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Jerry Saucier’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Jerry Saucier came to Hanford from Lowell, Massachusetts in 1943. Originally an inspector in charge of maintaining the barracks, he later became an operator at various Hanford reactors, including B Reactor. After the war, he settled in Richland. In this interview, Saucier describes his duties during the Manhattan Project, which involved working long hours. He explains some of the hardships of working at Hanford, describes what workers would do on weekends, and recounts a police riot squad breaking up a fight at the beer hall. Saucier also opines on the decision to use the atomic bombs against Japan.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 1986
Location of the Interview:


[At top is the edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995.

For the full transcript that matches the audio of the interview, please scroll down.]

I came in November of 43. I started out in the Hanford Camp, in mainte­nance. I was an inspector. The barracks, you know, they had to be kept up, roofs, steps, doors, toilet facilities, general upkeep. We had lots of that, due to the number of people. People get a little rough sometimes, tear things up, we had a lot of that, especially on weekends when there was lots of heavy drink­ing and gambling.

I came from Lowell. Lowell, Massachusetts. I was working for Remington Arms at the time, a subsidiary of Du Pont. A fella came back there, and he was looking for people out here and I decided, well, it took me a while to make up my mind, of course, I had never been out West before and all my good friends were in the service, you know. It was a good chance to see the West. They paid my way out. I had never been away from home before. I was 26 or so.

When I came out, I lived in the barracks at Hanford for two years. It was rough, different than I ever experienced. Two men to a room. It was hard, a lot of dust and dirt. I worked as many hours as I wanted to work, sometimes 52 hours a week or more, time and a half after 40 hours. We always had lots of problems, like leaks in the steam lines. The living conditions were good, for a barracks, the same as if you were in the service, like any army camp. They were built to standards, rough, but ample. Food was good, mass produced, but plenty of it, cheap. And clean, everything was clean, kept disinfected.

Weekends were not much to do. You had to go to Yakima to get out, to get a change of life, and see some green grass, to get rejuvenated, and come back and fight the mass. That was when Yakima had trolley cars, we would ride the trolley cars way out to the far end of the town. We got there by the Hanford stage, that was a bus. No air conditioning, hotter than Hades, and I tell you, perspiration, you name it.

Yeah, a lot of trouble, on weekends. They would do a lot of damage, break up a lot of doors and windows and dry walls. They would get drunk, I suppose, and let their macho out. Pull urinals out of the wall, probably they would had have lost in a game. They had some big games, down in the shower rooms, on the cement floor down there. They’d put their week’s check down, and boy, that was their fun.

And the beer hall. It was pretty good-sized, a long bar, about the longest I had seen. They had a special crew to take care of the beer and the ice. It was a popular place, all during the day people working different hours. It got pretty rough some nights. I don’t know what happened one night, I was in there and all of a sudden all hell broke loose. They had a riot squad, with trucks and they backed it up to the door and a guy gets up there with a bullhorn and tells them to break it up, and they weren’t about to break it up. They were breaking chairs and raising hell. Finally, the cops started using clubs and throw­ing guys in the wagon. And things got back to normal again. It was like an old western town where Marshal Dillon came in and had to straighten things out.

When I got here in 43, everything was torn up, Richland was torn up real bad. They were building every place, the houses, the roads, putting in all the different systems, the church was done, the Catholic church, a couple of the other churches were about finished. And the old Kadlec hospital was about finished. The streets weren’t completed yet. We had a cafeteria across from where the federal building is now, and that’s where we all ate. If you didn’t want to eat there, you could go to Kennewick and eat at some cafe.

Kennewick was still small. They had a tent city down there for people to live in, trailer camps, it was still a little town. People still kinda resented us. One instance, I went to a drug store to pick up a few odds and ends and the old man owner, I gave him a check and he didn’t know how good it was, I said it’s good, I just made a deposit. He picked everything up and told me to get out, that’s the way it was.

We had no liquor store in Richland, I don’t think there was one in Kennewick at the time, we had to go to Pasco for a bottle. You had to buy a permit and stand in line over there. In order to get a fifth of whiskey you had to take a fifth of rum. The state really had something going. I never drank such rotgut, paint remover I called it. Then you could bring it back if you didn’t drink. When I lived in the barracks out there you could sell a fifth for $50-60.

Sleep and eat, that was about it, or play cards. They had dances, finally when we got the big auditorium completed. Lots of name bands came out there, to keep the people vitalized.

Wages were better than average, they had to be, to try to hold them. That was the only incentive. Living was cheap. People came from every place. There were people out there who were illiterate, they couldn’t read, they couldn’t write. I can remember one old codger, I met him on the main street in Hanford. He didn’t have any money, so I asked him if he ever got any checks. He said, “No, all I get are these slips,” and he had bib overalls on and he had all his checks in his bib. I said that’s your money. He was used to cash, he was from the Ozarks. I took him to a friend of mine, a major. It got straight­ened out, they reissued his checks.

Most of the fellows were older, most everybody else was in the service. They always called me the kid. And most of them left after construction. Some went into operations, but after they found out what they made, they got scared off. Even people who had worked on TNT and nitro all their life, even they after they found out what was made, decided to leave this place.

