Posts Tagged ‘WPA’

Search for Blue

November 6, 2019

When we first came to Boone, the town in North Carolina where Pat and I raised our three young’uns, I had a job that lasted  a few years,  tieing steel rebar in the Linn Cove Viaduct.

It was a bridge that happened to be the final section–the Missing Link–of a 469-mile National Park road, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Why this missing link, which was located pretty much in the middle of the whole road project, took so long to get built is a long story.

That story will form part of the narrative of a new novel, which I have recently begun researching and writing. The working title is Search for Blue.

Back in the 1950’s, ’60’s and 70’s, a gaggle of disagreements had confounded any beginning of constructing that Missing Link. When they finally got the issues settled between owners of Grandfather Mountain and the National Park Service, construction of the final Blue Ridge Parkway section was begun in 1979.

And I helped. While the missing link was being built, it looked something like this:

BRPLinConst2

Recently, I, being now in what used to be called old age (but only 68!), I began to wonder what the cessation of work might have been like for a workman who had labored on that Parkway project “back in the day.”

This book will tell the tale that I uncover. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1 of “Search for Blue.”

But in October of ’29 the whole damn thing just stalled out, real sudden like,   stone-cold dead in its tracks.

By that time, marauding manufacturing and rabid farming had stirred up a dust bowl in the wide prairies and a cloud of manifest debilitation over our formerly manifested destiny. Monetary manipulation absconded the bold thrust of old-fashioned capital-driven progress; frantic philandering pushed quaint front-porch watch-the-world-go-by domestic tranquility into a ragged soup line.

1920’s roaring jibber-jabber got lost in 1930’s Depression regression.  The country had shifted from financed euphoria to unemployed stuporia, and so in the election of ’32 we rolled Mr. Roosevelt into the White house on a Democrat wheelbase of socializing progressivism;  The new President, former governor of New York, wasted no time in arm-twisting the nation right on over into his New Deal.

As the dust of dystopia settled, some forlorn Americans pined for the good ole days. Ah, they said, those were the days. Wish we’d seen it coming!

It didn’t take them New Dealers too long to figure out that what was needed was to get  people working again, and fast.

Congress, shell-shocked by the deadening thunder of an American business-industrial dynamo self-destructing,  got themselves hellbent on a string of programs to shorten–if not eliminate–the    lengthening unemployment lines. Their legislating fervor reached way, way far–even as far as somewhere over the rainbow–and so they laid hold of the pot of gold!

But when the vessel was recovered, it turned out to be–not a pot of gold, but–a soup pot, and a damn-near empty one at that.  So they set themselves to re-filling it, although not with gold. There wasn’t, by that time, much of the precious yellow stuff around. They had to  begin filling the empty rainbow pot with . . . soup!

Out on the street, maybe while waitin’ in line for the soup, Joe Blow–or maybe it was Jane Doe–came up with a name for the collection of work and improvement programs that Congress was dishing out: “alphabet soup.” Take a gander at this list: FERA, FCA, NIRA, PWA,  FFMC, CWER, AAA, EBA, FDIC, FHA, NRA, NLRB, RA, REA, SEC, SSA, TVA, to name just a few, and we’ll certainly not fail to mention the two work outfits destined to be the most productive in our present scouting-out-the-land, search for Blue expedition: CCC  and WPA, which is the easy way of sayin’ Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration.

Since Mr. Roosevelt had proclaimed we had nothing to fear but fear itself, one of Congress’ first assaults against the dreaded enemy actually took aim at that “fear itself.”

In an inspired idea to nullify the power of the enemy attitude, our  lawmakers scrambled the word “fear.” They appropriated the letters. . . f, e, a, and r, reassigned them to a nobler cause, and came up with  the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933, which came to be known as: FERA!

And that was one of the early servings of the alphabet soup; it got  ladled into the bowls and hands of millions of unemployed Americans.

Most of the work was cranked up in the urban districts; city folks were much more dependent on the system than country folk. Out on the farms, people might be broke, and they might be deprived of some of the so-called necessities of modern life, but at least they had some ground out back to scratch a few seeds into the good earth and thereby harvest unto themselves some corn, beans, or potatoes to serve at dinner time. They might even still have a hog or two or a cow or at least a few chickens peckin’ around to have for some future supper time embellishment.

All that said, the farm folks did have their share of the alphabetizing bonanza that Congress was serving: AAA, FCA, FFMC etcetera etcetera. One way or another, everybody got a little help.

Back in that day and time, most men could still wield a shovel or a hoe. Even if they hadn’t done much with such tools as that, they or their kin were probably close enough to the land to at least know something of how to handle an implement.

As it turned out, a lot of them programs that the New Dealers came up with did involve shovels and hoes and rakes and such. By ‘n by, some Republicans who were not so convinced about the efficacy of Mr. Roosevelt’s wheelin’ dealin’ job programs–they hit upon the shovel as a symbol of the gaggle of “do nothing” alphabetized boondoggle make-work crews who spent more time leaning on their shovels than actually wielding them for the betterment of the country.

