Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Fish Family Grand Slam

This past weekend I accomplished something that isn’t all that uncommon. I caught a wild brook trout, a wild rainbow trout, and a wild brown trout, in the same county. Granted they were two different streams that provided the fish, but they were all wild. It was the “Pennsylvania Wild Trout Grand Slam” so to speak. The only native that was missing was the Lake Trout, Salvelinus namaycush. As I released the wild brown back into the environment where he was spawned, it got me thinking, how hard would it be to catch all the members of other families in the same county, or watershed or some other geographically defined area? Which county or waterbody would you go to?

To catch three of the four trout in Pennsylvania the answer to the question is relatively easy. Go anywhere there is a stocked stream and you are likely to fulfill the goal. If the brook, brown and rainbows are to be wild, the question gets a little more difficult. To catch all four Erie County – and by extension Lake Erie is probably the best bet, though I have yet to hear of a brook trout coming from Lake Erie.

Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush

Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis

Brown Trout Salmo trutta

Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss

Excluding lakers, the counties where I would go to catch the other three wild trout would be Cumberland, Westmoreland, Franklin and Somerset.

What about the other families of fish?  Where would you go to catch all the members of the sunfish family Centrarchidae?  There are 30 species of sunfishes found in North America. To be sure, not all of them live in Pennsylvania. So I have abbreviated the list, to just those that are common in the Keystone State.

Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus

White Crappie Pomoxis annularis

Rock Bass Ambloplites rupestris

Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides

Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu

Green Sunfish Lepomis cyanellus

Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus

Redear Sunfish Lepomis microlophus

Pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus

Longear Sunfish Lepomis megalotis

Redbreast Sunfish Lepomis auritus

It might not be possible to find all of the species in one county or one drainage, but the two counties I would consider would be Huntingdon, at Lake Raystown, or Tioga with Cowanesque, Hammond and Hills Creek lakes leading the likely places. The Susquehanna River below Sunbury is also considered.

The perch family, Percidae might be the easiest list to fill. Three species are that you have to consider in this category: walleye, yellow perch, and sauger.

Walleye Sander vitreus

Yellow Perch Perca flavescens

Sauger Sander canadensis

I’ll leave out the other members of the family Percidae which includes the darters. I suspect I would have to go to somewhere in the Ohio River drainage to catch all of them. The Allegheny River on the Westmoreland / Allegheny County line would be a good place to start, or even a little farther upstream where the Kiskiminetas enters the Allegheny in Armstrong County.

The family Moronidae includes Striped Bass, White Bass and White Perch. This could be a tough one as their natural ranges do not overlap.

Striped Bass Morone saxatilis

White Bass Morone chrysops

White Perch Morone Americana

I would be inclined to go to the Delaware River for these.

For shad the lower Susquehanna or the Delaware River would have to be the choice

Shad, the members of the family Clupeidae, are difficult to find in Pennsylvania. The lower Susquehanna River in Lancaster or York county would be my choice to find the two prevalent species, though I wouldn’t rule out the Delaware River.

American Shad Alosa sapidissima

Hickory Shad Alosa mediocris

The pike family might be the most difficult grand slam to achieve in Pennsylvania.

Last but not least, and probably the hardest to catch all four species is the family Esocidae – the Pike Family. This family includes:

 

 

Grass or Redfin Pickerel Esox americanus

Chain Pickerel Esox niger

Northern Pike Esox Lucius

Muskellunge Esox masquinongy

I would probably go to northwestern Pennsylvania for this quest. The French Creek drainage would be a good starting point. Also the Allegheny Reservoir (a.k.a. Kinzua Lake) is a likely starting point. I would also consider Tioga County, though finding a northern pike there may be a bit problematic.

I have not included any of the minnow family, or suckers, drum or other fish that may from time to time show up such as Pacific salmon.

I am curious about your thoughts on this. And by the way, all the species mentioned can be caught on a fly. A “Fish Family Grand Slam on a Fly” or a “Fish Family Grand Slam on the Same Fly”; now there is a challenge.

The Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC – Part 4 of 4

Pepper Hill

On Wednesday, October 19, 1938 the Lock Haven Express weather report stated, “Rain tonight and probably Thursday morning, colder on Thursday, and in central and west portions tonight.” The paper noted it had been 80o F. the day before.[i] The same paper reported that two small fires had occurred the day before, one near Haneyville and the other in Paddys Run. The Harrisburg Telegraph was predicting temperatures near 78o F with rain to follow.[ii]  The fall of 1938 was dry. While spring rainfalls had been near normal, the summer and fall proved much drier with precipitation 2 inches below normal.[iii] A killing frost had hit the northcentral part of the state on October 7 followed by higher than normal temperatures. The forest was tinder dry.

On the morning of October 18, 1938 a series of fires broke out near Lick Run and Jerry Run in Cameron County. The fires burned throughout the day and men from camp S-132 at Hunts Run were detailed to fight the fires. Additional men who had returned to camp from their regular duties were sent out to work the night shift after eating dinner. They returned to camp at 5:30 a.m. the following morning.

Along the First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek, about four miles upstream from its confluence with Sinnemahoning Creek, at a place called Pepper Hill an arsonist had set fires on the west side of the valley. Truck driver, George Poloski was dispatched to check on the report of a wildfire in the area. At noon Poloski phoned District Forester Charles Baer to report the fires and returned to camp S-132 to eat and pick up the fire crews.

Two crews were dispatched from camp S-132. Both crews had been on the fire line all night and had only a few hours sleep when they were dispatched to the blaze. Crew 1 had 25 enrollees and was led by foreman Adolph Kammarath. Crew 2 had 22 men and was led by foreman Gilbert Mohney. The 49 men were exhausted from the previous night’s fire duty.

When the crews arrived on the fire scene they found four separate fires. A decision was made to attack the smallest fire. The terrain where the fire is located is some of the steepest to be found in Pennsylvania. Crew 2 under Foreman Mohney began building a fire line on the right flank of the fire, while others in the crew began backfiring. The going was tough and in 45 minutes only 200 feet of fire line had been constructed. The crew was instructed to move to the top of the mountain and construct a downhill line. As the crew proceeded to the top of the mountain the men became separated with some men stopping to rest while others moved on. At about 3:30 p.m. the crew noticed that the wind had shifted and the backfire they had set below had jumped their fire line and was burning toward them. The fire assumed the shape of a horseshoe. The fire burned on the panic stricken crew’s left and right as well as behind them.

Some sought shelter in the rocks. Others raced toward the summit in an effort to get away from the fire. The flames caught the men. In all the fire claimed eight lives. Foreman Gilbert Mohney, 38 of Ridgway, Basil Bogush, 19 of Conemaugh, John Boring, 19 of Johnstown, Howard May, 18 of Erie, and Andrew Stephanic 18, of Twin Rocks all perished at the scene of the fire. Ross Hollobaugh 18 of Rimersburg died the next day at Renovo Hospital. Stephen Jacofsky 17 of Johnstown died the next day at the hospital in St. Marys. George Vogel who was believed to be from New Kensington died November 2, in Renovo.

Over twenty others were injured in the fire, many requiring hospitalization. Peter Damico was severely burned, transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. and eventually returned to duty at camp S-132. Enrollees Kiliany and Gaydos were credited with leading many of the crew to safety.

In an ironic twist of fate rain began to fall about the same time the men were trapped and the 134 acre fire was extinguished, not through the efforts of the firefighters but rather by the heavy rain that fell that night.[iv]

In the days that followed federal, state and county officials began an investigation into how the fire started and how and why the men were trapped. Initial reports found in the press had the size of the fire at 800 acres, names were misspelled, and the hometowns were somewhat disorganized. George Wirt was the P.D.F. & W. investigator but the main investigation was conducted by federal and county officials. Cameron County District Attorney Edwin Tompkins would lead the county’s investigation. On October 22, 1938, three days after the fire Tompkins stated that “improper supervision” led to the deaths.[v] Tompkins said he would convene an inquest into the deaths and he “would subpoena everybody with the slightest connection with the case.”[vi] The C.C.C. investigation was under the direction of Colonel C.D. King, Commander of the Indiana District of the C.C.C. which covered Cameron County. Captain Alton Miller, Sub-district Commander and Lieutenant Rodman Hayes Cameron Camp Commander were the C.C.C. officials on site for the investigation.

On Monday, October 23, 1938 a mass was celebrated at St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church for the seven dead. At the Hyner Camp, the flag was lowered to half-staff and taps was played in remembrance of their fallen comrades.[vii] Robert Fechner, Director of the C.C.C. sent condolences to the families of the deceased.[viii]

On October 31, 1938, District Attorney Tompkins began an inquest into the Pepper Hill Fire. The inquest was expected to last three days. Tompkins was concerned that the fire was arson caused and that improper supervision had led to the deaths.[x] The testimony began with parents of four of the deceased in attendance.

