Challenges and Pionjars

Today we hear a little more of Shawna Lemos’s story.

I’m a pretty competitive person. Naturally I had a lot of pride trying to hike in to our job site and be first! To challenge myself, I would offer to carry the heaviest tools. The most challenging tools to carry were a 65 pound Pionjar or the largest chainsaw. It wasn’t until I met our new Supervisor (Terrance Johnson) that I was given the biggest challenge! He discussed an opportunity to be a leader within our crew and I accepted the goal with open arms. At first, I was given organizational tasks. He allowed me to make a checklists and get us ready for Spikes! I enjoyed making sure equipment was ready and delegating. There were a few deeper lessons to be learned though. One day Terrance sent me out to hike into a worksite, but requested I be last. I pretty much complained and took it out on the guy that hiked the slowest. I think I prob did that for a week straight! (Poor guy!) Terrance checked in one day and held me waaaaay back from the crew. He asked me if my attitude was helping the slow guy in ANY way. You know what? It didn’t help him, or me, or the crew at all! So I started encouraging him instead. It didn’t make him faster, but it did change my outlook from selfish to being more team minded. I’ve used this lesson in many areas of my life including parenting! I’m so grateful for the many challenges the C’s have given me.

Shawna shows one of the best things that good C1s in  the CCC do: develop Corpsmembers and make them better people. Corpies learn these lessons and take them wherever else they go in life.

As you read Shawna’s piece, if you were not in the CCC, you might have asked “What’s a Pionjar?”

A Pionjar is a specific brand of gasoline-powered rock drill.

Pionjar Demonstration

If you click on the above link and watch the video, you will see a basic demonstration of how the Pionjar is used. An interesting note: the narrator in the video pronounces Pionjar as ‘PYON-yar.’ It is a Scandinavian company, so that pronunciation is probably correct, but that video is the first time I had ever heard it pronounced that way. Corpies and NPS trail workers in the United States in my experience have always pronounced it ‘POON-jar’. It’s fun to say! Try it: POON-jar. 🙂

Why would anybody need to drill into rock? There could be several reasons. We might need to drill holes to place explosives into to blow up big rocks. We do this for trails, and we also do this for salmon habitat restoration, if a huge boulder that has rolled down into a streambed is causing debris to back up against it in high water and cause flooding.

We drill into rock in order to quarry big rocks into little rocks, to use in trail construction and maintenance.

We might need to drill into rock to anchor posts for fences or any of other many uses. In the Cobra video below, it looks like the workers are going to be anchoring a post for some sort of construction.

Pionjar is not the only company that makes these types of rock drills. I have also used Cobra rock drills, and I’m sure there are others.

Shawna did not have any available photos of a Pionjar for this piece, so I asked around at several Facebook CCC groups, such as California Conservation Corps former Corpsmembers and CCC Backcountry Trails Alumni, to see if anybody did have pictures. Sure enough, several former Corpsmembers came through with pics.

Karen Kollar Nancy Martin Stan 91

This pic is from Nancy Martin, of Karen Kollar operating a Pionjar on the Stanislaus Backcountry crew in 1991.


E Moreira P Martinez Inyo Modoc Redw 89

This pic of Eddie Moreira and Peter Martinez on the Inyo-Modoc-Redwoods crew in 1989, shows how the Pionjar is used to quarry rock. (Eddie provided the pic.) Holes are drilled in a line across the rock, and then something called ‘pins and feathers’ are used to split the rock. If you look closely at the steel sticking out of the holes, you can see there are three parts there. The long middle part is the ‘pin’ The shorter curved pieces around it are called the ‘feathers’. The feather are inserted first. The pin is placed between them. They are placed in all of the holes in the line. Then a double jack (or sledge hammer) is used to hit the pins down into the holes. All of the pins are hit evenly. As the pin goes deeper, the feathers are forced apart, and eventually, the big rock will split into little rocks along that line. This way, trail crews can quarry whatever sized rocks they need for their construction projects out of materials that are close by.

Eric Vanderleest

This pic shows Eric Vanderleest in Yosemite National Park in 1982. (Eric’s brother, Wayne Vanderleest, provided the photo.) Backcountry trail crews get very creative in using Pionjars in all sorts of positions.

Like Shawna said in her piece, these large heavy pieces of equipment might get shipped into camp on a mule, but they are usually transported on the backs of the trail workers from camp to the work sites.

Just another day of Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions…and More!


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