As I write fire lookout articles here and there, I always find the feedback a great chance to learn and make friends.
After writing one of my River Hills Traveler articles I received a contact from Lawrence Buchheit, of Old Appleton.
Lawrence invited me for a “tower tour” and talk. He was able to get a key, so we were also able to check out the cab. You could see Cottoner Mountain and the location where the Coffman Tower stood at one time.
Knob Lick Tower was off the west and on a clear day he said you could even see the bridge at Chester and Bald Knob Cross. Bald Knob Cross is almost 40 miles away as the crow flies.
He noted that early on fighter jets used the area for what seemed to be low-level training, and on occasion the fighter pilot appeared to be lower than the cab of the tower.
He is also a local historian and my first questions involved the area. He noted Old Appleton was Schnurbusch and then Apple Creek, to become Appleton and Old Appleton today. Missouri already had an Appleton so that name had caused confusion.
He mentioned how the area had served as the capitol for the five local Shawnee Nations and that Lewis & Clark had stopped there on their way to set out from St. Louis on their journey of discovery.
I enjoyed the lesson and looking at the maps he shared with me.
My first questions involved his work as a tower man. Some have the impression a tower worker spent all their time in the cab of a tower. Towers were used mostly in high fire danger periods.
When the “burn index” (winds over 20 mph and humidity less than 25 percent) was high, the towers were used to “get the jump” on fires.
Being fast to the fire was everything. A crew that got to a fire when it was small had a small problem. Part of this equation was the fire finder. By aiming and “taking a shot” on the smoke, a worker could relay readings quickly to other towers or to a dispatch board.
These numbers could be translated into an exact location to speed up the arrival of help. If it was a small fire, the worker might go themselves to put the fire out.