July 3, 2000
29 pages Open
Harry Bush was born in Georgia in 1915, and his family came to Florida in 1921, as he
recounts, along with other family information, on page 1. He discusses at length his
memories, both good and bad, of the Depression on pages 2-4, with particular
reference to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (3-4). He discusses his first
awareness of the Civilian Conservation Corps on page 5 (at age 18) and how he went
about joining (page 6). Page 6-7 contain his recollections of the expectations he held
as he enrolled in the CCC, and page 7 contains details on whether "character" was a
criteria for joining, and how some of his campers enrolled were of better-off means than
Mr. Bush goes on to recall the tasks he did in camp, mostly forest work (page 8), and
vividly recalls a number of accidents that occurred (page 9; see also page 16; 20); he
terms the camp "like a slaughterhouse." He also engaged in firefighting tasks (page 9-
10; see also page 22-23). He discusses the intercamp interaction which occasionally
occurred (page 10), although black camps were kept segregated according to the
custom of the time (page 11). He describes how the camp's work was partially
contracted out to private businesspeople (12), and also talks about his camp's layout
(page 12) and a typical day (page 12-13; see also page 19 for day-to-day duties and
page 24-25 for barracks life). On pages 13-15, Mr. Bush recalls trips into Lake City and
the town's view of the CCCers.
Mr. Bush recollects memories of practical jokes popular in the camp on page 15-16. He
also remembers his general impressions of his officers (page 17), goldbrickss" (page
18), and the leaders on his work crews (page 21). He recalls the discipline
administered in the camps (page 23-24) and some tensions between the CCC and the
military (page 26). He gives his judgement on whether the camps effectively fulfilled
their task (page 25-26), the CCC's significance to American history and why the CCC
was phased out (page 27), and concludes with the thought that the CCC could be very
effective today, even on a modified scale (page 28).
Interviewee: Harry Bush
Interviewer: Ben Houston
Date: July 3, 2000
H: It is July 3, 2000, and I am in the home of Mr. Harry Bush. Mr. Bush, thank you
for meeting with me today.
B: Thank you for coming.
H: When and where were you born, Mr. Bush?
B: September 11, 1915, in Eastman, Georgia. That is down in the southeast part of
Georgia. It is in Dodge County between Macon and Savannah, in that area.
H: Did you grow up there your entire life?
B: No. My people migrated to Florida in 1921. We settled in Plant City and then
moved over to Tampa after a couple of years and really [grew] up in Tampa. But
then when I got grown, I went to work. I wound up being a pipefitter, and I had to
follow the work. So, I did a lot of traveling over the country to work in the trade.
H: Did you have any siblings growing up?
B: Yes, I had one brother, younger than me, and one sister, older than me.
H: Was your family from America, or did they immigrate from somewhere else?
B: No, we were all born here. I understand that part of our roots were in Ireland and
part in Germany because our name Bush, I heard through the family, at one time
had a C in it. Now, all we know is Bush, but the other side was Irish. That is just
H: What did your father do for a living?
B: He was first a farmer. When we moved to Florida-that was in what they called
the roaring boom in the 1920s-he became a carpenter. He was a carpenter until
he died. Traditionally, most everybody from that part of the country where we
come from, it was farming. That was the way everybody lived, rural.
H: You must have some pretty vivid memories of growing up in the Depression.
B: Yes, I do. [They are] quite vivid, some of them. Some of the first money I ever
made was caddying on a golf course. We got $0.75 for eighteen holes. You got
$0.75, too; they did not give you $1 and tell you to keep the change. Of course, I
worked for the state road department, working on the highways, like keeping
them up and doing the highway work. It was $0.18 an hour. Of course, that is
when the CCCs come along, in the 1930s. When I went to the CCC camp, my
father was working as a carpenter. They were building office furniture, nice office
desks, and he was earning $9 a week. That was six days, $1.50 a day. Of
course, everybody was in the same boat, and people did not call it a depression
because they had never had anything, anyhow. They just called it hard times but
expected them to get better. Everybody was optimistic, times are going to get
better. They had seen ups and downs, most people in those days, the older
people. Of course, us young'uns, all we were looking for was something to eat.
We did not have the organized welfare or the Social Security or Medicare,
nothing like that in those days. It was community welfare. The churches all
worked beautifully together, and the civic organizations and the government in
providing food. I know in our neighborhood, the churches would go to the
farmers' markets. After the sales were all done, there was always a lot of stuff left
over. Instead of taking it to the dump, each one would gather the stuff and take it
out to their respective neighborhoods and distribute it. We would just go check in,
see what they had. Sometimes, the government would put out surplus stuff like
soup bones and flour and commodities of that type. Certain days, you would go
down and get you a sack of flour or, if they had some apples, maybe get some
apples. I had a brother five years younger than me, and he was sensitive.
Somehow or another, he had a feeling that it was degrading for him to go and get
these things. There was just that much difference between him and me because I
did not mind taking a grocery bag and going down to the church or wherever they
were giving away food and bring it home. But he was one of those types that was
sensitive to that. Of course, everybody wore hand-me-down clothes.
Manufacturing companies who manufactured stuff, like that went into bags, they
designed the bags so they could be made into clothes. Most everybody, the
country people, they mended and made their own clothes. They would buy cloth
and make it, so these bags that were sugar and coffee and flour and different
commodities, it would come in bags, they had designs on them so you could be
able to make clothes out of them, and people would wear them.
H: Was your family, in particular, affected by the Depression?
B: Yeah, we were like millions of other people. It was not uncommon. Everybody
accepted their portion. If they were working people, there was no work to be had
with 20,000,000 people unemployed. Nobody expected a whole lot. It was just
survival, you might say, the way we look at it now. Again, I say that people in our
class had never had anything. They had never been going through a boom.
Times would be better and worse, and that was what they were used to.
H: What is your worst memory of the Depression?
B: I do not know how you could pinpoint anything because we did not have any
comparison. We just were thankful for every blessing we got, and it was just
good and bad times and always expecting them to get better. Now that I look
back, I can appreciate how my father and mother must have felt because they
had the burden of providing for us. I know that we had electricity in our
neighborhood. By my father working and me, doing what we could do, we were
able to have electric lights. We were one of the few people, even though we were
about as poor as anybody else, but we did manage to. The minimum light bill for
a month was $0.75. Also, we had water. This was company-furnished water. My
father used to file saws to pay the water bill, or sometimes when they had
ditching work or manual labor extending pipelines into another area or
something, people like I, or my father, we were able to go out and dig ditches,
and that was applied to the water bill.
H: So you paid it off with work.
B: Yeah, there was no money that changed hands. You just worked it out. You got
credit for it. I do not remember even what was a minimum bill, but it was not
much. Things were in proportion, you know. A man could get a shave and a
haircut for $0.35, and a shave was normally about $0.20.
H: Do you have any particularly good memories growing up in the 1930s, even
despite these times?
B: We just grabbed pleasures as we could get them. We always attended church.
The people who attended churches, I do not know whether they fared better or
not, but they had a better outlook on life because their church members were
closely knit and they kept in touch and it provided places to go and activities that
a lot of people did not have. People that did not attend churches or civic
organizations, why, they had a lot of time on their hands, time to be miserable.
But it was a day-to-day thing, and we learned to accept it that way. Count your
blessings everyday, that is what we did. Even as bad as things was, you could
always count some blessings because you had neighbors and you had millions
that were in worse shape than you were. That was some consolation, you might
H: Did any of your other family members participate in New Deal programs like the
CCC or the WPA? Did your brother or your sister?
B: No. My brother was five years younger than me. When the CCC was organized, I
went into the first enlistment out of Tampa, and that was in 1933. When he got
old enough, I think the CCC terminated along about the time the war started. By
the time the war began, my brother went to the service. But I only stayed a year
in the CCC, thirteen months I guess it was, because when they first organized it,
they had some regulation that you were only allowed a year. They relaxed that or
changed it somewhat, and men could stay longer. But I got out after about
thirteen months and got a job for $0.18 an hour, which nowadays sounds kind of
pitiful, but at that time it was a way to live.
