By Clair T. Rollings, Educational Adviser
Company 708 of the Civilian Conservation Corps was organized in the summer of 1933, during the depth of the great economic depression. Families were without jobs, many without income of any type. There was no welfare system such as developed in later years and family after family was absolutely destitute. To provide some income for destitute families, and to give young men 17 to 21 years of age some useful work and training, the CCC was authorized by Congress.
If you drive about .3 of a mile west of Winnie Dam in the Chippewa National Forest and search among the young jack and red pine about 150 yds. south of the road you will find the base of an old fireplace protruding above the sandy soil. This marks the location of the old log recreation and education building and the site of the original Co. 708 CCC. It was here, among the tall red and jack pines during the summer of 1933, that the first Co. 708 Enrollees pitched their tents and began the task of clearing the site and putting up the split log buildings which would be their home for the next 2½ years.
The picturesque, split log buildings standing among the tall pines consisted of Army headquarters and supply building, recreation-education hall, mess hall-bakery, hospital, Forest Service office, garage-storage shop, quarters for the Forestry Supt. and Commanding Officer, five barracks and two, twelve hole outdoor privies.
The U.S. Army was in charge of housing, feeding, clothing, medical care and general supervision of CCC Enrollees. The camp education-recreation program was supervised by a civilian Educational Adviser under the Army and the Forest Service was in charge of Enrollees while they worked in the Forest.
Army personnel wore regular Army uniforms with full ensignia, foresters wore green Forest Service uniforms and Enrollees were provided regular Army Class A, G.I. uniforms for dress (without ensignia) and Army fatigues, without ensignia, for work. The Educational Adviser wore civilian clothes until late in the CCC program when he was required to wear a dark green uniform resembling that of the Forest Service.
Camp supervisory personnel consisted of a Commanding Officer and assistant CO, first Sergeant, supply Sergeant, canteen Sergeant, barracks Leaders, a Doctor, hospital Orderly, Educational Adviser and assistant EA, Forestry Superintendent, an auto Mechanic and five or six Local Experienced Men who helped supervise skilled work Lt. Wiese was the first Commanding Officer in camp 708 and Lt. Boruski was assistant CO. Yours truly, Clair T. Rollings, was the first Educational Adviser and John Vukmonish was part time assistant. Dr. McNaughton was camp Doctor. "Doc" Carlson was first Superintendent and Foresters included Messrs. Bruce Centerwall, Happy Forder, Ken Fluelling, John Spencer, and Larry Smith. John Barrington was first Sergeant and Mike Varanish and John Vukmonish were supply and canteen Sergeants. "Greek" Poeping was hospital Orderly. Mr. Boggs was auto Mechanic. Ted Fairbanks and Ed Caskey were Local Experienced Men. There were three or four other LEMs whose names have escaped me.
The LEMs lived in nearby homes outside the camp. The Commanding Officer and assistant and the camp Supt. lived in quarters built for them within the camp area. Some of the Foresters bunked in the Forest Service office building. Most of the Foresters, the camp Doctor and the Educational Adviser lived across the road from camp in log cabins of the Northland and Pines resorts. These one-room log cabins were built for summer tourist use and were so drafty on cold winter nights that a candle would flicker wildly in the center of the room. The barrel stoves heated a small circle in the cabins but water would freeze in the water pail at night when the fire in the wood burning stoves died down.
The first 200 Enrollees in Co. 708 came largely from the Iron Range with a few from the Twin Cities and other villages and farms throughout Minnesota. None was from out of State. They were hungry, broke, some were poorly clothed, some had dropped out of school and a few had gotten into mischief, largely because they had no gainful work to do. Some of the younger Enrollees were away from home for the first time and some were homesick when they arrived in camp. But practically every Enrollee was willing and anxious to work, to accept and respect leadership and above all they were happy for the opportunity to improve their own financial status and to help their families back home. Many Enrollees sent a fair share of their modest pay of $30 per month home to their families.
During the summer and autumn of 1933, while Enrollees lived in tents, sawmills were set up for sawing the split logs for more permanent camp buildings. The split log buildings were put up rapidly and great mounds of firewood were sawed by large, one cylinder gas engines. This fuel would feed the 55 gal. barrel stoves and keep the camp buildings cozy when outside temperatures dropped way below zero. It was getting chilly in the tents in late fall 1933 when Enrollees moved into their cozy, cellotex lined, log barracks and fired up the barrel stoves. Keeping the two barrel stoves in each barracks fed occupied two full time Enrollee firemen. Once per hour, day and night, the fireman made his rounds feeding the fires with fast burning pine wood and carefully adjusting stovepipe dampers. Sleeping Enrollees always accused night firemen of purposely banging the cast iron stove doors as loud as possible during the wee small hours after midnight. Threats of throwing a big GI shoe at the firemen were often heard. As he made his hourly trips about camp the fireman doubled as watchman, checking locked doors to supply rooms and stopping to check the steady purr of the Kohler light plant which supplied electrical energy to the entire camp.
