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Marines' Alligator training base to close

Headlines through the years

A look back at the events, people and places that made North Pinellas the unique place that it is. The information is compiled from past editions of the St. Petersburg Times.

April 5, 1944

The U.S. Marine base at Dunedin Isles will be officially closed in July, it was announced last night by Col. Maynard Nohrden.

The Marine personnel and equipment from the base will be merged with other related amphibian tractor training schools at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif.

The amphibian tractor detachment at Dunedin was established in May 1941 to train men in the use of the amphibian tank.

The amphibian tank was invented by Donald Roebling of Clearwater and was at one time manufactured exclusively in Dunedin.

The Roebling tank is now in use in Allied sea invasion areas, particularly in the Pacific. The tank travels on land or water, is armored and is used in landing supplies and troops on enemy shores. Many regard it as the outstanding new weapon of the war.

Editor's note: The idea for the amphibious vehicle came to Roebling, an engineer and inventor whose grandfather built the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1933. The prototype Alligator was built on Roebling's estate and underwent its first test in Dunedin on Dec. 5, 1935.

Roebling conceived of the Alligator as a peacetime invention. He thought it could be used to rescue people trapped in swamps such as the Everglades after hurricanes.

As the Alligator gained popularity, the media publicized the machine. Life magazine ran an article on the Alligator in October 1937. The United States Marine Corps picked up on the idea and contracted with Roebling to mass-produce the Alligator to transport troops and supplies overseas.

At the time, Roebling's neighbor, Courtney Campbell _ yes, the same guy for whom the causeway from Clearwater to Tampa is named _ was the president of the Food Machinery Corp. and offered to use his buildings to mass-produce the Alligators.

Two of the FMC plants were in Florida _ one in Dunedin, the other in Lakeland. The landing vehicle tracks were assembled at the Dunedin factory. Frames and gear parts were assembled in Lakeland. The final outfitting took place in San Jose, Calif.

The Alligator was credited with saving thousands of lives during World War II. It has been said that when the government gave Roebling a $1-million check for his invention, he ripped it up. He did, however, accept the Medal of Merit by President Truman.

_ Theresa Blackwell compiles the history column. She can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or

Courtney Campbell, the same Courtney Campbell for whom the causeway is named, was president and general manager of Food Machinery Corp. in Dunedin, which manufactured the amphibian tractor, Alligator, during World War II. amed. Naming the bridge linking Tampa and Clearwater after Courtney Campbell was controversial.

E.M. Terry worked for the Dunedin-based Food Machinery Corp. as a sheet iron worker in the 1940s. He was selected to represent the factory personnel when they received special recognition from the U.S. Naval Reserve. lected to represent the factory personnel to accept the "E" pin from a U.S. Naval Reserve captain on behalf of the company's employees.

Clearwater engineer Donald Roebling invented the Alligator, which is credited with saving thousands of lives in World War II. It has been said that when the government gave Roebling a $1-million check for his invention, he ripped it up. f Merit by President Truman. Roebling had tested the vehicle in the waters of Clearwater Harbor.Photo courtesy of John Espey.

1940s: Workers pose with the fighting vehicle known as the Alligator, an amphibian vehicle originally designed by Clearwater resident Donald Roebling to rescue people from hurricanes, but which ended up being used in World War II. In fact, as many as 250 marines were stationed in Dunedin to test the vehicle. The amphibious landing vehicle was designed by Roebling, who tested a prototype at his estate on Clearwater Harbor.