[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.]
At the peak, in July, 1944, we had 1,395 patrolmen, which were the same as police, but Du Pont called it patrol. That was plant patrol, boats on the river and perimeter patrol. There was military intelligence out there, and from time to time FBI men. We never had any serious attempts at sabotage. All of the espionage cases, as I recall, were crackpots. We had some doozies.
In one particular accident, we had a steam locomotive run into a diesel engine. If I remember correctly, all four of the men in the cabs, two in each cab, were killed. I think there was another accident where seven people were killed in the collapse of a tank. The railroad accident was about halfway between Hanford and White Bluffs. I remember it very specifically. It was a very foggy morning and somehow they got their signals crossed and they ran headon into each other. It looked like a scene from a silent movie, bodies hanging out. It was really a morbid scene.
We had our own kangaroo court, and our own jail. Every morning we would screen them and unless it was awfully serious, a pat on the back and “Don’t do it anymore” was our theory. Fights and drunks. We had some homicides. Usually they occurred in or around the barracks. Motivation was usually little or none, a crap game or stickup, a couple of arguments got out of control. We had very little racial problem, the blacks were in separate barracks.
We tried to control gambling. We wouldn‘t let any professional gambling set up. We had to let the poker and the dice games, you know, a group of guys wanted to shoot craps, we permitted it. We knew bootlegging was going on, and we knew where it was going on, but at that time booze was rationed, I think we got one fifth of bourbon every two weeks at the liquor store. A lot of these boys got legitimate liquor out of Chicago and they would bootleg it on the premises. I think it was common knowledge with the management and the military. They mainly wanted it kept under control.
I remember one particular fellow came in and laid $10,000 in bills in front of me and said he wanted protection for a game, he was going to run a card game. He happened to be a fellow I knew out of St. Paul. There was no way we would let him run it. I believe he would have run a very honest game.
Due to the fact the women were in separate barracks, and you had to sign in, and the men and women both lived in dormitories, there was some prostitution but not too much. Most of the rapes occurred because a customer didn’t want to pay. We had quite a bit of homosexual problems, among certain blacks who came out there. After a while, military intelligence told us we had more important things to do. It was confined almost entirely to certain barracks and these guys would all try to get in the same barracks.
In some cases, we would terminate lawbreakers, but in most cases it was important that we got them back to work. We needed workers.
Drunkenness was prevalent. And depression was quite a deal, and this was a big reason for people leaving there. Homesickness too, it was a depressing sort of a place. It was almost like being in prison. Wired in, barb wire. Men separated from the women, even husbands and wives were separated sometimes. We had a number of nervous breakdowns of personnel. It was loneliness and depression and they hit the booze very hard.
We had some crackpots that kept harassing us. They were amateur detectives. I remember one particularly, a woman from Tennessee, who came in the office one day and said “I am the black widow, and I will attack the Germans.” We had a number of these and they were strictly uncategorized. They would come in to report a guy had a radio, and were sure it was a two-way radio. These incidents had to be put somewhere, so we put them under “Un-Americanism.“
Un-Americanism also might be criticism or protest against Roosevelt. They would be gradually eased out, or told to shut up. They would make stump speeches in the messhalls. They would stand up, half drunk, and put on a little bit of a show. We had to quiet them down quite often in the messhalls. A lot of times I would go down myself and talk to them. One day I got beaned by a coffee pot.
We had a woman, Olive Coldiron, she was one of the people in a Western Union stickup. Stoppelmoor, a blond kid, shot a rigger in a crap game, a guy named McDonald. Stoppelmoor went and shot him four or five times. He had lost money in a crap game. When we arrested Stoppelmoor, no problem at all, and brought him in, he agreed, he said “The big boy took the bullets like a man and I can take whatever‘s coming to me like a man.” The big guy recovered and refused to prosecute. Stoppelmoor was held for murder, but the man he shot didn’t want to prosecute. He said, “Ah, he’s a good kid.”
D.W. Lindsey, a woman, was tied in with another fella on a murder. She was picked up originally on theft charges at a barracks and when we took her in the first thing she said was “I’ve got syphilis, so they’ll throw the book at me.” It turned out she was wanted in Missouri for murder. She was in with C.K. Melton. They were wanted for murder, and were suspected of killing somebody on the reservation. Tolliver was with them. He was a tough nut.
The homicides generally resulted from little female problems, and hold-ups of crap games or muggings that turned into homicides. There were very few murders in fights but people did get badly injured. Everyone who came on the reservation were searched. They checked in their firearms and one time we must have had 5,000 guns at patrol headquarters. Some of the most beautiful guns I ever saw in my life.
