Place: Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters in Vancouver, Washington
Transcribed by Cynthia Toman, May 12, 2002 Introduction
Pete Paladeni was born on September 22, 1915, in Yacolt, Washington. Mr. Paladeni's family came from Italy and who eventually settled in the Yacolt, Washington, area on a dairy farm. Mr. Paladeni joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for the first time in September of 1934 by arriving at Lookout Mountain asking to join. He immediately began falling snags. Mr. Paladeni joined the CCC again in 1936 after being hurt at a logging camp between his enrollments in the CCC. In 1937, Mr. Paladeni became an employee of the USDA Forest Service as a junior foreman and worked for them until 1941. During Mr. Paladeni's time in the CCC and Forest Service he performed a variety of jobs, including snag falling, tree planting, time spent on lookouts, trail construction and maintenance, telephone line construction and maintenance, fire fighting and fire prevention, and a variety of miscellaneous jobs while assisting Ross Shepard, the ranger at Camp Hemlock. Mr. Paladeni performed in leadership roles during his time on the forest. Today Mr. Paladeni and his wife, Margaret Heidigger Paladeni, live on the family farm which is by road six miles west from Sunset Falls on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. On May 2, 2002, Cynthia Toman interviewed Mr. Paladeni at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. Mr. Paladeni's wife was also present.
In this inte1rview, conducted May 2, 2002, Mr. Paladeni discusses his life and work experiences on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest while with the CCC and employed by the Forest Service.
[Begin Side A, Tape 1 of 2]
CT: Today is May 2, 2002. This is tape 1, side A. We're at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. My name is Cindy Toman, and today I'm going to be interviewing Mr. Pete Paladeni about the CCC and the Forest Service and his past experiences. Present also today is Mr. Paladeni's wife, Margaret Heidigger Paladeni.
Could you please state your name, date, and place of birth?
PP: Pete Paladeni, September 22, 1915.
CT: And where were you born?
PP: Yacolt, Washington.
CT: When did your family first come to Yacolt?
PP: That I am not sure.
CT: Do you know where they came from?
PP: They came from Dee, Oregon. Previous to that, they came from Portland before coming from Italy.
CT: Do you know when they came from Italy?
PP: Not really. We have it in the family history, but I don't --
CT: A long time ago.
PP: That's for sure.
CT: Why did they come to the Northwest?
PP: I assume for the work possibilities, and so on, that were here that weren't available in some of the older countries.
CT: What experiences did you and your family have with the forest before you joined the CCC?
PP: I worked for them in 1933 and 1934 in planting trees in the Yacolt Burn.
CT: How many stints did you do? How many times did you sign up for the CCC?
PP: Two different times. Once in 1934 and then in the fall again of 1936. I went to work in a logging camp, and I got hurt, and the doctor advised me to take a little less strenuous type of work than a logging camp. So I went back in the CCs again.
CT: In 1936?
PP: Yes, the second time.
CT: How did you first hear about the CCC?
PP: Well, I think the first we heard would be -- there was a camp at Sunset, and the road to Sunset went right past the front of our house. You could see the trucks of the CC's going back and forth, and that's the way we kind of heard about what was going on.
CT: So that led to you joining the CCC?
PP: I would say yes.
CT: How did you go about joining the CCC? What was the first step?
PP: Well, somehow I got word that there was a camp at Lookout Mountain, a CCC camp, which was a summer type camp, and that if I were to go up there, I could sign up and go to work, and that's what I done somehow. I don't recall how I got to Lookout Mountain, which was quite a ways from home, but I went up and signed up and went right to work.
CT: Do you know how far that was from Yacolt?
PP: I would say probably -- just a moment now -- 30 miles.
CT: How did you get there?
PP: That I don't recall. I was thinking of that the other day, and, you know, it's been a few years.
CT: Did you go with friends?
PP: I don't recall just how I went up there.
CT: Did you just join there, or did you have to go somewhere else?
PP: No. Went there and joined right there at Lookout Mountain.
CT: And did you have to go to get training?
PP: No, no. I had done some snag falling with some of my older brothers.
CT: And what organization did you do that with?
PP: With our own home place where we were clearing land and so on.
CT: Was that involved in the Yacolt Burn, too?
PP: Yes, it was, and we still live there.
CT: So you live on a farm?
PP: A tree farm.
CT: What was it back then?
PP: Well, a kind of a dairy-type farm. We had some milk cows and some beef and hogs and so on. Times were harder then, and people tried to provide more for themselves in whichever way they could.
CT: So you joined at Lookout Mountain.
PP: That's right.
CT: And that was in 1934.
PP: Right. In September of 1934.
