Monday, December 9, 2013

Help Preserve a Piece of CCC History

Will we understand the value of our history only after we have lost it?

In addition to helping folks find information about the Civilian Conservation Corps, another critical component to this thing we call CCC “resources” is the preservation of endangered items and bits of information.  Clearly a resource is of no use if it’s wasted, lost, destroyed or hidden away so deep in an archive vault that the average person cannot access it.
I was recently contacted by the folks at Appalshop Archive in Whitesburg, Kentucky.  It seems there is silent film footage shot at Camp SP-10-K near Pineville, Kentucky in 1938 that is in need of preservation.  For the sake of getting the word out quickly, I’ve pulled a quote directly from their fundraising site:
“In 2008 the Appalshop Archive received the donation of a 1938 16mm silent b/w film documenting the CCC camp in Pine Mountain State Park near the coal mining community of Pineville, KY.  It was made by Park superintendent and CCC supervisor Carl Zody.  Camp SP-10 men are seen constructing roads and bridges, operating vehicles, and cutting native sandstone for the Laurel Cove amphitheater (which is still a local landmark central to the town’s annual Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival).  The at-risk film is the most extensive known moving image materials of CCC activity in Pineville.  It is also unique in that it was made by a Park employee rather than by the U.S. Department of the Interior, whose films were intended to promote the program to the public.”
I think the critical thing to consider in this case is that the effort is to raise funds in order to preserve and exhibit this rare piece of film history.  Preservation of CCC history will insure that items are kept safe but possibly never seen.  Exhibition of CCC history brings the CCC story to thousands but risks damage to the items being exhibited.  The folks at Appalshop Archive are working to do both and they need the public’s help to make that happen.
Again, because Appalshop is working to meet a fundraising deadline, I’ve chosen to pull the contact information directly from their website in order to get this piece posted as soon as possible.  Here is how you can help:
“To donate by credit card go to the Contribute Now button at the top right of this page (  If you would prefer to make your tax-deductible contribution by check, just make it payable to APPALSHOP, INC. and mail to: Appalshop Archive, 91 Madison Ave, Whitesburg, KY, 41858.”  
There are premiums offered based on the level of contribution you make – call it a “perk” or an incentive – but there is also a deadline for the current fundraising effort.  To view the fundraising web page and to see the range of incentives being offered, visit the website here (scroll down the page to view the section on the Pineville CCC film):
Think of it this way:  Somewhere, there are people searching for information about a family member or a loved one who worked in a CCC camp in Kentucky.  Wouldn’t you feel great if you knew that you’d helped make it easier for those folks to perhaps catch a glimpse of their CCC boy on film?  That should be incentive enough.
For a history of the CCC in Kentucky, see Connie M. Huddleston’s book Kentucky’s Civilian Conservation Corps, 2009, The History Press.
For the CCC Resource Page State-by-State article about the CCC in Kentucky, click HERE.
For previous Forest Army blog posts related to the CCC in Kentucky, click HERE.
(Header illustration:  Edited detail from the CCC Company photo, Camden, Maine.  Courtesy of John McLeod.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Remembering Some of the Dead at Blackwater Creek

August is a bastard.  Hot.  Dry.  Blazing.  Deadly.  If you’re lucky, August will break your will, steal what little hope you have left and leave you dejected, hoping and praying for September or, better yet, October.  If you’re unlucky, perhaps a bit too slow, a bit too tired, a bit too inexperienced or careless, or wearing the wrong kind of boots, that bastard August will kill you.  If you’re really unlucky, August will wipe out any vestige that you even existed.

August 21, 2013 marks the 76th anniversary of the blow up in Blackwater Creek, a fiery August conflagration that took the lives of 15 firefighters, most of them young Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees who battled wildfire on a rugged mountain slope hundreds of miles from their Texas homes.  I have posted more than one article related to the events that occurred in the Shoshone National Forest that blazing hot August afternoon and yet thoughts of that hot, smoky, fire-filled afternoon always come back to me when this bastard month rolls around and I begin to feel it’s too hot for my own good and then just as quickly, I remember that it isn’t likely ever going to be too hot where I am, compared to some panicky boys on a steep mountainside far from home in 1937.