I don’t think anyone was too upset about the bombs, the way it was put out at the time, we would save so many lives by doing this, and what the Japs did to us, I still have never gotten over that, Bataan, all those islands, my feeling was they did the right thing, Harry did the right thing. He saved a lot of lives, we had been in that thing so long, my God, what we could lose. Really, just like fodder going over there. And they were prepared for us. Look at Guadalcanal.

Well, it was all new to me, I had a good time. See, I came out here, you notice I got one arm, I thought it would be good to get away and do for myself. If I was going to make it, I had to get away. You see I was a printer before, an offset printer, which was top of the line. It was just coming out, and I worked in some pretty good-sized places back there in Lowell, and had a good job and was making good money. I started as an apprentice and got up to pressman. Of course the war came and I would have gone into the service, I was 1-A. In the meantime, my arm goes through the press, went through the cylinders, flattened it out like tissue paper. So, that was that.

After that, everybody was telling me what to do. And I said to myself, you know a good way to get away from everything would be to get on my own. I had a good home. My father wanted me to stay.

You know I think I found myself, by coming out here. I really did. I think I probably would have ended up being a drunk if I had stayed back there. I was getting depressed, everybody was doing for me. The priest talking to me. It was beginning to get me down so bad. But out here, living in the barracks, you were on your own. You had to do for yourself, or else. I got so I was independent.

Full Transcript:

S.L. Sanger: So, November of ’43?

Jerry Saucier: November of ’43, right.

Sanger: Which area was that?

Saucier: Well, actually, I started out in the Hanford camp when we were building the camp for the [inaudible] division, maintenance in the camp itself. That’s where I started.

Sanger: Yes. In the construction of the barracks, you mean?

Saucier: Well, on the barracks and maintaining in the camps, mostly. We had, what, 40-some thousand people out there. Eight mess halls.

Sanger: What was your particular job?

Saucier: I was an inspector for them. In other words, you look for the barracks, they got to be kept up and the buildings have to be kept up. You’re talking about the roofs and steps and doors, the toilet facilities, lavatories.

Sanger: You mean to see if they needed–

Saucier: General upkeep and all.

Sanger: See if they needed repair, you mean?

Saucier: Yeah, right. We always had lots of that, due to the number of people. People get a little rough sometimes and tear things up. We had a lot of that, especially on weekends.

Sanger: Well, that’s — yeah.

Saucier: A lot of heavy drinking and gambling.

Sanger: I was talking to this fellow, Sam Campbell. Do you know him? He was–

Saucier: I don’t think so. I’d probably, if I seen him–

Sanger: In the patrol at that time, security. He was saying that the weekends were the worst, because of the drinking and gambling and carousing that went on.

Saucier: Yeah, pretty bad sometimes.

Sanger: What was the status of the camp when you got there?

Saucier: They were still–

Sanger: Still building it.

Saucier: Completing it, yeah. I think when I got there we were up to four mess halls, and we went to eight finally. They’d seat a thousand at a time.

Sanger: Where did you come from?

Saucier: I come from Lowell, Mass[achusetts].

Sanger: Oh, did you?

Saucier: Yeah.

Sanger: How did you happen to get out here?

Saucier: Well, I was working for Remington Arms at the time.

Sanger: In Lowell?

Saucier: Lowell Ordnance, yeah.

Sanger: Now, that was what, part of DuPont?

Saucier: Oh, yeah. That’s a subsidiary.

Sanger: They announced that they were hiring out here?

Saucier: Yeah, there was a fellow come back then. He was looking for people for out here and I decided — well, it took me a while to make up my mind, of course. But, I’d never been out west before, and all my good friends are in the service, and get a chance to see the West. They paid my way out, and paid my way back. Not knowing what I was getting into, being away from home. I never was away from home before.

Sanger: You were how old?

Saucier: I was in my 20s. I was 26 or so. I guess, 27. 

Sanger: Were you married then?

Saucier: No. I met my wife out here.

Sanger: Oh, you did. What, during the war?

Saucier: Oh, yeah. She was from Nebraska, and she worked out to what they called 100-F area at the time, one of the reactors. I met her out there. We got married out here at Christ the King.

Sanger: What were you doing at Lowell?

Saucier: I worked for maintenance, electrical engineers, electrical maintenance.

Sanger: In the ordnance works?

Saucier: In the ordnance plant, yeah.

Sanger: What was that called?

Saucier: Lowell Ordnance.

Sanger: Oh, okay. It was Remington.

Saucier: 50-caliber, we’re making steel shells. It was just a backup, in case we lost our supply of brass during the war through our efforts. Then we’d go to steel casings, which we never had to do.

Sanger: When you came out here then, where did you live?

Saucier: I lived in the barracks for two years in Hanford.

Sanger: Oh, you did.

Saucier: Yes.

Sanger: What was that like?

Saucier: Well, it was rough. Different than I ever experienced, two to a room. It was hard. What I say in this sense, a lot of dust and dirt. And work as many hours as I wanted to work. I’d always work more than 50-some hours. I got 52 hours a week or more, because we always had problems. There were a lot of leaks of steam lines, you know.

