Biography of Cecil L. Wohlwinder
Co 509, F-7, Williamsburg, KY; Co 585 CA, MT, UT; Co 543, Mammoth Cave, KY; Co 3563, Carlisle, KY
Including an introduction in the form of a Newspaper article from the "Cynthiana Democrat", 117th Year - Number 28, Thursday - July 11, 1985, provided by Mr. Wohlwinder
When the Great Depression was almost fun - by Thelma Taylor
"Most of the boys signed their names with an 'X'," Cecil Wohlwinder tells of the 16-year-olds who went to CCC Camp during the Great Depression.
CCC stands for Civilian Conservation Corps, the program said to be the closest to the heart of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and instituted to provide food, clothing and a small income for 250,000 unemployed young men from 1933 to 1942.
The corps accepted 300,000. Some of their work is still visible in Harrison County, says Beverly "Popeye" Johnson of Marshall Avenue. He says a pile of rock can be seen five miles north of Cynthiana and about 50 yards from U.S. 27 near Carlos Laytart's residence. There is another pile off the Republican Pike, he says.
Johnson remembers that men from the Carlisle unit cleared rocks from fields that weren't tillable in the 1930's. Now the land is in use every year.
Wohlwinder says, every time he goes to Lexington, he looks at a water gap he helped to build on a creek near the Mt. Carmel Christian Church. "Every time I raised a rock, I saw a snake."
Johnson says the Carlisle barracks was located where the high school is now.
The CCC legislation was introduced on March 21, 1933, passed by a voice vote on March 31, and within a week, the first camp was opened with 2,500 youth being put to work under the supervision of the U.S. Army. Wohlwinder says facilities were crude and clothing issued to the men was Army surplus, but camps and clothes improved as the program became established.
"Nothing fit. If you wore a size nine shoe, you were issued a 10. We gathered our fatigues in the back with our belts to keep them on. The dress pants had tight legs," Wohlwinder explains. "The material was about like our blankets. We cut a strip from a blanket and sewed a triangular patch from the knee down to make room in the pants' legs. You'd see a guy walking down the side of the bunks and looking down. He was looking for a blanket (from which) to snip off a piece to sew onto his pants."
Wohlwinder was paid $30 a month. He was allowed to keep $5 and $25 was sent home. "That $5 made me a wealthy person," he explains of the poverty that was typical of thousands of young men in the '30's. "My mother was a widow. There were five of us. I was the oldest. She worked for $3 a week. So I badgered Mrs. Allie Ewalt for two years to get me into the CCCs. She'd say, "Cecil, you're too young.' Finally she said, 'I think I've got a place for you.'
"Eleven of us boys from Harrison County went into Ft. Knox as another group was coming back from out West. They yelled things at us like 'Watch out for those long needles.' This was in March 1935. All I had, I had on my back - a 'relief' sweater, overalls and tennis shoes."
Johnson says many of the boys had never worn underwear. They were very proud of the "long johns" that were issued to them. Wohlwinder remembers they were issued shaving kits. A kit contained a tooth brush, tooth paste, shaving cream, razor, etc. The boys would brush their teeth with shaving cream and they'd foam at the mouth. They also tried to shave with toothpaste.
"They gave me a razor. I'd never shaved," Wohlwinder laughs. "I practiced with my razor."
Wohlwinder remembers nine of the 10 men who left with him for the West Coast. He believes only three are living. They were Jess Hutchison, William Hatcher, Russell Laytart, Malcolm Caswell, Joe Tolle, Robert Morrison, Ashbrook Garnett, Rufus Kears and James Coy.
They stayed in Ft. Knox for 18 days and worked on the new mint. Then a troop train of 16 coaches and two baggage cars took them west by way of Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.
"We crossed the Mississippi on a ferry. It was a two mile trip. One man jumped off in the middle of the river and drowned. Someone dared him to jump. They couldn't get him back on," Wohlwinder recalls.
