James McConnell

Interviewee: James McConnell
Interviewers: Ally Gonzalez and Clare Harp
Interview Date: November 14, 2012
Location: McConnell Residence, Lilburn, Georgia
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Clare:  Okay, this is Clare Harp and Ally Gonzalez and it is November 14th (2012) and we are here at Jim (James) McConnell’s house and his wife is with us.  So we are just going to do an interview and ask him some questions.  So tell us, first of all, tell us a little bit about your first job in Louisiana.  This is your first job in the Forest Service.

JM:  Okay, the first job was on the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.  I lived in a real small town called Pollock.  Pollock, Louisiana.  And the job, the work center was about ten miles outside of town and I lived in Pollock with a big ol’ house run by two old ladies, Miss Maddy and Miss Molly.  Miss Molly and Miss Maddy.  They were twins and they were about 80 years old and they had lived there all their lives.  One of them, and I can’t remember which one, had been married to a fellow that worked for Weyerhaeuser Company and had been all over the world with them.  Cause they owned the lands and I think she lived in Brazil, or somewhere in South America, for a while.  But anyway..  I lived there.  They had a big house; upstairs four rooms and they rented them out to me and another forester that worked for the Forest Service that wasn’t married.  He had just come down from Minnesota or somewhere, name of Don Peterson.  And we’d go back and forth to work together but we found out right away that that wasn’t gonna work because we worked different hours.  And that he was assistant ranger and I was just a junior forester which meant I was just doing whatever nobody else wanted to do and basically running a crew of men that were working in the woods girdling scrub oak trees so the pine trees could grow instead of scrub oak.  And it was very labor intensive and it was very old fashioned, but that’s the way it was.  Back in those days you left from the work center.  You had to be there and ready to go at 7 o clock in the morning, but if the job was out in the woods and you had to travel to it, you had to give the first 30 minutes of travel time for nothing.  And if it went over 30 minutes getting there, then the government would.. that was all right.  And the same thing in the evenings.  So that made for long days.  And then you had to drive all the way back into town.  Course I had all my meals at a restaurant, things like that.  But the job was, uh.. taught me a lot.  I just listened to those old men talk about their life in the woods, cause that’s all they did was worked in the woods most of them all their lives, or had been farmers or something.  And the job was seasonal.  I’m trying to think of what they called that.  WAE: When Actually Employed.  And most of them we were limited, we could only work them like 180 days a year.  Then the government rule was if you needed them more than that, you had to hire them full time.  Well we needed them only part time and so they would work for us usually in the summertime.  And in the wintertime they would go back to doing whatever they could get to live off of, to do out there.  But you just learned a lot from listening to them and you learned how to work.  It’s kind of like being the second lieutenant in the army.  You were in charge of guys with a whole lot more experience than you and twice your age and old enough to be your father, but you were the boss.  So you had to learn what to do and make the decisions and make sure that everything went okay because you were going to get the blame if anything didn’t work out. [Laughs]

Clare: So what exactly got you interested in this?  Like what made you decide that you wanted to work in the Forest Service?

JM:  Alright, then I gotta back up and go back.. When I first went to school, when I first went to LSU, back in those days in Louisiana, any student that graduated from a high school in Louisiana was entitled to be furtherly educated in the secondary system if you could find a place and if you could work hard enough to stay there.  And so I got accepted by LSU and I went up there not knowing really what I wanted to do.  But my dad and mother had decided that being an engineer was pretty good of some kind.  And so come the day to register I went around I was looking around at all the classes that engineering had to take to go through different kinds of mechanical or civil or whatever.  And I said “you know, I can’t handle this stuff, what the hell are these things about” and so I got to wandering around and I came across this thing that said forestry in the department of agriculture.  Well my grandfathers had all been farmers and I had grown up thinking farming was a pretty good way to live or was kind of in my blood.  And I even had some books that I had gotten and read about chickens and this that or the other and we had to raise chickens for a while in a little plot there in New Orleans where I grew up and we finally had to get rid of them because it just wasn’t the place for chickens and stuff like that.  But anyway.. I enrolled in forestry and I thought that would be neat.  And I wrote a letter home, in those days you didn’t have telephones and you called your parents every day, you wrote a letter.  And I was supposed to write a letter once a week home to tell them what was going on.  And I wrote back and my mother almost fainted.  “Forestry? What has that child done?”  And my dad told me later that she really, she almost had a nervous breakdown thinking I was out of my mind and she went to see our pastor.  And she let her heart out to our pastor, Dr. Madden, and he rocked back in his chair and said “Mary, I did my undergraduate work in forestry before I went to the seminary.”  He put the pope’s blessing on me.  [Laughs] After that it was all alright.  Yeah, and I did.  It just fascinated me.  It was hard work and my degree is in forest management.  And of course you still had to go through dendrology and learn all those Latin names of trees and stuff like that and you had to look through the microscope and do all the wood work for… Learn the different kinds of wood and how to identify them.  It was not an easy course.  And then of course you had all the measurement trees and this, that, and the other so it’s pretty broad criteria there.  And I did real good, but I had to do Surveying in the engineering college because they taught it.  They taught Surveying, civil engineering did, and I aced it.  I just fell in love with surveying and I did real good, it was one of the few courses that I got all A’s in.  And I learned how to survey and from then on, it’s a good thing cause later on when I got inducted into the army they, for one thing the army did right.  They saw that I had had a surveying background and they made a surveyor out of me.  And I knew more about surveying than my instructors at the school the army sent me to.  And I wasn’t the only one.  There was about three of us in that class and we’d drive that guy, the sergeant, crazy.  But I went and became an artillery surveyor and went to Germany and spent 18 months, so I had a real good.. well not good time, but I had a good life in the army.  Because we were over there at the time when there wasn’t any shootin’ goin’ on, but we had our trigger on nuclear weapons at that time.  That was how the defense was gonna be, and it’s a good thing we never had to do it.  Then I came back and went back to work, to my second job.  Oh, going back to the first job, one of the things that I had to do was the Forest Service has what is called manuals and handbooks.  The manual set out the policy and the handbooks are the how to stuff.  So the district ranger, one of my training things was he gave me the manual and said “read it.”  “All of it??”  And that’s like reading the bible almost, I mean, you know, there’s this, I don’t know this.. Each region has those set of manuals and each forest has a set of manuals that you had..  But I sat there and I would read ‘em and then he would test me on it about once a week seeing if I could tell him what it meant and how to do it, I mean, stuff like that.  But that was my test.  He was a very good teacher.  Of course that was on my own time, that was what I read at night.  [Laughs] Or rainy days or something like that.

Ally:  Did everybody have to read the manual?

JM:  Did what?

Ally:  Did everybody have to read the manual?