Most suicides were caused by mental collapse. One little girl she lived across the yard from us in Richland. Here again, she was despondent. She put a bullet in her head. I recall another fella who slashed his throat. I think he was homesick and he was wanted by the police back home.
We had to bring cash in every pay day for the bank. We had an armored car, and we had two cars in front of it and two cars behind it and an airplane overhead. We would bring it from the railroad station at Pasco. My guess the cash came from Spokane. It was cash for cashing checks and we took it to the bank in Hanford Camp. I think we thought we were transporting between one and two million dollars. In mail sacks. This was on a Friday, and every Friday we would have 12 armed guards at the bank.
We had several fatal automobile accidents. I remember the first one, it was out on the back road from Hanford to White Bluffs to Yakima. A couple of people were killed. We had no ambulances so we put my bed in the back of a panel truck and put this woman on it, and as we were going over a hill here were six or seven wild horses. We took the ditch and when we got to Yakima she was certainly dead.
They had a Navy training station at Pasco, and a bomber base at Walla Walla. These fliers from Pasco would come over the area and shoot coyotes. I can remember three or four crashes of the training planes. They would swoop down over the river, and when they would try to go over at White Bluffs evidently there was a turbulence right there and two or three crashed right across the river from Hanford. All that would be left of the pilots would be the torso enclosed in the pilot suit. We also had these bombers, they were cutting up, they would fly real low and if you know the road between Hanford and Richland was sort of up and down. You’d be coming up a ridge and all of a sudden a bomber would come over the top of you, right in your face. They were four motor jobs, B-17s I think.
Has anybody told you the story of Willie Stokes, the black boy from New Orleans? He was probably retarded, and for years he sold newspapers on the streets of New Orleans. Somehow he was recruited for Hanford, and he came out on the train. He didn’t eat for three or four days and was probably abused on the way. Well, he ran into the Columbia and tried to swim across and he died. That caused quite a stir out there because the lad had been mistreated. I know Frank Mackie and the top echelon raised a barrel of hell about sending out a man like that. He arrived horribly frightened and wrecked a messhall. We had to put him in a cell for his own protection. We had a fellow named Jim Salisbury from Tennessee, a southerner, a real southerner, who talked to Willie and we thought had him straightened out. We promised he could work in the orchards. This seemed to please him. The next day when the police officers unlocked his cell, out Willie went and nobody could stop him. He ran to the river and tried to swim across. He was tremendously strong. Six foot one, 230 pounds, terrific strength, probably about 30 years old. We had power boats, and four or five men tried to get him into a boat. He fought us. I am sure he died of a heart attack.
You know, when we first went out there, the fishing was terrific at that fish ladder on the Yakima. It was wonderful, with the orchards, and you could shoot all the geese and ducks and pheasants that you could haul.
But, I got no pleasure in putting people in prison. You know, I wasn‘t cut out for a police officer and the misery that went with it. Trips to Walla Walla and a few other places and seeing these people in jail, it started to turn me against it. I thought it was an interesting part of my life but I wouldn‘t want to do it again. After the war I went into building materials out of Cincinnati.
S. L. Sanger: You went there in what? In 40’, say 43’? Early 43’?
Robert Bubenzer: Yes. I was in the first group of maybe fifteen or twenty of us that went out from Minneapolis, St. Paul.
Sanger: What was in Minneapolis?
Bubenzer: Gopher Ordnance Works.
Sanger: I see. That’s where you were working before?
Bubenzer: Yes, they took a cadre from DuPont employees there. And where else? Oklahoma.
Sanger: I see.
Bubenzer: And started up. We were the first twenty or so that were out there.
Sanger: You were working for DuPont at the Gopher Ordnance Works?
Bubenzer: Yes, we were all working for DuPont.
Sanger: When you went to Hanford then, that would have been right at the beginning practically?
Bubenzer: Nothing was there. Our first abode was a sheep herder shack out of Hanford.
Sanger: Is that right? Where the camp was built, then?
Bubenzer: Yes, there was a little town there, and a little town of White Bluffs.
Sanger: Which town were you in?
Bubenzer: Well, we stayed in a house. An old beat up house right in Hanford. Some of our men stayed in the store.
Sanger: Is that right?
Bubenzer: In White Bluffs. They put some cots in. Before any barracks or any equipment or anything else, we were living on the reservation.
Sanger: I see. Where were you from?
Bubenzer: Originally from Vincennes, Indiana.
Sanger: So you would have been about how old when you went out there in 43’?
Bubenzer: I would have been about thirty.
Sanger: What was your position then?
Bubenzer: I was Supervisor of Plant Protection, which was police and fire.
Sanger: How long did that job last?
Bubenzer: As we got parts of the plant complete to go into operation, then a certain group of patrolmen and fireman would be assigned to that area. Then no one else could go in, even supervision.
