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Plum Brook’s explosive origin told

Andy Ouriel • Nov 2, 2013 at 8:30 PM

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower credited Jeep vehicles, C4 planes and bazookas as primary reasons the Allied forces defeated the Axis powers in World War II.

The all-terrain vehicles and aircraft provided American soldiers superior mobility over the enemy.

But bazooka rockets? A mighty weapon, no doubt, whose origins are traced to none other than Erie County.

In 1938, when U.S. War Department officials suspected the country would head into combat, they needed factories to produce explosives, including TNT and Pentolite, a rare and potent chemical mixture used in bazooka rockets.

War Department planners selected 9,000 acres in Erie County for the site of the Plum Brook Ordnance Works. It was a suitable location, as it’s 500 miles from the East Coast, well out of range at the time for any German attacks. It was also a particularly cloudy area, which would have made it difficult for the Axis powers to accurately target, even if they did develop bombers or other technology to reach further inland.

Other reasons the site was chosen:

• It was an area where several railroad lines crisscrossed, providing easy transportation solutions.

• Its proximity to Lake Erie. To build the explosives — made through a hot chemical process — workers needed 30 million gallons of cooling water each day.

“This factory changed the world,” local historian John Blakeman said. “It literally helped us win World War II.”

Blakeman, a Milan Township resident who taught science for about 30 years at Perkins Schools, will discuss these pointsand more during a special presentation Sunday at Osborn MetroPark. He’ll explain how the Plum Brook Ordnance Works, which is where the NASA Plum Brook Station is located today, came to be. When the war ended in 1945, federal officials basically abandoned the factory until roughly 10 years later, when NASA moved in.

Among the topics he’ll discuss: How the federal government displaced about 160 families so the factory could be built.

“These people had to leave very productive farms,” Blakeman said. “For 70 years, there has been a legitimate bitterness against what has happened.”

Blakeman is also a contract employee for NASA. He burns and helps restore the natural forests and prairies on Plum Brook’s grounds.

He encourages all to attend the Erie MetroParks-sponsored event, and he’s looking forward to people engaging in a dialogue.

“The work that John Blakeman has done has been a nice partnership between NASA and Erie MetroParks,” said Erie MetroParks commissioner Kurt Landefeld, a leading advocate for NASA Plum Brook.

Want to go?

• WHAT: History of the Plum Brook Ordnance Works. Local historian John Blakeman talks about how the site, now the NASA Plum Brook Station, played a key role in the Allied forces winning World War II.

• WHERE: Firelands Room at The Frost Center in Osborn MetroPark, 3910 E. Perkins Ave., Huron

• WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

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