Biography of Guy Christianson
CCCman, Co. 1610, Camp Connors Lake, Phillips, WI, Park Falls, WI, Loretta, WI
My name is Guy Christianson and I served in the CCC at Camp Connors Lake, Wisconsin. Also was at side camps in Park Falls and Loretta. Would like to have the chance to make this era known, I have lots of stories to tell and pictures, with names of most of the men in that camp. These are some of my experiences in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
I graduated high school in 1932 and really would have liked to go to college..but the depression got in the way of that..money was scarse and jobs even more so..so I hopped on a freight train and became a "bum" for awhile...the trains were full of young fellows like myself...riding around the country looking for work..it was quite an exciting life..and a little dangerous at times. I finally returned home, to New Richmond, WI..and was looking for something so I could settle down in one place for awhile.
I first joined the CCC in the Spring of 1934, as a young man of 20. It was my Mother who put me onto the CCC, she kind of pushed me into it..and I was never sorry for going. This was an opportunity to make a decent living and be able to send some money home to my Mother and younger brothers and sister.
I lived good while there and was able to send money home for the family..had two younger brothers and a kid sister at home. Life in the CCC was good, three squares a day, and my experience in cooking and cutting hair was put to good use. I learned all about cooking for a crowd from my Grandmother, on the farm...she needed help and I was too young for the fields, so I got elected. I could flip pancakes with the best of them by the time I was six years old. My father cut hair..he cut all the neighborhood boys. One spring day, the gang all came over for their spring buzz, my father was late coming home and they got restless...so I got out his stuff and started cutting..he came home when I was almost done..from that day on I did all the guys haircuts.
After I joined the CCC, I was sent along with others to start a CCC camp near Phillips Wisconsin. We had been given uniforms and gear and sent to our camp. All of the uniforms worn in the Wisconsin CCC were old army issue..the "pea" coat, wool shirt and pants with the tighter legs were the standard issue, left over from WWI....we took to sewing in wedges of wool from army blankets up both side seams on the legs, to make them wider and more comfortable..hence the "first bell bottoms" and the Navy thought they invented that !! We never had any ensignia, badges or patches, that I recall.
We first set up camp at Conners Lake, in rural northern Wisconsin near Phillips, Wisconsin, in June of 1934. That was to be the main camp for the area. There were only 25 or 30 fellows in the group at first. We slept in old army surplus tents while we built the camp buildings. Our main job at that time was to pick gooseberry bushes, believe it or not! There was a blister root disease running through the woods at that time and gooseberry was the host plant for that disease, as well as currant bushes. Our job was to eradicate that strain of blister root. By the time Camp Conners Lake was completed and filled to capacity, there were about 300 men living there.
Lucky for me I was a country kid, used to the hardships of working in the fields and the woods. A lot of the fellows I came to know were from the streets of the cities, they had a hard time of it at first, but they caught on.
Camp Conners Lake is located in State Forest land west of Park Falls and Fifield, WI. on highway 70. ParkFalls side camp was just on the south side of the city behind the old ranger station, on the hill where the hospital is now. The fire tower is still there. Our side camp at Loretta, was located ten miles east of Winter WI. There also was a camp on Moose Lake, near Loretta. These were federal camps sites, on the National forest lands. The camp at Loretta was located just outside of Lorreta, Wisconsin, it was the 648th company. There was another camp called Sawyer, which is the name of the county where both Winter and Loretta are located. These camps were in the Chequamegon National Forest. There was a side camp on the outskirts of the city of Park Falls and a larger camp located near Phillips, Wi. some twenty miles to the south. There was a camp east of highway 70 also, called Riley Creek Camp. This whole area was dotted with CCC camps. From information I've read, the greatest concentration of camps in any one area was in the Skokie Valley in Glenview, Illinois where there were 10 companies quartered.
Camp Conners Lake had the responsibility of making fire control more manageable in those thickly forested areas. A lot of the area had been cut over by the huge lumber companies and the new growth was mixed with decaying wood left behind, a virtual tinderbox ready to flame. We built firelanes throughout the forests, put in telephone lines for communication, and erected fire towers in several different locations around the area. Before the CCC there were only narrow logging roads and the railroad providing access to the forests of rural Wisconsin. When the first big loggers came to make their fortunes by harvesting the virgin timber growing here, they worked fairly close to the waterways. The massive logs could then be pulled by teams of horses to the rivers where they would be piled along the river banks. The rivers were ice covered for most of the long, cold winter months, but when the spring thaw came, they would be rolled into the water and floated down stream to the lumber mills or railroad cars waiting to take them to the far corners of the country. As the forests located near waterways disappeared, the loggers were forced to move farther and farther into the forest, and that is when the railroads became so important. The area is still marked by a network of railroad beds, where rails once connected the lumber camps. The logging roads were pretty crude and not maintained after the crews moved on. An opening was punched in that was just big enough to allow them to drag out the trees to a branch of a railroad. Many of the firelanes we built followed those old logging roads. Some of them had strange names that made one wonder at the stories behind them. There was one road, located near Oxbo, that was called Snoose Boulevard, and still is to this day. From County road W to State Highway 70, the three Price Lakes and Lake Letourneu, all were joined by those firelanes, still in use today.
