Published Dec. 30, 1942, pg. 1
The above photo, made recently, shows the first sections of the big War Emergency Pipe Line, which will carry oil from Texas to Illinois, being laid across the Mississippi River south of Cape Girardeau. The photo was made from the pipe-laying barge, looking towards the Missouri shore. The flooding river Tuesday tore out sections of the line which had been laid and broke construction equipment loose from its anchorings. (G.D. Fronabarger ~ Southeast Missourian archive)
In July 1942, an article in the Southeast Missourian announced that a 550-mile pipeline to carry gasoline would be built by the government, extending from Longview, Texas, to western Indiana (later revised to Norris City in eastern Illinois). The War Emergency Pipe Line, as it came to be called, would run smack through the center of Scott County, Missouri. When it reached the Mississippi River near Grays Point, the plan was to dig a trench in the river's bottom and string the pipe through it to the Illinois side.
The government explained that the "Big Inch" pipeline was necessary to speed the delivery of gasoline from Texas to the East, which was suffering from a fuel shortage. When completed, it was estimated the pipeline would be able to carry 300,000 barrels of gasoline per day to Norris City and from there to the Atlantic seaboard by a second line.
By Aug. 6, survey crews had descended upon Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri, marking the path the pipeline would take. Several companies had contracts to help build the pipeline, including C. Hobson Dunn Trucking & Construction Co. of Dallas, Texas, (pipe-stringing) and Oil States Construction Co. of Tulsa, Oklahoma (pipe-laying). The George C. Bolz Dredging Co. of St. Louis had the contract to string the pipe across the river. Contractor for construction of the Missouri sector of the pipeline was C.S. Foreman Co.
The work apparently went rather quickly. By October 21, 1942, a spokesman for the Foreman company said his crews had completed about 20 miles of the 68-mile pipeline in Missouri, and they were looking forward to reaching Grays Point by the end of the month.
But then Mother Nature intervened.
The Mississippi River began a rapid rise in December and on Dec. 29 it tore out a section of the pipeline which had already been strung out into the river. The force of the raging water tore the equipment used in laying the line loose from its moorings and moved it downstream, according to the Southeast Missourian. Working to repair the damage, laborers were faced with intense cold in January. But they persisted and on Jan. 19, Bolz Construction placed the last link across the river.
On Nov. 9, 1942, The Missourian published an Associated Press article by its science editor on the work being done on the pipeline. No photographs accompanied that story, but Missourian photographer G.D. Fronabarger did take pictures several days before. Most are unidentified, but I've included some of them here with the AP story.
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER TELLS OF PIPELINE ENGINEERING FEAT
Blakeslee Describes Interestingly Laying of Pipes to Take Needed Oil to the East.
By HOWARD E. BLAKESLEE
Associated Press Science Editor.
CAPE GIRARDEAU Mo., Nov. 9. -- It is 551 miles from Longview, Texas, to Norris City Illinois., via the new pipeline being built to relieve eastern and mid-western oil shortages, and through every inch of that distance, inside the pipes, men called swabs crawl on their backs.
Technology dubs this line the big-inch. That's because the pipe is 24 inches in diameter, about twice the size of any previous oil line. It's capacity will be 300,000 barrels daily, equivalent to the average daily delivery of 25,000 tank cars.
The swab's job isn't merely to chase out skunks, squirrels or snakes. He scours corrosion and metallic inner projections. He inches ahead on a wheel cradle bent to fit the pipe.
Occasionally he emerges with scorched, smoking clothing and oaths, after crawling past a still-hot weld. The pipes are mostly 40-foot lengths, several being welded together before swabbing.
After the men, a real swab brushed out dust. Then, until time for laying, a night-cap is welded over open ends of the pipe. These night caps are iron, as big as city man-hole covers. They lock out sabotage as well as snakes and skunks. In the long history of America's 230,000 miles of pipe lines, some of the most feared animals have had two legs.
The federal government, owner of the $35,000,000 big-inch, is planning this line to endure for a century. Buried 8 to 16 feet deep, this endless line of steel is truly half alive in every inch even though this life is minute and unseen. A mile can stretch more than six inches, and this steel arm extends hundreds of miles.
Stretch Taken Out
The pipe could buckle like the humping back of snake if the unseen stretch was not taken out as the pipe is lowered into the trench.
