The Manhattan Project

Bill Bailey's Interview

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Dewitt "Bill" Bailey, originally from New Albany, Mississippi, was working at an Alabama shipyard when he heard of the job opportunities in Hanford. At Hanford he worked as a special material handler for DuPont, and experienced the regime of intense compartmentalization and secrecy. In this interview, Bailey discusses his life and work at Hanford, as well as the role played by the DuPont Company.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
July 2, 1986
Location of the Interview: 
Kennewick
Collections: 
Transcript: 

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

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

Book Version:

I was working in a Mobile shipyard when a friend told me "Go to Hanford, boy, everybody's there." I quit the shipyard and headed out here, I was 34, and about ready to be drafted if I hadn't come to Hanford. I got here Jan. 6, 19 and 44, about 8:30 a.m. I got in line with two or three hundred other people. A fella asked if anyone had worked for Du Pont before. I raised my hand, and he said, "Come on in, you are already on the payroll." They made me what they called a special material handler. That meant I was handling classified stuff, setting machinery, millwright work, lining up shafts, stuff like that.

When they transferred us in to 100-B they didn't even have the outside walls done. They were just starting the reactors. That thing was so secret, maybe a person would be cleared for only one side of it. Four sides square, and maybe a guy would be cleared for the intake side but he wouldn't be cleared for the exhaust side. And everybody was not cleared to go up in it. You get about halfway up, going up a stair before you come over into the thing, and there'd be an armed guard, and he would check you out and if your name was on a list you could go by. If it wasn't that was as far as you went. That was every day. Maybe you could go up Monday and you couldn't go Tuesday.

We were running three shifts. They had electricians, pipefitters, mill­wrights, and those people were working all around the thing. That was where I met Joe Holt. Everything was being done at practically the same time. And it was so engineered that when one phase finished out, all of it was about finished and it was ready to pull the switch. We would repeat the work on the other reactors.

Hanford construction was well organized. There were coordinators, there were no problems between the crafts. Expediters handled equipment. There was no reason to run out of anything because they could tap into anything in the United States. It was much better organized than the pipeline in Alaska. WPPSS construction (Washington Public Power Supply System) was orga­nized confusion.

No way did I have a notion of what we were doing during the war. I don't think anybody else did. They only had one guy who could look at the blue-prints, and would give you a pencil sketch. A general foreman or superintendent would have a question about some phase and he would go in and there would be a guy who would get him a pencil sketch off of the main blueprint and only one man saw those.

You didn't talk about it. I heard a guy ask a question about a certain object he was working on, and a fella told him, you ask that question one more time and you'll go.

The reason I say no one knew what they were doing was, for instance an electrician would put a piece of wire through a hole and he'd talk over a wall or through a hole to somebody. He'd say you handle it from that side, every-thing is okay here. He would never know who he was talking to on the other side.

I went to the beer hall occasionally but I was not much of a drinker. I preferred for the roommate and I to have a bottle in our room. There was too much noise in that beer hall, and when I was growing up I was told to stay away from big crowds and avoid problems. It was a fairly wild place. They used tear gas in there several times to quieten somebody. There would be eight or ten people at a table with their mug beer and a couple of them would start in arguing and somebody would start hissing them on, and yelling "Go get him! Go get him boy! Get him! Get him!" First thing you know they would start swinging. The patrolmen would come in and would use tear gas.

They started serving beer at 5:30 in the evenings and quit at 11. One waitress would have two rows of tables. She'd come down with three pitchers in each hand, set them down on the table, go back and get six more and set them down and she would go right oh down the row and come back later and collect. One gal there, they said she had cleared $25,000 and was going back to Minneapolis and put her in a restaurant. Some guy would throw a $5 bill down and maybe the beer was only $3 and would say "Keep the change." I think beer was 50 cents a pitcher. I think so anyway, it's been a long time.

I worked seven days a week at times, sometimes three or four hours in the evening after everyone else was gone, a small group of us would keep work­ing. Working conditions were real good. No one rushed you, but they didn't like people missing time. If people who missed a lot of time were young they went into the armed services. I knew one guy who went into the Navy because he missing too much time. He was never there on Saturday. They took his draft deferment away.

I was making $1.40 an hour plus overtime. Maybe $125 a week, it was good money then, equal to a $1,000 a week now. It was a safe job, Du Pont set national standards for safety. If someone got hurt, it was just cotton-picking carelessness, it was no fault of the company. I never saw anyone hurt when I was there. I heard of a guy got hurt on another shift. He was working on a crane, and he was going to come down on a choker and his feet slipped and he fell on some reinforcing rods and they stuck through him.

