Many of us will long remember Fred B. Helsley of Columbia Furnace, Virginia. Like Moon Mullins who has gone before him, he was a long time supporter of the Civilian Conservation Corps and played an important part in serving as the impetus so the CCC Legacy Foundation could go forward. Mr. Helsley did help to “pass the legacy to the next generation.”
In 1996, Chanda Helsley Barkdoll wrote a paper as part of her college studies. Excepts from this paper will serve as the memorial tribute to her grandfather, Fred B. Helsley.
Excerpt from “Camp Roosevelt” - By Chanda Helsley Barkdoll
...In order to better understand the history of Camp Roosevelt, the focus will be put on the stories of four men. These men all experienced the same atmosphere but from different perspectives. They came from several areas, with numerous varied experiences, and diverse outlooks. Although the history is the same, the definition is different.
In 1933, a young man by the name of Fred B. Helsley went into the town of Woodstock to enlist with the Forestry Service (CCC). He was accepted and sent to Fort Humphries for two weeks, then to Skyline Drive. What he found there was a camp made of tents, permanent structures were not built.
The conditions were not always suitable. One morning when he awake he found snow on his pillow. When it rained, the men would loosen the reigns on the tent in order to keep the tents from washing away. If it was windy they would tighten the reigns, so they would not blow away. The camp consisted of ten tents and two-hundred men. They built five barracks, a mess hall, a bath house, and a recreation room. The day they moved into the barracks from the tent it was sleeting and snowing.
Duties included sloping and sodding banks, landscaping, building roads and trails, fighting forest fires, and cutting wood. Mr. Helsley was in charge of twenty men. His title was that of Squad leader, he hadn’t been there very long before he was given this position.
The men receive $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to the family. Those who had been in for a while received $36 a month and were allowed to keep $11 for themselves. As Squad Leader, Mr. Helsley received $45 a month, $30 of which was sent home.
For recreation the men played baseball, football, or cards, and went into Charlottesville on Saturdays to see a show. They could only take two trucks into Charlottesville. Some men could not go because of punishment. When it snowed Lt. (Dr.) Murray would tie ropes behind the trucks and put the men on skis.
The first winter at camp was unpleasant. The February of 1934 they only worked ten days cutting wood. The men often burned their pants when attempting to get warm. It was considerably cold, they often found their shoes frozen to the floor. The second winter was not as unfavorable because they had received a coal furnace, although someone had to stay up and watch it through the night.
Lt. (Dr.) Murray referred to Mr. Helsley as simply Helsley. The doctor wanted Helsley to catch a rattlesnake for him so he went and caught two for him and put them in a cage. He took out the fangs of them both and the two of them treated the snakes like pets. After one died they discovered that both had grown new fangs. In fact Helsley was very good at catching snakes. He would take a stick and tie a fork on to it with a loop and slip it over the snakes head and then pick it up. He caught many copperheads and rattlesnakes, which were then sent to Baltimore. Although, he was not quite sure why they wanted live snakes, it appears it was for the medication to combat snake bites. The Forest Service would send them to a laboratory. Helsley was the only one who would trap them. He never was bitten by a poisonous snake but recalls being bitten by several black snakes. He also took the stomachs of hawks, skunks, and turkeys and put them in formaldehyde and sent them away.
Fighting forest fires was one of the most tiring jobs. In order to fight the fires, the men would rack out a fire line by removing debris. They then would light back fires and patrol it. Thus stopping the fire from continuing any further.
During his stay in the CCC, Mr. Helsley had the opportunity to sit on stage with President Roosevelt and hear him speak. After leaving the CCC, Mr. Helsley returned home, but not for long. Mr. Wilkins, head of Camp Roosevelt, asked for him to become a forest service foreman. Mr. Helsley taught men how to drive the trucks and do carpentry work.
In 1944, like most young men his age, Mr. Helsley was examined for the Army. They found a spot on his lungs and he was sent to Charlottesville for ten months. The spot was tuberculosis.
He had to be sent into a sanatorium for treatment. When he returned to Edinburg, he worked as a carpentry foreman with Newman Building Materials. However, he continued to be the Fire Warden for the Department of Forestry Department until the age of 65, at which time he handed the position over to his youngest son, Randy.