Trailer Talk (Outside)
Trailer Talk (Outside)
A group oral history detailing experiences of living in trailer camps in Hanford and the Tri-Cities area during WWII and the late 1940s.
Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities
Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project
RG1D-4A / T.2010.052.029
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Betty Dietz, Marylee Hall, Bob Hall, Viola Baker, Nancy Minhear Simons
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
TITLE: Trailer Talk - 2 Outside the Trailer
INTERVIEW DATE: May 9, 2002
INTERVIEW LOCATION: CREHST MUSEUM
INTERVIEWER: Terry Andre
INTERVIEWED: Betty Deitz, Marylee Hall, Bob Hall, Viola Baker, Nancy Minhear Simons
TRANSCRIBER: Robert Clayton
TERRY: Today we are focusing on living in the trailers. Actually I want to talk about activities outside the trailer because last week we talked about activities inside the trailer and how small it is so I’m assuming a lot of things…life experiences happened outside the trailers. So what I would like to do is go through and have you introduce yourselves, tell us when you came here, and what sort of trailer you lived in.
BETTY: I’m betty Deitz. I lived in a trailer at Hanford. I don’t remember what kind of trailer it was. I lived with my parents and my sister and her husband lived in another trailer close by. She had 3 little children and we both rode the bus lot. That’s how I met my husband. My husband was a bus driver in the trailer camp.
TERRY: What year was this?
BETTY: ’42 and ’43
MARYLEE: I’m Marylee Hall and we didn’t come until 1948 so we were in the other camp. Which is just North Richland Camp is what I supposed they called it. We had a 4 month okd baby so we didn’t get outside a lot. Except I did a lot of walking because that was about all there was to do. Our trailer was 16 foot so with 3 people it wouldn’t have held another one.
BOB: Yeah I came with her. We came in ’48 after the flood.
TERRY: Why did you come here?
BOB: Oh I graduated from college. This was my first job. I just graduated from college. It took me 8 years to get through college. I had a little trip through Europe. I had to finish that government supported trip through Europe. I graduated from college and this was my first job. I came out here and you talk about the outdoors everything North of Pasco was either wheat or sagebrush. We took a bus ride to Yakima and there was some more sagebrush. I thought this was the end of the world and I’m not sure what Marylee thought.
VIOLA: My husband came to work here. He was a mechanic and a glass cutter. He worked 10 hours a day and we lived in al little dinky 16 footer including the trailer hitch. And I had 2 girls ane 9 and Suzy was just a year and a half but she was a busy body. She visited everybody she could. She was so friendly and everybody loved her. Joanie went to school just half a day. She would go early in the morning and come home at noon and take care of Suzy while I went to the grocery store. I had to go every day. The trailer was so small we just had a small ice box for the milk and butter and meat and stuff like that so I had to go to the store everyday. And go to the post office and then was the longest lines. In fact I’d stand in line and I wouldn’t know where I was by the end of the day. Like I’d go there as soon as Joanie come home.
TERRY: And how old was your older daughter? Was she in kindergarten?
VIOLA: She was nine. She was in the fourth grade.
TERRY: So they only went a half day?
VIOLA: Yes. It was still dark when she left for school. It was a big school and everybody went there.
TERRY: And what year was this?
VIOLA: We came out September 17, 1943. And then we lived there 14 months. And then we had to get out. They wouldn’t live in the trailer camp anymore. So we moved to Kennewick. And we lived in a government trailer they wouldn’t let us live in our own trailer. It was in a big covered yard and a high fence but it didn’t help because somebody came in my trailer and took my little sink off. Just tore it off the wall and just took it.
TERRY: Now you said a couple of things that made me think of something that I want to ask the others about also. Ok? You mentioned about your daughter going to school a half day. Was that something they had to do because the schools were so crowded they had to do half days? And did that happen with you also?
BOB: No our son was 3 months 4 months old so he didn’t go to school.
TERRY: So you weren’t in the trailer court long enough for the school to…?
BOB: That’s true. There was a school in North Richland. What was it…John Day? John Ball that’s it John Ball in North Richland. I have no idea but it was crowded because everything was crowded.
TERRY: Do you remember anything about the schools?
BETTY: My brother and sister went to school. They rode the bus into Richland to go to school. In ’43.
TERRY: Afterwards Viola has brought some pictures and maybe we can spread them out and you can tell us about them. Another question that came up while you were talking. The feeling of neighborhood. It sounds like having kids made it easier to make friends. Why don’t we talk about the feeling of nationhood and community.
BETTY: It was very small. It was just lots….trailer-trailer-trailer.
TERRY: So you got to know your neighbors quickly?
BOB: You shared the showers. You shared the bathrooms. You shared the laundry. You shared everything.
BETTY: And you stood in line for everything. The grocery store, mail, the bank, the drugstore everything you stood in line for.
TERRY: That was another one of the questions I had. About standing in line I heard people spent a lot of tome standing in line. Viola mentioned that she went every day to grocery shop. Was that what you experienced too?
MARYLEE: We ha a little refrigerator.
NANCY: You had a refrigerator?
MARYLEE: Oh yes.
BETTY: She was in the other trailer court.
TERRY: Did you have An ice box? Could you explain because we have some young people probably have never seen one.
BETTY: Well it was built insulated and everything so that it stayed cold but there was a place in there thaat they put a block of ice. And there was always a drain and you always had to empty the pan underneath. And replace the ice.
VIOLA: We didn’t have to buy our ice. It was a block of ice.
TERRY: The government provided the ice? We are talking about ice boxes and neighborhoods.
MARYLEE: I think we were a little more uptown than that because we did have an electric refrigerator. It was very small and didn’t hold much so I got out and went to the grocery store every day too. At least you could get out.