Early testimony of the witnesses indicated that they did not believe the fire could have started from others burning in the area, and trains and discarded smoking materials were also ruled out as sources of ignition.[xi]

On November 2, 1938 Earl Getz, supervisor of camp S-132, testified that “the youths had received some experience fighting fires in September.” When Getz was further questioned about how much training the men had received he refused to answer, stating that the information was in the records turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was conducting its own investigation. Lieutenant Rodman M. Haynes, reserve officer at the camp admitted that the book C.C.C. Safety Regulations Relating to Forest Fire Fighters, had not been issued at the camp until two days after the fatal fire. He also testified that no other regulations or information concerning the fighting of forest fires had been posted at the camp.[xii]

Later testimony from the C.C.C. men reported they had worked on roads all day of October 18 and then had been on a fire through the night. They had gotten only six hours of rest before they were dispatched to the Pepper Hill Fire.[xiii] As testimony went on, survivor enrollees testified about the conditions they faced, how they escaped and tellingly that they had not received any classroom instruction in firefighting.[xiv] The testimony in the Coroner’s Inquest concluded on November 10, 1938.

On November 12, 1938 the coroner’s jury of “experienced woodsmen” decided after hearing nine days of testimony that the fire’s cause was incendiary and set by “some person or persons unknown. The jury also found camp officials guilty of “laxity and negligence” and recommended that any officer in charge of the camp be reprimanded and disciplined in accordance with army regulations.[xv]

Though Tompkins’ inquest was closed the Pepper Hill Fire would have long-lasting ramifications in the C.C.C. and in forest fire fighting.

The CCC Declines

The Civilian Conservation Corps had passed its high water mark. Enrollments were down, largely in part to an improving economy. War in Asia, the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe were beginning to drive the economy. On January 18, 1939, Robert Fechner asked Congress to make the C.C.C. a permanent part of the federal government.[xvi] Congressman May of Kentucky, Chairman of the House Military Committee suggested giving the C.C.C. enrollees military training.[xvii] Director Fechner was quoted in the press as opposing military training in the C.C.C.[xviii]

In January of 1939, Robert Fechner made a proposal that the C.C.C. become a permanent agency of the Federal government. His proposal asked for permanent civil service status for the enrollees to continue the work they had been doing. Fechner’s proposal met with resistance from Congress, much as the same proposal from Roosevelt had a couple of years earlier.[xix] Fechner was, however opposed to compulsory military training of the C.C.C. He said, “I do not believe there is any need or justification for compulsory military training or military training of any character as the term is usually understood in the CCC.”[xx]

Not only was enrollment dropping due to increased jobs in the private sector but other problems began to crop up in the C.C.C. The Federal Security Agency (FSA) was created by Roosevelt to consolidate several offices and boards under one director. The C.C.C. lost its status as an independent organization. Fechner was furious and considered resigning.[xxi] Despite the changes the agency moved on.

It was still a dangerous place to work. On February 13, 1939 Captain Edward Jelens, a C.C.C. supervisor at Renovo died from injuries he received in an automobile accident on January 21st.  Five enrollees from the camp at the Gettysburg battlefield were injured when their truck overturned on June 8, 1939.[xxii]

In another incident, First Lieutenant Crenson E. Davis, commander of Camp S-116 near Clearfield disappeared on February 1, 1939 when he went to Clearfield to cash payroll checks. The 26 year-old was initially feared to be the victim of bandits.[xxiii] On March 8, 1939, Davis was arrested in Texas when he tried to enlist as a private in the Army under an assumed name.[xxiv]

As projects were completed camps began to move and shift. Enrollees were transferred to other camps as the camps were phased out. On May 12, 1939, Company 2328 at SCS-6 at Shelocta began to disassemble their buildings and move them to a new site near Homer City.[xxv] Maryland was unable to fill its quota of enrollees and Pennsylvanians were used.[xxvi]

On June 15, 1939, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that civilians, rather than Army officers would now be in charge of the C.C.C. camps.[xxvii] In early July Roosevelt announced that Paul V. McNutt would head the FSA.[xxviii]  Later in the month it was announced that Pennsylvania would be allowed to furnish 6,042 enrollees of who 344 would be war veterans.[xxix]

In July of 1939 work was progressing on what was to become known as the Wayside Rest Memorial. The project, two miles east of Emporium on route PA 120 was to be a memorial to the eight C.C.C. men who had lost their lives as a result of the Pepper Hill Fire. The memorial was conceived by Father Paul Giegerich, chaplain of the C.C.C. district. Each enrollee and officer was asked for a small contribution to the project, often just a nickel or dime. C.C.C. enrollees and officers from across the state contributed to make the project a reality.[xxx] On October 19, 1939, one year to the day after the Pepper Hill Fire, the Wayside Rest Memorial was dedicated.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland starting the war in Europe. The C.C.C. which had been in decline because of a lack of enrollees was further hampered by a lack of manpower, as American industry was roused out of its deep slumber of The Depression and jobs became plentiful.

Another blow to the viability of the C.C.C. came on December 31, 1939 when Robert Fechner died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he had been for the past five weeks after suffering a heart attack.[xxxi]

The CCC would continue until 1942. As the demands for men and materials for World War II increased, the CCC became an anachronism and funding for the program was eliminated as the world went to war.

[i] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, October 19, 1938

[ii] The Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, October 19, 1938

[iii] NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/

[iv] Schultz, Michael, Pepper Hill: A Tragedy, Wildland Firefighter, February, 2001, along with multiple other references including Ely, Warren, in Forest Fire Warden News, 1981, and multiple press accounts by UPI, AP, and INS.

[v] Bradford Evening Star and The Bradford Daily Record, Bradford, PA, October 22, 1938

[vi] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, October 22, 1938

[vii] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, October 25, 1938

[viii] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, October 27, 1938

[ix] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, October 29, 1938

[x] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, October 31, 1938

[xi] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 1, 1938

[xii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 2, 1938

[xiii] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, November 8, 1938

[xiv] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 10, 1938

[xv] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, November 14, 1938

[xvi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, January 19, 1939

[xvii] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, January 21, 1939

[xviii] The Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh, PA, March 4, 1939

[xix] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, January 19, 1939

[xx] The Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh, PA, March 4, 1939

[xxi] History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Lasting Legacy, Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, Inc., Edinburg, VA, 2010

[xxii] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 8, 1939

[xxiii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, February 2, 1939

[xxiv] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, March 8, 1939

[xxv] The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, PA, May 20, 1939

[xxvi] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, March 28, 1939

[xxvii] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 16, 1939

[xxviii] The Evening Sun, Hanover, PA, July 11, 1939

[xxix] The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA, June 24, 1939

[xxx] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, July 21, 1939

[xxxi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, January 1, 1940

The Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC – Part 3

Life in the camps was generally good, though many arrived at camp unprepared for what lay before them. Many of the men were from cities and had never dreamed that places like Leetonia, Livonia or Laquin even existed.

The camp day began with reveille at 6:00 a.m. followed by physical training with breakfast at 6:30 a.m., then sick call, policing the camp and at 7:15 trucks were loaded with men and tools and they set out for the day’s work. At 4:00 p.m. the men returned to camp for flag lowering, dinner, and announcements. Following dinner the men had free time until lights out at 10:00 p.m.[i] the men were fed nourishing meals three times a day and many thrived on the food and increased vitality.

There were problems and complaints to be sure. Many of the complaints centered around bad food, dirty quarters, vermin infested bedding, bullying and hazing. The Army, which ran the camps, investigated the complaints and wrote most of them off owing to the personalities of the men.

