Papers Regarding CCC Camps in the Chippewa National Forest, collected by Stanley Johnson
Editor's Note: The following memoir is an excerpt of an original manuscript in MHS Collections. The original is a poor quality photo copy, and has been transcribed as accurately as possible.
National Industrial Recovery Act [NIRA] funds were made available on the Chippewa in the fall of 1933, and a number of camps employing local people were established.
A NIRA warehouse was set up at the Bena Ranger Station where the various camps came to get supplies, usually one night a week. Each camp was assigned a different night to come and load up with sides of beef and other meats, canned goods, and dry stuff such as cereals, flour, and beans. Eggs were purchased locally, as at Fleming's store in Bena.
In charge of issuing supplies was Benny, a civil service clerk from Chicago, who apparently had never been outside the city. He stayed in the CCC camp foremen's quarters with the rest of us. One evening Sword dropped a chance remark about a snipe hunt. To everyone's surprise Benny came over and said he had heard about them, but had never been on one, and would like the opportunity. We looked at each other and agreed it might be a good night for one, the way the sun was setting, and all.
So after dark we set Benny up at what we said looked like the best spot, on a trail west of the ranger station. We went over that way a couple of times afterwards and he was sitting patiently holding an open sack in back of a fire lantern. I do not recall what time he came in.
Sometime in October I was assigned as foreman to the Portage Lake Nira camp, located just north of where Portage Creek and the Portage Lake truck trail meet. It was a 40-man camp, built in the same manner as the old style lumber camps. The buildings were tar-paper shacks, heated with wood.
Charley Isensee, who had been on the Chippewa for a number of years, was construction foreman, in charge of road work. My job was timber stand improvement, mostly thinning the dense stand of young Norway pine in Section 1.
This stand averaged 21 feet in height, 3.7 inches DBH, and was about 21 years old. We thinned it to a 7 x 7 spacing, but do not recall the density of the original stand. There were a lot more trees removed that were left and at the time all slash had to be disposed of. This was the biggest job. Later on, CCC boys pruned the stand.
The cook, Frank Ratican from Grand Rapids, was the highest paid man in camp. He had operated a restaurant in the Rapids, but was also a lumber camp cook and meals were along this line. A new man coming into camp would eat ravenously for 2 or 3 days, then get filled up and eat normal meals the rest of the time. One young fellow ate half a pie every noon for the first 3 days he was there. There was no limit, serving dishes were always kept full by the cookee cruising between tables and the cook stood behind the serving counter to fill them as brought up. A typical breakfast would consist of bacon or ham with eggs, cooked cereal, fried potatoes, pancakes, dark and light cookies, dark and light cake, doughnuts and coffee. At noon and evening, in addition to the above pastries, there was pie, and always two kinds of [unclear] There was also lunch at 9 PM.
As in the lumber camps, the silence rule applied in the cookshack, and the cook ruled there. All the men were aware of this, as most were familiar with the camps. One noon a husky ex-sailor broke the rule, complaining to the cookee about the canned milk. A day or so later he did this again. The cook came from behind the serving counter, strode down to the offender and bawled him out. Then he took off his apron, threw it on the floor, said "If you're half a man you'll come outside with me," and went out the door. The sailor got up and followed him. I thought we would have to find a new cook as Frank had a big paunch, was older, and looked no match for the sailor. Everyone jammed in the doorway, so Charley and I ran thru the meathouse, out the back door, and around to the front. The strawboss, an ex-pug, was just pulling Frank off the sailor. Frank had put him down in the snow and pounded his face black and blue and split his lips. Frank followed us to the office and asked for his time. We told him to forget it and go back to the kitchen. Times were hard, so the sailor stayed in camp, but it took a long time for his face to heal. It was very quiet at meals after this.
Our favorite wood for night fires was green birch from the TSI operation. We had a big pile beside the fireway, ready for hauling. One morning it was gone. Charley and I traced it to Harmon's wood yard at the CCC camp. There was no one in his office so we left some derogatory notices posted around about people who steal wood. Harmon tried to catch us around Bena for a while after that, and they finally did surround us in Fleming's[?] store one Saturday. We got tossed in a blanket, one at a time, out in the street.
One day, during a freezing drizzle, one of the men and I were running out a forty line south of camp. Coming back to the road in late afternoon we had to climb over an ancient white pine log. He stepped on top of it and slipped on the ice-covered surface, one leg on each side of the log. He was hurt some, but seemed to walk out all right. That night it turned very cold, and early next morning someone woke me and said the fellow who had slipped on the log was from the south and complained bitterly about the cold. After examining the injured man he said there was a rupture which needed immediate attention. So Dedon, the truck driver, and I started for the hospital at Cass Lake with him. The young doctor there said he would not operate alone but that the regular doctor was due on the train at 9 AM. While waiting, I went back to the supervisor's office and got some accident forms. The train came without the doctor and the injured man insisted that he wanted no one to operate on him except a couple of specialists at Brainerd. So we started
for Brainerd in Dedon's Model A Ford. By the time we got to Pine River the injured man was swelling badly. We were told the intestine was going into the scrotum. We got him to the hospital OK and I filled out the accident forms while he was being prepared for surgery. When they wheeled him past my table in the hall they stopped and let him sign the forms. Dedon and I waited until after the operation which was successful.
