The boys of the CCC are working, not only to save the
forests, but water and soil and related resources — and of these the good
earth is most important. These lads are starting a check dam in a side gully
on the Mendocino National Forest in California. Their camp is seen in the
background. (Photo by Arthur F. Pillsbury.)
Hunger and hopelessness engulfed much of
our nation in 1933 when the newly inaugurated Franklin Roosevelt
administration came up with its most successful relief program — the
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
This year of 2008 is the CCC’s 75th anniversary.
In 1979 when Vernard (Bud) and Marion
Wilbur of San Diego became active in the National Association of Civilian
Conservation Corps Alumni (NACCCA) program, they were very disappointed at
how unaware the general public was about the vital contribution to
rehabilitation and preservation that had been made by the CCC.
Marion wrote in the May 1990 issue of the
California Historian: “Upon visiting my husband’s CCC camp, it was a big
disappointment to him to find ‘not a stick or stone’ to mark the spot . . .
I noted the same disappointment when other enrollees spoke of their camps .
. . Even park rangers did not know of the CCC.”
The Wilburs were told of a statue, “The
Spirit of the CCC,” that had been dedicated at the Balboa Park Expo (San
Diego County) in 1936. It was gone. A similar statue had been dedicated at
Griffith Park (Los Angeles County) by President Franklin Roosevelt. It was
In her article Marion told about the
NACCCA, a California chartered nonprofit corporation. This group, which has
over 150 chapters throughout the United States, launched “Operation CCC
Identification.” Their objective is to identify the work of the CCC by
erecting memorial statues or plaques on sites of CCC camps all over the
Today the NACCCA is still actively trying
to educate the present generation about the invaluable contributions this
army of men made to our nation in its darkest hour. Their project of
erecting statues or plaques commemorating the corps continues.
For more information, contact Bob Griffiths, 12415 Woods Road, Wilton, CA
95693; email firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone 916-687-4717. Or contact NACCCA, PO Box 16429, St. Louis, MO
63125-0429; email email@example.com or
WHAT CCC DID IN CALIFORNIA
The first camp on the west coast was Company No. 901 at Pine Valley (San
Diego County), a forestry camp. Applicants were screened at the San Diego
recruitment office and sent to Fort Rosecrans for a two-week conditioning
They were issued World War I surplus
uniforms, given mattress ticking which they filled with straw, and
transported by Army trucks to Pine Valley where they set up tents and later
The program mixed conservation of natural
resources with social rehabilitation. Camps were set up under the direction
of Army officers for men ages 18 through 25. Teachers were employed to give
the young men a chance to complete their education while they learned
Some men who trained the young crews were
agronomists and engineers; others were experts from governmental departments
such as Agriculture and Forestry. The work was laid out by technicians who
had scientific training in soil, water, forest and grazing land management.
New state parks were developed.
By fall 1933 more than 36,000 men were
working in the national forests, national parks, and state lands and parks
of California. Throughout the Sierra and Coast Range mountains, crews of 15
to 20 men were building dams in the eroded streambeds to check the rushing
water of spring floods. The Forest Service had gained a much needed work
The boys called themselves “brush
marines” or “peavies” or “woodpeckers.” They swung axes, shovels and brush
hooks. They learned to operate road graders, tractors and compressed-air
In Northern California, CCC workers built
an 800-mile firebreak separating the commercial Sierra Nevada timberland
from the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Truck trails were built — these
were nine-foot wide roads to transport firefighters to mountain areas that
could not be reached except by foot trails.
During the summer of 1933 in the national forests of California, CCC crews
built 850 miles of truck trails, 212 miles of firebreaks and 750 erosion
control dams, and put up 593 miles of telephone line. They weeded out
flammable growth from 976 miles of road and trials, covering more than
61,000 acres. They fought pine beetle depredations and white pine blister
Throughout the state, CCC workers built roads, constructed public buildings
— post offices, city halls, recreational facilities — and taught in bankrupt
La Purísima Mission (Santa Barbara County) was in a sad state of disrepair.
