Cindy Kelly: It is Tuesday, September 11, 2018. I’m Cindy Kelly. I have with me Robert Franklin, and my first request is to say your full name and spell it.
Robert Franklin: Sure. My full name is Robert Redder Franklin, R-o-b-e-r-t R-e-d-d-e-r F-r-a-n-k-l-i-n.
Kelly: Thank you.
Franklin: You’re welcome.
Kelly: Now, we want to know something about you, because it’s very helpful for people to know who’s speaking. If you could tell us where, where you’re from, where you were born, how you got interested in history.
Franklin: Great. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. I grew up in a town called Palmer, which is about 40 miles north of Anchorage in the Matanuska Valley. It was actually created during the New Deal to resettle agriculture farm families, which in that way, I guess, is kind of an interesting tie to the town of Richland. As I started learning about Hanford, I started to realize how much these towns had in common. I left Alaska in 2008 to go to Hawaii where I earned my bachelor’s in history. And then, I went to grad school at WSU, Washington State University in Pullman, also in history.
That’s where I got introduced to Hanford by Bob Bauman, Robert Bauman, who was leading a graduate-level seminar on the Hanford oral history project. We did a museum exhibit about that. I just started to see all these parallels between my own work, which had been on rural agriculture, but also government attempts to sponsor these rural agricultural communities, and then the town of Richland and the Hanford project. The town of Richland especially, in its attempt for the government to create this suburban community, this kind of utopian community.
In the Summer of 2015, a position opened up at WSU Tri-Cities as assistant director of the Hanford History Project, and I applied and was selected. In that role, I am an archivist and oral historian for our, the Department of Energy’s Hanford collection and for the collections that WSU has.
I’ve always had a lifelong interest and love in history starting with—my father was a history major, although he wasn’t a historian per se. But he imbued in me that, that love and respect for history. It’s just always been something I’ve been very passionate about, ever since I was a kid.
Kelly: That’s wonderful. That makes you the perfect person for the job you have.
Franklin: Thank you. It’s an interesting job. There’s still so much going on. As you know, there’s so much going on and so many stories to be told at Hanford and about the Manhattan Project and the Cold War and the current cleanup effort, that make this such a rich and complicated story to tell.
Kelly: Indeed. Well, you’re going to help us today. We’re only going to take a little sliver of this whole story, but I know you’ve been doing a lot of work on the agricultural pioneers, I call them, who settled in Hanford or in that area, in the Reach.
Franklin: Part of when I took Bob’s class in graduate school was, we were viewing the Hanford oral histories that have been done and created a museum exhibit about that. That’s when I was first introduced to what we kind of colloquially in the Hanford project called the “Pre-’43 Residents.” I guess the term the park and the DOE [Department of Energy] use is the “Pre-Manhattan Project Residents.” Of course, “agricultural pioneers”—we’re all talking about the same thing.
I was first introduced to their story of displacement and what was interesting about these towns of Hanford and White Bluffs and Richland was, they’re very typical of rural arid lands, western communities, in their growth, their birth and their growth and their life. It’s their end that is so unique and so jarring, and their end is the beginning of a world-changing event. That’s really what, I think, drew me to that, because there’s so much happening in that couple of months in 1940, or a couple of years in 1942 and 1943.
I was interested in that. Then in summer of 2016, Robert Bowman and I started putting together plans for a book project, a book series, and Mike Mays, our director, started putting together plans for a book series. And our first book would be on these pre-Manhattan Project residents. We’ve just completed that, and that will be coming out later this year.
I’ve also been a docent for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and the [inaudible]. This is my second season. I’ve been really involved in its history, because it bridges my two worlds of my focus on agricultural history and my graduate work, but then my work here at Hanford.
What really grabs me about the pre-’43 history is that displacement and all the conflicting emotions that one must imagine these people felt, being asked to give up their land, being evicted, sacrificing their lives and livelihoods for the war. And then watching this world-changing event and project go there. For so many of them, too, who later went on to work for Hanford to maybe go and see their old homesteads. You know imagine the conflict of emotions there.
You know, doing the oral histories, one’s really struck with the, like I said, that, those feelings of loss of the residents. Dick Wiehl, the grandnephew of Judge Lloyd Wiehl, Dick would spend his summers—he lived in Yakima, but he would spend his summers with the farm, with his great-uncle or his uncle at White Bluffs. He said, “A town once created should live out its natural life.”