The pipe is welded and prepared alongside the endless trench which goes, in an almost straight line, through swamps, over hills and mountains, across rivers, where the work is done on a line of barges. The pipe grows like a snake, the front end stretching about 40 feet ahead with addition of each welded-on length. It is lowered into the trench much as an endless snake might be, with the foremost section curving out of the ground to rest alongside the trench. There may be several city blocks length of this unburied, growing end.
At burying hour, called lowering-in, several big yellow cats -- caterpillar tractors -- pick up the block-long length. It hangs from their long booms writhing like a living thing, although weighing about a ton for every 20 feet.
The cat engines shake the ground with throbbing thunder. on the opposite side of the trench, facing them, like an orchestra leader looking at his musicians, is the supervisor of the lowering-in.
His arms outstretched to form a human cross, his hands and fingers moving in signals, no pointed to one cat, now another, as rapidly as those of a conductor signaling individual musicians. The pipe swings over the trench, descends, its bending never permitted to exceed steel's elastic limit, which would risk trouble in the pipe at that point later on.
Before going into the ground, the pipe is scorched by steel brushes, coated with a hot tarry enamel, and the wrapped in asbestos-felt paper, wound like military puttees. Sometimes the tarring and wrapping is done in one operation y a machine, sometimes by hand.
No Escape Holes
But there cannot be even an invisible pinhole or loose binding in the pipe cover. Electrolysis would eat holes in the half-inch steel at such points. An electrical detector goes over the finished coating and flashes a needle point of lightning on any break, even of molecular size.
The main gods of this unseen art are not machines but workmen, skilled by years of pipe line laying. Here in Southeast Missouri the wrapping crews are so expert that government inspectors do not always require use of the miniature lightning flasher.
In lowering-in, occasional loops of pipe, a quarter block long, are left humped over supports above the trench level. Those loops are left to take out the stretch. They are generally let down in the early morning, when the pipe is at the same temperature as the permanently cool trench bottom. Lowering the loops properly packs the endless steel line so that tension and stretch is uniform everywhere.
Some of these gods of the pipe machines work with faces grotesquely smeared with white zinc ointment to protect them against fumes of the tar enamel. Occasionally the heavy boots of the swamp crews are marked by fangs of snakes -- in the Southern Illinois and Missouri region, cotton mouths, rattlers and copperheads.
In Southern Illinois a swamp worker stepped on what looked like a branch as thick as his arm. It moved, carrying his weight, and his fellow workers said he took off like an airplane. The snake was a cotton mouth. Another workman, in the Missouri area, walking in a face-high trench, dodged backward just in time as a copperhead lunged pas his neck from the trench edge.
Seven contracting companies, from Texas to Illinois, are constructing sections of the line simultaneously. The laying began in August, is expected to be finished by Dec. 1. The 10 pumping stations are due to start the oil flowing Jan. 1, 1943.
Half a Loaf
The big-inch is only half a loaf. The rest would extend the line to Philadelphia and New York. For the hard-hit Eastern Seaboard the big-inch is expected to make available an added 125,000 to 175,000 barrels of oil a day through present facilities beyond Illinois. The East, using all available tank cars, has been getting about 750,000 to 850,000 barrels of oil a day this fall -- against an estimated average minimum need of 1,400,000 barrels.
One ton of steel in the line can deliver as much daily as two and one-third tons of steel in a tank car. The big-inch, because of unprecedented size, contained potential construction gambles. But construction engineers in this section say note one serious hitch occurred.
Winter will be no barrier to the 357-mile extension to Pennsylvania, authorized last week. The big trench digging machines cut through snow, ice and frozen soil just as readily as summer ground. The advantages are less caving of the banks of the trenches, less water to pump out of trenches in swamps. In fact, Southern Illinois pipe line workers said there are some parts of Ohio in which it would be almost impossible to lay a big pipeline in summer, while winter would be ideal.
When the big-inch is completed, the oil starting at Longview, Texas, will require about 20 days to reach Pennsylvania, 1,403 miles distant. The pipe will hold 3,100 barrels of oil in every mile. The oil will move at about three miles per hour. That will be around four feet a second, which is a lot of speed for a stream two feet thick.
Shortly after the line was finished across the river, the government announced that a second pipeline, paralleling the first, would be constructed. That line would act as a backup, in case something happened to interrupt the flow of gasoline in the Big-Inch.
