Ever since it came into his hands, it's been Lester Rhoads' dream to get the photograph of the Monument-Orviston Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp into The Express so that other folk would have a chance to see it. Now, more than 70 years after the photograph was taken, he's finally getting his wish.
Lester's father, John C. Rhoads, worked as a bricklayer most of his life, but found himself out of work during the worst days of the Great Depression. He and his wife, Rena, had seven children to support and times were tough to say the least.
So when then-Pres. Franklin Roosevelt launched the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 in order to get people out of the breadlines and into sustainable work, John Rhoads signed up. In the CCC photograph, he can be seen in the second row, sixteenth from the left, seated on a bench.
This 1930s image shows the Civilian Conservation Corps?camp between Orviston and Monument. John C. Rhoads is 16th from the left in the second row, seated on a bench.
"The camp was about three miles down the road here, between my place, in Orviston, and Monument," says 87-year-old Lester, who adds that while he's read about other CCC camps in the area, the Monument-Orviston camp is rarely talked about. "That picture was taken right off the bank, off the road to the right going down. That was back in the Thirties. Yeah, that was way back in the Thirties."
"They built roads and things," Lester says of the CCC workers. "I've got pictures of the roads being built, too. They built a road clean out to Kato. I was just a kid then. I was young, but I remember. Do you remember those big lard cans they used to have? My dad used to carry big lard cans of leftover food from the camp up to us, because we didn't have much food then, or much money to buy any, either."
Lester thinks his father worked in the camp for about five years, building roads and bridges and putting out fires.
"I know about four or five of the guys in that picture," he said. "They were friendly. I had cousins who married two of them. When my dad died, in the Eighties, I got the picture, then my grandson Craig got it reprinted and enlarged."
Rich Wykoff, a Renovo man, has spent years studying the history of the local CCC camps and collecting photos and memorabilia related to them. He reports that Clinton County had one of the largest groups of camps in the state built under the Civilian Conservation Corps program.
"I've seen a lot of pictures of the CCC camps, but I've never seen anything about the camp in Orviston," Lester says.
Besides the Monument-Orviston camp, there were camps in Loganton, Hyner, State Camp (Route 144), Shingle Branch (Young Woman's Creek), Cooks Run, Tea Springs (Sugar Valley), Farrandsville, Two Mile (near Westport), Pine Mountain (Sugar Valley) and Hammersley Fork (Kettle Creek).
Wykoff has established a Facebook page, CCC Camps in Clinton County, to act as an information resource for those interested in the history of the local camps.
"My father worked hard all of his life," said Lester. "He worked in the brickyard most of the time. He worked in the CCC and the WPA, too, using a pick and a shovel, working on the roads."
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website, the Keystone State had the second-highest number of CCC camps in the nation.
California came in first.
"Run by the U.S. Army, the regimented life of camp was new to most new enrollees," the website reports. "A typical day began at 6 a.m. with breakfast at 6:30 a.m., followed by sick call and policing of the camp. At 7:15 a.m., trucks were loaded with tools and men for the day. 'Local experienced men' usually served as foremen for the work The U.S. Army ran the camps, but foresters, carpenters and other people directed the work. The CCC fought forest fires, planted trees, built roads, buildings, picnic areas, swimming areas, campgrounds and created many state parks. When not working, the men socialized and had opportunities to learn crafts and skills."
About six feet tall with a generally warm nature and a good sense of humor, John Rhoads enjoyed an occasional drink after work and a game of cards with his friends when not working in the Orviston camp. He never held a "desk job" in his life, says Lester, "only hard labor."
His mother, he said, knew her way around a kitchen, both at home and at her place of employment.
"My mother worked at the Lock Haven Hospital, too, in the grub department," he says with a laugh.
"My Dad just loved to tell jokes. He liked to play cards and on the way home from work he'd always stop somewhere and have a drink. He liked to drink a little bit."
Another childhood memory is of the family's Model A Ford. When Lester was a child, the price of gas was an almost-shocking 10 cents per gallon.
"Right there on the road between here and Beech Creek, Ted Rupert had a tank there where he'd sell gas," he said. With cheap fuel and the newly-paved roads courtesy of the CCC, "we didn't have any trouble going anywhere," he said.
"My dad would take us clean up to Grass Flats and Boalsburg and places like that."
These were generally happy days for the family, despite the hardscrabble life of the Great Depression.
"I lived through it," Lester says of that difficult era. "I have an idea people today could learn a lot from what we went through in the Depression. If they ever had to go through one, they'd learn a lot. I'll tell you one thing, you could get a bottle of pop and a hotdog for about 15 cents! Things didn't cost much back then, but you didn't have much, either. It was rough."
Today Lester is the last surviving member of the seven Rhoads siblings. He's never lived outside the area except for the years he spent in the military during World War II.
"My dad worked in the brickyard in Snowshoe, and we lived up there for a couple of years," he said. "But I was born right here in Orviston and I'm still here."
And here is where he and his late wife, Norma, raised their three children, Steve, Connie and Nick. He has nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Asked if he ever had the urge to move to another state, Lester answers with an emphatic "no."
"I've seen all I want to see," he says. "I was over in Germany during the war, when I was 19, and I saw Paris and London and all that. I'll tell ya, I was scared to death when I saw my first dead German. It was awful. I had to kill people myself. I don't talk about it. Nobody's asked me anything and I don't talk about it. I knew what I did and what the trouble was and all that. It wasn't any picnic.
"So, no, I don't wanna go. I'll stay right here."