Biography of Thomas R. Bowerman
CCC Man, Company 6436, Camp Icicle F-29 Leavenworth, Camp Cowiche BR-66 Yakima, Camp Dupont AF-2 Dupont
Naval Armed Guard, USN
I had exhausted the job possibilities and was in a blue funk when someone told me about President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. I checked it out and found that they were accepting enrollees and I enrolled. In less time than it takes to say Lucky Strike Hit Parade, I was on the way to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama aboard a bus.
I saw several other boys aboard the bus and hazarded a guess they were also enrollees in the CCC. I was right. When we arrived at the bus station in Anniston a loud and tough looking Army Sergeant yelled for the CCC goof-ups to "fall in over here." We fell in and were told to get in the back of a large truck with a canvas top and "to bust our asses doing it." We were driven to Fort McClellan and then to what we later learned to be the "boondocks." Once we were in the boondocks we were told to fall in again and were marched completely across the camp to a supply warehouse. We were told to strip naked and once we were naked we went to a counter and were asked our sizes for pants, shirts, shoes, etc. If we failed to respond fast enough they made up our minds for us. Each item was thrown at our heads, including heavy army shoes. We got one of each and were told we had better keep it clean as we would receive no more until we got to our CCC camp. We were also told we could ship our civilian clothes home if we had the money and could discard them if we did not. All of us had to discard.
We were given a bag to put our extra underwear in (they gave us three sets of that.) We were then given a mattress, a pillow, a blanket and a mattress cover and told to fall in. We were double timed back to the boondocks and assigned to a tent with a wooden floor and rotting canvas. We were told to make up our beds and then told to fall in again. We were double timed all the way across the camp again, this time to a mess hall. We were fed and then told to fall in and double timed back to the boondocks. By this time it was after eleven PM and we were told we had better get to sleep as we would be up at four AM.
It was hard to get to sleep after all the excitement, regardless of how tired we were and most of us talked until two AM. At four AM we woke up with an Army sergeant yelling "drop your cocks and grab your socks, your asses belong to me." It was much later that we learned we were not loved by the Army as our pay was $30 per month and a recruit in the Army earned $21 per month. It made no difference that $22 of our $30 went to our parents and we received $8.00.
We were told that we were going to be sent to a CCC camp in the state of Washington, named Camp Icicle. There would be 200 of us and 190 would be new enrollees from Alabama and 10 would be from camps in Mississippi and Tennessee. What they were saying was that the good jobs were taken. Our job at Fort McClellan would be to help get the troop train ready. I was assigned to help prepare the kitchen car. They were taking a mail car and converting it to a kitchen. The main job was to install a stove that would not set the car on fire. I was assigned to the mud unit. Four of us were to take tubs to this giant mudhole and fill them with mud and take them to the kitchen car. I do not know how much mud they used to build that stove unit but it was a lot of it. We were cautioned to be careful as the uniform we had on was the only one we would have until we got to Camp Icicle.
I was as careful as I could be but hauling mud is not your typical white collar job. On the second day I was leaning out as far as I could to scoop up mud with a large tin can when my fellow hauler told me to reach out a little further and gave a little push to show me what he meant. I went belly down in the mud hole and came up totally saturated with that red mud. I was tempted to give him a dose of the same mud but the fact that I weighed 122 pounds and that old country boy weighed around 200 changed my mind. The sergeant in charge of the stove told me not to rub it, just let it dry. I followed his advice and a lot of it flaked off when it got dry but the stain was there to stay.
All good things must come to an end and the train was finally ready. We kept our cup and mess kit and knife, fork and spoon and everything else was put in our bags, tagged and loaded in the baggage car. We were assigned to cars and to a seat and the five day trip began. We were all twenty years old or younger and none of us had ever been away from home and we were being sent from the Southeast to the Northwest. It was to be a two year experience I would never forget.
When they called us for our first meal we grabbed our cups and mess kits and made a wild dash to be the first in line. The problem was that we were sent through the kitchen to the other end of the train and then the line was turned around to go back through the kitchen to be served. This way, we were headed back to our seats to eat. The last in line was the first served. The next time they called us everyone tried to be last and they served the first in line first and had them walk around the serving line and head back to the seats. This was pretty smart on their part since you never knew which end of the line would be served first and you may as well just be orderly about it. After you ate you had to go back to the kitchen car where they had three large barrels of water. You dipped your cup, mess kit and "silver" in the first barrel, filled with soapy water and then in two more with rinse water. This was supposed to be sanitary but from the food floating around in all the barrels it looked like a far cry from it.
There were three boys assigned to each double seat section and two had to sleep in the lower berth and one in the upper berth. There were a lot of arguments about who could have the upper by themselves but it was finally resolved by rotating. The trip was supposed to take five days but we were told it was almost certain that it would take six days so each of us would get the upper berth two nights. It turned out that it did take six nights and we arrived on the morning of the seventh day.
Almost no one had any money and we were without cigarettes or any other item that may have made life a little more bearable. Most of us did enjoy the scenery and when we stopped at a station there seemed to always be girls there to talk to. Most of them thought we were in the Army and we did nothing to discourage them. We even got names and addresses and promised to write to them. We did not realize at the time how hard it was going to be to get three cents for a stamp. Our eight dollars a month and room and board sounded big. There never seemed to be enough water on the train and by the time we were half way there the uniforms were so badly soiled from the cinders and soot from the coal burning engine that I was no longer the dirtiest one on the train.
