Gurgling all the way from Texas to New Jersey

People usually overlook “The Big Inch” because it runs underground.
Few know that this major petroleum pipeline and its smaller neighbor travel across York County on their way to the East Coast.
“The Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” have been buried under county soil since the World War II years.


This excerpt from “In the Thick of the Fight”explains construction of the pipelines in 1943.
Hundreds of county residents gave up the most precious of all assets
to aid the military — property rights of way.
They did so to accommodate an important comrade of the military
burrowing across the county’s width. Workers dug a trench from East
Berlin, Adams County, to a point near Accomac on the Susquehanna River
to bury an oil pipeline.
The 1,400-mile “Big Inch” ran from Longview, Texas, to refineries at
Marcus Hook, Pa., and Bayway, N.J. The pipeline was designed to ensure
a constant supply of oil to the Eastern Seaboard — reserves threatened
by German U-boats preying on ocean oil tankers.
Twelve million gallons of black gold — about 85 tankers or 25,000
railway tank cars — gurgled through the 24-inch pipe at a rate of 100
miles per day.
Running the pipe in a channel under the Susquehanna River was
surpassed in difficulty only by running the Big Inch under the
Mississippi River.
Before the line started operation, construction started on a second
parallel line along the same right of way, the “Little Big Inch.”
There it is, overlooked county landmark No. 11, the Inches. (See earlier posts on the Little Courthouse, Prospect Hill Cemetery, War Mothers Memorial, USO at York County Academy’s former gymnasium, York’s Salem Square soldiers monument, the Cookes House, York’s rowhouses, Wrightsville’s monuments, the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, memorial trees along highways.)
P.S. A colleague wondered where the word “Inch” came from considering that the larger pipeline is 24 inches. I’m thinking that reflects the speed that the petroleum creeps, crawls or gurgles through the line, though 100 miles a day must be classified as a fast gurgle or a big inch. Anyone out there have a different explanation for use of “Inch”?

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
This entry was posted in Archives, all posts, Books & reading, Explanations/controversy, Local landmarks, Unsung/obscure sites, War, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Gurgling all the way from Texas to New Jersey

  1. Barry Ness says:

    The little “inch” pipe was probably 18″ or 20″. My thought is they couldn’t get any more 24″ sized pipe and had to settle for the smaller “little inch”. War-time you know and one had to make-do with what was handy.

  2. mnr630 says:

    Big inch was a reference to the diameter. Typical pipelines up to that time were 8 or 9 inches. A new process of making steel pipe allowed the larger pipe to be used and withstand the pressure.The “little big inch” got its nickname as it was still a “big inch” compared to other pipelines except for its big brother. Instead of “little brother of the big inch” they shortened it to “little big inch”. Sometimes nicknames stick and become official names.

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