Unlike army forts, which are built as permanent installations, Camp Abbot was a temporary facility. The ERTC (Engineer Replacement Training Center) at Camp Abbot existed for only a little over a year, from May 1943 to June 1944. It had no function other than to serve as an engineer training center. Camp Abbot was constructed to train up to 10,000 men at a time, and in the 14 months of its active existence over 90,000 trainees completed the rigorous program. The 17 week training course was a tough, competitive sequence of activities designed to simulate real battle situations and conditions.
Camp Abbot was located in sparsely populated east-central Oregon. It lay on the extreme northwest edge of a huge, high, relatively level bowl filled with extinct volcanoes, warm springs, and crater lakes. The site followed the course of the Deschutes River, at an elevation of 4,000 feet, just a few miles east of the highest peaks of the Cascade Mountains.
The location of Camp Abbot had advantages. Its western location reduced the time required to transport personnel from that part of the country and cut travel time for furloughs. The semi-arid climate on the high plateau east of the Cascades was cool and dry without the sweltering summer heat of Fort Belvoir and Fort Leonard Wood, the other ERTC’s. The meandering Deschutes River provided the perfect site to practice the bridge building that would be needed for the Invasion of Europe.
On the other hand, many of its drawbacks became apparent from the very beginning. It was isolated-over 150 miles from any east-west railroad track. The few large cities of Oregon were over a hundred miles away. Bend, the nearest town had a population of barely 10,000 and local sources for training supplies were practically nonexistent. Supplies and fuel had to be shipped into the camp from a distance, at high cost. Camp Abbot’s remoteness from other established Engineer installations made a disproportionately large maintenance staff necessary. There were no adequate power lines east of the Cascades to serve the camp. The geology of the site was undesirable. The lava rock which underlay the shallow soil of the camp made the laying of sewer and water pipes costly and slow. As noted by Pvt. Taylor in his first letter from Camp Abbot it was dusty, the dryness of the region making clouds of volcanic dust a constant irritant, summer and winter. Despite these disadvantages, the army completed the camp and it was officially dedicated on May 18, 1943.