In the entire field of CCC-issue clothing, no subject is more vexing than footwear.
CCC boys were hard on their boots, and an enrollee could expect to go through two or three pair in a single six-month term. Unsurprisingly, surviving original examples with ECW or CIV contract stamps are therefore rare to nonexistent. Shoes wore out, and new shoes were issued to wear out in their turn; remaining inventory at the end of the program in 1942 was recycled for the war effort.
Even so, by closely studying images of CCC shoes in camp and in the field, comparing them to known US Army footwear, and gleaning published reports for hints, we can make some tentative identifications. To help us do so, a review of US Army footwear before and during the CCC years is in order.
US ARMY FOOTWEAR, 1912-1941: A BRIEF HISTORY
1912 RUSSETT MARCHING SHOE
The US Army entered the World War I era immensely proud to have its troops shod in the first "scientifically designed" footwear ever issued to any army: the 1912 Russet Marching Shoe, built on the Munson Last.
With beautiful lightweight uppers fabricated grain out with a rich red finish begging for polish, low cut (by modern standards), and ornamental toe caps, these shoes look more suited to the ballroom than the trenches. And that speaks volumes about the culture and world view of the Regular Army between the Civil War and World War II.
The Regular Army was a constabulary army, posted on the American frontier until the end of the Indian Wars, and then around the world in the outposts of new American empire in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines, and China. It wanted comfortable footwear for rapid walking in a brief campaign: shoes for chasing Pancho Villa in Mexico, Boxers in China, or Filipino insurrectionists in Luzon. The result was a shoe more similar in intent and design to a hiking shoe than to a heavy work shoe or modern combat boot.
Second, the Regular Army was a garrison army. In between brief field expeditions it spent weeks and months in sleepy posts. To keep the men busy officers demanded spit and polish, and units vied with one another for the sharpest appearance. It wanted a shoe that would also look sharp.
Finally, the Regular Army was impoverished. The American people were skeptical of militarism and distrusted standing armies. Congress kept the Regulars on a fiscal starvation diet, and the Quartermaster Corps struggled to outfit the troops with the scarce funds appropriated. It wanted one shoe to meet all needs, in the field and the barracks alike.
The adoption of the Munson Last gave the Quartermaster Corps the excuse it needed to achieve a longtime dream--to develop an economical single shoe that would serve equally well as a lightweight combat boot for fast marching, a polished service shoe for garrison wear, and a dress shoe for formal dinners. The 1912 Russet Marching Shoe was intended to be this boot for all seasons -- equally at home on the battlefield and at a regimental ball.
This 1912 shoe -- with its strengths and considerable liabilities -- is the direct ancestor of the 1930s Army service shoe which became the pattern for the work shoes of the CCC.
M1918 "PERSHING" SPECIFICATION 1257, 1258, 1269, & 1271
M1918 "VICTORY" SPECIFICATION 1351 & 1352
Reproduction M1918 "Pershing" trench boots from What Price Glory. Note horizontal line of heel counter back from the Blucher ear, thick triple leather soles, hobnails and steel plates on both heel and sole.
Original Specification 1351 "M1918 Victory" shoe. Note roughout leather upper, cup-shaped heel counter with wide backstrap, and two full thickness leather soles with a partial third sole as a toe tap. This shoe was likely produced after November 1918 when the QMC allowed footwear contractors to complete remaining shoes under contract to a peacetime spec without war service hobnails and toe plates. Source: Post "1918 Victory Shoe" in topic "Thin Barracks Shoes and Thin Barracks Shoes and Great Hobnailed Hulks Part II" by World War I Nerd in the US Militaria Forum.
Sadly, the QM Corps would learn some hard lessons--for a moment at least--in the shooting wars of 1916-1918. Even before the sudden entry of the US into World War I, the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916-1917 gave the Quartermaster Corps abundant evidence that the Russet Marching Shoe would not fulfill the hopes placed in it.