CT: What camp were you at?
PP: It was called Camp Hemlock. The main camp was at Hemlock, which is Wind River Ranger Station today.
CT: And you lived in the barracks there?
PP: At Lookout Mountain we lived in tents. At Hemlock we lived in the barracks.
CT: I'm a little confused.
CT: How long were you at Lookout Mountain?
PP: Till the snow came. The snow was higher elevation. The snow ran us out, and we went down to lower country.
CT: To Hemlock.
PP: That's right.
CT: What did you do at Lookout Mountain?
PP: Fell snags.
CT: And how did you go about doing that?
PP: Well, [laughs] like I said, I'd done some previous to that. And I went out the first morning with a young fellow that said he had done some snag falling or some tree falling, and we worked and worked and worked, but we didn't get very much done. I told the foreman the next morning that that young man and I just weren't getting it done. He said, Let's you and I fall a snag.” So we did. He said, “I'll have another man for you the next morning.” He had a man on the crew whose partner had gone driving truck, and the man was without a partner, so I got paired up with him, and we hit it off real good. So it made our work pretty easy.
CT: He knew what he was doing?
PP: Well, yes, he did because he'd been there and done it for some time.
CT: So do you know what happened to your first partner?
PP: No, I don't. I don't know just what happened to him.
CT: And who was your foreman during that time?
PP: A man by the name of Nig Brockman.
CT: So when the snow came you went to Camp Hemlock.
PP: That's right.
CT: And you lived in the barracks?
PP: That's right.
CT: So what did you do at Camp Hemlock?
PP: We fell snags down lower country where didn't have so much snow, and we could work most of the winter in there.
CT: Do you remember what your first day was like at Lookout Mountain?
PP: I remember getting started there and where we were at. I still go back there picking huckleberries sometimes, but that's about the extent of it.
CT: What would a typical day be like? What time would you get up when you were at Lookout Mountain?
PP: Well, I would think around 6:30 probably, and we'd have breakfast and go to work at 8:00. We'd line up and get on the trucks, and they would haul us out to where the work was.
CT: Did you pack a lunch?
PP: Oh, definitely. Oh, yes [laughs].
CT: How many men were at Lookout Mountain?
PP: I would guess in the neighborhood of 100 men. There were three snag falling crews and a trail crew and a telephone line crew and a little road crew.
CT: But during that time you fell snags?
PP: That's right. That's all I done.
CT: So how many men would be in a tent?
PP: I believe about five or six. We had a little stove in the middle, what they called a Sibley stove, and it heated the tent real well. We had wooden floors, and the sides were wooden up about three feet, so that gave us more head room in the tent.
CT: Did you sleep on cots?
PP: Well, no. They were kind of a -- I think that's right. Cots with a -- the mattress was a light canvass sack that we put straw in, and that worked fine till you'd used it quite a while, and it would break the straw up smaller till it lumped up. And you went down and dumped it and put some fresh straw in.
CT: Where were you getting the straw at?
PP: I don't know where it came from [laughs], but it was down over the hill. There was a place where we could get rid of it and get fresh straw.
CT: Okay. So you'd come in at what time after a day of falling snags?
PP: Four-thirty we would be back in camp, as I recall, take showers and so on, get ready for the evening meal.
CT: How were the showers set up?
PP: I don't really recall just how the shower setup was, whether it was an open-air affair. I don't recall. That was quite some time ago. Yes.
CT: So you'd come in for dinner after you cleaned up, but where would you eat?
PP: We had a cookhouse made out of lumber, kind of a permanent-type building that was the mess hall and cookhouse and so on.
CT: Was the mess hall already there when you got there?
PP: It was, yes. I believe the CC's started in 1933, and I don't how long before they'd used that, but I know they did from the spring of '34 till I went in, in the fall.
CT: Okay. I'd like to go back to Camp Hemlock.
CT: What did you do while you were at Camp Hemlock? Falling snags again.
PP: Through the winter. And then as time went on, I got into different types of work. I worked around the ranger station. The ranger was a man by the name of Ross Shepard, and his parents were neighbors to us where we lived there. And he kind of knew us slightly, and he kind of asked for me to go work over there around the ranger station which had different jobs to do. Some of it would be to get the packs ready for the pack string for the following day, and ten in the morning they had a little lookout house up on Bunker Hill. I would go up there and look out for fires during the day and come back in the evening in time to eat supper. And if it was rainier weather, there was fire tools to check and little odd jobs around the station to do.
CT: And you mentioned getting packs ready. What was that?
PP: For the pack string, the pack mules. There weren't very many roads those days, and they delivered grocery and mail and whatever the lookout house people needed by pack string. The packer would go out with these mules and make the rounds to the different lookout houses.