Enrollees were awakened in their barracks bunks by the raucus call of the barracks Leader at 6:00 A.M. There was just time for a quick wash-up and bed making before the chief Cook blew his whistle for breakfast. Then bedlam broke lose as 200 Enrollees raced out of their barracks for the mess hall. The "chow line" formed outside, a second whistle was heard and Enrollees rushed in to find a favorite seat on the heavy wood tables with attached bench seats. Each table accommodated 8 or 10. Enrollees found plates turned face down as they sat down quietly; no talking, laughing or whistling until all were seated. During these few moments of silence the Commanding Officer, camp Doctor, Educational Adviser or other staff member made necessary announcements concerning trips to town, camp classes etc. Then again the chief Cook blew his whistle and there was a mighty clatter of plates being turned over and a steady chatter as assistant Cooks brought huge kettles of steaming food from the kitchen and placed them on each table. The food disappeared like magic and within five minutes some of the real "show hounds" were headed out of the mess hall.
The Commanding Officer, camp Doctor, Educational Adviser, Foresters and other technical staff members ate in the officers mess; a small room partitioned off at one end of the mess hall.
The chief Cook had three or four assistants or Cookees as they were sometimes called. They assisted with the preparation of the food, serving the tables, dish washing and general clean up of the kitchen and mess hall. In the early days of the camps an Enrollee baker was kept busy baking cakes, cookies and even home made bread.
All camp Cooks, Bakers and all assistants working in the mess hall wore white uniforms and kept themselves emaculately clean. The camp Doctor inspected fingernails, hands, hair and uniforms regularly. KP or kitchen policing was done mostly by assistant cooks but one or two KP jobs were always available for Enrollees who got "out of line" or caused trouble. Those who became particularly unruly were "sentenced" to a day or more cleaning the latrine or the grease trap along the sewer line from the kitchen.
As the first winter in camp wore on word was passed around that a young fellow fresh out of the University of Minnesota would soon arrive in camp and become the first Educational Adviser. It was rumored that he was a rather tough guy who had won a championship in boxing at the U and would rule the education-recreation program with an iron fist. Plans were made by Enrollees and Staff to test the mettle of this young "feller".
Lt. Boruski, who had been in charge of the recreational program until the Educational Adviser arrived, had new ropes installed in the recreation hall boxing ring and he gave special coaching to a few Enrollee "toughies". The Foresters "primed up" a few more beligerant Enrollees. So the stage was all set to "take" this new Educational Adviser.
Then the new Educational Adviser arrived and I shall never forget that day – March 15, 1934. It was a bright morning in late winter. I kissed my bride good-bye at the door of our log cabin in Northland Lodge and headed through the deep snow across the road to Co. 708 CCC for the first time. There the camp stood, a cluster of low, log buildings, half buried in the snow and scattered among tall red pines. Pine wood smoke curled up from scores of steel stovepipes protruding through the building roofs.
I strode into headquarters building and introduced myself to the Commanding Officer and his staff. The assistant CO, Lt. Boruski, was most happy to escort me around camp and give me the low down on how the camp was run. He was particularly pleased to explain he was turning the responsibility for the camp recreational program over to me. As we arrived in the camp recreation hall he pointed with pride to the boxing ring on which he had spent a considerable amount of the meager camp recreation fund. I detected a twinkle in his eye as he suggested a good way for me to get acquainted with Enrollees and camp staff would be for me to put on a boxing exhibition that first evening in camp. He was most willing to arrange my opponents and he thought this would be a most fitting way to initiate the new boxing ring. Eager to get acquainted and anxious to get started on a new camp recreation-education program, I innocently accepted.
That evening as I crawled through the ring ropes, clad in my freshly laundered robe and trunks from the U, I was literally amazed to see the entire camp staff – Commanding Officer, camp Doctor, camp Superintendent, Foresters and all the rest, parked on ringside benches. In addition the entire hall was packed to the rafters with rosy cheeked Enrollees eagerly awaiting the slaughter of the new Educational Adviser.
I insisted on the camp Doctor as referee to be sure he was close at hand if things got rough. After a brief introductory state to the effect I only wished to get acquainted and put on a modest boxing exhibition and not a knock down, drag out fight, my first light weight opponent danced into the ring. This was fine, a flurry of easily blocked punches which I countered with jabs, hooks and crosses from which the sting was purposely "pulled", got across the boxing exhibition in great style.
