Mary Kalbert: My name is Mary Kalbert and I am in Friday Harbor, Washington, interviewing Gordon Steele on June 16, 2014 for the Atomic Heritage Foundation Manhattan Voices Project. Gordon?
Gordon Steele: My name is Gordon, and you want me to spell my name?
Kalbert: Please spell your name for me.
Steele: Gordon. G-O-R-D-O-N. Steele. S-T-E-E-L-E.
Kalbert: Thank you. The questions I am going to ask you are about your time at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I’d like to start with, how did you first become involved on the Manhattan Project?
Steele: Well, it so happens, when I was a senior student in Chemistry at UC Berkeley, I ran into a friend who told me about this project that he had just hired onto, and he said they were hiring. It was about a nuclear material that would be a new energy, and he thought they were probably working on a bomb. He was told not to tell that, but you know students. I went to the Radiation Lab and applied for a job. I was interviewed there by a nice gentleman, his name was McKay, and they hired me.
Kalbert: Wonderful. At Berkeley in the Radiation Lab and in your chemistry background, who did you work with? What Nobel Laureate did you work with? Ernest Lawrence?
Steele: I got the name here. I can’t put my tongue on it. Lawrence. Dr. Lawrence. I reported to work in one of his labs in the physics building. He is the one that invented the cyclotron, you know.
Kalbert: Yes. What was special about your background that made you a good candidate for working on the Manhattan Project?
Steele: Well I was a chemistry student, and I was available and I needed a job, part-time job.
Kalbert: Yes. What was your initial job on the project?
Steele: They put me to work on tube alloy tetrachloride. “Tube alloy” I learned was the secret name for uranium. What I did was work with a group of lady students who were operating some vacuum distillation, sublimation really, of uranium tetrafluoride. I didn’t know exactly why they needed fluoride, but I was sort of a head of that project. I was hired by a person who I got to know quite well, Bob Schmidt. He apparently had been with the project for some time. I think he was a physicist.
Kalbert: You arrived at Oak Ridge with a friend?
Steele: Yes, I did. I had quite a time. I was hired early in the early spring or late winter on the project and when I graduated in June, they wanted me to move to Oak Ridge. They wanted me to fly, and I said, “No, I want to drive.” So after a little argument they said okay, but I have to take John Morfitt with me. He and I came across the nation together. We became great friends.
Kalbert: Your badge number at Oak Ridge was?
Steele: I think it was 129.
Kalbert: How much were you told about the project when you were at Oak Ridge?
Steele: Before I got to Oak Ridge, I knew what the uranium was for. Bob Schmidt and I became great friends and so I knew by that time that we were working on a bomb and that it involved tube alloy tetrafluoride.
Kalbert: Did you have any role in the intelligence or the security part of Oak Ridge?
Steele: No, but I had been warned not to reveal information or discuss it off of the premises.
Kalbert: Did you come into contact with any people who were later known to be spies?
Steele: No, I did not. However, I did have the experience of having someone who had worked for the project fired for talking in the hallway.
Kalbert: What were some of the serious challenges that you and your colleagues faced at Oak Ridge?
Steele: Challenges? I don’t think I had anything that I would call challenges. I just used my knowledge as a chemist and did as well as I could with what they gave me, the work they gave me.
Kalbert: What kind of a work schedule did you have?
Steele: Well it was, of course, an eight-hour-a-day job, but there were certainly times in which you had to put in a good deal more time than that.
Kalbert: What did you do in your spare time for entertainment?
Steele: They would have dances on Saturday night. Since there were so many women there, it was a bit of a flurry. Of course, you’re dating, and I had some interesting experiences with that. A group of us finally got together and rented a house over at the lake and we would go there weekends. We would go off island to buy booze or to go to dinner. Just come and go, it wasn’t any problem. Of course, the town had a gate that you had to go through and you needed to have your badge and the ID.
Kalbert: Describe the housing that you lived in.
Steele: When I first got there, it was a dormitory, nothing in it but beds and so on. The living, such as eating, was supplied by a restaurant run by local people. Got a little tired of greens.
