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    Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

    Fire Lookout Towers

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman
    Long before the Texas Forest Service started using airplanes to spot forest fires, men climbed to the highest pine tree they could find, preferably one sitting atop a hill.

    Fire spotting trees were seldom effective, especially when winds swayed the pines, causing some spotters to become sick.

    So the Forest Service began building metal lookout towers at strategic locations in the forests. Fire spotters then had to climb long stairways before they reached cabs at the top of each towers.
    Fire Lookout Tower
    Fire Lookout Tower
    TE photo, 2009
    The towers were more effective, but teenagers on a lark were prone to climb the towers, too. Some threw items on cars traveling on nearby roads.

    Next, the Forest Service turned to an even better way to spot fires--by airplanes which could fly higher, go anywhere the pilot pleased, and had mobile connections with ground forces who could move faster to fire sites.

    Today, the planes are still flying--and some of the old lookout towers are still standing, but are rarely used. Mostly, they’re relics of another era and one has become a part of the Texas Forest Museum at Lufkin, surrounded by a logging train and other memorabilia from sawmills and logging camps.

    The 100-foot tower at Lufkin has also been altered to prevent access by would-be climbers, but a lookout cab once used on another tower is displayed inside the Museum’s main building.

    Towers such as the one at Lufkin were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 and used from the thirties until they were phased out in the l970s.

    The Lufkin tower, which was moved from its site near Conroe in 1976, is part of an array of early equipment used by the forest products industry, including a 1908 locomotive and tender, a 1902 caboose made by the Angelina & Neches River Railroad, a steam log-loader which could pivot on its railroad car, a 1946 log truck, a 1950s road grader, a railroad depot from Camden in Polk County, and a derrick car used by a railroad to handle bridge timbers.
    Lover's Leap Lookout Tower in Jacksonville
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2005
    Some lookout towers can still be found throughout East Texas, such as near Bethany on the Texas-Louisiana line, near Mount Enterprise in Rusk County, at Love’s Lookout north of Jacksonville, and beside U.S. 69 at Central north of Lufkin.

    Bob Bowman's East Texas
    February 28, 2010 Column, Updated December 6, 2012
    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers

    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 40 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
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    The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Vol. I
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