All good things must end. It had seemed like it never would when the train was winding its way through the Rockies and we could see mountain peaks above us and rivers in deeply cut canyons far below us, but it did and on the morning of the seventh day we steamed into the beautiful little town of Leavenworth, Washington. There were hundreds of people on hand to meet us and we immediately gained a good impression of Leavenworth. Later we learned that the people of Leavenworth had heard a rumor that 200 Blacks were coming in from the South and they were there to protest us instead of make us welcome. Someone did have the presence of mind to make a welcome speech and then we got our bags and climbed aboard trucks and started the three mile trip to Camp Icicle. It was beautiful country with apple orchards, a creek (crick as they called it) and the mountains rising all around us.
It took only a few minutes to get to Camp Icicle. There was a wooden arch with Camp Icicle burned into the wood in large letters. There was a flag pole just inside the arch, with a circle of white painted rocks around it. The Headquarters building was to our right as we went in. The front contained a counter and behind that were a couple of desks. There was an alcove on the right beyond that, serving as the office of the Company Commander. On the left there was a short hall and then an alcove off of the hall that had two cots for the Company Clerk and the Supply Sergeant. A door at the end of the hall led into the supply room and beyond the supply room was a recreational hall with a canteen at one end.
Beyond the Company Headquarters was the office of the Project Superintendent for the Forestry Service and then vehicle storage and maintenance buildings and a blacksmith shop. Across the street from the Company Headquarters there were two barracks, then a boiler room, two more barracks and a laundry. The mess hall was behind the barracks and beyond that was the officers club and quarters. It is hard to believe how beautiful the camp was, nestled against a mountain and almost surrounded by mountains. Most of the water was in the form of melted snow and a small stream winding its way down the mountain. I had never seen a place as beautiful before and have not seen one more beautiful since. I fell in love with Camp Icicle. I had enrolled for six months and was eligible to stay as long as two years and I knew that first day that I would be in Washington two years.
We were assigned to barracks and to a specific bunk and then went to the supply room. The Supply Sergeant was named Minton, he was from Tennessee, he was mean as hell and he was an Indian. You walked up to the counter and he looked at you and decided what size you wore and started throwing it on the counter. You checked to see that you had everything, signed for it and got the hell out of his way or he would pick up your junk and throw it through the door. If you wore a size 14 shirt and he gave you a size 16 or if you wore 28-32 pants and he gave you 36-30, my advice would be to wear it and not complain until the Company Commander noticed it and took you to the supply room to exchange it. If the Company Commander said nothing you would be well advised to say the same thing.
The clothes they gave us were outdated Army clothes. The pants looked like the fuzzy Army blankets and even the shoes had fuzz on them. We had one boy who knew how to put lighter fluid on the shoes and burn the fuzz off and then shine them to a high finish. He charged a quarter and he got rich. There was not much to do about the pants other than try to save enough money for a pint of whiskey for Minton and then he would issue you nice looking pants that fit. The shirts looked all right. We had the fuzzy pants for winter and khakis for the summer.
The next day we went back to the supply room and were issued spike bottomed boots for fire fighting. We were then allowed to go to the canteen and sign for up to four coupon books. A coupon book had twenty five cent coupons good for trade at the canteen. The canteen steward would also give you seventy five cents in cash for a coupon book but we were sworn not to tell the Company Commander as what he was doing was giving you seventy five cents and putting the other twenty five cents in his pocket and it was not legal. Anyway, we bought tobacco and then went to a field to put on our spiked boots and get fire fighting training. I eased out my new can of Prince Albert and rolled a cigarette and someone yelled that I had tobacco. I quickly hid the papers and said I was sorry but I had no more papers. They started tearing the tissue that was in the boot boxes and I foolishly let someone have the can. The next time I saw it, it was not only empty but someone had already taken a knife and scratched letters out on the back of the can so it read "Pa covered Ma .... " etc. I learned two quick lessons. One was to buy a sack of RJR instead of a can of Prince Albert and the other was to get a buddy to spread the rumor that you were a nut and peed on your tobacco to keep it moist.
The fire fighting training was just in time as we were called out to fight a tremendous forest fire the next day. I had never seen anything like that, either. We had about two hours training but were put on the line like we were professionals. We gave a good account of ourselves, too. We had all been in the woods and had seen and used most of the equipment. We knew how to use an axe, a saw, a rake, etc. The boys at Camp Icicle before us were from New Jersey and most had never been off the pavement. I was so tired after two days without sleep that I found a hay stack and crawled in out of sight and went to sleep. The wind started and they had to pull back and if one of the boys had not seen me get in the hay stack that might have been the end of me.
Our very first fire burned five days before we got it under control. It was good to get back to camp. They fed us a hot meal and let us sleep eight hours before they got us up. It was time to make selections for permanent jobs. There were not more than four of us with high school educations and most of the boys had third grade or less. William Hanks had already clinched the best job in Camp - Company Clerk. Charles Henry Brucke (I later married his sister) was selected by Minton as assistant supply sergeant. Another boy was assistant to the educational advisor. The other top jobs were filled with Minton and others that had come from existing companies in Tennessee and Mississippi. That left me as the only high school graduate without a special assignment and they had read my resume and noticed I knew how to cook. There would be two side camps several miles from the main camp and I was selected as cook for the Stevens Pass side camp, 36 miles up in the mountains. Stevens pass was the top of a mountain pass and there were peaks above it. The CCC was going to build a ski lodge and ski run there. The other side camp was at Chatter Creek, which I never visited.
