Chapter Six - The Civilian Conservation Corps
The Company Commander called me in one day and said he wanted me to
run the camp laundry. The laundry was the most lucrative job in camp.
You had to wash all the blankets and uniforms as part of your job but
if anyone wanted civilian clothes washed and pressed they had to pay you
for it. The laundry attendant always had money. I took the job and
started immediately. There was a huge washer and you threw in a full
load and added soap. When it finished you ran them through a wringer and
then took them to the attic and hung them on wire lines. They would dry
in a little more than an hour because it was so hot there. While the
clothes were washing you had to run outside and put wood in a small
boiler that made steam for the presser. Then you ran back in and pressed
awhile. If the steam began to get discolored you had to run out and open
a drain valve for a couple of minutes. Then you went to the attic and
brought clothes down and took more wet ones up to hang to dry. It was
constantly running from a warm room to outside in the snow and back
inside and then upstairs to the 125 degree temperature in the attic. I
was making some money but I got sick doing it and had to stay in bed
about two weeks. When I got ready to go back to work I was told to see
the Company Commander.
The Company Commander told me he had to give the laundry job to
someone else. I was disappointed but told him I understood. Minton, our
first Supply Sergeant, had left after six months and Charles Brucke
became Supply Sergeant. The Company Commander said then that Brucke was
leaving and I was the new Supply Sergeant. I had been reduced to an
enrollee when I quit cooking and the Supply Sergeant job was a full
Leader position. I took the job on the spot and worked with Charles
until he left. Charles told me there were many shortages, such as
several hundred sheets, a lot of blankets, pillow cases, mattresses,
etc. I signed for everything as the Company Commander was responsible
anyway. I did a complete inventory and made a list of the shortages. I
had to go to Olympia, Washington once a month for supplies and to turn
in worn out items. I started taking someone with me and while they were
turning in worn out sheets and blankets I would go in the warehouse and
take stuff to the other side and put it on the ramp. When we left we
would circle the building and one of us would grab the stuff on the ramp
and throw it in the truck. The stacks of sheets and blankets and similar
items had a red stripe painted down the side. We just re-folded it all
and turned them in the next trip. Soon I had surpluses instead of
shortages and could call other camps and arrange to swap items we had a
surplus of for items we were short. And before long we were not short
There were a lot of personal activities at the camp that I have
not mentioned. There was a dance every Saturday night in the
recreational hall. Many of the boys had girl friends in town and a lot
of girls and their parents came without dates. Square dancing was very
popular in that part of Washington and you would see dancers as young as
five or six years old and many well into their seventies if not older.
The camp was a popular place. One of my friends, Zories Adron Trotter,
married a Washington girl. There was also ice skating on the crick. Many
of us borrowed skates. I never could roller skate but ice skating was
very easy to learn. One of the boys fell while ice skating and after the
fall Ezra Lee was the only one he ever recognized. Ezra (Buck) and he
were from the same area in Alabama and when this boy came to he knew
Buck immediately but never did recognize any of the rest of us. He would
follow Buck around like a little puppy and if he lost sight of him he
would get very disturbed and we would have to find Buck for him. Buck
would hold his hand awhile and he would calm down. Buck tried to always
be there when he woke up in the morning. They never did send the boy to
a doctor, but based on my experience he was as well off.
Speaking of my experience, I had to see the doctor three times. I
mentioned one time when I got sick while running the laundry. The first
time was when we first got to Icicle, not long after the forest fire.
We decided to do some boxing. I still weighed 122 pounds and there was no
one close to my size who would box. Heaton, who was selected as the camp
blacksmith, weighed 260 non-fat pounds and there was no one his size.
Heaton asked me to just spar with him and said he would not hurt me. I
took him up on it and we put on the gloves. He started making me look like
a fool and when I saw a chance I hit him as hard as I could in the chin.
