Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant

After Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the United States into World War II, production increased dramatically at home to aid the war effort overseas. In short order, munitions factories popped up throughout the nation. The town of McGregor was chosen as the site of one such munitions factory, known as the Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant. One of only four plants in the U.S. to produce bombs for the war, Bluebonnet became the first so called bomb factory to begin production.

In February of 1942, the government contracted the National Gypsum Company to build and manage an ordnance facility with assistance from the Army Ordnance Department. Officials selected 18,000 acres for the project, and construction began immediately. By October, the first bombs were coming off the production lines. The Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant was officially up and running.

Bluebonnet manufactured three different types of bombs: Semi-armor Piercing, General Purpose, and Fragmentation bombs. The largest bombs weighed up to 2,000 pounds, while the smaller Fragmentation bombs, also known as Parachute bombs, weighed only 23 pounds. For a time, the plant produced its own ammonium nitrate explosives for the bombs, as well.

Bomb bodies and casings arrived at Bluebonnet via the railroad. After unloading, the bomb casings came first to the paint station. An automatic spray-paint machine, invented at Bluebonnet, made this process much easier. Next came the Nose-Pour Building. Workers on the bomb lines placed explosives and padding into the nose of each bomb. The Screening Building was next on the line. Personnel used large screens to sift through explosive materials, getting rid of any impurities or lumps. After this came the Melt-Pour Building where TNT, Ammonium Nitrate and filler were melted and poured into the main body of the bomb, before going to a separate building for cooling. Bombs then traveled to the Tail-Pour building where more explosives could be loaded into the tail before attachment to the main body. Finally, finished bombs were carefully packed up, loaded back onto boxcars, and shipped out of McGregor via the railroad.

At its height, the plant employed over 5,000 personnel, and an employment office opened in Waco to assist with hiring. McGregor’s population, at about 2,000 people before the war, skyrocketed with this influx of workers. Bluebonnet became a thriving town within a town, providing living quarters, stores, a running bus system, a hospital, and fire and police protections. The plant even published its own newspaper, and offered several recreational activities for employees.

When the war drew to a close, the ordnance plant shut its doors and the space was converted to peace time pursuits. Part of the Bluebonnet site remained a factory, producing household items such as furniture and stoves. A large portion of the land was given to Texas A&M for the creation of an experimental research farm. In the 1950s, the U.S. Air Force began building and testing rockets in the area.

Today, Texas A&M still runs an experimental farm, known as the McGregor Research Center. The rest of the acreage is shared between private farmers and Space X, a commercial company, which uses McGregor as a rocket testing site.  Though the end of the war meant the end of Bluebonnet, the memory of the place and the contributions of the people who gave it life still survive. Bluebonnet’s legacy of research, innovation, and development continues on the site where it once stood.

Images

Beginnings

Beginnings

At the heart of Bluebonnet lay the administrative building. The Gypsum Company worked alongside the army to run the plant. L.R. Sanders was the General Manager sent from Gypsum, and Major Paul Van Tuyl was the plant's first Commanding Officer. Tuyl is credited with giving the Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant its name in honor of the Texas State Flower. | Source: Photo courtesy of Waco-McLennan County Library View File Details Page

Dangerous Work

Dangerous Work

Buildings like these, known as igloos, were used to store bombs at Bluebonnet. They were spaced far apart and half buried with dirt barricades for safety. When Texas A&M took over the site as a research farm, the structures became sheds for storing livestock. | Source: Photo courtesy of Waco-McLennan County Library View File Details Page

Nod to the Old West

Nod to the Old West

Due to the vast acreage of the Bluebonnet Plant, mounted patrols were required to maintain security and safety of the property. The Gypsum Company, hired local experienced horsemen for the job. In their off time, the mounted patrol put on multiple rodeos to demonstrate their skills, which included bronc and bull riding. Bluebonnet employees could attend free of charge and wounded veterans as well as soldiers from the nearby airfield attended as honored guests. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Town within a Town

Town within a Town

This birds-eye view shows the extensive size of the plant. For safety reasons, and the sensitivity of bomb production, the plant had to be spread out. In the far left corner, the comparatively compact town of McGregor can be viewed. | Source: Photo courtesy of Waco-McLennan County Library View File Details Page

Women at Work

Women at Work

Bluebonnet Guard Matrons formed an important part of the security force at the bomb plant. Throughout the war more and more women started working at the plant alongside men. Women filled various positions, eventually working in the most dangerous and restricted areas, even the bomb loading lines. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Leisure Abounds

Leisure Abounds

Bluebonnet was not just about work. The plant boasted its own recreation director and recreation building. Many options were available for employees to unwind while off duty, including softball, golf, basketball tournaments, and even a bowling league. Dances, barbecues, and other get-togethers occurred regularly. | Source: Photo courtesy of Waco-McLennan County Library View File Details Page

E for Excellence

E for Excellence

In 1944, Bluebonnet earned the Army and Navy E Award for Excellence. The award was given for Excellence in Production, and only about 5% of companies engaged in war production received this award during WWII. Over the course of the war, Bluebonnet produced over 13 million bombs. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

On August 14, 1945, production of bombs ceased at Bluebonnet. Then began the necessary process of decontaminating the plant. The Gypsum Company handed the plant over to the Army Ordnance Department who in turn handed it over to the Army Corp of Engineers. Many employees recalled a bittersweet parting from Bluebonnet, rejoicing that the war was over, but reluctant to leave the comradery and spirit of a place which had united individuals from all different corners of the country and walks of life. | Source: Photo courtesy of Waco-McLennan County Library. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Stephanie Endicott, “Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/160.

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