Sanger: I [00:03:00] see. So what did you wind up being then, by the time you left?
Bubenzer: I was transferred. DuPont started a new division over in Charleston, Indiana.
Sanger: That was in what, 44’?
Sanger: Is that before the war was over, though?
Bubenzer: Oh yes. We were there when we were told that the atom bomb had been dropped to us from Hanford.
Sanger: So you were at the other plant by then?
Sanger: Where was that, did you say?
Bubenzer: Charleston, Indiana.
Sanger: Was that an ordnance plant?
Bubenzer: Yes, it was Indiana Ordnance Plant 2.
Sanger: I see. Do you recall now, during the construction period, would you have had reason to be involved in any construction accidents?
Bubenzer: Construction accidents?
Sanger: Yeah. Or was that handled by some other agency?
Bubenzer: It would have been under our jurisdiction, as far as the handling of the accident. The investigation of it and everything would be under the Safety Department, which was sort of an adjunct of our department. We did have some, because I remember two or three very severe accidents.
Sanger: I read the DuPont history. It’s unpublished, back in Wilmington. What I could find in there were two fatalities during the construction period on the job. Does that sound about right?
Bubenzer: Two fatalities?
Sanger: Or were there more?
Bubenzer: That were caused by accidents?
Sanger: There was more than that?
Bubenzer: Now they are taking probably just DuPont employees.
Sanger: Yeah, they might be.
Bubenzer: But they had a number of subcontractors. I remember one particular accident, we had a steam locomotive run into a diesel.
Bubenzer: If I remember correctly, all four of the men in both cabs—there’s two in each cab—were killed.
Sanger: I see, okay.
Bubenzer: I think there was another accident where seven people were killed in a collapse of a tank.
Sanger: Yeah, that’s what others have said. That would have been, do you remember where? Which site that would have been at, the tank?
Bubenzer: The railroad accident was about halfway between Hanford and White Bluffs. I remember it very specifically. It was a very foggy morning and somehow they got their signals crossed. They ran head-on into each other. It looked like a scene from a silent movie. These bodies, the engineer hanging out, it was really a morbid scene.
Sanger: I think one of the photographers mentioned that, that he had gone out on that. Robley Johnson. Do you remember him?
Bubenzer: Robley Johnson, yes.
Sanger: Yeah. Now this other one—as you recall, seven killed—where was that? Do you remember [00:06:00]?
Bubenzer: I’m not quite sure. I think it was probably either 200 or 300 West.
Bubenzer: It was out in the field where it occurred.
Sanger: That was probably at the separation [area], you mean?
Bubenzer: Yes. It was, I’m sure they were subcontractors because—I’m trying to think which ones they might have been. It might have been Custodis Chimney or one of those fellows. But the subs did have some accidents.
Sanger: Okay, do you remember any other ones?
Bubenzer: We had a number of homicides.
Sanger: How many? Any estimate on how many there were?
Bubenzer: I have complete compiled record that we kept during a certain period of ‘43 well up into ‘44. It lists the amount of arrests and homicides. I also have some pictures of homicides.
Sanger: You do? Are they down in Florida?
Bubenzer: No, they happen to be here.
Sanger: Would you mind, when you get a chance just to write me a letter maybe detailing the homicide part of it?
Bubenzer: Do you have a picture of our first headquarters in Richland?
Sanger: I don’t think so, no. Well, I don’t know. Maybe Johnson does. He took an awful lot of pictures.
Bubenzer: Yes, Robley took all of our pictures. He was the official photographer.
Sanger: He probably has that then because he has hundreds of pictures, he says.
Bubenzer: Is he still living?
Sanger: Yeah, he’s still in Richland.
Bubenzer: Is he really?
Sanger: Yeah, he stayed there after the war.
Bubenzer: I wish I had known that.
Sanger: Opened a photo studio and did pretty well.
Bubenzer: Robley has got to be seventy-five years-old.
Sanger: Yeah, he’s really vigorous, though. I’ve seen him a few times.
Bubenzer: Is that right? Well if you see him again, tell him I said hello.
Sanger: Okay. He’s helping us actually on this project with some photos when the time comes.
Bubenzer: He probably doesn’t have the police photos because we took those ourselves. And every homicide, I do have a recap sheet.
Sanger: Do you?
Bubenzer: The history—each of us wrote that in departments. I believe the history that you have is probably one that I wrote. Each department wrote the history of their respective department.
Sanger: Well this thing that I read back in Wilmington, I don’t think from what you say is all that complete. Because they never mentioned any of these accidents, for instance. They mentioned a couple of single fatalities on the job, but not anything like this.