CT: And the food that you packed up and the supplies you packed up on this pack string, where would that come from?
PP: From Carson. I believe the lookouts had an open account at Carson, and they could order whatever they wanted, and then at the end of the month they would pay for whatever groceries they got.
CT: I'm jumping around here a little bit.
PP: That's just fine.
CT: But is that how you got your supplies up at Lookout Mountain was pack string?
PP: No. Lookout, by the time I got there, there was a road to the foot of Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain was close to this Lookout CC Camp, so there was a road up there. But I would go down to the bottom of the hill and pick up my groceries. They would be delivered by a pickup or truck or whatever.
CT: And you'd pick them up with a vehicle?
PP: No, I'd walk down. It was just a trail to get down there and walk back up.
CT: And everybody walked down and got their own supplies? Is that how it worked?
PP: Not always but sometimes where the pack strings were able, they went right up to the lookout house. A few of them had roads to drive right up there, but there were some that were quite distant from some roads. There weren't very many roads in the district at that time. The roads began to come in right after the war when there was a big demand for lumber, and tracks of timber would sell, and people would build roads in to get them out. But in the thirties there were not very many roads in the Forest Service areas.
CT: What company were you in?
PP: Company 944.
CT: And that was 944 up at Lookout Mountain, too?
PP: Yes, it was. Same one.
CT: Where were all the people from?
PP: A good many of them were from Clark and Skamania Counties. Some were from Spokane. Some came from Seattle and places in between like Kelso and Longview. Some of them came from quite a ways away, but the big majority came from Clark and Skamania Counties.
CT: Did you know a lot of the people?
PP: No, I didn't know any of the CC men when I went up there. I knew one of the foremen and a fireman that was there, but I didn't know anybody else.
CT: That was pretty courageous to go up there at that time.
PP: Well, in a way, but, you know, it did us a lot of good when we had to go in the service. We were already used to camp life. I was in an outfit that they wanted older people. They didn't have time to train them, so they wanted experienced people, and this involved people that were thirty, thirty-five years old. And some of those people had never, never been away from their family and their children. They did some hard time many, many times. None of us had it easy, but us that lived in the camps for months and months at a time, you might say -- well, I'd go home once in awhile on weekends, but we kind of knew what it was like to be away from home.
CT: You mentioned going home on weekends. How often would you go home while you were in the CCC?
PP: Well, that depended a good deal. When we were at Lookout the recreation truck went right past the front of the house so I could get off and on. That made it pretty easy. I could go home every weekend. But then when we moved to Hemlock, the rec trucks went to Vancouver, and sometimes it was kind of a problem to get from Vancouver out to home.
CT: A lot of the men started in Vancouver. You didn't have to go to Vancouver Barracks or Fort Lewis?
PP: No, no, no, no.
CT: Was there any initiation when you first joined?
PP: No, not when I went in anyway. No. There may have been when some of the younger people came in, in groups, you might say, but as a single individual, it didn't bother.
CT: So a typical day at Camp Hemlock, what time would you get up?
PP: I would say around 6:30.
CT: Pretty similar to what you did --
PP: That's exactly right. That's right.
CT: Were you at any other camps while you were in the CCC?
PP: Well, we were at side camps. They had a CC camp at Rock Creek out of Stevenson, and somehow that moved on to somewheres else. Well, wintertime came, and this camp had large buildings that were carpenter shops, and I and three other fellows went down there -- four other fellows with a foreman and worked in this carpenter shop making furniture for the lookout houses, beds and different things. And we built a lot of signs. We didn't paint them. We just made the boards for them. Some of the signs were two or three boards put together with little strips in the back and would later be painted and printed whatever they wanted on them, and we worked at that quite a bit till, I would say, about May one winter.
CT: So when was this that you were at Rock Creek?
PP: I would say '35. And then we had a side camp at Siouxon which was near Government Mineral Springs, and we spent one winter up there.
CT: And what did you do then?
PP: What we did then, there's a fish hatchery there now on the highway, and we cleared out a pretty large area of stumps and snags and brush, whatever, for this fish hatchery and quite a bit of the creek. And we would set up a gin pull and pull the logs and so on out of the creek, and we'd get logs that weren't so wet to start a good fire and then put these logs on top. We'd use this machine that had block and tackle to put the logs on the pile and burn them up and clear the land for the fish hatchery. That was a prime project up there.
CT: So how many men were involved in that?
PP: I would say there were probably forty or fifty in the camp, but they did various types of work. Some worked on the campground there at Government Springs and different things.
MRS. PALADENI: Sunset Camp.