As with any group of people when put together, personalities conflicted and sometimes it led to trouble. At camp NP 2 near Gettysburg a riot broke out on the night of March 26, 1934. Following the riot, Lieutenant James McDonnell commandant of the camp held a summary court and immediately discharged two men. It was reported that lights were smashed and bunks were destroyed in the barracks. It was reported that further action would be taken against other suspected leaders in the riot.[ii] In the summer of 1934 three men from the Shingle Branch Camp were arrested for creating a disturbance in Renovo.[iii]

The camps were segregated. Black enrollees were in separate camps. Other camps were largely comprised of men from the same area. For example a camp may be composed of men from western Pennsylvania, or southern Alabama. Some of the camps located in close proximity to each other that allowed for the men from the camps to meet in the local towns caused those regional and racial animosities to come to the surface and cause problems. Camp NP2 was a segregated camp and this probably played into the mix. In another incident a shooting occurred at the Medix Run Camp in Clearfield County. Though the shooting was not fatal, it was a serious incident and turned over to the Clearfield County courts for adjudication.[iv] Another near riot with racial undertones happened at a camp near Kane on August 3, 1933. The Kane Republican reported that the seven were dismissed from the C.C.C. and sent home.[v]

On June 23, 1937 enrollees from the camps at Cooks Run and Two Mile Run, both near Westport in western Clinton County met on the streets of Renovo and began to fight. The riot which involved over 250 enrollees was caused by regional animosities. The Cooks Run camp was southern men and the Two Mile Run camp was comprised of Pennsylvanians. Though the Civil War had ended some 72 year prior, there were still grudges. Despite the fighting no arrests were reported.[vi]

Despite problems the C.C.C. enrollees became community members for the time they were there. On June 15, 1933 two C.C.C. men from the Hyner camp rescued a young girl from drowning in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River at Renovo.[vii]

As the program evolved, projects in areas concluded and enrollments were up camps were scheduled for closure. Another factor involved in the closings was 1936 was an election year. FDR in an effort to balance the federal budget proposed cutting the program despite its success. When the proposal was made to Congress both parties rebelled, Roosevelt backed off his proposal to reduce the camps to 300,000 men.[viii] In 1937 twenty camps were closed in Pennsylvania and 56 remained open.[ix] The year of 1936 is generally considered the “high water mark” of the C.C.C.

The C.C.C. was so prominent in American life and culture that Paramount Studios produced a movie, “It’s A Great Life” starring Joe Morrison and Paul Kelly, that detailed the life of the C.C.C. in 1936.[x] The movie was filmed in California and enrollees participated in the film project.

On March 17, 1936 one of the most devastating floods to ever hit Pennsylvania began. Known as the Saint Patrick’s Day Flood, practically every section of the state was affected. The C.C.C. proved invaluable in rescue and recovery efforts, helping the stricken people during and after the flood.

Despite their efforts, not all were happy with the program. Pittsburgh mayor William N. McNair, a long-time critic of FDR and his administration blamed the flooding on the efforts of the C.C.C. McNair was quoted as saying, “As long as these boys are in the woods we’re going to have floods.”  He blamed the C.C.C. for clearing brush and cutting trees in riparian areas allowing for faster runoff causing the floods. In concluding his rant against the program he also stated, “And in addition to causing floods these boys cause forest fires. I’ve seen them go out for a hike or lunch and throw their pop or milk bottles under bushes. What happens? Along comes the wind and exposes the broken glass. The sun hits the glass and you have a fire. I want to take these boys out of the woods.”[xi] Whether McNair actually believed what he was saying or was just bloviating to score political points in the wake of the devastating flood is unclear.

L.S. Gross, Supervisor of the Allegheny National Forest was quick to respond to Mayor McNair’s charges, and without naming him directly it was clear that Gross was pointing out the fallacy of McNair’s accusations. He detailed how the state had been hit by an unusually large amount of precipitation over the past winter and it rapidly melted. Gross pointed out that the forest duff had been reduced by years of unregulated logging and fires thus reducing the water holding capacity of the forest floor. “Removal of vegetation over widespread areas on the watersheds has not been undertaken. The construction of forest roads and other developments represents an area so insignificant in comparison to the forested area of the state that such an assumption that the CCC is at fault is incredible. The real fault lies in man’s carelessness with fire in the forest.”[xii]

As 1937 progressed, the economy was beginning to improve. Young men were finding gainful employment and enrollment was beginning to drop. As a result camps began to close and consolidate. Across the country 60 camps would be closed because of the drop in enrollment.[xiii]

It wasn’t all trees and clean air. There were accidents and tragedy involved with the C.C.C. On June 28, 1933, Thomas Fox, 18 of Philadelphia, was killed when he fell from a service truck. Fox was a member of camp S-70 near Waynesboro in Franklin County. It is believed he was the first C.C.C. enrollee killed in the line of duty. The camp was one of the first in Pennsylvania having been erected on May 6, 1933.[xiv]

The first fire related death occurred on August 19, 1933. Stanley Ferguson, 19 of Owego, NY, was killed fighting a forest fire in Idaho when a tree fell on him.[xv]

A bizarre incident claimed the lives of two enrollees on June 30, 1933. The men were killed at the C.C.C. camp at Pine Grove Furnace, Cumberland County, when lightning struck the tent they were in. The dead were identified as Robert C. Armstrong and Herman B. Chuderwicz, both of Pittsburgh.  Lawrence McGuire also of Pittsburgh was taken to the Army Medical School hospital at Carlisle and recovered. [xvi]

George Roberts of East Berlin, Adams County was injured when his motorcycle collided with a car near Mount Holly Springs on  August 7, 1933. He was a member of Camp S-55 at Landisburg. It was reported he suffered a fractured skull and broken arm.[xvii]

Returning to their camp at Shingle Branch, Clinton County, on September 2, 1933, a truck carrying 12 C.C.C. men overturned killing William Arnold, 22 of North Bend and injuring the others. The men had been on a detail to pick up provisions in Lock Haven for the camp. Descending a grade, the truck went out of control and overturned. Arnold died of a broken neck.[xviii] On September 19, Henry Appenzeller of Philadelphia became paralyzed when he reached above his head to put away some dishes in the camp mess hall. Appenzeller was involved in the accident on September 2, and was treated at Renovo Hospital for an injury to his shoulder and lacerations to his hand. Following his paralysis he was transported to Renovo Hospital where x-rays determined he had two broken vertebrae in his neck. He was transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. for further treatment.[xix]

M. Fink, 42 of Ridgway, was fatally injured when a large tree he was cutting fell on him at the camp near Croyland on November 4, 1933.[xx] Judging by his age Mr. Fink was probably an LEM.

Not all injuries were work related. Nello Collette of Camp Lowell Thomas, near Trout Run, Lycoming County died of a fractured skull on March 21, 1934. “The unfortunate incident was from a boyish fistic combat.”[xxi] On May 7, 1934 a canoe capsized on Lake Mokoma at Laporte in Sullivan County. William Kelly, 24 of Philadelphia drowned in the incident.[xxii]

Vehicles continued to prove dangerous to the C.C.C. enrollees. On July 23, 1934 several C.C.C. men in a truck on the way to a forest fire from their camp a Duhring, Forest County , were shaken up but none required hospitalization.[xxiii] A couple of months later on October 19 Franklin Page died from injuries he received when he fell from the back of a truck and was dragged some distance when his foot was caught in the rear gate of the truck. Franklin, of Sharon, PA was a member of C.C.C. camp S – 76 at State Camp.[xxiv] The following spring, on May 28, 1935 a truck carrying 25 C.C.C. enrollees overturned near Kane. Three of the enrollees required hospitalization at Kane Hospital.[xxv] The men were responding to a forest fire near Chapel Forks, McKean County. And on July 18 two men were injured when a truck carrying equipment to the new C.C.C. camp west of Huntersville, Lycoming County, ran off the road and upset.

The deadliest incident in the history of the C.C.C. occurred on Labor Day, 1935 in the Florida Keys. A hurricane, struck a C.C.C. camp of 684 veterans.  In the aftermath 44 of the dead were identified, 238 were missing, and 106 others were injured.[xxvi]

On May 1, 1936, Daniel Dallas of Philadelphia and assigned to the Tobyhanna Camp, Monroe County died of injuries sustained in a truck accident on April 28. The truck with 17 men aboard was responding to a forest fire when it overturned. Dallas was thrown against a rock. He was transported to a hospital in Scranton where he died. Three others were injured in the accident and required hospitalization.[xxvii]

On April 30, 1937, Donald C. Kresskey, 20 of Bethlehem died at the Renovo Hospital from injuries he received when a ledge of rocks on which he was standing gave way, crushing him. Donald was a member of the Two Mile Run camp. By all accounts the C.C.C. was a comparatively dangerous place with an injury rate of seventeen per thousand in 1935, many of the accidents were related to motor vehicles.[xxviii]

The worst firefighting tragedy occurred on August 22, 1937. A fire in the Absaroka region in northwestern Wyoming claimed the lives of 11 firefighters, and injured scores of others when they were overrun by fire. [xxix] But Pennsylvania was not immune to death from fires. The worst was yet to come.


