The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1937

By Estill Fugate - 2000

The Great Depression had been underway for eight years. Out of that there had been five years of drought. Our source of food we received from corn and garden vegetables was cut short.

My father passed away on June 29, 1937, leaving me with my mother and six children to support. My mother had a lovely friend at Jackson, Kentucky by the name of Cora Noble. She asked me if I would like to enter the CCCs. As I desperately needed a job and wanted to work, I agreed to her suggestion.

Two weeks later, I was notified that the paperwork was ready for my signature. On October 3rd, I spent the night at my uncle's house in Jackson. The next morning, I was in the CCCs and on my way to Paintsville, Kentucky. There were many other young men along, also. It was raining when our truck reached Paintsville, where we would take our physical. The doctor questioned my size and physical strength. After thinking it over, I was on my way.

After leaving Paintsville, we boarded a train for Fort Knox, Kentucky. Being raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky and never being more than ten miles from home, I realized there was a big world to be seen.

After reaching Fort Knox, we were issued uniforms and canteens. After about three hours, the Army had our tents ready. About 4:00 p.m., we had our first full meal.

Our captain had us clean an old cemetery the first day at Fort Knox. He then took every recruit, a total of 125, for a walk. Only four completed the trip. I was one of the four. A week later, we received our orders telling us where we would go. Our orders were to go to Cedar City, Utah. Some of the young guys asked, "Where's Utah?"

We boarded the train late in the afternoon. On our way to our location, I was interested in seeing the countryside. This was quite an experience for me, after living all my young life in the mountains of Kentucky.

As we neared the western states, it was so interesting to me to see the beautiful rock formations, also the canyons. We arrived at Cedar City about 1:00 in the afternoon. What a contrast to what I had been used to in my young life.

After we arrived in Cedar City, we were assigned to our barracks. Up to that time we had used mess kits. After arriving at Cedar City, our food was served on dinnerware. One of the unusual things for me was the sheep-pens. I was not used to seeing them. They were built out of aspen or cottonwood. The color was white and covered one-half an acre in size.

Life was really beginning to change for me. After eating and getting a good night's sleep, I was assigned to a group of 125 men. They gave each of us a pick and shovel, which was not strange to me. At that time, a group of young men began building many useful things that would be beneficial to the people of Cedar City and outlying areas.

About 20 days later, early in the morning, I didn't feel well, so I went to the infirmary. I was told that the doctor wouldn't be in until the next morning. The next morning I returned to the infirmary. I didn't get to see the doctor that day either. So I returned to work. On the third morning I realized I was really sick, so when I bent over to tie my shoes I passed out. The other young men in the barracks picked me up and took me to the infirmary and put me in bed. The nurse on duty called the doctor and said, "Get over here fast. We have a bad one." When I did see the doctor, he seemed really concerned about me. He kept me in the infirmary for five days. On the sixth day, the doctor came to see me. He had a large group of forms. He said to me, "I should throw you right through the window, and then open it." He told me that I came very near dying, and if I had, he would have had to fill out every one of those forms. If I had died, they would have called him to Fort Douglas before a Board of Inquiry, and he might have lost his license.

On the seventh day, he let me return to the barracks, where I stayed for seven days. When I got ready to return to work, he said to me, "I don't think you like your job. I'll pout you on a different crew." He put me with a crew that had only seven people. That was much better for me. We did all the planning for each job. When the windmills broke down on the desert, we were the crew that repaired them. All of the cattle stared at us as we worked.

There were rattlesnakes there also. We carried our supply of water in milk cans. At home when we saw a rattlesnake we always killed them. Rattlesnakes drank the condensation from outside of the cans we used. The foreman told us not to kill the snakes, just take a piece of sage brush and scare them away. The windmills were used to furnish water for the livestock and outlying areas. The cattle and wild animals always watched us as we repaired the windmills.

The residents of Cedar City soon learned that the young men at the CCC camp had different morals and character than the previous group that had been there. All the CCC boys at the camp became good friends with the residents of Cedar City. The previous group of men had left a bad reputation. At first, the town was not very friendly.

