Interview with Warren Sevier

Dublin Core


Interview with Warren Sevier


An oral history interview with Warren Sevier conducted by the B Reactor Museum Association.


Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities


Those interested in reproducing part or all of this collection should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for these items.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Warren H. Sevier


Home of Sevier


[Start of Interview]

Weisskopf: Today is July 13th and we are with Warren Sevier in Richland, that is
S-E-V-I-E-R, right?

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: Okay and I guess where I’d like to start is maybe a little background about like what you were starting with what brought you to Hanford.

Sevier: Okay, I worked for an instrument company back east and started looking around for a job and this was advertised in the Cleveland papers, so I submitted an application and here I am.

Weisskopf: Was the job highly tuned to what you were doing or…?

Sevier: I was working for an instrument company and the job was instrument technicians.

Weisskopf: Okay. Why were they advertising in Cleveland do you think?

Sevier: I don’t know.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: At that time, the previous fall, they’d had a lay off here. They laid off a lot of people and then with the new plants coming on like the reactors and REDOX and uranium plant they needed more people, so they went across country looking for people.

Weisskopf: So what time of year do you think it was that you saw the ad?

Sevier: It had to be during the summer.

Weisskopf: Of 1950?

Sevier: 1950, right.

Weisskopf: Somewhere in ’50.

Sevier: And I came here in October of 1950.

Weisskopf: Were you married then or have kids or anything?

Sevier: No, I was single then.

Weisskopf: So it was pretty easy to pick up and move.

Sevier: It was yes, mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Was the pay better than what you were getting or what was the reason?

Sevier: Oh yeah, it was a factory job where I was working.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: And I wanted to work in a field as a field engineer. At that time, they had a Cadet Engineering course and I was scheduled to take it. Every once in awhile somebody from the shop would be qualified enough to take it but management decision came down that no one else would be taking the course in the future without a degree and I didn’t have that.

Weisskopf: Okay, right.

Sevier: And so that’s when I started looking for another job.

Weisskopf: And did they pay your way to come out for an interview or how did that work?

Sevier: No, I submitted an application and I guess they gave me the job. There was some correspondence back and forth of course.

Weisskopf: Yeah, okay. Any negotiation about salary or did they just tell you what it was going to pay?

Sevier: No, they told me what it was.

Weisskopf: Was it a step up?

Sevier: Oh yeah, from factory work?

Weisskopf: Uh-huh.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Great.

Sevier: What I was doing in the factory was assembling instruments and calibrating ‘em.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm. What kind of instruments were they?

Sevier: They were for powerhouse type, temperature, pressure…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: …flow.

Weisskopf: All of which they had out here right?

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: Somewhere or another, okay. So you picked up and moved out. Did you know where Pasco and Richland were? Were you familiar with the territory?

Sevier: I had been on the West Coast when I was sailing in the merchant marine but I had never been. I worked for an Alaska steam ship one time but never in Seattle and I didn’t realize that there was deserts and dunes like everybody else.

Weisskopf: Did you drive out here?

Sevier: Yes, mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Okay. So it must have been a little bit of a surprise when you found that you had arrived when you still didn’t look like you were in Washington.

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Where did you stay when you got here?

Sevier: They had dormitories.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: In Richland and I stayed in the men’s dorm.

Weisskopf: About how long did that last?

Sevier: Let’s see….

Weisskopf: You got here in October.

Sevier: Yeah, I think it lasted till, well I stayed till ’52 till I got married.

Weisskopf: Okay, so you stayed in the dorms for two years?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: And that was a normal thing to do? It wasn’t just for transient temporaries?

Sevier: Yeah there was 13, I think 13, and men’s dorms and I don’t know how many women’s dorms.

Weisskopf: Okay. And did you start work immediately upon getting here?

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: Okay. So, where was your first assignment?

Sevier: Well, in 700 Area Powerhouse. It still had some clearance, I think, to go through but anyway they had equipment from the company that I worked for and…

Weisskopf: So you…yeah.

Sevier: …they wanted somebody to calibrate it.

Weisskopf: I wonder if that’s why they were advertising in Cleveland.

Sevier: No, I don’t think so…

Weisskopf: No? Okay.

Sevier: …I think their ad probably appeared all around the country, I think.

Weisskopf: Right, right. Refresh my memory in the 700 Area Powerhouse, where was that?

Sevier: It was back of the 703 building, part of it is still there. It was in that open space where the bus terminal is now.

Weisskopf: Okay. Where did that power go to, do you think? Steam or?

Sevier: It was steam and it took care of the office buildings, also I lived in those little apartments on George Washington Way and they were steam heated at the time.

Weisskopf: Okay. So that was a pretty standard non-nuclear job then?

Sevier: Right, that was just until the clearance came though.

Weisskopf: And for that job required no clearance….

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: …and so how long were you there, do you think? A matter of weeks or months?

Sevier: Oh, just a few weeks.

Weisskopf: Okay. Any problems getting clearance?

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: Yeah. So where did you go after that?

Sevier: Went to the 200 Areas.

Weisskopf: Okay, in power or?

