THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS
HEYBURN STATE PARK EXPERIENCE 1934-1942
by Mike McKinley
With Reminiscences from the Man Who Were There (excerpt)
The CCC operated 163 camp in Idaho, more than in any other state with the exception of California. At least 28,074 Idaho man were given employment with the CCC. This included 20,292 junior and veteran enrollees, 1,038 Indians, and 6,744 nonenrolled personnel of camp officers and supervisory men. The number of men who were working in Idaho from out-of-state was 86,775.
The CCC labor in Idaho was primarily directed at eradicating the white pine blister rust ravaging Idaho's forests, and fighting forest fires. However, in 1934, CCC Company 1995 was assigned task of establishing a permanent camp at Heyburn State Park near Plummer, Idaho, from which it would work to build visitor facilities and develop the park's recreational resources. The 7,825 acre park, embracing the shores of beautiful Lake Chacolet, with Idaho's only state park at that time. Although a very popular park since its creation in 1908, Heyburn had had very little developmen and, with the exception of privately owned cottages on the lakefront. It was the job of Company 1995 to change that and to open the park to the public.
Company 1995 in Heyburn State Park
Company 1995 began operating in the park on Oct. 8, 1934. The camp was designated as Camp SP-1, short for State Park One. The young man making up the company were primarily from Idaho -- 57 percent were from the small towns or from the mining districts of Idaho; 35 percent were from rural areas; and 8 percent were from cities. The company ranks were also fleshed out by men from New York, Oklahoma, Illinois, and other parts of the country. These men had signed up with their local agencies but had been transferred to Idaho.
Floyd Pomerinke of St. Maries, Idaho, who put in two six-month stretches with Company 1995 and said, "Our unit was composed of Idaho guys. That's why it was a good outfit." Pomerinke added, "The CCC wasn't a big joke, as some may think. We really worked hard."
The work projects in the park were under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, cooperating with the Idaho Department of Public Works. Rex Wendle of Spokane, Washington, was the project superintendent for Company 1995. Wendle said, "Heyburn State Park was changed from a forest area to a real park by the National Park Service using CCC labor. I started out for the National Park Service when it took over the making of the park in 1933. They sent me to Chacolet as project superintendent. I remember there was no running water or electricity."
Wendle added that he had eight foremen working for him who trained and supervised the CCC boys. "They got us water and electricity," Wendle stated, "and made a great park with roads, trails, and campgrounds."
Ella Wendle, wife of the project superintendent, said that the foremen "gave the CCC boys wonderful training in construction, masonry, and road building. Many of the CCC boys used this training for a career." Mrs. Wendell added, "I can't speak highly enough of the training they got there."
The camp was a small city unto itself. There was a mess hall, school building, recreation hall, office and supply building, four large barracks, buildings containing the toilets, showers, wash room and drying room, forestry quarters, officers quarters, light plant, repair shop, blacksmith shop, and numerous other buildings housing company property. The camp had all the modern conveniences. These included electric lights, flush toilets, hot and cold showers, and a sewer system. Gravel walks, edged by logs of uniform size, formed a network among the buildings, and shrubbery was planted where it would have the greatest visual effect. All of the buildings had an interior coat of paint with the door and window frames painted green. The out sides of the buildings were treated with blow torches, which brought into relief the grain of the wood.
In short, the camp was first class. It definitely was not a "Hooverville," or Dogpatch from the Li'l Abner cartoon strip. The men did an excellent job building it. In February 1935, the commanding general of the 9th Corps area, which had jurisdiction over Heyburn, visited the camp for inspection. In the inspection was completed, the camp was accorded the distinction of being the best CCC camp in the Fort George C. Wright District by the district commander.
The Company ranged in size from 150-200 young man. According to Fred Blood of Spokane, Washington, who served as a cook at Heyburn, the company had the unusual distinction of having 17 sets of brothers on the muster roll. Fred and his brother were one of the sets.
