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McGann Manufacturing Company in Spring Garden Township; Harold L. Smith during WWII

Sketch of Harold L. Smith by a Fellow Soldier; in Strasburg, Germany following V-E Day in 1945 (Collection of S. H. Smith)

Last winter I attended a remarkable multiple-session OLLI presentation by James McClure on “WWII: The Effect on York County.”  After the talk, Ray Kinard mentioned something about Bowen & McLaughlin working on tanks during WWII at a place along Richland Avenue; Jim McClure replied that BMY came to York much later in the 1940s.

This reply ran counter to what my father, Harold L. Smith, told me about working for Bowen & McLaughlin a few weeks in early 1943 prior to his being drafted February 26th 1943.  However further research showed that Harold actually worked for McGann Manufacturing Company along Kings Mill Road during February of 1943.  Jim McClure was correct; Bowen & McLaughlin did not start their lease on the McGann Plant until 1949.

The sketch of Harold L. Smith was done by a fellow soldier in Strasburg, Germany following V-E Day in 1945; part of this post deals with Dad’s Service during WWII.  I also hope to locate a former McGann employee who worked at the plant in 1943; to resolve several questions posed herein.

Other posts in this series or related posts include:


Prior to WWII, McGann Manufacturing Company produced chemical equipment, dryers, hydrators, sugar machinery, dam & lock gates, condensers, tanks, boilers and various kinds of heavy special machinery.  During WWII, the company initially did subcontract War Production Work prior to adding prime contract work for the U. S. Army.  A small-scale tank refurbishing operation likely was at the McGann Plant during the time Harold Smith worked there during February 1943.

1938 Aerial View of the McGann Plant at corner of Richland Avenue and Kings Mill Road; Aerial Photo is from Penn Pilot (Road Name, Building Numbers and White Arrows added by S. H. Smith, 2013)

This 1938 aerial photo of the McGann Plant at the corner of Richland Avenue and Kings Mill Road History comes from a wider view in my post YORK’s Grantley Plant, Part 3; 1938 Aerial View.  The building numbers 50 and 60 were assigned after York Division of Borg-Warner purchased this parcel in 1967.  My Dad told me, when he worked there in 1943, refurbished tanks were test driven out the back of the building into the fields adjacent to the plant; i.e. at either of the locations I have placed the white arrows.

Questions are posed in this post to sort out two stories that in all likelihood got combined to a certain extent; either as Harold was telling them to me or in my mind as I recalled them.  Here is my memory of the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the recollections of tank refurbishing at McGann Manufacturing in 1943.

Harold L. Smith had a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad when War was declared December 7th 1941.  That prior Fall of 1941, Harold started to do jobs requiring bridge measurements and drafting that replaced the bridge painting and maintenance work that he had previously done for the railroad; i.e. see my post Guess the Time Required to Paint an INCREDIBLY Long Bridge.

When War was declared, Harold was a full time drafter for the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The railroads were considered critical to the war effort; as a result Harold was on indefinite deferment from the Service.  This was all right with him initially, but as the war moved on and most of his buddies either enlisted or were drafted, he decided to quit his job with the railroad; knowing full well he would be drafted.

When Harold quit the railroad early in 1943, he already had a job lined up at a new business in York that was going to refurbish tanks; that operation turned out to be at the McGann Plant.  Harold worked at McGann only a few weeks before being drafted February 26th 1943; he reported to Camp Meade, Maryland on March 5th 1943.  Harold served in the Army Air Forces for over three years, with over one year overseas in the European Theater of Operations’ Central Europe and Rhineland Campaigns.

One of Several Camp Sites of the 18th Photo Technical Unit during WWII (1945 Photo in Collection of S. H. Smith)

Harold served in the 18th Photo Technical Unit.  This photo from 1945 shows a camp site in either France or Germany.  The 18th moved several times such that they were always based near an airfield close to the front lines.  Harold had a rating as a topographic draftsman or map maker and did work on bomb surveys, made overlays from aerial photographs and compiled maps from photographs.  The photo reconnaissance planes would go out on their runs just before sunset each night, the film would arrive at sunset, the unit would then work all through the night to have the maps ready one hour before sunrise.