Sanger: What was the actual living conditions like?

Saucier: They were good, you know, for a barrack. It was the same as any if you were in the service, any Army camp. Because they were built to standards: rough, of course, but ample. Food was good. Mass-produced, of course, but there was plenty of it, cheap and clean. They were real clean. Everything was clean. You kept it disinfected. No qualms there.

Sanger: What about on the weekends? Was it crazier then?

Saucier: Oh, yeah. Not much to do really, as far as I was concerned. You’d have to go to Yakima to get out, get a change of life. See some green grass, and kind of get rejuvenated, I call it, to get back feeling good again and get back and fight the mass. Jim Kyger and I — he’s now dead — we came out here together, and we used to go to Yakima and take—that’s when Yakima had trolley cars—and ride the trolley cars way out to the far end of the town.

Sanger: How would you get over there? Did you have a car?

Saucier: Well, no, they had what they called the Hanford stage, and that was a bus.

Sanger: Oh, it would go–

Saucier: That would go from Hanford to Yakima, and that’s what we’d ride. No air condition, hotter than Hades, and seats right up the aisle. I tell you, perspiration; you name it, you have it. It was something else.

Sanger: What did most of the guys do for recreation?

Saucier: That’s about all. Well, they played pool. They had a pool hall down there and drank beer, of course. They had several baseball teams, and they had some good recreation areas set up that they had built. Baseball areas, you know. Also they built a—I wouldn’t call it a swimming pool—they dug it out on the far end of the town, and used the irrigation water, and we had a swimming area there. It was all chlorinated. One thing about the place, everything was up to standards. Health was the main thing and safety, of course, all the time.

Sanger: Was there much trouble in the beer halls that you know of, or in the barracks because of drinking and isolation?

Saucier: Oh, yeah, they had a lot of that. I didn’t see a lot of it, but they had their share of it at times.

Sanger: Stands to reason.

Saucier: They could do a lot of damage. In some of those sections there, we had a pretty rough time. You know, break up a lot of doors and windows.

Sanger: Fights?

Saucier: Just get drunk, I suppose, and just have to let their macho out or whatever. You know, pull urinals out of the wall and that sort of thing. Weekends we’d have a lot of that. Probably, they’d lose in a game, you know. They had some good games and big games, I should say, down in the shower rooms.

Sanger: Oh, they did.

Saucier: Cement floor down there.

Sanger: Gambling, you mean.

Saucier: Everybody, yeah. But, we’d check down there. Well, that was their recreation.  

Sanger: Yeah, this fellow, Campbell, we had—

Saucier: We had it from all over.

Sanger: Yeah, was gambling pretty prevalent?

Saucier: Quite a bit, yeah. Quite a bit.

Sanger: He was saying that was one of their main problems as far as the police went, the gambling.

Saucier: I don’t know this, of course, for a fact, but, they always said that there was a bunch of outsiders in here that were kind of—

Sanger: That’s what he said.

Saucier: He’s know more about that.

Sanger: Said they cleaned every—

Saucier: Because I never did get into that. All we’d ever get in was fixing up the jail every time they’d tear something up.

Sanger: Oh, yeah. Oh, that’s right, I forgot to ask him that. There was a jail out there.

Saucier: Yeah, yeah. I’d never seen such—I don’t know if you’d call them stalls, or whatever they were—where they picked them up at and put them together and welded them. Of course, then build a building around it.

Sanger: Well, what did they do? I mean there weren’t many women around. That must have been a—

Saucier: Oh, no, we had a lot of women. We had women’s barracks, segregated. Everybody was segregated behind fences.

Sanger: Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard.

Saucier: If you had a problem, I guess, or you had an epidemic, I suppose, then you’d be quarantined to keep it from spreading. But the women lived one set of barracks, and the men lived in another set. If you wanted to go visit some girl, or your wife even, you’d have to go through a checkpoint, sign in.

Sanger: And sign out.

Saucier: Then you’d have to sign out, yeah. Tell her what barracks you’re going, what room and so forth. They had a curfew. We had to leave at a certain time of night, and that was it.

Sanger: Kind of like a sorority house or something.

Saucier: Well, yeah, I don’t know, but only a little. Because they had women secretaries and nurses—

Sanger: Mess hall.

Saucier: And mess hall, oh, yeah, they had a lot of things. I don’t know how many barracks we had. We didn’t have as many as the men had, but there was a lot.

Sanger: You met your wife then before the war was over?

Saucier: Oh, yeah.

Sanger: Over at F, you say.

Saucier: 100-F Area, yeah.

Sanger: What’d she do there?

Saucier: She was a secretary over there. She’s a receptionist now for the city.

Sanger: Oh, that’s what somebody said. What’s her name?

Saucier: Joanne. You’ll see her as you go in there. She sits up in kind of a podium there. 

Sanger: At City Hall?

Saucier: Yeah, Joanne.

Sanger: How did you meet her?

Saucier: Oh, we had an office, you know. Then I went on operations. It was a pilot then, reactor.

Sanger: What were you doing there?

