Interview with Linda Davis
Dust Bowl Era, 1931-1939
Nuclear power plant operators
An interview conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: Yup.
Tom Hungate: Okay.
Franklin: Okay. My name is Robert Franklin, and I am conducting an interview with Linda Davis on May 26th 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. I will be talking to Linda Davis about her experiences growing up in Richland, and her father’s experiences coming to work on the Hanford site. So, Linda, let’s start at the beginning. Why don’t you—you were mentioning earlier, with some of those items you brought which we’ll view later—you were showing us pictures of growing up and your father’s photo when he came here. So I guess why don’t we start with your father coming here.
Linda Davis: My dad had been working in Kansas on I think it was a CCC project. And it came to an end. And they were told very little. Go to Washington. They’re like, right. [LAUGHTER] But my parents had always wanted to get the heck out of Kansas, so they found that this was their escape. And it was during the Depression, so jobs were tough. My dad came out. He was supposed to be coming out with a bunch of friends, and my brother got sick, so he ended up coming out later. He had to—he hopped box cars to get here! [LAUGHTER]
Davis: He rode the rails and hitchhiked. And he got here a few weeks after his friends—a couple weeks after his friends did. They all got the management positions, and he got to be Joe Blow. [LAUGHTER] But he came out in February, March of ’43. He had been working cement. They sent him out with some other guys. They drove all over the whole reservation looking for the right rocks and gravel and sand to make the cement to start pouring B Reactor footings. After he did that, he was there when they poured the footings and that was always one of his—he was always very proud that he was there when they did the footings. Briefly, he was sent over to the extrusion and he was one of the first ones to actually run the machine to extrude the plutonium. Then after a short term there, he went back to B Reactor and became a nuclear operator until he retired.
Davis: And he was first here in a tent.
Davis: They supplied these big tents with a stove in the corner. And he says those really weren’t that bad. Then they, quote, moved him to barracks. And he says, those were the pits. They had gaps in the wood. There was just one layer of wood and gaps. So you learned really early on—you woke up in the morning, you shook your head, you wiped your eyes off, because you’re either removing snow or sand. [LAUGHTER]
Davis: And he says when he got here off the train, he says, there was as many people getting on the train to leave. And he says, the sands would come in and people were missing their families, and they were leaving in droves. My mom and the kids did not come until fall of ’43. There was no housing at that point in time. They went and lived in Yakima and my mom got a job and dad would commute on his long changes to Yakima to go visit the family. The rest of the time, he’d go stay in the barracks. And when he first got here with some of his friends, they had long lines for the showers. They were like, oh, we don’t want to wait in these stupid shower lines, we’re in a hurry. So him and his friends went—they’re from Kansas, streams there are shallow and warm. They went, there’s this great big river, so they ran down and jumped in the river. And jumped right back out! [LAUGHTER] He said it was so cold! They went and stood in line after that.
Franklin: That’s a great story.
Davis: And my dad played poker and he was well known for his poker playing here. We thought he used to—was just bragging, until when he died and people were coming in and they were going, wow, was he one wicked poker player. They used to be able to play poker on the buses.
Davis: Yeah, you know, an hour ride, they had these little tables they’d set up towards the back and they played poker.
Davis: He could earn almost as much money playing poker as he could working. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow, that’s great. So how long was it before your mother and—so you weren’t born yet at the time.
Davis: No! [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: So how long was it before your mother and the rest of your family were able to move to the Tri-Cities?
Davis: They stayed in Yakima for about a year and a half. And then they moved—their first house was a A house on MacPherson, which was just finished and they ended up having to go to a hotel the first night, because it was freshly painted, and it made them all sick because it was still wet. [LAUGHTER] They were kind of unusual because they had their own furniture that they had brought from Kansas. Most people came and they had—everybody had the same bed, dresser, everything was supplied. But they had a lot of their own furniture that they brought from Kansas. So they would have been here—let’s see, he came out in ’43, ’44—early ’45 is when they got their first house--
Davis: --in the Tri-Cities. During that time, Dad had commuted back and forth.
Franklin: Wow. And you said that your mom was working in Yakima. What kind of work was she doing?
Davis: She was a receptionist in a doctor’s office.
Davis: She was telling me—oh, just a few years ago, she was telling me that she was working, and people had been displaced and all the, quote, riffraff was coming in, and people looked really down on the people like them who were coming in. She was working in a doctor’s office, so nobody really thought about it, so they were a lot of times just talking, and some ladies got real snippy about, well, you got all this riffraff coming in and these lowlifes and stuff. And she just looked up and said, oh, well I’m one of those. [LAUGHTER] But they were really looked down on, because people didn’t know why they had been displaced. And they didn’t know why all these people were coming from all over the country.
Franklin: Right, because they hadn’t—
Davis: Nobody was allowed to know anything. So there was a lot of anger, and a lot of looking down their noses at people that had come into the Hanford Project.
Franklin: Do you think maybe some class conflict? Or maybe people they had perceived as Dust Bowl type people--?
Davis: Dust Bowl type people, because a lot of them came—Kansas, Oklahoma supplied a lot of the workers out here, because the word had gotten around, go to Washington, go to Washington. They didn’t know why, just go to Washington, you’ll find a job. You’ve got crummy farming, a lot of them just packed up and left. And they showed up. Then the, quote, natives of the area who had felt that they had been here for a significant amount of time really did look down on all these strangers coming in. It was—they would look like refugees to them. Because a lot of them came with homemade trailers and, literally their own tents if they couldn’t find a place to live.
Franklin: And they hopped boxcars.
