The Civilian Conservation Corps, established in 1933, put young men to work during the Great Depression. It was also formed to provide much needed aid to our natural resources. In Michigan, much of this work involved tree planting, which occurred during the spring to fall seasons. The CCC was a year-round program, however, and the men were still in camp during the winter.
One of the first jobs in a newly established CCC camp was to construct the permanent camp buildings. Until these were completed, the men â€“ mostly young enrollees from eighteen to twenty-five years of age â€“ lived in surplus army tents. Under normal circumstances, these camps would be finished well before the winter cold and snow came. However, fighting forest fires and reforestation always took precedence. In places such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, CCC camps were not always completed before the winter weather arrived. One former enrollee, William Fraser, explained what the living conditions were like:
â€œIt got so cold while we were building our barracks that we’d move our cots together and put two or three blankets under us. And these were the wood framed cots, you remember. We’d put four or five blankets on top of us. We’d take turns getting up and putting pine knots in this little funnel stove. It was terribly cold. As a matter of fact, when we moved out of the tents into barracks, there was twelve inches of snow on the ground.â€ (From Bill Jamerson’s documentary film Camp Forgotten, 1993)
Staying warm took up much of the time of the CCC Boys in the winter. According to Ervin Wing of Company 3632 at Camp Manistique, one â€œcrew did nothing but cut wood to heat the barracks and kitchen stoves. Each barracks had a stove in the center, which was a fifty-five gallon oil drum on its side. A night watch came through every hour and kept the fire going through the cold winter nights.â€ (Charles Symon, We Can Do It! 1983, page 109)
In the Upper Peninsula, some of the CCC camps were seasonal as their remoteness made them inaccessible during the winter. Newberry was the home of several companies during the winter and each spring. These companies would fan out to camps throughout the eastern Upper Peninsula to resume their forestry work in the Hiawatha and Marquette National Forests and the various state forests.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the United States quickly entered World War II. Many of the young men of the CCC volunteered for military service, and the CCC disbanded in the spring of 1942. During its nine years of existence, more than 106,000 men served in the CCC in Michigan. Most of these experienced at least one long, hard northern Michigan winter.