Every Corpsmember has a story worth telling.
When I joined the California Conservation Corps in August, 1986, I was amazed by the diversity among my co-workers. I had been led to believe before I joined that the CCC was made up primarily of troubled youth. I found the reality to be much different. And in a good way!
Sure there were people one step ahead of trouble back home…and not always just with the law! But those people were in the minority. A lot of us were city, country, and suburban kids with no clear sense of direction. (And even at 21, I’d say I was still a kid in a lot of ways in 1986.)
My first boss at Del Norte Center was a woman from a middle class family in Marin County who had been a wildland fire fighter at Humboldt Center and a long time trail worker in Yosemite National Park. Michael Collins was on my crew. You might remember Michael’s brother, Kevin. Yeah…that Kevin Collins. Michael was one of the old timers on the crew who taught me what the CCC was all about.
The diversity never stopped. I met the first openly LGBT people that I had ever known were LGBT. Obviously, I really had met them before. I just hadn’t known it. Louis L’Amour once wrote that ‘trail dust is thicker than blood’, and in the forge of the daily grind of CCC work projects, ‘they’ quickly bonded into ‘we’ in the CCC family.
I lived and worked with people who came from all across the country; from the ranches of Healdsburg to the streets of New York City.
I watched a young lady with low self-esteem and no self-confidence blossom into an incredible human being. Qualifying to run chain saws on our crew was only her first step. She left our crew to take a CCC internship with CalTrans on a tree crew—running chain saws. She went on to a US Forest Service career as a Hot Shot fire fighter. Yeah…she gained confidence and self-esteem.
One guy who joined the CCC at the same time as I did and was on my crew at the training academy had hitchhiked from New York to California in four days, and was living in Golden Gate Park when he joined the CCC just to have a job.
Some people show up to the CCC with an already impressive resume. One of my best friends in the C’s already had a BA in English Lit. Another friend of mine came to the CCC with a bachelor’s degree in Sino-Soviet relations, and had been an English teacher in China for a year before deciding that teaching wasn’t her thing, and wanting to pursue third world reforestation. She came home from China, joined the CCC when she discovered that the CCC did tree planting and also offered a small scholarship upon completion of one year, and left the C’s after that year to pursue a second degree in forestry. (Scholarships today are much larger. You’ll learn about those sorts of things over time at CCC: Hard Corps.)
And there were people like my mentor, Terrance Johnson. T came from the streets of LA. When I showed up on the crew, he was working on his GED. He knew about human nature, and he knew how to lead people, and my friend T taught me that motivation counts for almost everything when you’re trying to accomplish something really, really hard. T taught me how to work; I helped T study for his GED. We learned that the best way to get through trying times is to have each other’s back.
I met people that were born in Hong Kong and Spain, Mexico and Ethiopia.
And these are just people that I knew. Multiply that number by thousands.
So, yeah, every Corpsmember has a story worth telling.
I kept waiting for somebody to write their story down. I kept looking for memoirs about working on a Backcountry trail crew, or firefighting in some of the worst fire seasons in the country. I waited and waited, and looked and looked. Nothing ever appeared.
Then I read that if you can’t find the book you want to read, maybe you should be the one to write it. I started working on my Backcountry trail crew memoir. I’m still working on that one. I also realized that the CCC story is so much bigger than just my story, and it has to be told, but it really isn’t. Not widely, anyway.
Then I learned about blogging, and it occurred to me that in addition to writing the book I’d like to read, maybe I can also be the one to collect all of the Corpsmember stories that I’d like to read, too.
Through the Internet, we can provide a place for those CCC stories to be told. We can provide a platform for Corpsmembers to share their incredible stories. And every Corpsmember has them.
If you are a former CCC member, we would love for you to share your story here. Follow the Contact Us information to the right side of this page. Send us your stories and your pics.
And we would like to welcome all of our visitors who were not CCC members. We hope you enjoy hearing our stories as much as we love telling them. Be sure to let others know we’re here, too!
George T. Parker