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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Watson C. Warriner, Sr.’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Watson C. Warriner, Sr., a trained chemical engineer, worked for DuPont on the Manhattan Project. During the war he worked on building ordnance plants and acid plants, and helped design and build the chemical separation plants at Hanford (also known as the 221 T-plant or “Queen Marys”). He discusses the trains and cask car system used at Hanford and life in the dormitories on the secret site. He recalls going to New York City with his wife to celebrate V-J Day with thousands of other people crowded into the streets.

Date of Interview:
October 6, 2011
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: The first thing we have to do is ask you your name and to say it and then spell it. 

Monika (camerawoman): We’re ready to go. 

Kelly: So tell me your name and spell it, please. 

Watson Warriner: My name is Watson C. Warriner, Senior. And I happen to be ninety-four years old. I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. And I went to Virginia Tech, graduated in 1938 with a BS in chemical engineering. And jobs were very hard to find in those days. The Depression was still on. And we had about twenty-three chemical engineers in the class and only two of us that had a job when we graduated because of the Depression. And so my job was paying—I got one hundred twenty-five dollars a month because I turned down a couple of offers of ninety dollars a month. So finally I got this job at a hundred twenty-five dollars a month. It would happen to be in technical sales. And I was one of the only chemical engineers that wanted to be in technical sales. 

For some reason, all the sales had bad name among engineers at that time. And so I went to work in New York for the National Adhesives Corporation and went through that training course in June. And at the end of that year, ‘38, they transferred me to Chicago, graduated from the training school. And this is when I got the letter from DuPont that they were interested in hiring me. They had interviewed me at college but they said during the interview, “We are not hiring anybody now.” 

My mother forwarded the letter to me in Chicago. And so I wrote back and said, “Yes, I want to work for you” [laughter]. 

And so they said, “Well, we’ll offer you an engine job in engineering at a hundred thirty-five dollars a month.” I got a ten dollar raise.

The thing that interested me, had always interested me from 1933 when I was a junior in high school, I fell in love with chemistry. And I got ninety-nine in Chemistry A and ninety-eight on Chemistry B, I mean, the two terms in there. And so my father and I went to the World Fair, 1933, and the most impressive exhibit there was the DuPont Company. And here I was, junior studying chemistry, and they had just discovered methyl methacrylate, which is Lucite. And the first piped light that was ever piped in the world was piped with Lucite. They do not use Lucite anymore for that. Matter of fact, glass is now used as a conductor. Matter of fact, all of that fuse and everything was based on glass now because it conducts light, too [laughter]. But they did not know that at the time. 

So I was very impressed with the DuPont exhibit. They had all kinds of columns percolating and this Lucite, which conducted light, was most impressive to me. 

So I had always really wanted to work for DuPont. So I was happy to get the offer. And this was in January 1939. So I stopped—quit the company that I was with and took what money I had, went down to take the fastest train thing east, which was a 20th Century Limited, 960 miles in 960 minutes, and that was the finest train in the world. It was the first compartment train ever built in the world. And it had just been introduced in 1937. So here I was, getting on this train filled with businessman. There was a secretary in a club car taking shorthand and secretaries doing this and a barber shop on the train. And here I was from a—I was twenty-two years old surrounded by this businessmen back and forth, and I was in seventh heaven. There was a speedometer in the club car and as we came round through Elkhart, Indiana we were doing eighty-five miles an hour. But the train did not stop to pick up anybody between Chicago and there. 

So that started my career with DuPont. I went to engineering right away, cross the river. We have a river here, Delaware River, and big chemical works across the railroad called—it was an organic chemistry department. So my first job with them was working in the synthetic rubber plant, which is neoprene, on the first synthetic rubbers ever built. So that was in February of ‘39. 

In June of 1940 came along and DuPont had been requested by the US Government to build a smokeless powder plant in Memphis, Tennessee by the British and French Purchasing Commission. So they grabbed up about five of us young engineers. And none of us were civil. We were either mechanical or chemical, and they put us into the construction division as assistant division engineers to seasoned construction men. So I was made the assistant division engineer [laughter] at this very young age and connected with the construction of the acid plant, and by the oxidation of ammonia. And so that was fine. We were driving piles for the [inaudible] in June of 1940 when I went down there. And believe it or not, we had erected that plant and it was nitrating cotton linters to make smokeless powder in six months. 

In other words, we had really a tiny “Manhattan Project,” if you want to call it that. Because we got everything we needed to have to get that plant going. And when we finished that up we start—got transferred down to the Alabama Ordnance Works, a brand new place again, nothing but a cornfield [laughter], and there again I was assistant division engineer putting up the acid plant. We completed that in about ten months, got it running. And I was transferred from there to Wabash River Ordnance Works. Now this is where we were nitrating hexamine, which is RDX and known as C4. And I was now division engineer in charge of putting up this acid plant. We had a—work at acid plant, oxidation of ammonia. Reoxidated, what we would call AOP units, oxidation of ammonia. But we are the largest concentrating plant, I believe, in the world. We had—normally you would have about eight concentrators, nitric acid concentrators. We had twenty-four, because when your nitrate compound enters to make smokeless powder for canons and rifles, you use ninety-two percent nitric acid. We needed ninety-eight percent nitric acid to nitrate the hexamine. 

And so we got that plant up and running in about the middle of 1943. Then they transferred me—Walter Simon wanted me to be in maintenance, because he is a plant manager, so they transferred me out of the construction division. At that young age, he called me “Chief Engineer of Process Maintenance.” I was in charge of maintaining the acid plant plus two hexamine lines that we had installed. And so I was at that job for about six months. 

And that is when January of 1944 came along and Walter Simon got a telegram from Everett G. Ackett, chief engineer of DuPont. “And Watson Warriner is to report to Wilmington immediately for future assignment.” 

And so Walter summons me up to his office. And he said—I said, “Well, what is this?” 

He said, “Watson, we were informed recently that there would be requests from people to enter this secret project and so I can’t possibly tell you what it is because I don’t know. They told us not to ask them because they couldn’t tell anybody. So—but you’re to leave now, I mean, tomorrow.”

I was a bachelor. I did not get married until 1944. So I had a trunk and a convertible coupe [laughter]. And so he said, “You’re to leave tomorrow. This is your last day.” 