Bubenzer: Nothing about the—
Sanger: No. They didn’t go into homicides, either.
Bubenzer: No, they wouldn’t go into those, probably.
Sanger: Were there quite a number?
Bubenzer: Yes. We had suicides. Due to the fact that the cooperation of the local authorities, we were too much of a burden to them, [00:09:00] we had our own kangaroo court.
Sanger: You did?
Bubenzer: Yes, we had our own jail. I don’t know whether you have pictures of our jail.
Sanger: No I don’t, I’ve never seen those. I’ve heard about it.
Bubenzer: Every morning we would screen them and unless it was awfully serious, a pat on the back and “Don’t do it anymore” was our theory.
Sanger: Like for fights and so on?
Bubenzer: Fights and drunks. I know I’ve got one picture that might be of interest to you. It’s sort of a mockup of about eight photos and each one was a murder.
Sanger: They would have been in the barracks?
Bubenzer: Around the barracks. Almost all of them occurred around the barracks, yes.
Sanger: What usually was the motivation?
Bubenzer: Well, usually little or none.
Bubenzer: No, it was usually a crap game or a stickup. A couple arguments got out of control. Very little racial problems.
Sanger: Not much?
Bubenzer: We had the blacks in separate barracks.
Bubenzer: Did Robley have any pictures of the colored barracks?
Sanger: I think he does.
Bubenzer: The beer gardens and things?
Sanger: Yeah, do you have those?
Bubenzer: Yes, and he should have the staff picture of all the personnel.
Sanger: I’ll double check with him. Then if he doesn’t, maybe we could borrow yours or something.
Bubenzer: Yes, I have a picture of a lot of our patrol officers. All the officers from sergeant up, we had a group picture taken. I have that. Then I have a staff picture with all the supervisors of the plant during construction.
Sanger: I see. Another thing I’ve asked people: was there much problem with gambling?
Bubenzer: We tried to control it. We wouldn’t let any professional gambling set up. But we had to let the poker and the dice games—you know, a group of guys want to shoot craps, we permitted it. The same, we knew that bootlegging was going on. We knew where it was going on. But at that time booze was rationed. I think we got one-fifth of bourbon every two weeks.
Bubenzer: We had to go to the liquor store. So a lot of the boys got legitimate liquor out of Chicago, and they would be bootlegging it on the premises. I think it was common knowledge with the management and the military.
Sanger: The idea was just so it wasn’t out of control?
Bubenzer: It was kept under control.
Sanger: Yeah. I suppose you did have some problems, though, with professionals’, one kind or another [00:12:00]?
Bubenzer: Yes. Several people came in. I remember one particular fellow came in and laid $10,000 in bills in front of me. He told me he wanted protection for a game, he was going to run a card game.
Bubenzer: He happened to be a fellow that I knew out of St. Paul. There was no way we could let him run. I honestly believe he would have run a very honest game.
From time to time we had these fellows move in, drifters. They would take a job at the plant strictly for the promotion of gambling. They tried to run numbers games. We could get wind of this very easily because they had to operate out of one of the cafeterias. We had eight cafeterias with eight thousand people. They would work these, and we had men who all the time would pick them up.
Sanger: What about prostitution?
Bubenzer: Due to the fact that the women were in separate barracks than the men and the barracks were—you had to visit to go in. The women and the men both lived in dormitories. There was some, but there wasn’t too much. We did not have any organized prostitution. We had quite a bit of homosexual problems.
Sanger: You did?
Bubenzer: Yes, among certain blacks that came out there. Quite a bit of this. After a while the military intelligence, Walsh, I think was his name, Major Walsh, told us that we had more important things to do.
Sanger: So you just let that go?
Bubenzer: Well, yes. Because it was confined almost entirely to certain barracks. These guys would all try to get in those same barracks with the rest of them. But we did have somewhat of a problem there for a while.
Sanger: What generally would you do in a case like that? Something that wasn’t terribly serious, just sort of evict the people off of the project or what?
Bubenzer: Yes, we would terminate them in certain cases. But most of them, it was important that we get them back to work. We were needing workers.
In fact, there’s a rather amusing incident. We had a paper, a bulletin put out every so often. On Father’s Day, they selected a typical Hanford father. When I went out there on Father’s Day, we had him in the can.
Sanger: For what?
Sanger: Was drunkenness pretty prevalent?
Bubenzer: Yes, yes it was. Depression was quite a deal. This was the big reason for people leaving. I think that homesick, and [00:15:00] it was a depressing sort of a place, almost like in prison. Wired in, barbed wire around all the barracks. Men separated from the women. Even the husbands and wives were separated.
Sanger: I suppose the remoteness, too?
