Dan Price now lives in Wellington, but spent two years living out of tents during his CCC years.
Dan Price carries the weight of 90 years on his shoulders, so his pace is slow and measured as he eases himself into his living room chair and plunks a handful of photos on the coffee table. One of those pictures, not much bigger than a postage stamp, torn and stained, is 72 years old.
It shows a half-dozen young men posing beside a government-issued truck. "That's me on the left," he says. Dan and the other guys were all crew members of the Civilian Conservation Corps at the Veyo Camp near St. George.
A bit of background: The CCC was a national work program launched by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration during the Great Depression in 1933. Its objective during its nine-year life span was to create work for young men by improving the infrastructure on public lands. Some of those projects, like the San Rafael River Bridge at Buckhorn Draw, are still around. In all, some 46,000 workers took part over those years, roughly half of them from Utah, the rest from out of state. There were 116 camps in 27 counties in Utah built and taken down at various times.
For building, digging, weeding, tree planting, dam construction and the like - all with hand tools -- men aged 19 to 25 earned $30 a month.
"I never saw the $30," Mr. Price recalls. The government sent $25 to the families back home, which in his case was the family ranch in Emery County. "So I was working for $5 a month. It taught you to be thrifty. But what more could you ask for? The government gave us food, our tents, our uniforms."
The uniforms were because the program was administered by the Army. The clothes were World War I surplus, and Mr. Price remembers they were itchy wool with tight legs. He says a lot of the guys had seamstresses - their mothers or girlfriends - sew darts in the legs to provide a little more room.
He enlisted in the Spring of 1938, a few years after his brother Owen had led the way. After his physical in Salt Lake, he boarded the train for Veyo and Group 959 F-11. For the next two years, home was a tent, five men to a tent, 200 men in camp. Veyo was winter quarters, Duck Creek - way up in the mountains - was summer camp.
Life in camp was conducted with military discipline, from reveille to taps. The day's activities began with calisthenics, then breakfast, then the flag raising ceremony. Then it was off to work, which could have meant maintenance or construction, or the mandatory 30 days per year on KP duty in the mess hall.
Mr. Price worked on Forest Service land most of the time. Other camps across the state and nation handled projects for the National Park Service, the Division of Grazing (now the BLM), and on Indian lands.
One of the first projects he worked on was the relocation of the Washington County camp from Pinto to Veyo. They had to build warehouses and shops and a 14-holer outhouse, so he learned carpentry. He and his new friend Grant Demarest also became the plumbing department, installing the showers and culinary water system. At Duck Creek, the crews went to work on relocating native plants and trees to the ranger station and campground. They also chopped down and trimmed a lot of cedar trees for fences. "We didn't have chain saws or backhoes," he says. "It was all axes and shovels." After six months on the job, he became a truck driver and learned a new set of skills.
The CCC also was responsible for fighting forest fires. He remembers one big blaze in a roadless area of high mountains. "We had to walk to it from noon to sundown on the first day. Meals came up on pack mules." After the fire was brought under control after a few days, the crew was wrapping up after dinner. The cook inadvertently dumped hot ashes on a patch of cheat grass and they had to stomp down a wildfire in their own camp.
He smiles as he recalls that life was not all work. On weekends, the army furnished a recreation truck for trips to St. George for movies or dances. Remember the $5 per month take-home pay? Well, a night's lodging in St. George was only a dollar, while lunch at Dick's Cafe (still in business) was about the same.
He can talk for hours about the memories and the jobs, but he keeps coming back to the most important thing he learned: "I learned how to work, and how to take orders, and how to get along with many different people," he says.
All those projects added up to an impressive amount of on-the-job training for a young man. Or so you'd think. When Mr. Price left the CCC in 1940, he looked around for a job and found out that Thorn Construction was hiring for road and bridge building near Moore in Emery County.
At the interview, the prospective boss asked him about his experience. "I told him I had just spent two years with the CCC as a truck driver. He said to me, 'Well, that ain't a hell of a recommend, but I'll give you a try anyway.'"
So he entered the world of private enterprise, and stayed with it, using the skills he had picked up out in the boondocks of Southwestern Utah. You can see some of his early work on that post-CCC job on the way to East Carbon. His crew built the footers for the coke ovens you pass as you enter U-123 from Highway 6.
He never went back to work at the family ranch.