Childersburg is a town of 5,000 located in Talladega County southeast of Birmingham. The major employer there is a paper mill that operates on the banks of the Coosa River. By all indications, Childersburg is, and always has been, a quiet little town. But that is not the case as shown in the 2002 documentary “Boom Town.”
During the 1940s Childersburg experienced explosive growth when the US Army decided to locate an ammunition plant there. Thousands of people from across the nation came to work on the massive construction project spreading over 13,500 acres.
The Alabama Army Ammunition Plant employed a workforce of over 25,000 people. Its primary products were TNT and gunpowder, but other chemical substances used in the production of ammunition were also produced there. Construction began in April of 1941 – before Pearl Harbor – and the plant continued operations until the end of World War II. Operations at the plant were so secretive during the war that even the majority of plant workers were surprised after the war to find that heavy water made in Childersburg was used in development of the atomic bomb.
“Boom Town” includes interviews with four people who worked at the plant and extensive 1940s film footage shot in Childersburg by the US government. Also included are interviews with two historians who have studied Alabama contributions to the World War II effort.
“Boom Town” Back Story
Max Shores has been producing and directing documentaries and public affairs programs about Alabama for over 20 years. Most of that time has been spent at the University of Alabama Center for Public Television, but he also worked with Alabama Public Television in Montgomery for several years. His documentaries have traced DeSoto’s route through Alabama, unraveled the amazing story of the kudzu vine, and revisited the sensational stories of Phenix City’s past.
We asked him a few questions about this project:
Why did you choose to tell this story?
Many of the stories that I produce relate to childhood memories. I grew up in northwest Alabama but my family visited relatives living in Coosa County which is just south of Talladega County where Childersburg is located. I remember folks talking about farmers with big wads of cash earned at the powder plant in their overall pockets. They talked about all the traffic on the highway leading to Childersburg. They talked about the fear that the plant might have been attacked during the war and blown Alabama off the map.
Because the Childersburg ammunition plant discontinued operations soon after World War Two, its contributions to the war effort are not widely known by those of us who came along after the war. In fact, when I began my research I found that there are very few people who worked at the plant still living in Childersburg. I am glad that I was able to find four people who were willing to share their stories so they can be passed on to future generations.
How did the Project Evolve?
The Childersburg story was headline news in the 1940s, so I was able to find film and photographs to illustrate the story, but I wanted to find people who had lived the story. I anticipated finding more people who had worked at the plant than I actually did. As I telephoned and visited Childersburg, I heard many fascinating stories second hand, but finding people who could talk first hand about WWII times became quite a challenge. I spoke on the phone with some people who were experiencing health problems that prevented them from being interviewed for TV. I was told about people who had passed away and taken their memories with them. Was it too late to capture this story?
Ultimately I stumbled on just the right people, but it was a long process.
Did you make any personal discoveries while making this documentary?
The fears, sacrifices, and valiant efforts in the face of adversity by the World War Two generation have been written about, but hearing people tell their own stories is much more powerful than the written word. They speak with pride. Their faces show the pain they felt and the amazement they experienced.
DVDs may be purchased online: Buy a DVD of Boom Town