The county interested the National Park Service in restoring the old
landmark, using CCC crew labor.
WHAT DID THE CCC MEAN TO THOSE WHO JOINED IT?
Here is how one young man from Eureka talks about his time in the service in
1933 and 1934. Arden Scott wrote in the Fall 1996 issue of the Humboldt
Historian (published by the Humboldt County Historical Society, a member of
“I looked for work anywhere . . .
Fortunately, the Civilian Conservation Corps came to Eureka. I registered
for it at the Eureka headquarters at the post office. I enrolled on May 24,
1933, and was assigned to the area of Orleans alongside the Klamath River:
Company 920–Camp F-22, Orleans.
“At first, most of the new recruits at
Orleans were ‘locals’ from the Humboldt County area. When we arrived (about
35 in all), we were given shots and physical check-ups, then were put to
work building the four barracks, the cookhouse, recreation hall, doctor’s
building and the blacksmith’s building. After the barracks were completed,
about 150 young men from the Bay area arrived. Since they were mostly city
people, they were not used to swinging an axe or a sledge hammer or being
able to find good cover when a dynamite blast was set off. There were many
injuries before they learned the necessary skills.
“For a brief time I worked with the
bulldozers . . . I finally found a home with the group who drilled and
blasted rocks and stumps to widen the roads. We called ourselves the ‘Hard
“While performing our daily work away
from the camp, we were under the direct supervision of the Forest Service
personnel. While at camp we were supervised by the officers who were mainly
from the military reserve. We had a very smooth, routine life.
“To entertain ourselves,
we would take boxing lessons or hold dances. Once we heard there was a dance
at Happy Camp. Three of us got into my 1926 Model T roadster to make the
fifty mile trip . . . When we finally got to Happy Camp (Siskiyou County)
after driving through the Hoopa Indian Reservation, the dance hall was so
crowded with CCC boys from other nearby camps that I couldn’t get a single
dance . . .
“My term with the CCC
ended in 1934 after I sustained a rupture lifting a heavy rock. I was sent
to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco . . .
“I was discharged on July 10, 1934 . . . I’m grateful for the time I spent
in Roosevelt’s CCCs.”
CCC PROJECT COMES TO THE END
The idea of relief through jobs rather than through charity was the main
goal of the New Deal in its various governmental aid programs . . . Efforts
were made to extend the CCC opportunity to everyone. The program came to
include war veterans. Eventually African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and
Native Americans were included. However, the greater portion of the
enrollees were young unemployed men who agreed to serve six months. The
maximum length of service was two years.
By the end of the 1930s,
work presented itself in the private sector and enrollment in the CCC fell
off. The program was closed in 1942 with the entry of the United States in
World War II.
During the nine years the
CCC was in effect, over two and a half million young men served in it. They
planted over two billion trees, they built over 122,000 miles of roads, they
constructed six million erosion check dams.
The Forest Service owes the CCCers an especially large debt because of the
many national forest campgrounds, fire towers, office buildings and trails
which they built.
The program served as a
model for future youth and conservation programs like the Job Corps (1964)
and the Young Adult Conservation Corps (1977) which continued the legacy of
caring for the land and serving the people.
Information for this article was taken from material supplied by the
California State Library, Special Collections Branch. Additional information
came from American Forests, April 1934; Centennial Mini-Histories of the
Forest Service, July 1992; Humboldt Historian, Fall 1996, published by
Humboldt County Historical Society; and California Historian, May 1990.
The Hard Rock Gang in 1933. Standing, left
to right, are Billy Hughes, Palubici, unknown, and Melvin Trowbridge. Arden
Scott is kneeling on the left. This photo was taken on the Rattlesnake Ridge
Road. (Photo courtesy of Arden B. Scott.)
Earle Gutman, 19, from Alameda was one
of the young men who found work and a great outdoor life in the CCC program
in 1933. He was stationed at Happy Camp (Siskiyou County).
Over 166,000 men served in the CCC in
California, 1933-1942, and the California Department of Parks had 40 camps.
CCC Memorial Statue
CCC 75th Anniversary 2008