We closed the camp in January, 1934, during a blinding snowstorm and drove[?] to Highbanks, up on Tamarack Point. In the 1950s I volunteered to guide a Border Patrolman down the Portage Lake road in search of a French Canadian. We stopped at the old campsite but the only evidence was a hole where the roothouse had caved in. We used to keep a lighted lantern on the floor during cold nights to keep frost from the vegetables. There had been a small Indian graveyard beside the road, north of the camp, but we searched hard before finding the remains of one of the little wooden houses which had been over the graves. There is possibly no trace today.
Peterson was a young NIRA clerk at Highbanks camp. About 1954 I found myself sitting next to him at a hotel lunch counter in Chicago. He said he had just arrived from New Orleans and asked me to take care of his baggage for a few days as he had to accompany a trainload of setbacks down to Mexico. We were both in the Immigration Service then and they were shipping out a trainload every two weeks from Chicago that year. I had heard that he was chairman of the board of special inquiry which had excluded Madame Lupescu at New Orleans. She was the companion of King Carol of Rumania. It was a long way from the tarpaper shacks at Highbanks to King Carol and his friends.
Highbanks NIRA camp closed March 1, 1934 and I think all those camps did about that same time.
After NIRA I returned to the Bena camp for three months. Then, about June 1, 1934 I was transferred to Bay Lake camp on Hiway 38, about 20 miles north of Grand Rapids. The Marcell area was now a purchase unit under Ranger Gerald Horton at Cutfoot Sioux. Sword was superintendent at Day Lake.
Plans were underway for a road building program in this new area and I started traversing old logging roads which might be rebuilt into forest truck trails. Two CCC boys assisted. They were Olson, a barber from Greenbush, and Anderson, a tinsmith from Minneapolis.
White Grubs were destroying forest plantations this year so it was decided that I make a grub survey of a large potential planting area on the east side of the Day Lake work area. The only way to get there was by way of township roads from the east and across Cutaway lake by boat. Sword could furnish no transportation but said I could get mileage for use of my car. So Olson, Anderson and I started on the survey. It consisted of digging holes in a systematic pattern across the area and sifting the dirt to get a count of the grubs per cubic foot. The June beetle is the adult form of the white grub. They fly at night during June, and I also got the job of checking this flight. A white sheet was stretched between two trees and a Coleman lantern set in front of it to attract the beetles. A beetle would hit the sheet with a smack, then fold its wings and drop to the ground, from where it was picked up, put in a bottle, and later mounted and classified. This flight check was done each night from 11 PM to midnight. One night they were hitting the sheet pretty well, but there seemed to be no beetles on the ground. But I found some small stones and realized that a couple of the foremen were hiding in the bushes with a slingshot.
Mack CCC camp was located on Hiway 6, three miles south of what is now Talmcon, Minn. At that time the crossroad point now called Talmcon was known as Hayslip's Corner and the post office was three miles south and called Mack. It was where a railroad grade crossed the highway. Lena was the postmistress and she also operated a lunch counter where the railroad crews used to eat. Puhakka had a general store next to the post office. The railroad was no longer in operation and the steel had been pulled. It had run from Deer River to Bigfork and a branch took off west from Alder, past Mack and up along Jessie Lake. The road had been part of the logging operation of the Joyce family, who owned most of the land in this part of Itasca county and were now selling it to the Forest Service. They still kept the depot in Deer River which was being used as their land office.
Around July Sword told me that I was to go to Mack camp which was then being operated as a side camp out of Day Lake with a 15-man crew under construction foreman Ed Hamel.
[Unclear] was called a drouth relief company from North Dakota was being [unclear] into Mack temporarily until a place could be found for it elsewhere or made ready. Hamel and I were to keep them at work.
It was hard to see how two of us could handle that many, but we were promised more help. This turned out to be Grover McGovern, [unclear] who had come from Washington, D.C. to take the job. Olson and Anderson were allowed to come with us, to run out lines and act as strawbosses.
When the company arrived, it was over strength, at 250 men.
We had no trucks and no tools. Sword let us have 100 mattocks and some shovels, axes, and saws from his stock at Day Lake. A deal was made with the township or county to do some work on their roads in exchange for the use of an old flatbed truck to haul tools. A Dakota farm boy said he could keep the truck operating.
