Remembering the C.C.C.DICKINSON - In the 1930s, $30 could mean the difference between starving and staying afloat.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press, Worthington Daily Globe
DICKINSON - In the 1930s, $30 could mean the difference between starving and staying afloat.
During that time, widespread unemployment and economic downfall plagued the U.S., prompting newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to take action.
In what was later to be called the “The Hundred Days,” Roosevelt took a hard look at the declining environmental state of the United States, and its citizens.
In 100 days, Roosevelt presented several measures to help the U.S. get back on track, one of which was called the Emergency Conservation Work Act, more commonly known as the Civilian Conservation Corps or C.C.C., which made a world of difference to those who got the opportunity to be a part of it.
The C.C.C. program officially began in 1933 and ran until 1942. Original stipulations for joining included being 17-25 years of age, unmarried and unemployed.
Members did conservation work such as fighting fires, building and maintaining dams, and the program is credited with planting over 3 billion trees from 1933 to 1942.
Thirty dollars a month is exactly what was paid to each member of the C.C.C. The men were given $5 out of their monthly salary, and the rest was sent home to their families, many of which needed the money to fill stomachs and in some cases, save their homes.
Now in the year of its 75th anniversary, some former C.C.C. members have taken a look back on their experiences.
Dickinson resident Tony Mack, 88, remembers working for the C.C.C. for two years, starting when he was 15 or 16.
Because his family needed money and he had nothing else to do, Mack said he decided to join the C.C.C.
While in the program, he stayed within North Dakota.
“I did conservation work,” Mack said. “I did a lot of fixing up, and I drove a dump truck the entire time I was there. When I got there, I was the only one that had a driver’s license.”
Mack remembers working to help clean up damage by flooding of the Missouri River.
“I enjoyed the time I spent in the program,” Mack said. “They paid really well.”
John Reilly, 94 and originally from Medora, enlisted in the C.C.C. in 1934, and traveled all over the United States, starting with general labor in Mandan, then moving to Arkansas to do forestry work. Reilly was then made a first-aid worker, and spent his remaining time in Custer, S.D., and Mandan.
Reilly, who enrolled when he was 19, said the money he earned meant a lot to his family and himself.
“Everything was so hard up and dry and that was the only thing you could get a job on,” Reilly said. “There was a lot of them going for that. For the time we got paid well, it was $30 a month. They furnished everything through clothes, hospitals, food, transportation and everything. They gave you $5 a month and you sent the rest home to your parents. It worked out pretty good that way.”
In Arkansas, Reilly was put to work cutting down gum trees.
“They said they were no good for anything, so we cut them down and trimmed them down into 6 foot lengths, and then they would dry them out and use it for firewood,” Reilly said.
Reilly was in the C.C.C. for approximately a year and a half.
“I think the money helped, nobody had any money then,” Reilly said. “I sure do think it was a good program for the time of year and the conditions.”
John Kuylen, 89, is originally from Holland, but at the age of 10 moved to South Heart. Kuylen enrolled in the C.C.C. in 1936, and did a variety of things within Sidney, Mont., where he was stationed.
“In the fall we made cement ditches for irrigation, and then in the winter we cut Weeping Willows and made big mats where the river was cutting into the bank to keep the bank from eroding,” Kuylen said. “In the spring, the whole thing went down the river, and then I went home.”
Kuylen, who was in the C.C.C. program for six months, said the $5 he was able to keep for himself went a long ways.
“They paid plenty!” Kuylen said. “We got $5 for ourselves and we could go to the movies for 10 cents, we could buy sack of bull durum for a nickel.”
Art Olson, 85, originally from Glover, joined the C.C.C. in 1938.
“We needed the cash,” Olson said. “I was kind of a field cook. I’d be out working with the guys and then the truck would come with the food, and I’d sort out the food.”
Olson was stationed in Miles City, Mont., for his approximate year stint in the C.C.C., where he did work for the experimental station, and also worked as a firefighter.
“Trains go through Miles City and start fires and we would have to go put them out,” Olson said. “It was something different and exciting. We were just kids.”
Olson said the money was a big help to his family.
“The money helped my family, well it must have because there wasn’t any when I got home,” Olson said with a laugh. “You better believe I enjoyed having that $5 though.”
Joan Sharpe, president of the C.C.C. Legacy, said the program helped many families make it through a rough spot in American history.
“That $25 was put to very good use by the families and in some cases it actually paid mortgages,” Sharpe said. “One guy I was talking to from the Midwest said his dad saved that money and bought seed.”
Sharpe said many of the families were quite large, making the $25 essential in keeping the families going. The C.C.C. program also helped communities in need of financial support.
“These guys were very proud of the fact that in many cases they supported their families,” Sharpe said. “Around the C.C.C. camp in the community it was said that the C.C.C. would infuse a community with approximately $5,000 a month, which was a lot of depression-era money.”
The money came from buying materials for projects, food, clothing and supplies for camps.
Sharpe said many men that joined the C.C.C. program did so because they needed money.
“Generally if you were 15 or 16 and you were in the C.C.C. you fibbed,” Sharpe said. “Usually if you were healthy and unemployed they would let you get by with that, because they knew you were hungry.”
Statues across the country pay tribute to the workers of the program.
In North Dakota, a statue at Fort Abraham State Park in Mandan was dedicated in 2007 to honor the service by North Dakota C.C.C. men.
“It’s important that people understand (about the C.C.C.),” Sharpe said. “C.C.C. is attributed with creating the infrastructure of the outdoor recreation system. They left that heritage.”
For more information about the C.C.C. program and its history, visit www.C.C.C.legacy.org.