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“They called me the 120-pound wonder from UC.”

As the Great Depression wrung out the 1930s, co-op literally became a driver toward a more prosperous future. Fueled by urgency, faculty packed students into cars, caravanning to factories throughout Ohio.  Whenever they found a job, they left a student to take it. Others, like John Sherman below, found work in a federal programs. 

Date: 8/10/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by John Sherman

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With no jobs to choose from for a first co-op during the Depression, John Sherman, 1938 mechanical engineering grad, went and worked his first co-op in the federal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in West Virginia.  He built roads, hoisted telephone poles and lines among fire watchtowers and even put down a few forest fires.  “We not only fought forest fires but rattlesnakes too,” he recalls. 

At Burning Rock Fire Tower, this squad of co-ops had just finished clearing growth and debris along the telephone line leading to the tower, swinging mattocks and killing rattlesnakes along the way.

“We killed about a dozen rattlesnakes as we erected Burning Rock Fire Tower, and we’d fight fires all night long throughout the mountains.  There were so many because the moon shiners regularly started fires to camouflage the smoke that gave away the position of their stills.  They [the moon shiners] didn’t want the federal agents to spot the telltale signal smoke of their stills.  Of course, the moon shiners had the initiative and were always just one step ahead of us all the time.  We always said what we’d do if we caught them because they were making so much work for us.  It was all pick-and-shovel work to stop those fires, building fire breaks and then starting back fires.  You’d work all night, into the day, no sleep, filthy dirty, hot too.  We didn’t have any machinery, no bull dozers, no cranes.” 

These brains-over-brawn co-ops called themselves The Bone Trust. First row, from left, are Carroll McBeth, Robert Miller & John Sherman. Standing, from left, are Richard Krauss, Leo Beckett, Walter Clark, Charles Heckel, William Roberts & Gehard Lessman.

Sherman, now aged 90, adds that the CCC camps brought young men of every economic background together, and some of the fellows were quite tough, so much so that the UC co-ops made it a point to “work and play well with the others.”  Sherman states, “I learned to get along with all sorts of people.  That’s the best thing I ever got from co-op.  There was only one UC co-op in our camp who didn’t last long.  He was feisty and tried to throw his weight around with some of these fellows.  They were a pretty rough, tough bunch, and these guys weren’t going to take that.”

What with hard work and food that came in fits and starts – plenty of food at the beginning of the month but not so much toward the end – Sherman says he earned the nickname:  the “120-pound wonder from UC.” 

Return to main page of "Co-op Special Report."
Return to main page of excerpts from The Ivory Tower and The Smokestack.

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