Biography of Claude L. Pitcher

Company 2617, Camp F-31, Camp Sawyer, Hayward / Winter, Wisconsin

    I am Claude L. Pitcher.  I joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. Why did I join the CCC's, I don't know. I think it may have   been to get away from my home, Stevens Point. I have visited Stevens Point numerous times, but have never lived there since I enrolled.

    I arrived in Hayward, Wisconsin, July 11,1940, on a train. It stopped outside the town, because the grain elevator was on fire and it was located close to the tracks. After a few minutes, the fire subsided enough for the train to pass, and on to the depot. I continued on to Camp Sawyer by truck.

    I was enrolled that date at the 2617th Company C.C.C. at Camp Sawyer, F-31 (Wis), Hayward, Wisconsin. I was Honorably Discharged from the same Camp on June 23, 1941.

    To the best of my memory, Camp Sawyer consisted of 3 barracks, a mess hall, generator building, Army office, Forresty office, rec building with PX Forrestry Motor Pool, Army motor pool, a fire wood shed, and a latrine with shower.

     With the latrine about 20 yards from the barracks and the tempreture as low as 24 below zero, there wern't many of us running back and forth dressed in a towel for our showers. The latrine was heated, had hot and cold running water, showers, sinks and flush type toilets. It was also the nearest place to get a drink of water. I don't know how the water was heated.

     Camp Sawyer had it's own water system, eletrical generators, and septic tanks. A dump for trash and garbage was down the road.

      We were run by the Army in camp.  Camp life was no big deal, I've never had a problem with transitioning from one style of life to another. Mail call was daily, I drove the Army truck into Hayward every day for mail and supplies. Some boys had radios, we played cards, dominos, checkers, I don't remember anyone that had a camera, or any picture taking. My wife tells me I had one picture of me in camp, but I don't remember it.

   There was no Headquarters in our camp. The army Captain run the camp and the forresters run the field work. I do remember an inspection party coming into camp for a couple days. But we didn't have much contact with them. I also remember a dentist coming into camp and stayed about a week, took care o anyone having dental problems. No cleaning of teeth, He brought portable equipment along, which included a drill that was operated by a foot treadle, much like a sewing machine.

   I don't remember strict discipline, There was daily inspection of the barracks.

   Our barracks were plain wood buildings, soft wood floors, unfinished interiors, heated by two stoves made from 50 gallon barrels. Our fire wood was from trees we cut down to make fire lanes or to preserve forrests. There were no wall lockers. We had foot lockers, they were wooden lockers, and mine is still in my attic. I don't remember having to buy it, I'm quite sure it was issued. They were essential, it was the only place we had to store our belongings. Don't recall having to lock them, I can't remember any stealing in camp, other mischief, yes but no stealing. 

   There were windows & electric lights,and a door on each end. There was a latrine with showers about 20 yards away from our rear door. The mess hall was about 30 yards away, both were the same construction as the barracks. The dump was 150 or 200 yards down the road. I guess the food was good, I don't remember complaining about it.

   No formations or personnel inspections, we didn't do any marching. Food must have been good, I don't remember griping about it like I did in the USMC. No revelry or retreat. The only pet were a small buck and a doe. They would show up at supper time, and the boys would feed them handsfull of tobacco. They loved tobacco. The buck was shot during deer season,, but he managed to get into camp, where the doctor and us boys nursed him and the little doe in a truck maintenance building, till he started getting frisky, and we let him out.

     Speaking of Doctors, one week, during my tour in Camp Sawyer, a traveling dentist came into our camp. Anyone having dental problems could go to him. I didn't go see him as I had no problems. But, Being the Army driver, I was assigned to be available to help him. I was not much help, but I did get to see his equipment, and his portable drill still sticks in my mind. It was operated by a foot treadle, simular to a sewing machine foot treadle. With one foot working that treadle, and trying to hold a drill steady, it looked like quite a task. I know he pulled some teeth for two boys, and they were in a lot of pain for about a week. Thats about all I can remember about denistry in the CCC's.