Sevier: In instruments. See they had a separate instrument division.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: They were set up with different kinds of divisions, there was separation division and so forth. Reactor had one division and separation, 200 Area separation and metal prep was 300.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm, all had their own separate instrument people?

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: Mm-hmm, but as a group we, most of us, belonged to the Instrument Society.

Weisskopf: Right. Did you ever have meetings on campus amongst all of you or did you go to classes that would have mixed people from all areas?

Sevier: Yeah I went to classes, right. They had classes for the people that came in here were either electronic or pneumatic technicians. I was classified as pneumatic so we had a school in White Bluff’s, in a warehouse in White Bluff’s, and we had both pneumatic and electronic people in there and they were from all the areas. So I think the school lasted probably about…oh six months if I remember correctly.

Weisskopf: Cause an awful lot of your instruments would have overlapped with everybody elses.

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: And I presume that…were there standards that were used throughout the site?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Okay. Was there competition among you guys and the 100 Area instrument people or….

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: …didn’t really know what they were doing?

Sevier: No, no problem there.

Weisskopf: Yeah. But you did share information?

Sevier: Oh yes, mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Yeah, okay. So when you were in instruments in the 200 Areas were you more narrow than the entire both 200 Areas or for some aspect of them?

Sevier: Oh yeah both. I worked in T plant…

Weisskopf: Were you assigned to T plant, or that was just one of the buildings you took care of?

Sevier: No, I was assigned to T Plant and also the tank farms one period. Then I was in a group that had the powerhouse and the remote weather instruments.

Weisskopf: Right, did you ever have to climb the weather tower?

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Okay. Was there an elevator or walk up?

Sevier: They put an elevator in there later I think.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Yeah I did. There was no elevator at first.

Weisskopf: You had to climb up?

Sevier: Yeah, one time we changed all the thermocouples or ___ (sounds like thermones) I’m sorry…on the various stages where they measured temperature and uh….

Weisskopf: You had to work on the outside of the tower or how secure was it?

Sevier: Oh you could reach from the tower.

Weisskopf: Okay. Huh. So

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: And over, so what was your span of time dealing in the 200 Areas do you think? For the various jobs you had there.

Sevier: Oh, for my whole career, just about.

Weisskopf: Was it? Okay.

Sevier: I think so.

Weisskopf: Which went until when?

Sevier: ’88.

Weisskopf: Okay. 38 years.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: I even got a 35-year watch.

Weisskopf: A watch?

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Rockwell. It is kind of funny, you know, you work for all these various contractors at the same job essentially, essentially like I was a Project Engineer for General Electric Arco.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: Rockwell, and then of course I retired from Westinghouse.

Weisskopf: Yeah. Did retirement work out okay after all those transitions?

Sevier: Oh yeah, fine.

Weisskopf: Yeah, okay. Cause I know that was always something that it depended on who you were working for.

Sevier: I worked a little longer. I was going to retire when I was 65 and I worked into the next year because I was upgrading the railroad as a Project Engineer. That was one of the projects they had and they wanted to finish that before I retired, so I did.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: I worked maybe in to January or February or something like that.

Weisskopf: I guess the part I am interested in the most right now is T Plant specific work….

Sevier: Okay.

Weisskopf: …and I guess what kind of clearance did you need for that versus other places?

Sevier: I think, you didn’t, you just needed just secret clearance, I’m not sure.

Weisskopf: Was it?

Sevier: I’m not sure.

Weisskopf: Yeah, okay.

Sevier: I had TS clearance because I worked sometimes once and awhile in the 2, 3, 4, 5.

Weisskopf: TS, was that higher…

Sevier: Top secret.

Weisskopf: What was Q level?

Sevier: Q was normal I think.

Weisskopf: That was just the basic.

Sevier: Yeah, Q.

Weisskopf: Okay, okay but you had a higher one.

Sevier: Well later I did for working in the metal prep building.

Weisskopf: Right, right. So when do you think you went to T Plant? Was that early on?

Sevier: Yeah I think so. That would be….

Weisskopf: In ’51 or?

Sevier: It had to be in ’51.

Weisskopf: Okay, okay. Was that your first assignment in the separations area, actually working on the separations process?

Sevier: Working in one of the process buildings?

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Yeah, mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Okay, okay.

Sevier: Because before that we had the powerhouse and the tank farms, well the tank farms I worked in and powerhouse, tank farms, and the weather instruments. Yeah.

Weisskopf: Followed that, or…

Sevier: Well that was before I went into T Plant I think.

Weisskopf: that quickly?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: You went into T Plant within the year of getting here…

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: …but you worked in all those other places too?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: One group had it all, had the three assignments. One group took care of the powerhouses, the tank farms, and the remote instrument groups, operative.

Weisskopf: And so you weren’t stuck in one building all day obviously….

Sevier: No, no.

Weisskopf: …the assignments came up and they would move you around.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: So what were you doing at T Plant when you first got there?

Sevier: I worked as an instrument technician.

Weisskopf: Which meant you could go anywhere in the building to work on instruments?

Sevier: Oh yeah, mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: How many of you were there?

Sevier: Gee I don’t know, maybe counting the shift people, probably 10 in a group.

