Biography of Thomas F. Arnold
Leader, CCCMan, Company 1410, Cross City, Florida & Goldhead Branch State Park, Keystone Heights, Florida
I was an Assistant Leader at Co. 1410 near Cross City, Florida, and later transferred to Goldhead Branch State Park, Near Keystone Heights. I was in a short 6 months enrollment, toward the end of the C's, but have lost the exact dates, but I would say it was in the early 1940's.
Here's part of a song a boy nicknamed "Turtapper" used to play on his guitar and sing at the camp near Cross City, Fl.:
"Now when I joined the CCC's, I liked it mighty fine,
Paid you 30 dollars a month, and fined you 29,
Now we don't want no more of your bullshooting,
We just want to go home.
Catch you in your uniform without your tie,
Give you extra duty and never tell you why,
Now we don't want no more of your bull shooting,
We just want to go home."
Talking about names, here are some I remember: John Rooky, T.F. Moriarty, Frank Koon, Sgt. E. Carbrera, (we all called him Carburetor), Lt. Martin, Houck, Charley Nolon Jones, Tug Boat Annie, Ghent, Prof. Ennis, Capus M. Young, Mr. Hutto, and Capt. Heidenrack.
It was still winter in 1940 or 1941 when I left Madison for the CCC Camp. My brother, Fred Arnold, drove the WPA truck that took us to the camp at Cross City, Fl.
He waited around while we had our physical exam. This was a first for most of us, getting naked in front of a lot of other men. They handed us a piece of paper about the size of a letter, and we all tried to hide behind it.
We all passed the physical, so my brother drove back home by himself.
One of the first things after that, they issued us a set of clothing, and bedding. Then came fire training, in other words how to fight a forest fire.
"Don't get caught in a draw," the Forestry man said.
Then he explained this could happen if a fire swept down in a ravine. While this might not happen in Florida, some of us might be shipped to camps in the mountains where it could. So this was good advice.
Then we got our rakes, and pretended we raked leaves, etc. back on the burned area. It was good training.
I never fought a forest fire, but one time a bunch of us were called into Cross City to help put out fires in a bunch of shacks. We carried tanks of water on our backs, and pumped a stream of water into the flame. But some of the other boys did fight forest fires, and came back to camp tired out, and covered with soot.
HOOVER CHICKENS AT THE
OTTER CREEK CCC CAMP
On one trip back to to camp from home, we drove by the side camp at Otter Creek. (Co. 1402) That was probably about 60 years ago, so I've forgotten why we stopped there. Maybe to see an old buddy. Anyway, when we got out of the car, I saw a small pen near the barracks. It was about 10 feet by 10 feet, with 12 or 14 inch boards on each side.
Over inside this pen several "gopher" turtles crawled around trying to get out. This is a land turtle that lives in holes they dig in the sandy soil around in some places of Florida.
Florida "Crackers" used to call these "gopher" turtles Hoover Chickens, because so many folks ate them during the days of the Great Depression.
I've heard of folks digging down inside these holes deep in the ground and finding not only the turtle in it, but also a fox, and a rattlesnake.
They seemed to be happy together.
One fellow guessed the turtle furnished the hole, the rattlesnake gave protection, and the fox kept them warm.
But getting back to the turtles in the pen at the Otter Creek Camp, I asked a boy what they planned to do with them.
"Eat 'em," he said.
We didn't stay long enough to sample any of it, besides, we got far better cooking at the mess hall at the Cross City Camp. Charlie Jones was a master cook, and cooked some of the finest pancakes I ever ate.
So we never had to eat any of the "gopher" turtles.
Nowadays, these "gopher" turtles are on the endangeres list, and are protected by law in the State of Florida. It's even against the law to move them off your property, or disturb their burrows.
Big Rattler at Cross City
One day while the "topo" crew surveyed in the wilds of the pine woods, one of the boys barely missed getting bitten by a diamond back rattlesnake. The snake must have been 5 or 6 feet long, and as the boy drew near the snake struck at him.
And would have bitten him, except the snake had just swallowed a rabbit, and it was down about a foot or two from it's head. So the weight of the rabbit held the snake down, and he never bit the boy.
Anyway they killed the rattler and brought it back to camp us to see.
BED BUGS IN THE CAMP
Looking back on it, seems like the boy who had the job ahead of me did look a little pale. He got a promotion, so they gave me the job in the Dispensary, and I moved into the little boxy room where he had slept for months. But my first night was a nightmare.
