Friday, December 11, 2009

New Deal Days: The CCC at Mesa Verde

New Deal Days: The CCC at Mesa Verde by Ronald C. Brown and Duane A. Smith, published by the Durango Herald Small Press in 2006 as part of the Mesa Verde Centennial Series, is a tidy account of the accomplishments of the CCC at Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado.

Although the book is somewhat short, the author’s have wisely chosen to keep their discussion and analysis of the creation and general history of the CCC relatively brief, thus giving over more space for the terrific story of the CCC history at Mesa Verde National Park. After all, most folks who consider picking up a book of this sort will likely have come to understand the situation in the United States in 1933 when the first CCC enrollees arrived at Prater Canyon to occupy a camp that can only accurately be characterized as “rustic.”

Brown and Smith provide wonderful snippets of camp life, drawing on personal accounts from enrollees who were at Mesa Verde as well as official records and camp newspaper accounts of activities. From the rigors of working on a bug crew to swapping out the carburetor jets on the trucks, even seemingly mundane tasks associated with life in the CCC camps are worthy of mention in the text. And, while CCC work was “labor intensive and characteristically unglamorous,” it seems the enrollees could always make time for taking potshots at a bobcat with a “bean shooter” or for dumping a local jail building in the river!

Also noteworthy are the more than 35 photos that illustrate the text as well as the walking tour of CCC projects that is included near the end of the book. (The walking tour was written by Don Ross.) Also, for those with a particular interest in camp architecture, there is a terrific section entitled “Architecture, Design and Construction of CCC Camps at Mesa Verde” written by Susana M. Jones also included in the text.

You can see (and purchase) the New Deal Days at the publisher’s website Here.

Be sure to visit the Mesa Verde Museum Association website.

At roughly 130 pages in length a book of this size leaves you wondering what else there might be to uncover. (For example, what were the exact details regarding the jail and its dip into the river?) Nevertheless, this book is still another required addition for anyone hoping to compile a library of meaningful CCC books and with a cover price that is altogether reasonable, there really isn’t any excuse to pass this one up.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Mystery From the Bookshelf: Who Was Wendell Young?

Understand from the outset that we may never know exactly who Wendell Young was, or is and in that fact there may be a lesson.

In the course of researching and reading about the Civilian Conservation Corps, I’ve managed to acquire a file cabinet or two full of histories and recollections about the New Deal era and especially the CCC. Some of the most intriguing stories are the ones that have a lot of loose ends to them.

Consider an old copy of the Dupont Blasters Handbook, Ninth Edition from 1938. The copy I have is nearly pristine and still in the box that it was shipped in from the advertising department at Dupont in Wilmington, Delaware. Carefully inked inside the front cover is the following:
Wendell J. Young
CCC Co# 1608
CCC-47257 Camp Tomahawk

The book doesn’t contain another mark of any kind. One wonders if young Wendell used the book for a class or if he simply put it in his footlocker and forgot about it.

The bookseller was evidently selling off lots of items related to Mr. Young’s life and in another group was a collection of photos, presumably of Wendell and family or friends. What I find especially interesting is the significant difference between the photo of Wendell at a family gathering (above) compared to the image of the rough and ready outdoorsman in another photo presumably taken at camp (below).

According to a newspaper clipping that was with the other items, the group eventually ended up in Washington State and it seems this might be where the second photo was taken, but unless someone steps forward with more information, it’s really anyone’s guess.

For now Wendell Young will remain just another of the 3 million or so young men who enrolled in the CCC and perhaps quickly forgot about the experience as they helped win a war, raise a family and toil in relative obscurity, all the while making ours the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

It’s easy enough to say that we’ll never, ever know all there is to know about the 3 million or so young men who enrolled in the CCC between 1933 and 1942 but somehow it’s difficult to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we may never know much about Wendell Young, except that he was once in the CCC, he once owned a Dupont Blaster’s Handbook and someone loved him very much.

You can see a US Government image from Camp Tomahawk HERE.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Colorado Whoopenhollars: Living a Good Life Despite the Great Depression

If we look deep enough and consider all that was happening during the 1930s, it becomes clear that one of the primary accomplishments – if not a goal stated outright - of the CCC was the preservation of families and family livelihoods.

Remember that enrollees were required to send all but a few dollars of their $30 monthly pay home to their needy family. FDR and his advisors realized that money accumulating in an enrollee’s footlocker, deep in some forest in Arkansas or Colorado, wouldn’t do the economy much good. For thousands of families, that additional $25 meant the difference between paying the rent and being tossed into the street. The allotment sent home by a son meant food on the table.

While we’ll never know every CCC enrollee story, we’ve got a good grasp of camp life and the work that went into insuring that the family received the monthly allotment. But what of those who remained at home while the young enrollee shipped out to work in a park or forest far from home? We have some of that story through the eyes of the enrollees themselves because they’ve often told of how important that monthly allotment was to their parents or loved ones. But what about the families of the men who ran the CCC camps? What about the foremen and supervisors from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service? What did the creation of the CCC mean to their families?