But that’s just politics. They’ll never get all that mess straightened out.

Probably about three years from now, I’ll have the rest of it done so you can read about how it all came together over fifty years of time.

Meanwhile, find a good book to read, today! You can find one here:

careyrowland.com

The Parkway Cometh

June 22, 2019

In 1937, the following scene probably happened somewhere near where we live in the Blue Ridge, North Carolina:

“What does it say?”

Jake handed the letter to his father. “There’s a lot of gobble-dy-gook there, Pa, but it says the land stopped bein’ ours when they posted it down at the courthouse.”

“Posted what?”

“The map of all the land they need to take.”

Jeremiah turned around slightly. Casting an eye on his nearby rocker, he carefully took aim and seated himself. Looking up again at his boy, “Well they ain’t paid us for it yit.”

“That needs to be decided yet, Pa.” Jake shook his head slowly. “It’s lookin’ like this is gonna drag on fer awhile.”

“We told that inspector fella we’d take forty.”

“It ain’t that simple, Pa. Them lawyers down in Raleigh gonna pay us whatever they say it’s worth.”

“Damn, son! What is this? Damn communists!”

Jake set the letter down on the side-cabinet. He had managed to glance through it and get the gist. “Shit, pa, it ain’t that bad. They’re just tryin’ to build that road real nice and scenic so’s people’ll come drivin’ up here and spend their money.”

“Well I guess that’s all well ‘n good, son. But I ain’t been down to the courthouse to see what they posted. Don’t seem right that we ain’t got payment, and we don’t even know how much we’re gonna git!”

“It’ll all work out, Pa. At least they’re only takin’ one side of our land. Watsons and Purlears got their places split up. And from what I’ve heard from Miller up in Ashe, them that got their land split up won’t be able to even drive from one side t’other. So be thankful for what you got. Ain’t  that what the Book says?” Jake looked his father in the eye. “Be thankful we’ll still be able to drive the tractor from one side all the way across the field to the other side.”

“Yeah, what’s left of it,” Jeremiah mumbled as he commenced to rocking. He looked out the window, through the porch at the front yard. “Hell, I don’t know what this world’s coming to.

Jake was reading another letter, silently. His attention riveted there, he said nothing, just nodded his head, looking down at the script on a letter from his aunt Polly in Foscoe.

“New Deal, I guess,” his father continued while Jake folded Polly’s letter and picked up another piece of mail.

“Yeah, Pa, I reckon it’s the New Deal. Did Sally say what time they’d be back?

“’bout four, I think she said.”

Pa had been pondering. “Son, did you know they posted that map at the courthouse?

Jake sighed. “Yeah, Pa, I knew about it. I went and looked at it on Friday when I was in town. Roby Watson told me about it while I was in Goodnight’s pickin’ up feed.”

“I guess you didn’t wanna tell me, huh?”

“Nah, pa, I just forgot about it.” Jake sat down in his easy chair. Now he was reading something else.

“You forgot about it.”

“Yeah, Pa.” Jake nodded his head slowly, preoccupied with his bank statement.

Jeremiah was rocking steadily now, as if he were relaxed and maybe resigning himself to whatever it was that was about to happen that would change the shape of the 67 acres he had inherited from his father back in 1910. “Seems a little strange to me, boy, you could forget about something as important as losing a quarter of our land.” No judgement in his voice. Just sayin’. Pa had calmed down from his earlier rant.

“I mean,” Jake looked up at his father again, smiling slightly. “I mean, I didn’t forget about it; I just forgot to tell you about it.”

“Uh huh.”

Jake’s expression morphed slowly  from concentration in his letter-reading, to a mild amusement. “Shootfire, Pa, there’s somethin’ else I forgot to tell you.

“Oh yeah?” His father allowed a mild chuckle. Mr. Roosevelt gonna bring us a hog or two as a consolation prize?

“Actually, it is kinda like that . . . maybe a peace offering. Uncle Skip told Roby he’d give me a job running one of them road graders.”

“On the new road?” Jeremiah’s voice acquired an even more amused tone.

“Yep.”

Jake’s father laughed. “Well, ain’t that a cat’s whisker! I seen it all now. The Parkway giveth and the Parkway taketh away,” he declared, playing upon some ancient proverb. Now he set the rocker into a steady pace. “And when’s that gonna start?”

“Coupla weeks, or something like that,” Jake replied. “They gotta finish that little bit of blasting over there near the highway. Then, Skip says, they’ll pretty much be ready to grade from Deep Gap all the way to Aho.”

“Well, I guess that’s good news for Uncle Sam, but it’ll blast the hell out of our peace and quiet around here with all that machinery and whatnot takin’ over this country.”

“Not takin’ over, Pa, just makin’ it easy for folks to come up here and spend money, after they lay the asphalt to it.”