I had hardly fallen asleep when the chinches or bed bugs began to bite.
The pine boards that formed the wall had cracks about an eighth of an inch between them, and the bed bugs lined up inside those cracks. When I turned the lights out, the ones in the cracks jumped from the wall and landed on me. They joined those in the mattress, and boy, did they ever bite.
I solved the problem temporarily by sleeping out in the main part of the dispensary where there were several cots.
The bed bugs hadn't gotten that far yet.
Next day, I reported the bed bugs to the Co. Commander, and we had a thorough search of all the mattresses in the camp. While we found a few here and there, there was nothing like the ones in the dispensary.
A thorough fumigation job cleaned them out, so I slept ok after that.
We had one interesting case in the dispensary. One boy dreamed he was catching a freight train, and fell out of his cot, and broke his shoulder blade. So he was treated for that.
Another time a boy came down with appendecitis, so we drove him in an ambulance to the VA Hospital in Lake City, Fl for treatment.
Now and then a CCC Doctor would pass through, and spend a night.
Dr. Raymond Hartwell graduated from a small medical college in California during the great Depression. He became a CCC doctor, and probably was a Lieutenant to start with, and had to join the Army Reserves.
Lucky he got in the Army Reserves and CCC's.
Because when WW2 broke out, he was called to active duty, and by the time the war was over he was a COLONEL in the Army. I knew him later after the war was over. He was a Staff Physician at Florida Sanitarium and Hospital at Orlando, Florida, and was a good doctor, with a large practice.
What About the CCC Vehicles?
The ones we had seems like they were 1939 Plymouth or Dodge trucks with a cab in front where the driver and Forestry Foreman sat. In back, we sat on wooden benches under a tarp. The engine was equipped with a governor that wouldn't let it go any faster than something like 35 miles an hour. So those trucks never went very fast. This was good thinking, and no telling how many lives were saved because of this.
Our camp also had an ambulance that we used to take very sick men to the VA Hospital at Lake City, Fl. I went on one trip to take a patient for treatment. The ambulance driver was an authorized driver of CCC vehicles, and since I wasn't, this boy wisely refused to let me help with the driving.
I've often thought about this boy, and though I've forgotten his name, and I'm glad he stuck to the rules.
I remember our camp also had a caterpillar tractor, and many times I watched a boy operated it so skillfully.
It was almost like an art.
CCC Boys Baptize Black Preacher in Creek Water
One time a truck load of CCC boys from our camp came upon the scene of a car accident near a bridge that crossed a small stream. A Black preacher with 3 Black women had run off the road into the stream. Somehow the women got out of the car ok, but the preacher was still inside. The entire car was under water, except one back corner. It was up high enough so there was air in there to breathe.
So the preacher had his head up in that one little space, and was alive.
"Oh Lawd help us, O Lawd help us," the women on the banks wailed.
The strong boys quickly jumped from the truck, and into the water. They jerked the car door open, and took ahold of the preacher, and tried to pull him out, but he refused to leave the safety of his little air space.
"Pull me out square, pull me out square," he hollered..
Then one of the more aggressive boys spoke up:
"Listen preacher, when I take ahold of you this time, you duck your head, and come out of there. You hear me?"
So this time, the preacher held his breath, ducked his head, and let the boy pull him out. Well, I don't know what happened after that, but the CCC truck had come along just in the nick of time to save that preacher.
And this is the only time I ever heard of a CCC boy baptizing a preacher, but it did happen, and the boy was a hero back at camp that day.
Nolen and Colin Jones
I reckon I'd finished cleaning the latrine that day, and stoking the boiler with lightard knots, so the boys coming in would have hot water. Before I left, Charlie N. Jones, the cook, and his twin brother, Jack C. Jones, got in the shower and started soaping up.
There was another CCC boy standing by me, and we watched them bathe. Charlie and his brother were perfect specimins of young manhood. Their well developed muscles came from growing up on a farm, and it was a sight to see those muscles play as the water sprayed on them when they moved about.
I don't know why, but maybe they saw our admiration, and decided to give us a little show. So they started sparring a little, sorta tapping each other kind of light like. And it was fun to watch.
"Look at 'em fight!" the boy beside me said.
But I didn't say anything. I just stood there and watched. I reckon it took me back to the time these twins took on the bully of the school grounds back at Madison when we were just kids. That bully may have started picking a fight with one of them. I don't know if it was Nolen or Colin, as we called them, but as soon as he started in, the other twin came, and they decided it was time to teach the bully a lesson.
