Wooden lookout towers were sturdier than you might think

(Editor’s note: This is the sixth part in a series about fire towers in Missouri.)

“Don’t forget the wooden towers” is the cry I have received in several emails.

Although my collected information on the wooden towers is not up to the steel, I have gathered some interesting pictures and ideas over the years.

One paper here has the old wooden tower at Deer Run listed as the first in the state. The steel tower there was the first metal tower. 

Deer Run may have a double first. Many present and past steel tower sites were predated by wooden ones. Wooden towers were also popular during the war years as steel was needed for the war effort.

In the enclosed picture at Proctor, you can see the footings for the previous wooden tower in the foreground and the present steel tower in the back. As Jim Parker pointed out to me, notice the different method for attaching the wood to the concrete.

Instead of bolts the wooden tower footings had “straps” set in the concrete and then attached to the legs. The steel tower at Proctor (moved from Swedeborg) replaced the wooden tower which stood there from 1946 to 1974.

These wooden towers could be very sturdy. Consider this news article from the Jefferson City Post-Tribune (October 1972):


“The old sentinel didn’t fall easily. The fire tower was stronger than Conservation Commission personnel had figured. Supporting braces were sawed away, bolts were driven out with sledges, power saws partially cut through three of the massive legs. Still it resisted.

“The cold Tuesday afternoon dragged on. Time after time, ropes were attached to a small bulldozer and tension applied. Time after time the ropes snapped. Half a dozen times the structure defied the crew, setting back on its concrete base with creaks and groans.

“Built in 1947, the fire tower near the Reform Community, in southeastern Calloway County, had served its purpose. A 120-foot steel tower south of Gutherie has replaced the 60-foot wooden tower which was rotting and unsafe. 

“The Reform Tower, a familiar landmark in the area, had been scheduled for destruction last Friday. Transportation difficulties gave it four days of grace. It was a cold, damp, windy day to go. Its time, however, had run out.

“Nestled in its dark-green, 20-acre grove of surrounding pine trees, the roar of the dozer and shouts of the crew disturbed the forest stillness as they tried to pull the tower over. The tower stood starkly against the slate-gray sky, a belligerent, frustrating reminder of a time when things were built to last.

“The dozer won in the end. The leg in the direction of fall was sawed almost through about four feet from the base. A chain was attached to the dozer and tied directly around the base. Revving up the machine, the bulldozer yanked on this four foot “plug” at a right angle.

“Slowly at first, with a loud snapping of timbers and the collapsing of the topmost portion of the structure, the fall began. Then the tilt, inharmonious, chillingly incongruent, with agonizing slowness. Finally the crash, cushioned by the pines, comrades for years performing one last favor.

“Eugene McCormick, of Reform, had been the towerman at Reform since its construction and is now assigned to the Gutherie Tower. He was among the workman at the site.”

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