Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Hardrock Joe Bailey: Adapting to the Times

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C.C.C. Camp Albemarle at work c.1941 on construction of the spillway at Lake Albemarle in western Albemarle County. Photo by J. Harvey Bailey.

Joseph Harvey Bailey was born in 1909 near the historic colonial port of Kinsale in Westmoreland County on Virginia’s Northern Neck. The local newspaper noted that he “grew up under the influence of the nearby Chesapeake Bay [where] his father freighted for a living on a small schooner.”

“I graduated [with a degree in Civil Engineering] from VPI in ’31,” he said. “The longest job I had in the next several years was with the Coast and Geodetic Survey for 11 months. Well, you don’t build much when you are fiddling around in a little ship. Then I was back at VPI with the building program there. I was mostly a survey boy, head of the party, being paid 35¢/hour.

“Got a call from the Virginia Forestry Department, and they needed an engineer in the CCC camp. They invited me to apply; I did, and was appointed for the White Hall camp.

Joseph Harvey Bailey (1909–2003) was nicknamed “Hardrock Joe” by his WWII Army unit while on Guadalcanal. Photo courtesy of the J. Harvey Bailey Collection.

“Everyone knows about the Skyline Drive and the labor up there by the CCC personnel. We were not part of that labor. We were working on private lands, and our main objective was the control and suppression of forest fires, which were somewhat frequent in those days. The main idea was to afford the means to go to the local situation and to suppress the fires, and in the meantime, of course, they were being indoctrinated into the care and preservation of timber.

“When I came here in ’36, the woods were full of dead chestnut. I can remember when the spread of the chestnut blight had already begun and the trees were dying. The woods were just full of chestnut trees that had died—the insides hollowed out. You could set them afire and they were chimneys 40’ to 60’ high. You would put the fire out around there, and just a little breeze and the fire would double. Fires were cultivated, too. They used to blame it on the blueberry people. That plant [the blueberry bushes] followed the fires.

Harvey Bailey at his home in 2002, holding a 1938 photo of Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Albemarle located at White Hall, set in a wooden marquetry frame produced in that camp’s wood shop. Photo by Phil James.

“They used to gather chestnuts by the wagonload, or the individual would run a pack of pigs on the place to feast on the chestnuts. That encouraged a certain amount of burning. The Forest Service was training not to destroy your timber by burning, and to suppress as quickly as possible the burning that was not deliberate. So, that’s what I found there, and I reckon I must have been agreeable to it because I stayed with it and didn’t get fired.”

Looking over a photo of the CCC camp’s personnel of 1938, he noted, “Not only the enrollees are on there, but the technical people are on there, too. Russell Bargamin, the company commander at that time [and lawyer, banker and orchardist], was from the Crozet area.

“Mr. W.W. Driscoll, one of the technical men, lived in White Hall. Several other technical men who worked in the camp boarded at his house. He had a small orchard and also produced extract—they used it for a soft drink—there were little mills around the country. One thing they used was sassafras. Then there was another similar plant, but a different flavor. He had run mills that crushed and extracted the juices. That’s what he had done prior to the CCC, when the country sort of collapsed.

“Those dressed in white are the cooks. This gentleman here was a blacksmith, but he had worked in the steel mills for Mr. Carnegie. He worked the steel bars into the steel they used for jackhammers for the Forest Service of the whole state.

“Mr. Hubert Alwood [son of professor William B. Alwood, professor of Botany and entomology, and an experimental orchardist] was the mechanic for the department. The gentleman named George Schenck who lived in Bedford was the head of our technical division. He had been an old railroad tunnel man in his day. He had worked on several through West Virginia. Mr. Schenck was a production man and didn’t let a thing stand idle. He wanted to do something.

Tenaru Bridge, Guadalcanal, was one of Harvey Bailey’s projects with the Army Corp of Engineers in October 1944. Photo by J. Harvey Bailey.

“The physician for the camp was Dr. Roberts. He lived in the village there at White Hall. He was active in public school matters at that time. Guy Via, a farmer from Free Union, was also a carpenter. And he was a workhorse. Horace Sandridge was his truck driver.

“A.K. Wyant, who had the store that’s still there at White Hall, had five boys. The oldest one, Bob, used to come around camp selling a newspaper published in Philadelphia. [Many of the enrollees at this camp were from Pennsylvania.] I think it cost five cents and various ones bought it. Bob got to keep two cents of the five.

“Then the Isaac Walton League needed a lake that they could fish in. Mr. O.R. Randolph, who was a liaison between the fire service and the CCC program, came to agree with that, and they decided to pitch in and build an earthen dam there, stock it with fish, and make it a general playground for swimmers and boaters. Of course, I had to do the technical work to get the dam started.”

Bailey registered for military service in October 1940 while at camp in White Hall. Christmas Day of ’42 found him en route to port where a Norwegian steamer waited to transport the 31-year-old engineer to the war zone on Guadalcanal in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands. His CCC experiences of mapping and building roads, bridges and lookout towers were tested under fire and not found to be wanting. It was during that testing of nerve and ability on Guadalcanal that his comrades assigned him the nickname “Hardrock Joe.”

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a government relief agency created in 1935 during the Great Depression. Among its myriad of employment projects, artists were employed to create motivational posters to remind the citizenry of basic tenets of health, safety and patriotism. Such precepts never go out of fashion. Poster courtesy of Library of Congress.

Safely back home, married and raising a family, this pleasant and highly respected gentleman with a dry wit eventually became the County Engineer for his adopted home of Albemarle. In 1975, for one six-month period of his storied career, the Board of Supervisors named him the acting County Executive.

As for adapting to that unexpected challenge, he quipped, “Anybody can steer a ship for a little while. I’m as good as the next one as far as the operation of this office,” and he paused, then added, “with the help of the staff… There just wouldn’t be an operation without [their] cooperation.

“Besides,” he added as a smile began to sneak across his face, “I was counting on the passage of time, and I figured I wouldn’t do any real harm.” 

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2020 Phil James

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