[i] Pennsylvania DCNR, The CCC Years, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/thingstoknow/history/cccyears/index.htm

[ii] Altoona Tribune, Altoona, PA, March 27, 1934

[iii] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, August 3, 1934

[iv] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, July 15, 1933

[v] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, August 4, 1933

[vi] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, June 24, 1937

[vii] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA,  June 15, 1933

[viii] History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Lasting Legacy, Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, Inc., Edinburg, VA, 2010

[ix] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, September 30, 1937

[x] The Daily Courier, Connellsville, PA, February 14, 1936

[xi] Altoona Tribune, Altoona, PA, March 27, 1936

[xii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, April 2, 1936

[xiii] The News-Chronicle, Shippennsburg, PA, June 4, 1937

[xiv] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, June 29, 1933

[xv] Lebanon Daily News, Lebanon, PA, August 19, 1933

[xvi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, July 1, 1933

[xvii] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, August 7, 1933

[xviii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, September 5, 1933

[xix] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, September 19, 1933

[xx] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, November 4, 1933

[xxi] New Castle News, New Castle, PA, March 21, 1934

[xxii] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, May 7, 1934

[xxiii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, July 23, 1934

[xxiv] The Express, Lock Haven, PA, October 20, 1934

[xxv] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, May 28, 1935

[xxvi] History of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Its Lasting Legacy, Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy, Inc., Edinburg, VA, 2010

[xxvii] The Plain Speaker, Hazleton, PA, May 1, 1936

[xxviii] Speakman, Joseph M. Into the Woods: The First Year of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Prologue Magazine, Fall 2006, Vol. 38, No. 3, Washington, D.C

[xxix] The Morning Herald, Uniontown, PA, August 23, 1937

The Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC – Part 2

On May 9, 1933 the Harrisburg Telegraph reported that a CCC camp had begun operations at a site northeast of Waynesboro near Old Forge. It was located in the Mont Alto District and W. L. Byers was the district forester. He noted that the men would build fire breaks, trails, and roads. They would also work on erosion and flood control projects as well as being subject to call for fighting forest fires.[I] 

On May 11, 1933 FDR issued Executive Order 6129 that authorized 25,000 veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I to enroll in the program. There were no age or marital restrictions on these men and unemployed veterans rushed to fill the ranks. By the end of 1933 there were six veteran’s camps in Pennsylvania. They were located at Beaver Springs, Snyder County, Wheelerville, Sullivan County, Sinnemahoning, Cameron County, Farrandsville, Clinton County, Chaneysville, Bedford County, East Stroudsburg, Monroe County and Edgemere, Pike County.

That May of 1933 fires burned across Pennsylvania. The CCC was growing fast and the Kane Republican noted that a fifth camp for the Allegheny Nation Forest was being established at Highland Corners. The camp was originally proposed for Owls Nest but the site was moved.[ii] Camps for the young men were springing up across Pennsylvania.

On June 21, 1933 a CCC camp went into operation at Asaph, Tioga County. The camp was comprised primarily of young men from the New Castle area. A ‘special reporter’ Don Lanigan, most probably an enrollee, reported back to the New Castle News of a fire they fought on July 20, 1933. The fire reportedly burned “several acres of brush.”[iii]

Robert Bender of Lebanon wrote a letter to the Evening Report in Lebanon from a camp near Clearfield. He reported of fighting a fire that took five days to contain and extinguish.

“Our company fought the fire day and night. One group of 100 would go out and fight the flames for five hours, then be relieved by another group of 100. We worked from 7:30 in the morning until 12 o’clock at night. We used Indian water pumps which hold about five gallons and weigh seventy-five pounds, and we were tired at night.”[iv]

On December 5, 1933 a late fall fire burned over 200 acres on South Mountain in Cumberland County and CCC crews were instrumental in extinguishing the blaze.[v]

By the end of 1933 the Civilian Conservation Corps was off and running. During the first week of January, 1934 Secretary of Forests and Waters, Lewis Staley was ebullient about the work being conducted by the CCC. He noted that the 92 camps on state forest and state gamelands had a compliment of 18,000 men. They had completed 1600 miles of truck trails (now known as state forest roads), 1,400 miles of foot and horse trails and built 150 bridges. They had reduced fire hazards on 1,350 acres, and cut 150 miles of fire breaks. They had erected 4 steel fire towers and worked on blister rust and pine beetle eradication. They had developed public camping areas, cleared roadsides and built and maintained state forest telephone lines.[vi] The crews of laborers were led by “Local Experienced Men” or “LEMs” who had experience in such things as construction, forestry, mechanics or other vocational skills. Unlike the enrollees these locals were hired with no age or marital restrictions.[vii]

In preparation for the spring fire season CCC crews were being trained on firefighting techniques. State officials were describing the crews “as one of the most efficient forest fire fighting units yet organized among the emergency conservation workers.”[viii]

The CCC crews were being trained in firefighting and organized in preparation for the spring fire season. “Special training during regular working hours is provided for the fire crews by forest fire inspectors. On the fire line each crew is trained to split into two parts, each subcrew consisting of one foreman, one axeman, one brush hook man, five rakers, one torchman, two patrolmen and two spray tank men.”[ix] The CCC crews at Camp Lowell Thomas at Trout Run, Lycoming County were tested on their efficiency when a fire that was begun by their brush burning activities started a forest fire that burned over 300 acres.[x]

On March 26, 1934 an announcement was made that nine CCC camps in Pennsylvania would be closed. According to the administration in Washington, D.C. the camps would be moved to other states. At the time Pennsylvania had 92 camps under state control, 7 camps under the U.S. Forest Service and 4 under the direction of the National Park Service.[xi]

On March 21, 1934, Frank Bowes, reported from Camp Lowell Thomas at Trout Run, Lycoming County that “Over thirty percent of the camp is leaving on March 31. Most of them are returning home with the prospect of jobs.”[xii] Their enrollment was up as they were only allowed to serve for five yearly quarters.

At that point there were 30,000 men enrolled in the program and many were due to leave because their enlistments were up. They were also prepared to release men, “who, in the past few months have proven insubordinate or otherwise undesirable.”[xiii]

The men whose enrollment was up were due to be replaced by new recruits. Secretary Staley was exasperated by the closures and noted that it would become difficult if not impossible to complete the projects as planned if the nine camps were closed.[xiv]

On May 10, 1934 the Morning Herald from Uniontown ran a page one article that the corps was looking for 105 applicants from the area.[xv] That same day The Evening News of Harrisburg noted that Charles Mattis of Elizabethtown had resigned his post at the Camp in Armstrong Valley and was replaced “by a man named Christ of Lickdale” who had formerly been the superintendent of the Indiantown Gap camp which had been “abandoned.”[xvi]

The summer of 1934 was particularly dry in Pennsylvania and the forest floor dried to the point that fires would burn in the duff, smoldering for days. Extinguishing these types of fires is difficult and time consuming and the labor provided by the CCC proved essential to extinguishing these fires. In the ANF the CCC men were used to patrol the forest and close roads to automobiles.[xvii]

Newspapers, for the most part were particularly eager to print news about the CCC and letters to the editor were included wherever they were found. The Daily Republican of Monongahela printed one such letter in its May 12, 1934 edition from Kard Kraus who was part of the 359th Company at Camp S-71, known as the Kenneth B. Watts Camp, near Philipsburg in Centre County. In the letter he speaks of fighting a large forest fire that burned along covered a 12 mile stretch and burned 4 barns, 2 houses, and a garage at Moshannon and the baggage room at Peale.

“….The wind was so strong and the brush so dry that we did not have much chance to check the fire. It burned from Sunday morning to Thursday afternoon. We were also handicapped by several fires starting at different places in the mountains, burning between 10 and 50 acres at each fire. And they claim they were incendiary. They had 44 CCC camps beside the Rangers and civilians fighting the fires. They worked in shifts. Sometimes we worked 18 hours in a shift when there was danger of barns or houses burning.”

“Hot meals were brought out every 4 or 5 hours and that would be all the rest we would get as the wind would blow our back fires across the line and we would have a hard time checking it again. It is a hard and hot job along the fire line trying to check it and water is hard to get, sometimes carrying it a quarter mile up the mountain from the creeks. There is also danger of being trapped as the fire was burning on 5 ridges and we had to be on the lookout and listen to the foreman who was always patrolling ahead of the fire.”

“There were thousands of acres and millions of trees burned. We are glad to have gotten the out with the help of rain.”[xviii]

In 1934 eleven more camps opened in Pennsylvania.

By the end of July, 1934 H.B. Rowland of the PDF&W noted that the CCC had been invaluable in forest fire suppression. He announced that 25,000 man-days of labor had been expended in fighting 328 or the 3,250 fires that had broken out in Pennsylvania that year. He noted that the men were largely used as reserve fire fighting units and assisted the regular forest fire wardens and their crews.[xix]

In the spring of 1935 FDR was looking to expand the CCC and make it a permanent part of the Federal government. Roosevelt was particularly concerned that another drought like that of 1934 could devastate the country. The program would create shelterbelts of tress to prevent erosion, reforest logged and burned over areas and provide employment for the unemployed.[xx]

The Daily Republican heard from one of its readers who was in the C.C.C.

