Biography of Herbert S. Lake

CCCMan, Company 1952, Camp Big Sur, Camp SP-12-CA, Big Sur State Park, California & Yosemite National Park, Crane Flats, California & Company 1913, Kings Canyon National Park, Empire Meadows, California

Soldier, India-Burma Theater, WWII, USA


In July 1938, I signed up with the CCC’s in San Jose, California, My Home for 15 years. I was one of many enrollees to join Company 1952 working at Camp Big Sur (SP-12). Our camp was located in the Big Sur State Park which was located on Highway #1 about 36 miles south of Carmel, California at a beautiful site along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The camp buildings were in good order, and the grounds around the flag pole and gardens looked very neat as they were bordered with white painted rocks.

I was assigned to a crew that was operating a cement mixer which was placing a cement floor in the swimming pool. My job was to push the wheel-barrow full of cement. I couldn’t even lift the container. The "boss’ handed me a shovel and my job then was to shovel sand and rocks into the mixer. While the cement was drying I was assigned to a crew to build fireplaces out of river rock. I also took my turn at K.P. and "latrine duty" when my name came up on the list.

When it came time to fill the pool with water, I volunteered to man the water pumps all night. I welcomed my only visitor, the night watchman, as he came by with a pot of coffee from the kitchen. We were drawing water from a nearby creek. I became very familiar with this operation as it took many days and nights to complete this job. I don’t remember ever getting to swim in this pool in 1938 or 1939.

We did a lot of maintenance work in the Park – particularly where the stores were located. To improve my chances for better jobs, I attended classes at night. Also I took a correspondence course on "Trees of California" and thought of attending the Cooks and Bakers School, but they chose someone else.


In April we packed up everything, getting ready to leave Camp Big Sur. Our desitination was Yosemite National Park via truck convoy with 150 guys. It was a very hard trip on everyone. Very uncomfortable seats on hard wooden benches on a 400 mile ride. By the time we reached Fresno and knew we had about 60 more miles to go so weren’t looking forward to it.

I remember the "Fire Falls" at Yosemite as they were beautiful to watch. It was a shame that they were stopped in 1939. I also remember the C.O. saying that from now on any long trips will be on a train. Our camp was at Crane Flats which was about 16 miles from the main visitor area. The first few months I lived in a tent with a wood frame under it. Our camp was in the shadow of the forests. Three barracks, mess hall, "school house", recreation hall and infirmary were the main buildings. The Project Superintendent lived in trailer adjacent to a small building – probably his office.

As one of the crew I dug gooseberry bushes and laid them on a large rock to dry. Gooseberry bushes cause blister rust on evergreen trees. We were assigned sections in which to dig these bushes. These sections were laid out by two guys who used string to mark the line between each section. The strings started at a stake at the edge of the road and ran back about 300 or 400 feet. Each section was about 50 feet wide. Every square foot of each section would be searched for any sign of Gooseberry brush growth.

I was called out many times to fight fires in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as well as nearby Lake Tahoe. The Forest Service was in charge of most of the fire crews, their food and lodging was the best.

October was time to pack up and prepare to vacate the camp. Every building had to be boarded up. We were "trucked" to the nearest railhead to return to Camp Big Sur, which was our winter quarters. The swimming pool I had worked on in 1938 had been filled in some as it was just too large. We built an island in the middle and put stone benches on it.

I planted hundreds of trees both in Big Sur and Yosemite and repaired rock walls that had been constructed earlier by the CCC’s as well as repairing trails that had been washed away. I also learned how to operate a dump truck but I was "on call" as an extra driver only. The area behind Camp Big Sur was some of the wildest country and the terrain was hard to climb. In the winter months the mountain lions would be spotted roaming the camp at night.

The creek that flowed near our camp had fish, so we dug a deep hole and fed them there every day at the same time. Some of these guys had never witnessed anything like this before. It was educational.


In April we returned to Yosemite Park but to a different camp and park. We became Company 1913 and we were located at Empire Meadows. This was a tent camp located near "Grant Section" of General Grant National Park which later became Kings Canyon National Park.

Every morning I was awaked by a pet fawn licking my face because she was hungry. She was bottle fed. Everyone in camp loved her and all took care of her because her mother had been hit by a truck.

I had good duty registering tourists who, after entering the park, wished to visit the underground caves, using the trails, fishing or picnicking. I had other duties too – like "policing" the grounds – that being picking up the litter, etc..

In addition to the pictures of the pet deer, I have group pictures of about everyone at Camp Big Sur as well as the camp buildings.

Before my last two years of CCC service were up and during those last two months I was assigned to work in the school and library. That was another pleasant duty and I managed to put everything in its proper place before my enlistment was up in July and I was homeward bound for San Jose, California.

I enlisted in the U.S. Army and reported for duty on October 23, 1942 at Camp McQuaid, California. For the most part of my military service I served in the "India-Burma Theater" and was discharged on April 18, 1946 at Fort Lewis, Washington.

It was not until 1975 that I met Barbara and we were married in 1976. We have resided in Seattle ever since.

Barbara and I have visited Big Sur State Park in the summer of 1978. I was not able to find one single part of our old camp. The area was all grown over with forest and there was no sign of the swimming pool as it had been all filled in and planted with trees and bushes. I heard later that we should have gone to the Ranger Station. They would have told us where there was one CCC building still in use.

----- Herbert Lake


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