Bubenzer: Yes, to keep them there over Christmas there. In about six to ten days they would build a big amusement hall. I think we tried to get Red Skelton. He was from my hometown in Indiana. But we couldn’t get Red. But we got Ted Fiorito, was one band. I think the other was Jan Garber.
Sanger: Yeah, I think I heard about that.
Bubenzer: We had those two bands there. We could take care of three thousand or four thousand people on the floor at once [00:15:52].
Sanger: Now what about the fire operation? Were you involved in that, you’d say?
Bubenzer: Yes, the fire chief reported to me, yes.
Sanger: Was there much problem with fires?
Bubenzer: Just at the start of the job. About the third barrack, it was built burned down. Again, we hadn’t hired the fire chief. It was some of our patrol lieutenants and myself we went over to fight this fire. They were using wood fiber insulation, it was the walls inside. When this got a fire, it was very toxic and heavy smoke. We lost it.
One of our big problems, of course, was brush fires. Once a fire started in a brush, it would just explode through that greasewood. I think we might have lost a fire truck in one of them.
Sanger: Were there ever any fires you recall of any magnitude at the plants themselves? When they were being built or afterwards?
Bubenzer: No, nothing of any major. We had a number of ignitions from torches and things of this type, and cigarettes thrown in the waste baskets. But we had a fire chief there Ray Hare, who had been fire chief at Yakima.
Sanger: How do you spell that?
Bubenzer: H-A-R-E. He was the retired fire chief from Yakima and a very, very competent man.
Sanger: So he took over that, in the early days at least?
Bubenzer: Yes, and he was a tough nut.
Sanger: They had a regular contingent of fireman then after a while?
Bubenzer: We had 500.
Sanger: How many patrolmen did you have and policemen?
Bubenzer: I think our highest total was between 1,200 and 1,500.
Sanger: What’s the difference between police and patrol?
Bubenzer: Well, we used the terminology of [00:18:00] “patrol.” This was plant patrol. We had boats on the river and perimeter patrol. Then it was also the same officers or officers of the same group set up—we had a police division in Richland. Actually, all the police worked at Hanford camp. But the terminology was “patrolmen” rather than “police” because this was DuPont’s policy.
Sanger: So in other words, the patrol and police were the same thing?
Sanger: Yeah, that’s what I wondered. Then there’s also military security?
Bubenzer: Yes, there was military intelligence out there under Major Walsh. Then we had from time to time FBI men.
Sanger: There also were counterespionage people there, I suppose?
Bubenzer: We’ve often kicked it around. Frank Mackie happened to be a very close friend of mine, and Gil Church. But as far as we knew, we never had any serious attempt at sabotage.
Sanger: Yeah, I interviewed a fellow named Vincent Whitehead who was in military intelligence. He said that his main work was actually counterespionage, although no one knew it at the time. He said that they never had any problems there.
Bubenzer: All of the espionage cases, as I recall them, were crackpots. We had some doozies there.
Sanger: He was saying that there’s a lot of loose talk occasionally, but nothing ever happened particularly.
Bubenzer: Well now, if you could get the details, there was one case, the only case that I know of. Or the only person that I ever heard that identified the product was an engineer that lived in Richland. The story goes that he disappeared and was held in custody for quite a while.
Sanger: Is that right? Yeah, I haven’t heard that. That would have been later on?
Bubenzer: It was after they built housing in Richland, as we were living in Richland.
Sanger: This guy told somebody what was being made there?
Bubenzer: At a bridge game, his wife says—I forget his name. It sort of sounds like Enmen, is what I sort of remember. But says, he knows what they’re doing. Evidently he said, “I think they’re splitting the atom.”
Bubenzer: The word was out the next day. Whether it’s rumor or whether it happened or not, but he supposedly was to have been taken in custody. No mention ever made of him again.
Sanger: Is that right? That would have been about ‘44?
Bubenzer: That would have been [00:21:00] towards the middle of 44’, or early 44’, yeah.
A number of nervous breakdowns of personnel. I remember a couple that I had to escort home and explain to their families in the East.
Sanger: Is that right?
Sanger: You mean engineers or something?
Bubenzer: They were engineers, almost all of them. It was loneliness and depression. They hit the booze real hard.
Sanger: Did that happen very often?
Bubenzer: There were a number of cases. I’d say by number a small number. But these were more or less key personnel in the DuPont Company, and they were rehabilitated, to the best of my knowledge. They were given treatments back East. They were taken off of the job.
Sanger: You mean like small numbers, five or six?
Bubenzer: I’d say not over ten. Something like that.
Sanger: I suppose that sort of thing would happen naturally.
Bubenzer: Yes, and they just got wound up too tight.
Sanger: So you would have been gone early in 45’, probably?
