Interviewer: Robin Brown
Interview Date: Friday, November 2, 2012
Location: National Forests in Florida Supervisor’s Office (325 John Knox Road Tallahassee, FL 32303)
Listen: Read Transcript
Raymond Mason Interview
Reflections on his Career in the Forest Service
Conducted by Robin Brown
November 2, 2012
Brown: The following interview was conducted by Robin Brown with Ray Mason on behalf of the USDA Forest Service in conjunction with Auburn University for the Region 8 Oral History Project. It took place on Friday, November 2, 2012 at the National Forests in Florida Supervisor’s Office in Tallahassee, Florida. So Mr. Mason, thank you so much for meeting with me. I will be recording this interview. At the conclusion of the interview I have a consent form and deed of gift for your signature.
Mason: Thank you.
Brown: Sure. Now I will ask you a few questions regarding your employment with the Forest Service. How did you first come to be employed in the Forest Service?
Mason: By how, what do you mean?
Brown: (Chuckles.) Wha…What brought you to the Forest Service?
Mason: Okay. Probably my career as a boy scout and earning the eagle scout badge So I decided I wanted to pursue a career in Forestry. I attended and graduated from the University of Florida earning a B.S. degree in Forest Management. Why I happened to choose the Forest Service was rather forced upon me. In the 1950s every 18 year old male, physically fit had a minimum six year obligation to the US military. In my class there were only two of us that were not veterans. And forest industry was really hiring during the 1950s, which helped the Forest Service employees by causing the Forest Service to raise their pay scale for foresters. Industry was under not a legal obligation but a moral obligation to promise any person they hired who then had to go into the military, that they would have a position for them when they returned from the military. This kind of complicated their operations, and they thus preferred to hire veterans. And since my class was composed of about 20 veterans and 2 non-veterans, neither one of us non-vets were offered a position. Interviews would go well until that question, “what is your military status?” So I took a job with the Forest Service with the idea that when my military obligation was over I would seek employment with industry. But, that’s another long story. I wound up staying with the Forest Service and I really enjoyed it. The pay scale at the time was industry hiring foresters at $400 a month, the US Forest Service at $350 a month and the state of Florida at $300 a month. And that $50 difference in there was big money in 1957. So, I would have probably gone with industry if offered a job.
Brown: What sort of training did you undergo to prepare for your career in the Forest Service?
Mason: Academic training consisted of courses in the humanities, English, literature, composition, analytical geometry, economics, entomology, pathology, chemistry, soils, speech, civil engineering, plant physiology, aerial photo interpretation, statistics, forest measurement/sampling, wildfire control/prescribed use of fire, forest management systems, physics, 2 years ROTC, physical education exercise, golf, tennis, handball and swimming, history and I spent one summer working for the Forest Service on the Osceola National Forest and on the Withlacoochee Land Use Project Area down near Tampa. I felt ready to conquer the forestry world in 1957 when I graduated.
Brown. Hm. Can you describe a bit more your um, summer internship experiences?
Mason: Yes, there had been a very large fire sweep through maybe a third of the Osceola National Forest in March of 1956. And, it required very large timber salvage operation and effort to control pine bark beetles, various species – had all three of the major ones. I was hired as a GS 2, WAE, which meant ‘when actually employed,’ so if we had a monsoon set in for a day or two we didn’t work and we didn’t get paid. They also had brought in about 15 GS 5 Foresters to head up 15 marking crews for the timber salvage operations. I was assigned to one of those. It was a three man operation to take diameters, take heights, and record, [hear a light thud; Mr. Mason gently hit the table with his hand] uh the trees as they were marked. And we had guidelines. If the tree stem contained 1/3 of its height in green (live) leaf and branch crown; it was left to grow and drop seed to the ground to help in the reforestation process. If the tree stem had less than 1/3 crown, it was measured, marked and recorded for salvage sale. [Background noise from the people working outside the office room in which we met for the interview]. And, the pine bark beetles developed into a real epidemic stage, so we had crews also which I also worked on, spraying trees that we thought might possibly survive. We sprayed them with BHC and diesel fuel, very toxic mix, which the Forest Service had gotten away from using in the 1960s benzene hexochloride because of its toxicity. Well.. So those are the two jobs that I worked on. ]The Forest Service during the Eisenhower administration was charged ] to take a survey of all the lands they managed, and surplus all land not needed for the mission of the agency.. The federal government had acquired a large tract of land in three separate tracts in the area north of Tampa, was called a resettlement area-the land was generally poor land for agriculture, and all the farmers were in effect bought out and resettled in the areas where jobs were possibly available in the early and mid 1930s. And then for some 25 years, various agricultural agencies had this land in the 1930s for administration. The Forest Service was assigned the job of evaluating the land, determining its value, determining the value of the timber on it and then the state of Florida had the first right of refusal to purchase it. The state of Florida did purchase it. Managed by the Florida Forest Service and they paid their 20 year note off in about 12 years through the selective harvest of timber from it. And it is now the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Mason: That was my summer experience.
Brown: Very interesting. Um, you mentioned, when the forest fire came that you had to measure the trees, one third of crown. What does that crown refer to?
Mason: Uh, the amount of green crown from the top down the bole (main stem) of the tree.
Mason: If, say one hundred percent of the crown was there that was a leave tree. And we would accept them if it had a good third of the crown green, not burned, not brown. Burned off or brown, then that was considered a tree that had a good probability of surviving
Brown: Uh huh.
Mason: Sort of a rule of thumb.
Brown: Okay. Thank you.
Brown: Now l’d like to ask you a few questions related to your Region 8 work experiences. How would you describe your experience working in the southeast?
MASON (additional): Typical tasks performed as a Professional Forester on R-8 Ranger Districts
As a Junior Forester (1957):
Work with laborers as a laborer: wildfire suppression, clean toilet facilities, landline surveys, repair roots at work center and rec areas, plant trees-hand and machine, seeding, planting site preparation—burning site, poison undesirable vegetation, spray and inject, drive tractor pulling chopper drums
Write letters answering general public inquiries; make hand-drawn maps; prepare and give safety lectures to District employees; self-training on Forest Service policy, procedures, etc.; timber marking; assist state officer at wildlife hunting checking stations; learn how to prepare reports, work plans, etc.; fire tower look-out
As a Staff Forester and Assistant District Ranger, 1958-1964:
Plan and supervise planting of 5 million trees (3 years); hire supplementary workforce and train; rent 4 tractors from local farmers; daily checking crews and progress, inspecting sample trees for proper planting procedure; mapping, making reports; mark timber; lead hand tool on fire suppression; inspect special uses; do field work on new special use requests; cruise portions of forest for resources inventory issue free-use permits to locals; supervise timber stand improvement crew; hand draw maps; write letters answering public inquiries; work-up land exchanges; prescribe burn;
As a District Ranger, 1965-1976):
Everything; Plan/Budget annual plan of work for unit; Hire (and yes occasionally fire), promote, discipline, train unit professional staff, secretary, technicians, laborers; oversee management of unit fleet and heavy equipment; facilities management; prescribe burn; community relations—join civic club, sit on boards/councils; throw out the dish water; mark timber; do inventory cruises; work with locals and state agencies on common problems/opportunities; wash dishes; make reports ad infinitum; have fun; attend meetings and training sessions, forms (zzz); wildfire suppression; talk to the animals
Mason: Well it was quite variable. And for a uniform service it was amazing how different each forest was administrated, at least superficially there were a lot of differences. They were sort of localized and took on the character of the local area. I started on the Ocala National Forest and then moved to northwest Arkansas, and it was just a world of difference in the mannerisms, I guess, of how they went about doing things. It was essentially the same work and the same rules and regulations, but it was interesting the differences in style. The Forest Service was extremely frugal in those days, and the Ozark National Forest was even more so. And they had a lot of little peculiar rules, such as districts were not allowed to have a red pencil on them. Anything marked in red indicated that that was made in the supervisor’s office and we didn’t have anything like that in Florida. I thought it was kind of silly. How do you make maps without using red, you know? All our maps were hand-drawn. We didn’t have computers then of course. And also we had what they called franked mail then. Envelopes had postage printed on them when the envelopes were printed with our return address and so we didn’t buy postage stamps, we didn’t have a mail meter, anything like that. As long as you used that envelope, it was mailable then the postal service did an occasional check to try to measure the volume of mail in the various areas, and we’d just pay an annual fee. In the Ozark, when the district sent a package of mail in to the supervisor’s office they opened it very carefully and collected them for a while then sent them back to the districts, to use again and again and again. So some of them got pretty weathered, and thin and ragged.
Mason: That was just a way of saving money. They pinched, literally, pinched pennies. In fact one saying of the day was the Forest Service spent half their money counting their money. There was a tremendous accountability for the money and the work that was proposed for that year. Line managers were held very accountable. And budgets, were literally, made out to the penny.
Mason: And uh, rangers were often, transferred, demoted or otherwise if they overspent. So it was a very tight organization, and money was hard to come by. District budgets were typically under $100,000 a year and you know, we used a lot of bailing wire on the equipment. I mean, things were patched, everything was force account. We had our own crews. We had shadetree mechanics and shadetree electricians; we just kept going by patching. Here in Florida we ran out of WCF money, Working Capital Fund, and two things happened. I lost a headlight; a rock knocked out a headlight on my vehicle and we literally didn’t have the money to replace it. That was in March. Until July 1, I had to run that vehicle with only one light, which meant that I was directed not to use that vehicle before dawn or after dark. And if I got in a rainstorm, I was to park.
Mason: So that was how tight money was. The light bulb in the restroom at the work center went out and it was under the stairs and no windows, like a dungeon. I finally bought one out of my own pocket. That’s just an example of how tight the money was for the Forest Service.
Brown: Uh, were you a part of any special projects here in the Southeast?
Mason: In charge of? Or…
Brown: You could either be in charge or just otherwise involved.