JM:  I don’t know.  I guess so.  Not everybody that worked for us, no.  Just the ones that were going to go on and see into the administrative part of it.  The foresters, in other words, the ones that had been to college or the ones that had become rangers though their work experience or something.  But, and if, it depended upon a lot, it depended upon the job you had later because.. I mean, the economists and the bookkeepers and things like that didn’t have to read the manuals, other than that little part that pertained to them.  The engineers were the same way, they read the engineering part of the manual and didn’t read the forest part, the forestry part.  But later on the part, several of my job was to write the manual for different things, yeah.  And the handbook also.  That comes later on.  Oh and then when I came back from the army, I went to the Winn district which is also on the Kisatchie National Forest in the northern part.  And that was a very interesting district because it was run by a ranger, Ranger Tanahill, that had been there for years and years and years.  And he put.. he had a whole, in other words there were a bunch of trainees there.  But by the way, when I was in the army I got a promotion in grade just because I had been, had worked for him, started working for him.  And I had, I can’t even remember.. you had to work like two years before you could get to the new grade and I reached that two years in the army and I got a letter one day saying you’ve been promoted.  And I said “hey that’s good.”  I guess they wanted me back really, and so I did, I went back.  And so when I got to the Winn district I had a higher class job, but we still had to go back and supervise, the job there was he had about four young foresters and our job was to run the plantin’ crews in the winter time and then in the summer we were timber markers because they were sellin’ timber, a lot of timber at that time.  The oldest assistant ranger always had the job of writing the prescriptions.  He would go out and, the forest is broken up into compartments of about 2,000 acres each and they would, every ten years a compartment had to be surveyed, cruised and surveyed.  And if there was anything in it that was sellable he would write a prescription and say how we would do it, where we were going to.. the method we were gonna use to regenerate it or how were we gonna cut it or just gonna cut some of the trees or all of the trees and how, there’s a whole list of ways that you could do that.  And they would generally pick that out.  And then.. when our.. when they came up about three years later after the prescription was done, to actually do it we would go in there and read the prescription and see what they wanted to do and then do it.  Mark the trees with paint, we had little paint guns that we would go through.  And there was two of us, myself and another forester about my age, who by the way lived right up the road here so we got to know each other real good over the years.  They came to our wedding and things like that.  And another older man who was the tally man.  And we would mark a tree and say it had such a diameter and say how many logs it had in it and things like that and he would write that down of course.  And then they would put that up for sale about the next year.  And so that was a fun job because what it was was just walking in the woods all day.  And sometimes you had something to do there, I mean, or sometimes maybe you didn’t, you just had to go through it, but you had to go through and check it and be sure.  And that was just a wonderful job, it was a lot of work though, I mean out in the summertime.  But it was really interesting.  I remember looking up and seeing the ranger watching us do it one day, just two of us running a line through the woods there, marking the trees.  And at that time they were doing something that was awfully hard to do.  We were not clear cutting, in other words cutting all the trees at one time.  We were doing what they call all-age management and so you should have big trees, little trees, things like that that you were taking out.  And because, since that had been purchased lands, they were very un-uniform.  Sometimes you could do things, and it was awful hard to do that all-age management type thing because you had to have so much, if you’re gonna sell something you have to have so much per acre or they can’t afford to do it, they can’t afford to buy it and do it.  And so there’s a balance in there that you had to reach.  And often times the other forester and I would stand there and talk about “well, you know, what can we do here?”  And we would decide and then go ahead and try to do that.  And then other times it wasn’t just a bunch of trees in a row, it was big trees, little trees and all kinds of stuff.

Ally:  And you did that for a year?

JM:  That was a lot of fun.  What’d you say?

Ally:  You were there for a year doing that job?

JM:  I did that all one year, yeah.  And I didn’t stay there very long.. because I had to go back to the Catahoula district cause they were short of a forester.  And I was a.. at that time he had two assistant rangers; one was doing the prescriptions and stuff and then I was doing all the other stuff, planting trees and running errands with the ranger, which you think would be something easy, well sometimes it wasn’t.  And this, I put his name in there, Hugh Mobley, and by the way he lives over there in Alabama.  And he was a World War 2 veteran [Mrs. McConnell:  He’s probably dead now.] and so he had been around and he was a little guy, always getting in trouble and since I was helping him I was getting in trouble too.  [Laughs]

Clare:  You took some of the heat for it.

JM:  In fact, I got a.. I got flushed down a couple of times because of him by the supervisor.  And I said “well I’m doing what he told me!”

Ally:  What kind of errands did you have to run for him?

JM:  And at that time I was sitting there, I came in one day and there sat two guys in my room at the boarding house and they said “you’re working for me.”  One of them said “you’re working for me now.  I’ve talked to the ranger.”  And it was during this MR&T, this Mississippi River and Tributary survey.  And what that was the core of engineers had wanted, that had, was wanting to do some things there in the Atchafalaya Basin of Louisiana but they didn’t know what was there cause at the time all they had were aerial photographs but they had nobody that had been feet on the ground that had worked for them.  And so that was our job.  And I would get a bunch of maps that had little pin pricks on them and I’d put circles around those pin pricks and I …  What I had to do was get to ‘em, read the map, get to somewhere on the road where I could take a compass read, get out there, go to those places.  And take a cruise, do a cruise, in other words write down everything that was there, the trees that were there, how big were they, what kind of vegetation was there on the ground, what did the soil look like, was it wet, was it dry, was there anything else that they could.. they had a list of stuff that they wanted to know.  And then uh.. they would do what they call a tenth acre plot.  I’d carry a pole with me like over there (large walking stick in the corner, about 4 to 5 feet long) and stick it in the ground and then measure out from there in each direction and then I’d do everything within that.  And that was a lot of fun to begin with, it got to be kind of tiresome after a while, because it was hard work and you was by yourself, in those days you work by yourself.  But now they wouldn’t let one person go in the woods all day by themselves normally, unless they knew where they were.  Nobody ever knew where I was, except me, and sometimes I didn’t know.  (Laughs) (Mrs. McConnell: It wasn’t safe then)  And I got a picture of me standing there, somewhere, hip deep in water.  There’s another fellow and I then did work together for a week or two but most of the times I was just by myself.

Clare: What were some of the things that like you encountered?  Like other than, like you kind of mapped out the vegetation, were there any like, I don’t know, like undesirable like plants or any like trees that were, you know kind of like a nuisance or I mean, anything really that you had to..

Ally:  Problematic.

Clare: Yeah.

JM:  Well that was so varied.  I could tell you a snake story though.  [Laughter]

Clare:  Let’s hear it!  I want to hear it!

