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In 1936, Clyde McEnterfer had few options as a 17-year-old high school dropout.
He doesn’t know how his parents got him connected with the Civilian Conservation Corps, but he knows why.
“My folks was hard up,” McEnterfer said. “There was 13 of us.”
The Great Depression still had a vice grip on most of the country, with nearly a quarter of the population unemployed. Jobs weren’t just hard to find. They didn’t exist.
The CCC provided some relief, enrolling nearly 3.5 million young men during the program’s nine years (1933-42), with little more than the promise of three meals a day, a bunk, and a job that paid $30 a month.
“At least it was work,” McEnterfer said.
It was hard work, too, digging holes to plant trees, shoveling gravel, grading roads, chipping and chiseling rock for use in buildings that to this day remain useful structures in state parks around much of the United States.
“We’d just sit out there in the shade and bang, bang around on them stones, drill them holes,” McEnterfer said. “We had star drills, and had a big wire that we flattened out.
“That was our spoon to dig out the stone dust, and we’d dig it out every now and then. We’d sit there and bang away all day, same old thing day in and day out. There were no timetables. It was just a job.”
CCC camps were established in every state, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, which had not yet attained that status, and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The crews planted between 2 and 3 billion trees, built almost 4,000 structures, stocked 972 million fish, developed 800 state parks and 52,000 acres of public campgrounds, cleared 13,100 miles of foot trails, and laid down 125,000 miles of roads.
McEnterfer, now 89, with tanned, weathered skin and a wiry figure, recounted his experiences during the 55th annual reunion of CCC Camp No. 556 at Pokagon State Park in July, one of several events this year that honored the 75th anniversary of the CCC.
“Everybody got along good, I always thought,” he said, recalling his 15 months at the camp. “We had some roughnecks, but it was all young kids.”
Kids like Otis Stahl, who joined in 1938. Or was it 1939?
“After all these years, it’s confusing,” he said.
The exact dates may be a blur, but memories of the camp and the effect it had are not.
“The first job I had was loading dump trucks with gravel … by hand with a shovel,” Stahl said. “That was a hard, hot job. We used to have a contest on who could load one the fastest.”
The record was three minutes by a three-man crew.
“After six months I was assigned to another job and ended up doing carpenter work and stone work on cabins down next to the hotel,” said Stahl, who also laid track for Pokagon’s original toboggan run. “While I was doing that I came down with pneumonia and almost passed away in the hospital.”
As so many others in the CCC, Stahl picked up a skill that served him later in life—how to use a surveyor’s transit.
For McEnterfer, the skill was driving a road grader. Jack Hubbard of Goshen learned to cut hair.
“I was one of three barbers in camp,” Hubbard said. “Then I was a barber for 36 years.”
What Hubbard remembers most is how he and hundreds of other “CCC boys” transformed a relatively barren patch of Steuben County into one of the state’s crown jewels—Pokagon State Park.
“There wasn’t a damn thing in here but shrubbery,” he said. “We made this park.”
From the old gatehouse on the right-hand side of the road at the park’s entrance to the CCC Shelter House, the Group Camp building, the Spring Shelter, the saddle barn, or the bridge to Lone Tree Point, it’s almost impossible to find a structure at Pokagon that wasn’t built by the CCC.
The same sort of mark was made by other CCC workers at Brown County, Clifty Falls, Dunes, Lincoln, McCormick’s Creek, Shakamak, Spring Mill and Turkey Run state parks, as well as at other properties (Fort Harrison, Versailles and Tippecanoe River) that have since become part of the DNR Division of State Parks and Reservoirs.
That work, embodied in so many stone and timber structures, serves as a timeless testament, an enduring legacy of a few good men—the “boys” of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Phil Bloom is editor of OI and director of the DNR Division of Communications.
Accompanying photos show CCC projects and workers at McCormick’s Creek and Pokagon state parks, and, possibly, other properties. CCC veteran Euclid Dearing donated the McCormick’s Creek photos. Pokagon’s Fred Wooley donated the photos from that state park, which he obtained from various photo albums of veterans from Camp 556 of the CCC.