Interview with Mildred Balderston
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Balderston_Mildred
Robert Bauman: So let's maybe go back. So he was saying we didn't quite get the first couple minutes of our conversation. So if you could just, again, talk about what brought you to Hanford, where you were, and talk about your background, coming from Kansas, and so forth.
Mildred Balderston: Well, I was working at the Remington Arms when I got a call from Hanford for people to come up there, when they were laid off at the Remington Arms.
Bauman: So Remington Arms was in Denver?
Balderston: Denver. And I knew that I was going to get laid off, because they were laying off all these people and just keeping a certain amount. And so I said to my boss, I would like to go to Hanford. He said, that's not a place for you. Just kind of like that, you know. And I thought, okay. It wasn't time for me to leave yet, so I was still there. So a few days later, I said, you know what? I would kind of like to go to Hanford. He said, that is not a place for you. So I thought, well, how am I going to get around this? What am I going to say? So I finally said to him again, you know, I would really like to go to Hanford. [LAUGHTER] I guess he was tired to that. So he said okay.
Bauman: And how did you--going back a little farther--so how did you get the job at Remington Arms?
Balderston: Oh, you put in an application. See, I knew they were coming to town, and they were hiring. And so I put in my application, and I got the job.
Bauman: You had already moved from Kansas to Denver before that.
Balderston: Pardon me?
Bauman: You had already moved from Kansas to Denver before that?
Balderston: I lived in Kansas before I went to Denver, and then when I went to Denver, I got this job, and then I started going to business school, so I could get a better job. And so then I worked in this, I think it was an insurance office, for about a year. And then I put my application in at Remington Arms, and I got hired there, so I quit the dental job. And they had a dormitory for us, and I said, well, I wanted to go to the hotel one night. So they had the Desert Inn. That was our first hotel thing or whatever you want to call it. So I went to that for one night, and then I went to the dormitory. And I lived in the dormitory for probably a year or a little better. And then they were reducing people here, so they made up a single girl's contract to rent a house. So we rented a house. There were several of us in the dorm that lived right in a certain vicinity. So we decided, well, we'll take a house. We got a house, and I think there were four of us to start with in that house. It was a three-bedroom. Then in about a year, one of the girls got married and left. So, we got another one in there. We kept adding to. We got another one in there, and then a year or so beyond that, another girl got married and left. We must have had three of them, because then I went home on vacation. And I had a sister who was a schoolteacher there, and she was kind of disgruntled with her school teaching. And so she wanted to do something different. I said, why don't you go up to Hanford with me? So she got rid of her contract. Just chop-chop. It wasn't any big deal. And she packed, and we came back up after my vacation. I think she made the third of us then, and then we had one more that we had to get. After the fourth one left--no, I guess it would only be the third one, because I was still there--I had four sisters, so as they graduated from school, they started coming up. So finally, we had them all up here, and so I didn't have anyone else in there, which was kind of nice. They got jobs here, and they stayed. And then, well, just one at a time they came, because they graduated—when they graduated, they came up. And so one went away to school, and one found a boyfriend, and she got married, and so she left. So there was just the two of us, and my folks lived in Kansas, of course. And of course, they decided, well, they'll move out here. Well, we asked them, why don't you come out? The rest of the family's here, so come on. So we went back and brought them out. But we couldn't rent a house in Richland. So we had to go to Kennewick. We bought a house there, and then my dad went to work. And that was kind of it. My sister and myself and my mother and my father, and so as time goes on, my father wasn't in good condition. As time went on, he wasn't able to work. And so I think he had a--I was going to say a stroke, but I'm not sure that that was it. And he was in the hospital for a while, and the doctor told them that he would only live five years. Well, he hung on to that five years for five years, and at the end of five years, he knew he was going to die, which he did. But the interesting part about this is he had worked with some people who sell houses and other stuff. And he had made friends with other people. So he goes around to each of these people just before he passed away to say goodbye, which amazed me. I just didn't realize that you do those kind of things. [LAUGHTER] But anyway, he did this. So then that left just my mother and my sister and myself. We had moved to a bigger house, which was kind of nice at the time, and besides, the one that we bought first had a basement. And we were afraid that the folks might fall downstairs, and we wouldn't be home, because we were working. So we moved to this house, a one story house. And so we lived there, and then my mother had problems. And so we decided we needed someone to take care of her. Now do you want all this kind of stuff?