JM:  That was done generally in the winter time, because, and the reason was in the summer, the brush.. the forest is so thick sometimes you can’t see everything, you can’t hardly get through it, especially if you are by  yourself or you can’t see.  But in the winter you could do it, it’s more open, the leaves are all off the trees, but you had to identify the trees without leaves, so that was a little bit of fun.  And of course most of the time, I got to where I could tell just from the bark what they were but every now and then, I carried my little tree manuals, tree identification book with me in my pack and I’d have to get it out and scrape the bark or do something like look at the buds or do something real interesting to figure out what kind of tree they were.  Especially if it was an oak, what kind of oak?  There’s about 40 kinds of oaks.  And stuff like that.  And I’d run across trees that I’ve never seen before or since out there.  Spruce pine, which was a pine tree with a boot and they call it spruce pine because the bark looks like spruce trees.  And black oak, you hardly ever see a black oak anywhere.  Stuff like that, but getting back to the snake story.  It was wintertime and it was a pretty cool day.  It had been, I mean there was frost in the mornings.  And when you run a line with a compass you generally just take your compass out and you hold it up and you say well I’m going that direction.  Okay there’s a big tree out there, I’m going to go to that tree and then you put the compass back up and then you go that way.  And I had stopped on the edge of a, like a creek bed and I got my compass read and I put it back in there and I jumped off out in the creek bed and I landed down there and I started looking around me and I saw one, two, three, four, and it was a bunch of cotton mouth snakes all curled up there in the sunshine.  And honest to goodness, I cannot remember getting out of there.  I think I must have flew.  I think I must have just jumped up and flew.

Clare:  Cause those are pretty poisonous aren’t they?  I mean like you don’t want to get..

JM:  Well and they were sluggish..

Clare:  Right.  From the sun.

JM:  And I can remember, I have dreams every now and then, I can remember that big mouth like this, but it was just slow motion.  And uh yeah, but oh dear.  And I think I counted, I went back on the other side and I had looked down and counted 14 different snakes.

Clare:  Oh good gracious.

Ally:  Were you prepare.. Like did they prepare you for that?  Did you know that was like a possibility that you could encounter those things or..?

JM:  Well yeah.  At that time all I had was boots up to like here (knee).  But you could get snake proof pants

Ally:  Right.

JM:  Which are just a heavy canvas.  But and you can’t wear those in the summertime, if it’s cold yeah you can handle it.  But oh I was always stepping on snakes.  But uh, most of the time we would just go our way.  I wasn’t in the snake killing business.  I’d just leave them alone.

Clare:  Just mind your business..

JM:  Well I’d stepped in stump holes.  I got my foot in a hole, a stump hole one day and I hardly could get it out.  It was just a rotten, where a stump had been.  And I just went down to about my knee.  Fooled around and got my knife out and cut me, cut a hole, made it where I could get my foot out, and stuff like that.  But there were old wells cause a lot of those places had had old home places on them.  Every now and then you’d run into a headstone.  Or three of four headstones where somebody was buried and now nobody knew where they were and I couldn’t even tell you now, I mean go back to ‘em.  But a lot of times there were just old cemeteries out there in the woods.  Later on over when we worked in Mississippi there were old cemeteries and we would mark them on a map and the historical society would go out there and look at ‘em.

Clare:  So you’d have to report to them about it?

JM:  But this was on private land and I don’t think anybody has ever gone back to much, most of those.  They had gone off and left them.  Sometimes they were all different kinds.  Sometimes they were handmade, stuff like that, but anyway, that was an unsualty.  But you could tell old house places a lot of times because of the vegetation that was there.  If you see a group of walnut trees, the black walnut, old houses places had walnut.  Or if you find a ditch , like I found a ditch, or an old road of some kind going through that had grown up.  And had been old houses, or a well, or the rocks that held the houses up, the pile that kept them off the ground, before they had concrete blocks, stuff like that, yeah.  We’d find those all the time.  And I did that, and I got so good at it that they had done another, the Forest Service..  The Forest Service contracted with the Corps of Engineers on several of those things and that lead getting to the one on the Southeast River Basin Survey, the SERBS.  And what that was, the Corps was, had sat down in their neat little way and made, put a big circle around a bunch of the areas that they thought would make a lake, where they could build a lake, a just “what if?” kind of deal.  If, mostly if, we could get the money, I mean the Corps of Engineers could get the money.  And we would.. my boss there in Atlanta would sit down and figure out, well this is so big so we need how many plots in there to tell.  And again, I’d just have to go to those plots and tell them what was there.  And I got the one in Florida that was on some private land that was a timber company and I could see their “no trespassing” signs so I went up.  I found their office and they asked if it was alright if I, I was working for the government and can I go out on their property and they said “oh sure, we’ll send somebody with you.”  And so that made it for an easy day.  And I really didn’t tell them what I was doing, about the Corps was going to build lakes, but the guy with me, at the end of the day said “you know those things look like they could be made into lakes or something.”  (Laughs)

Clare:  And you’re sitting here like “hmm you know, maybe..”

JM:  But yeah, he was no fool.  He was nobody’s fool.  But that made an easy day because I didn’t have to, I could just, we could go there and do it.  I had a helper out there too, so that worked out pretty good.  And it also gave me a chance to meet my wife cause she was working here in Atlanta for the Forest Service.  And my headquarters was the regional office up there and I would leave every Sunday night and be on the job by Monday morning, and then be back in Atlanta by Friday morning to turn in my time and stuff like that, turn in my plot sheets, and all that kind of stuff.  But that job was all the way, all over Georgia and he found you a ring around western North Carolina and down through South Carolina over to Charleston and then on the other side going down, just about none of them were in Alabama so it must have been they were all in Georgia, down in that area right in there of the Southeast US.  And so that job lasted six months and then we went over to Oxford, Mississippi where I was the assistant ranger.  And that time that Oxford district was split into two parts.  There was one there around Oxford, Mississippi, the home of Ole’ Miss.  And the other one was down around what was called Coffeeville, 40 miles south, and so it kept us busy just running back and forth.  The other one, the one down in Coffeeville, was part of an old land use project that the, the one the Corps had who, one other federal agency had, the SCS had I think, the Soil Conservation Service had.  And they gave up that land management business, the SCS did.  And at that time the Forest Service had a project there in Oxford that was going through and planting all the gullied land that North Mississippians made up of a loess type soil, which means it was wind borne right there on the river, by the way, but it, nevertheless it was wind borne, decades, ages, eons ago into that area, and it was highly erodible.  Well when people started farming it, gullies appeared and some of them were huge, some of them were 30 acres big, I mean just huge gullies.  And so the Forest Service was going in there trying to stop those gullies one, and would plant trees on them.  And I think some of them were planted four or five times before they got it all done because they later on figured out you gotta stop the source.  Nobody figured that out at first.  And they started doing that with bulldozers, I mean just reshaping the whole thing at tremendous cost, but it was the only thing that was going to work on some of them, and then we planted trees.  But yeah, when we lived at Oxford we happened to be there when they integrated the University.  And that turned out to be a battle as you may or may not know.

