Photo of Spruce Camp near Newport, OR, from this Flickr site of Bob Swanson.
Life in a Spruce Camp
The Spruce soldiers were housed in camps along the routes they were constructing, and near logging sites in Oregon and Washington. In some areas they were able to utilize existing private logging camps. In Lincoln County, Oregon, however, the camps were made of tents. (See above link for photos of the Spruce Division in Lincoln County, especially three photos: interior of a mess tent at the Camp 7-H at Moolack Creek north of Newport, the “Company Street” of Camp 2-F near Waldport, and a YMCA singing and band performance in Newport).
Every camp had to conform to Army standards and was required to have sleeping, eating, recreating, bathing and latrine facilities. Army inspectors ensured the camps were kept clean and up to code. The tents were built over a wooden floor, and had a half wall or railing over which the tent canvas fit. There was a hole in the roof to allow the stovepipe to go through. Each could accommodate eight men.
The Spruce Division camp at Waldport was located on the Keady homestead, and about 300 soldiers were stationed here. In an oral history interview with Paul Keady in 1975, the interviewer asks what the townspeople thought of having the soldiers in their midst.
Paul Keady: “Well, it’s very simple. Kids of my age [at that time] hang around soldiers and camps. Their tents, basically, were arranged in a long line, two long lines, with what between the two was what they called, “The Company Street.” The flagpole was at the northeast end of the Company Street. The main officers quarters were at the north end of the Company Street, and the cookhouse was across the Company Street from the officers’ headquarters. When the bell would ring, out of every camp would come these active young soldiers, and they would race the length of the Company Street. When they first moved in there, there was small brush and vegetation out on that Company Street. By the time they left, the vegetation and the small brush had all been worn away by running soldiers, and the Company Street was open blow sand and mud. In the wet weather it would be muddy. Then off to the east of these two main companies was a couple of hospital tents, and convalescing tents and isolation tents...The sanitary facilities were well away from the main camp, and were one-by-twelve inch fir planks built into a couple of large outdoor privies.”
“There was a blacksmith shop, where I spent quite a lot of my time, watching these very skilled civilian blacksmiths work. The blacksmiths always being old men with gray beards, and the only soldiers that were in there were the blacksmiths’ assistants. The skill of these old smiths impressed my deeply. They could take metal and make various tools out of it, right there with just a forge and their anvil, and their clamps and their metal cutters. I watched this many times.”
Although the Sprucers spent most of their days hard at work, there was time allowed for recreation. Sports of various kinds were popular, and the YMCA and local communities would provide other entertainments, such as music, vaudeville shows, and theatricals. Paul Keady describes one spontaneous event:
“At one period, some of these young fellows from the Middle West, who were good horsemen, put on what you might call an impromptu, volunteer, spontaneous rodeo [he pronounced it “row-DAY-oh”]. All this rodeo consisted of was taking these big draft horses out and riding same. They saddled the wilder ones. These former cowpokes rode these horses. We saw a beautiful exhibition of horsemanship. These horses mostly had never been ridden--they’d been worked, but not ridden. And they really bucked and put on a show. And the townspeople heard about it, and collected all around to watch these soldiers perform. It was probably better than any professional bucking contest I’ve ever watched.”
I: “Of course, the boys would gravitate toward the soldiers. Were they received in the town as people to be talked to on the street and so on, or were they sort of separated from the greater community?”
LG: “Oh, in the patriotism of that time, the soldiers were very much accepted, and of course, a stranger, a traveling man, always appeals to the young women. The young women thought that the soldiers were all demi-gods from Mars or something. They were clear from the East Coast, Pennsylvania, New York, mostly. Some married local women, and took them away with them. Some, a few soldiers remained here in this area, but mostly they went on their way. But the response of the people toward the military there at that time was affirmative, and there were few, if any, negative happenings there at that time. Of course, you understand that the young boys of the area hung around the military camps, more than anyone else. And being as there were forty horses there at that time, nearly all big draft animals. Why here would be the boys around the company barns helping to hay--begging for the privilege of helping to grain and hay these horses.”
When the war ended, the excitement was over abruptly, and the camps disappeared as quickly as they had sprung up. Today there is very little trace that this episode in history ever occurred.
Posted by jackie.