Biography of Jesse F. Ivins, Jr.
CCC man, Company 298, Camp Mosquito, Placerville, California
FCO 2/c AS8, U.S.S. Iolanda, AKS14, USN
Shipfitter, New York Ship, Gloucester, New Jersey
In October of 1937, several Gloucester Township boys and myself entered the C.C.C.. We traveled first to Manahawkin, New Jersey. We only stayed at Manahawkin for one night. We did not comprise a complete company. We of New Jersey joined about the same amount of men from New York, which then comprised our Company. We boarded a train to Placerville, California. Many of us had never been away from home, and this was the start of the greatest adventure of our lives.
The start of our adventure was marred by a terrible accident outside of Gary, Indiana, when our train hit two cars at once. Ine one car, a mother and her young daughter were killed, and four men who had been riding in a pick-up truck died instantly. Our train was delayed for two hours and we were all very upset by the incident. None of us ate very much that evening.
Other than that, our 5-day train ride was nice and we slept very well in a Pullman. The scenery became more beautiful as we traveled west, and for those of us who had never seen mountains before, the views were magnificent. We arrived in Sacramento late in the evening and traveled the remainder of our trip on a flatbed truck. That ride was very harrowing as the sides of the truck were meagerly railed and as we rounded the twists and turns of the mountain roads, all you could see was a sheer drop over the side of the cliffs.
We arrived at our new home, a campsite, around 2 a.m. and were assigned bunks. We were quick to discover that the barracks had been abandoned for some time, and the bedding was loaded with bedbugs. I was fortunate and did not get bitten as some of the others did. They fumigated the next day, but the name "Camp Mosquito" stuck.
The following day we were assigned to Company 298, located just outside of Placerville. We were to work in a beautiful area in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, that was near the Sutters Mill gold mining area. It was a great place to work.
We met our Company Commander, who was an Army Captain whose name was Harbison. He was at the camp when we arrived. Another Company had just left a week before we arrived. Our Captain seemed old to us, but I don't believe he was over 40. We was an avid bear hunter. Captain Harbison was very friendly with Howard Hill, who was a famous archer at that time and had done the shooting in the film Robin Hood. He taught Erol Flynn how to shoot a bow. He also did some exhibitions at our camp and it was amazing what he could do with a bow and arrow. At that time he was considered the best trick archer in the world. He and our Captain went bear hunting together.
Within a few days our work assignments were made - we would be working on a new highway that crossed the American River. In addition to this work from our main camp we also would have a couple of what they called Spike Camps. These were small temporary camps at which a few men would stay separate from the Company for extended periods of time. These would be set up in the summer when 5 or 6 men would stay there, mostly for fire lookouts. I never worked on a lookout tower nor visited our spike camp which was about 10 miles away I believe from the main camp.
Our job was to blast rocks and slate that were in the highway's right of way. My job was dynamite blaster. I learned enough to earn a dynamite license, although I never utilized it when I returned home. Our company cut holes into the side of the mountain with small charges of dynamite until they were approximately 10 to 12 feet deep by 12 inches around.
The way blasting was done, one crew, mine, worked on the side of the mountain making what they called coyote holes. These were made by chipping a small hole in the rock, which was mostly quartz, with a tool called a bull perch. This was a heavy pointed steel rod with a spoon on the other end. You would then load a stick or two of dynamite and tamp it into the hole together with a cap. The cap would be wired to a small device with a handle which when tripped would explode the cap, and the dynamite, with an electrical charge. Of course safety was the number one priority and you would make sure no one else was in your area. Then you would yell Springer and detonate it. You would then take the spoon end of the tool and drag out the loose rock and start the procedure all over again. With each charge you could go a little deeper until you were at the required depth - ten to twelve feet - which may possibly take up to a week or if you were lucky a couple of days.
In the meantime while we were blasting the jack hammer crew drilled holes from aboveup. The jackhammer crews would be above you drilling holes to 10 to 12 or 14 feet. Whatever was required. When a section was completely drilled, about 200 to 300 yards would be a section, you would load the holes with dynamite. The holes would be completely filled, using more than a ton of dynamite for the whole section.
To explode the dynamite a large handled device about as big as a car battery was used to send a current to the blasting caps. Before the blast two men would be stationed, one at each end above and beyond the blasting area. They would each yell Fire to signal the coast was clear.
