Sunday, January 31, 2010

Christmas in Oregon

This letter is written the day before Christmas in 1942. It tells of the trip from Ohio and the experience of coming into the camp at Elkton. One of my favorite lines is when speaking of Christmas he wrote:
"I have a place to work and a place to sleep and lots of good friends that write me swell letters. What more could one want?"

December 24, 1942

Boy oh Boy! have things ever been happening the last couple of weeks. Today is Thurs. the day before Christmas and a week ago yesterday I was about 3,000 miles from here with snow all around and now I’m in Oregon and there isn’t a bit of snow and it rains nearly all the time. Since I arrived here last Mon. morning I don’t believe it has stopped raining for over 4 or 5 hours at one time.

Right now I’m sitting on my bed beating out this sort of report on what has happened since I left Coshocton. The place we are is called Camp Elkton. Named for a small town about a half mile straight across the river from Camp, and a mile and a half around the road. The town has about 100 people in it and three churches.

Maybe I’d better go back a little and tell something of the swell trip we had getting out here. We spent the first nigh in a cold, old, dirty day coach between Columbus O. and Chicago. We had to lay over there till 11:00 at Chicago to get a sleeper, so we did, with pleasure. Most of the fellows went sightseeing or to visit friends or relatives. There were two of the fellows that didn’t get back in time to go with us, I guess they misunderstood about the time that we were going to leave. They were lucky enough to be finaially able and fortunate enough to catch a plane to Minniapollis where they caught us about 9:30 the next morning. Well we were able to hang on to our Pullman till we got here Mon. morning.

There’s no use me trying to tell about traveling through the mountains, they are beyond description. We didn’t go through any very high mountains, only 6,000 feet or over at the highest but they were plenty impressive any way. I thought I would catch up on my sleep on the train, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the window till it got so dark I couldn’t see anything. In fact a couple of nights we had a good moon and I looked out of the window till about 11:00 when I got so sleepy that I couldn’t see.

I didn’t get this thing finished last night so it is now Christmas day. I feel that the Lord has been very good to me this year with so many people not having a very happy Christmas. I have a place to work and a place to sleep and lots of good friends that write me swell letters. What more could one want?

We had a simple Christmas program last nite. It was swell. Mostly carol singing and everyone seemed to enjoy it emensly; the high spot was Dicken’s Christmas Carol read by George New, and he’s really good.

I wanted to tell you about the tunnels, we went through 9 I believe in the train. Our last stop on the train was a little town named Drain, that was where the railroad ended. Well I guess it was about 18 miles from Drain to Elkton and we went through a nice long tunnel on the highway. Well, so much for tunnels.

The camp here is sure fixed up pretty. The grass is green and I guess there are some roses in bloom too. They have young evergreen trees planted all arround the walks and almost everywhere. The timber around camp isn’t all so pretty, some of it has been burnt several years ago, but there are quite a few big trees that we can look at instead of the old burned snags. Our work so far has been getting a spike-camp ready to open. This camp is about 22 miles from the main camp and will have about 35 men in it when they get it all fixed up. We get to ride clear out there every morning and back every night, of course. The work the fellows do from the sopke-camp will be building a road through some timber that has never had a road before. The main purpose of the road is to get men and equipment in to fight fire. But of course anyone can use the road so probably there will be a lot of timber halled over t is raod that will be used to make ships or help in the war effort in some way. But I really think that making a road to help save our timber is much more important than soil conservation. However road building isn’t nearly so interesting as the work we were doing at Coschocton. I guess that isn’t the thing to think about tho.

There were 30 men here when we arrived and about half of them are new men that have come direct from home. While the rest of them came here from some other camp to open this camp. Most of the fellows from Coshocton have been in camp a while. I think we should have a very good camp here when we get settled. The camp has only been open for a little over a month so things are still in a sort of mess. The director is a young fellow that the Service Committee managed to get reclassified to 2-A so that he could be a director. He is a very fine fellow and I think he will be a very good director. Also he has a very pretty blond wife which helps too.