So I said, “Well, it’s a good idea but I can’t drive to Wilmington now, there’s snow all over the—ice on the roads. This is February the first.” And I said—you know, they did not have any snowplows in those days to salt highways. You just kept going all around through Pittsburg through the Allegheny Mountains. And I said, “So what are we going to do about that?” 

“We’ll solve that for you.” So he called in his traffic manager and he said, “Watson is to be on the Spirit of St. Louis, tomorrow, tomorrow.” It is a through train all the way to Philadelphia. And, “You put his car on a freight train and ship it to him.” So that is the way we got there. And that was the beginning of my entrance to the Manhattan Project. 

I spent the night at a hotel when I first got—DuPont Hotel. That is where the headquarters of DuPont is, beautiful hotel. And that morning, when I went down to breakfast there was about three or four of my cohorts doing the same thing. I said, “What you doing here?” 

“Well, we don’t know.” And so we sat down and had breakfast. 

And each one of us said, “Well, I’ll be darned, we got the same telegram.” I do not know. So anyway all, several of us, ended up in the engineering department of the same building. And they began to tell us about this secret job and how serious it was. And the reason they took a lot of time to do this, as I recall it lasted probably all day, is to impress on us that this was serious, serious business. And that we were going to—they read us this Espionage Act of 1939 or whenever it was. They read this to us—these were DuPont people from I think in the legal department—and they read this to us and said, “Do you fully understand that?” Then each one of us had to read this and with somebody, one of the legal people. “Do you completely understand this?” Because it said that any revelation of this secret project is subject to death. 

So we signed that. And so it was a very impressive ceremony. And strange enough none of us got a carbon copy of what we signed. And as a matter of fact they never have been able to find a carbon copy of that anywhere. I mean, at the factory we had signed a secret thing. They did not want anybody to be able to find out about this. We did not get a copy. So that is how I got started on this. 

And my first assignment was with a heavy water group. Believe it or not, we designed and built three heavy water plants. But they did not use them [laughter]. They went the common power root. But they wanted to make sure that we had some heavy water if they went that route. Well, that is not the route that they finally followed. And so I worked for them, I would say, about six months. I am a junior engineer now. I am working with senior engineers and the smartest people you have ever seen in your life. I mean, I admire—even though I’m a senior now [laughter], I admire them so much. And so I got working on those redesign and built three of them. One unit in Morgantown, West Virginia, two units at Alabama Ordnance Works, where I had been in 1941. And three units at the Wabash River Works, three at the Wabash River Ordnance Works, where I had been in 1942. 

And so they never used that, but interesting enough, while we were working on this—it was the spring of 1943—it came over the radio and was in the paper that morning that commandos had gone into Norway. Hitler had invaded Norway. And we all thought that one of the reasons he wanted to do that on Norway is because they made heavy water there. So they had invaded Norway. And the heavy water plant was under their control. These commandoes had gone in overnight. They came from England and I think Canada. Commandos had gone in there overnight and invaded the plant and shot the German guards and did a good job of sabotaging the plant. So it came on the radio that morning and in the papers and we saw this. And we said, “Wonderful. This is going to put us ahead of the Germans.” And it is timely right now to remind everyone that the race for the atomic bomb was with Germany, not Japan. And we thought that Germany—we knew that the Germans knew all about how to make this, because they had smart people over there. 

Albert Einstein had left there. He’d theoretically—E=MC²—he’s the guy that predicted the thing mathematically. Well, he was Jewish, so he left. And most of the people that knew about this in Germany were of Jewish origin. And under Hitler, the way the Jewish thing was working out very well, they left. Got out of Germany. So the Germans knew how to do all this. And we thought they were far more advanced on it than it turned out to be. The thing of it is, they were so busy fighting a war that they did not have the time and money and everything else to actually work on something like the Hanford Engineer Works. So but we were just delighted [laughter] that the plant had been destroyed.

And so shortly after that, six months, I got transferred to the separations area. All of this design work was done on the thirteenth floor of the—on the Moores building. It was a secret, very secret place. You could not get in unless you had authorization passes or what. And we had guards that came around every—several times every day checking the locks on the windows, make sure that nobody had gone in and out of those windows, even though it was on the thirteenth floor. And windows—they had put seals on the window locks. They would go around and check every seal, make certain that nobody was entering or leaving this guarded place through the thirteenth floor windows [laughter]. So that is how strict it was. 

I was assigned to this with Raymond Generaux. He is well documented—smart, very smart. And he had an assistant named—I will think of the name in a minute. And he was very, very—Stanley Handforth was his name, Stanley Handforth, not Handfort, Handforth. And he actually was a father of the connector, the idea of the connector, pipe connector and electrical connector. I got transferred to the separations area and of course this all has to do with the Hanford Engineer Works, big plant in Hanford, Washington. 

And so I was assigned to work with—pretty much on what we call “sell equipment.” That was everything below the deck level of the 221 Building [the T-plant, chemical separation plants]. But in order to do that we had to understand what the rest of the building was all about also. So, one of the principle innovations that made all of this possible was the connector, pipe connector and the electrical connector. And this is a type of a—three clamps all operated by a screw. And this was all innovated by DuPont’s mechanical design people. But based on the ideas by Stanley Handforth, who was Ray Generaux’s assistant and a brilliant, brilliant guy. 

So I never actually designed any of this stuff but I worked with him because they need a lot of coordination. And so I was in on the whole thing. So those component parts were all designed by DuPont’s mechanical design sections, who were very good at this. After all, DuPont designed its own spinning machines for the nylon plants. So these were expert people used to doing unusual things. So they came up with a design, the pipe connector, which is a three jaw clamp for the big stud bolt—I thought you could rotate like [inaudible] clamp itself together. Then they also designed an electrical connector, which is the same principle except it had six contacts went in there. And one in the center, which was the ground. And when it came together, it was electrical contacts because we had thirty horsepower motors in the canyon turning the centrifuges. And so we needed that type of thing. We also had certain electrical instruments that had to be vessels in the canyon. So all the connection of everything in the canyon with everything else in the canyon was via pipe connectors and electrical connectors. 

So it was the innovation of that was very good. The first ones were produced in a machine shop in Wilmington, where we produced spinning machines. And these were expert machinists that did this. So we could do all that and check them out and make sure they were going to work. Well, in order to work these things in a canyon that is hot, and it was hot—we knew people could not be in that—it had to be all done by remote control. 

