Biography of Ellis Werries

CCCMan, Company 1761, Camp Third River, S-59, Alvood, Minnesota, & Unknown Camp, Baudette, Minnesota & Camp SCS-4, Walla Walla, Washington

   In March of 1935 the dust bowl started blowing. This first dust storm came from the northwest and stayed for several days. April 1st was the sign up day to go to the CCCs I had to be in Salina at 8:00 a.m. So I had to leave Tescott, my home town, at 7:00 to catch the train to Salina. Loading time was to be at 11:00 p.m. so I had lots of time to sit around in the fire station until more people arrived. We had around 20 boys come in and sign up. There would be more picked up along our way to Kansas City. There was to be over 200 catching this train to Minnesota.

    I sat there watching the recruiter trying to type all the names and addresses on the typewriter - hunt and peck. I went over to him and asked him if he would like me to type for him. He was glad to have let me do this, so I did this for him for all the new recruits that came in. He put the typed list in a folder and gave it to me and asked if I would like to gather all the lists all along the way until we got to Manhattan. Then there would be a Army Officer come aboard and he would be in charge for the rest of the way to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I checked every one in until we got to Manhattan than gave the papers to the Lieutenant. He looked at the list and handed it back to me and told me to "carry on". He had brought over 50 boys on board with him. He had a small portable typewriter and told me to type all the lists up as we traveled between Kansas City and Minneapolis.

   In Kansas City we changed trains and there was a lunch car added to the train and as soon as we were on our way we were served a lunch of sandwiches, cakes, and fruit for that nights meal. We had "sleepers" on that train and had 240 "men" on board. And the information on them all had been written in long hand or hand printed. The next morning they had breakfast for us all after which I set up a good spot and started typing all the lists. I finished up by noon and was ready to turn them over to the lieutenant. He was busy, but he took them and looked at them, asked how many. I told him 240. He gave the lists back to me and indicated that I keep them and the typewriter until we got to Minneapolis where we would be having dinner that night. We had sandwiches and fruit for lunch. The rest of the day was open to just get more acquainted with my fellow travelers.

   Minnesota - We arrived at Fort Snelling just about 6:00 p.m. We were all checked in and assigned to barracks for the night and then we went to the mess hall for supper. We had a real feast that night. As soon as supper was over we were called out to get the clothing allowance where one size fits all - except shoes.

   The next morning after breakfast we were all checked out for what duties would be necessary to get the train loaded for each one of the camps. The clerk wanted two typists so I volunteered. A friend I had met also typed so he too volunteered. We went into the office to type while the rest of the boys were put to work unloading box-cars and loading all our supplies on the train we would be taking later that afternoon. Orville, my friend, and I were given the job of assigning all the enrollees to four different camps with 210 for the one camp at Alvwood. We all boarded the train for a 3 hour ride to Blackduck. Trucks were there to transport us to the camps. It was raining a hard rain and we got soaked before we arrived at the camps to which we were assigned.

   It seemed that Orville and I were the only typists in the entire group so we got our pick of the two clerk jobs in the camp. Orville took the company clerk's job and I took the forest service clerk's job. I also started out as the camp's barber and held that job for two years.

   The camp to which I was assigned was at Alvwood, Minnesota. It was called "Third River - S-59" and it was established on June 28, 1933. The company was #1761. It was 13 miles est of Blackduck and 1/4th mile west of a little corner store and tavern. With lakes all around there, we could walk to about a dozen lakes in an hour or two - but watch out for black bear.

   The Forest Service had surveyed fire trails to be cleared and made wide enough for trucks, so I ran the "dozer", clearing stumps from the trails for six months until we got some more recruits and one of the guys was a bull-dozer operator. By that time we had a toolman that was working out quite well so I could get back to MY job full time.

   The scheduled work was all completed in that area where we had worked, so in the fall, after the snow started, we got orders that our camp was being fazed out and we were to get it ready for closure as we were to be taking over the camp close to Baudette, Minnesota for two or three months. So we closed the camp at Alvwood and moved about 18 miles south of Baudette until the first of the year 1936.

   That was a rough camp because there was two feet of snow covering it. When we arrived t this camp I recruited some help and we built a skating rink along the east side of the Rec Hall. We had a large stockof ice skate sin the warehouse there so we flooded the rink with water for a couple of days and we had a good skating rink. The only drawback was that it snowed almost every night so we had to spray the rink down every morning to get rid of the snow - then it was ready for use. There were a few of us that could ice skate and we had lots that wanted to skate too. SO we tried to help them learn. All the Minnesota people could skate and we soon had lots of people coming out from Baudette and Rainy River evenings and weekends.

   We did not need any forest secretary, so I switched to Canteen Steward. Then we got word that we were going to close this camp and move to Walla Walla, Washington. So I had to build a portable canteen to put on the train for the trip. We had three months at the Baudette camp before we had to move out. January 1 was the date we were to board the train in Warroad for the move west. It was nearly 45 below zero and we nearly froze to death because we had a 45 mile ride in 1 2/5 ton Chevy trucks with tarps over the stake beds.

