Chapter Six - The Civilian Conservation Corps

	There was always plenty to do at Stevens Pass. About a dozen of
the 40 boys had either a guitar or mandolin or fiddle and there was some
real talent. Ezra Lee (Buck) was a great guitar player and pretty fair
singer. Travis Lay was the best fiddle player I have ever heard. He
could play anything he had heard once and could play it in the
traditional position or behind his back or just about any position. He
also sang. The gang could get together a group of almost any size and
play about any type music you wanted to hear.

	The Rangers would set up check points on the highway and we used
to watch them stop cars and check the hunters. One guy had really
slaughtered his deer and had it in the trunk. The rangers laid it all
out and there were five legs. They asked the hunter to explain it and he
said "This crazy deer really had five legs and it was running on the
front three with the back two in the air." He was ticketed and would get
a chance to try that one on a judge. They casually asked another hunter,
"Where did you put your Blue Grouse?" and without thinking, he said they
were under the back seat. They were, five of them, and a $5 fine for
each Blue Grouse in those days was a fabulous fine. Most of the hunters
were honest and had their deer fastened to a front fender and no out of
season game.

	We could pick blue berries and sell them for something like
fifty cents per gallon but it took several hours to pick a gallon of
blue berries. Some people made blue berry pickers, a box like
contraption with wires extending out. The berries could be scooped with
it much faster but it was illegal due to the damage it did to the blue
berry bushes. I picked several gallons of blue berries and sold them but
it just took too long and the pay was too low.

	We had one crew working on the ski run and one crew building the
ski lodge. The lodge was going to be fabulous with a tremendous
fireplace at one end. The fireplace and chimney were being built by a
rock mason and several of the boys. The boys were supposed to mix the
mortar and carry the rocks to the rock mason. Some of the rocks were so
large it took three boys to carry it. They would set it down and the
rock mason would pick it up like it was a giant marshmallow. I was
watching one day and three boys could not pick up a rock. The rock mason
came down and pushed them out of the way with one arm and squatted,
grunted a couple of times, and walked up the ramp with it like it was
something he carried around all the time. The fireplace turned out great
and you could burn huge logs in it.

	It began to turn cold and I would get up in the mornings and
grab my clothes and run for the kitchen, build a fire in the cook stove
and dress as it warmed up. One morning I grabbed my clothes and ran out
naked into almost three feet of snow. We never saw the ground again that
winter. As it happened, all of the boys were working inside the ski
lodge at that time. I guess everyone assumed we would be doing nothing
but inside work. We were short on wood for the barrack stoves and I was
off duty one day so the foreman asked me if I would take a truck and
trailer into Leavenworth and get a load of press-to-logs. These logs
were manufactured from sawdust and oil under pressure and one of them
weighed 15 or 20 pounds. I went to Leavenworth and they showed me a box
car and told me the entire load was for Stevens Pass and to take
whatever I could haul. I backed up to the freight car and loaded the
trailer about six feet high with press-to-logs. I started back and got
past the first hair pin turn and the truck would not go any further,
even in the lowest gear. I was over loaded. I had to back that truck
down the mountain (one hell of a job) and turn around and go back and
unload more than half of the load. I still barely made it.

	The cook also had the job of turning the generator off at night,
waiting for the engine to cool, and covering the generator with a
tarpaulin. The next morning the cook had to uncover the generator and
start it up. One morning it was so cold and the snow was blowing so hard
I just reached under the tarpaulin and started the generator and made a
mental note to come out after breakfast and take the tarpaulin off.
Right!! I forgot. That afternoon the lights were getting super bright
and then getting real dim. They finally went out completely and when
they did, I thought "Tarpaulin!" I was right. It got so hot under that
tarp that the engine burned up. That meant no lights and no power tools
at the lodge construction until the generator was fixed. The mechanic
that came to fix it estimated a week or ten days or longer if he had
problems finding parts. I was the most unpopular person in the camp and
was called many names I had not heard before and many that I had. It was
more than two weeks before it was restored to service.

	When I arrived at Stevens Pass I weighed 122 pounds and was six
feet tall. I ate everything I wanted and frequently added a pint of milk
to six raw eggs and beat it and drank it. I also worked across the
highway and climbed mountains  and went on 15 or 20 mile hikes. At the
end of six months I weighed 214 pounds and there was not an ounce of fat
on me. I had grown up. People even talked to me differently than they
did when I first got to the camp. I even heard respect now and then.

	No matter how good you are you can almost always find someone a
little better. One day the truck came back from main camp and there was
a boy named Basil Brown with the driver. The foreman told me Basil would
be the new head cook and I would be the assistant cook. I objected and
he said, "Look, you guys settle it and let me know which is which." I
looked at Basil and he weighed about 175 and was about six foot two
inches tall. He said he was from Arizona. I said, "Want to go outside
and settle this once and for all?" and he said, "Yep." So we went
outside and I bruised my knuckles on his jaw and he proceeded to just
literally stomp hell out of me. I got up and looked at him and said,
"Lets go inside where it ain't so bloody, boss." So he was head cook and
got $45.00 per month instead of $30.00 and I dropped down from a $45.00
a month Leader to a $36.00 a month assistant leader.