Weisskopf: 10 instrument people?

Sevier: Instrument people yeah.

Weisskopf: On any one shift or through the entire, all shifts.

Sevier: For the entire thing.

Weisskopf: So there might be two or three.

Sevier: One man on a shift. See we were working six days a week. So short change was a matter of a few hours.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: But I didn’t work shift there I worked days but I worked shift later at REDOX.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: When they started up REDOX.

Weisskopf: Everything they did at T Plant was remote controlled, so I presume that instruments were as critical as instruments can ever get.

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: Were you sort of on emergency call and when things came up you had to get to ‘em right away.

Sevier: Yeah, of course as I say they had shift coverage so they had to have a man there all the time.

Weisskopf: But, was it frequently, would the process stop until you guys fixed it?

Sevier: No, because it was batch.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: They get in to the process, I mean start and stop. I’m not to sure…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: But it was a batch process.

Weisskopf: People weren’t yelling at you continually about holding up the process.

Sevier: Oh no.

Weisskopf: Did you know much about the process while you were working there?

Sevier: Not too much because it was a no no to read run books and things like that.

Weisskopf: The logs.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: Yeah, okay.

Sevier: You get caught reading those and you get a little lecture but nobody read ‘em because really…if you were a chemist or something it might be fine but…

Weisskopf: Right, right otherwise it would be boring reading.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Did you ever have to dress up and go in the canyon to do instruments?

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: How often was that? Weekly or every now and then?

Sevier: No it wasn’t very often.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: We had one project I remember, when they sent the slugs over from the 100 Areas they were in water and it was always a problem sending the cask cars back empty because they wouldn’t have the heat anymore and they would freeze up.

Weisskopf: Oh in the winter time?

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Really?

Sevier: So what they were trying to do was establish a point where they did not need the water to cool the slugs.

Weisskopf: Oh.

Sevier: So what they did is there was a swimming pool, what they call a swimming pool, a big pool in T Plant and they would bring a basket of slugs in and put it down in there and then we would put thermocouples in amongst the slugs and then we get out of there and they would pull it out and put it up on deck and watch the temperature. If it got to hot they would put it back in. They wanted to see how long it would take for the green slugs to cool down enough so that they wouldn’t need the water coming over.

Weisskopf: They wanted to find out if they needed it coming over from the reactors.

Sevier: From the reactor with the slugs. See the slugs…

Weisskopf: Okay…

Sevier: …provided heat.

Weisskopf: They weren’t set up at the reactor to do these kinds of measurements.

Sevier: Apparently not.

Weisskopf: It was easier to do it at your place.

Sevier: It was easier to do with the swimming pool there…

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Or the pool rather.

Weisskopf: Okay, so they’d measure the temperature in the water and out of the water and…

Sevier: Mostly out of the water, pull it out and let it heat up and then established a point where it safe to ship it without water so they wouldn’t freeze up in the winter. I mean that’s just one…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: …one little thing.

Weisskopf: Why didn’t they just empty the water out after taking the fuel out of the cask car?

Sevier: I’m not sure.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: I was thinking about that.

Weisskopf: Yeah. So what they wanted to do was ship it over without water in the cask car.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: And that was one of the times you had to suit up…

Sevier: Yep.

Weisskopf: …then be out there. Where the heck were you when they were lifting fresh fuel out of the swimming pool?

Sevier: Oh no you don’t get it.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: You get out of it. You don’t stay in the canyon.

Weisskopf: Yeah. And were they, so you put the thermocouple down in the water while it was safe to do so?

Sevier: In the basket, Yeah.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: Slugs were in a basket and you put the thermocouple down in there with tongs.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: And then…

Weisskopf: You’d leave at that point.

Sevier: …leave right.

Weisskopf: And the crane operator…

Sevier: Of course the wire is hooked up and so forth.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: The crane operator would then pull it out and put it up on deck and then they would watch the temperature if it got too hot to go back in the pool.

Weisskopf: Okay. So you were looking down in the cell then. You were working down in, or you know looking over the edge.

Sevier: _____ (unclear) the pool.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Was it big?

Sevier: Oh yeah, it was a big pool

Weisskopf: Yeah, yeah. How many buckets were down there when you were doing this?

Sevier: Oh, this was just the one bucket.

Weisskopf: Just for the test?

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah, okay.

Sevier: I think it would have been too hot with others.

Weisskopf: And they tended to have redundancy in instruments so if something did go out they could continue the process?

Sevier: I think so in a way.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: But with the batch process of course you could always stop.

Weisskopf: At any given point.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: Where did you tend to, did you spend, where did you spend most of your time dealing with instruments, what part of the building?

Sevier: In the gallery, the operating gallery…

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: …that’s where your readout instruments are.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: And it would be a matter of routine calibration.

Sevier: Preventative…

Weisskopf: According to a schedule?

Sevier: …yeah maintenance…

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Preventative maintenance.

Weisskopf: Did that include like the big scales they had.

Sevier: Yeah we had a scale man.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: I worked with him sometimes, everybody, he took care of the scales there and also the railroad scales. Riverland, which is where the rails used to come in. They had scales there. I remember going over there one day with him. Then, let’s see….