Particularly heartbreaking is the fact that, while we know very little about the men who died fighting the Blackwater Fire, we know virtually nothing whatsoever of the CCC enrollees whose names filled the bulk of that tragic headcount in 1937.  Of the dead men who were variously in charge of the fire suppression work at Blackwater we know that one (Alfred G. Clayton) was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1892 and that he was considered to be a ranger of the “old school” and that he was an accomplished artist and writer.  We know that another (21-year-old Rex A. Hale) was originally from Afton, Wyoming, that he worked his way of from CCC enrollee to a full-time Forest Service position as Junior Assistant to Technician and that he left behind a wife and infant daughter.  We know that another of the leaders who perished on the Blackwater Fire (Paul E. Tyrrell) was a graduate of the University of California’s school of forestry, that he became a Junior Forester in February 1937 and that he died as a result of burns he suffered while trying to protect others during the fire.  Finally we know that one of those in charge of firefighting crews that day at Blackwater Creek (James T. Saban) had struggled with personal demons that had, in the past, forced him to leave work in forestry for a time and that he had only been back working in the woods professionally for about 3 weeks when the Blackwater blow up took his life.

Ranger Clayton and the men who were trapped in the gulch probably didn’t have a good deal of time in which to consider their impending fate.  A mortally injured enrollee, Roy Bevens, was found within 60 feet of Ranger Clayton, Foreman Saban, Junior Assistant to Technician Hale and enrollees Gerdes, Griffith, Mayabb and Rogers.  Bevens pointed out the location of the fatality site in the gulch and reportedly expressed his thanks to God for having survived, but he would later die from his burns.

As for the group of men with Ranger Post, the fire and the terrain provided time to weigh options, to take action, to pray and to panic, but there wasn’t evidently much time.  In the end, a rocky point was their last refuge as smoke enveloped them and flames surrounded them on all sides.  The group shifted from one side of the clearing to another to avoid the heat and flames.  Foremen and members of the technical services struggled to keep order in the chaos and in some cases, literally fought with the panicked men in order to keep them from bolting from the rocky clearing and its scant prospects for safety from the inferno all around.  Among the men trapped on the ridge with Ranger Post that blazing, smoking fearful August afternoon were CCC enrollees Earnest Seelke, Rubin Sherry, Clyde Allen and Herman Patzke.  Seelke, Sherry, Allen and Patzke made a break for it, along with Bureau of Public Roads employee Billy Lea.  Only one would survive the effort. 

The men were told to lie down, but according to Ranger Post’s account after the tragedy, many insisted on sitting up or even standing in order to say prayers.  Ranger Post noted later:

“Nearly all the boys grew panicky and instead of lying down as instructed, a good many of them stood up and ran to the edge of the park, turned and came back.  Some of the boys did not listen to any orders, instructions or cautioning and were insistent upon standing up and saying their prayers.”

Foreman Paul Tyrrell restrained panicked enrollees at the expense of his own safety; as he lay atop the panic stricken lads his body created a shield that protected the boys from the heat.  After the flames subsided, Foreman Paul Tyrrell would be helped from the burn area only to succumb to pneumonia a few days later.

For others trapped on what would later be named Post Point, death came a bit more quickly, but only just a bit and certainly in no less a traumatic fashion.  Sam Van Arsdale, a worker with the Bureau of Public Roads made a break for it at one point only to retreat back into the clearing but not before seeing others make a similar less successful break for safety.  Van Arsdale survived with burns but he recounted seeing other runners lie down in the flames, seemingly resigned to their fate.  Van Arsdale later recounted his ordeal:

“I tried to get away from that terrible heat…I remember there were other fellows running with me down the hill the first time.  But they didn’t turn around.  I guess they tried to run on through.  I saw some of them just lay down in there and let the fire burn over them.” (The Helena (Montana) Independent, August 24, 1937.)

In all likelihood, Sam Van Arsdale was witness to the death of some who chose to make a break for it:  Bureau of Public Roads employee Billy Lea or CCC enrollees Earnest Seelke, Rubin Sherry, Clyde Allen.  History records that only Herman Patzke survived his dash through the flames.
So here, for the first time that I am aware, are images of the four CCC enrollees who chose to make a run though the flames that blazing hot afternoon on a Wyoming mountainside 76 years ago.  History seems to have forgotten them, but not quite.

CCC enrollee Clyde Allen, killed at Blackwater Creek, Wyoming.

