Friday, April 24, 2015

Jack & Spam & Peaches

By Tim McMullen


Jack & Tim - September 2012
I first met Jack Clausen in his first season with the Forest Service, which was on the Mammoth Ranger District of the Inyo National Forest. I think this was in the late 70’s. At the time our Hotshot crew worked out of an administrative site known as the Guest Cabin, which was above Shady Rest Park. One morning, while driving into the site, I passed a truck with a camper shell parked nearby. I had heard that a new Recreation employee would be staying there for the summer.

I walked over to the camper to see who it was, and out the back comes a man with wild hair and a bushy beard…My first reaction was to jump back, thinking that Charlie Manson escaped. My second reaction was why is he holding a can of Spam in one hand and a can of peaches in the other?

The man introduced himself and, with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face, offered me some of his food. I was still stunned and I think I said something like, "No thanks – I never eat Spam this early in the morning.”

And as we parted after talking that morning, I remember shaking my head and thinking that being around this guy could be like “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” And what a wonderful ride it was!  Such was the beginning, in those first few minutes, of an enduring and loving friendship that lasted over thirty years.

Over the years I found myself often shaking my head at Jack. Sometimes it was in laughter, as when he would call me “Old Man” and I would call him “Easy Money.” He would always laugh and say “I wish.” Always with those twinkling eyes and smile…

Or the time when Jack’s truck went down the Hot Creek service road without him in it and rolled off the road and down the embankment, with everything flying out of his truck (and Jack kept everything in that truck). The fire crew responded to find that Jack was safe and the truck pretty well damaged. But we couldn’t help laughing when we saw all the cans of Spam, peaches, and tuna C-rations strewn along the embankment.

Sometimes I would shake my head because I was in awe of his strength and fortitude, as when he would peddle his Beachcomber, bad knees and all, up to Horseshoe Lake.

Jack with Jim Hoyt 2012
And, yes, I would also shake my head in wonder of Jack’s unique work methods, especially regarding construction. After all, he wasn’t called “Mad Jack” without reason. He loved that name.

Other times it was due to admiration and respect, as I would see him come in the back door to the Visitor Center after work; his hair a mess, his uniform shirt half tucked in and dirty, his green uniform pants covered with paint, and his face dirty. The Forest Service never had a more dedicated or harder worker than Jack.
Sometimes it was sadness that caused me to shake my head, as was the time when I had to talk to him about no longer being a line firefighter. You see, in addition to his recreation job, Jack was quite proud of having taken the Basic Firefighter class and passing the physical test and getting his “Red Card.” He loved wearing the fire crew’s blue baseball cap. Over the years, though, his feet and knees hurt so much that he could no longer be on the fireline. So we talked about still supporting the fire team in other ways by training in logistics to help set-up and run our fire camps (as long as he didn’t serve Spam and peaches). He did so, and Jack was there for you day and night, doing anything and everything to help. He was always willing to respond off forest. He’d put his bike in the back of his truck and off he went. It got to the point that other forests would call and name request Jack to come help: “Send us Jack, the guy with the bike.”

Mostly, though, I would shake my head out of love for that simple man and having the good fortune of his friendship.  And I mean “simple” in the best of ways. Jack simply wanted to be friends with everyone. I loved him for who he was: he never asked for anything, yet was always so giving, caring, loyal and kind to his friends.

Convict Entrance
How could you not love him for having the same love of being outdoors in the Sierras, especially his beloved Yosemite? Jack simply wanted to preserve our beautiful resources so that everyone could enjoy them and working for the Forest Service was his way of doing this.

And how could you not love him for his compassion for animals, especially his dogs. I would shake my head in both laughter and love as I watched him drive though the Forest Service housing compound with his dogs and everyone else’s, headed up to the Lakes Basin – you could hear all the dogs barking a half mile away - but Jack just had this smile on his face (of course, it helped that he was hard of hearing)…

Mary Mattern, Jack, George Beatty 2012
I saw Jack for the last time in June, in Brentwood, where his beautiful family was caring for him at his niece’s home. He wanted to show me his electric wheelchair and give me a tour of the neighborhood. It was quite hot that day so, before we headed down the sidewalk , I went to my car and put on my old fire crew blue baseball hat…when Jack saw that, he wanted to wear his, too. So his grandniece went in and got his hat for him. And off the two of us went; Jack weaving in and out of the street and sidewalk at full speed, oblivious to anything coming his way, and me running to catch up with him. “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

 Afterwards, we decided to go to an IN-N-OUT for lunch. Jack was the navigator, telling me to “turn here” after I’d already passed an intersection, and me yelling because he can’t hear me asking for directions. A ten minute drive took an hour, and we still got lost coming home.

Bill Schofield, Jack, John Ellsworth 2012
Later he beat me in a game of checkers, with that same twinkle in his eyes and smile on his face…and when it was time to go we laughed and hugged as loving friends would do.

I know he’s in Heaven now, setting up camp and offering to walk everyone’s dogs. Lord knows, there will be plenty of Spam and peaches…

I love you Jack,
Tim

********************************

Tom Locker writing here -- I've got to add a little information about the Hot Creek accident.

I was the lead investigator on this incident.  It happened at sunset just after Jack had closed Hot Creek for the day.  He had driven his truck down the service road to empty trash cans and clean up litter.  When he came back up he parked the truck on the fairly steep road to lock the gate.  He set the parking brake and put a chock down.  When he started to close the gate he heard a click and saw the truck coming towards him.  As those who know Jack can can imagine, he tried to use the gate to stop the truck but it pushed him and the gate out of the way and down into the creek it went.

Dispatch called me and I went out, taking photographs, measurements and interviews.  Jack was the only witness.  The photos clearly showed the imprint of the truck's tire over the chock block (another "Mad Jack" idiosyncrasy, he used a 4x4 about three feet long).  The Forest Engineer (Leon Silberberger?) was also on the investigation team.  It turned out that this particular model of truck (early 80's Dodge I think) had a known defect of occasionally not maintaining the setting of the parking brake.  Jack was completely exonerated of fault in the accident.