Yeah, I heard of the waste tank accident. This subcontractor had these tanks setting up on blocks. They assumed these guys working chipping ham­mers was all working the same way, but they weren't and six or seven was killed when the tank fell off the blocks. A chipping hammer is a cold chisel operated with an air hammer to smooth welds or check them. Nothing to do with Du Pont. They wouldn't have been killed if it was a Du Pont job.

I was surprised about the bombs. I was going to work and somebody had a bulletin, a paper, and I hadn't even heard it over the radio. The paper was telling about the bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I don't know which came first. Everybody was saying, "My, didn't you know what was going on there?" They were lying, they didn't know no more than I did. I thought maybe we were making poison gas or nerve gas. We felt real good about the bombs. I got a silver pin for working on the bombs and I had it made into a tie clasp.

 

Full Version:

S. L. Sanger: Were you born in Mississippi?

De Witt Bailey: Yes.

S.L. Sanger: Usually the best way to do this is, you just say how you got out to Hanford, where you came from and what were you working on. Then I can ask you questions.

Bailey: Before I came to Hanford, I was working for DuPont.

Sanger: Where?

Bailey: In Millington, Tennessee first.

Sanger: What was that plant called? That’s by Memphis, right?

Bailey: It was first built for Great Britain.

I went to work in Millington in the fall of 1940.

Sanger: You were what about then, how old?

Bailey: I was about thirty-four years old.

Sanger: As a what?

Bailey: Carpenter. Then I transferred from there to Charlestown, Indiana.

Sanger: That’s another DuPont [Company] Ordnance Plant?

Bailey: Another DuPont [Plant]. They sent 300 people from Millington up to the plant in Indiana.

Sanger: What was that called? Indiana Ordnance?

Bailey: Yeah, Indiana Ordnance.

Sanger: To build it?

Bailey: Yes, to help build it. That was a permanent plant. It is still operating.

Then I went from there to Childersburg, Alabama. That was the Coosa River Ordnance, I believe.

Sanger: DuPont built that too?

Bailey: DuPont built that one.

Sanger: So you were moving fairly rapidly?

Bailey: In Millington, I was only there about four months first, and then I was in Charlestown about a year. I was in Childersburg about two and a half years.

Sanger: Oh, you were? That is where you were before you came here?

Bailey: Uh huh.

Sanger: How did you happen to come to Hanford, then?

Bailey: I met a friend of mine who was in the Navy. I was at that time working in the shipyard in Mobile. He came to me and said, “Go to Hanford, boy.” He said, “Everybody is there.”

Sanger: Oh, he was in the Navy? How did he know about it, I wonder?

Bailey: He had worked for DuPont, too. He was in the Navy, and his brother was a general foreman over the carpenters at Hanford.

Sanger: But you were working at the shipyard then?

Bailey: I quit the shipyard and headed out here [Richland].

Sanger: What were you doing in the shipyard?

Bailey: Shipwright.

Sanger: Is that like a carpenter?

Bailey: No, more like a millwright. I was a millwright here in Hanford.

Sanger: Oh, you were? What is the difference between a millwright and a carpenter?

Bailey: A millwright sets the machinery. The old millwrights made mills out of timbers, framed it and then put the machinery on it. But now Joe Holt and myself, after we went to Hanford there, they called us “Special Material Handlers.” It had nothing to do with union or anything else. It just paid a little above the scale and you called yourself “Special Material Handler.”

Sanger: What does that mean?

Bailey: Special Materials was the classified stuff that we were working on. That was the name of the job: Special Material Handler.

Sanger: What were you doing?

Bailey: Setting machinery and leveling up shafts and stuff like that. Actually, what we were doing out there is still classified.

Sanger: So you would have come to Hanford when?

Bailey: January 6, 1944 is when I started to work.

Sanger: But you were technically a millwright then?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: Did you start out at the Areas or were you at the Hanford Camp?

Bailey: I started in Area 100-B.

Sanger: What was the status of it then? How far along was it?

Bailey: Still in the ground.

Sanger: Just a hole in the ground, with concrete?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: What did you do then?

Bailey: When we first started, I worked about two months helping build trusses, split-wing trusses, and then they transferred us in. When we went into 100-B, they didn’t even have the outside walls up. It was when they were starting the reactors in there, the “piles,” they called them.

Sanger: What were you building these trusses for?

Bailey: Some of the big warehouses.

Sanger: Then you went out to 100-B? What did you do out there then, right away?

