Additional history of Bridgton CCC Co 1124

CCC Co 1124 history from “In The Public Interest The Civilian Conservation Corps. In Maine A Pictorial History by Jon A. Schlenker, Norman A. Wetherington, Austin H. Wilkins”

Under the Supervision of the Maine Forest Service as an Organized Town, the Bridgton Camp was primarily concerned with insect control. This is reflected in the seasonal nature of its work projects. In the summer, the company worked on the elimination of the white pine blister rust. And in the winter, they attempted to rid the area’s lake shores and towns of the Gypsy moth.

Minor projects included forest stand improvement work in the timber lots of “town farms” of local communities. The boys also constructed and improved mountain trails, such as Mt. Pleasant. And they built lunch ground sites, as the ones at Willis Brook and Bridgton.

The company was always available for emergency work, as was the case during the flood of 1936 and the hurricane of 1938. In 1936, the crews from the Bridgton Camp worked along the Saco River. In Fryeburg, they gathered corn stalks and stubble that were flooded out and burned them so that the corn borer would not spread. And, in 1938, they were involved in cleaning and clean-up after the hurricane.

Col. Frank R. Blaisdell, Charlottesville, Virginia, was a lieutenant at the Bridgton Camp. As he recollects:

“I was one of a group of officers who would staff a second generation of camps built during the spring and early summer of 1935. So it was, after a short period of training, that I was assigned to the 1124th Company at Bridgton, Maine.

Upon my arrival I found the construction of the camp buildings underway. The camp commander and a cadre of enrollees had been on location for approximately three weeks. By the end of July construction had advanced to the point that we received our complement of enrollees. As the junior officer I was designated Mess Officer, Exchange Officer, and Transportation Officer.

Of the three areas of responsibility the operation of the mess was the most challenging and time consuming. Transportation Officer duty consisted of supervising maintenance and record keeping for the two Army vehicles assigned to the camp. The Exchange Officer supervised a small camp store that sold items of personal hygiene, candy, soda and souveniers to the enrollees. The profit from sales went to the Company Fund where it was used for the benefit of all through the purchase of recreational equipment, camp beautification, etc. not otherwise obtainable.

A good mess was, perhaps, the most important factor in maintaining morale. Each camp had its complement of cooks and bakers who were graduates of the Army Cooks and Bakers School. This training provided the basic skills, but whether a man developed into a good cook or baker depended on his interest in the job, his attitude, and the support he received from those in charge. We were fortunate to have a group of dedicated people, temperamental at times, but on the whole showing ingenuity in preparing and serving good food often under adverse conditions.

The mess hall contained a kitchen and dining area. The kitchen was further sub-divided into separate food preparation areas for general consisted of a walk-in box cooled by ice. The ranges were coal-fired, making the kitchen a cozy area in winter, but a place to be avoided in summer.

The mess functioned on a daily subsistence allowance for each enrollee present. When I reported, this subsistence rate was 18 cents a day. Two and a half years later it had increased to approximately 25 cents a day. On Thanksgiving and Christmas Days an additional 5 cents was made available for those days. Any funds saved in operating the mess reverted to the Company Fund and could be used to further augment the quality of food served, but for no other purpose. Officers and Foresters paid for their meals at a scheduled rate.

Meal planning was accomplished by the preparation of a ten-day menu. Care was taken not to repeat any meal during the period and an effort was made to vary the menu beyond the period by not using the same accompanying vegetables, etc. that had been used previously with an entree. Once the menu had been approved and posted changes could not be made except for extenuating circumstances.

Non-perishable food was requisitioned from the Army usually once a month, but there was provision for supplemental requisitions if needed. Perishable supplies were obtained from local wholesalers as needed. All food purchased had to meet Army specifications, therefore quality was assured if the Mess Officer was doing his job of inspecting deliveries.

One of the more difficult mess operations was providing lunches for work crews in the field. Variety was limited by the need to furnish something that could be reheated during cold weather and protected from spoilage during warm weather. If the crew was not working too far from camp the food could be delivered at lunchtime, which improved the situation somewhat. However, there were too many meals consisting of sandwiches, soups, stews, and the like. For the most part they were received without complaint. An increased effort was made to make the other two meals outstanding. All in all, food service was a success.