As expert researcher "World War I Nerd" of the US Militaria Forum, notes:
"The 1914 Russet Leather Shoe’s shortcomings in Mexico and later in France were briefly mentioned in a report compiled by the U.S. Army Medical Department ... . In respect to the 1912 Russet Leather Shoe, the report claimed that,
'Prior to the World War the shoes issued to the enlisted men of the Army, and intended for use in the field was known as the russet marching shoe. This shoe was machine sewed, had an upper of calfskin with the rough side turned in, and was lined with white cotton duck. Though excellent in pattern it proved short-lived when subjected to service in France. Similar complaints had been made in respect to the marching shoe in 1916, when a large part of our Army was serving on the Mexican border.' -- Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, Vol. VI, Sanitation, 1926, Government Printing Office, page 626
A more apt description of the deplorable state of the 1912 Russet Leather Shoe, as worn in Mexico was recorded by a First Sergeant riding with the ‘Buffalo Soldier’s’ of the 10th, Cavalry Regiment. In his memoirs... [h]e also noted the extraordinary measures that some of the troopers took to repair their well worn Russet Leather Shoes to keep from looking like mounted tramps,
'Native beef and parched corn were the principal ration and for many days the men were without salt. They were in the mountains of Mexico following the hot trail of Mexican bandits. Men wore out their clothing and shoes and were obliged in many instances to use their shelter tents for patches and their stirrup hoods tied around their feet to keep from being absolutely barefoot.'--1st Sergeant Vance Hunter Marchbanks, Troop C, 10th Cavalry Regiment, Punitive Expedition, 1916."--WWI Nerd post in topic "Thin Barracks Shoes and Great Hobnailed Hulks" in US Militaria Forum.
Original Specification 1352 "Victory" Shoes. Construction was the same as the 1351, but expert historian "World War I Nerd" notes that "the leather is now chrome-vegetable retanned chocolate cowhide with the smooth or 'grain' side out. This was likely an attempt to make the shoe look more like a prewar russet garrison shoe." 1352s could come with or without the outside tap, and generally lacked the hobnails, steel toe and heel plates. Source: Post "1918 Victory Shoe" in topic "Thin Barracks Shoes and Thin Barracks Shoes and Great Hobnailed Hulks Part II" by World War I Nerd in the US Militaria Forum.
When plunged into the European crisis, the Quartermaster Corps reluctantly admitted that that the Russet shoe could not survive the cold and mud of the trenches on the Western Front. After close study of the trench boots worn by the English Tommies and the heavy brodequins worn by the Poilus of France, the Quartermaster developed a series of US-designed trench boots.
Doughboys loved the hobnailed trench boots for their toughness but conceded that they were not shoes made for long distance walking: the thick, multi-layered soles were like iron, with no give or flexibility whatsoever.
On the left are two versions of these shoes: the M1918 "Pershing" trench boot, and the final and rarely issued M1918 "Victory" shoe which was poised to succeed it as the war ended.
The Pershing is notable for its "roughout" uppers, in which the leather is turned so the smooth skin side of the hide is now on the inside of the shoe and the rougher flesh side on the exterior. This was done to improve waterproofing; it was felt that the flesh-out upper would more readily absorb the grease, called "dubbin," applied to the boots to make them (theoretically) impermeable.
Beyond the roughout uppers, the Pershing has an awesome triple-layer leather sole, hobnails on both the sole and heel, and steel reinforcing plates on both toe and heel. The upper is also reinforced with rivets at stress points.
The Specification 1351 Victory introduced a separate cup-shaped heel counter with a wide backstrap to eliminate the Pershing's tendency to split along the back seam. It also substituted a leather toe tap for the full-length third sole of the Pershing sole. Many of these 1918 Victory shoes were completed to a peacetime spec without steel plates or hobnails in the months after the Armistice. The Victory shoe was also made in an alternate version, 1352, with uppers made of chocolate-colored, grain-out chrome retanned cowhide instead of roughout. Many 1352s were finished after the war without toe plates or hobnails, and sometimes without the leather toe tap.