H: Tell me how your family felt about FDR and his New Deal.
B: My family were strictly FDR supporters. In fact, I heard my dad used to say that
down in this particular county where we come from in Georgia, I have heard him
making the remark, that if you wasn't a white Southern Baptist Democrat, you
just did not have any class at all. That was just the general consensus of people
in that area. Well, you know, it was generally understood that you was a
Democrat. If you wasn't, you were an outcast in that particular area. It seemed
liked the good things came with the promise of this administration, and it seemed
like things got better, progressively. I guess it would give you a feeling that you
were satisfied with what you had.
H: Did the Depression force any of your other family members, some of your
extended family members, to move in with you at all? Grandparents, anything
B: No. It was kind of a custom back in those days, you know, that the grandparents
usually had the old home somewhere and the younger people moved away from
home. The grandparents could hold on to theirs with the little help they could get,
but all of them together could keep the old home going and keep the
grandparents a place to stay. I guess it is kind of like that now. People move
away from home. If the grandparents, if the older family members, need help,
they can't move them in with them because there's no room. They're in
apartments or somewhere. Where they have the old home, I guess it is still true
in this day, they try to maintain the old home. In those days, too, as I said before,
the neighborhood, the community, through the churches and people, they took
the place of what we call welfare now. That was our welfare. It made it possible
to force somebody to stay, even though they didn't have anything. The old home
was paid. If they had a place paid for, all they needed was something to eat, and
people would provide that, clothes and food and necessities. I remember when
we had scarlet fever. You were isolated and quarantined. The neighbors, nobody
could leave. But way out on the edge of the property where we lived, they would
bring and deliver food and stuff, necessities, that we had to have to live, from just
neighbors. That was one of the characteristics of community living back then,
where you did not have anything. Well, we did not have welfare. We had good
welfare, but we didn't call it welfare. Just called it neighbors.
H: Did you go to school before you enlisted in the CCC?
B: Yeah. I didn't finish high school. I went to the eleventh grade. Then, due to
somebody having to go to work, I went to work.
H: Did you like school?
B: Oh yeah. My sister was two years older than me, and my parents used to tell me
they could not understand why I didn't bring a bunch of books home every day
like she did. She had all her books, and I managed to get my schoolwork done,
especially when we got up to junior high school when we had a study period,
primarily, I guess, because I didn't want to tote those books. I'd get it done, and I
made my grades. So, it really wasn't a burden. There again, you know, economy
was the word. We rode streetcars when we were growing up. We had to ride the
streetcars, and they'd charge us two and a half cents a trip, each way, $0.05 a
day. We'd take our lunch in a bag or in a pocket. So, economy was [the] word.
H: You were eighteen when you enrolled in the CCC?
B: Yeah, because I was born in 1915 and I went in 1933. I was just barely in there.
H: How did you first hear about the CCC?
B: Probably [radio]; everybody managed to have a little radio, and we had a radio.
We didn't have anything but radios, but I think it was pretty well broadcast and, of
course, in the newspapers. I think probably, mostly, it was through the promotion
over the radio because they had a big movement along about that time going to
what they called the Townsend Plan. [Dr. Francis Townsend] proposed a plan
that would pay everybody [over sixty-five years of age] $200 a month. It was a
forerunner, I guess, to some of the other programs that came along later. It was a
big promotion deal. In fact, in our church choir group that we had in our little local
church, they used to have these Townsend meetings. They were trying to drum
up support all over the country and vote this thing in. I guess that was, you might
say, the beginning of welfare. Everybody would get $200. Well, [they] talked
about $200 a month. It was unheard of and it sounded ridiculous, but it grew into
quite a thing. Our group, they used to have these meetings, neighborhood
meetings, to drum up support. I know our church group, we used to go and sing
for them, and that would attract the neighbors to come in and promote the idea.
H: So you decided you were going to enroll in the CCC at eighteen.
B: Yeah. My father, like I said, was working and making this $9 a week. I remember
when I got signed up, they said I was going to get $30 a month and they would
send $25 of that home. My mother had an old oil kerosene stove, what we
cooked on. It didn't have an oven on it. It just had three little burners, and it would
burn kerosene. I told her, I says, when I go to the camp and they send that $25
home, I want you to buy you a new stove. Sure enough, she did. I came home
after, I think, we were up there a couple of months. We came home, maybe, the
Fourth of July. Anyway, she had bought this stove. She went down to a furniture
company there and made arrangements to get this stove. It was a five-burner
and had an oven on it. It was an Esko-Perfect. When I came home, she had this
big beautiful stove. $39 is what it cost overall, but she paid for it by the month,
about $3 a month I think, some small payment. But that was part of the deal. I got
my $5, and she got $25, and it went to a good cause. It was other things that we
needed. That $9 a week, my father always managed to have a garden. We were
in the city, in the outskirts of town, but we always had a garden. That
supplemented the food deal. We always had a few chickens, and they lived off
the scraps. We didn't buy feed for them. They would produce some eggs, so we
had eggs, but we still had to buy coffee and sugar and stuff like that,
commodities. That was a big help in being able to buy some stuff, and buy some
new clothes too, rather than patching and hand-me-downs.
H: Do you remember the day when you went down to enroll in the CCC? Did you
have to go to a recruiter-type station?
B: Yeah, we did. A bus took us to the railroad station, and we rode a train. When we
first started, you had to go to be indoctrinated. They didn't do this later, I don't
think, but they took us to the railroad station and the train took us to Savannah,
Georgia. Then we rode a train from there out to what is called Tybee Island. It
was Fort Barrancas, I think. It was a fort from the First World War, see. We
stayed there and took our shots [vaccinations]. We had to take a series of shots,
and about three weeks it took you to do that. Then we left there, and they rolled a
train out and down to where our camp was in Lake City, at Olustee. They just
took us out there in the bare woods. There was nothing there, just a dirt road. We
had those Army GI trucks, and they said this is it, fall out on the ground. There
was just woods, nothing there but woods. We had to build a camp from that. It
was real primitive, too, no toilets and no facilities like that. All that had to be
provided. We had to have tents, and they gave us cots. We got moss from the
trees and made a mattress for the cots to sleep on in those tents. That was real
primitive living. We had what they call straddle trenches for sanitary. Later, they
built a big kiln where they had these toilets that were made out of iron. They were
set up on a platform, and underneath was a furnace. What they would do, they
would get wood out of the woods and build a fire under there, and it just
incinerated the waste. These old iron commodes, they survived it. Invariably-
they did not burn this all the time-when they'd have a burn, the wind would blow
it right through the mess hall where we ate. You can imagine some of the
comments that were made about that.
H: When you enrolled in the CCC, do you remember what your expectations were of
what you were going to be doing in the camp? Did they explain that to you?
B: No. Most of us were familiar with woods, and all of us had a picture of working in
the woods. It wasn't a shock. It was what people like I expected, but now some of
the guys that come out of the city, some of them had never been in the woods at
all, they got a shock maybe. It was more or less what we expected. After we got
established in the woods, anybody that had a preference to get into something, it
was all types of needs there, occupational needs, and if you were inclined to
work as a mechanic or a tractor driver or a truck driver, they just kind of
assimilated themselves. If you wanted to get into it, you could get to where you
wanted to go. There was people that liked to cook. There was opportunities there
for most everybody. We were all young, you know, and had no previous work
training or anything. Mostly everybody was just out of school or just dropouts and
had no trade to have much preference.