Dear Sir:

Will you please send me The Daily Republican paper. I would like to know what is going on in the home town. Well here is something about the camps.

The CCC camp is just the place for a young boy of 18 years of age. They either make you or break you in these camps and they always build you up and you are out in the forest. You learn something about the forest, like different trees and forest fires and other things on the order of trees.

And that good mountain air and fresh water. It is a nice place.

Yours truly

Gildo Pietroboni[xxi]

The spring of 1935 five new camps of 216 men each were proposed for the Allegheny National Forest.[xxii] Robert Fechner proposed expanding the corps by an additional 230,000 men and making the camp infrastructure “portable” insofar as was possible. Buildings would be bolted together on assembly and could be dismantled and moved as necessary. Each new camp would be assigned 15,000 acres on which to complete various projects.[xxiii] Pennsylvania was second to New York with an increase in enrollees from 21,951 to 48,700 men.[xxiv]

With all of the other projects the CCC was completing, fighting forest fires was a prominent part of their work. Many accounts of CCC workers fighting forest fires were reported.

Henry W. Shoemaker, publisher of the Altoona Tribune, noted that an opponent of the New Deal from Pittsburgh commented on the efficiency of the CCC in particular their ability to fight forest fires and wanted to make 5,000 of the enrollees permanent firefighters in the state’s forests.[xxv]


[i] Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, May 9, 1933

[ii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, May 1, 1933

[iii] New Castle News, New Castle, PA, July 20, 1933

[iv] Evening Report, Lebanon, PA, July 31, 1933

[v] The News-Chronicle, Shippennsburg, PA, December 5, 1933

[vi] The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, PA, January 5, 1934

[vii] Speakman, Joseph M. Into the Woods: The First Year of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Prologue Magazine, Fall 2006, Vol. 38, No. 3, Washington, D.C

[viii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, March 13, 1934

[ix] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, March 13, 1934

[x] New Castle News, New Castle, PA, March 21, 1934

[xi] Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, PA, March 26, 1934

[xii] New Castle News, New Castle, PA, March 21, 1934

[xiii] Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, PA, March 26, 1934

[xiv] Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, PA, March 26, 1934

[xv] The Morning Herald, Uniontown, PA, May 10, 1934

[xvi] The Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, May 10, 1934

[xvii] Warren Times Mirror, Warren, PA, July 30, 1934

[xviii] The Daily Republican, Monongahela, PA, May 12, 1934

[xix] Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, PA, July 31, 1934

[xx] The Gazette and Daily, York, PA, April 4, 1935

[xxi] The Daily Republican, Monongahela, PA, April 5, 1935

[xxii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, April 10, 1935

[xxiii] The Kane Republican, Kane, PA, April 10, 1935

[xxiv] The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, PA, April 27, 1935

[xxv] Altoona Tribune, Altoona, PA, May 10, 1935

The Civilian Conservation Corps – CCC Part 1

The CCC camp at Cooks Run in western Clinton County. The camp was occupied by boys from the deep south which as we shall see later caused problems.

After the 1929 collapse of stock markets, the United States, and the rest of the world, was plunged in economic chaos. By 1932 the country had had enough. They were looking for change and they found it when they elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, began “The Hundred Days,” where his primary goal was to get people back to work and stabilize the economy. One of his proposals was to recruit unemployed, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 from families that were on the relief rolls. The men would receive $30 a month, but they had to send $25 home to family dependents. The men would work on conservation projects in the forests and parks, doing work that was not necessarily done by businesses. In this way it would avoid conflict with normal employment. FDR went to his advisors less than a week after taking office and told them to come up with a plan to put 500,000 young men to work. By that evening they had a plan.

Senate Bill S 598 was introduced and passed both houses of Congress on March 27. On March 31, 1933, the President signed the Emergency Conservation Work Act. This was the enabling legislation for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). On April 5, Executive Order 6101 was issued by the President to begin the CCC. By April 6, 1933, newspapers across the country were carrying headlines of “Mobilization of Forest Recruits Starts Today;” “Prepare For Work In State Forests;” and “25,000 Jobless Men Recruited For Work Camps.” The first enrollee was inducted on April 7, 1933, only 37 days after FDR’s inauguration.

The CCC on paper was a bureaucratic monstrosity. The Labor Department recruited the men, the War Department ran the camps, and the Agriculture and Interior Departments, along with various agencies at the state level, supervised the projects. According to DeCoster, “Logistics were an enormous problem. Most of the labor force was in the East and much of the work needing to be done was in the West.”[i] The federal Secretaries of War, Labor, Agriculture, and Interior cooperated to bring the program together, and states were encouraged to participate.

FDR appointed Robert Fechner of Tennessee, as the national director of the program. Fechner was a former official of the Machinists Union. He was described as stolid and unimaginative, and he viewed his mission in the narrowest possible context. But Fechner was not a Washington insider and he was used to getting things done his way. He was not cowed by the power brokers of Washington and was willing to cut red tape to make things happen.  He had an advisory committee to work for and with him.

From the Labor Department, W. Frank Persons, who headed the United States Employment Service, was selected. From the Department of Agriculture, which contained the U.S. Forest Service, Fred Morrell was selected. From the Department of the Interior Conrad Wirth from the National Park Service was added to the advisory council. Colonel Duncan K. Major was the overall commander for the Army. Colonel Major? The name brings to mind Catch 22 and one can only imagine the difficulties and comedic episodes that must have emerged during his military career. The Army operated the camps under Corps Area Headquarters and Pennsylvania was under the jurisdiction of the Third Corps. Colonel James P. Barney was commander of the Third Corps when the program began.

The forestry component of the organization was headed by Robert Stuart, a Pennsylvanian who was then in charge of the U.S. Forest Service. Prior to FDR’s election Stuart had supervised the preparation of the Copeland Report, which outlined potential projects in the national forests. By all accounts Stuart was a good planner and competent administrator. Because of Stuart’s Pennsylvania ties, and his planning and foresight while administering the PDF&W, the Commonwealth was well positioned to take advantage of the Emergency Conservation Work program. Unfortunately, Stuart would not live to see the full fruits of his labor. When he died unexpectedly in 1933, Ferdinand Silcox became the fifth Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

When the CCC began, Gifford Pinchot was in his second term as Governor of Pennsylvania and he readily embraced the CCC program as did Secretary of Forest and Waters, Lewis Staley. The State Emergency Relief Board (SERB) was headed by Eric Biddle who was also a proponent of the program. J. Fred Kurtz, the Assistant Director of the SERB, acted as the state selection officer. Kurtz was one of the most enthusiastic and able selection officers in the nation.

However, there was opposition to the plan. The American Federation of Labor stated the plan, “provided for the regimentation of labor in peace times and would demoralize the nation’s wage levels.” They compared the plan to the regimentation of labor in Fascist Italy, Hitler’s Germany, and the Soviet Union. Herbert Benjamin, head of the National Committee of Unemployed Councils, an arm of the American Communist Party, argued that it would “legalize forced labor.”[ii] But despite objections the measure was signed into law and the program began.

From mid-May to July 1, 1933, close to 9,000 men per day were recruited by state relief agencies in charge of selecting the enrollees. Many of the applicants were ineligible, but they were difficult to identify. The men made claims they were unmarried, or from families on relief, or they were the proper age when they were not. However, the quotas were met and the process of sending men to the camps proceeded. Pennsylvania was quick to jump on the wagon. When the final tally was completed, Pennsylvania had the second most camps; second only to California. Pennsylvania’s first quota of 5,000 men came largely from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The Scranton Republican, like most newspapers in Pennsylvania, was enthusiastic about the promise of the program. Its headline of April 6, 1933, showed it:

Mobilization of Forest Recruits Starts Today

Four Government Departments Speed Roosevelt Attack on Unemployment by Issuing Call for First Contingent of 25,000 Men; Young Unmarried Workers With Dependents Get Initial Jobs; Conditioning of Two Weeks at Military Camp Provided [iii] 

Concern that the men would be subjected to military-like regimentation was addressed by L. L. Bishop, Supervisor of the Allegheny National Forest. “Although the camps will be patterned after army cantonments, there will be no rigid discipline after working hours. We will not closely supervise the workers’ personal affairs. Rather we will depend on their own good judgement to govern their behavior. It must not be construed that the men will be confined as they are in prison camps.”[iv]

Secretary Staley noted with the beginning of the program that Pennsylvania had 14,000,000 man-days of work under the plan and the CCC would be a great benefit to the state. Staley estimated that two-thirds of the road building, trail building, tree planting, and other activities would be on State Forest lands. His plans did not include the Allegheny National Forest where the CCC would be administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Staley’s initial plan called for fifty camps of 200 men each, and four camps on state game lands. This would account for the initial 10,800 men, but they were anticipating building capacity to hold 25,000 men.

