Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy
"Passing the Legacy to Future Generations"  

Allan Phelps-Camp Zigzag 1938-39

Allan Phelps served at Camp ZigZag in 1938 - 1939.  His story tells about his experience as a CCC enrollees working on the grounds of Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.  Today, Timberline Lodge is a premier example of the work done by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  

Allan also served in Alaska and Denali National Park. 

Thanks to his wife Berniece who shared his story with us.  The couple was very active in Chapter 5 in Seattle and Berniece served as president in the last years of Chapter activity.  

I, Allan Richard Phelps, was born February 20, 1921 in Portland Oregon.  My folks moved to Mulino Oregon when I was six years old.  My father died just before my tenth birthday.  Life was difficult for my Mom to care for five children aged 6 to 15 years of age.  As soon as my two older brothers turned seventeen they each took a six month job with the CCC’s.

Shortly after my 17th birthday I too joined the CCC’s.  I served 18 months, from April 1938 until October 1939.  One year of that time was at Camp Zigzag near Mt. Hood Oregon; and six months was in the Territory of Alaska at Camp Denali on Mt. McKinley.  (Camp Zigzag was the first camp in Oregon.  Company 928 was active from May 12,1933 until October, 1941.)

While at Camp Zigzag, I worked with the crew maintaining the parks in the area.  We built trails, outdoor firepits, camping fireplaces, and on week-ends we could be “deputized” to serve as parking assistants at nearby Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.  During that time, the Lodge had Saint Bernard dogs that were used in mountain rescue service.  The dogs had free run of the lobby of the lodge and could be found lounging in front of the mammoth stone fireplace.  The dogs didn’t move for people, we all just walked around them.  (Timberline Lodge, was built from native timber and volcanic rock 6,000 feet above sea level on the shoulder of Mt. Hood.  Work was done by the Works Progress Administration.  Construction began in 1936, was dedicated in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and construction was completed in 1938.  The CCC Boys helped with landscaping, trail building, and many other projects in and around the lodge.  In 1977, the Lodge became a National Historic Landmark.) 

The year 1938 was a summer of forest fires throughout the northwest.  The air was so full of smoke, the temperature so hot and the sun shone orange from so much smoke.  During that fire season we fought fires from near Quilcene and Forks Washington.  It was my introduction to fire fighting as well as mountain goat climbing due to the extremely steep mountain slopes we had to climb.  

Our next fire was near Estacada, Oregon.  It was a crest of the ridge fire and the water source was a creek in the bottom of the ravine.  We used portable pump cans to carry water.  We carried the pump cans on our backs.  The cans held 5-10 gallons of water.  I think that on each trip up the steep slope we manage to spill half of the water on our backs.  It kept us cool.  It was our responsibility to mop up small fires on the trails.  

Our next fire trip was to Gold Beach Oregon to set back-fires; but we were moved to Crescent City California to regroup to go to Grants Pass Oregon to a gold mine in the mountains northeast of town.  We hiked into the area at night.  We wore head lanterns to see the trail.  It was our job to control the fire by building and maintaining the trails surrounding the mine.  The mine was an actively working mine and the family who owned it was on the premises, thus making our job all the more important.  

Trail building was a developed skill.  Trails were approximately four feet wide.  First the axe yielders cut down the trees, next two fellow with a cross cut say would cut the trees into lengths so that they could be moved from the trail.  The last with hoedads (a one sided cutting hoe) to clean the trail to bare soil including digging out any roots to prevent underground fires.  (A fire in a pitch filled root could smolder for days before breaking through the dirt and burning anything flammable and maybe cause a new fire.)  After we had the area around the mine cleared and the fire contained the family at the mine had a very generous meal ready for all of the hungry fellows. 

In between the fire fighting trips our maintenance work also included planting acres of trees on the slopes of the mountain in the Mt. Hood National Forest.

During the winter months, I worked in the truck service shops.  I took the exams and received my certification in Diesel Engine Mechanics and was now a mechanic’s helper.  I had always enjoyed mechanical work and found the shop work to my liking.        

In the spring of 1939, the call went out for volunteers for work in Alaska.  I was one of seven fellows selected from Camp Zigzag to go to Camp Denali on Mt. McKinley.  It was an exciting trip by ferry to the Territory of Alaska.  Our projects was to work on the water system that was being built for use in the park.  The ground was frozen and covered with snow making the job very difficult.  Later we spent our time doing landscaping on the trials in the park.  We had 23 hours of daylight during the mid-summer.  We took advantage of daylight and spent our free time hiking the trails on the mountain.  Our six months of service ended on September 20, 1939.  Our daylight hours were considerable shorter by this time and we were ready to leave.   

I returned to Camp Zigzag for eighteen days while waiting my discharge from the CCC.  It had been a wonderful experience for me and in many ways I wished I could stay longer.  I returned to Mulino to work in the logging industry.  

My eighteen months in the service of the CCC was the best training in work ethics and discipline that I, or any other young man could have experienced.  Yes, I  went in as a boy but returned as a man.  It prepared me for six years of military service from December 8, 1941 until November 1947.  One month after enlisting in the U.S. Navy I boarded the ship the USS Indianapolis.  I served as an aviation Machinist Mate aboard the Indianapolis until I was transferred to shore duty in November 1944.  I left the Navy from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in November 1947 to return to civilian life.  For 36 years I worked as a General Repair Machinist for the same company in Seattle Washington.  I retired in July 1987.  

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