Biography of Frank Lewis

NYA, 1936-1941

            The NYA was the last of the programs of the Roosevelt New Deal to tackle the massive problems of unemployment, poverty and despair characteristic of the great depression. In May 1934 Eleanor Roosevelt told a reporter for the New York Times , "I have moments of real terror when I think we may be losing this generation of young people." She had in mind the dire effects of the depression on young men and women throughout the country. More than most citizens, Eleanor Roosevelt realized that youth caught in the depression had problems different from those of their elders, who, although unemployed, too, had at least worked during the prosperous years of the twenties. But children born in the late twenties and growing up after 1929 lived in years of general job scarcity through the thirties and had no memories, let alone actual experiences, of working. Eleanor Roosevelt had good reason to worry about losing a generation of youth. It dealt with out-of-school, unemployed youth who were the most damaged victims of the depression. The NYA was authorized on June 26, 1935 as a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)

            I started to Central High School in Columbus, Ohio in the fall of 1936. We had to choose the course in which we were to major. I remember at least two courses: 1. Business for students going on to college or into the business world. This included a course in typing, which was usually chosen by girls and any boys that took this course were labeled sissies! That was the thinking at that time and as a result I never learned to type, a major mistake. 2. Technical course, the trades of which I chose printing because of my experience in a small shop next door to my home. (Cameo Press).

             My first experience with the NYA was when I was one of several students chosen to work in the print shop at Central High School. We did some of the skilled and unskilled jobs after school. We hand set all type except the school newspaper which was sent to an outside business to be machine set (Linotype). We hand fed the Chandler & Price presses and distributed back into the proper case, type that had been pied. Pied type is type that has been all tossed together.

            I graduated in June 1939 from Central High School and in January 1940 my family, by economic necessity moved to Fairfield county about 40 miles southeast of Columbus, my birthplace, and where my father owned a house.

            The NYA in Lancaster Ohio offered me employment. I was happy to accept this offer. Lancaster is the county seat of Fairfield county and was 10 miles from my home.

            My first assignment was working for the City of Lancaster with the Parks division. We painted park benches, graded and built trails and did general maintenance.

            My next assignment was with the REA (Rural Electric Administration) in the office doing clerical work. In the summer I was part of a survey team that covered the county surveying the needs of and satisfaction of the REA customers. An International pick up truck would take 4 or 5 young men into the county and went to every house checking the degree of satisfaction and how they were using the electric. I must have driven my supervisor crazy by consistently getting lost. Most of the people we encountered were very nice and cooperative, but there were a few negative ones. Many meals were provided to me by some very kind people because I was in their home at mealtime. They insisted on sharing.

            Some of the times we created “right of way” and helped string power lines to isolated farms.

            There was no transportation between my home and where I worked so I hitchhiked a lot. This form of transportation was used by many during those troubled years. My cousin worked in the hospital in Lancaster and went to work at 7:00 AM, so I would ride into the town, then walk downtown, and wait untill the office opened about 8:00 or 8:30 A.M.

            As the weather got colder in the early fall, the NYA got some surplus army clothing. I was very fortunate to receive a shirt and a World War 1 overcoat with the Division patch still attached. I loved that coat. It kept me warm many times when I stood out in the cold to hitchhike.

            In November of 1940 some one told me about a Mechanic Learner job at Patterson Field, Ohio. I took a Civil Service test for that position at the Main Post Office in Columbus, Ohio on December 7, 1940. The test was about 3 hours long and I thought that it was rather difficult. In April 1941, I received my rating with an offer to go to the Miami Resident Center, operated by the NYA at Patterson Field Ohio as a Mechanic Learner for $19.00 a month plus room and board. After 6 months we would be on our own for one month at $50.00 a month and then we would receive an appointment to Civil Service at $1320 per annum.

            In the meantime, in the spring of 1941 I had secured a job at a paper box co. in Columbus, Ohio. If I worked 52 hours a week my pay check was $15.00. I thought that I had finally arrived! It was a big decision. I struggled with this for a month. Should I leave the box company in Columbus at $15.00 weekly and accept the offer at Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio for $19:00 a month?

            Finally, with world conditions being the way they were, I decided to go to Dayton, Ohio. This was one of the best decision that I ever made. I have never regretted that decision. The box factory eventually closed its doors so I knew I made the right decision.

