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By Charles O. Adams


As WWII approached, I was confronted with a choice. I was Assistant Superintendent of Process Engineering at Delco Products Division of General Motors Corporation. I also held a 1st Lt. Commission in the 505th Anti-Aircraft Unit of the Army Coast Guard Reserve. Delco had been selected to build Landing Struts for military aircraft, and auxiliary Generators, 30 to 100 KW, for the Navy.


Both of these programs required a lot of manual and automated arc welding and flash butt resistance welding. Milt Feldstein, Master Mechanic, sent me to Lincoln Electric in Cleveland to learn manual arc welding and how to train manual arc welding operators. This, together with my resistance welding experience, equipped me with the necessary knowhow to lead Delco through the war production program. My 505th Anti-Aircraft unit was ordered to go to the upper part of India to protect the “over the hump” aircraft routes to China. I was all packed, ready to go, when I received two letters, one from Detroit, and one from Washington, D.C. These letters instructed me to resign my commission from the Army, and stay at Delco to take care of the welding necessary to accomplish production of Landing Struts and Generators for the Air Force and the Navy.


The Engineering Department at Delco had a practice of simply marking “weld to suit” next to weld joints on production engineering drawings. This was simply not good enough for drawings for Air Force and/or Navy piece parts. I had to teach design engineers to use American Welding Society drafting symbols, and how to design weld joints to satisfy specific applications and weld strengths. Delco had no parts in production requiring manual arc welding and hence no production welding operators. I was given the Maintenance Department welding operators to start welding production parts for landing struts and auxiliary generators, from 30 to 100 KW. Some of these operators had been welding for many years. All welding operators had to be certified to Air Force and Navy specifications. This required welding and testing sample joints. I had to pass these certification tests myself. Some of the Maintenance welders didn’t like being told by a young electrical engineer how to weld these samples. It was only after they failed the tests several times that they came to me to ask how to weld the samples. Both the Air Force and the Navy had welding inspectors on site. I got to know them very well.


For fabricating the main frames for the Navy generators, I was given the space of the Price Brothers warehouse on East First Street, east of Keowee Street. In that, I set up a layout starting with a storage area for large, flat sheets of steel. We set up a multi- torch, oxy-acetylene machine for torching out blanks for forming the main frame, and the small parts for making the base parts. We bought and set up a huge, horizontal, hydraulic forming press with die segments to sequentially form the large, steel blanks into round, generator frames. The flat blanks had their ends beveled for manual butt welding. Large rings, made from rolled bar stock, for end mounting flanges, and base parts, were all positioned in fixtures and tack welded to the formed main frames. These were sent down roller type conveyors to operators to place in special, rotating fixtures for finish welding. Each welding station was surrounded by safety curtains. The roller conveyor extended to the inspection station where dimensions and welds were checked.


One interesting comment. The hydraulic press operator was from eastern Kentucky. He could neither read nor write. But he proved very deft in operating the press to form the main frame. He couldn’t read a scale. I took a request to Milt Feldstein for   go-no go gages for the diameters of the formed, main frames, with a plus or minus 1/8 “ dimension. He objected, but agreed to go with me to see the need. After he gave a scale to the operator and asked the operator to tell him the frame diameter, he signed my request.


Welding operations on wartime Air Force airplane landing struts posed much more difficult details than Navy generator frame welding. There were two major joints to be welded. The brake flange to the forged, wheel hub and shaft had to be manually arc welded. The main cylinder had to be resistance flash-butt welded to the wheel hub and shaft. We had a large, horizontal, 400 KVA, flash-butt welder. It took some special, high speed, motion picture equipment from WPAFB to help develop the welding schedules for the flash-butt welding. The upset material was difficult to remove by machining and grinding. We used both magnetic particle inspection and proof-testing to inspect the finished welds. One of the parts fell out of the testing fixture in the large, hydraulic, laboratory test press. It fell on and broke my left, big toe. It was almost impossible to completely eliminate all the small inclusions in the flash-butt welds. We proved beyond a doubt that these did not reduce the strength of the butt-welds. I had to make trips to aircraft companies on both coasts to convince them on this.


The material in both the brake hub and brake flange for the B-26 bomber was a special material. It required atomic-hydrogen welding, using strips of parent material as filler rod for welding. Atomic-hydrogen welding is accomplished by establishing an arc between two electrodes in an atmosphere of hydrogen. This arc is then used the same as you use an oxy-acetylene torch, feeding the filler rod in to the puddle on the work piece. It is an extremely hot arc. We had to develop air-cooled helmets to protect the operators. I had to learn how to do this on my own, and then train the production operators. We also designed, developed, and built special, rotating fixtures for welding the brake flanges.


My days were quite busy for the whole duration of WWII. From 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 P.M. I ran my Process Engineering Department, including Plant Layout. From 3:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. I traveled around with an engineer from our Purchasing Department to the subcontractors we had making parts to augment our own production. This included checking piece parts and welder certification. From 9:00 P.M. to sometimes 2:00 a.m., I was training new welding operators, as we had to use production equipment for this, only available on the 3rd shift.


Most of us on the home front were quite busy during WWII. In the summer of 1945, I was sent to the General Motors Institute in Flint, MI, to put into book form the Better Methods course I had been teaching my Process Engineers and Layout Draftsmen. I had just finished this, and was checking out of the hotel in Flint, when word came that the Japs had surrendered. The streets filled so quickly, that I had to check back into the Durant Hotel and wait until the next day to drive home.     


October 27, 2004


The Home Front — The role of Delco during WWII