Memories of WWI

This is a story most people have never heard. Among the things I remember was an event, or rather a series of events, that took place during World War I. At that time blacks were not, as a general thing, used in combat, but were drafted into the military anyway. They were used in what was called “labor battalions.” They performed service and maintenance jobs for the military and were used for all kinds of menial tasks. The army bases used wood for fuel and heating, and supplying that wood was one of the tasks the black enlistees performed.

Sometime in 1918, a group of them were sent to the Davidson River watershed to cut wood for the bases in South Carolina and other nearby army installations. The Carr Lumber Company was cutting the timber in that area at the time, and had several miles of railway in the forest. That was before the day of dependable trucks, and the only practical way to get the timber out was by rail.

The “soldiers” went behind the logging crews and cut the slash for fuel; they had their own locomotive for hauling, since the lumber company needed their engines full time in their own operations

It was not a very efficient operation, but served a need, and gave the enlistees a way to fulfill their duties to their country.

When the operation first started, it was easier and cheaper to build bridges rather than cutting into mountains for roadbeds. So naturally there were many bridges over the streams, and when high water came (which is quite often in that part of North Carolina) many of the bridges were washed out. There came an unusually big flood while the black soldiers were on the Davidson River location and practically all of the railroad bridges were washed away, so in order for anything at all to be done, the black soldiers were used to rebuild the railway. They had quite a number of mules and grading equipment, and in record time had the railroad rebuilt. It was quite a novelty to us local boys to watch the way the black men worked, and though I was only 13 years old, I remember lots of things they did. They hauled gravel from our home place to the camps to use on the roads, as it was impossible to get around the camps for the mud.

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