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The Trailblazers

Forest Highway Survey, 1932 Trinity County, California

Arthur E. Grissom

As stated in the last part of my dissertation about the 1931 season and the Almanor Survey, the BPR ran out of money and I got laid off. We (the family that is) went back down to Whittier and stayed with my folks until work opened up again. When I learned why the office ran short of funds which caused a whole bunch of us to get five months "leave without pay," to say that I was displeased would be rank understatement - I was disgusted and angry.

You see, in November 1931, President Hoover was defeated for re-election by FDR so from November until March 4, Hoover was a "lame duck" president. John Garner was a big power in the Senate, especially after the election because now he was Vice President elect. So! He blocked deficiency appropriations to spite Hoover and make his "lame duck" months look especially bad, and to make FDR the big hero by getting things going again! Grrr! I never thought I'd agree on anything with John L. Lewis, the busy-browed, hard boiled, mean tempered president of the Miners Union, but I endorsed his opinion of Mr. Garner 100 percent, which was: "In my opinion Mr. Garner is a whiskey drinking, tobacco chewing, evil old man!"

Despite the old buzzard, I survived the five months layoff and was called back to duty the first of July on a survey in Trinity County. The survey was for a relocation of the road from Douglas City to Hayfork. This location is northwest of Redding and not very far from the ancient mining town of Shasta.

Going up to the project I was driving a Government survey truck, a ¾ ton Dodge screen side. I was supposed to leave the State Highway at Douglas City when Weaverville suddenly showed up. I realized I somehow missed my turnoff. I asked a man on the street where Douglas City was. He replied, "You just came in from the South, you passed it seven miles back. If you remember where there are two houses and a service station. That is Douglas City." So I went back, found the turnoff, and finally got to Hayfork.

When I was a boy my folks lived on a not-too-good farm in Indiana and Father had to work very hard to make a decent living. So, I was no stranger to poverty. But I had never seen an entire community as poverty stricken as Hayfork was in 1932 - in fact, the condition was the same all over Trinity County. I'll bet there weren't six bathtubs in the entire county - Hayfork didn't have a single one. We bathed in the creek. The district didn't have a regular school bus, just a one ton Model A Ford stock rack truck with a homemade top and canvas sides with a "perfection" kerosene heater.

The village had a church, but they couldn't use it because a tree had fallen on the roof and ruined about half of one side. During the summer one of the local school teachers organized a Sunday school which was held in the school building. The only ones who came were mothers and younger children. The kids came barefoot and in clean everyday clothes; they didn't have anything better.

Now I'd better quit yapping about poverty and put in a few blurbs about the survey project. First let me say it was difficult country; miles of sidehill covered with thorny live oak brush so dense that walking through it was impossible until a path was chopped out.

Karl Nissi was again the location engineer and again I was transitman and chief of party. Jim Taylor was head chainman; Bert Lindman, rear chain; Shepherd (Shep) Johnson, stakeman. We also had two brush cutters, Jack Thomas and a local young man, Wilbur Everest. At the first of the survey, the stakeman was Cliff Potts, but he was soon transferred and we got Shep Johnson. Another change was when Bert Lindman left and we got John Haapala who is now (1971) Chief Location Engineer for Region 7 of BPR.

The level party was Ed Mills, levelman, Gene Frazier, rodman, and Karl Moskowitz, officeman.

I don't recall how many miles the survey covered. It must have been about 16 miles. But it consumed too much time because of the dense brush, heavily wooded sections, and steep terrain. It took us almost six months to complete the survey - from July 1 to December 23.\\ The first two weeks of July the daytime temperature averaged 117 degrees F in the shade and we were working on the south slope of a mountain with no shade. What made it worse was that it was not dry heat. This was timber country with many streams so humidity was always quite high. Those first two weeks were torturous. I think the heat hit Bert Lindman the worst - he had taken a leave of absence from his regular job in Washington, D.C., and had come out to California to escape Washington's summer heat!! Many times a day, Bert would moan , "Why the heck did I ever come out here."