Davis: And they hopped boxcars to get here! [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow, that’s really interesting. So, earlier you mentioned that your family had lived in a lot of different houses early on or kind of gone all over. So can you talk about that? Those early years of being in Richland.
Davis: You were assigned houses by what kind of job you had and how many children you had. You could apply to get a different house. And for all sorts of different reasons—my mother liked to move, I think, because a lot of it—she always liked to move. And Dad went along with it. They lived in ranch houses, F houses, A houses—they sneakily got into an H house, which they didn’t qualify for. You couldn’t—weren’t supposed to get into any housing unless it’s written out by the government that you could. They traded with somebody who wanted something—they wanted like the A house. They were in an H house and Mom and Dad said, oh, we’d like the H. So they traded without telling the government.
Davis: That lasted six months. [LAUGHTER] Then they had to move again. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: So the H houses were bigger then? I’m not quite up on all of the—
Davis: They have a basement; they have one floor. They were probably better made. They were nicer houses than like the A. But the one people were having more kids or something. I can’t remember why they wanted to change. But Mom and Dad sneakily did it, then they sneakily had to slink out [LAUGHTER] when they were told they had to leave.
Franklin: Wow. Yeah, one thing I’ve heard around here is that basements in those early years were pretty rare.
Davis: What basements you had, like in the A houses, B houses, F houses, they were dirt. I’ve been in them when they hadn’t been changed yet. It’s basically a dirt floor, you walk down the stairs and then you’re there. Then there’s like this raised cement block area. Well, that’s where they’d dump the coal into. They would come with these trucks and dump the coal in. You just had enough room to go down there and shovel coal. They were pretty gross. [LAUGHTER] But I remember Mom and Dad, though, said everything was supplied. You had no utilities, they brought your coal—you had to call and ask for a lightbulb to be changed. You were not allowed to do it yourself. [LAUGHTER] Totally government.
Franklin: Yeah, that’s a lot like here. You have to put in a facilities request to do that.
Davis: Yeah, well, they had to—she goes, a lightbulb? Like, we can’t change your own? Oh, no. But she says they were really Johnny-on-the-spot.
Davis: Yeah. They’d call and say, you know, lightbulb in the bathroom burned out. Oh! We’ll be right there!
Franklin: Wow, so it would have been a whole department of people.
Davis: There was a whole department of people who were doing that. If you were not working at Hanford or what they called support, like supplying the oil and changing the lightbulbs, a grocery store, pharmacist or something, you were not allowed to live here.
Davis: And if you were, like, married and your husband—one of their friends that happened—dropped dead of a heart attack, she was given 48 hours to leave with her kids. They were kind of severe at times. But it was super safe. Kids could run and play. If your kid got in trouble, you could lose your job. That was—I remember my dad always holding that over my brothers. [LAUGHTER] If you get in trouble, I can lose my job and we’ll have to leave.
Davis: So kids were good; they didn’t have a choice. If you had a kid who became a juvenile delinquent, then you could lose your job and given 24 hours to leave town.
Franklin: Did you know of any incidences of that happening?
Davis: My parents talked about it, but I didn’t have names or—you know. Just somebody that they knew, their kids had been a real pain—and he ended up I think keeping his job, but he had to move to Kennewick. He couldn’t stay in government. He managed to beg and plead and keep his job, but he had to leave town.
Franklin: So they were not only kind of controlled the work site, but they also really controlled the fabric of the community as well.
Davis: To the point where they had—after leaving Richland, and living elsewhere and now in Kennewick, you realize the layers are like military layers. And it’s taken a long time for that to kind of break down. You had your echelons, just like in the military. They even went so far as to tell people, you are in this job and you’re in this job, and you’re not supposed to communicate. They may have grown up together in some Podunk place in the Midwest, known each other since childhood, but, all of the sudden, oh, you’re not supposed to talk to each other? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Right, so kind of like that difference between commissioned officers—
Davis: And a non-com.
Davis: Yeah. Oh, you’re more of a commissioned, you’re too high up and you can’t talk to the lower echelon.
Franklin: Right, scientists don’t talk to janitors and so forth.
Franklin: That’s really interesting. Did your mom work after—
Davis: Yes, she worked at Dr. Ellner’s office, urologist here in town. She worked there for—I don’t know—from the time I was about nine, eight—I guess I was about eight when she started working there. So that would have been ’62.
Franklin: Okay. And so then you would be born in ’54.
Franklin: ’54. Okay.
Davis: Part of that big baby boom.
Franklin: Yeah. And how many siblings do you have?
Franklin: Okay. And were any of them—did any of them move to Richland from—so your parents came, your father came out in ’43, and then your family came out in the fall. When were your siblings born?
Davis: They were born all in Kansas.
Davis: And so they were born in ’37, ’40, and ’41.
Franklin: So you’re the real baby of the bunch.
Davis: Oh, yeah. I was the surprise. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Ah. I think we all are in some way.
Davis: Oh, I was—my mom was 41, so yeah, I was a shock.
Franklin: Wow, yeah, that is quite a surprise. So tell me—then you would have been born then when Richland was still a government town.
Franklin: So tell me about growing up, like maybe from your earliest memories on. What was it like to—do you have any early memories of before—while Richland was still a government town?
Davis: Yeah, I have a lot of memories from really early. My brother and I seem to both have the brains from early, early. The other two go, I don’t remember anything then. [LAUGHTER] They don’t really remember anything until after they’re five! One of the things that always struck me was, as a kid, driving through town and they had that asbestos siding that you had a green house or this dark reddish house. They all kind of looked the same. I know my sister one time accidentally ended up in the wrong house after school. And one of Mom’s best friends came in and found some guy sleeping in her bed. He was on leave from the Army and he had gotten in the wrong house. But they all looked the same. And people had the same furniture.