That to me really, I think, really encapsulates how these people felt. Because communities, small farming communities in the arid west, they have booms and sometimes they die or they fade away. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t get the railroad connection. And White Bluffs, the town of White Bluffs moved three times. Once, because it was flooded out. The second time, because the railroad came by a mile and a half from it but not by it. The town knew it needed to be by that railroad, otherwise it would wither, because the steamship business was going to go away. Of course, Richland never had a rail connection then. It was the smallest of the three towns.
Towns that were on the railroad but then didn’t get a highway connection often perished, as the transportation network shifted from rail to trucking. That’s the natural lifecycle of a town or a small agricultural area. It’s subjected to larger forces. The Manhattan Project is such a unique phenomenon to be forced onto these towns.
There’s some interesting parallels, though. What strikes me, when we do tours, you want to leave people with kind of the sense of what that area was like. If you look at the Wahluke Slope now, and really, if you look at all the area surrounding the Tri-Cities and the irrigation, we can imagine that’s what that area, the Hanford Site, would look like, had it not been for the Manhattan Project.
It was orchards and asparagus and alfalfa and mint. In fact, the asparagus was so ever-present that Richland residents sometimes, in the Manhattan Project, would find it growing through their floorboards. Or it would be growing in vacant lots after it would rain in the spring. That’s how widely spread these asparagus fields were.
One person I interviewed recalled that she lived in a two-bedroom prefab, and in the spring the asparagus would come from in between the floorboards. Obviously, they just planted her on top of an old asparagus farm. It’s a strange bridge, but a disconnection between the farming community and the Manhattan Project.
Only about 12%, I think, of the land that was taken by the Manhattan Project was under cultivation. It really was—especially up on the central plateau and the slope, Rattlesnake and the Wahluke Slope—largely as it had been for thousands of years. Hanford, for condemning all of that land or under executive order, also only built on about 15%. Large swaths of land out on the site are actually how they’ve been, even before those settlements. Now brush fires and things have come through, but there’s really an interesting continuity there that goes back thousands and thousands of years.
But also, interesting land use. It’s still largely a rural area, a low population density area with sweeping vistas and a strong natural beauty with the White Bluffs and the Columbia River there. There are some really impressive geological features, scenic features there that I could imagine would have pulled those settlers to that area.
The problem with doing oral histories with folks who have had this traumatic event is sometimes, they tend to romanticize the past. Not all do this. Certainly, some people we interviewed were very blunt about the challenges that they faced and that their families faced homesteading that area. But there’s also this tendency to romanticize those farms and the way of life.
But you get out there, and it’s hard not to fall in love with that area on a nice spring or fall day when the wind’s just right, and the sun’s just right. It’s really something special.
Kelly: It’s interesting because of the folks that we have interviewed about their experiences, it wasn’t so easy. I’m sure you’ve run across. Maybe you want to talk about that, about the Great Depression, about Grand Coulee Dam coming in with electricity helped prompt irrigation. They were just on the cusp of really transforming what had been a rather subsistence lifestyle. “Can we make go of it in this condition?”
Franklin: Oh, sure, sure. Early farmers, the lack of water was the biggest thing. Rattlesnake Springs, up on the plateau anyway, is the only surface source of water. Farmers would have to drill down hundreds of feet to find a well. That’s actually still been a problem with viticulturalists up in Red Mountain and other AVAs [American Viticultural Areas] around is, you really have to drill hundreds of feet down to get to that.
The people that homesteaded the area were hardy and they were few. We think the Homestead Act opens up the West, right? But it doesn’t open up the arid west. The challenges are often too great, and you need capital to be able to deliver water.
It’s the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 that really spurs development in the arid west: the Snake River Valley, the Columbia River Valley, other areas in Washington, and California. Huge water transport systems in California are made possible by that act, which forms the Bureau of Reclamation and makes federal money available for irrigation projects. That spurs the Hanford Irrigation and Power Company to build that Allard Pump House, to dig the Hanford ditch—the 19-mile ditch that runs from the Allard Pump House to the town of Hanford—and to fill it with water. Of course, they took advantage of an older dam that had been up at Priest Rapids.