     Of course we got more than just free medical services, we also were paid. I got 5 bucks when I enrolled, July 11, 1940. Some time during my tour it was raised to 8 bucks for the enrollee & 22 bucks for the parents.

     All heated buildings contained stoves made out of 50 gallon drums. We cut all the fire wood in about 30 inch lengths for those stoves. In the winter, we had a fire watch. Two boys would stay up all night to keep the fires going.

     I did my turns at fire watch. All the enrollees did it, only the Leaders & Asst Leaders were exempt. We had a week of it, sleeping days, while the rest of the crews were working. By the time you made a pass thru all the heated buildings, carrying fire wood, you didn't have much time til you had to start all over. The duty was from lites out, til wake up. This also served as a fire guard. It took a lot of fire wood to keep all those buildings heated.

      What was work like? Well, I had been working full time either on my dad's trucks or on farms, so the work was no harder, possible not as hard as I was used to... Our camp didn't complete anything, it was an on going task. Cutting fire lanes, some I imagine, have since become roads, performing routine maintenance on the forrests, fighting forrest fires, cutting wood for heat, maintaining our camp. We also counted deer. I know the guys who worked in the woods were on a deer counting detail, but how it was done, I don't know.

     The Company maintained a tree nursery where we planted trees. We then nursed them up to 5 or 6 inch plants. Then packed them up in crates to be shipped to where ever they were needed.

     Our nursery, or Side Camp as it was called, was on the outskirts of Hayward. I would guess it was about 20 to 24 acres. A small number of boys would move into the Side Camp in the spring, work it thru the summer close it for the winter and return to Camp Sawyer. The summer I worked there, they hired about a dozen Indians off a nearby reservation, to work there with us.

     The Side Camp, or nursery. I didn't get into the labor part of it, I was one of the two truck drivers. But they plowed up areas, laid out beds about 3" wide and maybe 100" long. seeds were planted rather close together in the beds. After a year (I think) the very small plants would be transfered into another newly prepared bed in rows and let grow I think another year. Then they were ready to be packed into creates to be shipped.

     This procedure was rotated so there was some of different stages thru out the camp. The Indians were interesting to work with. They were not generally talkative, you had to ask a question to get them to talk. But they sure could work! There were no difficulties working with them.

     I believe most of the trees we started, went to the old "Soil Bank" project that was just starting up about that time. Some went to other CCC projects, I suppose for parks and the likes. They were all shipped by train out of Hayward. I know there were spruce and pine. But I don't know what kind of spruce or pine. We used the two trucks in side camp for hauling manure for fertilizer for the trees. We would get it from the local farms. That was the only known fertilizer at the time. We hauled crates into the beds and hauled the crated trees to the freight yard. We got the groceries and any other supplies needed at the camp.

     Around camp in our spare time men would be taking correspondents courses. We also would enjoy playing horse shoe. We didn't have movies in Camp Sawyer. Had several games, and played cards in the rec room, also a small canteen in the rec room. Can't remember any particular interesting stories, just the usual nailing shoe to the floor, catching someone in the shower, (in the winter) and taking his clothes into the barracks.

     Our closest liberty was Glidden, Wis. About 20 miles I guess. Hayward was also a liberty town, but about 30 miles. Always had a liberty truck. As I was a driver, I had to take my turn driving the liberty truck. During summer, when the Side Camp was open, we could walk to town, to Hayward, so we had liberty every nite. I remember one nite in a tavern in Glidden, there was a contest to see who could drink a beer standing on his head, lucky we didn't drown anyone.

     My first assignment at Camp Sawyer, was driving the Army truck. I drove into Hayward each day to pick up groceries, mail and other supplies as directed. About 5 or 6 months later, I was transfered to the Forrestry Division. I swung an ax for about 3 weeks, then drove Forrestry trucks the remainder of my tour.

