Published 5:29 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2012

(This is an edited version of a feature first published in August of 1989.)

PRINCE EDWARD – The year was 1938. America hadn't quite shaken the strong hold of the Great Depression that had plummeted the economy near ruin. The second great war of this century, that would eventually engulf almost every nation on the face of the earth, was only a conflict that other countries engaged themselves in. America wasn't quite ready to face the inevitable.

All across the country, work was getting more and more difficult to find. If one had money, he could walk to almost any street corner and hire as many men as he wanted at 75 cents a day. People were willing to work-they had to survive.

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To alleviate some of the economic pressure and put people back to work, President Franklin Roosevelt created numerous programs. One, created in the first hundred days of his administration in 1933, was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The CCC, one of the most popular of the New Deal programs, sought to address the severe unemployment problem with the nations youth-through enlisting unmarried young men between the ages of 18 and 22-and to focus on conservation efforts across the country.

Raymond Ligon and Edward Dungee remember the CCC. Both participated in one such camp at Green Bay back in the late 1930s.

Dungee, retired and living in Pamplin, entered the camp late in 1937 and ended his short tour in 1939. He was living in the Prospect area while working in a local sawmill. Back in those days, he says, it was very dangerous and he was glad to get out of that line of work. Fortunately, his father knew a town official who helped him get into the camp.

Ligon, who lives in the Prospect area, was only eighteen at the time. He began his tour in October 1938 and stayed with the camp until October 1940. He, too, says he was very fortunate to get into the CCC, which paid a dollar a day to workers.

Today, Congressmen are arguing how much to increase the minimum wage (which incidentally is currently $3.50 an hour).

“I was making a dollar a day and I was making more money than a lot of grown men,” said Ligon, adding that many of them “couldn't even get a job.”

“A lot of men, 20, 21, 22 years old weren't making but 75 cents a day at that time,” he added.

Most of what Ligon made, however, went towards a family debt (which was the reason for his attending the camp).

“At the time I went in they (were) only taking the ones that their parents owed a debt and they let you go in and pay (it off),” he said.

Ligon worked his way up to assistant leader and, instead of making $30 a month, he made $36. Because of the debt, however, he was only able to keep $14 of the total.

Nonetheless, Ligon saved his money and purchased a 1932 Chevrolet on time, which he used to transport some of the guys in the camp to and from Farmville during the week. That “little old cheap car” quickly paid for itself, he said.

Ligon was a truck driver at the camp. His responsibilities included (among others) picking up the mail, going to get supplies as well as transporting the camp doctor to other camps. Sometimes he might also take a load of men out in the field to the worksite for the day.

Dungee remembers those worksites very well. One of the many things that the CCC did was to cut fire trails through the state forests. Workers did not have the benefit of a McCulloch or a Poulan chain saw. In fact, according to Dungee (even though they had cross-cut saws in camp) they were not allowed to use any saw.

“You had to dig that tree up,” he recalled, “didn't care how big the tree was, you had to dig it up.”

Foremen would put two workers to digging and cutting roots until the tree finally hit the ground.

“Sometimes (it) would take folks three or four days, maybe longer than that according to how big the tree (was),” Dungee added. Once the tree fell, the workers would simply roll it aside and folks in the community would come along and cut it up for firewood.

According to Dungee, the workers were responsible for fighting forest fires. He noted, however, that there weren't too many calls.

“Sometimes you get a call and get there and there won't no fire,” Dungee said.

But when there was a fire, they'd have to continue working until it was out.

Most of the time CCC camp workers had to work five days a week. Although not as strict, the camp was much like serving in the military of that day. The men were organized in squads of 25, recalls Ligon. The leaders would be one of the camp members-often an older person-and would inspect the men as well as the barracks each morning. During the day, the barracks were subject to further inspection by camp officers.

A typical workday would have the young men up at 6:30 a.m. They would clean up, straighten their things, go through inspection and head to the mess hall for breakfast. If they failed inspection, they would be assigned extra duties such as scrubbing pots and pans on weekends.

A duty no one likes.

By 8 a.m., the men were out in the field working. At lunchtime, a truck from the camp would go out to the worksite and carry the men food. Ligon recalls that most of the time the workers were served hot lunches. By 4 p.m., they would be back in the camp.

During the week, after the work was done, they would gather in the recreation hall to play pool or cards or whatever to have some fun, recalled Ligon.

Weekend passes were awarded routinely. On Saturday a camp truck would take the men to and from Farmville on scheduled trips where they could enjoy a variety of activities. At 11 p.m., the last truck would leave Farmville-no matter what. If the guys weren't at the designated pickup points, they would have to walk back to Green Bay.

Saturday nights were the big event for CCC camp members as they would go to restaurants, see girls and take in a movie at the local theaters. Back then, there were two theaters in town, the Eacho and the Lee. According to The Farmville Herald dated Friday, November 4, the Eacho Theater was featuring That Certain Age starring Deanna Durvin and Melvyn Douglas. It only cost 25 to 35 cents for adults to attend and a mere 15 cents for children. Still, 25 cents was a big part of their daily income when they only made a dollar. One could buy a Greyhound ticket to Jacksonville, Florida for $10.50 then and a trip to New Orleans was $13.05.

According to an ad in The Herald, hams could be purchased from Farmers Supply Company at 17.5 cents per pound. Steak was 20 cents per pound and winter coats were on sale at The Hub for $12.50. Still, many folks had to do without.

Whether Roosevelt's New Deal was the reason for the economic resurgence is a debatable point, but, in any case, all of the programs that were initiated under his administration-even today-are very fondly thought of.

Such is the case with the CCC.

According to Depression and the New Deal in Virginia: The Enduring Dominion, a book written by Ronald L. Hinemann, the CCC spent $109 million in the state of Virginia from 1933-42 employing 107,210. The CCC made tremendous strides for the state planting 15.2 million trees, constructing 986 bridges, they reduced fire hazards over 152,000 acres, strung 2,128 miles of new telephone line and stocked 1.3 million fish.

Like many others, both Dungee and Ligon went on to serve their country during World War II. Many feel that the CCC provided good training in preparing young people across the nation for the war.

Do we need something like the CCC to help improve our environment and keep the young people out of trouble for today? If you talk to a couple of veterans of the 1938 camp, it certainly could do some good.

“It think it would be a good idea,” said Dungee. “It would keep a whole lot of them (young men) out of the mess they get into.”

“The country might be better off,” said Ligon. “Maybe there wouldn't be so much dope going on.”

Indeed, the country just might be better off.