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Early Days of Herlong by Virgil J. Leigh

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Gene E McCullough

Joined: 19 Feb 2006
Posts: 5
Location: Huachuca City, Arizona

PostPosted: Thu Apr 15, 2010 8:31 pm    Post subject: Early Days of Herlong by Virgil J. Leigh Reply with quote

Virgil J. Leigh

(This 50 year old historical document was provided by Mickey Matthews, Director, Herlong Library)

The early days at Herlong, when the gravel trucks rolled up the old Doyle cutoff in a cloud of dust and sand from the pits near Highway 395, are comparable to the many stories of the old West and its development, so I am told. The spot where Herlong now exists was picked by an Army Colonel riding up the Highway in search of a spot for a Western Ordnance Depot. It seems that as he hit the rise on the old mountain road (Highway 395) which lies some seven miles to the southwest of Herlong's present location, his eye caught this big, flat, open terrain as an ideal spot for the location of Sierra Ordnance Depot.

At some prior date in history, this spot must have suited the fancy of some other man for the location of an enterprise, for close to the present day reservation is a spot where once was located a vacation land hotel. That spot was known as Hackstaff on the railroad maps, and, as a matter of fact, served as the first railroad station location for Sierra Ordnance Depot. On old railroad maps, Hackstaff may still be located, and on the Western Pacific Railroad line a lonely pair of box cars sat. This was Hackstaff, later to become Herlong, the location of Sierra Ordnance Depot.

On the 6th day of March, 1942 the first buildings for proposed construction crews to follow were built. A carpenter by the name of Tom Denny, now of Paradise, California, who was at a later date employee #68 for the Ordnance Corps, cut the first boards with which to build two small tool sheds on the old Nevada-California-Oregon railway roadbed near the location of Hackstaff. Francis L. Wilbur, civilian employee #40, who is still employed at the installation, helped in the original construction of those two tool sheds, and began work before there was a definite road into the area. Entrance was gained from Doyle over old ranch roads and trip up the old Nevada-California-Oregon railway roadbed. (The N.C. & O.R.R was known as "narrow, crooked and ornery.").The Western Pacific Railroad, which currently services the installation, built its roadbed through the Hackstaff location sometime during the year 1910.

During the latter days of March, 1942, the first contractor's bulldozer nosed their way from the old mountain Highway 395 down to the present site of the Depot. This road, formed by those bulldozers, became known as the Doyle Cutoff.

Bressi-Brevenda & Theicert the construction contractors started the almost impossible task of converting this desert floor into the Depot. Impossible Yes it may have been considered impossible because of the isolation of the spot; and the wrath of the elements against being torn asunder being directed at man's disturbing construction and construction crews.

Labor problems were almost indescribable, for as the bulldozers tore up the sage brush, the wind began to move the loosened sand in every direction. No man, animal nor machine was spared the wrath of, nor harassment of the continuously moving sand and dust. Men come to see about jobs and turned back before applying because of the undesirable location and living conditions. Gradually, as more people came and stayed, things began to develop. Tarpaper covered bunk houses were built and tough construction type mess halls were completed, while men and machines tore at the desert floor to shape the various areas of the Depot.

The U.S. Engineer Corps staked out its claim along with the contractors and gradually facilities with which to eat and live, while the construction of the main portion of the Depot was undertaken, were completed. Among these buildings was the Commissary for common use by all who worked during the construction period. Within these walls many of the extras and necessities of life could be purchased. Of course, there was a long 40 foot bar at which the necessity of life could be purchased, including 3.2 beer (no hard liquor). Hard liquor could be had, but not in the Commissary Building.

It is recalled that at the back section of this Commissary Building there was a small, wooden fence, back of which were pigeon holes with the letters of the alphabet neatly lettered on their respective pigeon holes, and this was the mail distribution center of the Post. All personal mail was sorted by the bartender and placed in this set of pigeon holes. Any employee was privileged to look through the mail to receive his own or anyone else's private letters. The development of a Herlong Post Office came much later.