Clare:  Right.  We studied a little bit of it.  But you were right there..

JM:  We were right there, we lived through it.  It was a battle, we could hear it from our house.

Ms. McConnell:  We moved there in February and it occurred in the fall.

JM:  We could hear it from our house.  The next day we went to work just as the 101st Airborne got there out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  And a lot of things in the army, it was all messed up, they had given them, the army a road map to get to Oxford and that’s all they had given them, and they came sailing into town and those people had not calmed down yet and they had had the convoy, which wasn’t a very good idea.

Clare:  Right.  I was about to say..

JM:  But the story of Oxford, real quick, is that they put federal officers in charge there, as the governor and the president tried to work out something.  But they left the federal officers, the federal employees in Oxford alone because we lived there, I mean we had to live there.  And we were not the law enforcement people, and the ones they sent in there were FBI or customs or border patrol or something, somebody that could carry a firearm.  And they got in the building there with Meredith and panicked and they had the state police outside of the building, trying to protect the building.  Well when the people inside, or whoever it was, panicked they threw the tear gas out and the state police left, so that just left it open to all the crazies.  And they attacked that building and two people were killed.  But the next morning we got down there just as the convoy from the 101st came in and they had been told to find a.. to go on.. to camp there, they had to camp there cause they had to live somewhere as they kept harder.  And first they had just went out and found a real nice little pasture or something and camped right up in it and about three days later.. a week later, about a week later, the ranger, I was the assistant ranger, the ranger was.. everything had calmed down by then.  But he had gone off to, the ranger had gone off to, a training session that he had had scheduled for months, but I was sittin’ there in charge of everything kinda.  And the phone rang, it was the supervisor’s office and said “the blessed army has gotten out there on some private land and the White House doesn’t want to be paying $10,000 a month rent to them, go get the army and move them to the national forest.”  “Who me?!”

Clare:  Yeah, I was about to say, you take on the army.  So you, by yourself, you go take care of the army.

JM:  So I go out and I finally get to the colonel and, well a couple of us went.  I said “Come on, you guys got to go help me.”  And we got out there and told them.  And by then they had gotten the word to the White House wasn’t happy with where they were.  Okay, I said.  “Show us some places.”  And so we did, we had got together and kinda mapped out a couple places where maybe they could go and they chose one of them and doin’ what the army loves best choppin’ down trees and movin’ rocks and paintin’ rocks..

Clare:  Messin’ everything up.

JM:  Big rocks in the road and settin’ up pup tents and all that kind of stuff.  And then later on they moved over, they stayed there.  They just set all kind of troops in there and we rode over one day to a little lake we had made.  It was new and we were working on the recreation area around the lake and there sat an army crew, taking the water and purifying it, that’s what they did.  And so they wanted to put them to work and so we didn’t know they were there.  But they seemed happy with what they were doing and we figured it was all right, so I don’t know who was going to drink the water.  All they had to do was just go to the tap in town.  But anyway..

Clare:  Did that like have any.. were there any setbacks because of all this or like did it come to a complete dead end?

JM:  Well Elaine had to go through it, yeah, we.. they were on, the army moved on to a camp site on the campus, but before that they, she was going through a checkpoint every day.

Mrs. McConnell:  I went through two checkpoints going to work, to the government office.  {Laughs) But you could go to our backyard, look over the gully into the cemetery where all the old Civil War Mississippi officials were buried and see the soldiers sitting on their gravestones, I mean they had to sit someplace, and right there at the entrance.  And I thought “the second Civil War right here,” just looking right over there in it.  But I went through two checkpoints and you couldn’t have a Coke bottle or anything in your car and they changed the person who was one of my checkpoints, and I had a Coke bottle in my car.  But the fellow that had always been there was there trying to train him.  And before that man was going to arrest me and everything he said “oh let her go, she’s going to work.  Just take the bottle, she works for the government.”

Clare:  “She’s not a threat.  Calm down”

Mrs. McConnell:  But yeah, I mean it was something.  Of course the first day it happened, nobody worked.  I mean you went to work but you just watched because they kinda wanted somebody in the offices.  But there was an old lady next door to the office where I worked and she was out there on her porch wringing her hands just crying.  Those ladies in my office weren’t interested in going and doing anything so I went over there and sat with her and put my arms around her and talked to her and tried to calm her down and said “they’re not gonna bother you” and things like that.  But it was really something.  But they went out, they told them to hide their trucks, cause they were government trucks.  When they all came back into town there was a whole group of men in the car and they weren’t gonna let them in. (Laughs)

Clare:  Seriously, it’s like a warzone down there.

Mrs. McConnell:  They let them out but they wouldn’t let them back in.

JM:  They had their uniforms on too.  The Forest Service has a uniform you know.  And two of us had them on and the other two didn’t though, but yeah it was just, we had to talk our way through that one.  But we had a work center outside of town where we put the trucks and it had a gate.  About all it had at that time, it didn’t have any buildings, it just had a fence around where we kept the, you know our work trucks and things like that.  But yeah.. And another problem that day, it was a payroll day and we had to get the payroll up to send in and so we, one of the guys said “well I’ll just go in my private car.”  We had to go down to Coffeeville to get all the guys down there.  Ben Atkinson, you remember Ben?  And he just said he would go.  But he didn’t have a uniform on and the rest of us did.  He went down there and came back and didn’t have any trouble but that was, it was all just unsettling.  But yeah we didn’t think much of Oxford, we were glad to get out of there.

Mrs. McConnell:  I hated that place.  With a vengeance.

Clare:  Did you?

JM:  A lot of people didn’t like it, they were out of service.

Mrs. McConnell:  I always though they got what they deserved.  I’m sorry.  Because they were ugly.  They thought they were better than everybody else.

Clare:  Oh yeah, they just kinda came in and invaded the place it sounds like so.

Mrs. McConnell:  No I mean the people that live there.

Clare:  Oh! Okay, I thought you meant..

Mrs. McConnell:  Not the army, no.

Clare:  I thought you meant the army.

Mrs. McConnell:  No, the people that lived there.  And if you were not a native born Mississippian, you were a nobody.  And I didn’t think I was a nobody.

Clare:  There you go!

Ally:  You weren’t.

Clare:  You were there for a reason.

JM:  Well we went back to Mississippi later and it was a lovely town.

Mrs. McConnell:  Yeah we went to Leland

JM:  It wasn’t like Oxford

Mrs. McConnell:  and that was wonderful.  They integrated the schools while we were there.  (Laughs)

Clare:  So wherever y’all went they integrated the schools.

JM:  We may have been skipping ahead over there.