So one of the early visits we had was from RCA [Radio Corporation of America], which was located in Philadelphia, to come down to Wilmington shops and show us how television might be used to see up—to look at operating in this thing. So they brought equipment down. I went down with Ray Generaux and Stanley Handforth and we looked at newsprint of everything. We could not tell what we were working on [laughter]. But what they decided was the resolution of what you were looking at was not that good. I mean, after all this was—television was in babyhood. 

And the other thing that worried them, too, my supervisors Stanley Handforth and Ray Generaux, was how well, the cable and everything to operate—in other words all the mechanism to operate TV—how well would that withstand radioactivity? [Laughter.] They could not discuss that with RCA because they would not know anyhow. So it was decided then that “That is no good. We are not going to finish that route.” That was when they decided that the way you will operate these connectors is with an overhead crane, which we had anyhow, an overhead crane. 

And so they went to the periscope system that they used in submarines. And there was a periscope put under each one of the big girders that spanned the pan. A crane, overhead crane, like it was big girders on wheels and it goes up and down the canyon. So it was just it was good adaptation to have the periscopes, which can telescope in and out like that, and they could also be rotated like that to get depth perception. And so that was how they came to use periscopes under the eaves of the crank. The crane itself, the cab was made of lead, the walls were thick lead. And the operator of that was behind a concrete wall, but he had some exposure. But the way they blocked made sure he did not. The cab of that was all very thick lead. So he was able to go up and down the canyon even with the canyon covers off, the concrete covers off, and he would go up and down and could go down and manipulate the wrench, which was an electrically operated wrench made by [inaudible] [laughter], believe it or not. And operate that wrench and with another cable. 

These were all cables operated from this crane. They could lift that connector up, take it out, and ultimately lift up the whole vessel from one of the cells. The building had forty cells from one end to the other, about 800 feet long. And at each one of those cells, first thing you would do was called the dissolver cell. And that had a piece of equipment that you could take—the cask cars would come over, go into the 221 tunnel, be disconnected, and the locomotive would know when in the tunnel to be disconnected. With a crane they would come in, lift off the covers of the cask car, set them aside, go in there, lift up the buckets, stainless steel buckets containing the slugs from the reactors, move them about one at a time and dump them up in the—dump them into what we called a dissolver. And this is where they used the nitric acid. I can tell you about it later [laughter]. Use the nitric acid to dissolve the aluminum coating off all the slugs, coated in aluminum. They needed to be dissolved off. And that fluid would be steam-jet siphoned to the big underground tanks. And now you have uranium. 

So we would go through precipitation and centrifuging process, I think it was eleven times that we went through that, and going from one cell to the next cell and to the next cell. And finally get down to a syrupy solution of plutonium nitrate. And that is what actually went to Los Alamos was plutonium nitrate. And when Los Alamos got that they would reduce it with the reduction step to end up with a metal plutonium. And so that was a—getting back to innovation, there was a lot of it in the 221 building. 

Kelly: Can you say that again? Start with there was a lot of innovation. Just reword those sentences and say there was a lot of innovation in the 221. 

Warriner: Well, the first thing to go back to the very beginning of describing what the 221 building was. Stanley Handforth and Ray Generaux came up with the idea of having forty cells. And the idea was we can put these cells in with connectors and everything, this was the design, and we could still—this still gives us time to determine exactly what equipment we have to put in the cell. In other words, this was like a little kitchen [laughter]. Each cell was kind of a permanent kitchen. And sooner or later you have got to get them down to what you want in the cell. But construction division said, “Boy, what a great idea because now they were big long buildings, 800 feet long, and deep down in the ground. And they were now able to work with DuPont. DuPont was unusual in doing this. We were probably one of the few companies that could take on a job and begin to build that job while it was still being designed. And so it just fit perfectly with how DuPont could operate. That was an innovation in itself, that we had these forty cells and we could take out time—we knew it had to have connections and everything. So the connector had been fairly well developed everything. 

But inside of those cells we could now decide what we actually had to do. So as it turns out it was eleven steps. Precipitate and centrifuge. And these centrifuges were made by Bird Centrifuge in Massachusetts. All made out of 2512 CB [circuit breaker], everything in the 221 processing area. Pipe connectors and everything except the electrical connectors, all the process connectors and pipe were all 2512 CB, not 1808, [laughter] 2512 is more resistant to corrosion. And so that was—the construction division liked—now they could go in and make this huge big excavation look like a Panama Canal [laughter]. 

I was out there in the construction, one—on 200 east areas—this big long cut which we were standing around and a number six cell, number six, they were numbered all the way to forty, was what we called a sewer cell. And it was the deepest one that went into the ground. And drainage from every—on the bottom of every other cell drained into that. In other words, if there was any spillage in the forty processing cells it would be caught going to a drain which went into the underground sewer and came down and went into the sewer cell. So it was the deepest one in the ground. 

There was only one crane in H 221 building. And it would be operated by one man in the crane cab. It went entire length of the canyon. And the thing that was so important about that crane, if anything happened to the crane—let us say it was lifting up one of the bales under cover of the canyon and something went wrong that they got hung up some way, the main cable got hung up—you cannot go anywhere. We could not send—with a hot canyon like that, you cannot send anybody in to correct it. So actually we worked with the crane manufacturer to install a knife—the cables come up to the drum, they go through a knife blade. Any time that ever occurred you could cut the cable like that remotely and move the crane down to the end of the canyon to a maintenance area that which was not hot and was not hot enough, not red hot [laughter]. But you could put a man and quickly put another hook on the crane. So the crane was very important. If anything happened to it and it would not run, the whole building would go down. So it was a vital piece of equipment and it was made—I am sure it was made by Whiting, Whiting Corporation if I remember. 

Kelly: Can I ask you one thing? Can you explain what you mean by “hot”?