One thing you could always count on in the CCC and that is that nothing would ever be easy for you. The 40 of us selected to move to Stevens Pass had to load portable buildings on trucks. There was a mess hall, a bath room and two barracks buildings. Some of the roof sections weighed over three hundred pounds and we loaded everything manually. We set out for Stevens Pass with the trucks loaded with the buildings, one dump truck and one stake body truck. When we arrived we started clearing the area and then started setting up the buildings. We set up a barracks that afternoon and slept in it that night. It only took about three or four days to get everything up and working, including the flag pole and the generator. Our foremen worked for the Forestry Service but had special skills, primarily carpenters, rock masons and ski experts. Our rock mason was a world ski champion from Norway. We were to learn later that he could pick up rocks that three of us could not handle.
Stevens Pass was as beautiful as Camp Icicle in its own way. There were chipmunks everywhere and they would come up and eat out of your hand. There was all kinds of wild life in the area, including bears. We did not try feeding them but one did keep breaking in our cooler. We had a shed behind the mess hall that was completely screened in. It had heavy burlap all the way over it, held out about three or four inches from the top and the screened sides. A water pipe with holes in it ran across the top and water continuously dripped on the burlap and ran down it on each side. This was supposed to make it cool from evaporation of the water and it worked. A bear kept tearing the screen open and getting meat. The chief foreman decided to sit up and wait for it one night and the bear came as usual. The foreman had a forty-five caliber pistol and killed the bear. I thought he was extremely lucky not to get killed or badly injured.
There was also an assistant cook and two Kitchen Police. Each cook and one kitchen police (KP) would work three days and then the other two would work three days. This meant that Bartow Browning (my KP) and I were off from work three full days at a time. We could sleep, climb mountains, or do whatever we wanted to do. There was a bar and dance hall at the top of Stevens Pass, across the highway from the camp. The owner planned to enlarge the building and asked Bartow and I to work for him. The main thing he needed right away was some rocks hauled in to fill in behind the present building. He told me to take the dump truck down the mountain and start hauling in rocks. I told him I did not know how to drive a truck and he told me I had long legs and would do just fine. He showed me the gears and said to just remember to go down the mountain in the same gear I would have to use to come up. I had no idea what he was talking about and he said he would send his father with me the first trip. I started down that steep mountain and before I knew it the truck was going much too fast and the brakes were doing no good. The old man kept yelling to shift it down so I threw in the clutch and pulled it out of high. It started really rolling then and I could not get it in a lower gear. The truck did not have a synchro mesh transmission and you were supposed to double clutch it but I did not even know what that meant. Somehow I managed to slam it in low gear and we almost hit the windshield. There was a horse shoe curve coming up and a drop off of several hundred feet on the outside of the curve. We managed to scream around that curve and the truck started slowing down. I made it to our turn off where we were to load rocks. It was a one lane road and another truck was coming out. I tried to pull over and the truck slid over the edge of the road. We were at a sixty degree angle and I could look through the passenger window and see nothing but space for several hundred feet. The old man clawed himself across me and went out my window and up on the road. He said he was going and tell his son I was crazy. I told him to tell his son to get down there.
When the boss got there he looked at the truck and asked me how the hell I kept from going over. He said he wanted me to get in the truck and start the engine and put it in low gear and gun it and turn the wheels to the left. I told him I thought it would go over the side of the mountain so he tied a rope around my waist and said if anything like that happened he would pull me out. I got in and started it up and felt it sliding so I gunned it and it slid along the road for awhile and finally when I thought it was going over the back wheels caught on something and it went back on the road. I looked down and the rope was laying on the floor board. I asked the boss how the rope got inside and he said he had thrown it in when I got in as he did not want me sending for him every time I got in a little trouble. He got in his truck and left. When I got back and unloaded the rocks I went over to the camp and got Slim Hicks, one of our truck drivers, to teach me how to double clutch.
Bartow Browning, left, watches Tom Bowerman, right, dig a ditch at Stevens Pass Side Camp, 36 miles from Camp Icicle, Washington (Co 6436)
There was always plenty to do at Stevens Pass. About a dozen of the 40 boys had either a guitar or mandolin or fiddle and there was some real talent. Ezra Lee (Buck) was a great guitar player and pretty fair singer. Travis Lay was the best fiddle player I have ever heard. He could play anything he had heard once and could play it in the traditional position or behind his back or just about any position. He also sang. The gang could get together a group of almost any size and play about any type music you wanted to hear.
Ezea (Buck) Lee, left, Tom Bowerman, right, at Co 6436, Camp Icicle, Leavenworth, Washington
The Rangers would set up check points on the highway and we used to watch them stop cars and check the hunters. One guy had really slaughtered his deer and had it in the trunk. The rangers laid it all out and there were five legs. They asked the hunter to explain it and he said "This crazy deer really had five legs and it was running on the front three with the back two in the air." He was ticketed and would get a chance to try that one on a judge. They casually asked another hunter, "Where did you put your Blue Grouse?" and without thinking, he said they were under the back seat. They were, five of them, and a $5 fine for each Blue Grouse in those days was a fabulous fine. Most of the hunters were honest and had their deer fastened to a front fender and no out of season game.
We could pick blue berries and sell them for something like fifty cents per gallon but it took several hours to pick a gallon of blue berries. Some people made blue berry pickers, a box like contraption with wires extending out. The berries could be scooped with it much faster but it was illegal due to the damage it did to the blue berry bushes. I picked several gallons of blue berries and sold them but it just took too long and the pay was too low.
We had one crew working on the ski run and one crew building the ski lodge. The lodge was going to be fabulous with a tremendous fireplace at one end. The fireplace and chimney were being built by a rock mason and several of the boys. The boys were supposed to mix the mortar and carry the rocks to the rock mason. Some of the rocks were so large it took three boys to carry it. They would set it down and the rock mason would pick it up like it was a giant marshmallow. I was watching one day and three boys could not pick up a rock. The rock mason came down and pushed them out of the way with one arm and squatted, grunted a couple of times, and walked up the ramp with it like it was something he carried around all the time. The fireplace turned out great and you could burn huge logs in it.
