California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
A United States Army Museum Activity
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields
Arbuckle Branch Prisoner of War Camp
by Command Sergeant Major Dan Sebby
California Center for Military History
 

Since 1928, the Arbuckle area in California's Sacramento Valley was considered an ideal area for the growing of guayule, a shrub that was thought to be a potential commercial source of natural rubber. Experiments were conducted in the Arbuckle area by the Rubber Exploration Company until the mid-1930's when the project closed having failed to achieve favorable results.

Concurrent with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941, was the Japanese invasion and subsequent conquest of the British Crown Colony of Malaya, now the nation of Malaysia. The Japanese occupation of Malaya resulted in the loss of a major source of natural rubber to the allied war effort. In response to this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Emergency Rubber Project in 1942 in order to take another look at the feasibility of developing guayule as a commercially viable source of natural rubber.

The Emergency Rubber Project was a massive effort involving over 1,000 scientists and technicians, 9,000 laborers and over 13,000 hectares of guayule planted at 13 sites in three states. The Arbuckle area was selected as one of these sites and subsequently 5,300 acres were planted with the shrub.

The number of new laborers working in the fields and their families quickly overwhelmed the small town of Arbuckle causing the USDA building a farm labor camp at the cost of $200,000. The camp on the outskirts of town, which was built in less than 60 days, consisted of 30 barracks capable of housing a total of 100 families or 400 single men. The camp also had a mess hall and a community center. Laborers and their families would use one of five "comfort station" (i.e., latrine) buildings for personal hygiene and laundry. When comparing this facility to other similar camps, it appears that it was built using standardized plans for civilian labor camps.

By 1944, it was determined that rubber could not be economically produced from guayule when compared to the then newly developed oil-based synthetic rubber. The program was deemed a failure and on 15 September 1944, the Emergency Rubber Project in Arbuckle was shut down and the camp was placed into a caretaker status. At that time, the USDA hired Mr. Russell Burton as a caretaker to maintain the facility.

On 14 March 1945, the War Department entered into a Memorandum of Agreement relationship with the USDA to operate a 250-man prisoner of war camp at the Arbuckle labor camp. The terms of this agreement stated that the Army would operate the camp for no more than one year. The camp was operated as a branch of the much larger main prisoner of war camp at Camp Beale (now Beale Air Force Base). Soldiers of the guard force were assigned to Camp Beale's Service Command Unit 1918, a unit of the 9th Service Command, Army Service Forces.

The Army took control of 18 out of the camp's 30 barracks, three of the latrines, as well as the mess hall and utility buildings. The guard force used the former foremen's quarters as a barracks with a small mess facility installed in the east wing of that building by the U.S. Army. The Army also erected security fencing and two guard towers at the north and south corners of the camp. Although a trailer parking area is identified on the map of the camp, it appears that no official motor pool or vehicle maintenance facility was ever established at the camp. The remainder of the camp remained under USDA control.

The German prisoners were used primarily as laborers on many of the area's farms. Ms. Helen D. Young stated that farmers would pick up prisoners in the morning and return them to the camp at the end of the work day. In addition to their farm labor duties, prisoners received civics lessons (i.e., denazification classes) as well as participating in music and sports programs.

As the prisoners were repatriated back to Germany in late 1945 and early 1946, the camp was transferred back to the USDA who again operated it as a farm labor camp.

In 1948, the Federal government sold the camp to Robert F. Alexander who converted the barracks into apartments and the mess hall into a bar and general store. The Site became known as Alexander Camp which kept its character until the late 1970's when the remaining camp buildings were removed and a new apartment complex; know as "Alexander Apartments", was built. Since then, the remainder of the land the comprised the USDA camp was subdivided and developed into additional apartment buildings and single family dwellings. A majority of the land it now a planned development named Whisper Creek


 

Updated 30 Nov 08


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