On the mountain side of this Commissary Building there grew a large trailer city staked out in the field with nothing greener than a sage brush bush for vegetation. Individual stories recounted about life in that trailer city, would in themselves make novels.

Lt. Col. E. A. Cryne, who arrived at Sierra Ordnance Depot on the 13th day of May, 1942 to take command for the Ordnance Department, had an 8' x 10' corner room done in rough pine shooting as his place to do business. This particular room had been set aside for his office, and when opened for his occupancy, was heaped with sand ladened letter, documents and publications which had been accumulating since the date that Sierra Ordnance Depot had first been put on the mailing list of the War Department. He was able to find quarters in the Dixon Hotel at Doyle, California. At Doyle he was greeted with another deluge of official mail being held for the Commanding Officer at Sierra Ordnance Depot.

There were many construction contractors' employees here at that time, as the igloos were being erected in the far reaches of the desert floor. Department at Large Ordnance employees were being trained and held for transfer to the installation. Barrack type quarters were being erected for officers and employees as rapidly as possible. Upon completion of quarters for Ordnance employees, their transfers were requested.

The first Ordnance employee to arrive at Sierra Ordnance Depot was a Senior Clerk, Edna M. Hamacker. She arrived at Doyle, California as the Western Pacific Railroad had not, as yet, authorized a station where stops for other than freight were made. Miss Hamacker served as the Commanding Officer's secretary, Chief Payroll and Processing Clerk for Personnel Action for several months .Unfortunately, the barrack quarters completed were for male employees only, and first Ordnance Corps employee had to live in a big, Army pyramidal tent next to the quarters furnished by the contractors for female employees.

The next Ordnance Corps employee to arrive at the installation was Virgil J. Leigh, the present Civilian Personnel Officer, who drove down the old Doyle cutoff highway amid gravel trucks, dust and heat of the valley, on the 28th day of May, 1942. Not long to follow was Walter Giubbini, who was Junior Administrative Assistant for the Post, or more commonly known as Chief Clerk.

Thus the nucleus of the Civilian employees of the Ordnance Department began to form. Their offices were in an 8'x10' room adjoining the Commanding Officer's office in the construction contractor's building.

About this same time, there arrived 1st Lt. John C. Robertson, who served as the Adjutant of the Post, and 1st Lt George Davis, Depot Property Officer. Then came 1st Lt. Karwacki, 1st Lt. Charles Wood, Capt. Roy Cosner, 1st Lt. James F. Whittley and Maj. Ashton.

So acute were the contractor's labor problem that any and all comers were hired. The "riff raff" of the labor markets of western cities came to this isolated location to work. It was a harbor for fugitives from Justice and those individual "down on their luck". The security of the construction project was one of the first concerns of the Commanding Officer Lt. Col. E. A. Cryne. It was decided that all construction contractor employees should be fingerprinted in accordance with existing regulations. Preparations were made to fingerprint each employee as he called for his check at the Paymaster's window on a specified Friday evening. This fingerprint project was made known to employees on Friday morning as they picked up their brass time checker number. The project was carried out as planned, but an estimated $20,000.00 in pay checks were not picked up that night because many of the employees departed without their pay checks rather than be fingerprinted.

Securing labor for the Ordnance Corps was made difficult by a starting salary for laborers being set at $.92 per hour, while construction contractor's laborers were receiving as high as $1.50 per hours, plus the problem of housing these employees as there were no Government housed here in those early days.

Donald C. Crandall was the first member of our Guard Force and stood watch over the only Ordnance Corps property in the installation at the time, which was 25 brand new Army 1 ton trucks placed under two large parking lot lights in the approximate vicinity of what is now the employees' parking lot.