"We went through the southern part of Texas. I woke up three mornings and asked where I was. The answer was always, 'Texas.' The troop train was not scheduled. It only ran when it could. We were even sidetracked for hand cars.
"Men were dropped off along the way. Thirty-five of us were the last to leave the train. We got off at Redding, Calif. Trucks were waiting for us. We were replacements.
"I rode in a dump truck over the roughest 79 miles of road you can imagine. We were issued three blankets and a mattress cover. We were taken to a straw stack and told to fill the mattress with straw. We laid the straw mattresses on double-decker beds made of 2x4s. A blanket covered the mattress. A second blanket was a sheet and the third was a cover. We used our overcoats for pillows.
"Being German, I loved our first meal - sauerkraut, wieners and mashed potatoes! This was standard Army food and cost 15 cents a meal.
"We cleared right-of-ways at Mad river, then were moved to White Fish, Mont. And built new barracks in the mountains. This is where we got our mascot, a goat. Billy provided us with a lot of entertainment. He chewed the top off the doctor's 1934 Ford convertible. He'd climb the fire ladder to the top of the barracks.
"He loved to butt. When we went to the shower house we always kept our eyes roaving to catch sight of Billy. A major came once a month to inspect the camp. He left the officer's quarters one morning with a towel around him and his clean clothes over his arm.
"He didn't know about Billy. Some boys were watching. Here came Billy from behind the barracks. He banged the major. The old major was down on his hands and knees picking up soap and clothes while Billy was backing up for another charge.
"We never saw Billy again. We ate lamb after that. We thought it might have been Billy.
"An old dog came to us in Montana, a monstrous St. Bernard. He was a constant companion to Hungry Louie. Hungry Louie was a huge boy who could never get enough to eat. Louie and the dog could sit on the barrack's steps and finish off a loaf of bread in no time," Wohlwinder recalls.
"The troop train was ready to leave Montana with the dog on it. A lady came to the train and asked for her dog. She said he'd stayed the summer before at the camp. Tears rolled down big Hungry Louie's cheeks."
Wohlwinder says most of the Harrison County boys returned home from Montana. Robert Morrison, Garnett Ashbrook and Wohlwinder went to Gunlock, Utah. It was here that the local boys met Beverly Johnson, a native of Muhlenberg County. He was a mechanic for equipment used to build a lake that covered 19 square miles of salt flats. Johnson remembers that an estimated 7,000,000 ducks were on the lake.
Johnson and Wohlwinder returned home, found no jobs and re-enlisted. Johnson went to Carlisle and Wohlwinder went to Eastern Kentucky.
Some local men they recall as having been in the CCCs were Charley and John Slade, Bill Bailey, Willie Williams, Pete Frederick, Elbert Cummins, Clyde Turner, Garnett Jolly, Lemuel Burden, Virgil Fryman, Bob Smith, "Preacher" Florence, Elijah Moore, Desmond Dixon, Dave Moses, Russell Currans, Billy Humphrey, Leonard "Moon" Mullin, Bobby Hatcher, Harry Cason and Freddie Acton.
The next CCC reunion will be held the first weekend of October at Cumberland Falls. This will be the 52nd time that the "boys" will get together to rehash the "good old days."
"They weren't happy days then," Wohlwinder recalls, "But it's a pleasure to talk about them now."
Here the Article Ends, Mr. Whohlwinder continues with his CCC story below
The Carlisle Story
Thirty-nine of us were sent to Carlisle company, there we remained. Some of the boys I knew, was raised up with and went to school with: Ligie Moore, Charlie Slade, Russell Barnes, Billy Humphrey, Dwight Taylor, Preacher Florence and Soup Fryman whose name was Virgil, we went over to Carlisle.
Our company commander was Captain Bill. The Lieutenant was Lieutenant Coldsnow and our First Sergeant was Pap Rodgers. The Mess Sergeant was Dan Rich. Mess Sergeant was a good fellow, and ran a good mess hall.
