Biography of Roy D. Fitts

CCCMan, Company 793, Hill City, South Dakota

MY ODE TO THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS

   The Corps, known as the CCC Camp Days, was instigated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Depression of the Thirties. It was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to create jobs for the many unemployed and to beautify and improve roads, parks, forests, lakes and recreation areas.

   In the winter of 1933 I signed up for the C's and was ordered to Watertown, SD for examination and induction. Only young healthy boys were accepted. Our group of about twenty boys from Kingsbury County were loaded into a Pullman Railroad Car on the Northwestern Line and taken to the junction west of Brookings, SD and coupled to a passenger train on the main line going west. We traveled most of that day arriving in Deadwood and the end of the CNW line. We then were transferred to the Burlington RR Line that took us to our camp four miles NW of Hill City (Camp Np. 793) and up the Deerfield Canyon Road to my new home for most of 1934.

   Our camp was a regular little city as we had our own lake for water supply. (There had been prior construction of barracks, mess hall, commissary, Officers Quarters, bath house and supply house.) Spring Creek that flowed through the canyon had been dammed up to create our little lake which even had small trout in it that we would catch and fry and eat.

   Then I got settled in our Barracks No. 1 and I selected the top bunk on the north east row of bunks on the far east of the barracks. There were four barracks in the complex and each barrack held about sixty boys in two rows of double bunk beds. We were to be in and settled by 10pm each night and were overseen by a Sergeant by the name of Joe Wipf of Freeman, SD. He was a big young man of commanding size but was not overbearing in any way. He was a good mascot and leader of our barracks.

   The first week of Camp life I was sent with a group of about five or six boys to go to the woods with the army truck driver to gather firewood for the Camp. Next we were issued a double-bitted axe and sent to the woods to thin pole stands of Jack Pine. We were to leave one good tree every 15 or 20 foot apart and fell all other trees and lob them in half lengthwise if over 15 foot long. There were about 60 boys from each barracks delegated to take a path about 15 or 20 foot wide and thin trees in each path up the side of a mountain. A newcomer or a "green horn" was put between two experienced axe men and was told to keep up. That's where I was the first two or three weeks and never worked so hard in my life.

   After a few weeks I became more experienced and adept at handling the axe and keeping it sharp so the work became easier. After about a month of work in the woods and now getting handy with an axe a truck driver's job came up. The truck was a "Forrest Service", one of four such trucks which was a 1933 Chevrolet with a "cattle rack" Stake body to haul about 25 or 26 boys standing in the back. I applied and got the job as I had driven trucks here in the "flats" and thought I was a truck driver. Boy, did I have to learn all over to drive and shift gears out there in the mountains on fire and logging trails and back roads that were overgrown with volunteer trees and shrubs. You were constantly on the clutch and shift lever going up hill and down hill (to save brakes) requiring an art known as "double clutching" to save gears in the transmission.

   Some places the C's built roads by pick and shovel to access job sites. They even created many lakes in the Hills, all but Sylvan Lake, of which they cleaned up and improved the area around it. My duties were to load a group of boys and take them to the work site each morning and go and bring them back to Camp after work hours. I always had a Lieutenant in the seat beside me both ways. He never gave me any static, in fact he was very quiet because he knew I had a responsibility and needed my devoted concentration in driving those mountain roads.

   Every other day of the above duty I would load huge cans of food from the kitchen, plus about 3 or 4 KP's, and go back to the work force to feed about 200 hungry boys. Then back to Camp until time to go and gather another load to return.

   The days I did not haul food I devoted to servicing my designated truck, checking tires, oil, grease, fuel, steaming the motor clean and any other needs I could detect. All needs I would get from the "Supply Depot" manned by Ed Rentz, a graying white man that had been raised by the Lakota Sioux and was bilingual. We became good friends through every day contact.

   We had two other trucks, army trucks, in Camp with steel dump-truck beds that were kept terribly busy hauling all our supplies in and out of Camp; mail, food, clothing, etc. I would feel sorry for the driver and would substitute on my off duty time like taking a group to Rapid City or Deadwood for a night on the town. I always had a "Lieue" with me in the front seat of which I was thankful to have when time came to gather the boys to come home to Camp.

   I really enjoyed my remaining days of Camp life as we had a good group of boys to work with, good supervisors, camp personnel and a feeling of doing something good for the Hills besides helping our parents.

   We boys of the common labor force were to earn $30 a month with all work clothes, shoes, food, medical needs, educational films, transportaion on "leaves" and housing furnished out of the $30. Out of this, $25 was sent home to the parents for their dire needs. Of the $5 remaining money left for us C's - 25 cents was deducted for laundry leaving $4.75 to last one for 30 days. We learned to value money believe you me!

   Our regimen in Camp was similar to Army live as we were awakened by bugle and taps at around 5am. Then we shaved, bathed and dressed and all gathered at the Parade grounds and saluted "Old Glory" and roll call was taken at 6am. Then to the Mess Hall for breakfast at about 7am. After breakfast we loaded up into the four Forest Service trucks for the trip to the work site (of which I drove one of these trucks). This took about 45 to 60 minutes to get to the site and scatter the workers to their designated strip of work. Then we truck drivers returned to Camp.

   In late October I applied for a release and was given an Honorable Discharge to return home to my folks on the farm west of De Smet, SD. I then scraped and borrowed enough money to buy a 1933 used Chevrolet truck from Harry Whipkey at Lake Preston Chevy Garage to go into trucking on my own.

   This stint in CCC life was a character developing experience that was good for all there. We learned to work, to take orders, to get along with fellow associates, to budget on little money and to appreciate life as the Lord allotted us. The C's made the "Paha Sapa" or Black Hills the scenic beauty land that we know today. I was proud to do my duty with the CCC and help my family.

----- Roy D. Fitts

        ssp@iw.net

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