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where it all started Olympic National Forest officer in 1927 riding with pack horse; photo by F. W. Cleator (National Archives)

By Guy Zoellner Spotted Bear Ranger District, Montana

orsepower. The term oozes petroleum, big diesel pickups, Harley’s, and cut-off flannel shirts in the garage. In an age where television is riddled with ads for vehi- cles boasting “the most” and “the strongest,” we often forget where it all 


By definition, horsepower is what it takes to lift 33,000 lbs one foot in height over the course of one minute. A healthy human can sustainably pro- duce approximately one tenth of one hp, not very much by any standard when the big trucks on television tout 300-500 horsepower.

Now contrast that to designated

Wilderness areas where motors are no longer allowed and the options for accomplishing work and moving equipment are limited to either human power or horsepower. Moving downfall off the trail, dig-

ging new tread, and building turn- pikes are examples of work that must be done without the assistance of motors. In order to accomplish many of these tasks, backcountry managers use horses and mules. While livestock can’t pull a crosscut or swing an axe, they can provide the needed torque to move heavy objects around in the backcountry.

The majority of the gear necessary to work and recreate in the Wilderness

36 FALL 2016

Forest rangers in 1967 packing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness; photo by G. R. Wolstad (National Archives)

is packed in on the backs of horses and mules. However, what most peo- ple don’t see is the work that was done and still continues to occur using mule teams to drag and skid objects.

In the early 20th century the

Forest Service used draft stock to aid in the construction of numerous air- strips within the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The logs necessary to build the cabins were harvested from

nearby stands of timber, but inevita- bly found their way to the site behind a mule. The folks building the cabins even used the teams of stock to help pull the logs onto the cabin walls. There are spots miles from the

current cabin locations where a per- son can still see evidence of shake mills that supplied the rooftop shakes for the cabins. These shakes were skidded, split, and then packed to the various cabins all thanks to mules.

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