It began to turn cold and I would get up in the mornings and grab my clothes and run for the kitchen, build a fire in the cook stove and dress as it warmed up. One morning I grabbed my clothes and ran out naked into almost three feet of snow. We never saw the ground again that winter. As it happened, all of the boys were working inside the ski lodge at that time. I guess everyone assumed we would be doing nothing but inside work. We were short on wood for the barrack stoves and I was off duty one day so the foreman asked me if I would take a truck and trailer into Leavenworth and get a load of press-to-logs. These logs were manufactured from sawdust and oil under pressure and one of them weighed 15 or 20 pounds. I went to Leavenworth and they showed me a box car and told me the entire load was for Stevens Pass and to take whatever I could haul. I backed up to the freight car and loaded the trailer about six feet high with press-to-logs. I started back and got past the first hair pin turn and the truck would not go any further, even in the lowest gear. I was over loaded. I had to back that truck down the mountain (one hell of a job) and turn around and go back and unload more than half of the load. I still barely made it.
The cook also had the job of turning the generator off at night, waiting for the engine to cool, and covering the generator with a tarpaulin. The next morning the cook had to uncover the generator and start it up. One morning it was so cold and the snow was blowing so hard I just reached under the tarpaulin and started the generator and made a mental note to come out after breakfast and take the tarpaulin off. Right!! I forgot. That afternoon the lights were getting super bright and then getting real dim. They finally went out completely and when they did, I thought "Tarpaulin!" I was right. It got so hot under that tarp that the engine burned up. That meant no lights and no power tools at the lodge construction until the generator was fixed. The mechanic that came to fix it estimated a week or ten days or longer if he had problems finding parts. I was the most unpopular person in the camp and was called many names I had not heard before and many that I had. It was more than two weeks before it was restored to service.
When I arrived at Stevens Pass I weighed 122 pounds and was six feet tall. I ate everything I wanted and frequently added a pint of milk to six raw eggs and beat it and drank it. I also worked across the highway and climbed mountains and went on 15 or 20 mile hikes. At the end of six months I weighed 214 pounds and there was not an ounce of fat on me. I had grown up. People even talked to me differently than they did when I first got to the camp. I even heard respect now and then.
No matter how good you are you can almost always find someone a little better. One day the truck came back from main camp and there was a boy named Basil Brown with the driver. The foreman told me Basil would be the new head cook and I would be the assistant cook. I objected and he said, "Look, you guys settle it and let me know which is which." I looked at Basil and he weighed about 175 and was about six foot two inches tall. He said he was from Arizona. I said, "Want to go outside and settle this once and for all?" and he said, "Yep." So we went outside and I bruised my knuckles on his jaw and he proceeded to just literally stomp hell out of me. I got up and looked at him and said, "Lets go inside where it ain't so bloody, boss." So he was head cook and got $45.00 per month instead of $30.00 and I dropped down from a $45.00 a month Leader to a $36.00 a month assistant leader.
The foremen were mostly Norwegian and they loved strong coffee and were always complaining about my coffee. We put a big coffee pot on the wood stove and put coffee in the bottom and when it came to a boil we set it on a cooler part of the stove and poured a little cold water in to cause the grounds to settle to the bottom. I made three pots of coffee with one pound of ground coffee. One morning I decided to teach this one foreman a lesson and dumped in two pounds of coffee. There were about two or three cups when it finished. The foreman came in and I poured him a cup. He took a big slug and looked real surprised and said, "Now, that's coffee!" He drank it all. Some people.
We got paid every month in silver dollars. We would sweat it all month waiting for that pay so we could get tobacco or even a coke. We were always broke from the fifth of the month to the end of the month. The bar and dance hall across the highway had slot machines ranging from five cents to a silver dollar machine. Several times, two or three of us would pool every silver dollar we had and go over to break their bank. We would stand there and pull that stupid handle till every dollar was gone and then say something like, "Oh well, easy come, easy go." One month we played every dollar we had without a single hit.
One morning the foreman announced that the ski run crew would resume work on the ski run and the lodge crew would cut firewood for the lodge. Everyone looked at him and someone finally said, "It is snowing and they don't work in the snow where I come from." The foreman replied that he was not where he came from and in Washington you did work in the snow. He responded that he would just go back where he came from and then nearly everyone chimed in. The upshot was that twenty five boys were not going to work, including me, and he told us to get out of his camp and told the head cook not to feed us anymore. We gathered up the few personal things we had and started a 36 mile hike down a snow and ice covered mountain to the main camp. We were frozen stiff when we got there.
The Company Commander called each boy in and tried to talk him into going back to work. Each one refused. When he got to me, he asked my job and I told him I was a cook. He said, "You do not have to work in the snow." I told him I knew it but I was not going to cook for anyone who had to work in the snow. He told me to listen closely as he was going to say something one time and said something like this, "Tom, you are one of four people here who have a high school education. You are supposed to be smarter than these kids with an average education of 3rd grade. If you leave today you have to hitch hike three thousand miles home and when you get there you will receive a bad conduct discharge that will follow you the rest of your life. That discharge is an alert to everyone that comes in contact with you that you do not have the guts to do a job. Now you can stay here in main camp and get the dirtiest jobs we can find for you or you can tuck your sniveling tail between your legs and get the hell out of here. You have 15 seconds to give me an answer and there are no second chances. What the hell are you going to do?" I looked at him and said, "I am going to do the dirtiest damn jobs you can find and do them better than anyone else you got can do them." I have never regretted that answer.
