off the Road
by Gertrude Springer
Photographs by Lewis Hine
watched a gang disspiritedly hacking away at underbrush in a
remote stretch of woods. "We're putting in our hours, lady,
we're working for our keep," said one of them, grinning. Later
on I watched another gang, after-hours by now, sweating under
the loads of sand with which they were topping a wide rock-bordered
path through the woods to a tiny lake. "Want to finish it before
Sunday when a lot of folks go through here. Nobody could get
to this lake before. Bet a lot of 'em never knew it was here."
argument for work projects which show fairly quick results is
the effect on nearby communities which believe that the transients
should work for their keep but under no circumstances at anything
for which a local resident might be paid. By doing jobs which
the community would never undertake but which it can see are
useful and desirable, much local resistance is broken down and
the men little by little find footholds in community life and
lose some of their abnormal isolation.
the men in camp have a small cash allowance, carefully underscored
as relief and not as pay. This ranges from one to three dollars
weekly according to the all-around usefulness of the man and
his demonstrated capacity for responsibility. With this allowance
he buys his cigarettes and postage stamps, gets a haircut from
the man who has set himself up as camp barber, gets a shirt
ironed, goes to the village movies and„yes, sometimes, human
nature being what it is, gambles and drinks. And sometimes,
too, he saves it rigorously for the "front" of a decent suit
of the camp directors feel that the dollar a week allowance
is the weak link in the whole chain of attempted rehabilitation.
"How can you retrain men in work habits without the psychology
of the pay envelope, without recognizing the principle of honest
pay for honest work?"
men themselves wonder why the CCC men and the "leaf-rakers"
in the towns get a better break than they, who work the same
hours and are doing, as they believe, more important work. They
write letters such as this one which the director of Camp Roosevelt
found under his door from a man who had worked up from pick
and shovel to the responsible job of night-watchman, still at
a dollar a week:
wood like to no if you could get me $3 a week because I want
to stay here till the plase clos up and I would haf something
by then. I wood be please if I can get it. Off corse they
wont be no hard feeling if you kant get for me. Not enny harm
off asking. Hopeing to here from you. Excuase my writing.
was possible to raise this man to $2.50 a week, but nine times
out of ten the directors must explain as best they can the complications
and restrictions that make one man's relief one thing and the
next one's something else. The men, they say, are "unreasonably
fair" about it.
do you do," I asked, "if the men refuse to work?"
they don't," was the answer. "They know what is expected
of them and they accept the routine and go along with it. As
long as we are fair they are fair. But you don't get anywhere
trying to drive them; let them set their own pace and they produce
what of discipline? These men aren't Sunday-school boys."
but, and for that reason punitive and repressive measures are
useless. They don't have to take it and they don't. But they
have their own way of dealing with bad actors. If a man has
dirty personal habits or is objectionable for more serious reasons
you can trust his bunk-house mates to deal with him. A persistent
course of snakes in the bed is, I am told, highly efficacious.
Stealing is one offense for which we turn a man over to local
authorities. For lesser offenses, such as drunkenness in camp,
we have a regular hearing like a court-martial. Penalties range
through demotion from responsible assignments, loss of privileges
such as a trip to town on the truck, reduction of cash allowance,
transfer to another camp and return to the city shelter. Never
if we can help it do we throw a man out on the road without
giving him some other choice.
"Why, at Camp Greenhaven they
even offer him the chance of going to a jungle right on the
camp property. They had there a great kicker whose last word
in any discussion was, 'Hell, I'll go back to the jungle.' 'All
right,' said the director one fine day, 'go ahead. There's a
swell place for a jungle right down there by the tracks. Running
water, shade and two freight trains a day. Go ahead.' And he
did. Fixed it up, complete with tin cans and gunny sacks, in
the best tradition of the road. Three or four of the men moved
in with him while the rest hung around talking it over. Then
came a cold heavy rain and the jungle boys came back to their
clean dry beds. The jungle is still there and the men hang out
in it as sort of a club-house. Some of them wash their clothes
there. I'm told too that it has its uses for sobering up purposes."