Museum Corner June 2019
Locals, Companies Aided War Effort…
By Becky Buher, Guest Columnist—Published in Times Mail newspaper June 5, 2019
Years ago, I found among my father’s papers an old General Motors (GM) publication he had saved. It recorded GM’s beginnings and brought to my mind how the community had pulled together to fulfill a patriotic need during war times.
Even before the declaration of war, and in an effort to avoid potential enemy aircraft, blackout regulations were imposed in our country. In the Midwest before sunset, everyone covered their windows and doors with heavy blackout curtains, cardboard or paint. My brother remembers that at dusk he and Mother closed out light from passing through our windows.
Then the United States entered World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
At the time, my father, Harry Corya, was operating the Shell gas station located on the northwest corner of 14th and L Streets and also delivering fuel oil to Bedford residents. Too old to serve in the military, he left his jobs behind to become a security guard at a defense plant that was about to open in Bedford. His Police Allison-Bedford badge was No. 3.
GM began here in 1942 when the Defense Plant Corporation of the United States government purchased the vacant Walters and Salem limestone mills and arranged for the Delco-Remy Division of General Motors Corporation in Anderson, to operate a war defense plant here.
Corya’s vintage papers recorded, “Delco-Remy moved part of their aluminum foundry operations from Anderson to Bedford. The former limestone mills were converted, and production started. The first castings rolled off the conveyor line in April 1943.
“The Plant became a highly mechanized foundry producing just one casting, the cylinder head for the Allison Aircraft engine. Later in the war, cylinder heads were also made for the Packard aircraft engines that were used on the English ‘Spitfire’ airplane.”
In 2017, I visited Parham Airfield Museum on the coast of England. The museum still celebrates the WWII effort made by America. They had Allison Aircraft and Packard engines on display. I couldn’t help but wonder if their cylinder heads had been made here in Bedford.
Another patriotic local foundry helped maintain “The American Way of Life” even earlier, beginning in World War I. In 1904, Edward A. Sohn had founded The Bedford Foundry and Machine Company, and when World War I broke out in 1914, the foundry took government contracts to help in the war effort. They secured jobs for those who enlisted. By 1918, so many men were serving in the war, there was a scarcity of labor, and they filled the vacuum by employing women to do lathe work. These local women worked during WWI even before women had received the right to vote.
Again in 1942, The Bedford Foundry and Machine Company began assisting with the WWII effort. Joseph T. Sohn was part of a joint manpower group. The foundry produced heavy cranes for Navy yards and war plants and performed precision grinding and boring for shell casings as large as 16-inch shells that weighed 2,800 pounds.
To the west of Bedford, a Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) was developed at Burns City. Lawrence County citizens became part of that labor force. NAD Burns City, later NAD Crane, was officially commissioned Dec. 1, 1941.
Crane historian Peggy Julian said, “By December 1944, more than 1,200 enlisted men and women had come from all across the country to Crane, and the civilian work force increased to over 7,000. In 1943, it was probably the largest naval industrial activity in the world, a $60,000,000 project with construction work still unfinished. It comprised an area of more than 100 square miles (roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia), contained more than 2,000 storage magazines, production buildings, barracks, and quarters and was connected by more than 125 miles of railroad and 200 miles of highway.”
The people in our community should be proud that so many people, soldiers and private citizens, worked together to have an integral part in the effort to help make our world a safer place.
Come join a celebration at the Lawrence County Courthouse lawn honoring WWII veterans on June 6 at 11 a.m. — the 75th anniversary of when allied forces landed at Normandy, D-Day.
Source: GM Fabricast Facts, Dec. 1950, Vol. 1, No. 1, page 3; Bedford Foundry information—Spring 2019 Seedling Patch, Vol. II, No. 72; NAD Crane: Peggy Julian, “The World War II History of NAD Crane.”