Weisskopf: So, there was always, everyday if there were no problems you still had work to do everyday…

Sevier: Yeah, routine, oh yeah.

Weisskopf: …calibrating routine work. How often were there problems where you had to stop what you were doing and go fix something? Was it frequent or infrequent?

Sevier: I would say infrequent.

Weisskopf: Just every now and then?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Did you ever go up in the crane operator’s cabin?

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah? While it was running or?

Sevier: The periscopes belonged to the instrument groups.

Weisskopf: Oh, okay.

Sevier: But we had, there was a specialist in the 300 Area that took care of the periscopes but we might go with him you know and help out.

Weisskopf: While they were working? Or just during off hours, would you be up there?

Sevier: Oh off hours,

Weisskopf: Uh-huh.

Sevier: Cause you couldn’t have any cells open or anything. Even though you were behind a concrete wall.

Weisskopf: Right. Cause, oh you were working on the outside on the periscopes themselves.

Sevier: Periscopes, right.

Weisskopf: Right, okay. Was there TV installed at that point?

Sevier: No, that was too early. They put TV on at PUREX, the first ones, and that didn’t work too well at first, the first TV’s. But the PUREX were the first application.

Weisskopf: Okay. You don’t remember any TV screens inside the crane at the T Plant.

Sevier: No, not at T, not then no.

Weisskopf: So suiting up was sort of a normal thing to do? Not frequent maybe.

Sevier: No, it wasn’t frequent, no.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Usually it was pretty well organized.

Weisskopf: But weren’t the instruments, the other ends of the instruments were all in the cells right?

Sevier: The sensing elements?

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: And what would you do if something went out in one of the dissolvers? Or you know…

Sevier: Oh they probably, they were on jumpers so the crane operator would take them out.

Weisskopf: You would take the whole thing out?

Sevier: And conceivably it would be hot so they would bury it and you’d have a replacement one in which…

Weisskopf: And were you the one who would install you know a thermocouple or something in a jumper?

Sevier: In a jumper, yeah, you wouldn’t build a jumper but you would put the thermocouple in.

Weisskopf: Where would you go to do that?

Sevier: Up at the maintenance shop where they….

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: ...built the jumpers.

Weisskopf: So they would simply have an order for that and you’d go in and they’d tell you put it in there.

Sevier: No, sometimes they had spares depending on the instrument.

Weisskopf: Was it all pretty well set up and easy to do or was there still lots of jury-rigging or making fit or something like that?

Sevier: No, I thought it was pretty well thought out, planned before.

Weisskopf: You guys weren’t changing things, improving, upgrading all time, where you had to constantly fine tune it?

Sevier: No I don’t think so, not in that sense.

Weisskopf: And the instruments in the gallery was like hundreds of yards of instruments…

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weiskopf: Did you understand, I guess most of them were repeated instruments though right? There was a finite number of types of instruments.

Sevier: Yeah, they could have weight factors, BG, and temperatures…

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: …pressures.

Weisskopf: Microphones.

Sevier: They had microphones yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah, yeah.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: I thought that was a pretty real black and white way of finding out if something was working.

Sevier: Yeah, you could hear it.

Weisskopf: Yeah, yeah, real basic. So if you had training or experience on any one of those you could go down the aisle and find them all up….

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: …and down the operating gallery.

Sevier: And then the radiation instrumentation. They were at usually Beckman’s.

Weiskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: They’re pretty standard. The weight factor and that was usually a ring balance and temperature was usually oh, Honeywell or somebody like that, Brown.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm. All standard equipment kind.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Uh-huh. Did radiation ever interfere with some of the instruments? I know when they first were building Hanford that was an issue with any materials, is how would, heavy radiation effect the materials. Did it have any effect on instruments, where you guys had to take that into account?

Sevier: No, I don’t think so. It did on, I remember, on periscopes in the tank farm.

Weisskopf: For looking into tanks?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: So it effected the glass or?

Sevier: No the light, we’d have to change out the light bulb, and that was _____ (unclear)

Weisskopf: Oh yeah. Do you know a guy named Bill Painter?

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: He told me a long story once about being involved in a crew where they had to pull the light thing out.

Sevier: Yep, everybody gets a few seconds.

Weisskopf: And they all got dosed and they…yeah, yeah.

Sevier: Quick turn on the light thing and then get out of there.

Weisskopf: So were you involved in that from an instrumentation perspective?

Sevier: Yeah, that’s when I was in the tank farm group, he was probably in the same group at the same time.

Weisskopf: Okay, and that was just one sort of, not odd, but you know something that came up that you had to deal with.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: And that was just the light bulbs?

Sevier: Mm-hmm in that case, yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Sometimes when they were sluicing and they’d hit the periscope with the sluice uh, you know…

Weisskopf: Right.

Sevier: …and then the bulb would just burn out I guess.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm. Wow. So, but back at T plant the radiation, you never found yourself having to add a shield or something….

Sevier: No, uh-uh.

Weisskopf: …in order to deal with that, there were all already had been proven…I guess…in the previous few years. Did you work, who took care of the instruments in the lab?

Sevier: We did.

