DONALD BESS, (CCC nickname: “Bessie”) most folks call me Don.
My parents homesteaded near Ballantine, MT and I was born in Billings. By rights, I suppose I should claim Montana as my state, but since we moved to Denver in 1922, I have a bumper sticker that says “Native” of Colorado. Things were tough, as all you CCCers remember, even in the Queen City of the Plains. My alma mater is the School of Hard Knocks (colors: black and blue) which I went to till about the 8th grade, then quit to go to work full time. I carried the Denver Post, worked at odd jobs and went up to sign up with the CCCs. They told me to come back in a month and they would let me in. I was 17 the day I went in.
Being from Denver I was inducted at Ft Logan, had my physical and got my shots, etc. The next day we took the train to Salida and then the narrow gauge to Telluride on the Galloping Goose to Placerville. I was one of the lucky ones as I got to ride in the cab while most of the guys had to ride in the box car. That should have been enough riding for one day, but we still had 30 to 35 rough miles to go in the back of a stake truck.
Finally, we reached our camp at Norwood (Co. 1842, F-48-C) about 35 miles from the Utah Line, elevation 7,017 feet. It was a drought relief camp, and since I did not have any special skills, I was assigned to the road building crew. We pushed the large boulders by hand and foot over the cliff and the grader kept uncovering more. I got muscles but also took sick and had to go to Ft. Logan hospital. After a few days I was OK and asked if I could do something to pass the time. They pointed to a mountain of potatoes—I guess I must have peeled a gillion. The cooks liked me and tried to get me a job as KP at $50 a month and room and board, but the job went to a war veteran.
I went back to duty at Co. 831 (F-51-C), Meredith, CO, one of the oldest companies in the nation. Our first job was tearing down an old ranger station, and starting a foundation for a new one. At work on the Chapman Dam, we had to shovel gravel, sand and cement into a cement mixer. The mixed cement then went into mining cars, wheeled on the tracks over a trestle, and then dumped into a chute. As the dam began to rise, so did my appetite. That dam is still there. And my appetite is just now beginning to abate.
When you go over to Glenwood and to the head waters of the Frying Pan River past Norrie, you can see the Chapman Dam and Campground built there by the CCC.
I’m proud of that little project. I know it will last because I helped build it.
My next job was interesting. Our crew put up forest service telephone lines. We dug the holes for the poles by hand, set the poles, with some of the poles having to have a guy wire hooked to a “dead man” (a pole buried longways in the ground). We forgot to creosote some of the poles before we had them up, so here we were up on the poles cutting the tops off to creosote them. One day I had climbed one of these poles stringing line when one of my climbers came loose, and there I was hanging by my safety belt upside down, hollering like a wild cat. My tools were all in the river, and to make matters worse, there was my foreman, Mr. Colter, laughing his head off at me. Try it sometime, it’s not the height that gets you, it’s the upside down stuff that hurts.
Our work in the Cs was hard for me, but it taught me to get along with all sorts of people. Your buddies’ lives depended on what you did.
In April 1944, the sweetheart you know as Lucy Bess became my wedded wife, making my life complete. I’ve been blessed with much in this life, and I am thankful to be an American living in the good old USA. My only wish is that we can keep it that way forever. At least, that’s the way I remember it all. (As told to Chet Nolte).
Chapter Eternal: Don Bess left us August 11, 2006, a few years after his beloved Lucy.
We recently received photos and materials related to CCC work at Durango, Camp SP-16-C. This report on the construction of the shelter at Reservoir Hill, known today as the Lion’s Den, provides great details to go with step-by-step photos received recently from the collection of Barbara Teyssier Forrest, daughter of the project supervisor, Edward Teyssier. See also La Plata County profile.
For photos and the rest of the story, see Lion’s Den Shelter, under Projects.
Forgive the late notice. The Aurora History Museum exhibit on the Civilian Conservation Corps continues through October 5th. Worth checking out, the exhibit includes many excellent, rarely seen photos from Colorado State Archives, as well as some from Denver Mountain Parks and Mile High Chapter 7 collections.
Last week, we went to the museum to present a talk on the CCC’s role in developing parks in the Front Range, called “From Poverty to Parks.” For this brown bag session, the room filled to capacity and those present seemed to appreciate the information provided. We even met a former CCC enrollee who shared his story! I hope to have excerpts from the presentation online here within a couple of weeks.
Contributions from the Loveland Historical Society, the University of Colorado Boulder Visual Resource Center, and other online sources enabled us to present a reasonably coherent view of park development from Fort Collins to Trinidad, Colorado. Of course, the MHC7 collections complemented the effort. I expect to be taking the presentation to Loveland next spring, and we’re available to share it elsewhere in the Front Range region as well. Email us at milehighchapter7 AT gmail DOT com to plan a presentation.
What’s next? How about a project to capture our own photos of CCC-built features in the Front Range? Please send us photos you capture of historic CCC sites in Colorado to help us create a complete story of the CCC in Colorado. (We know this is a long-term project!)
p.s. The “Wolves and Wild Lands” exhibit next to the CCC one is well worth visiting too!
Every now and then, we run across material in our research that helps us latter-day Americans understand what it was like to serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, we created a new “Perspective” page to share quotes and writings from the 1930s that help us empathize with those who served and gain a better idea of their lives in the CCC.
We hope you like it!
Thanks to extensive research and other efforts by Sharon Danhauer, of the Loveland Historical Society, we have now posted a camp profile for Namaqua Camp, SP-9-C. Although the camp itself is gone, Sharon did a great job documenting the buildings in Loveland Mountain Park that were built by the men of Namaqua Camp in 1935.
We’re moving here to expand what we have to offer as resources on CCC camps, companies, and projects in Colorado. Please bear with us as we get this new site up and running, or visit our original blog at Colorado CCC (V 1.0 on blogger), where a record of our previous activities is archived.
With more than 100 camps across the state, Colorado benefitted directly and diversely from efforts of the CCC. We’ve posted a couple stories already, but have many more to come!
Thanks for stopping by; please come again and help us honor the men who created a great CCC legacy here in Colorado.