The first CCC camp in the nation to begin operation was appropriately named Camp Roosevelt and was set up at Luray in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. It began operation on April 17, 1933.

On April 24, 1933, 850 young men from Pittsburgh, broke camp at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and boarded a train for the Allegheny National Forest. They were the first contingent of CCC enrollees to pass through the induction and physical conditioning camp and head for Pennsylvania.

The CCC monument at Laurel Hill State Park

The location of the camps on state land was decided by the Department of Forests and Waters and the Army. Local politicians, aware that the camps in their areas meant business for local merchants, tried their best to persuade officials to place camps in their districts.  Almost every congressman and state legislator made some attempt to have a camp located in their district.

The first five camps in Pennsylvania in the Allegheny National Forest were officially opened on April 25, 1933. The camps were located at Frost, Marienville, Warren, and two at Kinzua. On May 6 the first camp was officially opened on state forest lands. By the end of the year there were 101 camps in Pennsylvania; this included 10 camps administered by the U.S. Forest Service, one camp by the National Parks (Gettysburg), one camp on private land (Beaver Springs), and three by state parks. The rest of the camps were on state forest lands.

The first enrollments were for six months. The administration took great pains to make sure both the enrollees and the public knew that the men would not be undergoing military training. As a press release put out by the administration pointed out. “The men will be civilians and will be treated as civilians. There will be neither military drill nor military discipline. The clothing will be work clothes, not military uniforms. The men will, of course be required to comply with such rules as are laid down for work and camp life.”[v]


[i] DeCoster, Lester, A. The Legacy of Penn’s Woods: A History of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Department of Environmental Resources, Harrisburg, 1993

[ii] The Wilkes-Barre Record, Wilkes-Barre, PA, March 25, 1933

[iii] The Scranton Republican, Scranton, PA, April 6, 1933

[iv] New Castle News, New Castle, PA, April 6, 1933

[v] The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, PA, May 4, 1933

Summer Fires

Almost every day as we turn on the TV or get the national news via computer or smartphone, we see images of and reports of wildfires devastating someplace. It can be the foothills in Southern California, the mountains in Montana, the outskirts of Phoenix and even Portugal.  Summer fires are common in many parts of the world.

In Pennsylvania summer fires are not unheard of, they are just not common. From 1940 to 2010 summer fires in June, July and August account for only 8.7% of the total number of fires and 5.6% of the total acreage from 1960 to 2010. This is according to DCNR’s records.

Summer fires in Pennsylvania are a different kind of animal. The fires are often small and not burning very fast, but they tend to burn hot and into the dry duff. They require digging out. Crews may work for days on a fire that is less than an acre.

Yet large fires can and have happened in the Keystone State. On July 14, 1886, The Forest Republican, of Tionesta reported what they described as “One of the most destructive forest fires that ever visited this section of the country” near Sheffield, Warren County had burned over the lumber camps and peeled bark of the Horton, Crary & Co. Near Brockway in Jefferson County fires were reported “in every direction” during July of 1887. In July of 1894 a fire broke out that threatened the large mill of the Medix Run Lumber Company.

On July 10, 1962, 73 persons including 59 children in 13 families were made homeless when a forest fire, believed started by children playing with matches, bore down on the village of Hawstone near the Mifflin – Juniata County line in the Lewistown Narrows section on the south side of the Juniata River. Twenty-one frame dwellings, along with a church and a mobile home were destroyed. On July 19, 1966, lightning started a forest fire on Piney Mountain in Adams County. The 25 acre blaze required bulldozers to contain.

The summer of 1993 was dry and fires continued to burn through the summer and into the fall. A fire in Laurel Run Borough, Luzerne County began on July 22nd and was not extinguished until August 8th, 18 days later. The fire covered 168 acres.

These are just a few of the thousands of fires that burned during the month of July. Despite the fact that there is now a “Flash Flood Warning” across much of the state as I write this, remember, wildfires can and do burn in the summer.

What Is Acid Mine Drainage

Since my post last week, I thought I had better clarify what Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is. I dug through the files and came up with an essay from my days back in BAMR.  I hope this clarifies things.

Cooks Run at the confluence with Camp Run.

What is Acid Mine Drainage?  The answer is pretty simple and pretty complex.  The simple answer is Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is any water that comes from a mine with a pH less than 7.   

Now the complex answer.  Let’s start with the water cycle.  Water falls as rain or snow from the clouds and settles on the Earth.  If it doesn’t hit a body of water it either becomes surface water or groundwater.  Surface water runs off and is the basis for flow in many freestone streams.  Think of the streams that feed Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. After a rain or snow melt event they go right up.  Then, just as quick they go back down.  These streams are very dependent on surface water. Water that doesn’t immediately flow into streams becomes groundwater.  Sometimes it has a short flow path measured in hours to go from one place to another, and sometimes it has a long flow path taking eons to go from point A to point B.  Groundwater is the base flow of our lovely little brook trout streams, the limestoners and all rivers and other bodies of water.  When the groundwater drops, down goes the stream.  Groundwater and surface water is often intercepted by man for uses such as drinking, manufacturing, agriculture and making beer and things of that ilk.  Eventually though it is evaporated or transpired by organisms and off to the atmosphere it goes to eventually fall on another part of this blue orb we call home. 

            Now we start getting technical.  When coal was formed back before there was television, video games and the WWE it was laid down as a layer of carbon bearing materials which were plants….not animals.  Over these deposits of ferns, mosses and the lichen (sorry just a little play on words and a poor one at that), minerals of various kinds were deposited.  Coarse grain mineral deposits became sandstone, fine grained deposits became shale.  Depending on the environment these minerals were dropped in determined the quality of the strata over the compressed plants that would eventually become coal.  Some areas that became inundated by the ocean were covered by deposits of limestone.  Some river bottoms had large quantities of sand and silt that was mostly leached of soluble minerals.  Brackish environments full of mud received mineral deposits near where freshwater met the oceans like the Chesapeake Bay.  These deposits were often laid down in an environment quite different from the oxygen rich environment we live in today.  The sandstone and shale piled up quite rapidly (geologically speaking) and their intense downward pressure caused the plant matter beneath to become coal. 

            Okay so after a few million years or so humans found that this black stone cropping out of the cliff burned.  Image the first person to discover that and report back to the tribe.  They probably stoned him for being a witch.  But it was too late.  The genie had been let from the bottle and the race for industrialization was on.  Fast forward now to the early 18th century.  America was a new and growing land.  Resources were plentiful and appeared to the 18th century citizen as limitless.  Lo and behold after the Europeans got established in Pennsylvania they discovered coal.  Bituminous coal was found in western Pennsylvania and Anthracite was found in the northeastern corner of the state.  As the country prospered this fuel source was exploited and the population grew causing greater demand.  Since the coal was laid in layers called seams in the Bituminous fields and veins in the Anthracite fields and the Earth had shifted and it wasn’t exactly level to begin with there was a slope to the coal that came to be called the dip.

Groundwater, remember what that is, was often associated with the coal seams as aquifers (underground water storage reservoirs) because the underclay (the primordial soil on which the plants that formed coal grew) was relatively impervious (water was unable to readily pass through it thus forming what is called an aquatard).  Well the early miners weren’t that dumb.  They found if they started on the up dip side of the coal seam the hole they were working in quickly filled with water and either they or their mule would drown.  Since mules were hard to come by they decided that if they started on the down dip side and mine up, the water would run out of the mine and away from them thus saving them from the exasperating experience of having to perform artificial respiration on a mule who neither cared nor wanted a grizzled old tobacco chewing miner breathing up his nostrils. 

            In the Anthracite region things were a bit different.  Anthracite coal is actually metamorphosed and the veins were folded and compressed.  At the bottom of the fold was the greatest concentration of coal. Of course this is also where the greatest collection of water is.  To solve this problem they dug tunnels through the mountain to drain the water away. 

            Now, remember the overlying rock.  There are mineral deposits in them called sulfides.  The most common one associated with coal is pyrite or ‘fools gold’.  Fools gold has a nasty habit.  When it is exposed to air and water it can form sulfuric acid.  The fools gold in the overburden is already exposed to water in the form of groundwater but there is no oxygen deep in the ground.  Here come the miners and what do they do.  Well, it’s sort of like opening a door on a smoldering fire in the wood stove.  Poof!   So now you have a mine generating sulfuric acid.  That is a bad thing insofar as fish are concerned.   

            If the coal was lucky enough to have a limestone layer deposited over top of it, the water leaching through the rock (henceforth called overburden) received alkalinity as it made its way to the coal.  This was enough alkalinity that it neutralized the acid.  If the overburden was sandstone or a brackish shale there would be no neutralization and the acid would flow out of the mine unabated. 