Blood went on to relate that the work uniforms and dress uniform won by the CCCs were Army surplus and the barracks housing the men were similar to those on the military installation. However, despite the fact that the camps were supervised by Army or Navy officers, there was little emphasis on military training per se. The only military ceremonies performed were flag raising and lowering ceremonies in the morning and evenings, and personnel and barrack inspections. However, according to Blood, these ceremonies and inspections did, in a small way, prepare many of the CCC boys for military life which they would soon encounter in World War II.
The daily routine in camp normally began with breakfast at 7 a.m.. Shortly thereafter the barracks were inspected for neatness. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the crews were on the job except for the lunch hour, usually taken in the field. At 4 p.m., all motor vehicles were checked by the foremen responsible for the project on which they had been used. Once back in camp, the men changed from work clothes to dress uniforms, preparatory to dinner at 5 p.m.. Free time was allowed until taps at 10 p.m.
The boys in the camp were paid $30 per month, of which $25 was sent home to help keep their families off relief. There were, however, leaders and foremen who were paid more than $30.
But for those who weren't leaders were foremen, the $5 they had left had to be stretched over a one-month period. Ella Wendle said that the boys were happy with that stipend. "They got one weekend a month to go to town," she said. "I never heard of any disciplinary problems. Drugs were unheard of, and I imagine they got beer when they went to town."
Fred Blood related that "with careful budgeting, the boys could stretch that $5 for an entire month. On their time off they could go to St. Maries were Plummer, take in a show, eat out, and still have change left over!"
It was during one of these forays into town that Blood and a companion had a close call with a train. During the CCC experience at Heyburn, the Union Pacific and Milwaukee railroads ran on a regular basis through the park. A small train depot, now gone, was located in the park not far from the Pedee Creek trestle, which one may still see today. On their day off, the CCC boys could walk up a trail to the depot and catch a train to St. Maries or Plummer.
On one occasion, Blood told how he and a friend decided to take a short walk along the trestle while waiting for the train. But the train arrived at the trestle while Blood and his companion were a shortly along it, yet too far away to get back before the train would overtake them. "The only thing we could do," said Blood, "was to drop between the tracks and hang on to one of the ties and let the train go over us." As the two CCC boys dangled there beneath the trestle, the engineer spotted them and blew steam on the desperate lads as he crossed over them. Fortunately, the steam went over their heads. Blood stated that the "engineer really didn't have to do that. But I guess he wanted to teach us not to play around on the trestle."
"Many of the boys enjoyed the good food in the camp," said Ella Wendle. "Some of them had never had enough to eat and gained a lot of weight." As a former camp cook, Fred Blood pointed out that the food was of good variety and quality and that the cooks were willing to eat their own cooking!
The mess hall was spotless and when the men taking their turn as servers hustled about tables, they often had six or seven plates of food racked on each arm. "While eating there was little chatter," said Blood. "You got in, ate, and got out. There was work to be done."
Blood mentioned one fellow who had extremely poor table manners. This young fellow had a habit of eating everything with his hands. The other men were becoming annoyed. According to Blood, "The cooks built the offender a pig trough and served his meals in it until he got the hint that his bad table manners wouldn't be tolerated."
Blood described the supply room just off the kitchen which was filled with canned goods to feed the hungry crews. In back of the supply room was an ice house where the sides of beef were hung. "Sometimes the beef couldn't be used up fast enough," Blood said, "and it would get a little moldy and slimy." Blood explained how the cooks took care of that by putting soda and vinegar in a big pot and then soaking the meat in it. This concoction would make the meat palatable by taking off the mold.
The mess hall also doubled as a dance hall, since the floors had been treated with oil and waxed. The company had an orchestra and hosted dances at the park. Residents of St. Maries, Plummer, and surrounding communities were invited. The dances were good public relations and got people out to the park to enjoy themselves and to meet the CCC boys, and see what they were accomplishing in the park.
