55 Plus: The CCC Remembered

Some of us who were Girl Scouts back in the early 1950’s may recall the two or three summer trips we took as pre-teens to Longbow, a rustic campsite on the South Santiam River above Cascadia.  There we roughed it, taking advantage of the large kitchen and dining area with its cast iron stove and cold water, eating stews mixed from canned soups and vegetables plus necessary camp fare like pork and beans and hot dogs, and each year we could cobble together a cobbler of freshly picked huckleberries topped with a mix of sugar and Hungry Jack pancake flour and it was never sweet enough.

We bunked in the three-sided log bunk houses that were open on the side toward the river and met with other troops of girls in a centralized area with a fire pit where we sang, “What did Ida Ho?  She hoed a Maryland!”  We learned the saga of finding and consuming a very stale peanut resulting in appendicitis plus dire consequences to the liver!

As we scurried up and down, cleared forest trails and visited strategically placed privies, we never gave a thought to how civilized Long Bow was compared to the realities of nature.  Our main hardship came from carrying everything we brought across a log suspension bridge connecting the campsite on the river’s southside with Highway 20 on the north.  And we saw the campsite as being old and dating back to pioneer days.

Longbow, built in 1937-1938, was only a few years older than most of us girls.  If anyone mentioned the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built Longbow, we would have had no recognition of what that was. The CCC was on track to be forgotten. Memory of what it had been and done was superseded by the cataclysmic events of World War II and the advent of the atomic age and almost peace in our 1950’s time.

Too, the CCC had been a product of hard times, the Great Depression, which dogged the 1930’s.  The economic bust affecting the nation involved the collapse of the stock market and bank closures starting in 1929 and taking effect worldwide as the thirties progressed. At least a quarter of the workforce was unemployed and wages for those working dipped to twenty-five cents an hour for many. The lack of income brought about school closures, homelessness and hunger.

Herbert Hoover, the President at the time, was unjustly accused of causing the Depression which was triggered primarily in over-enthusiasm involving the inflation of stocks and buying on time leading to the resulting bank closures.  Even those persons practicing the admired American value of thrift suffered when panicked savers wanted withdrawals greater than the amount of money banks had kept on hand.

The Depression was a good time, it’s been said, for those who had money because it went so far.  They could spend a lot of nickels buying apples from former workers selling them on street corners for five cents apiece.

By 1932 when Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency, time looked very desperate.  Homeless people lived in makeshift communities called “Hoovervilles” and in some places dined on “Hoover Hogs”, that is, possum and raccoon.  In our vicinity, we hear of “wood rabbits” becoming so scarce it became difficult to put poached venison on the table, and that did not refer to how it was cooked!

Rural areas like East Linn contained farmers and gardeners as well as wild fruit and game. Even having a garden and a few chickens did not stave hunger however.  Years after the Depression one man would not eat pumpkin, not even pumpkin pie.  His family had a good crop one year and lived as pumpkin eaters at nearly every meal.

F.D.R.‘s campaign offered a “New Deal”. His programs were aimed directly at those suffering the most from the Depression losses. The government would fund programs creating jobs beneficial to the whole country.  The Civilian Conservation Corp was one of the first to be organized.

Put together by a committee which included, particularly, the Army, the Department of the Interior and Agriculture and the Treasury Department, the CCC was organized on semi-military lines with the Army playing a major part.  For Oregon and Southern Washington, for instance, in 1937 twenty-seven CCC camps came under Vancouver Barracks.  Aside from Army personnel, however, local experienced men were hired to help train and teach CCC volunteers useful skills.

Much of what we at the Museum have learned about the CCC comes from a 1937 yearbook owned by the late Melvin Moe, an East Linn product.  The yearbook includes his certificate of membership and a photograph of Company 2097 located at Cascadia.  Those of us who have stayed at Longbow or other campsites on the South Santiam owe gratitude for the work the young men did.

At first the CCCer’s were young men between the ages of 17 and 28, single and in good physical condition.  As the program progressed, some older and married men were accepted including World War I veterans.  Recruits volunteered for a six-month period and could continue re-enlisting, whereby Melvin Moe spending 3 years at the Cascadia camp.  They received food, clothing, shelter and medical and dental care.  They were issued uniforms too large because they were expected to gain muscle bulk from working hard for six eight-hour days a week.

Some former members recall being fed as of major importance. A sample lunch menu had a man eating one third of a loaf of bread, one quart of spaghetti (sauce not mentioned, if any) and five cups of coffee.  At Cascadia, dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables were in some supply from local farmers, a monetary bonus for them.

Thirty dollars and found, just like the monthly wages paid loggers and cowboys back in the late 1800’s constituted the pay given the CCC boys, but twenty-five dollars went to their families and the volunteer received five dollars for spending money.  This did not sit well with some men and a former recruit held bitter memories of the CCC.  He and a few like-minded men formed a group who took unofficial leave and set out for California to see what they could see.

Others had fonder memories and one named his daughter Christopher Catherine Camille in honor of his experience. This later provoked consternation in teachers who looked for a boy named Christopher rather than at the CCC initials.

All in all, the CCC planted billions of trees on logged off lands left behind when “daylight being let in the swamp” meant cut and get out. A CCC boy was able to plant 600 seedlings a day. The boys built a road from Foster to Mill City here and lookouts and fire roads, as well as fighting fires at Bandon and on the Santiam Pass at Seven-Mile Hill and other Oregon sites.  They rescued families caught in snowstorms and lost hunters and hikers, and they once carried an injured miner fourteen miles to aid.

In addition, they learned leadership plus skills making them employable in such industries as logging and construction.  Some helped build Highway 20. They worked with state and federal forestry agencies across the nation and left behind three memorable trails, the Pacific Crest, Skyline and Appalachian.

Folklore says CCC boys from the South introduced opossums to Oregon by bringing them as pets.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and its social welfare emphasis was met with doubt and even alarm by many Americans who compared what was happening in this nation with what was going on with the rise of militarized nationalism in Germany, Italy and Japan.  But the work the CCC performed was of real and lasting benefit.  Also, the CCC produced leaders for the upcoming Second World War. One ex-member felt his CCC training helped him survive as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany.

Although CCC members were expected to work hard, there was some play and camps, established baseball and basketball teams, published newspapers and had educational programs in which some boys learned to read and write. Cascadia’s camp ran an open-air truck to Bend so the CCCers could appreciate the amenities of a larger town.  Part of the time Melvin Moe drove the truck over the Santiam Pass on Saturday evenings.

The entry of the United States into World War II caused the end of the CCC.  The rising economy brought about by the coming of war opened the job market as America prepared for the continuing onslaught during the first half of the 1940’s: War.

In the 1950’s when Girl Scouts went to Longbow, the post-war economy continued to expand with much optimism despite the advent of the atomic age.  The Civilian Conservation Corps ended in June 1942.  During its years from 1933 to 1942, it had done more for us and the East Linn area than any of us really know and we still benefit from that work. We have to thank Melvin Moe’s book for reminding us of how much our present benefits from the CCC’s past.