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Archive for the ‘Forgotten Characters’ Category

Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 14, in which we examine Abel Woodman.

“A Character is Coming to Crossett.”

This was the headline on a small announcement item greeting scrupulous readers of the December 1947 issue of Forest Echoes. As our faithful Peeling Back the Barkers know, Forest Echoes was the popular local monthly magazine published by the Crossett Lumber Company of Crossett, Arkansas, between 1939 and 1962. But who was this new character being teased in the magazine’s final issue of 1947? Curious readers were assured of an answer in the new year: “Don’t miss next month’s Forest Echoes, you owe it to yourself to meet this character.”

As promised, the mysterious new character made his debut in the January 1948 issue. Found in a one-panel comic in the back of the magazine was a well-built man with beady eyes, smoking a pipe and holding a large axe. The man was dressed in traditional lumberjack garb (boots, suspenders, flannel shirt) and there was no doubt about his location—a large Crossett smokestack was visible in the background.

Abel Woodman, January 1948

First-ever appearance of the man who would become Abel Woodman, January 1948 (click to enlarge).

The only problem was he had no name. To rectify this, the Forest Echoes editorial staff created a contest, inviting readers to submit their name ideas for the new character. As seen under the cartoon above, the best entry would win a $25 U.S. Savings Bond (side note: The “I ain’t Mr. Hush…” comment references a famed 1946 contest on the Truth or Consequences radio game show, where host Ralph Edwards phoned random people and asked them to identify a mystery voice known only as “Mr. Hush”).

The following month a winner was announced. Thanks to the entry of William “Bill” Preston Haisty, the new character was officially christened “Abel Woodman.”

Winner William "Bill" Preston Haisty, February 1948

Click to view the full February 1948 Abel Woodman cartoon.

Abel Woodman immediately became a regular monthly feature of the magazine. At the back of every issue readers would find Abel delivering a message on forest conservation, job safety, or some other local topic, always in his own humorous way. Like the Forest Echoes publication itself, the Abel Woodman cartoon was a reflection of life in Crossett and Crossett’s view of the world (in this case through the eyes of artist Lee Davis). Abel Woodman cartoons provided a unique commentary on issues specific to Crossett (a new town jail, Crossett High football, a redesigned company logo, the joys of Crossett bleached food board!) as well as more general concerns (taxes, the dangers of drinking and hunting, anxiety over the atomic bomb).

Abel remained a permanent fixture on the inside back cover until the final issue of Forest Echoes in June 1962 (the year Georgia-Pacific purchased the Crossett Lumber Company). For this fourteen-year run, the Abel comic was drawn by artist Lee Davis. In his final year Davis found a way to put himself in the action alongside Abel.

Abel Woodman by Lee Davis, March 1962

Davis did get help from the public along the way. In 1958 Forest Echoes held a “Cartoon Editor” contest, inviting the public to submit “a situation and appropriate remark for an Abel Woodman cartoon.” Ten winners won $10 each and had their cartoon ideas drawn by Davis and printed. The first winning entry (from Lloyd Gardner) was published in March 1958, and is notable in that it foresaw “Moon Trees” a good thirteen years ahead of Stuart Roosa’s journey into space.

Abel Woodman March 1958

The final Abel Woodman cartoon ran in the last issue of Forest Echoes in June of 1962. His glory years seemingly already behind him, Abel had been reduced to company shill—touting the benefits of charcoal made by the Crossett Chemical Company. Despite this inauspicious end, Abel Woodman lives on in Crossett. In 2002 an “Abel Woodman” statue was erected in a small park in the middle of town. The original Abel Woodman also lives on here at FHS in our collection of Forest Echoes magazines, and our other materials documenting the history of the company town of Crossett, Arkansas.

Continue below to view a few more Abel cartoon classics. (more…)

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 13, in which we examine Herman I. Cautious and Paula Bunyan.