The Forest Service owned the 80 on which the camp stood so we started to scalp it and Hamel and McGovern started on road work. Everyday we walked further to work and it became a problem to find scalping areas within walking distance. We started to pull the ties from the railroad grade between Mack and Alder with the idea of making a truck trail out of it (eventually this was done). It became a contest between those pulling the ties and the crew piling and burning them so that job didn't last long. At Alder the depot with the sign on it was still standing. In his history of logging railroads Ryan calls this Jessie lake junction but people around there called it Alder junction.
I do not recall how long the drouth relief company was at Mack, perhaps most of July or more. On the morning they left, the captain suddenly decided to take the flagpole along, as it was the tallest he had seen. A big crew dug it up in a hurry and they found a trailer to haul it to the railroad at Deer River. We figured two flat cars would be necessary to haul it on the railroad.
A side camp was again established at Mack. A large crew was sent over from Day Lake to help plant Jack Pine in the scalped area around camp. Rabbits ate them off every night. The planting assistant from Cass Lake came one day and had all the planters lined up to drive rabbits across the plantation. He placed three guns in the line and 105 rabbits were killed in a short while. It did no good as there were just as many around the next day. Every planted pine was eaten off, but the rabbits disappeared the following spring (1935) and each tree produced a side soot which developed into a new leader. There was 97% survival three years later and a good stand there today.
A new company then moved into Mack and additional foremen hired. The superintendent was Donald (Soup) Campbell. This would have been about September, 1934.
[Unclear] ranger station was being built at Marcell and one day Paul St. Amant came into camp as the new ranger. He told me that I was to be the assistant ranger and wondered about using this camp office as the station until the log building was finished. I can not recall that the camp office was so used, but in October Glen Beaubien, the ranger's clerk, and I were staying at Mack and driving to work at Marcell. Ike Bockenoogen was in charge of putting up the log buildings at Marcell.
St. Amant told me that my first job was to set up a property accounting system for the district. There were three camps: Stokes, Day Lake and Mack, and they all had lots of equipment.
Sword took over as ranger from St. Amant sometime during the winter of 1934-35, and Conrad Carlson took over from Sword. Carlson was still there in 1937 when I left.
Building forest truck trails on the east side of the Marcell district was perhaps the main project of the Day Lake and Stokes camps in the middle thirties. Jack Westman was the principal foreman on this job at Day Lake. To make the most use of machinery, it was run on a double shift. The first crew started at daybreak and quit around noon. The second crew started at noon and worked until dark, but one summer Jack Westman stayed on the job for both shifts. There was no overtime.
A rock crusher was sent to the district in connection with the road work. The state had on file the location of a suitable deposit for processing by a crusher. This was in a steep hill several hundred feet east of Hiway 38, somewhere south of Caribou Lake, alongside an old logging railroad grade. The camp superintendent at Stokes, Pop Lane, was an engineer and we went to look at the spot. He drew plans for setting up the crusher on the sidehill and Jack Westman supervised the installation, and later, the operation. A drag line pulled the material downhill onto the "grizzly" which took rocks up to 9 inches. All larger stone were rolled down the hill. A trench 9 feet wide and 7 inches deep was scraped out of the track trails and filled with the mixture of sand and crushed rock. Also, pure crushed rock was furnished for construction work elsewhere on the forest. An order for rock would specify the size aggregate required and the screen on the crusher changed to comply. A repair shop for dump trucks was built on the site, also. There is no trace of the operation today, nor of the old railroad trestle across the deep meadow, but there should be a pile of large stones below the hill. The road into the crusher has been extended toward the east in recent years.
The snowshoe hare was reaching the peak of its cycle during the summer of 1934-1935, according to the wildlife specialists. In an effort to protect the plantations, most camps had one or more small crews snaring and shooting rabbits on the planted areas. They were furnished picture cord wire, .22 rifles (singleshot), shells, and packsacks. The packsacks were for bringing in the rabbits. These crews were called "rabbit chokers." An arrangement had been made with some relief organization in Minneapolis which wanted the rabbits and said they would pick them up. It as easy to get 25 or more rabbits but difficult to pack that many into camp, so that practice was soon abandoned. Before this happened, though, a huge pile of rabbits was built up beside the Mack camp office. This was the collection point for rabbits from several camps and they were usually brought in dump trucks. No one came to get the rabbits and the pile was getting old, so it was finally disposed of to a mink ranch.