Saucier: I was a chief operator.

Sanger: What does that mean, exactly?

Saucier: Well, they run a control room for pumping water, moving water from one spot to another.

Sanger: That’s what you were doing?

Saucier: Mm-hmm.

Sanger: That was after—

Saucier: Yeah, after construction. Construction was all gone; everything was closed up. 

Sanger: So, then they closed—

Saucier: That was the end of it, right.

Sanger: So, then you went into operations.

Saucier: Right.

Sanger: A lot of guys did that, I suppose.

Saucier: Quite a few, yeah. We had quite a few do that. But, see, I had worked for the company before, so they asked if I wanted to stay. Then everybody had to be trained, because it was a whole new system, everything.

Sanger: You were in the water movement end of it.

Saucier: Right, right.

Sanger: Where was that from the actual reactor building, or was it in another building?

Saucier: No, another building. 

Sanger: Down by the river or what?

Saucier: It was up from the river.

Sanger: That was at B [Reactor]?

Saucier: I worked at all of them except K, at the Ks. The Ks and H area – I didn’t work there. But I worked on the B and DR, B and C, and half the 100-N. I just left there four years ago. I worked there 13 years.

Sanger: Oh, yeah. Oh, at the N-Reactor. When you went into operations originally, what was it? Which one was it?

Saucier: I started out at B Area. That was the first one to start up. 

Sanger: That would’ve been what, ’44?

Saucier: Yeah.

Sanger: Late ’44?

Saucier:’44, ’45, yeah, somewhere in there.

Sanger: So, you were there maybe when the war ended. 

Saucier: Oh, yeah.

Sanger: Did you just go on to another one?

Saucier: Well, I was down to D there for a while and D and DR, C Area.

Sanger: Well, after you got married — well, after the barracks were gone — then where’d you go?

Saucier: After the barracks were gone, I came to Richland. We had dormitories in Richland.

Sanger: Oh, you were still single then, huh?

Saucier: Oh, yeah.

Sanger: When did you get married?

Saucier: Married in 1950. We’ve been married 35 years last, in April.

Sanger: But you met her during the wartime period.

Saucier: Yeah.

Sanger: When you got out here in ’43, what was it like here then?

Saucier: Everything was torn up. Richland was torn up real bad. What I say is, they were building everyplace: the houses and the roads and putting in all the different systems. The church was done, the Catholic church, and I think a couple of the other churches were done. Kadlec Hospital was about finished; the old Kadlec, that’s not the one we have now, of course. Those were all wooden buildings, you know. I got to say, the streets weren’t completed yet. 

Sanger: Lots and lots of people, I guess.

Saucier: A lot of people, right. We had a cafeteria across from where the federal building is now, and that’s where we all ate. Of course, if you didn’t want to eat there, then you’d go probably down to Kennewick to some café or something. We had several drug stores. Let’s see, Thrifty Drug was here at the time. Penny Wise [Drugs], there was a Penny Wise. They had, what do you call them, places to eat in there. 

Sanger: What was Kennewick like?

Saucier: Kennewick was still small. Of course, it got bigger as the time went on. They had a tent city down there where people were living. Trailer camps down at the Y down here. But, it was still a little old town, and the people kind of resented us, too.

Sanger: Did they?

Saucier: Oh, yeah. An instance – I went in a drugstore. I can’t remember the name of the drugstore.

Sanger: In Kennewick?

Saucier: To pick up a few odds and ends. The old man, I gave him a check and he didn’t know how good it was. I said, “It’s good. I just made a deposit,” and I showed him my receipt. He picked everything up and told me to get out.

That’s the way it was. We had no liquor store in Richland. I don’t think there was one at Kennewick at that time. I don’t believe there was. We had to go to Pasco for a bottle. Then you had to buy a permit, a dollar for the permit. That was the law in the state at the time: stand in line over there. In order to get a fifth of whiskey, you had to take a fifth of rum.

Sanger: Why was that?

Saucier: I don’t know. The state really had something going. Waterfill & Frazier. Jesus, I never drank such rotgut. Paint remover, I called it.

Sanger: Everybody else has told me that, too. They could never understand what that—they thought they’d bought up a million gallons—

Saucier: I really don’t know. Stand in line, man, there’d be a line down around there. But then you could bring that back if you didn’t drink [inaudible]. When I lived in the barracks out there, you could sell it for $50, $60 on a weekend.

Sanger: You could?

Saucier: Oh, yeah. They come buy out at your door, a fifth.

Sanger: Of what, whiskey?

Saucier: Whiskey or whatever you had, you know. You’d get rid of it if you wanted to sell it. Like I say, to get out there, you had to have transportation, and that was during the war when everything was rationed. You had to have gas stamps. They really didn’t want people to bring their cars out here at the time, because no places to put them and take care of them. They kind of frowned on that. So you just get back aboard by bus.

Things of life were just hard out here. The fine things, you go to Walla Walla probably to get some dress clothes. I was told, of course, when I came out here, like shorts and stockings and safety shoes. We wore safety shoes most of the time. We had a little drugstore out there in the camp, and you could pick up some items there. But there wasn’t much.