Mason: Well, let’s see. There was the cross-Florida barge canal, the, uh phosphate mining proposals for the Osceola National Forest, were two rather large issues which garnered national attention. That was on my second tour back in Florida when I was working here in Tallahassee. I was an Assistant Forest Supervisor. I was a planner in charge of long-range planning and law enforcement and public affairs on the George Washington National Forest, the Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service, as it was named then, I think had an unholy alliance and we were allowing them to dam up virtually every free flowing stream on the George Washington as a flood control measure. They had had some bad floods in the early part of the twentieth century and so these dams had maybe an acre of water ponded behind them, but they had huge 100 foot high earthen dams. And I did see most of them full several times because that was their purpose to collect the water during heavy rains and then we let it slowly draw down and evaporate down to small ponds behind these huge dams. But they were quite an impact on the land. Also the US Navy has about a 9 square mile bombing range on the Ocala National Forest after the Korean War they wanted to make improvements. They built a permanent facility there for tracking and training naval pilots to do all sorts of bombing, and they perfected the art of what they called “toss bombing” down there. I did quite a bit of work with the Navy in getting all the agreements drawn up for their construction of a, more or less, a permanent base of operations there. They probably had, oh 100 enlisted men and several officers there full time.
Mason: As far as special projects these are the only things that come to mind.
Brown: Sir, you mentioned the George Washington National Forest. Where is that?
Mason: Northwestern Virginia. In fact a portion of it is in the state of West Virginia. My district had about 50,000 acres in West Virginia and 200,000 acres in Virginia.
Brown: You held the position of Assistant Forest Supervisor. Uh, could you describe your average day of work in that position?
Mason: Well, instead of having one deputy for a supervisor, we had four assistants. And each one of them had a share of major programs areas. There was a resource assistant who had timber, recreation and for a while they had a pretty good size grazing operation on the forest. Those were his primary areas of responsibility. Mine was long-range planning, national forest management acts, law enforcement (we had a special agent headquartered here and law enforcement technicians on each district), and public affairs; we had two people operating public affairs specialists, doing interviews, writing guest editorials and that sort of thing, and announcements of various things of public interest. A typical day was there was always something cooking in all those areas, so it was spending time with the planners, spending time with the law enforcement agent; went to some of his training over at Brunswick, Georgia, and preparing for court might occur. You never knew really almost one day to the next what might pop up that would require full attention. And I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of it. I even, when I was just a GS 2 WAE that summer, every day brought its share of different surprises.
Brown: You also held the position of District Ranger at several locations. Could you describe an average day of work in that position?
Mason: Yeah, they…when I started and when I first became a district ranger it was still sort of the modus operandi that the ranger declared one day in the week as an office day, the other four days he was in the field. The district ranger still marked timber, helped run land lines often using the transit or compass, laying out logging roads, leading a prescribed burning crew. We did a lot of field work when I first started as district…and I was a district ranger for 11 years. By the time I left the district and came into the supervisor’s office. it was basically one day in the field and four days in the office.
Mason: It changed considerably over that 11 years.
Brown: Within Region 8 you worked at various locations. How were your experiences similar and different between those differing locations?
Mason: Well I worked…Tallahassee was the largest community that I worked out of during my career. Gloster, Mississippi was the smallest, 850 people. Clarksville, Arkansas was maybe 1500 people. Uh, Bridgewater, Virginia was probably 3,000. Ocala and Eustis, Florida and Gulfport, Mississippi were probably 10,000. But every community and every section had its uniqueness and the experience I had in Gloster as a District Ranger there was quite unique. I had several run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan and over 200 producing oil wells.
Mason: Uh, the uh, Gloster as a community was a classic small, rural southern town. It had a railroad track running through it. At the time, we called, the Negro race and they lived on one side of the tracks and the white community lived on the other side. During the day there was complete mixture of people, back and forth. At night, each group stayed on their side of the tracks. The Forest Service was still not integrated when I was in Mississippi, at least until I had a special, small project. Got some extra money late in the year and there was full employment in the white community and so I hired 10 temporary Negro worker; it went off without a ripple. And, it really wasn’t something that I was directed to do; we hadn’t gotten into all the Affirmative Action programs and that sort of thing, it was something that I had to do to get the work done, and was pretty well accepted. I did get, after the first day that they were working , that night I had a lot of leaflets thrown on my lawn by the KKK, but nothing serious. I was somewhat concerned though. About that same time the International Paper Company had a large mill in Natchez, a very large mill. And there were efforts being made to unionize it, organize it, and they sent a lot of organizers down from other parts of the country to help try to get the workers to approve and demand a union, so forth. Two of the black labor organizers were murdered and their bodies were dumped on my district. That was about 30 miles from Natchez. And, uh, then also that same night there was a huge wooden cross made out of six by eight timbers, about nine feet, ten feet tall supported like a Christmas tree at the bottom that they burned at a major intersection of a state highway and a forest road in the middle of the forest. I have 8×10 glossy black and white of that burned out cross, memento from that occasion. The Homochitto National Forest had two districts, and the other ranger had been there about 25 years and had become so well known in the community and so well accepted that nobody paid him much attention–he was just another resident, so to speak. And he frequented a certain beer joint sometimes on Saturdays and overheard some people talking about those murders that I mentioned. And all of a sudden everybody in the room realized there’s a federal employee, officer, there in the room. And things got quiet. And, the next morning he was in Atlanta, Georgia, transferred in the night and then he got his family in a few days later, just as a precaution. So, things were interesting to say the least. This was 1965 to 1970 in Mississippi.
Brown: Wow. Um hm.
Mason: But, whereas there was overt racism in Mississippi, there was covert racism in Virginia where I went. There were very, very few blacks, they were probably 1 percent of the population in northwestern Virginia. And on the surface everything looked great. But, uh, when people felt like they were in like company, they let their prejudices be known. Mississippi was sort of taking all the flack during the 60s, during integration times. They were just a little more honest about it.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: In fact, I might go ahead and say it now, I think one of the, during my career one of the greatest achievements of the Forest Service was the integration of the Forest Service. I had difficulties philosophically and ethically with some of the ways they tried to achieve a diverse work force–at that time it was strictly trying to get blacks in. I now applaud the effort, though I think we could have done it differently at times. But with very little bad consequences. I think, it was over a period of about ten years was accomplished very well. The communities didn’t object as much as a lot of people feared, and I think it went over quite well.
Brown: Hm hm.
Mason: In the 50s the Forest Service was changing some of their timber management policies. And they wanted to go here in the coastal plain to harvesting sawtimber and pulp wood through one contract and they called it an “integrated” sale. In the late 1950s, “integrated” was becoming a bad word, so we had combination sales instead of integrated sales.
Mason: Then in the early 60s, in any state that only had one supervisor’s office, the name of that forest was the Florida National Forest, the Alabama National Forest, the Mississippi National Forest, etc., Arkansas and Virginia, for instance, had two supervisors and so there you had the Ozark National Forest and the Ouachita National Forest, George Washington and Jefferson in Virginia. So the thinking was that since there were state laws against integration of the races at recreation areas, all the recreation areas in the southern national forests excluded blacks. There were really no designated areas for blacks, they were just recreation areas. And blacks knew that by state law they weren’t invited. And so the names were changed to, as in Florida here, the National Forest in Florida, the idea being that they were not under the state organization and law enforcement, so forth.
Brown: Um Hm
Mason: They were national. Just another subtle way of trying to change the culture and the attitudes of the races.
Brown: Um hm. Um hm.
Mason: And so, not only was the work force completely white, and probably 99 percent male, just female clerical help at the recreation areas and use of the national forests by blacks was almost nonexistent. So that was another subtle way of trying to help change that and gradually start getting more and more black visitors to formerly all white recreation areas so it was an interesting time.
Brown: Uh hm. Absolutely. To what extent do you believe the Forest Service has fostered economic development in the Southeast?
Mason: Particularly early on, I think they were a major force because lumbering and pulp wood had become such a very dominant southern phenomena and we had large saw mills and many large pulp mills moved in in the 40s, 50s, particularly, we had a number of them all over the state of Florida, for instance. And they played a large part in the economic development of the communities generally and in the whole state generally.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: In fact forest industry is still probably number two industry in Florida after tourism. Both from the land standpoint and then the remanufacture into valuable products of the forest products. So it was…and in the small communities, just having a ranger district office was an economic boost. In Gloster, Mississippi, the district ranger was grouped with the high school principal, the doctor and the mayor and then the district ranger, they were the top of the heap you might say it was interesting living in that kind of environment and realizing that you and your organization were very important to that community.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: Like I say, we didn’t contract hardly anything. We did everything through our own employees force account and so the payroll was a big factor.
Brown: How did the land management policies in the forests you worked in impact the surrounding communities?
Mason: Well they directly shaped it from the standpoint of renewable resources that were harvested on a planned, scientific basis. And in Mississippi the district I had also had 200 and 7 producing oil wells on it when I arrived and we were drilling about seven a week. One in ten would come in and so I got up to about 250 and then it started tapering off due to some national policies, not by the Forest Service, but taxing policies and so forth. But these were very shallow wells, and uh, they would produce oil for 2 to 5 years and then, quote go dry.
Brown: Um hum.
Mason: And I think they’re going back into some of those areas now with new techniques and getting more oil. But this was a big economic boost. Also the Forest Service was giving 25 percent of our gross proceeds to the counties that had national forest land on them on a pro rata basis
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: In Mississippi the taxes on forest land, good or bad, was about fifty cents an acre, and we were returning $3.75 per acre, one time over $4, per acre back to the counties
Mason: So they had some of the finest rural roads, schools, they also got another 10 percent for roads, so in a highly productive forest they really returned a lot of money to the counties.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: The national forests were quite an impact economically and then as I say, socially they were the agent of change in a lot of areas racially.
Mason: Because there just wasn’t anything else of consequence going on in the county but forest industry and the Forest Service, if changes were going to happen it would be through those organizations.
