Sanders: Tales from the CCC
One of the Civilian Conservation Corps men I got to visit with several times, named Jack, told me he used to make wine and hide it in the rafters because they were not supposed to have booze. In his later years, I was privileged to try some of his recently made wines, which he made in his “man cave,” well before the term was popular. He consistently won prizes for his wines at the Central States Fair in Rapid City, S.D.
A fascinating fact is that so many of CCC workers became entrepreneurs. Many learned a trade that they continued through life, such as Stan, who worked as a stone layer on the steps at the Harney Peak fire lookout. He became a well-respected mason. Several men became contractors and owned their businesses. I’d venture to say they acquired good knowledge of how to be self-starters and how to plan jobs as a big part of their time in the CCC.
A CCC baker, Harold, who had been stationed at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, got a job in the Wayside Bakery in Hot Springs, S.D., after his CCC time was up. Some 70 years later we “met” through letters and he asked if the bakery building was still there. Sure, I said and took photos of it the next time I went to town. I’ll be darned but one week later the property owner tore it down. In one of those small-world stories, Harold and I met when a couple from my church gave him a copy of my book, “Wind Cave National Park: the First 100 Years.” It has extensive information on the CCC at the park, outside as well as inside the cave. The couple and the man had vacation houses near each other in Hawaii. As they got to chatting they realized that Hot Springs was a mutual place. Later when they gave him the book, he said, “I took the cover photo.”
All of that amazed me because I scanned the photo from a nearby neighbor of mine who also served at Wind Cave. That prompts another entrepreneur story. Few men had cameras and the ones who did, took photos and sold copies for a few cents. This was another way for them to bring in a little extra cash and that is how my neighbor came to have the copy. If you think of one thing that all CCC men (and GIs) often need, it is a haircut. Every camp had at least one CCC man who declared himself a barber and made his additional funds that way.
Camp pets or at least mascots added fun for the men. I have photos of a fawn, a woodchuck and a raccoon eating out of men’s hands. A Saint Bernard somehow ended up in one of the camps. He must have survived on kitchen scraps.
For those who served in the CCC or have family members who did, please drop me a note. My Internet latchstring is email@example.com or send a pony express letter via The Fence Post.❖
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So two weeks ago the president told us that the greatest threat to the United States is systemic racism. Last week he told the Europeans that the greatest threat to the U.S. is climate change.