H: When you went in initially to sign up for the CCC, were there any sort of
character requirements that you had to meet to qualify, or any qualifications at
B: I can't remember, really. There must have not been because you didn't have to
sign a lot of documents or anything. It was just be willing. It was just a volunteer
thing. I suppose, now I look back, they probably had some legal documents that
didn't mean anything to us anyway. We just signed anything to get going with it
because everybody, you know, was looking forward to this thing. Young people
at that age, you know, everything is new to them. Now, we look back. So, it
wasn't that we was expecting any certain things, just a new adventure. A lot of
people had never been away from their home, even traveling. They'd been on
trains and things like that. See, the policy, to begin with, was everybody go
nearest your home. That's the reason why I was no further from home, it was
about 175 miles from my home to my camp. But, they changed that policy during
the year. They saw some flaws in it, which was too many of them went home and
didn't come back, or else the families come to the camp to see the CCC boys.
That always brought on problems. I think enrollment in our camp started falling
immediately after we got there. We started with 200 people. Well, by the end of
the first six months, we didn't have over seventy-five. It was a dropout raid, or
people would go home and just wouldn't come back. They decided it wasn't for
them. Maybe they didn't have to. Now, there was a lot of people, guys went that
weren't in the financial condition that a lot of us were. I remember some of them,
they had store-bought cigarettes and things like that. We didn't buy store-bought
cigarettes. We bought rolled tobacco. It was only a nickel. It cost a dime per
H: Why do you think they enrolled, the people whose conditions weren't as bad?
B: It was just something to do. They didn't have to work at home, probably hanging
around the pool room shooting pool. It was like it is now, and it was like that then.
There was people that the families were getting benefits from these social
giveaways and things. I remember people remarking sometime--people would go
down when the government would give out these apples or these bags of flour,
and people were criticized for going because the man might have a regular job
making $15 a week or something and he's going down there and getting that
flour. Here's people that got no money at all, and they felt like they was taking
away from somebody like that. That's what it was. They were just playboys or,
you know, I had a lot of friends that they never left the pool room and places like
that. Well, I know one boy in our neighborhood. His people worked for the
railroad. Well, somebody that had a job, a regular income every two weeks to get
a check, you know, why, they were in the grease. Kept a car and were driving a
car. My father had an old 1926 Ford, and gas was only $0.15-$0.16 cents a
gallon. On the day like when they had the flour to give away, the government was
giving it away, everybody in our neighborhood, why, they would chip in and get a
gallon of gas and put in that old car because it sat there all the time. I'd drive it
down to the place, and when everybody got their flour, they'd put it on that
because it was about a mile. I'd bring all the flour up there for everybody in that
neighborhood. Everybody else walked. That was just one of the things you had to
H: Talk a little bit about what work you did in the camp.
B: I guess the overseers tried to pick people out and get them situated to begin with,
like I said, and put them somewhere. Then, if they didn't like it or wasn't suitable
for it, then they would make arrangements or ask somebody, ask some of the
officers, and work it around through ways and get into what they were equipped
for. Now, my first assignment, back in those days, they used to have, see, that's
all pine forest in there, and they had these naval stores with turpentine gathered
from the trees. That was a big national business, and the government rented all
of their properties. They rented trees to private concerns, and they would take
the labor and go and cut these trees and drain them and make these products
out of the turpentine. That is kind of a thing of the past now. It was a big
assignment that I was in. The forest rangers would take us out. We had to take a
mile square. They had the maps and compass, and we would walk through and
we had a requirement. If a tree was nine inches in diameter, we would mark it
and call it. We had a person in this group of maybe fifteen people, and each one
would have a name. If I walked up to a tree, and we had a little tape measure if
there was any doubt, I would call my name-my particular name was Alligator-
and the count man would tally one. They leased those trees to the private
concerns for $0.26 a year for five years. I think I remember that program. Then
those people would furnish the labor to go around and cut them. We were
working up in the Okefenokee Swamp. It was a terrible place back in them days.
It is still a rough place if you don't know where you're going. Our area went and
run up into the edge of Okefenokee, and it was wild country. We were in places,
marking these trees, where there probably hadn't ever been any humans before.
Of course, they had maybe 150,000 acres in there. That was one of the big
projects that we had. Then another big part of it was they had been planting
trees. It was a planting trees program. They planted them too thick, and it had to
be thinned. We used to have a song. It was a popular national song back in them
days about the old spinning wheel. Somebody wrote some words about the
thinning gang. That is where we had to keep ambulances handy. They were little
trees but they had to be thinned with thin-bladed axes. And with people using
axes [who] had never had anything in their hand but a pool cue, they were
chopping each other up. It was a continual thing.
H: A lot of accidents.
B: Oh, I'm telling you, it was a slaughterhouse. Then, see, what we were doing, they
had never had all this attention in these forests, government forests like this.
They just couldn't afford it, but with this, they could. Then, they had to plow the
fire lanes and build roads so that they could get the fire trucks in there. That was
another big deal. We had to build bridges across creeks. That afforded
everybody a chance to get in on equipment, learn the trade of handling
equipment, and digging and tractors and trailers. All those pieces of equipment
that goes with it, you know, in building bridges. Then, I was in a gang where we
had to go along where they were plowing the fire lanes. They could backfire, you
know. The group I was in, we'd go ahead and throw logs aside. The ranger would
show us where to go, and we would throw these logs over the tractor. They didn't
have the kind of tractors they got now. This was a long time ago. They had big
old tractors. I remember one time we found a...people at our age, you know, we
was always full of pranks. We found a big yellowjacket nest. See, they build in
the ground, maybe 50,000 of them, and if you disturb them, they all come out.
So, we found this one and two or three of them got stings on them but we got
away from it. We said, well, when the tractor driver comes now, we'll have some
fun. We were about thirty miles from our camp. We watched when this tractor
driver, when he'd come up there. When that tractor got over that opening in that
thing, they swarmed out of there and they got him. It so happened he had to be
one of those people that was allergic to the stings like that. Well, of course, they
had to put him in the truck and take him back to camp to the infirmary. So, when
we got in that night, we went to the infirmary, the guys that was in on the joke.
Sure enough, he was in bad shape. The deal then was everybody come to see
him. We were talking about certain ones and certain incidents where people had
got like that and they died, and they had convulsions and they went haywire. I
remember one of the guys said, one thing about it, if your leg starts getting numb,
then you've had it. And his was. That's what happens, you know, when you get
something like that. Your legs. This guy was about to go haywire. There was
always things like that going on. I remember then we had a road-building gang,
and we had to use dynamite, nitroglycerin, blowing [tree] stumps. We even got
into that kind of a deal. A big part of our job was fighting fires. Whenever they
had a fire alarm, like lightning would hit a blaze way back in this swamp like it
does now and they'd have an alert, they had a big alarm. It was a big wheel that
they had a sledgehammer out there, and when they'd get the word, they'd go out
there and beat on that thing. It was a long trip, you know, 200 people in the
camp and whatever time it was, then there were certain ones that were geared to
go or wanted to go. Somebody would go up to the trucks, and they'd man the
trucks. The rangers would show them where it was, and we'd take off to fight fire.
They had these pumps you use in your hand, and some were double pumps, had
all kind of equipment. You get those trucks in there and put the fire out.
Consequently, a lot of times, it was at night. We'd come in at night, you know, go
out and fight the fire and come in and go to bed. Well, when it was time for
breakfast, maybe we just got in 3:00 or 4:00. They'd blow the bugle for reveille,
and the sergeant would come by, get up, get up. And, aiee, I fought the fire, I
ain't getting out of here.
H: Did they let you have the day off after you fought a fire?
B: Yeah, that was a big deal. I had a couple of buddies, every time that bell rung,
we hit. So, then on a Saturday night or sometime or any night we went to town
and felt bad the next morning, when it was time to get up, we'd say, man, I just
got in here at 4:00, leave me alone. With a big hangover. You'd be surprised how
long that lasted. They didn't have records, you know, and the sergeant, he didn't
go to nobody. There was people doing this all the time, legitimately. So, if you felt
bad and wanted to sleep in, why, just say, man, I left work at 4:00, I am going to
H: You said that you were assigned to Camp Olustee just because you lived nearby,
and that was how they originally did it.