Brown: Hm. Now I’m going to ask you some questions about Forest Service bureaucracy. Um, in 1911 the federal government passed the Weeks Act, a bill that allowed for the purchase of private lands in the eastern United States for the purpose of protecting the headwaters of rivers. How do you feel that the legacy of the Weeks Act has affected your career?
Mason: Well, it significantly since the Weeks Acts was really the basis for most of the southern national forests. There were national forests in the south as early as 1906. Here in Florida the Ocala National Forest and Choctawhatchee National Forest were organized 1906, 1908
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: Uh, but they were made up of strictly federal land that had never been homesteaded, that is, that had been in federal hands since 1790s, and had never been homesteaded or anything like that. And that’s the way most of the western forests were. They were made out of federal lands that had never been claimed or prospected on through the various Homestead Acts. But in the east there was a minimal of that kind of land. I’d say we had two large areas here in Florida and a few other places, so most of the national forests land I think in Region 8 for instance, were what they called Weeks Act forests. So for me and many other US foresters uh there wouldn’t have been a job there, you might say, and so it did have a big impact. And of course, I mentioned working with the SCS, flood control was one of their big things too. That since we, since much of our lands were Weeks Act lands and they wanted to build these dams, that sort of made them a natural partner; I just didn’t agree with all the policies surrounding their activities on forest land.
Brown: Right, and what did the SCS stand for again?
Mason: Soil Conservation Service, and uh I don’t know their new name but ten or twelve, fifteen years ago they reorganized the USDA and most everybody but the Forest Service got a new name. So I would say, it was probably as important or more important than any other legislation affecting the east generally and the south particularly. Uh, that and the Knutson-Vandenberg Act which came known as the KV Act, KV Funds. And that provided the Forest Service the opportunity to not send all of the money from the timber sales and other activities to the National Treasury. There was a minimum amount they had to return, but they could keep some of that money then to use as management money to do reforestation primarily and other cultural activities to promote timber management activities.
Mason: That, since I’ve already mentioned it, was probably one of the major areas the Forest Service probably erred in my opinion, in that I think they grossly mismanaged KV money. Appropriated money was so hard to get and budgets were so tight for the Forest Service that having this KV money as we called it sort of became almost like a slush fund.
Mason: And it could build up and you could keep it for years just getting to all the work that needed be done. You take this money out of the timber sale and put it into KV pot, and uh, the control of that was national, in other words, even though there might’ve been money available, if it wasn’t appropriated during the budgeting process, we couldn’t spend it.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: But it provided us with probably twice as much money to work on the land as we would get through regular appropriated money, they called it P and M – protection and management. And those funds were just very hard to come by. So much of the reforestation was done with KV money. But in Mississippi, and some other forests, they had a way of collecting that money [strange noise from recorder] that I think might have been within the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. It was supposed to be collected only from those acres where timber was actually being cut.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: And compartments that we divided our forest up into, typically around 2 to 4,000 acres in size, and so the practice began, they would either say that the timber sale boundary was the whole compartment or they might include just half of it, but the actual acres the trees were being cut on might have been 200 to 300 acres. Thus you could collect money to do work on 500-2000 acres.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And so you collected money for all the acres within the timber sale boundary and, which produced probably 3 to 5 times as much KV money as if it had been done strictly within areas where trees were being cut. And when I went to the Homochitto ranger district, the first spring I was there they said it’s time to make your annual report on the status of your KV fund, how much is needed? Is any of it surplus now? And that sort of thing. And I had never in my assistant days, some reason or other, the ranger did it and I just wasn’t prepared for it. So my timber management assistant and I worked on that together. We pulled out the last report and I had something like, and this was in 1966, 5 million dollars available for that district for operations in the field, prescribed burning, for site preparation, money to buy trees from Ash nursery, and to pay for the planting of them, weeding them, removing some competition as they were starting to grow and so forth. And so I then with his help calculated how many acres we had in reserve that needed work on them. I concluded we needed maybe a million two hundred thousand dollars so I declared almost four million dollars surplus. Probably the same day that letter hit the supervisor’s office I got a call to come and justify my lack of need for the other monies. And so I expected it to be between me and the forest supervisor. When I went in I went to his office, he wasn’t there and his secretary said he’s down in the conference room. And I walked in there and there was a long table; and he was seated at one end and his whole staff plus the sub-staff from the timber office were sitting in there, about fourteen people. And I was sitting at the other end of the table and it immediately became clear that they weren’t happy about declaring all that surplus, so we talked about it for a long time and I finally agreed to declare only $2 million surplus, but that money was a tremendous cushion for the supervisor’s office and in theory not a penny was to be spent that couldn’t be directly tied to something going on in that former timber sale area, but it was used to buy a lot of things that were needed but didn’t really “qualify” for KV funds.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And it eventually caught up with the Forest Service. And I don’t think, it wasn’t just Region 8. I think where they first got into trouble was up in Region 9 in the Lake States. But it was just one of those things they, what they were trying to do was good but they weren’t obeying, in my opinion, the spirit of the law.
Brown: Um hm. Um hm.
Mason: And so anyway that made a name for myself, although it wasn’t necessarily good at the time in Mississippi, but I inquired later and I think I was the only one that ever declared any money surplus.
Mason: See the thing is, in that year in which I had the big surplus, the counties got a windfall because that money was going to the Treasury and it was then part in effect of our gross receipts for that year and, I think the counties got over $6 an acre. That district was small. It was only 95,000 acres but highly productive.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: Timber, oil then there’s tremendous wild game populations on it, but there were only three tiny recreation areas. One of them was just a roadside thing. Each one had five picnic tables and that was the extent of recreation. There really wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity other than hiking, birding, hunting that type of thing
Brown: Um hm
Mason: It didn’t have the big springs like we have here in Florida.
Mason: It wasn’t scenic. It was rolling country but there were no mountain vistas and that sort of thing.
Brown: Um hm. Was the forest in Mississippi that you worked at, probably the most productive forest that you served in?
Brown: Um hmm
Mason: Excellent soil, rainfall, very productive land and then they had oil under it too not all the Mississippi forest lands, but the Homochitto. And to a small degree on the De Soto National Forest.
Brown: I think you alluded to this somewhat, but what were some of the challenges that the Forest Service faced during your tenure?
Mason: Well I think trying to do, as probably my counterparts would say today, trying to do a whole lot with very little money. It was a challenge to the supervisor and to the district rangers as the main managers, line officers to really accomplish what needed to be done, what they were given funds to supposedly accomplish and it was just very, very tight. Uh, but I think the uh, well for instance on the Homochitto, no one in the Forest Service knew much about the oil industry. And uh, we kept having trees die. I’ll explain the drilling operation. These wells were productive, from the standpoint they were shallow so they didn’t cost a lot to get to – a couple of thousand feet deep maybe. But they also brought up with that oil a tremendous amount of very, very salty water.
Mason: With various minerals that were in the ground. They had a problem, what to do with that salty water. And that had been solved supposedly by building what they called salt water evaporation pits at each drilling site, just a small dammed up pond. Uh, but downstream from those ponds we kept having trees die.
Mason: And we couldn’t figure out, the dams were not leaking I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I hired a young man who had worked in the oil business to be one of our technicians and I put him working with one of my assistant rangers who was in charge of our oil operations and gave him a work schedule of Tuesday through Sunday. And sure enough on the weekends he found that they were siphoning salt water, these salt water pits had a tendency to fill up—the evaporation rate wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the added rainfall.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: They were, oil was continuing to be produced, they weren’t evaporating fast enough, so they were siphoning on the weekends, water out of the ponds and letting it just run down, run hill down the streams. And, uh we had been charging them double stumpage, because we knew it had something to do with their operations and now we really got into a big thing. The timber was very valuable there
Mason: Commanded a pretty high price, and working with the USGS, the US Geologic Survey people, we got into ejecting that salt water back into a well, and they claimed, the USGS support it, claimed that they could tell where they were putting that water that it would never be a problem with fresh water in the ground.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: and that sort of thing. But uh, I never was real comfortable with that, but it was better than…The one thing I did, I went down to the Baton Rouge to the university there and uh, did some research and found records that prove that we got more rainfall than evaporation could handle.
Mason: Cause they got a good 60 inches every year of rain, although it was very hot and pretty humid and it just wasn’t enough evaporation so that the theory for the salt water ponds was just false. It couldn’t handle it.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: It was impossible. So we had to do something else. But, uh there was just a whole lot of problems that they probably still don’t understand about the way they operate and it puts us at a disadvantage. I, I remember one time going out and they had to restore these sites. The well ran dry and they abandoned them
Brown: Um hm
Mason: They had to restore them to our specifications and we did have a real erosion problem, the soils were windblown and it was like pouring hot water on sugar, if they were exposed and the rain fell on it [He makes a swooshing noise] it was gone. So they had to be very careful how they abandoned those sites. They didn’t just walk off and leave them open. I went out and I, there was a big D-8 dozer pushing large amounts of dirt around, and I didn’t think he was doing it right so I stopped him. I was talking to him and he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry but I work from here down.” He put his hands at his neck. And he said, “I do what I’m told to do and this is what my boss told me to do.” [Mason chuckles.] So, they were working from here [he points to his neck] down. So I had to get back with the up-line people. A lot of times we’d have to have them go back in 3 and 4 times to, to get it done right which was very expensive and they were grossly unhappy about that. But I think we got them, in the main, during my five years there, I think we got everything pretty much under control. When I first got there, they were laying pipe anywhere and everywhere. It went from one well to another, couldn’t tell if there was oil in that pipe or salt water or what. And to prescribe burn a lot of areas, I realized we were burning right over a lot of those pipes. I didn’t know how dangerous that was, but I didn’t think it could be good, so, uh it was a real challenge. I think the Forest Service had a challenge in the beginning of being accepted in the south
Brown: um hm.
Mason: A federal agency coming in and managing land and telling people what they could and couldn’t do on it was a challenge, but it had pretty well been solved by the 1960s.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: But it was pretty rough sometimes in the 30s and there was a lot of whiskey making going on in the woods and in the national forest into the 1960s.