CCC enrollee Rubin Sherry, killed at Blackwater Creek, Wyoming

CCC enrollee Earnest Seelke, killed at Blackwater Creek, Wyoming.
CCC enrollee Patzke, Blackwater Creek Survivor.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A New Online Resource: Forest Outings, 1940

This post will be brief, but I felt it important to share an online resource that has some good references to the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Better still, this is a primary source document published before the abolishment of the CCC.  The publication is Forest Outings, edited by Russell Lord and published by the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service in 1940.  You can access the entire text of this book here.

Though it is a study of our forests and their uses, there are numerous references to the CCC and to CCC work in Forest Outings.  Perhaps more importantly, Forest Outings is a snapshot of forester’s attitudes about forestry and land management in the late 1930s.  I don’t recall ever seeing more than one copy of Forest Outings in my travels so I’m very excited to find that the book has been made available online so that anyone with an interest may access it and use it as a research or reference tool.  I hope that some of you will find it useful, too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

State-By-State: Kentucky

1938 Camp Map for Kentucky
If you are looking for detailed information on the work of the CCC in Kentucky, you’re really in luck because there is at least one book devoted to CCC work in that state.  Kentucky’s Civilian Conservation Corps by Connie M. Huddleston will be a boon to anyone researching Kentucky’s CCC work; the photos and illustrations alone make it a real treasure.  I am especially drawn to Huddleston’s text and photos related to the work of the CCC at Cumberland Falls State Park.  A few years ago, the annual Civilian Conservation Corps reunion was held at Cumberland Falls State Park so in the case of Kentucky, I have some photos of my own to share.  To access an article about the reunion that I posted at the Forest Army blog back in 2007, click here.

Huddleston notes that the first CCC camps established in Kentucky were those at Cumberland Falls and Mammoth Cave and that by October 1935 a total of 35 camps had been opened in the Bluegrass State.  More to the point, Perry Merrill provides a snapshot of camp totals in his book Roosevelt’s Forest Army.  According to Merrill, there were 44 CCC camps in Kentucky in June 1937.  This total is likely taken from the annual reports published by the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C.  The Annual Report of the Director of Emergency Conservation Work for fiscal year ended June 30 1937 gives the breakdown of camps by types in Kentucky exactly as reported by Merrill, specifically:
CCC-built bench and steps, Cumberland Falls, KY
National Forest Camp: 8
State Forest Camps: 1
Private Forest Camps: 8
Agricultural Engineering Camps: 2
Soil Conservation Camps: 14
National Parks Camps: 4
State Park Camps: 6
Military Reservation Camps: 1

The total monthly enrolled strength for enrollees entering the CCC from Kentucky in fiscal year 1937 was reported as follows:

July 1936:  11,272
August 1936:  10,750
September 1936:  8,907
Ft Knox CCC Conditioning Camp, 1934
(Click to enlarge.)
October 1936:  13,289
November 1936:  12,779
December 1936:  12,158
January 1937:  12,901
February 1937:  12,342
March 1937:  8,392
April 1937:  12,641
May 1937:  12,014
June 1927:  10,956

The Annual Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps for fiscal year ended June 30, 1939 reported that the total number of camps in Kentucky was down to 28, broken down as follows:

National Monument Camps:  3
State Park Camps: 3
National Forest Camps: 4
State Forest Camps: 1
Private Forest Camps: 5

Agricultural Engineering Camps: 2

Soil Conservation Service Camps: 10

It is worth noting that along with the lower number of camps in Kentucky in fiscal year 1939 compared to fiscal year 1937, the number of enrollees joining the CCC from Kentucky each month was also significantly lower in 1939; just 7,631 in July 1938, 7,271 in November 1938, 7,111 in January 1939 and 4,169 in March of 1939.  One might speculate as to the reason behind such a drop in enrollment numbers from 1937 to 1939 (the enrollment count for Kentucky in March 1939 was only about half of what it was compared to March 1937).  Perhaps the economy was improving, perhaps there were more agricultural jobs available for seasonal workers.  Perhaps Kentucky’s quota of enrollees had been reduced.  We do know that by 1939 enrollees from eastern states, including Kentucky, were being shipped out to the western United States where there was a greater need for their labor.