            I was provided a one way ticket to Dayton, Ohio by the Cincinnati & Lake Erie bus line. I arrived at the bus station in Dayton about 3:00 pm on May 19, 1941. I was supposed to be picked by a person from the camp. I waited till almost dark, 3 or 4 hours before a Mr. Whitaker picked me up. I was 20 years old, in a strange town, no money. I was getting very apprehensive.

            The Miami Resident Center was located about 7 miles from Dayton, Ohio on the original Route 4. Patterson Field, the operational and Depot area was located at Fairfield, Ohio. Wright Field, the research area, was located down the road about 8 miles toward Dayton. Patterson Field lay on one side of the road and Wright Field lay on the other side. State Route 4 went through the middle of the field.

            The camp was 1/4 mile up a dusty road and consisted of 5 one story frame buildings with dining, clinic and bath facilities in the center.

            The food at the dining facility was plentiful and nutritious. We sat 6 or 8 at a table. The Clinic which I visited for a few minor ailments was staffed by a very competent RN.

            The center received its first residents in early May, so I was one of the first ones to arrive. We were finger printed and assigned an ID badge with our photo on it. The bunks were steel double decker with space for a foot locker, which was furnished.

            The center was located west of Patterson Field but our trucks traveled west to use a bridge over the railroad tracks. We could have gone east toward Patterson Field but we had to cross a series of railroad tracks which presented a very definite safety hazard.

            We were transported to Patterson Field, in a 1 1/2 ton stake body truck with a tarpaulin on top, and we sat on folding wooden seats running lengthwise similar to the famous 6x6 2 1/2 ton Army truck of World War ll.

            When we arrived at the base we were assigned to the various departments to learn new skills. At night in camp we would lay in bed and be lulled to sleep by the drone of the numerous engine test stands at near by Wright Field. We were free on the week ends and some of us who had cars pooled our resources and formed a car pool and went home.

            At Paterson Field I started as a cable splicer in the Wire and Cable Department. Wire cables were still being used for control surfaces. I worked in the wire dept. for about 6 weeks before I transferred to Production Control in the Planning Dept.

            At that time women in the Fabric Department were repairing aircraft wings and fuselages by sewing them and painting them with a process called “dope”

            Most of the young men became employed in the various trades. Many of these people had previous experience working with cars and engines at an early age because of economic reasons. Most had a good knowledge of mechanics. As the number of NYA enrollees increased we went to two shifts a day.

           By early 1942 the field was hiring people off the street at regular wages and in some of them were being taught by NYA enrollees.   Even though most of us were high school graduates and working for a salary, we still had to take continuing education. A teacher from the Dayton Public School taught us 2 days a week at the camp. We studied Aviation Mechanics 45 hours, Blue Print Reading 49 hours, and Related Mathematics 46 hours.

           I finished my training with the NYA on Nov. 19, 1941 and moved to Springfield, Ohio about 15 miles from the Base. At this time I received my appointment to U. S. Civil Service where I continued to work for 36 years, including 3 years with the Army Air Corps in Europe with the 8th and 9th Army Air Forces. Our country entered WWll on Dec.7 and our world was changed forever.

            I think I'm a better person for the experience I gained in the NYA which later benefited me in the army and civilian life. On September 7, 1943, the whole NYA was liquidated. Thank you President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

            Years have passed since the NYA days. I have enjoyed a lengthy marriage and we have been blessed with one daughter.  Incidentally, I discovered some time after I married my wife that she too, had worked for the NYA at her high school during those years. The following is an account of her experience with the NYA.

            It was during the ”Great Depression” and I was a young girl in high school in a small town in the blue grass section of Kentucky. We were a comfortable farm family who always had plenty to eat and a warm home. Our parents struggled as did many others for the money to buy our books and pay our transportation to the high school from the farm.

            Then our school became involved with the NYA program and they gave employment to a number of students whose grades were good enough to relinquish a study period each day (45 minutes).

            My sister and I (she was a senior and I was a junior) applied and we were hired to work in the library that year. We were paid $6.00 a month. Others were hired too but I can’t remember how many. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn library work and also to have $6.00 a month to help us financially.

            My sister graduated and the next year they hired twice as many students for $3.00 each a month. Because I lived on the farm, I chose the cafeteria and this included lunch too! The food was wonderful in our schools unlike the childrens’ complaints of today’s food.

            We had salads, a variety of meats and vegetables and some excellent desserts such as individual pies (homemade). I saved my money from this job and purchased my class ring for $6.00 and other special things.  

             I have good memories of the NYA job and gained a lot of experience, thanks to President Franklin Roosevelt.

-----  Frank Lewis

         flewisptr@aol.com

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