The other twenty four were taken to the mess hall by the Company Commander. The Company Commander told them he was required by regulations to give each of them $5.00 in "cash or kind." He told the mess sergeant to give each boy a gunny sack with five dollars worth of dried beans in it. The boys all left camp with a gunny sack of beans on their shoulders. Several had a guitar on the other shoulder. If I had heard the saying, "There but for the grace of God go I", I would have thought it as I saw them straggle out of camp. I loved those boys but I know I made the right decision. My days at Stevens Pass were over. There were some hard days to come.
The Company Commander lost no time in finding me a dirty job. He sent for me the next morning and Joe Guiberson, Project Superintendent for the Forestry Service was there. He introduced me to Joe and told me Joe would assign my work. Joe took me a couple of hundred yards past headquarters and pointed at a snow bank and said he wanted that barracks set up right over there. I did not see a barracks and asked him where it was. He said it was under about four feet of snow. I got a snow shovel and started shoveling snow and worked at it all day. I had almost half of it uncovered and thought I was making good progress. The next morning it was all covered with snow again. I started shoveling and by dark I had more than half of it uncovered. The next morning I started at daylight. It was all covered with snow again. That day I got it all uncovered. I started at daylight again the next day and had it all uncovered a couple of hours before dark. I used the extra time I had left to stand some of it on its side. The next day it did not take as long to dig it out of the new snow and I had time to get some ground supports ready.
The next morning I found the floor sections and they must have weighed two hundred pounds per section. I got a two by four and managed to move one over and get it up on the ground supports. It was heavy and I was in a lot of pain but I was determined to do it somehow. I learned a lot about leverage. The following day was Sunday and we were off but I started at daylight and got all the floor sections up and bolted together. Monday, I checked the wall sections and they did not weigh much more than a hundred pounds per section. I had to put a wall section on the floor and get a two by four ready. I would stand the section up and nail a two by four to it, line up the bolt holes and work the bolts in and tighten them up. I kept repeating this and the next day I had the walls up and all bolted together. I was ready to start the hard part, putting on the roof sections.
I found the roof sections weighed around 300 pounds each and there was one of me. I spent a full day just looking and planning. I got some heavy wood and ran it from the top of the wall to the ground. I managed to get a roof section moved over in front of the timbers I had nailed in. I got a two by four and got it started on the timbers and it was not too bad getting the roof section up on the timbers. The hard job was going to be moving it to the top of the roof. I moved one side up three or four inches and drove nails behind it to keep it from slipping back, then did the same on the other side. I kept inching it up two or three inches, one side at a time. Eventually I got a roof section in place and bolted it.
I continued a section at a time and finally got the roof on. The rest was easy, hanging doors and putting in the windows. It was not as level as it was supposed to be and I got some jacks and jacked it up where it was low and adjusted the floor supports. I finally had an assembled barracks. I asked Mr. Guiberson to check it and he pointed out a low spot. I fixed it and again asked him to check it. He said it was fine and I asked him what he wanted me to do next. He said he had changed his mind and did not need the barracks and I should take it down and put it back where it was. The next day I started taking it apart and eventually put it back where it was and shoveled snow over it and cleaned up the area.
The next day I went to Mr. Guiberson for an assignment and he assigned me to Blacky's crew. Blacky (a White man) had a reputation for being rough to work for. It was well deserved. We left Camp Icicle after breakfast in the back of an open truck with snow coming down as hard as I ever saw it. Our crew was building Mountain Home road, up and across a mountain. You could not see the road for snow and every few feet the truck would start sliding off the road (if one was there) and we had to get out and push the truck back on the road. It was lunch time when we got to the work site and Blacky said we would work thirty minutes and eat lunch. We were trimming limbs off trees that had been cut down in the summer, and then sawing the tree into logs and splitting them for firewood. We got some work done in the thirty minutes because Blacky was on us continually. We then ate lunch and Blacky said we would work another thirty minutes. We did the same thing as before lunch and then Blacky counted all the tools and we started back to Camp Icicle.
We continued day after day. Some days we would work one hour, some days two hours, and if we were lucky getting there we would work as long as three hours. One day I was told to saw a tree into logs, working with another boy, using a cross cut saw. When we finished we started at the top splitting it into firewood and got all the logs split, using malls and wedges. We were at the stump and playfully I sunk a wedge all the way into the stump. When we were ready to go, Blacky counted all the tools and went over and sat on a stump and lit his pipe. He sat there saying nothing until someone asked him what we were waiting on. He said," wedge missing," and just sat there. Everyone kept looking at me and I finally went over and said, "Mr Glanert the wedge is in that stump over there. He said, "Get it." Several of the boys jumped off the truck and a couple of them grabbed a saw. He told them to get back on the truck, that smarty pants would do it. That was me. I asked about someone taking the other end of the saw and he told me to take them both. It is extremely tough for one man to handle a cross cut saw but I did it and cut the top off that stump and then got the wedge out and took it to Blacky.
The crew was cold and miserable and I learned a lot of things on the way back to camp. The next day we were back on Mountain Home and I was a model worker. We finished cutting and burned all the brush and then went to work on the road. I was assigned as a front end man for a bulldozer. A front end man is the guy that digs out rocks by hand that the bulldozer cannot handle. It is a hard job. You dig around the lower side of that rock until it is exposed and then move it out of the way. It is back breaking work. On days now and then that were so bad Blacky could not get us to Mountain Home and back he would take us to the Ranger Station and we would lovingly clean tools and then dip them into hot melted wax. Blacky loved tools more than any man I ever knew.