Lake Surveys were an important project at Marcell because of the large number of lakes on the district. A traverse was first made of the lake shore and tied in to a quarter or section corner, and a scale map made. When the ice was thick enough in the fall to bear their weight, and before it became too thick, the crews went to work. First, a survey crew ran parallel lines across the lake, gridironing it. Right behind came an axeman, chopping large chunks of ice out at predetermined intervals on the line, according to the size of the lake. Two chains was a distance often used. Behind the axeman came an auger or chisel to complete the hole through the ice. Then came the measuring line with an Ekman or Peterson dredge on the end. This was dropped to the bottom and the depth called out to the foreman who was carrying the map and marked the depth for that spot. The jaws of the dredge closed and brought up a sample of the soil on the lake bottom. The legend for that type was marked opposite the depth for that hole. In the office, points of equal depth were connected, thus making a contour map of the lake bottom. In like manner, similar soil types were connected, making a soil type map of the bottom.
Surveyor John Gjelhaug set benchmarks at many of the lakes from which the rise and fall of the lake levels could be determined, and thus the volume of water at any given level.
In August a plant type map of the lake bottom was made, out to a 6-foot depth. At this time of year most of the plants were in "bloom" and the shallow depths were principal fish feeding grounds.
[Unclear] in August, temperatures and water samples were taken at various [unclear]. These samples were sent to St. Paul for analysis. I believe oxygen and chemical content was determined and a plankton count made. At least one technician from the Chippewa was detailed to St. Paul to assist the state process the lake survey information coming in.
Sample lakes of each type, such as panfish (bass, sunfish, crappie), were selected, for fishing take census. Lakes with limited access [unclear] referred, so that it would be [unclear] to conduct each person fishing. Big Ole, or a lake close to it, was one used at Marcell. CCC boys manned a station from daylight to dark, all during the season, and contacted all those fishing. Sample fish from each catch were weighed and measured and 7 to 9 scales taken just behind the gills. Also recorded was the age and sex of each person, time of day, hours fished, weather conditions, and tackle used. Some women would not give ages and this had to be guessed at. From all this was determined the average size of each species at a given age, pounds of fish caught per man-hour, etc. I believe these varied according to the plankton count, and basically to the fertility or soil type of the lake bottom. I do not recall whether men or women caught the most pounds per hour.
Some stream survey work was also done. I recall taking temperatures in the stream between Farm Camp and its source in Cameron Lake during one August. A trout hatchery was proposed at Farm Camp because of this plan, but it never developed. Farm Camp had been a way station on a tote road between Grand Rapids and Bigfork in the early days and there is a picture of it in those days, and the story, in the history of Itasca county. The book used to be available at the courthouse. The ruins of an old meathouse over the spring stood there when I first saw it. The CCC's and WPA built a new springhouse and a rock retaining wall above it. This wall was built during winter, under canvas, and the space was heated. The wall is 12 feet wide at the base. Jack Westman found an ox shoe in the bank when excavating. A dam had been made here for logging purposes and a large pool developed below the dam as a result. It is still there, and in June the sandbar below the pool and spring was always covered with redhorse suckers which seek clear, pure water.
A bass rearing pond was started along the stream flowing south out of LaCroix lake, north of Hayslip's Corner. Before the earthen dam was started, the project was ordered stopped. We heard that it was considered too expensive. There was much local sentiment in favor of the pond.
The first deer census on the Marcell district was made in the area east of Hiway 6 between Hayslip's Corner and the railroad grade at Mack. I believe it was the fall of 1934. Two camps participated in surrounding the area and driving the deer. There was much confusion. Later there were two census areas; one east of Marcell and one near Jessie Lake tower. One drive was in the morning and the other in the afternoon. After 1934 a census was taken on each district every year.
By 1940 when I was at Rabideau the project had become organized to operate smoothly, and without a hitch. The census area, roughly about one square mile usually had one side on a road and the other three sides were brushed out very wide. All interior forty lines were brushed out. Stations for counters were set up and marked around these sides. They were located so that a counter could clearly see the next buck or fawn. Each counter looked only in one direction and counted only the deer crossing the line between him and the next counter in that direction.
The fourth side was where the drivers lined up. From this side, in addition to the brushed-out forty lines, there were lines marked in the direction of the drive every five chains by means of paint on trees so that drivers on these lines could follow them the full length of the area. These were called the "keymen" and their names marked on stakes at the start of each line so there was no doubt where they would line up. Each was furnished with a map of the drive and a list of those on each side of him so he could keep track of them. There would be 5 or 6 on each side, as the whole camp took part. It was up to him to keep them lined up during the drive. After being laid out, the census area was left undisturbed for two weeks.
Sometime, on the evening before a drive, a mass meeting was held and the whole procedure explained and questions answered so there would be no misunderstanding. In the morning a list of 20 names for each stake truck had been prepared and a leader read off these names and saw that they got on the truck, 10 on a side, in that exact order. He knew where to stop the truck and saw that they got off in that same order and continue single file in the same order along the drive line. The man on the center forty line gave the signal to start when he made sure everyone was in place. Then noise was made. There was a pause at each forty line across the drive to straighten the line of men. As the drive progressed the counters joined the line, making it tighter. Each had had a slip and pencil stub to record any deer cutting back through the line on his left only. It did not take more than an hour to make the actual drive.