Davis: So my sister went in and says, like, the living room furniture, I think, was all the same. And she says, she came home, put her papers down and then went out and played. Then came back later and went, Mom keeps moving the furniture! [LAUGHTER] She says she has no idea which house she went into.
Davis: Yeah, they had basically—I remember the green and the red. There might have been—and then there was some blue. And then they had like a cream color with them. So like the A houses would have been light colored on the top and then the red on the bottom. Or cream and—there was like three choices. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Right. It’s like the Model T. You can get it in black or black.
Davis: Right. Yeah, this was—and you didn’t have a choice what color it was. And I guess when they first moved in, besides the paint being wet, they literally handed them a ten-pound bag of grass seed and said, plant your yard! Have fun! [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow. That’s great. So, how about any memories that stand out from your early childhood or early life in Richland? I remember, earlier you mentioned that before we started taping, that your family had bought one of the first commercially available houses.
Davis: Spec home.
Franklin: Spec home. What year was that?
Franklin: Okay, so you would have been about six years old then.
Davis: Right. That was just before I was six, yeah.
Franklin: And what was that like, to be in one of these?
Franklin: New, new, new homes.
Davis: Because of the class thing going on, I was not considered—and then shortly after they started building this North Richland area—I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in with the kids in the, quote, government houses.
Davis: My house was basically a ranch house. We had hardwood floors instead of tiles. And we had a one-car garage, ooh, ahh. [LAUGHTER] But it really wasn’t—it was just a three-bedroom ranch. One bathroom and a one-car garage. And then all the scientists and the people making more money and the doctors started building into North Richland. And I didn’t fit in with them, either, because they went, oh, you’re in that little house. It was kind of like feeling like you didn’t fit in anywhere. Because I wasn’t in a government house, and a lot of the government houses were way bigger than the house we were in.
Davis: But I remember saying—one of the first memories in that house was—they’d moved us in—oh, they’d never allow it nowadays. Moved us in, we had no water. So the firemen came and hooked up to a fire hydrant about a block and a half away. [LAUGHTER] And then it ran into a garden hose, and it was February, and like below zero. So you always had to have water running in the bathtub to keep the little garden house. And if froze up, all the neighbors would come out and jump up and down on it, breaking the ice up. But nowadays you wouldn’t be able to move into a house without full running water.
Franklin: Right, right. Wow. That’s fabulous.
Davis: And then when we were first there—we were the very first ones sold. The others were having open houses. And we’d be sitting there having like a family get-together, and people start walking in our house. Oh, this one’s not open! No. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: And then that of course touched off a boom, though, right, in house construction in Richland.
Davis: Right. North Richland, I remember we used to sit at our kitchen table and look out and watch all the houses going up, and here are all the—for years, you could see new houses and hear hammering every morning. North Richland just really took off because everybody started building their own.
Davis: A lot of people went ahead and bought their original house from the government, but my parents—I don’t know, they fell—my dad fell in love with this house. My mother hated it. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: How long did they live at that house?
Davis: We lived there 13 years.
Franklin: Okay. So they really do like to move around a lot.
Davis: That’s like mom’s record, yeah. Her last move was with us and she had to live with us ten years without moving before she died. [LAUGHTER] But generally, about—when my siblings were growing up, they got used to moving every six months to a year and a half. And they went to every single school in Richland.
Franklin: Wow. Well, I guess they know a pretty big cross-section of the community, then.
Davis: They were always—when you talk to different people, they’re like, oh yeah, so-and-so, and I go, oh yeah, my parents were their neighbors. And somebody else would say, oh yeah, they were their neighbors, too. Like Garmo who owned one of the grocery stores. All these different people, they were their neighbors at some point in time. Probably Johnson, who was the photographer for the area. He was a good friend and I’m still in recent contact with his daughter.
Davis: But pretty much, if you lived in Richland for any length of time, my parents were your neighbor at some point. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: That’s great. So when did your father retire from Hanford?
Davis: I was married, so—when did he retire? I got married in ’74, so I’m trying to remember exactly. ’75 or ’76, something like that.
Franklin: Oh, wow, so he was on—did he have any gaps in employment, or did he work onsite since 1943?
Davis: He worked onsite that whole time.
Franklin: Wow, and so what did—
Davis: Except for the six-week strike they had. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, well tell me about that.
Davis: I don’t even remember what it was about. I was in junior high. They had a strike which my dad was not in favor of, but he wouldn’t break union line. So he was on strike. During that time, he says, oh well, I’ll make the best of it, so he built a family room onto our house. [LAUGHTER] And got hooked on soap operas.
Davis: He used to make fun of Mom wanting to watch her soap opera, and then when he went back to work, he’d come home from work and go, what happened with—[LAUGHTER] But they were only on strike for like six weeks.
Franklin: And do you remember what the strike was about at all?
Davis: I don’t remember what it was about. Like I say, it was in junior high. It was—
Franklin: Do you think you can give me kind of a date range so we could try to find something about that?
Davis: That would have been in the late ‘60s? Somewhere in—yeah. It wasn’t a very long strike, but it was the first one that I know of that they had. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Was that site wide, do you remember?
Davis: Yeah, it was site wide. I wish I remembered what it was, but in junior high you don’t pay attention to stuff like that. Yeah, Dad’s on strike, well, so is everybody else’s dad, so—
Franklin: All you know is that he’s camped out on the couch watching soap operas.