Mrs. McConnell:  And I went to work in what had been the black school as their librarian, and I threw all their books in the garbage cause they were army manuals.

JM:  That’s all they had.

Mrs. McConnell:  That’s what they gave ‘em.

JM:  Learnin’ to read out of an army manual.  But yeah we went from there over to Moncks Corner, South Carolina, which is just above Charleston.  And somehow, and I don’t know how, I got picked to be this thing, tree improvement.  I had never heard of it.  I had to learn, well what is that?  And what am I supposed to do?  And so we went ahead and did it.  And that is, since we were planting trees at the time, about that time we were doing, we were in the timber business in the South because, and the Francis Marion is one of our most productive forests for growing trees, it’s really good land for growing trees.  You can grow anything over there almost.  Cause they had grown indigo, they had grown rice, and all kinds of stuff, the colonials had.  And.. But we were growing trees and they really did well there.  And in fact it was used earlier on as a showplace for forestry.  I’m talking about this is back when the Forest Service was created, you could find stuff on forest management dating back to before the Forest Service took it over.. because it was just a showplace, and it still was at that time.  But over the region, that map you saw of the region, we were planting, cutting, clear cutting, and planting about 60,000 acres a year and so we had to have seed for all that to grow seedlings to do that and they had known for years that when we first bought the land, back in the 20s and 30s, they had taken seeds from just anywhere and planted it, and we had learned later that that was not a good idea.  They talked about planting seeds from Maryland and Louisiana.  I never could, I’d heard that all my career, but I never could find that in the records.  In fact, I spent some time later trying to authenticate it, and I could never find it, but we know there were places that the trees were not doing as well as they should.

Clare:  Just wrong climate..?

JM:  Well they just were kinda like off site. They weren’t happy.

Clare:  Right. They weren’t home.

JM:  They weren’t growing fast or adequately, they were dying young, they were just not doing well.  And often times we never could figure out why, and later they said well we don’t know the seed source.  And so we established as a group of all the people in the South the seed zone.  You take seed from this place and we know it does well here, here, and here, but not over there.  So we started to learn that kind of stuff and we decided that well, the best place to get seed is from the best trees, right?  And so my job at that time was to pick out those best trees.  Just one tree at a time.  And we took those trees back to South Carolina and we cloned them.  You know what a clone is?

Clare:  I read a book when I saw this tree, this tree improvement thing.  I got a book out of our library called Introduction to Tree Genetics.  And of course, you know, I’m looking through it and I’m like I’ve never heard of such.. you know, it was..

JM:  You’re way ahead.

Clare:  Oh well, maybe that’s why I was so lost, but I tried though.

JM:  Well that’s what we did, we grafted those trees, grafted pine trees. That’s not easy but we learned how to do it.  And cloned them and put them in the orchard in a pattern and we kept track of all of them.   And but I got to South Carolina we had 300 acres that had been cleared for a seed orchard just to do that.  And we had blocks in there from each different place.  We had trees from South Carolina, we had trees from Georgia, we had trees from.. pine trees now you’re talking about, we’re talking about pine.. from North Carolina, though North Carolina had their own seed orchard.  But anyway, we spent our days grafting trees in the winter and I would go out and approve the trees, to decline, and cut the branch off, and bring the branch tips back to South Carolina to be grafted and put out in the thing.  We had a green house, or a screen house actually, full of trees out there and that went on for what, four or five years, just that, repeatedly.

Mrs. McConnell:  Raising them in milk cartons.

JM:  Well I got in all kinds of trouble.


JM:  You know, that job had never been done before.

Clare:  Right, it was beginning, starting off.

JM:  The Forest supervisor and his assistant who was in charge of me were always scratching their head.  “McConnell, what do you want now?”  And different things, well I had 300 acres, I had to keep it mowed.  They were trying to keep 300 acres mowed over there with a 6 foot bushel.  It wasn’t working.  I said I need a batwing mower like the highway department has.  “What?”

Clare:  “Where we gonna get one of those?”

JM:  Okay.  I said okay, then I need a tractor that’ll pull that. (Laughs) And we got a big John Deer tractor.  And like she said, milk cartons.  We were buying.. not clay pots, plastic pots.  And they were so hard to handle because we were taking the trees out of them, grafting them and a lot of the trees, a lot of the grafts would die and we’d have to take the pots that way.  And so we said well we need something that only lasts a year.  And one of the guys said yeah what about [Jimmy nursery], they throw out away those milk cartons up there, that get contaminated because they can’t use them to put milk in.  So I went up to the dairy and I ask them, I said.  “Well we’ll sell them to you” and I said how ‘bout.. I think we were paying a penny or three cents something like that.  And so I write a purchase order for that, a field purchase order.  And that gets sent and bounces about three feet high because nobody knew, the in the Forest Service, what do you need milk cartons for.

Clare:  Yeah really.  What kinda, jeez..

Mrs. McConnell:  They didn’t have..

JM:  But we would use those, and they worked good because they would last just about a year and then all you had to do was rip them, throw them away, and you had the plant instead of all this other stuff.  And that just went on continuously, things like that went on continuously.  I mean, nobody had ever done it and they didn’t know.  It was a good thing I was honest I guess, because I was gettin’ away with murderin’.

Clare:  It was just all a big experiment, trying to figure it out.

JM:  Yeah, and then they.. we were having to climb the trees to get everything done.  The trees.. to get the cuttings and to get the cones from them and stuff like that.  And we started training people to do that.  And then they said alright, if you’re gonna do that kind of job you got to have a manual.  And so I sat down and I wrote up a manual and I got to the safety part of it, and when I got through, we didn’t want to do it because climbing a tree is not a job that you do a couple weeks or a couple months, and then come back and do again.  You gotta go, you gotta get retrained, you gotta go the ropes, you gotta keep your ropes, you gotta keep your climbing gear and so we figured out the best thing to do was we’d contract it.  And we did.  We started, we threw out the tree climbing for the Forest Service and we went to contract it.  And it was very easy to find people that were happy to do it, and good at it.  And so we went that way.  And then later on, when we really had gotten into messing around in the tops of trees, we bought.. I said I need a bucket truck.  And we bought bucket trucks.  Now this was.. you multiply this by.. we had about five or six orchards all over the South.  One in North Carolina, one in Louisiana, one in Arkansas, who were doing, all doing the same sort of thing.  But we were a little bit ahead of them just because of this, of the Francis Marion being such a good place to do that, one in Louisiana, to do all that.  And we ended up with five bucket trucks before it was over with.  And then our job was keeping the rest of the Forest Service with the hands off of it.  You’re not gonna use this every time you want you know.  You’re gonna have to get our approval with it.

Clare:  Right.  “This isn’t a toy” type of deal.

JM:  And where the bucket truck goes, our crew goes and if we need our crew to be doing something else, you’re gonna have to wait.  Stuff like that.

