Creating a Realistic Camp

How to Create A Period Winter Quarters
that Looks Lived In
by Steve Hanson
Co. C, 2nd U.S. Infantry, Sykes Regulars
July 2004

    In many photographs and drawings more small barrels than cracker boxes are in evidence. If we can find a reasonable supplier of small wooden-bound barrels, it would add greatly to the impression. Another thing I saw in at least two photos of muddy weather during spring or fall, is slats of a large broken-up barrel (large whiskey-barrel size) laid on the ground as tent flooring, walkways, or floors in common-use areas. That might make an interesting addition. The problem with easily available whiskey barrels is that the insides are usually burned, which would not be the case for barrels that held hats, clothing, or dry-good food items, so the slats would have to be laid inside-side down, which might tend to make them slippery when wet.

    A small table can be made by taking the top off a cracker or ammo box, turning it upside down, and inserting legs in the four corners. A stool can be made by making the legs shorter. A larger table can be made by combining several boxes, or taking several boxes apart and reworking the wood onto a frame. A small easy chair can be made that way. Lots of things can be made using the “lumber” from broken up boxes and barrels, including even a small wheelbarrow or pack frame for gathering firewood. A box on end can serve as a windbreak for an open candle when you don’t have a lantern. With an extra “shelf” or two inserted, it can be used to keep little things on within easy reach. The thing to remember is that you can’t use pieces of wood larger than would be found in common boxes or barrels, unless you whittle or shave live wood to shape, nor can you use more nails, screws, or metal hardware than you would normally find in the boxes themselves.

    The inside of a canteen half can be burnished to make a reflector for behind a candle or lantern to make it brighter or to concentrate the light in one direction. Shoeleather can be used for hinges for anything from a small box to the door of a building, leather shoelaces make pull strings or knot-and-loop latches. Any items that would normally be part of your uniform or issued items can be used, assuming the item had become unserviceable but useful parts were salvaged: the chin strap and small buckle on your forage cap; short pieces of suspenders and the little bits of leather attachments and hardware on them; J-hooks from a knapsack should find some useful purpose; old gum blankets can be cut up to make all sorts of ditty bags, rain covers, water-proof containers, the “basin” for your wash stand, a small bucket for carrying water. Begin looking at everything in your kit, not as the item itself, but as potential bits and pieces for other things.

    Imagine living in the field 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everything you own will wear out eventually and have to be replaced. Everything is recyclable and nothing is untouchable. Rather than the 20th century habit of simply throwing everything away, take it apart and use the pieces to make other things. Among all the various materials, leather, and brass fittings of your kit you’ll find an endless supply of material to make things with.