Kalbert: Were you married at the time that you arrived at Oak Ridge?
Steele: No. I was single and I ultimately had a nice young lady that I wanted to marry but decided not to marry until the war was over.
Kalbert: Were you confident that the Manhattan Project would succeed?
Steele: Well I certainly was confident that we could turn out the uranium-235. But I had very little knowledge of what was going on at the other end of the line in New Mexico.
Kalbert: Los Alamos.
Steele: Yeah, you got it.
Kalbert: Did you worry about Hitler coming up with a bomb before the United States?
Steele: I am not too sure how much I knew about the Germans’ progress, but if I had thought of it, been bothered with it, I am certain that it would be a too difficult thing for them to pull off considering the magnitude of the effort that the United States was making. I knew that they had tried to get heavy water from Norway and that they had been foiled by the Norwegians, who sunk it before they could get it to Germany. I did not worry very much about it. I was too busy with my own stuff.
Kalbert: Did your attitude with respect to your confidence in the success of the project change over the course of the time you worked on the project?
Steele: Not at all. I and my fellow men, my friends, were run fast out, hard.
Kalbert: What role did patriotism and wanting to win the war play in motivating you and your colleagues?
Steele: Well of course, we got a lot of feedback on the progress of the war. Those of us who knew what we were doing were very intent on getting the material to – I cannot think of the name of the place there again.
Kalbert: Los Alamos.
Steele: Los Alamos. But we had some information coming back from the guys in the know who went there to do things, and some of the people from there came to Oak Ridge. So we got some picture of what was going on there. Then I heard about some of the problems and some of the solutions, but it was full out get it done. I knew that once they dropped the bomb, the war would be very shortly over by then.
Kalbert: Were you aware of the planned invasion of the Japanese homeland?
Steele: Strange to say, that was a conversation piece. It wasn’t classified or anything. We used to talk about the destruction that would happen because of that because, you know, the Japanese would fight to the very last person. So we knew the importance of the bomb, I think, and were very much encouraged, when you are talking about that part. We knew when the Trinity test was made and that it was successful.
Kalbert: Yes. You knew it had accomplished the goal.
Steele: Not yet, because you have to realize, they had just put a bunch of stuff together and set off the uranium [misspoke: plutonium], but to deliver it was another problem.
Kalbert: How did you feel about the decision to drop the bomb on Japan?
Steele: That’s an interesting problem, I mean, interesting point. My first feeling was, “Surely, now it is the end of the war.” But when they dropped the second bomb, the plutonium bomb, I was very upset about that.
Later on, I got the story, which came through just conversation, that after they dropped the first bomb, the civilian representative in Japan and the military representative in Japan got together with the Emperor, trying to decide whether they should give up. The civilian wanted to yield, but the military one did not. It was up to the Emperor to throw it one way or another, and he went with the Army. Their refusal to give up caused them [the US] to use the plutonium bomb. I understood that, so I accepted it better.
But there was quite a wave of intelligentsia at Oak Ridge. Just the physicists and chemists got together at the auditorium at the school and discussed the future of the uranium bomb.
Kalbert: How do you feel about your role in the Manhattan Project?
Steele: It was pretty small, but somebody had to do it and I knew it was historic. I was grateful to be part of it. If it had not been that, then I and many of the people who were involved would have to go off to war.
It’s funny, because they combed the armies for people with a technical background and brought them to Oak Ridge. They worked for the Army. I mean, they were paid and maintained by the Army, but they were working on the bomb.
Kalbert: Can you talk about any contact you had with General [Leslie] Groves or any of the other famous figures?
Steele: General Groves came – I worked in the R&D building at Oak Ridge and we had some pretty interesting work going on there. One day Groves came in and I think Herb –
Steele: Young. Herb Young joined them and took them for a look through the R&D facility. Of course, I knew him as soon as I saw him. He did not stop and say hello or anything. He had some of the leading physicists. Now who they were, I didn’t know, but they came down the hall sweeping by and they looked in on my stuff. They looked in on some of the others too and I think they were headed to Ed Wagner.
