Creative Financing in the Early Days
Throughout the early years of the PATC, money was scarce. The Great Depression was holding the nation in its grip. In fact, the depression may have been partially responsible for the organization of the PATC. Hiking, camping and trail making were low-budget activities.
While the idea of a continuous trail on the ridge line of the mountains from Maine to Georgia had been floating about for some years, there was little implementation in the plush times of the middle and late 1920s. But the club really got going after the hard times hit in 1929. By then, even for economical activities like PATC’s, it was hard to come by dollars.
Costs Of The Times
In 1934 the treasurer’s report at the annual meeting showed a loan of $50 from Vice President Lawrence Schmeckebier, made in order to "maintain required balance." That same year the club ran a three-day excursion called The Historic Trails Trip. The chartered bus made its way through Leesburg and Purcellville, VA, Martinsburg, WV, to Cumberland, MD, and on to Oldtown, PA. Participants checked the native American and pioneer trails and did a little hiking on them.
Tightly managed by necessity, receipts and expenses balanced exactly at $285.50. One item was a meal for 21 diners at 50 cents a person plus a tip of $1, total $11.50.
In 1935, Shelter Committee Chairman Otis Gates submitted a six-month report of expenditures for a total of $24.71. Included were three square rod hooks, total 15 cents; one #8 compass saw for 50 cents; six window lights, total $1.04; and a premium payment of a fire insurance policy for the contents of Sexton and Range View shelters, $5.75.
Approximate cost of a lean-to, now called a shelter, was $100 in the late 1930s. It is difficult to compare this with today’s costs, but costs of other items at the time bring it into perspective. Newspapers were 2 and 3 cents, a cup of coffee was 5 cents, first class postage was 3 cents until 1954 and a good lunch was 25 cents.
Redskins season tickets were $10 and often went begging no one had that kind of money to spend on five or six games a year. Entry level jobs, such as messengers and clerks, had wages of 25 to 30 cents an hour.
Club Raises Money
To make money, the club held ice cream parties with a low admission and picnics with raffles for amusing prizes. Contributions were made quietly; tools and camping gear was donated or loaned for years of use. Members personally often had little left over at the end of each month, but somehow, they always found money for PATC projects. Trips were made, work was done and the AT was opened in four states in the middle part of the Appalachians. Early members were determined to do the job, and they succeeded.
In October 1939, the PATC presented a variety show at the YWCA’s Barker Hall, with admission of 75 cents. Its six top acts included: "Dorothy Swift, Popular Raconteuse; Sylvia Meyer, Harpist from the National Symphony Orchestra; and Tom Culverwell, Drawing his Famous Cartoons." Musical numbers by a band made up of club members followed, topped off with a square dance. The show was well attended and all proceeds went toward the construction of lean-tos along the Appalachian Trail.
The Blue and Grey Cafeteria at 18th and G Streets, NW, which served a full course dinner for 50 cents in the mid , became an evening gathering place for club members. Both leaders and ordinary members if there were any such because all contributed in those days gathered there and floated ideas, plans and projects for the PATC. (By the way, it has been said that ordinary people do not join PATC, ever.) It was at that cafe that Al Jackman and Ken Boardman brainstormed the idea of the Perambulatory Automatic Traileomakus Carryall one evening.
The Great Machine
In the spring of 1933, the PATC held a cabin construction fundraising event. The high point of the evening was when the Traileomakus made its appearance in a skit written by Ken Boardman and Harold Allen. This fantastic machine was described as having everything except sex appeal. Mr. and Mrs. Balthasar Meyer, son Tom and daughter Sylvia had built the machine in their basement.
It was a Rube Goldberg contraption, having one 54-inch wheel, and was powered by humans in almost the same manner as a wheelbarrow, although it had to pulled instead of pushed. Its movement was accompanied by gongs ringing. It had a barometer, thermometer, windsock, fan, spirit level, altimeter and sounding lead. In future appearances it was preceded by two of the female members of the club, dressed in red and green costumes, as running lights. It was advertised as having the ability to make trail clearing and measuring easy, almost free of labor.
One of the funniest parts of the skit was when it took two large men to pull the machine across the smooth, level stage floor. Thus, there was no way this giddy invention could be of any real help in trail making, but it helped to raise $145 that first night, no mean sum in those days.
Thus did the early members handle the club’s finances and help set the tradition of spending enough to do it well, but not overspending--there was nothing to overspend with! Good economic practices were established. All bills were paid as promptly as possible, and PATC acquired an excellent reputation among the business establishments in the Nation’s Capital. No matter what the merchants privately thought of folks who spent their weekends cutting brush, painting white marks on trees in the mountains and then cooking over an open fire and often sleeping under the stars, these people paid their bills, so one could safely extend them credit.
Money was hard to come by, so the PATC had to use ingenuity in its financing as well as in its trail making. It survived the Great Depression in good financial condition and with more than 200 miles of the AT blazed. The opening of World War II saw a strong, proud trail club, active and financially strong.