One day our crew went out to build a water trough at Mountain Springs. Arch Benson, our crew manager, explained to us we were going to build a water trough 100 feet long. I told him I never saw a water trough longer than six feet. We soon found out why a 100-foot-long trough was needed. Soon 50 or more cattle were drinking at the same time. There were approximately five cowboys.

Since most of the CCC boys had grown up in an entire different part of the country we were excited. We began asking them questions. The first question was, "Have you ever shot anyone?" They said, "No! We have wild animals here that attack the cattle, so we shoot them." Usually in a movie, we saw cowboys with bright, shiny guns. These cowboys had guns that had been used for a great long time.

One morning our crew boss told us to make sure our work clothes were clean. We loaded our equipment and got ready to go to Kanaryville, Utah. There were only about 50 residents in Kanaryville. All the residents welcomed us when we got there. Then the foreman told them and his crew that we were going to build a road up the mountain, located close to the town. All the residents of that small town were excited. They told us that over a period of time, a road over that mountain would be worth a million dollars to them.

On top of that mountain was a large parcel of land that could be used for grazing sheep. Our small crew of seven could not do the building of the road. We did the surveying. We also made plans for other larger crews to move in and do the actual work.

On Easter Sunday 1938, all boys who wanted to go were taken to visit Zion National Park. It was amazing to us, who had never hoped to see such a spectacle as the rock spires of many colors, the canyons, and the beautiful scenery. The plans had been made for a glorious and inspiring religious worship service.

There were over 100 buses and over 1,000 cars that brought people to that inspiring service. It was something for us to see at that time. The drivers of our group drove throughout the park, so each young man could view the massive rock and colorful formations. Then we attended the worship service. A cross had been placed above a rock formation, and on it was a man depicting Christ. Behind it was a massive display of fireworks.

The next morning, we packed our equipment and crew and drove 20 miles beyond Lund, Utah, where we built a "spike" camp (a work station), from which our crew would work up to the Nevada border.

One weekend, Mr. Benson invited me home with him, not having anything to do, I agreed. Mr. Benson's teenage son had come out to the job to get a load of wood. We began our way to Benson's home. The boy's truck had trouble making an incline. He left us and I had the experience of the desert at night, also his little dog tried to tackle a porcupine. I had never seen a porcupine. As we neared Parawan Gap, we ran into a tough migrant worker. My stay at Mr. Benson's that weekend was excellent. During my time at the spike camp I spent about five weekends at the Benson home. When the larger crew of young men got ready to blow off the mountain at Kanaryville, we returned to Karnaryville to watch the explosion.

After about six months at the spike camp, I went back to Cedar City and got ready to return to Fort Knox, where we would be reassigned to a new location. As I was preparing to board the bus, the education minister approached and said, "I will never see you on this earth again."

Many of the residents of Cedar City came out to see us off. On the outside and inside of the bus many people were singing "I will meet you in the morning." That was a very emotional time for all of us. In that area of the country, folk, country, and Western music were the going things of that day and time.

The buses took us to the train, and we returned to Fort Knox. We were at Fort Knox in five days, at the guard house. They constantly played the two following songs: "You Are Not The Biggest Catfish In The Sea," and "A Tisket, A Tasket, A Brown And Yellow Basket."

I was reassigned to Henderson, Kentucky to work on the Audubon State Park. While at Henderson, I had my first leave of absence to go home and see my family. Also at Henderson, we built a lake, many picnic tables, landscaping, many trails, restrooms, parking lots, and improvements around the museum. This beautiful park is still there today for visitors to see. While at Henderson, I made many good friends. One of those was Sydney Dunn. We still keep in touch.

After 61 years, it is great to have such a great friendship and such great memories of my two years in the CCCs. I want to thank Cora Noble, Judge Bach, and anyone else who helped me join the CCCs. I also appreciate the Arch Benson family who so generously shared their home with me on several weekends.

On a recent trip to Breathitt County, I tried to locate this family. I was informed that they had either died or moved away. I wanted to thank this family for the great hospitality they showed me, as a teenager in the CCCs.

Estill Fugate, 9882 A N. Route 1, Grant Park, IL 60940, a native of Breathitt County, Kentucky, shares this story with our readers.