He six of us on the transit crew consumed six gallons of water per day those first two weeks. Our canteens totaled three gallons and at noon we would refill them from the small stream at the foot of the hill and they would be empty by quitting time. As soon as we quit work in the evening, we went down to the creek and splashed cool water on our faces and arms - all of us except Bert; he laid down and rolled in the creek, fully clothed.

After that blistering first two weeks the weather moderated and we got more work done. Of course the autumn rains put a crimp in our operations at times - sometimes we worked in light rainfall but usually we stayed in and helped on office work.

Our last 15 days on the project we worked seven days per week in order to finish the survey before the depth of snow stopped us for the winter. I recall that the Sunday before Christmas we were running line for a sharp hairpin curve in 8 below zero weather, and during those 15 days we did without baths in the creek, too much ice.

All during summer and fall we were kept alert in our field work by frequent encounters with rattlesnakes, not the small desert sidewinders, but big timber diamond backs. It was usually the brush cutters who encountered the snakes and both men being experienced woodsmen, they eliminated the snakes readily. I recall one time when they stirred up a big rattler about five feet long with I don't know how many rattles, and I could hear his furious bussing even though he was fully 100 yards away. The men ad a good system for killing snakes - one of them teased the sane until it struck; at that instant the other man clipped its head off with a razor sharp brush hook.

There were quite a few bears in the area, but they gave us no trouble. Now and then we'd encounter a porcupine which we didn't bother!

Time out from the project narrative for a few minutes! Back I mentioned that out 1932 rear chainman, John Haapala, was now (1971) Chief Location Engineer for Region 7 in San Francisco. I have just received a Federal Highway Administrator newssheet dates March 4, 1971, containing the item shown below.

"Administrator's award for superior service was presented recently to John E. Haapala, Location Engineer in the Region 7 Federal Highway Projects Division by Regional Federal Highway Administrator Sheridan E. Farin. This award was granted in recognition of Mr. Haapala's superior leadership over a period of his 36 years of Federal Government service..."

Our meals were furnished by Mrs. Everest, mother of our brush cutter Wilbur. Mrs. Everest was a marvelous cook and every meal was like a banquet both in quality and quantity. When we learned that she was realizing almost no profit from our board, Karl suggested that she cut down on the lavish quantities she set before us. This she did, but we still had more than we got at our homes.

Again, the FHWA newssheet, May 1971 issue, brings news of a member of our Hayfork survey crew.

"James O. Taylor dies in Trinity General Hospital in Weaverville on March 24."

Jim was our head chainman at Hayfork. He was an excellent man to have along - he was conscientious, a steady worker, and a Christian gentleman. He was rather quiet, slow spoken, and never sounded off until he had something to say, and was especially reticent about his personal affairs. An example of that reticence: when he was leaving for the Nebraska assignment he had just said goodbye to the Region 7 personnel man, Floyd Richie, and as he started out the door, he stopped, turned back, and said. "Oh, by the way, I got married last Thursday." Floyd got quite a laugh out of Jim's method of announcing his marriage. I saw Jim only a few times after his assignment in the Sacramento Office.

Now a few words of the other men on the project. John Haapala is a Finn, born and raised in Fortuna on the northern coast of California. He's a fine person, hardworking, agreeable, tireless. Shep Johnson was a graduate architect who had to take anything available, temporarily, until the economic depression was over. I never saw him after this project. I'll bet he was a whiz of an architect. He was a fine person and very well educated.

The other men on the project were good men, congenial, good workers. Karl Moskowitz, the officeman, was a brilliant graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. He stayed with BPR until after the war (WWII). The last I heard of him he was in the California State Highway Department. At Hayfork he became somewhat enamored with a local ranger's daughter, Agnes Roark. On election day, the local polls were on the lower floor of the vacant store where we lived on the second floor.

Bert Lindman was somewhat ill that day and did not go out to work. About 11:00 a.m., he got up and washed his face and hands and as usual stepped out on the second floor back porch and emptied the washpan over the bannister. Just as he dumped it he saw the water was going to hit the windshield of Agnes Roark's car parked below and she was sitting in the car. Bert ducked back inside and told Karl "Agnes is outside in her car." And of course Karl went out just in time to get the blame for all the dirty soapy water on her car. I don't believe he ever convinced her that he was not guilty. The incident definitely chilled the romance.