Now I have not told you this before, but Ed Wagner had worked with me previously on the project at Davis, the University of California at Davis. We had a group there, and Ed and I were both working on converting uranium oxide to uranium tetrafluoride for the core. My process was not working out well. It was not worth pursuing, beyond keeping me employed with something.
But Ed had developed a process for feeding uranium powder into a glass tube that was rotating and, of course, the whole system is all sealed up. Then surrounding the glass tube was a furnace just about eighteen inches long, and the powder of uranium would be dropped in there at the same time that they were feeding carbon tetrachloride. Well, when these two things were together in the heated area, it would make uranium tetrachloride out of it.
I did some work with that same idea, but mine wasn’t rotating. What happens was that what had created the fluoride, it had a tendency to stick to the glass. So Ed came up with the idea with a tapper. He built a tapper and just went [sound of tapping three times] like that, and the powder would not stick. It came out the end.
I thought that was kind of a foolish thing to be working on, because there is no way you could make a lot of uranium tetrachloride that way. The uranium tetrachloride, of course, was the stuff that went into the calutron to separate. Well, that is just a side thing.
Now, when we went to Oak Ridge, he was still working on this. Out in the back room, he had this tube and he was trying to improve on that process. It never occurred to me that they could not make the uranium tetrafluoride, that precious stuff. You could not make it by the same process, which they were purifying recycled uranium, because that went back, feed back into the coronation process was a liquid phase type.
Kalbert: Let’s clarify. When you were working with Ed Wagner on this project, it was at UC Davis?
Steele: That is right. Yeah, we were there for months. They had a group there and it was there, I think, that the person of which got fired, because he was talking in the hallway. He was there too.
Kalbert: You worked at Berkeley after you graduated with –
Steele: Bob Schmidt.
Kalbert: Yes. But tell me about the story with Ernest Lawrence.
Steele: Oh. What we were doing with Bob Schmidt’s group was, they would buy uranium fluoride as a chemical at that point because they had no way of making it. They put me in charge of that process where we were converting bought uranium fluoride into a vaporizable controllable material. That was done by a vacuum sublimation of the material, a process that went on to Oak Ridge. But they used that in the cyclotron, converted to what was called the calutron, and so they needed that material up on the hill.
The cyclotron’s operation was up on the hill by the football field. They needed some up there, and so I took it up. It is just a walking distance, because the football [00:27:00] field is up there and not that far up, you know.
I was walking up, and this car came along and the driver gave me a lift. It was Lawrence, Dr. [Ernest O.] Lawrence, and we had a nice conversation, just student type, you know? That is the only time I saw him. He, of course, never went to Oak Ridge. He stayed back experimenting with the calutron.
Steele: This group that I went to work with at the physics building lab were girls, and so I was more or less running the process in my spare time because I was still a student there. They were pretty much convinced that that was the best kind of uranium tetrafluoride they could put in to manage what they needed for the calutron, which was the separation process developed from the cyclotron type.
Kalbert: Gordon, is it fluoride or chloride? Tetrachloride or fluoride?
Steele: Oh, did I say fluoride?
Kalbert: You did. You meant—
Steele: It is chloride.
Kalbert: Yes, thank you.
Steele: Now fluoride comes into the story much later.
Kalbert: That’s okay. We have clarified what it is. Go ahead.
Steele: All right. And so I got a ride up there with him. I had to walk back.
Kalbert: Yes. So you are talking about the girls in the lab at Berkeley.
Steele: Oh yeah. So they did all the work and I just overlooked it. So Bob and I were free to experiment with that process.
Kalbert: Bob Schmidt?
Steele: Yes, Bob Schmidt. On a larger scale. This material, the uranium tetrachloride, is very hydroscopic. When it reacts with the moisture in the air, it turns to an oxide and it lets off chlorine stuff and all that. We built a dry room there, and he also designed and had built a vacuum chamber in which we could distill larger batches. It was a terrible thing, but they built a dry room and to keep the room dry, they had a suit in there that you would put on. You had to shove the end of the receiver in this distillation process. Sublimation. When I say distillation, I mean sublimation. That, of course, what it leaves solid. It condenses, and so on.
