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Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende’s Interview

Leroy Jackson and Ernest Wende were transferred into the Manhattan District, the branch of the United States Army Corps of Engineers tasked with overseeing the construction of critical Manhattan Project sites, shortly after its formation in 1942. They both lived and worked at Oak Ridge during the war and were closely involved in the design and construction of the site’s thousands of residential units and cafeterias and recreational facilities, as well as the Y-12 and K-25 Plants and the X-10 Graphite Reactor. Their work required close coordination with private architectural and engineering firms, like Stone & Webster and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. They discuss the power structure of Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project, the restrictions imposed on Oak Ridge residents for the maintenance of secrecy, and the compartmentalization of building projects. They also explain the challenges of life in Oak Ridge and how the government had to step in to provide maintenance and services.

Date of Interview:
July 13, 1965
Location of the Interview:


Stephane Groueff: Start from the beginning and if you can give me in a few words the history of how it started, who actually came into contract, and how? 

Leroy Jackson: With respect to the construction of the City of Oak Ridge, Stone & Webster was retained. I believe it is what we classify as an AEM Contract: Architect- Engineer- Management type of contract. As such, they had the basic responsibility for working for the Manhattan District for the establishment of the town and one of the major industrial complexes: the electromagnetic process of Y-12.

We had a very large team of contractors associated with the town. Stone & Webster, for example, is all of the road, detail design, sewer, water, electrical, all forms of the utilities, and all of the temporary labor camps, temporary housing, and so forth.

They did the first probably two or three months of very general planning for the town of Oak Ridge, but at that particular point, the decision was made by the management of Manhattan District to—on the semi-permanent portion of the town, which is the central section that you see now—to retain the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. They are an architect-engineer designer. They were not doing any construction at all with their own forces, they’re designers. They were retained to do the overall design and building plans for the structures promptly, including the side plant.

Their initial assignment was for 3,050 houses—dwelling units—a related number of schools, stores—a limited number of stores. At the same time, Stone & Webster was providing the dormitory design and buildings, all these temporary housing, and following right with them in doing all of this utility complex.

Jointly, the group of us in the Manhattan District that was responsible for the city end of this and the labor camp, was to decide as to what was the best method of contracting or building these things. For example, you get dormitories like these green buildings you see applied over here. That is basically a Stone & Webster design of a military configuration that was used for military quarters at other sites.

Stone & Webster would also construct those type of buildings with their own labor. This is one of the advantages of this Architect-Engineer-Management type contract. So they had a tremendous workforce that would be building those types of facilities.

We just recently lost one of the original cafeteria buildings, but they would design that type of a building and build it. Quick speed was what we were after, in that case.

We would take groups of things initially, for example, one thousand of the houses. We would advertise that to a very selective group of contractors. Rather than publicly advertise, we would call them in and invite them to bid. And then they would get a contract for building one thousand houses. We would get another contractor maybe for the second thousand, another one for the third, and so forth in that nature.

However, in order to get speed, we would always fall back on some item. To Stone & Webster, we would say, “Okay, we do not have the design done. We want you to buy lumber.” We would buy many millions of feet of lumber, start channeling it in, earmarked for a certain group of houses, and then adjust as the design came out.

Utilities—as the design was done—part of them were built by Stone & Webster and part of them were contracted and done with other firms.

Groueff: You were a personal agent for the Project, not for Stone & Webster?

Jackson: I was an employee of the Corps of Engineers. Ernie [Ernest Wende] and I both were employees of the US [Army] Corps of Engineers in districts other than the Manhattan District prior to the time of its formation. We were transferred into it.

Groueff: And the Corps was here, or they were building here?

Jackson: The Manhattan District was a part of the Corps of Engineers.

Ernest Wende: The Manhattan District was an arm of the Corps of Engineers.

Groueff: That was only formed in ‘42? And that was under Colonel [James] Marshall still? Before Groves came?

Jackson: Right, James C. Marshall. Did Groves come in after Marshall?

Wende: Yeah.

Groueff: He came in September of ’42.

Jackson: Marshall started out travelling by himself in two or three [inaudible] along about July or August of 1942.

Groueff: [Colonel Kenneth] Nichols with him since the beginning?

Jackson: Yeah. He formed the initial five or six, I think.

Groueff: So Stone & Webster would be responsible to the Corps of Engineers, to Marshall, Nichols?

Wende: No, they were contractors.

Groueff: I see. So in a contract like that, you do not give them complete freedom and say, “You build it,” but you can tell them every day what you approve or do not approve, decisions or designs?

