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A man poses within a 24-inch diameter pipe in 1943. The pipe is supported above a trench by timbers and is part of a War Emergency Pipeline buried across York County during World War II. (Source: Photo by Daniel S. Dietz, in Collection of York County History Center)

War Emergency Pipelines crossed York County in 1943

While at the new Susquehanna Riverlands State Park earlier this month, my answer to a question led to a string of additional questions about the various pipelines that pass through the park. I had a basic understanding of the War Emergency Pipelines, as a result of a 2017 post; however was unsure of answers to some of the follow-up questions. Further research provides those answers in this post.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in the United States declaring war on Japan on December 8, 1941. Germany declared war on the U.S. a few days later and Hitler ordered unrestricted warfare against all shipping coming from United States ports. In the first four months of 1942, German U-boats sank or destroyed over sixty oil tankers bringing crude oil up along the Atlantic seaboard from the Gulf region to east coast refineries. An alternative was transporting the crude by rail, however the railroads were already heavily utilized.

Construction of two massive pipelines was the selected solution. A 24-inch diameter pipeline would carry crude oil 1,254-miles from northeast Texas oil fields to east coast refineries. Up to this point, pipelines in the United States were much shorter and typically no bigger than 8-inch diameter pipelines. As a result, the 24-inch diameter pipeline came to be called the BIG INCH.

A 20-inch diameter pipeline would carry already refined products from Texas Gulf Coast refineries to New Jersey. This pipeline was 1,475-miles long, however followed much of the same route of its big brother; hence it came to be called the LITTLE BIG INCH.

Both of the INCH pipelines pass through York County. The pipelines entered York County after passing north of East Berlin; through Reading Township in Adams County. Within York County, they passed through Washington Township, then under the Conewago Creek into Dover Township. Next, upon passing under the Little Conewago Creek, the pipelines were in Manchester Township. The pipelines progressed through East Manchester Township and then under the Codorus Creek into Hellam Township. The pipelines pass through the Hellam Hills and down a steep 400-foot hill to the Susquehanna River; almost exactly where Vinegar Ferry once operated. The pipelines were buried in the riverbed, passing into East Donegal Township in Lancaster County at Vinegar Ferry Road.

The pipelines were government financed and owned; they were built and operated as War Emergency Pipelines, Inc. Both of the pipelines were completed in 1943, well in advance of the D-Day invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944; assuring the Allies of sufficient gasoline, diesel & aviation fuel to win World War II.

The pipeline route utilized in 1943, for the War Emergency Pipelines, now passes through the new Susquehanna Riverlands State Park, as shown on the following topographic map. After the war, these pipelines were purchased from the U.S. Government by the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation and were converted into natural gas transmission pipelines; that is their use to the present time.

1943 & 1955 pipeline routes are per 1964 USGS Topographic Map, where boundaries of Susquehanna Riverlands State Park are added as blue-dashed lines. Map annotated by S.H. Smith, 2023.

While at the Susquehanna Riverlands State Park, one of the follow-up questions concerned the two pipeline routes through the park. Question: which route is the BIG INCH and which route is the LITTLE BIG INCH? Answer: both of these War Emergency Pipelines are along the same indicated route. Only a few feet separate these two WWII era pipelines throughout York County.

The other pipeline route, now through Susquehanna Riverlands State Park, was constructed in 1955. Manufacturers Light and Heat Company of Pittsburgh, a subsidiary of the Columbia Gas System, created this route for a 12-inch diameter pipeline to convey additional supplies of natural gas for local distribution. The York County Gas Company was able to connect to this local natural gas distribution pipeline, in order to meet the growing demand for natural gas during the post-war building boom.

Questions about the pipe specifics for the War Emergency Pipelines are answered with the following details. The 24-inch and 20-inch diameter seamless steel pipe had 3/8-inch thick walls. The pipe was produced in 40-foot sections and shipped via rail to staging areas, starting late in 1942.

The following Library of Congress photo shows 40-foot sections of 24-inch diameter steel pipe being transferred from a railcar, onto a truck, for transportation to a nearby War Emergency Pipeline route.

Transferring 40-foot sections of 24-inch diameter steel pipe from railcar, onto truck, for transportation to War Emergency Pipeline route. (John Vachon photo showing construction of BIG INCH pipeline; Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photography collection, at Library of Congress)

In November of 1942, sixteen survey parties operated in York County to select the best possible pipeline route. It was reported rights of way were being obtained rapidly, with problems raised by landowners unusually small; as was the case for all areas in the country where the pipeline passed through.

Another question inquired how deep are the pipelines buried. Trenches are mainly seen as 4-foot deep in literature, however 5-foot deep trenches are occasionally noted; therefore the pipe is between 2 and 3-feet below the surface. Potentially the deeper trenches are utilized further north.

In any particular area of the pipeline route, the priority was for the BIG INCH pipeline to be completed first. No work was to be done on the LITTLE BIG INCH pipeline that caused any delays to the BIG INCH pipeline. Once BIG INCH work was complete, the focus could turn to work on the LITTLE BIG INCH pipeline.

A trench was dug first, followed by the pipe sections being laid down, strung out next to the trench. Side booms on CAT Tractors were used to lift pipe so that sections could be welded together. After welders applied the finish cap weld bead, inspections did their job via visual and other tests.

Welding together the 40-foot sections of 24-inch diameter steel pipe; next to the 4-foot deep trench of the War Emergency Pipeline route. (John Vachon photo showing construction of BIG INCH pipeline; Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photography collection, at Library of Congress)

After a number of 40-foot sections of pipe were welded together, a machine with whirling steel brushes was used to scrape off all rust and dirt from the welded pipe. That was followed by a machine, which applied a heavy coating of hot asphalt lacquer around the outside of the pipeline.

After whirling steel brushes scrape off all rust and dirt from the welded pipe, a machine applies a heavy coating of hot asphalt lacquer. (John Vachon photo showing construction of BIG INCH pipeline; Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photography collection, at Library of Congress)

After the initial coating of hot asphalt lacquer dries, a visual inspection is made. All spots where coating is insufficient are corrected by hand. After which another machine is placed on the pipe; it sprays a second hot asphalt coating just before it spiral wraps a reinforced felt covering over the asphalt-lacquered pipeline.

A machine sprays a second hot asphalt coating just before it spiral wraps a reinforced felt covering over asphalt-lacquered pipeline. (John Vachon photo showing construction of BIG INCH pipeline; Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photography collection, at Library of Congress)

Using a number of CAT Tractors with side booms, the pipeline section is lowered into the trench. The top part of the pipeline, in the trench, is draped with a variety of shields before the trench is filled-in. The type of shield is predicated upon the location and type of soil. For example, in rocky soil, a rock shield is used. If the pipeline is under a stream, a heavy concrete shield is placed over the pipeline. In agricultural fields or pastures, the shield might simply be additional reinforced felt coverings.

The BIG INCH pipeline delivered 300,000 barrels of crude oil daily to east coast refineries. In terms of railroad tank cars, it delivered 2,500 railroad tanks cars daily; which shows why railroads were not the practical solution to assure the Allies of sufficient gasoline, diesel & aviation fuel to win World War II.

Click on this LINK for a yorkblog.com Full View of the photos in this post.

Links to related posts include:

Susquehanna River blast catapulted water 700 feet high

Schull’s Rock is a feature in new State Park

Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts

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