The problem of eating and sleeping concerned a major portion of the Ordnance Corps Civilian employees' time in the early staged of the contractor's mess hall where food, mixed with sand, was almost unpalatable. It was not uncommon for the employees of the Ordnance Corps and the construction contractors to experience extreme illness from dysentery and exposure. Lunches were packed by the construction contractor for their workers to take to the field to eat at the noon meal. One lunch exhibited to the Commanding Officer by an irate employee contained one eggplant sandwich, one cracked, hardboiled egg and three small dried- up radishes. Female employees looked askance at the heavy starchy food being served in the construction contractor mess hall, and attempted to live on potato chips, cokes and candy bars, or perhaps heat a can of soup over a hotplate burner.

First shipments of Administrative vehicles by rail were received in gondola cars on a short spur between Hackstaff and Doyle. The unloading ramps consisted of piles of sand pushed together by a bulldozer. The Chief Clerk, the Personnel Officer, the Adjutant and the Depot Property Officer unloaded these vehicles as a part of their normal routine duties. These vehicles had been shipped without charged batteries or gasoline and it was necessary to drag them from the railroad cars with the aid of a jeep.

The big break of the day came for those Civilian employees who were selected to make the run from Herlong to Doyle to pick up official mail for the Depot. This was done in an open air jeep and served as one of the best morale builders in those early days, except for the occasional trip to the bar located at what is now called Buck's Inn at Doyle.

Clerks and Clerk-typists were recruited in Reno, Nevada, and were mainly young and inexperienced. Except for clerical and administrative personnel and guards, there was very little hiring done until late in September, 1942, at which time the present Administrative Buildings were just beginning to take shape. The first building to be completed was what is now known as the Fire and Security Building. The next buildings to be completed were the Maintenance Garage and the present Tire and Paint Shop. The Commanding Officer's office and other administrative offices were established in the Tire Shop Building. It was at this location that the first U.S. Flag was raised at a ceremony on a crisp, cold, October day.

At the encouragement of a United States Post Office Inspector and the Commanding Officer, distribution of personal mail from the pigeon holes in the Commissary Building was changed to distribution by an employee hired by the construction contractors who maintained mail distribution in an old 8'x10' tool shed. Stamps could be purchased, letters mailed and letters received for the first time through the construction contractor's established Post Office.

Mrs. Grace McIntire, presently employed in Herlong Post Office, was the employee who set up postal service for the contractors in this old tool shed. This service was established sometime during the latter part of August, 1942, and a definite U.S. Post Office was finally established on the 22nd day of October, 1942.

The necessary rubber stamps and money orders with which to establish the Post Office were furnished at the proper date and time, but the name of the Post Office was misspelled. The town of Herlong was named for one of the first Ordnance Officers who died in World War II, whose last name was spelled "Herlong". The furnished postal stamps, money orders and equipment, however, bore the name of "Hurlong". The post office, under the name of "Hurlong" existed for only five days. A money order issued in the name of the post office designated as "Hurlong" is in possession of the Personnel Officer at the present date.

Many other eventful happenings had taken place during the months of June, July , August and September. It is recalled that during the construction of the various Administrative Buildings, a certain group of Chicago roofers threatened to burn down the various Administrative Buildings which were only partially constructed, if they did not receive wage increases and other demands made by their particular Union. The Commanding Officer found it necessary to place all Military personnel and male civilian employees on active duty with the Guard Force to prevent this threat from being carried out. This lasted for approximately 2 days until the labor dispute was settled.

Due to a shortage of firefighter, personnel, picked employees were trained as auxiliary firefighters. It is most vividly recalled that the position of Truck Driver (Pump Operator) was assigned an employee who weighted only 127 lbs. This position included driving the big LaFrance pumper. On an emergency call to the General Supply Operations Area, to put out a scrap lumber pile fire, everything went fine in taking the pumper to the fire until the truck had to be driven off the black top road into dry, powdered sand. The driver couldn't turn the big truck, and a bigger man had to take over. Thereafter, the 127 lb. man drove the four-wheel drive ambulance on all fire calls.