Bauman: This is fine, yeah.
Balderston: Well, if you don't want this kind of stuff, let's go on something different.
Bauman: Okay. Well, I just wanted to ask you about the house she lived in in Richland, that first house. Where was that house?
Balderston: That was on Sanford Street.
Balderston: It was a--what were those things we had? It was a--
Bauman: Was it one of the alphabet homes or prefab?
Balderston: Similar to a prefab, but I don't think that's what it was called at that time. Perhaps it'll come to me sometime close here, and I can back up a bit and tell you.
Bauman: Well, then I also want ask you about your job when you first came out Hanford. What sort of job was it, and where in Hanford were you working? What area were you working in?
Balderston: Well, when I first came up here, I went out to the 300 Area, I think, for a day. And then a job opened up in Richland, and I went in for an interview, and I took the interview—I mean, I took the job. So then I came back to town, and was there for a number of years. And then I moved around to other people that had job openings. So I kind of went up the ladder a little bit. And I enjoyed all of them. But while I was in the 300 Area, an interesting thing happened. I was taking dictation, and this man had the door kind of closed a little bit, because we weren't allowed to talk about anything when I first came. And so he was dictating, and he said a word that I--it was associated with a plant, but I didn't recognize the word. And so I repeated it, so I'd be sure and get it down right. My goodness, he ran to the door, and he looked out. Oh, we don't say that word out loud. So I thought, well, that probably takes care of my job. I won't have a job. But that didn't—I didn't lose it. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Do you remember what the word was?
Balderston: I've tried to think of what that word was. I've tried and tried and tried to think what that word was, but it didn't come. It hasn't come to me yet.
Bauman: So when you first came to Hanford, did you know what sort of work was being done at Hanford, what Hanford was being built for, or what was happening out here?
Balderston: What is it?
Bauman: Did you know what was being done at Hanford?
Balderston: Oh, no. It wasn't talked about. We just knew that there was a job at Hanford, and you go out there and do your part. Well, I didn't know for a long time what it was, even when I was out here, because you just didn't talk about those things. You run to the door to see if anyone had heard you. So no. I enjoyed it. I had good bosses; I had good jobs. I really couldn't have asked for anything better. I had worked in an insurance office in Denver, and then I had gone to the Remington Arms, and so I had that experience. But it was a good place to get an experience.
Bauman: Do you remember what your first impressions were of Richland and the area here when you first arrived, what you thought of the place?
Balderston: Well, we came in to Pasco on the train, and that was the dirtiest place I have ever seen. It was just awful. And I thought, oh, I hope Richland isn't like this. So anyway, they hadn’t gotten started working on Pasco by then. And when I got to Richland, everything was kind of in the new stage because of all the new houses, all the new equipment that was available. So Richland was a different story.
Bauman: And so when did you arrive then? Around what time period did you arrive in Richland?
Balderston: I think it was the 14th of August in 19--probably '43. I think it was '43.
Bauman: And what were the dorms like? You mentioned that you lived in the dorm initially.
Balderston: Oh, they were very nice. And then that building next to the building downtown in Richland. What's the name of that building? That brick building—that brick building that they built. And the post office was in one end of it. Well, right across the street was a cafeteria, and that's where we had to eat. And our dorms, the women's dorms were in that same area. The men's dorms were on the other side of Swift, I guess it is. But then we went to this house that they made for the single girls. And we did our own cooking, so we didn't have to go there. But those places can get kind of old after a few meals there. And so we were glad to do that.
Bauman: What sorts of things were there in the area for entertainment in Richland? Were there movie theaters at all or any places to go like that for entertainment?
Balderston: I can't remember of any entertainment. I'm sure there must have been something there they could've done, besides the television. Oh, I think there was some--the high schools had ball, and so I think some of them went to that. And I don't think there was a fat lot of anything there, because we were so busy working. By the time you went to the area, and by the time we would get back, the day was far spent.