Mrs. McConnell:  He traveled continually.

JM:  Well I did, for years.  Well a third of the time.  The only good part about that was most of the time I could schedule my travel.  But then, right in the middle of that, we went to Mississippi, back to Mississippi, back to Stoneville, which is right there in the Delta, from Greenville, Mississippi, the heart of the Delta, which is only one place in the world like it.  That’s in the Mississippi Delta.  That’s all that Louisville land that the river put down and then they built up the levies to stop the [Ohio?] river.  And Stoneville is where the Southern hardwood lab is, research, hardwood research went on over there.  And my job there was to clone cottonwoods.  They had found 16 different trees that had done the best.  And what they did with those cottonwoods, on the [badger?], the land between the levy and the river that got flooded at least once every three years by the river.  They were growing cottonwoods and they needed to get those cottonwoods established.  If they planted them, you know, in a dry year, by the time the next year came along they had to be big enough to withstand flooding, which meant the bigger, the better.  And so they found 16 different trees they could do this, through their research.  It was my job to take those 16 cottonwood clones and multiply them so we could give them away to private industry or whoever.. the Corps of Engineers.. what we were gonna do was give them to the nurseries, to the state, to grow so they could give them or sell them to whoever needed them.  And so that was a real fight to get that done because they wanted it now.  And we set up where we could do the regular hardwood cuttings, you just take a piece of cottonwood about so long, so big, and you stick it in the ground and the damn thing’ll grow.

Clare:  Really?

JM:  Yeah, make leaves, take root and grow.  There are a few trees that’ll do that.  Also you can take the ones with leaves in the greenhouse, you can put them under a mist, as long as they don’t dry out they’ll grow.  And so I had, we had, they gave me a greenhouse, one of the research greenhouses and I had to design a system to keep that under a mist.  And it’s kinda delicate, you have to do it not 100% of the time, but just part of the time depending on the weather.  If it’s really hot then you need more than if you do if it’s a cloudy day like this.  So it had to be a mist system that, oh well we had a panel out there, a piece of plywood, it would play Dixie almost.  And we just put it together, me and another guy and a couple of the workers.  We just got out there, we got some.. didn’t have plastic pipe in those days, and we had to cut metal pipe and do all that, and put it together and hook it all up and make it work and we did.  And that’s when I was screwed down for the summertime.  I mean, somebody had to be out there seven days a week and I’d go out there and check that thing every day.  And sometimes I’d have nothing to do but I had to check it.  And then we had problems.  The water wasn’t right we had to work, to mess with the ph of the water.  And out of 16 clones, only about 12 of them came through.  In their research they hadn’t accounted for a bunch of stuff that happened to them in the field.  And so that was.. too bad.  But I was getting blamed.  “Why can’t you do it McConnell?”  Well, I can’t make these things do what you want them to do.  And.. But.. And then really I kept that job for another year after I left.  I’d go back over there once a month during the growing season for another year, at least one more year, but that was later on.  And then one day, I was going through my budget, since I had been everywhere and had a budget… and then the National Forest System.. The Forest Service is set up in three big divisions, the National Forest System, State and Private Forestry, and then Forest Research.  There’s three main divisions, with their each, with their own assistant chief.  And so I was working for research over there, and before I had been working for either State and Private or the National Forest System and on the ranger districts, but I was working for research.  And in the other cases I had always had a budget to keep up with, in other words I was getting so much a year to do whatever unless I had a big deal, just like going to Congress sometimes, if you have a big deal you gotta go ask Congress if you can do it if not it’s within your budget.  But I had a budget over there in Mississippi, in Stoneville, and the research, I was getting my money from State and Private and they were giving it to Research and that was supposed to be what I used to pay my bills for the work I was doing.  And all of a sudden I was over budget.  And I scratched my head and I said “I’ve been keeping a, you know, a little side budget over here and I can’t figure out, I could be a little bit but not this much.”  And so I take my field purchase order book and I was getting ready to go downtown and find out about a couple of things because there were some things in there I didn’t understand all of a sudden that they had given me.. they had a book that you could write field purchase orders in, you just wrote inside it was like writing a check but a little bit more detailed, you gotta put the account numbers and stuff like that on it but you also have to describe what it is you’re buying.  And all of a sudden the book I had been using, that other people were using too, I mean.. they just lent me a book every now and then when I needed it.  But anyway, in my book was some barbed wire.  I said I never needed any barbed wire.  So I was getting ready to go downtown and find out about it and I got called to a meeting and that I had to go cause the director of the lab was ranting and raving about something.  And there was another state and private guy there said “I’m going to town, I’ll check it for you.”  And I said okay, I gave him the book and told him what I wanted.  And I went to my meeting and I came back and I was sitting there doing something to him and the guy I had given it to, Frank [Shrampshire?], came back in and said “Jim?  You haven’t bought a rifle have you?”  “Huh?”  “A thirty rifle?”  “No.”  What do I need a rifle for?”  (Laughs)  But.. so then I went up and talked to one of the clerks and she said “no this isn’t right.”  And we get to digging around and we found out that the administrative assistant there for the State and Private group had been taking that thing.  And so we get together, the three of us, the other State and Private person, Frank, and Corky, what was her last name?  We called her Corky

Mrs. McConnell:  Corky.  All I know is Corky.

JM:  Yeah.  And we called New Orleans, which is where research is headquartered, and we talked to the guy there and telled him something’s going on here you better find out about it.  And the next thing we know there’s an FBI agent sitting in our office “Tell me what’s going on.”  I said “No, we can’t tell you what’s going on.  We can tell you this has been happening.”   Well they got to digging and that guy had been stealing money from them for years.

Clare:  And they’re just now finding out about it.

JM:  And they’re just now finding out about it.  And some of the scientists were about the same way.  They were getting money from different sources for, to do different things and they said “I always wondered why I never could stay in my budget,” and stuff like that.  But they hadn’t gonna worry about it.  It wasn’t their business.  Well he ended up going to jail.

Clare:  I was about to say..

JM:  Yup, which is too bad.  Well he had a grown son, but anyway.  Fell right into that one.

Mrs. McConnell:  And then we got transferred.

Clare:  I was about to say, so you got out of that mess and went somewhere.. yeah.

JM:  Yeah, we got out of that.  But he had been doing it for years, he had been buying gravel and different things..

Clare:  For himself?  Or for actual..?

JM:  I don’t know.  They cut us out of it at one point.  We never went to the trial.  We were never named.

Clare:  Well that’s good.

