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.
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.
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