1919-20 SERVICE SHOE, SPECIFICATION 412-2-9A Dated 10 April 1920
Despite its good combat service, the trench boot was abandoned by the Army almost at the instant the armistice was signed. A 1921 Army Qurtermaster Corps publication recounts the reasoning:
"In the recent Great War … the Army adopted a shoe copied largely from those used by the Allies. This was commonly known as the “Pershing” shoe, a very heavy shoe, the soles of which are metallic fastened and which is probably more waterproof than the regular welt shoe, and therefore suitable for trench warfare or, for use when vary little marching is required. However, the lack of flexibility and the conductivity of its fastenings make it an unsatisfactory general purpose shoe, especially where rapid marching is necessary. While this type of shoe lends itself to rapid manufacture and its heavy construction results in greater durability and therefore economy of material, this economy is more than offset by the reduced effectiveness on mobile troops.
Since the signing of the Armistice the Army shoe has again reverted to the Goodyear type, and while it is of heavier construction than the former welt shoe [Ed note-- i.e., the 1912 Marching shoe and derivatives], yet it provides comfort, neatness of appearance, and durability, the latter feature of which may be increased by the insertion of hobnails and the addition of heel plates."--Notes on the Purchasing, Manufacture and Inspection of United States Army Shoes, 1921, page 6, quoted in topic "Thin Barracks Shoes and Great Hobnailed Hulks" in US Militaria Forum.
Expert clothing historian "World War I Nerd" of the US Militaria Forum, picks up the story:
"From the viewpoint of economy the post WW I Army ultimately came to the conclusion that it would be much more practical to supply its soldiers who still served in Europe with one shoe that was capable of functioning as a field shoe and as a garrison shoe. The result was a shoe whose durability rivaled that of the Trench Shoe, but whose appearance resembled that of the former Russet Leather Shoe. The 1919 Field Shoe, Specification No. 412-2-9 was adopted as the U.S. Army’s standard shoe for both garrison and field service on June 2, 1919... . The second generation of the 1919 Field Shoe, Specification No. 412-2-9A, which was adopted on April 10, 1920, name was officially changed to “Service Shoe”." --WWI Nerd post in topic "Thin Barracks Shoes and Great Hobnailed Hulks" in US Militaria Forum.
The second pattern of the 1919 Field Shoe, Specification No. 412-2-9, would set the basic design of Army service shoes for the next 20 years. Key characteristics are as follows:
- A double leather sole
- The inner, middle and outer sole were all machine sewed and nailed.
- Russet leather upper constructed from smooth side out, chrome-vegetable tanned cowhide
- Ornamental toe cap
- Eight or nine rows of lacing eyelets, all of the lacing eyelets “to be metal with brown celluloid tops”.
And so the Army's deep cultural preference for a light marching shoe that could double as a garrison shoe immediately reasserted itself. The return of a lightweight "service shoe" as an all-purpose field shoe amounted to a lesson un-learned, one that would have a profound effect on the CCC boys of the 1930s.
1941 SERVICE SHOE, TYPE I, SPECIFICATION QMC 9-6F Dated 21 November 1941
1941 SERVICE SHOE, TYPE II, SPECIFICATION QMC 9-6F Dated 21 November 1941
In 1941 the Army Quartermaster Corps' shoe experts at the Boston Depot made a final round of changes to the basic Service Shoe design.
As World War 2 clothing historian Christoper Reuscher notes:
"There were at least two types of shoes in use by the Army as the 1930's drew to a close. These shoes were similar in outward appearance, but one type, referred to as a service shoe, was unlined, had an outside counter pocket, and stacked leather heel; while the other, referred to as a garrison shoe, was a lighter type with fabric lined quarters, a rubber heel, and utilized lighter laces with smaller eyelets. The Army's light garrison shoe was similar to the high top service shoes the Navy and Marine Corps were using at the time. By early 1941 procurement of the Army's light garrison shoe and stacked heel service shoe ceased in favor of a heavier, unlined, universal service shoe that made use of a full rubber heel.