Jackson: Oh, we worked so close together. In an arrangement like that, it is very hard to sometimes distinguish which organization you are in. For example, this building that you are in now and its seven wings were the headquarters of all of the Manhattan District. The unit that was associated for construction at the town occupied about one-quarter of one floor in Wing Four. All of Stone & Webster top management and engineering group that controlled the town and basically Y-12 was over in Wings Six and Seven. We worked together as a team.

They [contractors] had a lot of latitude and a lot of responsibility, but on the other hand, they had certain criteria given to them—certain monetary limitations as to how much we could spend for various things, certain schedules that were laid down—and the design was reviewed and approved as we went along.

Groueff: And who was the boss on the Stone & Webster side?

Jackson: The first one at the site, who stayed most of the way through, I guess was Williams, for the combined operation of the town and Y-12. The deputy or assistant underneath him that had the town was Compton down in General Service, C.C. Compton.

Groueff: I see.

Jackson:  I guess it is T. C. Williams. I think he is still with Stone and Webster.

Wende: T.C. are his initials.

Groueff: I know one who was in electromagnetics was removed and was replaced by Keaton. I heard that story of electromagnetic. But now about the town now, continue on the construction. Did they do all of the design in Boston or here [Oak Ridge]? They brought their personnel here, designing and everything?

Jackson: Of the total housing—of the semi-permanent housing in the town, which came out in the order and magnitude of about 7,800 family dwelling units, I guess.

Wende: The first step was about three thousand so-called cemesto houses by Skidmore, I am assuming. That was the first phase he got.

Jackson: Actually, Stone & Webster did not design a family dwelling unit.

Wende: That is right.

Jackson: They were all done by other architect-engineers as prime contracts to the Manhattan District. As far as all of this utility design and so forth that we referred to, the bulk of it was done by Stone & Webster designers here in the field because it is rough topography, as you have noticed. And it is correlated very close to the layout of the buildings, which were actually staked on the ground. Then you had to run your various surveys in order to get the data. So practically all of the design of the utility systems was done right here in Oak Ridge, in a bunch of temporary warehouse buildings.

The buildings, like the dormitories, the cafeterias, a few general things that went into the town, Stone & Webster did the building design on. That was designed, I believe, almost entirely in Boston, and then [inaudible] shipped down here.

Groueff: And the labor force was recruited by Stone & Webster?

Wende: And by subcontractors.

Jackson: By many contractors. Well, I have to clarify one word, “recruited here.” Each one of these contractors working on the town, and Stone & Webster had tremendous labor recruiting organizations battling all the time. People did not come and knock on the door, “I want a job.” You had a tremendous network of recruiting the average craftsman like a carpenter, fitter, electrician, and so forth. I do not know how many states we were covering, but it was an awful lot. It was more than the Southeast quarter of the United States to comb them out, get them transported back in here on the scale that was being used.

Groueff: Was it a difficult time for recruiting, with all the other war projects going on?

Jackson: I guess that was the biggest contribution of the Manhattan District and the team. They set a priority by the orders of the War Manpower Commission of the relative priorities that labor could be used for. This job was up in the very top group. I do not know whether you would say it was at top or not, but it was way up in the top.

Therefore, we were cleared by requirements and constantly figuring how many men by each type of craft you needed. There was a separate unit in the Manhattan District here that would take our requirements, go into a separate office here, which was here in Oak Ridge, the War Manpower Commission. “This is our requirements and this is our divisions,” and they would weigh that within the total. Then say, “Okay, go dissipate this area and so forth and recruit.”

They would get in there, and they would help recruit people. If a fitter wanted a job, they would try and convince him that this was the job he wanted.

Groueff: It was not done essentially by you, by a couple engineers, but by each company?

Jackson: By each contractor. There were a few times when we could anticipate needs that a contractor individually might not recognize. From the aggregate of this, if it indicated we were low, then our unit in the Manhattan District on manpower would recruit for the Oak Ridge project, “blank” number of men by specialty. Then they would be given some choice of employment by the contractor when they got here. There was some general recruiting.

Wende: One of the things that helped bring people here was the fact that this had a high priority; it was a good place for deferrals. When men were being called into the Army, there were some of the younger craftsman who had a better chance of staying out of the Army by taking the job here. For example, I had personal friends who had their own businesses, and those businesses were pretty much wiped out by the war situation. They were engineers and they just came over here, applied, and got jobs as engineers working for all those companies, and stayed here until the war was over.

Jackson: But there were many, many contractors involved in this. I would hate to even guess the number right now because I’m sure I would miss it, but there were a lot of them.

Groueff: Were they hired by Stone & Webster or by the engineers?