He had just stuck his tongue out at me and when I hit him he bit his tongue
real hard and it bled. He had told me at the beginning to hit him any time
I could and he would not get mad. He did get mad and swung as hard as he
could and hit me on the side of the head. He knocked me across four bunks
and it was several hours before I came to. I thought I was all right but
when I got up the next morning I was drinking a coke and the bottle kept
slipping out of my mouth. When I tried to smile I smiled on the left side
but the right side of my lips would not move. I went to the doctor, who
was really a vet, and he took me to a doctor in Leavenworth. He said I
had Bell's Palsy from a cut nerve in my right temple and the nerve grew
back at the rate of about one eighth of an inch per month and I would
eventually be all right. It was a weird feeling and lasted about eight
months as I remember.
Several of us chased a boy into the attic of a barracks and we
thought it would be funny to take turns guarding him and make him miss
lunch. It was my turn and it got very quiet up there and I was afraid he
had found a way out and started staring up through the opening to see if
I could see him. He threw a fishing pole at me and the sharp end hit me
in the eye. I went to the doctor and he put salve in it and a bandage
over it, like he did with cows, I guess. It kept getting worse and worse
and I finally got him to take me to the doctor in Leavenworth. He looked
at it and told our vet to get me to a hospital. The ambulance driver
took me to the Marine Corps Hospital in Seattle. The doctors there
checked my eye and said I was lucky it did not have to be removed as the
salve and bandage were the two worst things that could have been done to
it. I still have it, but there is now a cataract and I have no vision in
that eye. Doctors hesitate to remove the cataract due to the scar
We had twenty-five boys come in from a camp in Pennsylvania for
some type of training. They wanted to go to Wenatchee one Saturday night
but that required a leader to be in the truck and I was assigned to go
with them. We spent several hours in Wenatchee and started back to the
camp. The truck driver decided to stop by the dance in Leavenworth. He
met a girl he knew and had a few drinks and refused to take the boys to
camp. I decided I would drive the truck back, although I was not
authorized to drive with people in the back of the truck. Everything
went fine until we went through the gate and I started to swing to the
right to take the truck to the garage. The boy in front with me yelled
to go left and let the boys out at the flagpole. I flipped back to the
left real quick and the truck turned over on its left side. I was afraid
some of the boys were hurt and scrambled up and out through the
passenger window. All the boys had landed on the grass around the
flagpole and no one was hurt. They flipped the truck back on its wheels
and I asked them not to mention the wreck. All of them looked at me and
said, "What wreck?" I checked the truck and there were no dents and the
only damage was that a swing out turn signal was broken and there was a
small scratch where the bed of the truck landed on a rock. I took the
truck to the garage and removed a turn indicator from a dead-lined truck
and put it on my truck. I got some green paint and touched up the
scratch. No one could tell it had been wrecked. The following Monday the
Company Commander called me in and asked me what happened to my truck. I
told him the truck driver got sick and I had to drive it from
Leavenworth and had turned it over when I got back to camp. He had seen
some glass on the ground near the flagpole and had checked all the trucks
and discovered the fresh paint on my truck. I had to pay for the turn
indicator but he did not charge me with any action.
I did not drink while I was in the CCC. I never had a desire to
drink during those days. Life was voo short and there was too much to do
to waste it on drinking. I knew I wanted to be somebody and make
something out of my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do, just that I
wanted to do something.
I have skipped over many events at Camp Icicle. For one thing, I
worked several other jobs that I did not list, such as plumber,
electrician, assistant educational advisor and truck driver. We taught a
lot of boys how to read and write, plus other subjects they were
interested in, like history and geography. It was a thrill to see young
men who could neither read or write be able to sit down and write their
parents a letter and read the reply.
Finally, a decision was made to close Camp Icicle and the boys
were offered the opportunity to transfer to other camps or go home. Most
went home but I decided to go to Camp Cowiche in Yakima, Washington.
Before I could go, Camp Icicle had to be closed. All the boys left
except William Hanks, who was company clerk and me, the supply sergeant.