Then came a welter and a middleweight, matching my own size. I could feel these were heavier punches but with my training and experience at the U these were also blocked successfully and my counter punches were still well "pulled" to avoid any real damage to my opponents. But the rounds were adding up to 7 or 8 when the middleweight took off the gloves and slipped out of the ring.
As my next opponent, a burly light heavyweight, crawled through the ropes it suddenly dawned on me as I glanced at the grinning faces of the Foresters at the ringside; they had laid a trap for me. Now, somewhat winded after 7 or 8 rounds, the big tough guys were coming in for the kill. The lightheavy was inexperienced but packed a wicked punch. I survived 2 rough rounds and managed to land a few well timed hooks and crosses to command respect and keep my opponent off balance.
Then the "roof fell in". As I sat in my corner of the ring catching my breath I saw one of the biggest and meanist looking young pugs I had ever seen in trunks crawl through the ropes and stare at me from the opposite corner of the ring. Here was the "killer" and I knew it. The camp Doctor clanged the bell and the brawl was on. This 190 pounder had received some training and he was experienced in "street fighting". No longer did I dance about blocking punches and countering lightly "just to show how it was done". I literally fought for my life, putting real zing into my punches to slow down this human hurricane. The last round of this showdown match was coming up and I took a partially blocked haymaker on my neck and shoulder which spun me half around. But that haymaker exposed the midsection of my burly opponent. I put everything I had into a right hook to that unguarded midsection, he doubled up and went to one knee; not out but unable to get his breath or straighten up. The bout was over and the new Educational Adviser had won the respect of 200 Enrollees and the camp Staff. Like Lt. Boruski said, it was a good way to get acquainted.
The first camp Educational Advisers were assigned to CCC camps without preconceived plans for the educational and recreational programs and with very limited funds with which to purchase supplies and equipment. The new Educational Advisers were to start from scratch, getting help from volunteer staff personnel and using such facilities as were available in camp.
The objective of the CC educational program was twofold: to give Enrollees training and practical experience on jobs in which they were engaged while in camp and to fill in gaps in their education which they missed in elementary and high school back home. To send Enrollees home after a couple of years in camp better equipped to get and hold a rewarding job was the main purpose of our training program.
At first we had to determine which of the basic courses the Enrollees needed and wanted most. To find the volunteer instructors and at least the basic facilities needed to teach these courses was the next problem. There was no fund for paying instructors and very little money for supplies and teaching equipment.
As a qualified high school instructor I was able to teach such basic and practical courses as English, Math. Public Speaking et. al. My assistant, O. Anderson taught Spelling, Typing etc. Foresters taught some on-the-job training courses in which Enrollees got both classroom instruction and field experience. One Forester specialist taught Ornithology or bird study. The camp Doctor taught Personal Hygiene and First Aid. One of the Foresters' wives, Mrs. Bruce Centerwall, a music instructor, helped develop a good Enrollee band. The clarinet player, Arvid Olson had played a year with the good St. Olaf College band. Pretzel on the trumpet and Pearson on the piano also had a year or more of music training under Mrs. Centerwall the Co. 708 band became quite good and was in demand for local events.
A quiet reading room-classroom-music room, with a large native stone fireplace, was provided in one end of the recreation hall. The faint smell of burning pine wood and the crackle of the open fire provided an excellent background for evening classes, discussions or band practice.
In the main part of the "rec" hall pool and ping pong tables were kept busy while boxing or wrestling matches entertained cheering Enrollees about the ring.
When the cheering and the chatter were not too loud Pearson the piano player could usually be heard tinkling the ivory keys. He was an excellent piano player and he always attracted Enrollees who wished to sing along or just sit and listen.
For those Enrollees wishing to part with a few sheckles for soft drinks or candy bars a company canteen was opened in the "rec" hall during evenings and other leisure hours.
An Enrollee barber cut hair in one corner of the "rec" hall for two bits, or 25¢ each.
During the warm months of summer baseball ranked high in the recreational program. Despite the fact that we had a few tall red pines in the outfield which often got in the way of long fly balls and it was difficult to maintain the diamond, and particularly the pitcher's mound in the soft sand at Winnie, we did put a strong team in the field and we won our share of games with other CCC camps and civilian teams.
We also had a strong boxing team. The middleweight and the heavy weight who gave the new Education Adviser such a good workout his first evening in camp became good boxers and often polished off their opponents in the early rounds.
We had the potential for a really good basketball team at Winnie. Several tall, experienced and well coached Enrollees from high schools on the Iron Range were on our CO. 708 team. Our team did win several tournaments in our CCC district but the difficulty of getting to a gym for practice kept the team from reaching its full potential.
