Sunday, January 25, 2009

CCC Camp in the shadow of Monument Rock

Photos courtesy of Lucretia Vaile Museum/Palmer Lake Historical Society.

The new president didn’t waste any time. “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” went the inaugural address on March 4, 1933. Within the first legendary ‘hundred days,’ Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a cooperating Congress let loose flurry of legislation that included such bold strokes of the like of a ‘bankers holiday,’ weakening prohibition by permitting the brewing of 3.2 beer, and the creation of the ‘forest army.’
Before the end of the first month, in fact, the forest army materialized in the form of the law creating the Civilian Conservation Corps.
From 1933 until 1942, Company 2124 CCC Camp F-60-C, Monument, Colorado, operated in the shadow of Monument Rock. The ‘F’ in the designation stood for forestry and the ‘C’ for Colorado. Other camps in Colorado tackled such notable projects as building facilities at Red Rock Amphitheater in Morrison, road and dam construction, National Park facilities, early ski areas and much more.
“At the end of March the Civilian Conservation Corps Reforestation Relief Act became law,” notes David F. Burg in his 1996 book The Great Depression: An Eye Witness History. “In creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the act provided for one of the New Deal’s most popular and memorable programs.”
The CCC invited young men between the ages of 17 and 23, to work on projects and learn new skills. “The enrollees had to agree to allot the majority of their pay to their families. The usual enrollment was for a six month term while the maximum term of service was two years,” according to the Colorado State Archive. Standard wage was $30 per month but with $25 sent home to the family.
The program was designed to “Save the soil, save the forest, save the young men,” as the motto suggested.
“I think it saved the country,” says Farris “Red” Dozier, 88, who spent two years in the CCC in Oregon and Texas starting April 1, 1937. Dozier is retired from the Army, and St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver and now lives in the Old Soldier Home in the Northwest part of Washington, D.C. His daughter, Mary Meyer, lives in Palmer Lake.
“All these different kids learned how to do something, maybe drive a dump truck, or caterpillar, maintainer,” he said.
Dozier himself escaped desperate conditions in Texas. “I was leaving behind a chance to pick cotton, starve to death, and die early.”
“The U.S. CCC did an awful lot of good.” For him personally, he was able to improve his situation markedly. After a full two years in the program in which he even improved on the $5 per month disposable income provided by the CCC by becoming an officer’s orderly (bumping earnings by $6 per month), he returned home. “I got lucky and got a job washing dishes and then another as a chuck wagon cook for a construction company because of what I had learned in the CCC.”
Then along came WWII and he went in the Army, worked his way up the ranks becoming a mess sergeant and eventually switching with training to a laboratory technician. After the army, he continued on in the medical field.
Longtime Monument businessman Bob Kuhlmann, 90, who owned and operated Kuhlmann’s Cash Grocery from 1940 to 1964 but now lives in Albuquerque, N.M., recalled the young guys that visited his store from the Monument CCC camp during their time off, and said, “I think it did a lot of good.”
“They worked on the roads and out at the nursery, did a lot of work on Mt. Herman Road and Rampart Range Road, and I think on projects out in the Black Forest.”
He said the nursery itself also provided income in tough times to local men that worked there giving the example of Walter Schrader, the first superintendent of the government nursery.
Schrader, according to Lucile Lavelett’s book Through the Years at Monument, spaded up the first 50-foot square patch which became the first seed bed in 1907 and worked for 36 years as superintendent, retiring in 1943, shortly after the CCC camp was closed when war broke out. The nursery closed in 1965, and moved to Basalt, Colo., where there was more irrigation water.
“The CCC’s had a large camp at the nursery,” writes Lavelett. “It was established in 1933 and was a camp for young boys who, in the depression, had no work. They were paid for working at the nursery, also given schooling. Most of the boys came from Texas and Massachusetts. The camp was abandoned when WW II was declared.”
The nursery, she wrote, was established to reforest 15,000 acres of timberland left by a disastrous Mt. Herman forest fire in the 1880s. That reforestation was completed by 1926. The nursery shipped two million trees a year in its heyday, and 25 million seedlings would be growing at once. In 1938, the nursery required 60 men to operate.
After the war broke out, the site was apparently converted for conscientious objectors, according to blogger Michael I. Smith, who produces the blog Forest Army.
“My grandfather was working out of the Monument Camp when we entered the war. He wasn't at the camp in Monument, but at a side camp on Pike's Peak (working to establish a water supply for Glen Cove). I don't have any of his letters from after the Monument camp was converted for use as a camp for conscientious objectors - at least none of them mention C.O.s. He does mention in a letter from early 1942 that they have finally been allowed to have light bulbs again (a reference to the post December 7, blackout regulations, I would guess). The Monument camp was one of the last CCC camps to close in Colorado if not the last. Many of the last of his Forest Service letters talk of liquidating equipment and foremen scrambling for the few remaining jobs in the system. Family lore tells that he left the Forest Service shortly after the CCC was disbanded because he didn't think the conscientious objectors worked as hard as the CCC boys did.”

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