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
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.