Weisskopf: Oh you did?

Sevier: Same groups. We had one man assigned to the lab at T plant and then when he needed help, you know, he would get others from the group. But he worked all the time, especially in the counting room. You know where they were counting samples all the time…

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: …that took a lot of time as far as one man, keeping one man busy, so…

Weisskopf: Were there any unique instruments in the lab that you wouldn’t have found elsewhere in the building?

Sevier: I’m not sure.

Weisskopf: Was there like chemistry instruments, like gastromatographs or?

Sevier: No, mostly, for the most part they were counting samples, you know. Let’s see, I was trying to think of what, no I can’t think of any…

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: …that would be special.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm. What was the deal with the padlocks on the panels?

Sevier: You know the jet, so you couldn’t jet from one tank to another without, yeah they had padlocks on the jet controls. They were a wheel-type of thing that…

Weisskopf: Simply before you could move from to one tank to another.

Sevier: Yeah we didn’t do that, of course the operators did that.

Weisskopf: Right. And was that for every tank, was there like dozens of locks all the way down?

Sevier: Mm-hmm. Every panel board had three or four.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Depending on, you know that’s how they moved the material was they jetted it from one to another.

Weisskopf: Jet being a substitute for a pump right?

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: And that is what you would see in the log book I guess? Is they’d get to a certain point and then they would check something and then say it’s okay to…

Sevier: I suppose, again I say we didn’t have, I didn’t have, I wasn’t privy to it…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: …looking at the log book so…

Weisskopf: But it seems like if the only way they knew that things were working right and it was okay to jet it to the next tank was that the instruments were working right.

Sevier: That’s right.

Weisskopf: Didn’t that kind of put a lot of pressure on the instrument people or was it just so well running that it wasn’t an issue.

Sevier: No, I think because of their experience they would know if something was a little off standard you know. For instance, if you started to jet from one to another and the weight factor didn’t increase in the tank you were jetting into….

Weisskopf: Right.

Sevier: ...or say it didn’t decrease in one, they would know right away.

Weisskopf: Cause as soon as they had done a few runs they would have a…

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: …routine that they would know what it should be.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: Okay. What about in the electrical or the pipe gallery, did you ever go down there for instruments too?

Sevier: Oh yeah, Mm-hmm. There were thermocouples there.

Weisskopf: Thermocouples down where?

Sevier: The wires came through the galleries.

Weisskopf: Oh-oh-oh, right.

Sevier: For the cell temperatures and stuff.

Weisskopf: So you might have to tap into those.

Sevier: Mm-hmm. Later on, I was Electrical Inspector and Instrument Inspector for 200 Areas for about 10 years so…of course that’s where I would get a little fuzzy as to what I did when, far as you know…

Weisskopf: Right.

Sevier: ...cause I would have projects where we’d put in electric things but that was at a later period.

Weisskopf: How about adding new instruments? Was there much of that going on?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: I said earlier improvements, but did they just find new ways to measure things or new instruments to use?

Sevier: Well no, because the new plants were coming up.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Okay. Here comes REDOX, see, which has automatic control.

Weisskopf: So they never had to worry about making huge improvements at T plant because it did what it was supposed to do?

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Okay. So you weren’t working with people to design new instruments to make it work better.

Sevier: Not then, later on.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Of course in the, most of the instrument projects later on I had. Where they’d upgraded. But uh…hey did you want, excuse me did you want some coffee?

Weisskopf: I don’t think I want any coffee thank you, once sec, I’m going to turn the tape over.


Weisskopf: Okay it’s working again. How about just generalized things like what was the most interesting part of the job when you’re dealing with instruments?

Sevier: Well I don’t know, probably getting your calibration to come out, I don’t know.

Weisskopf: That was the most satisfying part of the job?

Sevier: I think so, right.

Weisskopf: Cause you were calibrating all the time?

Sevier: Um, part, yeah part of the time you were doing that right. I don’t think all of the time.

Weisskopf: And if it didn’t calibrate, that’s where your skill came in?

Sevier: Start over and fix it.

Weisskopf: Yeah, was that the most difficult part of the job too?

Sevier: Um let’s see, the most difficult part of the job was working shift I guess.

Weisskopf: Oh, you mean like graveyard?

Sevier: Well, on a six day week I think you had, what 12 hours off between one of the shifts. When they had what they call a short change and a long change. Everybody in the plant was working these hours six days a week.

Weisskopf: So what was the routine, what was the schedule? Give or take.

Sevier: Well, let’s see, as I say between…I’ve forgotten now which one…but between one of the changes maybe when you went from days to the short change or long change, anyway you had only eight hours I think it is on one. Maybe it was more than that.

Weisskopf: And you would move up a shift?

Sevier: No, no. You rotated. Yeah right, you did rotate. You change shifts which was difficult cause of sleeping problems.

Weisskopf: Yep. I think since then they’ve learned to keep people on a shift longer right?

Sevier: Right. You can imagine going to sleep say at 8 o’clock in the morning one time, the next time maybe 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock or worse, normally in the evening and this gets to be a little confusing after awhile.

Weisskopf: Yeah, right right. How many tools did you carry around with you? Would you do your calibration at the site of the instrument?