PP: Well, I went to Sunset later when I got to be a project assistant. Part of my training was to go to a camp where I didn't know anybody, and I went over there.
CT: Was this when you were in the Forest Service or --
PP: That's right.
CT: Back at Rock Creek when you were doing your carpentry work, had you had any training in that?
PP: No. We had a foreman that kind of had some. He looked out for us and told us pretty much what to do. There were different machines that none of us had had any experience with, and from what little he could help and feeling our way, we kind of was able to pick up work that had to be done and go from there.
CT: What was your foreman's name?
PP: Walt Hockinson. He and his wife lived there in a little cabin, and we lived in a separate cabin. We had a cook that did the cooking for us, and then three of us that worked in the carpentry shop.
CT: So talking about cooking, how was the food?
PP: Very, very good. We had an excellent man for a cook. He wasn't a teenager like most of us. He was probably twenty-five or thirty, but he was a very good cook.
CT: Do you remember his name?
PP: No, I surely don't. But even the food at the main camp was excellent after we got a man that had retired from the army and was a mess sergeant in the army, a fellow by the name of Dutch Halle, and he came as a head cook at the camp. He would bake bread and biscuits and pies, and we had excellent food, probably the best of any camp or as good as any camp going. He knew how to handle a kitchen.
CT: So what would a breakfast consist of?
PP: Sometimes it would be pancakes with eggs, maybe a hot or cold cereal, coffee, milk. That's pretty much it.
CT: So you weren't ever hungry.
PP: No, we sure weren't. I think we all put on weight [laughs].
CT: Yeah. So did you ever spend any holidays at camp?
PP: Oh, yes, sometimes. Especially in the wintertime when it was pretty cold traveling in the trucks to go to town, we'd prefer to stay in camp.
PP: That's right. And we had real good meals. We had turkey and pie and like you would not believe. Very good.
CT: So after you ate what did you do as a group for fun?
PP: Well, the usual thing. Usually there was a lot of talk going on, bull sessions in the barracks about what it amounted to mostly. We had pool tables we could go in the wintertime in the rec hall and boxing and wrestling.
CT: Did you do any sports when you were there?
PP: Not outside of camp. I played ball within the camp but not out.
PP: Yeah, and we did some basketball.
CT: I read somewhere that you had a pretty good team at Camp Hemlock.
PP: Some of the teams were good, but I didn't participate. I wasn't good enough to be on the teams [laughs].
CT: [Laughs]. Okay. Did you ever spend Christmas at the camp?
PP: I believe, yes, there was times when I did, I'm sure.
CT: What was that like?
PP: It was very similar to Thanksgiving except there was more goodies of different kinds. He would just -- this man that I said was the head of the kitchen would get nuts and candies and different things that made it a little extra special.
CT: So you weren't really homesick?
PP: Oh, not too much. After a while you got used to camp life. At first you got homesick, but after a while it became part of your life.
CT: Okay. When you were at Camp Lookout were members of the Army there?
PP: A lieutenant.
PP: Same as would have been at Hemlock. There were more -- I don't know if there was anyone left at Hemlock when the camp was up there. I said there was probably 100 people there. There may have been more. And I don't know if they had a side camp yet at Hemlock or not, but we had a lieutenant for a company commander, and then the Forest Service had a superintendent to take care of the work and the work crews.
CT: So did you have any personal interaction with the Army lieutenant?
PP: Did we have any what?
CT: Did you talk to him one on one?
PP: Oh, he would come around every morning with the top kick for inspection to see that your bed was made up and your floor area was swept up clean, but there wasn't much occasion to have a one on one unless you got in trouble [laughs].
CT: Oh, that never happened, though, did it?
PP: Well, we won't go into that [laughs].
CT: [Laughs]. He came along with a top kick? Is that what you said?
CT: And what is that?
PP: Kind of a sergeant, kind of gives orders from the company commander if they're needed for some things, but when inspection came, they both came around.
CT: So how was that being under the Army's thumb, so to speak?
PP: It wasn't bad at all. It was, like I said, really good for us when we went in the service, and it was good for us while we were in there. We learned discipline. We learned to take orders. We learned to stand inspection every morning for our bunks and area to see it was cleaned up, and it fit in pretty well with the military.
CT: When you were at Camp Hemlock did you get any visitors?
PP: Very, very seldom.
CT: And when you did, who would that be?
PP: My sister and her husband used to come. Dad and Mom came one time with one of my brothers, but it was very seldom we got any visitors.
CT: Did the camp itself get very many visitors?
PP: No, not really. Most of the fellows were able to go home on weekends, and those that lived farther away like Spokane or Seattle, it was pretty hard for visitors to come visit the way times were then.