   When I was driving the Army truck and the driver of the Army ambulance, we had to perform all routine maintenance on those vehicles. Including washing and polishing them. Now understand, those vehicles were our full time job. We didn't pull any details or work in the woods, while we were assigned as the army drivers. After about six months, we took the vehicles to Sparta, Wis, to an Army depot, where they were worked over thourghly,then took them back to camp.

    The Forrestry trucks were maintained by a crew of truck mechs. I believe there were 4 of them. They had a heated garage to work in. The drivers done the driver maintenance,but mechanical maintenance was done by the mechanics. No, they didn't have a lift, all underside maintenance was done with jacks and creepers. The forrestry drivers were each assigned a truck, and had to keep it clean. The road building equipment, 1 bulldozer and a dump truck, was handled on as needed basis. Those were maintained by the mechs. The dump truck was also the camp snow plow.

    I was an expirenced truck driver when I came into the CCC's. My dad had two old trucks that he supported the family with. needless to say, my brothers and me were the drivers. Also I was in the national Guard as a driver prior to enrolling in the CCCs, so I knew what the Army requirements were. As for the Forrestry, I imagine they taught drivers, if they didn't have suffient expirenenced drivers enrolled.

     The Army truck was a standard 4x2, short wheelbase, '35 Chevy, with steel bed, wooden bows & coverd with canvas. The Army Ambulance was a 35 Chevy 1 1/2 ton panel truck with duel wheels. The Forrestry vehicles were: I think we had 9 each 35 Chevy 1 1/2 ton, long wheelbase, stake beds, 2 ea. 39 Dodges 1 1/2 ton long wheelbase stake beds, 2ea. 36 Dodge 2 1/2 ton dump trucks, 2 ea. 35 Chevy pickups, and 2 ea. Caterpiller bull dozers. The generating plant contained 3 ea. small 4 cyl gas engines, each driving a 110 volt generator, thats all I know about the power plant.

     The only accident I recall was tearing a right front fender off on a fire plug, while backing a trailer to a loading dock. Getting a flat would require some work to fix. All tires, cars and trucks, had inner tubes until the late 40's or early 50's, when the started selling tubeless tires for cars. Trucks still had inner tubes when I quit driving them. You needed two tire irons, a big hammer, lots of mussle and a good vocabulary to fix a truck tire. Most vehicles carried a "patching kit" in those days. It consisted of a tire pump,tire irons, a hammer, a small cardboard tube with a metal cap, containing a sheet of patching material from which you could cut a patch, with your pocket knife or if you had scissors, and tire patching cement. Later kits had patches cut to various sizes in the kit. We also used "boots" in tires in those days. If threr was a break in the sidewall of the tire casing, you would put a boot between the casing and the inner tube to prevent the edges of the break from wearing a hole in the inner tube. Later versions of the boot would have a surface that could be cemented to the casing, which kept it in place, both while installation and driving. In those days, it could cost up to a dollar to have a tire repaired, and not many folk could afford that.

      I was discharged June 23, 1941. I was discharged after two six months hitches, at my request. I guess I just had enough of it. Leaving was no big deal, no farewell or anything, Just rode the Army truck into town, and took a train home, and within a couple of days, I was driving for an independent trucker.

      In May of 1943, I enlisted in the USMC. I mentioned there was no stealing in CCCs. There wasn't any in the USMC. I don't recall any stealing, but I do remember our Drill Instructer telling us, If we ever caught any stealing, bring what was left of him to the DI.

