Archived from:
A History of the Architecture of the USDA Forest Service

Chapter 3
People: Leaders and Implementers

Clyde P. Fickes
Regional Architect, Region 1 (1929-1944)

Clyde Fickes was born in Nelson, Nebraska, in 1884. He grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spending summers on a farm in Bedford County with his maternal grandmother. He attended Ohio Northern University, majoring in engineering. After graduation, he went to Kalispell, Montana, where he lived with an uncle.

Fickes was appointed a Forest Guard on July 6, 1907. He furnished a saddle and packhorse and was assigned to work with D.C. Harrison, a topographer, to survey and plat administrative site withdrawals.

For the next 17 years he worked on several forests in Region 1 and was assigned duties in various aspects of forest management. When Clyde transferred to the Madison National Forest, one of his first tasks was to learn how to drive the Government-owned Model T Ford. "On a forest like the Madison," Clyde said, "good transportation was a necessity. Any place one wanted to go was 20 to 40 miles, so it was not a very good saddlehorse chance. Four miles an hour against 40, and a Ford could be driven cross-country on at least half of the forest, especially if the Ford was equipped with a Ruckstell axle"

After Clyde had worked on the Madison for a period of time, the following announcement was posted in the Sheridan Office:

Fickes Family Departs for Sandpoint - C.P. Fickes, of the local Forest Office, who has been transferred to the Pend Oreille National Forest with headquarters at Sandpoint, Idaho, expects to leave today or tomorrow for his new station. Mr. Fickes was transferred to the Madison Forest from the Nezperce on March 5, 1924, and has since that time occupied the position of Assistant Supervisor on the Madison Forest.

"In due time I reported to Forest Supervisor Ernest T. Wolf at the Pend Oreille National Forest in Sandpoint, Idaho, and met Assistant Supervisor L.F. "Duff Jefferson, Forest Assistant George M. DeJarnette, and Chief Clerk Walter W. Schwartz. The office was in a storeroom on the ground-floor level, with a private office partitioned off for the Supervisor. The forest was in need of improvements of all kinds, and my first job was to acquaint myself with what we had and then help to prepare overall plans for future development of the forest. We had a very light fire season in 1927, so I was able to visit all the ranger districts and visit with rangers about their improvement problems. The Port Hill District was allotted money for a lookout house on Smith Peak for which we did not have any construction plans.

"My father was a carpenter and builder, and I virtually grew up among carpenter shop shavings and small building construction. I drew up some detailed plans for a 12- x 12-foot building of frame construction with a 6- x 6-foot cupola, and ordered some lumber and hardware. Frank Casler hauled it up to the Smith Creek Ranger Station. At that time there were only half a dozen or so satisfactory, improved fire lookouts on the Idaho forests of Region 1. At that time the Region did not have any kind of structural plans and specifications for a lookout structure. Region 6, at Portland, Oregon, had a plan for a 12- x 12-foot building with an observation cupola on top, which was developed for that Region by some architectural engineer. The estimated cost of that building was from $1,200 to $2,000 to construct. I had prepared plans for a ready-cut lookout, and the cost of materials was less than $100. When I returned to the office after this chore, I was informed that the Regional Office wanted me to come in on a detail to design a lookout house for the Region. Joe Halm, a draftsman in Engineering, did all the tracing for the ready-cuts.

"Then it was decided that I should become a part of the Regional Office staff in the Office of Operations. In May 1929, I moved my family from Sandpoint to Missoula. I became the person supervising the design and construction of all improvements (trails, telephone lines, buildings, campground layouts, and later radio communications).

"In order to take care of the volume of work generated by the new emergency appropriations and the CCC's, it was necessary to set up an architectural section for the design and planning of major improvements. William J. (Bill) Fox came to us via Butte and the University of Washington at Seattle as a professional architect. Bill eventually supervised a staff of six or seven architectural draftsmen under my general supervision. His first major job was developing the plans for development of the Remount Depot layout.

"Early in my assignment to the Regional Office, it became apparent to me, from my contact with the rangers in the field, that they needed some sort of manual or handbook to which they could refer for information of all sorts on improvement, construction, and maintenance work. I set to work gathering all kinds of illustrations showing how to frame a building wall, how to cut a rafter, what kind of nails to use, how to mix concrete, how to build a brick chimney, what kind of hardware to use and how to order from the dealer, how to build concrete forms, a chapter on log building construction, and the most practical way to string telephone wire and install telephones. This developed into a letter-sized mimeographed volume about 1-1/2 inches thick, which we called the Improvement Handbook. This became the rangers construction and maintenance bible. The manual also contained a section on log building construction, which I eventually developed into the Log Construction Handbook. It was printed by the Bureau of Government Printing and sold over 100,000 copies. Along about 1968, the University of Alaska issued a reprint of my Log Construction Handbook without giving me any credit. Of course, Government publications are not copyrighted.

"In 1936, we were bodily transferred to the Office of Engineering under Fred Theime. We also took over the direct supervision of ranger station construction.

"The winter of 1936-37, I attended, with several others from Region 1, a conference of Forest Service engineers and architects at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. The first day we had lunch at the cafeteria: while standing in line, I was introduced to the man next to me. The man in front of him turned around and looked at me and said, 'Are you the Clyde Fickes who was at Ohio Northern University in 1903?' It was Jim Brownlee, Regional Engineer at Denver. He was a graduate of Ohio Northern's Engineering School; he and I had been together in a campus fracas in which engineers, pharmacists, and lawyers took on the rest of the campus in a graduation fracas.

"Ted Norcross, Chief of Engineering in the Washington Office, was there, and he had some concerns over the revision of the Trail Manual and the new Telephone Handbook that were about ready for printing. Since I had made some constructive, not to mention critical, comments and suggestions about the makeup of both of them, he arranged for me to go back to Washington with him and help get the job done, which I did." [ 1 ]

Fickes was named by Jim Byrne as the lead engineer for the construction of the facilities for the Guayule Rubber Project in 1942 (where he worked from February until November). Major Kelly, his supervisor, wrote: "Clyde Fickes has quit the project for good. He has done a great service here. All whom he has served may not realize the obstacles under which he worked; however, he made for the project a lot of progress that would not have been achieved had it not been for his practicality and drive."

Fickes returned to the Missoula Regional Office, where he completed his Forest Service career. In June 1944, he was offered a promotion to a job with the Treasury procurement organization with a substantial increase in salary that he could not turn down. He retired from Government service on June 30, 1947.


1. Excerpts from Clyde P. Fickes, Forest Ranger Emeritus, Recollections, 1972.

Last Updated: 08-Jun-2008