As the Army's manpower was built up, large scale field maneuvers were conducted in 1940 and 41 to prepare for the possibility of war. During these maneuvers it was found that the leather outer soles of the service shoe wore through in just two to three weeks. To solve the premature sole wear issue, a composition sole was developed in which a rubber tap was attached to the leather outer sole just forward of the shank. With this improvement, wear time of the sole was expected double under various conditions of use. Procurement of the new Composition Sole Service Shoe, Type II, began in September, 1941. Procurement of the type I shoe continued through December, 1941." Reuscher, Christopher, website US Army Uniforms of World War II, Service Shoe article.
ARMY-INSPIRED CIVILIAN SHOES
The 1920 Army Service Shoe design made a deep impression on civilian footwear designers. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, shoes closely modeled on the Army patterns, featuring the Munson last and Goodyear welt, were offered as durable workwear for civilian railroaders, mechanics, and laborers. Notably, these shoes were offered in a variety of colors and finishes including black. Also striking is the early incorporation of a rubber heel years before the Army service shoe itself adopted the same improvement.
1927 Charles Wilson Stores shoe flyer. Note black shoe in top row, third from left, described as "Blucher style... Genuine Goodyear Welt... An ideal shoe for postmen, policemen, trainmen, firemen and all outdoor workers and craftsmen everywhere.
Montgomery Ward shoe advertisement. Note the "Munson Army Last Soft Toe Outdoor Shoe" in center, made of "chrome veal leather, which takes a bright polish like a dress shoe."
CCC FOOTWEAR, 1933-1942
Having survived this forced march through Army footwear and its civilian derivatives between the wars, we are now equipped to analyze both textual hints and available images and draw some tentative conclusions about the shoes the CCC boys wore.
SERVICE SHOES: THE ARCHETYPAL CCC FOOTWEAR
From 1933 to the end of the program in 1942, service shoes or close derivatives vastly outnumber any other style of footwear in contemporary CCC images.
Textual reports confirm what photographic evidence suggests: the Army-pattern service shoe was the default footwear of the CCC. In his 1934 report on the first year of the CCC, Director Fechner wrote that "Emergency Conservation Work purchases in this field were naturally large, due to the necessity for clothing and keeping clothed a large number of men engaged in hard work... . Among the shoe purchases are noted approximately 1,761,000 pair of service shoes." The Oregon Department of Forestry's Forest Log newsletter noted in 1933 that "Purchasing now is being made by the War Department and the technical services working with the CCC. Clothing and supplies are purchased by the Army, while work equipment is bought by the technical services. Included in the list of clothing is an item of 1,077,000 pairs of regular service shoes which already have been purchased at an average cost of $2.65 per pair. To date, the CCC has worn out or is wearing its 7,000,000th pair of shoes, together with 250,000 pairs of leather boots."
Of all my discoveries in researching this handbook, none has been more surprising to me than the central place of the service shoe in the CCC wardrobe. As a park ranger, I routinely wear modern duty, work, and logging boots of every description. Prior to undertaking this project, I simply assumed without evidence that the footwear of the CCC was somewhat similar to these modern work boots.
This is not the case. Whether they were planting trees, building dams, checking soil erosion, constructing park cabins, or jackhammering roads out of western hardrock, the CCC boys did the bulk of their manual field work in service shoes which more closely resembled a modern leather dress shoe than a work boot.
Below are images of service-style shoes in active service with the CCC as work wear. While many of these shoes are no doubt true russet leather US Army issue, it seems probable that the Quartermaster Corps also accepted brown or black boots made to civilian patterns, so long as they corresponded generally to the service shoe construction and style.
A fine service shoe portrait. Clearly seen are round toe box of the Muson last, toe cap,and pocket counter. Enrollees in Camp F-167, Salmon National Forest, Idaho ready to transplant beaver from a ranch to forest watershed, circa 1938. Source: Wikimedia commons.
Service shoe unlaced at the upper holes, with white socks. Beltsville, Maryland, November 1935. Source: Carl Mydens photograph, Farm Security Administration.