	The foremen were mostly Norwegian and they loved strong coffee
and were always complaining about my coffee. We put a big coffee pot on
the wood stove and put coffee in the bottom and when it came to a boil
we set it on a cooler part of the stove and poured a little cold water
in to cause the grounds to settle to the bottom. I made three pots of
coffee with one pound of ground coffee. One morning I decided to teach
this one foreman a lesson and dumped in two pounds of coffee. There were
about two or three cups when it finished. The foreman came in and I
poured him a cup. He took a big slug and looked real surprised and said,
"Now, that's coffee!" He drank it all. Some people.

	We got paid every month in silver dollars. We would sweat it all
month waiting for that pay so we could get tobacco or even a coke. We
were always broke from the fifth of the month to the end of the month.
The bar and dance hall across the highway had slot machines ranging from
five cents to a silver dollar machine. Several times, two or three of us
would pool every silver dollar we had and go over to break their bank.
We would stand there and pull that stupid handle till every dollar was
gone and then say something like, "Oh well, easy come, easy go." One
month we played every dollar we had without a single hit.

	One morning the foreman announced that the ski run crew would
resume work on the ski run and the lodge crew would cut firewood for the
lodge. Everyone looked at him and someone finally said, "It is snowing
and they don't work in the snow where I come from." The foreman replied
that he was not where he came from and in Washington you did work in the
snow. He responded that he would just go back where he came from and
then nearly everyone chimed in. The upshot was that twenty five boys
were not going to work, including me, and he told us to get out of his
camp and told the head cook not to feed us anymore. We gathered up the
few personal things we had and started a 36 mile hike down a snow and
ice covered mountain to the main camp. We were frozen stiff when we got

	The Company Commander called each boy in and tried to talk him
into going back to work. Each one refused. When he got to me, he asked
my job and I told him I was a cook. He said, "You do not have to work in
the snow." I told him I knew it but I was not going to cook for anyone
who had to work in the snow. He told me to listen closely as he was
going to say something one time and said something like this, "Tom, you
are one of four people here who have a high school education. You are
supposed to be smarter than these kids with an average education of 3rd
grade. If you leave today you have to hitch hike three thousand miles
home and when you get there you will receive a bad conduct discharge
that will follow you the rest of your life. That discharge is an alert
to everyone that comes in contact with you that you do not have the guts
to do a job. Now you can stay here in main camp and get the dirtiest
jobs we can find for you or you can tuck your sniveling tail between
your legs and get the hell out of here. You have 15 seconds to give me
an answer and there are no second chances. What the hell are you going
to do?" I looked at him and said, "I am going to do the dirtiest damn
jobs you can find and do them better than anyone else you got can do
them." I have never regretted that answer.

	The other twenty four were taken to the mess hall by the Company
Commander. The Company Commander told them he was required by
regulations to give each of them $5.00 in "cash or kind." He told the
mess sergeant to give each boy a gunny sack with five dollars worth of
dried beans in it. The boys all left camp with a gunny sack of beans on
their shoulders. Several had a guitar on the other shoulder. If I had
heard the saying, "There but for the grace of God go I", I would have
thought it as I saw them straggle out of camp. I loved those boys but I
know I made the right decision. My days at Stevens Pass were over. There
were some hard days to come.

	The Company Commander lost no time in finding me a dirty job. He
sent for me the next morning and Joe Guiberson, Project Superintendent
for the Forestry Service was there. He introduced me to Joe and told me
Joe would assign my work. Joe took me a couple of hundred yards past
headquarters and pointed at a snow bank and said he wanted that barracks
set up right over there. I did not see a barracks and asked him where it
was. He said it was under about four feet of snow. I got a snow shovel
and started shoveling snow and worked at it all day. I had almost half
of it uncovered and thought I was making good progress. The next morning
it was all covered with snow again. I started shoveling and by dark I
had more than half of it uncovered. The next morning I started at
daylight. It was all covered with snow again. That day I got it all
uncovered. I started at daylight again the next day and had it all
uncovered a couple of hours before dark. I used the extra time I had
left to stand some of it on its side. The next day it did not take as
long to dig it out of the new snow and I had time to get some ground
supports ready.

	The next morning I found the floor sections and they must have
weighed two hundred pounds per section. I got a two by four and managed
to move one over and get it up on the ground supports. It was heavy and
I was in a lot of pain but I was determined to do it somehow. I learned
a lot about leverage. The following day was Sunday and we were off but I
started at daylight and got all the floor sections up and bolted
together. Monday, I checked the wall sections and they did not weigh
much more than a hundred pounds per section. I had to put a wall section
on the floor and get a two by four ready. I would stand the section up
and nail a two by four to it, line up the bolt holes and work the bolts
in and tighten them up. I kept repeating this and the next day I had the
walls up and all bolted together. I was ready to start the hard part,
putting on the roof sections.