Warriner: Hot is—I am talking about radioactive, hot [laughter]. It has levels of radiation that human beings cannot be exposed to. So we commonly called that being “hot.” When we were doing the design work at Wilmington, we had certain code words that we used. That was one of them, was just “hot” because the people—many people, most—many people in that drawing room that were actually drawing this stuff that we were designing, making drawings of it, they were not—they had a clearance but not a Q clearance. They did not know what they were actually working on. And as we would discuss things with them and everything, instead of calling anything “uranium,” I mean, we called it “the metal.” We referred to—but we put a dissolver is “the metal.” I mean, we never said it was plutonium or uranium or anything. The words were barred. So that was part of the interesting thing about design. So it was a fascinating job to work on. I was still quite a young engineer and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Finally got transferred out there. Went to a building—the west area was the first to be built, T and U. The second one to be built was in east area, B and C. So I got transferred out at that one, was just beginning on the east area, and was made assistant division engineer to George W. Dutcher, who was a seasonal construction man, he did not have a Q clearance [laughter]. One of the very interesting things – that was one reason they wanted me there. I mean, I not only knew a lot about construction but I knew exactly what you could and could not do. But he was not entitled to that information. Very few of the construction people were entitled to that information. They did not have a Q clearance.

And so one interesting thing: this big long building, eighty-five thousand yards of concrete. In other words, in order to pour that concrete we had three—we had a big central mix plant there. And that big central mix plant would empty them into three pump grade machines under the trade name of pump grade machines. They were pump like this and we had three of them with eight inch discharge lines. And we would pour the huge pours in this building, eighty-five thousand yards, by pumping concrete through these eight inch lines. We could pump concrete for four hundred feet doing that. And so this was a way we would—started using that all the way as we went from bottom, top, including the roof. These were very seasoned men that DuPont was able to hire. Fortunately had to come off construction of the big western dams. But moving concrete was their job [laughter]. And we were able to hire them. 

And I remember distinctly, I was a young engineer there, just a young man running a job. My boss was much more senior than I was [laughter]. And I was talking to him, getting started on these big pours. And this was a very robust construction guy. He had come off of one of the big dams. And I was talking about—I said, “Look, when you make a pour like that, you put the concrete—pour the concrete out, pump it in. When you have to break, well, you can’t keep on pouring concrete. You got to break it here. Set up and then move the fobs and keep on going. When you make the break, see this asbestos, corrugated asbestos we got out here?” 

He said, “Yes, I know, we use that.”

I said, “Now look, when you use that be sure it goes lengthwise up and down the canyon. Don’t put it in crosswise like that.” 

And he says, “That’s the goofiest thing I ever heard in my life.” He said, “I was pouring concrete before you were even born.” 

I said [laughter], “I know you were. These things have to go in”—I showed him a drawing. I showed him the drawings called for that, and the reason for that is when a canyon is completed you do not want any crack to be in a canyon so the radiation can come through that crack to the outside. And you can understand about corrugation, must be lengthwise over the canyon. 

So I could tell he was a big guy. He knew exactly what he was doing. But I was faced with this [inaudible] all during my younger career with construction people. I mean, it is hard for them to believe that you know some of the stuff. So anyway, I told Dutcher about this—George Dutcher, we called him “Dutcher.” And Dutcher said, “Well, we’ll have him come in.” 

So he went and got the concrete head man and said, “Look, Warriner Watson was in on the design of this plan and he is here to help us make sure that everything is done exactly like the drawings call for” [laughter]. And so he said, “So please.” So from then on he was very cooperative with me. 

And but he said, “Well why does it have to go that way?” 

I said, “I cannot tell you. Has to go that way.” 

So Dutcher, Friday after we had a meeting, he said, “Watson, can you tell me why that has to go there?” 

I said, “No.” Because he did not have a Q clearance. 

And then they—construction—we had some people that were using cars to come out and park there. And so we had a parking lot, temporary parking lot, the construction people were going to put up. And Dutcher—I looked at that and said, “Oh, that’s not too good, Dutch. You can’t put it there.” 


I said, “See these lines here going out to the underground tanks?” 

And he said, “Yeah.” 

I said, “You can’t put that, because when you start the plant up you can’t use it” [laughter]. I mean, these were going to be—these were the lines leading this high-level waste to the waste tanks [laughter]. 

So he said, “Well, I’ll be darned.” So he moved it—temporary—it was a temporary parking lot. And I said, “Look, the minute they start up this building, the next building, which had been cancelled yet—you’ll be able to use that parking lot.” So it was a—I did not fairly enjoy the role like this. I mean, I am not— do not get a big kick out of being a smart-aleck, but that is what my job was. 

And so that went on for July, that I had work night and day, weekend and everything else. And got a weeks’ vacation, so I had a friend, some friends in Carmel, California, so they invited me down. And I went by train—all covered in my recent thing I was issued. And got down to there. 

I had only been there two days when Gil Church, who head up the entire construction division, Gilbert Church, called me on the phone and said, “Watson, you have to come back.” 

I said, “Well, I just got here!” [Laughter]. 

He said, “I’m not going to argue with you on the phone.” 

I said, “Are you arguing with this guy?”

Well, it turned out to be Melvin Wood. We called him Mel Wood. He was Jim Read’s assistant, [inaudible] Read’s assistant, who were running the whole thing back in Wilmington. 

“This is Mel Wood. You get your rear end up.” He was very emphatic. 

And I said, “Well, I cannot do that.” I mean, only one railroad going up and down, the Southern Pacific, and everything was filled up in those days. 

And he said that they had a traffic manager in there. Traffic manager came on. He said, “The reservations you have, tell us what they are.” I did. And he said, “We’ll get you a reservations out there, but you go up to the hotel in San Francisco where we have an extraditing office. Get up there.” 

I said, “I can get to San Francisco easy, but it’s getting all the way back.” 

So I did. I went there at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. That is where the office was. And sure enough, he had this reservation. And it was for all Pullman on the train leaving that night, called a Cascade, all the way to Portland [laughter]. So I went up first class on the train. Spent the night in a normal hotel, because we got there too late to catch one. And the next day, next morning, I caught the train. This is in a more recent report to you.

Next morning I caught the train out of there. And when I got off in Pasco—and most of the people did get off, the train was going to continue onto Spokane, the daily train. And there was a guy with a sign looking for “Watson Warriner.” 

So I said, “That’s me.” 

He said, “Well, we have orders to bring you out to the headquarters right away.” 

I said, “Well here it is at three o’clock in the afternoon, what am I gonna do that for? How about tomorrow?”

“Not for me. You are to go with me now” [laughter]. 