Jackson: Many of them were prime contracts to the Manhattan District. After we got the plans and specs prepared by an architect-engineer or by Stone & Webster, Stone & Webster would take it. By the basis of our discussions with their management and the Manhattan District management, we would agree on the group of contractors that we should get to give us a fixed price. Then once that contract was signed, the day-to-day detail administration was done by Stone & Webster under the direction of a very limited number of government personnel.

Wende: They [Stone & Webster] would inspect for the client or for us. For example, the first 3,000 cemesto houses are from three contracts with one thousand units each.

Groueff: For the buildings?

Wende: For the buildings only. Somebody else was building the roads and the utilities.

Groueff: Did that create some rivalry or competition? Some hard feelings, having several companies?

Jackson: Nobody had time to get their feelings hurt. The contracts were too big and too fast.

We are talking about one thousand houses. With this advanced procurement I referred to—buying lumber, stoves, water heaters, and other things before the contractor came in, ready to shove them to him—we are talking about building one thousand houses in five to six months. So he had no time to get his feelings hurt. All he had to do was get that job done, and he had a good chance of getting the next one.

Wende: The contracts were elected on a competitive basis with the low bidder getting the job, who knows how to [inaudible] units.

Groueff: So no company was big enough to take the whole thing?

Wende: Stone & Webster was one of the big ones, from an architect-engineer-management standpoint during the war, and we had to bring in a lot of other people to help. We just did not have that much in our division. Nobody did.

Jackson: I do not know what the official history shows. I am just picking out of memory, and I am sure I am probably wrong, but I think the peak workforce of Stone & Webster alone was in the order of about 14,000.

Wende: I was thinking it was even higher than that. I don’t know. You would remember better than I would.

Groueff: One single company?

Jackson: Yeah, and you take other companies that have from 500 to 2,000 apiece working in the town now, like [inaudible] and Kellex and the group that we had at K-25. This rounds into a pretty good number.

Groueff: Now what were the major problems and difficulties, when they started from scratch?

Jackson: Material and manpower.

Groueff: Material and manpower?

Jackson: Material and manpower was the major problem.

Groueff: Did the location present some special characteristic difficulties, like, I don’t know, the soil or the mud? A lot of people were dying—I talked to—“I remember the mud very much.”

Jackson: Yeah, it was muddy.

Wende: It’s basically a clay soil there, and of course that makes a real mess when it’s wet. And the weather—you have a fair amount of rainfall every month and about fifty inches of rain per year. Naturally, we did not build berms and gutters in the first place, everything was ditches and it got pretty dirty around here.

Jackson: We did not spend much time building sidewalks either, because we were trying to build houses. If you are manpower limited, material is tight. Construction equipment was in short supply, because the kind of equipment they used to build a town—earthmoving equipment, backhoes, shovels, and so forth—is the same kind of equipment you use overseas. Therefore, you did only what was essential, as far as being able to move around from a traffic or circulation point of view. All of the roads were gravel roads. There were no paved streets, as far as the paved street as you probably know it. Sidewalks were mostly for speed, built out of scrap lumber. When the lumber got too old to build concrete forms out of it, we built boardwalks like you maybe use around a swimming pool, miles of them.

I think manpower and materials were our true problem. The town was a unique challenge to Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill to lay out a town on a hillside and have an appeal to attract people if they are willing to come here and live here.

Groueff: So you were given the assignment, building a town for so many people. How many people were there, the quick estimates for population?

Jackson: Well, this secrecy had quite a little shroud on it. The first official numbers that was given to Stone & Webster that I remember was a town of 500 families. This was in December or January of ’43, December of ’42 or January of ’43. But this got revised to – from what I knew about the story, I think that was probably the top. It was modified to 3,050 single-family dwelling units.

Wende: So 3,050 dwelling units. Some of them were multi.

Jackson: Yeah, some of them were four-family.

Wende: Yeah, 600 of them were four-family.

Jackson: This then was the number in which the architect engineers started to work on at that stage. We went to probably about January of ’44 before we revised it upwards. And at that point, it was revised up to probably approaching about 7,500 of the family dwelling units. Then in January ’45, it was revised upwards again to a maximum number of about 12,000. With the success of the bomb, we cut it off. Now those are what we called permanent units, separate from the construction camp.

Wende: Semi-permanent, I guess we called them. Nobody expected them to be used more than five years. We had to house scientists, engineers, and so on.

Groueff: Nobody expected it would be a city like today, fifty-five years later?

Jackson: I think we are mixing two things here. One: the authority upon which the building construction was being done. I believe it was under a federal statute, that we were gearing to the shortage of material and labor and that we would be building facilities of a temporary nature that the maximum life—would serve a life of five years. Now sometimes, you cannot build anything that is that temporary.

