The Story of My C.C.C. Days
It was a cold windy day in April 1934 when I was signed up at the County Seat Steele, N.Dak.for the Civilian Conservation Corps. I was one of nine children who had graduated from Hi-School a year earlier. And it seemed like the right thing to do.
The drouth had been with us for several years; crops would blow away and people would replant but to no avail. The winds just kept blowing and the sand would pile up like snow drifts at fence lines and around buildings. We were getting some emergency food at the county seat.
I took a bus to Bismarck, N.D. and was picked up by a G.I. truck and taken to Ft.Lincoln, a Cavelry Post to be housed and feed till I was assigned to a CCC Company which turned out to be Co. 795 located at New England, N.D. Sixty five miles south of Dickenson, N.D. The company had just returned from California 21 April 1934 and needed bodies to bring the strenght of the Company up to par which was two hundred enrollees.
We received all our shots and clothing at Ft. Lincoln and were loaded in G.I. trucks and taken to our new home Co. 795 at New England, N.D. We arrived in the afternoon and were taken to a plot of land at the out skirt of the city with stacks of tents, beds, and sibley stoves. We were organized into squads of six and told to put up a tent and get our bunks into the tent and the stove set up. Then we were told to go to the supply house and pick up a matress tick and go fill it with straw then get our blankets. and Finally we were told to go to supper or Chow by the Camp Bugler; we did every thing by the bugle. I suppose you are wondering where we got the straw from. Q Well there just happen to be a freshly threshed wheat field so the straw stack was there for our use.
The next morning after breakfast we were given our job assignments. Mine was to be as second cook on the morning shift. Others were assigned to building a small dam to hold back all the rain or snow water that would accrue. While working as second cook I got pneumonia and was sent back to Ft. Lincoln for treatment. While there I did get well and was assigned to Co. K Cavlery Kitchen staff to learn military cooking and food management. When I finally got back to camp they were looking for a tractor driver and since I came from the farm they put me on the tractor to pull a fresno scrapper which we moved dirt up to the dam.
A couple weeks later they needed a small crew of five enrollees to go to Dickenson to work on the Heart River Dam. We were housed at the Fair Ground east of the city. When we finished that job we joined a larger group of twenty five enrollees and placed in a Spike Camp at the Hettinger Air Port. We were still living in tents. Here we were building small Dams on dry streams i.e. a tributary of the Grand River with the hope that summer rains and spring snow thaws would soon fill them to overflowing. From this conservative town we would travel to Lemmon S.D. for dances and fun. To get there we would often steal ride on the fast flyer train on the Soo line. The best place to ride is behind the coal tender in the blind which is one half of the connecting booth between two regular coaches. It was a cold and dirty ride, cinders were flying all over the place.
While working in the Hettinger Area with the pile driving crew and accident happened that could of been the end of me. There is what is called the pit. It is the place under the pile driving frame work where the guide man is located. My job was to use a long crew bar which I would stick in the ground and press against the pile to hold it in the groove of the pile next to it. On top of the frame work was a five hundred pound cast iron driver which would be pulled up in the air by fifteen enrollee by a heavy rope, as it hit the top twenty feet up an automatic release would allow it to come thundering down between its guides and strike the pile driver cap and in turn drive the pile into the ground approximately six to ten inches depending on the dryness of the ground. This one time as it came down the pile shattered and the driver came down in the pit. It struck the crow bar I was holding and wrenched it out of my hands with such force that my arms fell to my sides and were numb - I could not move them. The foreman, McBride, took me over to a truck set me in the cab and there I sat until we got back to camp in the evening. We had no doctor or emergency equipment so I was put to bed someone feed me my supper and after a good night sleep my arms were back to normal, so back to the pit I went no one else would take the job. Had that happened today 911 would have been called and I would have been put in some trauma center. Soon it was October and our work was completed at Hettinger and the Dam the main camp was constructing at Mott on the Cannon Ball River was completed so we were able to leave North Dakota for Little Rock Arkansas and our winter camp.
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