So it was twenty-five miles out to Hanford. That is where everything was in those days. And so I went out there and ended up with Gil Church and Mel Wood. Mel Wood said, “Watson. Little acid plant that’s part of the Manhattan Project, most people don’t even know about it, and is in DuPont, Washington at one of their dynamite plants. And I stopped over there on my way here to see that old job was going and it was going nowhere [laughter].”

Bill Lewin we knew—I knew him, Bill, civil engineer. Very good engineer. Mel Woods said that, very good engineer. But did not know a damn thing about putting all this stuff up together. Which you know, we know all about it. And I said, “Sure,” [laughter] because I had done three of them already, three plants. But, “You are to get out here tomorrow morning.” 

So I said, “Well, Bill, this is fine, it’s okay with me, but how am I going to get there? I’ve got a trunk and my convertible coupe, but I need gas coupons.” 

He handed me an envelope. “There’s your gas coupons. You be there tomorrow.” 

So that is when I left the area, that is the Manhattan Project in Washington, I mean Hanford, Washington. And by Chinook Pass down to the DuPont plant. And sure enough, while I was checking in, a taxi cab arrived and a guy was signing a [inaudible] with them. I looked at him and it was Frank Malloy, who was a top erection engineer for big air compressors, which we had in the plant, 750 watts per hour air compressors. Big power double acting using waste gas from the process. This had to be a record. 

So we had worked before together at Memphis, Alabama, and Wabash. So I knew Frank real well. I said, “Tomorrow what we’ll do—we’ll do it today when as soon as we’re signing in, we’ll check the stuff out to make sure everything is there. I mean, after all, you can’t complete something if they haven’t shipped everything here.” So we did, at that day, checking everything because everything was there, all there, and well protected. And so we met with the construction people. It was a very small group of people, dedicated men, that knew all about how to put structural steel up, pour concrete, and that kind of thing. But they did not know a damn thing about [laughter] putting up air supply and stuff. They called it “The Chinese Puzzle.” 

“Are you the engineer who knows how to put the Chinese Puzzle up?” 

“Sure. All I need to do is, you need to cooperate with me like I am going to cooperate with you and we will get it up.”

Between Frank Malloy putting up the big compressors and me putting up everything else, we had a startup date of September, I think it was sometime in September, startup date. And we completed that plant for tank car acid shipments of nitric acid to the Hanford Engineer Works. Malloy hadn’t any idea where the acid was going. It was a secret. I knew where it was going but nobody else did [laughter]. Except the plant manager there. And so we could take pictures of that process. Process there in Washington making nitric acid by ammonia oxidation is not secret. I mean, that was not secret. So we could take progress pictures of that. And we built one and took progress pictures. I was in a lot of them. As a matter of fact, they show up, what we did. And so that was the way we did that. 

And I was getting ready once we got the plant started— was fine, getting ready to go back to Hanford. I got notice, “Do not come back to Hanford. Do not come here [laugher]. You will go from there to the Alabama office works,” where I had been in 1941, “because we need to put in more acid facilities there.” So I did. I left there. This is the reason I had my Hanford badge, photo badge—when you left Hanford you were supposed to turn all that stuff in, all that in. I did not go to Hanford, so I kept that badge and this is the one that the museum has, my badge, when I was twenty-seven. And of course they had my hard hat, too. 

Locomotives—basically when we were building the Hanford Engineer Works most of the locomotives that the railroads were using in those days were big steam locomotives. They were used during construction of the Hanford Engineer Works. We would see some steam locomotives going back and forth and everything. But when a plant started up I am sure—I was not in on this phase of it, but I am sure operating people wanted to use diesel locomotives. Matter of fact, they are much easier to handle, do not need to put water in them, put coal. Much easier things to handle. And on previous jobs that we had been on, all the locomotives used on the plant sites were diesel locomotives. Never in the steam locomotives, because they took too much trouble. And so that is why the locomotives they had were American locomotives, company locomotives called Alco Locomotives. And that is what the locomotives that you see when you visit the B Reactor—ones they used. The cask cars, the original cask cars that we used were on a flat car. And you have one shown here on a flat car. 

As time went on, DuPont left Hanford after it was built. And as time went on with Westinghouse and GE firing up over the years, building more reactors and requiring, I guess, bigger cars and heavier cars, well, that is when they introduced the well car that you see here. I was long gone from Hanford when they came in, but I am sure that is what the reason for the well car is. 

Access into the 221 buildings was by a tunnel because a tunnel restricted any open doors to the canyon, which restrict any emanation of radioactive rays. So the height of—the heights from the bottom of the tunnel to the top of the tunnel was fixed. And the only way that you could increase the capacity of the cask car was to take a well car. A well car doesn’t have a level bottom on it, it’s exactly what it says. It is a well—it has a well in it and you can use a taller cast. So I am sure that was the evolution of the well cask car. 

The very interesting thing was, if you look at the map in 1942, ‘43, the railroad map will show a forty-five mile spur that comes out of Beverly, Washington and goes to the tiny little town of Hanford. That spur was already there when General Groves decided to build a plant there. It was just one of those miracle things that happened. So the B Reactor, actually if you look at that map, was built right at the end of that forty-five mile spur. 

Before Hanford was ever built there was a freight, what they call a mixed train, that ran three times a week from Beverly, Washington to Hanford. And a mixed train, what it is—exactly what it says it has: it has coach, baggage car, it hauls freight cars, boxcars, and with a caboose. And that would visit Hanford every three times a week. And that was the real service that Hanford had before the [laughter] project even came along. One advantage of locating there, you had this forty-five mile spur already there. So B Reactor, if you look at the map, actually was built at the end of that spur. 

And so the first thing that came in over the—that original forty-five mile spur, was twenty-three steam locomotives. And these were confiscated from the railroads. In other words, the Manhattan Project just took them. But they were not big, heavy, over-the-road engines. They tended to be mostly switch engines, which they used in the yards and everything. But the purpose of these twenty-three confiscated locomotives was, they were to be distributed in groups of three throughout the construction village of Hanford. Now this construction village is a big one. Matter of fact, before it finished we were—had fifty thousand people there, living in Quonset huts. We have hospitals, office buildings, movies, everything. 

