Don Johnson in 1935 at Company 2911, North Bend, Washington
Biography of Don Johnson
Assistant Leader, CCCman, Company 1302, Camp Ostrich Bar, Bremerton, Washington & Company 2911, North Bend, Washington
From the Chapter #5 Seattle Washington, NACCCA, Newsletter, November, 1989
I had just graduated from Milwaukie Union High School in 1935 and had looked and begged for a job all over Oregon and wore my shoes down to where the soles were so thin I could step on a dime and tell if it was heads or tails. When the soles wore through I cut insoles from the best cardboard I could find to keep my feet off the ground. That summer my folks couldn' t pay our electric bill and the power company shut off our electricity, and having an electric stove Mother's in house cooking was over. She built a small wood fire grill for cooking in the back yard on which she cooked meals for five children and two adults, rain or shine.
Thinking I had a better chance of finding a job in Washington I hitched a ride to Seattle where my job hunting was no better than in Oregon. I was tired, hungry, broke. Alone away from home and more than a little frightened. I signed up in the CCC's. That same afternoon at Ostrich Bar Camp #1302 near Bremerton, Washington, I ate a hearty dinner and slept like a log on a straw mattress.
Due to several years of amateur radio experience I was assigned to Radio Communications. Later I was transferred to Company 2911 east of North Bend, Washington and assigned the duties of assistant infirmary flunky. I cleaned toilets, mopped floors, carried patients food from the cookhouse to the dispensary, split wood and other chores. I also served in place of the doctor if he was away. There were a couple of serious events occurred while he was gone, one man was killed instantly when he struck a trestle while riding in a truck bed and another man was badly injured and I had to stitch him. Thank goodness for Boy Scout training. Although I handled the matters well if nervously, they made some changes and made sure that professional help was always available.
By radio we relayed local news, official information, also the weather forecast to all of our fire-lookouts in several states. Occasionally our base camp would receive a letter for a man assigned several hundred miles away. I would inform him that we had his letter. Most of the time he would say "Open it and read it to yourself first". Sometimes it was too embarrassing, so rather than read it over the radio to him I would tell him there was no one sick or dying, then send him the letter by the next courier. As I remember, our Radio call was KBAL, and we would announce "This is Radio Station KBAL the voice of the Snoqualmie Valley".
During lightning/fire season, we were very busy sending out orders for the movement of men and equipment. A lookout called one evening to say, "Every piece of metal in this Fire Tower is glowing, even this microphone. I'm scared". We told him, "Get down out of the tower as fast as you can". He replied, "Wish I had a parachute". The next morning he told us the lightning missed the tower, but hit several trees nearby.
If my chores were done in time, I could ride in an Army Troop Carrier Truck with all the luxury of sitting on a springless board. It did beat walking, especially when it was cold and raining. Shortly after the dance was over the Troop Carriers made the return trip to Camp. If you missed the last truck it was a long dark walk back.
With two left feet, I was probably the poorest dancer in the hall. When they played a Fox Trot I would just waltz faster in my Army issue clod-busters. The favorite dance in North Bend was the Schottische which I found impossible to learn. The girls were very patient with me and I did have fun as the tried to teach me to dance the Schottische. Some of those girls must have soaked their feet for a week to get into shape again for the dance the following Saturday night.
The dollar a day wages we made were worthwhile, after all, especially after the CCC sent the first $25.00 of wages home and we were left with a whole $5.00 to spend on ourselves for whatever we pleased for an entire month. We thought we lived like Kings, although in our olive drab uniforms we looked like anything but Kings for the uniforms were made in just two sizes, ie. too large and too small. Ho Hum, what a wonderful life and most of us learned from every moment of it. We were having on the job experience we would remember for a lifetime.
In early fall of 1935 I received a letter from home explaining that I had two offers for a job, one with the telephone company and the other from one of Portland's Electric Power Companies. With this information I was given an honorable discharge from the Civilian Conservation Corps on October 15th, 1935 and returned to civilian life in Portland, Oregon.
In looking back over my shoulder down the stream of the past I'm sure the 3 C's not only saved a generation of our youth but also made useful men of us. Perhaps the present generation of youth could be saved by a similar miracle?
Don Johnson joined the Navy and became a Commander before retiring. He was a Physicist by trade and was active in the Seattle and Bremerton NACCCA Chapters. He regularly enjoying meetings of that group along with his wife Eleanor. Mr. Johnson has passed away since the publication of his story.
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