Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas As Reported in the Camp Papers

Each year as Christmas rolls closer, it is difficult not to give some thought to what life must have been like in the CCC camps during the holidays.  Much of what we know about life in the camps during the holidays comes from reports in the individual camp newspapers.

For the enrollees of Company 2704 at Camp SCS-4-M in Chatfield, Minnesota, December 1937 must have been a bittersweet time indeed.  Though Christmas and New Year were looming large on the calendar, so too was the prospect of having to disband the company.  So, while it was printed in hues of green and red, the cover of the Company 2704 camp newspaper for December 1937 didn’t depict an image of Santa Claus or reindeer, but rather a comical image of enrollees loading up their footlockers and barracks bags under the title “Final Edition.”
Nevertheless, whether in honor of the Christmas season or to mark the disbanding of the company, the paper announced that a dinner-smoker event was scheduled and that there would be, “an extra special dinner in the mess hall,” that would be “a second Thanksgiving feast.”

Many enrollees – indeed as many as could afford to and who had leave saved up – left camp to be with relatives.  The December, 1937 Hualpai Echo reported on the plans of some members of Company 1837 at camp SP-8-A near Kingman, Arizona:
Joe Snow, Lloyd Perry and George Edwards left the 16th for a holiday trip to Los Angeles and other points of interest along the Pacific seaboard.  They will return to spend New Year’s Day in camp.
Al Lancaster will spend his Yuletide vacation visiting his family in Tucson.

Manuel Franco, Luis Rios, Quintin Henderson and Joe Lopez will leave the 24th for San Diego where they will spend the holidays visiting relatives – so they say.  They also plan side trips to Tia Juana in Old Mexico and Los Angeles.
The article went on to explain that those enrollees staying in camp could look forward to something special too:

A Christmas Tree with all the trimmings is planned for the men staying in camp (for) Xmas.  A unique way of giving a present to everyone has been worked out.  The climax to the Xmas celebration in camp is the extra-special dinner which will satisfy the gastronic (sic) appetites of all.
At the bottom of the page was included a final admonition:  “Don’t forget a Christmas card to the folks back home…”  Good advice in 1937, good advice today.

Road project (in the snow). Company 1152, N. Stratford New Hampshire. First Corps Area.

Veterans in Company 1826V in the Nogales Sub-District in Arizona reportedly celebrated a quiet and dignified Christmas in camp according to an article in their Company paper:
Christmas at Camp F-30-A was very quietly but appropriately observed.  A large number of men were absent from camp for the weekend but those who were present participated in making Christmas of 1936 a very quiet but dignified occasion.
Judging from the great number of packages and cards, Santa Claus was unusually generous in his plans for the members of Company 1826.  “Merry Christmas” was the password of the company during the holiday season and a good time was had by all.

There seems little question that most camp commanders and technical agency staff worked hard to keep morale high during the holidays.  In her book Gold Medal CCC Company 1538, Kathy Mays Smith recounts the very special Christmas party held for the members of Company 1538 stationed at Camp Wyoming near Pineville, West Virginia in 1935.  The gala event was kept a secret from most of the enrollees right up until they filed into the festively decorated camp recreation hall.  The camp commander addressed the assembled men with greetings of the season before reciting Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”  An enrollee choir sang Christmas songs, including “Silent Night,” and three men, directed by an Army lieutenant, acted out a pantomime skit entitled “The Three Wise Men.”  But the high point of the evening came when,

“At last came the climax of the evening.  Instructed to line up in order to sign the payroll, as each one passed the table where the officers stood, he was handed, not a pen and a book full of dotted lines, but a real honest-to-goodness watch, the gift of the Administrative Personnel and Technical Service.”