The levelman Ed Mills purchased a .22 caliber revolver and he and Karl Nissi and I were having target practice on Saturday shooting at an iron plate about 6 x 8 inches hung on a wire fence. I was real proud of my score, I hit the iron five times out of nine, whereas Ed hit it only three out of nine and Karl four out of nine. The local garage man came over to watch the shooting. We invited him to try his skill. He took the gun rather reluctantly saying, "Aw, I can't shoot one of these things." Whereupon he raised the gun and, shooting rapidly, fired and hit the iron nine times. We found that kind of marksmanship was not unusual with these country people. Lots of them were experts.

A young couple had raised quite a number of turkeys, for market, but when Thanksgiving approached the price of turkey was awful low and it looked like they would lose money. So they planned a turkey shoot (a shooting match) in a field across the road from our office quarters. The first target was a regulation target with eight inch bullseye at 187 yards.

They charged 50 cents per shot, and if you hit the bullseye you won a turkey. That didn't prove very profitable because out of the first five shots they lost three turkeys. Two dollars and fifty centers for three turkeys wasn't so good, these country people were just too good with a .30 caliber rifle.

They finally did get $5.00 each for the remaining birds by drawing 50 half-inch circles on a sheet of paper, selling the circles at 10 cents each, and then blasting the shoot with a shotgun; the circle with the most holes won the turkey.

Several weeks before the turkey shoot, the County Fair took place in Hayford. I guess it was the only place in the county with enough level ground to hold a fair. Maybe I was expecting too much. I'd been accustomed to county fairs in densely populated counties rich in agriculture or business and manufacturing. This one in back country Trinity County seemed awfully small. There were only two or three exhibits entered in live stock, poultry, food products, sewing, etc. But the attendance was very good and everyone was really enjoying the fair. The really classic event was the horse-racing - one race with three horses on a quarter mile straightaway. One horse was a retired race horse used to a circular track; he veered off the track and ended up behind the grandstand. The second one was a cow pony ridden by a local cowboy; he did his best but not good enough. The third was a good "quarter horse" owned by the Roark family (Agnes' parents) and ridden by Mrs. Roark. When the race started, Mrs. Roark leaned forward and yelled into the horse's ear, and he took off like a scalded cat, finished the race when the cowboy was halfway through.

Ed Mills' kid brother, Danny, about 12 years old, lived with Ed's family all summer. He and I became rather good friends and spent quite a bit of spare time together, fishing, gathering pinyon nuts, going to the rodeo, etc. I never saw him again after he left Hayford.

We were supposed to get compensatory time off for the extra time we worked getting the survey finished before winter closed in on us. But did we get it? Hah! Not a blooming bit of it. When the Hayfork work was finished, I returned to the San Francisco Office and after spending Christmas with Vivian and Mary and the folks in Whittier, I worked in the office until February 2, 1933, when Vivian sent me a telegram announcing the birth of our son, Robert. I took time off and hurried back down to Whittier; while I was there I was ordered to the San Gabriel construction project north of Whittier.

I've never seen Hayfork since I left it on December 23, 1932.

I recall that one of the reasons for most of the people in the Hayfork community being poverty stricken was that most of them were heavy drinkers; it seemed that half of the population was bootlegging to the other half. The few who were not heavy drinkers and were industrious were making a decent living, for example, the Roarks, the Everests, and a few others like them.

The gentleman who was postmaster at Hayfork was not very well educated. Karl Moskowitz went in to buy a stamped envelope and the postmaster could not figure out how much to charge for it, the postage envelopes were $35 per 1000, but he couldn't divide $35 by 1000 and come out with a reasonable answer. Karl finally showed him how.

Another thing worthy of mention that I just remembered. This survey was started in 1931 and we had to go over the previous work and correct some glaring errors The 1931 crew, including the boss, established a very bad record for drinking and carousing. The local citizens were not very friendly with us until they found out we were not another bunch of rowdies. Karl and I were the only ones that knew about this and we kept it to ourselves. There is no point in naming any of the 1931 bunch now because the boss and most of crew are not (1974) deceased.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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