Anyway, so we put this vacuum equipment next to the dry room. They had a hose in a room with the dry room. I would take the uranium out of the vacuum system and put it in the airtight containers. It was just a trial to see if that was going to be the way that they did it really in Oak Ridge. It was so clumsy. I was the one that put the suit on and went into the room.
Well, we did things like that. I had very much with Bob in working with him on that stuff. But as soon as I graduated, of course, I went out of that job. I don’t know whether he did or not. But my job there was just to keep me, so they could ship me off to Oak Ridge. Because I really wasn’t needed for that. They did not need a graduate student to do that.
Kalbert: You went to UC Davis?
Steele: Yeah, I went to UC Davis and we had a group there under Herb Young. He was the head of the chemistry department at UC Davis. UC Davis had more or less shut down. They had the Army there training our class work stuff for the Army. We had the whole building to ourselves, including the clubhouse for the staff. Great pool table. Anyway, we had several people there working on various phases of the uranium problem, their chemists. Ed and I became good friends.
Kalbert: Ed Wagner?
Steele: Ed Wagner.
Kalbert: Let us fast forward to your returning to Berkeley, getting hired, interviewed and hired, your trip to Oak Ridge with John Morfit.
Steele: Well, I was hired once and after that, I was in. The only thing is, while I was a student I was part-time and I was more or less kept. When I came back from Davis, the Davis thing went on. I came back. After I sat around for a couple of days, they finally told me what I was doing there. They were sending me to Tennessee, where they are setting up the process, the machines for this uranium work. They wanted me to fly or take the train back. I told them no. I was going to take my car. They said, “Well, you know, cars are cheaper there than they are here.”
I said, “No, I’ll take my car.”
So they finally said, “Okay, you can drive, but you have to take—”
Kalbert: John Morfitt.
Steele: “John Morfitt with you,” right.
Kalbert: Gordon, you arrived at Oak Ridge on April 17, 1943?
Steele: Isn’t that great?
Kalbert: And your badge number was 129?
Kalbert: And John Morfitt’s was 122.
Kalbert: So your first job at Oak Ridge was what?
Steele: Well that is interesting because they put me to work assembling the equipment that my friend Ed Wagner had developed at Davis. He was back there improving and improving it and so on. But I was in the bottom of the chemistry building. Not a soul in that building except the construction people.
Kalbert: At Oak Ridge.
Steele: At Oak Ridge. 9210, something like that. And what was I doing? I was assembling these tubes that Ed had developed. It was a Pyrex tube, I think about three feet long with seals on the ends that would permit them to rotate without leaking in or out. They had all these tubes that I started to assemble. I never got to the point of putting them into a fixture or anything, just doing the tubes. They sent me a girl, a lady, to help me prepare these bearings and so on, but that was just getting ready for processing uranium. I thought to myself, “This is silly. This stuff just barely puts stuff out.” Ed kept working on it all the time we were in Oak Ridge out in the back place, on this process. Why is he doing that? Well the reason why he was doing that is because they were going to use this to convert the uranium from the Alpha process, the first time through the calutrons. This is going to be precious output from that. They have to convert it to the uranium tetrachloride. This was the perfect thing, because it did not have high production. There was not high production needed and it was all neat and contained. It was not big sloppy bowls of chemical or anything. It was just little bits of stuff that would be the oxide, and they would feed the uranium oxide in. The uranium oxide was a six-valent phase. The tetrachloride would not only chloride the uranium but get rid of the gases.
The gas coming off is a really dangerous material. One of the workmen got caught in some of that, and it killed him right there in that same building.
But there I was trying to remember things. Well, I did not have to remember. I knew exactly what to do with it.
That’s what I was doing until the R&D building opened.
Kalbert: Which was September of 1943?