Those recreational trips to Deer River or to the local Y resort were unforgetable events; particularly those Sat. night specials. Practically every Enrollee in camp but the night watchmen piled into those canvas covered Army and Forest Service trucks, line on either side, and sometimes down the middle, with long wooden benches. The trucks roared out of camp down these washboardy, dusty, gravel roads. All but the lead truck were literally obliterated in dust.
The dust did not dampen the ardor of Enrollees bent on "doing the town". As the dusty trucks jerked to a stop on a quiet street in Deer River nearly 200 Enrollees, dressed in newly pressed class A Army uniforms, exploded from the trucks and scattered like ants to their favorite pool hall, café, dance hall or illegal slot machine. The Educational Adviser, or other officer in charge had already warned the Enrollees not to embibe too heavy and to get back to the truck at the designated hour or be left in town. Trucks left for camp at midnight but it took all the ingenuity and perserverance the officer in charge, the first Sergeant, five barracks Leaders and the town cop could muster to get all those Enrollees back in the trucks.
Those Saturday nights at the local Y resort were something else. Here Enrollees from three or four camps gathered to compete for the attention of the local girls at the dance. Enrollees from one or two nearby camps were from Kansas. They were the "foreigners" who had to be kept away from the nicest looking girls at all costs. As one Saturday night wore on fights became more frequent and more violent than usual and eventually developed into a real old fashioned lumberjack brawl. Officers in charge were pushed to the limit to stop fights and keep order. Big Clem from Co. 708 was half dragged outside the hall and attacked by four or five Enrollees from Kansas. Two or three of the attackers spent the next day or two in their camp hospital. Big Clem was a young giant about six feet five inches tall and liked nothing better than a good fight.
Then there was Tony Vaultman, a small Enrollee from the Iron Range. Tony was a natural woodsman. He became chief Rabbit Checker for Co. 708. Rabbits had become so abundant they were causing heavy damage to newly planted tree seedlings. Tony and three or four other Enrollees set strings of snares and successfully reduced the rabbit population. Tony was an expert shot with a .22 rifle. For fast shooting, where rabbits were particularly abundant, Tony would hold a row of .22 long rifle bullets in his teeth and work them through a single shot rifle as fast as many could do with a repeater. Tony dearly loved the great out-of-doors, especially in spring or "green up time" as he called it.
The entire camp was surprised in late December, 1935 to hear Co. 708 would move and Winnie would probably be abandoned. The transfer would be to camp Rabideau at Blackduck. The weather was bitter cold; coldest on record to date. Enrollees and some staff members would find comfortable quarters within Rabideau camp but the Educational Adviser and several other staff members would have to find quarters outside the new camp area. Some decided to live in nearby resort cabins or in town but I decided I would try a new idea. I would have a trailer house built and live in it within walking distance of Rabideau camp.
The temperature continued to fall and reached lows of –38 to –44 during the week of our move. I vividly recall one trip during the week of our move when the truck in which I was riding slid into the snow covered creek at the south edge of Blackduck. The truck lay on its side and I was on the bottom of a pile of three riding in the truck cab. Foul smelling sewer water from the creek rushed into the cab and I was a real mess as I finally crawled out of the cab into the freezing air. Surprisingly, forty Enrollees pulling in unison on a rope, pulled the truck back onto the road after two trucks with spinning wheels had failed to do the job.
The final day of the move arrived. It was on or about January 3, 1936. It was a bitter cold day; the temperature stood at about –25 at noon. It would sink to –40 or –45 after nightfall. The Army truck was to bring my household goods from camp Winnie while I towed my newly finished non insulated, plywood house trailer from Cass Lake to Rabideau camp. Late in the afternoon I arrived with the trailer at a spot I had previously shoveled in the snow under the large spruce trees on the southwest corner of Karl Lake. The Army truck arrived just before sundown with my household goods – everything but the heating stove which they had forgotten.
The good wife and I started our little two burner gasoline camp stove and plugged unclosed trap doors in the trailer floor as best we could. We put on all the clothes we had and jumped into our trailer bed piled high with every coat and blanket we possessed. By daylight the next morning our thermometer read –42 outside our trailer and only slightly higher inside. Needless to say my first move that morning was a quick trip into Blackduck to purchase a heating stove.
Despite the extremely cold temperature, which reached a low of –55 one morning in mid January at the Blackduck Ranger Station, our first impression of camp Rabideau was favorable. The forest green, white trimmed camp buildings, standing in deep snow among sparkling white birch trees made a pretty picture. I still vividly recall those daily hikes down that snowy trail, flanked on either side by white birch, which led from my trailer to the camp school house. This trail passed the camp wood pile. The wood crew was busily buzzing wood with the big, one cylinder gas engine buzz saw as I passed one cold morning. When I asked how the saw was running that day, one of the crewmen answered "just like a scared Swede". The snowshoe hare, blackcapped chickadees and Canada Jays I saw daily as I passed along this trail became old friends. I often left tidbits of food to make them ever more friendly and easier to observe.