Bailey: Started working on some of the stuff that was to go in and outside of the reactor.

Sanger: Did you handle any of the graphite?

Bailey: No.

Sanger: You didn’t do that. Somebody else, I guess—I forget who it was—told me he worked on that.

Bailey: They only had about eighty-five people. I was in there, but I didn’t handle any graphite. I was bringing out points. If they needed an elevation, I would go inside and take elevation and bring them out to somebody else.

That thing was so secret, maybe a person would only be cleared for one side of it. It was a four-sided square, and maybe a guy would be cleared for the intake side and he wouldn’t be cleared for the exhaust side. Everybody was not cleared to go up in it. They said they never did clear but eighty-eight people. You would get about halfway up, going up a stair, before you would come over the end of the thing, there would be a patrolman there, armed guard. He would check you out and if your name was on the list you could go by. If it was not, that is as far as you went. That was every day. A lot people, maybe you would go up there Monday and you couldn’t go Tuesday.

Sanger: How long were you out there, then?

Bailey: Well, I was in 100-B three or four months. I went to D [Reactor] about that long and then to F [Reactor] about that long. Then I went back to 100-B, D and F.

Sanger: With the Special Materials, what would that entail, that job?

Bailey: Special Materials? It was anything that they were going to load the thing with, and you would be handling the equipment. We were putting in and leveling up the horizontal rods and vertical rods.

Sanger: The control stuff?

Bailey: Control stuff.

Sanger: That’s kind of what you were doing?

Bailey: Yeah. What did Joe [Holt] tell you he was doing?

Sanger: I get so many of these things mixed up but it seems like first when he was there, he worked at the very beginning—because he was there a little earlier, I guess. He said he was there in October of ’43. He was working on concrete forms.

Bailey: Yeah, a lot of people worked on other thing until—and then they would come out and get you, and say, “We have got a better job for you. Come and go with me,” as soon as they cleared you. They had to clear you for this. It took a different clearance.

Sanger: So you were working on the control rods, etc. You were doing that, that was after the graphite was in, was it?

Bailey: No, it was while they were putting it in. We had a different crew doing that. That was running three shifts, the graphite stuff in the “pile,” they called it. Our group, they had electricians, pipefitters, millwrights, and there were people working all around the thing. That is where I met Joe, in the control room, preparing for the rods.

Sanger: They were installing those simultaneous with the graphite?

Bailey: Yes.

Sanger: They had one going this way and also this way?

Bailey: Yeah, all of them were being built practically at the same time. When everybody got through, it was so engineered that when one phase of it finished out, all of it was about finished. It was just about ready to pull the switch.

Sanger: Then you went to the other reactor, pile areas? Same thing?

Bailey: Starting from scratch again. It was just repeating.

Sanger: Did you work on all three [reactors]?

Bailey: Yes.

Sanger: Did you have any notion what you were doing? What it was for, I mean?

Bailey: No way. I don’t think anyone else did. They only had one guy that could look at the blueprints, and he would give you a pencil sketch. A general foreman or superintendent, he would want to know a question about some phase of the project. He would go up to the vault, and there would be a guy in there that would get him a pencil sketch off of the main blueprint. Only one man saw those blueprints.

Sanger: What was the speculation? Was there any, about what you were doing?

Bailey: No. You didn’t talk about it. I heard a guy ask a question about a certain object he was working on. The fellow told him, he said, “You ask that question one more time, and you’ll go.”

Sanger: Did that happen very often?

Bailey: Quite often. Somebody would bring up something like that, they shouldn’t be talking about. The reason I say no one knew what they were doing—maybe an electrician would put a piece of wire through a hole. He would talk over to somebody and say, “You handle it from that side and everything is okay here.” He would never know who he was talking to.

Sanger: I hadn’t heard that bit about being cleared for one side or the other.

Bailey: There had a lot of people who never was cleared to go over in that thing.

Sanger: What were you cleared for?

Bailey: I was cleared to go in any, but all I did was went in there and takes points out.

Sanger: What does that mean?

Bailey: Elevations. I would come out through a hole, and somebody would want an elevation for something. I would go in there and get it, and take a procedure level and give them the points and then they would take it from the outside. That’s what I did.

Sanger: Did you work quite a bit of overtime?

Bailey: Yeah, I sure did.

Sanger: Six, seven days a week?

Bailey: I worked seven days a week, and we worked sometimes three or four hours in the evening after everybody was gone. A small group of us would stay over.

Sanger: Joe said he worked a lot of overtime. Did you live in the barracks there?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: You weren’t married then?