Steele: Yeah. The uranium that they were sending to Los Alamos was the oxide, and it was converted to the fluoride there.
Steele: There was no place in there that would tell them that there was not rare earths dragged along with the process. Because the rare earths would have the same chemistry as the uranium, except the thing that they were worried about with the rare earths is that these elements have a very high neutron capture. They would be like crunchers to the bomb. Rare earths are found with uranium in nature, the same kinds of deposits. So they needed some assurance that the stuff that they’re shipping had no rare earths in it. They gave me the job of analyzing some in a clean way a small amount of the product that they were shipping to Los Alamos.
I worked out an analytical process where I could not only detect it but determine how much was in it. It was just a chemical process, something clean so you would not take a quart or something back after you got a few milligrams. I don’t remember how much they gave me, but it was a very small amount.
Kalbert: And this, when you say “product,” is uranium-235?
Steele: Yes, the product was the oxide of uranium, initially. They would convert it to the fluoride and then they would reduce the fluoride with a molten metallic calcium and that would create the uranium metal. They could separate that from the product, calcium oxide. But later on, the fluoride process was taken over by Y-12 and they shipped out the fluoride. Now they needed to know that there was no earths—
Kalbert: Rare earths?
Steele: There was no rare earths in there. I ran another analysis, too. But that chemistry involved the natural uranium. What I did was, I took some uranium. I added rare earth to it. I set up in my laboratory the same purification process that they were using in production. I ran the material through. It was an interesting process, because it was all liquid purification.
They would take the oxide, which is what they would end up with from the chemical treatment of cleaning of the collectors, the sump. They would convert that to the oxide, and then the oxide would be converted to the fluoride. But rare earths would go through that process. They were afraid they would go through that process. So I duplicated their purification process and I put in some rare earths with normal uranium and ran it through there. Then that they could spectroscopically analyze it and see if the rare earths were there.
I cleaned up the uranium using that process, put that in there, and it demonstrated—although I had loaded the uranium at the beginning there, none of it came through the process.
Steele: The capture power of an element was measured in barns, as in barn door. That was a new measurement, kind of measurement. The physicists, who were thinking like physicists and were thinking barn doors, so that the measure of the capture power was barns.
Anyway, the other thing I did was, they needed to determine that there was not any nitrogen in the product. Nitrogen has a high neutron capture. I devised a program where I took a few, considerably less than a gram, of uranium and I could detect nitrogen in it by a chemical process. It was a titration problem where I reduced the nitrogen to the alkaline form, ammonia, and then I titrate the nitrogen in that, treating it as a base. The only thing I added to I think what might be considered a routine analysis was that I did it with a very small amount of material. On the day that they brought it to my lab, it came by guard, packing gun, and staying at the door like this all the time that I was doing the analysis. Nobody could come in and nobody could get out. Then I cleaned up all the stuff and he took it back for purification in their process.
Kalbert: So by cleaning it up, you removed the nitrogen?
Steele: Yeah. See, I had chemicals and they needed to come out. It was a simple thing. The purification process of the uranium to deliver to Los Alamos was an interesting process where uranium nitrate was soluble in ether. They would make a solution nearly saturated with copper nitrate so all the uranium is in the nitrate form. Then they would extract it with the ether in several loads until none came out, of course. Then all they had to do was evaporate the ether away and they had the nitrate, which they could just then heat and it would convert to the oxide, the uranium trioxide.
Kalbert: Were these two experiments, analysis, done in the R&D facility in Y-12 at Oak Ridge?
Steele: Oh, yes. I had an office. I was the first one there, so I had an office next to Herb’s. And right across the hall from that, I had my own laboratory. Anything I was asked to do that required a laboratory, I did there.
Kalbert: Gordon, would you please discuss some of the colleagues that you worked with at Oak Ridge, at UC Davis, or Berkeley?