B: Yeah, that was the policy, I understood, to begin with. They sent people nearest
to their home.
H: So, you didn't have any sort of choice about what camp you could go to.
B: No, and I think that might have been one of the drawings [that is, benefits] to
begin with, when they were promoting it, that you wouldn't be sent way out. But
after it started, they saw the error in it and decided it is best to get the guys
further away from home. People from down in Florida, after that first enlistment,
the next year when I got out, they were sending them to Utah and out west and
places like Montana. Of course, a guy would stay there rather than come home. I
am sure that was what changed the policy on that.
H: Do you remember certain camps having a good reputation and other camps
having a bad reputation?
B: No, but there was some intercamp activity. See, there were other camps, even in
this area, and we used to have some boxing contests with the other camps, and
baseball. That was one of the main activities we had with other camps. I can't
remember anything outstanding about any criticism or comparison with other
camps. Now, I was working with a carpenter gang. They built a camp up in the
edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, and it was for blacks. At that time, they had
their own. It was segregated to that extent. We went up there and built the
barracks. See, when they first started, all the camps were tents and cots, but
then, later, they started building wooden barracks. Instead of cots, they used
hospital beds. They got the beds from the Army hospitals. They built this camp
up there, and I remember the guys that they put in there, a lot of them were from
the city. They put some of their hometown street signs in the company streets, in
the camp itself. It was a place they called Fargo [Georgia], and that was as far as
you could go. That was the end of the swamp. Since then, they have a highway
that goes all the way through the Okefenokee Swamp, but at that time, that was
as far as you could go.
H: After they helped build that camp for the blacks, was there any interaction
between the white camp and the black camp?
B: No, never none at all that I know of.
H: They always worked in different places?
B: They had their area like we did, I guess. See, actually, their camp was about
thirty miles from us. I assume that they were doing the same thing we were. We
used to go out and put out, like I said, fighting fire was a big item certain times of
the year. I remember being out one time. What we would do, we'd try to put the
fire out, but invariably, it always killed a bunch of animals. Our job was to bury
the animals. Now, people up there in that country, the farmers or the people that
own cattle, they just free range. You know, it was government property, and they
just roamed. One day, we went out, and we got the fire out but we was burying
the cows. They would bring our lunch out from camp in these big GI cans. We
were talking about it, and one of the guys says, I betcha they bring us roast beef
today. One other guy says, if they do, I'll go right over there and sit on that dead
cow and eat it. Sure enough, they did. It was roast beef, and so we insisted on
him going over and sitting on that cow. He made the It was just
another one of those pranks that comes along.
H: These black camps didn't participate in the boxing matches with the other white
camps or anything like that?
B: No, at least not ours because I don't ever remember seeing them any more. In
fact, when we finished our work, I don't think they had moved in. I never knew
anymore about them. I don't even remember the number. I just remember about,
because we worked up in that area. From Lake City and Olustee, that reaches up
into that area. I guess maybe they relieved us of having to go up there and do
some of the work that we would have otherwise. I don't know.
H: You said that you were working on federal government land, but the land was
contracted out to private landowners.
B: These naval stores, the turpentine tree deal, yeah, they would contract that part
of it. Now, on this property, there wasn't people living. It was just forestry, I
suppose like these big paper companies do now. They lease property, but they
let people live on them or even lease out hunting rights or something like that to
somebody else, but they're under supervision and restrictions and all the dos and
don't that the government has. But, that one particular phase that I was talking
about with the pine trees, that was, I guess, common practice. Even people that
owned property of their own, they would lease those to some turpentine outfit
that cooked this turpentine and furnished the people to go walk from tree to tree.
Oh, that was a messy job.
H: Was the CCC camp ever involved in the making of the turpentine itself?
B: No. All we did was count the trees, and the government, through their paperwork,
leased them. That was our part of it.
H: Why don't you describe your camp. You said that originally, it was all virgin
forest, and then eventually it started to take shape with the building of the
barracks. Can you describe the camp to me?
B: Yeah. We were right on the edge of the lake, and the lake full of these great
big...it was one of those typical Florida lake scenes with the big cypress trees.
They had this, really, it was just a newly made road in there. The engineers laid it
off into company streets and the barracks, I think there were fifty men to each
barrack building when they started. Now, the first thing we had was the tents.
They were lined up and had the company streets and had a mess hall. But then, I
guess they got the material and the people to do it with and started building the
barracks. There was fifty in each building. They were just ordinary buildings with
screens and a big door to each end, and it had bunks. Before we got the beds,
we had these cots. The first thing that happens with camp cots is bugs. So, we
had to take a day off, and everybody fumigating and deodorizing and put some
kind of a, I don't know what it was, liquid that we soused and doused all over
them and got them all sanitary. In the middle of these, of course, there was no
sanitary facilities in these buildings. Out in the company street near the
intersection, they had these big galvanized drums that you used during the night
for urinating. Whoever got in bad favor with the sergeant, their job was to take
that can the next day, take it and dispose of it back in the woods. The roads, they
never made permanent roads or anything. It was just grade roads. Naturally,
being right on a lake, it was swampy, and whenever you had rains you had
trouble, I mean bad trouble. Everything stuck. I've seen times when every piece
of equipment they had was stuck somewhere lining that lake, through these
prolonged rain spells.
H: Lead me through a typical day that you would have at the camp.
B: Like I said, when they first started, they had those reserve officers, and they had
never got that out of their system, I guess. They treated us just like GIs. We had
to come out in our wool clothes and then go back after breakfast and change
into work clothes and then come out and assemble for the work detail. They
would detail the different gangs to go do what they were assigned to do. Then,
they would send the food out to the various places. When you came back in the
afternoon, it was clean up, wash up. I remember when we were first starting
there, like I said, it was primitive. They cooked right out in the open, open stove,
not even a tent over them or anything. The bugs and gnats and things were so
bad around there. When we'd get our food, we'd put our mess kit up there and
get our food in it, the first thing we'd do, get the pepper shaker and put pepper all
over it because they had those gnats and they were sweet. You didn't notice
them unless you knew they were there, so the best thing to do was put the
pepper on it and then you didn't care. It was all pepper. There was no
entertainment, nothing to do but read, read books or if you had some magazines.
We did have a recreation hall, and we had pool tables. Beer had just been
legalized again after so many long years, and you could buy beer if you had the
money. That's where some of these guys that was a little more affluent than
others had the advantage. They could buy beer, $0.10 a can or a bottle. See,
they started making cans about that time, but they had bottles. You could shoot
pool or read. Occasionally, they would have a dance in town. Some of the clubs
in town would promote a dance and invite the boys in. They would send the
trucks in, and we'd just load up on those trucks and go to town. They'd bring you
back late that night when it was over. There wasn't a whole lot to do. We didn't
have TV and stuff like that then. You just decided what you wanted to do.
H: Did they ever have educational opportunities at the camp that people could take
B: Not at ours, they didn't. They might have later at some of the others. In their
recreation hall, they might've had something like that. See, we were the
forerunners in the [camp] I was in. There was a lot of things that came along
later, I guess, that we didn't have the convenience of that they had later. They
learned more. But no, it was probably a boresome gang. Well, there was always
a bunch of musicians. I remember we used to have some guys that played the
guitar. They would gang up over here or up there somewhere. I remember one
night, we had a water tank about forty feet, and some of them would play the
guitar, got up on the water tank and played the guitars. You just amused yourself
the best way you could when you couldn't go to town.
H: When you say go into town, that refers to Lake City?