Today it may be difficult to conceive of a time when so many had nothing or nearly nothing; a time when fresh fruit in a Christmas stocking was considered a luxury for some.  Homemade paper decorations and handwritten greetings have given way to brightly colored, electrical powered, mass produced displays made overseas.  However, if we concentrate for a moment and let our mind’s eye open to a vision of the past, we may still catch a glimpse of young men, far from home and family, gathered in a brightly lit mess hall or recreation building in a CCC camp nestled in a western forest, or perched on a ridgeline in an eastern state somewhere.  To be sure, there was sadness – there always is a bit of that; sadness at being away from loved ones perhaps, but the record shows that in the CCC camps there usually was some reason to be thankful and to smile even if that reason now seems so very simple by today’s over inflated standards.  Merry Christmas.
Timber crew on snow shoes. Company 182, West Cornwall, Conn. First Corps Area.





Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Truck Drivers in the CCC: There Was a Lot Riding on their Work

Statistically, the most dangerous daily activity facing CCC enrollees was injury or death caused by vehicular accidents.  Trucks transported enrollees to and from the work sites.  Trucks often brought lunches and extra supplies to the work site during the day.  Trucks carried enrollees into town on the weekend to take in a movie or to attend dances and trucks transported the enrollees back to camp when the fun was over.  Trucks transported company equipment between camps and trucks moved enrollees from summer camps to winter camps when the weather got cold, often moving them back the other direction in the spring.  No matter what the type of work being undertaken in the camp – forestry work, erosion control, construction of park improvements, or installation of irrigation systems – drivers were always the backbone of the effort. 

An enrollee stands next to his battered truck.
To be sure, in the first formative months of the program, the CCC lacked a robust safety program, and by October 1933 it became clear the organization had a safety problem.  Director Robert Fechner expressed dismay over the number of fatalities due to accidents in the CCC, but despite his admonitions, the record did not improve and talk turned to the creation of a formal safety program.  Finally, in April 1934, with the strong support of the War Department and the technical services like the Forest Service and the National Park Service, a formal safety program was adopted.  Under the program, CCC Safety Division representatives visited each camp.  William Rutherford, a US Forest Service foreman working in a camp on Colorado’s western slope, wrote home and mentioned that an inspector had recently visited camp and was upset that enrollees were jumping out of the backs of trucks before they’d come to a complete stop.  At some point, Rutherford found himself tasked with the job of managing the camp’s truck fleet, insuring the drivers were properly trained and maintaining their vehicles.  Safety committees were also established in each camp and by the middle of 1936 the death rate for CCC enrollees had been reduced to a point that was lower than that in the Regular army and lower for young men in the same age group in the overall population of the United States.

Grease rack, CCC camp Vale, Oregon, circa. 1940
Truck drivers were required to maintain their equipment and expected to operate it in a safe manner.  For example, in the camp at Vale, Oregon, Saturday’s were given over as time for drivers to service and maintain their trucks, which they did, using a large grease rack, built especially for the task.  A driver’s safety record and driving ability were documented and often referenced as part of their discharge paperwork; in part as a means of showing prospective employers that a particular young man had proven himself behind the wheel in the CCC.  
Merle Timblin (holding canteen) stands by his truck while a CCC work crew loads up.
Merle Timblin recalled his work driving a truck when his CCC company moved from Williams, Arizona to Nogales, Arizona.  The trucks carrying the camp equipment and supplies made the trip in two days, stopping in Phoenix overnight before continuing their journey to southern Arizona the next day.  Today, thanks to the interstate highway system, the trip can be accomplished in under a day, with time to spare for rest stops and sightseeing.
A truck driver’s code, issued to some drivers, including Merle Timblin, included the commitment to drive safely at all times and to strive diligently for a camp record of no lost time accidents.

To be sure, even with a strong safety program in the camps, accidents still happened and occasionally they were the result of misconduct on the part of one or more enrollees.  In these cases, the camp commander would convene a review board to determine the cause of the accident and, if necessary, levy appropriate sanctions.  Sadly, in the case of fatal accidents, the board would rule on whether the enrollee in question was at fault and whether the accident occurred in the performance of his regular duties.

A newspaper reports the sad details of a fatal truck accident near Wallace, Idaho.