In his book The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, John Salmond points to an even more compelling reason for a decline in enrollment numbers between 1937 and 1939.  After some four years of priming the nation’s economic pump, the Roosevelt administration was desperate to rein in spending and to balance its budget.  Consequently, in late 1937 CCC Director Robert Fechner was told that estimates for the 1938-1939 fiscal year had been reduced by $125 million.  Fechner pointed out that this would mean closing just over 400 CCC camps nationwide by July of 1938 but his protests fell on deaf ears.  The reductions were made as a budget balancing measure and this is likely one major reason for the reduction in the number of camps in Kentucky between fiscal year 1937 and fiscal year 1939.

Even with a reduction in the total number of camps, the CCC accomplished great things in Kentucky during fiscal year 1939.  Here are some examples from that year alone, taken from the Annual Report for 1939:

Vehicle Bridges:  14
Pipeline:  11,654 linear feet
Permanent Check Dams:  73
Temporary Check Dams:  3,305
Seed Collection, Conifers:  79 bushels
Seed Collection, Hardwoods:  10,536 bushels
Collection of Tree Seedlings:  9,270 seedlings
Firefighting, Forest Fires:  10,515 man days

Remember that these figures are for a single year (1938-1939).  Multiply this effort over the 9 year lifespan of the CCC and you truly have a noteworthy list of accomplishments in Kentucky alone.  Naturally, this effort was not accomplished without some sacrifice, and the cost was occasionally documented in the pages of Happy Days, the official newspaper of the CCC.  Likely the first incidence of a CCC fatality in Kentucky to be documented in Happy Days was the death of Jack Stafford, which was reported in the April 14, 1934 issue.  Jack was killed in a truck accident during a trip home and it would seem that enrollees in Kentucky were especially prone to accidents during their free time.  The March 3, 1940 issue of Happy Days reported that Daniel Miller, an enrollee with Company 512 at Chappell, Kentucky, was accidently shot and killed by his nephew while on leave.  The August 3, 1940 issue reported the death of enrollee John Elliot, also from Company 512 at Chappell.  Elliot was killed in an auto accident en route back to camp while on leave.   W.P. Harris, an enrollee with Company 1562 at Madisonville, Kentucky was killed in a work related truck accident (Happy Days, August 4, 1934) and Carl F. Snyder of Company 563, Corbin, Kentucky, was killed in a logging accident (Happy Days, May 25, 1935).

By and large, CCC camps were welcomed by residents of nearby communities.  It is estimated that the establishment of a CCC camp meant an additional $5,000 in expenditures in the local community so it makes sense that local towns would welcome the CCC simply from a monetary standpoint.  But CCC enrollees often endeared themselves to residents of nearby cities and towns as a result of their work and often as a result of their behavior.  In The CCC Chronicles, Alfred Cornebise notes that the local librarian in Henderson, Kentucky was moved to write an editorial about the local CCC camp, her words of praise appeared in the Company 1540 camp newspaper, the Cromwell Cardinal.  The librarian wrote that “rarely does a detachment of men, stationed near a town, make the good impression on the community that the CCC Camp has made on Henderson…  This most satisfactory condition is due, of course, not only to the boys but to the institution of the camp, to its discipline, its educational system, to its general conditions.”
CCC-built stone steps and retaining wall, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky



Cornebise, Alfred Emile, The CCC Chronicles: Camp Newspapers of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942. Macfarland and Co., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2004.

Huddleston, Connie, M., Kentucky’s Civilian Conservation Corps.  The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 2009.

Merrill, Perry H, Roosevelt’s Forest Army, 1981, Perry H. Merrill, Publisher.

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

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of Emergency Conservation Work, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1937.

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1939.