The first week of May marks the annual occurrence of North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. Sponsored by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), NAOSH Week is intended to raise awareness about occupational safety, health and the environment. In honor of NAOSH week, and in the spirit of workplace safety, Peeling Back the Bark brings you not one, but two new forgotten characters of forest history.

Herman I Cautious headIn early 1960, the Pacific Plywood Company of Dillard, Oregon, launched an innovative new safety program. Under the slogan “Caution Pays You,” the new program awarded employees for eliminating workplace accidents. Accident-free years would bring cash awards, based on money collected from monthly contributions into a Safety Dividend Account plan. To help launch this new safety program, a promotional character was introduced: Herman I. (Izzy) Cautious.

While his name was a basic play on a safety question (“her man, is he cautious?”), there was no doubt about Herman’s commitment to workplace health. Always safely decked out in hardhat and gloves, Herman appeared on posters and signs around the plant to raise awareness for the program. His image was accompanied by the “Caution Pays You” slogan, which was trademarked in 1960.

Herman I. Cautious

Pacific Plywood employees with Herman I. Cautious signs. Bob Young at far right.

The idea to use monetary rewards to reduce accidents came from Pacific Plywood Company’s Safety Director Bob Young. He and others at the company had big plans for the program.  An article in the May 1960 issue of The Lumberman stated, “Considerable interest has been shown in the plan by outside industries, and many inquiries have been made about its operation even before it has been started.” It’s unknown how much interest was shown in the Herman Cautious character, though. He was used on company safety awards for a short time, but then appeared to quickly vanish from the public eye.

Pacific Plywood Co. safety award

Herman Cautious wasn’t the only hardhat-wearing forest-related safety character to fade from view in the early 1960s. The U.S. Forest Service has a forgotten safety character of its own: Paula Bunyan. Paula, drawn by legendary Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin, was presented as the “Guardian of Safety” for the agency.

Paula Bunyan

We’ll let the official backstory on Paula speak for itself: “She is the daughter of Paul Bunyan, the legendary, swashbuckling, and sometimes unsafe north woods hero. Being a woman, Paula knew how to get her message across to her father and converted him to a safety conscious individual without impairing his tremendous production. This spread his fame all the more. We feel the modern day forester is susceptible to the wiles of such a safety symbol.”

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 12, in which we examine Benny Beaver.

Although Benny Beaver is back in the news, don’t be confused. The one making news is Oregon State University’s mascot, and that’s because he’s been redesigned. Again. The Benny Beaver beloved by forest history buffs was the mascot for the Redwood Region Conservation Council (RRCC).

Benny BeaverThe RRCC was a forest products industry group in the Redwood-Douglas fir region of California that sought to inform the public about the necessity of conserving the area’s natural resources, in particular commercial timber, and the importance of doing so for the benefit of all. The RRCC was involved in certifying forests for the American Tree Farm System and already employed Woody and the Keep Green program to get the word out about fire prevention when Benny was introduced.

What makes this character stand apart from all those is that his creators went to the trouble of formulating a backstory for him. Benny was introduced in the summer of 1965 (we don’t know when they stopped using him). In the introduction below, besides learning about Benny’s extended family and ancestors, they even implied that he was OSU’s Benny Beaver—hence the reference to being mauled by a wolverine (in 1965′s Rose Bowl, the University of Michigan handily defeated OSU.) And when Benny was introduced, Bernard Z. Agrons was RRCC’s president, so we think that’s where the name of Benny’s great uncle came from. Anyway, his creators did such an entertaining job on the backstory that I’m going to let the announcement of Benny’s “hiring” do the talking.

Benjamin “Benny” Beaver—faller, bucker, dam-builder and member of the world-famed lumbering family—has joined the Redwood Region Conservation Council as its supervisor of forest activities.

Benny applied to RRCC headquarters for work following a six-month period of convalescence.

Last January 1 while inspecting the culinary qualities of the wood structures which support Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, he was seriously mauled by a curmudgeonly wolverine. Seems the wolverine had left his home in Michigan for a trip to Disneyland and had stopped off in Pasadena for some mild exercise. A beaver with a football was all he could find to tussle with.