I would have to say that General Marshall had the foresight that this was a permanent town—Colonel Marshall. When he talked to me, he asked me if I would take a quick shift for eighteen months for a construction job that would probably exceed my life. I said to him, “Now eighteen months, yeah right!”

Wende: One thing I remember about this, and Jack, you check me on this, but they brought Skidmore in in February or March.

Jackson: About February.

Wende: February of ’43.

Jackson: ’43. 

Wende: And at that time, Stone & Webster had made some preliminary designs of housing, thinking that they were going to design the housing, and people weren’t too well satisfied with it. They were primarily industrial contractors.

Then they decided to bring in more of an architectural firm. They got a hold of Skidmore, as I remember, and told them in ten days they wanted a town layout and five or six typical plans. And they produced them. I think it was a ten-day period.

Groueff: To design the whole town?

Wende: To design it. They had the topography. And for what, Jack?

Jackson: Five miles of housing.

Wende: Five miles of housing and the layout for the three thousand.

Groueff: The streets and everything, they had to design that?

Wende: Yeah, I mean the general layout—five representative units, which would take care of a range.

Groueff: And they did it in ten days?

Wende: They came back in ten days. I remember seeing this plan.

Jackson: Well we had actually staked out, between the first of February and whatever this date is—the 12th or 13th of February—we had staked 185 houses on the ground out here. That was going to be this first contract. Now, this was a very good house that Stone and Webster designed. There was nothing wrong with it. It was the kind of a house that you would see up in the New England part of the United States. It was going to take more lumber resources than we possessed, because lumber was going to be scarce.

In addition to that, we wanted to get a house that would provide more space, be more attractive to people on this five-year basis for these keys signs. This resulted then in a call on John Merrill from Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, and Mr. [Louis] Skidmore and asking them what they would suggest. Then that was A, B, C, D, and E houses.

That house did not use, in total board feet of lumber, nearly as much lumber because it had a lot of things built out of fiber boards and asbestos boards, very novel features that they developed with the Pierce Research Foundation.

Groueff: Where is the firm of Skidmore located?

Wende: New York City.

Groueff: New York City?

Jackson: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. New York is their headquarters.

Groueff: And who chose them? Colonel Marshall? Nichols?

Jackson: I do not know the individuals. But it was at Marshall, Nichols, and [Captain Robert C.] Blair level.

Groueff: And until February, what was done already?

Jackson: Here?

Groueff: Yes, by Stone & Webster. Roads?

Jackson: Getting some spurs in to start running railroad trains and building a lot of privies with toilets. See, we were just getting possession of the land. In fact, very few of the original occupants of the land were evicted or had moved off of the property of that time. It had been condemned and they we were still moving out.

Groueff: So they did not find anything built already by Stone & Webster? Only a model of a house?

Jackson: We were starting this building.

Groueff: This is the first building?

Jackson: First one of any size, because the first of February we were just starting Y-12. We had a couple of wings of this building started and I think that was all.

Groueff: And Stone & Webster was also involved in the building of the plants then?

Jackson: The Y-12 Plant.

Groueff: But as the city is concerned, the real planning and designing started in February of ’43 by Skidmore?

Jackson: That is when we started the version that we finally built. We had done some preliminary work with Stone & Webster in late December of ’42 and in January. Well, this central unit of these spring dormitories that you see was the only part of the Stone & Webster design that was nearing completion, and it was kept that way.

Groueff: But before the town was built, where did all those thousands of people live and sleep? All the workmen?

Jackson: Separately, while the town was being built, we were building various forms in quality of housing facilities in Oak Ridge. The design was being done by Stone & Webster to get something that people could live and sleep in as fast and cheap as you could. In the top quality was dormitories, single family. Then we had hutments, which were 16-by-16 prefabricated plywood—almost like a camp, but it was better than a camp. Then we had barracks, which were prefabricated barracks that you could bolt together. They would sleep maybe forty men to the barracks. Then we went any place we could find in the United States and would buy trailers and ship these trailers in, and build trailer camps to house the families.

Groueff: What were the construction problems?

Jackson: Ultimately, some of the peak workforces in the plants were also in some of this temporary housing. Your 70,000 figure that you’re using is a composite of the semi-permanent housing in the town that we had plus the composite of a labor camp.


Groueff: Where did the top people live? The people from the Corps of Engineers?

Wende: Usually, they lived in Knoxville or the surrounding towns. As fast as the houses were completed, they would move out here [Oak Ridge].

Groueff: So they were commuting?