Copyright, 2013, Michael I. Smith

Monday, June 10, 2013

State-by-State: The CCC in Kansas

Look closely at the 1938 map of Kansas Civilian Conservation Corps camps (above) and you’ll see that all but one were “SCS” – Soil Conservation Service – camps.  Why do you suppose this was? 
The state of Kansas lies in the heart of what has come to be known as the “Dust Bowl” region of the United States.  Indeed if you study the map of the dust bowl region that appears in Timothy Egan’s outstanding book The Worst Hard Time, you’ll see that more of Kansas lies in the dust bowl region than any of her neighboring states.  Egan notes that on a single day, “Black Sunday,” April 14, 1935, more than 300,000 tons of topsoil was carried aloft by the arid wind; twice as much dirt as was excavated to carve the Panama Canal!
Most scholars agree now that much of the dust bowl disaster can be attributed to unwise farming practices that degraded the topsoil, making it vulnerable to drought and high winds.  Sadly, the CCC, like the Soil Conservation Service, came along too late to avoid the worst effects of the dust bowl, however it is safe to say that the creation of the CCC helped reverse the trend of rip and tear agriculture, perhaps avoiding further erosion and damage to the land.
Congress appropriated funds to create the Soil Conservation Service just a few days after “Black Sunday” in 1935 and in short order across the U.S. 150 CCC camps previously under the U.S. Forest Service were reassigned for work under the SCS.  But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some terrific recreational improvements made by the CCC in Kansas, as we’ll see.
Not surprisingly perhaps, Ren and Helen Davis list only one Kansas park in their book Our Mark On This Land.  According to the Davises, the only Kansas state park to benefit from CCC labor did so as a result of work by enrollees in an SCS camp:  Camp SCS-10-K.  Camp SCS-10-K was situated in the southeastern corner of Kansas, but you’ll notice that the 1938 CCC camp map shows an SP-2 up in the northwesterly part of Kansas; this is a discrepancy that I am currently unable to completely reconcile.  The facts are unclear even in Perry Merrill’s Roosevelt’s Forest Army.  In the state section devoted to CCC work in Kansas, Merrill notes that there was one state park camp in Kansas in June of 1937, however later in the section he writes that there were no state parks in Kansas until 1955.
The editor at The Civilian Conservation Corps in Kansas very kindly provided some insight into the nature of parks work by the CCC in Kansas.  While a map of Kansas CCC camps might appear to be heavily laden with SCS designated camps, there were aspects of the soil conservation projects that translated directly to parks and recreation work resulting in park type improvements – including a number of lakes - even if the underlying nature of the camp and company was soil conservation or erosion control.
At the end of the day we can take the numbers directly from the fiscal year 1937 Annual Report of the Director of Emergency Conservation Work which lists the breakdown of Kansas CCC camps thus:
State Forest Camps: 1
Soil Conservation Camps: 16
State Park Camps:  1
Military Reservation Camps: 2
The fiscal year 1939 Annual Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps (Notice the name change between the 1937 and 1939 reports; from “Emergency Conservation Work” to “Civilian Conservation Corps?”) reported the distribution of CCC camps in Kansas this way:
State Park Camps:  1
Soil Conservation Corps Camps:  13
If you compare the numbers from the 1939 report with the 1938 map that accompanies this article you’ll see that the total number of SCS camps differs by only one camp between the two.  Obviously, given the numbers in the Annual Reports and given what we know about the Dust Bowl and the desperate need for erosion control and soil conservation efforts in America’s heartland, it’s little wonder that so many of Kansas’s CCC camps were geared toward this sort of work but keep in mind that in doing this work, the CCC boys also created some lasting and valuable recreational spaces that Kansan’s enjoy even today.

Another interesting bit of information for Kansas that appeared in the 1939 Annual Report was the address of the main selection agency for CCC enrollment in Kansas at the time.  If you were a young lad in the state of Kansas in 1939 and you aspired to enroll in the CCC, you would have been well advised to contact the following:
State Department of social Welfare
Frank E. Milligan, Chairman
Mrs. Jean L. Benson, Supervisor CCC Selection
801 Harrison Street
Topeka, Kansas

And speaking of Kansas CCC enrollment, the 1939 Annual Report notes that 3,016 junior enrollees were selected in Kansas that year, along with 164 veterans.

Specific work totals in the 1939 Annual Report show that the CCC performed over 1,200,000 square yards of gully tree planting in Kansas that fiscal year.  Additionally, the CCC dug over 306,000 linear feet of diversion ditches, quarried over 36,000 tons of limestone and they excavated 31,573 cubic yards of dirt to build channels, canals and ditches.

Life in the 1930s was a precarious thing and we’re well aware that some CCC enrollees didn’t survive their time in the Triple C’s.  The February 9, 1925 issue of Happy Days reported on the death of enrollees Mervin Chapman and Kenneth Moore from Company 729, Ashland, Kansas.  Chapman and Moore were killed in a private plane crash.  Edward Cantrell from Company 1711 at West Mineral, Kansas, was killed as a result of falling into a mine shaft according to the August 8, 1936 issue of Happy Days.  A Local Experienced Man (LEM) by the name of Donald Stutes was killed when a grindstone fragment hit him in the face.  Stutes was assigned to Company 4702 at Burlington, Kansas, according to the March 27, 1937 issue of Happy Days.  It is important to consider these losses, even as we marvel at the wonderful work accomplished by the CCC in Kansas and all across our United States.

