Camp Cody, Deming, New Mexico - April 1918
The Ninth engineers at Courchesne bridge have been all the past week acting as host for their comrades of the One Hundred and Ninth regiment of engineers, who have proved about as lively a bunch of military quest as ever arrived in the vicinity of El Paso.
The One Hundred and Ninth have been stationed for the past seven months at Camp Cody, Deming, N.M. - marooned in that sandy wilderness without the opportunity of water maneuvering, which is of course a very important part of their constructive military work. So it is easy to imagine now they enjoyed every minute of their ninety-mile hike, which brought them in comparatively speedy time from Cody to Courchesne, after a six and a half days dusty journey, Sunday morning, April 1. They packed up their tents and began their return trip Tuesday.
Good Cheer Prevails.
The week of trampling was packed full with variegated incident, none of which, however, included any brush with bandits or with over-zealous border crossing Mexican revolutionist. Lieutenant Colonel P. L. Walker, who was in command of the engineers in the absence of Col. E. H. Schulz, entertainingly detailed some of the interesting events of the march, which vividly illustrated the spirit of good cheer that seems to dominate Uncle Sam's forces everywhere.
Although it was not a large force, comparatively speaking, the maintenance of six hundred men at the top notch of efficiency through a grueling desert tramp was no small undertaking. At one point en route, after they had been for hours without a drop of drinking water - there is a stretch of forty miles of "bone dry" well-less territory between Cambray and Lanark - the belated appearance of a tank car on the nearby railroad was greeted with a shout that might have been heard across the border, and before the men had retired that night it is said the camp gauger reckoned the loss of at least 6,900 gallons of the portable refreshment out of the traveling reservoir.
One of the bright ideas of the trip was the christening of each successive camp by appropriate names. Monday night it was "Florida" camp, because of proximity to the famous New Mexican range. Then followed Camp "Schulz" in honor of their commanding officer. Camp "Black" taking its name from the famous United States leader who fought the historic battle in former days near Mt. Aden; the next was "Maundry Thursday" camp, in Masonic honor of the day; Friday it was Camp "St. Patrick", whom not generally know tradition credits with being an engineer by profession, and finally Camp "Bloxsom," in honor of the present commanding officer at Camp Cody.
The days en route were occupied with sham battles and the negotiation of unfamiliar trails, which in many cases were badly obscured by the shifting sand currents, the eternal plaything of the desert storms.
Nightlife Made Enjoyable.
But the bright and sparkling oasis of the whole journey was the evening camp fire, with its impromptu entertainment furnished by clever story tellers, peppery volunteer boxing and wrestling matches, vocal and instrumental music, of which latter the mass company singing of all the latest trench ballads proved the most popular and hilarious feature.
One of the most appreciated, constantly available, factors in the success of the trip, was the Army Y. M. C. A. tent and mess wagon, which was in charge of H. E. Hess. To add a bit to the enjoyment of the recreation hours between, Secretary Hess brought along a Victrola and other recreation facilities. But the item which proved most nerve soothing of all was an ample supply of correspondence stationery. The demand for this was so great that more than a thousand envelopes to enclose homebound messages were used by the men before the journey was completed. Mr. Hess proved his fitness for the jaunt by himself tramping sixty-odd miles of the trip with the men.
Vaudeville in Desert
One evening a novel and well-rounded vaudeville performance was staged out on the sands that probably never before had been trodden by so versatile a troupe. Another evening, when the nearby foot hills accentuated the twilight chill, a huge bonfire of dry yucca brush, raised a brilliant flame high over the camp, which kindled wit and humor in extraordinary fashion, and climaxed with a patriotic war song that must have waked all the nearby American eagles from their usually unbroken midnight slumbers.
Though putting up without complaint with all the natural hardships on the way, the men enjoyed the luxury of excellent food served hot from the mess wagons by the trio of indefatigable company chefs, E. E. Bloch, Company D; Chester L. Westhafer, Company C, and Stanley S. Stump, Company E.
Arrived at Courchesne, a few hours' recuperation sufficed for the entire party, with scarcely an exception, and all the week has been busily occupied with solving the problems of pontoon bridge building and reconnaissance practice, with the prospect that a number of speed and efficiency records will be threatened and perhaps broken by the various companies represented. The party consists of companies C, D and F and parts of the medical detachment, headquarters and train companies of the One Hundred and Ninth.
