River Street, Halifax, Massachusetts
He had been a guest speaker at the Halifax Historical Society
(Halifax Fire Chief for 34 years when this discussion took place.)
A Tennessee firm was looking for a place in this area to prove its ammunition as it was being manufactured. They chose here as we had all that land in Great Cedar Swamp. (One of the requirements for National Fire Works was that a place was needed to prove the ammunition as it was being manufactured.)
A lot of town’s people were asked to sell their land for this project. They did not want to do that. They were told that the Government would take it and that they could buy it back after the war.
With no notice, all of a sudden the firing (testing) started. Nobody knew it was going to happen, but all of a sudden they started firing. They had machine guns going at 7:00 o’clock in the morning until dark, around 4:30 – 5:00 pm. Not only machine guns but heavier guns with 30-millimeter cannon shells, 50 Calabria machine gun shells, 20-millimeter cannon shells and 40-millimeter cannon shells. The larger shells also, when on many nights, they fired star shells and tracers. All kinds of things at night. It was quite an active place over there.
Unfortunately, no one could go near it (the firing site) between the F.B.I. and the guards posted all around the area. Everything was secretive, very secretive. No one could find out about anything over there.
Strange things happened while they were getting into operation there. They built a target house 1000 yards down the range. It was all reinforced concrete. It had a 12-inch concrete roof on it. Now, these shells when they were fired, would go about 1000 yards. When the explosive end did not detonate the result was that they got stuck in the ground or stuck in the trees and it looked like a “pin cushion” down there.
The target house, as they were pouring it, had 12 inches of concrete about 20 by 20, the roof collapsed.
In the first part of the war one of the 88-millimeter German rifles that came from the new tanks they had when they met Montgomery in Africa, came over here to be tested. You couldn’t find out about anything during the war but I know there was another gun from Sweden that came from a submarine. This is before the end of the war.
The first contact with the testing range was one night, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning; I heard a big boom, with a lot of noise beyond it. It was the testing range. They had what they use to call a fire station where they put the truck that carried the ammunition from Hanover. They stored that in there. They had an oven to heat cordite for the big tanks. The truck was all loaded with ammunition for the next day when it was to be fired.
They also had a ton of dynamite in one of the buildings, the building in the front, and one morning when they came in the heat had gone out and the dynamite was frozen. The engineer said he called five different people in the Pentagon about how to find out about what he could do with it and he could not get an answer. Finally, someone told him to try talking to someone at DuPont. He called there and they told him to bring it up ten degrees per hour until the dynamite was no longer frozen. It would be alright then and they could move it. (It must of worked as no big explosion was heard.)
After the war was over they had gun barrels piled up there like we see cordwood piled up alongside the road, 30 to 40 feet long. Gun barrels all bronze. All piled up there the same way. I don’t think they were buried like a lot of things, mostly like a Junk Man finally got them.
The first contact with the testing range was one night, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning; I heard a big boom, with a lot of noise beyond it. It was the testing range. They had what they use to call a fire station where they would put the truck that carried the ammunition from Hanover. They stored the truck in there. They had an oven to heat cordite for the propellant for the big tanks.
The truck was all loaded with ammunition for the next day when it was to be fired. Something caught fire and there it went. There were bullets and shells all over the ground up there. You couldn’t take a step without being on top of them. Some of them had fired and some of them hadn’t fired. The building in front of there, where the guns were housed and fired from, it was riddled. You couldn’t find a solid piece of wood lift in it. Yet, they came down from Hanover the next day and boarded it right over. You’d never know what had happened
The company was quite upset that so many people got into the testing range that night but, when I came up the street, the guards were way down by Don Randall’s (future down River Street), it wasn’t Don Randall’s way back then but the guards were way down there.
We couldn’t get out until we signed out with the guards. You had to stay in there until they got thought about taking your name. Oh, it was a mess over there!
After the war, a lot of things changed and that is when the fire department began to get active in what was going on up there. Rockets were the big thing. Everyone was trying to build rockets, now they had two test sights for rockets up there. One was quite near the front of the complex there. And then there was one way down, maybe in an area about 75 feet in diameter, made of Rail Road ties and filled with dirt. There used to be a lot of flames from a rocket as well.
The bullpen caught on fire and we worked day after day trying to put that out, but we never could. Eventually, that burned right around that hole to 75 feet; it was all ashes. But we never did get it out.
20 Millimeter Cannon Shell
They had another test station up near the front of the building there where they use to strap a rocket in and the fire department had to wet down the sandbags behind it so it wouldn’t catch on fire.
While, one day the rocket came out of the test stand, went right up underneath the fire truck and into the woods, setting fire behind it and in front of it. Frankie Hammond had the truck, he called me from there, he could hardly talk he was so excited. By then the building really got going. There was a lot of activity up there.
All of a sudden (we were told) they didn’t have any money. The money was gone. The gates were wide open, nobody wanted to shut them, they didn’t lock the buildings, and they didn’t even turn the electric lights off in the buildings. They abandon it!!
Absolutely empty, you can’t imagine it. So, fortunately for the fire chief, he has State Police detectives to back him up in things (situations such as this) and when that happened it came to my attention that I didn’t know what to do about it.
I called the State Police and the detective there said to ask the Selectmen to hold a hearing to revoke the license on the grounds of “illegal storage of explosives”. Right away we had all the big shots from Hanover arrive down here. The night we had the hearing I wish you could have seen it. There were more Colonels and Lieutenants Commanders, even General Daniel Needum (?) was there. They swore up and down that it was perfectly safe and that there was nothing on the ground up there. Wyman Briggs came in with a towel with a whole bunch of bullet shells and dumped them on the table there.
Today the site is being turned into a Solar Farm. I often wonder what the old residents would think about that!
|Respectfully Submitted by Sue Basile|