Bauman: So when you worked at the 300 Area or some of the other places out on the site, did you take a bus out there? Is that how you got out there?
Balderston: What was it?
Bauman: When you worked out at the 300 Area or some of the other places on site, did you take a bus there? Did you have to take a bus?
Balderston: Oh, yeah. We'd take a bus from where we lived out to the 300 Area. Well, no. We would take it out to the bus depot, and then you'd take a bus from there. So yeah, we took a bus.
Bauman: And you mentioned, talked a little bit about the secrecy—you couldn't say certain things or talk about what was going on or what your work. So do you remember when you found out that there were—what was being made at Hanford? Was it the end of the war?
Balderston: You know, I'm not sure. I can't remember when I found out about that. The thing is, knowing that we weren't supposed to know, it wasn't that important. So we didn't go around asking people, what are we doing? Just go ahead and do it. So I don't know. I can't remember when--it seems like there was a war or something, or people were going to war or something that it came out. But I wouldn't say, because I can't remember.
Bauman: So you said you started working in August of 1943, about? How long did you work at Hanford then?
Balderston: 46 years.
Balderston: Long time.
Bauman: [LAUGHTER] So when you initially came, were you working for DuPont?
Bauman: And then did you work for some of the other companies that came later--GE and some of the other companies?
Balderston: Yeah, and I worked for—I can't think of that name either. I worked for DuPont. I worked for GE. I worked for—it was a telephone company, I think. It had the name of that, and then there were several others. So I wasn't just with one, but I just kind of went from one to the next you know.
Bauman: Right. So, 46 years, that's a long time. You must have seen a lot of changes take place.
Balderston: A lot of changes.
Bauman: What are some of the changes that you saw--ways the community changed, or Hanford itself changed?
Balderston: Well, actually, they really weren't changes to me. It just seems like we just moved from one thing to the next. And so it wasn't a change; it was just part of the show. So I didn't really realize that there were changes. I guess if I would've taken time to think about it, I would've thought, well, we changed from this to that. It just didn't dawn on me. I just worked, because I had a job, and whatever they told me to do, well, that was what I did.
Bauman: And you mentioned that your sisters came out here and worked also. Did they have similar sorts of jobs and work similar places that you worked?
Balderston: Yeah, they all worked out like at the site or someplace. And my sister that came out with me that was a teacher, she got a job at the—I think it was at the—it escapes me. But anyway, she eventually got a job to go to work for the company, and she was with Battelle for many years and had a good job there. And she really enjoyed it. I guess it was different from school teaching maybe.
Bauman: And did you say your father, also, after your parents moved here, he worked at Hanford for a little while also?
Balderston: Well, he didn't work at Hanford. He worked at one of the schools as a janitor. He had kind of done his thing, but he had to be busy, and so there was an opening, and so he went as a janitor.
Bauman: So overall, how would you describe your 46 years working at Hanford? Overall, how was Hanford as a place to work?
Balderston: Well, I enjoyed it. I didn't go home grumbling or anything. I really enjoyed my time there. And the bosses I had were all really good, and it was a good experience.
Bauman: I did want to ask you about one other thing. President Kennedy came out to Hanford in 1963 to dedicate the N Reactor. Do you remember that at all? Were you here? Do you remember him coming at all?
Balderston: Vaguely. I kind of remember that.
Bauman: And do you remember if you went to see him speak at all, or you don't remember?
Balderston: No, because of the different areas. They didn't cover all of them, and so we didn't--some did, but a lot didn't get in on that.
Bauman: Is there anything I haven't asked you about your years working at Hanford that you want to share or that it's important to talk about?
Balderston: Well, my last bout was 13 years in the 300 Area. That was my last--that's the last place I worked. So no, I was just kind of same old, same old. And so I only worked in the 300 Area and Richland. I didn't go any farther out, so now my sisters--I had two sisters that worked in the area, and they thought they had a hilarious time riding the bus and meeting all these people. So they had a great time. It wasn't something that we just took because there was nothing else to take. So yeah, they had a great time. And so I guess nothing was lost with them.
Bauman: Well, I want to thank you very much for coming in and sharing your story with us and letting me ask you questions.