- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - It wasn’t that there was no future in farming back in 1938 and 1939; it’s more that there was no present.

“We didn’t do much at all because the drought was just ending. Farm prices were low. It was a tough time,” said Elwood “Whitey” Iverson, who was growing up at the time on a farm near Meckling, S.D., in the far southeastern part of the state. “Everywhere you went you hitchhiked so that you didn’t have to pay a bus fare.”

So Iverson was on the lookout for something else to turn up; and something did.

“They had advertised in the paper that they were taking sign-up for the CCC camps,” recalled Iverson, now a retired teacher from Hawarden, Iowa.

Iverson signed up for the Civilian Conservation Corps and before long he found himself in the Black Hills, cutting down lodge pole pine and building a scaffold for history at one of the great American achievements of the age - Mount Rushmore.

But the historical significance of that was lost on the teenager.

“I never thought of the historical significance of it whatsoever. It was just a job. It wasn’t anything glamorous, it was just work for a 17-year-old boy. It was a job - dollar a day and your board and room,” said Iverson, who turned 93 in February. “That was connected with the CCC camp. Every day they’d load you up in an Army truck, maybe 15 to 20 gentlemen, and take you to the job site, maybe Harney Peak or Mount Rushmore or some other place in the Black Hills. We worked on fire trails. Just about anything.”

But much of the work involved helping out at Mount Rushmore, and as he grew older, Iverson said, he realized the significance of what he’d had a part in. Over the years he brought many of his students to visit the Black Hills to explain his little footnote to that chapter in history.

“We were working with scaffolding - lodge pole pine. Cutting them down and debarking them, hauling them to the monument. You must remember, there was scaffolding all the way up for several hundred feet,” Iverson said. “In our spare time we’d go up and get drill bits and haul them back to the shed for sharpening, and then haul them back up again.”

Iverson said there was great respect on the part of the CCC crews he worked with for the carvers who did the actual sculpting - one of whom, carver Luigi Del Bianco, will be the focus of a new book that will be published this spring. And he said Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor in charge of the project, was legendary.

“I didn’t get acquainted with him, I didn’t even meet him,” Iverson said. “I understand from fellow workers that he was all right, but kind of grumpy. All I know is that he always drove up in the morning with a Packard or another sports car, and I thought to myself it would be pretty nice to have a car like that.”

Those cars were like nothing a farm kid from Meckling had ever seen.

“Usually a chauffeur had him and he had a window right in back of the driver. It was quite a luxury automobile at that time. And then he had a Cord automobile,” Iverson said. “A Cord was a front-wheel drive sports car convertible, and it was the very most expensive sports car at that time.”

Iverson said sharpening tools for the carvers and moving excess rock was about the closest the CCC boys ever came to the actual work of carving the monument.

“We were kind of like roustabouts,” Iverson said. “I was just a small pea in a pod there.”

Not only did he get a dollar a day for helping with the construction of Mount Rushmore, Iverson said, but his parents got along better because of the $22 each month that the CCC program required him to send home, while the $8 he was allowed to keep gave him ample spending money.

“It was during the Depression years. We were just glad to have jobs,” Iverson said.

___

Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, http://www.capjournal.com

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