B: Yeah, it was about eighteen miles. Now, we had development] across the lake
from us. It was three miles across that lake, and we had some guys who knew
how to build boats. They got some lumber and built a sailboat, and we just sailed
that boat, a little sailboat, to go across there. Over on the other side, over in the
outskirts of Olustee which was just a wide place in the road, they sold
moonshine, moonshine and homebrew. It was $0.05 a bottle, and the moonshine
was $1.25 a gallon. It was pure moonshine. A bunch of us got in on the boat-
building, and we used to go over there and drink some homebrew and buy a jug
of liquor. We'd gang up enough money and pitch in and get a jug and start back.
Invariably, we found out we had navigating troubles. Three miles across that lake
and the wind would get up and we'd turn the boat over. We were out there all
night long and, in fact, missed breakfast sometimes trying to get back. We'd be
out on the lake. They built another little boat because they'd always lose the
liquor, so they put the jug in the little boat and tow it behind. Anybody that wanted
a drink could pull it up and get a drink and put it back.
H: You didn't want to waste that $1.25 that you had spent on the jug.
B: No, you had to make it do because it didn't come often.
H: Was it pretty good moonshine?
B: Yeah, it was pure white. It was clear as the water. It was distilled. Of course,
when they had the dances and all, and the people would go into those dances,
they used to get all the extract. If you had money to buy moonshine, you could
buy it in Lake City in all the little highways, but they would get all the extract,
lemon extract and stuff from the camp. They got where the officers had to lock it
up and issue it to the cooks as they needed it because the guys were drinking all
of it. Then when it came time to make pudding, they didn't have it. The women
used to promote those things in town and get the guys in the town. Of course, we
had the prostitutes, too. Some of the guys found out that you could take an
ordinary paper bag and cut it out the same size as a dollar bill, and in the dark, it
feels just like a dollar. Even now, you take those brown bags, you can just hold a
dollar bill and it and you can't tell the difference. A lot of these transactions were
handled in the dark around the courthouse there in Lake City, and where there
was shrubbery and little hiding nooks around, a woman didn't know. If it was a
bill, she knew it couldn't be less than a dollar and that was the going price.
H: So you saved the trips to Lake City for the weekends when you had free time?
B: Yeah, they would do that because the guys wouldn't be fit to work the next day
anyhow. It was Friday night recreation time or Saturday. It was usually on a
Friday night, whatever organization. Sometimes, it was churches or someone like
that had something going, or the civic organizations. They called themselves
taking care of the GIs, the boys, so they'd promote these things. And everybody,
we spent some money, so they could promote. Like I said, a lot of the guys, if
their money went home, well, their people at home would just give it back to
them, because they didn't need it in the first place. So, they were getting cheap
room and board.
H: How did Lake City feel about all the CCCers coming into town? I guess if they
were sponsoring events for you...was there was a good relationship there?
B: Yeah, the guys were, on a whole, their behavior was acceptable, and they would
promote these things for them. I imagine, of course, there were a lot of times that
people in town didn't know what happened to a lot of them because the guys, like
everybody else, the young people, you know, they get drunk and they do things.
Some, they'd have a time of getting them back to camp and all that kind of thing.
But the town people accepted them. I guess it was universal that it was a good
thing, and people promoted it, like they did later on with the GIs when the war
started. These same guys, or a lot of them, were let into those clubs. The USO
clubs and all that stuff. That's what it all amounted to. I think it was one of the
blessings of this world that this happened, the CCC, because that bunch of
people like we were at eighteen years old coming out of the pool rooms and off
the streets and all, they wouldn't have been fit to fight that war. You take
2,000,000 guys that was more or less pre-trained and healthy. I gained fifty
pounds, I expect, in that year that I was there, mainly because of regular eating
and regular work and regular exercise, just a better class of living. When you see
this thing prepared about 2,000,000 ready for the service.
H: Talk about Lake City and the community and how you used to go in on the
weekends with your fellow campers and go to dances and whatnot.
B: Yeah, and the way I remember it, we were well received. We didn't have a lot of
unpleasant activity. It didn't create any problems. It seemed like they welcomed
our presence. Of course, it was good for us, too. It was good for a bunch of
young people, you know, to have activities planned for them. Otherwise, we'd
just been running wild.
H: When you did go into the city, what did you do, usually? You alluded earlier that
you managed to find your way to bars now and again.
B: Usually on these excursions-type things] of when it was planned, it was just a
matter of getting back together, which you always had a lot of problems getting
everybody gathered up to go back at a certain time. That was all part of it.
Otherwise, as I said, it was good. It was a good trip, and it was good that it would
encourage them to keep inviting us. We didn't have facilities for anybody to come
to the camp and put on anything. We created our own, sometimes, through our
boxing program and playing baseball and intercamp with that.
H: Was there ever any hazing among the men, like for new people coming in?
B: No, I don't remember anybody ever doing that, not in our camp there wasn't. I
saw more of that sometimes on jobs, on working jobs, construction jobs. A lot of
times, they'd have practical jokes that they'd put on people. Like get a young
person, and send them from one place to another hunting some impossible
trinket or two, a bucket of steam or something or another, pipe stretchers. What
is it, they used to take guys on these snipe-hunting trips, you know? You'd be
surprised, though. You take people and send them to talk to a guy, and he is
depending on somebody to tell him what to do. He says, go get me a so-and-so.
He goes to this place to get it, and the guy says, I know where it is, John's get it
over there. And it was right here. He goes over there, and after awhile from one
to the other, finally there is a big pile of material, pipe and timber and stuff.
Finally, the guy says, you know, they have piled that stuff right on top of that
thing, it is right under there. Then, the guy's got to move all of that stuff. Then,
when it's all over and his boss is waiting on him, he says, where is it? But they
didn't participate in any of that hazing in our [camp]. They might have in others.
H: Were there certain jobs in the camp that were more favored than other jobs?
B: Yeah, there were some of the programs where they worked alternate days. They
worked longer days because it would take so long to do a job, to get to a job and
get much work done, that they would work long hours and then they would be off
for a day.
H: What kinds of jobs were those?
B: Particularly in the construction, in the bridges and the roads a long ways, twenty-
five miles or so, from the camp. Because by the time you got up, got out, and got
to the job site and got the equipment going, then it was time to start packing up to
come back. You know, it was that type of a thing. So, to get worthwhile work
done, they just worked on long hours. Same way in your kitchen work. That was
kind of favored because guys would accumulate time and have a long weekend.
And a couple, with some accumulated time, could be off a week. There was just
a few of those type things. Now, there was other things, like we'd have a barber
come out to cut hair. Sometimes, you'd stand in line and have thirty guys get a
haircut ahead of you. I've had as many as over thirty, wait for that many people.
Of course, you couldn't get the kind of haircut some of them do now. You'd be
there a week. But, that was just some of the things that had to be done. They'd
come out once a week and got our laundry and dry cleaning. They would do all
your laundry, all your dry cleaning, for a month for $1. That got one of your
dollars. When you got paid, you got your $5 at this window. At the next window, if
you got a canteen checkbook to have money, that was $3. Then, at the next
window, you'd pay for your laundry and dry cleaning, and then you got $1. You
actually got $1 for your month.
H: You mentioned earlier you felt that there were some people who were at the
camp who probably didn't deserve to be there, because they didn't need the
money quite like some other people did.
H: Was there ever tension between those two groups, between the people who
really shouldn't have been there and the people who really needed to be there?
B: No, there was never any dissension or anything like that. You could tell the
difference by the amenities that they had or having all they wanted of money to
spend. It was obvious, but, no, I never heard a disparaging word said about that,
whether they ought to be there or not. I think everybody was so happy with their
own situation that they just wasn't concerned. It wasn't depriving anybody else of
anything. Everybody knew it. I mean, it was kind of an accepted fact that the
person just didn't need it and had more money to spend. Well, there was some
that even had cars and motorcycles.
H: Were they allowed to have cars at the camp?