We were assigned to a Mr. Rose, our foreman. We called him Pappy Rose. We did a little work not too far from Carlisle, on a farm. We picked up rock, built a fence, filled up ditches with cedar trees where the water washed out. The cedar trees caught the soil and restrained it, and built the land back up level. We worked this farm for quite a while. We were so close to camp that they brought our dinner out by truck and fed us on the job. So we enjoyed it very much. Mr. Rose was awfully nice to us. We put up fence, posted the posts for the fence, and cut the trees out of locusts thickets to make the posts.
We got that job pretty well finished and the next job was at Blue Licks. Blue Licks was a nice place. That's where Daniel Boone and the Indians were in the last battle. At Blue Licks we go up a creek bed that had dried up. Two trucks and a dump truck went way back up this creek bed for a lot of miles and came to this farm. We worked the same jobs we'd been doing at Carlisle. Mr. Rose, he was a fine foreman, Mr. Rose said, "alright boys, let's get the job done". Each man had a job to do. We started cutting up posts, setting the posts, tightening and lining them up, and started building a fence. A good-size, long fence. We also took up a lot of rock at Blue Licks and put in water gaps. But in the afternoon came all this rain. It poured down rain. It must have been a cloudburst, because after it was all over with, we started back to Blue Licks and we had to go back to that creek bed and wade through the water to get back to a hotel. They called up camp, and they sent trucks out to Blue Licks and took us in to camp and there we got all cleaned up and ready for supper.
There was a train that left out of Paris going to Maysville. Everybody called it the "ragweed special". It was some train. It came down through Flemingsburg to Carlisle. There were some guys from Maysville who were in Carlisle, about 3 or 4 of them, so they used to hobo that train to Maysville on a Saturday and come back on a Sunday. They would hobo back to Carlisle to not miss bed check. One of those boys was a character. I knew him from 1935, his name was Ralph Pane but we called him Misery. Misery Pane. Ole Misery couldn't go anywhere unless he got drunk. When he was home down on the river there was plenty there to drink, so Misery got drunk. They put Ole Misery in jail, and they brought him up in front of a lady judge. The judge said, "Ralph Pane, I see you're back again. I'll have to give you 10 days in jail." And he said to the judge, "I could stand on my head for 10 days." And she said, "well, I'll give you 10 more to get back on your feet." Ole Misery he stayed on in Maysville a little while longer on account of his being in jail, but he finally came back to camp. Ole Misery was the same Ole Misery, he was always in to something. But anyplace he'd go, if there was anything to drink, he'd get drunk. Ole Misery, he was something.
We went on another job in Harrison County, so we loaded up our two trucks and a dump truck which followed us, and headed for our job. We had a job right there on Highway 27, not too far from Cynthiana. We went to a farm. The farm was owned by a man named Sam Arnold. Sam Arnold owned a big farm there, miles and miles of it. So we worked there doing the same jobs as before, and we worked there for a long time. We built a lot a fence. We cut a lot of posts out of locusts trees, we dug postholes, and set the posts. We'd line those posts up, and an ole boy would say "on the money". That boy would tamp those posts and then they'd be able to put the fence up. We had fence stretchers to stretch the fence when we got it all up. We filled up a lot of ditches. We took up a lot of rock. We did all kinds of work there and everybody was very happy with the job.
Every day when the company rolled out, we took two trucks and we walked up little steps to get up in the truck. We sat on benches along each side, and they had people straddle the bench in the middle so you could get a lot of people in each truck.
Down where we were in Harrison County, we had to carry our lunches. Sack lunches with three sandwiches: one baloney, one cheese, and one "jam" sandwich. You didn't know what would be between those two pieces of bread jammed together, might be peanut butter, might be jelly or something in between.