Wende: Commuting usually the first few months. Now, I think the first person to move into one of the cemesto houses was probably around July.

Jackson: End of July of ’43.

Wende: And then by September I moved into one, just up off Tennessee [Avenue] there, Glendale Lane. How many would you say were finished by the end of the first year, Jack?

Jackson: By the end of the first year, we probably had somewhere in the order and magnitude of 4,000, I imagine.

Wende: No, I meant houses.

Jackson: It seemed we built all the houses. We had over 7,000 done by January of ’45.

Wende: Starting in February, I know there were quite a few finished by the end of that same year, 1943. I cannot remember just how many.

Jackson: Oh, you mean in the span of twelve months of construction. That would probably be closer to 1,000 or 1,500.

Wende: And you started building the first cemesto houses on land.

Jackson: We elected the first contractor, probably in the end of March ’43. We were electing about every thirty days after that, as fast as we could stick them.

Groueff: But most people started living here after September or October of ’43?

Jackson: Quite a lot in dormitories.

Wende: There were a lot in dormitories before then.

Groueff: But no family housing?

Wende: Family housing started in about July. About July, the first family moved into a house here.

Groueff: And then you moved your families here? Actually, it took the aspect of normal city only by the end of ’43? I mean a city with wives, children, and shopping centers?

Wende: I guess that is a reasonable statement.

Jackson: Yeah, the only thing that bothers me is that word “normal.” It is now, but there were a few trying days back in there, when you say about a shopping center and so forth. It took a long time, because these were all private operated stores, to get merchants established with their own stock. There were a number of items that were in short supply in the United States. A lot of things were basically local supply like produce, milk, and so forth. It was not quite normal at that stage

Groueff: Truly pioneering for the first several months?

Jackson: Yeah, there was a little bit of pioneering in it.

Groueff: And the services, how were they organized? I mean simple things like laundry, shopping, or as you said, milk, the post office?

Jackson: The post office was one of the more normal things, because the post office will take care of your mail in any place. You had to start out on general delivery. You had to go over to the post office and get it at a window. We call it general delivery here. I do not remember when the first house-to-house delivery started.

Wende: I do not either.

Jackson: Some time after that.

Jackson: It was quite a bit later. But on laundries, as I recall, we ran the laundries initially. We actually brought equipment in, built laundries, and provided the service.

Groueff: The government?

Jackson: The government did.

Jackson: See, laundry was a hard item to get a private firm to come in and operate commercially, because laundry takes quite a lot of labor. They were competing for labor, and no one wanted to take the chance, as far as I know, of committing themselves to operate a laundry.

Basically, we had a group—I was not directly in that group—that would take any commercial facility that we built, like a store, and they would try to find somebody who would rent it through them and run it as an ordinary business. If they could not find somebody promptly that could do it and do a good job, then it would be given to one of our units to set up an operation in which the government provided the service on a cash basis, comparable pretty much to what the normal price would be. In the meantime, of three months or six months to a year or later, you could find someone who was interested in leasing that building and operating, and then you got out of it.

Groueff: Like cafeterias and things like that?

Jackson: The cafeterias, we initially operated them by Stone & Webster. Then we ultimately went over and operated them by another crosstype contractor of ours, the Roane Anderson Company. I guess we operated the cafeterias, most of them, all the way through the war.

Wende: I think you are right. That is my recollection

Jackson: Now, this was a big operation on the cafeteria.

Groueff: You would feed thousands of people three times a day?

Wende: We must have had about six or seven cafeterias around, and some of them were running 70,000 meals a week because so many of these people lived in hutments and dormitories with no cooking facilities as single people.

Groueff: It was quite a problem? So you had to employ cooks and workers?

Wende: The dormitories just housed single people or people who could not bring their families with them. We had over ninety dormitories, I guess, at the peak, which would hold 150 people each. I think also around 7,000 trailers.

Jackson: Yeah, about somewhere in that neighborhood.

Wende: Everything we could build outside or buy outside and haul in without using local labor, we did so. That applied to these hutments and prefabricated barracks, which we brought in assembled on foundations here. The trailers, of course, you could haul those in, set them up, and build bathhouses—one bathhouse for so many trailers. The hutments were in the same category. We would haul them in, I guess. They were a 16-by-16 feet space, and they also had bathhouses. No bath facilities in the buildings, but they had to step out to get bathed.

Jackson: You don’t want to pass that subject to the cafeteria over lightly. I will reflect on it a minute. Remember if you want a hard day’s work out of a man, the Army still travels on belly and so does this civilian population. So you got to feed them a good well-rounded meal.