Steele: I would be glad to. The first one I got here is Abel Dahaan, and I think that’s significant because Abe is responsible for getting me into the program. I think he probably graduated the same time as I did, which was that June in—
Steele: ’42, yeah. He had been a friend for a long time, and I seem to have known him more than I can remember at the university, maybe in lab or something. But once we got to Oak Ridge, I didn’t see him hardly ever. I just never crossed paths, and I find that kind of interesting. It was just like I was swept off in another direction.
The next name we have here is Bob Schmidt. I think Bob was a physicist. He wasn’t much of a chemist, but he sure knew a lot about vacuum systems and as I’ve told you, he designed these silly little vacuum distillation or sublimation devices that I first worked on. He had some kind of special concept there, was silly. But I saw him a lot, as a matter of fact. He suggested that I be sent here or there to do some jobs.
Kalbert: Was this while you were at Oak Ridge?
Steele: This is seeing him at Oak Ridge. He, like the other guys, didn’t show up until a long time after John and I got there. Anyway, Bob remained a good friend throughout, and he seemed to have access to the decision makers there in the chemistry. I remember he designed the vacuum systems that they used in production. Uranium was made by the Eastman Kodak boys by heating the oxide in a pressure tank with carbon tetrachloride, and you get the uranium chloride all right but it’s sloppy. In order to clean it up so that it would evaporate in a vacuum and get all the gassy stuff out of it, they distilled it, they sublimed it the way we did at Berkeley in the physics lab. But in much larger—
Steele: Quantities. More along the lines of the one that Bob and I were fooling with there, that I told you about with the dry room.
Steele: Anyway, he was kind of, I think, a go-to guy for one of the big offices. I remember, I’m jumping ahead of myself, toward the end of the war. Yeah, toward the end of the war, they were generating enough U-235 make up, that is, not the product but after the first process. They had a certain enrichment and it was precious, but it was bulky also. He designed and and he went to the bigshots and he said, “Look, we are going to have to do something about purifying the enriched material.” He argued that they needed a building, so they started designing a building. I worked on that. He was a mover-shaker kind of guy. But I do not think he was really attached. He probably was attached to the main guys, the bigshot, like I was attached to the guy who was later attached to the go-to guy on the chemistry group.
He was a great guy. He had a B.S. just like me. As a matter of fact, all of us except for the jazzy ones that came down from Eastman Kodak, when they brought all their guys down. He was a smart guy.
And John Morfitt was my buddy and lived with me in the house with about four other guys. Three were Eastman, three were Berkeley. The house where we did our own housekeeping and cooking and so on.
Now I have to tell you about John. He had this crazy thing about [making slapping noises] all the way across the nation on my dashboard. That kind of stuff.
Kalbert: That was John.
Steele: Yeah, I learned it from him. He was also one of the guys in our chess group. Some of us got together and about once a week, we would get together and play Kriegspiel chess.
Kalbert: How many on that list played chess with you?
Steele: Well there was just John and Dr. [Francis Arthur] Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins was my physics teacher at Berkeley and a really good friend.
Kalbert: Did you buy bourbon for him once?
Steele: No, I brought rum.
Steele: We couldn’t buy liquor anywhere in Tennessee. It was dry, of course. So occasionally, we would drive down into Georgia, and just over the border, we would buy our booze and come home. When I went down there, I think I liked gin or something. They did not have any gin. So I brought back rum and rum, I had no taste for. But Herb [misspoke: Francis] Jenkins did like it and I think he eventually was the only that drank up that bottle of rum. He was a really good guy.
Steele: When we were playing chess, we did not talk a lot about business but sometimes it would come up, a problem would come up that somebody did not understand or something. We would get into discussion. I know we had quite a discussion on spies, you know. We knew that there were an awful lot of them around. They just asked everybody. The boss—not the boss, but the leader, the technical leader at Davis, I think, was just such a person. He is the one that got the guy fired for talking in the hallway.
