Cold days and the CCC

Below is a story written by Philip Tiemann of Cavendish. You may recall previous stories written by Tiemann. Philip and his wife Isabel had just moved from the city to Cavendish in 1933 knowing nothing about country life. This story takes place in the winter of 1934. It was written in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

“It was a nasty, cold, sleety day when Isabel took several women to a meeting in Woodstock, returning about dusk. Thankful that she was safe, I ran the car into the carriage house as usual and closed the doors. – Next day was fair and I wanted to go to the village, but when I started the car it began to overheat immediately, and I discovered there was no water in the radiator. Further, when I poured water in it soon began to trickle out. Even then I didn’t suspect what was wrong…. But it turned out that the cylinder block had frozen and cracked during the night. Not being able to afford to have a new engine installed, I ordered a new block from the catalog and began to strip the old motor for removal only to be interrupted by weather too cold to work outside. So it was lucky we had a horse, as we had to depend upon him all winter. – Now I keep anti-freeze in the car year ‘round.

cold days
Windy Hill in Cavendish owned by Philip Tiemans, circa 1936. Photo provided by Peter Farrar.

“Fortunately a man was available to shoe horses, so I had him come up and fix Dan with ‘winter treads’ so to speak, – calked shoes (that is, with moderately sharp projections) to prevent slipping on the ice.

“As things turned out it may have saved us trouble not having the car that first winter, – the worst in my memory even today. Being new to this climate, and not the best of drivers, with no experience whatever on snowing roads, nor yet with starting a motor when the temperature hovered near zero for days and was colder at night, we’d have been out of luck ‘irregardless,’ as they say up here. And the situation became impossible when the town plow broke down and the roads were impassible for cars, drifted deep in several spots where they passed through “cuts.” So, we made the best of it by going when we must in an old sleigh behind Dan, and might even have enjoyed it if our financial situation had been less pressing.

“Perhaps we remained cheerful because we had expected nothing less than a severe winter. Indeed we were rather surprised that some of the neighbors made more fuss than we did, and remained holed up near the stove on days we were going out. – But that is getting ahead of the order of events.

“Despite our problems, I realize as I look back that every time we apparently had reached the end of our rope something happened to enable us to keep going. So it was at that point: my neighbor came in one morning with the announcement: ‘They’re going to build a new CCC camp over to Proctorsville, and want to hire carpenters and helpers. I’m going to try for a job, and why don’t you?’ ‘Some carpenter I’d be. And how do I get there, walk?’ I asked sourly. He grinned. ‘They’ll be taking just about anybody, and if you apply as my helper no one will know the difference. I’m going to drive the horse, and you can ride with me if you want.’

“Both Isabel and I were dubious, but our friend proved to be right: we were in a long line of applicants and were duly signed up. This was at the time when the Civilian Conservation Corps was well established and many groups of young men, organized in camps on somewhat of an Army basis and in many cases commanded by Army Reserve officers were being usefully employed on various conservation projects. The Proctorsville camp was laid out for a number of long, single story wooden barracks, a mess hall, and administration buildings, all of very simple construction. While one crew was putting in foundations others were building framework for the sides; these were pushed up very much on the order of an old-time barn-raising and as soon as they were secured the sheathing started while the rafters were being nailed in place. Flooring and window and door frames quickly followed.

“So I spent about a week turning out even earlier than usual in the morning in order to be ready when my friend drove by, – taking the five mile ride in the sleigh, working all day in the open regardless of weather, and then making the long trip home. I wasn’t yet hardened to that type of life and lasted just one week before coming down a terrific cold which kept me in bed for some days; and then I was in no shape to go back to the job….”


  This week’s old saying is from my mother regarding someone who claimed to have changed their ways. “You can’t change the spots on a leopard.”

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