Be sure to visit The Civilian Conservation Corps in Kansas   for additional information on the work and legacy of the CCC in Kansas.  You’ll also see some terrific photos of Kansas CCC work there.


Davis, Ren & Helen, (2011), Our Mark on This Land: A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks, The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company.

Egan, Timothy, (2006), The Worst Hard Time, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.

Merrill, Perry H, Roosevelt’s Forest Army, 1981, Perry H. Merrill, Publisher.

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of Emergency Conservation Work, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1937.

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1939.

Copyright, 2013, Michael I. Smith

Thursday, May 30, 2013

State by State: Iowa

One reason that historians give for the success of the CCC is that many agencies had wish lists of project work they needed to accomplish already written up when the CCC was created.  These wish lists often grew out of the years of neglect that was manifest in our nation’s state and national forests and parks.  These were truly shovel ready projects that local officials already had in mind when the CCC was created in 1933. 

Iowa is an example of a state that benefited tremendously not simply from the work of the CCC, but because Iowa had a set of plans and goals already in place or nearly in place in early 1933.  Iowa was well positioned to utilize the resources of the CCC immediately and as Rebecca Conrad points out in “The Legacy of Hope from an Era of Despair: The CCC and Iowa State Parks”, President Roosevelt was so impressed with Iowa’s long range plan, he instructed CCC Director Robert Fechner to “Give Iowa all it wants.”

In Roosevelt’s Forest Army, Perry Merrill notes that the average number of camps to operate in Iowa was 29 with an average distribution in fiscal year 1937 as follows: State Forest Camps: 1, Biological Survey Camps: 1, Soil Conservation Service Camps: 20, Agricultural Engineering Camps: 5 and State Park Camps: 8.

Merrill goes on to note that the aggregate number of Iowa men who gained employment as a result of the CCC was 45,846, which included 41,190 junior and veteran enrollees, 60 Native American enrollees and 4,596 non-enrolled camp staff such as foremen and military officers.

Backbone State Park, Bixby State Park, Echo Valley State Park and White Pine Hollow State Park are among the state parks to gain from CCC work in Iowa (Merrill, p. 129).  Ren and Helen Davis list still further state parks with a CCC connection in their recent book Our Mark on This Land:  A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks; among them:  Black Hawk State Park, Lake Wapello State Park, Ledges State Park and Palisades-Kepler State Park.  Among the specific improvements noted by the Davis’s:  park roads, picnic areas, shelters, cabins, observation towers, entry portals and utility structures.

The Annual Reports offer another glimpse of CCC work carried out in the state of Iowa.  For example, the fiscal year 1937 report notes that the CCC built 3 foot bridges and 3 vehicle bridges in Iowa and if those figures seem a bit on the low side, consider that in Iowa, CCC enrollees also dug some 101,622 linear feet of diversion ditches that year, and CCC enrollees moved and planted 250,191 trees and shrubs and they performed insect pest control on some 18,000 acres of land in Iowa alone!

The 1939 Annual Report records 4 foot and horse bridges and 5 vehicle bridges built by the CCC along with 61,877 linear feet of diversion ditches and 144,001 trees and shrubs moved and planted and insect pest control  conducted on 4,934 acres during the same reporting period.

Happy Days, the official newspaper of the CCC reported the deaths of at least 6 enrollees in Iowa camps between 1933 and 1940.  Company 1757 at Bedford, Iowa suffered the loss of two enrollees.  The January 9, 1937 issue of Happy Days documented the death of enrollee George Griffith, who was killed in a truck crash.  Almost 3 years later, enrollee Frank Coates, also with Company 1757 at Bedford, was killed in an automobile accident while absent from the camp without authorization, according to the October 13, 1939 issue of Happy Days.


Conrad, Rebecca, The Legacy of Hope from an era of Despair:  The CCC and Iowa State Parks, from Books at Iowa 64, April 1996, The University of Iowa.  Available online here:

Davis, Ren & Helen, Our Mark on This Land:  A Guide to the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in America’s Parks, 2011, The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company.

