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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 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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Eighty years ago, Rudy Wendelin was a young artist fresh out of the University of Kansas School of Architecture struggling like many others to find work during the Great Depression. Relief came in 1933 when he applied for a job in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the new Civilian Conservation program launched that same year. Wendelin got the job, a position as a draftsman with Region 9 of the U.S. Forest Service, and immediately began turning out various artwork, signs, displays, publications, architectural drawings, and much more for the agency. By 1936 the local newspapers were referring to him as “the Ding Darling of the United States [Forest] Service” after the famed cartoonist Jay Darling. Within four years Wendelin would be promoted to the Forest Service’s national office in Washington, DC, and go on to become well known as the primary artist and “caretaker” of Smokey Bear. His time in Milwaukee working on CCC projects, though, was a crucial step towards this future career success.

During his final year working for Region 9, Wendelin drew a series of sketches depicting the forestry work of the CCC that were used in an instructional pamphlet given to enrollees. Woodsmanship for the Civilian Conservation Corps, published annually from 1937 to 1941, served as a guide to using various tools, basic first-aid, poisonous plants and insects, and an introduction to conservation and forestry. Some of the artwork was also used in other CCC materials, like recruitment flyers. The cover image captures the spirit of the CCC then and the perception of it today—the strapping young man made strong from the work and smiling with gratitude for the opportunity.

“The mountains and forests of this country may seem a wilderness to those of the Civilian Conservation Corps who come from the cities and farms,” read the pamphlet’s text. “Experience in the C.C.C. . . . will, however, call for what is known as ‘Woodsmanship’ – the ability to live and work safely, conduct yourself in accordance with your surroundings, and adapt yourself to your environment. No one can be taught woodsmanship out of a book, but here are a few traits of a good woodsman.”

View selections of Wendelin’s CCC art from Woodsmanship below, and consult the Rudolph Wendelin Papers in the FHS archives for further information.

CCC artUsing the Shovel, CCC artwork.
Fighting Fires, CCC artwork. lookout tower art.
Carrying the Crosscut, CCC artwork.
Carrying the D.B. Ax
Felling Trees, CCC artwork.Drill Ye Tarriers
Holding the Ax
Planting Trees, CCC artwork.
Always Break your Matches
Dragon art.

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This holiday season we turn to the U.S. Forest Service History Collection for a little fun artwork. The “Service Bulletin” was the newsletter, initially issued weekly and then later monthly, published by the Washington Office (WO) to keep employees abreast of the latest information from DC and around the nation. They typically were 6 or 8 pages in length, and included submitted news pieces, announcements, and even reminiscences from retiring employees. They are a treasure trove of insight and information about the agency during the period from 1920 to 1942. The Service Bulletin was different from the Information Bulletin, also issued from the WO. That came out every few days and typically was the front-and-back of one page. Items were just a couple of sentences in length, sometimes delivered in list form. We have a run of those from its launch in 1936 through 1956, with a break between 1951 and 1954.

Eleven months out of the year, the WO was all business—only the December issue of the Service Bulletin had cover art, and naturally its theme was tied to the holiday season. The artists who designed the December covers vary, as does the featured subject matter. Some are lighthearted, like the one from 1940 by Rudy Wendelin, whose holiday art we’ve featured before. Others reflect the accomplishments of the past year, such as the one from 1932, when the Copeland Report was issued. We’ve opted to share just a sampler of the covers. And instead of interpreting them for you, we’ll instead let these act as a holiday history exam. Do you know what happened and why it was deemed important enough to document in the artwork? We’ve given you the link to find the answer to “What was the Copeland Report?” Answer correctly to avoid getting a lump of coal in your stocking!

1922 Forest Service Bulletin

Service Bulletin – 1922 (William Greeley was chief for this one and the next one)

1926 Service Bulletin

Service Bulletin – 1926

1932 Forest Service Bulletin

Service Bulletin – 1932 (Robert Stuart was chief)

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Each year, the first full week of May marks North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. Created by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), along with a partnership with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the week is intended to promote the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses, and to raise public awareness of occupational safety issues.

In honor of this year’s North American Occupational Safety and Health Week, which runs from May 3-9, Peeling Back the Bark would like to feature a few relevant items from the Rudolph Wendelin Collection.  Wendelin, the artist behind Smokey Bear, created a large number of workplace safety flyers for the U.S. Forest Service from the 1930s through the 1970s.  He also collected Forest Service safety flyers created by other artists.

Below you’ll find just a few selections from a folder of safety illustrations that can be found in the Wendelin collection.  Click on any of the images to view a larger version.

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"Temptation" safety flyer by Rudy Wendelin.

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In honor of the season, Peeling Back the Bark would like to feature a small selection of just a few of the holiday cards and greetings found in various Forest History Society archival collections.  The following selected materials represent just a fraction of the many collections available in the FHS Archives.  Below each image can be found some brief caption information and the collection name.  Click on any of the images to view a larger version.  Happy holidays!

Smokey card

Smokey Bear Christmas card, from Rudolph Wendelin Papers.

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By coincidence, we were looking through artist Rudy Wendelin’s papers the other day when the news broke about the baccanalian goings-on in the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service. We found several party invitations from the 1930s for which Rudy did the artwork.

Click on the illustrations to view the full invitation.

These events were tame affairs by comparison, no doubt, but you have to wonder about this promise:



To learn more about the Rudy Wendelin collection, please visit our online finding aid.

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Bandit Junior RaindropIn 2007, the Forest History Society became the fortunate recipient of the Rudolph Wendelin Papers, 1930-2005. This collection comprises the personal papers and artwork of Rudolph “Rudy” Wendelin (1910-2000), who is the best known artist behind the United States Forest Service mascot and spokesman “Smokey Bear.” In addition to the widely recognized and much beloved Smokey Bear, Wendelin produced imagery for the U. S. Forest Service; conservation-focused drawings, sculpture, and commemorative stamps; and, upon retirement from the Forest Service, political cartoons for a Northern Virginia newspaper.

While processing and describing the diverse materials from this collection, I came across sketches and storyboards for the environmental film The Adventures of Junior Raindrop. Wendelin created the artwork for this 1948 Forest Service project, in which a “delinquent raindrop” learns the need for good watershed management. Educating students about the water cycle and soil erosion, Junior Raindrop contains such delightfully bizarre lines as “He’s formed a gang, and they’re whooping it up for a flash flood!”

Thanks to the glory of the Internet, clips may be viewed on a variety of sites, including YouTube, Open Video Project, and Internet Archive.

Watch the bandit raindrops and learn a little about watershed management:


To learn more about Rudy Wendelin, please visit our online finding aid.

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