The Colorado Whoopenhollars, a newly released book offers a glimpse of what it was like to be waiting at home while a father is far away working as a supervisor in the forestry camps of the CCC. The full title of the book is The Colorado Whoopenhollars: Living a Good Life Despite the Great Depression and in it the reader is transported back to a small Colorado town in the 1930s. Through personal recollections, letters and the shared memories and experiences of her four brothers Jean Rutherford Duaine provides a close look at small town life during the Great Depression and just as importantly, she offers an insight into how a father coped with the long months of forestry work that kept him from his wife and small children.

The first section of the book is literally a guided tour of Georgetown, Colorado as the author remembers it from the 1930s. We’re introduced to an extended but tight knit family struggling to look after each other in the midst of a national economic crisis. In addition to siblings, parents, grandparents and uncles, we meet friends and neighbors from town – many of whom are as close as family. Woven through this narrative is the continual longing of a youngster for her daddy, William Rutherford, who is miles and miles away working for the U.S. Forest Service.

The latter portion of the book contains the texts of the letters that Bill Rutherford wrote to his children during his long absences; but these aren’t really just letters, they’re the story of five youngsters – the Whoopenhollar kids (named Billy, Frank, John, Jean and Glenn after Rutherford’s own children) and their hair raising adventures in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. A careful reader will come to realize that a longing for loved ones burned in the heart of both the family at home and the forest ranger working in the forest camp far from home.

Part family history, part historical record, part children’s story, The Colorado Whoopenhollars will appeal to readers of all ages. Moreover, despite the national desperation and hardship of those times, the story is upbeat and full of the author’s love of a special time and place.

While not directly related to the Civilian Conservation Corps, The Colorado Whoopenhollars offers a rare look at how the families of this era coped with the long absences of sons, brothers, husbands and fathers while they were away working in the CCC. More importantly perhaps, the book offers a glimpse at one father’s heart warming effort to remain connected to his kids back home.

For more information visit:

The Official Colorado Whoopenhollar website

Disclaimer:Jean Rutherford Duaine is my mom. I couldn’t be more proud of her for writing this book and my enthusiasm probably makes me a biased source but there you have it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Phoenix Unveils Arizona's Second CCC Worker Statue, 50th in the United States

The program kicked off shortly after 1 pm, February 21st at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center with opening introductions by park staffers P.J. Conover and Kim Keith. Mr. Conover, Recreation Coordinator and Facilities Manager expressed excitement over both the positive turnout as having both the dedication of the CCC Worker Statue and the formal opening of the Grand Canyon, National Park Service traveling exhibit. Mr. Keith, Park Manager, spoke of his new found appreciation for the CCC, gained as a result of his work at the park, amid so much CCC history.

Mr. Keith then turned the ceremony over to Michael Smith, President of CCC Legacy Chapter 44 based in Phoenix. Mr. Smith welcomed those in attendance, and specifically recognized the CCC veterans in the audience. Smith noted the place that the work and legacy of the CCC has alongside not just the wartime service of the New Deal generation, but also alongside that largely forgotten humanitarian effort, the Berlin Airlift that came so soon after the carnage of the war. Smith noted that no other nation could have turned its efforts so quickly and seamlessly from saving its own youth, to fighting a war across two oceans and then quickly back to saving a former foe in time of crisis, with a compassion that only comes from having suffered yourself.

Smith then introduced Bob Audretsch, recently retired National Park Service ranger from Grand Canyon National Park. Ranger Audretsch helped spearhead the CCC exhibit and symposium at Grand Canyon in 2008 and it was in part due to his effort that that same exhibit has now traveled to South Mountain Park were thousands more visitors will see and enjoy it. Mr. Audretsch presented a detailed and interesting account of the work of the CCC at Grand Canyon along with a history of the national CCC program. Audretsch pointed out that in all the years that the CCC worked at Grand Canyon, not a single enrollee was killed in a work related accident, despite the dangerous nature of their high angle work building trails and improvements in the Canyon and on its rims. Audretsch also alluded to the fact that, in much of the work of the CCC, heroism was an everyday thing. Audretsch then turned the program back over to Kim Keith who asked everyone to file out into the courtyard for the official unveiling of the statue.

With the crowd now gathered around the statue, Michael Smith read a letter from CCC Legacy President Joan Sharpe acknowledging the special day and pointing out that this statue is the 50th such statue to be dedicated in the United States. P.J. Conover then asked Jack Duncan, Vice-President of Chapter 44 to step forward to assist with the unveiling of the statue, which was done to enthusiastic applause. Smith then spoke briefly about the history of the Chapter 44 statue projects and noted that in the case of both of Arizona’s statues – Colossal Cave and South Mountain Park – the primary funding came from CCC veterans, proving the point that if you want a job done, call on a CCC boy. Smith noted specifically the generous contribution from Chapter 44 Vice-President Jack Duncan, whose donation funded the South Mountain statue. Jack Duncan then stepped forward and offered some personal reflections on the legacy of the CCC and specifically the struggle to make certain that the story of the CCC is told honestly and correctly in the future. Jack noted in particular his own effort decades ago as he worked to set a local history teach straight regarding the work of the CCC.

The members of Chapter 44 then stepped forward to have their picture taken with the newly dedicated statue and everyone was asked to stay for refreshments and to view the traveling CCC history exhibit. It is estimated that there were over 100 in attendance for the event.

The staff at South Mountain Park have developed a wonderful web page devoted to the work of the CCC at the park and nationwide. You can access that page here.