As Camp Conners Lake grew, we branched out into nearby areas. In the summer of 1935, twelve of us were sent to the small logging community of Winter, Wisconsin. We set up our camp in old army tents and began to build a Ranger Station. That cement block building still stands today right in the town of Winter. I love to drive by when we're in the area, just to look at it and remember how it was that summer. The stone mason they hired for the job was from a nearby town called Ogema. He brought his machinery with him to the site and began to teach us how to make our own cement block. Most of the blocks were rough faced on one side, giving the building a nice look from the street, almost like hand hewn rock.
There was no such thing as refrigeration, all we had was an icebox and a block of ice, which kept things from spoiling for only two or three days, at most. I was the cook. I can still remember what it was like to feed those hungry guys three squares a day. Boy, could they eat! Many of the recruits came to us looking as if they had not been fed a square meal in weeks, and I guess that was true for most of them. A lot of these boys were from the cities, and food was scarce on those city streets during the Depression. At least the country boys could go out in the woods and shoot a meal, if they could get a gun and some ammunition, or they could snare a rabbit or two. Those guys from the big cities had no such luxury, if you want to call it that. They were lean and hungry, and at first you couldn't fill them up!
Finding groceries for that crew was always a challenge. There was a fellow that lived out in the country and raised New Zealand rabbits. Now you may not believe it but, no fooling, those rabbits weighed about 20# apiece, and when I could get one, we really had a feast! That is one thing I knew how to cook was rabbit. Other supplies were purchased from area stores. Donnalyn's store, in Winter, had a big walk-in cooler. Almost every day I made the run into the store for supplies. Some of the store owners delivered, and they always stopped by the kitchen for coffee and some of my homemade cookies, big dunkers..tasted great with a cup of coffee. Every day about noon, I would run lunch out to the tower man, the fellow who's job it was to sit up inside the little room at the top of the tall towers we built and watch for forest fires. If I could borrow a gun and some ammo, I would hunt along the way. Then the guys would have fresh partridge for their supper, baked in a cream sauce. The area around here is still known for its partridge hunting, only now they call them grouse.
We spent most of our off hours either in Winter or out at one of the area bars/dance halls. Most of us didn't have much money in our pockets, so we never had to worry about being "over-served". The majority of the fellows liked to dance, and we'd all pile in the back of the camp pickup truck and be off to the nearest dance hall whenever we could get the free time. Every side camp had its own baseball team in those days, and we all enjoyed playing a game of ball. If you were pretty good at it, the different camps would vie for getting you signed on to their camp. A few of the guys who were really good, went on to play ball for area teams and eventually landed jobs in whatever town wanted them to play for their teams. Baseball was a big thing back then. Donnalyn's store had something special for the times and that rural area, outdoor movies, every Wednesday night. Those movies were pretty popular and the whole town would show up for them. My favorite one was written by a local boy by the name of Dietz. This fellow wrote about a true story that had happened to his family when the dam on the Thornapple River was blown up. This was all about the big lumber barons and the feuds they had with local landowners during the time of the logging days in that country. It was a true story and would sure make a good movie, even now. Young Dietz made it into a movie himself, and it sure was popular, Donnalyn showed it more than once. I suppose because folks around there had lived through those times and remembered how it was, the Dietz family got a lot of sympathy for it. Another favorite haunt of ours was Peterson's Tavern, on Saturday night. Now Saturday night was traditionally lumberjack's night on the town. A big glass of beer was 5 cents, and the bar was usually packed. If you can imagine a bar full of lumberjacks and a bunch of sunburned, fresh-faced CCC kids, you can just about imagine the fun we had. There are so many stories I could tell!
I can still recall a few names, George Edburg was the Tower man boss, he was a forester from the Hayward area. A fellow by the name of Hank Johnson brought his little bulldozer in to break trail for us, so we could get into fight fires when necessary. I have a picture or two of Hank on his bulldozer. I was an amateur photographer at the time, and was always snapping pictures. We had a set-up right in camp, so we could develop them ourselves. Many of them we given to the guys as they mustered out, so they would have some record of it all. I kept a few for my own album. One thing I did was to write names on the backs of the camp photos, so I would remember the names. That album is still intact and we enjoy looking through it on occasion, it brings back many happy memories.
My hitch in the CCC ended in June of 1936. I learned an awful lot in those two years, about myself and about life. We learned so much in the CCC and had a good time doing it. I still have my photo album and enjoy looking at the pictures I took of all the guys.
I decided to stay on in the area and found a job. It was nearing the end of those hard times and jobs were becoming available. I married a pretty little Irish girl and made a good life out of it. I still think about those days sometimes and I enjoy talking about them to whoever will listen. Guess that is the mark of an old man!
----- Guy Christianson
Company 1610 Camp Conners Lake Co., Phillips Wisconsin
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