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Camp Hale History

 

View of Camp Hale, Colorado - Winter 1944

 

When the War Department decided to establish a unit of mountain troops trained in skiing and winter warfare, a search for an appropriate site for the military post began. Various locations in the western states were investigated. The area around Pando, Colorado, a railway stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, proved to be the ideal location, meeting all the criteria set forth by the War Department. A foremost consideration was snowfall, and the area near Tennessee Pass had consistent and heavy snow throughout the winter as well as topography conducive to ski training. Since much of the surrounding land was national forest, acquisition of land and room for maneuvers and training was not a problem. One advantage the site had over others reviewed was accessibility. The Denver and Rio Grande Railway and Highway 24 provided ready access to the valley. This was important for construction phase on the camp because building crews and materials could be brought to the site with out additional costly construction of transportation. Natural water sources from the Eagle River and Homestake Creek were deemed sufficient for camp use, and regional supplies of coal existed in sufficient quantities to meet fuel demands.

Leadville, Colorado, was the closest town to the base. World War II benefited the small community. Mining was the historic foundation of this mountain town. By WWII, molybdenum, a valuable element used to harden steel, had replaced gold and silver as the major source of extractive wealth. Demand for "molly" grew as wartime production increased. Construction and the presence of troops provided new economic life for the struggling mining town. Yet, the only drawback noted in the investigative report was Leadville. It was thought to be lacking in appropriate social and recreational amenities, and the report presented the town negatively stating, "The morals of Leadville are said to be on a rather low plane." Before the Army would allow soldiers into Leadville, the city council and police had to clean up the town by enforcing gambling and liquor laws as well as finding a solution to end the prostitution problem.

 

WAC Soldier above Camp Hale

 

The War Department's office of chief Engineers initiated plans for construction of the camp and awarded the contract to Pando Constructors, a business group representing engineers, architects, construction firms, on April 7, 1942. The newly formed construction company had several barriers to overcome, not the least of which was a seven-month time frame, with a completion date set for November 15, 1942. Building the camp was an enormous undertaking. Plans called for the relocation of Highway 24, which formed the southern perimeter of the camp. Buildings necessary for the military post were mess halls, barracks, a hospital, a chapel, a fire station, administration buildings, a post exchange, a finance building, clinics, a stockade, and a guardhouse. Because the mountain division would be using mules, plans included stables, corrals, storage for hay, and a blacksmith shop. Facilities to provide for service and support for the infrastructure included a motor pool, a carpenter shop, a ski shop, a bakery, a ice making plant, and incinerators. Military training required the construction of rifle and pistol ranges, grenade courts, gas chambers, and bayonet courses. Due to the relative isolation from major urban areas, the camp had to provide for the recreational needs of the troops. Recreational buildings included a 2,676 seat theater, an 18,000 square-foot field house, service clubs for enlisted personnel and officers, company day rooms, and an auditorium to hold up to 3,000 people. A new city sprang up practically overnight.

Another challenge included the remoteness of the area making it necessary to bring in workers and materials from long distances. By summer there were nearly 12,00 workers on the construction payroll residing at the camp in temporary barracks, trailers, tents, troop housing as it was completed, and at a variety of facilities in the surrounding communities. Housing was scarce, but workers were paid well. As the completion date approached, workers were guaranteed an ever-increasing number of hours per week. According to the Leadville Herald Democrat, in October workers were first guaranteed sixty, then seventy-hour workweeks. Turnover, however, remained high. During the eight months to completion, more than 40,000 workers had a hand in construction.