Bubenzer: Yes. I don’t have the exact date when I left. But they were setting up another patrol department headed up by Earl Richmond, who was an ex-FBI man. Earl was to take over the office in Richland, which was the operating headquarters of the plant.
Sanger: Do you remember a guy named Stapleton?
Bubenzer: Newt Stapleton?
Bubenzer: Yes. He was an ex-FBI man.
Sanger: Did he take over something important after you were gone? Do you know?
Bubenzer: He was our supervisor in Wilmington. He and Jack Lawrence were both ex-FBI men. They headed up plant protection for all the plants in the United States.
Sanger: I see.
Bubenzer: Other than the organization chart, I reported to Newt Stapleton and Jack Lawrence.
Sanger: They were back in Wilmington, though?
Bubenzer: Yeah, they were back in Wilmington.
Sanger: Who took your place then when you left?
Bubenzer: I would say it was sort of split there that Red Callahan, W. J. Callahan I think was his name, from Tennessee, he took over the patrol. They split the patrol. Hare stayed on for a while with a fellow named Cuddington from Minnesota that headed up the fire. Thad Burr went in as Assistant Chief to Earl Richmond. I’m sure that was his name, Earl Richmond.
Sanger: Is there some guy named Alexander? Have you ever heard of him? Or is he later?
Bubenzer: No, he came in I think after [00:24:00] DuPont left.
Sanger: I see.
Bubenzer: I think he came in with G.E.
Sanger: Yeah, that’s likely. Do you remember a fellow named Campbell?
Sanger: Sam Campbell?
Bubenzer: Sam Campbell, well sure I do.
Sanger: Yeah, he came from Oklahoma.
Sanger: He stayed out there and retired. I talked to him, he’s retired now. He stayed with G.E.
Bubenzer: I tried to find Sam when I was out there. But evidently he lives in Pasco or Kennewick or someplace.
Sanger: There’s another guy, maybe. Did you work with a guy named McHale? Or was he with the military?
Bubenzer: I don’t recall.
Sanger: He may have been gone when you were there. I think he was there and then he left for a long time. Then he came back.
Bubenzer: The head of the military intelligence was named Walsh. He was an ex-FBI man, Walsh, Major Walsh.
Sanger: Did you stay with DuPont, then?
Bubenzer: I stayed with them until they closed down the plant at Charleston. I had a number of offers in police department in large cities and this and that. But being that I was an engineer, I decided I was going to get away from police work. I got no pleasure in putting people in prison.
Sanger: You’re an engineer?
Bubenzer: My background was at the New Mexico School of Mines.
Sanger: Is that right? In the Socorro? Is that Socorro?
Bubenzer: Yes, and I had worked for the Corps of Engineers, the Army Engineers.
Sanger: What kind of an engineer were you?
Bubenzer: I was a mining engineer. But most of my work has been in civil.
Sanger: So you went back into that then, after?
Bubenzer: Yes. Then I went into contracting.
Sanger: After the war?
Bubenzer: Yes, yes. I just decided that well, there was too much glamour attached to the plant beginning to surface. One of our lieutenants, Howard Hoyt, he went over to Germany to reorganize the police departments over there. Another one went over to Saigon. I think Walsh went over to Japan from the military intelligence. We sort of separated. But I decided that I had enough of. It was pretty rugged. We would go many a week that you wouldn’t get to bed all night. You know, you’d go two or three days at a run.
Bubenzer: We had several stickups and things of that type.
Sanger: At Hanford, what was probably the worst crime committed that you remember?
Bubenzer: Murder of course was the worst. There was a number of stickups. The biggest one was the holding up the Western Union. [00:27:00]
You know, we had to bring cash in every payday for the bank. This was quite a deal. We probably did it the hammer and saw way. We had an armored car. We’d have two cars in front of it and two cars behind it and a plane overhead.
Sanger: Yeah. Where would you bring it from?
Bubenzer: We would bring it from the railroad station I think at Pasco.
Sanger: At Pasco.
Bubenzer: That was where we’d pick it up.
Sanger: Where would it come from?
Bubenzer: My guess, it would come from Spokane.
Sanger: I see. Well, that was for guys who—
Bubenzer: Was cash.
Sanger: But that’s for guys who wanted to be paid in cash?
Bubenzer: Yes. Well, they cash their checks.
Sanger: I see. Where would you take it then?
Bubenzer: We had a bank in Hanford then.
Sanger: Seattle First National?
Bubenzer: I don’t recall.
Sanger: But that’s where you’d take it?
Bubenzer: Yes. But our biggest stickup was the Western Union.
Sanger: How much money, do you remember, would you take on paydays?