It was our job to finalize the records and the property. Hanks worked on
records and I worked on property. When I had two truck loads of property
ready to take to Olympia we would go in the two trucks and leave one
truck there and return together in one truck. We finally had everything
turned in except the ambulance and the records.
Bill Hanks was a tall, quiet, capable person and worked long
hours keeping his work up to date. Some of the boys began taunting him
because he did not drink or curse or run around. This began to bug Bill
and one day he ran out and got in a truck and went to Leavenworth. Bill
bought a pint of whiskey and drank the entire pint. He then returned to
camp and drove around and around the flag pole, faster and faster, until
the truck finally turned over. They took Bill out of the truck and put
him on his bed. He did not come out of it for two days. When they put
Bill on the bed they had one arm under his body. When he came out of it
he was unable to use that arm for several days but finally managed to
use it. When Bill got out of the CCC he went into the Army Air Corps as
a cadet and finished all training. Someone noticed he favored that arm
during final tests and he was washed out as a pilot and served as a
flight officer during World War II. A seemingly minor thing can affect
you the rest of your life.
I had saved mostly steak and eggs for us to eat. The cook stove
in the mess hall was a tremendous thing. I had an attic full of the old
World War I rain slickers and they were mostly melted blobs but they
burned like crazy. We would reach up in the attic and get an arm load of
those old slickers and go to the mess hall and build a quick and hot
fire. I would throw a couple of steaks on the grill and a little later
add a dozen eggs. We lived in style.
Bill Hanks had a battery radio and the batteries were about gone
so we would listen to it awhile and turn it off. We were listening when
the announcement was made that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the
Japanese. The batteries burned out completely and all we had was our
imagination. Our imagination led us to believe that Camp Icicle would be
the next target. We really sweat it out that night but we lived through
any attack that may have been made or planned (Smile). A few days later
we loaded the camp records in the ambulance and took them to Olympia.
Bill and I shook hands and he went home and I went to Camp Cowiche after
being rejected by the Army, Marines and Navy because I had flat feet.
Camp Icicle was closed by the CCC but during World War II it was
used to house prostitutes with venereal diseases while they were
treated. It was later donated to the Catholic Church and now serves as a
retreat. Even more recently I was told that the Church was selling Camp
Icicle to someone in the private sector. I still write to the city
manager in Leavenworth, as I have a deep affection for the area.
Camp Cowiche was vastly different from Camp Icicle. The CCC
camps were set up with administration under control of the Army and the
work performed under control of another government agency. The work
performed by enrollees at Camp Icicle had been under the jurisdiction of
the Forestry Service. The work at Camp Cowiche was under the Bureau of
Reclamation and our work had nothing to do with forestry. Primarily, we
were building canals used to move water to locations needing irrigation.
Another vast difference was that Camp Icicle was beautiful and Camp
Cowiche was a far cry from beauty. It was neat and orderly and clean but
definitely not beautiful.
The Company Commander had lost a large number of boys, most of
whom had enlisted in the Army or Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was
bombed. He showed me a list of openings at Leader level and told me to
take my choice. I strolled around the camp and looked at the different
areas and went back and told him I would take the job as parts keeper.
It was isolated from the rest of the camp and had a private office and
all I had to learn was accounting. My job was to control all vehicle
parts, issue them against authorized work orders and maintain accounting
records. It looked like a snap to me and really it was.
I had not been on the job long when a gentleman named George
Washington Wilson came in from the district office of the Bureau of
Reclamation and introduced himself as the auditor. George told me he was
officially there to audit the parts records and personally there to help
any boy with any problem he had, official or personal. George became a
life long friend whom I maintained correspondence with for 50 years,
right up to his death in 1991. There was never a greater person and no
person other than my Mother had as much influence on my life as George.
George would complete his audit in a day and we would spend most of two
more days chatting. George taught me to audit and had me make the audit
while he observed. Many years later, when I took Auditing at the
University of Alabama I made a score of 115 out of a possible 100 but
that will be covered later.