An interesting thing about this valley was that it had had electricity from the beginning of the 20th century, which was a rare feature in the rural, rural west and even in rural areas in the United States. Electricity didn’t really come to many people until the Great Depression, until the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] and other groups, REA, Rural Electrical Association—I believe I’m saying that right—brought that.
This valley’s unique in that way. But agriculture itself comes late. It’s really not until the ‘10s and the ‘20s that people of any size are coming here. There’s about 1400 people or so that are in the area that’s seized by the project
Just delivering water in and of itself was a real challenge. The Hanford canal leaks like a sieve. The dirt, especially out on the site, is very porous. It’s very sandy. In fact, there’s large areas of dunes that’s almost impossible to farm on. They’d have to line it with concrete.
All of this cost more money. If you look at the records of the Hanford Irrigation and Power Company and the other irrigation companies, like the White Bluff City and Orchard Tracks and a couple of others, you see a never-ending series of recriminations from farmers to the irrigation company and back and forth. Farmers saying, “You’re not delivering the water. We’re not paying.”
The irrigation company said, “If you don’t pay, we can’t deliver the water. We can’t do the upgrades.” All these companies go out of business. Some of the times, they get recapitalized, but the great dream in the Hanford Irrigation and Power Company is pretty much dashed by the late ‘20s, early ‘30s, as they go out of business.
Of course, another company will step in and try to refill the ditch, and they used a patchwork of irrigation systems. But that was always the thing, because this land is so fertile, coming from all of this soil and things brought down from the Ice Age flood, the Columbia River, Priest Rapids Valley with this really rich soil. But it has to have that regular delivery of water.
There are heartbreaking stories of the irrigation going out or the canal going dry, and people going down to the river with buckets to try to save their fledgling trees. A lot of stories of people having to give up and leave the farm, and just leave heartbroken and not even take many of their belongings with them. Other people come in, and try to make a go. But it really was tenuous and, for most people, it was subsistence.
It really was hand-to-mouth. But it’s like now; it would be like living paycheck-to-paycheck. There was an immense amount of struggle in getting the water. The dust would blow, and it’s incredibly hot out here in the summertime. It’s not, I think, what a lot of people imagine that Washington would be.
These brochures that the railroad company and the irrigation companies had put together—we have some of these in our collections, and you may have seen them—where they have these pictures of nice houses and beautiful fields and people watering the fields and harvesting. Sure, some of that did go on. But you also had people with broken spirits, and trees that had dried up because the irrigation ran out. Hard times for people, certainly. Hard times.
Kelly: I know from the Bruggemann ranch story that that family was embittered by their displacement, and that they must have been one of the more prosperous farming enterprises. They weren’t there yet, but they were expecting a major crop.
Franklin: If you look at that homestead, it was huge. Two-story barn. We don’t have a lot of pictures of Bruggemann, which is a shame, the Bruggemann homestead. But you see foundations for other buildings and the beautiful house, which was torn down. But even that cookhouse and attached—we never know what to call it, at least I don’t. It’s kind of a livery. It’s storage; maybe it’s an eating place. It’s got that sliding door to get big things in and out. I’m just going to call it a storage shed or livery, or garage would probably be the safest thing to call it.
But he had vitrified clay piping, which was the best kind of piping that you could have. Because you didn’t have water loss, unlike wood stave piping. He had over 500 acres, 300 herd of sheep. Tough to give that up, I suppose, such a prosperous farm like that. That did engender a lot of bitterness, especially with his son, Ludwig, who ended up renouncing his American citizenship after he turned 18 and moving to Germany and living there. In fact, Ludwig came back. I didn’t get a chance to be a part of the tour, but Ludwig came back in late spring to go back to the homestead.
Many other people felt that bitterness. It’s telling that the year that most everyone was evicted, former residents started meeting in Prosser every year and formed the Hanford-White Bluffs Pioneer Association. And that group ran from 1943 until around 2005. It’s only an association that I think could be formed and could be sustained by that group, the group of people who were wronged. For some of them, their children and grandchildren were a part of it, but I think that experience was so raw for the people that lived through it, it kept them coming back together.
But that group formed and was led by Annette Heriford and Harry Anderson. Both of them had grown up in White Bluffs. They met in Prosser near the site of the moved Hanford and White Bluffs Cemetery until 1968, when they started meeting in Richland. Then they were allowed to go back on site for annual site tours. One of our main sources of information is from Annette and Harry and their attempts to collect reminiscences, old photos and just old newspapers and just everything about that community.