Ordnance female employees, late in August, 1942, moved from tent quarters to a 14'x20' tarpaper covered shack near the present water tower. The old shack had formerly housed the offices of the Sierra Trucking Company who hauled cement, gravel and sand (?) necessary for construction of the igloos. C.Q. Johnson present Fiscal Officer, served as their Chief Accountant.

The female employees had a house warming. Sand laden tea and cookies were served.

In October, 1942, the preset Paint Shop was turned into a Female Dormitory. Quite an improvement over the former quarters, except for the inadequacy of bathroom facilities.

In the middle of the present Tire Shop, then the Depot Headquarters, the Personnel Office was set up to do business. Employees were interviewed, referred to operating personnel for selection, given physical examinations in a closed off portion at the rear of the building, and processed for entrance on duty. Recruitment expeditions by staff cars, Personnel carriers and canvas covered 2 -ton trucks were made into Reno, Nevada, Susanville and Marysville, California. Newly hired male employees were housed in construction contractor's barrack quarters in what is now known as the old troop area. There was no privacy in these quarters. Army cots were placed in rows and so close together that one had to be careful about swinging out of bed in the morning. Among the good Employees who were hired in those days, some of whom still work in the installation, there were also a great number of "Winos", "Stimblebiffs", thieves and even murderers. It became necessary to protect the health and welfare of employees to establish a delousing-disinfectant building through which any employee, as directed by the Depot Surgeon, had to pass before permanent quarters were furnished.

Recruiters with busses picked up prospective employees from the skid rows of Reno, Sacramento and San Francisco. These employees often arrived ill-clad for the climatic conditions of the valley, without money, luggage, tobacco, soap or razors. Busses that started the journey from San Francisco often arrived with prospective employees weak with hunger, experiencing the DT's and nicotine shakes. It was necessary to furnish them with soap, razors, tobacco, and sometimes clothing, and, of course, credit for food and shelter. This was accomplished through a tight loan system with the construction contractors. Employees were paid in cash and necessary liquidation of credit was accomplished immediately following the employee's payment.

Interviewing prospective employees in the early days should have carried with it a special hazard pay as it is recalled a prospective employee from Howard and Mission Street in San Francisco attempted to stab the interviewer because he was unhappy about prospective living facilities and the job being offered to him.

It can be recalled that a prospective employee left, on the chair normally used to interview prospective employees, a big, fat, healthy body louse.

School for employees' children first opened in October, 1942, in an old 14' x 12' tarpaper shack located where Boiler House # 6 presently sits. During a high wind, the stovepipe on an old pot-bellied wood and coal stove in the school blew down and it was necessary to move the school from the tarpaper shack to a barracks under construction.

It is particularly remember that Donna Perry, daughter of Paul Perry, currently the Chief Electrician, Nancy Glidden, daughter of the Chief Engineer during the construction period Morius Prince and Lamar Prince, sons of Zina Prince currently employed in the Mail and Record Section, Ruth Goddard, currently of the Transportation Division, Harry Ragsdale. Dewaine Bill and other attended this first school.

During the early fall months, the Guard Force became a mounted Force. Horses were purchased and guards traveled their beat by horseback. It is particularly remembered that a shipment of horses was received at Doyle, California, at the stockade, and in process of being transferred from Doyle to Sierra Ordnance Depot, four of the twenty horsed escaped and ran up the track head-on into a moving locomotive. All were killed, or so badly maimed that it was necessary to put them out of their misery.

As Bressi, Brevenda & Teichert completed the Magazine Area and Administration Building. Stolte & Co. Inc., started the building of what is now known as the General Supply Operations Area. Ordnance employees were in for a new treat. Stolte & Co. imported "Rickey Steak Houses" between San Francisco and Los Angeles. To eat at Stolte's Mess Halls was the treat of the day. Wonderful steaks, salads and fresh vegetables were something new for Herlong.