Merrill, Perry H, Roosevelt’s Forest Army, 1981, Perry H. Merrill, Publisher.

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of Emergency Conservation Work, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1937.

 U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1939.

Copyright, 2013, Michael I. Smith

Monday, May 13, 2013

The C.C.C. State-by-State: Indiana

Indiana, which was situated in the 5th Corps area, saw an estimated $13,686,184 in allotments to dependents as a result of CCC work according to Merrill.  Furthermore, nearly 64,000 Indiana men were given employment in connection to the CCC, including junior enrollees, veterans and camp personnel.  The Indiana state map illustration here shows the location of CCC camps in the state in 1938.

William “Otis” Hickman recalled working in a CCC camp at McCormick’s Creek State Park, southwest of Indianapolis.  The park and its camp were located near the town of Spencer, Indiana and Hickman wrote of walking into town for ice cream and a movie during the year he spent as a CCC enrollee there.  McCormick’s Creek State Park is listed in Ren and Helen Davis’s book Our Mark on This Land (2011).  Camp SP-4, Company 589 worked in the park, building a gate house, picnic shelters, roads and a stone bridge among other improvements.  The Davis’s report that the CCC recreation hall was later converted to a nature center by the WPA. 

The January-February 1934 issue of The Military Engineer magazine included an article by Captain Denzil Doggett entitled “Engineering in Indiana’s CCC Camps”.  At the time, Denzil reported there were 18 CCC camps in the state, engaged in a range of activities including gully-control work on private property, forest improvement and construction projects in state forests and game preserves as well as similar work in state parks.  With respect to the gully-control work done by the CCC in Indiana, Denzil noted that each such camp had two or more foremen, whose duties included designing dams and spillways for erosion control, establishing boundary control to insure that work did not stray into unauthorized lands, and calculating drainage areas.  At the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial, Denzil described the construction of an earthen dam and concrete spillway that would impound water in a 28 acre area, with the impounded water being used “to irrigate an extensive landscaped area which forms a part of the court of the memorial building which is to be constructed in future years.”

In the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1937, 5,521 enrollees worked in Indiana, while the 1939 Annual Report of the Director of the CCC reported that a total of 7,411 enrollees worked in Indiana during the fiscal year.  The breakdown of camp types in 1937 and 1939 was as follows, according to these Annual Reports:

National Forest Camps, 3
State Forest Camps, 12
Agricultural Engineering Camps, 8

Soil Conservation Camps, 10

State Park Camps, 7

Military Reservation Camps, 1


State Park Camps, 7

National Forest Camps, 2

State Forest Camps, 5
Agricultural Engineering Camps, 6
Soil Conservation Service Camps, 8

Examples of work totals from the 1939 Annual Report include 2,541 man-days spent fighting forest fires, 44 miles of erosion control terracing installed, over 23,000 linear feet of diversion ditches dug and over 142,000 trees and shrubs moved and planted.
There are countless stories of how the CCC experience gave a new perspective to some enrollees, who came away from their time in the camps with an increased appreciation for nature and the world around them.  One such enrollee was Charles W. Massie who worked in Company 513, Henryville, Indiana.  Massie’s essay entitled God in the Forest was reprinted in Leslie Alexander Lacy’s book The Soil Soldiers.  Massie wrote, in part:

“Not long ago I sat by myself in a great grove of trees, sat and wondered how man with his puny strength could rule over such a vast domain.  How strange would be the tales these tall trees would tell, if they could talk!  Countless untold legends, the rise and fall of civilizations.  The steady march of progress and the eternal struggle for existence and the right to live and grow.”

No state was immune to the threat of accidents and fatalities related to CCC work.  One especially shocking fatality in Indiana involved the deaths of enrollees Edwin Mannix and Edgar Bigley who died early on the morning of November 3, 1937 when their truck slammed into the side of a freight train near Wallen, Indiana.  Those portions of the testimony that I have obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration are sketchy with respect to the exact time of the crash and the cause of the tragedy, but given the time at which it occurred, one is led to conclude that fatigue and darkness may have played a role.


Davis, Ren & Helen, Our Mark on This Land, 2011, The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company.
Doggett, Denzil, "Engineering in Indiana's CCC Camps," The Military Engineer, Jan-Feb 1934.  