Like I said before about how towns ebb and flow, or birth and die. It wasn’t just that the town was ended. You weren’t allowed to go back. It was off limits, and the government chopped down your orchards and eventually tore down the buildings. They literally erased the built environment, or most of it. What we have left we take people to. But when I take people out there as a docent, I tell them, “This is a tour where you really have to use your imagination.” And wherever you see a tree away from the river, you have to think to yourself, “Wow, someone planted that tree. It didn’t get there by accident, because this is not an area that has trees.”
That group, they met for 62 years. I think says something about that. Their connection to each other that I think was also forged by having this—I would call it a shared trauma of being forced to leave. We haven’t mentioned it yet, but the prices that they were paid, most of them felt were not fair, because they didn’t include the value of the crop on the land. You started talking about how Bruggemann had to leave his farm before the crop had come in. That hurt people badly, because it was also their identity. They were also in some cases being asked not only to give up their home, but also their profession, everything that made them who they were, in a sense. Sure, they could farm elsewhere, but some of them had, had deep ties to that land.
It’s a double-whammy, too, as in 1943 the national economy is rebounding. Right as they’re being evicted, there’s a housing crunch here because of the Manhattan Project and people coming in to work in Pasco and to work in this area. You have people being asked to leave right when the economy is rebounding, and it’s going to be harder for them to buy a farm or find a place to live. You’ve got to feel for these people, that they were asked to really make those big sacrifices. some of them, of course, had sons or daughters in the war, or were veterans themselves.
It’s interesting, in the oral histories we’ve done, those that were veterans, usually of World War I, were often the least bitter about being asked to leave their homesteads. But often, it was those that were single parents or had lots of young children, or the ones that had children in the service, currently in World War II, were often very bitter. Because if you think about it. They were already sacrificing quite a bit, with the potential of the ultimate sacrifice. The parents who were being evicted were instructed not really to talk about—they couldn’t say they were being evicted and they were instructed not to make much of a big deal about it. But it’s a huge deal. They were being asked to give up their everything, and move the family home. It’s hard to imagine.
There’s not many parallels to that, besides the obvious parallel, which is interesting. One of the interviews we did, a man named Lloyd Cockroft, he said something at the end of his interview about how he understood now how the Indians must have felt, which, which to me is really interesting, because that had all been native land before Euro-Americans had come on it. In many cases, tribes had been asked to give up that land and had been confined on the reservations. He was drawing common cause with a group that he, in some small way—his government had been the party to taking their land.
That to me is probably the biggest and greatest irony of, of the eviction. I’ve heard other people say that, too. But he came out and said it very clearly. “Yeah, that’s how the Indians must have felt.” Well, yeah, that is. Except that they [the Native Americans] didn’t even get a bunch of money, and, “You can go wherever you want.” They [the US government], of course, said, “Here’s where you’re going, and you’re still an Indian.” It’s obviously not a direct parallel. But certainly, they [the pre-Manhattan Project resident] saw it that way. Some of them did, anyway.
Kelly: That’s interesting. What kind of artifacts have you found?
Franklin: Of the Pre-’43, or Pre-Manhattan Project? Not many. A lot of the artifacts have been left onsite, so a lot of what’s still out there is there in the—it’s such a shame because beginning in the Manhattan Project and afterwards, the government started erasing the built environment of the area, too. There were many reasons for it: to discourage people from poking around; to prevent brushfires, which was a really interesting excuse. Because when they, they were taking down, I think, part of the town of White Bluffs, they started a brushfire, while they were demolishing buildings to take down any fear of brushfires.
Many of the foundations and items and probably trash pits have been left in place, and they’re recorded. Because a lot of them have become archeological objects. There are a couple of things at the B Reactor that were found onsite and brought there. There’s an old stove.
What we have, as far as collections go, is: two years ago the granddaughter of Harry Anderson, she had gotten her parents’ house, her grandparents’ house. She donated to us, the Hanford-White Bluffs Pioneer Association collection. That’s really the largest collection that we have, and that’s, it’s about almost 2,000 photos, some historical, and then some of the reunions themselves, reminiscences, copies of the White Bluff Spokesman. A lot of their reunion documents, which are really telling in how they saw themselves. They did these reunions. Every year, they’d do a booklet filled with photos and things.