And a quick way to heat all this mass of buildings and everything there was to take these steam locomotives in groups of three, place them throughout this principality. The rails were not connected at all. They were just placed on short sections of rail, three locomotives. And they would then connect the steam domes of these three locomotives to overhead pipelines, went overhead to heat all the various buildings, and not only heat the buildings but supply hot water. So this was a quick way to get the service into the Hanford Engineer Works. 

Strangely enough, I love railroads and on some weekends I would go down to Pasco and ride around the yards with some of the locomotive tenders there. And they would say, “What are you people doing with all these locomotives?” They knew that they had been confiscated because they would ship them—they would come through the yards there. And they were dead locomotives. When they shipped them into the Hanford, they were not on the steam, call it “dead locomotives.” 

Well I’d say, “I have no idea what they are doing with this.” I mean, we were required not to tell anything about the project. And so I would say, “I have no idea what they are doing with them.” But this is what they did with those locomotives. 

I know one locomotive was never returned to the railroads. And this is the first time I have mentioned anything about it recorded because they had—shortly before I got to Hanford they—this was in the fall of 1943, yes, fall of 1943, there was a head-on collision between a freight train with a steam engine and one with a diesel engine. At the time of year at Hanford you had what they call “patch fog.” You will have fog in the bottoms of—low-bottom fog. Will not be anywhere else, but will be very dense and they call that a patch fog. For some reason though—the dispatcher is at fault on this. He—these two trains were going in opposite directions and they head-on, doing, I would, judge about twenty-five miles an hour. It killed men on both crews, killed them, both of them. 

And the reason I know this happened, well, I heard about it. And being a railroad buff—George Dutcher knew I loved railroads and everything, so let us go over and take a look at where this happened. So we got in the car and drove over there. It was open country. Was not near any buildings or anything, and here is a big steam engine lying on its side. I got out and walked around, looked at it. The diesel engine had been totally destroyed when it hit this great big steam engine [laughter]. And it had been hauled away [laughter]. Hauled away shortly after that. But because of all those bits—but the big steam locomotive lying on its side, the tender was lying on its side. And you could tell it had been in a head-on collision. There was some damage in the front, the headlight and the catcher there in front, you could see there. 

But other than that, was just there. And so we wondered, “Why don’t they move this?” 

And Dutcher said “Well, they are too damn busy to move it.” I mean, what—they were—we were very, very busy people. And to take the time and effort to fool around with that locomotive, it was just left there lying on the side. So I have in the records over at Hagley, I think they—I saw that. But they have just not ever been highlighted [laughter]. But I know it happened because I went over and looked at the locomotive. 

When I went out there we had—Hanford—Richland was under construction [laughter]. Far as I know it did not exist until we got there. It was under construction to be the permanent housing for the people that are going to run the plants. So it was under construction. But they had a hotel that they called it—they called it “The Travel Headquarters,” or something like that. It did not have a name, but it was a one-story place like a motel. And that is where I lived. You would come in, like when I got transferred from Wilmington, that was the first place I went was Travel Lodge, if you want to call it that. Just one-story like a motel, dining room, and everything. 

And then in a few days, once I had been in, took a picture and all that type of thing for a badge, I ended up at a dormitory, and it was not at Hanford. Tended to be right there in Richland. Certainly part of that. And we had female dormitories and male dormitories and mostly engineers, like I was. We did not live at the construction camp. We lived at the dormitories. And most of the ladies there were telegraph operators and that type of thing. Today [laughter] it is very different. But for everything, I had to go out on a train and I took one of my engineers. 

Matter of fact Bob Stewart was the division engineer in charge of building the B Reactor, was a personal friend of mine. And his wife had—he was married, and they were to have a baby when he got transferred. She did not go with him because he was living at construction camp, not a very good place to have a baby. So she lived in Niagara Falls. And they had this little boy was born. 

When I got transferred out there in February 1944, Bob Steward heard about this. He said, “Good, you can bring Margaret out here.” I did. I coordinated with her and she got to Chicago. Bob Stewart’s father took us from Niagara Falls to Chicago on the train. I came out to Chicago. I met her with a little baby, with the baby bottles and everything. So I took care of her to get her two thousand miles to—couple of nights and a couple days on the train to Hanford. So that is covered very dearly in my story. 

Bob’s house had been finished in Richland, which was one of the original houses there, very cheaply constructed and most of them are gone now, I am sure, because they were cheaply constructed. I remember shortly after I got there I had dinner with them one night and we had a dust storm. These dust storms would come up in the early afternoon. Wind would start blowing and would just blow and blow and blow and finally blew itself out some time in the morning, so it would start all over again next day [laughter]. And the reasons for the dust storms was, we had disturbed so much of the land back there that the sage brush would normally hold all that stuff down. But we had disturbed so much of the land out there that these dust storms were just a terrible thing. 

And I remember sitting in Bob’s house, and it was nighttime and you could see the sand stuff coming through the cracks of the [laughter] in the windows. For some reason I had to go down in the basement. I think he had a heater down there or something. And I think we went to take a look at the heater in the basement. And turned a light on down there, well, you could see the light through the cracks in the floor [laughter]. 

The other thing, too, is Margaret said, “Watson, you have never seen anything like this.” 

And I said, “No, I haven’t.” 

She said, “Look at this bathtub.” The bathtub was concrete, made out of concrete. She said, “Can you imagine a Bob—a baby Bob [laughter],” she said, “I’ll have to put a towel in there for him to sit down on. Bare concrete never good to sit on.” She wouldn’t stop bothering me to put a shower in there. A lot of people do not seem to remember anything about the concrete tubs. I do not think all the houses there, all of 3,500 houses they built initially, I do not think all of them had a concrete tub. Bob Stewart was one of the first ones to be built. 

I was a bachelor and every Saturday night, the girls’ dormitory, we had a record player, nice reception area, not very big, but they have a record player there. And you can go over there and they play records and you could dance in this little small area with whoever was there. So first Saturday I was there I figured, “What the heck” [laughter]. I went over there. So I right away went up and talked to these two, three girls there. And I asked one of them, “Could I have a dance with you?” 

“Well sure you can.” 

So I was dancing around with her and my ego was really going up. She was from Minneapolis, so she said, “How can you stop like that?” And she looked me straight in the eye and she said, “How do you get away from your wife and baby?” 

And I said, “I’m not married.” So by this time we had shuffled over and there were three other friends who were there. 