I was called in by Joe Guiberson one day and taken off Blacky's crew and assigned to a crew building a ski jump in Leavenworth. I was assigned to help make the ski lift, which was nothing more than an engine at the bottom and a pulley at the top, with a looped rope between them. The skiers just held on to the rope and were pulled to the top. The hard part was that there were logs for the rope to drag on and we had to cut birch trees and skin all the bark off with axes and cut the logs to the right length. It was snowing so hard we could hardly see one another. Our hats would pile up with snow. I had already reached the point that I would rather work in the snow than inside. I could stand as much cold as anyone, I thought.
Although we had a boiler, the hot water was just for the mess hall and the laundry. The barracks had no hot water. We had picked up five or six boys from Washington state after the boys from Stevens Pass left. One of them challenged me to a cold water duel, in which we turned the showers on full blast and each of us stood directly under a shower naked and the first to get out lost. The water was really ice cold and I gradually turned blue. I think I stood there an hour and forty five minutes before a friend talked me into quitting. I dried off and grabbed a blanket. The other boy stayed about ten or fifteen minutes longer and then told someone to pitch him a bar of soap as he may as well take a real shower while he was there.
The Company Commander called me in one day and said he wanted me to run the camp laundry. The laundry was the most lucrative job in camp. You had to wash all the blankets and uniforms as part of your job but if anyone wanted civilian clothes washed and pressed they had to pay you for it. The laundry attendant always had money. I took the job and started immediately. There was a huge washer and you threw in a full load and added soap. When it finished you ran them through a wringer and then took them to the attic and hung them on wire lines. They would dry in a little more than an hour because it was so hot there. While the clothes were washing you had to run outside and put wood in a small boiler that made steam for the presser. Then you ran back in and pressed awhile. If the steam began to get discolored you had to run out and open a drain valve for a couple of minutes. Then you went to the attic and brought clothes down and took more wet ones up to hang to dry. It was constantly running from a warm room to outside in the snow and back inside and then upstairs to the 125 degree temperature in the attic. I was making some money but I got sick doing it and had to stay in bed about two weeks. When I got ready to go back to work I was told to see the Company Commander.
The Company Commander told me he had to give the laundry job to someone else. I was disappointed but told him I understood. Minton, our first Supply Sergeant, had left after six months and Charles Brucke became Supply Sergeant. The Company Commander said then that Brucke was leaving and I was the new Supply Sergeant. I had been reduced to an enrollee when I quit cooking and the Supply Sergeant job was a full Leader position. I took the job on the spot and worked with Charles until he left. Charles told me there were many shortages, such as several hundred sheets, a lot of blankets, pillow cases, mattresses, etc. I signed for everything as the Company Commander was responsible anyway. I did a complete inventory and made a list of the shortages. I had to go to Olympia, Washington once a month for supplies and to turn in worn out items. I started taking someone with me and while they were turning in worn out sheets and blankets I would go in the warehouse and take stuff to the other side and put it on the ramp. When we left we would circle the building and one of us would grab the stuff on the ramp and throw it in the truck. The stacks of sheets and blankets and similar items had a red stripe painted down the side. We just re-folded it all and turned them in the next trip. Soon I had surpluses instead of shortages and could call other camps and arrange to swap items we had a surplus of for items we were short. And before long we were not short anything.
There were a lot of personal activities at the camp that I have not mentioned. There was a dance every Saturday night in the recreational hall. Many of the boys had girl friends in town and a lot of girls and their parents came without dates. Square dancing was very popular in that part of Washington and you would see dancers as young as five or six years old and many well into their seventies if not older. The camp was a popular place. One of my friends, Zories Adron Trotter, married a Washington girl. There was also ice skating on the crick. Many of us borrowed skates. I never could roller skate but ice skating was very easy to learn. One of the boys fell while ice skating and after the fall Ezra Lee was the only one he ever recognized. Ezra (Buck) and he were from the same area in Alabama and when this boy came to he knew Buck immediately but never did recognize any of the rest of us. He would follow Buck around like a little puppy and if he lost sight of him he would get very disturbed and we would have to find Buck for him. Buck would hold his hand awhile and he would calm down. Buck tried to always be there when he woke up in the morning. They never did send the boy to a doctor, but based on my experience he was as well off.
Speaking of my experience, I had to see the doctor three times. I mentioned one time when I got sick while running the laundry. The first time was when we first got to Icicle, not long after the forest fire. We decided to do some boxing. I still weighed 122 pounds and there was no one close to my size who would box. Heaton, who was selected as the camp blacksmith, weighed 260 non-fat pounds and there was no one his size. Heaton asked me to just spar with him and said he would not hurt me. I took him up on it and we put on the gloves. He started making me look like a fool and when I saw a chance I hit him as hard as I could in the chin. He had just stuck his tongue out at me and when I hit him he bit his tongue real hard and it bled. He had told me at the beginning to hit him any time I could and he would not get mad. He did get mad and swung as hard as he could and hit me on the side of the head. He knocked me across four bunks and it was several hours before I came to. I thought I was all right but when I got up the next morning I was drinking a coke and the bottle kept slipping out of my mouth. When I tried to smile I smiled on the left side but the right side of my lips would not move. I went to the doctor, who was really a vet, and he took me to a doctor in Leavenworth. He said I had Bell's Palsy from a cut nerve in my right temple and the nerve grew back at the rate of about one eighth of an inch per month and I would eventually be all right. It was a weird feeling and lasted about eight months as I remember.
