During the Great Depression men were desperate for jobs. There was no welfare, no unemployment benefits, no food banks or other government-sponsored “help” departments.
Jobs were needed for unemployed blue collar craftsmen and laborers. During the 1930s, federal programs were created to build dams, upgrade parks and new federal buildings to provide work across the USA (my father was given a job with CCC to build dams).
A priority was post offices and Texas was the beneficiary of 79 between 1934-1943. In all, Congress approved $188 million for new post offices (In 2020 dollars that would equal $5 billion).
New post office construction oversight was under the Treasury Department Procurement Division, Public Buildings Branch, Washington, D.C.; GR Roberts, Superintendent Project Management. As a nation-wide project, it was conducted in a bid system which gave large companies advantage over local contractors.
However, the purpose behind construction projects was to provide jobs for the “little man.”
It was unlike today’s government that sends you a check, but you don’t have to work a single day or hour.
Reports demanded names of local workers and contractors, job description, pay per hour and hours worked. As some worker’s descendants may still reside in Wharton County, I will give insight into reports. The average number of workers working each day of good weather was 16-18.
The highest paid worker on the El Campo job was R.F. Chapman who earned $1.625 per hour as a plasterer working on the building exterior and interior laths/plaster. His helpers: John Chapman, S.C. Chapman, Roy J. Brown, Claude Larry Mata and George Wagner were paid $1.50 per hour and apprentice Kenneth Chapman got 50 cents per hour. The budget was $2,125. The actual cost $2,125.
George M. Mahan got $1.50 per hour as a roofer. The budget for that portion of the project was $1,500 and the actual cost $1,485.
J.C. Strickling earned $1 per hour as a cement finisher. Earl Keron and I.W. Miller collected $1 per hour as carpenters. Noe Gutierrez, Tommy Hutchinson, J. Mitchell and Will Nixon were paid 55 cents per hour as mortar mixers or hod (which held mortar) holders.
The remaining list are unskilled laborers who earned 40 cents per hour were: A.L. Byrd, Gabe Byrd, E. Byrd, E. Caesar, R.W. Clark, I. Carter, P. Hargrave, I.W. Miller, T.W. Moore, Joe Mozisek, Joe Prihoda, H. Rogers, Ed Strnadel, Nolan Treat and Ike Williams.
A.J. Wendel dug the hole for the basement in December 1937. The job’s budget was $775; the actual cost $675. He used Floyd Dixon Shovel Co. as a sub-contractor for one day. Floyd Dixon got $1 per hour and Manuel Matzke 40 cents per hour. Matzke earned $3.20 in all, less three cent social security withholding, he was paid $3.17.
Caywood Electric Co. of Houston received $84 for 80 hours; R.L. Byrne Jr. 40 hours at $1.50 per hour equaling $60; and E.S. Geiger 40 hours at 60 cents per hour equaling $24. The job budget was $1,400/actual cost $1,350.
A 12-page report listed the progress, problems, deliveries, weather and more. Among other names listed are Donald Smith, Yarbrough Construction Engineer; C.A. Logeman, Superintendent of Yarbrough Construction; and U.S. Inspection Engineer Dillingham (The Rosenberg post office was under construction at the same time prompting him to travel between the two towns as did many of the skilled workers), District Engineer Porter; Masonry Engineer R.W. Monk; and Plumbing & Heating subcontractor Archer of Houston.
The chief field engineer with Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., had to approve all manpower expenses.
On June 29, 1938, he wrote Donald Smith in reply to a request for three men. The 8.5-hour work period was unacceptable, he said, due to an eight hour limit for all workers. He wanted specific reason why these men qualified for overtime pay on two occasions. The overage would have cost about $1.50.
The following response was sent: “... R.W. Monk and A.L. Byrd on Dec. 15, 1938 experienced trouble on the road during hauling material to El Campo from Austin ... rightfully charged against that job ... R.F. Chapman on March 3, 1938 applied a second coat plaster; due to weather, material did not set up quickly and (it was) necessary for him to remain overtime to finish floating ... qualifying for over additional work period....”
The CFE Treasury Dept in Washington, D.C., demanded reimbursement for work/materials provided by Ceco Steel Products Corp. in Houston be signed by the president or vice-president instead of managers.
Response: “... as order/materials complete, I sent payroll w/o noting technical blunder from Ceco ... please return affidavit to Ceco for execution by President or VP as required; forward correct executed form to me ....”
The Rosenberg post office was built on Avenue G during same period.
The exterior was similar to one in El Campo and Rosenberg was also a recipient of a WPA mural.
However, their mural, “La Salle’s Last Expedition,” is no longer in place. The Rosenberg Avenue G post office is still in operation; remodeled in 1967 removing original façade features.
The Wharton post office, built with WPA funds, was completed in 1936 with a similar exterior and basement, but no mural grant, however original exterior still exists.
– The story above is Part 7 of The History of the El Campo Post Office written by Wharton County historian Merle R. Hudgins. The multi-part series runs on the first and third Saturdays of the month in the El Campo Leader-News. For earlier articles in the series, pick up the editions at the Leader-News office, 203 E. Jackson, or look online at www.leader-news.com for past editions.