“I reckon it will be easier for them rich folks down the mountain to come up here and ride around in their Cadillacs, like over in Blowin’ Rock.”

BlueRdgView

Yep. Coulda happened. . . maybe, maybe not. Long time ago . . . but we haven’t  yet totally obliterated our consciousness of the past with our contemporary obsession in social media and and political side-show antics. Not yet.

Blue 

Hey you unemployed, you shovel-ready?

June 5, 2015

Pat and I have been watching, on Amazon, Ken Burns’ documentary series about the Roosevelts (Teddy and Franklin and Eleanor and all them others in between). This morning I find myself wanting to share some thoughts about President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=ken+burns+roosevelt

FDR was a man for his time. He was, as we readers of the Bible like to say, a person who had been born “for such a time as this.”

“This” time being that time– the time that he was born into, and destined to have a great impact on: the 1930s.

Through the long course of Ken Burns’ biographical film-depiction of FDR, any viewer can ascertain many attributes of true leadership that Mr. Roosevelt manifested in his personality.

Most notable among those attributes is a thoroughly positive attitude: We can do this, he exuded, and we can do it with great joy and a good attitude. Watching the old newsreel clips of FDR I am reminded, strangely enough, of another great President, Ronald Reagan, who possessed a similarly positive outlook on life. Mr. Roosevelt’s jovial optimism also reminds me of the first pastor I ever had after becoming a Christian at age 27. That was a fellow named Tom Gable, about 35 years ago.

But Mr. Roosevelt’s unique leadership was not an attribute that was easily acquired. His gift of joyful positivism was shaped by God, through the terrible crucible of suffering. It was thereby crafted into a finely-honed treasure. His crucible of suffering was a disease: polio.

We all have, as we Christians say, our “cross to bear.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “cross” was a dreaded, debilitating disease.

I daresay if Mr. Roosevelt had had no such impediment– with as much class privilege and intelligence as he had going for him– he would have been as arrogant as the day is long, and his great leadership skills would never have been manifested in any truly effective way.

Just sayin’. No way to prove such a statement.

Smiling and displaying great confidence has a lot to do with this. Confidence in himself, of course, but more importantly, confidence in us.

Now I know that among my circle of friends, most of whom are conservative southerners generally espousing Republican principles, to admire Mr. Roosevelt, especially in a public way, is anathema, because he was, you know, the guy who got us going down the terrible road of socialism that eventually led to LBJ and Obama and our current entitlement-driven welfare state and so forth and so on.

But here’s the thought I want to explore on this beautiful Friday morning in June, 2015: Sure, Mr. Roosevelt was perhaps, a “socialist” by some definitions, but look what stupendous works got done  in the 1930s under his leadership: dams, rural electrification projects, conservation projects, millions of trees planted, post offices all over the country with artistic murals, bridges, roads. And in my neck of the woods here in North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway was built. Fifty years after that project, I worked on its final phase. I got hired in 1981 as a steel-tieing rodbuster. This was a job I took on– liberal arts college graduate that I am– for a few years, to feed my wife and young’uns back in the early days of our marriage, in order to complete the Parkway’s missing link, the Linn Cove Viaduct–the section that was never finished back in the ’30s–because it was in the shadow of rough, rocky Appalachian terrain, a mountain that we call, around here, Grandfather.

So there we were last night watching Ken Burns’ masterful documentary-style story-tellin’ about Roosevelt and the WPA, CCC, NRA, etc. And we see all those workin’ folks on them grainy old blackn’white newsreels. The workers were performing great feats of mastery over nature, staying busy and out of trouble, getting significant legacy edifices erected, while our great capital-breathing nation recovered from a blown-up 1920s Wall Street bubble. Sound familiar?

But here’s the thing. If you’ll look at all them old and young codgers on them newsreels back in the day, you can discern that they knew how to work.

“Shovel ready” is what I’m talking about. Literally, men– and many a woman too–knew how to use shovels back then. They knew how to do physical work, in order to construct all them great projects and assure future wilderness and national parks and so on and so forth, and in so doing, implant within our national heritage many great infrastructure and/or numerous national treasure wonders that are still with us today.

But here’s the rub. I don’t think folks these days are like those crusty Americans from back in the day. There’s no way we can do what they did.

That was then and this is now.

Back in the day, during the ’30s, fellas were just three steps off the farm anyway, and they knew how to really use a shovel. Workers these days are more likely to be texting or checking email on their mobile device while leaning on the shovel, and so I don’t see us really able to dig our way out of this hole we’re in.

So if there were a Roosevelt kind of person around today to lead us out of this mess, God only knows who it would be. I certainly see anyone like that on the horizon.

Mobile-device-ready doesn’t exactly carry the same weight as shovel-ready. Nevertheless. . .take a look around at America. While we are trying to find make-work for folks, what needs doin’?

 

Glass Chimera