Biography of Del B. Williams
Senior Leader / Company Clerk, CCCman, Company 1302, Camp YNP-1, Mammoth, Yellowstone National Park, Gardner, Montana & Camp Basin, RSF-16, Targhee Mountain, West Yellowstone, Montana & Camp F-57, Squaw Creek, Bozeman, Montana & Camp Nine Mile, Remount Depot, Missoula, Montana
From the Chapter #5 Seattle Washington, NACCCA, News-Bulletin, November & December 1995 & January 1996
My name is Del B. Williams and I served in my country in the CCC's, the Army, and as a Civil Service employee for a total of 30 years. After that I had a second career in the Real Estate business for an additional 30 years.
I was one of five brothers. In 1924 we lost our parents when I, being the second oldest, was just 9 years old. Our mother's brother, a 24 year old man and single at the time, became the guardian of the 5 orphans. Our uncle, who had a farm ranch near Red Lodge, Montana, raised us five boys, and he saw us all through high school, while we lived and worked with him on his farm-ranch. By the way, our "grade schooling", all eight grades of it, was obtained in a small one-room school house with only one teacher in the school each season. Eventually our uncle saw all five boys go into the Army during World War II, in the early forties. But he saw only four return as one was lost on the Anzio Beachhead.
On April 14th, 1935 I was handed two silver dollars by a lady who became my aunt when she married our "guardian" and I was driven the 3 miles to the nearest town. From the "blind side" I climbed aboard the train headed for Red Lodge, the county seat. The train ride was free because my seat was made of coal and the "compartment" was the coal tender. This was not a new experience because the same compartment often previously provided me transportation back and forth on week-ends during heavy winter snows from Red Lodge to "home" while attending high school.
Once at the courthouse in Red Lodge, where I had tried in vain two times before to be enrolled in the CCC's, I at last "lucked out". Another kid, who was scheduled to be selected that day, could not travel because his mother had passed away. This third time was the charm and shortly thereafter I found myself in a railroad car full of boys back on the same train but in a much, much better seat. At day-light the next morning we were at the railhead for the CCC Camp YNP-1, Mammoth, Yellowstone National Park, Gardner, Montana. Trucks carried us soon to be CCC enrollees to breakfast at camp and for final processing.
I signed up for Truck Driving as I wanted to drive those brand new green 1935 Ford dump trucks. However, that was not to be. I was selected for the pipe line. My job was a "shovel operator" - by hand - digging a ditch. It seems the truck boss took a dim view to my truck driving ability during the first test.
There were various projects at this Park Service camp. One crew was assigned to feeding hay to the elk herd while still another crew was hauling away the dead elk. Many of the elk had starved to death that year. Their heavy antlers were late dropping off and bull elk would lean down at the streams to drink only never to get up. The elk have two teeth that are ivory and are much in demand. The Park Ranger insisted that they were government property and it was illegal for us to take them. But most of the boys in camp, including myself, secured a set of these illegal elk teeth.
The bear and the deer were most plentiful around this camp. Also there were moose. The bears would get into the garbage and the deer would beg for food. I have a picture of a deer eating out of my mouth. On a recreation trip one Sunday through a portion of the park, the truck, loaded with CCC boys, stopped to view a large brown bear. He begged for food. Before anyone knew what was happening a boy dumped a jar of red CCC pills over the side. Being very tasty, as they were candy coated, the bear of course at the CCC pills. I don't know when the bear finished that meal, but I had a pretty good idea what the bear did in the buckwheat for the next several days.
After two weeks on the long handled round point "bull dozer" and digging in the ditch by hand, I was called to the office to help type the camp paper. They played right into my hands by letting me do this. During the ensuing years in the camps where I was assigned, I was on the business end of a typewriter and allied government paperwork most of the time.
The Company at YNP-1 (Mammoth) was suddenly changed from a Wyoming L.E.M. Company to a Junior Montana Company. On June 4, 1935 the company was moved to Camp Basin, RSF-16, located at the east base of Targhee Mountain, just below the timberline. The railhead was West Yellowstone, Montana - Montana's snow belt. This was a summer tent camp near Hebgan Lake. West Yellowstone gave the CCC boys their first taste of inflation. The business people in West Yellowstone had to make their money during the summer season OR ELSE. Haircuts were 75 cents - unbelievable. Beer was twice as much here as in other parts of Montana. Before the modern snow-plows and before automobiles, the only traffic in West Yellowstone in the winter were dog teams ( or Airplanes when the runway was cleared by bulldozer). The business people, programmed for the summer only when the likes of Hollywood's Wallace Beery and other wealthy Yellowstone Park tourists traveled to West Yellowstone by U.P. and on thru the Park on large touring car type busses, still liked the CCC boys money while it lasted. Once the boys were outclassed at least one time as some Mormon girls were brought to the dance in West Yellowstone. They were pretty and lots of fun.