Bailey: Oh yes, I was married, but I didn’t have my wife there. She was back in Mississippi.

Sanger: When did she come out?

Bailey: After I moved into Richland, after the thing was all in operation. That was about ’46.

Sanger: So you lived in the barracks in Hanford Camp?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: For how long?

Bailey: I don’t know. Ten, eleven months.

Sanger: What was that like?

Bailey: They had these barracks set up. I don’t know how many people they could take care of, I would say probably 30,000 or 40,000. They had twelve mess halls, but never did use but ten or eleven of them. One mess hall was never used, I guess.

You would go in and they would start serving breakfast in the morning. Breakfast was served all the way from 6:00 to 7:30. Dinner in the evening would start about 5:30, and you could get dinner 5:30 to 7:00. All family style, all you could eat just put on the tables. Universal Foods was doing the catering. They had plenty to eat. No one could grumble about the eats.

Sanger: It was pretty good? 

Bailey: Yeah. 

Sanger: Did you have much time to worry about social life, or not?

Bailey: No. I didn’t have a car, and there was very little social life. They had a trailer park there where people had their families, and they had women barracks. They probably had 6,000 or 7,000 women—I don’t know how many—and they had a high fence around it. You could go there in the evening, and you would have to tell the matron where you were going and who you were going to visit. You wrote your name down, timed, and you were checked off. If you were not out of there at a curfew, at what hour you could stay in there—weekends were a little later—but during the week, I didn’t spend time in there. I didn’t know anybody.

I would go to a movie. They had good movies. On Saturday nights, after they got the ballroom, they would have people like Kay Kyser come there and make music and you’d have a nice dance.

Sanger: Did you ever hang around the beer hall at all?

Bailey: I would go in there occasionally, but I was not much of a drinker. I would prefer to have—my roommate and I would have a bottle in the room, and have us a nip. But there was too much noise in that beer hall.

Sanger: Was that a fairly wild place?

Bailey: Yes, it was.

Sanger: That’s what people say. I talked to a couple of patrolmen.

Bailey: They used tear gas in there several times to quieten somebody. There would be eight or ten people at a table with a mug of beer, and they would start into an argument and somebody would start hissing them on, “Go get him! Go get him!” The first thing you know, they jump up and started slugging. Then they would come and have the patrolmen—they had eight or ten patrolmen in there all the time. They would use tear gas several times. I was never there when they had to do that.

Sanger: Was it true, do you know, that the thing was designed so they could toss tear gas from the outside in? Is that a myth?

Bailey: I don’t think so.

Sanger: I know they had some problems there. The beer hall was huge, wasn’t it?

Bailey: Yeah. Probably 4,000 people could sit there.

Sanger: No wonder they had problems.

Bailey: And they started serving beer at 5:30 in the evenings.

Sanger: I think somebody said it went 11:00 pm, and that caused a lot of problems because it was too early.

Bailey: One waitress, she would have two rows of tables. She would come down with three pitchers in each hand, and she would set them down at the table and she would go back and get six more and set them down. That’s where she was bringing it. She would go right on down, and then she would come back later and collect it.

Sanger: It was $1.00 a pitcher? Do you remember?

Bailey: Something like that. One gal, they said, had cleared $25,000 and she was going to Minneapolis and put her in a restaurant—just from tips! Some guy would throw a $5.00 bill down and maybe there was only $3.00 worth of beer around the table and say, “Keep the change.” I think the beer was fifty cents a mug. Fifty cents I think is what it ran. It has been a long time.

Sanger: Somebody told me he recalled a woman named Apple Annie worked there.

Bailey: I never heard of that.

Sanger: Sounded like the same story you told me, about how she made a fortune in tips.

Bailey: I don’t know what this gal’s name was. I’d say she was about twenty-five years old, a brunette from—she said she was from Minneapolis, and I never did know her name. I didn’t spend much time in that beer tavern. I was never a heavy drinker, and when I grew up I was told to stay away from big crowds and not get into problems.

Sanger: Where did you grow up? In Mississippi?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: Where?

Bailey: New Albany, about seventy miles out of Memphis. My dad was a sawmiller. He came from Georgia, about the same distance out of Atlanta, east of Atlanta, about the same distance it was out of Memphis.

Sanger: Were you surprised then when they announced the bombs?

Bailey: Yes, I sure was. There were a few people that said, “Didn’t you know what was going on?”

They didn’t know what was going on either. The old foreman that I had, when I went onto operation after construction—I went the same time Joe did to 200 Area, separation area—the foreman that we had was just buried two weeks ago.