Several of us chased a boy into the attic of a barracks and we thought it would be funny to take turns guarding him and make him miss lunch. It was my turn and it got very quiet up there and I was afraid he had found a way out and started staring up through the opening to see if I could see him. He threw a fishing pole at me and the sharp end hit me in the eye. I went to the doctor and he put salve in it and a bandage over it, like he did with cows, I guess. It kept getting worse and worse and I finally got him to take me to the doctor in Leavenworth. He looked at it and told our vet to get me to a hospital. The ambulance driver took me to the Marine Corps Hospital in Seattle. The doctors there checked my eye and said I was lucky it did not have to be removed as the salve and bandage were the two worst things that could have been done to it. I still have it, but there is now a cataract and I have no vision in that eye. Doctors hesitate to remove the cataract due to the scar tissue.
We had twenty-five boys come in from a camp in Pennsylvania for some type of training. They wanted to go to Wenatchee one Saturday night but that required a leader to be in the truck and I was assigned to go with them. We spent several hours in Wenatchee and started back to the camp. The truck driver decided to stop by the dance in Leavenworth. He met a girl he knew and had a few drinks and refused to take the boys to camp. I decided I would drive the truck back, although I was not authorized to drive with people in the back of the truck. Everything went fine until we went through the gate and I started to swing to the right to take the truck to the garage. The boy in front with me yelled to go left and let the boys out at the flagpole. I flipped back to the left real quick and the truck turned over on its left side. I was afraid some of the boys were hurt and scrambled up and out through the passenger window. All the boys had landed on the grass around the flagpole and no one was hurt. They flipped the truck back on its wheels and I asked them not to mention the wreck. All of them looked at me and said, "What wreck?" I checked the truck and there were no dents and the only damage was that a swing out turn signal was broken and there was a small scratch where the bed of the truck landed on a rock. I took the truck to the garage and removed a turn indicator from a dead-lined truck and put it on my truck. I got some green paint and touched up the scratch. No one could tell it had been wrecked. The following Monday the Company Commander called me in and asked me what happened to my truck. I told him the truck driver got sick and I had to drive it from Leavenworth and had turned it over when I got back to camp. He had seen some glass on the ground near the flagpole and had checked all the trucks and discovered the fresh paint on my truck. I had to pay for the turn indicator but he did not charge me with any action.
I did not drink while I was in the CCC. I never had a desire to drink during those days. Life was voo short and there was too much to do to waste it on drinking. I knew I wanted to be somebody and make something out of my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do, just that I wanted to do something.
I have skipped over many events at Camp Icicle. For one thing, I worked several other jobs that I did not list, such as plumber, electrician, assistant educational advisor and truck driver. We taught a lot of boys how to read and write, plus other subjects they were interested in, like history and geography. It was a thrill to see young men who could neither read or write be able to sit down and write their parents a letter and read the reply.
Finally, a decision was made to close Camp Icicle and the boys were offered the opportunity to transfer to other camps or go home. Most went home but I decided to go to Camp Cowiche in Yakima, Washington. Before I could go, Camp Icicle had to be closed. All the boys left except William Hanks, who was company clerk and me, the supply sergeant. It was our job to finalize the records and the property. Hanks worked on records and I worked on property. When I had two truck loads of property ready to take to Olympia we would go in the two trucks and leave one truck there and return together in one truck. We finally had everything turned in except the ambulance and the records.
Bill Hanks was a tall, quiet, capable person and worked long hours keeping his work up to date. Some of the boys began taunting him because he did not drink or curse or run around. This began to bug Bill and one day he ran out and got in a truck and went to Leavenworth. Bill bought a pint of whiskey and drank the entire pint. He then returned to camp and drove around and around the flag pole, faster and faster, until the truck finally turned over. They took Bill out of the truck and put him on his bed. He did not come out of it for two days. When they put Bill on the bed they had one arm under his body. When he came out of it he was unable to use that arm for several days but finally managed to use it. When Bill got out of the CCC he went into the Army Air Corps as a cadet and finished all training. Someone noticed he favored that arm during final tests and he was washed out as a pilot and served as a flight officer during World War II. A seemingly minor thing can affect you the rest of your life.
I had saved mostly steak and eggs for us to eat. The cook stove in the mess hall was a tremendous thing. I had an attic full of the old World War I rain slickers and they were mostly melted blobs but they burned like crazy. We would reach up in the attic and get an arm load of those old slickers and go to the mess hall and build a quick and hot fire. I would throw a couple of steaks on the grill and a little later add a dozen eggs. We lived in style.
Bill Hanks had a battery radio and the batteries were about gone so we would listen to it awhile and turn it off. We were listening when the announcement was made that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The batteries burned out completely and all we had was our imagination. Our imagination led us to believe that Camp Icicle would be the next target. We really sweat it out that night but we lived through any attack that may have been made or planned (Smile). A few days later we loaded the camp records in the ambulance and took them to Olympia. Bill and I shook hands and he went home and I went to Camp Cowiche after being rejected by the Army, Marines and Navy because I had flat feet.
Camp Icicle was closed by the CCC but during World War II it was used to house prostitutes with venereal diseases while they were treated. It was later donated to the Catholic Church and now serves as a retreat. Even more recently I was told that the Church was selling Camp Icicle to someone in the private sector. I still write to the city manager in Leavenworth, as I have a deep affection for the area.
Camp Cowiche was vastly different from Camp Icicle. The CCC camps were set up with administration under control of the Army and the work performed under control of another government agency. The work performed by enrollees at Camp Icicle had been under the jurisdiction of the Forestry Service. The work at Camp Cowiche was under the Bureau of Reclamation and our work had nothing to do with forestry. Primarily, we were building canals used to move water to locations needing irrigation. Another vast difference was that Camp Icicle was beautiful and Camp Cowiche was a far cry from beauty. It was neat and orderly and clean but definitely not beautiful.