Brown: Oh wow.
Mason: uh, it was just a way of life in the south. It made them a little money. Living was very hard. These people subsisted on maybe $500 to $1000 a year in money and just very difficult times. And so a lot of people made whiskey. In Mississippi the sheriffs of the two counties on the Gulf Coast probably had, a sheriff’s salary was probably $15,000 a year. At that time the forest supervisor, GS 14, was making a little over $14,000 a year. But those sheriffs reported, and it was put in the newspaper every year, something like $100,000 a year in income. So where was that money…I don’t know how, what they called it. But it was pretty well known it was payoffs from the whiskey making that was going on big time in those counties, a lot of it on the De Soto National Forest. So we had a hog problem on that forest, rooting up a lot of the young Longleaf pine and killing them.
Brown: Uh huh
Mason: So whenever the alcohol tobacco tax people found a still and destroyed it, they would give us all the sour mash that was there and we built these steel cages, and we put the sour mash in them and it was a one way door dash– they would get in but then they couldn’t get out. The hogs just loved it. And so we trapped hundreds of hogs that way. And they were just like people, some of them, when they were intoxicated…
Mason: And some were sleeping it off, some of them were just docile, like who cares what’s going on, and others were fighting mad, and some of them just banging around and charging the cage, you know and made it hard to handle because they were dangerous when they were angry at you.,Then we took and gave the hogs to the community college where they fattened them up, and butchered them and used them in their cafeteria. A pretty interesting operation, all the way around.
Mason: But, the Forest Service had to across the south, kind of have a gentleman’s agreement with these whiskey makers that if we were marking timber and found a still, that we wouldn’t report it. At least not overtly or directly., In fact we got an anonymous call saying that we had marked timber on, a leaning tree that was hanging over their still and if it was cut it would destroy their operation, so we went took paint off of it. Our office in Gulfport, Mississippi was in the same building with the alcohol tax people and so information kind of got passed on quietly and they’d wait awhile before they would raid it. (The building was a small, one-story construction and the Forest Service and Alcohol Tobacco Unit were the only tenants).
Brown: Um hm
Mason: Moonshiners, particularly in the 30s and 40s were a constant fire problem. Initially the Forest Service started out trying to be an enforcer of the ATU’s business and so to take it out on the Forest Service, they’d set fires-frequently. Fortunately they were better ‘shine makers than firebugs! Most fires didn’t get really large and destructive, but they were very disruptive to effective and efficient management.
Mason: And it was just a constant job trying to keep the forest from burning up
Mason: So it was sort of an unholy alliance, but you never would have had a forest in many places if we had really hung tough and reported every still we found.
Brown: Huh. And sir, you just mentioned the ATU, what does that stand for?
Mason: Alcohol Tobacco Unit, I think they used to call it. ATU, yeah. It’s something else now. Another organizational changes that were made a few years ago, but
Brown: Um hm
Mason: We were, the foresters were very jealous of the ATU people because they got a boot allowance and we didn’t. We had to buy our own boots.
Mason: And uh initially only the professionals had uniforms, and at least in R-8 the only ones who got any kind of uniform allowance
Mason: workers were supposed to supply their own 8 inch steel toed boots and work gloves. (2nd thought long sleeve shirts and pants).
Mason: There was a lot of grazing going on in the south on the national forest lands. [Mason coughs.] And it was just free open range and the laws in most all the southern states. If you didn’t want cows on your property you had to fence them out. And this goes back to the Celtic peoples of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The English always had tidy little small farms…
Brown: Um hm
Mason: …and had their cows fenced in and everything but the Celtic peoples had a thousand year tradition of open range and once a year they’d go together and collect all the cows and separate them out by brands, the calves that went with the branded cow, belonged to that brand. That’s the way it was all across the south, because about 80 percent of the settlement of the south was from these Celtic peoples of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. So, the Forest Service had to either fence them out or live with them, and finally decided well, we will organize this thing and charge them. We charged ten cents a cow use month or something like that, ‘cause they could only graze like part of the year on national forest land and they had to have supplemental pasture elsewhere.
Mason: But we would do the fencing and install the cattle gaps. And these people were assigned allotments which were put up for bids. We had bids for letting their cows graze the wild lands of the forest. So uh, that was just a holdover from the whole culture of the south that we inherited buying the land up. Now we’re just about out of the grazing business. It’s not really that profitable, to small time operators who didn’t have a lot of land, didn’t have money to buy supplemental pasture land. In its day, free range grazing was just a normal thing.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: That was a challenge in the south; that was another thing that sometimes caused fires. Trying to get some kind of administrative and managerial control of cattle using the forest took a number of years to complete.
Brown: Um hm. Um, can you tell me about some of the technological changes that you experiences during your career?
Brown: None? Haha.
Mason: It’s like when I think of 1957 I think I ought to put B.C., you know, beside it because most districts did not have a ranger clerk. I made the mistake when I took my first morning getting to know my new boss when I started to work, acknowledging that I typed, and he said, “Oh good, you can type memos. They won’t have to go in long hand anymore.” We used to write letters long hand, memos to the S.O. were long hand. Um. We had very outdated, 1920’s style adding machines and calculators that you have to crank em this way and bump em over a bar to multiply and divide big numbers and things. There were electric machines that they had on the market, beautiful, nice things, but we didn’t have em. We had very little stereographic equipment, just pocket stereoscopes.
Brown: What are those used for? Stereoscopes.
Mason: When looking at aerial photographs you get what is called a stereo pair of photographs to put side by side, and where the photographs overlap. In other words if the same area on the ground was on this picture and this picture, if you set up a stereoscope this eye was forced to look at the image on separate photos and you’ve got a 3D picture. And it’s really, really dramatic in the mountains, but even in the flatlands you can differentiate three and four foot of elevation difference. And that was one way of helping to interpret what the land was like, what the timber was out there and so forth, and what roads you might build, where you would build them and that sort of thing. But there was a lot of the big, they wasn’t electronic but they were electric, things that were pretty magnificent that we used in school training. The Forest Service just didn’t have the equipment. There were no computers, of course. Uh, making a telephone call from say Ocala to Tallahassee, beside the telephone there was a telephone log and you had to log every long distance call you made, you had to record the time, the length of the call, why the call, and you put a fiscal charge there to pay for the call. And uh, and those bills were paid out of the supervisors’ office for all the district’s utilities, but in total that’s how they kept up with it and it was charged against your district budget then. The ranger on Pleasant Hill district on the Ozark complained that the engineer had called three times that week and he said, “He should be writing memos out rather than using the telephone.” Radios were expensive, far and few between, and they were usually bought with fire money. On the Ozark you could not talk on a radio about anything except fire. A ranger and I got stuck in a creek, there had been a big rain the night before that had rearranged this ford and there was some big holes in it and I drove right into a big hole and drowned out the engine Right up above us, high on this mountain peak was one of our towers. It had a radio, so call on radio and get him to come down with his tracker, transport and he can pull us out. “Nope, we bought this with fire money and this is not a fire emergency.” So I had to walk about five miles, all straight up hill, to this tower site to get the guy to come down and pull us out. Very narrow-minded um really, trying to save a penny by spending a fortune, type of thing. There was no district in R-8 that had a sedan on it, it only had trucks. They finally justified a sedan by some trickery. They called em “sedan deliveries.” They’d buy a station wagon and take the backseat out and there’d just be “cargo area.” And Congress had the Forest Service restricted by number the number of sedans they could have in the nation. Sometimes a supervisor’s office would have a couple of sedans, but districts were strictly for working in the woods, you didn’t need a sedan. Here in Florida they didn’t have heaters in the vehicles before I started working. And it gets uh, well I saw twelve degrees in Ocala, eight degrees here in Tallahassee, but there would be no heaters in the Forest Service vehicles until the 1950s and no air conditioners until the late sixties. And the only way we finally got those, they were justified by accidents on the highway. Uh people would maybe, traveling to go to a meeting or something, stop and get lunch then get back in, it’s summertime, hot and you get drowsy. We had a landscape architect that was traveling on the highway, in a situation like that, he just drifted off into the other lane, had a head on collision, and was killed.
Brown: Oh my goodness.
Mason: And the other two people were seriously hurt. They had a few of those around the region and finally decided that an AC unit might be a good investment.
Brown: My goodness.
Mason: So that’s how they started getting air conditioners. Um we started getting into talking about computers, and learning a binomial language and so forth, a little bit in the late 1960’s. When I came here in seventy-six there were three or four individual units. We had to depend on the regional office though to send data up there, and they could run it and get it printed and that sort of thing and mail it back. But we just had a few little applications we could run. They finally got Selectric electric typewriters that had cartridges you could uh prepare say a timber sale contract, a blank one, on a cartridge and put it in there, then uh by typing in the, what you wanted to, as far as the amount and all the data that you put on a contract. You could almost run automatically. (Mason coughs). Which was a big advancement. We got a few, some really crude fax machines in the early seventies. They were hard to read on the other end. The supervisor’s office finally got a copy machine. Everything had been mimeograph or ditto copiers. Ditto was just a fancy mimeograph that wasn’t as messy, did a better job, it was all hand-cranked type of thing.
Mason: But the districts couldn’t have a copy machine. The district clerks couldn’t have electric typewriters like they had in the S.O., they just didn’t figure they could justify that added fifty dollars on a machine. And um we gradually grew into computers and all sorts of programs, doing maps with them and that sort of thing, we couldn’t do before, running large linear programs and that sort of thing, but it was a slow process.
Brown: Uh huh.
Mason: Industry brought computers on line for most of their field units, long before we did. It was strictly a matter of money.
Mason: We did very little contracting. Now it’s about all they do.
Brown: What do you mean by contracting?
Mason: To plant trees they do it by contracting out.
