Chapter Six - The Civilian Conservation Corps

	I had exhausted the job possibilities and was in a blue funk
when someone told me about President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation
Corps. I checked it out and found that they were accepting enrollees and
I enrolled. In less time than it takes to say Lucky Strike Hit Parade, I
was on the way to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama aboard a bus.

	I saw several other boys aboard the bus and hazarded a guess
they were also enrollees in the CCC. I was right. When we arrived at the
bus station in Anniston a loud and tough looking Army Sergeant yelled
for the CCC goof-ups to "fall in over here." We fell in and were told to
get in the back of a large truck with a canvas top and "to bust our
asses doing it." We were driven to Fort McClellan and then to what we
later learned to be the "boondocks." Once we were in the boondocks we
were told to fall in again and were marched completely across the camp
to a supply warehouse. We were told to strip naked and once we were
naked we went to a counter and were asked our sizes for pants, shirts,
shoes, etc. If we failed to respond fast enough they made up our minds
for us. Each item was thrown at our heads, including heavy army shoes.
We got one of each and were told we had better keep it clean as we would
receive no more until we got to our CCC camp. We were also told we could
ship our civilian clothes home if we had the money and could discard
them if we did not. All of us had to discard.

	We were given a bag to put our extra underwear in (they gave us
three sets of that.) We were then given a mattress, a pillow, a blanket
and a mattress cover and told to fall in. We were double timed back to
the boondocks and assigned to a tent with a wooden floor and rotting
canvas. We were told to make up our beds and then told to fall in again.
We were double timed all the way across the camp again, this time to a
mess hall. We were fed and then told to fall in and double timed back to
the boondocks. By this time it was after eleven PM and we were told we
had better get to sleep as we would be up at four AM.

	It was hard to get to sleep after all the excitement, regardless
of how tired we were and most of us talked until two AM. At four AM we
woke up with an Army sergeant yelling "drop your cocks and grab your
socks, your asses belong to me." It was much later that we learned we
were not loved by the Army as our pay was $30 per month and a recruit in
the Army earned $21 per month. It made no difference that $22 of our $30
went to our parents and we received $8.00.
B. Browning & T. Bowerman
Lt:Bartow Browning Rt: Tom Bowerman
digging ditch at Stevens Pass

We were told that we were going to be sent to a CCC camp in the state of Washington, named Camp Icicle. There would be 200 of us and 190 would be new enrollees from Alabama and 10 would be from camps in Mississippi and Tennessee. What they were saying was that the good jobs were taken. Our job at Fort McClellan would be to help get the troop train ready. I was assigned to help prepare the kitchen car. They were taking a mail car and converting it to a kitchen. The main job was to install a stove that would not set the car on fire. I was assigned to the mud unit. Four of us were to take tubs to this giant mudhole and fill them with mud and take them to the kitchen car. I do not know how much mud they used to build that stove unit but it was a lot of it. We were cautioned to be careful as the uniform we had on was the only one we would have until we got to Camp Icicle. I was as careful as I could be but hauling mud is not your typical white collar job. On the second day I was leaning out as far as I could to scoop up mud with a large tin can when my fellow hauler told me to reach out a little further and gave a little push to show me what he meant. I went belly down in the mud hole and came up totally saturated with that red mud. I was tempted to give him a dose of the same mud but the fact that I weighed 122 pounds and that old country boy weighed around 200 changed my mind. The sergeant in charge of the stove told me not to rub it, just let it dry. I followed his advice and a lot of it flaked off when it got dry but the stain was there to stay. All good things must come to an end and the train was finally ready. We kept our cup and mess kit and knife, fork and spoon and everything else was put in our bags, tagged and loaded in the baggage car. We were assigned to cars and to a seat and the five day trip began. We were all twenty years old or younger and none of us had ever been away from home and we were being sent from the Southeast to the Northwest. It was to be a two year experience I would never forget. When they called us for our first meal we grabbed our cups and mess kits and made a wild dash to be the first in line. The problem was that we were sent through the kitchen to the other end of the train and then the line was turned around to go back through the kitchen to be served. This way, we were headed back to our seats to eat. The last in line was the first served. The next time they called us everyone tried to be last and they served the first in line first and had them walk around the serving line and head back to the seats. This was pretty smart on their part since you never knew which end of the line would be served first and you may as well just be orderly about it. After you ate you had to go back to the kitchen car where they had three large barrels of water. You dipped your cup, mess kit and "silver" in the first barrel, filled with soapy water and then in two more with rinse water. This was supposed to be sanitary but from the food floating around in all the barrels it looked like a far cry from it. There were three boys assigned to each double seat section and two had to sleep in the lower berth and one in the upper berth. There were a lot of arguments about who could have the upper by themselves but it was finally resolved by rotating. The trip was supposed to take five days but we were told it was almost certain that it would take six days so each of us would get the upper berth two nights. It turned out that it did take six nights and we arrived on the morning of the seventh day. Almost no one had any money and we were without cigarettes or any other item that may have made life a little more bearable. Most of us did enjoy the scenery and when we stopped at a station there seemed to always be girls there to talk to. Most of them thought we were in the Army and we did nothing to discourage them. We even got names and addresses and promised to write to them. We did not realize at the time how hard it was going to be to get three cents for a stamp. Our eight dollars a month and room and board sounded big. There never seemed to be enough water on the train and by the time we were half way there the uniforms were so badly soiled from the cinders and soot from the coal burning engine that I was no longer the dirtiest one on the train. All good things must end. It had seemed like it never would when the train was winding its way through the Rockies and we could see mountain peaks above us and rivers in deeply cut canyons far below us, but it did and on the morning of the seventh day we steamed into the beautiful little town of Leavenworth, Washington. There were hundreds of people on hand to meet us and we immediately gained a good impression of Leavenworth. Later we learned that the people of Leavenworth had heard a rumor that 200 Blacks were coming in from the South and they were there to protest us instead of make us welcome. Someone did have the presence of mind to make a welcome speech and then we got our bags and climbed aboard trucks and started the three mile trip to Camp Icicle. It was beautiful country with apple orchards, a creek (crick as they called it) and the mountains rising all around us.
Buck Lee & Tom Bowerman<br>At Camp Icicle
Buck Lee & Tom Bowerman
at Camp Icicle

