The Birth of the
Vinton Furnace Forest Experiment Station

By Emmett A. Conway, Sr., The Olde Forester

Realizing that most practicing foresters of the Year 2000 weren’t even born when the Vinton Furnace Forest Experiment Station (VFEF) came into the world of Forestry  — with a loud squall — this Octogenarian Forester, in the manner of the elderly, thinks it is about time they should learn.  The VFEF made such a splash when the “Clearcut Plot” hit twenty years of age, that The World of Foresters has never been the same.

If you take the time to read “Paul’s Wife”  by  a forester’s poet, Robert Frost, and you should, you will see that “Murphy was there at her birth, hiding so that Paul wouldn’t kill him." Well, The Olde Forester was there at the Birth of the VFEF and  was the midwife.

At the end of 1947 the  Division of Forestry was about to become part of the new Ohio Department of Natural Resources, leaving the security of the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES), part of Ohio State University,  to become a political entity in the new ODNR.  After finishing seven wonderful years as Forest Ranger (not manager),  this research minded 34-year old  didn’t want to become a political pawn. He opted for an offer from Dr. Oliver D. Diller—who should be Sainted by Ohio Foresters—to be a part of  the expanding “Department of Forest Research” still in  the OAES.

State Forester, Ovid A. Alderman (“OA” to all but B.E. Leete who called  him “Ovid”— had a grip which would make you wince—seemed reluctant to release, after seven years of managing the Zaleski State forest and the included, Lake Hope Park,  an experienced forester ready for advancement in the ODF.  Mr. Alderman requested of O.D.Diller that my first project be that of making an “Extensive Timber Inventory  of all the existing state forests”.  With help from Cal Stott, USFS State and Private,  I was trained in a new method being used in other Lake States. Walking over 500 miles on cardinal directions and sampling 1/5 acre plots at 30 chain intervals, the job was done by December, 1950.

Being  surprisingly offered a job with the D.B. Frampton & Co. as assistant superintendent of The Baker Wood Preserving Co, McArthur, OH,  I went private as many foresters were doing at the time. I even gave up an offer to teach farm forestry at  OSU.  Mr. Frampton, I learned later  had a practice of hiring  thirty year olds with the rough edges off them and then letting them go after fifty. All too true, I later learned.

An important objective of  the state forest cruise was to seek a suitable area of state forest land suitable for use by the USFS Athens Research Station of the Central States Forest Experiment Station. The Raccoon State Forest seemed the perfect place. This state forest is now  the largest part of  the Raccoon  Ecological Research  Area,  having been acquired by Mead Timberlands in a major land swap. Raccoon State Forest had been part of my area while at Zaleski State Forest.

The area had been famous for intentional  fires  set  by  indigent  squatters . That is one of the reasons for the multiple cover types and soil conditions on the tract. The Olde Forester when much younger and the new Forest Ranger of Zaleski State Forest in 1941 was told by the former Ranger, Walter N. Moulton,  that  the TSI job of the Land Utilization Projects (the federal organization of the Great Depression which purchased and developed approximately 18,000 acres of new  tracts and added this to the existing  3,400 acres of the original Zaleski State Forest—the McClintock and Strong  tract and formerly the Zaleski Company created about  1860) was mainly that of clearing out the squatters on the Chicago-Oreton Tract. Walter said that the crews started on the north side and worked southward tearing down the shacks. He said that the area was like a jungle with a Chief to whom the Sheriff conversed. Many of the evicted people settled in the company town of Oreton owned by New York Coal Company. Nothing is left of Oreton except the brick safe of the company store run by Mr. Eberts,  father of the late Frank Eberts.

That brings up another related story of the origin of the fire damage. I was told  by the late Harry Tripp, a state forest fire warden,  the reason for the many fires on the Chicago –Oreton Tract. The C & O RR track ran through the tract from Dundas Junction (Called Eagle Switch because it lead to the former Eagle Charcoal Iron Blast Furnace across from the store at the base of the hill.  Harry Tripp lived south of  Dundas along SR 93 and was a man of action and understanding of the  squatters causing the fires. The Division of Forestry had been unable to stop the practice of setting a new fire every time the steam engine went through. The locals would then report to the local fire warden to get onto the payroll. The local warden ahead of Harry Tripp lived along the road east of Dundas and knew of the practice. When their pay checks arrived at Eberts Store and post office, they would complain of pay shortages.

Harry Tripp stopped the fake fire practice and so the locals had to go back to moonshine for their principal income.—so he told me after we had a fire between the tunnel and Radcliff. The home owner there had been burning trash in the back yard all winter, he said, until a high fire day in March sent it up the hill—old and common story, I learned.

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