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The Trailblazers

John Haapala

By
William S. Peterson

Hap started his life's work as a "gypo bushelman" in the coastal fir forest around Eureka, California. In the days before 1929 it was common practice for a contract logger to make $100 a day using a hand saw on piece work. The great depression almost had the lumber industry on its knees when Hap joined Carl Nissi's field survey party at Hayford in September 1932. He verified the shortage of bathtubs in hayfork in the early thirties.

Starting out as a rear chainman for head chainman Jim Taylor, Hap made the rounds as a typical surveyor; Lassen Park with Jim Cassell; Yosemite with Tom Roach and Bike McCain, a spell with Fred Johnson; Truckee, Western Divide, Santa Maria and Pacific House with Shorty Shubert, then on to the Yukon survey in 1942.

On December 7, 1941, Hap and Shorty Shubert were working at pacific House, California. Radio news came on that the Japanese had attacked Pearl harbor and they thought that San Francisco was being invaded. After about 3 hours they managed to contact Levant Brown at home in Kentfield near San Francisco who advised them to sit tight and finish the job.

In 1943 Hap was assigned as resident engineer on construction on the Yukon-Haines cut-off on the Alaska Highway. Del Early had the job just northerly. In 1944 it was back to surveys on the Klamath River in California. This was Hap's native environment where he felt most at home. As a woodsman he was second to none.

In September 1945 Hap was assigned as Assistant Resident to Forest Hall. 1945 was the year of Yukon Fever which was cleared up for John Haapala, Bob Nowell, Jim Hicks and Jim Taylor, as all gave up their bachelorhood status.

Typically a crisis occurred and Hap was recalled from his honeymoon to work on a project from Nevada City to Downieville. After 2 years as construction resident engineer and surveyor he was assigned to Lance Bartell at Bass Lake and then on the first five miles on the south end of the Minaret Pass Road.

In 1948 it was back to Alaska - Anchorage and Palmer - until December 1950. Howard Christenson came up in 1951 as a replacement for hap. Then it was back to surveying at Hayfork, California.

Next move was on survey and reconnaissance with Bartell. Headquarters was now Henry Gunderson's beautiful health and rest camp at Willow Creek. The exotic name of Enchanted Springs barely did it justice. Bill Oliver was one of the principal builders of the camp. There were 3 cabins for bunk houses, heated with butane, an office, hot and cold running water in the showers and acres of fir trees. A small trailer court was also provided for the maintenance crew.

A brief mention of the maintenance crew. There were flagmen Shorty Barrett and Salmon River Indian Bill Bennett, Lendon Drone, the shovel operator, and Tex Lubonovich. All of these men were first class workers and enjoyed living in the camp.

Social life consisted of a weekly move at Salyer, Gambis Restaurant and bar, the Purple Eye (bar) famous for Saturday night fights, and Forks Bar. There was also a small bowling alley that burned down. There was no liquor sold at the big Indian settlement at Hoopa so Willow Creek was jumping on Saturday night. If you intended to stay at the Purple Eye until closing you had to be ready to fight. After closing, everyone drive home which was a good sobriety test as the incapacitated drivers drive off the full bench road into the river.

Pete Gambis' wife specialized in Italian food and without a doubt put out the best food on both the trinity and Klamath Rivers.

The Willow Creek and Salmon River surveys were both on at the same time and Dwight Hodgens, now in Guam, looked after the Salmon River job. This country was still as primitive as when the Bureau first worked the Klamath in 1916. On completion of the Willow Creek work Hap moved on up the Klamath to Witchipec and Adorni Flat. Enchanted Springs was torn down in December 1957 by Bill Peterson, assisted by the maintenance crew, and three buildings were hauled to Adorni Flat.

In 1955 Eric Erhart left for the Washington Office and left Lance Bartell in charge of the FHPD location with Haapala as his first assistant. For the next 15 years Hap spent his time locating all over California, Nevada and Hawaii. Bob Krull worked the Kelch on aerial photography and later was in charge of all flight contracts and ground control.

After Bartell retired Hap was appointed Chief Locator until he retired. Not bred to city life Hap finally returned to his native hunting and fishing on the north California coast at Fortuna.

No wilderness story would be complete without a bear story or two. One of the resident engineers named Jensen, who retired from Denver, was out in the Yukon hunting moose. Jensen, stumbling on a big grizzly bear, apparently startled the bear and was attacked. Jensen got off one shot, backed up and fell down. The bear came over the top, bit through his hand, chewed up his buttocks and his scalp over the ear. After passing out Jensen revived and crawled back to camp where Haapala gave him emergency first-aid and got him to a doctor.

Grizzly bears are mean and not much afraid of man. Probably due to their large size they are almost always hungry and looking for an easy meal, as are the smaller black bears. At one campsite the black bears were frequently in the camp garbage dump at night. A big grizzly also moved in, and disrupting the black bears, caused an undue amount of screaming by the smaller bears. As this ruckus was repeated nightly, the crew in nearby log cabins began to get edgy so Hap was volunteered to help get the bears settled. Hap, with another crew member, drove a truck up near the dump and sat waiting with a rifle. About 11 p.m., the bears started screaming - - the crewman turned on the lights and on came a big straw-yellow grizzly. Hap's partner got buck fever and couldn't shoot. Hap opened the swing-out window windshield, grabbed the rifle, shot off the hood, and dropped the grizzly in the headlights.

The next day the crew towed the bear into camp, an 800 pounder with claws as long as a man's finger. The crew kept the claws and teeth for souvenirs.

Hap reported only one significant Indian encounter. It was reported that the Indians set the horses and pack animals loose and the crew had to hike out of the wilderness on foot.

Hap also confesses to being lost once with Eric Erhart on location reconnaissance in the Klamath wilderness. About dark a storm came up so they took refuge in the trunk of a big burned out tree. When the night passed they crawled out and found they were only a short distance from the crew's campsite.

At this point it is probably fitting for another bear story. Tioga is high country abounding in wild bears, hungry that is, since there isn't much natural food. Every night the bears would raid the garbage dump and snort around in camp. After awhile the crew got a little uptight and someone planed a way to get at the bears. A large slingshot was rigged up with an old car tire inner tube and charged with rocks. A bear was chased up a tree using a barrage of rocks. While the bear was climbing the tree, an old crosscut saw with the teeth up was wrapped around the bottom of the trunk and tied together. The crew then retreated and the bear proceeded to back down the tree. When he backed into the saw teeth the bear was rather startled and ran back up the tree.

The following records were condensed from the personal writings of Arthur E. Grissom. Art has documented the greater part of his career with the exceptions of military service in World War II and a period in Federal-aid Administration in the San Francisco Office.

The writings are significant as they closely parallel many similar events in the lives of others, and the associations with BPA personnel are entwined in a historical record. Art's observations are down to earth and contain a very fine sharpened sense of humor.

In closing, Art will always be remembered as the easiest person I have ever worked with.


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Updated: 10/16/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000