They had to buy their food and all just like you would in a normal city, but in order to be sure that they had a good solid meal, one of the key points was to see that there was a food service there. It opened right around the clock, twenty-four hours a day.

Groueff: That must have been quite an organization.

Jackson: Yeah, we designed and built them. I did not operate anything, but it was a big food handling process.

Groueff: While the town was being built, at the same time the construction went on for Y-12, K-25, and the piles?

Jackson: Right. The first of the production facilities was the Y-12 Plant, which was Stone & Webster designed and a major part of the construction forces were Stone & Webster’s. The Pile, or the X-10 area I referred to, was the second one to start. It started at the end of February of ’43 as I remember, and was DuPont designed and DuPont constructed, if my memory is right. Then they were designing on the K-25, a gaseous diffusion plant, in the early spring, but they did not actually start construction until July or August.

Groueff: But that was [J.A.] Jones Company construction? Those are very good examples like cafeterias, laundry. Do you remember some other particularly difficult, important obstacles or things which created problems? The mud?

Wende: It got to be a normal way of life. There was one contractor, when we got ready to build a school, that walked across the site and said, “You always carry your tracks with you here.” The mud was sticky enough to carry his tracks with him. He was talking about the way of life. [Laughter]

Jackson: I personally did not have much to do with it, from an operating point of view. One of the tremendous jobs that one of the groups had was picking up these school buildings at the time we finished them and operating a normal school system, which was an accredited school system. That was no small task. 

Groueff: And communications?

Leroy Jackson: Communications wasn’t a very hard problem. The initial communications were provided entirely by the military under the Signal Corps. In other words, what we did, we furnished our communications problems through a Signal Corps Officer, who was attached to us here. We put in only the essential phones that were necessary for the operation, not convenience. There were not too many people that had a telephone in their home, and the reason for this: copper was in short supply. Communications equipment was needed for more urgent military matters and so forth. I guess we didn’t go to normal communications until probably 1945, in which you dealt with the telephone company.

Groueff: In the meantime, your people would go to the neighbors to use the phone and things like that?

Jackson: We had pay stations at neighborhood shopping centers and various points throughout the town where you could go and make regular telephone calls to the city. As far as residential phones, it was restricted, I believe, almost entirely to the people who were on call for the project.

Groueff: And private cars? The problem with the fuel?

Ernest Wende: You were limited, of course. Gasoline was under ration, just as meat was, and other things. Tires were rationed. There was a lot of riding pools set up, four or five people riding together to work to save gas.

Groueff: And the Army provided the buses for the workers?

Wende: The Roane Anderson Company, which was the operating company we brought in after Stone & Webster to more or less take care of the town, they started up the bus operation. They were quite a sizeable company. They did some subcontracting, even at the beginning, where they got some little operator to guarantee to come in and serve from some town over there on some specified route. They’d run that route generally on a guaranteed basis.

Jackson: It was so much per bus mile. They were paid on a bus mile basis. This was a big transportation system; we had people coming from over 100 miles to work.

Groueff: They would commute by their own cars or by pools?

Wende: Or by bus.

Jackson: Mostly by bus. I think it was approaching something like 700 bus runs a day back in those days. It was a tremendous bus operation.

Groueff: During construction, for the construction crews, transportation was provided by trucks?

Jackson: It was a form of what we called the bus. Sometimes it might be a truck chassis with a plywood body and a stove in it, but it was classed as a bus and you paid a fare.

Groueff: To bring them to the cafeterias and dormitories? And entertainment, what did they have? A movie theater?

Jackson: We had a limited number of movie theaters. I think we had a half a dozen construction camps.

Wende: Could have been. I think we built three in town or something.

Jackson: We built three in town over here and then we had one at Midway and two I guess in Happy Valley. Then we ran movies in the hutment camps at night in the cafeteria. We had about half a dozen movie theaters, in that range.

Wende: We built a few recreation halls for people. I forget how early we built those first bowling alleys, but it was fairly early. People could have dances and so forth in all of the recreation halls.

Groueff:  And churches?

Wende: What was it, two churches built by the—

Jackson: We built two churches by the government, and then they held church on Sunday in various parts of the school, like the gymnasiums and the rooms. The theaters were used for churches on Sunday. All the movie houses were used on Sunday for churches.

Groueff: And several denominations had services in the same church?

Wende: Initially. One would have it for an hour, and the next hour somebody else.

Groueff: Was the secrecy and security felt in the mail, or censorship, or things like that? It was not like in Los Alamos where people were discouraged from going to the towns? It was open?

Wende: The town was locked. There were gates all around the town. You couldn’t get in without a pass.

