Rustic Books LLC

Exploring the Rich History of the CCC & Copper Falls State Park

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Click the BUY NOW button to order 1 or more of our Rustic Books Collection. We use PayPal processing. You DO NOT need to have a PayPal Account. If you do not have an account, use the "Check Out" button to order. Thank you!

Forward written by his granddaughter, Faith Vilas


One of the greatest regrets of Jack Vilas’ life was that his father died of pneumonia while Jack was only two years old…and he never really knew him. For this reason, Jack wrote a memoir originally intended for family and close friends in 1929.

I became interested in Jack Vilas from the historical marker dedicated to him at Trout Lake, near Boulder Junction, WI and was fortunate to obtain an original signed copy on eBay. When I realized the importance of what I read, I knew it needed to be shared. After receiving permission to publish his memoir from the Vilas family, it is now available to the general public for the first time.   

Jack was in his early-20’s during the Golden Age of Aviation when he earned the 6th pilot’s license ever issued for hydroplanes on June 25, 1913. One of his first record-holding accomplishments was the successful crossing over the open waters of Lake Michigan on June 29, 1915. At the time, this exceeded the distance of the flight across the English Channel. His detailed description of this experience helps the reader envision the danger involved and his determination to press the boundaries of flight.

This edited memoir contains Jack Vilas’ love of flying with his love for northern Wisconsin where he crated his 1915 Curtiss Flying Boat to the Minocqua-Trout Lake area and became the first person to suggest that airplanes could be used for Forest Fire Surveillance. This was soon adopted as the “Wisconsin Plan” for combating forest fires as Jack volunteered to be the first flying fire warden.

Over one hundred years later, the aviation accomplishments of Jack Vilas are recognized on the EAA Hall of Fame in Oshkosh, a plaque on the shore of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier in Chicago, and the peaceful shore of Trout Lake (Highway M) where an historical marker tells the story of his contributions. The dedication I wrote in the beginning of this memoir says it all: Dedicated to volunteers who rarely see the results of their labors and never fully know all the good they have accomplished!


mary@rusticbooks.net ~262.628.9396

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My Life to My Children, by Jack Vilas

Soldiers of Poverty (2nd Edition)

This is a Creative Non-fiction true story of Mike Kerkes and the men of Company 696 in Makanda, IL and Company D-692 of Mellen, WI. Contains 335 pages, 217 original and historical graphics from private collections of men in Company 692 that have never been seen or documented. The glossary contains words common to the Great Depression, conservation and construction and is suitable for upper elementary reading levels and beyond for extra reading. Enjoy this historic journey --- that reads like a novel ---of what these remarkable men accomplished in Illinois, Wisconsin and Isle Royale Michigan, concluding with a tribute by some of their grandchildren. Self-published in June, 2006. 

This story begins in Virden, Illinois, and follows the factual events of the author’s father, Mike Kerkes, before joining the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The narrative continues with Mike’s everyday struggles with unemployment during the Great Depression, his hope of being accepted in the CCC, his early camp experiences at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri for a period of conditioning, first barrack friendships, and work in the hewing yard for Company 696 at Giant City Park in rural southern Illinois.  After a reorganization of CCC manpower in 1935, Mike transferred to Company D-692 as a lead carpenter with plans to relocate to Copper Falls State Park in Mellen, Wisconsin. After enduring one of the coldest winters in Wisconsin’s history that reached -43 degrees below zero. During an exceptionally active wild fire season during the drought of 1936, a desperate cry for help from the US Forest Service on Isle Royale, Michigan, engaged all available hands from CCC companies in northern Wisconsin to help fight the inferno that engulfed Isle Royale. Conditions on the island soon forced ordinary men into circumstances that sorted out cowards from heroes.

Vilas Model-E Flying Boat. Artist: Levick. Image reproduced from Aeronautics Magazine,
June 1913 issue.

Rustic Reflections of Copper Falls (2nd Edition)

This newly revised edition is a celebration issue acknowledging the 10th anniversary of when Copper Falls State Park site was placed on the National Register of Historic places on 12-16-05.


Within this reflection, you will find the petitions and documentation presented to the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Board that qualified the park in the areas of conservation, entertainment/recreation for promoting northern Wisconsin’s tourism, and for the rustic architecture of the original Norway pine buildings constructed during the CCC and WPA era.


Rustic Reflections comes with a self-guiding tour brochure of all qualifying site elements that you may view on your own. Park enthusiasts and tourists will enjoy the park even more knowing its rich history and all the effort that has gone into preserving this wild landscape for future generations.


This book contains 110 pages with 67 original, historic pictures. The Glossary defines words commonly used during the Great Depression, or words used in conservation and construction. This local, cultural and land history is suitable for upper elementary level and beyond, and is especially appropriate for on-site adventures and group field trips.