Fifty-one years, 10 months and some odd days, that’s how long one Plumas County man has spent working for the federal government.
And that time doesn’t include his training and stint in Vietnam or his time with search and rescue.
Thursday, Jan. 4 was Jim Hogg’s official last day as an employee with the Plumas National Forest. “It’s still kind of a little bit scary still,” he said the following Monday.
Realization that there are few places he absolutely has to be hasn’t quite set in.
It was a rainy afternoon as Hogg and his wife, Jodi, sat around their kitchen table and talked a bit about their 48 years of marriage and Hogg talked about his jobs that began when he was still a kid in high school.
The early years
Raised by his grandparents in Redding, a young Hogg thought he wanted to become an architect. He was in his senior year of high school when his mechanical drawing teacher and others decided he would be just the person for a big job putting together information for a big bond election that was planned. “I didn’t even go to school,” he said.
Instead he worked on maps and charts that couldn’t be done at school because they lacked drafting tables. At the end it convinced Hogg that there was no way he wanted to spend at least six hours a day hunched over a drafting table. “This ain’t for me,” he thought.
Hogg was just finishing up high school when he was picked to help with a 30-day clean-up project for the U.S. Forest Service. The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 had ripped through a region a quarter-mile wide and seven miles long in Lassen National Park. It was virgin timber and it was a mess.
“I was the only local hired,” he said. The rest of the men were political appointments.
Hogg said he was also the only one who knew what a hatchet was or how to run a chainsaw. “I had the big saw,” he said.
And while many of the men were put into three- or four-person groups, he worked alone.
When that job was over the district ranger for the Yollo Bolla Ranger District on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest called him in and asked him when he could be ready for a new job as a fire control aid. Hogg said he didn’t have a ride, but the ranger indicated that he would drive him there. “He was a super neat guy,” Hogg remembered.
Later, Hogg asked the ranger why he was the one he’d picked for the job. The answer was simple. Hogg’s was the only application he could read. This would be one of the occasions that his writing would benefit him.
Hogg said he took that comment to heart and always made sure that he printed neatly or typed any applications from then on.
On this job, although he was young, Hogg was considered the foreman on a two-man crew that was responsible for a lot of different jobs. What they had was one truck, three horses and three mules. The animals came in handy in areas where they couldn’t drive.
This job saw Hogg through the summers of 1964 and 1965. “It was really tough,” he said about being the boss. His coworker was 47, married and had five kids. He lived in a tent on the main site.
Because there was just the two of them they would stagger their days off so that someone was always present. But Hogg began to notice that when he returned from his days off everything was just the same as when he left. His partner didn’t seem to do a thing.
Hogg said he went to the ranger and they agreed the older man needed to go. Hogg said he wanted his boss to fire the man, but was told that was his responsibility. “That was hard — I’m a 19-year-old punk.”
Following the tradition, Hogg worked summers and attended school in the winter. He went for five semesters to Shasta Junior College, as it was then known.
In 1966, Hogg was drafted, but chose to join the Marines. He became what was known as a Hollywood Marine. Explaining, there were just two places that a Marine could be trained at that time. He went to San Diego. Parris Island, S. C. was the second.
Hogg went to Vietnam where he was a demolition and mine warfare specialist and was always near the front. “At times I got inside it,” he said.
“A fire you can predict what it’s going to do,” Hogg said about the difference in fighting fire and fighting a war. “Nam, no way,” he added about predicting or second-guessing what the enemy might do. “The bottom line is survival.”
He added that it’s amazing how low a soldier could flatten himself into the ground for protection.
Hogg said he was wounded several times by shrapnel. He refused his second and third Purple Hearts. When he learned that the medal was the only thing that some families received when a son made the ultimate sacrifice, he thought giving the medal to someone who was only wounded and returned to duty … “I didn’t deserve that.”
One of his buddies that Hogg served with happened to be the brother of the woman who would eventually become his wife.
Jodi said that her brother was always giving guys her name and address hoping she would write to them and she had a pile of letters that she didn’t intend to respond to. “I fell in love with his handwriting,” Jodi said about why she finally chose one soldier to write to.
“It paid off,” Jim Hogg said.
After three or four months of writing back and forth, Jodi said that Jim came home with her brother. That’s when they met for the first time. “It was three years before we got married.”
Before that it was just friends writing, she added.
Hogg was stationed in Vietnam for one year, 10 months and 27 days.