 

10th Mtn. Soldiers were trained to ski and fight at high altitude

 

Nothing like this project had been tried before. The entire area was a swamp in need of draining in order to lower the ground water level and landfill had to be added where necessary. Part of the solution involved rechanneling the Eagle River to provide for proper drainage of the valley. For the water supply five wells were dug at one end of the valley. The drainage from the camp also threatened to pollute the water supply for the town of Red Cliff. Consequently, builders constructed a sewer system with 13.5 miles of sewer lines and a new source of water was located for the town. One challenge faced was an annual snowfall of 163.5 inches, which necessitated some modification of structural designs for the cantonment buildings. Another difficulty that had to be overcome was the wartime copper shortage that affected the design of the electrical system. The Denver and Rio Grande mail line connected to the military base with rails serving the warehouses, ordnance warehouse, bakery, cold storage, coal yard, grain elevator, and hay sheds. One problem not anticipated or overcome was the pollution in the valley during the winter. Because the camp relied on burning coal for its primary source of energy, air inversions held the smoke and particulates over the camp.

The decision to locate the cantonment in national forest proved wise. In a letter dated July 15, 1943, Assistant Agriculture Secretary Grover B. Hill opened up thousands of acres of national forest to the War Department. "In accordance with [that] understanding this letter will be authority for your department to use without restriction all the national forest lands in that area for so long as they are required for military training and such other purposes as your Department feels are necessary in furtherance of the War effort." This led the way for development of a ski facility on Cooper Hill. The 240-acre facility adjacent to the camp serviced ten runs with four rope tows.

The name selected for the post was Camp Hale, named for the late brigadier general Irving Hale, a veteran of the Spanish American War. Pando Constructors completed construction within a month of the due date. Originally designed for 20,353 military personnel and 11,288 animals, Camp Hale eventually housed approximately 16,000 soldiers and 3,900 animals. Approximately 14,000 military personnel stationed there were members of the 10th Mountain Division.

 

Soldiers traversed mountain peaks with a 90 lb. rucksack.
Hale to Aspen 1944


For the Leadville perspective on Camp Hale, the Leadville Herald Democrat provided an interesting chronicle of events. The following bibliography provides a partial reference list of newspaper articles.

The following articles are available from Denver Public Library and Colorado State Historical Society microfilm collections.

  • "The Selection of Pando as the site of a U.S. Army Cantonment is a real break for Leadville in more ways than one," April 2, 1942, p.5.
  • "Work Starts on Army Camp at Pando," April 10, 1942, p.1.
  • "Many Leadvilleites Drive out to Pando Camp Site," April 12, 1942, p.5.
  • "What Pando Construction will mean to this Area," April 18, 1942, p.5.
  • "Highway at Pando to be Relocated," April 22, 1942, p.5.
  • "Pando Construction gets Weather break," May 11, 1942, p.5.
  • "Here's How Leadville Can Help U.S. Army With Big Cantonment Built at Pando," May 14, 1942, p.1.
  • "Postoffice [sic] Planning Service for Pando," May 26, 1942, p.5.
  • "Types of Workers Needed at Pando," June 9, 1942, p.5.
  • "Dismissal of men at Pando Protested," June 23, 1942, p.5.
  • "Discharged Camp Workers Petition for Jobs at Pando," June 25, 1942, p.5.
  • "`Camp Hale' Chosen for Pando," June 23, 1942.
  • "Handpicked Soldiers will be Trained at Camp Hale, Named for State Hero," June 26, 1942, p.2.
  • "Gym Will be Used to House Workers," July 23, 1943, p.5.
  • "Water Project for Red Cliff Okayed," August 26, 1942.
  • "Leadville is Whooping It Up in Wartime Boom," August 31, 1942.
  • "Testimony Complete in Denver on Pando Workers' Union Fee," September 31, 1942.
  • "Pando Bond Sales: $680 in Two Hours," September 3, 1942.
  • "Samurai Wrestles King Kong Friday in Ring at Pando," September 22, 1942.
  • "Spanish-American, Negro Workers Accepted at Pando," September 23, 1942.
  • "3,000 Workers Needed at Pando," October 5, 1942.
  • "Workers at Pando Buy Lots of Bonds," October 5, 1942.
  • "Job of Constructing Camp Hale is Rushed," October 6, 1942.
  • "War Bond Girls at Pando," October 28, 1942.
  • "Army Opportunity for Local Boys," October 29, 1942.
  • "Camp Hale Bulletin," October 30, 1942.

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