Healed, Benny headed back to his familiar forest where, he says, the most dangerous creatures are 21-year-old loggers on Saturday night and a funny old bear who wears a silly hat.

Benny’s first assignment will be to work with that bear—Smokey they call him—in an effort to keep the Redwood Region green. But being a charter member of the “hard-hat-on-head, we’re-not-dead” club, Benny indicated he would try to talk Smokey out of wearing his felt campaign hat.

“Widow-makers,” he warned, “can drive you into the deck like a wicket.”

Well known as an industrious woods worker, Benny has numerous qualifications for his job in forest conservation.

His great-great-great granddaddy pioneered the technique of selective logging, and early lumberjacks copied Benny’s great uncle Bernard Z. Beaver’s method of getting logs from the forest to the mill by river floating.

As a matter of fact, Benny’s cousins still excavate canals—some several hundred feet long—to float wood for life’s necessities into their communities. Their dams are engineered perfectly to keep the water in the canals at a proper depth….

The announcement concluded: “RRCC hopes the Redwood Region will welcome Benny Beaver. We expect him to fight wildfire, prevent litter-bugging and help us tell the public that conservation means the wise and multiple use of our natural resources.”

That last statement reveals the stumbling block to success that so many forest history characters trip over: they are given too many things to simultaneously to represent and it confuses the target audience. Is Benny about fire prevention? Stopping litter bugs? Wise and multiple use? Aren’t the first two really just part of the third? This problem of a muddled message is why the Forest Service later created Woodsy Owl—people were trying to use Smokey Bear to talk about litter and other issues and it diluted the power of Smokey’s message. Further complicating Benny’s path to stardom was the introduction of Cal Green and Sniff and Snuff in California the same year Benny was introduced. How’s a beaver in cut-off overalls supposed to compete against charismatic Cal and the sartorial splendor of Sniff and Snuff? As Benny might say, dam if I know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead featuring Benny Beaver.

RRCC Benny Beaver poster

RRCC vice president Norman Traverso with student poster contest winners, 1966.

RRCC bookmark.

RRCC promotional bookmark featuring the “Woody” character.

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On this date in 1933, the Timber Engineering Company (TECO) was incorporated  in Washington, DC, as a “national sales promotion, engineering and research agency for wood and forest products” by the National Lumber Manufacturing Association. While that organization later became the National Forest Products Association and later still the American Forest & Paper Association, TECO hasn’t changed names or its mission in the 80 years its been operating (though it has changed hands several times, as is nicely documented on their own history page. Oh, that other companies would provide such useful historical information about themselves—well done, TECO!)

Since 1934, much of TECO’s work has focused on making timber a strong and appealing construction material that can do more than steel or other metals. Its first product was the “split-ring connector,” which was “used in the assembly of heavy timber trusses in building construction,” according to their history page. The connector, the rights to which were purchased from a German manufacturer, allowed the assembly of massive timber trusses used in the construction of blimp hangars, ships, bridges, and buildings, and the occasional oddity such as ski jumps in football stadiums. TECO later moved into plywood research and production and claim to have manufactured the first particleboard in the U.S. Their research and products were critical in the defense industry during World War II era and the construction boom that followed the end of the war.

TECO blimp hangar

Blimp hangars like this one became possible because of TECO’s split-ring connector.