My favorite is, I think, it’s the 1984 reunion. They did a trivia and a crossword on a placemat. It’s really amazing, because you would only know the answers to these trivia and crosswords if you had lived there, if you were a part of this history. It’s this really self-referential, very exclusive document that really embodies, I think, their identity as these displaced pioneers.
It’s interesting, because back-to-back, I think it’s 2000/2001—I have to go back in the archives and look—but there’s one where the photo on the cover is a wagon wheel and an axle on the ground in disrepair. And then, the next year is a Native American on a horse on a clifftop with a group of Native Americans, like a Native American brave and then a group of Native Americans down there. There’s this real push for these west, these overtly western motifs. They’re kind of all over the place. But really shows their sense that they belong to a distinct time and place. But that our biggest collection.
I think the DOE, like I said, their cultural resources people mark those pre-war collections, or their pre-war sites and may have some collections. I know their archeological collections are a mix of native collections and pre-war. I know that from talking to some of their folks. But a lot of the cultural resources activity onsite is driven by the tribes and Section 106 compliance and Section 110. It’s compliance-driven. A lot of times, especially with the Pre-Manhattan Project residents, they mark things and then just kind of leave them there, because that’s really the best thing you can do for objects, is just to leave them there.
Luckily, when we do the Pre-Manhattan Project tours, especially when you go out to Bruggemann, we have some things that have been left in place out there, which would be archeological: bits of vitrified pipe; old tin cans; odds and ends from when they tore down the barn. You can see these things in place, and it kind of helps give you a sense of the farm. To my knowledge, that’s the extent of the collections.
I think East Bend County Historical Society, they also have some photos and they have some of that documentation, that litigation between the irrigation companies and the residents. We used quite a bit of that in our book just to get a sense of what was the main worry. Or, how were these people responding? Litigation appeared to be very common. It was a bit more tenuous than I had thought, both the irrigation companies’ hold on the irrigation, but also the farmers themselves. Irrigation’s come a long way, I guess you can put it that way, since the ‘20s and ‘30s. Just the technology = has come quite a long way.
But, yeah, in my roundabout answer, those are the collections that I’m aware of that document that history.
Kelly: Do you have, do you have much knowledge of the Hanford High School? That’s one ghostly remain that’s up there,
Franklin: Oh, it sure is. People always ask, “Oh, is that going to be the next building that gets rebuilt?” Because the White Bluffs Bank was recently reconstructed. Hanford High School’s in a bad shape. Range fires. It’s been shot at by Hanford Patrol during tactical exercises.
The Hanford High School was built in 1916 and it’s a beautiful art deco, formalist building with a beautiful parapet, and a two-story building. It suffered a fire in 1936, I believe, and all the children that went there had to go to White Bluffs. That was a big worry because these towns, obviously, had been rivals in sports. You have White Bluff High School, Hanford High School. And Richland had a high school, but the roads to Richland weren’t that great. They had to cross real dune area. But also, Richland was always more orientated towards Kennewick and Pasco because of its distance from Hanford, where Hanford and White Bluffs were more orientated towards the Yakima Valley.
And then in ’38, the school was rebuilt and reopened. If you’ve seen pictures of the Hanford High School, that’s when that gymnasium addition was added on. They got money for that through the New Deal, and the architectural style contrasts. The gymnasium addition is a minimalist/federalist structure. But, certainly, a very welcome addition and made the high school of the biggest, if not the biggest, but certainly one of the grandest building in Hanford.
The residents of the towns really prided themselves on the education of their residents. Most children in Hanford and White Bluffs went through high school, and in Richland, too. That really is impressive for a rural area in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. A lot of them went on to Washington State College or other colleges. Judge Wiehl and Judge Wiehl’s father had really prided themselves on gathering teachers and going to Olympia and advocating for good teachers to come to the Priest Rapids Valley.
The White Bluffs school burned down, I believe in ’39 or ’40. And then, the reverse happened. The White Bluff students went to Hanford. The White Bluffs High School opens in early 1942, and barely has a year left before everyone’s evicted. What a tragedy. What terrible timing.