Camps were organized and administered along Army lines with the exception that discipline was not maintained by application of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Minor lapses in discipline were handled by witholding of privileges and major problems either by prosecution in civilian courts or discharge from the Corps. I cannot recall that we had many disciplinary problems that could not be resolved within the camp. The most serious charge brought against one of our people was attempted rape. Upon investigation by the local authorities the charges were dropped when it became evident that the young lady had contributed to the occurrence by her actions. Mostly, infractions of the camp rules were the result of possession of alcohol (beer, usually) within camp, or the smuggling of girls into barracks. In most cases what occurred was more humorous than serious.

In the early days of the camp, the townspeople took a rather jaundiced view of its location and people. Unlike most camps, the 1124th Company was located on the old fairgrounds at the edge of town. The center of the town was within easy walking distance, therefore there was considerable traffic by enrollees through residential areas on their way to and from town. The camp commander, wishing to demonstrate to the merchants of the town the economic benefit to them of the camp’s location, arranged to have the men paid in silver dollars for a period of two or three months. The plan was to keep a record of the silver dollars as they were deposited in the bank. It could then be shown which merchants were benefiting, and to what extent. The idea was good, but it boomeranged since at the end of the period the record showed that the local beer tavern had collected most of the silver dollars.

In time, however, the attitude of the town toward the camp became more friendly as it became evident that the young men in camp were no different from the young people in town and that a great deal of good was resulting from the work the C.C.C. Was doing in the area.

Mention should be made of the work of the Educational Advisor assigned to the camp. He and his staff carried out a program of academic and vocational subjects. Participation was voluntary, but many of the enrollees took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade their education and prepare themselves for better jobs on leaving the corps. The advisor was also responsible for organizing recreation programs including both intramural and outside sport competition. His efforts contributed much to maintaining the morals of the enrollees.

It is difficult for one who did not live during the depression years of the thirties to fully understand what the C.C.C. did for those who were a part of it. It was not only the enrollee and his allottee who benefited but also the Reserve Officers and Technical Staff on duty. It furnished employment when jobs were practically non-existent. It provided training that was instrumental in preparing for later life. Though not anticipated at the time of its inception, it provided a pool of men, quasi-military trained and medically fit, who would become the base of the military force required for World War II.”

An early enrollee at the Bridgton Camp was Norman A. Wetherington, of Readfield, Maine.

“I spent thirty months at the 1124th Co., C.C.C. Bridgton, Maine beginning in 1935. The first fourteen months I had a variety of jobs. In June of 1935 Lt. Fearer, the commanding officer, gave me the task of building flagstone walks connecting all buildings. Lt. Fearer assigned six boys to me as a crew until the work was finished. The C.O. Made arrangements to get granite slabs from an abandoned quarry at Mt. Chocorua, N.H. We used every truck in camp to get the stones, seven Forestry trucks and two Army trucks. Each truck had about six men. I explained to my crew what we had to have to make decent looking walks, at least one flat surface, size wasn’t too important. The seven of us hand picked every stone, there were very few we couldn’t use. Every stone had to be carried to the trucks and loaded by hand. They also had to be unloaded by hand as they were not dump bodies. There was no such thing as a bucket or front end loader in those days. I believe three trips were made to the quarry during the summer. We usually had a different crew on the trucks every trip as the climbers didn’t care much for stone work.

Lt. Fearer and his adjutant, Lt. Blaisdell made a sketch of the walks connecting every building in camp, several hundred yards in all. My crew and I started laying lines for the walks, then began digging the trenches. The walks were three feet wide and as deep as necessary to take the stones. All excess dirt had to be hauled away in wheelbarrows. As the stones were irregular in shape, we had to place them as one would do a jig-saw puzzle. We worked all summer on that project, rain or shine, six days a week. There was not such thing as a forty-hour week in Bridgton for anyone. The walks looked so good when finished that Lt. Fearer gave us the job of shoveling snow that first winter. During those first months I was also Assistant Company Clerk and Post Exchange Steward.

