Flood Fighters are Born

One of the primary purposes of the California Conservation Corps is to have hand crews available for rapid response to emergencies throughout the state. As the fall rains come, signaling the end of the disastrous 2017 fire season, we are reminded that natural disasters can occur at any time of the year in California. With the rains come the threat of flooding.

California Conservation Corps crews around the north state have begun flood response training. Seven crews involving about 100 Corpsmembers from Redding, Chico, and Yreka assembled at a Redding CalTrans maintenance yard on November 16 to learn the essentials of filling, moving, and laying sandbags. The crews rotated around five different work stations to lean each of five essential skills to flood fighting.

There is more to sandbagging than you might think. The sandbags must not be filled too much, or they will not fit together snugly to build waterproofs walls. It might look easy to carry one of these properly filled sandbags a few yards, but when the demand is for thousands of sandbags to be moved as quickly as possible, and over a twelve-hour shift in the rain and wind, there are proper techniques to learn which will prevent injuries and keep Corpsmembers going through those long hours.
































Continue reading “Flood Fighters are Born”

2017 Klamath Backcountry Interviews

This week we hear from several members of the 2017 Klamath Backcountry trail crew.



All photos courtesy of the California Conservation Corps and the Backcountry Trails Program.

If you are a former Corpsmember and would like to share your story, contact us at grinningdwarf@gmail.com . We would love to weave your story into the tapestry of the CCC experience, because every Corpsmember has a story worth telling. Former staff are welcome to share their stories as well!

Thank you.

2017 Kings Canyon Backcountry Interviews

This week we hear from several members of the 2017 Kings Canyon Backcountry trail crew.


All photos courtesy of the California Conservation Corps and the Backcountry Trails Program.

If you are a former Corpsmember and would like to share your story, contact us at grinningdwarf@gmail.com . We would love to weave your story into the tapestry of the CCC experience, because every Corpsmember has a story worth telling. Former staff are welcome to share their stories as well!

Thank you.

Corpsmember Profile: Bill George

Bill George sent us a CM Profile of his years at the Fricot City Academy and Yountville Center in the early ’80s.

After my graduation from high school in 6/82 I had no plans. I worked a few dead end jobs for the next year with no direction in life.

Finally in 9/83 my older brother told me about the CCC, and I had two choices. That or military.

I applied to join the CCC shortly after.

Within two weeks I received a letter from the CCC welcoming me and hoping I was ready for a year of HARD work LOW pay and MISERABLE CONDITIONS and it was written just like that!!

I had a report date of 10-1-83 to CCC headquarters in Sac. After my intake, I boarded an old grey bus to Calaveras County in the town of San Andreas to the Fricot Academy. I would spend my first three weeks here. Three weeks of sheer hell!!

I think we started with 20-30 (rough guess) on our crew and the same amount on the other ten crews as well (again rough guess). So out of 300 recruits there were available spots for maybe 75-100. It was the academy’s job to trim down to the proper amount in three weeks.

They ran us into the ground from the first moment we were there, and it continued until we were down to the proper amount of recruits. We ran, hiked, cut trails among other things constantly. Out of a 24 hour day we had 9 hours to ourselves, 8 of those hours we were sleeping.

Finally when we were down to the proper amount of recruits that they had available spots for all the torture ended!! We had succeeded!!

The next day our perspective centers arrived to pick us up.

I was on my way to Yountville center.

Yountville Sign Sherryl Jones

Yountville Bldg Sherryl Jones

I was prepared to pull in the center and get screamed at the moment I got out of the van, like we did at Fricot. Much to my surprise, they seemed happy to see the five of us. I was shown my sleeping area to put my bags away then given the opportunity to clean up before dinner. Dinner was amazing, you actually were fed enough to get full!!

Shortly after dinner they had a meeting of the center to welcome the newcomers.

The following day we were up at 6am roll call for PT instead of the 5am wake up at the academy.

PT was a fraction of what it was at the academy, with a fraction of the running and you didn’t have CLCs/ACLs every 10 feet screaming at you!!

After PT and breakfast we all prepared for the day and the crews we would be on at our daily am meeting.

My first month was spent in center on the maintenance crew basically janitorial work.

I then got on a crew led by C1 Jim Daniels working on the grade. I spent the next 10 months on that crew. We worked on many different projects with CalTrans, Department of Fish and Game, and Department of Water Resources, just name a few. We did stream clearance, levy erosion control, many, many hours of sandbagging during the floods, as well as trail construction. In September 1984 they created a crew on the grounds of the veteran’s home to help the tradesmen with different projects.

Having only another month left before the year was up it was my intention to become a specialist.

One of the many projects they had was building signs for all of the different buildings on the vet’s home. The project was supposed last for about a month.

Shortly before the project was over the cement mason of the vet’s home went to our center director, Ernie Thompson, and asked to keep me working with him. I was then promoted to green hat and given my second year in the Corp.