The last stop on the pre-Manhattan Project tour is that Hanford High School. That’s a great last stop, because that’s also the segue for the Hanford Construction Camp. If you look at a map of the camp, when you’re standing at the Hanford High School, you’re in the, northeast section of the camp. This camp was two miles and three miles. So, the high school was used as administrative offices during the Manhattan Project. When the construction was over and the Hanford Construction Camp was done, which would have been in early ’45, the school sat vacant.
And then, it was the victim of a range fire, which burned most of it. It was used in ‘70s and ‘80s, I believe, for tactical exercises. If you take a tour now and you walk down the road, you’ll see shells. That’s not because of hunting. You’re not allowed to hunt on the Hanford Site. It wasn’t because there was a battle there. It was Hanford Patrol. It’s interesting now, because now those shells, those gun shells, those bullet shells, have become part of the story of that landscape as well. They’re, in their way, also cultural artifacts.
Of course, now we don’t shoot up old buildings. It took a while for the DOE and others, I think, to realize the value of the cultural resources they had at Hanford, with the B Reactor and the Pre-Manhattan sites. Now we’re taking the public out to see them, which I think would’ve been unimaginable 20, 30 years ago.
But it’s part of the story. The Hanford High School, I got a chance to go inside earlier this summer. There’s a bunch of snowy owls that have taken up residence in there. And that’s it. That’s where it stands. It is in bad shape, and will likely decay in place. I’m going to say likely, because I’m not involved in the decision. But it looks like it’ll probably be just left to decay in place. If money was found to do it [rebuild the school], that would be great. But it’s in worse shape than the bank was, I think, structurally. I think Bruggemann’s facility would probably get that treatment before—if a structure was to get that treatment. I think either Bruggemann or the Allard Pump House would get it before the high school.
But there’s another pre-war or Pre-Manhattan Project era structure down there that wasn’t included in the park, and that’s that pumphouse/power plant that’s down by the river. I actually met a gentleman, Don Picatti out of Yakima, whose uncle and father installed the turbine in there in 1934. And had not known that was a pre-war facility. I’d heard it was. But when Picotti met us, he showed us photos of his dad and uncle. And his uncle actually owned some land in Hanford. He showed us the plans for the turbine and a letter from White Bluffs and an irrigation company doing the bid to put the turbine in. It’s like, “Oh, okay.”
There might be a chance to save that building as well and get that building recognized, which I think should be one of the next moves is, to get that building in there. It’s literally the only other building standing from the Pre-Manhattan Project era. It’s a scarce resource now, because there’s nothing else like it anymore.
That’s what I know about the high school. We have photos of the high school burning down in our collections. And a couple people posing in front of the high school, Hanford High.
We actually have more photos of the White Bluffs High School, which is not standing, which is kind of a shame. That really confused me at first, because they usually just say “high school” on them, because, of course, these were family photos. They knew which high school they went to, they didn’t need to be specific. But, eventually, I was able to sort out which one was which, and which fire was which, and that kind of thing.
Kelly: Tell us a little more about the bank, the White Bluffs Bank.
Franklin: Sure. The bank to me is really interesting. They found this out, the facilities managers. The bank has been there from the ‘10s or early ‘20s. The bank near the railroad would’ve been this incredibly important institution in a rural town. It was the only bank in the area. It’s where everyone would’ve done all of their financial transactions. It would’ve been the bedrock for the commerce and the selling—and it had a vault, so they could store probably railroad pay and things like that. It’s right in the center of town, it’s right near [inaudible] gas station. It’s right near the law office. It’s right near the grocery store. It was the center.
It’s concrete, so it was able to whether the intervening years and wasn’t torn down, unlike some of the other buildings. But until a few years ago, it was in bad shape. The DOE—somehow money was found to do a reconstruction. They hired a company out of San Francisco to reconstruct the building according to its original design parameters.
The vault has this surround around it, this beautiful wood surround. That had badly decayed, and they were wondering, “Oh, geez, how do we do this authentically?” Well, it turns out that bank is one of many banks like it all around railroads all across the United States, because it was a common bank plan. It’s like the Craftsman House of banks. You could choose your bank and the style you want, and they’d give you the plans how to build it.
They found a bank—and I believe it’s in Elmira, New York—that was an exact copy of that bank with the same exact surround that they had had. They could match up the historic photos of the bank interior, that one photo you’ve seen of Mr. Kincaid inside the bank. And they were able to determine it’s the same surround. They went and took a mold of the surround in New York and rebuilt it.
