70 years of civilian service

  • Published
  • By Amy Kemp Butler
  • Ogden Air Logistics Center History office
The Commanding Officer of Ogden Air Depot Brig. Gen. Morris Berman vigorously pursued the avenue of a solid staff training program in 1940 with the hopes to obtain a secure work force to support the mission of the Ogden Air Depot. The Ogden Air Depot was under development to be an individual depot, serving the northwestern part of the United States and as a reserve depot to Sacramento Air Depot in the event of a detrimental attack. If it was to serve as an individual depot, it needed the manpower to support its mission. A training program would not only aid in a secure and trained work force, but would also enable the Ogden Air Depot the ability to speed up the hiring process instead of manning the depot through the restricted and complicated transfer and recruitment processes.

On Feb. 17, 1941, Brig. Gen. Berman and Engineer Officer Maj. Russell J. Minty met with representatives of the local educational institutions to develop an essential training program. The major was then tasked to help the institutions develop the Mechanic Learner Training Program. Less than a month later, the first examination to establish candidates for the Mechanic Learner classes, conducted by the Utah State Board for Vocational Education, was announced by the Civil Service Commission. Announcements were sent out through local newspapers and many young men applied for the training program; out of 1,800 who applied, only one percent was accepted into the first class.

Even with the slow start, 1,300 mechanic learners were in training as well as 2,500 who completed the course and were working in Hill Field's aircraft shops by the end of 1942.

The first group of mechanic learners started on the job training in June 1941, 70 years ago this month, working in positions such as: machinist, aircraft wood worker, aircraft electrician, aircraft engine mechanic, aircraft instrument mechanic, aircraft mechanic, aircraft painter, aircraft propeller mechanic, aircraft sheet metal worker and aircraft welder with monthly salaries starting at $50. Upon completion of the noncompetitive Civil Service Examination the wage would more than double to $110 per month. Even though wages doubled for the mechanic helper, the limited wage of the learners made it hard for them to find suitable housing with a scarce market in the areas around Hill Field. Due to the low wage, the brigadier general arranged with the Materiel Division to raise the wage of the learners. By Aug. 16, 1942, the yearly wage increased to $1,200. This greatly solved the recruitment problem and played a vital part in increasing the mechanic learners enrolled by the end of 1942.

Because of the scarcity of housing, a housing committee set up by the Ogden Chamber of Commerce secured land for a federal housing project in South Ogden, later to be known as Grand View Acres. After the project was completed on Sept. 21, 1941, and its 150 units were 100 percent occupied four months later, the Federal Works Agency determined the need for 3,000 more units to accommodate the growing employment population of Ogden.

Another obstacle Hill Field civilians faced was the lack of transportation. With the restrictions in gasoline, tires and automobiles due to the economic hardships created by World War II, the government was forced to assist the workers of Hill Field. Even though transportation was the sole responsibility of the employees, circumstances such as vehicle break downs, illness and change of ride share partners made it extremely difficult to keep shifts manned at Hill. To solve this problem, arrangements were made with the Bamberger Railroad Co., which was currently transporting Works Project Administration employees by train, to transport civilians on the field as well. On Jan. 30, 1942, the Bamberger Railroad Co. agreed to assist in the transportation of civilians by bringing in an additional train from Ogden and one from Salt Lake City during the weekdays to accommodate the civilians at the Ogden Air Depot.

Even with the obstacles in place, the work force continued to grow and impress. In December 1941, after Japan invaded Pearl Harbor, supplies on their way to the Philippines were shipped back to the U.S. to be stored in the Western States and airplanes were sent inland to avoid loss due to the threat of potential bombing along the Pacific Coast. This gave the Ogden Air Depot the responsibility of maintaining and repairing an ever growing workload because San Bernardino and Spokane Air Depots were not activated until March 1942 so they could not share the tasks at hand. With the increase in workload, the civilian strength improved as well as facility strength of the depot.

In February 1943 Ogden Air Depot laid out plans to rehabilitate the battle-weary B-24 Liberator. This was the biggest project Hill Field had to date and by July 1943 the depot surpassed its goal of one B-24 repair a day, pushing out six for several days in a row. Because of the success and efficiency of the B-24, Hill Field gained nationwide attention as the "Army Times" published an article about the 500 civilian mechanics and enlisted men on Ogden's production line.

Hill Field's impressive civilian work force and production line techniques led many other projects to the Ogden Air Depot to include overhauling and repairing the B-24, nicknamed the "Blue Streak," in only three weeks and the acclaimed B-17E Flying Fortress "Suzy-Q," overhauled in two months.

The Ogden Air Depot has grown drastically in size and numbers throughout the last seventy years. With the beginning of the mechanic learners, the work force continued to grow from the very first civilian starting in 1941 to the approximately 12,000 civilians at Hill Air Force Base today.