Mason: They send out bids and people bid on it and the low bidder gets it. But we had planting crews. And uh I think benefits, personal benefits, personnel benefits in the Forest Service followed the same slow agonizing path to the point where, in my opinion, they almost now are too generous. But in the 1950s, in order to compete with industry to hire foresters the Forest Service, was paying thirty-six hundred dollars a year for a new forester. And they didn’t change,the general schedule , but they got permission from the civil service to pay the entering forester a GS – 5 ,step seven. So it went from thirty-six hundred a year to forty-two ten. Uh and then after six months, if you completed an intensive training program that was mapped out for you, you could be promoted to a GS – 7 instead of 7 – 1 step one you went to a seven step five. So those were two big things that happened in fifty, 1956.
Mason: But all the crew was mostly made up of what we call, “temporary labor.” W.A.E. (When actually employed). They were hired on a hundred and forty day appointment or a two-hundred and twenty day appointment. When their appointment ran out they had to be rehired. The intention was they probably wouldn’t be and that we wouldn’t have that much work. Essentially they worked year around when weather permitted. They had absolutely no benefits. There was no life insurance, no health insurance, no retirement of any kind. They had tax withdrawn from their money. It was a very difficult life and they were paid right around minimum wage, most of them. Most of them were GS – 2, GS – 3 laborers. Then there was others that, mechanics, road grader operators, they had a different schedule they were on. They weren’t on the GS schedule, but they were supposedly paid corresponding wages for mechanics in the community. And you’d have to make a wage survey every year and go around trying to get salary figures from people hiring mechanics. And road grader operators the same except they were called wage board (WB) employees
Mason: And when I started there was no health insurance and moving allowances were less than what it would cost to move. If you pinched every penny, you lost money on a move.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: I moved from Eustis, Florida to Clarksville, Arkansas, about eleven hundred and fifty miles. You got about three cents a mile for your automobile and you were expected to be there in two days with your family
Mason: And so you got per diem for yourself, only for motel and food, but not for the family. You could only move two thousand pounds, nobody owned a piano and, you had to do most of your own packing, usually all of it, and uh, the movers just come pick up boxes that you had packed. If you let them pack then their fee would exceed the amount the Forest Service would allow you. [Office background noise]. So it wasn’t good, it was pretty rough
Brown: Oh, sounds stressful.
Mason: Yeah…Oh, there was. in Arkansas, an Ozark expression that two moves were as bad as a burnout, and it was like starting over after two of them you know, stuff would get broken, or it was lost. You did much of your own work, single people tried to move in just little trailers they could pull on their car. And of course if you owned a home, you had to sell it, which was stressful trying to get it sold so you could move and …
Brown: Um hm
Mason: …buy something where you went. They went from that to where they would buy your house if it wasn’t sold, they gave you allowances for new drapes, lot of things like that you got thirty days per diem for the whole family. It was scaled down two weeks of full per diem and then the week a little last and the last week even less. But you get per diem that first two weeks that your whole family individually, they only pay on two automobiles, uh, I don’t know, moving allowances maybe got up to ten thousand pounds
Brown: Um hm
Mason: Instead of two thousand pounds. People could own a piano!
Mason: So, uh, it really escalated rapidly during the late 60s and early 70s. But it got so expensive that forests could no longer afford to receive a new employee. It cut down on transfers tremendously, which was both good and bad.
Mason: [Coughes.] People weren’t getting experience in a variety of localities, types of land, mountain land, coastal plains, piedmont. And when I first started the idea was they wanted every forester to be thought of in terms as a potential chief, and the more variety of land that you worked on the better your overall grasp of the total job of the Forest Service. So…
Brown: Um hm
Mason: every one year or two years, you’d move. Usually without a promotion, just a lateral move, just to gain experience somewhere else. And uh, so it went from one extreme, and in my opinion, to the other. Salaries the same thing. Forest Service salaries started exceeding forester salaries in the industry and so forth. Uniform allowances really got expensive. They put a lot of other people in field uniforms, actually the allowance we got when I started was for a dress uniform or an office uniform or making a presentation uniform. Your field clothes you bought yourself.
Brown: Um Hm
Mason: There was No boot allowance. You felt like you needed safety glasses or work gloves, you had to buy them.
Mason: And, uh so there was a big emphasis on safety but they didn’t put much money behind it
Brown: Um hm. Uh, next question. How do you feel about proposals to transfer the Forest Service to the Department of the Interior?
Mason: Uh, up until maybe the last 20 years I was dead set against it. [He clears his throat.] But in my opinion the Forest Service mission has changed so much that it is not too much different from the mission you have in the Parks Service
Mason: And I really questioned whether the Forest Service would ever make their 100th anniversary. I think apart from rather getting into missions of Interior agencies and agricultural agencies, the total economic picture in this country is such that the government is going, in my opinion, have to make radical changes fast to reduce the cost of government, and part of it may be merging a lot of the current missions, it may be having a Parks Service and a Forest Service but both being in the Department of the Interior. Or put ‘em both in agriculture, something, but uh, there’s got to have to be a tremendous reduction in the amount of money the federal government consumes and spends, which has a great impact on the amount it has to tax individuals.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: Uh, there’s just got to be a major overhaul of our whole operation. It’s just like the conquest of this continent. Timber was initially thought of as an inexhaustible supply. And it wasn’t. And it finally caught up with us in the 1880s. And, in 25 years you had the Forest Service and the Parks Service. Uh, I think the structure of government, its missions and everything. In the 1950s and like…there wasn’t anything the government couldn’t take on and have plenty of money to do it, if they controlled it fairly tightly with the budgets, but there is a limit to what people can be taxed, and I think we’re really are headed to some bad times if we don’t start doing something now.
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: And that, like I say reducing the number of agencies, the number of departments, can certainly be part of it.
Brown: Um hm. Sir you mentioned that you thought maybe that the Forest Service’s mission had changed now than what it had been previously. Can you elaborate more on that?
Mason: Yeah, the Forest Service was utilitarian in their philosophy and everything was geared to using the forest wisely so that you perpetuated it, that you maximized the harvest of timber, maximized it within the constraints of recognizing that wasn’t the only thing out there. But timber did get a major share of the thought and the activity and the money and so forth (Post WWII there was a high demand for lumber from the housing boom). Uh, let’s see. I guess it’s pretty much as I’ve seen them, begin a tremendous reduction in the commodity emphasis in the Forest Service and the production of commodity whether it be oil, timber, cattle, special use fees for transmission lines and all that sort of thing. To less of a commodity and more emphasis on the forests are for people to enjoy in their many pursuits whether it’s camping, hiking, boating, fishing, uh, picnicking uh, and also as an ecological laboratory and trying to preserve species, trying to preserve eco-types uh, and that sort of thing, uh which all fits very well within the Parks Service mission, and that’s sort of the broad sense of what I mean and have seen
Brown: Um hm
Mason: When I started with the Florida Forests here in ‘57 their timber output was about 38 million board feet a year. When I came back they were bouncing around between 100 and 120 million board feet. And they were still cutting far less than the growth, but that took a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of people, and received a lot of the priority of the Forest Service. I think that was one of the major mistakes. I think the implementation of even-aged management was probably mishandled and we thought too much in large scale utilitarian ideas of a factory operation, big square block and that sort of thing and didn’t understand and appreciate people wanting the forest to have as much of a natural appearance as possible. Of course that was brought on, people in the 30s, 40s, and even into the 50s, a lot of people were given a week’s vacation a year but weren’t paid for it, so a lot of them never took it. A lot of people had a week or two maybe at the most paid vacation but people were working, sleeping and eating and that’s all… just like a lot of the third world countries, they don’t worry about next year or ten years down the path, they worry about after they’ve maybe gotten something to eat in the morning, “what I am going to eat at lunch or at noontime, or am I going to eat…am I going to have…is my shelter going to hold up?” So people weren’t interested or rather…uh, sophisticated past times of enjoying beauty in the forests so to speak. As that came about, although its disappeared a lot in the last 8 years, people that had the time really wanted something different from the forest experience.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And it could have been done in my opinion, they could have gone to even-aged management, which would help produce timber to build the homes and keep things rolling and still done it in a way to minimize the visual impact
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And so forth
Brown: Right. Could you explain even-age management to me?
Mason: Um to try to bring along, well we thought of…we think of still I think, they speak of stands of timber. And they are usually, this stand [Mason placed his hand, on the table to represent a stand] is they say is ten to twenty years old, it’s young trees. Next to it [He placed his other hand on the table, a short distance from the other, to represent another stand of trees] is a stand of trees that might be 120 years old and 50 years old and 30 years old. But the idea, rather than going in and selectively harvesting just a few trees from the whole forest that you would determine the economic or physiological maturity of a tree, when a tree quit growing, so to speak, and you would have all those, that type of tree in one stand you come in and cut that stand and reforest it and the next year you would go to another stand and so forth. If you’re on a hundred year rotation you try to have 100 stands in your forest or multiples of 100 stands depending on the size of your forest.
Mason: so that you were cutting one this year and one the next and that sort of thing.
Brown: Okay. So a stand is just kind of a cluster of trees,
Mason: Trees. Right.
Brown: the same age grouped together.
Mason: Region 8 wanted 20 acre hardwood stands, up to 40 acre pine wood stands, up to 120 acre sand pine stands here in Region 8 [Mason coughs.] And they were in the early 60s saying as square as possible. They allowed the “up to” size, but in the pines especially they wanted as many as possible to be the maximum size.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And roads, sort of on grids and that sort of thing, just make it a checkerboard, literal checkerboard pattern and by that time we started really getting in to that, people also started noticing more and more people had paid vacations and time to enjoy the outdoors, and they expected the woods to be the woods. [Mason and Brown chuckle.] And didn’t expect tree stumps or trees cut down, you know they could drive past a huge building being built in the city and it’d take years and it’s a mess, you know, and finally it’s a pristine, beautiful, landscaped thing . When they see a logging operation, it can appear messy, just like a construction site of a building. It’s not attractive, but it’s a new forest in progress, in the process. But they didn’t want to see that. They didn’t mind the lumber prices, and they wanted to be able to have plenty of lumber, but they didn’t want to see where it came from, but they were seeing it, and it, you know we’re as species pretty schizophrenic and so they wanted their cake and eat it too when they wanted to, to have our cake and we wanted it to be able to be so structured that it would be, you know, just like a cornfield that we could mow down at one time. So we lost touch with what people wanted
Brown: Um hm
Mason: and that’s the thing, foresters are trained to manage for what the owner wants, but you can’t help but kind of get feeling, that “we know best” attitude, and I think that the Forest Service was a little bit stern and militaristic, they were built on, uh, the German forestry model and they were very structured, very rule-oriented and not as accommodating as Americans wanted “their” land managed.