Sanger: What did most of the guys say if they worked during the day and they were off in the evening? What did they do? Just sleep, or eat and sleep?

Saucier: Sleep and eat, that’s about it. Play cards. Then they had dances down there, finally, when we got the big auditorium completed. I don’t know how many it would hold. I did know at the time, but I forget now. They had a lot of name bands come out there. Trying to, you know, keep the people vitalized. Christmas parties, they always tried to put on a big deal at Christmas time, decorate the town. I was in charge of that one year.

Sanger: Oh, you did, at the camp?

Saucier: Yeah, decorate the town, put all the lights up and everything. We got all the stuff from Yakima, all the material from a rental outfit up there, and decorated the town. Try to, you know, to keep the people—

Sanger: That was morale building.

Saucier: Well, yeah, and the wind would blow and the dust would blow. They call it termination dust, termination wind. The turnover was terrific. People came and left all the time. Always pleading them to stay, “Things are going to get better.” They did get better, but it took time. It took time.

Sanger: Did these guys make quite a bit of money out there?

Saucier: Yeah, better than the average wages. Oh, yeah, they had to in order to try to hold them. Because that was the only incentive when you think about it. Of course, living was cheap.

Sanger: What did most of the people — did they seem to come from everywhere?

Saucier: Everyplace. You had people out there that were illiterate, I’d call. You know, they couldn’t read, they couldn’t write. I can remember one old codger there. I met him on the main street there one night. I don’t know what the hell I was doing, but anyway, I met him and he didn’t have any money. I asked him, “Have you ever got any checks?”

I don’t know how we got talking. But anyway, he said, “No, all I get is these slips.”

He had bib overalls on, and he had all his checks in his bib. I said, “That’s your money.”

He was from the Ozarks, you know. Money is what he was after. So, I took him—

Sanger: Cash, huh.

Saucier: I took him over to a friend of mine, Major McBrane, which is dead now. He had charge of public relations, or I don’t know, some charge of something to do with it. Anyway, I took him over there and I say, “This gent here never got any money. He’s got the money, but he never knew what is for, the checks.”

Well, they were all outdated. So they had to make—I didn’t follow him—but he took care of him, and explained to him and then got all his checks, what do I want to say, reissued again.

Sanger: So, he must’ve had some money then, huh.

Saucier: God, he had a lot of it there, you know.

Sanger: Were a lot of the fellows somewhat older than—

Saucier: A lot older, yeah, because most of the fellows were in the service. They always called me the kid out there. Mostly older people, yeah.

Sanger: Because I read somewhere where a lot of the guys, or most of them, were 38 or so. Apparently 38 was some magic age, and they were that or older.

Saucier: Older, yeah.

Sanger: That’s why, I guess, there are so few left.

Saucier: Well, most of them left. Unless you went in operations — call it operating the plants — they stayed around there. But most of the people left. A lot of them, as soon as they heard what they made out there, they got scared off. Even the people in operations, they took off.

Sanger: Oh, yeah.

Saucier: Yeah, even people that worked on TNT and dynamite, you know, and nitro all their life.

Sanger: After they found out what was being made?

Saucier: Made out here, yeah. Some of them decided to leave this place.

Sanger: When did you find out? When the bombs were dropped?

Saucier: That’s right, yeah. I didn’t know anything about what they were making.

Sanger: What did people generally think was being made? They must’ve talked about it, didn’t they?

Saucier: Oh, yeah, I guess we did. I don’t know, they talked about nerve gas and something on that order. There was all kinds of crazy stuff you’d never dream.

Sanger: What was that, as you recall, the general effect when they found out what it was? That they were atomic bombs?

Saucier: Well, I don’t know. I don’t think any of them were too upset about that, because the way it was put out at the time, if I remember right. That we would save so many lives by doing this. And what the Japs did to us. I still have never gotten over that either, you know, what they’d done to us.

Sanger: You mean, like Bataan and so on?

Saucier: All the violence. My feelings were I think they did the right thing. Harry [Truman] did the right thing. He saved a lot of lives.

Sanger: Yeah, there was something about—

Saucier: It’s the whole thing, you know. We’d been in it so long, my God. What did they lose, really? Just like [inaudible] going over there. They were prepared for us. Well, Guadalcanal, look at the boys we lost over there. You know, any of these hills, you read about them, pictures of them.

Sanger: Well, they usually figure that, yeah. I don’t know what exactly this is based on, but there’d be hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides insofar as human life was concerned. The A-bomb saved lives because—

Saucier: I think so.

Sanger: Not as many died there as would have if there had been an invasion. As people point out in the context of the time, I mean. It was a war; you wanted to win it. They firebombed Tokyo, of course, and killed more people—

Saucier: Look how long they did that to England. Hitler and all of them—

Sanger: Yeah. That’s what the people point out who were on the scene. You didn’t have the hindsight. Of course, they also weren’t totally sure what these bombs would do either.

Saucier: Well, that’s true. 

Sanger: I mean, they’d used that one in New Mexico, but if anybody had seen that, they wouldn’t have been impressed. Because it was a lot of light and it was a fantastic sight, but there wasn’t any damage, because there wasn’t anything to damage except the desert.