Davis: No, he was busy building the family room.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Davis: He literally put a whole addition on the back of the house. So that’s what he was doing during his six weeks.
Franklin: Still worked. So you mentioned that he had been kind of a construction guy and then had worked at the separation plant, right, and then worked in the B Reactor. So what other jobs did he have?
Davis: He went from B Reactor, when they closed it down, then he went to K. And then he kept saying, oh, I sure hope they don’t ever send me to N. That’s where he ended up. [LAUGHTER]
Davis: He was always—he liked his B Reactor. Just the way the others were set up and they were different, he liked his B Reactor.
Franklin: He got comfortable—
Davis: But he ended up at N Reactor anyway. That’s where he retired from.
Franklin: Oh, wow. And what did he do at—
Davis: He was a reactor operator. He was—yeah, from after construction, he was a reactor operator.
Franklin: So it seems like a really big career jump, from construction to—
Davis: Yeah, but they didn’t—nobody knew what they were doing exactly.
Davis: So it’s learn-as-you-go. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, I bet.
Davis: My dad—I remember him—it was really neat to go on the B Reactor tour, because it was probably the 70s before he ever even talked about what it looked like or anything. I never knew what it looked like. But he started—in the 70s was able to start feeling comfortable—I mean, it wasn’t classified or anything then. But the guys had just been used to not talking about it.
Franklin: Well, yeah, I mean secrecy.
Davis: But he started describing the panels and stuff. And there was this office behind him, and he says—during World War II—he says, the crazy Italian in the silk suits sat back there. And then he’d go get crapped up, is when they’d get contaminated and they’d have to take his silk suits away and burn them. I didn’t realize it until after Dad was gone, when he was talking about the crazy Italian in the silk suits, that was Fermi.
Davis: Sitting behind my dad! [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow, that’s amazing.
Davis: But he never said his name. He never said his name. Just the crazy Italian in the silk suits.
Franklin: But, of course he probably would have known his name.
Davis: Oh, during World War II, they didn’t.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Davis: So that’s how—I think they just referred to him as the crazy Italians with the silk suits. Because they literally did not know their names. He was the guy who sat back there, and he’d go into places they weren’t allowed to go to. And he wasn’t really supposed to, but he’d go in and tinker. Then they’d check him for radiation and go, eh, those clothes—I remember, one of my early memories is being in grade school and my dad getting off the bus, because everybody rode the buses to work. They were just like clockwork and super on—I mean super on time. And I remember coming out of the house, and my dad’s getting off the bus in the afternoon and—I guess I was heading to school. He’s coming down—my dad was only five-foot-six. And he’s got a pair of pants that he’s holding up around his armpits, and a shirt that’s probably was past his knees rolled up to his—and clomping along in these shoes that don’t fit. He had gotten crapped up at work.
Davis: And he ended up—one of his friends who was like six-foot-six had some extra clothes. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, he’s like, you know, when you get your clothes crapped up, you lose your clothes.
Davis: Even your underwear. [LAUGHTER] So he’s coming home with—[LAUGHTER] I still remember—luckily we only lived like a half block from where the bus dropped him off. But I thought, that had to be a little uncomfortable at work, walking around like that.
Franklin: Yeah, no kidding.
Davis: Trying to hold these. Yeah, Trawler, he was six-five, six-six. He was a tall guy, skinny. But Dad was only five-foot-six. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow, that’s a great story. So there’s some—a couple of the big events that we always ask people about and one of them is Kennedy’s visit to the N Reactor in 1963. Did you—were you—
Davis: Both my parents were working.
Franklin: They were both working, so—
Davis: [LAUGHTER] I didn’t have any way to get there. I wanted to go, but my parents, oh, it’s going to be a big crowd. They didn’t like crowds.
Davis: So, yeah, I didn’t get to go. They were both working. So I heard about it from my friends. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Your friends who went?
Davis: Yeah, I had friends who went.
Davis: And they still remember it, and I’m going, oh, I didn’t get to go.
Franklin: Ah, you were busy. So any other major—any other big events that kind of stick out at you in Richland, growing up in Richland or maybe even a little later?
Davis: Ah, let’s see, what were the events? They always had their fire parade, their fire prevention parades. That was when you were a kid and you got to decorate your bike and ride down the road.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Davis: G Way, and they had—when I was really little, there was like Frontier Days or some other parade that we had. And then one of the big thrills was in the spring, they would bring in, quote, well, we’d call them travel trailers now, but they were the early mobile homes that were like eight-foot-wide and 12 feet long. And they’d set them up in the Uptown Richland parking lot. You’d go look through them and go, oh, aren’t these cool. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: They brought them up for sale?
Davis: Yeah, you know how they do car shows now in parking lots? Well, they’d bring these little mobile—[LAUGHTER] little dinky mobile homes. Which nowadays, I says, my fifth wheel’s bigger [LAUGHTER] than these, quote, homes that you’re supposed to live in.
Franklin: I could imagine for some of the people who had been here in the early days that those might have given them some flashbacks to the trailer camps or—
Davis: Yeah, my parents didn’t live in the trailer camps, but they had a lot of friends who did. And one of my best friends, her parents had built—they had no place to live, so they built their own trailer and lived down at the Y. It was a homemade, and it was really little with three kids. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow. That’s amazing. So did you end up staying in Richland, then—did you ever move out of the Tri-Cities?
Davis: We went to the Chicago area, and we were gone—I didn’t leave until I got married.