       Marine Boot Camp: 13 weeks of being yelled at by a strictly GI drill instructor. Lived in tents. Got up by the numbers, shaved (whether we had anything to shave or not), showered, marched to breakfast, everything by the numbers. Complete brain washing, thought a Marine couldn't be beat. (Had the stuffings beat out of me a couple times and learned the hard way). On the drill field for about 5 or 6 weeks, then to the rifle range. All my boot training was done with an "03" rifle and a "45" pistol. Laundry was done on the wash rack, was told "get the brown stains out of the shorts or you will chew them out". By the way, I should have mentioned earlier, I went thru boot camp at San Diego. No liberty, no pay till we graduated, just a canteen book for the necessaries. After graduation, while in formation, the DI counted off 13 of us, and informed us that we were now aircraft mechanics. On to an Aviation Machinist Mate school at NAS Jax Fl, Followed by a free gunnery school at Hollywood, Fl., then on to a tactical sqd at Camp Mirimar, San Diego., and I've never touched a AC mounted machine gun since.

      I became a Flying Crew Chief on R5D (C46) aircraft. We flew all over the Pacific, hauling freight, passengers and/or wounded personnel.

     I went from Milwaukee Wis to San Diego, CA. by train. By Navy bus to the Marine Boot Camp. 13 weeks later, while standing in ranks, the DI (Drill Inst) counted down 13 of us & told us we were Aircraft mechs. Ona trian again to Jacksonville FL. for 6 months of Aviation Machinst Mate. Next to Hollywood FL for Free Gunner's school. The by train again to Miramar Marine Corp Air Station. (outside Sa Diego) and into VMR 952 Squadron. A new Squadron just being formed, with two R5C's (C46 Curtiss Commando's) About 3 or 4 months there and with a full compliment of R5C's we went to Ewe, on the island of Oahu, in the Hawaiian Islands. While there, we moved a sqd of SBD's to Midway Island. After preflighting the AC, we would top off all the tanksright to the lip of the filler. We hauled all the ground personnel and sqd equipment to Midway. Usually, we were running on fumes by the time we got there. There we learned all about the Gooney Birds. I think I made 5 round trips to Midway.

     The Gooney birds I mentioned, were not C47's. They were birds about the size of a large duck. And they litterly covered Midway Island. The dumbest birds in the world. Midway was a sand island, very little vegetation. The gooney birds would hollow out a small hole in the sand for a nest. The hen would lay eggs and sit on them abouta week, just eating what she could reach from the nest. Tne male was catting around all this time, not paying any attention to her. Then he would come sit on the nest about a week while the hen was catting around.

     On the ground they were the clumseyest bird known. They had to make a running take off. Always into the wind. If there wasn't any wind, they would waddle and run possible 10 to 15 yards to get airborn.Once airborne, they were very graceful. They were quite a menance on the runways. Our sqd lost 3 engines To those birds. They would get caught between the cylinders of those R2800's and cut off cooling airflow, and freeze up a cylinder.

     A short time later, we moved to Emerau Island. From there, anywhere there were American troops, we went there, All over the South Pacific. I didn't get into Japan or Australia, but I did get into the Philippines.

     What did we haul in the R5C's (C-46) ? The loads I remember most, was hauling wounded. We had to be nurses as well as crew members. two of our aircraft were routed to Los Negros with wounded. Ops had parked us out in the boondocks, and when we shut down the engines, the interior of those planes became like ovens. I remembered taxi ing past a SeaBee Crew. I walked back to them, and asked the Chief if he would take a truck over to the planes so we could use it to download the patients and get them into some shade, while waiting for ambulance service. The whole crew come over, and within 10 minutes all patients were in the shade, and being taken care of by those SeeBee's.

      I was discharged after WWII in October 45 and went to work for the Air National Guard. I was called to active duty during the Korean conflict, and decided to enlist in the AF. I retired in Oct 1967. I then went to work for the Navy (Civil Service) and retired again in 1984.

     I guess that covers my CCC and Military life.

     What did the CCC's do for me? Cut the umbilicle cord. Made a man out of me. Made me independent. The money that was sent to my family, was waiting for me when I got home. The CCC's was a very valuable expirence. I strongly recommend that a similar program be put in effect for todays youth. Our Country desperately needs it for youth, and it would be very beneficial to the country.

----- Claude L. Pitcher

        cpitcher@iopener.net

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