She was trying to tell me—that, “He is not married.” 

They all chimed in, and, “Listen, we were on the train a week ago coming out to go to work at Hanford and we saw you bringing these baby bottles down to the train. So do not tell us you are not married [laughter].” 

So I gave up on that group. Fortunately there were other dormitories there that—other lady girl dormitories that had not taken the same train. So I never went back to that dorm again. 

But just it was, oh some of the most interesting facts of working there. I have had a very, very enjoyable life as long as I can remember. And I am still enjoying this [laughter]. 

I had to complete my mission at the Alabama Ordnance Works. Had orders to go put in more acid facilities. And we had completed that small, but important job. And then they transferred me to the Picatinny Arsenal Works. I was on loan from the DuPont Company to the Ordnance Department, Picatinny Arsenal Works. It is an old arsenal built in New Jersey, still there, been there for years. And so I had been transferred there to help them put up a small acid plant. Here again, I am doing something I am very expert at now. 

So I transferred up there and—Picatinny—and I was still not married. But I decided, “I have been going with this beautiful girl since 1940, since we built Memphis.” So we had decided to get married, I’d seen her in between that period of time. She lived in Memphis, Tennessee. I will show you pictures before you leave. 

And so we had gotten married in June of 1945. And so we had a little honeymoon. This was while I was at Picatinny. Shortly after I got there, I got married. Got the train, went down to Memphis, and got married, came back on a different route to New Jersey. And we had a nice little honeymoon cottage there on Budd Lake, New Jersey, well-known place now. 

And so I was at the Arsenal there, eating breakfast, August the 6th in 1945, beautiful day just like it is out here now. And I drove up and got off and she said, “Watson, I now know what you were doing on the big secret job that you were on.”

I said, “It is a beautiful day. What brings this up?” [laughter]. 

And she said, “Listen to the radio.” 

And she had the radio on, so I listened to the radio and it was coming across, “There has been a huge bomb dropped by the United States on Japan on Hiroshima. And it’s totally destroyed the town.” 

I was just breathless listening to this. I said, “My God, does anything work?” [laughter]. 

So she said, “Well, do you know?” 

“Sure, I know all about it.”

As it turned out, that was not our bomb. That was one Little Boy. That is not the way to make bombs anyhow. It’s a very expensive way to do it. The best way to do it was the way we did it, if you could do it, and we did it. 

But anyway on August the 9th they dropped—that was the Nagasaki bomb, August 9th. It was several days after that, I forget the exact date, but several days after that Japan surrendered. So Ann and I decided that we would get in my convertible coupe and go into Manhattan and celebrate, as did hundreds of other people. And Life Magazine in those days was very popular. And Life Magazine came out next week with a sailor kissing his girl in Times Square. Well, there was a big mob of people like that. I did not see them actually take this picture, but we are in that big crowd there. It went on all night long. 

So I drove my convertible coupe in there, came on down to George Washington Bridge, came right on down into Manhattan. And we had a room at a hotel there. We parked the car right out there. Didn’t have a lot of gas in those days. A lot of people did not have a car. And if you had a car, it did not do any good because it did not have any gas. So we parked right next to the entrance to the hotel [laughter], stayed there with no problem at all. And had just a great, great, great night. The bars were just flooded with people. And you could just—ended up drinking everything. We were wondering where in the hell it came from. But it was a merry, merry fair. 

So the next day I guess we were—stayed—were back to the place the next day. The contractor that I was working with there, they were not DuPont. I was loaned by DuPont to help them put up this acid plant and I think there was a little bit of jealousy about—between that company and DuPont. They were a very small company. I do not remember the name, but I will if you mention it. 

So after the bomb went off, the superintendent who I did not really get along with then too well, he strode down to my office and came in and he said, “Well, serves DuPont right. You’ve had everything your way for so long, you know, selling dynamite, all that kind of stuff. So you’re going out of business.” 

I said, “No kidding. What do you mean?” 

“Look at this new explosive they’ve got, you know” [laughter]. 

I said, “It’s news to me.” We were notified right away at DuPont, people who had worked on the Manhattan Project, “Please do not—the pledge you made to secrecy is still in effect. Do not discuss anything with anybody unless you have seen it in the newspaper.” 

Shortly thereafter I was ordered back to Wilmington and spent the next five years working on the design and building of commercial facilities for DuPont. And then Russia exploded that bomb in 1949. 

During all of this, we thought it would take ten years for Russia to produce the atomic bomb. They did it in three years. And part of the reason they did it was they had stolen stuff from us. That is the reason they were trying to build all these carbon-moderated piles [laughter]. But so anyway, they ordered all of us back who had worked on the Hanford Engineer Works, ordered us back to work there on the Savannah River Works, Savannah River in Aiken, South Carolina. We are going to design and build this plant between 1950 and ‘55. We started designing in 1950 and we completed design, pretty much, in 1955. We are going to have five reactors, all heavy water moderated. And that heavy water—put in a heavy water plant, it was all based on the one we had built at the Wabash River Ordnance Works [laughter], the one we did not use. So I worked on that for five years. And huge plant, big—same thing again. We had two separation areas. But we used entirely different process than we did at Hanford. 

And so at the end of that, I had always wanted to be in technical sales. I started off in sales, my first job I had in New York, and I always wanted to be in sales. So I figured I had been in engineering here for sixteen years, wonderful experience. I loved it, but had become a professional engineer in Delaware. I had passed all the licenses and everything. 

So I went down to see Mr. Read, G. M. Read, who is given a lot of credit for building the Hanford Engineer Works, in charge of all the construction and design for that project. And he had hired me as a young engineer. I mean, I had been interviewed, but I came down to Wilmington and he interviewed me on my Wilmington visit and actually hired me. Granville Read. He was not chief engineer at that time but he was now chief engineer. He called me “Watsy,” that is what he always called me, either “Watsy” or “Watson.” 

So I called up Mr. Read and I said, “Mr. Read, can I come to you? I got to come down to see you.” So I went down and discussed this with him. I said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to be in technical sales. And the plastics department wants me because they need engineers in their sales force. They call on a lot of design engineers and automotive companies, big companies like that. And they—the salesmen that they have tend to be chemists out of research and they don’t know anything about designing the fuse [laughter].” So I said, “They want me, but I need your approval, of course, to do that, because it is unusual to transfer that.” 