JM:  Thank goodness.  And of course I left, I guess Corky was the only one that had really stayed there cause she retired, I think, over there.  That was her home, you know, she was a local person.  Frank, I don’t know what happened to him.. I think he stayed there for a while.  But anyway, that was a too bad thing, not a very good thing.  And then we get down to, where we went to Macon, to the National Tree Seed Lab, or at that time the Eastern Tree Seed Lab.  And the guy that was there just before me had not.. had screwed up everything.  He had been there.. he had got there a week and the next week he was wanting to transfer out, Darrell Menson was his name.  And he just did not want that job and he had messed up everything.  But the seed lab was an interesting place, and I was way in over my head in a lot of things there, testing seed, I had never done that.  But I was told to clean it up and get it back into operation.  And to clean it up wasn’t too hard cause the women that worked there.. it was an administrative monstrosity because we got money from the state, we got money from the federal.  I worked.. I employed.. the tree and seed lab is on the property of the Georgia Forestry Commission, under a lease.. to the Forest Service for as long as they wanted.  And they were doing seed testing for all the nurseries all over the country.  When a nursery, when a tree nursery plants seed they got different seed lots and they want to know how well this is gonna germinate so they can determine how, how thick they can sow their beds to grow so many seedlings per square foot and things.  So you gotta know what your germination percent is on your seed so that’s what the lab was doing, was telling them that.  And it’s a very detailed job, it’s very.. only women can do it.  They have the patience, they have the agility to do it and keep up with it.  And the way you do that is, you take the seed, it takes about a quarter a pound of seed for each lot, and then they have a little hand thing on a vacuum and they spread the seed out on the table and then they put it on this thing and it sucks up 100 seeds in pattern.  Then they put that is a dish on a paper with kinda cotton-y paper, and every seed is placed on there in the right place.  Then you put that in the growing chamber and keep the temperature and the lights at a constant and the seed will germinate, and you do that for 14 days and then it’s how good your seed is.  And you actually have to be accredited, well you don’t have to be but..

Clare:  It’s preferred.

JM:  Us and Oregon State were the only accredited labs, seed labs, tree seed labs in the country.  There was another man out west somewhere that was doing it for the other nurseries but he wasn’t accredited.  But he was cheap.  And if it worked for him, okay.  But we had lost customers during that time that.. before I got there.  Part of my job was to get those customers back which meant that I.. she said I did a lot of traveling, well I went to every nursery that was on our list and talked to them and told them and not only got their business back, but helped them with the growing of their seedlings.  Because I was supposed to be a nursery manager and I knew a little bit about it.  But the seed testing, those ladies did it, they were all state employees, there were a couple of them, and it varied by the season of the year because most of them went on in the fall and winter so they could sow them in the spring.  And then it kinda fell off and we’d have two to three women in there working, and one of them, Macy Mosley, had been there for years and years.  She knew it, she did it and all I had to do was keep her happy and she took care of it.  And then we had the federal employees, which was my secretary and the assistant director and we went back and forth every now and then.  But then we would get money from the Georgia Forestry Research Council which doesn’t exist anymore, but that was a lobbying group in Georgia that were industry and the states would pay them to lobby for them for both the state and the national legislators.  And they were, at that time they were just overflowing with money, but like I said it’s gone now.  So then I had to keep all three of those things separate, I mean, our equipment was.. who was it purchased by?  Which one?  Well you had to do an inventory every now and then.  I remember spending a week doing an inventory just of our equipment.  Who owned it?  So we could account to them for it, stuff like that.  Then at the same time we were starting up the US Tree Seed Center, and what that was was that there were foreign researchers wanting to use tree seed from the United States to research with in their countries, this was all over the world, and from all over the US.  And we were, what our job here was was to make that seed available to them and stay within the regulations of what seed could go where, because there’s all kinds of customs laws.  I had a book of law, on custom law of plant and where were plants of all different kinds, a great big book that I’d have to check to see if it was all right to send it to them because they would want to sneak it in.  But then after it was, if it was okay, then we had to get it approved by our customs people to send to ‘em.  So we had to get a guy out of the airport up here, who would come up once a month and check the lots that we were getting ready to ship out.  And it turned out to be a real easy job because all we had to do was x-ray it.  We were, had an x-ray that we could x-ray seed.  And he would take that and look at it and make sure there were no insects or anything like that in it.  And of course we would know ahead of time, but we would.. but he could stand there.. he got where he trusted us, I mean we would tell him this went with this.  But you know, but when it first happened, he’d have to stand there and watch us.  But we were, turned out that okay, your accreditation is pretty good, you guys know what you’re doing.  And so.. and that’s still running as far as I know to this day.  But it was yeah.. kinda crazy.  Like I said this book, there’s certain seeds that can’t be sent to certain countries for whatever the reason and I don’t know.. if they had a bad experience with it or something.  And that’s always struck me as being odd because, you know, you read about Britain.  Britain has plants from all over the world somewhere in Great Britain, and they’re just crazy about stuff like that.  And they like to grow it and they like to mess with it.  And we almost got them in trouble a couple of times and  then the Mutiny on the Bounty is just one of them, you know, stuff like that.  Cause they were getting like [redproof?] trees or something, well anyway.  They’d been into it along time, but we were just getting into it, ship to doing it.  But we had an inventory, and I got one over here somewhere, of all the seed that we had at that time that was okay to be sent to wherever.  And that was an interesting job.  Besides that we got a trip out of it didn’t we.

Mrs. McConnell:  We got a lot of trips out of it.  We went to Australia.

Clare:  Well there you go.

JM:  Well no, not there, not there.  We went to Norway.

Mrs. McConnell:  Norway, Sweden..

JM:  Seed testing is.. yeah they had a big convention over there one year and went over there.

Mrs. McConnell:  We went to France.

JM:  That was tree improvement, yeah.  Went to France too.

Mrs. McConnell:  Well that was another job anyway..

Clare:  Still!

Mrs. McConnell:  We went to France and because my family was from.. my father’s family was from Holland.  I said I want to go over to Holland so he took some leave and we went to Holland and I did research.

Clare:  How fun!  That’s really cool.

JM:  Well this thing, with the one to Norway, we got involved with.. I got a letter one day on the seed center business.  A funny looking letter and it came and I read it and it said the Duke of Wellington.

Clare:  Wow!

JM:  “Huh?”  And he wanted longleaf seed, longleaf pine.  And we were charging for this and.. so much for each lot and he just wanted one lot, and he just wanted enough so he could grow some on his estate.  And so I called Atlanta, to my boss here in Atlanta and I said “look let’s not be changy, this guy is a big shot, why don’t we send him some seed.  And we picked out some longleaf seed and sent it to him sure enough.  And I said down there “And by the way, I’m on.. I’m coming over.  I’ll be through London or England going to Norway in a month or so.”  And he writes back “come by and see us!”

Clare:  Oh no, I’d be like wheeeew.  (Laughs)  About to say

Mrs. McConnell:  We didn’t get to see him.

JM:  Yeah we didn’t get to.  We went over.