Davis: My husband went to Pullman for a year and then we went to Chicago. We were gone about nine years and then came back and raised our kids here.
Franklin: Oh, okay. And so what brought you back to the—
Davis: Family. My parents were here, my dad’s health was failing, and I had just lost my father-in-law. So we kind of wanted the kids to get the chance to know their grandparents, because my husband’s parents were both gone. So, family. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Davis: And good memories of being growing up here.
Franklin: Sure, sure.
Davis: Versus Chicago. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: So, what would you—is there anything you would like future generations to know about growing up—like kind of the experience growing up in Richland, or what it would have been like to be so close to Hanford? To help them understand what that would be like.
Davis: Growing up with my dad, the guys and women who worked out there, they were proud of what they did. Yes, bombs, they all agreed, the bomb is nasty. But in the long run it probably saved millions of lives on both sides. Because Japan was willing to fight ‘til the last man, which would have been millions of more lives lost. And if they would have gotten the bomb first, we’d be speaking Japanese. [LAUGHTER] I think there’s an overall pride—and my husband and I were just talking about this last year, that what was accomplished at Hanford would never be able to be done today. Back then, the old—they had all the signs, loose lips sink ships. My husband says, well, it’d been sunk long—they couldn’t have even gotten the first thing done before it would have been out in the open. Nowadays I don’t think they could pull it off. And people knew they weren’t supposed to talk about it. My dad—my mom said when they were living in Yakima, my dad, he had read about the reactor—splitting the atom in the Collier’s magazine before the war. They were going to go get the magazine and look it up. They never got around to it. Found out if you asked about that magazine, you were fired.
Davis: So they learned not to say anything. They handed some uranium around and my dad by the weight, he said, it wasn’t very big but he knew by the weight what it was. And he started to say something, and his boss says, don’t. And later he says if you would’ve said it, I would’ve had to have fired you on the spot. I mean, you just knew that if you said anything—so he whispered it to my mom one night, under—they were sure that there were microphones everywhere. So even though they were living in Yakima, he would put a pillow over them. And he says, I think we’re making the bomb.
Davis: And my mom kind of went, pfft. Sure you are. [LAUGHTER] And then my mom didn’t know—said they didn’t really know what it was until my brother came home from school and all the kids and everybody was going, we dropped the bomb, we dropped the bomb.
Davis: But I think there’s a pride in what they did. It was very secretive and when you realize that everybody was doing their little part, and they didn’t know what the other parts were. I mean, it’d be like trying to tell somebody to put a car together. Here, you have this screw, put it somewhere—and only that one. And you don’t really know what’s going on. It was really amazing what they pulled off.
Davis: And I think they—all the men and women who worked out there were really proud of what they did. And I think it went on to their families to feel proud of what they did. Yeah, the bomb’s not a nice thing, but where we would have been without it?
Franklin: Right. What about later in the Cold War, after, and all the other things that were produced—all the other bombs that were produced? Do you think that added or ever shifted and change, or—especially in the late 60s with the protests?
Davis: Yeah, in the ‘60s, my dad used to get to work with Dixy Lee Ray periodically and they’d sit and talk. And he always kept saying, you know, we’ve kept it so quiet and we keep it so hush-hush. He says, we’re past that point now, we need to educate people on nuclear power and get away from the—people, and I still talk to people, especially not from around here, when you’re in other states, they cannot separate power from bomb. To them, it’s all one thing. There is no power, it’s just a bomb. And it’s like, no, you can have nuclear power and not have a bomb. And he kept saying, we need to educate—and I remember learning stuff about it in school here. Cousins and stuff back east, they never learned anything about it. They knew nothing about nuclear power, nuclear fission—nothing. [LAUGHTER] I think the sad part is that they didn’t do more educating, they just—they lived too long in that shroud of secrecy, and didn’t spread the knowledge.
Franklin: Right. So you think, maybe it was—even though everybody knew after ’45 what was—and that they were continuing to produced, there was maybe a missed opportunity there.
Davis: And throughout the ‘50s it was still—you didn’t talk about it.
Franklin: Right, the fear, the specter of international communism.
Davis: Right, even though war was over with the bombs, everybody knows about it, it still was a hush-hush. Yeah, I think they missed an opportunity on education. And people just grew up fearing it and not understanding anything about—hey, this could be a decent power source.
Davis: Taking Chernobyl out as a factor. [LAGUHTER] That was a poorly designed—
Franklin: There’s also Three Mile and other—certainly when a lot of people on the East Coast found about nuclear power first—
Davis: Yeah, they learned about it when it wasn’t—sometimes it was a poor design to start with. Well, when we lived in Chicago, there’s the Indiana Dunes. They were trying to build one on the Dunes. They didn’t even have any bedrock to sink it into. And we’re going, you know, they’re dunes? They kind of like, don’t stay put? [LAUGHTER] When we left there, they were still trying to do it. And we’re like, that doesn’t even make sense. So then there was a lot of stupid mistakes, too, that—yeah, you got to think about all the safety part.
Franklin: Right. But it seems kind of hard sometimes to separate the secrecy even from the—there’s so much [INAUDIBLE].
Davis: Do you know, through even the mid ‘60s there was still tremendous secrecy. Mid and late ‘60s. You still, living here, felt like, you know, it was hush-hush.
Franklin: But I imagine with the government owning the town until the late ‘50s that certainly you would keep that element of—that kind of vibe alive.
Davis: Yeah, and pretty much the same people who were here when the government released the town—when I graduated from high school, what, were there 9,000 people in Richland? That was in ’72. So a good chunk of those people were ones who were still here from World War II.