It takes it from being this quaint little rural bank to being a part of this larger transportation network. It’s part of a larger national commerce. But also they thought ahead to have these plans so that— “Oh, you have a small town. You need a bank. We have a bank plan for you, and here’s the plan for your size.” I’m, you know, maybe exaggerating a little bit. But there is a bank across the country that is a copy of it.
It says a lot, I think, about developing commerce in the first half of the 20th century, and these kinds of links and how White Bluffs is part of a much larger system of commerce. We know that fruit from White Bluffs and Hanford not only went all over the United States, but it went all over the world. White Bluffs was really linked into these much larger systems, and the rural west was. People don’t stop to think about that, how interconnected these places were, even in the ‘`10s and ‘20s and ‘30s and things like that.
Kelly: And, of course, somewhat ironically, Hanford would change the course of world history for all nations.
Franklin: Yes, exactly. It’s so amazing how much more importance—I think someone in BRMA [B Reactor Museum Association] said it great yesterday at the meeting we were at. Ben Johnson was talking about bridging the gap between the Hanford detractors and the Hanford patriots, for lack of a better word.
Someone said, “Stuff like the bomb, we’ll always be arguing about that. That’ll never be a, that’ll never be a settled issue.” And, that, that’s, I think, what’s so interesting about Hanford is that, yeah, it just blows open the importance of the site. The history is still being made out there.
I do know the bank was broken into a couple of times. It’s hard to fact-check all the stories that we’ve heard all throughout the years. But I do know the bank was broken into, the first time, I think, in 1916. The person that broke into it was shot by a posse out near Moses Lake, but the money wasn’t recovered.
The second time, they tried to blow open the vault and failed, and then the people went to the Walla Walla State Pen. I’ve heard there was a third attempt, but we haven’t verified that yet. But, of course, people did try to break into the bank. It’s a target. It’s the only place with money out in Hanford and White Bluffs, any appreciable amount of money. But the bank had advertised itself as being un-robbable, which is, of course, ironic.
Kelly: The Titanic.
Franklin: Right, just don’t. You know what, just don’t court that, because you’ll get a lot of egg on your face or worse when you make claims that you’re un-robbable.
That is the bank, that’s what I know about the bank. The reconstruction is beautiful. They’ve done a wonderful job, even down to the inside of the original paint and the pinstriping or matching to the original paint color. It really helps take you back in place. It’s really wonderful to have a building to be able to go into. I hope that the park keeps developing that, and gives us some ways to bring downtown White Bluffs more alive. Obviously, we can’t reconstruct everything. But I think the bank is a good grounding point for taking people back into what life would’ve been like in a small agricultural town in that era.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s really very important history.
Kelly: Yeah, very important. I wonder, have you looked at how many agricultural towns that might’ve been like White Bluffs or Hanford in the dry steppe, I guess, in the Columbia Basin area?
Franklin: No, most of my research, sadly, has kept me focused on Hanford. If you look at Google Earth—we have an unrelated project by a very excited gentleman, a retired architect in town who goes and documents grain elevators. Bear with me, because this does match up a little bit.
He goes and documents grain elevators all over Washington and Oregon. He drives all over. A lot of these things are actually on old railroad lines that have been discontinued. Or in towns that really just exist because of that grain. Not even towns, like census-designated places or stops that existed because of that. When you go to these towns that were on the rail line, but were never on a major highway, you can start to imagine what would’ve happened to Hanford and White Bluffs had Manhattan Project not come.
There would’ve been a state highway down here, but there never would’ve been a reason really to go to Hanford, White Bluffs, and Richland. Most of the traffic would’ve continued to go through Pasco. Pasco would’ve been a rural agricultural hub. But you can imagine Hanford and White Bluffs today would look a lot like towns outside the highway in the Palouse region of eastern Washington or most of central Oregon. A lot of towns that are decaying; the downtowns are mostly empty or vacant. There still might be some farming going on. There still might be a couple of businesses left, a post office. But it’s not hard to imagine that that would’ve been the fate of these towns, because that is the fate of most towns.