We found the buildings at Rabideau to be in good condition. I was delighted to find we had a separate barracks type building for our camp school house. We needed this new found space for a camp library, workshop and new classes we had recently added to our schedule. With some new funds Capt. Jim Free, our Commanding Officer at Rabideau, had found for us, we soon had our workshop, complete with turning lathe, power saw and other basic tools. Interested Enrollees could spent an entire evening, undisturbed in the shop. "Greek", or Ed Poeping was one of the most expert on the lathe. He turned out lamps and other articles worthy of display in a gift shop. In fact "Greek" did open up his own gift shop after leaving camp.
The school library was soon completed and by mid 1936 camp 708 had built up a respectable collection of books and other study materials. Always displayed in our library were several copies of Happy Days, a commercial print newspaper covering CCC activities throughout the nation. All camps received this newspaper. In addition, Co. 708 put out its own Pine Knots. This was a monthly, mimeographed publication. Pine Knots was the only camp paper in the country with a block printed cover, in full color. The center section of the cover was changed with each issue to fit the season. It was a lot of work but the pride and satisfaction gained in getting out Pine Knots was well worth the effort.
By late 1936 we had added a good 16mm sound projector to our visual aids. This projector was used several evenings per week in the camp classrooms and for special shows in the "rec" hall.
To complete the remodeling of our camp Rabideau school house we partitioned off class rooms so Enrollees could enter or leave any room without disturbing those in another class. The addition of some blackboards, desks and class room chairs gave us a comfortable and efficient camp school. The slate walk, made from old pool table slates, dressed the front approach to the school. The final touch was an archway over the front walk, built in the school shop, on which climbing and flowering vines grew.
Generally the Rabideau camp buildings were similar to those built in all camps a few years after the program got under way. In the center of the camp area was the latrine-laundry with showers and hot and cold running water. It was always interesting to watch Enrollees do their laundry. Clothes were generally washed on Saturday morning in preparation for the Saturday night trip to Blackduck. With a washboard and strong laundry soap Enrollees washed their clothes with vigor. Then came the rinsing or "wrenching" as some called it. However, it was in the wringing that real ingenuity developed. Some folded bigger pieces of wet clothes and beat the water out of them over the side of the laundry tub. Others gave their wet clothes the mighty twist with muscles bulging in either arm. A few worked in pairs with one Enrollee on either end twisting in opposite directions. This was the "super twist". The marvel was that those G.I. clothes were not torn asunder with each wash.
There were occasions when it took real ingenuity to get the clothes dry in time for the big Saturday night trip to Blackduck. If the clothes were washed as scheduled, early Saturday morning, there was ample time to dry the clothes on the line outside the barracks. However, some always procrastinated and got their wash done late. These late comers often tried to sneak their wet clothes into the barracks and hang them over the barrel stoves. Enrollees on bunks near the stoves made some real caustic remarks about those wet, smelly socks.
The Commanding Officer, Capt. Jim Free, the assistant C.O., and Doctor Ehrenreich, lived in officers quarters near the southeast corner of the camp area. Ray Mattson and other Foresters lived in Forestry quarters in the south central part of the area. Headquarters building in the southeast corner of the camp provided office space for Army personnel and the Forestry Supt. The supply room was in the rear of headquarters building.
During a brief period of disagreement between "Soup" Campbell, Supt. and Jim Free, C.O., when they were on very limited speaking terms, they wrote letters to each other rather than step through the door in the office partition and discuss their business. The eight feet which separated their desks was probably the shortest distance official CCC mail ever traveled. When "Knobby" Knoblaugh took over as Forestry Supt. The big fued was settled and "Knobby" became known as the "peacemaker".
Doc Ehrenreich, or Doc "Splittenrich" as he was affectionately known, ruled the camp hospital in the south-central part of the camp area, just east of the Forestry quarters. Doc "Splittenrich" spoke with a high-pitched, gravelly voice. I shall never forget Doc's lengthy lectures on personal hygiene and V.D. to 200 Enrollees seated in the shade on the hillside under the white birch near the camp hospital. Doc's voice carried only a few feet and Enrollees beyond the front row could only guess what Doc was saying; but they remained respectfully quiet and enjoyed the serenity and beauty of this outdoor setting in camp Rabideau.
Doc was also an avid, but strictly novice fisherman. During his frequent fishing trips on Benjamin Lake he always insisted on his orderly rowing the boat. What a picture to see Doc out on Benjamin Lake, perched high on the rear seat of the boat, casting wildly in all directions, while the orderly ducked the fish-hock and pulled desperately on the oars trying to keep the boat from tipping or wandering.