Nice, unscuffed upper on a relatively new-issue service shoe. This image nicely shows the round Munson last toe box and thin, fine leather of the service shoe uppers. For reasons known only to the QMC, shoelaces were made in only one length-- 40 inches-- which men with larger feet found too short to comfortably lace the top eyelets of their service shoes. CCC Assistant Leader grading a road, Beltsville, Maryland, 1940. Source: Getty Images.
Field-scuffed service shoe worn in the classroom for an evening educational course. Note the dark color: these shoes are possibly black rather than russet. Third Corps Area: letter writing class. Dated 1933 in archival caption, but from internal evidence more likely 1935 to 1938. Source: National Archives.
SERVICE SHOES, CONTINUED: THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE RUBBER TAPS
As we have seen above, the Quartermaster Corps outfitted Army's US infantryman with the original 1920s-style leather-soled and stacked-leather-heel service shoes right through 1941. In that year, the army conducted the most massive peacetime maneuvers in its history, the famed Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. Reports of premature failure of the soles of the service shoes worn by troops in these maneuvers, combined with the soaring cost of leather and the need to conserve it for essential production, finally forced the Boston Depot shoe experts to retrofit the services shoe with a rubber heel (Type I) and shortly thereafter a rubber tap (Type II) in late 1941.
In fact, the Quartermaster Department should have known as early as 1935 that the service shoe in its interwar form was unfit for hard service--because the CCC had told them so. As early as 1935, the CCC administration began pressuring the Army to provide enrollees with service shoes equipped with composition (i.e., rubber) rather than leather soles. The 1935 edition of the Civilian Conservation Corps' Safety Division Regulations flatly stated that "For most types of work as encountered by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a composition sole shoe is best suited. These shoes should have a thick inner sole between the foot and outer composition sole to protect the foot from unusual heat penetration." In 1940, the members of the National Farm Institute noted that enormous Quartermaster purchases of sole-grade leather to make service shoes for the expanding army were driving up the price of footwear for civilians. In response, the Farm Institute noted that "We looked into the question of whether this was the only material out of which satisfactory soles could be made, and found that the Civilian Conservation Corps had been buying shoes with composition soles and had found them highly satisfactory, We recommended that the Army place part of its orders for composition soles in order to keep the price of leather soles from being pushed up higher. " [emphasis added]
Fragmentary through they are, these citations make it clear that the CCC had learned as early as 1935 that rubber soles would be required to adapt the service shoe for real field wear. Yet the Quartermaster Corps would wait until 1941 before it faced up to the limitations of its beloved lightweight leather shoe.
For costumed reenactors, the early introduction of rubber taps on CCC service shoes is marvelous news, as it means Type II service shoe reproductions made for World War II reenactors are entirely accurate for post-1935 CCC impressions as well.
Image of a CCC enrollee departing the camp supply room with new-issue gear. The shoes on top of the pile are not only service shoes, they unmistakably have rubber taps. This feature was only adopted by the Army in late 1941--but this image confirms that the rubber taps were in common use for the CCC much earlier. Source: Conrad With, Parks, Politics and People Chapter 5, National Park Service.
MOBILIZATION ERA EXPEDIENT: TRENCH SHOES, M1918 "PERSHING" AND M1918 "VICTORY"
Service shoes may have been the archetypal CCC shoe in practice, but in popular memory, the CCC is still more closely associated with "World War I hobnailed boots." If you believe the mythology, you'd think that every boy ever enrolled strode off into the woods in hobnailed trench boots exhumed from some dusty Quartermaster Depot warehouse. Indeed, one 1983 collection of CCC reminiscences is actually titled "Hobnail Boots and Khaki Suits."
Though most CCC boys really wore service shoes, there is a grain of truth to the hobnail hagiography. Thanks to a remarkable lawsuit, Georgia Wholesale v. United States, we know that two million World War I surplus trench boots were indeed issued to the CCC during 1933 and 1934.
After the Armistice, it seems, the Army had over 2,600,000 pairs of Pershing and Victory trench shoes in inventory in Quartermaster Depot warehouses all around the United States. These surplus boots were auctioned off in a series of sales taking place in and around 1922. A company called Georgia Wholesale won many of these bids. Under the terms of sale, the shoes would remain in War Department warehouses until called for in batches by Georgia Wholesale; the withdrawals would continue until the entire supply was expended.
