Birdie James stands at her post at the Kalaloch Ranger Station ready to greet the public as they travel Highway 101.
Birdie James explains the Olympic National Park Junior Ranger program to Stephanie Joy and John Dally of Olympia. James helps visitors with any information they need from best tides and trails to which campsites are suited for a 19-foot trailer.
If you have ever taken Highway 101 towards Forks and stopped by the Ranger Station in Kalaloch, chances are that you may know this month’s random subscriber.
Working into her 19th summer at the Ranger Station, Birdie James is happy to greet you and “tell you where to go”.
“What I like about this job is that I get paid to literally tell people where to go,” laughs James as she speaks about her responsibilities at the Ranger Station.
At 77-years old and a Forks resident since 1956, James has seen the world through the stories of visitors making their way up and down the 101.
“On a slow day I may see 38 people, at heavier times it can be as many as 300 in the summer,” said James.
“One day I met a guy from Russia. He was riding his bike around the perimeter of all the continents. At the time he had been ridding about 7 1/2 years and figured he was about half way done,” said James, “another morning I came to find a strange looking motor home in the parking lot. It was a family from Germany on their second trip from the tip of South America to the Artic Circle. People bicycle from Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) to the Artic Circle. The only problem with this job is it makes me so darn envious, I am so jealous. The family all have itchy feet.”
James spends her summers from May through September telling visitors of all the best beaches, must see attractions and even helps the kids log their Olympic National Park Junior Ranger Booklets.
James came to Forks by way of Montesano and her first marriage.
“I grew up in Montesano. Its still home to me” James graduated in the middle class of the old Montesano High School in 1952, “I was so sad when they tore down the old school and built that prison, that’s what it looks like to me. We have a brand new school in Forks, and it is quite attractive,” said James.
“I got married to a guy from Forks and told him that I would go anywhere with him, but not to Forks. Famous last words,” laughs James, “people said that I would get use to the rain, they didn’t say when, and I am still waiting.”
At the age of 21, she moved to Forks. Raising a family of two children, Robert a handyman and Christy a teacher’s aide, her family grew as they made life in Forks. She has worked for Shaffer Brothers Logging as a secretary, bookkeeper and also did general office work.
“When we had been up here (Forks) for about five years, I realized that we probably would not be leaving. So I went house hunting and found the little house I am living in now,” said James.
At that time Forks was still mopping up from the fire that nearly destroyed the town in 1951.
“As I remember… the fire was started by a train spark, burning from Port Angeles to the Sol Duc River, Lake Crescent, burned the edge of Forks, when the wind shifted it saved the town,” said James.
(The Great Forks Fire of 1951 took 38,000 acres of timber and took several years to recover the area and replant.)
“I never really worked steady until I ran away from home at age 45 to Hawaii,” said James about her early employment during her first time in Forks.
“I loved Hawaii, it took me a little while to realize that I had come home. I had lived in Panama during the Second World War.”
Her father had taken a job working as a mechanic for a construction company and then with the government working in the Panama Canal zone.
“Mom had to bring the four kids from Colorado to New Orleans to get on a boat by herself, she was quite shy. We stayed at the canal for the duration of the war. I was not really aware that the war was going on at the time. I was six when we got there and 11 when we left,” said James, “kids don’t really care as long as mom and dad are there and food is on the table.”
“Returning after the war, the troop ship was suppose to land in New York, but bad weather took us to Boston, we didn’t get to see the Statue of Liberty.”
The family then set off on a trek across America. From Boston to Niagara Falls, “We nearly froze to death. We didn’t have the right clothes coming from Panama.”
The family crossed through Texas, Colorado and finally to Seattle, stopping and visiting family all along the way.
“The story as I remember it was that dad had just missed a really good job in Alaska, so he looked around and found a job as a mechanic at Whitney’s in Montesano.”
With one final move Joe and Rose Stegall brought the family to Montesano.
“There was four of us kids when we went to Panama, six when we came back and two more in Montesano. The Montesano house was the only place we were ever all together, so its kinda home to me. Pretty much all of us feel that way I think,” said James, “A wonderful childhood, Montesano is a wonderful town, just the simplicity of living in that era.”
James then attended school and her life in Montesano, married and moved to Forks. Raising her kids and living in a place that was not of her choice, took its toll on her as she then ran off to Hawaii. During her time on the islands she worked in Aloha Shops, was granted a divorce and made her way back to the mainland.
“The first time to Forks was not my choice, the second time around, totally my choice,” said James.
Before arriving back to her home in Forks, James took a trip to Tennessee and re-married, arriving back to Forks in early 1987.
During her winter months she spends her time reading and taking trips with her sister. She also enjoys gardening flowers and loves taking pictures of sunsets. She also keeps busy with her six grandchildren that are spread from Port Angeles to New Mexico.
”The best part of this job is meeting people from all over the world, its just amazing. If you ever get up to Kalaloch stop in to see me.”