I reckon either one could have taken care of the bully, but they both waded in with flying fists, and put a whipping on him I'll bet he never forgot.
So at camp that day, as I watched Charley and his brother sparring in the shower, they didn't need to show me what they could do, I already knew. But both were peace loving boys, and except for the time they whipped the Madison bully , I never knew of them getting in a fight.
Charlie, as I said before, was a marvelous cook, one of the best in our camp. But for some reason, his brother Jack or Colin, as we called him as kids, anyway, Jack was in the Army, and had come to see Charlie for a few days.
Well, after I left the Camp at Cross City, I never saw, or heard of Charlie N. Jones. He may have gone into the Army too. But if he did, I rather doubt he ever had to carry a gun. He was just too good a cook, and would have been forced into Army mess halls.
But when the World War 2 heated up, a picture of his brother, Sgt. Jack C. Jones, came from Europe. He was a gunner in some kind of war plane. The picture came to the small Madison Enterprise-Recorder weekly newspaper where I worked. And Jack looked fine, just the same, as he did when he sparred with Charlie that day in the shower at the CCC camp.
But not long after that the sad news came that Sgt. Jack C. Jones had been killed in action.
I'm sure Jack gave a good account for himself in the air battle that day, and maybe he'd have come out alright if Charlie, his twin brother, had come along to help him whip Hitler's BULLY boys in the sky over Europe, like he did with the bullyboy on the school grounds back at Madison when we were kids.
And maybe I wouldn't have the lump in my throat like I do when I think of these fine, muscular boys sparring with each other in the CCC shower back at Co. 1410, near Cross City, Florida.
Military Training in the CCC's?
I first learned about military life in the CCC's. The camp was patterned after the US Army, and was controlled by Reserve Army Officers. But we got the basics only, for fear the general public would think FDR was preparing the way for a BIG Army.
Anyway, I remember the tall, dark-haired, slender Jewish Subaltern, who taught us to "fall in" at the flag pole. At REVILLE near early dawn we stood stiffly at attention, while one of the boys pulled the ropes that lifted the US Flag to the top. Then:
"Right FACE!, Left FACE!, About FACE!" the Subaltern would bark.
Then in late afternoon we stood at RETREAT, as the flag came down, and was folded away. Then we were done for the day. So off we'd go to the barracks to "bullshoot," or look at pictures of girlfriends, or talk about home.
On weekends, some of the boys ventured out to their girlfriends' homes at night.
I remember how the boys talked about two girls they called "the sand-bed sisters". I reckon the ruts in the road to their house went through deep beds of Florida "ball bearing" sand, like there used to be in the old piney woods back then. Now these boys probably walked, but if you drove through that kind of sand you could easily get stuck up to the axles. That is unless you drove a Model A Ford. They would take you almost anywhere.
But most of the boys never saw the sand beds, they sorta stuck with the girls at Cross City or Shamrock, which were close by.
"Apple-grabber," was one those girls. She was a large, heavy, loud, and boistrous sort of a girl. And they talked about her a lot. But I never saw her, because I stuck pretty close to camp.
Why? I reckon I was sorta in love with a girl back at Madison. And she was a beauty, from the old Southern Aristocracy. But since I was a "Florida Cracker," I knew I didn't have a chance. Still on weekends I'd walk past her house wearing my forest green CCC dress uniform.
And as luck would have it, one day none of suiters cars were parked out front, so I walked in, and talked with her for a while. She was ironing a pink blouse, probably to wear on a date that night.
Well, we just sorta talked along, as she stood there at the ironing board in the breakfast room. And I watched as she smoothed out the wrinkles with a hot electric iron.
But when I told her that I loved her, she just laughed.
Well, next day, back at camp, I'd sorta given up on her, I reckon. Anyway, there would be something far better for me, down the road, though it would take several years for her path and mine to cross.
But at the time, I reckon I felt a little low at camp. Maybe I'd run out of money having spent everything on the trip back home. Or maybe I got "red-lined" on the pay roll sheet in the orderly room. And that meant I wouldn't get paid. And they never told us why.
In times like those, I'd get a "JAWBONE," to tide me over. That was the nickname for a Canteen Book, and probably cost me about five dollars. It had slips of paper stapled together inside a cover, and I used them in place of money at the CCC Canteen. I bought chewing gum, soda water, soap, shaving cream, stationery, and things like that. Or maybe a CCC banner to hang on the wall back home.