When he returned to the states he said they were “putting Camp Pendleton together.” Located in San Diego County, it was the new training headquarters.
When Hogg returned to civilian life in December 1967, “I got picked up right away. I guess I was at the right place at the right time. I must have had some skills they were after.” That was February 1968.
He would spend the next four years on the San Bernardino National Forest fighting fires in the summer on an engine crew and building trails in the winter — that’s when those blasting skills Hogg used in Vietnam came in handy.
It was 1973 when Hogg put in an application on the Plumas National Forest. Gene Miller hired Hogg and he went to work on the Lee Summit engine crew. Jodi said they lived at the work center in housing that was then available to employees.
In 1974 two hotshot fire crews were formed on the Plumas. One 10-man crew was based in Quincy and the second at the Boulder Creek station near Antelope Lake. “We never worked like a group,” Hogg said about a crew that had more firefighting experience than traditional engine or hand crews. “We were separate.”
Hogg said he went to the fire manager at the time and pitched his idea for a single crew that worked together, ate together and knew each other well. Hogg became the superintendent of that one 20-man crew.
To become a hotshot, Hogg said a person needed at least six months of actual fire experience. With seasoned firefighters and additional training Hogg said they were put into trouble areas in a fire. “We didn’t have time to teach basic fire to a new man on a fire,” he said.
And the crewmembers spread out as they worked. “Sometimes up to a mile,” apart. Each firefighter had to know what he was doing and to be able to respond to an ever-changing fire environment.
It was Oct. 12, 1979 that Hogg’s life changed in an instant. He was in a Forest Service truck on Highway 70 preparing to turn onto the heliport road when a logging truck rear-ended his truck. Hogg would spend the next year in a full body cast. He was also placed on permanent disability.
“That’s when I went to work at the newspaper,” Jodi said about the need to find a job and help support her husband and two boys.
“My back was so unstable,” Hogg said about what the accident did to him. At that time surgeons took bone from Hogg’s hip and used it to support his back. Now they use metal for support.
Hogg admits now that he didn’t listen well or accept what the specialists said. As far as they were concerned he wouldn’t be able to work again. But Hogg had other ideas.
It was then that Hogg and now-retired Feather River College instructor John Gallagher developed a physical therapy plan for him. Every morning, five days a week, Hogg went to work out using his legs. His goal during that first year was to be able to push 10 pounds for 20 repetitions “without bringing tears to my eyes.”
He met that goal and within three-and-a-half to four years he was pushing over 400 pounds of weight with his legs.
Hogg said that he kept trying to go back to work, but no one accepted him. He tried to get accepted into retraining programs but those didn’t work out either.
And then Congress changed some laws. Initially, the federal government paid workers compensation and medical bills in Washington, D.C., but when that shifted to the forest level and local people budgeted for those expenses, things began to change.
Hogg also hired a rehabilitation consultant who really knew and understood the laws. Hogg said that he had been told that he had lost all rights as an employee with the federal government. What really happened was that Hogg lost his grade level but not his salary rights. “He knew stuff they didn’t know,” Hogg said.
And it wasn’t long before Hogg went from permanent disability to having a job once again. It took seven-and-a-half years, but he made it.
Hogg couldn’t return to firefighting, but that seemed all right with him as long as he was employed. “He was hired by the East Zone of the Plumas National Forest engineering department as a facilities maintenance mechanic,” said Andrea Seiler. She wrote the text for a statement that was read over the PNF dispatch radio just before Hogg retired. She was also sharing it at Hogg’s retirement party Jan. 13 in Quincy.
A career remembered
Thinking back, Hogg said he’s fought fires in every state west of the Rocky Mountains. He’s also fought fires in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Minnesota and Florida.
While fighting fire in McCall, Idaho, he was put in charge of a special presidential detail. President Bill Clinton was going there to see the devastation caused by the fire. A battalion of regular Army soldiers came in for the occasion and the National Guard was also present. There seemed to be some confusion between the top officers about who was in charge. To solve the problem Jodi said, “Jim was made a full-bird colonel,” and he handled situations.
Hogg said once someone was cleared for the area where the president would be during his visit, no one could leave. “I could move freely,” he said.
Hogg said that he’s also been on special assignments during earthquakes and for a space shuttle recovery.
In May the Hoggs plan to rent a travel trailer. Their plan is to end up in Boston. If they make it there, fine, if not that’s okay too.