Saucier: Well, the site, too, that they detonated it. That was something else.

Sanger:  So you’ve been here ever since, huh?

Saucier: Oh, yeah.

Sanger: You retired four years ago?

Saucier: Mm-hmm.

Sanger: Who were you working for then?

Saucier: United Nuclear.

Sanger: That’s out at what, oh, the N-Reactor.

Saucier: Out at N, yeah.

Sanger: How many people are out there? 

Saucier: I don’t know. I hear all kinds of stories now. I think there were a couple of thousand at the time. Of course, that’s all the facilities that they had. But I don’t know how many they got now.

Sanger: Is it called N just because that’s where it comes in the alphabet, or was there some other reason?

Saucier: I don’t know how they ever picked that, to be right about it. Nuclear, I suppose, neutron. But I don’t know. It’s a good question.

Sanger: Yeah, people think it’s nuclear. I don’t think it is. I think it’s some other reason.

Saucier: Neutron, I don’t know. I really don’t know how they—

Sanger: One of the guys I talked to, who was with the Manhattan Project and stayed in the nuclear business, had helped design that plant. He—I can’t remember now—he explained why it was N. Or he said it was called the in-production reactor. Anyway, I don’t know.

Saucier: I don’t know neither, to be right about it.

Sanger: There sure is a lot of, or there was anyway, in the news about it, because— 

Saucier: Well, that’s normal.

Sanger: This Russian business [Chernobyl].

Saucier: Because, you know, they have graphite.

Sanger: See, the big story today about the choice, Hanford being one of the three for further study. Well, what harm does that do? I mean, study, that costs money, right?

Saucier: That’s true, yeah. I guess it don’t do any harm to study something.

Sanger: The state wants to sue the government to stop them from studying that. I don’t know how that would work, actually. Well, maybe I might go down and say hello to your wife. Do you think she remembers a lot?

Saucier: Oh, she can tell you some things. She’s a pretty good storyteller.

Sanger: Because the women, they have a somewhat different perspective.

Saucier: She worked out there and her mother and father were here. I think some of them lived in the trailer camp out there.

Sanger: Where’d she come from?

Saucier: Nebraska. 

Sanger: Oh, that’s right.

Saucier: They were all out here. The boys were, of course. One’s in Texas now, but the other brother’s in Kennewick, Keith. Her father’s dead now, of course. But she probably could add a little to it.

Sanger: Did you grow up in Lowell?

Saucier: Yeah, yeah, that’s where I went to school. Going back for a class reunion.

Sanger: Oh, yeah?

Saucier: 50 years, Lowell High. We had 600 in the class.

Sanger: Where is Lowell?

Saucier: Where is Lowell? 28 miles out of Boston. It’s close to the New Hampshire border.

Sanger: You mean north?

Saucier: North, right. It’s on the Atlantic Ocean, of course.

Sanger: Oh, it is.

Saucier: Those are the New England states, you know.

Sanger: Well, I was in Boston on this trip to talk to a guy at MIT who had never been here. But he was a metallurgist who was in charge of the plutonium that came from here, and making it into the metal for the bomb. He was pretty interesting, actually. He said that the metal that went into the Trinity bomb, which was the same as Nagasaki, was about the size of a small orange, and it fit right in your hand.

Saucier: Just think of that.

Sanger: It felt pleasant and it was warm, that was it.

Saucier: Yeah, and you think of the force.

Sanger: Yeah. Then they say that only about five grams — which is about the size of a nickel, I think — actually fissioned to make the Nagasaki bomb. Do you know anybody now, I mean, beside like Robley [Johnson] and so on, who would be somebody to talk to? Especially who was there at the early – ‘44, ’43? Are there many people around here that you know of?

Saucier: Not too many.

Sanger: I mean I’ve talked to some.

Saucier: A lot of them died, you know. This McBrane, they used to call him “Major.” He was a major in World War I. He’d been out here for a long time, but he’s dead now, and he’d been a good one.

Sanger: Where did you meet Robley?

Saucier: Out here. Out here at Hanford.

Sanger: He’s kind of an interesting guy.

Saucier: Oh, yeah, he’s quite a guy.

Sanger: He’s been around.

Saucier: Storyteller.

Sanger: Is his present wife — has she been his wife forever? Or is she a subsequent wife, do you know?

Saucier: I believe that’s the only woman he ever had. You know, he never did talk about it, but I think so.

Sanger: Speaking of women, was there much prostitution around out there? That’s what Campbell was talking about.

Saucier: Well, he’d know more about it than I do. I’m sure there was some, and you’d hear about it, or somebody would give so-and-so a key to use his trailer or something. We never came across any of it, but he would know a lot more.

Sanger: Somebody else was saying that there were red light districts, say, in Spokane.

Saucier: I’m sure there were.

Sanger: Towns around.

Saucier: I’m sure there were in Walla Walla, you know.

Sanger: Yeah, and [Colonel Franklin] Matthias—

Saucier: Maybe there were some down there. Colonel Matthias?