Work apparently continued without incident until April 1943, when labor trouble erupted. The Missourian first took note of the trouble on April 29, when it published this front page story.
LABOR SPAT HAS SEQUEL IN CAPE
Six Accused After Outbreak in Hotel.
Said to be an aftermath of a labor controversy in connection with construction of auxiliary units of the war pipe line across Scott County, union representatives and pipe line officials engaged in a short but snappy altercation in the dining room of a hotel here early Wednesday night. Diners, in the hotel for the evening meal, had ringside seats for the melee.
Following the mix-up, police said six arrests were made, on complaints made from either "side."
No one was apparently seriously injured in the affray, but it was said some chairs were battered to pieces, a table was torn up, a partition glass pane was broken and a few dishes were broken during the outbreak in the Hotel Marquette dining room.
What Records Show
Included in the group, police said, were Joseph "Buck" Newell of St. Louis, an outstanding and well known representative of the hoisting engineers union of the American Federation of Labor.
Records at police headquarters show that H.L. Scales, identified as connected with the pipe line work, signed formal informations for the citation of Newell and three other men.
Also Newell and his associates, in turn, signed informations on basis of which police cited Marshall and Scales. Each supplied nominal bond. The warrants were issued by Police Judge A.S. Reed.
Accounts of start of the affray varied, either side reportedly claiming that the other opened the altercation. One version was that after preliminary words were exchanged one man struck another on the head with a chair. Several others then joined into the fight. The trouble was all over by the time officers arrived from headquarters.
Six Are Cited
The formal bookings at police headquarters, with all defendants accused in the warrants of assault and peace disturbance, were against:
D.M. Secor, 33, bond $25.
Joseph Edward "Buck" Newell, 48, $25 bond.
John Rathauz, 37, bond $25.
Owen L. Femmer, bond $25.
Schuyler B. Marshall, 48, bond $25.
H.L. Scales, 48, bond $25.
Work in Progress
Meanwhile near Illmo, where the Oil States Construction Co. Wednesday started work on a contract to put in a section of the new 20-inch pipeline, with 93 men employed to date, the work went ahead today.
When the work started this morning by the non-union Oil States employees, the Bolz Construction Co. job at the river, where a river section is being put in, was halted. Some of the workers from there had gone to the scene of the Oil States work, it was said. The men of the Bolz job are said to be AFL members.
Arbitration Decided Upon
It was said at the Illmo office of the company that the work would go on at the Oil States job, where 250 men are to be employed eventually with the dispute to be "arbitrated." The only question to be settled, it was claimed, is whether the Oil States workers shall be unionized.
It was said the scale of pay equals or exceeds the scale on unionized projects, and that the men have not voted to join up with a union organization.
After the trouble in Cape Girardeau Wednesday night, it was said high officials were contacted, and some officers were ordered to the scene of the work today, merely to see that no laws were broken.
Schuyler Marshall and H.L. Scales were identified at the Oil States officer as watchmen for the construction company.
A charge was filed late last night before Justice Barney Heuring of Ancell, charging Marshall with disturbing the peace of one Anton J. Busch and of "threatening Busch with a shotgun," on Wednesday. This, officers said, grew out of a alleged incident at the work site when union officials and other men besides the Oil States workers appeared there Wednesday. No time for the hearing of the charge was set. Busch was not identified in the formal charge.
The American Federation of Labor continued to press for the unionization of the Scott County pipeline work sites, both at the river crossing and in the railroad yards between Fornfelt and Illmo, where crews unloaded pipe from freight cars. Union workers of the Bolz company, who objected to working with the non-union employees of the Oil States and Dunn Construction firms, went out on strike April 28, shutting down the Grays Point river work. On May 5, in view of the threatened violence at the sites and the need to finish the pipeline, Missouri Gov. Forrest C. Donnell ordered the mobilization of the Missouri State Guard at Illmo. Several armed detachments -- including part of Company F from Cape Girardeau — patrolled Illmo and the Grays Point work site, keeping the peace.
About a week later, the War Labor Board in Washington stepped into the fray, urging strikers to return to the job, which was described as "vitally needed in this war effort." On May 14, after a stoppage of 15 days, work resumed at Grays Point.
State Guardsmen weren't dismissed from their peace-keeping duties in Scott County until August 1943, as the second pipeline neared completion.