In April 1933, when the Quartermaster faced the immediate challenge of equipping the first 250,000 CCC enrollees, the surplus World War I boots became as manna from heaven. Each enrollee in the first and second periods was issued one pair of surplus trench boots as standard kit, with a second replacement pair often issued during the term of enrollment. The boots were issued so swiftly that the Quartermaster Corps lost track of the exact number. As a harrassed Quartermaster Corps General later testified:
"Prior to issues made to the Civilian Conservation Corps, this office had a complete record of all trench shoes that had been declared surplus and obligated to the Georgia Wholesale Company under their contract. At that time there were approximately 1,000,000 pairs of trench shoes, most of which were located in considerable quantities at Fort Bliss, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Columbus, New Cumberland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Fort Sam Houston, Schenectady, and St. Louis ... . Since the issues to the Civilian Conservation Corps have been made, this office has completely lost control of the trench shoe situation and has no knowledge of the quantity located at any point except those in this depot, and this quantity is changing from day to day. A shipment of 18,000 pairs was recently made to San Francisco on instructions from your office, and today we are preparing a shipment of about 12,000 pairs for Fort George G. Meade to fill requisitions submitted by the Third Corps Area."
Georgia Wholesale promptly sued the government, arguing that though the boots had been physically located in military warehouses they were the property of the company, and the Army had defrauded the wholesaler by transferring the trench boots to the CCC. The courts agreed, forcing the War Department to account for every surplus trench boot issued to the CCC and pay a per-boot price to the wholesaler. In the end, the government paid the company for 900,000 pairs of trench boots it had transferred to the Corps.
Like the World War I wool field trousers issued in the same era, the Pershing and Victory trench boots were an emergency expedient, not an intentional standard. Even in 1933 when the issue of WWI surplus trench shoes to the CCC was in full swing, Director Fechner still recorded that "Among the shoe purchases are noted approximately 1,761,000 pair of service shoes." In the same vein, the 1933 table of allowance set up by the Quartermaster for the work camps for the Civilian Conservation Corps noted that "Service shoes may be issued in lieu of trench shoes when trench shoes are not available locally."
Once the supply of trench shoes was exhausted, service shoes became the CCC standard.
Advertisement for War Department auction of surplus WWI Trench Shoes in a trade magazine, Boot and Shoe Recorder, January 21, 1922. It specifies that the postwar auctions included all four specs of Pershing shoe and both specs of Victory shoe. This was one of many similar surplus auctions ca.1922 from which Georgia Wholesale built its inventory of trench shoes--the same shoes that were commandeered for the CCC in 1933 and 1934. Source: Boot and Shoe Recorder, January 21, 1922, digitized in Google Books.
Below are images of CCC men wearing what I believe to be trench shoes. All such identifications are tentative--the limited resolution in the available images rarely permits truly firm conclusions.
Enrollees at Mount Rainier National Park, 1933-1935. Detail of footwear of boy looking down, second from left. Duck-billed rather than rounded toebox and thick sole are consistent with a trench boot instead of a service shoe. Note faint suggestion of a horizontal line on the heel counter running back from the Blucher ear--this would be consistent with an M1918 Pershing boot. Mount Rainier National Park, 1933-1935. Source: National Park Service photograph by Natt N. Dodge: Negative Number 86-102.
Oregon CCC camp boys, undated. Note the telltale glint of hobnails in the soles of the boot of the boy sitting cross-legged on log at center. The sharp difference in color between the hobnailed toe area and the smooth, nonhobnailed sole in front of the heel suggests a toe tap, which would be consistent with Victory trench shoes. Source: Oregon State University, Gerald W. Williams Collection, identifier gwilliams:481.
Very high resolution image of CCC men on wildland firefighting duty, Poverty Ridge Fire, Siskiyou NF, OR, 1936. Source: U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region via Wikimedia Commons. Details of shoes on enrollee center and enrollee right below.