Sanger: Colonel Matthias – talked to him quite a bit. He said he thinks that probably there were a lot of roadhouse shacks, etc., cathouses, along the river off the reservation, toward Kennewick.

Saucier: I’m sure there were. When you have that many people, you know.

Sanger: Oh, yeah, that many men, yeah.

Saucier: I guess somebody has to drain themselves.

Sanger: This remoteness: I can see where that would’ve been a problem. You say how many hours a week did you work normally? 

Saucier: Oh, I worked over 52 hours a week.

Sanger: Now, you got overtime after 40, or what?

Saucier: Yeah, over 40 hours.

Sanger: Which would’ve been what, time and a half?

Saucier: Time and a half, yeah.

Sanger: Do you remember what you were making an hour, say?

Saucier: Geez, I don’t.

Sanger: I know that we have some wage scales, but I don’t know—

Saucier: It was good money.

Sanger: It was pretty good, decent money, though.

Saucier: Oh, yeah. Well, they had to hold anybody here, make it worthwhile.

Sanger: You wouldn’t spend it on much, would you?

Saucier: All you do is your eating, that’s about all. 

Sanger: That was fairly reasonable?

Saucier: They took out your lodging. 50 cents a meal or something like that if I remember right. 60 cents, it wasn’t much. You had a meal ticket you bought, and they punched it when you went in through the line.

Sanger: I talked to a guy who lives in Bellevue who was in charge of the box lunches. His name was Harry Petcher. He was talking about that aspect of it. He said the box lunches cost them 30 cents, and they sold them for 50, or 45. The food was quite good, he thought.

Saucier: Yeah, the food was good. Well, it was the best they could get. But, of course, when you mass prepare it, that’s something else. They did have good pastry out there. I thought they had excellent pastry, oh, geez.

Sanger: His wife ran the ice cream parlor, which I guess was right next to the beer hall. 

Saucier: Right next to there, right. Pool and all that was just all together, yeah.

Sanger: What was the beer hall like? Huge?

Saucier: Pretty good size. I don’t know what to compare it to, but it was a good size. A long bar in there, about the longest I’d seen. They must be longer now, but they had a special crew that took care of the beer and icing up and all that.

Sanger: A pretty popular place, I suppose.

Saucier: Oh, yeah, all during the day. People were working different hours, you know, and then at night, especially.

Sanger: Well, this guy, Campbell, said that it got pretty raucous there on the weekends. They had to throw tear gas.

Saucier: It got pretty rough some nights, yeah. I don’t know what happened one night. I was in there, and all of sudden all hell broke loose. I guess I was in with somebody else, and they got like a riot squad and an old beat-up truck. They just backed it up to the door, and he gets up there. I knew most of those people at the time, but the names now don’t stay with me.

But he gets up on the bullhorn, and tells them to break it up, or they were going to break it up. They were breaking chairs and shit, just raising hell. They broke it up, finally. Of course, they started with clubs and everything, just pull them out, and they’d throw them in the wagon. Things would go back to normal again.

Sanger: Did that happen very often?

Saucier: Oh, they had quite a bit of that on weekends.

Sanger: Well, that’s normal, I guess.

Saucier: It’s normal. You think, well, just like an old western town when Marshal Dillon would come in and have to straighten things out. That’s about it.

Sanger: Well, plus, they would close at 11, which was pretty early. I mean, people are just getting going by then, I think. That’s what this Campbell said.

Saucier: I didn’t know about the closing. I’d forgotten about that, but I guess that was. 

Sanger: Yeah, he said that was a real problem, because it was so early. You must like it around here, huh?

Saucier: Well, you know, after you’re here so long, you get so you know so many people, and it’s a part of me now. I’ve been out here half my life. 

Sanger: What were you doing at the N-Reactor?

Saucier: I was chief operator out there, moving water around.

Sanger: Water.

Saucier: Yeah.

Sanger: There are various kinds of operators, I guess, huh?

Saucier: Oh, yeah. We had some in the powerhouse, and you got some in reactors, the reactor operators. They operate the reactor itself. Then you have lots of auxiliary equipment, the supplies, different type of water to the reactor, and the powerhouse, fire protection and so forth. Yeah, it’s a complex deal in filtering the water and cleaning it and so forth after it’s pumped out of the river.

Sanger: Have you ever been back to the B Reactor?

Saucier: Let’s see—

Sanger: Since it closed?

Saucier: Not since it closed, no.

Sanger: I’ve been out there a couple of times. They’re fiddling around with it, trying to clean up certain aspects of it. I guess there used to be some talk of making it into a museum.

Saucier: I think that’s still talked about.

Sanger: They still talk about it, but I guess it would cost a lot. I think they’re not crazy to have people back there either like that. I mean, in a sort of a public way. They’re also, I guess, still talking about how to decommission all the other—

Saucier: All the old reactors, yeah, that’s something else—

Sanger: Bury them or—

Saucier: When you get into that, I would think.

Sanger: Or demolish them or what.

Saucier: Right, right. Complex.

Sanger: It’s interesting, though. After you’ve talked to some of these people, and a lot of them like we have, it’s pretty fascinating. Especially how they made this into a city and civilization, more or less, when it was just mostly desert.