At West Yellowstone I first became the Company Clerk in the Army office. Here I learned, ironically, for later use in the regular Army, how to do payrolls, rosters, sick reports, morning reports and other miscellaneous Army government paper work. The projects consisted of the normal U.S. Forest Service work, together with lots of firefighting. The Forest Service rangers, the supervisor and the ranger station were located beside the CCC camp.
When the snow began to fall in 1935 the Company hurriedly disbanded and transferred to Camp F-57, Squaw Creek, Bozeman, Montana. This camp was located on the Gallatin River in the Gallatin National Forest and was near the noted "Big Sky" where Chet Huntley subsequently proposed a huge winter ski resort comparable to Sun Valley. Not much was ever built, after Huntley died, at this natural mountain for ski jumping. But we did get to watch world-wide competition. At that time it was called Kart's Camp - before the Big Sky name. Our "disbanded company" merged with Company 1963 there at the Squaw Creek Camp. It was here that I met Tim Timonen, who is now also a member of Chapter 5. He had been at Squaw Creek for a year. With me, when we arrived at Squaw Creek, was Tim's brother. Our transferred group of more than a 100 filled the Company at Squaw Creek.
The projects at Squaw Creek consisted of much construction such as roads and trails, telephone lines, the Gallatin River Bridge ( see the CCC Calendar for September 1988), and the Ranger's Dwelling.Also there were logging crews and the usual heavy fire-fighting in the summer months. This Camp, still close to the Yellowstone Park, had heavy snows and many wild animals. I have a picture of Tim Timonen holding a dead bobcat.
My first assignment at the Squaw Creek camp was in the Forest Service Office. Later I became the Company Clerk in the Army Office. I was promoted to Senior Leader and also became an "exempted specialist" - no limit on enrollment tenure. Here I also found some time to practice my "magic" hobby. These assignments gave me a great deal of information concerning government administration. It was here (1936) that I became old enoguh to vote and who do you think I voted for? Of course - President Roosevelt! I also worked out a transfer for my brother, Lonnie from Neihart Montana and then watched him latch on to a Forest Service civilian job while I remained just a "CCC Boy".
After 26 months at Squaw Creek we experienced another "Company disbandment". This time the men were scattered throughout various camps in Montana. The "Skipper" was transferred to Camp Nine Mile, Missoula, Montana and guess who he took along with him? There were two of us. One was his favorite Cook-Mess Sergeant ("the Greek") and the other, his favorite paper shuffler - me. At Nine Mile I was assigned to the U.S. Forest Service Work Project Office.
Nine Mile Camp was different. It had six hundred men - 3 companies - at that time. I wished every enrollee could have been there, for it was a 'Pet" or perhaps model camp. It was in close proximity to both the Army Headquarters, Fort Missoula and the largest Forest Service activity in the U.S. - Region #1 at Missoula. This was a huge camp, at least 1 thought so until they put me in the Army and sent me to Camp Roberts were there were 10,000 men.
Camp Nine Mile had a Forest Service Drafting Shop, a Saddle Shop and like the former camps many construction projects. The CCC boys here could learn to be blacksmiths, dozer operators, truck drivers, draftsmen, saddle makers and much, much more.
As the Forst Service clerk, I worked in the office of a very busy, tough, 6' 11", 290 pound Camp Superintendent named Lou Vierhus. The boys called him "Bear Tracks" but you better know he never ever heard anyone call him that. The camp was part of the U.S. Forest Service Remount Depot - famous for its providing pack animals - before the famous Region I paratroopers - to the many, many fires in the Region, and even to the Park Service at Yellowstone and Glacier. The superintendent took orders for Camp operations indirectly from Henry A. Wallace on down to the Regional Forester, Maj. Kelley, and also down to the Remount Superintendent, Capt. Evans.