One of the drawbacks that I havn’t said much about yet is that it rains nearly all the time. We don’t stop working for rain either. The CCC left some raincoats and rubber boots and some 4 buckle overshoes and so there has been enough to go around so far. There are only 69 men here now and I guess they expect to more than double it as soon as possible. They make suits out here of heavy duck that will shed water and I think I shall get one of those. They call them “tin suits” cause they bend about like tin they are so stif.

This being Christmas day I fell like I should say Merry Christmas but I know you won’t get this till probably after New Years day even. But you get the idea don’t you.

So from a place where there is no snow and Holly and Mistletoe and Christmas trees grow wild I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Even if it doesn’t reach you in time. Maybe you can apply it on next year.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Oregon

Here is Dad's first posting (a post card) from Elkton, Oregon. He arrived there on the 22nd of December 1942 and will stay almost 3 years, leaving around October of 1945. I think as I have read these letters that a big part of his life is shaped in these three years and because of his choices and changes our family's life was shaped as well. The community that was created in the CPS camps during WWII was a unique community that impacted progressives and pacifist organizations and religious communities throughout the country. It is a fascinating and rarely told story of US history.

December 22, 1942 - Elkton

Mon. nite Elkton, Oregon

Well, here I am. It sure is a pretty place. The weather is very damp, but warm. They seldom have snow here I am told and the temperature don’t go so much below freezing. I went for a short walk this afternoon and find that the hills are very steep, there are a few real big trees close to camp but this timber here has been cut and burned off. We got here about 4:00 this morning. We didn’t work today but will tomorrow. I imagine that the work will be harder here and for a while mostly manual labor. Durring the winter it rains most of time and they work all the time so my raincoat will come in handy. I’ll write as soon as I get around to it. I’d like to hear from you if you havn’t written yet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Almost There

This is one of the last postcards as Dad travels across the country to Oregon. He describes the Columbia River. I remember the first time I saw it after living in New Mexico for a couple of years. I traveled in a small car a Honda Coupe to a nonviolent training program near Seattle and then down the coast to LA and back. On the way down my travel mate could not believe how excited I got as we crossed each river. I still remember my awe and the beauty of the Columbia river.

Dec 20 1942

Sun. 8:30 A.M. Wash.
We are still on the road between Paser(?), Wash. and Portland, Oregon. We follow the Columbia River for about 200 miles. It is a very wide river and seems to have desert on east(?) side. Wherever they farm around here they have to irrigate. We saw some real mountains yesterday. There was a big moon last night and some of us stayed up till 12:00 and looked at the mountains by the moonlight. We have changed times 3 times since we left Ohio. Now we are in Pacific Time: 2 hrs behind you. This way we have it figured how we should get to our last station sometime around 11:00 tonite which is about 15 miles from camp.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Travel and harrasment

In these two postcards that Dad wrote from the train he mentions that "only one guy called us anything". He never talked much about the harassment that the Conscientious Objectors experienced. He did mention that there were some problems in Ohio and that the local congressman worked to get the camp moved. Later in the war he rides on trains and spends time listening to soldiers. I think our society's tolerance for alternatives to the military has grown.
I missed writing on Sunday, not even sure why. Then I meant to do it on Monday which was Martin Luther King Day and missed that one too. So I'll just add my MLK story here. My sisters and I were lucky enough with our social minded parents to get to hear Martin Luther King Jr speak. I actually do not remember seeing him or hearing him, but I do remember being in the church where he spoke (I was a child and short). We were in an outer room with speakers I believe. I do not know if we ever sat down, my memory is of standing with a lot of people in the church and singing and enthusiasm. A very different experience than our quiet small Quaker meeting in Denver. Change takes a long time but it does come.

