A New Deal for Texas Parks - HTML Exhibit
Chapter 4 - Keeping the Boys Busy.
The Civilian Conservation Corps kept unemployed young men busy with work projects, classes and recreation. During the Great Depression, many boys left their homes to lessen the burden on their families. In urban and rural areas, thousands of young men wandered the streets in search of work and shelter, but few found either. The CCC gave young men jobs to support their families and provided skills that they used long after the Great Depression ended.
The Civilian Conservation Corps gave young men a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work and have fun in a summer camp-like setting. The boys never had time to be bored because their days were filled with both hard work and fun activities. The bugle sounded at 6 AM to get the boys out of bed for breakfast and exercise. They worked from 7:45 AM until 4 PM, with an hour break for lunch. After finishing their work, the CCC boys ate supper. Then, classes, sports and other leisure activities kept them busy until it was time to go to bed. The CCC provided much more than work, food and shelter. The CCC gave hopeless, poor young men skills they carried throughout their lives, cultivated life-long friendships and in the words of a CCC veteran "made men out of boys."
A form letter home explaining the daily activities
of a CCC enlistee that included current photo of enlistee. Courtesy of the
Broward County Library.
A letter sent home details the daily life of James Melton, a CCC enlistee from Texas who worked in a Colorado camp. Boys were often sent to CCC camps far from their homes - a first for many.
When the CCC boys were not working, they were encouraged to participate in the educational opportunities at the camp. Regardless of their educational level, CCC boys could continue their education. They could learn to read, receive their high school diploma or even take a college course at schools like Southern Methodist University or Texas Tech. Vocational opportunities were available to the boys as well. Boys could apprentice with Local Experienced Men in trades like blacksmithing or masonry. Courses in auto mechanics and radio operation gave CCC boys skills that they could utilize long after camp ended.
- View a the video "A Nation-wide System of Parks" which from minutes 7:43 - 9:14 describes educational opportunities at CCC camps at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8751709912448157004.
In the midst of long days working outside, the CCC boys managed to find time for fun. CCC boys also formed musical groups that entertained the rest of the camp. With free weekends and money to spend, the boys headed to local towns to attend church services, watch movies and hang out at local bars and dancehalls. There was no shortage of pranks around the camps either. Common high jinks such as short-sheeting and hot-footing amused many and angered some. Whether strumming a guitar or playing a game of pick-up basketball, the boys of the CCC found time to have fun during hard times.
Excerpt of an oral history given by Ezekiel Rhodes:
Martin: Was there any other pranks played?
Rhodes: Oh, yeah. We played all kinds of tricks on people. We would take all the blankets off your bed, bring the other end of the sheet up to here, make it look just like here. When you pull that sheet off, you couldn't get in the bed. We call it short-sheeting (laughs).
Martin: I heard about that at A&M, too, when I was there.
Rhodes: We also take grape nuts and put between your sheets (laughs).
Martin: That's got to be an odd feeling-
Rhodes: But you never could find out who done it.
Martin: Never did?
Rhodes: Never did find out who. No. I could be murder if you told who put, who do all that stuff.
Martin: Did they do it to you?
Martin: Did you do it to anybody else?
Rhodes: Yeah (laughs). A lot of times, we'd be out on the road spreading the gravel and have a little break. Some of them would sit down, and we'd stick a match in your shoe and set it afire.
Martin: Hot foot.
Rhodes: Hot foot. Done all that. Fortunately I never did get-nobody ever hot footed me.
Martin: Did it lead to any fights on occasion?
Martin: Occasionally, huh?
Martin: If they take it the wrong way?
Martin: Hopefully not too much.
Rhodes: Oh, no. It didn't amount to much. You could soon break it up before it gets too far. Never was over three or four licks passed before it'd be dispersed.
Excerpt of an oral history given by Herman Kelch:
Taylor: Did they play pranks on you to get back at you?
Kelch: Yeah. They did one time. It was cold wintertime-this was up at Fort Griffin-about two o'clock in the morning. I was laying there sound asleep and they just turned my bunk over and I landed on the floor. One of the things that we did, we had a guy that would get up-we had these two pot-bellied stoves-we had five barracks and we had two-pot bellied coal stoves in each barrack-he would put the coals in at night before he went to bed. The next morning all you do is just drop a match in there. We went to town and found a couple of cherry bombs and put them in the stove. This old boy was from Brenham, Texas. I won't mention his name. Next morning when that cherry bomb went off, it blew the top of the stove off. It blew the door off. He didn't know what in the world happened. He danced around that stove. He was scared to death. He asked me, "Herman, what do you think happened?" I said, "I think the gas fumes from the coals probably did that."
Taylor: You didn't admit to that one?
Like many communities, CCC camps had their own newspapers that featured the boys’ poetry, short stories, and drawings. Camp newsletters like the Blue Eagle News and the Fort Parker Buzzer circulated around the camps about every other week and featured camp activities and enlistees' reflections on camp life. Producing the camp newspaper helped CCC boys to improve their writing skills in a fun way and promoted a sense of pride in their work.
June 10, 1937 - “Blue Eagle News,”
Camp newspaper at Mother Neff State Park. Courtesy of the Texas
State Library & Archives Commission.
Happy Days was the nation-wide CCC newsletter but many camps published their own local newsletters like Mother Neff's Blue Eagle News.