AUSTIN, Texas —Former Portales and Clovis resident Hermon Elliott remembers his years in the Civilian Conservation Corps as some of the best years of his life. He said he attended dances, swam in Colorado’s warm artesian wells and even saved up enough money to buy his first car.
Elliott, 86, was among CCC alumni who gave accounts of their experiences in developing and building Texas parks last weekend at Bastrop State Park to celebrate the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing the work initiative into legislation in 1933.
“I thought I was the only person in the CCC alive,” said Elliott, who moved to Brenham, Texas, about a year ago. He was proven wrong at the reunion, which brought together men crediting with planting three billion trees from 1933 to 1942.
“We got up at 6 a.m. for breakfast, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. we worked for the forest service planting trees, building jetties and roads, hauling rocks to prevent erosion, and landscaping,” Elliott said. “After dinner, I ran the canteen and worked as a barber to make extra money.”
Elliott settled in Portales after serving in the U.S. Army and ran an auto repair business with his son, Larry.
The money wasn’t always big, as South Carolina alum Walter Atwood said.
“I only made $30 a month — $25 went home to my family and $5 stayed with me,” said Atwood, who went on to work at the Pentagon.
Besides, there were other benefits — such as education.
“Many of these men had only an eighth-grade education, so the CCC provided one of the first GED programs in the country,” said Janelle Taylor, organizer of the Texas CCC 75th Reunion event and infrastructure division head of the Texas Parks the Wildlife Division.
Projects accomplished during the nine years of the CCC camps are the development of more than 800 state parks and the creation of more than 28,000 miles of trails, 38,550 vehicle bridges and 3,100 lookout towers.
Lisa Smith is a freelance writer and the granddaughter of Hermon Elliott.