Franklin: Right, and you lived in Richland the whole time, from when you were growing up, when you were born.
Franklin: So did you ever go to the other two cities much?
Davis: Oh, yeah! Downtown Pasco was one of the best places to shop!
Franklin: Oh really?
Davis: Oh, it had the classy stores!
Davis: Oh, yeah. It was a major trek, but you’d go to downtown Pasco to go shopping. Well, that was a big day shopping, because they had the fancier ladies’ stores, they had shoe stores, they had the pet shop!
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Davis: And they had a big drug store, and furniture stores and you could spend a whole day in, quote, Downtown Pasco! [LAUGHTER] That was a classy place to go. And then the old downtown Kennewick was—that was more functional. It had Penney’s and Sears and stuff, you know. Not Sears—what was it? I can’t remember the name of the store. But when you needed fireplace stuff or a stove or something.
Franklin: So like a Woolworth’s or something like that.
Davis: Yeah, but there were several stores. And there was the hardware store that’s still there.
Franklin: Yeah, the—
Davis: Kennewick Hardware is still there. It was there when I was little. I think one of the big things you remember is like going there in three feet of snow because our stove had caught fire. We had to buy a new stove. Back then you could leave your kid in the car, and I was tired of going in and out of stores, and sitting there in the car. I was probably about four. Mom was just inside, you know, ordering a stove and we got a chinook. Within like the time that they took them to order their stove and come out, I watched the snow leave. [LAUGHTER]
Davis: Totally fascinating. It was gurgling and stuff, but wow. That’s one thing about this area, you get chinooks. When you talk about it in Chicago, they go, huh? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah. Wow, that’s really interesting. Did you have any friends from the other cities, or did you mostly—
Davis: My parents’ best friends moved to Kennewick, which was my sister’s best friend—it started out with my sister’s best friend who they lived kitty-corner from us when I was born, and then our parents met and became best friends, and then her younger sister and I are best friends, and we’re each other’s kids’ godparents. But they—when I was about three or four, they moved to Kennewick to a new house. [LAUGHTER] And then he commuted. He had to drive out to work because he couldn’t—the buses didn’t go to Kennewick; they were only in Richland.
Franklin: So there was still a lot of inducement, then, to stay in Richland.
Davis: Yeah, you didn’t have to get that second car, because you’d just walk—most of the guys didn’t walk more than a block or two to get to the bus.
Davis: I mean, these buses were everywhere.
Franklin: Yeah, at the project offices, we have a map—I think it’s from the very early ‘80s but even then they were still running buses, and yeah, they’d go all—
Davis: They go everywhere and nobody walked more than two blocks from their house to a bus.
Franklin: That’s [INAUDIBLE].
Davis: So you only had to have one car. Even when my mom was working, she got the car to go to work and Dad rode the bus. Wasn’t any problem.
Franklin: Right. I bet that would help instill a certain sense of camaraderie, because you’d ride the bus with these guys, and it’s not like today when you get in a car and you’re kind of in this bubble—you have a radio, but you’re kind of in a bubble. Whereas in a bus, everyday, you--
Davis: Well, we lived there, where—the change between the government town and the newer part of town. So you had people like Dad—you’ve got nuclear operators, you had janitors and you had the scientists, all on the same bus. [LAUGHTER]
Davis: I mean, everybody rode the bus. When the bus would come, there’d always be five or six guys standing out down there. And a bunch would get off and a bunch would get on.
Franklin: So after the changeover, it was still the site that operated all the buses.
Franklin: Did they have to pay for that, or was that just a perk?
Davis: That was just—yeah, they just paid for it. I mean, the government paid for it—nobody else could ride the buses, only the workers and they only went to and from work. They weren’t for like the families to go shopping or anything. It was just for the workers. And, yeah, they just got on the buses and they knew they were going to be there.
Franklin: When did bus service start in the area for other people living in Richland?
Davis: It had to have been after—as soon as they started building houses.
Davis: Because these guys had to get to work—
Franklin: Right. Oh, no, sorry—
Davis: And most people back then, you had tire vouchers and stuff—you couldn’t like get tires overnight. You couldn’t even get bananas without a doctor’s prescription. [LAUGHTER] My siblings were skinny, so Mom always ended up with a prescription for bananas.
Davis: Yeah, they had to write doctor’s prescriptions. So getting a second car wasn’t even really an option. So they started the bus service really early, just getting these guys out to work as they started building the home.
Franklin: Wow. So you brought in some documents and things. Would you like to—
Davis: Where’d we put them? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I think it’d be really interesting to get those on video and to have you talk about some of those.
Davis: All right. They’re not super exciting. This is my dad’s birth certificate. The City of Miller which never was officially a city, in Lyon, Kansas. My father’s records were in the courthouse along with three generations of family records, and it burned down when he was about seven. So he had no birth certificate. And not too long after he started working here, they asked for his birth certificate—that he needed to get it. And he says, I don’t have one. So this is his newer birth certificate that they issued in May of ’42. He came in February so to May he had to get it. They sent an FBI agent out who interviewed his father, his uncle who raised him—his mother died when he was born so his uncle raised him—and his aunt. And they also used an insurance policy that was issued when he was 20 to verify that he was him.
Davis: So not everybody has all these affidavits and stuff at the bottom of their birth certificate, but this was from the FBI being able to verify. My great aunt was like, that was the weirdest thing. [LAUGHTER] Because back there, you just don’t have government people.
Franklin: Right. So they would have been out to the small town in Kansas, then.