It took only a few minutes to get to Camp Icicle. There was a wooden arch with Camp Icicle burned into the wood in large letters. There was a flag pole just inside the arch, with a circle of white painted rocks around it. The Headquarters building was to our right as we went in. The front contained a counter and behind that were a couple of desks. There was an alcove on the right beyond that, serving as the office of the Company Commander. On the left there was a short hall and then an alcove off of the hall that had two cots for the Company Clerk and the Supply Sergeant. A door at the end of the hall led into the supply room and beyond the supply room was a recreational hall with a canteen at one end. Beyond the Company Headquarters was the office of the Project Superintendent for the Forestry Service and then vehicle storage and maintenance buildings and a blacksmith shop. Across the street from the Company Headquarters there were two barracks, then a boiler room, two more barracks and a laundry. The mess hall was behind the barracks and beyond that was the officers club and quarters. It is hard to believe how beautiful the camp was, nestled against a mountain and almost surrounded by mountains. Most of the water was in the form of melted snow and a small stream winding its way down the mountain. I had never seen a place as beautiful before and have not seen one more beautiful since. I fell in love with Camp Icicle. I had enrolled for six months and was eligible to stay as long as two years and I knew that first day that I would be in Washington two years. We were assigned to barracks and to a specific bunk and then went to the supply room. The Supply Sergeant was named Minton, he was from Tennessee, he was mean as hell and he was an Indian. You walked up to the counter and he looked at you and decided what size you wore and started throwing it on the counter. You checked to see that you had everything, signed for it and got the hell out of his way or he would pick up your junk and throw it through the door. If you wore a size 14 shirt and he gave you a size 16 or if you wore 28-32 pants and he gave you 36-30, my advice would be to wear it and not complain until the Company Commander noticed it and took you to the supply room to exchange it. If the Company Commander said nothing you would be well advised to say the same thing. The clothes they gave us were outdated Army clothes. The pants looked like the fuzzy Army blankets and even the shoes had fuzz on them. We had one boy who knew how to put lighter fluid on the shoes and burn the fuzz off and then shine them to a high finish. He charged a quarter and he got rich. There was not much to do about the pants other than try to save enough money for a pint of whiskey for Minton and then he would issue you nice looking pants that fit. The shirts looked all right. We had the fuzzy pants for winter and khakis for the summer. The next day we went back to the supply room and were issued spike bottomed boots for fire fighting. We were then allowed to go to the canteen and sign for up to four coupon books. A coupon book had twenty five cent coupons good for trade at the canteen. The canteen steward would also give you seventy five cents in cash for a coupon book but we were sworn not to tell the Company Commander as what he was doing was giving you seventy five cents and putting the other twenty five cents in his pocket and it was not legal. Anyway, we bought tobacco and then went to a field to put on our spiked boots and get fire fighting training. I eased out my new can of Prince Albert and rolled a cigarette and someone yelled that I had tobacco. I quickly hid the papers and said I was sorry but I had no more papers. They started tearing the tissue that was in the boot boxes and I foolishly let someone have the can. The next time I saw it, it was not only empty but someone had already taken a knife and scratched letters out on the back of the can so it read "Pa covered Ma .... " etc. I learned two quick lessons. One was to buy a sack of RJR instead of a can of Prince Albert and the other was to get a buddy to spread the rumor that you were a nut and peed on your tobacco to keep it moist. The fire fighting training was just in time as we were called out to fight a tremendous forest fire the next day. I had never seen anything like that, either. We had about two hours training but were put on the line like we were professionals. We gave a good account of ourselves, too. We had all been in the woods and had seen and used most of the equipment. We knew how to use an axe, a saw, a rake, etc. The boys at Camp Icicle before us were from New Jersey and most had never been off the pavement. I was so tired after two days without sleep that I found a hay stack and crawled in out of sight and went to sleep. The wind started and they had to pull back and if one of the boys had not seen me get in the hay stack that might have been the end of me. Our very first fire burned five days before we got it under control. It was good to get back to camp. They fed us a hot meal and let us sleep eight hours before they got us up. It was time to make selections for permanent jobs. There were not more than four of us with high school educations and most of the boys had third grade or less. William Hanks had already clinched the best job in Camp - Company Clerk. Charles Henry Brucke (I later married his sister) was selected by Minton as assistant supply sergeant. Another boy was assistant to the educational advisor. The other top jobs were filled with Minton and others that had come from existing companies in