Saucier: Yeah, it was only supposed to be five years and you can see what’s happened. Of course, all these houses were built after. They only built so many of the old houses, what they call the Fs and Es and the Hs and the Ls. Yeah, it’s kind of amazing.

Sanger: Well, one of the reasons, I think, for this effort we’re making: the UW Press, the woman over there, the editor, thinks that most people don’t have an inkling or a clue as to what is even here hardly. Especially they’re confused about the past. I mean, they’ll say— 

Saucier: Nobody even heard of Richland. “Where’s Richland?” I’m down at the beach, down at Otter Rock over the weekend. Otter Crest, you know?

Sanger: Yeah, Oregon?

Saucier: Yeah. They don’t even know where. “Where is it at? What’s there?”

Sanger: You’d be amazed.

Saucier: When you’re on the road, you don’t see the name. I said that coming back. We seen Pasco, and I said, “I wonder if they put Richland in there or Kennewick.” But, you don’t see it until you get up the line a ways and then finally, you see Richland. Why that, you know.

Sanger: I think anything to do with nuclear energy is, to most people, completely confusing.  They certainly don’t know that this was part of the Manhattan Project. That’s real news to them. I mean, because all anybody thinks of is Los Alamos and maybe Oak Ridge, if you know something about it. That’s it. I know when we had—

Saucier: People here think this, how big this place is. Take out the old town of Hanford, White Bluffs. I knew a lot of those people out there.

Sanger: Well, you know—

Saucier: I tell you who could tell you something, too, about the town, the old town. He lived in White Bluffs. Andy Anderson.

Sanger: I know, yeah.

Saucier: Did you talk to him?

Sanger: Yeah. He’s buddies with this guy, [O.R.] Simpson. Do you know him?

Saucier: Simpson, I probably do. Yeah, I think I do.

Sanger: He was military intelligence— 

Saucier: Yes, I do, I do. 

Sanger: Then he was with the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission]. Well, he’s been here.

Saucier: Right.

Sanger: He was from—

Saucier: But Andy could tell you a lot, too, because he lived out there. In fact, I ate dinner out at the house there with his father, who is now dead. 

Sanger: Yeah, he is an old White Bluffs guy.

Saucier: Yeah, right.

Sanger: Well, the guy I’m working with interviewed him extensively for this documentary he made, because of the connection. 

Saucier: The people know a hell of a lot today. More than they should know, I think, sometimes.

Sanger: Oh, but what we were kind of after is just what you were talking about. The barracks, that view.

Saucier: But it was new to me. I had a good time. See, I came out here. As you notice, I got one arm, and I thought it’d be just good to get away and do for myself. If I was going to make it, I got to get on then. See, I was a printer.

Sanger: Oh, you were. 

Saucier: At that time, yeah. Offset printer, which was the top of the line in printing, just coming out. I worked in some pretty good-sized places back then, and had a good job. I made good money. Started out as an apprentice and got up to be a pressman. Of course, the war came and I would’ve gone into service, because I was 1-A. In the meantime, my arm goes through the press.

Sanger: Oh, that’s how you lost your arm.

Saucier: And that’s the end of that. 

Sanger: In a press?

Saucier: [Inaudible] went through the cylinders, flattened it out like tissue paper.

Sanger: In Lowell? So, that exempted you from the draft.

Saucier: That was that. So there you are, everybody telling you what to do.

Sanger: Then you had to go into war work, or what?

Saucier: No. 

Sanger: I mean, like at the ordnance plant.

Saucier: Yes, I got that job there. I had other jobs, but I got that job and that’s how it started at that place. Well, anyway, I hear about this, and I say, “You know, a good way to get away from everybody.”

Sanger: Yeah.

Saucier: Get on my own, you know. I had a good home, everything. My father talked to me many times, staying there, you know. “What are you out there for?”

I found myself coming here, I really did, because I think I’d probably end up being a drunkard if I stayed back there. I was getting depressed: everybody doing for me, the priest talking to me. I had a lot of friends back there, I really did. It just was beginning to get me down so bad.

But, out here, see, living in the barracks: you’re on your own. You got to do for yourself. You get with yourself or else. So, I got independent. I do everything now, see, I do. I could build all this room and everything. It may take me a little longer. What the hell is time? Time don’t mean anything to me.

Sanger: How old are you now?

Saucier: I’m 68. I got a shop, and I take care of the labor hall down here.

Sanger: Because you been here so long, I think, and you came early and stayed. You’d be surprised at some of these, maybe, a couple of these physicists who were here. Like John Wheeler, who is a big name now. He loved it here. They lived here in Richland, where was it. He gave me the address. They used to go down Horse Heaven Hills, he said, on picnics, and he really liked it.

Saucier: Yeah, well, most of them would leave. My son, he said, “I’d never live around here.”

Now, they want to come back here. Oh, yeah. Well, he used to water ski in the river down there. I had a ski boat, and my wife water-skied and we had a ball down here, all the kids.

Copyright 1989 S. L. Sanger. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of S. L. Sanger.