Davis: Out in the middle of nowhere.
Franklin: To ask questions about her nephew.
Davis: That was one thing growing up in Richland. You were so used to the FBI coming to your door at least once a month, because everybody had different cycles for their clearances. They would always come to your door and ask, are they part of your—do they drink, do they do that? We talked to them all the time. It was never any big deal, because always somebody in your neighborhood was renewing their certification—their clearance. When I lived in Chicago, they came about somebody who was going to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority. It was my neighbor. My neighbors all slammed the door in their face. I talked to the guy, I opened the door, and I go, oh, yeah! It was security clearance. He goes, you’re the first one who’d talk to me. [LAUGHTER] I says, did it all the time when I was growing up.
Davis: But it scares a lot of people.
Davis: But I think they thought it was a little—because the war’s going on, they don’t know what’s going on and here’s these FBI people wanting to know about my dad. I think they’re going, what’s he doing?
Franklin: Yeah, is he a spy?
Davis: Yeah, did he get in trouble? And they’re not allowed to tell them anything. So they thought it was very, very strange when these suited men showed up.
Franklin: That’s great, that’s a great story. And it’s great to have the documentation here to—
Davis: You’ve already seen a million flood pictures.
Franklin: Well, that’s still a pretty—very scarring event for a lot of people, I bet.
Davis: Yeah, this was the flood of ’48. It came within a few blocks of where my parents were living at the time. Don’t ask which street that was back then, because they moved so much. But this was just a family picture of the Flood of ’48 that was so devastating. And then they put the dyke in.
Davis: Here is—well, this one’s tiny. This is just a picture of any summer day in Richland. Everybody had kids. Most the families were young, so there was lots of kids. It was just—even when I was growing up was the same way in the ‘60s. There was kids everywhere. Riding bikes and running between houses, and you came in when the street lights came on.
Franklin: And I imagine not a lot of elderly people in Richland, right? And so that must have—because you would have had grandparents, but they would have been far away, or they wouldn’t be living in town. Whereas in Kennewick and Pasco people might have more extended families living near them.
Davis: Right. My grandmother came here to live with Mom and Dad not too long before she died. But, yeah, grandparents—if you were retired you couldn’t live in Richland.
Franklin: Right, right.
Davis: If you were not working for Hanford, you didn’t live there. So, yeah, there weren’t old people and most of the construction workers who came were young and all had young families.
Davis: So there were kids pouring out of every house.
Davis: So this is—how many kids are in just—this is Mom and Dad’s front yard. And the kids played ball together, they ran and played tag. There were no fences, so all the backs of the yards were like one big yard.
Franklin: Wow. And probably still not a lot of trees at that time.
Davis: Not really.
Franklin: And when—can we look at this photo on the back?
Davis: This was 1948. So that’s only three years after the war. So, yeah, the trees are still—if you look around, you don’t see any trees.
Franklin: Right. Wow.
Davis: And here’s another one. This one would be—let’s see. This’d be ’46. No trees. There’s a bush. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: And this is one of your sisters?
Davis: This is my sister. Yeah. First day of kindergarten. But what I brought it for was the A house. See, they had the dark color on top—this one, I’m guessing, is probably the red one. And then the cream. They were all like that, they were all bicolored. We had cream and then one of the other three choices. You had green, red, and blue. That was it.
Davis: The government supplied the paint. This is the house that I grew up in on Newcomer. It was the first spec house sold. We’re still getting our water lines.
Davis: And my dog, Tippy. This isn’t the garage anymore; somebody’s changed it out. But we had—it was really fresh and new.
Franklin: And this was 1960?
Davis: ’60. Yeah, February of ’60 is when we moved in.
Davis: Mom says January of ‘60. I always think it was February but oh well. Halfway through kindergarten, I had to change schools. My siblings went, so? Because they had to change schools all the time.
Franklin: Yeah, not a lot of sympathy for you, I bet.
Davis: And this is my dad getting an award for what they called the Christmas Tree, which was the front of the reactor that had lights—indicator lights on it. I don’t know if it says exactly what he—just came up, yeah.
Franklin: He’s D. D. Smith?
Davis: Most people called him D. D. or Smitty. His named was Derald.
Davis: Derald. Like Gerald but with a D. Let’s see. Yeah, he was considered a pile operator. $185 was his award, which—like I said, that was a lot of money.
Franklin: A couple weeks’ wages, probably.
Davis: At least two or three weeks’ worth of wages. So that was a really big thing. Yeah, something about modifying the lights or something so they were easier to read. Apparently they thought it was a good idea. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow. Do you know when that was? Was that during the war? Was this—
Davis: Since my dad never looked any different over a 40- or 50-year period, I’m not sure what date is on this. What was funny is on the back, I found my friend’s dad’s name on it. [LAUGHTER] And I went, oh! I’m kind of guessing this might be the ‘50s?
Davis: Early ‘60s? I’m looking at the ties.
Franklin: No, that’s good.
Davis: They had a paper that came out of the Areas. That was in that paper—the Area paper was a little fold-up.
Franklin: Yeah, we have a bound collection of a lot of the Hanford GE News and a lot of that. Let’s see this here.
Davis: 1944. This is my dad’s card for the International Union of Operating Engineers.
Davis: And that was December of ’44.
Davis: So this is still during the war.
Davis: And this is the other part of the same thing, the International Union of Operating Engineers. Came out of Spokane. Got stamped; I guess for going to meetings. No, his dues, his dues and going to meetings.
Franklin: Makes sense.
