Civilian Conservation Corps camps were really like small towns, with just about everything an enrollee would need to live and work and thrive – well almost everything. In the early phases of the program, camps were of permanent construction, sometimes built using enrollee labor and sometimes built by local construction crews. Once the CCC work was done in an area, the camps were often turned over to the local community or simply abandoned with portable equipment and material being salvaged for use elsewhere. Eventually the expense of this practice began to come home to Robert Fechner, the director of the CCC and in 1936 it was decreed that all future CCC camps would be made up of portable structures, built from a pre-cut standard design. This decision was hailed by local officials. (It is also worth pointing out that some architecture historians claim that portable buildings really didn’t come into being until after the U.S. entry into World War II, but the fact of the matter is that the CCC was doing it long before 1941.) With the switch to portable buildings, the camp plan was also standardized, in that it called for each camp to have four barracks buildings, one mess hall, one classroom building, one latrine building, bath houses, and twelve additional structures to house camp officers and for other camp operational functions.
While the building types remained constant after 1936, the configuration of CCC camps varied from region to region and from location to location, due to differences in topography, geography and the availability of a potable water source. Some camps were arranged around a central, open area where company formations were held and other camps were arranged in neat rows, often tightly grouped to make the best use of available space on a small, open piece of flat ground.
So then, let’s have a look at Company 642 and their community at CCC Camp Riley Creek, F-3-(WIS) in Fifield, Wisconsin to see if we can get a feel for how the enrollees lived and played in their small “town.” These images come from a series of photos taken at the camp in October 1940.
A closer look at camp commander Schmeichel and his staff. For some reason, the foremen from the technical service are not pictured with the group, but they would have been men from the U.S. Forest Service or possibly a state department of forestry. For the purposes of our analogy, these men represent the mayor and town council of our little town.
Company 642 included 10 leaders and 16 assistant leaders. This young man has been promoted to a leader position as evidenced by the three stripes on his sleeves. Additionally, he carries some other rating, which is unclear, but may be a first aid insignia.
Not all the enrollees sport the CCC shoulder patch, which could indicate that this was a private purchase item. This smiling fellow does have the CCC shoulder patch on his left shoulder.
This young man has a variant of the CCC patch: a shield with the letters “CCC” over an image of a surveying transit and a pine tree.
This guy elected to display his CCC patch in a rather unorthodox way: sewn to the front of his uniform trousers.
Company 642 had a few tough customers….
...and a few who seemed to always be having a good time.
Company 642 also had a few fellows who looked to be barely out of high school.
Of course, Camp F-3-W was like many, many CC camps in that it had at least one pet or mascot. In this case it’s man’s best friend, but some camps claimed bear, deer and raccoons as pets.
Here is a view of the camp mess hall and the interior of one of the barracks. In the mess hall you can see the kitchen area off to the right. The camp commander and his staff may have taken their meals at the single table at the back corner of the building. Interestingly enough, camp commanders and technical service foremen did not eat in the mess hall for free, but were charged for meals eaten in the camps.
This view shows the camp canteen and library. Small items like candy, combs, pipes and smoking tobacco were offered for sale in the camp canteen, which was run by an enrollee. The funds usually went toward the purchase of items to improve camp life.
Thus ends our virtual tour of Camp Riley Creek F-3-W in Fifield, Wisconsin. In pondering these young men as they looked in October 1940, it’s important to consider that many of them probably went into the military not too very long after these photos were taken. It’s sad to think that some of these bright, eager faces may not have returned from the World War they went off to fight. Likely, they would prefer that we remember them for their service in helping stamp out totalitarianism and we certainly do remember and honor their service, but we’d do well to also remember a more peaceful time that no doubt shaped their perceptions of democracy and fairness, ultimately leading to that most significant of sacrifices. We should also remember those who survived and went on to have useful, vital, productive lives. Certainly our thanks go out to all of them, the residents of this tidy little town near Fifield, Wisconsin.