The start of the CCC |

The start of the CCC

2022 June portrait, WYO Writers

Ninety years ago, the CCC was established. Any state or federal park that existed before 1933 was likely touched by the Civilian Conservation Corps which was established under law on March 31, 1933. That in itself was a miracle because Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been inaugurated as U.S. President on March 4, 1933. Can you imagine something like that happening now with a Congress that will not get its act together to do anything but agree on when to recess? In actuality it was the Emergency Conservation Work program, but had been referred to as the Civilian Conservation Corps since the idea was put forth by the FDR administration. In 1937 the name was officially changed to the Civilian Conservation Corps (the “s” is silent, just like in Marine Corps).

In 1933, the nation’s unemployment rate was at 25%, but beyond statistics were the facts: individuals were starving. The country needed jobs. There was opportunity to put men to work and improve the forests, parks and lead on erosion control. Enrollees were paid $30 per month and were sometimes called the “dollar-a-day boys.” They were required to send $25 home and could keep $5 each month. A movie matinee cost 10 cents and an evening show’s price was a whopping 15 cents. Costs for amenities were in line with these prices so a guy could take a gal to a movie and hamburger for under $1. According to an online inflation calendar the 1933 dollar would equal $18.84 in 2017 money. In other words $18.84 would be the pay rate per day (not per hour) in today’s money. Amazing isn’t it that unskilled workers are currently advocating for a minimum of $15 per hour?

Most of the enrollees were indeed unskilled, but they learned as they worked. Since my book, “The Civilian Conservation Corps In and Around the Black Hills,” came out in 2004 I have visited with over 500 men who served in the CCCs. In person, via email and letters and over the phone, it has been a great pleasure to talk with them and learn from them. Of all of the men I’ve talked with, only two had negative things to say about the food — and they were in the same camp. One kept a diary in which he recorded the poor quality of meals caused the men to go on strike. It was quite surprising to learn this. Most CCC men were thrilled with both the quality and the quantity of food. They had come from homes where portions were meager and in the camps they had all they wanted to eat. Between the facts that the men were achieving maturity, were building muscle in their daily work and the availability of food, it was common for a man to gain about 15 pounds in his first tour of six months; many individuals served more than one hitch. Cooks and bakers, with more on-the-job training, were ready to be hired into the food preparation world when they got out. The CCCs saved lives, taught skills, and created a lasting legacy.

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