    A lot of the crew went home on discharges, but there were still between 100 and 125 of us left. We were loaded on a mail train with pot belly stoves in the cars for our trip from Warroad to Fargo, North Dakota. Then in Fargo we got on a steam train where we finally got warm. We left Fargo the next day and after traveling across the whole state of North Dakota and most of Montana, taking several days, at midnight while traveling just south of Glacier National Park we got stuck on the top of a pass and we were there for two days and nights before we could get a snow plow to get us out. It snowed so much and was so cold they told us not to go out because it would be close to 70 below zero there. The conductors were so nice during that ordeal. By the time we got Spokane, Washington we were all out of everything to eat on the train. Our supplies had run out the day before. Even my canteen was out of everything and we were all a little on the hungry side. So the officers went out to find some sandwiches and fruits. The people in Spokane came to meet the train and they all had fruit and donuts and they let us off the train for an hour. We got out and walked around in about 2 feet of snow, but it actually felt warm to us.

   We got supplies and food and left Spokane that night and rode all night long arriving in Walla Walla the next morning about daylight. We got to the camp, about 5 miles out of town, in time for breakfast. After breakfast there was roll call and check in and then they gave us all the day off to rest up from that week on the road. According to official records we occupied this camp on January 15, 1936.

    The Walla Walla camp, SCS-4, was a full working camp under an Army Engineer Colonel, a 2nd Lieutenant junior officer, a 2nd Lt. Doctor, orderly, barracks leaders and crew chiefs. The "top" sergeant was in charge over the entire camp. We all held our ratings so I held two jobs for a short time. Our officers were transferred somewhere else.

    That was the nicest camp we had been in as it had city lights and water and a swimming pool by the river. The Army Engineers were directing all the repairs on Mill Creek and Blue Creek and preparing for the Blue Creek flood control project that had already been surveyed. We soon found out how important that was.

    January was a beautiful month until the last three days when it started to snow. It continued to snow every day in February. We had over four feet of snow by the middle of February when a woman 5 miles down Mill Creek decided to have her baby and had to get into the Walla Walla hospital. The state highway department had no equipment capable of handling that much snow so they called us. We had a bulldozer so we started to go both ways to get to the city and the lady's residence. We had one bulldozer operator, Wayne, so I had to take one and he took the other. It took us two days to open the road so they could get though to the hospital. We just made it. Our doctor was getting prepared to handle the case if we didn't get through in time. We had one mile to get to the hospital. I made it with people behind me so I just pushed one path to the emergency entrance.

    We were already in town and I had the dozer with a loader, so Wayne took over and cleared a path into the city center and cleared the main streets around the town. With one of our dump trucks we dumped all the snow into Mill Creek until we ran out of room. Then we started piling it up in the center of the street.

    Three days before the end of February we got a Chinook wind and the snow all disappeared in a few days and we had a real flood. Our camp was all under over a foot of water. Luckily the buildings were two feet above the ground. That flooding was what the Army Engineers were there to correct.

   After the water went down we got back to normal work and operations. I continued with the canteen and recreation hall. I also worked a couple of hours with the engineers in the afternoons. After this clean up we were all welcomed by everyone so we could walk to town any evening. There were three of us that enrolled in night classes at the business college. We completed a 2 year course in the next year going three nights a week. We had a wonderful summer and the next winter never got down to freezing.

   We got some new recruits in the spring of 1936 to bring the camp up to full strength. I never left camp except to buy canteen supplies and walk into town three nights a week to attend college and Fridays night roller skating. We got a truck to take us into church Sunday mornings and then back to camp for lunch. Sometimes we would get a group together and walk into town Sunday evenings in the summer just to have something to do. That was the summer we had the earthquake. There was quite a bit of damage in town. The Marcus Whitman Hotel was damaged so badly that it was condemned for a long time. Late that summer was the time of the Centennial which made it bad for us as visitors to the town. There were campers, tents and trailers everywhere. It was a great celebration and we were in it with our orchestra in a truck. There was a parade every day.

    In the April Recruitment we got a band leader that had gone broke in Kansas City. He started a band among the enrollees in our camp. Anyone who could play an instrument - including washboard, a harmonica, banjo, guitar or "sax". We played anything. He had his "sax" and violin. He made a deal with the music store in Walla Walla and got several instruments from them. He taught several of the boys to play them. We found out that we had several musicians we didn't know about before. After the Centennial was over we played over the radio station for quite a while one day a week for one hour.

    Walla Walla was a very nice town and easily accessible to us as we could walk into town anytime we wanted to. There was night dancing and the one theater ran every night. We got in for half price rates - 10 cents every night. We had two government trucks and two "stake" trucks that would go into town every Saturday evening as needed. Then the two government trucks would go in every Sunday morning.

    I and all the group of boys that I went into the CCC with were sent home in April 1937 and I understood that they didn't get any new recruits to take our place so the camp was operating on about half strength until it was closed down later that year. But that didn't end my working career in the Pacific Northwest.

   We knew there was lots of work around Walla Walla as well as the Mill Creek and Blue Creek areas at that time so I bought a car and three of us drove back three months later and got jobs at anything we could find not only in Walla Walla but even as far west as Portland, Oregon.

    It seemed that I was destined to be associated with automobiles for most of the rest of my life. It started with my getting a job in a parking garage in Portland. Then I talked my way into a job as a two week fill in at a Pontiac garage. O worked as a fill in several more times there and then advanced to a mechanic in a Buick garage. Next came a job in an Oldsmobile garage in 1938 in Walla Walla and a marriage in November 1938. A baby girl increased the size of our family just shortly before Christmas 1941 when we moved to Seattle.

    From Christmas 1941 to until November 1980, when I retired, found me working almost exclusively on employments involving automobiles. And still now, over 17 years later, I still keep my hand in by designing and installing special equipment in autos for handicapped persons. Want a good auto mechanic? I think I know where one lives!

----- Ellis Werries

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