Sevier: Yes.

Weisskopf: You wouldn’t take it out? Okay.

Sevier: Well you might, in some cases you might take it back to the shop and work on it.

Weisskopf: Well how do you calibrate like a pH meter if its sensor is out in the canyon somewhere?

Sevier: Well you do some substitute voltage, or whatever it was.

Weisskopf: With a separate wire going to the instrument?

Sevier: Mm-hmm. In the case of weight factors and things like that you’d have manometers and in the case of temperature you’d have resistance boxes or voltage, things to measure voltage for the thermocouples.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Or substitute. You might want to substitute the voltages to calibrate.

Weisskopf: And on any given day would you go down the line and do only one type of instrument? What was the schedule for the calibrating?

Sevier: I’m not sure on routine. You had a routine, preventative maintenance.

Weisskopf: But was it based on type of instrument where you’d go down and do all the thermometers this week…

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: …or by panel board?

Sevier: By panel boards probably.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Course it had to correlate with the operation of the process.

Weisskopf: Oh, so it wouldn’t interfere.

Sevier: You couldn’t very well take an instrument out of service to calibrate it when you’re operating…

Weisskopf: Right.

Sevier: …so it had to be coordinated.

Weisskopf: And you then had a finite amount of time to get it done.

Sevier: Yeah, Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: But it sounded like time pressure wasn’t a big part of the job.

Sevier: I don’t think so.

Weisskopf: Yeah, you weren’t under the gun…

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: …to keep the instruments going.

Sevier: No, you didn’t have time study per se, which I never did like with, when I worked in the factory that’s what you had was time study. You’d have, you know, so much time to do a certain operation.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Of course, you get energetic and work hard and get a little ahead then you could coast a little.

Weisskopf: Right. How about at the tank farm, when you shifted to that aspect did the job change drastically or just the environment in which you worked?

Sevier: Well, when I was in the tank farm we had three things we could powerhouse, tank farms, and weather instruments. So we might depending on the need, we might work on any one of those three phases.

Weisskopf: And where were you based? What was your home office?

Sevier: Oh we had an office in a, like oh in the change, end of the change…trying to remember…I don’t know, corner of the machine shop we had an office in the 200 Areas, 200 West Area.

Weisskopf: And were you doing tank farms for both areas?

Sevier: Let’s see, did we do both? I don’t think so. I think we just did the west areas.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Later on we did both though, seems to me.

Weisskopf: And were the tanks filling up at that point? How were they dealing with the amount of room they had left? Was that part of your job?

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: Was that part of somebody’s job as far as…

Sevier: That would be process operation.

Weisskopf: Yeah, so how they were using or anything else didn’t really effect what you did.

Sevier: No, not, uh-uh.

Weisskopf: Was there looking for leaks? Was that part of the instrumentation?

Sevier: As far as…

Weisskopf: What you guys were maintaining.

Sevier: …tanks and that?

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Yeah, well we had projects where we drilled wells around the tank farm.

Weisskopf: Uh-uh.

Sevier: Monitoring wells.

Weisskopf: And put instruments down them?

Sevier: Oh yeah.

Weisskopf: Or would they take samples out?

Sevier: Well, if you went to the water table they would take samples out but I think the monitoring wells were later on.

Weisskopf: And did they have array of instruments down inside the tanks then?

Sevier: Let’s see what was in the tanks? I guess there were dip tubes for level and BG and I’d imagine temperature…

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: …and let’s see, how did they measure radiation? Probably at a chamber.

Weisskopf: Inside?

Sevier: Not in a tank itself but maybe in the well down alongside the tank.

Weisskopf: Oh, okay. And how often would you have to suit up and be on top of the thanks?

Sevier: Not too often.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: They had a control house where the read out instrumentation was and a lot of your work was in the control house or instrument house.

Weisskopf: Did you ever have tasks where there was a real short amount of time they allowed you to work on it.

Sevier: Well changing light bulbs was the shortest.

Weisskopf: And that was because the lights and the camera had been put down inside the tank and were contaminated, not wet with it probably they weren’t in the liquid they were just above it.

Sevier: They were above it, but they might be, sometimes they got hit by sluicing cause at that time they were sluicing the tanks for uranium recovery so…

Weisskopf: So the sluicing they were doing wasn’t anything unknown, it was just the normal routine for getting the liquids out.

Sevier: Right.

Weisskopf: Changing a light bulb, not real romantic if you ask me, not too exotic. So what was your job while they were doing that? How were you involved with changing light bulbs or how were you involved with the camera and everything?

Sevier: Well not…

Weisskopf: You went there anyway, did they call you in for it?

Sevier: Yeah, it took a number of people to do this. You know, someone to start it and then the next one would maybe do it, take three or four people to change the bulb.

Weisskopf: And was it just a normal bulb or a spot, or?

Sevier: It was probably a spot bulb.

Weisskopf: But it screwed in light a regular light bulb?

Sevier: Right, Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: And one person couldn’t take 15-20 seconds to unscrew it?

Sevier: No, it would take too long.

Weisskopf: Wow.

Sevier: So it was really short.