            Now I want you to think back to your high school chemistry class.  Did you ever see sulfuric acid?  Was it yellow?  Of course it wasn’t yellow!  It was clear, and if you had been paying more attention to the lab work and not your lab partner in the mini-skirt (sorry ladies this doesn’t apply to you) you might have remembered this.  Well then, just where does the orange color come from? 

            Well, in the overburden, the coal and the mine floor there are metals.  In Pennsylvania they are primarily Iron, Manganese and Aluminum.  These metals dissolve in acid.  When there are a lot of metals in solution and they are exposed to air, or they mix with water of a high pH they deposit on whatever happens to be handy, like rocks in the stream.  Iron is the most common because it comes out of pyrite.  Pyrite is made of iron and sulfur.  This iron causes the yellow, orange and reds seen in streams across Pennsylvania and has acquired the name of “Yellow Boy”.  Manganese forms a black precipitate.  Aluminum is a white precipitate.  One of the most common sources of aluminum is not from the overburden but from the mine floor where it is leached from the underclay.  Elemental sulfur is almost never found as a precipitate. 

            Iron and Manganese are not usually in and of themselves toxic.  Instead they smother the aquatic substrate and the organisms that live there by a depositional effect.  Aluminum on the other hand is deadly at low pH.  At a pH of 5.5, aluminum in concentrations of 0.5 mg/L will usually kill all fish and most macroinvertebrates.  Other metals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, and so on are also present but usually in much, much smaller amounts. 

            But it just keeps getting better.  There are microbes called “ferrobacters“ that actually enhance the production of AMD.  These little critters thrive in AMD and actually speed up the reaction. 

            Surface mining that came along around the time of World War II exposed huge quantities of pyrite bearing overburden to air and water.  Underground mines left huge voids to be exposed to air and water.  Out of the drain tunnels drilled into the anthracite mines flowed massive amounts of water.  Pennsylvania coal mines began generating and continue to generate this mixture of acid and metals and unless abated will continue on for the next millennium or so. 

Two samples of AMD are as follows. 

The Oneida #3 Discharge (Anthracite Tunnel Discharge) 

pH 4.4

Sulfates 45 mg/L

Total Iron  .141 mg/L

Manganese  .474 mg/L

Aluminum 1.950 mg/L

Acidity 16.4 mg/l

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 1399 gpm 

The Camp Run Discharge (Surface Mine Discharge in Northern

Bituminous Field) 

pH 2.4

Sulfates 1740 mg/L

Total Iron 10.92 mg/L

Manganese 46.3 mg/L

Aluminum 249 mg/L

Acidity 2768 mg/L

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 5 gpm 

Deep Mine seep into Cooks Run at Bear Hollow

            Both samples are AMD.  Both samples are capable of clearing most normal aquatic life for miles downstream.  So to answer the complex question of what is AMD?  The generally accepted answer is water with a pH less than 5, Sulfates greater than an undisturbed background sample or 50 mg/L, metals elevated beyond undisturbed background samples and acidity greater than alkalinity.  This begs a few other questions.  Is all drainage from mines acidic?  No.  Do all mines leach metals?  Probably in some form or another.  Are certain areas better to mine in than others?  Yes.  Can trout survive in mine drainage?  Yes provided the metal content is low and the pH is not severely depressed.  Does AMD only come from coal mines?  No.  Other types of mines develop it as well, particularly clay mines and in the western states metal mines. Even road cuts that expose coal seams can generate AMD. These and other questions are the subject of thousands of technical articles, books and reports.   

There is a lot of new and interesting science being developed to treat this catastrophic problem.  The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation estimates that over 7,000 miles of streams do not meet the clean streams standards of Pennsylvania because of mining.  But things are better now than they were even just a few years ago.  Pointing fingers and saying who is to blame is pointless.  It was the energy from coal, Pennsylvania coal that provided the materials to keep us from speaking German or Japanese.  Coal is the fuel that is probably providing the electricity to your computer so that you can read this.  It has been a good energy source and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  New technology will help it to be mined cleaner and burned cleaner. New technology will also allow for us to find ways to treat or eliminate the pernicious problem of AMD.

 

Forty Years of AMD in Cooks Run – Camp Run and Rock Ru

Me, sitting on Dad’s lap with my brother and sister fishing in Cooks Run, 1955

Cooks Run is my “home water.” I learned to fish on Cooks Run and – even though I don’t remember it – I was told I caught my first trout in Rock Run. As the story goes, I was fishing with Dad, my brother and sister, when I caught a small wild brook trout. I was so excited I ran up to the car, where Mother was reading a book. I thrust the fish into the open window of the car, at which point it decided to un-impale itself from the hook, and dropped onto my mother’s lap. That was followed by a lot of yelling screaming. Somehow the fish survived this traumatic encounter and made it back to Rock Run. However, I was the one that was hooked, and thus began my slide down the slippery slope of trout fishing.

As the years went by, I took to trout fishing with abandon. Fishing Cooks Run below Rock Run there was bigger water which made casting easier for this novice fly caster. I had a bamboo rod in my teens. Don’t get too excited, it was a Heddon, with an old single action open frame reel. I still have the reel. I gave the rod to a “friend” to refinish and re-wrap and to this day the s.o.b. claims he never got it. But I digress.

The bounty of Cooks Run c 1976

Cooks Run is one of those wonderful Pennsylvania freestone streams that tumbles out of the mountains. The insects are diverse – in the non-AMD section – and native brook trout and wild browns populate the stream along with stockies put there by the PF&BC as well as the Western Clinton County Sportsmen’s cooperative nursery.

Cooks Run above the AMD impacted area.

In 1974 things changed for the worse. Cooks Run has the unfortunate geological fate to lie just inside the Pennsylvania bituminous coal measures. Crowley Run, the largest tributary that meets Cooks Run about a mile upstream of its juncture with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, has been polluted with AMD for well over a century. Even as a youngster I do not recall ever hearing anyone talking about fish in Crowley Run. The AMD was a result of underground mining that began just before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It was further exacerbated by surface mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Through all of that Cooks Run remained clean and full of trout. In 1974 a permit was issued for two separate sites near the headwaters of Camp Run and Rock Run at the opposite end of the watershed.

At the time the area was about as wild as any place in the Sproul State Forest. Two tracks through the woods led to the sites. Two long-abandoned log cabins were near the site. In my memory one cabin had completely fallen in and the other, though standing, was uninhabitable.

Fran Contracting of Wallaceton, Clearfield County was issued the permit to mine, against the objections of the Western Clinton County Sportsmen and several others. That part of Clinton County has high sulfur coal with high ash content. There is no alkaline material in the overburden to buffer any AMD and the coal lies atop an underclay that is high in aluminum. The underlying sandstone is largely fractured allowing groundwater to travel about anywhere. All things considered, it is a terrible place to mine coal.

Cooks Run downstream of Camp Run following the mining in 1977

By 1977 the effects of mining on the Fran sites were noted downstream. Water that percolated through the backfill on top of the mountain became acidic. As it travelled across the pit floor the acid dissolved aluminum – highly lethal to trout at low pH – dropped into the fractures and came out as base flow in Rock Run, downstream of Wildcat Hollow. To look at Rock Run where the AMD enters the untrained eye cannot tell the difference between clean water and AMD. However, when Rock Run meets Cooks Run, the pH rises allowing the aluminum to precipitate out and coat the streambed with a white precipitate. The discharge from the larger 37 acre site emanates from the toe of spoil, and pollutes Camp Run. It has a more characteristic red-orange color that most people associate with AMD. From Rock Run down, Cooks Run wasn’t just polluted, it was dead!

This was my trout water. I was incensed. I wrote letters to the Fish Commission and DER, as well as my state representatives and senators, as well as the local state reps. Only the Fish Commission responded. Paul Swanson was the Regional Law Enforcement Director for the Fish Commission, and he put me in touch with Harry “Snakey” Snodgrass, of the WCCSA.

In June of 1978 Snakey organized a meeting to be held on the stream to see the effects of AMD. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember who all were there but in addition to Snakey and me, there was Jay Johnston, WCO of PFC; Jack Paulhamus, District Forester; Harry Anderson, retired Forest Ranger; Bryce Putnam and D.R. Thompson of DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation; Dave Wolf, a writer at the time for the Potter County Enterprise; and a few others.

While standing on the bridge at Camp Run, either Putnam or Thompson made the statement that the stream had been polluted before the mining. At that point someone said, “Let’s throw them in the creek!” The two mining officials ran back to their car and refused to get out for the rest of the trip.

Fran Contracting and their consultant made a few half-hearted attempts to treat the AMD but it was futile. AMD continued to pour out of the site.

