Old York Safe & Lock, now Harley-Davidson, plant: U.S. Army ordnance made there, too

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A Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information photographer captures 28-year-old Gerald Smith assembling 37 mm gun mounts at York Safe & Lock. The caption stated: “Assembling weapons for Victory to be used by the armed forces.” Also of interest: Torpedo, bomb loader, made in York, Pa., turns up in Tennessee museum and York County’s BAE links BMY and Bofors and battered vehicles in Bair and Jeep prototype has York County WWII roots.

York County’s Harry Smith, Jr., is challenging the common association of the older part of Harley-Davidson plant solely with the Navy.
The photograph above, showing Gerald Smith making 37 mm anti-tank gun mounts, makes his point visually.
Many companies have occupied the western buildings on present-day Harley-Davidson’s industrial campus, including York Safe & Lock, Blaw-Knox, Naval Ordnance Depot and AMF.
But that old plant is most commonly known for its manufacturing of Bofors anti-aircraft guns late in World War II.
Drawing on memory, Smith wrote that construction on the Springettsbury Township plant started in 1941 under the authority of the U.S. Army Ordnance Department… .


Its main task initially was to machine armor plate pieces of ordnance.
He personally operated an edge plane. The armor pieces came from Bethlehem and were sent out after machining to Baldwin Locomotive Works near Philadelphia.
Those were the days before Pearl Harbor when America, not yet at war, supplied Britain and the Soviet Union with ordnance.
“When I started to work in this plant in 1941, there was no heat … and the nights were cold. There was a heat system, but no boiler to heat things up,” he wrote.
York Safe & Lock brought in an A.B. Farquhar steam tractor, he said, but that didn’t work very well.
“At the north end of the plant were railroad tracks and doors big enough to accommodate freight cars. They then brought in a steam locomotive and hooked it up to the heat system,” he wrote.
He machined pieces of armor plate used as shields for 37 mm guns.
“Coincidentally, when I went into the Army in October 1942, I was assigned to a 37MM Anti tank gun platoon to learn to be a gunner on this weapon. And here on the protective shield was a stamp – YS & L (York Safe and Lock),” he wrote
Later they also started to make an armor plated cab to put on jungle-clearing earth movers in the Pacific because the Japanese targeted that equipment.
York Safe & Lock changed dramatically after its owner, S. Forry Laucks, died in 1942.
I wrote in “In The Thick of the Fight” that poor labor relations, unsatisfactory management practices and other factors led to the U.S. Navy, and later Blaw-Knox Co.,
taking over the plant.
Those Bofors assembly lines were just too valuable to the Allies, and those ack-ack guns, so familiar in many a Hollywood movie, led to the strong association of the Navy with that present-day Harley site.
That site, by the way, is being prepared for sale because Harley is consolidating into the newer Softtail plant to the east.
Perhaps Army or Navy ordnance will be made in those old York Safe & Lock buildings once again.
Also of interest:
All York Safe & Lock-related posts from the start.

All Harley-Davidson posts from the start.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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