One lesser-known product of TECO’s is the forgotten forest history character, Stickee Staystuck. He was introduced in 1953 in a series of posters citing the “do’s and don’t’s” in successful laminating that were distributed nationwide. But little is known about him, at least to us. It was only by accident that we learned of this character when Eben stumbled across an advertisement with Stickee in it. And despite all the materials we have about TECO (the National Forest Products Association records, the Wilson Martindale Compton papers, TECO Company files in the FHS Library, and TECO subject file in the FHS Photograph Collection), we have almost nothing about this awkwardly named guy. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why our crack research staff (again, mostly Eben) could only turn up that one advertisement with him in it: his name doesn’t roll off the tongue—it twists the tongue. More precisely, it sounds as if you have glue on your tongue. In fact, we’ve been referring to him around the office as “Stickee Sam” or other sobriquets because they’re much easier to say and involve less spittle. His name alone may be why he’s gone the way of Howdy, the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon. If it’s not easy to say or remember, it won’t, ahem, stick.Stickee Staystuck, the awkwardly named character

Another reason he’s not known to us today is pure conjecture. He isn’t mentioned in the two documents about the founding of the company written just four years after Stickee’s debut available on the company’s history webpage, which, if it’s an indication of his lifespan, says a lot about him. Even for the more freewheeling days of the 1950s, long before the phrase “sexual harassment” was ever uttered in the workplace, you got to admit that Stuckee was a bit over the top, as seen in the cartoon below.

Stickee, we hardly knew ye.

Stickee, we hardly knew ye.

We congratulate the Timber Engineering Company on 80 years of great work. And while this is the 60th anniversary of Stickee’s debut, it’s doubtful that TECO will be marking that anniversary.

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 10, in which we examine Howdy the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon.

Howdy Raccoon saysIn the spring of 1959 the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (PFA), along with nine other conservation agencies in the state, sponsored a contest to name a “Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon.” The unnamed character at the center of this contest was to be used by the PFA as the new spokesman for a statewide anti-litter campaign. With increasing costs related to cleanup, maintenance, and repair work on public recreation lands in Pennsylvania, an awareness campaign was desperately needed. The PFA hoped that a friendly raccoon character, wearing a hat and a lumberjack-style plaid flannel shirt, would be an effective centerpiece for their “Good Outdoor Manners” crusade. All they needed was a name. The PFA would have plenty of options to choose from as over 48,000 Pennsylvania school children responded to the contest. The winner, John Hoyes, a first grader at the Second Street School in Charleroi, was selected in May 1959. His winning name entry: “Howdy.”

PFA Howdy

Howdy the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon was quickly put into action across the state. Lloyd E. Partain, president of  the PFA, stated that “soon you will be seeing ‘Howdy’ along country roads, in parks, and at the many other places where people gather for recreation.” In the fall of 1959, 100,000 school book covers featuring Howdy were distributed to Pennsylvania children asking them to write their own good outdoor manners pledge.

As a forest animal spokesman, the Howdy character was in many ways inspired by the success of Smokey Bear. In early press releases about the character, the PFA actually went as far as to say that Howdy “is expected to become as well known in conservation as Smokey Bear.” In 1964, at the Dauphin County Firemen’s Parade, Howdy got to meet the famous bear himself.

Howdy Raccoon and Smokey Bear

While his popularity never reached the level of Smokey, Howdy’s image did spread beyond Pennsylvania’s borders, eventually finding a dedicated fan on the other side of the country. Margaret Robarge of Seattle, Washington, took Howdy’s message and ran with it. After encountering trash and graffiti on a hike through Washington’s Cascade Range, Robarge was moved to found the Good Outdoor Manners Association. With the permission of PFA, she began using Howdy as the group’s symbol. Based in Seattle, the Good Outdoor Manners Association (GOMA) promoted anti-litter campaigns, sponsored clean-up efforts in parks, and published a monthly magazine, Howdy’s Happenings. Howdy reached new heights out on the West Coast, where he was used by GOMA throughout the 1960s. An active chapter in Los Angeles began showing a 30-minute film, “Recreation or Wreckreation,” featuring Howdy in a starring role.

A 1966 article in Time magazine mentions that GOMA had nearly 50,000 members nationwide. The same article also detailed the group’s annual “Booster” and “Buster” awards, given to the best and worst examples of outdoor manners. And when they say “worst” they weren’t kidding. The 1966 Buster award nominees included such reprehensible examples of humanity as an unknown rifleman who slaughtered over 100 sea lions on the Santa Barbara Island in California and then proceeded to blow up an unattended ranger station.

