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James Murphy and author Marty Podskoch at a CCC reunion in Winthrop.
James Murphy and author Marty Podskoch at a CCC reunion in Winthrop.

Memories of hard work during tough times

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Eighty years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps. The organization provided much needed employment to young men in the midst of the Great Depression.

From 1933 to 1942, more than two-million men helped plant trees in hundreds of parks across the country. They also fought forest fires, and built dams and public roadways. The CCC's results can still be seen today. And the memories of that era are still strong for 93-year-old James Murphy, of Massena. Murphy shared his thoughts at a CCC reunion last Sunday night in Winthrop. He told Todd Moe that he was 18 in 1938 and like many of his buddies in Buffalo, jobless.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

When people looked for jobs, employers wanted experience. James Murphy and his friends had no experience. Murphy says, “We said to them, how can we get experience if we can’t get a job any place? Then we learned of the three C’s.” Murphy got a letter to come and work for the C’s. His friends got jobs elsewhere and Murphy went by himself.

“I went to Fort Dix and then got on a train and traveled 3 days across the country. Trains were slow those days. It took us three days to get to Nevada. They bussed us to Winnemucca, and from there we went about 100 miles into Paradise Valley, which was where our camp was, camp 1212.”

The men helped clear roads and fight fires. “We did one terrible job in the spring there. They had the willows growing all along the creek and we had an axe to chop them off. It was no fun because if you didn’t hit them exactly right, the willow would come back and hit you across the face.” There were 200 men all together in the camp. One group was caught in a fire and five men were killed. Murphy led a stone masonry group which built a monument for them.

After Nevada he was transferred to Cascade, Idaho—to a camp called Warm Lake up in the mountains. The men fought forest fires there. Murphy says, “That was sometimes completely scary. An experience there that no one should ever have.” Some of the men were killed by "widow makers," which is a branch that falls without warning from high in a tree.

The men were paid twelve dollars a month and eight of it went to their family. When Murphy became a leader of the group, he got twenty-four dollars and eighteen of it went to his family.

Murphy says, “The colonel ran us like we were in the Army. We had to stand at attention when he said stand at attention. If you didn’t, you were in trouble. He [the sergeant] said, 'I’m going to teach you how to make a bed.’ So while he was telling them how to make it, I went over and made my bed.”

Murphy says that the sergeant would drop a quarter on the bed. If it didn’t bounce, the bed was torn apart and remade until the quarter did bounce. The sergeant asked Murphy how he knew to make his bed properly. Murphy told him that he was in the three C’s. “He checked my bed and said this is what a bed should look like.”

The men had to sign up for six months. They had the choice to either leave or resign. Out of 200 men about half stayed and half resigned. Murphy says, “When the guys were getting on the truck to go, you never saw such crying in your life. It was something I could never forget. Because you know, men aren’t supposed to be like that. They’re supposed to be tough.”

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