Highest count on the forest was said to be on the area east of Marcell where there were always 24 to 25 per square mile. Lowest was in the jack pine near Jessie Lake tower with a count of around 12. Average on the forest was 17, I always heard.
An important point was that no noise or talking took place while surrounding the census area. It was done quickly and silently.
Sometimes a poacher, hunting before season, was caught up in the drive. We were not involved in game warden duties so accepted whatever excuse he gave for being in the woods with a gun and passed [unclear] a joke.
It may have been in the spring of 1934 or 1935 that the government started shipping cattle out of the drouth-stricken Dakotas to keep them from starving. One trainload was unloaded east of Rand Rapids to graze in the meadows and on wild peavine in the young popple stands north of there. When it was attempted to round them up it was found that they had become wild as deer. The CCC was enlisted to help but to no avail. These wild cattle spread through the east side of the Marcell district and towards fall it was no secret that local settlers were hunting them like deer. One evening two steers crossed the road ahead of me near Day Lake camp. When I mentioned it in camp, Jack Westman and two others grabbed their deer rifles and took off, but returned empty-handed. Bernie Mathison, towerman at Jessie Lake, once told me that he got two of them that winter.
Clubhouse Lake. We had heard of a tract of virgin timber around this lake so one Sunday in early spring Ed Hamel and I started from Mack camp to find it. We were able to drive within about 3 miles of it and walked the balance along an old trail. From the south shore we could see a building on the north end. The ice was still safe so we went south. The porch was rotten but I walked on the stringers to the center. Balls and cues were on the table as if a game had just ended. Numbered doors, as in a hotel, were along the back wall. A large picture of a baseball team, in old-style uniforms, hung on the back wall. There was an adjoining building, evidently the kitchen and dining hall, which appeared to be still in use. Back at Marcell, we were told that this had been a hunting camp belonging to the Chicago Black Sox baseball club, and to which they came after the baseball season closed. The lake was named after this old building. This baseball club was disbanded after a world series scandal about 1919. One of its famous players was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who I believe was an outfielder and involved in the scandal. Later, the Forest Service acquired this tract over objections to Congress by Harold Bliss, a former neighbor of mine at Excelsior and with whom Lou Harmon and E.W. Backus had dealings early in 1933, just before the start of the CCC program. Some of Bliss's letters were on file at Marcell. He was attempting to secure this tract, but the owners preferred to sell to the Forest Service. Lou Harmon was sent up from Bena to cruise the tract about 1935, before the purchase was concluded.
CCC boys from Day Lake logged the dead and dying trees from this stand during the 1930s. Jack Westman was the foreman. A barn was built and a team rented for skidding. The timber was sawed into lumber on the tract. Local CCC boys familiar with horses acted as teamsters and stayed at the mill nights to care for the animals.
The CCC's later made a road to the lake and Day Lake boys built a public campground there. Dave Gibney was the foreman. We used to call him "Spaniel" because of his brown, curly hair and I hear that he became a forest supervisor near Seattle.
Training School for Forest Service personnel in the CCC program was started at Three Lakes, Wisconsin in the summer of 1935. It was held at an abandoned CCC camp on the Nicollet Forest. I attended in July or August with "Doc" Steirly from Cass Lake. The class was composed mostly of assistant rangers from Region 9. I think that this school was later moved to more permanent quarters in Eagle River, Wisc.
Later, a training course called "Administration of Conservation Agencies" was sponsored by the Forest Service at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was held in Rackham Hall in the graduate school and college credits were given. I attended in 1940, along with people from all agencies using CCC labor in the north central states.Rabideau Camp F-50 1937-1940
In the fall of 1937 I was transferred to the Blackduck district as camp superintendent at Rabideau. Cold weather was coming on and I immediately became involved with the wood supply for heating and cooking.
The Army was charged with mandays used in wood procurement but the Forest Service was responsible for the operation. Usually it was possible to find enough dead wood close to a camp to keep it supplied with dry fuel. At Rabideau, however, the only dry wood in any quantity was ten miles away and it was obvious this would not last the winter. Then, what about the following winter?
Green wood cut and then seasoned would make fuel superior to the dead wood then being hauled and this seemed to be the only solution to getting dry wood for the next year. But that would mean a double operation the first winter – securing dead wood for immediate use and processing green wood to be burned the following winter. The mandays or overhead for army wood procurement would not look good on monthly reports. It was not easy to convince Cass Lake that we could not go on indefinitely finding dead wood in sufficient quantity to fuel the camp. Apparently other camps on the forest could. Approval was finally granted with the assurance by us that mandays for wood procurement would be at a minimum the following years.
Some maple was available and roughly it produced twice the heat that a similar volume of popple would. But we soon found that 3 cords of popple could be obtained and processed for one cord of maple. There was a much shorter haul and it was easier to split and handle. So we cut a lot of it.