Wednesday and Thursday companies C, D and E tried their hands at pontoon bridge building with meritorious results. In the light canvass pontoon arrangement, companies D and E ran a neck and neck race so far as time and efficiency were concerned. Company D, under direction of Lieutenant F. R. Payne, put across a twelve-bay bridge in 27 ¾ minutes, and took it down and removed it in 17 minutes more, a total of 44 ¾ minutes.
Company E, under the guidance of Lieutenant E. P. King, starting at a somewhat wider point in the Rio Grande curve just west of Courchesne, constructed a thirteen-bay bridge in the almost equally fast time of 28 3/4 minutes, and completed the demolition of their achievement in the 18 1/2 minutes, or a total of 47 1/4 minutes. Company C, under the leadership of J. B. Estabrook, succeeded in constructing a heavy wooden pontoon crossing in 21 minutes, which they proceeded to take down again in the remarkably speedy time of 13 1/2 minutes.
Further maneuvers completed the work of the hiking party on Friday and Saturday, and bright and early Monday morning they plan to start Cody-ward, with the intention of reaching that camp easily by Saturday evening, April 13.
Courchesne Men Industrious Crowd
No part of all the El Paso camps is more interesting to outsider friends than the post of the Ninth mounted engineers, which is now five companies and a supply detachment strong, located just south of the Rio Grande out at Courchesne bridge, about a mile and a half west of the smelter and the cement works. The engineers are in command of Lieutenant Colonel J. A. O'Connor, and the men are just now in the midst of most varied and technical activities. These include the regular and continuous work of the reconnaissance department, the construction of a complete miniature trench system, in which representatives from every company are busily engaged, the exceedingly interesting studies and practice of the demolition school and many other details of drill and maneuver.
In Splendid Trim.
Since the double fortnight expedition to Las Cruces and Cloudcroft last November, engineers have been preoccupied with camp instruction, one of the few breaks in the schedule being their brilliant program of cavalry field meet events, which brought almost the entire strength of the regiment into the spectacular competitions on the banks of and across the fordable expanse of the Rio Grande. It is not known when the next holiday or outside expedition will take place, but the efficient exhibition of skill and speed evident in this latest field day, proved that the men are keeping splendidly in trim for the most grueling demands.
Probably the most interesting department of work is that being done by the men detailed from every company, in the reconnaissance school under the efficient charge of First Lieutenant Arthur Osborne, topographical officer, assisted by Master Engineers G. H. Truman and W. J. Chrichton.
The special work covering all branches of the reconnaissance school includes approximately three months of studying and drafting on the part of each man, and every member of the regiment has the privilege of the course sooner or later. The instruction comprises three divisions: (1) field work, (2) panoramic sketching, and (3) finishing work, which includes assembling and redrafting the complete topographical data.
First Full Work Equipment
The men upon entering the school are detailed for their first field work two by two, equipped for mounted drafting, with clinometers, pace-tellers, time pads, plane-rules, and a light serviceable folding plane-table equipped with the very necessary compass.
The first essential of the reconnaissance initiate is the mastery of the unique cipher code of drafting signs, by means of which every point of topography of any given area may be easily and accurately registered on the field sketches turned in daily.
This alphabet of topographical information is a marvelous growth of short hand representation, and every item of manual construction, railroads, buildings (distinguishing every kind as to use and ownership), fences, telegraph and telephone poles and wiring, every fluctuating elevation, every variety of soil and rock, every item of drainage and natural water systems, every shred of vegetation, whether trees, cacti, bushes, grains or grass, can be recorded with most astonishing exactness both as to location quality and quantity, by the men, as soon as they have possessed themselves of the system which is used throughout the entire government service.
Given Complicated Problems.
As soon as the first weeks of practical field instruction in this reconnaissance have familiarized the students with the drafting language, and the methods for most satisfactorily applying it in their work, they are assigned more and more complicated problems, arriving at length at the point where they are entrusted with the real tasks, for which they have gone through all this preliminary tutelage, which is the production of the completed military maps, by means of assembling accurately the many minor field drafts which have turned in daily until the whole or any desired area has been platted.
One of the creditable facts with regard to the reconnaissance school is the very large proportion of clear-cut and thoroughly excellent sketches turned in by the new men. It is, of course, the primary and constant purpose of the school to educate the entire rank and file in all the intricacies of this basic work, which, it does not need to be pointed out, is in many respects of the most vital importance in the development of every military campaign.