The mess hall and bakery on the north-central edge of the camp area overlooked Karl Lake. On the mess hall walls were large, 10 x 15 foot murals, showing beautiful outdoor scenes, painted by an Enrollee artist. He first painted a small mural in the officers mess which so pleased Capt. Free that he gave the Enrollee a job painting all of the cellotex walls on the inside of the mess hall.
The "rec" hall was located just west of the mess hall, overlooking Karl Lake, near the northwest corner of the camp area. It contained a canteen barbershop, papers and magazines. Mr. Montgomery began taking the magazines home and Capt. Free gave him the bum's rush out of camp. For this Montgomery took pot shots at Capt. Free's car as it passed on the road to Blackduck. Later, after camp Rabideau closed, Montgomery shot a neighbor right between the eyes and was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.
The garage and repair shop were located in the extreme southwest corner of the camp area, about 100 yards away from the other buildings. The only building fire I remember during my five and a half years in camp wiped out the garage with the loss of several trucks, tools and other supplies.
Five or six barracks were arranged in a rough circle in the center of the camp area. Care had been taken to preserve as many of the young white birch as possible when the barracks and other camp buildings were built. In the more open areas of camp native grasses covered the ground while in the more dense shade wild ferns, violets and other native flowers and shrubs were found. In summer the dark green buildings blended nicely with the deep shade and contrasted beautifully with the sparkling white paper birch.
The camp well and pump house were located about 150 feet east of the officers quarters in the southeast corner of the camp. I recall Capt. Free giving "Screwy" Gireau, the night watchman, hail columbia when he thought "Screwy" had forgotten to check the oil on the pump engine and it had burned out a bearing. "Screwy" later vindicated himself when it was learned the cause of the burned bearing was not a shortage of oil.
As I recall a light plant did furnish camp with electrical energy and the plant house was located a little east of the pump house, in the extreme eastern edge of the camp area. I vaguely remember the electric current being a little low at times for really bright pictures from our 16mm movie projector.
The underground gasoline storage tank and gas pump were located about 150 feet southwest of the Forestry quarters and perhaps 200 feet south of the school house just west of the corner in the main camp trail.
Bulletin boards were strategically located in front of the school house, the headquarters building and the latrine. Evening classes, shortarm inspections, recreation trips and other important events were posted on the camp bulletin boards and these were required reading.
By the summer of 1936, the first year for Co. 708 at camp Rabideau, the educational programs had become well organized. The Educational Adviser and his assistant Orville Anderson, and later Allen Windlund, were teaching evening classes in such basic subjects as public speaking, correspondence, practical mathematics, typing etc. Army staff members taught first aid, personal hygiene, et. al. Foresters and LEM's contributed to the program by giving special on-the-job training in the field, supplemented by evening classes in the school house.
In the camp school, Enrollees plugged holes in their training which they had missed in elementary or high school. Hundreds of completion certificates were given for those courses. A few Enrollees were able to complete their elementary or high school training in preparation for entering college after leaving camp.
Many of the on-the-job training Enrollees became proficient in operating bulldozers, earth moving equipment, draglines and heavy trucks. Others learned how to build roads and bridges and recreation areas and the fireplaces, picnic tables and other structures needed in these areas. Still others learned enough about general forestry management to lead crews in tree planting, timber stand improvement, logging, fire fighting, surveying and other forest management jobs.
It has been great satisfaction to have Enrollees say to me, years after leaving camp, that they learned much in their camp training program and were holding down responsible jobs as a direct result of this training. Typical of these was Lloyd Sather who took both evening classes and on-the-job training seriously and worked hard at both. After leaving camp he became foreman in heavy equipment operation and construction work and has held responsible and rewarding jobs in this field since he left Co. 708. Many more Co. 708 Enrollees have told me how they benefited from the training and experience gained in the CCC. These testimonials from former Co. 708 Enrollees are my greatest reward for my 5½ years as camp Educational Adviser.
Meeting the Chaplin and arranging for camp church services was a duty usually performed by the Educational Adviser. Services were often held in the school house library or one of the class rooms. One Chaplin was responsible for several camps so services were sometimes held on days other than Sunday. I recall the portable alter made by Enrollees in the camp workshop which the Chaplin was pleased to use. The singing was usually led by an Enrollee on the piano. On a few special occasions several Enrollees contributed on other instruments.
Payday was one of the most important days of the month in camp. Capt. Free, Commanding Officer, the assistant C.O. and John Harrington, First Sergeant, all in class A uniform, sat at the head of a long table in the "rec" hall. A fully loaded Army Colt 45 cal. Automatic pistol lay on the table beside the ready hand of the assistant C.O. The First Sergeant called out each Enrollees name and the amount of his pay as he approached the table. Capt. Free had a huge stack of bills and a box of coin from which he carefully counted out each Enrollees pay. At the door of the "rec" hall stood the money lenders collecting the capital plus good interest on loans made to fellow Enrollees during the month. Although it was discouraged, some high-powered poker and crap games usually developed in the barracks immediately after pay; and most Enrollees jammed a few greenbacks into their pocket for that payday fling in Blackduck.