In 1981 I transferred to the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation’s Hawk Run District Office. The area encompassed by office included in Clinton County. Among other things I sampled AMD across the region, reviewed permits and talked about solutions to cleaning up Cooks Run.

Late summer morning on the site, with fog lying in the West Branch valley

By then the company had given up and its bonds posted on the site were forfeited. The $11,000 was not near enough to develop a detailed plan to clean up the site or treat the discharge. The Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania pointedly states that in the event of a discharge that does not meet effluent standards the landowner is ultimately responsible. In this case the landowner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the area is in the Sproul State Forest. This nuance in the law caused the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (now the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) to threaten to sue the Department of Environmental Resources (of which the Bureau of Forestry was then a part) for allowing a discharge of AMD to a stream. Paul Swanson, along with a young biologist for the Fish Commission named John Arway went into District Forester Butch Davey’s office and told him in very pointed language of their intent. Well that went over like finding a turd in a punchbowl.

Inter-agency warfare was not something anyone wanted, yet the PFC and DER were ready to go at it. Sampling and studies were conducted. Meetings were held. I was involved in my work as a Mining Permit & Compliance Specialist, and that is how I came to know John. Plans were brainstormed and discarded as being unfeasible, too expensive and just plain stupid. We considered passive treatment – then in its infancy, active treatment, driving the reaction to endpoint, burning the carbonaceous material in-situ and on and on.

After transferring the Harrisburg in 1985 I began to work with Joe Schueck, a hydrogeologist/engineer. At the time Joe worked for D.R. Thompson, mentioned previously who never said much about Cooks Run. Joe was into the “magic toys” of technology. Terrain conductivity, resistivity, magnetometry and whatever other tools or technology Joe could find, we ran on the site. We drilled water sampling wells and collected hundreds of samples. In addition Joe worked with Terry Ackman from the technology side of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Terry had developed a technique where concrete grout was pumped under pressure into backfill to seal AMD producing materials. The technique looked promising. Another key player that entered the picture was Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor in materials handling and an expert in concrete at Penn State University.

Joe and his “Oh shit! moment at 3 a.m. in September 1992 right after the first load of fly ash was delivered.
Fly ash in the storage bin, being moved to the mixer loading area, 1992

A plan was developed to map the site using the “magic toys” to determine where the AMD was being produced. Then a series of holes would be drilled into the “pods” and a concrete grout would be pumped into the ground. The grout would be made with Fluidized Bed Combustion Fly Ash (FBCFA) which would produce a low tensile strength, high compressive strength grout. Bureau of Mining and Reclamation Director, Ernie Giovannitti was enthusiastic about the project, and somehow we found money to try the experiment.

One of the vagaries of the project was people; we couldn’t hire people to do the job. Mining and construction companies were loath to take on the project because of the remoteness of the site and the questionable technique. Even though the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) has a construction crew, that bureau wanted no part of the experiment. We would get fluidized bed combustion fly ash from Fort Drum for free, but paid the trucking costs, we could rent any of the equipment we needed. This included concrete mixers, an auger to load the ash and various other things. The Bureau of Forestry loaned us a skid loader and water tank truck. Now all that was needed was people to operate the equipment.

With Ernie’s blessing we put out a call across DER to find volunteers to come up to Clinton County for a week and run equipment. We thought we might get ten or twenty. We got scads of volunteers from all across the department – except BAMR.

John Meehan running the drill, 1992

In the summer of 1992 the project began. Joe Schueck was the man in charge and I was involved as a loyal assistant. I had bitched and moaned for so long about something needing to be done that it was put up or shut time and it was time to put up.

The drilling crew, August 1992, intern Angie, Joe Schueck, Me, the drillers, Jim and Denny
Casing a hole. Me, Joe and Denny

Through August we drilled 545 holes into the backfill. The holes were cased with 4 inch PVC electrical conduit. The lowest section of conduit was perforated with ¾ inch holes to allow the grout to flow out of the casing into the backfill. At the top of the casing was a threaded coupling to allow for the hose of the grout pump to be attached.

At the end of August we were ready to begin pumping grout. The first loads of fly ash arrived on site at about 2:30 in the morning, and Joe and I were there to meet them. Talk about an “Oh shit!” moment. We were now committed.

A pod of AMD material that has been drilled and cased. The casing was cut and a fitting glued to the top. This field was called “Snake City”
A drill field before the pipes were shortened and the threaded coupler was attached. This particular field we called Snake City. The white tubes are monitoring wells.
The fly ash was nasty stuff to work with – either dry or wet. We called the fine powder “Fairy Dust”
Loading fly ash to the auger bin that would load the mixer. 1992
We refined the operation in 1993 and used a closed cab backhoe for loading. Much better for the operator.
The Pozzolanic reaction created quite a bit of heat and on cool mornings water vapor streamed from the mixers.
Pumping a field. Roger Bowman moves the water hose used to flush out the holes before injecting the grout.
A completed hole. The grout in this case flowed up and out around the casing.

Later that morning we began to pump grout. We hauled water to the site via tank truck and dumped it into a collapsible pond. Using a grain auger we loaded fly ash into the concrete mixer and added water with the help of a portable pump. The ratio was 1 part water to between 1 and 1.6 parts ash. The resulting grout slurry was about the consistency of thin pancake batter. Then we drove the mixer to the designated injection field, selected the injection hole and using a concrete pump, pumped the grout down the hole until it would not take any more grout. This was usually expressed by the grout coming out of the ground near the hole or the cap blowing off the top of the casing. Some holes took more grout than others. Some would take more than one mixer while other holes would take only a part of a mixer.

Anyone that has ever worked with fly ash knows that it is fine and dirty. Loading the hopper of the auger at the loading site with a skid loader was dusty – sometimes to the point of blotting out the sun. When the ash was mixed with water the slurry was muddy. There was just no way around it. Through September and into October we mixed and pumped grout. As the weather turned cold

BOF converted Deuce and a Half we used to haul water.
A load of grout heading for a drill field.

we had to abandon the project for the year.

Me, Joe Vatter (a volunteer) and Joe Schueck. Joe is holding one of the perforated casings.

Through the winter we plotted and planned on how to improve the efficiency of the project. Early sample results from the monitoring wells were encouraging. In May of 1993 we re-started the project. That year we had two mixers. The one from the previous year had been worn out when we began and by the time we were finished with it, it was completely shot. The two we got in 1993 weren’t much better. We also rented a closed cab back hoe to load the ash. This was a great improvement over the open skid loader. By the end of August we had completed grouting. Altogether we pumped 2007 cubic meters of grout into the 545 holes and used another 765 cubic meters to cap overtop of some of the particularly bad or “hot” zones.

This is what happens when you drop a tool near a grout hole.

We returned to Harrisburg, convinced we had done what we could and we would see success of the project. We knew that we hadn’t been able to get all of the AMD producing backfill encapsulated but we thought we had made a significant difference. Water sample results were initially encouraging. We were certain we had made an impact on Rock Run.

Through the rest of the decades we continued to sample. The results seemed to diminish. Joe moved over to BAMR to head the AMD Division and in 1999 I too went to BAMR. A change in leadership in that bureau had begun to make it more than a “put the dirt back in the hole” organization.

Joe Schueck (in coveralls) testing one of the anoxic passive treatment bench test systems.

Passive treatment had advanced and Joe formulated a plan to use an anoxic method where sulfates in the water would be converted back to pyrite in a stable form. There’s actually a lot more to the chemical reactions but that’s the gist of it. He began the work on a large scale bench test in late 2000 and by 2002 we saw the results. It was not what we had hoped for.

By 2009 both Joe and I had retired. The sites were still producing AMD but we had tried our best to bring about positive change.

Techniques in passive and active treatment in AMD had advanced exponentially since the grout injection project. In the early 2000s BAMR had tried to collect all the water coming off the site and run it through a treatment system but because of the amount of water and the highly fractured rock, collection of all the water was deemed impossible.

Remining on the small site to the east of the injection site.
The injection site in 2017 ready to be remined.

Further investigation of the site began about 2011 and it was decided to re-mine the small site to the east and mix the backfill with limestone dust. The project began in 2012. All of our previous geotechnical work had not shown significant water on the small site, yet when excavation was begun, significant groundwater was found. Following completion of the site, water was sampled and the results were extremely encouraging.

In the spring of 2017 bids were let to re-mine the 37 acre injection site using the same technique and that brings us to today.

23rd Rivers Conservation Camp Concludes

The 23rd Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp concluded at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg yesterday. The students, staff and the folks at Messiah did an outstanding job in bringing about the success of the camp. For an overview of the camp please view the slide show prepared by staff member Kelsey Miller at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFnUuw0Ppk0&t=5s