David Larkin Bradford remembers clearly those tough Depression days when he and other young men worked to improve America's public lands in a government-sponsored program to provide jobs when there were none.
Now, 52 years later, he recalls those days in the summer of 1938 with preciseness. The South Salt Laker says he spent the best six months of his life at age 17 getting to know more than 60 teenagers who became his best friends.He was bonded to Civilian Conservation Corps leaders and 60 other enrollees with friendship, brotherhood and love. "It was like one big family. We got to be wonderful friends."
The CCC began in 1933 as one of the Depression recovery projects of President Roosevelt.
"It was a lot like the Army but we didn't have to drill," he says. "Our job was to preserve nature and keep the guys working.
"We went in to have something to eat. It was Depression time and we were all facing difficult situations." The government needed to create a program for the increasing number of teenagers who roamed the streets looking for jobs and food and money to bring to their families.
Each CCC enrollee earned $30 a month, Bradford recalls. CCC officials sent $22 to the enrollee's family and gave each enrollee $8. Money was used sparingly and carefully. They budgeted with detail and never wasted, he says.
Bradford joined the CCCs in July 1938 and was sent to Company 1915 at the Charles Sheldon Antelope Refuge in the northwest corner of Nevada, 28 miles from the Oregon border. It's volcano country, where water comes out of the ground hot.
Opal mining had been carried on in the area since the late 1800s and one day he found a rock near his tent that contained a moon opal. He had a jeweler make a ring and a set of earrings from the opal and gave them to his wife, Arda, 35 years later as an anniversary present.
Although the accommodations for the CCC enrollees were spartan, there was an occasional diversion. "Once they took us down to Cedarville, Calif., 90 miles in a roundabout way. I got to see Dorothy Lamour in the `Jungle Princess.' "
The men stayed in the desert from July 14 to Oct. 19, then were put on open trucks to Winnemucca, where they caught a train to Fallon, Nev., about 46 miles west of Westgate, Nev., where 184 of them worked.
The only thing at Westgate was a service station with slot machines that also sold sandwiches. "We were too young to play the slots but sometimes would sneak over and play anyway."
One incident at Westgate Bradford won't forget is when one of the men who had experience with beehives found a hive and brought honey into camp. "The next morning we had honey for our pancakes instead of gravy. For some reason, the honey was poisoned. I would see one guy heading for the dispensary, then another. All of a sudden it hit me hard in the gut. The doctor had us drink water and baking soda.
"They discharged us on Dec. 21, after we put in six months. A lot of the guys stayed in and they moved them to areas in Utah. I got out - that was enough. I stayed out for six months, until July 5, 1939, then went in again. They took us up Farmington Canyon, where we stayed until about Oct. 19, then we went down to Bountiful.
"I was a night watchman in Bountiful. There were two of us on. One stayed in the kitchen, I stayed in the office to answer the phone. Across the dirt road was a polygamous group of three or four families and the old boy would sit out on the front porch at night when the boys would go to town."
Last Sept, Bradford hosted the second CCC Camp Charles Sheldon reunion in South Salt Lake. Sixteen of his old friends attended. The meeting was emotionally draining but happy for most of them.
"It was like an old high school reunion but we (had) lived and worked together for six months," he said. "I saw my buddy Douglas Bateman. I hadn't seen him for 51 years. He left the camp and the war in Europe was just beginning," he recalls.
"He was wearing dark glasses. I couldn't tell who he was. As he got closer, I realized it was my friend. We hugged for a long time."
Bradford, considered by his peers as one of the few pioneers who is trying to relive the CCC legacy, is interested in renewing old friendships and keeping track of all his former friends who were stationed in Camp Westgate and in Charles Sheldon.
He held his first CCC reunion Sept. 10, 1986. Thirteen of his group attended.
"The CCC experience taught me to be on my own," he says. "It made a man out of me."
Bradford is happy to talk about the past. Frequently he looks at a handmade leather photo album which contains historical information with photographs of people he used to know.
Today he keeps busy working with leather, which he says he's been doing since he was a young boy. His work ranges from belts to plaques and has taken top honors at the city's annual Fourth of July fairs.
Before hosting the second CCC reunion, Bradford and his wife, son and daughter-in-law, visited Charles Sheldon Antelope Refuge, where he had been stationed 49 years before. "There was just me, my boy, my wife and his wife. It brought back a lot of memories. I just stood there and looked. I could picture the two rows of tents, restroom tents, shower house - it was quite a scene. I got emotional and I thought pretty strong and got many memories back."
Friendships formed in the CCCs remain strong for Bradford and his buddies even after nearly half a century. With the help of Russell Goddard, Wayne Johnson and Earl Celegg, he put the last reunion together.
"If you don't have friends you don't have anything," he said.