The arrival of new rookies in camp was always a memorable occasion. The new recruits attended special lectures by the Commanding Officer, camp Doctor, camp Superintendent and Educational Adviser, each explaining a particular phases of camp life. Then came the shots in the camp hospital. Practical joker hospital orderlies always had a huge dummy syringe which held a full pint of dangerous looking liquid. It had a blunt and bloody needle the size of a lead pencil. This ominus looking instrument was jerked out of a drawer as the orderly grabbed the bare arm of an innocent looking rookie and prepared to ram the huge needle to the hilt. The rookie usually turned pale, fainted or took off for the barracks.
During their first night in camp some rookies were always sent out in the woods with a sack and a lantern on a snipe hunt. Others were sent to the supply room for striped paint, left handed monkey wrenches or elbow grease.
One standard trick played on rookies and old timers alike was short sheeting. Bed sheets were folded double half way down the bed and tucked in tightly under the mattress. Blankets were neatly placed over the sheets to make the bed look neat and normal. Enrollees returning to the barracks late at night, anxious to get into bed without turning on the light or disturbing others, found they could get only the lower half of their body under the covers. After fumbling with his bed for several minutes the short-sheeted Enrollee was given the ha ha by his buddies.
For the Enrollee who habitually overslept and rushed out of the barracks putting on his clothes at the sound of the breakfast whistle, a special trick was reserved. His work shoes were nailed to the floor when he was not watching. The next morning he jammed his feet into his shoes and took off for breakfast - but his shoes stayed beside the bed. This trick was particularly effective when the tricksters not only nailed the shoes to the floor but crawled under the barracks and clinched the nails.
Those 7:45 A.M., morning line-ups, were always interesting. Standing in the Army fatigues, just south of the cedar hedge in front of the Forestry quarters, the Enrollees got their work assignments for the day. If the temperature was colder that 20 below zero Enrollees were generally given camp work for at least half a day. If the weather was not too inclement Enrollees piled into stake trucks and rolled out of camp for work at 8:00 A.M. If the work for the day was close to camp the crew returned to the mess hall for lunch. Otherwise lunches were packed. If the weather was cold, field lunches were eaten beside open fires. Chickadees and camp robbers or Canada jays hovered around the lunching Enrollees looking for handouts. Tracks of deer, brush wolves and occasionally the tracks of black bear were observed and discussed during lunch hour. The Forester in charge of the crew often took this noontime opportunity to point out the different species of trees or explain the why and how of the work the crew was doing. This was a good time to get across on-the-job training.
Practically all of the field work done by Enrollees at camp Rabideau involved forest management of some type – tree planting by hand, T.S.I., fire fighting, surveying, logging, trail building, bridge construction, stream erosion control, developing swimming beaches and recreation areas and others. Tree planting by hand was probably the hardest work the Enrollees did. Planting time was short and tens of thousands of tree seedlings had to be planted each spring. Co. 708 set some remarkable records in tree planting on the Chippewa National Forest. The old barracks bunk never felt better than it did after setting a daily record for trees planted by hand.
At 4:00 P.M. work crews returned to camp and rushed for the showers. Chow was served at 5:00 and the school bell rang for first evening classes at 6:00. Classes were over at 9:00. Then there was still time for a quiet hour of reading in the camp library or work on a project in the camp workshop. Lights out came at 10:00 and the barracks Leader bellowed breakfast at 6:00 in the morning. The work week was Monday through Friday. Saturday was reserved for washing and pressing clothes, getting a hair cut for two bits at the "rec" hall barber, general cleanup of bunk and barracks, swimming, fishing and a big Saturday night in Blackduck. Sundays were spent leisurely; some slept late and sneaked to the mess hall for a snack long after breakfast. The Chaplin usually had a service in the camp school before noon. Sunday afternoons were for writing letters home, taking snapshots about camp, taking hikes in the woods, playing cards or just chatting with buddies around the old barrel stove in the barracks.
A good touch football team was developed at Rabideau camp. Lack of protective equipment prevented tackling. Co. 708 won the CCC District Championship one or two years.
We were fortunate in being able to use the Blackduck school gym for basketball practice and as a result Co. 708 developed a really good basketball team. We won the District CCC championship once or twice and made a good showing against several local teams.