Clare:  But still!

Mrs. McConnell:  At that time his daughter was dating Prince Charles.

Clare:  Oh my goodness!

JM:  And by then they had planted the seed and it’s a good thing because longleaf seedlings are a little bit different than most pine seedlings.  When pine seedling comes up it looks like a pine, this looks like a clump of grass, longleaf does.  And that’s what they call it, the grass stage.

Clare:  Oh, gotcha.

JM:  And longleaf, you got longleaf down there in Alabama all over with the long needles.  And they had planted that and they called the grass growing (laughs) came up.  And they wanted to know what to do.  I said oh you’re doing fine.

Clare:  “These aren’t trees!  This is grass!”

JM:  It’s doing fine.  Yeah, that was fun.  But anyway, then we came to Atlanta to the regional geneticist job.  They were starting a program here in the region.  They had to figure out, they had to get organized, they had to, they had to have somebody in charge of all this.  They had all these seed orchards and they had a program going and they had an old man who had written the program, he had gotten it all together, had retired on them, Tom [Swaford?], he had put it all together, and he had done a pretty god job.  He had gotten all the universities combined input and the state’s input into it and we had had a big program.  They had never written the manual or the handbook. (Laughs)  One of the things I had to do was do that, and just coordinate the whole program.  And like I said, I’ve got seed orchards here listed for Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and later on in Tennessee.  We had seed orchards, and then over the years we went from pine trees into hardwood trees, also.  And that was just getting started when I left.  Doing very much with the hardwoods, but we were finding out all kinds of stuff that nobody ever knew about.. they knew, they would try and regenerate oak and not have very good luck and we’d like to this year.. the oaks produced like crazy.  Well that all has to do with the flowering and we were looking at the flowers, got the people to.. our animologist looking at flowers and they’re finding out well there’s insects that like to eat those flowers that get in there and booger up the whole system.  And so you know, you take a little, very little, bit of insecticide and then you can even that out so every year you’d have something instead of, you know.. going these peaks and valleys and things and stuff like that.  And we had lots of work to do with the co-ops, the private companies, the states, and the international bodies on tree improvement stuff, because again nobody had ever been this way.  And we were trying to figure out how to make it work for everybody.  And we were just keeping in touch kind of thing, you know.  But I got that thing in here, we controlled, I controlled the budget and Region 8 produced 90% of the improved trees on the national… on 11% of the budget.  Well that was, you know that’s playing.. that’s playing the publicity thing.  That’s true, but it’s like matching apples and oranges.  But you take the administrators, they didn’t know that and so that looked real good

Clare:  I was about to say it looks good on paper so I’m sure..

JM:  That made them happy, so that made us happy.

Clare:  Well that’s it..

JM:  You know you got different species and some of the other regions were into different species and having trouble with them and we were bouncing along and they had complex programs that jeez, I don’t think nobody knew which way.. if they would even work if they did.  But ours was a simple little program, bam bam let’s go and do the next thing cause we were taking seed from our seed orchards and actually putting them in the ground into tests and measuring those tests and I wrote a draft program for the second generation seed orchard based upon those tests rather than just based upon what the tree looked like.  So we were gonna have data, and you’re talking about we were gonna have one.. we had.. we had a fellow down in Macon that had, they were getting ready to let him go and I said, and they asked me “would you take Tim [Lefarge?]”  And I said “In a minute.”  And I put Tim to work on figuring out how to measure, take those measurements and put it into a system that we could all use.  And he spent, and this was when computers were just coming along.  We had a computer in our group before anybody else, almost before anybody else in the regional office just because we could justify it and put it to good use.  And he was doing that and so.. but I don’t know about that, the whole thing has changed now.  We’re not cutting the timber we used to.  They’re just looking at it.  We’re overgrowing, we got.. we’re growing stock out there that’s going to waste because it’s dying, but that’s none of my business any more.  So I just retired in 1993 and since then I’ve been doing oral histories and stuff like that.  I’m the historian for the retirees group.

Clare:  That’s interesting.

JM:  We could look at some pictures and books over here if you’re interested or I could show also.. I could give you some stuff that I have gathered in the way of oral histories if you’re interested in that.

Clare:  Yeah, we’d love to look at them.

JM:  That’s a very brief history of it all.

Clare:  Well thank you!  We really appreciate it.

Ally:  It’s really interesting.

The Interviewee: James McConnell earned a degree in Forest Management from Louisiana State University. He started working for the Forest Service in 1956 on the Catahoula Ranger District in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana. Over the course of his career, Mr. McConnell worked in a variety of states including Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia. He met his wife while stationed at the field office in Atlanta.  Early in his career, Mr. McConnell worked in land surveying and eventually moved on to tree planting and tree genetics. In 1971, he was appointed director of the Eastern Tree Seed Laboratory and was involved with the creation of the US Tree Seed Center. In addition to his time in the Forest Service, Mr. McConnell also served in the military and was stationed in Germany for 18 months.

The Interviewers: Ally Gonzalez and Clare Harp are undergraduate students at Auburn University.

Description of the Interview: The interview was conducted on the sun porch of the McConnell residence.  Mr. McConnell, his wife Elaine, Clare Harp, and Ally Gonzalez were all present during the course of the interview. The setting is quiet with few interruptions and all of the voices during the interview can be clearly heard. Mrs. McConnell participates in portions of the interview. The total time of the interview is 1 hour, 28 minutes. The interviewers spent some time before and after the interview chatting with Mr. McConnell and his wife. At the conclusion of the interview, Mr. McConnell showed the interviewers some pictures and books related to the content of the interview.

Content of the Interview: Mr. McConnell starts out by reflecting on his early years in the Forest Service and how he decided to become a forester. He also discusses some of his experiences while serving in the military and how his forestry training contributed to his military service. Mr. McConnell then discusses the various positions he has held, including surveying land and working in tree genetics. He and his wife reflect on living in different states and describe the difficult experience of living in Oxford, Mississippi during the integration of Ole’ Miss as trouble broke out between the local population and the military. Mr. McConnell also discusses different strategies he used to plant healthy trees, such as cloning, and some of the problems foresters can encounter when working in tree genetics. Mr. McConnell notes that the Forest Service programs in tree genetics proved to be so successful that they advised different people from around the world. In this advisory capacity, Mr. and Mrs. McConnell were able to travel to different parts of the world including Europe and Australia. Mr. McConnell closes the interview by discussing his appointment as regional geneticist in Atlanta and his experiences coordinating the geneticist program for the region.

Note on Recording: A Zoom recorder with dual microphones built in was used to record this interview. The audio file is saved as a .wav file and is of high quality.

Other: Mr. McConnell mentioned that he has been collecting oral history interviews of Forest Service employees over the years and is interested in seeing some work done with these interviews.