My last sixteen months were the most challenging and rewarding, I was appointed Assistant Educational Advisor. The educational program was begun in 1933 for camps that were in existence at that time. As Bridgton was a newer camp, we had to set up the whole program. Mr. Brooks Eastman was Educational Advisor. All educational advisors were selected and appointed by the Office of Education (in the Interior Department at that time), and all were experienced educators. We had a lot of boys that had never gone to school a day of their lives, many with a few years of grade school, and also high school graduates.

Our classroom was set up in the old fairground Exhibition Hall. Crude but functional. We had to have evening classes so they wouldn’t interfere with work that had to be done during the daytime. We had about 60% enrollment from the camp. The fellows were eager to learn, many had never had a chance. My part of the program was to teach the three basic R’s, plus typing. I taught dozens of boys to read and write English. During the day I kept busy editing the camp paper, “The Highlander.” I was editor, reporter, salesman, typist, mimeograph operator and delivery boy. I worked day and night for a long time but I don’t regret a minute of it.

“The Office of Education set six objectives for every camp education program:

  1. To develop in each man his powers of self-expression, self-entertainment and self-culture;
  2. To develop, as far as practicable, an understanding of the prevailing social and economic condition, to the end that each man may cooperate intelligently in improving these conditions;
  3. To develop pride and satisfaction in cooperative endeavor;
  4. To preserve and strengthen good habits of health and mental development;
  5. By such vocational training as is feasible, but particularly by vocational counseling and adjustment activities, to assist each man better to meet employment problems when he leaves camp;
  6. To develop an appreciation of nature and of country life.

At Bridgton, 1124th Co., we were fortunate in having superb supervisory personnel: officers, foresters and LEM’s (Local Enlisted Men). Without them we would not have had an Honor Company for twelve successive months.”

And another member of the 1124th Company was Sylvio LeCours, of Rumford, Maine:

“The experience that led me to joining the C.C.C. Happened to me on the morning after my graduation from Stephens High School At that time I was very thin, five feet ten and one hundred fifteen pounds. I must have looked like a 1x12x6′ board with a little bent over on the bottom so you could stand it up. I went to the personnel office of the Oxford Paper Co. to apply for a job. The personnel manager promptly broke into uncontrolled laughter. When he regained his composure he told me to go out and put on about thirty pounds and come back in a couple of years.Angry, hurt, bewildered, and not wanting to be a burden on my family, I went to the municipal offices of the Town of Rumford and joined the C.C.C.

After my physical at the Federal Building in Portland, I was led out to the street with the group where we were made to board trucks for the trip to Bridgton and the 1124th Co. C.C.C. Unknown to me at that moment, this would become my home for the next two years. A Lt. Caswell was the first officer to greet us with a short talk. My first impression of him was that he seemed kind but disciplined. This impression proved to be true of him for as long as we were associated with one another. The next two weeks were a period of orientation for us. We learned to work with the crews we were assigned to. My first assignment was white pine blister control. The forester or foreman of my crew was Earl Boothby, an orchardist in a neighboring town.

The leader of our crew was Paul Osgood. I fitted in quite well with the others in the crew but was unimpressed with the job we were doing. This changed quite suddenly near the end of September. A hurricane swept across Western Maine and caused extensive blow-down of trees in Bridgton, Harrison, Naples and many other towns in that area. When the work crews headed out from camp the next morning we literally had to cut our way down the streets of Bridgton. Trees were down across roads, on homes and the town was caught up in a disaster that it could do little about. I was here that I first felt the worth of our work. Of course there was no power for days, and it was during these trying days for Bridgton that the townspeople really got to appreciate the boys who came from the C.C.C. Camp to clear trees from the roofs of homes and out of their streets. When all had been cleaned up, I could feel that the local people really had a very high esteem of the young men who had helped them our of a very bad situation. This feeling instilled self-esteem in all of us who had taken part in the clean-up operation, and it helped make better men of us.”

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