John Gibbs is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I hope this finds you well. I got here to Gays Mills two weeks ago. The bus from Milwaukee brought us as far as Wauzeka, which is on the Wisconsin River. We then took a train they call the Stump Dodger up the Kickapoo Valley to Gays Mills. And that’s a good name for the train. They seemed to lay the track around the big stumps on the way up the narrow valley. There’s very little straight track between Wauzeka and Gays Mills.
I met two other fellows going to the CCC camp on the bus and we became fast friends. We hit it off right away. We’re all staying in the same barracks and have met many more people since we arrived. We’re all in the same boat, away from home in a new place. There are some local boys here but most of us are from Wisconsin cities. There are about 200 of us here, ages from 17 to 28. Our camp (#1604) is about two miles north of Gays Mills and that’s where we go when we go to town. We usually start out walking but local people often stop to offer us rides. The local people here are friendly and seem to appreciate the help the CCC crews offer.
The meals are good. We sure get hungry being outside every day and doing the work we’re assigned. We also sleep pretty well. It’s so quiet out here in the country and of course we’re tired when we hit the sack.
We get the chance to try different things here. It’s part of the training this program is set up to provide so we can get jobs when our time here is over. The boy in the next bunk is learning to drive a dump truck. Many of the fellows will be planting trees later in the spring. There are crews assigned to build small dams up the little side valleys to help in soil conservation and flood control. Right now I’m on a fence building crew. There are classes to help us learn about all these things and excellent teachers that come to the camp to teach us things.
Mom, I wish I’d spent more time with you in the kitchen. I know very little about food besides how to eat it. HA! But one of the programs here is training people how to cook. I’ve got my name on a list for that course and hope I get to take it.
Dad, there are shop classes and those appeal to me too. A new friend is learning to weld and I may get to do that later. The camp has 20 trucks and tractors that need looking after and I wouldn’t mind getting involved there either. All in all there are 24 subjects and vocations a guy could learn here, all practical skills, hands on and not much book work.
Anyway, I’m getting settled in here and look forward to sending you some money soon. They provide food, shelter, training, uniforms, and $30 a month to us. You’ll be getting $25 each month sent to you to help get through this hard time we’re in. The $5 I get is more than I’ll need since most of my needs are taken care of. This is sure a great program and Mr. Roosevelt did the right thing by getting it started.
Please tell everyone there hi for me.
Your son, Billy
*Part of FDR’s New Deal during the Depression was the establishment of thousands of Civilian Conservation Corps camps throughout the country. Wisconsin had 200 such camps between 1933 and 1942. Camp #1604 was two miles north of Gays Mills. This is a fictional letter from one of those campers.
Thanks to Brian McKnight who shared his research about CCC camp #1604 with me.
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