I’m much more familiar with eastern Washington, towns like Malden, Rosalia, Garfield, Oakesdale, that just would’ve settled into a very sleepy existence. There are still a lot. You can look on Google Maps and you can see, even close to here, Finley is a pretty small town. The major reason why most people from the Tri-Cities go there is, because it’s the only town around here that has a marijuana dispensary. If wasn’t for that, you’d just drive right through it. You keep driving on that road past Finley and you get to a lot of tiny, little towns. Unless something big happens, that’s their fate.
That’s what makes this story so interesting. The unthinkable happened. Literally, the stuff of science fiction happened here. It gives these towns a certain level of importance. Otherwise, memories of them would rest in the small and under-visited historical society.
Kelly: If they’re lucky.
Franklin: If they’re lucky. We’d ask ourselves a lot of times, what would be the point of making a big to-do about them? You could ask that about Malden or Garfield or Oakesdale. No offense to anyone that lives in the Palouse of eastern Washington. But there’s not a lot of answer to the question, “So what?”
Before we starting talking, you mentioned that one of your other major things was the environmental legacy of the site. From the viewpoint of the [Hanford History] Project, our main job as a docent is to bring people out. My docent work is with the park. It’s not officially part of my duties, I do it on the weekends. But nevertheless, we’re bringing people out there. But also part of the Hanford History Project, we’re connecting people to the history, and we face a lot of questions about our collections.
One of the big ones we get from people that aren’t familiar with it is, “Is it safe?” an immense amount of procedures and safeguards to check artifacts and archival materials for everything from radiation to lead, asbestos, any kind of safety stuff. And then check it for what we call DCOUL, or derivative classifier only [inaudible] information.
But also, actively collecting things is tough. We were supposed to get quite a few things from the PFP control room, Plutonium Finishing Plant. Well, we’re not getting a lot of that stuff now, because it’s—as they say out at Hanford—it’s been crapped up. That is an ongoing challenge.
We also have identified things in historic reactors, like in the K-East and K-West. Those are still undergoing active cleanup now, and we never know if and when we’ll get those. But we do get called out occasionally, when people find historic items. It’s really amazing to be able to go out there and learn about the item in its context.
But it’s a challenge, too, bringing people out there when you have events like the PUREX tunnel collapse or the PFP, where contamination was spread. Because you have both a technical challenge, but you also have a major public relations challenge. Narratives about Hanford, the media tends to focus on often a particular narrative. There’s a lot of bad, bad stuff in the tanks out there, and there’s a lot of challenges to clean up, a lot of stuff to clean up. There’s that balance. It’s a site of such extreme importance.
But it’s a site of extreme importance because of what happened there. And what happened there? Well, we made two-thirds of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. That created a lot of waste, and so that’s also why it’s so important. You’re kind of juggling, how do you preserve this history that has actually challenges to gathering items or bringing people out there?
I’d love to bring people out to the 200 Area, but you just can’t right now. It’s a site of ongoing cleanup. T Plant is a crucial step in the process. But for now, we’re going to have to interpret it from afar and do our best to communicate its importance, all of its importances. It’s sad, because it’s also one of the messiest steps. The reactor’s relatively clean, besides the back face. They’re relatively clean to what went on in the T-Plant. That’ll present us with challenges for years and years and years to come.
Our guests want to know about that, and our people that visit museum exhibits at Hanford want to know about that. I think it’s important that we balance the respect for the history with the need to educate the public or answer their questions openly and honestly, about what went on at Hanford and what the challenges are. Because those are two important things to really keep intentioned, as we move forward. And to recognize that you can tell one without the detriment of the other, and that you should tell both to get a cleaner story. It’s what makes the work so challenging, but also makes it so enjoyable, to be a part of that and to go get things.
We were supposed to get some really neat stuff out of PFP, and it’s a shame to lose it. But then again, if it got crapped up, I don’t want it. Because I don’t want to have to deal with having it or storing it or being near it, or trying to lend it or anything like that. You can’t win them all.
As you know, in historic preservation, you lose more battles than you win. The fact that we have collection, the fact that the B Reactor is a museum, that we still have a few places to take people to talk about the Pre-Manhattan Project history, those are, those are big wins.
We’ve got to keep moving forward in bringing people out here. Because they, they get the importance of it when they get out here. They may not know about Hanford, but I think almost everyone I’ve ever talked to about it or really shown it, is struck by how significant it is.