During their free time, the men took advantage of the recreational hall in the camp. The recreational hall had pool tables, games, and a 1000-volume library which received seven or eight daily newspapers and contained 30 of the best periodicals. Blood remarked that the recreation hall was pretty up-to-date for that time. "We had nice comfortable furniture, rugs, and fireplace," he said. "We had nice comfortable furniture, rugs, and fireplace," he said. "Some of the camps didn't have rec hall," he added, "but the one at Heyburn was complete and the men appreciated it and felt lucky to have it."
The camp boxing ring was the scene of the number of "smokers" which featured camp pugilists taking on the favored fighters from other CCC camps and local communities. The ring was also used in helping to settle personal arguments.
"If there was an argument between two fellows, the first sergeant got the boxing gloves and into the boxing ring they would go," said Kenneth Hart, former Company 1995 member. "The argument was settled with close with the first sergeant acting as referee," added Hart, "and when the fight ended that was the end of it. Everything was settled."
Sometimes, however, the situation called for action outside the ring. Floyd Pomerinke related an incident in camp where a camp bully got great delight and picking on one of the little fellas. This went on for some time. But one Monday, after returning from a weekend spent at home, Floyd noticed that the bully was looking a little worse for the wear, sporting two black eyes and a swollen lip. It appears that the vertically impaired victim of the bully's past abuse had a brother who had been runner-up in the Golden Gloves competition, and he had decided that enough was enough. Things were a lot more peaceful around there after that.
Free time in the camp was also a time for learning. The second floor of the camp wood shop was set aside as an education center. Volunteer instructors, under the supervision of the education officer, taught the men a wide range of subjects. The courses included reading and writing, typing, photography, first aid, cooking, blacksmithing, welding, mechanics, and woodworking. All of these were in addition to be on the job training being learned on the project.
During their stay in Heyburn from 1934-1942, the men of Company 1995 literally built the park. They constructed roads, trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds; they cleared brush, laid water lines and develop beaches; they put in bridges and culverts, and brought power lines into the park; they built a lodge at Rocky Point, and constructed shelters, tables, benches, stoves and toilets throughout the park.
Craftsmanship and attention to detail were expressed in all the structures in the park. Fred Blood remarked, "everything was built according to exact specifications and there was no shoddy workmanship." Even today, many of the buildings, shelters, and fireplaces are still standing and are in used in the park. Some of the finest depression-era architecture may still be seen at Heyburn.
But firefighting was the company's primary task when not building. The camp at Heyburn had a fire control plan and was ready to fight forest fires throughout some 800,000 acres under protection of the camp. Fire crews were organized to ensure that a full-sized crew was in camp at all times.
Floyd Pomerinke said, "We had a crack firefighting unit. Each one had to take a turn staying in camp on weekends so we could be on a truck in a matter of minutes." He explained how one afternoon, he and others were involved in putting out a very hot fire going uphill from the railroad tracks in the park. "There were a lot of resort homes in the vicinity," said Pomerinke, "so they were eager to get it out fast. When the fire was extinguished and we came back down the hill, the women of the community had a big meal set out for us on the dock."
William Maas was one of the fire crew leaders at Heyburn: "We were trained as firefighters and I was in charge of a crew. Firefighting was a lot different then, as we had no radios or airplanes to help. When there was smoke seen, we would grab our axes, Pulaskies, backpacks, and start hiking. We stayed on the fire as long as it took to put it out." Maas became a fire warden for the State of Idaho in 1957 and credits his CCC training for helping to achieve that position.
Yet, through both the difficult times and the good times, the young men of Company 1995 displayed a spirit of cooperation and a "Can Do" attitude while carrying out thier mission in Heyburn State Park. Prior to the complete dissolution of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1943, Company 1995 was disbanded in 1942.
Today, Heyburn State Park is one of the premier parks in the Idaho State Park system, thanks to the men of Company 1995. The park is a monument to a generation of young men who helped to stop the abuse of our natural resources and gave America the parks and wildlands that citizens enjoy today.