Groueff: I thought only the production areas were locked.

Wende: No. The entire area was closed off, including the town.

Groueff: By fence?

Wende: By fence. Coming through a gate, you had to pass military guards and show your pass to get in, your badge.

Groueff: I saw some of the fence and though that it was only around the plants.

Jackson: That changed in 1949.

Groueff: In other words, somebody from Knoxville couldn’t just drive there and see friends and have a drink with them?

Wende: If your friend arranged for a pass, he could get in.

Groueff: But people could go out easily?

Wende: You showed your badges when you went out and came in.

Jackson: Every man, woman and child was under a badge and passed the gate.

Groueff: Children and women too?

Jackson: Everybody. You had to get visitor’s passes. Now you were not restricted at all bringing in, to my knowledge, reasonable visitors at reasonable frequencies, so long as you didn’t start talking about what you were doing and other things.

Groueff: But it wasn’t a feeling of a—

Jackson: There was an outer gate. That gate is not there now, but they are similar to that. There were checkpoints throughout. There were other gates to go through when you went into Y-12, for example; you would get investigated.

Groueff: But it didn’t feel like living in a camp, where you can’t leave?

Wende: You could leave. You could come or go if you worked here, but say you had to go through—in fact, your car was subject to search. One of the big problems was that this was a dry state, and they would pick up any whiskey found in the car in those days. So it created some entertainment problems.

Jackson: There’s two pictures going on in the plant—

Groueff: It was a dry state even at that time? It had always been?

Wende: Well it was dry in this area, this county system.

Groueff: Yeah, the county.

Jackson: Well, that ought to be clarified. Chattanooga was wet at the time. It is legally dry, but they never have stopped the native Tennessean from making his home bootleg whiskey and they never will.

Groueff: Is this picture showing a checkpoint in town?

Jackson: It is going to one of the plants.

Wende: You talked about the secrecy, or knowing what was going on. Jack [Leroy H. Jackson] and I were primarily in the community set-up, and they had a system of what they call compartmentalization, need to know. They only told you enough for you to do your job. Since we weren’t in the plant construction, I personally was never told by anyone prior to the time the bomb dropped what was going on.

Groueff: You were not? Because it wasn’t necessary?

Wende: Because I was primarily in the town construction.

Groueff: But you guessed in the meantime?

Wende: I guessed it had something to do with atomic energy, but I didn’t really know or was never told by anyone. One idle comment from one individual, who said that if what we have here works, the war will be over in two weeks. That is the only thing I ever heard.

Groueff: It wasn’t the kind of thing that you would discuss with your friends? Nobody discussed the job?

Wende: I will say in my experience, it was very common practice to keep your nose clean. Don’t talk about something you don’t have any business talking about.

Jackson: That was what your basic instructions were to everybody that briefed and went to work. “You got your own job to do. You do your job. You don’t pry into the other man’s job. You don’t tell him what you are doing.”

Groueff: Even when friends meet in the evening for dinner, you won’t discuss your friend’s work at Y-12 or X-10?

Wende: I used to socialize with people from K-25 and Y-12, and I never had any of them tell me what they were doing.

Groueff: So it was also a [inaudible]?

Wende: Well there was a substantial appeal to the security aspects of it. The importance of the job was stressed, and the essentiality of the security was stressed. I think most people observed it.

Groueff: And the construction work crews? Actually, they didn’t know anything. They knew that they were building houses and roads so they wouldn’t—

Wende: [Inaudible] the people in the town or anything. Sure.

Groueff: Wouldn’t they spread the word when they leave their job here [Oak Ridge] and go to their hometowns, and say that they just built a big city here and all these fantastic plants and all this? Wouldn’t the word spread?

Wende: It might.

Groueff: They probably rehired them for another project around here.

Wende: As far as I know, there wasn’t a great deal of leakage out here.

Groueff: The fact that people in New York, or even some members of Congress didn’t know.

Wende: Congressmen generally weren’t told what was going on. There were one or two key people in Congress who the whole story was told to, and that was it. They were generally the leaders, the Appropriations Committee and so forth, and they were just depended on to get the appropriations through and get the money without explaining what they were doing.

Jackson: They never specifically identified that hunk of money separately.

Groueff: Yeah, they put it under other things. They called it “engineering” or “construction.”

Jackson: They put construction in the total military appropriation without clearly enumerating it, but then it was passed on separate, of course.

Wende: There was nothing but two lane roads leading into the project from Knoxville. You would see cars lined up bumper to bumper at 6:30 in the morning coming in here. There just wasn’t adequate access roads for the crowds coming in. Same thing going back, you would start out late and you would spend an hour and a half or more getting to Knoxville.

