Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Park Ranger Response

Park Rangers do not always know what they are getting into when responding to calls for help.

I was working at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in 1978 patrolling Lee Drive when I was a bit taken aback to hear Linda my young wife of one year’s voice come over the radio. It was a Saturday afternoon and she was at home in our park house at Chatham Manor. She sounded a bit upset and said there was a 10-33, radio code for an emergency. I thought I could hear another voice in the background and realized it was Mary the historian on duty at Chatham. I asked what the nature of the emergency was but was only told I needed to get there as soon as I could.

Although I asked more questions attempting to find out if this was a medical or criminal problem. I was unable to get a straight answer and the more we communicated the more drastic the situation became in my mind. I turned on my emergency lights and started the five mile response through downtown Fredericksburg. My wife called several more times wanting to know when I would get there. I explained that I was having trouble making my way through traffic since no one was getting out of my way and I suspected a conspiracy to prevent my making it to Chatham. The tone of my wife’s voice started my mind spinning through various possible scenarios. Was there a hostage situation? Had someone been shot or robbed? Maybe it was a serious accident and someone was lying there injured? The more my adrenalin level rose, the tougher it became to get through traffic. When I pushed my way through one intersection I could hear vehicle horns protesting my move.

After what seemed hours I entered the gate at Chatham Manor and viewed my wife and Mary in the front yard of the caretaker’s house where we lived. I jumped out of my car ready to go for my gun or the emergency medical kit in my trunk. As I glanced over the roof of my car I realized that the emergency lights were not on. I looked to the console and the lighted switch for the light bar was still illuminated. I discovered later that a burned out fuse had prevented the lights from working. At least that eliminated the conspiracy theory.

Linda and Mary came running up to me and quickly explained that some kids had gotten into a barn on the property and somehow started up a farm tractor. The tractor had taken off without a driver and was running amuck through the fields of the park. I asked why they could not have told me that on the radio and their response was that they could not find a 10-code for a runaway tractor. Both were very consciences types and did not want to violate radio protocols.

The tractor was nowhere in sight, but I was eventually able to track it to the side of a commercial building outside the park where it had struck with such force it cracked a cinder block wall. I was able to turn off the engine and contacted the owner who then returned it to the barn.

We never did catch the culprits, but I bet they got a scare and a good story out of their experience. Linda later became almost a professional radio dispatcher on many occasions being my only link with the outside world on. She was always clear and precise in her future radio communications.

Our house at Chatham Manor with the patrol car with non functioning emergency lights.


  1. During my husband's 30 year career as a Ranger with a metropolitan district in Ohio, my voice became familiar to the dispatchers. But it seemed the only time something weird happened was when he was at training! I was always going to write a book called "A Day in the Life of the Ranger's Wife." Maybe all us wives should gather our stories together.

  2. I think that would be a very interesting idea. I was thinking of that as a possible future writing project.

  3. Count me in. I've got zero publishing contacts, but a million and one stories. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, my husband has stories to add also.

    Being a parkie is a family operation--at least the families that manage to stay together. The vagabond lifestyle can be hard on relationships.

  4. Yes, I know a lot of Park Service couples that did not last. It is a much harder life style then most people realize. I know my wife who did not even work for the park issued more backcountry permits from our house than the folks who worked in the office.

  5. Bruce, as a former FRSP Ranger (the last decade) I have to tell you, the Chatham House looks exactly the same! What kind of patrol car as that? I love this picture!