Victory Trench Shoe (partially obscured by cuff) on enrollee center above. Note duckbill toe box, distinct tap on thick sole, and smooth toe. The finish of the outers seems smooth and the color dark; possibly these are Spec 1352 with the chocolate-colored grain-out uppers, or they could just be dubbed or polished 1351 roughouts.
Victory Trench Shoe with hobnails on enrollee right above. Again, note duckbill toe box, lack of toe cap, and overall thickness of sole. With hobnails, these are more likely 1351 roughouts.
Left to right: trench shoes with toe plates and hobnails, probably Pershings. Next two boys, shoes with no toe caps, duckbill toe box, and a curved Blucher ear--probably 1351 roughout Victories. Fourth, more hobnails, this time without toe plates--possibly Victories. Furthest right, shoe with no toe caps, duckbill toe box, a curved Blucher ear and a cup-shaped heel counter -- a definite Victory. This shoe seems to have a smooth dark finish; possibly it is the 1352 chrome-tanned chocolate leather variant.
"LOGGER BOOTS" -- CIVILIAN CAULK BOOT STYLE
Three images: typical caulk boot ca. 1930s. Note sharp nail-like caulks embedded along full length of sole right up to heel, tall 10" heavy leather upper, and mix of grommits and hooks for leather laces. Source: expired eBay auction archived in Worthpoint.
Caulk boots (pronounced "cork" boots) are spike-soled leather boots developed for lumberjacks in the timber-producing regions of the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The best known manufacturers such as White's and WESCO (West Coast Shoe Company) were located in Oregon and Washington; however, similar boots were made in timber-producing states throughout the country.
Much more than its contemporary, the Army service shoe, the caulk boot is the true ancestor of the modern heavy work boot. A typical caulk boot of the 1930s included a heavy leather sole, tall stacked leather heel, and very tall 10 inch upper of heavy leather. The lacing hardware usually included grommits near the toe switching to hooks further along the upper. The most distinctive feature, however, was the "caulks" themselves--long and sharp metal spikes set in the soles to provide traction in leaf litter and forest duff. The caulk with its spike shape is notably different from the more blunt rounded shape of military hobnails.
Multiple sources document steady purchases of "logger boots" for the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 right through the early 1940s. For example, the Director's Annual Report of 1938 records the purchase of 98,893 "Boots, logger, leather laced." Similarly, a 1940 US House Judiciary Committee hearing into prices on government contracts noted that the CCC had purchased "Boots, logger, w/calks" for $6.35 a pair, and "Boots, logger, without calks" for $3.39 a pair.
The impulse for purchasing true civilian logging boots for the CCC likely came from the US Forest Service. Fiercely defensive of its status as the government's forestry experts, the USFS was always hostile to the military role in the CCC. It would stand to reason that foresters accustomed to caulk boots and skeptical of the Army would have greeted the QM's dressy, toe-capped, lightweight service shoes with a mix of hostility and derision.
Be that as it may, by 1935 the USFS was demanding either composition soles on service shoes or caulk boots for enrollees in the camps it sponsored, and it appears the ECW and the Quartermaster Corps obliged them. A 1939 manual for USFS advisors to CCC projects noted that "If requested to do so by Forest Service representatives in the field, the Army will furnish composition-soled shoes to enrollees for work on projects where composition soles are safer than hobnails."
Thomas R. Bowerman, Sr., distinctly recalled being issued spike bottom boots in the CCC when he arrived in a CCC camp in Washington State in May 1940:
"The clothes they gave us were outdated Army clothes. The pants looked like the fuzzy Army blankets and even the shoes had fuzz on them.... . The next day we went back to the supply room and were issued spike bottomed boots for fire fighting." (emphasis added)
Boys of Camp Francis Cook, Project SP-10, Company 611, Washington State, July 1934. Two boys in center front are clearly wearing boots with caulks or hobnails. Lack of toe plates and presence of spikes on the entire sole, including the instep, conforms more to caulk boot construction than Pershing or Victory trench shoes. Source: Spokane Spokesman-Review.
