Throwback to past: Job Corps workers repair Longbow camp

Benny Westcott

Saving the past, from the present, for the future.

That’s what a group of four Job Corps students at Longbow Organizational Camp have been doing over the last three weeks, said retired Sweet Home National Forest archaeologist Tony Farque.

The Job Corps crew just completed a three-week project to improve the camp, scrubbing moss off of roof shingles on a number of camp structures, hoisting up tables that were sinking into the ground, and repairing the fireplace in the covered picnic area, along with other general maintenance.

Longbow campground, situated on 10 acres on the banks of the South Santiam River east of Cascadia, has six alpine shelters that sleep a total of approximately 48 people. The camp features a covered cooking area with a fireplace and tables, as well as a volleyball court.

The Job Corps crew, which included two carpenters, a mason and a construction laborer, started working near the beginning of April, and kept going all the way through the end of the month.

“They’ve done an amazing job with the maintenance part of it,” said current Forest Service district archaeologist Annmarie Kmetz. “I think it’s going to make for a better visitor experience.”

Kmetz said the Forest Service has been trying to get the funding to make the improvements for at least three years.

“We were able to get some money this year, and jumped right on it to get it fixed up,” she said.

Next year, HistoriCorps, a nonprofit organization that engages and trains volunteers to save historic places on public land and for public benefit, is expected to come with a larger group of volunteers and do a lot of structural work, including fixing rotting materials, to make the structures safer for continued use.

“How do you keep old dead tree parts in a rainforest usable and durable? It takes a lot of loving care and tending,” said Farque, who retired last December after a long career as archaeologist for the district.

Farque gave a presentation to the Job Corps students last Tuesday, April 26, to let the students know the rich historical heritage they were taking part in by restoring the campsite.

He first talked of the history of the area in general, noting that the South Santiam River corridor has been used by people for 11,000 years.

“This was the main Indian cultural transmission corridor from the valley over the mountains. There were trading sites, gathering sites, hunting sites, gambling sites, spiritual retreat sites, on the way to the east side of the mountains.”

It was also a main transport route for American settlers, as well as their horses, cattle and stagecoach lines.

Farque said from 1880 to 1910, the area was a highly used corridor for pioneers.

He then delved into the history of the campsite itself.

Longbow was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program developed by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The CCC employed men without jobs to build sites like Longbow, and also construct hiking trails, power lines and roads. The crews at Longbow would use their manpower to fight wildfires during the summer.

Farque said the CCC men, some of whom were as young as 16, received $30 a month for their work, and only got to keep $5 for themselves; $25 was sent to their parents during the Great Depression, “to feed their baby brothers and sisters, who were starving,” Farque said.

Some of the men were local, but others came from all over the country, including Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and the Midwest.

He said the working men would have their shirts off and handkerchiefs around their heads. There were no hardhats and nobody wore gloves.

“There were a lot of injuries. The doctors were very busy,” he said.

But Farque said the men were “ingenious” in their ability to figure things out. And it taught them valuable life lessons that many would take into their service during World War II.

“Every one of those guys said the CCC was the greatest experience in their life,” Farque said. “It taught them discipline, teamwork, perseverance, stubbornness if you will. The things you need to get through your life. And a sense of humor sometimes too.”

Farque said many of the crew members, after sending $25 home to support their families, would spend their remaining $5 a month on gambling, particularly on wrest-ling and boxing. They would also compete against the neighboring communities’ schools in basketball and baseball. Some would spend their earnings on recreational beverages in the form of homemade moonshine. Others would save the money.

There was a lot of dating and dancing as well, Farque said.

“A lot of the young CCC boys came from out of state and married local young girls, much to the chagrin of the local young boys,” he said. “And some of those marriages have lasted a long time.”

The legacy and stories of these men live on, as families of the Depression-era CCC crews still come to the site to reminisce and enjoy themselves in an annual picnic usually held during the third week of August.

Farque said the CCC reunion was held at Longbow 25 years in a row until last year, when it was canceled due to COVID.

These reunions would feature story telling and living history presentations, dressing up in uniforms, and looking at old equipment, with the intended purpose of reminding CCC crew descendants of the way things used to be.

“It meant so much to those families,” Farque said. “We may do it again someday.”

Farque and Kmetz said they could think of only one original CCC member who might still be alive.

“But I know the families still think about this place and they’re interested in it,” said Kmetz. “If we keep having the parties and cele-brations, I think people will keep coming.”

The modern-day Jobs Corp crew was able to play a part in keeping alive the CCC crew’s legacy, all while gaining valuable experience that will help them in the labor force.

Andie Beltran, a 22-year-old based in Portland, has assisted in Job Corps projects before.

Beltran did Job Corps for the last year, doing carpentry in Wolf Creek, in southern Oregon. She has also worked with Northwest Youth Corps, a conservation crew based in Eugene, and was a crew leader for that organization.

She said she did erosion control in the McKenzie River after the fires last year, including helping with invasives removal and working on a sawyer crew.

Beltran said she was in the woods for six months of the year in 2020.

Of the Longbow restoration project, she said “I did it because it was a combination of multiple trades that I’ve already done.”

She said her work at Longbow was about both carpentry and conservation.

“It was really nice to have a combination of those two,” she said.

“This is nothing new to me, but it’s still special in my heart,” she said. “I was excited to put all those things together.”

But the work at Longbow certainly hasn’t been the same as what she’s done in the past in every way.

“It’s a lot different,” she said. “I’ve worked in environmental stuff, more like trail maintenance and things like that. This is a lot more like building, constructing and maintaining.”

“We have to use our brain and our tools and get creative,” she said. “Sometimes we use certain tools to do things that they aren’t meant for.

“You have to be really resourceful. I like the puzzle solving aspect of this. It’s been cool.”

She said it’s been interesting using old tools for craftsmanship.

She’s also used logging tools to scrape the bark off of logs, to achieve aesthetic goals for the project.

Another crew member, Ramon Pelayo, 19, was raised in Kent, Wash.

“I was going through high school, and I realized that it wasn’t for me, just the whole studying thing,” Pelayo said. “So I decided to come to Job Corps. I still have to study but at least I’m getting a trade that I enjoy.”

He decided to work at Longbow.

“We got to see a couple of pictures that showed how things were rotten,” he said. “So I thought it would be cool to be a part of doing all of those repairs.”

Pelayo said he hasn’t done anything like this before, and that his goal is to join the carpenter’s union.

Kmetz likened the Job Corps project to the CCC when she addressed the Job Corps students.

“The CCC history here reminds me a lot of the work that you’re doing,” she said. “It was a lot of young men in poor economic times trying to learn a trade and a skill to help support themselves and their family.”

She said that she sees Job Corps as the next generation of the CCC.

Farque added: “The old boys would be so proud to know that what you’ve done carries on their work. You’re making a difference.”