The world was without hope for many of Colorado’s young men in 1933. Youth unemployment was 25 percent and another 29 percent were working only part-time. Many quit school before graduation to work odd jobs to support their families. Others took to hitching rides on railroad cars desperate for a new opportunity. Even young men who finished their schooling were without work as they had no job experience or training. Then, in 1933, with the beginning of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) young men could go to work in Colorado’s national parks, state parks, national forests and other public lands.
Robert W. “Bob” Audretsch retired as a National Park Service ranger at Grand Canyon in 2009 after nearly 20 years of service. Since then, he has devoted himself full time to research and writing about the Civilian Conservations Corps (CCC). Bob grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and attended Wayne State University where he received a BA in history and a MS in library science.
FROM 1988 TO 2008 I worked as a park ranger at Grand Canyon National Park. Ever fascinated with history and looking for new ideas for my ranger programs, I attended the January 2002 Grand Canyon History Symposium Program. Little did I know how many new ideas I would receive. Midway through the symposium was a segment on the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program that had made considerable improvements at the park. Two elderly men, former CCC enrollees at the canyon, gave presentations. Louis Purvis, always with a twinkle in his eye, talked of trail work. Roy Lemons, then in his eighties, took a more serious approach. “My father was a cable tool driller in the oil fields, but during the Great Depression there were no jobs. My whole family did any kind of work we could find. We were … in despair. We often went hungry for three or four days at a time. Many nights during this period, I would listen as my younger siblings cried themselves to sleep because of the hunger in their bellies.” The audience was utterly spellbound. Some, myself included, were wiping tears from our faces. Roy continued: “Then on the morning after the election in November 1932, we were all working in a cotton field in north-central Texas when the owner of the farm came driving through the field in a Model T touring car … with the throttle wide open. The car was bouncing and throwing up dust, and the driver was standing up in the car, calling out: ‘Roosevelt’s been elected! Roosevelt’s been elected!’ Over and over again. We just stood there watching him go by. I was only 13 years old, but I’ll never forget that moment. There were tears in our eyes because it meant that at last there was hope.” When Roy finished, a half dozen of us park rangers vowed to him we would retell his story. Sadly, just a few months later Roy died of cancer.