THE GULF ORDNANCE PLANT
BUILDING THE PLANT
by Brent Coleman
On April 15, 1942, The Procter & Gamble Defense Corporation, after its initial success with a shell-loading plant in Milan, Tenn., had another job and a double responsibility. By direction of the Under Secretary of War, and again on a no-profit basis to the company, the contract for the Gulf Ordnance Plant was signed. This included the procurement of production equipment and its installation, the training of personnel, and the operating of facilities for loading and assembling fixed rounds of shells. Nothing succeeds like success, in shell-loading as in soap-making.
In a letter written March 20, 1942, the construction authorization was given to the Chief of Engineers for the Gulf Ordnance Plant by the War Department. The site was located at the village of Prairie, Miss., approximately seven miles southwest of Aberdeen. It included a small portion of the town of Prairie, population 150, and the total land area was 6,720 acres. Of this, 551 acres were classified as explosive areas.
Ferguson-Oman were chosen to handle the construction and their contracts signed April 28, called for five production lines and complete construction of the plant in twelve and a half months. The contract also detailed another complete "munition city", but on a smaller scale and built on more of a temporary basis than Milan. To be built (according to the contract) were all necessary loading and administrative buildings, shops, railroads, steam, air, electric and telephone lines, fencing, lighting power houses, more dormitories, a water system, staff houses, cafeteria, guard houses and a fire fighting system. Ground was broken for the first railroad spurs on May 6, 1942.
According to material from the archives of Procter & Gamble, when the company was assigned the task of planning a munitions plant at Wolf Creek, "there were hardly a dozen men in the country who understood and had had experience with the problems of mass loading of shells and could teach or transmit their knowledge. P&G engineers and planners had only a small, experimental arsenal, Picatinny, to study every phase of a shell-loading operation hoping for help. "In those early days the only instructions were to go as you please but get it done."
The prime contractor on Gulf Ordnance Plant No. 112 was Ferguson-Oman Company. Subcontractors included Charles-Weaver & S.W. of Jackson; Gravell Lumbert Co., of Tupelo; Gulf Coast Construction Co., Hattiesburg; Carloss Well & Supply Co., Memphis; W.J. McGee & Son, Jackson; Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., Chicago; Other subcontractors included Mattox Sand & Gravel Co., Aberdeen, and Cartwright Const. Co., Camden, TN.
Once the 6,720 acres of land were acquired, topographical maps of the entire area were drawn, four maps in all. Each has a legend which shows the following: gravel roads, dirt roads, railroads, fence lines, ponds or lakes, buildings, contour lines, boundary lines, bench mark, woods, transmission lines, telephone lines, cemeteries and streams of water.
In the plant construction, all buildings where explosions were possible would have to be especially constructed to confine any explosion to that one structure. The walls were built to withstand an explosion from within while the roofs were barely held in place so that an explosion force would go up, knocking off the roof, rather than spreading outward along the ground endangering other buildings and the workers in it.
Then off the drawing boards came the architect's designs for the construction of: water and gas systems, water distribution, steam distribution, heating, sanitary and sewage, storm draining, electrical systems, cable distribution, and the special designs for the ammunitions lines: magnesium pyrotechnic, smokeless, preparation, pelleting, melting, etc., each one used in the assembling of ammunition.
Only explosion-proof equipment was to be used in telephones, water fountains and other equipment installed, in order to eliminate the chance of an explosion. The only lighting used throughout the shell-loading structures was florescent lighting.
---- from The Gulf Ordnance Plant 1942 - 45, Brent Coleman, A TomBigbee Country magazine Special Edition, 2002
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Photo Ferguson-Oman temporary office from Brent Coleman Collection.