The war in Europe ended, with VE-Day on May 8th 1945.  Four days later Harold’s unit was assigned to the 9th Air Force and went to Strasburg, Germany.  Their assignment was to provide a military presence as needed, however their primary job was studying maps of mainland Japan.  Even with a nice scattering of passes, for three months, this was the ever-present routine; making preparations for doing aerial photo recon work during an invasion of mainland Japan.

Harold Luther Smith (1946 Photo in Collection of S. H. Smith)

Harold’s unit was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany when they got word of Japan’s impending surrendered August 15th 1945; to say they were overjoyed would be an understatement, they had quite the party that night.  Harold was discharged with the rank of Sergeant on April 2nd 1946.

Following discharge, Harold saw a friend who had previously worked with him at McGann.  This guy worked at John H. Myers since returning from the Service; that is where Dad also got a job.  Harold moved on to work for Goodling Electric before becoming one of the Founders and General Manager of a mechanical contracting company in 1955; Yorkaire Cooling and Heating Sales Company.

The building where Harold worked a few weeks for McGann during February 1943 later become an Engineering Annex (Building 60) for York Division of Borg-Warner Corporation; the company where I had a job as an Engineer for 33 years.  When Yorkaire Cooling & Heating Sales Company was doing some mechanical contracting work in Building 60 during the late 1970s, Harold was in this building reviewing work being done when I happened to see him.

Dad took me over to the areas where he worked on tanks for those few weeks before he entered the Service in 1943.  He pointed out features in the building and described what he did; primarily disassembling and cleaning damaged sub-assemblies so that someone else could assess each part as useable, repairable or scrap.  After work that day, Dad when into greater detail with stories when he worked that building; the following are a few of the things that stick out in my memories from those stories.

From his first day on the job till the last, it was clearly evident to Dad who was in charge a new operation starting up at the plant.  Dad thought he must have been an ex-Drill Sergeant, although he recalled he was a recently retired foreman at some tank manufacturing company.  Dad noted the other McGann employees would regularly wander over and also help with the tanks.

The battle broken or destroyed tanks from the North Africa fighting were being returned on the rail spur, which lead to the space they used in the back of the McGann Plant.  For the short time Dad worked at McGann he remembered them refurbishing several tanks.  The tanks were test driven out the back of the building into the fields adjacent to the plant; these fields were owned by York Corporation.

In 1943, the Grantley Plant of York Corporation was all clustered on the Grantley Road. east-side, of the property.  The first York Corporation building to be built along Richland Avenue was the Engineering Building (now Bldg. 19) in 1954; this is the building with the huge aluminum encircled “York” above the front entrance doors.  Note that it does not say York Division of Borg-Warner, because that merger did not occur until 1956; two years after that Engineering Building was completed.

Dad also recalled lunchtime discussions while he worked at McGann.  All the workers always sat together in a group.  There were discussions about where the tanks may have seen action, personalized markings left on the tanks by the soldiers, or sharing news about relatives serving overseas.  But nearly always the discussion turned to how to make the tanks better for the troops; they were seeing trends in certain parts always showing up on the repairable or scrap piles.  Dad always wondered if any of their ideas from such a small operation were ever considered by the major tanks manufacturers of the day.

I kind of remember that Dad talked about Mr. Bowen and Mr. McLaughlin when he worked there in 1943.  But again, this likely is the result of two stories getting combined; either as Harold was telling them to me or in my mind as I recalled them.  Maybe Dad miss-spoke that he was working at a  Bowen & McLaughlin operation, because his Mechanical Contracting Company later did work for BMY after they had moved into the same McGann Plant site on Kings Mill Road during 1949.

My father’s company Yorkaire Cooling and Heating did mechanical contracting work in the McGann plant for BMY during the mid-1950s.  Is this when he heard how employees were addressing Mr. Bowen or Mr. McLaughlin?  I’m convinced that my father worked on refurbishing tanks at the McGann Plant on Kings Mill Road during February of 1943.  Was this a short-lived operation in York during 1943 or did it continue throughout WWII?  I hope to find answers to these questions via former employees of McGann Manufacturing who worked there in 1943.

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