B: You could have your own vehicle, and you could buy gas for less tax, $0.10 a
gallon. That did bring on a problem, sometimes, because when they could buy
gas for $0.10 a gallon, they would go out to these vehicles, especially guys
running a gasoline-powered vehicle out in the woods like a tractor or something,
and just before quitting time he'd have that tractor filled up with gas. Then after
supper, he'd get in his car and go down there to that road, if he could get in
there, and then fill his car up.
H: From the tractor.
B: Just ways and means that people would find of doing things. Ingenious.
H: Talk about your officers at the camp.
B: When we had these Reserve officers, which was in the beginning, there was a
distinct difference because they stuck right to the regulations and everything had
to be done according to the military way that they'd been used to, I guess. That
group, they changed, like the commander of the camp. We went from a captain
in the Reserve to a Marine lieutenant. He was the head man of the camp. The
difference was with the Reserve officers, you had to go through whatever
regulations they had to see the commander, through the master sergeant and get
permission and all that. You go in and attend to your business, strictly on a
business deal. When they changed command and the Marines got in there, the
commander, you could go to his [office], knock on his door and come in. He
would offer you a cigarette and tell you to sit down and talk. There was that
distinct difference in the officer routine of the camp. We didn't suffer for it or
anything. It was just a difference. Gave you a little more relaxed feeling when you
went in to see somebody and you wasn't hung up with regulation.
H: Why do you think they were more relaxed?
B: I think that the Reserve officers were just true to their calling, I guess. That's what
they were supposed to do, and they did it. The Marines, they just felt more
relaxed in their position with the men. I guess you could say they were a little
better judge of human nature, the way I would look at it. You know, they were
wanting to be friendly with the men, see, and with the camp. That's the way you
get cooperation, people being friendly with them. That was my impression.
H: You mentioned earlier that you had a lot of people who were playing jokes and
practical pranks and that sort of thing in the camps. Did you ever have any real
troublemakers or any problems with people in the camps?
B: No, we didn't. We never had anybody that was a problem. We had some
characters that you might say that they were different one way and another, but
they wasn't picked on and they wasn't the bully type either. They were just
people that everybody just kind of let them do their own thing. There wasn't no
feeling of superiority or caste system at all because most everybody had come
from humble circumstances. They didn't have any reason to feel like they could
lord it over anybody.
H: Did you ever run into LEMs, licensed experienced men? That doesn't ring a bell?
How about gold bricks?
H: What did you do about the gold bricks?
B: Well, there was a lot of talk about it, but I don't know if anything ever was done
about it. A guy would just be known as a gold brick, but there wasn't no real
stigma to it, just took it and went on. You'd see more of something like that on a
construction job or in a school or something like that. This society that we were in
then, everybody felt maybe a little bit humble. They didn't have the feeling that
anybody was any better than anybody else. It just didn't feel like they were
qualified to criticize people. That's the way I would characterize it. Like I said,
most everybody that was involved in that would come from humble surroundings,
background, and they wasn't used to [criticizing].
H: Did you ever read the CCC newspaper?
B: Yeah, we had it. That was a good paper, brought news from everywhere. They
really covered the whole thing well.
H: Did you ever break any of the camp's rules?
B: Yeah, probably a lot of them. We were independent, I guess, and when you're
eighteen years old, breaking rules is just part of the game. You're not rebellious
exactly; you're just independent.
B: Yeah, and feel indestructible. I think that is more the feeling you get.
H: On a day-to-day basis, you involved yourself in marking the trees for the
turpentine owners and digging the ditches and fighting fires. Was there anything
else that you worked on besides that, any other day-to-day duties?
B: No. I worked in those different categories. I was pretty well satisfied, even when
we were clearing roads with dynamite. I learned a lot about powder, and I found
out one thing. We wore gloves when we handled those nitro explosives. I could
handle it all day long and not have a headache, but I could take my gloves off
and hold one stick in my hand and I'd have a headache. I never understood the
reaction or why it happened, but that's the way it was. We could breathe in the
fumes and this smoke and all, I don't think it bothered us, but the very handling of
them. We had some good leaders that was well-versed in handling the
explosives, and they kept us from doing some foolish things. We had some
incidents where things were outstanding. We had a big stump one time. It was an
enormous thing. Normally, we'd put three or four sticks of this explosive in to
blow a stump out. We'd put about twelve, fourteen sticks of this high-powered
nitro in there, and we used a magneto, which was a little box with a magnet in it.
You just push the lever down, and that spins the magnet and makes the current.
But it was 100 yards. Our cord was 100 yards long. That's 300 feet. One day, the
guy that was doing that, when he pushed the lever down, that stump blew. They
said later that, evidently, there was a big rock or something solid behind it.
Instead of [the stump] blowing up, splintering out, it was based against that big
rock and the [stump rolled] right down the line, right towards the guy that blew it.
He saw it coming. It was that far away, and that big. Not thinking, he run, and he
run the same way it was going. Everybody knew it was going to hit him, and he
fell down. His foot fell in a hole or something and he fell down, and that stump
rolled over him. That stump, the way I remember it, it was as big as [my] kitchen.
Must have been eight or ten feet and tumbling like that. When that boy
fell down, that thing went over him and kept going a ways, and he was 300 feet.
Well, he'd run a little bit, so it was over 300 feet when that thing went over him.
That was just one of them miraculous things that happened. We said he ought to
find out what he was supposed to be because the Lord done saved him for
something because there was no reason. If he had stayed on his feet, that thing
would've just crushed him because it was just rolling like that.
H: You were also talking about the people using the axes that really shouldn't have
been using them. Were there a lot of accidents like this at camp?
B: Oh yeah, in the thinning gang. I don't think it was altogether people, but I do
know that a lot of them guys, they'd never had an axe in their hands before. No
previous training. They were cutting little trees, and, of course, the guy that could
take one axe and chop a whole tree down, he was a smart-aleck. They had that
going on. Sometimes, they'd go ahead and maybe it would bounce off, and
sometimes, [if] the guy didn't chop his leg off, the axe flew out of his hand and hit
somebody else. It ricocheted off the tree. Sometimes, the same guy that was
chopping the tree chopped his own foot because he was standing with the wrong
position, and it didn't chop off. It bounced. Because they all weighed two pounds,
and a two-pound axe is pretty light with a guy swinging it. The average axe, I
think, that anybody uses is about six pounds. Two pounds, it can bounce,
especially on those small trees. If they hit it too straight, it would just kick back.
The idea was to cut it in a slashing motion and slash it off and move on to the
next one. A lot of times, you couldn't say it was anything but novice people that
didn't know, hadn't been used to doing it. Those that survived, I guess they
H: The hard way.
B: Yeah. I remember one time, it was at noontime, and we used electric caps, of
course, with that magneto. They come in boxes. They were about four inches
square and about ten or eleven inches long, and there were fifty electric caps in
each one. We were wanting to get off another charge before we left, this crew
that I was in, so we were late getting in at the meeting part where they brought
our lunch. We came in on our truck. We had those state bodied trucks. There
was three guys in the cab and the rest of us in the back of the state body. We
pulled up to where these guys were all sitting there, already eating. They were
eating out of their mess kits, sitting under the trees and had their meal. We drove
up and everybody got off the truck, and I picked up one of these boxes, cap
boxes, and I threw it right over to guy, catch this. Catch these caps. They all
knew those things are sensitive, and everybody fell back. They threw their dinner
away. It was thirty miles to get another dinner, and they'd thrown their's, all of
them. Then, I had to run. I didn't realize they were going to throw their dinner
away, but they were so sensitive about them. They knew these things. One thing
you do, you handle those caps gently and keep them away from everything else.
