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Black Hills Ordnance Depot
The Walrus

The Walrus

The Walrus

Vol. 1 No. 18 pages 1 and 4 May 9, 1952

Ten-Year History of Black Hills Ordnance Depot Tells of Progress
by John B. Sweeney

In order to present an accurate historical recording of all events the history of the Black Hills Ordnance Depot should be a most comprehensive story and should include a number of interesting anecdotes involving the many personalities who have contributed so generously to the respectable position the installation enjoys in its role as part of the immense organization engaged in the defense of our country. In the interest of brevity the following narrative will be limited to a factual synopsis of those major events and accomplishments that reflect the progress of the depot from its inception to the present.

To establish a proper historical setting it will be necessary to reflect momentarily upon world conditions as they existed during 1940. At that time, the free nations of the world had decided upon positive defensive action as a result of the increasingly alarming results of the Nazi and Fascist movements throughout Europe and Africa. After much bickering over the pros and cons of isolationism the United States passed legislation creating the Selective Service Act of 1940 which was designed to provide one year of military training for the young men of the nation within certain age groups.

At the same time, the mobilization of our industrial resources was already well planned and in the process of execution. However, this phase of mobilization proved somewhat difficult to accelerate and failed to keep pace with the mobilization of our manpower. During this same period, the average citizen may have suspected something foreboding in connection with our diplomatic relations with Japan, but few gave serious thought to the possibility of the sneak attack upon Pearl Harbor early Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Many historians have already recorded the fact that the tragedy of pearl Harbor was in one respect a blessing, in that the American public realized war was not only a possibility but an actuality, and accepted for the first time that he defense of our nation and homes was a deadly serious business.

Prior to the Pearl Harbor tragedy the defense mobilization plans were well on their way toward execution, for on September 4, 1941 the Secretary of War issued a directive appointing a board of officers for the purpose of investigating and reporting upon suitable sites for the location of ammunition storage depots. The instructions specified that an ammunition storage depot be located in the southwestern South Dakota area and further specified that the site would be such as to permit the construction of 1,500,00 square feet of ammunition storage space for long-time general reserve storage, including storage of ammunition containing lethal gas. Other portions of the specifications required that the site should be for an isolated depot in a thinly populated section and be convenient to the line of rail transportation. The present site, consisting of 21,095 acres, was accepted as most nearly fitting the above requirements.

Ten-Year History of BHOD
(page four, continued from page one.)

Soon thereafter, Government men arrived to make necessary purchases of land. These completed, a large scale moving operation began as farmers and ranchers moved their buildings, livestock, equipment and supplies to new locations.

The responsibility for constructing the project rested with the Corps of Engineers, whose surveyors arrived on January 9, 1942. The Office of the Area Engineer was established in the Armory at Edgemont on February 20, 1942 and bids for the general construction contract were published about that time. Bids for the general contract were opened on Tuesday March 31, 1942, with J. A. Terteling and Son as low bidders. Preliminary work, preparatory to starting the fulfillment of the contract was set in motion, but due to excessive rains during April and May, very little construction work could be accomplished. The mud was from six to twelve inches deep throughout the area and it was necessary to pull the survey crews to the location sites with caterpillar tractors. Consequently, activities during this period were limited to the movement of construction materials to the site.

Late in May construction began in earnest with the first grading starting adjacent to the CB&Q railroad near Provo, the construction of Trestle No. 1 and Building no. 3. Actual pouring of igloo magazines was begun May 30, 1942; the forms for Igloo B-201 were the first to be set. During construction of the Igloos, a new world's record was established by pouring 32 igloo arches in a 24-hour period. This occurred during August 1942, at which time a peak of 7,100 workers (construction and Ordnance) were employed on the depot.

Housing facilities during this period were very poor. People in Edgemont were sleeping on porches, roofs, hallways, trailer houses and tents; all available space was utilized. It was not uncommon to stand in line for two hours to get into a restaurant, to the cashier's window at the bank or post office.

mmunity facilities would be necessary within the depot. During the summer of 1943 many units were constructed; trees and lawns planted. Later a fine school, a Child Welfare Center and a Community Building were constructed. Sidewalks were laid, streets were hard surfaced, and BHOD became a thriving bright spot on what was formerly a prairie desert.

The Ordnance Department officially entered the scene on May 6, 1942 with the arrival of an Ordnance Major as Commanding Officer. The establishment of various Ordnance activities was started immediately and such offices as Personnel and Procurement began to function during June and July. The recruitment of civilian workers to operate the depot upon completion of construction was accelerated.

By the middle of September 1942 the principal construction work was completed and many contractors were moving on, and minor contracts were being let for housing, utilities and the like. On Novemeber4, 1942 the first shipment of ammunition was received from Wolf Creek Ordnance Plant. This date was another red-letter day in the struggle against time and the elements, for it represented the first real achievement of the purpose for which the depot had been designed. The receipt of ammunition and general supplies for storage gradually increased during 1943 and during the month of January 1944 a total of 586 carloads of ammunition were received. As in-shipments became increasingly heavier the problem of making out-shipments to our troops overseas also began a gradual buildup. Both activities reached a peak during the quarterly period of July, August and September 1944 when 2,344 carloads of ammunition and general supplies were received and shipped.

After V-J Day 1945, the heavy-out-shipment program diminished to practically nothing and the depot entered a period where many tons of unused ammunition were received from overseas bases. This material was to provide a part of the Army's reserve stocks and was later to create the major workload for the depot. At the same time the defense department found itself with many items no longer needed and to bolster the civilian economy a large scale program for the disposal of excess or surplus military supplies and equipment was initiated. Many obsolete or useless ammunition items were demilitarized and the resultant scarce metal salvaged and sold to civilian markets.

During 1947, 1948 and 1949 this installation enjoyed a relatively stabilized period. The employment of civilian workers had decreased to about 700-750 due to budget cuts and economy measures; the workload leveled out to the more routine job of restorage, renovation, and maintenance of all types of supplies stored at the depot.

The crossing of the 38th parallel in Korea during June 1950 by the North Korean Forces and the subsequent decision to resist this action had considerable impact upon the Ordnance Corps and upon this installation. In order to render supply support to the troops it soon became necessary to repair and ship a variety of Ordnance items already in storage. At times the demands were exceedingly heavy and the deadlines short, but the depot arose to the occasion and met every commitment although there were times when every available man was called upon, including police, firefighting, and Post Engineer personnel. Likewise, the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, created for the purpose of banding together and equipping free nations against the possibility of Communist aggression, affected Ordnance operations through the supply of arms and ammunition and has to some extent increased the workload of the depot remains at a fairly heavy level and immediate letup is in sight.

BHOD is unique among Ordnance installations in that nearly all of the workers and their families reside within the confines of the depot. There are many community facilities to service the people with necessary everyday items; the school system rates with the very best. Many private organizations, all of which exist for some worthy purpose, provide for the spiritual, moral, social and recreational welfare of the people, young and old.

Thus, we can now look back on the first decade of our depot's existence and point with a great deal of pride to our many accomplishments.

(under construction)


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