"STURDY BLACK DRESS SHOES" -- LOW QUARTER CIVILIAN OXFORD SHOES
The low quarter Oxford dress shoe is the alpha and omega of CCC footwear, appearing in 1933 at the start of the program, disappearing in the prime years, and returning for the finale 1939-42.
During the mobilization era many boys seem to have been issued trench boots for work and a pair of black civilian Oxford-style shoes for dress. Recall Conrad Wirth's reminiscence cited in the introduction above that early in the program "the youths were issued blue denim work suits, caps, and a modified Army dress uniform which consisted of sturdy black shoes, woolen olive drab trousers and coat, khaki shirts, and black necktie."
Given the emergency nature of these purchases and the lack of any contemporary Army specification for low quarter shoes for enlisted men, it seems likely that these mobilization era "sturdy black shoes" were any black Oxford-style shoes the QMC regional depots could get their hands on.
The boys of Camp Morton, CCC Company 341, S-104-Pa, Benton, PA, 1934. Source: Collection of Charles Libby, reproduced in Williamsport Sun-Gazette, October 16, 2017. Let's look at the shoes, front row left.
On the left hand side we have three pairs of what appear to be grain-out shoes. The first and third pair of the trio have toe caps, the round toe of the Munson last, and exhibit a tone which corresponds to a brown shade. These are most likely standard russet service shoes. By contrast the shoe in the middle is much darker--almost certainly black--and has a more square toe with no toe cap. These are likely the early black Oxford dress shoes.
The original low quarter dress shoe disappeared from the CCC table of equipment along with its Trench Shoe partner by 1935. With CCC footwear standarized on the Army service shoe pattern, there was no need for a separate dress shoe--after all, the raison d'etre of the service shoe was to look good on parade as well as in the field.
The introduction of the spruce green winter uniform in 1939 brought a return of the black Oxford to the CCC. A black dress shoe was again specified as the companion of the spruce green dress uniform in the post-1939 regulations. Images of these shoes are common in late-era photographs, but few are of high enough resolution to show the detailed appearance of these shoes. Until a surviving example turns up we are left to speculate that they may have resembled a black low quarter version of the service shoe. Some images do show toe caps, which would be consistent with the Army style for enlisted footwear.
The well-known publicity photo for the debut of the new spruce uniform. Frank Papuga models the black oxford with the new uniform, right, in contrast to the russet service shoes on Robert Alesandri, left. The new shoes appear to have a toe cap. Source: Library of Congress.
Library and reading room at the Mormon Creek CCC Camp [F-30], Rapid River Ranger District, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan, July 1939. Enrollee right front is wearing a black oxford with a very low quarter. Source: Forest History Society.
We can state with confidence that the Army service shoe (or close derivatives) was the most common CCC footwear, albeit often with CCC-specific rubber taps. We can also be sure that in the mobilization era World War I-era trench boots and civilian black oxfords were also issued. Late in the program the black Oxford returned. FInally, USFS and State Forest Service camps often had some form of civilian caulk boot.
Beyond these conclusions things get hazy quickly. Recall the testimony of Thomas R. Bowerman, Sr., quoted in the caulk boot section above. Bowerman enrolled in the Corps in May of 1940, and paid close attention to this footwear. He recalled the finish of his first CCC boots vividly:
"The clothes they gave us were outdated Army clothes. The pants looked like the fuzzy Army blankets and even the shoes had fuzz on them. We had one boy who knew how to put lighter fluid on the shoes and burn the fuzz off and then shine them to a high finish. He charged a quarter and he got rich."
Bowerman's description of shoes "that had fuzz on them" corresponds exactly to a roughout finish. But in 1940, there should have been no surplus Pershing or Victory trench boots remaining in inventory. I have never seen a roughout caulk boot. And the Army itself would not make a new roughout service shoe until well into World War 2. So what on earth was Bowerman issued in 1940? Could it be possible that some experimental roughout service shoes were made for the CCC?
We just don't know. But when it comes to footwear, at some point or another, somewhere in the CCC, nearly anything went.