The blast would blow a huge L out of the side of the mountain. A bulldozer wold come in and clear it. Then sometimes we would have to come back and blast the larger rocks.
It could take up to two weeks to prepare one charge and possibly a ton or more of dynamite. The blasting was quite a site to see - of course from a distance. Safety was always the main factor.
Each day at lunchtime we would gather at the lunch truck. It was parked near a mountain stream. Our lunch would usually consist of two sandwiches - bologna and pineapple (believe it or not). The truck would always have a large pot of coffee as well.
Our meals in the barracks were usually good, but it depended on how much the mess cook spent. I believe he was allowed $.13 per meal per person at the time, and we always felt that he made a few bucks on us. The meals were very orderly. We marched in and sat down and table waiters placed the platters on the tables. (We all took turns as table waiters). However, we could not eat until the whistle blew. The idea was to clean the platters as soon as possible and send the waiter back for more.
As for camp life itself, I suppose it was typical. All violent arguments were settled with a fist fight out at the woodpile. Fortunately, I was never involved in any and generally speaking we all got along very well.
We could take classes as part of the educational program. While I was there I took a course in photography and did receive a diploma but never pursued it.
We had a rec hall. We had movies on Saturday and Sunday nights. We also had singalongs, in the barracks usually, with a fellow who played the guitar.
We were often on our own for the weekends and we would spend lots of time exploring the gold mines, which was very interesting. On rare occasions, we visited a little town called Motor City. Most of the fellows went to Motor City to buy wine or go to the cat house. That was about all that was there. I don't think it exists on the maps anymore.
There were a couple heavy snowfalls while I was stationed there. When that occurred, our company had to stay near the barracks and keep our roof cleared. We also helped nearby camps keep their roofs cleared of snow. It rained almost the whole month of February and we hardly left the camp that month. In between showers we cut firewood for the camp from the Manzetti trees which surrounded our camp.
Our captain was an army captain, but most of the other top personnel, our foreman, were forestry men, Forest Service Men. They were all very learned and congenial and wonderful to work for. Since I am 81 years old now its very hard to remember names but the forest ranger's last name was Oates and the one I worked for was Carter ( or Cotter, not sure how he spelled his name) and another was Steckland. Most of the leaders were well liked by all the men. I was enticed by one of the leaders with a week's stay with his family at their home in Stockton if I re-enlisted, but I was too homesick for New Jersey by then, so I turned him down.
Overall, I consider that time to be one of the highlights of my life. I was able to help my family, which was very important to me. I sent $25 a month home and kept $5 a month for myself. Unfortunately, I usually owed $2 or $3 to the canteen. We could attend the movies on Saturdays and Sundays if we chose. Each cost $.10 and we could pay monthly. At that time I smoked Bull Durham Roll Your Own, on which I squandered a buck or two per month.
Our trip home was just as picturesque as the trip there. And when I was home only a few weeks, I wished I were there again. However, it did prepare me for being away from home for my travels in service with the U.S. Navy.
When I got home from the CCC times still were not real good and the only jobs available were on farms or orchards. So that's where I worked. In fact I was still working on the orchard when my wife and I eloped in 1939 and were married in Warrenton, Virginia.
Later I worked a short while at Stetson hats in Philadelphia. For about two months and was laid off because they said I had a leaking heart, which I still have. I then went in the W.P.A. and eventually in the plumbing business for five years.
Then I went to work at the New York Ship Yard where I spent almost 4 years until I went into the service.
My work at the shipyard was very interesting and was the basis for my becoming a carpenter in my later years. I worked about three and a half years before entering the service. I started as a 3rd class lineman (shipfitter's helper) and when I left I was a 1st class shipfitter. I attended two schools while I worked there, one for blue print reading and one for template making.
I worked on many ships there. My first one was a seaplane tender, the Vulcan. I also worked on the converted cruisers, which were made into aircraft carriers, and the battle cruisers Hawaii and Alaska, and the battleship South Dakota and several landing craft (L.C.I.).
I worked on the ways all the time I was there. Mostly day work and lots of 12 hour days. The money was good at that time, but made for very tiring days, even at my young age.
I worked on almost everything a fitter could do, including hulls, bulkheads, foundations, gun turrets, tanks, doubler plater and air tight bulkheads. Lots of our smaller jobs, like foundation, we had to make templates first and send them to the plate and angle shop. Most all fitters had a tacker (apprentice welder) working with him and sometimes a burner for cutting metal.