George Wilson encouraged me to always do twice what a job
actually required. He said that most people did the minimum required
plus maybe ten percent more in an effort to obtain better ratings or
monetary rewards. He said that doing double what was required was
satisfaction in itself and any awards would be even more enjoyable as
you would know they were truly earned and not just given to you by a
liberal boss. He considered his extra effort was in helping youngsters
believe in themselves. I took what George said seriously and went to the
Company Commander and told him I could handle the parts keeper job in
half a day and take on one of the vacancies he had in the other half. He
said he needed a truck driver and I started driving half the day. I only
had one problem driving. We hauled a lot of steel rods used in canal
construction and they were very, very long. I made a turn on to a side
road one day and knocked a power pole down with the trailer load of
steel. Other than that it was uneventful.
The day came when Camp Cowiche was closed and George and I
closed out my records and I was sent to Camp DuPont, near Fort Lewis,
Washington. I really hated to lose my contacts with George but he said
he would soon be relocating in Colorado anyway.
Camp Dupont was even less attractive than Camp Cowiche. It was
under the Army and Soil Conservation Service. Before we left Camp
Cowiche I had altered the records of a friend and myself to reflect that
we were full time truck drivers. When we arrived at Camp DuPont we were
automatically assigned as truck drivers. Both of us were assigned to
assist the Army at Fort Lewis. They had just built a lot of new
officer's quarters there and some days we drove dump trucks and hauled
asphalt for the driveways. Other days we drove flat bed trucks and
hauled sod from a sod farm to the lawns of the new quarters.
Only one or two old friends remained from the days of Camp
Icicle and it was not as much fun as it had been but I continued to
follow the advice of George Wilson and tried to do twice what I had to.
I would go to the motor pool and wash and clean up all the trucks, even
though it was not my job. What I did was noticed and I was well liked by
My two years maximum time ran out and the CCC camps were being
closed rapidly anyway so I finally said good bye to Camp DuPont and
headed home. There were no longer enough enrollees leaving to use troop
trains and I rode commercial for a change. I had built a large chest
while I was in Camp Icicle. It weighed more than fifty pounds. The
Company Commander gave me an old typewriter with a very wide carriage
and I dumped it and a few clothes and pictures in that chest.
The trip home was uneventful until I got off the train in
Atlanta, Georgia and discovered I had to go the rest of the way on a
bus. The bus station was across town from the railroad station and I had
no money so I had to put that hundred pound chest on my shoulder and
walk to the bus station. It was a good thing I was in excellent physical
and mental condition or that chest would have been dumped along the way.
I made it though and checked the chest despite protests from the bus
company that it was over sized.
It was about 225 miles from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa (still is, I
guess). The trip went fine and when we got to Tuscaloosa I had only
seven or eight blocks to go with the chest. What a relief to get that
thing home. The next day I made the rounds of Army, Marine and Navy
recruiting offices but was rejected by all because of flat feet. I heard
that a contractor was looking for a truck driver and went to see him and
was hired two minutes later. He had a contract to haul mail between the
post office and train and bus stations, plus a couple of sub post
offices in the area. I started driving the same day. Once or twice a
week I would check all the recruiting offices and be rejected again.
I had no idea where some of the small towns were located and
often put North bound mail on a South bound train, but I am sure that is
still prevalent in the postal service so what was the harm. I was more
interested in killing Japanese and started hitting the recruiting
offices every day as one of them had told me he thought the restriction
on flat feet would be removed. I was amazed one day when I walked in the
Naval Recruiting Office and took a physical and the doctor did not look
at my feet and said I was accepted. I was asked when I wanted to leave
and I told them to give me half an hour to say good bye to my Mother. He
made me wait two days.
I quit my job (I found him another driver) and said my good byes
to my friends and my Mother. Little did I realize it would be more than
four years before I would see my Mother and Sister again.
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