The Company Commander had lost a large number of boys, most of whom had enlisted in the Army or Navy the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. He showed me a list of openings at Leader level and told me to take my choice. I strolled around the camp and looked at the different areas and went back and told him I would take the job as parts keeper. It was isolated from the rest of the camp and had a private office and all I had to learn was accounting. My job was to control all vehicle parts, issue them against authorized work orders and maintain accounting records. It looked like a snap to me and really it was.
I had not been on the job long when a gentleman named George Washington Wilson came in from the district office of the Bureau of Reclamation and introduced himself as the auditor. George told me he was officially there to audit the parts records and personally there to help any boy with any problem he had, official or personal. George became a life long friend whom I maintained correspondence with for 50 years, right up to his death in 1991. There was never a greater person and no person other than my Mother had as much influence on my life as George. George would complete his audit in a day and we would spend most of two more days chatting. George taught me to audit and had me make the audit while he observed. Many years later, when I took Auditing at the University of Alabama I made a score of 115 out of a possible 100 but that will be covered later.
George Wilson encouraged me to always do twice what a job actually required. He said that most people did the minimum required plus maybe ten percent more in an effort to obtain better ratings or monetary rewards. He said that doing double what was required was satisfaction in itself and any awards would be even more enjoyable as you would know they were truly earned and not just given to you by a liberal boss. He considered his extra effort was in helping youngsters believe in themselves. I took what George said seriously and went to the Company Commander and told him I could handle the parts keeper job in half a day and take on one of the vacancies he had in the other half. He said he needed a truck driver and I started driving half the day. I only had one problem driving. We hauled a lot of steel rods used in canal construction and they were very, very long. I made a turn on to a side road one day and knocked a power pole down with the trailer load of steel. Other than that it was uneventful.
The day came when Camp Cowiche was closed and George and I closed out my records and I was sent to Camp DuPont, near Fort Lewis, Washington. I really hated to lose my contacts with George but he said he would soon be relocating in Colorado anyway.
Camp Dupont was even less attractive than Camp Cowiche. It was under the Army and Soil Conservation Service. Before we left Camp Cowiche I had altered the records of a friend and myself to reflect that we were full time truck drivers. When we arrived at Camp DuPont we were automatically assigned as truck drivers. Both of us were assigned to assist the Army at Fort Lewis. They had just built a lot of new officer's quarters there and some days we drove dump trucks and hauled asphalt for the driveways. Other days we drove flat bed trucks and hauled sod from a sod farm to the lawns of the new quarters.
Only one or two old friends remained from the days of Camp Icicle and it was not as much fun as it had been but I continued to follow the advice of George Wilson and tried to do twice what I had to. I would go to the motor pool and wash and clean up all the trucks, even though it was not my job. What I did was noticed and I was well liked by the Commander.
My two years maximum time ran out and the CCC camps were being closed rapidly anyway so I finally said good bye to Camp DuPont and headed home. There were no longer enough enrollees leaving to use troop trains and I rode commercial for a change. I had built a large chest while I was in Camp Icicle. It weighed more than fifty pounds. The Company Commander gave me an old typewriter with a very wide carriage and I dumped it and a few clothes and pictures in that chest.
The trip home was uneventful until I got off the train in Atlanta, Georgia and discovered I had to go the rest of the way on a bus. The bus station was across town from the railroad station and I had no money so I had to put that hundred pound chest on my shoulder and walk to the bus station. It was a good thing I was in excellent physical and mental condition or that chest would have been dumped along the way. I made it though and checked the chest despite protests from the bus company that it was over sized.
It was about 225 miles from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa (still is, I guess). The trip went fine and when we got to Tuscaloosa I had only seven or eight blocks to go with the chest. What a relief to get that thing home. The next day I made the rounds of Army, Marine and Navy recruiting offices but was rejected by all because of flat feet. I heard that a contractor was looking for a truck driver and went to see him and was hired two minutes later. He had a contract to haul mail between the post office and train and bus stations, plus a couple of sub post offices in the area. I started driving the same day. Once or twice a week I would check all the recruiting offices and be rejected again.
I had no idea where some of the small towns were located and often put North bound mail on a South bound train, but I am sure that is still prevalent in the postal service so what was the harm. I was more interested in killing Japanese and started hitting the recruiting offices every day as one of them had told me he thought the restriction on flat feet would be removed. I was amazed one day when I walked in the
Naval Recruiting Office and took a physical and the doctor did not look at my feet and said I was accepted. I was asked when I wanted to leave and I told them to give me half an hour to say good bye to my Mother. He made me wait two days.
I quit my job (I found him another driver) and said my good byes to my friends and my Mother. Little did I realize it would be more than four years before I would see my Mother and Sister again.
I served in the Naval Armed Guard on Merchantmen. I liked sea duty more than anything else because the sea is wonderful and the rougher and more miserable it is, the greater it is. The ocean has more power than anything I ever experienced and after it tries to kill you it rewards you with the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets than you will ever see anywhere else.
----- Thomas R. Bowerman
Also Mr.Bowerman has a website devoted to his CCC story in book form and the Naval Armed Guard wherein he served in WWII Tom Bowerman, Company 6436, Camp Icicle F-29 Leavenworth, Camp Cowiche BR-66 Yakima, Camp Dupont AF-2 Dupont, All Washington, Use Back Key To Return
Comany 6436, Camp Icicle, How it looked in 1997 (Photo1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Camp F-29, Leavenworth, Washington
Company 6436, Bartow Browning, left, watches Tom Bowerman, right, dig a ditch at Stevens Pass Side Camp, 36 miles from Camp Icicle, Leavenworth, Washington
Company 6436, Ezea (Buck) Lee & Tom Bowerman, Camp Icicle, Leavenworth, Washington
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