By spring there was a huge haystack-type pile of split wood for the kitchen stoves in the woodyard, in addition to wood for all the barrel stoves. Cooks were usually hard to please as to fuel, but Captain Free said they were happy with this and that it was the best they had ever had. Unbelievably, they used about 15 cords a month in the kitchen so nearly as I could figure from the rate it disappeared. Maybe they burned some of the small wood in the barrel stoves there. Late in the summer, when the center of the haystack pile was reached, it was found that the wood 6 feet in from the surface did not dry properly due to lack of air, and had become a bit "sour." There after, all wood was piled in long, narrow piles. It not only dried better, but this practice made the woodyard safer from a fire protection standpoint. The wood problem was over.
Safety became a principal concern in the camps as the CCC program progressed. Personnel first became safety conscious on the Chippewa through the efforts of a traveling inspector from the regional office named Dimmick. He was often called "Per Diem Jowls" Dimmick. Monthly reports were scanned for mandays lost due to accidents. A safety committee was set up in each camp and held regular meetings. They investigated each lost time accident and recommended a way to prevent it in the future, it was then up to the superintendent to carry out his plan as soon as possible. Many were the ways devised to prevent an accident becoming lost time or to cut down the days lost appearing in the report.
Road construction on the east side of the district was a big project at Rabideau. A gravel pit was kept open during winter and surfacing done then. It was thawed with brush fired and covered with hay or straw at night. There was a rash of truck accidents in the fall of 1937 and finally any driver having an accident was "busted" regardless. This seemed to stop it, as everyone wanted to be a driver and did not want to lose his job. A program was started wherein the foremen recommended dependable workers as prospective drivers. If so, they were enrolled in a drivers' training school held at night both in the classroom and in the repair shop. New drivers were picked only from graduates of this class. They were issued CCC drivers certificates and the state accepted these in lieu of state drivers licenses. Most of the accidents were with dump trucks in the road construction work. During one period there were 40 trucks in camp, 29 of them being dump trucks, 8 stake trucks, 2 pickups, and 1 fire truck with pumper. There was also a gas shovel for loading trucks, an auto patrol for grading, a Neil dig and carry, an Allis Chalmers 75 tractor, 2 T-40 tractors, a large snowplow and an FWD which could be used either for grading or snowplowing or hauling large loads of gravel. I figured at one time that we were maintaining 70 miles of road, although some of it may not have been on the Forest Service system. For instance, we maintained the Hines spur and I think this was a township road. We also maintained 24 miles of telephone line, counting the lines to the towers.
Bill Gaines was the camp mechanic in 1937 at Rabideau. He was a CCC enrollee, an LEM, 70 years of age, and earning $45 per month as a leader for the Forest Service. There was some trouble with engines freezing and blocks cracking during winter. Boys responsible were charged with the cost and $5 per month deducted from their pay until paid for. We tried to keep the cost minimal and in cases where the break could be bolted together Bill saved the cost altogether by sealing the crack with waterglass from the hardware store. I had seen eggs stored for winter on the farm by putting them in waterglass in large crocks, thus sealing the pores in the shell, but had never heard of it being applied to engines. The work with the gravel fleet and cold weather was becoming too much for him. One winter night he had one of his recurring attacks and I took him to the hospital in Bemidji about 2 AM. The last we heard he was in the army hospital at Fort Snelling and was happy and well satisfied there.
After 1937 it was necessary to build a toolhouse at Rabideau. Tools had been kept in a room on the north side of the garage. One end of the toolhouse was divided off for a parts room for the trucks and tractors. The trucks were mostly old and of various makes, so that it was necessary to keep quite a supply of parts on hand to keep them running. A boy named Roberts was put in charge of ordering and issuing parts. He worked as mechanic's helper mornings and in the parts room afternoons or as needed. At first, all dump trucks were kept outside at camp and it was a problem starting them in cold weather. Then a garage was built at the gravel pit, 7 miles east, with a repair shop in one end, and the dump trucks were stored there. They were loaded with a gas shovel and one of the boys became an expert operator.
The planting program in the spring of 1938 was a disaster at Rabideau. It was impressed upon us then that transportation is the key factor in planting with large crews. Because of road conditions it was not possible to get crews to the planting sites without spending a lot of time pulling trucks out of mudholes. One crew had to be taken from planting for several days to corduroy low spots in township roads. Sand fill sank out of sight. Drivers had to be able to get through with hot noon meals and loads of trees. There were no access roads to most of the plowed areas so that after a boy had planted his box of 50 trees he had to walk long distances for another box. Then we found that not enough ground had been prepared the year before to take care of our allotment of trees from the nursery. So furrowing crews had to be taken off planting and put on ground preparation. Little headway could be made on this since the ground was not dry enough and tractors kept dropping into sinkholes. These holes could not be detected even by having a man walk in front of the tractor. The terrain all looked the same and felt firm enough by a person walking on it. These soft spots always disappeared by June 1, when furrowing usually began. The pine planting boxes holding each planter's trees kept breaking and new ones had to be made. It just was not possible to keep planters on the job.