Dec 18 & 19 - Post cards

Fri. 12:20 Pm west of Minniap
Dear folks,
The sun is shining, we got a sleeper and just had breakfast about 10:30. The country here is sure flat compared with what we are used to. It looks kind of good to me. We don’t have the most up to date Pullman but after spending a nite in a 1915 day coach, we’re not complaining. We get better eats than we did in camp, the Gov’t allows us 1 dollar on the train and 75 cents at restrants for each meal . We ate in the reastrant at the station last nite and got a steak almost an inch thik and 2 by 6 the other way. I think we will all get fat on this trip. We left Chicago at 11:00 last nite and a couple of the fellows got mixed up and missed the train, they had been visiting. Well, we left two tickets for them and went on. We got to Minniapolis about 9:30 and those two guys climbed on. They had been lucky and got on an airplane it cost them some extra but it saved confusion. I packed my typewriter, this is another guys.

Just started to see some real mountains. We are stopped for a little at Bozeman Mont. It is now 1:00 P.M. the snow is almost gone here, just a little where it has been drifted. We can see mountains with lot of snow on them all around us. Our elevation here is about 4773 feet. We will go higher yet. Our car is near the front of the train and the dinner is at the rear. We have to tramp almost the full length of the train. The people gape at us and wonder what we are, 39 men without uniforms. Some of them have found out what we are and only one guy called us anything. Now we think we will get to camp Sun nite or Mon. morning.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Riding trains in the winter

Dad's train trip will take him 4 or 5 days from Ohio to Oregon in December. They do hang out in Chicago and ride escalators. We live in a town without any escalators, I remember how much fun my daughter had when she first got to ride one, I can imagine the thrill when they first came out.
I was thinking about train rides and winter. Our family got together this December in Colorado. Tim and I came up from NM and Bonnie came from Tennessee we all came by trains. Our trip ended up being a lot shorter than Bonnie's. For us to get to Denver by train we drive 200 miles north to Albuquerque and catch the Amtrak there at about 1pm. We get a nice 5 hour ride across northern NM and across the land of 4 or 5 Pueblos, then through the Sangre de Cristo mountains then across the LLano (high plains) to Raton. At Raton we tumble out in the dark and find the Bus waiting for us, it takes us on North to Colorado, while the train heads NE to Chicago. When we got to Colorado Springs my sister said it was a blizzard at their house but my nephew and she managed to come and pick us up.
A few days later before Bonnie was due she called at 5 am to say that her train was running late and we could go back to sleep. We would have a 45 minute drive to get in to Denver to meet her. She said they were stuck in Lincoln Nebraska. She had gotten on the train in Illinois the afternoon before and had been due into Denver at 8 am. Once we got up we called her and they had only traveled 50 miles in 3 hours. They were into a major storm. They had put on a special engine and were plowing their way through the snow drifts, she was in a lower compartment and said the snow was often above the windows on one side or the other and once on both sides. We took turns calling her or Amtrak to see what their prediction was, she finally got off the train that evening at midnight glad to be off the train.