They also sent sent out coffee and a can of cream. So we had a guy who, before we got out our sack and started eating, would go down beforehand and build a fire. He'd get some water in the large can that we carried with us in the truck, heat the water and make coffee. He would put the coffee in a sack, put the sack in the water, boil it, and we got good coffee. Good and strong.
Everybody took a canteen cup and filled it up with coffee, then we had our sandwiches. We enjoyed every minute of it. We'd swap those sandwiches. Boys would trade a cheese sandwich for a baloney sandwich or a baloney sandwich for a jam sandwich and back and forth. We had a lot of fun. After we had our sack lunch, we'd sit around and talk. We had smoking time, everybody would gather around, roll cigarettes and smoke. If you had tailor-made you'd smoke a tailor-made cigarette. So when smoking time was over with, Pappy Rose would have a hole dug and everybody would throw their cigarette butt in it and cover it up. And so that was the good ole days, back in 1939.
A lot of boys from Cynthiana would hitchhike home on Friday night and come back on Sunday at 11:00 to meet bed check. They were good days, everybody loved it. We were making a lot of money, I was getting $5 month and $25 went home to take care of my mama and my 5 half-sisters. At the end of the day we got back in the truck and headed back to camp in Carlisle. When we got back to camp we really did have a ball. Some of the boys pitched horseshoes. We had a boxing ring, and some of them would get up and fight a round. Then when suppertime came we would clean up and have our supper, then go to bed and get ready for another day, another place.
Carlisle was a fine town. From our camp we could see Carlisle. We went to the courthouse on Saturdays and on Saturdays watch people pass by. Everybody knew us, we knew most of them. They'd pass by and everybody was happy and talking. And when the girls would pass by, we enjoyed it very much. Right across the street, next street over from the courthouse, there was a place they called the Broadway Inn. The Broadway Inn was a café, and a hang-out for the CCCs. While we hung out there with the girls, somebody would say something to somebody's girl and they'd get up and have a knuckle drill. And the man would throw us all out.
I remember we went down to a place below Carlisle called Flemingsburg to a job. When we got there we started to get to work, but I got picked up and taken back to Carlisle. I was going to be sent to Ft. Thomas hospital to have my tonsils taken out. I got back to Carlisle, cleaned up and got good clothes on. Another boy was going to Ft. Thomas, too. His name was Walter Fredrick. He was a big, strong husky boy who drove a truck. They sent him to Ft. Thomas for a hernia operation. We got to Ft. Thomas, and Major Redman took out my tonsils and repaired Fredrick's hernia.
We stayed a week or so in the hospital, then they sent us over to the convalescent ward. We stayed there for quite awhile, we had to wait until somebody came from Carlisle to the hospital in an ambulance so we could get a ride back. Cecil Underwood and I had worked together in Carlisle, but he'd been at Ft. Thomas a lot longer than me waiting on that ambulance. . One day Cecil said he'd like to go home, and I said I did, too. So I said, "Cecil, you got a little money?" He said, "I got a little money." I said, "good." We went into Ft. Thomas and bought bus tickets to Cynthiana. Cynthiana is where I'm from. So we got to Cynthiana and stayed all night with my aunt. We got up the next morning, had breakfast, and hitched back to Carlisle. I liked Carlisle and Carlisle liked us, I think.
By then it was nearly September, and my 6 months was about up. I decided to go back home. In October I started working in the warehouses. In the warehouses I loaded tobacco, lined up bales, weighing them, and setting them in line for the sale. That's what I did. There were three warehouses there in Cynthiana, they sent me one to the other, and if I could work all week they'd give me $9 a week. And that was a lot better than $5 a month, goodness sakes. So I worked in a warehouse in the winter and in the spring I worked for farmers out over the county. I set tobacco out, took care of crops and everything, $1.50 a day. Some places they'd board you for a dollar a day and board. They called it three hots and a flop. A dollar a day and board. That wasn't too bad. But I decided I'd come back in the CCCs again anyway. My CCC days weren't over.
----- Cecil L. Wohlwinder
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