All they could visualize, that guy was going to drop that box and it was going to
explode because the caps themselves, they'll hurt you. We had another deal. We
got the truck stuck on a place, there wasn't a road there. A railroad went through
there, and we had thirty-two cases of dynamite on that truck. It was probably
miles to where there was a crossing, so he said, we can just go across. This
truck, it was a 1934 Chevrolet state bodied truck. He said, we can go right across
those rails there. He said, I can drive over them. But when he started over them,
universal run off in the truck, and we couldn't go no further. This was about
11:00 in the day, and there's a train usually come along there about 11:25 or
somewhere along there. We were frantic. We had thirty-two cases of dynamite
on that truck. We got it off, and here come the train. We got that dynamite off in
the bank, and that train hit that truck, that 1934 Chevrolet. I mean, it splattered it.
The guy couldn't stop. I don't know how fast he was going, but it was a sweeping
curve. He couldn't stop his train before he got to it. In fact, I don't think he even
tried. He kept taking it, get it off, you know. The final act was everybody had to
back off. We were trying to lift it off. There wasn't but, I think, about four of us
there, and we couldn't get it over those rails. That was another one of those near
things that could've been a disaster. If we hadn't gotten that dynamite off there, it
would've tore that train up. Thirty-four cases. Anyway, that was just another one
of those little things that happen when you're growing. Helps you grow, I think.
H: You talked earlier about you had a lot of leaders who were very good in helping
you take care of your jobs and stuff like that. Talk about that a little bit, the
leaders that you had.
B: You mean in the woods?
H: Yeah, on the crews.
B: Yeah, they had fishing rangers. Of course, there was Army officers. They were in
the camp. But in the field, we had...and they weren't local, either. The one
particularly that I admired a whole lot, he was from Canada, and his name was
Martinall. He was strictly a French Canadian, I reckon. Anyway, they were real
woodsmen, and they could keep you straight because you got to have some
knowhow to survive in the woods to keep your bearings and know where you're
going. Those people were strangers, more or less. A lot of those places we went
into, I don't know whether there had ever been a human in them or not before.
One day we were in a big swamp up near the Okefenokee Swamp, and they had
these huge trees. The cypress, you know, they grow sometimes twenty-five at
the bottom, and then they come up. These rangers, the way they would locate
themselves, they would find landmarks that was referenced into them from some
plan that originally was, they said, started in Washington, all the plans and
layouts. They had marks, and occasionally they would have us cut into big trees.
Way into the tree would be a mark that they knew. It was a reference mark, and it
was from the old original surveying. They had all that knowledge. Of course, we
were young, and we didn't know nothing about it, but they had all of that. They
were pretty well-qualified people and had all the references they needed to locate
themselves out there in that, more or less, wilderness.
H: Did you have enough of the leaders, or was there a shortage of them?
B: No, they had some local people that they hired in as, I don't know what they
called them if anything, but they had a classification that was above our, you
might say, privates, us on the bottom. They had a thirty-six dollar and a forty-five
dollar wage scale. These local people, and I'm sure now that they had them so
that they could tell them some things that wasn't in their books and ways and
places, could locate places. So, they fit into that category. But no, there was
never a shortage. As far as I could tell, they were pretty well manned, and pretty
well manned with efficient people.
H: You said that you were involved in not only building the African-American camp
some miles away, but as your camp started to become less primitive, you were
involved in building it. Is that correct?
B: No. They built it first. I, myself, wasn't involved in the carpentry. They probably
had enough people that had experience in carpentry or wanted to get into it. But
at that time when they were building that, I guess I was already into the tree
marking, and that was a long drawn-out thing. Before I left, it was a proposition to
work straight KP, work at it and be regular instead of appointing different ones, or
the guy that got in trouble where the officer or somebody put them on KP. That
was a punishment. But they organized it to where you had your time off. For
three months, I worked in that, but I knew I was going to get out. I didn't want to
come out with my hands out of dishwater because I knew I was going to have to
go to work. That's when I got into the bridge-building. A lot of the creeks, little
pond places where we built the roads in there, they wanted the creeks so they
built bridges so they wouldn't get rid of the water. That's the way I got into that
just before I got out of the service, so that I would be conditioned more for
working outside. I knew I wouldn't have no cooking job when I got home.
H: Talk a little more about exactly what experiences you went through when you had
to fight fires.
B: The idea was to get there and, of course, they'd start plowing the fire lanes and
our job at the time was to contain the fire. Then, we had to dig holes and bury the
animals. Outside of that, they had some pumps, some that you strap on your
back with a handle. You walk with it and use it, and then you have to go and refill
H: So, there was water in the pack?
B: Yeah, it was a tank. It was put on your back, like these backpacks that people
use, and this hose connected to it, and you pumped it. Then they had some more
on wheels, looked more like, reminded you of these floor jacks that you see in a
garage where they run it under a car and pump it up, a hydraulic jack, and jack
the car up. Only, when you did that...
H: The water came out.
B: And somebody manned the hose. In fact, some of the guys got in trouble
because they had them on the truck. Some guy was pumping it and there was
somebody walking along the road. Boy, he had it. You figure, some guy was
pumping that jack, and if you take about an inch and a quarter hose of water and
somebody walking along there thinking they were in a cloud somewhere. A truck
would come by and they'd get doused with a twenty-pound pressure water.
H: Got a good squirt.
B: That was part of the game, too.
H: You mentioned that a lot of people deserted the camp. Did you ever have
thoughts of doing that?
B: No, I didn't. We came home. There was a guy in our camp. He was from Plant
City, I believe, and he had a flatbed truck, no sides on it or anything. He got up a
notion to take people, come home a week or two and stay over the weekend. He
put some benches on there, just side. The best I remember, they looked kind of
like orange crates, and he could get about fifteen people on there. For $1.75 a
piece, we could come from Lake City to Tampa, stay over the weekend and then
go back. Of course, there was a lot of times some of them wouldn't go back.
They'd had enough of it, or maybe they got a job or something. And a lot of them
had never really been away from home before, and they just felt like they were
homesick, is about the only thing you could say. It'd affect different people. Some
people get homesick, but they don't do nothing about it, just suffer it out. It never
occurred. I was really going until I could get a job. That was the idea. Of course,
we were looking at limited time. It was a year. They said a year and that's it. So,
I'm just thinking I'll do a year, which I did. Well, it run into about thirteen months,
and I got out. I didn't have a job when I got out, but I got out anyway because I
had to. Otherwise, I'd of probably stayed on to at least awhile because I didn't
have no job to go to.
H: Did you like the uniform that you had to wear at camp?
B: Well, I didn't like the uniform when we had to dress in those Army ODs that was
wool. I've always been allergic to wool, anyhow. I hated it. Now, the others, the
work clothes and the shoes and all, they was good. I mean, better than we could
buy. There was nothing wrong with it, except the routine of having to put them on
and take them off and just be made to do that.
H: How was camp discipline administered by the leaders and the commanders?
How did that work?
B: They didn't have any major problems. I mean, I don't know of any. They didn't
have any discipline problems. I guess everybody was pretty much obedient. They
put out the rules, and we obeyed them. That's about the way it was.
H: KP was about as severe a punishment as it got?
B: Well, that wasn't altogether punishment. They had a leader in each group, each
barracks and all, why, they administered their own. They had their own likes and
dislikes and problems in that matter, but it wasn't a camp problem, as I
remember it. The commanders had to segregate some of the people in the mess
hall because of, well, they had the athletes. They got a certain diet. They got all
of this and all of that and milk and stuff that they wanted. Then, I remember one
time, trench mouth was kind of an epidemic, and then they had to segregate
those people. The people that had trench mouth had to eat in a certain section of
the mess hall.
H: What was trench mouth like?
B: It's something that's in the mouth, gets sores and running sores. You don't hear
anything about it now.
H: Did they know how people got it?
B: I don't know. I don't know how they diagnosed it or how they figured where it
come from, but I remember those guys having to eat. Out of a couple hundred, I
guess there wasn't over twenty, maybe not that many. There was two or three
dining tables that I remember that had this trench mouth disease. It was
common, I think, at that time, but you don't hear about it now.
H: When you say that the athletes got a different diet, this was in preparation for the
intercamp games that they would have?