While GOMA eventually disbanded, Howdy continued to be used as a symbol for several more decades back in Pennsylvania. In the early 1980s you could still find Howdy on t-shirts and tote bags for sale from the Pennsylvania Forestry Association.

Howdy Racoon shirts

Like all of our forgotten characters, though, Howdy eventually faded into obscurity. It may have been due to the Forest Service’s nationwide promotion of a new anti-litter animal character. The need for Howdy was certainly lessened by this pesky new owl, who rendered the “Good Outdoor Manners” message somewhat redundant. Out West, Johnny Horizon also began to encroach on Howdy’s territory. Beyond this, the other factors leading to his demise are open to speculation. Was it his use by multiple organizations? His cumbersome name? His aversion to wearing pants? Whatever the reason, we here at Peeling Back the Bark would like to pay tribute to our forgotten friend, Howdy the Good Outdoor Manners Raccoon.

Howdy Raccoon comic
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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 9, in which we examine Sam Sprucetree.

Sam was a character created by Consolidated Papers, Inc., of Wisconsin to help tell the role of forest management in paper production. Sam’s autobiography—an 8-page booklet titled “Sam Sprucetree: My Autobiography Sort Of”—appeared sometime in the 1970s, probably in 1978. For reasons that will soon become clear, it was probably Sam’s only appearance.

In the tradition of Woody and Ev’rett, Sam is another in a long line of anthropomorphized trees created to help explain a complex topic to the general public, in this case a public that was hearing conflicting information about forest management practices. Based on a code printed on the back of the booklet and the remark in the “introduction” about Consolidated’s forestry program having started “more than four decades ago,” I think this was printed in 1978. At the time, both public and private foresters were experiencing a great deal of scrutiny and criticism about clearcutting as a result of the Bitterroot and Monongahela controversies. My guess is that Consolidated Papers produced Sam’s story—with its explanation of how its foresters instituted selection cutting on company land—partly to counter the blowback from the clearcutting controversies.

In a curious twist on the anthropomorphized tree genre, Consolidated Papers opted to let Sam tell his own story. A straight-forward history of the company and its longtime embrace of forest management couldn’t possibly match the appeal of a thinking, feeling tree, nor would a tale told in the third person. In “Sam Sprucetree: My Autobiography Sort Of,” when a forester comes by and marks his trunk with paint, Sam knows that the end of his life is at hand (or branch), which prompts him to share his story. It’s a classic take on a rich, full life: there’s the requisite childhood trauma and obstacles to overcome, but unlike many of today’s celebrity memoirs, Sam doesn’t complain or whine about the hand life dealt him. In fact, in the face of death, he’s at peace with his fate (though you’d never know it by looking at his facial expression on the cover).

Click on the image to read the book. Don’t wait for the movie. But if you do wait for the movie, rumor has it that either one of the apple trees from “The Wizard of Oz” or Daniel Day-Lewis will play Sam.

Sam has borne witness to the changes in attitudes towards trees and forests over the last 75 years or so. He has seen it all during his long life, a life that started in the “cut and get out” days of the early 20th century, when loggers indiscriminately logged white pine in the Lake States region. Sam shares the lessons he’s learned from each phase of his life—that early loggers were bad, fire is evil, foresters are heroic, and being designated for cutting and turned into pulp is an honor—perhaps the greatest honor for a spruce tree. His noble death enables him to realize a lifelong dream.

Sam sheds tears of joy when he finds out that he’s been “scheduled for a ride.”

Like many of these publications, this one does do a good job of explaining the topic for a general audience of all ages. What I find interesting after having read so many of these promotional publications, however, is not what’s in print, but what’s not in print. While there’s a very exciting recounting of how a team of oxen nearly dragged a log over Sam and killed him when he’s just a sapling, there’s no mention later of any threats from mechanized vehicles operating in the woods, nor from chainsaws or other modern methods of logging. Perhaps the PTSD (post tree-matic stress disorder) he suffered when threatened by the log or later by fire has rendered him mute on the subject. It might also explain his weird vision of what fire looks like.

