Ken Beaton: Boys to men in six months
Imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of 200 single American males 18 to 25 years old in April 1935 when their Civilian Conservation Corps train stopped to detrain in Battle Mountain, Nevada? “Oh my God! This place is in the middle of nowhere!” Remember, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re half way there!
Campers carried either a battered suitcase or a worn gunny sack for luggage as they climbed into the back of 15 stake bed trucks for the convoy ride 30 miles south on Nevada State Route 8A, later changed to SR 305. At the city line they had concerned facial expressions while passing the sign, “No Gas Next 90 Miles.” Many of the campers reflected, I thought Hell would have more fire and brimstone.
Camp DG-18’s commander, U.S. Army Lt. Harland L. Gray, arrived on July 11, 1935 with his wife and children. Imagine Gray’s wife’s thoughts as she viewed alkali and sagebrush forever.
When the convoy stopped, the new recruits jumped from the back of the trucks to assemble in three lines. In alphabetical order the last names of first 60 recruits were called. They jogged to the first barracks with their suitcase or gunny sack. Upon entering the barracks, each recruit was assigned his cot with a foot locker. The Army issued clothing, supplies, toiletry items and a round metal disk with his service number, similar to the Navy’s and Coast Guard’s World War II “dog tags.” The recruits took the CCC Oath.
The camp regiment was similar to the Army’s. Wearing Army-issued clothing and boots, their day began at 6 a.m. with reveille, calisthenics, a “stick to your ribs” breakfast, policing the grounds and barracks, roll call and inspection. At 7:45 the campers rode to their work project. They had an hour for lunch. The trucks were loaded at 4 p.m. returning for recreation and dinner at 5:30. From 6 to 9 p.m. a large variety of educational courses were taught. Taps and lights out were at 10 p.m.
The educational adviser was usually an unemployed male teacher. The courses offered were academic, job training, health, first aid and lifesaving. Camp Mill Creek discovered 40 illiterate recruits. They were required to attend classes to read and write. Over nine years, 40,000 campers became literate. They received a proficiency certificate upon completing each course.
One of the ways to increase morale was to have a baseball team, sports competition. To be a successful team, everyone had to “do their job.” Teammates developed close bonds. They became closer than siblings. This was similar to being Army foxhole mates, trusting each other with their lives.
For almost all of the campers, this was their first time away from home. Mail call was filled with anticipation. Receiving a letter from mom or your girlfriend with news from home was better than opening presents on Christmas morning! A $.03 stamp mailed a letter, postcards $.01.
The best ways to settle a dispute between two campers was to put on a pair of boxing gloves and get in a ring. When the two were “punched out,” after three rounds, suddenly they’re best buddies!
Do the math. An 18-year old kid in 1935 would be 103 in 2020. The chances of me interviewing a 103-year-old are slim and none. My next option was to gather information from one of my 1974 Battle Mountain High School graduates, Lori Lemaire Price, a retired Battle Mountain teacher. With Lori’s vision and persistence, the Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum project began in 2000. Be patient, the Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum commentary will be a future.
The Bureau of Land Management Battle Mountain archaeologist, Katherine “Kat” Russell, researched and wrote a 29-page report about Camp DG-18 Mill Creek. Kat gave her report to the Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum. Lori photocopied Kat’s report and sent me a copy.
With any group of men, good tasting food is important. A sample breakfast was hot oatmeal, omelet, stewed fruit, toast and butter with hot coffee. Ham & cabbage, potatoes, bread pudding with sauce, bread and butter and coffee was an example of a dinner meal.
M.J. Bowen wrote regular reports to Director Robert Fechner in Washington, D.C. I found the health section of Bowen’s letter dated Nov. 25, 1935 interesting. “Two enrollees in quarters, one in the hospital, health otherwise excellent. This company has been established three (3) months, and during that time has had no venereal disease.” No venereal disease in a report always looks well for the commander.
In less than two years, Mill Creek Camp had constructed or improved 77 miles of road, built 20 miles of drift fence, drilled six wells and cleared a number of streams and springs. The campers took measures against crickets, gophers, jack rabbits and ground squirrels on 270,000 acres of rangeland.
On April 1, 1937 Camp Mill Creek closed. A third of the men traveled by train to Fort Dix, N.J. and discharged. The remaining two thirds were relocated to DG-64 Camp Lamoille in Elko County.
Have you hiked a trail in a Nevada State Park, rested under a man-made sun shade, crossed a cattle guard or enjoyed fishing in a man-made pond or creek? Next time look for a cement rectangle with the letters, CCC. “From boys to men in six-months,” their projects have lasted over eight decades!
Before I wrote this third commentary, I was asked, “Ken, what are you writing about now?” I answered, “I’m writing about the CCC.” Each person smiled and said, “We need to bring back the CCC to get the homeless off the streets.” That’s a good idea. However, many homeless males and females have serious mental health issues which would have to be addressed first.