Brown: Hm. Uh, so now I have some questions that ask you to reflect on your career. Um, what were some of your career highlights?
Mason: First day on the job. Uh, forestry is a long term operation, you know, you do things that it’s years before what you did really shows up out there. But one of the areas where it shows up immediately almost is prescribed burning and I used to get a lot of satisfaction out of prescribed burning. You plan job, draw the maps, organized the crews, wait for the right wind, weather and humidity, days since the rain and all that sort of thing, you went out and you touched it off in a manner that didn’t destroy, but rather promoted a better forest, and you could see immediately the results were there in front of you. But when you plant a tree, coming back to Florida I was amazed at some of the areas that I was personally responsible for reforesting and how they looked in say twenty years, and it was very impressive, but uh, in a week or a month or [?] uh, you know it really doesn’t show up
Brown: Um Hm.
Mason: But I got a lot of satisfaction in returning to various areas I’ve worked and like I say, prescribed burning was almost instant gratification. And also, personnel management. Uh, I think I did some things particularly on the Homochitto Forest that were for the Forest Service very aggressive and maybe ahead of their time. Our ranger clerks were thought of just stenographers, or typists, that sort of thing, but the ranger clerk position sort of evolved into really a key position. A lot of times they were even part time, you know they weren’t five days a week, but with the ranger, with all his responsibilities and needing to be out of the office, having someone in the office that could answer many questions, could even initiate some things and do some things, and so forth, really made a much more efficient district.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And I happened to have been selected to be the first GS 12 district ranger in Mississippi, one of the first in Region 8, we had fourteen districts in Mississippi at that time, and all of a sudden I was a GS 12, The ranger clerk that I had left after about two years, and I hired someone as a GS 1, had no work experience whatsoever, but she had a high school diploma. She was a natural, she could think through things, had a good way of processing a lot of information handling it, organizing the office, and I successively promoted her from a GS 1 to becoming the first GS 5 district ranger clerk in Mississippi. And I did the same thing when I went to the, uh, George Washington Forest. They just didn’t appreciate people’s talents and potential in my opinion. And also, one of the biggest things, there was a tremendous peer pressure to conform in the Forest Serv-it was a large organization and three of the best people, employees the Forest Service ever had in my opinion, were either fired, run off, or left of their own accord, because they were “different.”
Mason: Uh, we had a maverick, one of my assistant district- he didn’t fit the mold of a typical assistant district ranger. But he was probably the most productive and useful district assistant ranger I ever had. [Mason coughs.] I was constantly trying to get him promoted to a district ranger, I never succeeded. His personality turned off people. And that would have been bad from a public relations standpoint, there wasn’t much I could do for him except reward him with performance bonuses and that sort of thing, or employee awards for certain work. I rewarded him that way. But, a lot of people I was able to help. One of them was an assistant working with me when I was a planner here before I assumed my assistant’s job. Every fiscal person in the office, every administrative person in the office, said he ought to be fired because he always pushed the envelope of what was allowable and every case when the dust finally settled, yeah, you could do it that way, it’s never been done that way before, and he was very inventive, very creative, very hard-worker, did good work, but he was always in a “fight” with somebody about rules, regulations, etc…
Brown: Um hm
Mason: …about, “you can’t do that” and he said, “Sure you can.” And finally, I got him promoted to a district ranger job in Tennessee and he was up there about three years and resigned and went into consulting business. Now managerially I don’t think you can have a lot of those type of people but I think every district needs one and every supervisor’s office needs one or two because people tend to conform, whether they realize it or not or even want to or not we just, well we don’t want to make mistakes and these type of people are willing to make mistakes you know, they are willing to go out on a limb and do something and a large organization whether it’s public or private tends to indirectly reward conformers.
Mason: But uh it was a highlight in my career to, some of the people I was able to move through the ranks so to speak, I got a lot of personal satisfaction out of that., I always looked forward to going to work every day, Forest Service was a type of job, it wasn’t like an assembly line job and you knew what you would be doing all day long, and particularly if you were in a line position you had a lot of freedom and authority to operate and I found that very satisfying. Now with my grandchildren, I’ve got more snake stories and raccoon stories and grouse stories and bird stories, and bear stories than you can shake a stick at.
Mason: And keep them entertained,
Mason: so it’s still giving. My career has given me a lot after I retired.
Brown: What future projects would you like to see the Forest Service initiate?
Mason: Hm…well I’d like to see them do some, not so much different initiatives or projects or big deals, but I’d like for them to go back to requiring more accountability of their managers. I’d like for them to go back to emphasizing bringing up leaders rather than managers. There was an incident here on this forest maybe ten years ago
Brown: In Tallahassee?
Mason: In Tallahassee, on the forest right near Tallahassee, south of town, where between federal highway, state highway, Forest Service and may have been in what the city or county wanted, there was a gross misunderstanding of some highway work that was done and they probably needed to clear an additional ten acres, they wound up, they must have cleared about forty acres, of nice timber land, and the public just blew up about it, it really hit the fan, and I couldn’t see that there was any, no one acknowledged ever making a mistake, or they point fingers, the Highway Department point fingers at the Forest Service and back and forth and so forth. In the 1950s and 60s out of this office at least three people would have been held accountable and disciplined, all three would have been transferred to different positions if they were the professionals and that would be the ones that would be responsible, several of them probably reduced in pay grade, might have even been one separated from the Forest Service. Uh, there were…to just a young kid out of college it seemed like they were a little brutal and they probably needed to ease up a little bit but now I see them go in the other extreme. For instance there was a new district ranger on the Lake George Ranger District about 15 years ago. The previous ranger, in my opinion, was probably in the last sixty years one of the ten best district rangers ever in the Southern Region. And they put a new person in that job, who was totally miscast, it wasn’t the type of job they should’ve had, totally unprepared, lacked the ability to do the job, such things as, Congressional inquiries were sent to them and they didn’t do it, they just let the Congressionals lie in the basket and that’s a cardinal sin in a government agency, totally unresponsive, didn’t give direction to the employees on the district, I met this person, and I tried for fifteen minutes to carry on a conversation and I would get one word answers if that, might just stare off into space, and to correct that the supervisor at the time said, “we can’t let that person fail,” and it meant a lot of work for a lot of other people. Finally they were moved on, I don’t know what happened to them. But, uh, there just been a, just a total, in my opinion, lack of accountability. ..
Brown: Um hm
Mason: …even fiscally, by the time I retired we never knew for sure at the end of a year, it might be 9 months before we had some kind of final balance from a previous year. Forest Service used to either demote or fire people who couldn’t operate within their budget. With all our computer sophistication never really knew where we stood, it was hard to figure out where we were…
Mason: …fiscally, and before the age of computers, fiscal year ended June 30th by middle of July each ranger knew, well, I did overspend just a little bit or I just under-spent or something like that, but you knew almost immediately.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And it seemed the more sophisticated we got, the less we could do with it, I don’t know. But, I just feel like we lost control and the people need to have to perform well. That’s what I’d wish for the Forest Service more than let’s go to the moon and reforest the moon and that type of stuff.
Brown: Um hm. What advice do you have for current Forest Service employees?
Mason: Well, -that was another thing years ago there was a tremendous amount of loyalty and I saw that lessening over the years. And we started treating people as individuals, which there was some good aspects of that, but they, they start thinking and behaving like individuals and not a team or an organization. But I would encourage foresters today to be loyal, carry out their job, the utmost highest quality as they possibly can, and not be afraid to speak out and question things, challenge things, but remain loyal trying to help the organization and it’s not just a job, it’s just not a paycheck
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And I started to see especially among the nonprofessional staff, it was just sort of another 40 hour job. Of course this office had 12 total people in it in ’57, that included the Forest Supervisor and the mail boy, literally a mail boy, at the end. [Mason and Brown chuckle.] And they had a 12 cup coffee maker, had 12 people and that was the way they operated-that sort of classic overall schedule, the way they operated, it was very close, very tight. You know the Forest Service used to be one of only two agencies that returned to the Treasury at the end of each year more money than it took to run ‘em.
Mason: By the time of President Johnson that disappeared, he was for agencies doing more, and bigger and fancier, programs we’d never done before and we spent money, most of our money was spent on projects that didn’t produce any money—social programs.
Mason: The government is a service, but I felt good about working for an agency that gave back more money than they took
Brown: Um hm
Mason: [I mentioned the first day of the job and orientation by the boss, he said, “Now you know we would prefer that your wife not work unless she’s a teacher or a nurse. A wife should be at home, being a homemaker, we expect you to be a member of the Society of American Foresters, and a local civic organization.” Now a lot of businesses and so forth would pay certain employees to be members but of course the Forest Service didn’t, you did that on your own. But you were to be part of the community, you were expected to be one of the more up-upstanding and outstanding persons in that community and to recognize that a lot of people like in Gloster and those small towns did look up to you…
Mason: …and expect you to be nothing but a good example in everything you did, either on the job or off the job. But you were on the job twenty four hours a day in one sense. You had a reputation of the organization and yourself to maintain. They didn’t tolerate extramarital affairs or other sexual misconduct, I mean that was just [He snaps his fingers], you were out of the pool, you-gone, or transferred at least, immediately. They expected people to behave on their off hours, they expected their professionals, well when I was told my salary was $4210 a year, they said, “now we can’t get our work done in 40 hours a week, but your salary is $4210 a year, whatever it takes to get the job done, you get $4210. And I sort of grew up in the Forest Service thinking that overtime was illegal and all that sort of thing, and, of course they didn’t have as many holidays then and if the holiday fell on Saturday or Sunday, well that was just good luck for the Forest Service, unless you were assigned work on those days you didn’t get a holiday. Uh, so the-there was a culture of trying to maintain this, in one sense kind of small organization, even though it was nationwide, to be a supposed shining light in a community and you know, if you were, became known as the town lush, you know spent Friday and Saturday nights at the bar, that was grounds for discipline. I mean your private time was not your time in that sense.