Sam survives being nearly killed by oxen only to be threatened by fire (below). He didn’t need a tree surgeon for his injuries, he needed a tree psychologist.

The booklet ends with Sam knowing that he’ll be logged. Which begs the philosophical question: If an anthropomorphized tree falls in the forest, does he make a sound?

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 8, in which we examine Sniff and Snuff.

Sniff and Snuff During the 1960s, the California Division of Forestry was concerned about the growing number of wildfires started by children. According to the division’s statistics, “children and matches” were one of the leading sources of human-caused fires at the time. To limit these numbers, the division began to target young school-age children through educational materials, teacher kits, fire prevention promotional items, and more. The division also looked to create a character to assist in the efforts–someone or something like Keep California Green’s Cal Green, only more appealing to children. This campaign led the division into a brief and unlikely partnership with famed animation studio Hanna-Barbera, the result of which was the new firefighting duo Sniff and Snuff.

In the mid-1960s Hanna-Barbera was creating Saturday morning cartoon classics such as The Magilla Gorilla Show, Jonny Quest, and Space Ghost. Did the studio really take the time to create characters for the California Division of Forestry? According to a short blurb in the Western Conservation Journal, they did.

The May/June/July 1968 issue mentions that “a couple of years ago, the Division also developed two new characters to supplement Smokey Bear. These two animated cartoon characters, designed by the Hanna-Barbera Company of Hollywood, are appropriately called ‘Sniff and Snuff–the Super Fire Safe Snoopers.’ These two characters will again be seen on television throughout the coming fire season.”

One wonders how much time Hanna-Barbera actually spent designing the characters. Snuff was the tall one with the long head and a weak jawline, while Sniff (man, woman, pig?) was short and stumpy with a Moe from Three Stooges haircut. Sniff and Snuff wore Robin Hood-style get ups and feathered hats, which occasionally and inexplicably transformed into hard hats. The division hoped the duo could teach children the importance of fire safety and the dangers of forest fires. Looking at Sniff and Snuff now, though, is it really any surprise that the characters never caught on?

Admittedly, we have not been able to track down any animated footage of the duo, so maybe they were more entertaining than we think. If anyone remembers seeing Sniff and Snuff on television in California or has footage, please let us know. What we do have is the coloring book, Sniff & Snuff the Super Fire-Safe Snoopers Meet the Most Dangerous Animal in the Forest. In honor of this forgotten duo, enjoy a few page selections below.

Sniff and Snuff Meet the Most Dangerous Animal in the Forest

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 7, in which we examine Spunky Squirrel.

Spunky SquirrelJanuary 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day. While I hold dear to my cartoon-loving heart Secret Squirrel (and his sidekick Morocco Mole), and enjoy the music of Squirrel Nut Zipper, there is one squirrel who stands above the rest—Spunky Squirrel. And I more than appreciate him. I want to celebrate him as he approaches his thirtieth birthday.

Spunky was the brainchild of the American Forestry Association (now American Forests) in 1981. They wanted a symbol for their Urban Forestry Program that would appeal to children. Wisely, they turned to artist Rudy Wendelin for help in developing the character. Rudy had been the primary artist for Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl before retiring from the U.S. Forest Service in 1973. When Hank DeBruin of the AFA contacted Rudy in September 1981 about creating Spunky, he offered Rudy some ideas about Spunky’s apparel, which you can see in the letter below. But dressing him in blue jeans, a t-shirt, running shoes, and a cap that looks like a beret might have made him look more like a confused Frenchman than a hip American youth. (Props to Hank for suggesting Adidas running shoes, though. He anticipated by four years rap group Run-D.M.C. making Adidas popular among urban youth. Maybe Run took a fashion cue from Spunky.)