About this time a new Co. Commander had came, and one day he called for volunteers to transfer to Goldhead Branch State Park. So on impulse, I gave up my job in the dispensary, and my rank as Assistant Leader.
"I'll go," I yelled.
I'm not sure why I did that. Maybe I was tired of being red-lined at Cross City. But most likely it was just another call to adventure.
"Hey, I'm losing my dispensary man," the Commander said.
But he didn't try to stop me, as I climbed on the truck with my buddies, and said goodbye to Co. 1410. And we were on our way.
And more adventure did wait for me at the new camp.
Along about that time I heard on radios the song:
"I'll be back in a year little darling."
This song was to have special meaning to me at Keystone Heights.
Well, maybe I can tell about that some time time. But for now I'd better hush for a while.
The CCC Dentist
May Have Been An Answer
To Mama's Prayer
Mama spent a lot of time on her knees praying for the eight of us children. I imagine she prayed a lot for me when I was at Co. 1410. She always wanted me to be a preacher, but I was too restless. I just couldn't stay in one place very long. Joining the CCC's was just one of my adventures.
And that day when the young CCC Dentist set up in the dispinsary, it may have been an answer to Mama's prayer that God would look after me.
Anyway Dr. Kemp, the tall, neatly dressed, and handsome CCC Dentist brought his equipment with him the day he walked in. Where he came from, or where he went, I never knew. But Jacksonville, Fla. was his home, and I imagine he fixed teeth in a number of Camps around Florida. So he didn't stay at Cross City very long.
"I may as well work on you," he told me, setting up his drill.
After all, I was handy, and they didn't have take another boy off a job. So I sat down in a chair, and got ready. While I waited, he began to sing, and he sang with a beautiful voice.
"Marie Elena, you're the answer to my prayer,
Marie Elena, you're the answer to my prayer."
This was a popular song, and I'd heard it lots of times on the radio. His singing just made me feel relaxed. But looking back on it, I think it may have been Dr. Kemp himself, and not Marie Elena, that was an answer to prayer.
Why? Because I had cavities in two of my jaw teeth, and I didn't know it.
One of them was pretty bad.
When he saw what I needed, he got his drill ready. Now he didn't have a fancy electric drill like dentists do today. His was operated by a pedal, and he pedaled with his foot while he drilled the teeth.
"I can control this pedal, better than an electric drill," he told me, as he drilled deeper and deeper in my tooth.
What about deadening my jaw? Forget it. No needles, no nothing. He just drilled away. When he got to a sensitive spot, he just moved the drill away and came back to it later.
"That does it," he said, as he passed over the touchy spot one more time.
Then he put some sort of matrix on one side of the tooth to hold the amalgum until it set. After all, just about all that side of the tooth was gone.
Then he mixed the stuff, packed it in, smoothed it off, and fixed the other tooth, and it was done.
In a few days Dr. Kemp was gone, and the place seemed sorty empty after that. I just reckon I missed his beautiful singing voice. And like a lot of other people I've met along the road, I never saw him again. But I've often wondered about him. He was in the Army Reserves, like the other CCC Officers, and Pearl Harbor was just a few months down the road. So I imagine he was called in for the duration.
But what about my tooth, the bad one he fixed? Well, it lasted me at least 60 years or more, with no problems. Finally my dentist wanted to drill out all the amalgum in my mouth, and replace it with other stuff. So he drilled most of that tooth away, and put a crown on it. And I still am chewing with it. And I enjoy eating.
So in closing, I want to say "hats off" to you Dr. Kemp, wherever you are. And I hope you're still singing.
But it was you, and not "Marie Elena" who was the answer to a prayer.
And I'm thankful for that.
May God bless you. Thomas Arnold, age 79, CCC Veteran.
What about Religious Freedom in the CCC's? Since I was a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which taught it's members to not work on Saturdays, I went into the orderly room as soon as I could. I explained my convictions to Lt. Martin, the Co. Commander, and he said he'd contact headquarters.
He called me in later, and said they told him to iron it out to his own satisfaction. He was a fair man, and had good common sense, so he had an answer. "I'll make you latrine orderly, so you'll weekends off," he said.