So I shook hands with Jim, I called him “Jim,” but it is Mr. Read. Shook hands with Mr. Read. I said, “Well.” 

He said, “Best of luck to you, Watson. You don’t need to leave engineering, as you well know.” 

I said, “No, I know I don’t have to, but it’s something I want to do.” 

So I would like to cover DuPont, the fact that I worked for them, particularly the years of 1940 through the Manhattan Project. This is the period I want to cover. And what happened, the government came to DuPont to build this plant in Tennessee, the British and French Purchasing Commission, because they knew that DuPont knew a lot about this. So when that happened—France fell, capitulated before we finished the plant. And so that is when Lend-Lease went out of business [laughter]. And they changed the name from the “Tennessee Powder Company” to the “Chickasaw Ordnance Works.” Then we spit that out. As I said, we did that in six months, unbelievable. But we did it. Then they split our construction division in two parts. One part went to Indiana to build the Indiana Ordnance Works. The part I was in went to Alabama to build the Alabama Ordnance Works. Each one of these was going to be duplicates of each other, big smokeless powder plant plus TNT lines. So this went on all during the war. DuPont built over a dozen of these huge plants for the government, the ordnance department. And so if you go back and do the research on this, seventy percent of all military explosives, which included smokeless powder from cannons and rifles, TNT from bombs, RDX for blockbuster bombs, [laughter] seventy percent of all of that used in World War II was made by DuPont in these facilities.

So what happened in the early stages of this, we had some government people—see, we were working for the Corps of Engineers. And then when the plant went into production, it came under the ordnance department. And so when we got started there, particularly at Alabama Ordnance Works, the government Corps of Engineers had some people there that would kind of tell us what we already knew [laughter]. And I am sure the company complained about this, “Look, we do not need this.” 

My personal experience with that: when I was just a young engineer, they were pouring the foundation with these great big compressors. And one of them came, a bunch older than I was obviously, he came up to me and he said, “You’re the engineer on this job?” 

I said, “Yes, I am.” 

And he said, “I don’t like the looks of that concrete.” 

I said, “No kidding.” 


“What do you expect me to do?” 

“I think you should stop the pour.” 

I said, “You’ve got—get your head examined. You’re Mr. –” I don’t know his name but— 

“Yeah, I’m with the government here.” 

I said, “Well, I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to stop the pour.” I mean all this concrete is examined before it comes to us out of the simple mix plant.

So anyway, the next day my boss, who was senior to me, construction guy, I am his assistant, and he has this man come into see him. And he said, “Why don’t you sit down? Watson was telling me what you were talking about. Why don’t you sit here and help—” 

“Well, I will tell you something about construction.” That is how offensive he was [laughter]. 

So from that time, on, we—it was known among us, they have nothing to do with telling us how to do this. In other words, they—we are doing this for them, but they are not going to tell us anything about—so this [inaudible] through the organization over the period of time. 

So during all this stuff I was talking about now from 1940 to ‘43 when the Manhattan Project came on, the government was thoroughly convinced that DuPont knew exactly what the hell they were doing—fantastic. So this is what Leslie Groves said to DuPont, why they came to DuPont. “We believe that you are the only ones that can do this, if anybody can.” After they piled under the stadium with Fermi’s experiment. 

And DuPont answered—I do not know the exact words was—“Well, if anybody can do it, we can” [laughter].

So what had happened over this period of time, we had a fantastic organization just completely from top to bottom, everybody knew exactly what he was doing. We had a great expediting department. So we had had purchase orders from all these different locations up until Hanford come in. Expediting department go into these plants, “What about this? What about that?” Well, they could tell exactly what plant this was going to because all of them—like Memphis had a plant with SMC, stood for “Smokeless Memphis Construction.” Each one of our plants were designated like that. So our expediter could go in any of these plants and say, “Look, what about this, what about that?” Make sure that everything was flowing in the right direction. And so that is what happened. 

When Hanford came along, what do you know? They don’t want that good system. They do not want H-E-W. You know what the initials on every purchase order there was, is R-P-G. You could look at records. All the local orders made out of Hanford were RPG whole numbers. Big equipment and everything ordered by Wilmington back—that is what we call huge equipment, big compressors and things like that, were half numbers. It would have a number RPG number so-and-so, one half. I just meant it was originated in Wilmington. But RPG was Raymond P. Generaux’s initials [laughter]. That is right. The innovation that Crawford Greenewalt mentioned was due primarily to these two guys. And I was fortunate enough to work directly under them—just fabulous to do that. I knew Ray Generaux very personally. 

Matter of fact he—as time went on, he was much older than I was. There was a guy named Thayer, Harry Thayer, wrote a book on how DuPont and the Corps of Engineers—I have the cover of his book over there—how they did all this. Harry Thayer wrote this book. Well, he had spent some time interviewing Generaux, people like that. And in due time he would—he did this for the civil engineers, they paid him for this, which was excellent work. And I have a copy of it. And he would puzzle over some of the stuff that he would read about and research about. 

So Ray Generaux was getting elderly at the time so he would call me up and say, “Harry sent some drawings in here. Happens to be cell equipment.” Matter of fact I have a picture out of a page of his book right here, cell equipment. “And he wants to know something about bunch of little things are and what that little round thing is. What kind of little tank is that?”

I said, “Ray, that’s not a tank. That is a motor on a centrifuge” [laughter]. Looking at it. 

So when you talk about the atomic bomb, we had literally thousands of men headed that way to invade Japan. And the Japanese had informed their people, they had even armed them with little spears made of wood and everything, “Fight to the death.” So this was going to be a bloody, bloody campaign, which we prevented by dropping the bomb on them. And they were so hard-headed that it took two bombs to convince them, which is unbelievable, but it did. 

From start to finish of the Hanford Engineer Works, hundreds of things, certainly dozens of things—want to come down a little bit—dozens of things could have gone wrong. I mean, after all, this had never been done before. 

Nothing went wrong. It all worked. The plans they’d taken out—the B-29 bomber came along just at the right time to be modified to accommodate flight men. We had no satellites in those days to guide our pilots to these targets, but they made it and they made it back. And so I am not the only one that has said this, but I said, “I am not an organized religious man at all, but somebody helped us.”


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