One of the more successful features of the camp educational program was the Co. 708 chapter of the National Audubon Society which grew out of the camp nature study group led by the Educational Adviser. joining the National Audubon Society gave the camp nature study group access to interesting literature. Of particular interest were plans for bird houses, bird feeders, bird and animal identification booklets, leaflets on wildlife habits and habitat and many more.
Audubon Club members attended regular meetings in the camp school viewing movies and taking part in discussions on birds, mammals and all forms of wildlife. In the school workshop club members made bird houses, bird feeders and a 14 foot, flat bottomed boat which was christened "The Audubon Tub". This boat was used in checking wildlife in the marshy areas. The Club members also made several kiyaks which were useful in getting into shallow water to observe wildlife.
The Audubon Club went on regular field trips to identify birds and mammals, to study wildlife food and cover and to study and enjoy the great out of doors. A few of these trips were overnight affairs. Some members had sleeping bags but most of them rolled up in a blanket and slept near the fire for warmth and to keep away the mosquitos. In winter we often stayed overnight in an old abandoned cabin on the west side of the narrows between upper and lower Rabideau Lake. One cold winter night as we crowded about the old barrel stove in the cabin we heard the howl of a timber wolf. We found its tracks in the snow the next day. On another trip we harvested wild rice in the Rabideau Lake narrows. The heron rookery, on the river below lower Rabideau Lake, was visited on still another trip. A little fishing was done on many trips and the taste of those fish cooked over an open fire will never be forgotten. Our trips often ended with a kiyak race the last mile back to camp on lower Lake Rabideau.
The Audubon Club built and erected bird houses and bird feeders all over the Rabideau camp area. Some members took houses and feeders home. The club built and erected a 30 compartment martin house on a 20 foot pole just north of the cedar hedge and midway between the camp hospital and Forestry quarters. It was pleasant to hear the martins chatter about their house in the morning as Enrollees lined up just south of the cedar hedge for their daily work assignments.
My good wife and I survived the bitter cold winter of 1936 in our home made trailer parked on the southwest corner of Karl Lake. Our 1935 Ford V8, facing into those bitter winds, was a bit stiff when we had to start it on those cold mornings. Cars still had hand cranks for emergency starting in those days. As I used the hand crank outside the car the wife used the starter inside. Together we got the Ford started with the temperature as low as –42 degrees.
In the spring of 1936 we moved our trailer down beside Sucker Creek, near the Heinze Spur Road. Good water was hard to get here and the mosquitos were fierce along this densely wooded creek. We decided to move our "Pine Cone, as we called our home made trailer, to Maple Spring on the north shore of lower Rabideau Lake about ¼ mile east of the road to Blackduck. Maple spring produced clear, pure water and it would fill a 5 gallon water pail in less than 2 minutes.
Late in the summer of 1936 we sold "Pine Cone" to Lawrence Johnson, a camp cook, and bought a brand new, 18 foot, commercially built, Covered Wagon house trailer in Bemidji. This was a comfortable trailer, heated with a small Buddy Stove in which we burned pea size hard coal. Even at temperatures colder than –40 degrees we were cozy in our well banked Covered Wagon. When the snow piled high we left our car in Jack Smith's garage by the road and pulled our supplies into the Covered Wagon, using snowshoes and a toboggan.
We received permission to move our Covered Wagon to a small opening in the forest about 100 yards south of Rabideau camp in the summer of 1938. This protected opening just west of Blackduck road along the west side of Benjamin Lake was very convenient to camp and was accessible by car during winter. Here in our own backyard we could watch the birds at our feeder, hear the martins in our martin house and observe deer, skunk, weasel, snowshoe hare and other species of wildlife. It was here that I felt the urge to become a wildlife biologist.
In the summer of 1939 we began to hear rumors of CCC camps closing and a gradual phasing out of the entire CCC program. Then I received word that I was to be transferred as Educational Adviser to Co. 712 at Grand Marais, Minnesota. After 5½ years as Educational Adviser with Co. 708 I had become so attached to the Enrollees, and to the educational program on which I had worked so hard, the very thought of a transfer to another camp was very disturbing to me. I made my final decision to enroll in the graduate school of the University of Minnesota and get a master's degree in wildlife management.
I did transfer as Educational Adviser to Co. 712 for four months before enrolling at the University of Minnesota. Good old Co. 708 continued at Rabideau until it finally closed in 1941. But as far as I was concerned my career as camp Educational Adviser ended in September, 1939 when for the last time I walked out of the south entrance of camp Rabideau and headed southward down the trail with my 1938 Ford V8 and Coverer Wagon trailer.
This History of Co. 708 CCC was written by Clair T. Rollings on March 15, 1977, exactly 43 years, to the day, after I reported for duty as Educational Adviser for Co. 708 at Camp Winnie.
Clair T. Rollings
March 15, 1977