Davis: Whoops. This isn’t for my dad; this is for my grandmother. I need to go show Kadlec this. [LAUGHTER] My grandmother got cancer and was in Kadlec Hospital for six weeks before she died.
Davis: Here’s the total of her bill. $386.15.
Davis: The operating room cost $8.
Davis: Anesthesia was $10. It cost more.
Davis: Lab, dressings—yeah, and she was there for six weeks before she died.
Franklin: Six weeks.
Davis: And that’s her bill. This bill was—yeah, written on the day she died.
Franklin: Okay. And what date was that?
Franklin: Oh, okay. So she moved in, then, pretty soon after the war ended?
Davis: Yeah, and she moved to—
Hungate: And it’s billed through DuPont.
Davis: Yup. Oh, even I—I didn’t even notice that. DuPont.
Davis: I don’t know of many people still have a bill from 1946.
Franklin: No. That’s a very interesting bill, though.
Davis: What is this one? Oh, this is just really bad pictures that they took—every year they had to have their pictures renewed. [LAUGHTER] That was—that had to have been a windy day, because his hair’s sticking up all over.
Franklin: Right, well, like you said earlier, they had thousands upon thousands of men to process.
Davis: Yeah, it’s like while you’re at work, and it’s just like get your picture taken, click, and you’re done.
Franklin: And this, on the front it says GE so—
Davis: Yeah, that would have been from after GE took over. I’d say from that picture from the ‘60s.
Davis: What’s this one? Just a few little odd things I found in Mom’s—oh, just—from February of 1942, The University of Kansas School of Engineering and Architecture, Engineering Defense Training Program from—his certificate.
Davis: Yeah, this is—I’m not sure exactly what they taught him, or—he never talked about this. I knew nothing about this until I found this just this last week.
Franklin: Wow, interesting.
Davis: So I have no story to go with this, other than the date and it’s my dad.
Franklin: Right. So then he would have came out here very shortly after getting this, right?
Davis: Like I say, when they told him to come out, they didn’t tell him why or anything. Just go to this place in Washington that you’ve never heard of.
Franklin Yeah, we have a job for you.
Davis: And you’re going to have trouble finding it on a map, even. [LAUGHTER] This is just a—it’s got—it says N Reactor Plant Dates—Data. Just about—I think it was a reference for them when they were working.
Davis: It’s pocket size.
Davis: So I think it was just a—yeah, decontaminating, water treatment—I think it was just a little reference thing that they kept in their—on their person.
Davis: And then my dad was trying to get my uncle to move out here from Kansas. [LAUGHTER] And he wrote a letter describing wages, jobs. So, trying to get down to there. Let’s see. “They want patrolmen pretty badly. The pay isn’t as much as I make by about $18 a week.” But my uncle was single, never married, so it probably wasn’t any problem to him. And he says, “However it isn’t bad. You start at $58 a week.” [LAUGHTER] It says, a week. And after 30 days, after you’ve passed that, you move up to $60 a week. And then after six months you get $62.50 a week. Yeah, they were looking for patrolmen and firemen and a lot of the other stuff. And he asked—my uncle was in World War Two, and he asked if he had any training in anything specific that might be used out here. But my uncle stayed back in Kansas and eventually became a—because of being ex-military, he became a postman. Not a postman, a postmaster.
Davis: A postmaster in a little town. But he never did come out. I just thought the pricing—just thought it was interesting, because 58 bucks a week.
Franklin: That would have been—that’s a good chunk of money back then.
Davis: For my uncle, for what he was making in Kansas it would have been a whole lot of money. [INAUDIBLE] Oh, meals at the cafeteria average $0.75. It’s just littered with little stuff like that. He was trying to convince my uncle to move back out here.
Franklin: Right, wow.
Davis: What’s this? Oh. This was in a Kansas City Times in 1947. “Growing Town of Atom Plant Workers Is a Distinctive Sort of Community.”
Davis: So, that was kind of—you know. This is what, when people released—after the war’s over, people are starting to hear, now, what the heck was—[LAUGHTER] going on, and how different our towns were from towns that had been around for 100 years.
Franklin: Right. And that it’s completely government controlled and—
Davis: Yeah, and plants were far from town. You know, Dad would usually spend an hour on the bus going out to work, and we were in North Richland.
Davis: Yeah, but I think this is what my uncle had cut out and sent to him.
Davis: From Kansas. And the highest birthrates in the nation. [LAUGHTER] Because everybody was young. I was part of that major boom. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah. Wow, that’s neat. That’s neat that he saved that.
Davis: And my sister says—we were talking and she said, yeah, when you went to school, you stood up on the first day of school and said where you were from. Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas. When I went to school, we had all been born here. There weren’t any outsiders, I guess, because we were all born here.
Davis: But during the war, everybody stood up and said where they were from. Because everybody was from somewhere.
Davis: She says, there was a few—once in a while you’d run into somebody who says, oh, I was born here. And they’re like, oh. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, oh, you’re an original!
Davis: Oh, you’re really strange! You didn’t come from the Midwest? Because that seems to be the biggest proportion came from the Midwest. Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas.
Franklin: And Texas, too, there was a huge—but that’s definitely where they were pulling lots of people from.
Davis: And it was mostly by word of mouth as their job tended to—go to Washington. What are we going to do? Can’t tell you. Because I don’t know.
Franklin: Take this train to a place you’ve never heard of.
Davis: Yup. Any other questions?
Franklin: No, I think that was great. Thank you so much for sharing. I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know about, growing up here.
Davis: Oh, I probably—going to think of a million things driving home, I’m sure. Oh, I should have said—[LAUGHTER]