December 17, 1942-Afternoon

Dec 17, 3:40
Union Station

Dear folks,
Well I’m still here. A couple of the other fellows and I went downtown for a little while. We walked so we didn’t get very far. We took in 8 floors and the basement of “Marshal Fields”, I guess its one of the largest department stores in the world. I had my first escalator ride, not bad.
Several of the boys had friends or relatives here so the day was probably enjoyed by all. The only difficulty is that we may run short on meal tickets. We had enough for 1 extra day and we have used up some of them already and aren’t across the Mississippi yet. I’m a little low on money but I think I’ll make it if need too I can borrow some from some of the fellows.
They have an electric organ here in the waiting room and there has been a guy playing Christmas music nearly all the time, its really swell.
You’d probably like to know more about why my sudden decision to go to Oregon. Well here’s the story. Our project Supt. is doing his best to keep the camp there. The strategy they tried to use was this: We sent in a bit (?) of the 39 men that would go to Oregon Sun. afternoon. Well I came darn near going then but they got though(?) so I wrote and told you that I wasn’t going.
I suppose you got that card yesterday. (Sentence crossed out) Wait, I left out something. Mon. morning our project Sup. wires to his betters in Wash. that they were letting a lot of good men get away he named 15 of them. About ½ of these men were really important and the rest of them were first bluff. Then things strung along till about the tue noon and both the Project and Technical Supervisors got a telegram telling them not to sign a release for those 15 men. So then the camp had to find some men to substitute for them. That’s when I came in. We had had some pretty favorable information about the Oregon Project and it looked like our camp was doomed cause S.C.S. seemed to think we only needed 50 men and that was the least that A.F.S.C. would ever consider keeping a camp open for. As I said on my card most of the good men were leaving either to Oregon or on detached service. If the camp is kept after it will mostly consist of fellows that are interested in the research part and a few that work on camp maintenance. I could have qualified I guess, but I wasn’t crazy about being stuck there with so few men. I had first started on a new job tue morning which would have put me in the research department. I was taking frost samples (meaning ---- frost and the depth of snow), not a bad job. But I lost interest when I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much future there.
You see our project Sup. figured that one of the main reasons was that the rest of S.C.S. was jealous of him cause he had been turning out better work then they had and they were out to squeltch him. That may be partly conceit, but that with the fact that a certain Congressman McGigber(?) had promised to have us out by election day adds up to no camp Coshocton. So I am Oregon bound and glad of it. Except that I’ll be about twice as far from home. The way I feel about it now I’ll be looking for a detached service project of some kind next spring or summer. I still hope to get home next spring if it isn’t too expensive.
One thing I sure hated to do was go off and leave that printing press we had back there. I really enjoyed fooling around with it and I still think I could have done C.P.S. some good with it but maybe there is something more important in Oregon for me to do.
I left some very fine friends too. You get to know fellows pretty well that you live with for four months. I hated to leave Ab too but it is better for him to be closer to home if possible. I think he would have liked to go if it wasn’t for him being an expectant father.
There is another Iowa man going—Clarence Morrison. A good guy too. He’s from Ames. I told you about him a long time ago.
The project out there is a forestry(?) service project. I really think that it is more important than Soil Conservation. There are now 22 men out there now and so we will be practically the same camp. The capacity of the camp is 200 so some of the new fellows may get sent thro to maybe Warren.(?)
We couldn’t have picked a worse time to travel in the last 10 years. The last we hear there weren’t any more Pullmans. So I --- we will have that stinky old coach all the way. It is terribly old and dirty. If they would give us a good one it wouldn’t be as bad but I suppose the army get all the good stuff. This whole thing has only t been on foot for about 9 or 10 days so it is a little wonder that our arrangements for cars and railroad connections aren’t working out. O, well, we are having a grand time and we get along well together so I guess we can put up with a little inconvenience like sleeping on the cushions. We have plenty of room so that we can take the back of the seats and stretch out across two of them it isn’t too bad.
We go out through Minn. N. D. to Seattle and then Portland. Elkton, I understand is about 30 mi. from the ocean with an elevation of 100 ft.
Well, keep your chins up, God’s with us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Off to Oregon

I know that I have been posting for awhile, but I feel a lot of the story begins now as Dad heads off to Oregon. I'm not sure how much of the country he had seen before this but I do not think he had been outside of the midwest. I believe that they would go to Chicago to sell cattle. These postcards were typed, some on the train. I try to picture what that would look like. I remember taking my typewriter to college in 1969 and it was considered a portable. What was the size of a typewriter in 1942? Then compare that with the labtops we carry around today.

December 17, 1942

Thurs; 9:30 A.M. Union Station Chi.

Surprise!! I’m on my way to Oregon. It seemed to me that camp #23 was about to collapse. They needed more men to fill out their car so I thought it was the wise thing to do. Most of the nicest and best men were going to Oregon or to attached service and if the camp was to be kept open at all there would only be a few good me and some of the ---- left so I’m off to Oregon. We spent last night in a coach but if we layover here till 11:00 P.M. we get a Pullman. So I get to spend the day in Chicago. O boy. More cards to follow.
Ab stayed

December 14, 1942

Sunday Nite
Dear Folks,
I’m not going to Oregon this time but the chances are that I will get shipped west sometime. There is a small chance that this camp will be kept open but with only about 60 men.

The load that goes is to leave Wed morn. If I have to go in the next load it may be to Sandemas Calif.

I’ll write when anything happens.