Weisskopf: And they called you in simply to help change the light bulbs.

Sevier: Well I was part of that group.

Weisskopf: Okay. And did you use up that week’s allotment of dose?

Sevier: Probably.

Weisskopf: Cause Bill was mentioning something about sitting around not being able to do anything for awhile after some job like that.

Sevier: Well we always could work out on a cold side though.

Weisskopf: Well evidently he didn’t that time.

Sevier: Oh.

Weisskopf: That was one aspect, one time in his job where they had to sit around for a day waiting for something else to come along but changing light bulbs does not sound real exciting.

Sevier: He came along a little bit later then, I think, if I remember right. So maybe they changed their method of operating or something.

Weisskopf: Well what he was talking about was exactly the same thing you were…

Sevier: Or maybe they gave him more exposure then they gave…

Weisskopf: Yeah, yeah.

Sevier: …in that case they would probably want to keep him from…

Weisskopf: Do you remember what your retirement dosage was? Your lifetime dosage?

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: Not too high.

Sevier: I don’t think it was too high.

Weisskopf: Being exposed was not a normal part of your job.

Sevier: No, because later, see later on I did a lot of…oh what would you call it…office type work.

Weisskopf: Right.

Sevier: Cause I wrote instruction manuals and I remember I taught a class to the operators, instrument class at PUREX and a fella named Bill _____ (sounds like Schillnik) and I set up a preventative maintenance file for PUREX and then I worked as Project Engineering, so you see…and then being, I was an electrical and instrument inspector, you know, as I say for 10 years and most of that was not hot stuff that was new. You know, new buildings, new so...

Weisskopf: Was the instrumentation at REDOX much more exciting than it was at T plant?

Sevier: Oh yeah, it was, had automatic control there instead of batch.

Weisskopf: So the continuous process was not just monitored by instruments but controlled by it.

Sevier: Controlled by it, mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Where at T plant it was all padlocks basically.

Sevier: Mm-hmm, yeah batch.

Weisskopf: And switch on a centrifuge, switch it off, entirely manually controlled.

Sevier: That centrifuge reminds me you know, my daughter was about yeh high, they had an open house and they had set a cell up at U plant with a centrifuge and we went in there. You know we could go in and look down in there and the next day no more kids. So that was, I think we must have went in on a Saturday and then Sunday morning there was no more children, because it was kinda unusual. She had been in plants where, seen inside of a canyon building where a lot of people couldn’t go.

Weisskopf: Yeah, you can’t now.

Sevier: Yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah, they don’t like hardly anybody in there. That’s funny. What about, the job wasn’t all that hazardous because you weren’t normally going into the canyon or places like that.

Sevier: Not for me because a lot of portion of my career out there was kind of office work type thing, clean…clean work, new work.

Weisskopf: Were you at T plant when they stopped using it?

Sevier: No.

Weiskopf: You had left already.

Sevier: I went down to REDOX before the building was finished because we were in a Quonset hut between REDOX and U plant or a temporary building anyway and working on the instrument instruction manuals till we went into the building.

Weisskopf: Manuals for people to use them or to use ‘em.

Sevier: Use them to maintain the instrumentation.

Weisskopf: Okay. To maintain them, not for the operators?

Sevier: No…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: …in that case it was for maintenance.

Weisskopf: Yeah, Okay.

Sevier: Later on I worked on operating manuals for the operators but that was for PUREX.

Weisskopf: And were you doing it from your instrumentation background or just because you understood the process? How did you get involved in writing operator’s manuals?

Sevier: Not operator’s manuals, these were instrument manuals to educate the operators.

Weisskopf: Oh-oh-oh right.

Sevier: Say that you were a new operator and you’d say “well what’s weight factor?” See….

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Well you go right up in the manual with diagrams showing what weight factor is, what it does and so forth or what’s, you know, anything? What’s BG? What’s, anyhow, that’s what the manual is.

Weisskopf: And it might be a paragraph or it might be five pages, but it was just to explain the instrument and how it worked.

Sevier: You know, like a loose leaf book about that thick. But anyway, just educate the operators to how the instrumentation did work.

Weisskopf: Because again instrumentation was the whole thing. It’s like flying an airplane blind. I mean they had to rely on instruments for virtually everything.

Sevier: Yeah, because there was no other way. Yeah, right.

Weisskopf: Because the only visible part of it was when the crane operator lifted out a bucket, put it in the dissolver…

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: … after that everything else was via instruments.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: And in the operating gallery with all those gage ports down there, how many people would be standing operating them? How many operators would be in there?

Sevier: I don’t know, maybe one or two a panel, I don’t know.

Weisskopf: Oh, at a panel?

Sevier: Or a section.

Weisskopf: So there would be quite a few people all the way down at least?

Sevier: Yeah, there may be, depending on the process of course. We’re talking about T plant?

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Okay. We might have one or two panels, sections, then again depending on where they were in the process too I guess.

Weisskopf: Okay. Did you ever do any instrumentation for the stack gases going out? Any of the monitoring?

Sevier: Yeah. I was, was it 291 building?

Weisskopf: Right, I think so.