Anyway, Jenkins was really good and I never knew where he was working there. He must have been going back and forth to the university there at Berkeley because he sometimes was there and sometimes he wasn’t. In the latter part of the war, he wasn’t. But when he was there, he was telling them about a problem that had shown up in the calutrons. They know how much material that collects in the collector box. They called it the sump or something—physicists talking. I understood why. I had been asked to set up an analytical laboratory in the basement of the production of the calutron building – 9202 or something like that or 1. They were ripping out everything in there, and I knew they were looking for the enriched uranium because they knew how much they should have due to the current reaching the box. But it just wasn’t there. My laboratory was helping them do this research. And then it stopped. Well, that is it. But they kept the laboratory there. It was not there then, but they kept the laboratory there.
At the chess game, he told a story about they had just invented a new sump to improve the process. The improved process was not to let this stuff get away, because when the ion beam comes over there, it’s coming in at a few hundred volts, you know? 1,000 volts. But when it loses its charge hitting inside this sump, it’s so energetic that some of it pops out of the hole that it came in. It is more than likely to do that, considering that it has so much energy that it can unmelt itself, I guess.
Anyway, so that was the beginning of the story. The story was that they had changed the sump and they call it “the sump with a bump dump.” That told me more than just that the efficiency went up. It told me what I was doing, what they were doing when they were looking for the uranium. Things like that would come out. They wouldn’t give things away, but I could put things away with what I knew. I had a great picture of what was going on. Anyway, that is how Ed was my hero. That is Dr. Jenkins. He is my physics teacher. I say that over and over again.
Kalbert: That is okay. You liked him a lot.
Steele: I did. Now Ed Wagner worked with me at Davis and he was kind of my buddy there. He had a car there. So we got around. We would go play badminton with the girls at night or after work. One Christmas he had something going and he had a friend with a house. The friend was away so at Christmas, we had a turkey. I went in the morning and I started the turkey baking. He tended to his project, checking in at work. Then later in the morning, he came to work – or no, I went and took care of his stuff and he stayed with the turkey. Then afterwards we ate the whole damn turkey with three bottles of champagne.
Anyway, whenever I needed to get around, I borrowed his car for dates and things. Nice lady friend there. But he invented this thing that would trickle uranium through there.
Kalbert: And that you spoke about earlier.
Steele: That was the thing with the little clicker knocker on the glass to keep it moving. He continued to work on that, and it puzzled me until just recently I began to put some more things together while I am thinking. They were using that process to chlorinate the oxide from the first, the calutrons to make the chloride to go into the beta calutrons. I just wonder why I was so slow to catch up on that, because he kept working on that the whole time I was there.
Kalbert: Talk about Herb Young.
Steele: Herb Young was, of course, my boss at R&D and I think he pulled me back from other jobs that I had because they needed somebody in the head of the chemistry department. He was over all of the purification and also I think the assay department, where they determined the purity of the 235. I’d get shuffled around. I got jobs, like they needed somebody to check drawings for beta production buildings because they were doing it laboratory-wise and they were looking to move it into a higher production mode. That called for a new building. Those vacuum chambers that I mentioned, Bob Schmidt’s stuff, and also the chemical purification was all Pyrex tubing and really a big chemistry building.
Kalbert: You had an incident where the metal arches in your shoes?
Steele: Well, one of the jobs that I had, that Herb would send me out on these jobs. It was necessary for me to climb up on top of one of these calutrons. Well, calutrons had magnets that were, I’d say, I am just thinking, ten feet high. No, eight feet high. I would say about maybe six feet deep. That is a lot of magnet. You couldn’t use metallic tools around that, so everything in there was bronze. Everything – pliers, wrenches, everything, all tools were bronze because it’s a powerful magnetic field, 5,000 Gauss, which is a lot.
Anyway, Herb gave me a job. I had to go up on top of one of these magnets and check something. I got a ladder. I took everything out of my trousers. I didn’t wear glasses then so I didn’t have to leave those behind. I got up on top of this thing and when I stepped down in the magnet area, my foot went bloop to one side.
Kalbert: And explain why your foot moved to one side.
Steele: The reason was that I had an arch support with a steel brace, a steel form in it. I am glad it did not recognize a “Steele” when it sees it–me! I went “bink.” Well, anyway.