Steve Weiler needs more than a 4-foot-diameter larch stump if he wants to see eye-to-eye with the forest ranger he helped carve.
The Bunyanesque figure in the Ace Hardware Store on Brooks Street stands 8 feet tall without his stump. Someday soon, he will stand at the entrance of a National Museum of Forest Service History in Missoula. Store manager Weiler and friends Phil Bain, Jerry Covault, Chuck Kaparich and Alex McDonald spent every Thursday of the past two years carving him.
“We’ve been carving since 1991, when we helped make the original Carousel for Missoula,” Weiler said. “When that was done, we kind of missed getting together and carving, so we just kept on going.”
Covault is a U.S. Forest Service forester, and he heard the museum’s executive committee wanted a statue for the future facility’s home near Missoula International Airport. He worked up an 8-inch model, and the committee liked it. So he brought it to his carving crew and they got to work.
Like the carousel horses, the ranger is comprised of foot-long chunks of basswood glued together. They modeled the body from a 1909 photo of rangers on fire patrol near Thompson Falls. The face resembles actor Sam Elliot, who played Ranger Bill Bell in the movie version of Norman Maclean’s “The Ranger, the Cook and the Hole in the Sky.”
He carries a period map case, compass and binoculars, and wears the high boots of the time. His Forest Service badge is made of myrtle wood, while his belt buckle came from a chunk of walnut from a Missoula tree. Covault worked at the Ninemile Remount Station, and carved its insignia into the buckle’s front.
Museum executive director Dave Stack said the 30,000-square-foot facility has raised about 30 percent of the estimated $12.7 million cost. The site already has a historic cabin from the Clearwater National Forest and plans drawn up for a predominantly wood-construction building.
“This would be the symbol that connects Montanans with their national forests,” Stack said. “The early rangers were the guys coming into towns and talking about President Roosevelt’s idea of conservation management.”
Later this fall, the statue will move to the Missoula International Airport lobby.
“A lot of hunters and fishermen come through there,” Stack said. “They can see how the heritage of Montana comes together.”