That summer the furrowing plows were run double shift, from daylight to dark, to make sure enough ground was prepared for the next year. Plenty of access roads were made, although there was grumbling from Cass Lake that it was too much. Basswood was logged and hauled to the mill at Hines to be cut into ½ inch boards that were light and tough and would not break when made into planting boxes. Long wooden spools were made and the wire planting box handles run through the spools to make wooden handles that were easy on a planter's hands. At least 2½ boxes per planter were made – one for the field, one for the packing[?] shed, and ½ for the breakage or whatever.
One of the largest tracts to be planted by Rabideau was the area around Skimmerhorn Lake. After logging, it had burned over quite cleanly and I heard that the last burn before the CCC's came was in 1931. Loading had been done by railroad, with long cables from a winch on the train used to skid the logs to the flat cars. Foreman Joe Karls had been logging cedar around the lake when the railroad was there and remembered a large cable abandoned near the round house. We found the remains of the roundhouse and then the cable which we pulled loose with a tractor and cut into short lengths for use as "chokers" to [unclear].
We made a road into the area from the south, along a sand ridge west of Skimmerhorn Lake. It was of the fireway type, just for planting purposes, and the north end joined a township road leading to the road between Blackduck and Alvwood.
Landscaping the new Blackduck ranger station was done partly during winter months. About three acres had been acquired between the railroad and highway west of town. This was all graded with the camp's road machinery so that the front sloped gradually toward the highway. The site was left bare of any cover, and the station buildings erected there.
Holes to receive trees were dug on the station grounds in the fall, before the ground froze. Spots where the various trees and shrubs were to be planted were marked with stakes set by a landscape man from the regional office. We searched the whole ranger district to find enough leatherwood to complete the landscape plans for this shrub. During winter, trees were selected in the woods for transplanting to the station grounds. Then trenches were dug around them. The digging was easy since undisturbed ground in the woods does not freeze much under its cover of duff, litter, and snow. These trees were cut loose underneath with a chain. Bolts were fastened through some of the links in the chain, a tractor hooked to each end of the chain, and then both tractors moved back and forth, sawing off the ball of dirt underneath. The bolts acted as teeth, doing the cutting. The trees were left overnight in the woods, so that the ball froze, and then were moved to the ranger station on sledges built for that purpose at camp.
A winter carnival was held in Bemidji during the late thirties. Nearby CCC camps furnished labor to help the town prepare for the carnival and also participated in the parade. I think most of the work on the ice palace was by the CCC.
Rabideau camp prepared a float for the parade on the flat bed of a trailer used to haul machinery. The main feature of the float was a large, black duck built of wire and papier-mache in the shelter of the big garage. Joe Karls was the foreman. Someone from the Dayton store in Minneapolis was intrigued by this duck and had it shipped to Minneapolis and exhibited for a while in one of their show windows on Nicollet Ave. Either the same duck or an exact replica is still on display beside the road when entering Blackduck from the south.
In 1937 the Forest Service office was together with the Army office. There was no space for the foremen to make their evening work reports, for map work, or for files. So we moved a small building from the abandoned Big Lake CCC camp by building[?] runners under it and pulling it with a tractor when snow was on the ground. It was placed alongside the area where morning work call was held and not far from the foremen's quarters. An extension was put on the east end, part of which was made into a map room with drawing board and slanting desk. A counter with file drawers was built, as well as individual desks for the foremen. This building still stands.
The interior of the foremen's quarters was in poor condition and the furnishings were mostly made in camp. Captain Free, the commanding officer, arranged a meeting with the major in charge of the area so I could ask for some improvements. The major said that if we wanted any improvements we should provide for them ourselves, the same way that the army officers did. I pointed out that the army officers received a quarters allowance with which to do this and that they paid no rent, whereas the foremen had paid more rent than it cost to put up the building in the first place. Rent was deducted from the monthly checks made out by the War Dept. in Chicago. I do not think the major knew this, but he would not change his decision.
Captain Free promised to do something and somehow obtained some funds for maintenance which were used toward paying for sawing and processing some cedar which we logged and hauled to the mill at Hines. This was used to panel the foremen's quarters. Then the Forest Service provided new furnishings for the living room, so things became more comfortable.