Bubenzer: Just as a ballpark figure, I think that we thought we were transporting between one and two million.
Sanger: Yeah, and that would be in cash?
Bubenzer: That would be cash. It would be in bags and mail sacks.
Sanger: Then the bank was responsible after you got it there?
Bubenzer: Well yes, but this is on a Friday. Every Friday, we would probably twelve armed guards at the bank.
Sanger: They were paid once a week?
Bubenzer: Were paid once a week, yes.
Sanger: That’s interesting. Then the Western Union guys, were they picked up?
Bubenzer: Yes. We got them in Yakima.
Sanger: Was anybody hurt in that, do you remember?
Bubenzer: No. I think there was a little shooting done when we got them. Olive Coldiron was the girl and I forget the name of the fellow. I’ve got his name.
They had a detective working for us from Yakima. He got a tip somehow. Two or three of us went with him. We arrested them on a street corner.
Sanger: Is that right? That was some time after the stickup?
Bubenzer: Yes. Rather than reporting it to the police at Yakima, we took them back on the grounds.
We had several fatal automobile accidents.
Sanger: That’s what I understand, yeah.
Bubenzer: I remember our first one out, it was on the back road there from Hanford to White Bluffs to Yakima. We had a couple people killed. We had no ambulance or anything. I think it was my bed, we put in the back end of a panel truck and put this woman on it. As we were going over the hill here were six or seven wild horses. We had to take the ditch. When we got to Yakima, she was certainly dead.
Sanger: Was she dead before?
Bubenzer: We said we could feel the pulse because I don’t know whether it’s a law or whether it’s just a rule of thumb out there [00:30:00] that if the person is dead at the scene, you would call the coroner. The coroner would have to make a fifty, sixty mile trip out there. He would have to come from Prosser, I guess. We had a Deputy Coroner after we got going. McCray, I think was the Deputy Coroner. Anyone that was injured in an accident, we would take them into the hospital, the Yakima hospital.
Sanger: Later I suppose you had ambulances?
Bubenzer: Once we got ambulances, then—well, we had an enormous medical staff right there. After we got going, we had a place for them. I don’t know whether anyone has said anything about it or whether you have access to it. While I was out there, there was several articles in the paper about some of the Congressmen questioning the safety of Hanford.
Bubenzer: In early 1944, we had an emergency plan. It was in great detail. We had one trial run of it.
Sanger: Did you?
Bubenzer: Yes, and this plan, it’s only been four or five years ago, I threw it away. DuPont of course would have a copy of it.
Sanger: That was for evacuationt?
Bubenzer: Evacuation of the plant. Then the entire procedure, when we got the alert, [Colonel Frank] Matthias would take over. Colonel Matthias would assume the command post. All radio transmission and everything would be under his direction. It was the duty of the police and fire to try to get everyone—they would give the direction in which the traffic had to go, whether it went to Yakima or across the river or whether it went to Pasco. We even had arrangements for beds at the hospital where we would back freight cars in there and the load the beds right on the freight cars.
Sanger: Is that right?
Bubenzer: Yes. It was a rather comprehensive plan. A lot of civil defense organizations were modeled after it later.
Sanger: But you tried it? They tried it once?
Sanger: Did it work all right?
Bubenzer: Well, we did it. We actually backed the trains in and were ready to put the people in the boxcars. We did route some automobile traffic. But I think the plant was shut down maybe for two hours during this trial run.
Sanger: And that was—
Bubenzer: Because each area had a special plan that they had to put into effect immediately.
Sanger: Was that based on the possibility of an accident? Or enemy action?
Bubenzer: Actually, we were given no reason for it. But in retrospect now of course, we had ore on the property then [00:33:00]. The ore had been brought in. I think they got the first couple cars of plutonium. Our pitchblende came in from Big Bear Lake.
Sanger: I see. Yeah, the uranium from up there.
Bubenzer: From Hudson Bay, yes.
Sanger: From Canada, that’ s what I’ve been told.
Bubenzer: Yes, well, in fact I know that’s where it comes from.
Sanger: Well that’s interesting.
Bubenzer: Jim Pride was the Head of the State Police then. Captain Carnahan was our contact. And they were very, very helpful.
Sanger: Yeah, I’ve heard of them.
Bubenzer: If we had any problem at all, they had one of our radios, and we’d get ahold of them. They intercepted an awful lot of problems before it got to our gates.
Sanger: Incidentally, were you there when those balloon bombs were coming over from Japan?
Bubenzer: No, I never—
Sanger: Because they sent a lot of those balloons that had incendiaries and anti-personnel bombs attached. Some of them, well a couple or a few, landed at Hanford or nearby.
Bubenzer: That must have been later.
Sanger: That was later, yeah.