Mason: Uh, trying to think of some more things of wisdom I learned that first day. Like I say, I..I was…I knew I shouldn’t have volunteered, I should have thought about I was going in the army, and once [I had said I could type], I became a clerk typist, I was told that the ranger wanted me in the office every Friday, because that’s when he was always in, he was in other days too, so I could type up the week’s memos that he wanted to send to the SO, he’d give me his pencil copy and I’d type them up. Also he had a table out like this [The table in the conference room where we held the interview was about 2 feet wide by 6 feet long] just stacked with paper, and he said, “this is filing I haven’t done. I want you to file.” And they had a crazy filing system then, they have a good one now, in my opinion, but they had designations like “o-radio-general” and he told me that was a catch-all file because nobody ever wrote a memo with that designation, so if you didn’t know where to file it, it was an outside correspondence, you stuck it in that. So when you needed to find something [Mason and Brown chuckle] you go there first. “O-Radio”, they’d have “T-Timber,” uh, “Sales” is sort of the three type thing. And, uh, I never did learn it, and they started changing it when I was in about six months, but it was horrible.
Mason: The manual was the same way.
Brown: Hm. Uh, what do you consider to be the Forest Service’s definitive contribution to the nation and what role did you play in the mission?
Mason: I thought about that very thing last night, and in my opinion, it was in the area of Civil Rights, and I felt like I did have a role in that area. Interesting thing was I didn’t get a single comment from the S.O. about hiring those ten blacks. But the very first day on the job I had to fire one of them, and that threw them into a panic. And uh I didn’t know really why until years later, about 15 years later, I was in the Washington office, and I went around the first time I had been in the Washington office, and I went around to see the personnel officer who had been there for years and years and years, and I introduced myself, he had a funny look on his face, he said “That name’s familiar.” He opened up his desk, personal desk file drawer, rummaged through it, oh he pulled out a folder, “Yeah, you were on the Homochitto Ranger District weren’t you?” I said, “Yup.” He said Medgar Evers brother, he’s, Medgar Evers was assassinated just about the time I moved to Mississippi,
Brown: Who was this, Medgar Evers?
Mason: He was a black uh, well, he was described as an agitator and so forth for Civil Rights. He had organized some state marches and that sort of thing, and he was killed, and his brother sorta took over his work. Well his brother went to DC to this particular man and said, “If you don’t fire the two rangers, or transfer or move the two rangers, on the Homochitto National Forest, I’m going to organize a march around this block until you get some black district rangers.” And he said, “Well, we’re, uh,…I don’t expect you to fully understand or appreciate that people don’t just take a job as a district ranger, you come in and it’s something you work up to, but uh, so , I’m not going to do what you’re asking me, I can’t do what you’re asking me and if you want to march, march.” They didn’t march, but uh, he had several things about that period in there and my folder, that I never knew got out of Mississippi, but it did apparently. Uh, so I found that both frightening and interesting. But uh, so, like I say, I think, and the thing with so much of it, what the Forest Service accomplished was very done quietly and sort of nonchalantly, and uneventfully, that most people didn’t even realize it was happening. But I think that was their greatest contribution during my career, because it could have been a very difficult, turbulent, nasty, terrible situation. But uh, it uh, it wasn’t. Awkward at times, mishandled at times, but not terrible or nasty.
Mason: A lot of people didn’t like it perhaps and unhappy about it, but it happened. And, but it didn’t happen by chance, it was directed and so, I think some people in Washington and the various supervisors office did a good job, of the way it was handled. I think they allowed it to happen, guided it, but it happened pretty quickly. So that, to me that’s their greatest contribution. Everything I’ve said about the integration of blacks into the workforce must be taken in the context of how volatile the issue was socially and politically,
Brown: uh hm
Mason: uh, I could make an argument I think for a lot of other things, local economies, promoting good forestry in industry and internationally and that sort of thing, but uh to me that was probably their biggest accomplishment, even if they didn’t recognize it at the time. Uh, in fact uh, I had, just about everything they did I could say it was a great accomplishment. The establishment of the forest in the 30s in the east, and management on through, working through a lot of the cultural, local problems of whiskey making, trash dumping, the free roam of cattles, you know that sort of thing.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: Here in Florida, in the first half of the twentieth century, the forest provided recreation for people, and they would just get on horseback and run through the woods, and striking kitchen matches and throwing it out on a Sunday afternoon, and they worked six days a week and that was recreation, burning the woods. So, there were a lot of cultural things that that stood-that could have stood in the way, but uh weren’t allowed to.
Brown: Um hm Um huh.
Mason: And it wasn’t easy. Especially the foresters in the 30s and 40s really had a tough time.
Brown: I had uh just one follow up question about your experiences in Mississippi, if you don’t mind me asking. So you mentioned you had some problems with the Klu Klux Klan and how, let’s see they burned the cross in the forest, did you have any other trouble with them after that?
Mason: No. They were kinda laying low because they, they apparently committed those murders and the state got covered up with FBI agents, other law enforcement people and kinda clamped down on that. Um, I had an, well I thought it was an exceptionally good relationship with the black principal. They had the railroad track, and I said were two sides of town, one side where the blacks were they had a first grade through 12, and first grade through twelve [He motions his hands, as if to say on the other side of the railroad tracks]. Now the black school was far superior, had far superior facility, the white school been built in the 20s and showed the effects of wear and tear and probably minimal maintenance over the years. Brand new facilities over here. And the principal was like the ones the movies were made about, there was Standing Tall then there was one set in New Jersey, that carried a baseball bat around the halls. This guy didn’t have a club, but when I’d go into that school to give a Smokey Bear program, uh, clean classes, quiet kids going through the hall, there wasn’t yelling, talking or anything, um, the, the place was immaculately clean, cafeteria was so clean I used to tell him, “I think I could eat off your cafeteria floor.” The cafeteria kids were politely talking with one another, no hollering or anything, you know, and uh, to me he ran a model school there. He was the one that I got to find me the ten men to uh, to go work, and it was about five week job, but it was a pretty good boost to a few economies there, we had, I had several other relationships in the black community and a lot of the whites and blacks had relationships, and it was all very peaceful unless someone quote “got out of place,” tried to step out of their, their place. Uh, it wasn’t [Mason clears his throat] a good situation, but everybody understood, it was all out in the open and above board, and there was no questions. In Virginia, a few blacks there really didn’t know where they stood. I remember there was a fellow that was in charge of maintenance at Bridgewater College, a little Brethren liberal arts college. His name, they’d nicknamed him Cotton because his father’s hair was pure white, when he came along they called him Cotton too. But he was so well-liked, everybody treated him so nice and joked with him, talked with him, and he was a member of the Rotary Club and everything. And apparently one of the Rotarians decided to, encouraged him, “Don’t you want to belong to the country club?” So, he sponsored him as a member to the country club and they voted but he was voted not to be a member. And uh, [Mason snorts] it was kind of a shock to a lot of people in that community, but uh, there was a lot of deep-seeded resentment.
Mason: There was, let’s see, I wanted to mention a few I think major
Mason: things that I felt like the Forest Service did wrong and I think in hindsight, they would agree. I worked on the Lake George Ranger District, went into the army, came out and was sent down to the south end of that forest, the Seminole Ranger District, and the Forest Service apparently had been kinda working on this, had to have worked on it for several years, and they were getting ready to initiate what they called the Summer Home Program, and to me it’s probably one of the single greatest mistakes uh of a program that they ever did. But they just, they were still stuck in that people didn’t have the recreation time that they were starting to have, and so they, had the Forest Service in each one of their Districts select certain sights, either along a creek or river, uh, a mountain overlook or something or on the Ocala, on the western side there a lot of beautiful clear lakes 40, 60 acre lakes clustered in an area and they laid out lots on all these things and we had hundreds on Seminole. And they were gonna allow people to build a real inexpensive, unfinished vacation cabin, and they had minimum standards, and the problem was they didn’t designate maximum standards. Well, when we finally announced we were ready to start taking requests, and had maps that had all these places named and numbered, and they were to write in for their top three choices. Well almost by return mail we had three times more requests than we had sites, just, boom, and we couldn’t believe it, and we were just overwhelmed with work trying to sort through that and assign people their lots, and they would pay an annual, small annual fee and they would have this little place where they and the family, husband and the misses and the four kids could go out and have a nice little vacation. Well almost overnight they turned into permanent, year round residences, had school bus stops, mail routes, and it was totally out of control; it was to be a total forest experience-we didn’t even envision having mail go out there and delivered or having these people live there year round. They built brick homes, and we, the Forest Service has been stuck with this now, with seemingly no way to get out of it. Although there was no guarantee, it wasn’t, it isn’t their land, but the Forest Service politically has been unable, they’ve tried to end the program at various spots in the country. Now they had all seemed reasonable at the very beginning, there had been a few old homes that were left in the mountains or Sweetwater Cabin was a hunting cabin, there it is, there [Mason points to a picture hanging on the wall. It is a picture of Sweetwater Cabin.] on the Ocala National Forest that wass
Brown: Oh okay
Mason: Up to a point.
Brown: The picture on the wall?
Brown: Uh huh
Mason: A private lodge that uh some number of business people or something had gone together and put out there. It wasn’t on federal lands when it was built. It was just outside the core of the old federal land that was turned into the national forest, and uh, but then the land was acquired during the 30s, and so, uh, there [?] were individual places and some of them had them under lease and different people had them different years and that sort of thing. This one, Sweetwater, the Forest Service used as an administrative meeting site, and when it wasn’t being used for administrative purposes, they let people come and stay for a week,
Brown: Um hm.