At daybreak one summer morning in 1938 or 1939 a windstorm hit the Rabideau area and took out the telephone line. A crew went out from camp to repair it, but it was still not in operation at noon when a messenger arrived from Cass Lake and said that the storm had taken down much of the virgin timber in the ten sections east of Cass Lake and trapped many tourists at Norway Beach. Rabideau was to send a crew the next day to cut into Norway Beach from the north, while Pike Bay camp would open the road from the south. Joe Karls and 20 boys started to open the northern access the next morning by sawing seven-foot lengths out of the large pine lying across the road. It was possible to proceed quite a distance by stepping from one downed tree to another without setting foot on the ground. The tourists had been supplied by boat while waiting for the road to be opened. It was the second day before the crew reached the campground. There were no chain saws then and all cutting had to be done with 2-man crosscuts. One tourist had been killed and most of the cars in the campground were smashed.
One winter afternoon, probably in 1939, Forest Supervisor Knutson inspected the gravel pit garage seven miles east of Rabideau camp. He paid particular attention to fire safety precautions and found [unclear]. That evening we were eating supper at a Blackduck restaurant when someone reported a glow in the sky towards the gravel pit. We went there and found the garage burned to the ground. The two night guards had saved the two new Diamond T dump trucks but that was all. There were probably only 12 or 15 trucks in the fire as Rabideau no longer had the large dump truck fleet of a year or so earlier. Most of the trucks burned were five years old and would have been disposed of soon. The big loss was the FWD parked outside, along the building. There were also two tractors inside, but except for the gas tanks and some paint, were not damaged too much. A logger had run out of gas near the garage and the night guards used some windshield wiper hose from the repair shop to siphon some gas from a truck for him to get home with. The fumes reached a lighted lantern on the floor and ignited. The guards just about had the fire out with sand and the extinguisher, when the logger threw some water on it and this spread the flames all over. In the subsequent auction of damaged equipment contractors bid surprisingly high for the dump trucks to get the hoists and also for the two tractors. The guards had orders to take only electric lanterns or flashlights into the garage, but that day the toolhouse ran out of spare batteries so they checked out a fire lantern instead.
Communications. The CCC's built a copper wire telephone line from Cass Lake to Marcell via Bena and Cutfoot Sioux. This was only for communication between the supervisor's office and the ranger stations. In addition, each district built its own system of ordinary wire connecting the ranger station with the camps and towers. There was a switch in the ranger's office with which the copper line could be connected with the district system when requested. Most of the lines on the Marcell district were built under the supervision of Ralph Johnson, a CCC enrollee at Stokes camp and who was also a graduate engineer. Many of the poles were cut by the Bena camp in a swamp south of there, then hauled to other districts.
Field telephone sets were usually carried in the pickups with rods to reach up and hook over the wires along the road so one could call in from anywhere along the line. Ground rods were often carried also so that one could hook on to the local single-wire systems which were common in many townships.
John Gjelhaug was a civil engineer stationed at Rabideau, but who was often called to other districts on special jobs. He was a radio "ham" and taught night classes in this and the Morse code at camp. He also had operated a photograph shop in Baudette, his home town. He began experimenting with 2-way radio and made a set we could use to talk with the ranger station from fires. It was necessary to string an aerial between trees and use a car battery for power. Finally he built a set into the glove compartment of a pickup. During the war the Navy hired him as a radio man, first in Washington, D.C. and later at San Diego, where he was the last I heard, although he must have been over 70. Lightening once struck his tall aerial at Rabideau and followed the wire into his room, taking out part of the window sash and doing other damage. Luckily, he was absent at the time, but there was much speculation[?] by the army as to the safety of this installation, as [unclear] all over the room.
In November, 1940, with war approaching, everyone within the required age brackets was registered for the draft right in camp, both foremen and enrollees.
Stokes camp and Mack camp on the Marcell district had both been torn down as the Forest Service had lost camps to the Soil Conservation Service or other agencies. In the spring of 1941 the Day Lake boys planted jack pine where the buildings of the old Mack camp had stood and now there is no trace of it.
When the armed forces started taking the older boys, the minimum age for CCC enrollees was lowered to 17 years. This younger age group did not seem to fit in well with the work program as we had known it.
One could sense the end of the CCC coming closer and there was the question as to whether the Forest Service would have employment for all the foresters when the program ended.
So one day I transferred to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Due to an error in bookkeeping I was paid by both the Forest Service and Immigration for my first day with Immigration and a couple of months later was asked to repay one Service or the other. I repaid Immigration so my first day with them was financed by the Forest Service.
During the war I visited the old Bena CCC camp which was being used to house German prisoners of war. Irv Moore, who had been a forester at Day Lake camp when I left there, was now at the Bena camp as an army sergeant, guarding the prisoners. Jack Westman, the old construction foreman from Day Lake, was now at Bena as the camp maintenance man. Mel Mettler, a CCC enrollee who started as a clerk in the Bena ranger station in 1933 and remained there, was now a logging contractor employing the German prisoners in his old camp.
The CCC had now become a memory.