A couple of months ago my husband, Bruce, and I bought a new-to-us camper, the cabover style, from some folks out near Lake Crescent.  B. had been researching them and following the market on Craig’s List for a year or two and this was his ideal: the smallest, lightest 2004 Lance Lite.  After towing our 24’ travel trailer to Utah and back for six or eight years running he yearned for the simpler, more agile camper we had owned in our younger days: a 1960 Chinook complete with interior birch paneling, a too-small-for-two upper bunk and a convertible dinette-to-bed lower bunk, an ice box, a gas stove complete with oven, a wiggle pump, a balky furnace, and no bathroom. 

The 1960 Chinook, our first cabover camper.

The Chinook cost $350 and served us well, taking us all over Washington state from mid-80’s through our move up here in 2002 – back in the days when one could simply set off on a camping trip without reservations, and poke around in the North Cascades, the Okanogan, the Scablands from the ancient Lake Missoula Floods, a bit of the Rockies in our northeast corner, the Palouse, Crow Butte (an island in the Columbia), Horse Heaven Hills and the orchard country around Lake Chelan. We got around.

It was time for a shake-down cruise and, when the weather turned iffy, we chose to stay in rainshadow country.  From our window we can see the northeast flank of the Olympics, complete with the interesting complex of foothills centered by Crybaby Mountain.  The ridge that runs west from Crybaby has been logged in the fairly recent past but in some current protocol of timber harvest there are four big stands of second-growth trees preserved along the ridge.  To my eye they look like medieval fortresses standing guard. The last of these fortresses marks Blyn Repeater Station, a hundred-foot tower supporting five huge drums which somehow catch, strengthen, and send on radio signals.  There is a small concrete slab building at its base and a few more sheds plus two tall antennae guyed out down the hill.

The Blyn fire lookout tower in the 1930’s. (courtesy Eric Willhite, willhiteweb.com)

This was also the site of the Blyn Lookout back in the 1930’s and 40’s when young men would live in solitary splendor in their cabin-like aeries with windows all around, watching the forests that rolled out below them for signs of fire and operating their Osbourne Fire Finders which could pinpoint coordinates of any smoke they saw.  They could then report, via the skinny single telephone wire that ran down the trail, to Headquarters.

The concrete pylons that supported the lookout are still there, along with a few other ruins of a cabin and outhouse, lying within the “fortress” stand of trees from that era left, perhaps, to make another start on old-growth height and girth in the someday future.  There are clear-cuts to the north, east, and west with views down Discovery Bay, part of Hood Canal, and into the deeper big mountains.  The clear-cuts are the foreground landscape with a sea of small headed flowering plants and fireweed, all dried to a silvery-pink this time of year.

When we made it to the top of the bumpy dirt road and pulled into a big bull-dozed turnaround we saw an SUV attached to a long trailer backed up to the door of the concrete slab building and the sounds of sledge hammers at work.  We got out for a look around and introduced ourselves to the two stevedors who were removing 250-pound leaking batteries and loading them onto the heavy-duty trailer.  One was a beefy man in his seventies with a full head of white hair and a Texas accent, and his assistant, at the other end of life, a small but strong 22-year-old.  These two travel the US, working on big utility systems urban and rural.  Texas was an intelligent, much experienced, man-of-the-world who had trained dolphins to deliver bombs, found himself in charge of a nuclear weapons stash in Vietnam, and suffered a brain bleed when lifting a 350-pound battery.  His stories wove back and forth over the ragged fence line between true adventure and braggadocio.

We left them to their work and settled our rig up on a knoll overlooking the action, and rolled out our awning and camp chairs.  The day was gloriously sunny and blue, with a gang of turkey vultures periodically wheeling as black silhouettes overhead with their characteristic wobbly flight – like kids on new bikes.  Soon we were joined by a classic three-some in a pick-up truck: a young man driving, his blonde girlfriend in the middle and his buddy riding shotgun.  The truck swooped in to the dusty turn-around, the doors flew open, the driver emerged, strode to the tower and jumped a basketballers’ spring-loaded jump to snatch the lowest rung of the ladder welded to the supporting structure and shot up, hand over hand at a good clip, the buddy shouting encouragement “You’re an idiot!” etc, while the girlfriend feigned boredom as she strode around the lot in her slash-kneed jeans.  He got to the top, descended just as speedily and they were gone as quickly as they had arrived.

The afternoon was growing late, a few mosquitos appeared and we strolled down for another chat with Texas as he adjusted the load on the trailer, which he had designed and built. He told us the load was now up to 7,000 pounds and he was considering the trip down the mountain and decided to hook-up the trailer brakes, after all.  This involved an hour or more of lying under it, manipulating wires and periodically spraying himself down with mosquito repellent.  His helper did paperwork.  Finally, as twilight was on us, they climbed aboard, waved a cheery good-by, and disappeared around the descending mountain curve.

We enjoyed an easy dinner of left-overs in the peace, quiet and star-lit night, and slept soundly.


Top Photo: Our “new” cabover camper.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds like so much fun! You know those knee slashed jeans you describe cost more at Nordstrom than some suits.

  2. Great story, Ann! We miss our little truck camper and have been talking “forever” about getting another one and selling our 18-foot travel trailer (which, like yours, has made a few long but enjoyable trips). The type of off-highway adventure you describe here is what we enjoy(ed) most, of all our travels.

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