1981 letter from DeBruin to Wendlin

1981 letter from Hank DeBruin to Rudy Wendlin

Rudy’s initial try, though, garnered some ribbing from Hank. “Grandpa Squirrel” was not what they were after.

Grandpa Squirrel

Grandpa Squirrel test art.

In August 1982, AFA introduced Spunky and his slogan “Care for Trees!” to its members in the magazine. The ad copy is written by Spunky and gives his backstory—how he was born uptown and lived in an oak tree in a park. But when the tree got sick and had to be removed, he and his family had trouble finding another tree to call their own. The ad then goes on to extol the many benefits of urban forests.

That October, Spunky made his first public appearance at the second National Urban Forestry Conference, which was sponsored in part by the AFA, in Cincinnati. Spunky was there to hand out tree seedlings to kids, who “thronged” him as he made his way from the stage to greet them. Soon after his introduction, Spunky became the de facto mascot of Arbor Day. At Milwaukee’s Arbor Day event in 1983, he was made an honorary citizen!

Raymond Burr and Spunky Squirrel

Actor Raymond Burr with Spunky at the 1982 National Urban Forestry Conference in Cincinnati. The actor had a long-time interest in natural resources issues.

Spunky’s popularity quickly took off, especially after he was introduced to kindergarten, first and second graders in Weekly Reader. He also made an appearance on TV’s “Romper Room,” where he told children all over America how to improve the environment in their cities and towns. The usual merchandise followed—Spunky Squirrel t-shirts, balloons, flying disks,  buttons—even Spunky Squirrel bike packs and plastic tumblers.

Spunky Squirrel promotional items

Spunky Squirrel promotional items

Part of his message included telling people how they could protect their trees from the gypsy moth, which continues to wreak havoc on eastern hardwoods. He graced the pages of a workbook about the gypsy moth published by the AFA and the U.S. Forest Service. Rudy even created a gypsy moth character. The AFA made ads for gypsy moth information featuring Spunky available to newspapers in affected areas, probably for free.

Gypsy Moth

Gypsy Moth, one of the villains in the Spunky Squirrel rogues' gallery.

It’s not known how long Spunky remained in the public eye—perhaps just a couple of years. Like so many forest characters, Spunky soon found work hard to come by, and was reduced to making appearances in odd places, like at a city function in Santa Rosa, California, in 2006. We can’t confirm it, but it looks like he’s had some plastic surgery done. (The things an older squirrel must do today to compete against younger squirrels for spokes-animal work. Spunky’s barely recognizable.)

Santa Rosa's Spunky Squirrel, circa 2006.

In Oklahoma, though, his name and slogan “Care for Trees!” live on in an annual poster contest. And he’ll always live on in our hearts.

Spunky Squirrel in Milwaukee

Spunky at the 1984 Arbor Day celebration in Milwaukee.

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 6, in which we examine Ev’rett (the Friendly Evergreen).

In the 1950s, a new front opened in the War on Christmas. The first front had opened with a presidential ban on Christmas trees in the White House in 1902 out of concern for natural resources. A half-century later, Christmas trees made of aluminum or plastic had become so commonplace that that the plot of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which first aired on television in 1965, revolves around this idea of artificial trees having replaced natural trees. Artificial trees were so commonplace that when Charlie Brown and Linus see a single wooden tree alone on the tree lot full of artificial ones, Linus asks Charlie Brown, “Gee, do they even still make wooden Christmas trees?” To CB, the dominance and pervasiveness of artificial trees represented how disconnected Americans had become from the spiritual and religious roots of Christmas. Having a natural tree helps him and his friends reconnect to the true meaning of Christmas, as expressed in a heart-tugging soliloquy by Linus.