Of course, during wartime conditions people groused, but I don’t think they really minded too much because of the situation the country was in. You sort of got used to it; it was just part of the business. You work late nights, some nights maybe work until 11:00 or 12:00. Then go home and start out again 5:00 in the morning, get up to come back in here. I think it was sort of accepted because of the times. You can’t do that in peacetime.

Jackson: People worked harder in wartime.

Wende: Didn’t the Corps of Engineers arrange for improvement to highways and new highways to be brought into the area?

Jackson: We did two things. Number one: the impact on the county roads in Knox County, Anderson County, and Loudon County was so severe from this heavy traffic, including trucks, that the counties just couldn’t cope with maintaining the roads. So we got a release from the counties and there was some forty-five, fifty miles of roads that we took over and maintained for them with Stone & Webster again. In general towards the Knoxville quarter, in order to keep the roads patched up and to keep moving the traffic. Then we arranged to transfer funds to the Bureau of Public Roads, who normally works with the states. The road from Faraway Bridge to Knoxville was one of those roads, and then the four lane road from Clarkston School on 25W to Knoxville. It took time to build them. We had to patch the old existing county roads in order to get that far.

Wende: You remember, Jack, when that bridge over in Robinson’s Corner broke under a big truck baring a heavy load out here. I think it was something like four or six hours, and they had a new bridge up. They sent equipment out to the project and slapped a new bridge in.

Jackson: The old Edgemoor Bridge over here, which has been torn down and replaced—I remember at one time that bridge got to cracking so doggone bad on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, and it is a fairly long bridge. One of the jobs we got was to completely re-deck it. We went down on Saturday night and closed both ends of that bridge. When we had finished on Monday morning, that bridge had been re-decked from one end to the other and reinforced. We had an awful army of material lined up to hit that thing. But this was the kind of thing that Stone & Webster had to do. It was whatever was necessary to get the job done.

Groueff: It was very different from peacetime.

Jackson: You couldn’t do that kind of thing in peacetime.

Groueff: And the boss here was [General Kenneth D.] Nichols? [General Leslie R.] Groves didn’t come very much?

Jackson: I would suggest, if you don’t want some strong fire, that you better not say Groves didn’t come. To my knowledge, he was here every Wednesday, never missed a Wednesday. How much more he was in I don’t know, but we met at least once a week.

Groueff: Would he go to the plants?

Jackson: In the town, too.

Groueff: And Nichols lived here?

Wende: Right. Yes.

Groueff: He worked in this building, where we are now?

Jackson: That’s right. In fact, I think Nichols’ office, if I remember right, was just [inaudible] over here now, wasn’t it?

Wende: Yup.

Jackson: That was Nichols’ office, right across the hall. I believe that’s the Right Wing. It’s that position; I think that was it.

Wende: General Beverly domed that ceiling a little bit for him, made it look a little better.

Jackson: This was the Executive Wing, the upper floor.

Groueff: Did he act as a kind of mayor of the town, or did he have an officer?

Jackson: Well fairly early, he pretty much passed his responsibility over to another officer, [Thomas T.] Crenshaw, who was responsible for the community. Actually the town seemed to be about as much of a problem as the rest of the project. There are stupid people, you know. [P. E.] O’Meara was a part of Crenshaw’s outfit. Then O’Meara was right over dealing with the people in the town.  

Wende: I think O’Mara actually was the town manager before Crenshaw took it over.

Jackson: So you had a slight problem in the operations side of the town. You just build a house, you let a person move in. That doesn’t necessarily stop all of their needs. There’s continued maintenance, mechanical equipment and so forth, and there was not enough local resources and private business to take care of it. So the government actually maintained all those houses until, I guess ‘46, ’47, before we started contracting for it separately.

Wende: They would pre-install the stoves and refrigerators because private individuals couldn’t buy them during wartime.

Groueff: Did you have problems with water and electricity in low supply here?

Wende: We had a good water supply in the Clinch River .We had to build a water system from scratch, a pumping house, a purification plant, and distribution system. And likewise we had to build the distribution system for electricity, but we had TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] power.

At one time, we used more than half of TVA’s power. The gaseous diffusion plant was a tremendous power user. At the time, we had all three gaseous diffusion plants in top production—that was after the war, of course. We used ten percent of the power in the United States at one time, in the three plants: one in Paducah, Kentucky, one in Portsmouth, Ohio and one here [Oak Ridge]. But each one used about three percent of the nation’s power at one time. 

Copyright 1965 Stephane Groueff. From the Stephane Groueff Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Exclusive rights granted to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.