In Honor of Labor Day: "Other Duties as Assigned" at Winsor Castle

Winsor Castle at Pipe Spring.

Winsor Castle. NPS photo.

Have you ever stopped to consider the wide variety of duties performed by employees at a national park? In honor of Labor Day, here's a peek back to a bygone era at some of the duties for the first NPS employee assigned to take care of Winsor Castle.

Some of you may have thought you've caught me in a typo, and if so, you're in good company. If you type the term "Winsor Castle" into Google, the ever-vigilant search engine will ask, "Did you mean: Windsor Castle"?

Well, no, I didn't, and besides, that famous castle certainly isn't managed by the NPS.

You'll find this "castle" in Pipe Spring National Monument, located in that remote piece of high desert between the Grand Canyon and the Utah known as the Arizona Strip. According to the park website,

Pipe Spring is a water source in the desert that has been used by humans for thousands of years, and the site of an historic cattle ranch established in 1870. Several stone buildings from the pioneer era remain, including a fortified ranch house called Winsor Castle.

The area was established as a national monument in 1923, and park's administrative history, Cultures at a Crossroads - An Administrative History of Pipe Spring National Monument was written in 2000 by NPS Historian Kathleen L. McKoy. It provides a fascinating look at duties for the staff in a small park in those early years of the NPS.

The first employee at Pipe Spring was Leonard Heaton, a local resident who assumed responsibility for the site for almost a decade before Congress finally appropriated funds in 1932 for the position of "custodian"—a term which had a somewhat different connotation that it often does today.

Mr. Heaton was initially paid $75 a month, and according to Ms. McKoy's park history, "He had no staff, even seasonal, until 1953... He usually tried to take one-half or all of Sunday off to attend church or to tend to personal chores. However, at least in 1932, Heaton reported, "In the summer my wife and I take turns in showing the visitors [the fort] on Sunday, that is she goes to church one Sunday and I the next."

In a 1991 interview, Heaton recalled his first meeting with NPS Director Mather in about 1925. The structures in the new park needed major work, and Mather provided some succinct instructions for "historic preservation": "He told me what he wanted to do but he said to use your best judgment in putting it back like it was."

In the 1930s park employees didn't have to deal with detailed written "position descriptions," but a list of Mr. Heaton's "routine" duties would certainly do justice to a later concept known as "other duties as assigned":

• sweeping the fort and cleaning its windows (a constant chore, thanks to a "dirty west wind")
• constructing or cleaning out irrigation ditches; watering vegetation
• routine building maintenance
• controlling weed growth (foxtail, milkweed, wild morning glory, thistles)
• tree planting and trimming; cutting dead trees; raking leaves and trash
• journal keeping; writing monthly reports
• gathering and pressing plant specimens
• cleaning fort ponds; cleaning out pipelines to springs; cleaning out cattle guards
• trapping gophers (who ruined the meadow and irrigation ditches, and ate tree roots) or plugging up their holes
• replastering fort walls and ceilings when old plaster fell down
• maintaining the monument road (hauling gravel, filling holes, grading); clearing the road of snow
• cutting up firewood for campground or monument use (or hauling it from local sawmills)
• hauling coal from local mines for fuel
• keeping museum collection records
• maintaining or repairing the Park Service truck
• preparing cost estimates for rehabilitation and other projects; keeping track of expenses;
• preparing fire reports
• cleaning the camping areas
• trap setting, bird banding and record keeping
• and (last but not least), giving guided tours of the fort.

Heaton also "often came to the aid of motorists whose cars became stuck in mud holes on the abysmal approach road to the monument."

The winter season was certainly a slow one at Pipe Spring, but the "custodian" wanted to be sure he earned his salary. With that in mind, he submitted a list of "some of the things that I have thought of to do here, not only to keep me at work but to make the place more attractive and educational." Heaton assured his superiors there would be very little cost involved in these projects as he planned to use materials on hand. He wrote,

A few of my ideas are as follows:

1) Fixing up the lower east room of the lower house for use as a registering office and [with] literature of the Monument, also having some of the relics on exhibition in this room.

2) Label all of the furniture as to when it was made and who now owns it.

3) Make hitching racks or tie posts for the horses instead of letting horsemen tie [them] to the trees.

4) Collect plants and insects found on the Monument, giving them the common and scientific names.

5) Make a nature garden of all plant life with signs telling of the kinds of plants.

6) Make a lookout point on the top of the hill back of the Fort showing the interesting places in the development of this country.

7) Have a museum of the live reptiles to be found on the monument.

I was especially intrigued by the last item on his list. Mr. Heaton obviously recognized that times were changing, and so were the means of travel:

8) Make a sign of shrubbery, 'Pipe Spring National Monument,' for the airplanes so they can locate this place while flying past.

I didn't find any record that this final item was actually accomplished, but it's clear Mr. Heaton didn't require any official economic stimulus packages to try to generate some interest in his site. As far as Labor Day is concerned ... I suspect the term had a much more literal meaning for this old-time park employee!