	I found the roof sections weighed around 300 pounds each and
there was one of me. I spent a full day just looking and planning. I got
some heavy wood and ran it from the top of the wall to the ground. I
managed to get a roof section moved over in front of the timbers I had
nailed in. I got a two by four and got it started on the timbers and it
was not too bad getting the roof section up on the timbers. The hard job
was going to be moving it to the top of the roof. I moved one side up
three or four inches and drove nails behind it to keep it from slipping
back, then did the same on the other side. I kept inching it up two or
three inches, one side at a time. Eventually I got a roof section in
place and bolted it.

	I continued a section at a time and finally got the roof on. The
rest was easy, hanging doors and putting in the windows. It was not as
level as it was supposed to be and I got some jacks and jacked it up
where it was low and adjusted the floor supports. I finally had an
assembled barracks. I asked Mr. Guiberson to check it and he pointed out
a low spot. I fixed it and again asked him to check it. He said it was
fine and I asked him what he wanted me to do next. He said he had
changed his mind and did not need the barracks and I should take it down
and put it back where it was. The next day I started taking it apart and
eventually put it back where it was and shoveled snow over it and
cleaned up the area.

        The next day I went to Mr. Guiberson for an assignment
and he assigned me to Blacky's crew. Blacky (a White man) had a
reputation for being rough to work for. It was well deserved. We left
Camp Icicle after breakfast in the back of an open truck with snow
coming down as hard as I ever saw it. Our crew was building Mountain
Home road, up and across a mountain. You could not see the road for snow
and every few feet the truck would start sliding off the road (if one
was there) and we had to get out and push the truck back on the road. It
was lunch time when we got to the work site and Blacky said we would
work thirty minutes and eat lunch. We were trimming limbs off trees that
had been cut down in the summer, and then sawing the tree into logs and
splitting them for firewood. We got some work done in the thirty minutes
because Blacky was on us continually. We then ate lunch and Blacky said
we would work another thirty minutes. We did the same thing as before
lunch and then Blacky counted all the tools and we started back to Camp

	We continued day after day. Some days we would work one hour,
some days two hours, and if we were lucky getting there we would work as
long as three hours. One day I was told to saw a tree into logs, working
with another boy, using a cross cut saw. When we finished we started at
the top splitting it into firewood and got all the logs split, using
malls and wedges. We were at the stump and playfully I sunk a wedge all
the way into the stump. When we were ready to go, Blacky counted all the
tools and went over and sat on a stump and lit his pipe. He sat there
saying nothing until someone asked him what we were waiting on. He
said," wedge missing," and just sat there. Everyone kept looking at me
and I finally went over and said, "Mr Glanert the wedge is in that stump
over there. He said, "Get it." Several of the boys jumped off the truck
and a couple of them grabbed a saw. He told them to get back on the
truck, that smarty pants would do it. That was me. I asked about someone
taking the other end of the saw and he told me to take them both. It is
extremely tough for one man to handle a cross cut saw but I did it and
cut the top off that stump and then got the wedge out and took it to

	The crew was cold and miserable and I learned a lot of things on
the way back to camp. The next day we were back on Mountain Home and I
was a model worker. We finished cutting and burned all the brush and
then went to work on the road. I was assigned as a front end man for a
bulldozer. A front end man is the guy that digs out rocks by hand that
the bulldozer cannot handle. It is a hard job. You dig around the lower
side of that rock until it is exposed and then move it out of the way.
It is back breaking work. On days now and then that were so bad Blacky
could not get us to Mountain Home and back he would take us to the
Ranger Station and we would lovingly clean tools and then dip them into
hot melted wax. Blacky loved tools more than any man I ever knew.

	I was called in by Joe Guiberson one day and taken off Blacky's
crew and assigned to a crew building a ski jump in Leavenworth. I was
assigned to help make the ski lift, which was nothing more than an
engine at the bottom and a pulley at the top, with a looped rope between
them. The skiers just held on to the rope and were pulled to the top.
The hard part was that there were logs for the rope to drag on and we
had to cut birch trees and skin all the bark off with axes and cut the
logs to the right length. It was snowing so hard we could hardly see one
another. Our hats would pile up with snow. I had already reached the
point that I would rather work in the snow than inside. I could stand as
much cold as anyone, I thought.

	Although we had a boiler, the hot water was just for the mess
hall and the laundry. The barracks had no hot water. We had picked up
five or six boys from Washington state after the boys from Stevens Pass
left. One of them challenged me to a cold water duel, in which we turned
the showers on full blast and each of us stood directly under a shower
naked and the first to get out lost. The water was really ice cold and I
gradually turned blue. I think I stood there an hour and forty five
minutes before a friend talked me into quitting. I dried off and grabbed
a blanket. The other boy stayed about ten or fifteen minutes longer and
then told someone to pitch him a bar of soap as he may as well take a
real shower while he was there.

Return to Fireclay Menu
Chapter Six Continued

Chapter Five