Hogg said that he especially likes to visit old general stores kind of like the ones that were in Ferndale. He likes to look and think about the past.
He’s visited Washington, D.C. on training and really enjoyed thinking about the history there. It’s an experience he wants to share with Jodi.
At a glance
While Hogg’s employment record with the federal government is impressive, a quick glance at the Internet shows he isn’t alone with his commitment to work.
A man named Sarkis Tatgian spent 75 years working with the Naval Sea System Command. His career started during the Great Depression.
Martin Green spent 69 years in the U.S. Army where he became director of acquisitions.
George Roberts was a Honolulu customs director when he died after 67 years of employment.
Lillie Steinborn was with the Social Security Administration for 65 years before her retirement.
Virginia Saunders spent a stint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before moving over to the Government Printing Office. She was employed for 63 years before she retired.
And John Dingell was a member of Congress for 59 years.
Through one man’s eyes
Changes in firefighting
In nearly 52 years with the U.S. Forest Service — many of those as a firefighter — Jim Hogg has seen a lot of changes. “Some of it’s good and some of it’s not,” Hogg said about the changes he’s witnessed.
When Hogg started work in the 1960s, the standard wear was a pair of Levi’s or Ben Davis pants, a khaki-colored fire retardant shirt and boots.
The boots became an essential component to the job, Hogg explained.
Thinking back, Hogg said he went through a lot of boots his first year out of high school. He needed something to protect his feet and his ankles.
Part of the requirements of his two-man team was keeping 40 miles of telephone line in repair. That meant a lot of tree climbing. Hogg said they issued cleats so he could climb, but some jobs required that he would be high up in one place for a half hour or more and it hurt his ankles and insteps. He tried Red Wings, a popular brand, as well as others, but when he got his first pair of White’s he was sold.
White’s are handmade to fit the exact specifications of the owner’s foot. They’re expensive — $450 or so — but they wear well, can be rebuilt, and offer the best support.
Hogg said he was in a store in Redding where they offered a variety of men’s work boots including White’s. He said a clerk asked him what size he needed, Hogg tried them on and he was handed the box. When he paid, he was charged $38 for what was probably a $130 boot at the time.
Hogg considers that he practically stole that first pair of White’s. “To me, they save a lot of broken ankles,” Hogg said, “or at least twists and sprains.”
Hogg has also seen a lot of changes in fire equipment. The first engine he drove was a Type II Model 50 with a 300-gallon slip-on tank for water. It carried five men (women weren’t firefighters with the forest service in the 1960s). “The new trucks are too big. They’re an accident looking to happen,” Hogg said.
As a skilled crewman, Hogg was responsible for operating the engine as well as training hids crew. “Firefighters were basically temps,” he explained. “At times that became a challenge.”
Hogg said he, his crew and engine were sent to the Bear Fire in San Bernardino with those notorious Santa Ana winds. “I had a brand new crewman that never saw a fire before,” Hogg remembered.
At first it was an easy assignment. They had three men on the engine and rotated crews so the engine was always manned.
One night the fire blew up. Hogg said he directed the new man to get the engine running so they would hit the blaze with water. He said he heard the pump start up and then run away — a real difference in sound. And then nothing. There was no water. They’d laid hose all around a wooden lookout at the top of a mountain and the fire had already destroyed some of it.
Two of the men with Hogg wanted to run, but he kept them busy so they couldn’t think about potential danger.
Radios then only had one frequency, Hogg said. It wasn’t like now where there are a number of options. He said this was also before they had fire shelters — those protective blankets designed to cover a firefighter and help protect them the blaze.
What his men didn’t realize, but Hogg did, was that the engine was parked in a safety zone.
It was about five hours before the first help arrived. “But we made it.”
Hogg said they managed to save the lookout. The flag that was flying on the tower was destroyed, but the rest of it was safe. To this day, Hogg said he wished he had a picture of that.
While there are many other changes in firefighting, Hogg said that there’s a big change in the size of the fires they’re now fighting. When he first started in the 1960s, a 4,000 or 5,000-acre fire was a big deal. Now we’re seeing mega fires.
In the early years Hogg said a firefighter was at a fire for the length of time it took to put it out. He said he’s been away from home for up to seven weeks at a time.
“Now they’re sending them home after 14 days are up,” said Jodi Hogg.