NCTGA logoAs the 1960s drew to a close, the artificial tree industry was cutting deeply into the sale of natural trees and growers were in a panic. The National Christmas Tree Growers’ Association (NCTGA) decided to do something about it. Like a plot from an old Hollywood musical, they respond to this attack on tradition with—a song! One can picture Mickey Rooney as the son of a Christmas tree farmer who’s on the brink of bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Having overheard the mean banker (maybe Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”?) tell Mickey’s father that unless he can pay the mortgage, he’ll lose the farm. Desperate and inconsolable, Mickey turns for comfort to his gal played by Judy Garland, who then sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to cheer him. Afterward, they talk and hit on the idea of writing a song and then Mickey says, “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!” The show (and the movie) end with the unveiling of a new song Mickey wrote celebrating natural Christmas trees, “Ev’rett the Friendly Evergreen.” It’s a smash sensation, and the show saves the farm! Roll credits!

Evrett

Take a listen and tell me that this doesn’t save the farm.

Ev’rett the Friendly Evergreen
1969 (2min 09sec): 

Well, that’s how it would have played out in the 1930s film version. The contemporary version would be closer to the truth—a little darker and with an ambiguous ending. (more…)

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 5, in which we examine the Fire Wolf.

Fire WolfA blood-curdling howl echoes through the forest. The wind suddenly picks up, bringing with it a blanket of thickening smoke. The temperature begins to rise and a red glow shines ominously on the horizon. The howl grows closer, suddenly transforming into loud and unnerving laughter. It can only mean one thing: the Fire Wolf is on the loose.

The Fire Wolf was born at the end of World War II, during an era of rising concern about catastrophic wildfires throughout the western United States. With fire constantly threatening the American timber supply, forest industry groups began to fight back. Education quickly became an important weapon in the industry’s fight. During the 1940s, a deluge of fire prevention messages were dropped on the general public. Contributing to this effort was American Forest Products Industries (AFPI), a research and promotional arm of the lumber and wood products industries (AFPI would later be renamed the American Forest Institute before becoming part of the American Forest & Paper Association in 1992). In addition to their usual work promoting the industry, the folks at AFPI also began running numerous forest fire prevention campaigns during the 1940s. One of these advertising campaigns, first launched in 1945, featured a character known as the Fire Wolf.

Fire Wolf fire prevention character

Coming on the heels of AFPI’s popular “Woody” character that launched four years earlier, the Fire Wolf was designed to capture the attention of children and adults alike. In contrast with fellow fire prevention symbol Smokey Bear, who premiered a year earlier in 1944, the Fire Wolf was no friend of the forest. Dubbed “Forest Enemy No. 1,” he operated with a modus operandi similar to the Guberif. As presented in various print advertisements, the Fire Wolf—his body literally made of flames—stalked the forest, threatening innocent woodland animals and other wildlife. A crafty creature, he made fast friends with careless smokers and lazy campers. The Fire Wolf welcomed destruction by flame, taking an arsonist’s glee in watching the woods burn. Liked to play with matches? The Fire Wolf was your boy. This big bad wolf wouldn’t just blow your house down, he’d burn it to the ground. No wolf in sheep’s clothing, he’d sooner douse you in gasoline than pull wool over your eyes. Absolutely no one in the vicinity of a forest was safe from his wrath. As the ads declared, “Every creature in the woods is scared to death of the Fire Wolf.”

Fire Wolf advertisement

During his brief heyday in the late 1940s, the Fire Wolf appeared in advertisements throughout the U.S. and Canada (Fire Wolf was given a boost north of the border through the cooperation of the Shawinigan Industries of Canada). Even more so than other forgotten characters, though, his time in the spotlight was incredibly short-lived. Fire Wolf was never able to gain significant traction with the public—especially in the face of the growing popularity of other characters such as Smokey Bear and Woody. His existence only in print ads also limited his impact (as opposed to Woody who made public appearances on behalf of AFPI). Fittingly, the Fire Wolf’s lifespan was that of a match, just a fleeting flame across the national fire prevention scene. In the end, maybe it was better for the Fire Wolf to burn out quickly rather than slowly fading away. In remembrance of his brief but useful career, continue reading for a few selections from the AFPI records and scrapbooks featuring the Fire Wolf in his prime.
(more…)

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