It was the best two years of my life, the conservation Corps help me tremendously.

After my days in the Corps I went into the auto repair trade. I worked for Ford Motor Company for 25 years, then went into business for myself. I opened a mobile auto business for my final 5 years in the trade, retiring two years ago.

The Corps taught me discipline and responsibility.

I enjoyed it so much that after 30 years of being out of the Corps, I have just submitted my application to come back as a C1.

Photos of Yountville Center courtesy of former Corpsmember Sherryl Jones.

Challenges and Pionjars

Today we hear a little more of Shawna Lemos’s story.

I’m a pretty competitive person. Naturally I had a lot of pride trying to hike in to our job site and be first! To challenge myself, I would offer to carry the heaviest tools. The most challenging tools to carry were a 65 pound Pionjar or the largest chainsaw. It wasn’t until I met our new Supervisor (Terrance Johnson) that I was given the biggest challenge! He discussed an opportunity to be a leader within our crew and I accepted the goal with open arms. At first, I was given organizational tasks. He allowed me to make a checklists and get us ready for Spikes! I enjoyed making sure equipment was ready and delegating. There were a few deeper lessons to be learned though. One day Terrance sent me out to hike into a worksite, but requested I be last. I pretty much complained and took it out on the guy that hiked the slowest. I think I prob did that for a week straight! (Poor guy!) Terrance checked in one day and held me waaaaay back from the crew. He asked me if my attitude was helping the slow guy in ANY way. You know what? It didn’t help him, or me, or the crew at all! So I started encouraging him instead. It didn’t make him faster, but it did change my outlook from selfish to being more team minded. I’ve used this lesson in many areas of my life including parenting! I’m so grateful for the many challenges the C’s have given me.

Shawna shows one of the best things that good C1s in  the CCC do: develop Corpsmembers and make them better people. Corpies learn these lessons and take them wherever else they go in life.

As you read Shawna’s piece, if you were not in the CCC, you might have asked “What’s a Pionjar?”

A Pionjar is a specific brand of gasoline-powered rock drill.

Pionjar Demonstration

If you click on the above link and watch the video, you will see a basic demonstration of how the Pionjar is used. An interesting note: the narrator in the video pronounces Pionjar as ‘PYON-yar.’ It is a Scandinavian company, so that pronunciation is probably correct, but that video is the first time I had ever heard it pronounced that way. Corpies and NPS trail workers in the United States in my experience have always pronounced it ‘POON-jar’. It’s fun to say! Try it: POON-jar. 🙂

Why would anybody need to drill into rock? There could be several reasons. We might need to drill holes to place explosives into to blow up big rocks. We do this for trails, and we also do this for salmon habitat restoration, if a huge boulder that has rolled down into a streambed is causing debris to back up against it in high water and cause flooding.

We drill into rock in order to quarry big rocks into little rocks, to use in trail construction and maintenance.

We might need to drill into rock to anchor posts for fences or any of other many uses. In the Cobra video below, it looks like the workers are going to be anchoring a post for some sort of construction.

Pionjar is not the only company that makes these types of rock drills. I have also used Cobra rock drills, and I’m sure there are others.

Shawna did not have any available photos of a Pionjar for this piece, so I asked around at several Facebook CCC groups, such as California Conservation Corps former Corpsmembers and CCC Backcountry Trails Alumni, to see if anybody did have pictures. Sure enough, several former Corpsmembers came through with pics.

Karen Kollar Nancy Martin Stan 91

This pic is from Nancy Martin, of Karen Kollar operating a Pionjar on the Stanislaus Backcountry crew in 1991.


E Moreira P Martinez Inyo Modoc Redw 89

This pic of Eddie Moreira and Peter Martinez on the Inyo-Modoc-Redwoods crew in 1989, shows how the Pionjar is used to quarry rock. (Eddie provided the pic.) Holes are drilled in a line across the rock, and then something called ‘pins and feathers’ are used to split the rock. If you look closely at the steel sticking out of the holes, you can see there are three parts there. The long middle part is the ‘pin’ The shorter curved pieces around it are called the ‘feathers’. The feather are inserted first. The pin is placed between them. They are placed in all of the holes in the line. Then a double jack (or sledge hammer) is used to hit the pins down into the holes. All of the pins are hit evenly. As the pin goes deeper, the feathers are forced apart, and eventually, the big rock will split into little rocks along that line. This way, trail crews can quarry whatever sized rocks they need for their construction projects out of materials that are close by.

Eric Vanderleest

This pic shows Eric Vanderleest in Yosemite National Park in 1982. (Eric’s brother, Wayne Vanderleest, provided the photo.) Backcountry trail crews get very creative in using Pionjars in all sorts of positions.

Like Shawna said in her piece, these large heavy pieces of equipment might get shipped into camp on a mule, but they are usually transported on the backs of the trail workers from camp to the work sites.

Just another day of Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions…and More!


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