Sevier: Yeah. Yeah we had instruments in that building, stack.

Weisskopf: And that was, was that a room where you had to suit up and spend a little time?

Sevier: No, oh yes you did, to get in there? I think you did, yeah. Right. Going way back.

Weisskopf: And they had filters in at that point right? By the time you got there…

Sevier: Yeah, prior to my coming here was when they had a problem with the…and then they put in sand filters. But I guess they started, I’m not sure but I think they operated before without sand filters.

Weisskopf: Right. I think when they started it up it had no filters at all.

Sevier: Right. And then just before I got here they put in the sand filters.

Weisskopf: And then later on they went to the silver, I forget what it was called.

Sevier: Silver nitrate?

Weisskopf: Yeah, was a step up.

Sevier: Yeah, that was in the building wasn’t it? Yeah.

Weisskopf: Did they have instruments in the filter?

Sevier: In the filter?

Weisskopf: Yeah, down in the sand?

Sevier: I don’t think so. I think what they do is measure differential across the various parts.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: Yeah. Get the drop across the filters.

Weisskopf: Coming in and going out?

Sevier: Um-hum.

Weisskopf: Okay. I haven’t read yet but what did they do after a period time of using that sand? Would they start a new one or?

Sevier: I don’t think so.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: They were big. I don’t think they did anything about it.

Weisskopf: And a lot of the stuff that went through it was fairly short-lived right? The iodine.

Sevier: Iodine…yeah…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: …short half-life.

Weisskopf: Did you do instrumentation…what am I thinking of? The rough instrumentation that would just be checking motors and heat on bearings and things like that? Was that part of the instrumentation?

Sevier: Sometimes. We…usually…most that went to the electricians.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: But we might measure bearings and fan bearings and stuff like that. We had thermocouples on the fans…I remember on the bearings.

Weisskopf: Oh, to see if they were getting hot or not.

Sevier: Mm-hmm.

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: Maybe I had, I don’t know if they had an inner lock to shut ‘em down, I don’t remember now, on the old ones.

Weisskopf: Did you ever get called up in the middle of the night to come out?

Sevier: No.

Weisskopf: Oh, okay.

Sevier: And that, again, was because they had shift coverage. I worked shift, but that was during the startup of REDOX.

Weisskopf: Okay.

Sevier: I didn’t like it.

Weisskopf: What did you mean working shift, versus what? What do you call it otherwise?

Sevier: Working days.

Weisskopf: Oh, shift meaning off or normal hours.

Sevier: Yeah right. And again, because it was six to eight weeks…and then let’s see how did…I forget exactly how they work but anyway you work more than a week before you had time off. They had what they call long change and people liked that. I think you had about five days off and people take off on trips.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: And like everybody here they came from some other place at that time. We’re not born here.

Weisskopf: Nobody was born here, yeah.

Sevier: So they often liked it so they could go home or whatever they were going to do.

Weisskopf: Yeah. What was the most troublesome instrument to work on do you think? The one that was either the hardest to work on or needed your attention the most.

Sevier: I don’t know.

Weisskopf: Yeah? Nothing jumps out?

Sevier: Might be Ledoux Bells and powerhouse, steam flow meters and that, cause they had mercury in ‘em.

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm.

Sevier: And you had piping on them where you had to hook your instruments to them.

Weisskopf: The mercury is in the pump or in the meter?
Sevier: Mercury was a seal in the meter between the two pressures and the Ladoux Bell had a pravulet inside of it which gave you a linear flow instead of a square root output.

Weisskopf: Hmm.

Sevier: Because you know flow is related to square root, so in a way it extracts square root for you…

Weisskopf: Yeah.

Sevier: …gives you linear.

Weisskopf: Interesting.

Sevier: But they were sitting in…because of the big difference in pressure they were in mercury for a seal.

Weisskopf: Why would, hmmm.

Sevier: The ring balances were…it was actually a ring that had mercury in it, but it moved, rotated on pivots.

Weisskopf: Huh. And you said you liked to dabble with trinkets, were you a clock maker or a radio builder at home?

Sevier: No. Well I built radios yeah.

Weisskopf: Yeah? Yeah, like from scratch? Or from Heathkit or?

Sevier: Yeah, Heath kit and junk like that.

Weisskopf: Uh-huh. Are they still around by the way?

Sevier: I don’t know. The last thing I bought from them was an electric filter for the furnace….

Weisskopf: Hmmm…

Sevier: …but that was quite awhile ago.

Weisskopf: One thing I bought from them was in 1974 probably, was a windshield wiper variable speed edition.

Sevier: Yeah?

Weisskopf: I was way ahead of my time. That was the only thing I ever built from them. I think one problem today is they probably cost more, so much more than just buying it off the shelf.

Sevier: Yeah, because of foreign inputs these things are real cheap.

Weisskopf: Yeah, yeah. I can just see….

Sevier: I have that little digital camera there real cheap…

Weisskopf: Mm-hmm, yeah…yeah.

Sevier: …and all kinds of things like that.

Weisskopf: Let me turn this off for a minute.

[End of Interview]


51 minutes, 4 seconds.



“Interview with Warren Sevier,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 16, 2024,