The oral history of Joie Poulsen (Daughter of Bernice George), recorded by her son Paul Poulsen in 2015.
Joie (George) Poulsen first went to Red Feather when she was 10 or 12 in the early 40’s. Bonnie and Hugh Drake (Jean Drake and Bud Drake) knew Bernice George (Joie’s mother) through their Episcopal church in Greeley. The Drakes had been in Red Feather for years (maybe they were from Nebraska).
Otto George (Joie’s father) died in ‘42 in the war and then Bernice moved with their children Joie and Dick to Colorado in ‘43. She bought a 2 story plus basement house in Greeley. She planned to take in female college student boarders. But the girls were noisy, clogged the toilets with feminine products, and had too much drama. She had more success with male boarders and ended up with as many as five boarders. They played cards and Bernice cooked for them. They were a good influence on Dick and Joie. Dick was three years younger than Joie. The tenants helped with Bernice’s car and other chores. The men were from farm country in Nebraska and like to play cards, eat popcorn, and socialize. 1529 11th avenue was the address, right across the street from the hospital. The kids would climb up on the roof of the garage and look into the operating room but all they could see was the caps of the doctors.
Polio was rampant and Bernice wanted the kids out of public areas. Bernice hired with the forest service to be the lookout on Deadman Tower. They would leave as soon as school was out and head for the tower. The first year they stayed with the Drakes.
The first night they were on the tower there was a bad storm and blew the shudders loose on the tower. The shudders were covering the windows and bolted down. They made such a racket that Bernice was worried the glass would break so she decided to go down. She tied the kids and the dog Pansy together and they crawled down from the tower. They had to drive around several downed trees and animals that were in shock from the storm.
They stayed at the ranger station for almost a week while the road was cleared and they assessed the damage on the tower. The shudders had various degrees of damage but the glass was not broken. They talked to the ranger station with an old telephone line that they had to wind the handle. The phone would go down quite a bit due to downed trees so they eventually used radio. They went back up to the tower after everything was cleared.
Bernice could recognize fires quickly even if they weren’t putting off a lot of smoke. There would be a blue haze hanging in the trees. There were other towers in Wyoming and Bernice knew all of the women who worked those towers.
Every now and then they could see a car coming over trail ridge road near Estes Park. The other rangers were skeptical but soon learned to trust Bernice’s word.
If you had to pee at night on the tower the women used a 3 lb. coffee can and the men peed off the tower (sometimes the wind blowing it back in their direction). There were always a lot of tourists checking out the woman on the tower with her two kids. It was 17 miles from Red Feather to the tower.
Every now and then Joie and Dick would hike over to nearby ridges and wave white flags so that Bernice would see them. Dick would hike down the stream to fish by the prison camp. Bernice was on duty from about 8 or 9AM to 5PM. If there was a fire or anything going on she would work 24 hours a day. Bernice was a good fit for the tower because she had the kids to keep her busy. The single men that tried to work the tower got bored and would not pay attention.
The CCC built the tower.
The ranchers would run the herds up in the spring and graze for the summer. Every now and then a bear or other animal would mess with the heard. Morris was an old cowboy that stayed up there to keep the animals from bolting and stampeding. He had a dog named General MacArthur. He and Dick became good friends and they set up a hitch at the bottom of the tower. He talked Bernice into getting a horse for Dick (second or third year) to ride (he had been letting Dick ride his horse). There was no corral or any food for a horse so they created a small pen. Bernice took Dick to the dude ranch to get a horse and Dick rode the horse back to the tower. It took him a full day and he got to the tower after dark. Morris married a woman named Velma in his later years.
Joie was working on her girl scout badges looking at the trees and flowers.
The dude ranch (Herb and Minnie Ford) was about 10 miles east of Red Feather (and a little North). Dick had a great time taking care of the horse. They would have square dances at the dude ranch and Bernice, Joie, and Dick would attend if possible.
Bernice would invite the men up to the tower for a meal.
Jack was a timber sales rep that also had a cabin up there (graduate from Ft. Collins). Jack’s cabin was about 3 or four miles from the tower down the telephone line.
All of the tables and cupboards in the tower were low so you could still look for fires while people were there.
The first tower was a wood tower. The space was about 10 ft. by 10 ft. Dick slept on a cot and Bernice and Joie slept on a double bed. There was an alidade in the middle of the floor that was used to locate fires. Bernice became very skilled at identifying fires.
There was a POW camp that had German soldiers during WW2. They worked for the forest service or any other work that was needed. They were not violent people and they liked to bake and the food would make it to the tower.
Dick was 6 or 7 and Joie was 10 or 11.
The forest serviced finished a small log cabin at the bottom of the tower that Dick and Joie started to sleep there. It was easier.
After Joie and Dick left for school or other things Bernice purchased a cabin.
The wood tower was getting too expensive to maintain so they built a metal tower in the early 60’s. Bernice worked the metal tower also. Eventually the forest service determined it was too expensive to have a person work on the tower.
Someone (Chunk McCall) told Ray Poulsen that he should go to the tower. Ray ran the cat equipment to clean out the irrigation ditches. He would stay at the ditch cabin during the summer from college. Cub came up with Ray Senior to visit Ray and Chunk and Cub told Punk that he better go up on the tower because there was a girl up there. Then Ray went up and met Joie in the summer of 1950 and they were married in 1952. Ray was attending the School of Mines. He was well thought of by people in the area and valedictorian of his high school class. Ray and Bernice liked to play cards so Ray would come to the tower a lot.
Ray and Joie would go to the drive-in theater in Laramie. This was a long drive (60 miles). One night they forgot about a hairpin curve in the road and they went straight. They shot out in the field and stirred up a pile of dust and wiped out some crops but somehow missed the rocks and trees.
During lightning storms on the tower they would sit on chairs that had insulators on the legs.
Joie worked two days on the tower and Bernice worked the other five.
The forest service had the squirrel club that would give the kids cards if they climbed the tower. Bernice reminded every person how to make sure their camp fires were out- by putting your hands in the coals to make sure they were cold.
People were amazed to find a woman and two kids on the tower. But it was war time and people were filling in at different jobs.
Bernice would hike down to a spring every morning with her thermos to get fresh water and her daily exercise. Otherwise she was sitting in the tower all day and she did not get a lot of exercise.