Tennessee and Mississippi. That left me as the only high school graduate without a special assignment and they had read my resume and noticed I knew how to cook. There would be two side camps several miles from the main camp and I was selected as cook for the Stevens Pass side camp, 36 miles up in the mountains. Stevens pass was the top of a mountain pass and there were peaks above it. The CCC was going to build a ski lodge and ski run there. The other side camp was at Chatter Creek, which I never visited. One thing you could always count on in the CCC and that is that nothing would ever be easy for you. The 40 of us selected to move to Stevens Pass had to load portable buildings on trucks. There was a mess hall, a bath room and two barracks buildings. Some of the roof sections weighed over three hundred pounds and we loaded everything manually. We set out for Stevens Pass with the trucks loaded with the buildings, one dump truck and one stake body truck. When we arrived we started clearing the area and then started setting up the buildings. We set up a barracks that afternoon and slept in it that night. It only took about three or four days to get everything up and working, including the flag pole and the generator. Our foremen worked for the Forestry Service but had special skills, primarily carpenters, rock masons and ski experts. Our rock mason was a world ski champion from Norway. We were to learn later that he could pick up rocks that three of us could not handle. Stevens Pass was as beautiful as Camp Icicle in its own way. There were chipmunks everywhere and they would come up and eat out of your hand. There was all kinds of wild life in the area, including bears. We did not try feeding them but one did keep breaking in our cooler. We had a shed behind the mess hall that was completely screened in. It had heavy burlap all the way over it, held out about three or four inches from the top and the screened sides. A water pipe with holes in it ran across the top and water continuously dripped on the burlap and ran down it on each side. This was supposed to make it cool from evaporation of the water and it worked. A bear kept tearing the screen open and getting meat. The chief foreman decided to sit up and wait for it one night and the bear came as usual. The foreman had a forty-five caliber pistol and killed the bear. I thought he was extremely lucky not to get killed or badly injured. There was also an assistant cook and two Kitchen Police. Each cook and one kitchen police (KP) would work three days and then the other two would work three days. This meant that Bartow Browning (my KP) and I were off from work three full days at a time. We could sleep, climb mountains, or do whatever we wanted to do. There was a bar and dance hall at the top of Stevens Pass, across the highway from the camp. The owner planned to enlarge the building and asked Bartow and I to work for him. The main thing he needed right away was some rocks hauled in to fill in behind the present building. He told me to take the dump truck down the mountain and start hauling in rocks. I told him I did not know how to drive a truck and he told me I had long legs and would do just fine. He showed me the gears and said to just remember to go down the mountain in the same gear I would have to use to come up. I had no idea what he was talking about and he said he would send his father with me the first trip. I started down that steep mountain and before I knew it the truck was going much too fast and the brakes were doing no good. The old man kept yelling to shift it down so I threw in the clutch and pulled it out of high. It started really rolling then and I could not get it in a lower gear. The truck did not have a synchro mesh transmission and you were supposed to double clutch it but I did not even know what that meant. Somehow I managed to slam it in low gear and we almost hit the windshield. There was a horse shoe curve coming up and a drop off of several hundred feet on the outside of the curve. We managed to scream around that curve and the truck started slowing down. I made it to our turn off where we were to load rocks. It was a one lane road and another truck was coming out. I tried to pull over and the truck slid over the edge of the road. We were at a sixty degree angle and I could look through the passenger window and see nothing but space for several hundred feet. The old man clawed himself across me and went out my window and up on the road. He said he was going and tell his son I was crazy. I told him to tell his son to get down there. When the boss got there he looked at the truck and asked me how the hell I kept from going over. He said he wanted me to get in the truck and start the engine and put it in low gear and gun it and turn the wheels to the left. I told him I thought it would go over the side of the mountain so he tied a rope around my waist and said if anything like that happened he would pull me out. I got in and started it up and felt it sliding so I gunned it and it slid along the road for awhile and finally when I thought it was going over the back wheels caught on something and it went back on the road. I looked down and the rope was laying on the floor board. I asked the boss how the rope got inside and he said he had thrown it in when I got in as he did not want me sending for him every time I got in a little trouble. He got in his truck and left. When I got back and unloaded the rocks I went over to the camp and got Slim Hicks, one of our truck drivers, to teach me how to double clutch.
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