So Carburetor took me out to the latrine and showed me how to do it, and it wasn't a bad job. I stayed with it until an opening came for me to work in the Medical Dispensary. I was put in charge of it, and promoted to Assistant Leader. So I had 2 yellow stripes around the sleeve of my uniform. And I was proud of them.
The Camp had an Educational building and Prof. Ennis was in charge, and boy could get a High School Diploma there. Prof. Ennis taught some us to take dictation by shorthand, and he had a few typewriters we could practice on. I had a little training in touch typing in High School, so I began to practice some.
"If you'll type the words, 'Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,' over and over, you'll learn." somebody said.
So I did that, and sure enough it taught me how to type pretty well.
In the back of the Educational Building, there was a complete woodworking shop. Saws, planers, lathe, etc., and I made a table out of beautiful magnolia wood. I was proud of it, and one weekend, a bunch of us chipped in on the gas, and drove home. I took the table to Mama, and she was delighted with it.
Archie Davis, my nephew, who owns a large cattle farm in Madison County, Fl, still has the table in his home. Other than a steel footlocker, I have in my closet, that is all that's left but memories.
It must have been 1941 when I transferred from the CCC Camp at Cross City, Florida, to Goldhead Branch State Park at Keystone Heights. I can't remember much about the town, or even if there was one. But Starke, was nearby, and was bigger. The Penitentiary or Prison for the State of Florida was near it, and I saw it in passing now and then.
When we got into Camp we found it was old and had been deserted for no telling how long. So we had to clean it up. The barracks had been neglected, if fact the whole place was sorta run down.
The park itself was beautiful though, and well kept, but we weren't allowed to spend much time in it. There were some sand bottomed lakes around, and they gave us one to bathe and swim in. But it too needed attention.
Broken glass bottles were all around in the sand in the water, and we picked it up.
Then we could swim and enjoy the cool water without getting big gashes in our feet. And it was fun, I reckon, though I can't remember spending much time there after cleaning it up.
Seems like the food in the mess hall wasn't as good as we had at Cross City. Maybe the cooks were just learning too. I surely missed Charlie Jones' good cooking, especially the pancakes he made at breakfast time.
Still there was plenty of food, and we needed it because the work was hard.
We loaded in the back of canvass topped 1939 Plymouth or Dodge trucks, and sat on wooden benches on the way to Camp Blanding, an Army training camp, where we worked clearing logs out of swampy places.
It was probably here that I first heard the song: "I'll be back in a year, little darling." You could hear it on the radio a lot back then.
And as I lifted those heavy logs with cant hooks in the swamp, I watched those soldiers train for the war with Hitler and the Japs which was soon to follow. Those solders were called into service for one year only, and that's what the song was all about. But sad to tell, they never got out in a year, but stayed in until World War Two was over.
One time a soldier stood guard duty at a pump house near me. He had a rifle, and got to playing with it, and pulled the trigger, and the thing went off. Lucky nobody was hurt. Seems like the Corporal of the guard came up, and took him away. Somebody said all they'd do was fine him a carton of cigarettes.
One time a squad of Infantrymen trained close to us with rifles. But they didn't have bullets.
"Air attack!" shouted the non-com in charge.
They dropped to one knee and aimed their rifles toward the sky, and began snapping them, as if shooting at an airplane.
Also I saw huge cannons towed along the road, and heard them boom way off in the distance. One time they got a whole battalion out on the drill field, and marched them along together.
It was an awesome sight.
But we had work to do. One of the foremen asked me to be a "stick boy."
"OK," I said.
Now a boy would carry water canteens on a long stick to fill them for the thirsty boys. And I thought that was what he was talking about. But it wasn't.
He wanted me to direct a crew of boys in the work. But I really didn't feel comfortable telling the other boys to work. But I stayed with it.
My enrollment time was about up anyway, so pretty soon I got my discharge.
A boy named Billy Driver took me and my foot locker to town in a CCC truck. So I said goodbye to the C's, and at Starke, caught a Greyhound bus and headed for home at Madison, Fla.
As the bus tires hit the cement cracks in the highway, they seemed to say:
"I'll be back .I'll be back"
Well, back home in Madison, I was working for Johnny Johnson at his Sinclair Service Station on US 90, at the top of the hill on the West side of town on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.
After that, so many boys were called into the Army, Navy and Marines, they shut the C's down altogether.
But the CCC's did wonders for me, and a lot of other boys. May God bless the memory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt for what he did for us.
----- Thomas F. Arnold, age 78, Florida
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