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College of Forestry

Departments    Forest Engineering, Resources & Management | Forest Ecosystems & Society | Wood Science & Engineering

1930-1940: Grim

by Austin McReynolds, '40

I STARTED as a "Rook" (freshman) at the School of Forestry, Oregon Agricultural College (OAC), in the fall of 1930; this was also the time the "depression" moved into the West. The Eastern part of the United States had felt it earlier. So the economic theme of the next 10 years was "lack of working capital". This applied to years truly as well as about 90 percent of all the other students. The other 10 percent shows up in any group; their Dads had money, mine did not. The money that was to have been my college fund was used to pay for a very serious operation in the spring of 1929 for my Dad.

I knew when I started at OAC that I would be paying my own way; so did many others, yet this was one of the largest enrollments in forestry up to 1930. The "pre-commercial" thinning of students in forestry began to be quite noticeable by spring term.

Some of today's students spending $3,000 a year can compare their costs with mine in 1930. It cost me $310 for three years -- $90 for tuition, $70 for clothes (I bought a suede leather jacket for $18.50), $110 for gas and oil and tires for my Model T Ford pickup, and $60 for books and paper. I hauled and furnished wood that I sawed and split during the summer -- five cords of oak and five cords of Douglas fir together with a little slab wood I purchased from the mill in the spring. This sale paid for my room and board. I furnished my own sheets and washed my own clothes and dishes. Board and room at the dorm was $27 a month, but one could find private homes for $20 to $25 a month rental. The only difference between my costs and those of other students was the jobs we had -- anything one could find.

I HAD MONEY enough for all of my first year. But the next two years I worked as blister rust foreman and CCC foreman to save money for my next year at college. Returning to the campus in the fall of 1934 and meeting old friends, I would ask, "What are you now, a senior?" The answer was usually, "Hell, no. I'm just a sophomore same as you." I had to work two years to make money enough for one year of school.

On summer jobs one could make from $90 to $125 a month; but not many jobs were available in the winter, and one had to live. By the mid-30's, jobs began to get more plentiful -- a few sawmills and logging operations started again. The government pumped federal funds into the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Recovery Administration (NRA), Emergency Relief Administration (ERA), and shelter belt programs. This relief money also increased enrollment in the forestry school. In 1935 some 260 were enrolled, 50 more than ever before; 138 were "rooks". The year before, only 30 "rooks" had enrolled. By 1938 about 500 Fernhoppers were enrolled, and the number was still growing. Dean Peavy cautioned, "There will be a shortage of jobs for foresters." Thus did the pendulum swing during the Depression Years.

George W. Peavy rose from Professor and Dean of the School of Forestry to President of Oregon State College, from 1910-1934. He wasn't just Dean. He taught every Fernhopper and convinced each one that the School of Forestry was the best school at OAC. "Wear your red neckties," he declared, and they did -- nearly 100 percent.

THE DEAN KNEW every student's first name or nickname and where he worked every summer, even though the student was not in school for two years. The dean continued this practice even while he was President of OSC. He always had a brief minute to visit and an encouraging slap on the back. He was truly a leader.

The curriculum from '30 to '40 was broad and demanding. Technical forestry not only covered all facets of forestry; cross campus courses included Math, English, Botany, Pathology, Entomology, Physics, Accounting, Speech, Fish and Game management, Chemistry, Military and Gym. These cross campus courses were an education in themselves. Some professors liked foresters and made the courses fit forestry; others did not like any outside students and thought the student should either be registered in their school or else not take the course. If you were in a chemistry class and 90 percent were Home Economics women, it was a real challenge to get a grade above a "C". The opposite case was Forest Pathology, designed for forestry students. It was a very practical course, with your grade based on class average.

Another obstacle toward getting all the sequence courses could be created by missing a term. some students had to go an extra term to pick up the required course. I missed the spring term of 1934 to take an NRA camp boos job and then the NRA folded, so I did recreation work on a ranger district. Because of this situation in 1938, I had to petition to be excused from Logging Engineering. I had logged for two years and that was satisfactory, but a course in Tree Identification was required.

PROFESSOR T.J. Starker wouldn't exempt me, even though I had a "B" in Dendrology. I requested a special exam for credit, but T.J. insisted I sign up for the course. Because I was already carrying 19 credits and had a conflict and could only go to one class and one lab a week, T.J. said to sign up anyway and he'd give all quizzes on the days I was there. At the end of spring term, I received an "A" for Tree Identification, while carrying 22 credits.

I was short 7 credits of the required 204 to graduate in the spring of 1938. Eighteen months later I finished two correspondence courses, turned in my last petition to graduate by not being present and received my "sheepskin" in the mail in the spring of '40.

One can understand why Dean Carl Stoltenberg asked me to cover the "Depression Years of 1930-1940". I am very proud to have had the experience, and I still know the value of a dollar. I also learned that the study of Forest Management is the study of "Ma Nature" and how we, as managers, must work to ease her sometimes roughness for the benefit of man. Congress and state legislatures can pass laws to save, protect and preserve forests forever, but the recent eruption of Mt. St. Helens [typist notes: this was originally written in 1981] should remind us that lawmakers are not God. Their laws only restrict Man's actions, not Nature's.

Maybe we benefitted from a different kind of education during the Depression Years of 1930-1940.