TERRY: What about families where both mom and dad worked? I’m sorry introduce yourself
NANCY: Sorry I’m late I got hung up on a business deal. My name is Nancy Simons. I came here in February 1943 which was very early. And we were in of course the very first trailer court. And talking about ice in the days when we came we had to drive to White Bluffs to buy ice. Later I think I think they did have a place there where we could buy ice.
MARYLEE: This lady was one of the first ones in the camp ground.
BETTY: Pretty much before they gave the letters of condemnation.
NANCY: There were still people here I mean in the houses in this area. There were still people living in the houses when we were there. You know it was very sad to be living in a very small trailer, much smaller than the one out here, and watch them with big cranes hanging off those big machines drop those heavy balls on those gorgeous old farm houses 2 and 3 stories porches all around sleeping porches and all the greenery and shrubbery everywhere. And they destroyed those houses because they had to. But there bikes and wagons and chickens and all kinds of stuff when we came here that had been left. And the people were just barely moving out.
TERRY: One of the questions I had was did you have any friends where both the mom and dad worked. And if so who stood in line?
VIOLA: No my neighbors didn’t work. My next door neighbor she had 3 little girls. And she was a sweet girl and we were friends. In fact she needed a stove in her home made trailer. It wasn’t a boughten trailer. Ours was boughten and it had a little wood stove. But we didn’t want that because we couldn’t keep warm. Stay up all night and feed the little stove. So we got a Barnes oil heater from Seattle and the bus driver delivered our stove. And then the girl next door bought our trailer. She must have stayed up at night to feed that stove to keep her pretty little girls warm. But anyway we liked our Barnes in fact I still have the Barnes heater. No my daughter has it in her basement don’t you? (Her daughter responds “It’s in the garage”). It still works but we don’t use it. But it was a lot of experience believe me. But we managed. We ate well. We lived there and the next spring we couldn’t live there anymore. We had to move. Our trailer was put in a fenced in place. And we moved in to a government trailer and we lived there 5 months. And then after we got into Richland we moved in to a pre-fab. You know what a pre-fab is. They are remodeled now they look better. (Laughter) But we were happy to be there. We lived there 5 months and then we moved in to our “B” house. We bought the “B” house in fact I lived there 50 years in the “B” house. Until I moved to my youngest daughters she was my baby. And Joanie she went to Sacred Heart School in Spokane. And she was a registered nurse. She still lives there in Spokane. And her kids she had 3 kids.
TERRY: Well you know I want try to get us back to the time of the trailer courts. When you came you were one of the first ones right?
VIOLA: It was September 17th 1943. And I know the guards just didn’t tell us there was a lot of snakes there. It was kind of scary. But we lived there awhile.
TERRY: Let me ask these other people about that. You bring up you just bring up the greatest topics. (Laughter) Ok snakes and other critters did you have any problem with them?
NANCY: I don’t remember snakes I really don’t. By the time you came in September I think they had torn up so much sagebrush and so much more land. When we came we were in the little Richland town at Hanford.
VIOLA: When we were in the temporary trailer they didn’t have toilets that worked.
TERRY: So they didn’t have a bath house at the temporary one?
VIOLA: No it was just a long trough underneath and they come and cleaned that every morning. But finally we moved in to a nice bath house. There was a bath house at the end of each lot.
TERRY: What were the street names?
VIOLA: I don’t remember the names I just knew where to go.
TERRY: Let me see if others remember. I read something that indicated the street names were about like…oh they were just alphabet at that point oh ok. It has an address on it the ration book that you brought. One of the things that I had read was that some of the streets were named after war…There is a ration book right here if I may. This says section L block 3 lot 15. (Laughter) was there mail delivery or did you have to go to a central post office?
NANCY: There was no, no, no mail delivery. That brings up the address though I forgot that. You were you were in block lot and all of that stuff. And I think the streets were alphabetical.
MARYLEE: Our streets were A B C D because we lived at 47 D street I’ll never forget it. But the A was next to the river and it went towards George Washington. So we were really 2 blocks from George Washington.
TERRY: There are stories of people going into the wrong alphabet house because everything looked the same. Did that ever happen with the trailers?
BETTY: No because they weren’t the same. They didn’t look alike.
TERRY: Betty could you describe what your neighborhood looked like? Your neighborhood of trailers.
BETTY: Well like I said they were just one after another. Some of them had put up little fences. You know little picket fences around and some hadn’t. The trailer that we lived in was a used trailer. My mother and my brother and sister and I moved to Tacoma. That was as close as we could get from Denver. My dad came to work out here. And we moved to Tacoma and then finally got this trailer. Somebody left and he bought this trailer from somebody. And so then we lived in that trailer. Then my sister and her husband came and she had 3 little children. And I took care of the kids a lot. In fact my husband thought I was already married because I always had a child with me. (Laughter)
TERRY: And this is you met him on the bus. You were taking kids places.
BETTY: Yeah well we had to go to the post office and we had to go to the store. All of those things had to be done you know because nothing was delivered.
TERRY: Do you remember any families that were like single parent or both parents worked?
BOB: Wasn’t as common as it is now. Women did not work.
MARYLEE: They didn’t work outside of the home. We’ll put it that way.
BETTY: There was maybe a few waitresses
MARYLEE: They weren’t married though.
BETTY: No. The families lived in the trailers. Single people lived in the barracks.
NANCY: Married adults without children lived in the barracks or working women. Most of the working women lived in the barracks. A lot of women were here by themselves.
TERRY: It sounds like the mom’s job was to go stand in line somewhere.
NANCY: Storage in those trailers was so limited. And they were so small.
CREHST Museum, “Trailer Talk (Outside),” Hanford History Project, accessed July 7, 2022, http://www.hanfordhistory.com/items/show/4660.