Lacy, Leslie Alexander, The Soil Soldiers, 1976, Chilton Book Company.

Merrill, Perry H., Roosevelt’s Forest Army, 1981, Perry Merrill, Publisher.

National Archives & Records Administration, Wash., D.C., Records of the CCC, Div. of Safety.

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of Emergency Conservation Work, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1937.

U.S. Government Printing Office, Annual Report of the Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1939.
Copyright, 2013, Michael I. Smith

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Just Weeks Before Pearl Harbor: The Unheralded Dead

 If, looking at the image of this beaten and battered Chevrolet, you say to yourself, “nobody could have survived that accident,” you would be right.  This crumpled wreck is all that remained of Chevrolet coach number U.S. C.C.C. 76-670 after if veered off the road and rolled four times near the tiny town of Imlay, Nevada in the fall of 1941.  Killed in the accident were CCC enrollees Dale E. Rankin and Philip Phillips.  Rankin had been dispatched from Reno, Nevada to pick up Enrollee Philip Phillips in or near Winnemucca, but having made the initial leg of the journey safely, Rankin would not return safely to Reno; nor would enrollee Phillips.

The official investigation reveals a number of factors played into the tragedy, not the least of which was the fact that the vehicle assigned for the task was an ungoverned Chevrolet coach, bearing U.S C.C.C. number 76-670.  “Ungoverned” means that the accelerator on the Chevy was not equipped with the usual limiter device that would prevent its being operated above a set speed.  Governors were used to rein in the youthful CCC enrollee operators; keeping them below an established speed.  The Chevy coach assigned to enrollee Rankin was not equipped with a governor.  Enrollee Rankin was evidently sent on his mission with an admonition regarding the ungoverned condition of the Chevy and Rankin reportedly assured his supervisor that he “would use every precaution, and that he was thoroughly capable of handling the job, and that he had a driver’s license…”
No one will ever know for certain what made the Chevrolet in which Rankin and Phillips were riding wander onto the right hand shoulder of the road as it travelled westbound just short of a mile outside Imlay, Nevada.  The investigating officials speculated that a gust of wind might have pushed the car suddenly to the right, or that an oncoming vehicle may have crossed into the lane in front of them.  In any event, the car in which Rankin and Phillips were riding veered off the right shoulder of the road, travelling 641 feet before veering back across the pavement, running a distance of 224 feet before veering off the left shoulder of the highway.  The investigating officials noted that the vehicle did not appear to be in a severe skid at this point and that the tracks on the south side of the highway indicated the driver was trying to pull the car back onto the blacktop when the car jumped some 40 feet, landing on all four wheels before bounding into a series of as many as four rolls before landing upright, facing roughly due north and back toward the direction of Winnemucca.

Enrollees Rankin and Phillips were thrown clear of the rolling Chevrolet, and based upon the position of their bodies, based on their injuries and damage to the interior of the Chevy and based on the location of Rankin’s glasses found at the scene, investigators determined that Rankin was very likely not at the wheel at the time of the accident.
It seems then, that Enrollee Rankin turned ungoverned Chevrolet coach U.S. C.C.C. number 76-670 over to Enrollee Phillips for the drive back to Reno.  The record does not indicate whether Enrollee Phillips had a valid driver’s license and we will never know if Rankin advised Phillips that the Chevy in which they were driving was ungoverned.  Likewise, we will never know why the driver change took place or even if it took place at all.  Perhaps Rankin was tired from having driven from Reno to Winnemucca.  Perhaps Phillips simply talked Rankin into turning over the keys.  What we do know is that Enrollee’s Phillips and Rankin would never arrive back at Reno, Nevada and they would never see their dependent families back home.  We also know that the lack of a governor may have played a role in the tragedy.  The accident investigation found that on the Reno to Winnemucca leg of the trip, Enrollee Rankin is estimated to have averaged roughly 30 miles per hour, while on the final two hours of the tragic return trip, the vehicle averaged 52 miles per hour.  Finally, we also know that three months after Phillips and Rankin died on a lonely stretch of road near Imlay, Nevada, the United States was at war with Japan and Germany and suddenly the whys and wherefores behind the deaths of two CCC enrollees in Nevada didn’t seem to matter much in the larger scheme of things.

Record Group 049, Box 117, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Denver Colorado.

©Michael I. Smith, 2013.