day and night duty and one or two additional paid observers were posted at most of the remote observation sites. Keeping an AWS post supplied with food and fuel was difficult, and keeping communications working (especially in winter) was even harder. If a station failed to report a plane, the Army called it a miss. If you got two misses, someone from the Army would come out and visit with you to find out why.
Most of the observation posts were managed by the Army and Forest Service but an additional defensive line was being managed by the U.S. Coast Guard along the coast. The Coast Guard was already busy defending and patrolling the Washington coast with beach patrols and lookout points but they also assisted with the Aircraft Warning Service. Some of their AWS posts were located on Tatoosh Island, Cape Alava, Quillayute River, Kalaloch, Whale River and Destruction Island. Most of these posts are not listed on this page since few records were found about these beach patrols and shelters.
All the reports of plane sightings went to a Filter Center where all flights were being followed in a map room. These 4 highly confidential filter center locations were in Bellingham, Seattle, Olympia and Port Angeles. All the lookouts needed to be connected to a commercial switchboard but many remote locations were radio only. Some posts got new phone lines built to them while a few had to relay communications over a radio, which wasn't preferred.
Selection of Observers
"I should like to take this opportunity to suggest that as replacements are made, that husband and wife, or two men well beyond their teens be considered for observers. This is not a criticism of the performance of any of the young lads at the observation posts, but I do believe older man or husband and wife will prove to be more stable and satisfied with their lot. The various wardens will make their jobs easier if they can put men or women in the stations who will be apt to remain for a while. This will also simplify the job of supervision and inspection."
I, the undersigned, being employed in the Aircraft Warning Service of the Army, pledge my full cooperation in any duty assigned me. I will faithfully discharge such duty to the best of my ability, placing myself voluntarily under such orders, rules and regulations as the service demands during the period of my employment. I pledge myself to guard closely from all except duly authorized persons, divulging to no one, not even to my closest relatives, any information of a military nature which I may acquire as a result of such service. I further pledge my allegiance to the American Flag and the Government for which it stands and certify that I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of an organization inimical to the Government of the United States of America, so help me God.
The 14 x 32 house type building is the standard Forest Service 2-room portable scaler's dwelling. The 12 x 20 garage type building is a standard Forest Service garage of this dimension connected temporarily for living quarters.
July 1942: Office of Civilian Defense establishes the "Forest Fire Fighters Service" to safeguard forest lands and other timber facilities, as well as cooperate with private and state forest agencies. "The insignia will be on an arm band only to be warn for those whose fire control duties will require them to travel patrolled roads and highways and should be worn only during periods of blackout, care being used to protect them at other times from coming into unauthorized hands." Cars equipped with dimout lights, marked with the insignia, and driven by a driver wearing the arm band should be permitted to travel the highways during periods of blackout.
This page has the stations managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The list is as best as I can tell accurate from the information gathered from the hundreds of documents available at the Seattle National Archives. Many other civilian observation posts existed as well, managed by the Civil Defense Agency. The U.S. Coast Guard under the Navy also had a defense system along the coast. Errors will be corrected when found.
16 new lookouts constructed, 12 lookouts repaired. "The vast majority of the lookouts were erected for military purposed and the cost was borne by an emergency appropriation expended through the U.S. Forest Service and the State Department. Details as to location cannot be given here." (35th Annual Report of the Washington Forest Fire Association)
Sawmill Ridge AWS site - the winter location for Colquhoun Lookout
O'Took Prairie (I think) - Southwest of Lake Quinault
Getting to the Sawmill Ridge AWS site in winter
Baker AWS observation site - located a few miles inland from Point Granville on the Pacific Coast
Mt. Zion - Feb. 1943 during AWS - Photo by Hugh H. Hanson the lookout