Editor’s note: Answer Line is on assignment this week. In the meantime, enjoy this best-of column from March 2017:
QUESTION: I’m driving on an old country road outside of Marshall, and I saw one of the old forest fire watch towers still standing. Are these things ever manned anymore?
ANSWER: I can’t speak for the entire country, but no, not in this neck of the woods. (Of course, I don’t know the exact location you’re speaking of, so I kind of have to assume you’re talking about the fire lookout towers once operated by the Texas A&M Forest Service.)
Here’s a little history, because I love history, and the folks at the forest service were kind enough to oblige with some details from a book on the forest service’s history by Ronald Billings. The book says wildfire detection depended on ground sightings from forest service patrolmen or local reports until the 1920s. Then, tall trees with spike ladders, and sometimes wooden platforms, served as the first lookouts. The platforms were 80 to 100 feet above the ground.
“Due to the increase of fires, a more stable lookout was needed,” and the first permanent structure, which was 80 feet tall and cost $1,200, was built in 1926.
“TFS telephone lines, installed and operated by local residents interconnected towers …,” the book says. “That means of communication continued to grow until radios replaced telephone lines the late 1940s.
By 1940, the forest service had 71 towers covering some 3.4 million acres, the book says.
Bill Oates, associate director of the forest service, said the agency hit a peak of about 100 lookout towers around East Texas and in the Lost Pines area in Central Texas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service also had a handful of similar facilities in four national forests in Texas.
“By 1980, all tower use for fire detection was discontinued, in favor of fixed-wing aircraft,” Oates said. “Most of the towers have been sold to private citizens, left on-site to the host landowners, or donated to local government jurisdictions. TFS retains a handful to serve as antenna platforms for our two-way radio communications system. This has been the same fate for lookout towers across the southern U.S.”
Q: Why is the speed limit 20 mph on Pegues Place in Longview when school zones are at least 25 to 30 mph?
A: This story starts with a lot of bad driving on that street apparently, particularly in the sharp curve near Fourth Street. City officials previously said cars jumped the curb, slid and spun around and even hit a house. Rumble strips initially were installed to try to get people to slow down in that curve, but there were additional complaints.
That caused the city to take a good, long look at the street, during which the city discovered that “existing street geometrics of the curve” required the 20 mph speed limit.
This kind of curve, according to street construction design, should have had a “super-elevation” or banking, Answer Line previously reported. Because it doesn’t, it needed the 20 mph speed limit instead.
Also, basically, the street is too short on either side of the curve to have different speed limits until the curve.