Forester shares memories of Sierra
When Max Williamson took his first job with the U.S. Forest Service, jack-of-all-trades was a job requirement, not a compliment.
From his post at Big Bend, where he was stationed from 1945 to 1955, Williamson, a former longtime Grass Valley resident, was often the first person on the scene of car accidents on the remote section of old Highway 40.
He would also help with campground maintenance, fight forest fires, perform winter snowpack studies and manage timber harvest
Train wreck rescue
He was one of the first people to arrive at the “City of San Francisco” train wreck on the Donner Summit on Sunday, Jan. 13, 1952 – and was instrumental in helping survivors to safety a day later when the road was cleared – and received a national medal for saving a man who was drowning in the south fork of the Yuba River and had to be resuscitated, twice, before reaching the hospital in Grass Valley.
It this age of specialization this seems like an unbelievably full plate for anybody. But Williamson, now 84, wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I liked my job,” he said during an interview at his home in Rocklin, where he moved to be closer to dialysis treatments he now requires three times a week. “I guess that’s as simple as it gets. I loved my job. Not all aspects, but as a whole.”
Born in Williamsport, Pa., in 1915, Williamson attended Penn State University and graduated with a degree in forestry.
After a few years in New England, he was offered a job with the Shasta National Forest in Northern California.
With a $100 loan from his parents he traveled west and arrived in Mount Shasta with only $10, which the electric company promptly took for a deposit.
“Before I came to California I had visions of coming over the Sierra and dropping into the Central Valley and finding it covered with timber,” Williamson said.
Discovering the valley to be fertile farmland instead was a bit of a surprise.
But in Shasta, he found what he had come west to see.
“That was the first time I saw virgin timber, and that was my dream,” Williamson said.
He would spend 40 of the next 50 years in the forestry business, first working for the government and later on his own as a licensed professional forester.
He also spent 10 years away from the business from 1955 to 1965, and, with two partners, ran Soda Springs Ski Area.
But forestry is where his heart, and his talents, truly lay.
“I think I always had the ability to look at a stand of timber and see how it would look after it was cut,” Williamson said.
Cutting timber, Williamson said, is an art where the health of the forest is paramount. These days, in spite of, or perhaps because of strict environmental guidelines, this seems to be less and less of a factor in forest management.
“There is a middle ground (between the environmentalists and the logging companies). I say that the Forest Service is afraid to find it, and the environmentalists are riding high,” Williamson said. “You can do a good job of managing timber growth and providing timber for use.
“Most of the people who are complaining about the harvesting of timber don’t live in stone houses.”
Williamson, who finally retired in 1990, only wishes he were able to get out there and show everyone how to do it right.
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