Bubenzer: Do you have any stories on the airplane crashes?
Sanger: No, I don’t think—no. Well, I heard about one. Why don’t you tell me about them?
Bubenzer: They had a training station at Pasco.
Bubenzer: Then they had a bomber base in Walla Walla. These kids of Pasco would come [00:36:00] over the area and shoot coyotes.
Bubenzer: I can remember probably three or four crashes.
Sanger: From the fighter planes?
Bubenzer: Yes. They swooped down the river. Then when they would try to go back over White Bluffs, there evidently was a turbulence right there. We had two or three crashes right across the river from Hanford.
Bubenzer: Yes. All that would be left would be the torso that was enclosed in the pilot suite. The arms and legs and head off of most of them.
Sanger: How often did that happen?
Bubenzer: I’d say there was at least three or four of them.
Sanger: That was right at the bluffs there?
Bubenzer: Just on top of the bluffs. Also about halfway between Richland and Hanford. We had these bombers that would, well they were cutting up but they’d fly real low. As you know, the roads between Hanford and Richland was sort of up and down. You’d be coming up a ridge, and then all of a sudden a bomber comes right over the top of you, right in your face.
Sanger: How big were they?
Bubenzer: What were they? They’re big four-motor jobs.
Bubenzer: B-17’s I think is what they were training down there, yes.
Sanger: You know what they were using at the Pasco training station?
Bubenzer: They were Navy trainers. They were a small plane.
Sanger: Single engine, I suppose?
Bubenzer: Yes, I think they were all single engines.
Sanger: That’s interesting.
Bubenzer: Yes, the Pasco boys, we sent them back there for retraining, it seemed like.
Sanger: Yeah, that’s what I was told. Some of them were sort of burned out.
Sanger: Sent them back there for retraining. They were a little more of a subdued reaction. [00:37:51]
Bubenzer: Yeah, and they’d give them a little trouble in town and we’d get calls from Pasco Police. Our first hiring office was in Pasco, the Gray Building.
Sanger: Yeah, I’ve heard of that.
Bubenzer: I think I have some pictures of the Gray building. But we’d operate out of there and we had patrolmen down there. They would assist the local police in a lot of occasions.
Sanger: Did your wife then come to Richland?
Bubenzer: Yes, and I have two children.
Sanger: Do you?
Bubenzer: Two boys.
Sanger: So you lived in Richland for a while?
Bubenzer: We lived there. We were the third family to move to Richland.
Sanger: Were you?
Bubenzer: Yes, and we lived in a Type A house.
Bubenzer: Which is standard there. Yet, there’s still a lot of them there.
Sanger: Did you go see if the house was still there?
Bubenzer: Yes. I got ahold of a fellow, he was from Oklahoma. We found the area where it was. I forget the street. But it was out towards the old trailer court.
Sanger: I see.
Bubenzer: That little old fish ladder down there used to be wonderful fishing.
Sanger: I know where that is, yeah.
Bubenzer: When we first went out there, it was terrific with the orchards and everything.
Sanger: I’ll bet.
Bubenzer: You could shoot all the geese and ducks and pheasants that you could haul.
Sanger: Were there quite a few orchards when you first got there?
Bubenzer: Yes, there were an awful lot of orchards especially around White Bluffs and Downing and Richland along the river, along the Yakima. Also at Hanford. When they brought the German prisoners of war over there, they put them to work as laborers in the orchards.
Sanger: They did?
Bubenzer: We had a lot of trouble with them breaking tree limbs, deliberately.
Sanger: How long were they there?
Bubenzer: Aas long as I was there. I’d say they were there four or five months. They came in in I’d say ‘44. They began shipping them over there. They had a concentration camp down by Richland.
Sanger: What was their job?
Bubenzer: The only thing that I ever knew them to be assigned [00:42:00] to was working, picking in the orchards.
Sanger: I see.
Bubenzer: Some of them, I think they were all German. But some of them were real nice fellows, I guess. They were guarded over in military personnel.
Did you ever get any story on Yakamuchi?
Sanger: No, what’s that?
Bubenzer: Well, Yakamuchi was the president of the bank in Pasco, I believe. When we went there, then they began moving out all the Japs into concentration camps. This created quite a stir there, because he was one of the most respected citizens there.
Sanger: Yeah, and he was moved out?
Bubenzer: He was moved out, his bank was taken over.
Sanger: No, I’ve never heard that story.
Bubenzer: That was Yakamuchi.
Sanger: I’ll be darned.
Bubenzer: Well, it was an interesting part of my life.
Sanger: I imagine.
Bubenzer: I wouldn’t do it again.
Sanger: Yeah. How old are you now?
Bubenzer: I’m 73.