B: Yeah, they got more milk and stuff. The rest of us, you got so much portioned out
and rationed, but they got what they wanted. Outside of that, I don't ever recall
any discipline, real problems that the camp had.
H: What about life in the barracks? How was life in the barracks?
B: We didn't have any problems. Each barracks had a leader. I guess it was
according to about the way he treated people and the way they treated him. They
all seemed to be pretty obedient. After we got our beds, real beds, and they were
hospital beds, about the biggest thing that happened, somebody would come in
the middle of the night, everybody asleep you know, and somebody would've
triggered his bed so when he got in it the whole thing collapsed on the floor.
There was pranks like that, but, no, there wasn't no problems. Now, once in
awhile, we'd come in, maybe from fighting fire, and we had guys that would wake
up. Maybe this would be 3:00 or 4:00, we done got through and we fixing to go to
bed, and the guy says, where am I? Get up man, it's time for breakfast. Time he
got up and stumbled around and got his clothes on, why, we was in the bed.
Pranks like that.
H: I know originally you were in tents, and then later you moved into actual
barracks. Did they have plumbing, electricity, that sort of thing?
B: No, we didn't have none at all.
H: It was just a big common area with these hospital beds?
B: Oh no, we got the beds when we got the barracks. Let's see, no, we had cots in
the barracks, but there come a time when the beds became available. Then,
each, I don't know how often, took, but finally everybody got beds. They were
iron beds. I guess they'd renewed them in some of the government hospitals
because they were those high beds, and metal.
H: Did they have religious services available at the camps?
B: No, they didn't have any at all.
H: What is your view on the fact that the Corps was segregated, apart from the
B: At that time, we didn't have any thought about it. It was just the natural state of
things. We didn't question why. It was just because they were segregated
everywhere else at that time. Of course, now, we think different to what we did
then, but it was a way of life. Who would want to change it? It just didn't occur to
us because we grew up that way. They did, too, the African-Americans. They
didn't know any different, either. Everybody was happy with the situation like it
was. We didn't have any reason to question it.
H: Did you ever have any particular problems with weather when you would go out
to work? Were your work duties ever affected by the weather?
B: Yeah, because the weather was a real factor in whether we worked or not, with
no shelter. If it was bad weather, you just didn't move. You didn't do anything. It
really wasn't a bother, it wasn't trouble, you just didn't do nothing.
H: Did you ever have to do anything with hurricane damage?
B: No, not during the course of my stay. I don't recall us having any bad weather at
all, other than just rain. Rain was the worst thing we ever had.
H: I'd like to ask you now about some wider questions about the CCC. Did you feel
that it was effective in what it set out to do?
B: Yeah, very much so. In fact, I think it was one of the outstanding
accomplishments of the government at that time with somebody that was looking
down the road, you know. I think it was a real accomplish, one of the greatest, as
a matter of fact, because I feel like it made the difference in the war effort that
followed the CCC. I have some visions of 2,000,000 people that was the shape
we was in when we went in the CCC. We wasn't even geared for the woods, and
we certainly wouldn't have been geared for combat duty with trained soldiers.
See, the war had been going on a long time. When the guys that went from here
over there, they had to combat people that were veterans. Not only being green
in combat and everything else, you had people that they were veterans, all them
that were still living. I think that was one of the real accomplishments of that
administration then, in our preparation for what was to come later.
H: What did you personally like about your experience in the camps?
B: I think one thing, it prepared me for facing a grownup world because I was just at
the point where I was fixing to get into the real world. I was better prepared for it
for being in the CCC, healthwise and mentally too. I was able to mingle and
associate with people that I never would have, I wouldn't have been able to
otherwise. I think it was a real education that would benefit any eighteen-year-
H: Was there anything that you disliked about your experience in the CCC?
B: No, I can't think of any negative thing about it.
H: Did you ever hear people criticizing the CCC, people who weren't necessarily a
member of the CCC? Sometimes, it was called a socialist program?
B: No, I didn't. I saw some clashes of the CCC and the military. See, the military
was building up in these camps, and in the social, like where a bunch of CCC
[men] would be in town, particularly a smaller town where it'd be outstanding, and
with the military, which was young eighteen-year-olds too. Now, there was some
clashes there, and that was mostly due to, I guess, personal or social, I don't
know what you'd call it, not prejudice or anything like that. It was just two different
groups of people that maybe they felt a little superior or maybe they felt they
were equal to the other one. I don't know, but that was building up though. See,
this was prior to the actual combat in the war. These things mingled, see, in
1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, along there. As the CCC was still in bloom, why, they
was building up the military. In fact, they were recruiting the CCC as fast as they
could, out of the CCC. Everybody got recruitment letters, you know, in the CCC,
the different branches from the service. I know I had some, even in the beginning
when I was in there, offering the benefits, touting the benefits of each one. I know
prior to that, if you could get in the service, if you was in the service, you went
where they sent you, but they were giving you choices, what part of the world or
what part of the service you wanted to be in. I don't think it amounted to anything
big. It was just about like the Army and the Navy and the Marines all coming
together in a town. A certain amount of feeling there between them.
H: Did your family notice any difference in you when you came back after your term
B: I don't reckon they did. They didn't make any big...they didn't say anything. I
guess everybody felt relaxed, you know, and glad that it happened and all like
that. Things were beginning to look a little different, especially when I got back
and got to work.
H: I would be interested in hearing why you feel the CCC is significant to American
B: Mainly, I would say it proved what could be done with proper planning and
supervision. It proved its worth. There had been a lot of theories and a lot of
movements and a lot of people, we ought to do this and we ought to do that.
Well, again I repeat, I give credit to our success in the war, in the Second World
War, to the profound effect that CCC movement had on the attitude of the people
and the fitness. People were able and fit for it. I have always felt that. I think it
proves itself, if you look at the statistics. It has been printed in the CCC
newspaper, the benefits that had been derived from it, healthwise. I have even
seen some figures on how many pounds of flesh was gained, millions, which I'm
a living proof of that too. I think it is obvious. In fact, we've often heard it said that
when we survey the crowd now and the society that we live in that it would be a
good thing again. That, I think, is proof that it was worthwhile.
H: Why did the CCC end on June 30, 1942? Why was it phased out?
B: I guess the war phased it out, the war itself, because in the first place they
needed all those people in the war. That was the place for them. They had been
in it long enough that probably most every camp had achieved their goal. I would
think so because I know in my instance, and we wasn't the only ones now, like I
said, the black camp and there was others that worked in that forest too,
probably, before it was over. Where they had no roads and bridges and fire
protection and forestation and replanting and all before, they were doing it. They
had accomplished their goal, and I think [so did] most all the rest of them. They
were just about at a point of being just a non-active bunch of people in a camp,
just maintaining what they had already done.
H: They had done what they had to do.
B: Yeah, that had accomplished. They had built all the roads, like in a forest. You
take a forest of 150,000 acres. In time, you've got all your roads and bridges in
there, and your trees are trimmed, your fire breaks [were made]. There just
comes a time when, then, all that's got to be maintained. Of course, that all
coincided with the war effort because the people that had done all that, all they
had to do was move over and go into the war effort. That's where the
government needed [them]. They not only needed the guys that had been
working out there. They needed those officers and their facilities. The Army
needed every facility they could get.
H: Is there anything that I didn't ask you about the CCC that I should have asked
H: That's kind of a wide-open question, isn't it?
B: Yeah, it's hard to go back through all of it. No, the only thing I would say, that
they ought to study it, the government planners. They wouldn't have to plan it on
that same scale or same deal, but they might benefit by recognizing the benefits
that come out of that one. Because the forests are still here, your government
parks, and they still need the same thing they did then.
H: Any particular memories that you'd like to share that you haven't touched on. Any
other pranks that you played, or have I run you pretty dry here?
B: Well, I don't know. I think we've pretty well covered my experience.
H: All right. With that said, this concludes the interview.