Mason: And uh so, so it wasn’t a totally new concept, they just expanded it tremendously. And uh, I don’t know, I think there’ll be houses in those places now in perpetuity that we’ll
Brown: Um hm
Mason: never get rid of. Politically the local politicians just can’t stand the fallout of trying to support the Forest Service in getting rid of them.
Mason: And, both locally and national politics, so I think that was a big mistake. I mentioned the KV funds management.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: And also mentioned I felt like we implemented even-age management inappropriately, um, I think whereas they did a real textbook marvelous job and great accomplishment in Civil Rights, when they really got in to trying to have what they call a diverse and multicultural organization, they lost touch with reality and did in my opinion many silly things. And I think they accepted multiculturalism and diversity almost as religious dogma and something that was given to us by the gods.
Mason: And that if you had a diverse, multicultural workforce that meant that you had an excellent work force and that everything was beautiful. I think the way, this was something they really forced, they may have thought because the way success integration racially was handled, that they could really push and force us, set up quotas, all that kind of thing, and uh they just turned in to, in my opinion a real bungled organization, it was, the district ranger I was talking about was a result of that program.
Brown: Right. Which district ranger was this again?
Mason: The Lake George Ranger District
Mason: Uh, that finally was, one day she wasn’t there [Mason laughs] so I don’t know what happened. But anyway, you know can’t let her fail, and it was unfair to a lot of the individuals, they were put into positions literally way above their pay grade, they hadn’t had the experience
Brown: Um hm
Mason: uh, it wasn’t fair to them, it wasn’t fair to the organization. I had what I thought was one of the top notch planners, when I was Assistant Forest Supervisor, planners here in the nation. And he decided he wanted to get back to California, and in California the Forest Service had lost control totally of their personnel operations, no individual personnel changed appointment, transfer, promotion, anything could be done until it had been reviewed and passed on by circuit court out there. And so he applied for the same job, lateral, in California, there were fifteen on the final certificate from which the final choice was to be made, he didn’t even get to that list. There were fourteen, thirteen Hispanic females and two Caucasian females on the list, and it was a lot of those people were not qualified, and again it wasn’t fair to them, and it wasn’t fair to a person like I was trying to promote. And uh, I had when I started out for most of my career, I said I want forty years with the Forest Service, but after thirty three years I just felt like I was out of tune and out of touch with the program and I went ahead and retired. But uh I felt like that was a mistake the way that was handled.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: Uh, talked about the, going back to more accountability, fiscally, and program. [Mason brought with him some notes that he is flipping through.] Oh, this was a decision made, probably in the White House, uh the Forest Service had to live with it, but I feel like it was a big mistake and that was government unions. There were none–employees had to sign a statement that they would not become a member of an employee union, it was against the law to be a member of an employee union working for the government, in most states the same way. And to me that turned out to be a very gross mistake on the part of government made in the highest political level there is, and uh, I think unions were an absolute necessity in the 1880s and they went through terrible time ever gaining any position to be useful and to help shape working conditions and pay and that sort of thing, but then it went beyond that and the government unions came in on the end where they became, in my opinion, a negative force, as opposed to a positive force, and it did nothing but cause a lot of problems for the Forest Service, particularly at the district and supervisor’s office level, so…And their long range planning, we got because of a direct result of our mismanagement of implementing a very effective tool, even-age management the way we did it, and [Mason clears his throat] the National Forest Management Act was, I think bad for the Forest Service and the long range planning process that we kinda got pushed into, it was unproductive, very costly. I signed off on our very first plan that we had, that we did in Florida, I don’t know how many millions of dollars that I calculated that thing cost over about an eight year period, just unbeliv-and it was sort of dead on arrival as soon as it was done. It was challenged and all this sort of thing and it was finally died a slow death and they went into, well now we’re going to do a major revision of it, and now we had two or three cycles here and I don’t know if we’ve gotten anything of any consequence out of it. But uh, I say that was a bad thing in my opinion, but the result of how iwe operated I think.
Mason: To me conservation became a good word and environmentalism became a bad word. I think right now environmentalism is one of our major ills in this country and most people aren’t even aware of what’s happened in the environmental community at the highest levels and so forth, but anyway that’s, sums up most of the things. On the Ocala National Forest maps they were really made by the USGS and we then adapted, printed up their map and adapted it with some Forest Service information and stuff. There was a large shallow lake right on the south end of the Ocala National Forest, just about in the middle, where there apparently had been a black settlement around it at one time, uh, it didn’t when I was working down there.. When they printed up the maps of the Ocala in the 40s and 50s they used to put it right on the map and it was called “Niggertown Lake.” Well, as the 60s progressed, we got another map out and it didn’t have any name at all there. And then a few years later, they revised the maps and they came out and there was now a name and it was Nicatoon Lake, which I don’t know what that name means, but it was just a phase of all of the racial integration that was going in the 60s and I thought it was interesting. I’ve got one of the old maps that’s got “Niggertown Lake” on it, on a government, USGS, Forest Service map.
Mason: Which would, you know today no one would ever consider calling something nigger-this or nigger-that.
Brown: Um hm
Mason: Uh, see if there are any…I think I mentioned the renaming of the forest, National Forest in Florida
Brown: Um hm, um hm[Mason flips through the pages of notes he brought with him.]
Mason: Other than getting into just a story telling afternoon, I don’t know of any other significant events or
Brown: Um hm
Mason: or things that I recall from my days, by and large they were very good days for me personally.
Brown: Well thank you Mr. Mason. Uh, I think, yes, we were supposed to do a 90 minute interview and we’ve gone a little over, which was wonderful, I have enjoyed hearing about your experiences so much. Um and if you have anything that you think of that you’d like to share you are of course more than welcome to, but
Mason: Let me ask you this
Mason: What, uh, what are the possibilities or how might I get a copy of either the written narrative or a… sound or something like that of the end result of this thing?
Brown: Right, I think we should be able to furnish you with a copy, um, I can talk with Dr. Shapiro, he’d, he’d be a better person to talk to about any sort of, um, final project and uh, with this. But I don’t see, I don’t foresee that being a problem at all.
Mason: What uh, now I, I was aware, that region 8 did have an oral history program, what, what do they do with this or do you know what?
Mason: the result of all this
Brown: I don’t know uh what exactly the Forest Service will do with the results. I know that Dr. Shapiro wants us um as his students to kind of put together a project with our interviews, and I think, if I understand him correctly, our final projects might be housed at Auburn University library and I think uh a digital copy of the interviews will also be there and I believe uh a copy of the interview will also be sent to the Forest Service, I just don’t know uh, what exactly will be done with this.
Mason: Ok. Well don’t hesitate to call me if questions come up, can you explain this
Mason: explain this a little better or what did you mean, or whatever
Brown: Well thank you so much sir, and I have, if you don’t mind the interview agreement form. Um, we have a certificate of gift if there are any, I don’t know photographs or other mementos, you certainly not obligated in any way. But what we do need is the interview agreement form. Here is a pen.
Mason: Okay I have one
Brown: Oh okay. And I’ll fill out my side [She signs the interview agreement form.]
The Interviewee: Ray Mason worked for the National Forest Service for thirty three years before retiring. He was born in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1935 and studied Forestry at the University of Florida. In 1957 he graduated college, married and began working for the National Forest Service. He worked on six Ranger districts and in one Supervisor’s Office. His career took him from Florida, to Arkansas, to Mississippi and Virginia and then finally back to Florida. In Florida he worked at Ocala National Forest, in Eustis as a staff forester and in Tallahassee as Assistant Forest Supervisor. In Arkansas he worked in the Ozark National Forest. In Mississippi he worked at DeSoto National Forest, and in Virginia at George Washington National Forest. In 1989 he retired from the Forest Service. Then he returned to work as Environmental Education Chief and as Assistant Bureau Chief for Forest Management before retiring again in 2003. He currently lives in Havana, Florida.
The Interviewer: Robin Brown is a graduate student in the History Department at Auburn University. The interview was conducted to fulfill as part of a course, Introduction to Public History.
Description of the Interview: The interview lasted approximately two hours and nineteen minutes. It was conducted in one of the larger offices at the National Forests in Florida Supervisor’s Office. Mason and Brown were the only two people in the office, but beyond the office Forest Service employees were working. There may be some faint background noises of voices and telephones ringing as a result. Both Mason and Brown were at first slightly nervous, but quickly overcame their anxiety. Mason was slightly reserved, but overall very pleasant. He seemed to enjoy frankly discussing his thoughts and reflecting on his career. The interviewee had a set of approximately fifteen questions that Mason answered. In the process of answering those questions, Mason brought up several anecdotes and elaborated on some personal sentiments relating to his career. After finishing those questions, Mason began speaking openly about some mistakes the National Forest Service had made, in his opinion. He had come prepared with a list of key dates and also some talking points.
Content of the Interview: The interview covered Mason’s life, beginning with his graduation from college and entering into the National Forest Service. Mason described in varying detail all of the forests in which he worked. Much of the interview focuses on his experiences in Mississippi where he worked for seven years during the 1960s. He mentioned some of the projects he oversaw as a forest ranger and also commented on the social and political environment in Mississippi in the 1960s. The conversation also drifted towards what serving in the Forest Service required of its employees when Mason worked there. He drew some distinct contrasts between his experiences in the Forest Service and the type of amenities and compensation received by current employees. While reflecting on his own career, he also considered the challenges and triumphs the agency saw during his tenure. For Mason, an expansion of African Americans was a highlight of the National Forest Service. Mason also spent some time considering where he thought the agency had erred, and how the present goals had shifted from what they once were. The interview questions attempted to summarize Mason’s career in the agency and he came prepared to discuss his own opinions of the agency since his retirement.
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: At one point during the interview, Mason describes a desk as being about as large as the table in the room where we conducted our interview. The table in the office was approximately three feet wide and six feet long.