One of my most interesting, but boring, jobs was in the 16" gun turrets of the South Dakota. We worked on the racks that held the 16" shells and they were semi circular and had to fit within 1/32 of an inch. We had dummy wooden shells for templates and worked on them for almost three weeks, a helper and myself.
My Uncle, Phillip Ivins, was the head of the hull department there for quite a while. Most of the fitters knew him.
You were pretty sure of getting an exemption from the draft if you worked in the shipyard, unless you were single. But I suppose that also depended on how valuable the yard thought you were. One of my lineman got drafted and was killed in less than six months. I don't know why but that made me feel sort of guilty.
Those of us who had children were almost sure of not being drafted. But you couldn't be positive. We would get a draft notice every six months, but then a month or so later you would get an exemption notice from 1-A to 3-A. You were always on the fence, not being sure.
At that time I had two children, but did not want to take any more exemptions. When I received my notice in May of 1944 I told my wife I wasn't going to take another exemption, much to her dismay. So I enlisted as a selective volunteer. Thus I could pick my branch of the service. So I chose the Navy. Ironically, my brother-in-law who was a burner took his exemption and got drafted anyway in February 1945, was placed in the Army and was killed two months later in Belgium.
Being a shipfitter for almost 4 years I chose that as my #1 preference but typically they wanted me to be a range finder operator. So after boot camp I spent 3 months in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the Range Finder School.
The school was okay, but almost as strict as boot camp. We were right on the beach, but they built little huts on the boardwalk for classrooms and they were very hot and uncomfortable. We studied every day and only got off from 5 o'clock Saturday afternoon until midnight Sunday. The course was three months long so I got my wife a baby sitting job with a wealthy family and she came down for a couple of months. When she first came down we could only see each other during the off time on the weekend. They finally relented and allowed the wives to come on the beach for two hours a day, three days a week which was better.
From there I was sent back to Newport, Rhode Island and after a short while was assigned to the U.S.S. Iolanda, AKS14, a cargo supply ship.
As a range finder I was put into the Gunnery Division when I got aboard ship. We had one five inch 38 on board as well as one 40 mm and one 20 mm anti-aircraft cannons. We never got to use them except in target practice, and I had had plenty of that at the R.F.O. school in Fort Lauderdale.
I was at the commissioning at the Boston Navy Yard in early 1945 and after a short shakedown cruise we went to Bayonne and loaded our cargo and headed for the Canal.
We broke down in Gatun Lake, Panama, and was there almost a week. We then headed for Honolulu. Upon arriving there I learned that my third child had been born.
We left there and headed for Okinawa and the Caroline Islands. Luckily when we were about ½ way there the war had ended. We off loaded our cargo and then moved on. The only place I ever remember unloading cargo was in the Caroline Islands.
Ater enduring a typhoon we wound up in Shanghai, China. Shanghai was a place at that time that was terrible. You could see so many people who were actually starving and living in the streets. Many families lived on small boats and had long nets to try to sell us things and beg for food.
We went out one day, two of us, rented a rickshaw and went to a restaurant where we each had a bottle of beer and a steak dinner. We each handed the owner a dollar and got in change two American quarters and about $2000.00 in Chinese money - which I still have. We each gave the owner a quarter tip and he couldn't stop thanking us.
When I was in Shanghai was when all the "all nav." came out that anyone with three kids was eligible for discharge. So I was shipped out on an APA heading for home, along with 400 marines they were taking back as well. The APA that we came back on was the Lavaca.
We headed back to Okinawa and just missed another Typhoon which sank some ships there. The typhoon was very scary but we were fortunate enough to miss the brunt of it. We still had 40 to 50 foot waves and 400 seasick marines.
From there I went back to Hawaii. We didn't get too much time ashore in Hawaii but did get to see most of the war wreckage that wasn't rebuilt by then.
From Hawaii we went straight to Treasure Island where I was discharged in November, 1945. My rate at discharge was FCO 2/c AS8. Fire Control was part of Gunnery Division and included Range Finder operation as at that time Radar was just being perfected. I often wondered what ever happened to my AKS 14, the USS Iolanda.
----- Jesse F. Ivins, Jr.
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