In the early part of January, 1943, considerable rain fell in the mountains and valley. The installation, on the 19 of January, 1943, was cut off by flood from all approaches to Highway 395 except through the Ammunition Area to Litchfield to Susanville. The bridge on the old Doyle cutoff was completely washed away, and the present bridge on the Depot Access road to Susanville was entirely surrounded by water. Western Pacific Railroad tracks were washed out between Herlong and Doyle in many spots. Prospective employees who were arriving by bus, were required to walk or crawl over a 12-inch plank placed on the remains of the old Doyle cutoff road bridge. Packages and parcels of their belongings had to travel with them. This, needless to say, deterred some prospective employees.

The first visit to this installation by a representative of the Office Secretary of the Army, Civilian Personnel Division, San Francisco Field Office, was made by Mr. John M. Young, during the time of the flood, who is still with the office, but is now Chief of Field Representative in Washington, D.C. Mr. Young made his official visit by riding a bus up Highway 395 to Doyle cutoff road, and walking from the highway over the plank bridge and on to the Depot.

Government housing, constructed for the employees of the installation, began in late fall of 1942. The newly constructed quarters were released for occupancy on the 3rd of January, 1943. Among the first to occupy one of the duplex quarters was Mr. Herbert Hoyt, Ammunition Supply Chief, Ammunition Division. There were no roads, fences, lawns, or trees in evidence around these quarters, but employees were happy to cease commuting, and to move at last from tents, storage buildings and other temporary quarters. The Signal Corps crew, who installed the original telephone lines throughout the installation, chose, however, to maintain their quarters in an igloo in the Ammunition Storage area.

U.S. Troops sent to Herlong for training purposes, took over the old construction contractor barracks, renovated them and from that location, provided training for ammunition companies who later served overseas.

Italian prisoners of war occupied the troop area. These prisoners of war worked in many parts of the installation and furnished many colorful memories and stories during their stay at Sierra Ordnance Depot.

The first grocery store on the Post was known as Thompson's Market and was opened for business in the month of February, 1943. The old buildings which housed the market still stand at their original location on David S. Hall Ave., across from the location where the new Grammar School is now being constructed.

The present Market Building, youth center and movie house followed as money, time and material permitted.

We review these reflections on the past history of Herlong; its struggle to be born and developed, with pride and that certain personal warmth of satisfaction in those persons who have endured these things and still pushed forward to make Herlong a better place in which to work and live. Much is yet to be done, but to see green grass, trees and flowers where only sage brush and sand once ruled, and to know that many fine, substantial employees have joined the ranks of Sierra Ordnance Depot, gives recognition to those who helped make these achievements possible.

Transcribed by Grace Swaim
West Patton Village
Herlong, California, 96113
3 November 2003
(1) Stimblebiffs: Joan Houston Hall (University of Wisconsin-Madison), the editor of Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), suggests that "Stimblebiffs" is an alteration (perhaps jocular) of "bindlestiff". HOBO; especially : one who carries his clothes or bedding in a bundle.
Lipton, Dean. 1991. "Memoirs of a Bindle Stiff," San Francisco Chronicle, August 7, A/15. Lipton commented on his adventures as an unemployed youth and the effects of unemployment on hobo life.

Bindlestif - Hobo (stiff) with a bedroll (bindle). Hobo who totes a blanket and uses it wherever night finds him. (Bindle is a corruption of "bundle")
Bindlestiff (1) - A hobo who carried his own bedroll (or "bindle"), and his mess kit, cooking supplies, and camping gear in a chuck sack. Respected and generally warmly welcomed by potential employers, since they were generally on the lookout for honest work.
Bindlestiff (2) - An American slang word from the German words "bundle' and 'stick'. Many jobless Americans traveled the United States with their possessions tied in a blanket carried on a long stick. Those traveling by train or "riding the rails" were called hobo's, Kings of the Road or Bindlestiff's.
Bindlestiff (1) - A hobo who carries a bundle, usually containing shirts, socks, razor, etc.
Bindlestiff (2) - One who steals a hobo's bindle.
Bindlestiff (3) - A hobo.
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