The New CCC Camp
I had heard such terrible reports about the CCC camp at Canajo-harie that going there alone seemed rather risky business. And so I took Sheriff Ed Jackson along for bodyguard. Good thing I had Ed to vouch for me, too, because the chances were that I wouldn't have been let in. Captain Paul Tillinghast, Q.M.C., U.S.A., was not kindly disposed toward newspaper men by reason of some of the stories that have been written about his force. He had battled with an up-county editor the day previous, and having a columnist drop in with the announcement that he intended to stay to chow was almost too much. But we all put our cards on the table and what I was able to find out about the CCC during our stay ought to serve the dual purpose of laying low some of the rumors that have been drifting around the valley and at the same time dispel some of the general haziness that surrounds this part of the National Recovery program.
The first thing to be made clear is the distinction between veterans' camps and transient camps -- in other words between the Canajoharie and St. Johnsville layouts. Canajoharie has a Federal project and the campers are all former service men, while St. Johnsville's is a State plan, a concentration point from which men are sent to their homes after their wanderings have been made to no good purpose. The men in charge at Canajoharie are all regular Army officers, and assisting Captain Tillinghast are Lieutenant E.K. Whitford of the 368th Engineers and Lieutenant J.J. O'Donovan of the 26th Infantry. Of the 16 men acting as kitchen police, 14 saw overseas service during the World War and many were wounded in action. Just bear that in mind in case you should happen to hear somebody say that these follows at Canajoharie are just "a bunch of bums who ought never to be allowed to don the uniform of Uncle Sam."
Where are they from? Well, that is a general question that must receive a general answer. Most of the 156 on the roster are from Greater New York and Jersey. They were sent to Canajoharie during the latter part of June when the Government ordered a decentralization of the corps from the New England area. This is the third veterans' camp to be established in the State. They are not youngsters, and nearly all of them have seen better days, being victims of the depression who are merely marking time before getting a fresh start under more favorable circumstances. One of the men recently discharged returned to New York to open an eating house after securing a loan of $7,000 from a bank. (Which isn't bad at all. Could you get that amount from a bank?) Another member still in camp is Aaron Brown. Maybe the name isn't familiar, but you've heard of "Happy Days Are Here Again," haven't you? Well, Brown is the composer of that song hit. One of his recent compositions was given to the Canajoharie band, fully scored, after that group of musicians had played a concert at the camp last week.
And now you will want to know what they are doing up there? At present they are laying a two-inch water line from the village to the camp. But that is a little outside of the regular schedule -- work done by special permission, owing to the emergency. Once the camp is organized they will begin conservation operations in the Town of Charleston under the direction of David S. Findlay, Superintendent of Forestry, who is assisted by eight foremen. The present quarters are regular army tents, and construction is progressing on 13 frame buildings that will represent the permanent settlement. These include five barracks and administration buildings, being built by our own unemployed of the upper part of the county. These structures should be completed in two months. Everything is much like the Army except that the usual military discipline is lacking. Order is preserved by the squad leaders, who have been sworn in as deputies, and when it is seen that a man doesn't intend to behave, he is shipped home.
Now something about the business angle of this thing. The minimum pay is $1 a day and the leaders and assistant leaders (corresponding to sergeants and corporals) receive as much as $45 per month. One-third of this is paid to the men, the rest being held pending their discharge or sent home to dependents at their option. About $100 per day is dispersed for food and other necessities and this, of course, means a merry tinkle on Canajoharie cash registers. Unexpended balances over and above this daily allowance of 42 cents per man go into a company fund, the present goal being the purchase of an electric ice box and a washing machine. (Watch the dangerous curves on that 5-S route, you local salesmen.) It is intended to establish a company canteen in the near future, and profits from this will likewise go into the general fund. Dr. Guy Houghton of Canajoharie is the camp physician and Dr. Richard Murnigham, formerly of this city, is the attendant dentist. In other words, the camp setup is quite complete.
As for the stories that have gone abroad "that bunch of bums," I found them to be greatly magnified. According to the best information that I received, some of the men (sent home since then) went to Canajoharie and got drunk. Six were arrested and some people were shocked. All you former doughboys with good memories of the pay-off days of '17, '18 and '19 will know what I mean when I say that these fellows must be getting old. It's a heluva Army when I say that these fellows must be getting old. It's a heluva Army where only six out of a couple of hundred get pinched. The old pep ain't there, that's all there is to it. These yarns get magnified because some of us aren't fair in matters of this kind. If I were to print the actual number of stews found in each community along the valley last Saturday night (I can't print the figures because I don't know them) you Main Streeters would have reason to be shocked. But, of course, they come from our "best families" and if they want to go out and get tight, it's nobody's business. When a CCC man gets drunk, that's different. Bah!
The proper thing for you folks to do who want to get the real lowdown on this thing is to drive out to the camp some night. It isn't far on the 5-S route and is about a mile east of Canajoharie. Captain Tillinghast's father was a native of Amsterdam. Lieutenant O'Dono-van's father was stationed at Canajoharie with the Second New York Regiment in 1917 prior to the departure to Camp Wadsworth. The officers don't feel strange in this part of the country and visitors won't feel strange at the camp. Tell the captain I said it would be O.K. for you to look around and he will help you to get the correct slant on what this thing means to the valley. Don't take the sheriff with you and don't ask when the chow is served. There are some things in this world that only a columnist can hope to get away with.
This was first published July 19, 1934.