The Death of Enrollee Rocco Martello, Yellowstone National Park, 1939
On October 3, 1939 a board of officers headed by Captain Harley Jones, issued findings in the matter of the death of enrollee Rocco R. Martello, who was a member of Company 3204 at the Nez Perce Camp YNP-5 near West Yellowstone, Montana.  Martello was a passenger riding in the back of a stake bed Ford truck returning to camp following an authorized recreation trip to West Yellowstone late on the night of August 12, 1939.  Approximately sixteen miles into the journey and within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, the driver was blinded by the lights of an oncoming vehicle.  In his effort to avoid a collision, the driver pulled the truck to the far right shoulder of the road, hitting a large rock, resulting in his loss of control of the truck, which careened over an embankment, rolling over in the process, coming to rest against some trees approximately 30 feet from the highway.  Enrollee Martello, seated on a bench seat in the rear of the truck was thrown from the truck and pinned to the ground by two trees that were uprooted by the rolling truck, the truck eventually coming to rest atop the uprooted trees and atop enrollee Martello. 
Captain Jones and the review board noted that enrollee Martello died almost instantaneously.  Additionally, the board ruled that the death occurred in the performance of duty and was not the result of Martello’s misconduct and that neither alcohol nor drugs were a direct or proximate cause of the fatality.

The board findings also include an affidavit from the driver of the truck, explaining the tragic details of the crash, noting that there were 23 enrollees in the rear of the truck and three, including the driver, riding in the cab.  The driver goes on to attest that he received no instruction regarding the fact that three men should not ride in the cab of a CCC truck.  Perhaps more tragic still, the driver admits to having had “about four beers” while in West Yellowstone that night, but goes on to claim that, “…there was no time in which I was not in full possession of my faculties.  I was perfectly sober when I started do drive the truck back to camp.”
The documentation available does not record what action might have been taken against the driver and it would be unfair to speculate now, some 73 years later.  It is enough to note that at least two lives were changed forever that night in Yellowstone National Park.  Today the incident merely serves to remind us of the burden carried by truck drivers in the CCC.

Motor pool, perhaps during vehicle inspection, CCC camp Vale, Oregon, 1940.

Proceedings of B/O, Enrollee Rocco R. Martello Findings, National Archives, Wash., DC.

Salmond, John A.  The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:  A New Deal Case Study.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 1967.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

CCC Records in the 1940 Census

If ever there was proof that CCC camps were really nothing more than small towns set down in the forests, fields and parks of the United States, it can be found in the just released United States census data for 1940. For a nice article about the release of the 1940 census data click HERE.

Some 120,000 so-called “enumerators” literally went from one residence to the next, seeking out and speaking with the occupants to document their employment status, their salary, their gender and age, as well as supplemental questions for one in twenty individuals surveyed.  One would imagine that jobs as enumerators were much sought after given that we were still struggling through more than a decade of national economic depression.

Browsing through the scanned records, you’ll be pleased to see that local CCC camps are listed in the record for many counties and towns.  Looking more closely, you might be disappointed that many of the individual camp records are limited solely to the camp staff, military officers and perhaps a handful of CCC enrollees who, for whatever reason, were in the camp at the time the enumerator visited.  I’m at a loss to explain why the individual camp records don’t reflect camp populations of closer to 150 and 200 individuals.  For example, the headcount for camp F-16-A in Gila County, Arizona list just 19 individuals, apparently scattered between the main camp (12 individuals) and side camps at Parker Creek (1 individual, a foreman), 72 Springs (5 individuals) and Superior (1 individual).

One exception is the census roll for CCC Company 1860(V) at Camp Mount Morrison, near Golden, Colorado.  Some resolute individual typed in all the entries for all the enrollees in this camp!  This sort of record will be a boon for researchers in search of information about that company or an individual member and who knows how many other CCC companies have this level of detail in their individual census pages.

A closer look at the lists will reveal where an individual was working in 1935 so in some cases, the camp census rolls will show that an individual was residing in some other CCC camp in 1935.  Also, listed along the top of the sheet, in column 22, is a reference to the WPA and the CCC.  Check it out.  I’ve been using the scanned images at Family Search, which you can access HERE.