I kept the Project Office in good order and soon became well known locally for my clerical-administrative ability. With all the paper work I also rode herd on the trucks, tools, fuel, work crew assignments, and work project noon-lunch requisites. Occasionally I drove trucks at practice fire camps and often supervised recreation trucks to town.
I recall an incident that happened there. One night around 2 a.m. a trucks horn began sounding steady and loud. An electrical short. 20 other trucks were in the same shed. Me bunk was near this equipment, in the office. I thought it would be simple to go pull off a wire - BUT WHICH TRUCK WAS MAKING THE NOISE? Finally it was ascertained by getting in each truck, one by one, sounding its horn until I found one that did not change tones, then pulling a wire.
Midway in my 35 months total at Nine Mile, I was selected as the chief clerk-dispatcher for the Remount Depot. This required a move to the Remount Depot - a Spike Camp status. Three other CCC boys lived there too. An assistant cook, a "barn-dog" (you know what he did when not harnessing horses and mules) and a "bull cook". The Depot had civilian workers such as cowboys, packers, blacksmiths, truck drivers, cook, etc.
The Forest Service Remount Depot was noted for its supplying "Pack Strings" when needed to move Forest Fire supplies to crews on the fires and look outs ( food, pumps, tool, kitchen equipment, etc., etc.) American Saddler saddle horses were bred there and used to lead the pack strings. That breed was known for its ability to traverse the many steep and narrow forest trails because of its strength and sure footedness. They had a $2,500.00 American Saddler stallion. That price in those days seemed like the price on Seattle Slew today. The mules were a cross breed by having burros or Jackasses mated with the American Saddler mares. They made beautiful animals, tall, strong and again with the stamina and sure footedness needed to carry heavy loads up and down the mountains. If one mule should slip and go over the edge it could take the entire string - similar in nature to our "people" mountain climbing accidents. Once the Remount purchased a new Jackass. When the invoice reached the property office in Missoula it read "1 ea Jack $400.00: A lady property clerk called on the phone - "That new Jack you purchased, I need to have the nomenclature - was it a hydraulic jack or a screw jack", she asked. The reply received was: "I am not sure about nomenclature BUT WE BOUGHT HIM TO USE AS A SCREW JACK."
A big task at the Remount Depot was making shoes and keeping pack animals sharp shod during the fire seasons. The CCC saddle shop was needed to keep the pack-saddles and harness in good repair and available. From the time the "Hand Cranked" phone would sound it was not unusual - even in the middle of the night - to have a pack string loaded and enroute to a distant fire within 15 minutes. 1 truck driver, 1 packer, 1 saddle horse, 9 mules and one days food supply for men and stock. The stock food was 1 bag of oats.
While at the Remount Depot I "divorced" myself from the Army way of doing things and learned the "ins and outs" of the U.S. Forest Service. I also purchased my first car. It was a 1929 Chrysler. The first model with hydraulic brakes. It cost me $70.00. It took 17 CCC boys to help push it to get it to run. It had to be hidden from camp and I sure were glad that car never learned to talk! It was at this time I saw my first "Kenworth" from Seattle. This used to be what was called a "Gondola" as it had a powerful Hall-Scott engine to speed up transporting "Pack Stock" to fires.
I also secured the transfer of another brother, Sid, and some cousins to this station, and "exercised" a CCC regulation which permitted me to deposit $25.00 monthly with the U.S. Treasury instead of the allotment going to the family. Thus I was one of the few CCC boys ever to walk away from camp when being discharged with enough "greenbacks" to purchase a brand new 1941 Ford with such deluxe features as a heater and a radio. $800. Cash. I should have held the $800 to buy building lots in White Center later.
I served 5.67 CCC boy years and at mid-November 1940, after having taken a Civil Service examination, I "landed" a civilian job with the U.S. Forest Service (Region I) with Procurement and Supply at Missoula, Montana. From that day in Red Lodge, Montana (April 14, 1935) and for some 30 years and 5 months I did not had a single day's break in service from the Government. The tenure included, of course, the CCC, then the Forest Service, Army, Federal Supply Service, GSA, and Alaska Indian Affairs. This last agency was the one from which I retired in 1965. My "college education" was that obtained during those 5 ½ years in the CCC camps.
I met my lovely wife, Kathy, in 1968 and soon popped the question for a YES answer. Since 1965 I have had a career and most interesting life in the field of Real Estate. Oh, by the way, I still have those two silver dollars my aunt gave me in 1935.
----- Del B. Williams
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