Sanger: Oh, he was? Who was that?

Bailey: [Inaudible] He had been an old DuPont man and he was foreman for a maintenance crew, D Shift. I worked on D Shift as long as I stayed out there. Another guy, a friend of ours that I worked with on D Shift just quit last year after thirty-two years, working out there: Lynn Bedoe. Worked from the early days. He came up from the Remington Plant in Utah with DuPont. He worked out there, and last year he retired. Thirty-two years in the same area.

Sanger: You said you went up to the 200 Areas after construction—to do what?

Bailey: Maintenance. Anything that broke down, we would fix it. I was rated as a millwright, but about half of the work was pipe work—putting in valves or packing a valve or something like that. Very little of the machinery went wrong. If a valve went bad you had to change it, or if a union went bad, but you had very little problems.

Sanger: Were you working remotely or directly with that?

Bailey: Directly. I didn’t do anything remotely. That was operations.

Sanger: I see. How long did you stay there, then?

Bailey: About five years.

Sanger: So that would have put it up to about—

Bailey: ’51.

Sanger: Then what?

Bailey: I went to Alaska.

Sanger: Then you quit, you mean?

Bailey: I quit and went to Alaska and stayed there for a while. Then I came right back down and went to Millington, Tennessee, and worked for DuPont again.

Sanger: Doing what?

Bailey: Building a chemical plant for the Army. I worked a while on that, then went back to Alaska. I then went to South Carolina and worked while on the hydrogen bomb plant.

Sanger: Savannah River? What did you do down there?

Bailey: I was a millwright.

Sanger: Is that during construction?

Bailey: Yes.

Sanger: That would have been early or mid-‘50s?

Bailey: About ’52 or ’53.

Sanger: How long did you stay there?

Bailey: I was only there about four months before I quit.

Sanger: How did that compare to the work out here?

Bailey: Similar. The only thing, you didn’t have barracks. You had to drive there. Everybody stayed in Aiken, South Carolina or Jackson, or you were in Augusta, Georgia and some of those towns. They had a trailer park set up and motels that people lived in, and people pulled their own house trailers down. But they didn’t run any buses out there. There were a few buses, but most of it was private cars. It would take you about two and a half hours to get home in the evening.

Sanger: That was kind of inconvenient.

Bailey: Bumper to bumper traffic.

Sanger: That was as big a job as this, I guess?

Bailey: Oh yeah, about the same size.

Sanger: Did you work on reactors there, too?

Bailey: No. There I worked in a shop, making up materials. I never went into the Areas at all.

Sanger: What were you doing in Alaska?

Bailey: Part of the time, I was working with the Army. I went up there and worked for the Army first, civil service and maintenance.

Sanger: Where? One of the Army posts?

Bailey: Fort Richardson.  

Sanger: Where is that?

Bailey: Anchorage. My wife worked—Phyllis worked at Elmendorf [Air Force Base].

Sanger: You lived up there for thirty years?

Bailey: Yes. I’ve been back three years since then.

Sanger: All the same kind of work or something else?

Bailey: I quit civil service and went on to construction as a pipefitter, putting up barracks and things for the Army and firehouses. Then my wife went into a music store, and a few years later I quit and helped her run the music store for a while. Then I went back to construction. After that, I worked on chemical plants in Kenai. I worked on pump stations and [inaudible] pipeline. I worked a lot in Prudhoe Bay.

Sanger: You have been back here then, what?

Bailey: I came back first—left up there in ’79, and then they called me to come back to work in ’80. I went back up there and worked about five or six months in Kenai, in 1980 Then I came back and in ’81 we built this house, and then I worked down here on Whipp’s firehouse a while. In ’83, I went to Prudhoe Bay and worked. In ’84, I went back to Kenai and worked, and in ’85 I went back to Kenai and worked a while again.

Sanger: How old are you?

Bailey: Now I’m seventy-seven.

Sanger: You worked well past retirement?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: What were you doing on these construction jobs, in later years?

Bailey: Pipefitter. But I had easy jobs.

Sanger: What did you do on the pipeline? Pipefitting?

Bailey: First on the pipeline, I was a material expediter and received material coming in or machinery coming in for the pump station and issued it out. There were three of us. I was foreman and I had two guys working under me.

That was the best job I ever had. That was 7/12s. If I worked a holiday, I got double time. I worked Christmas, I worked New Year’s. A lot of them would want to head out. I was living up there. A lot of people wanted to go to California or Texas and they would want people to stay there and work over Christmas holidays. I worked over on two different Christmas holidays, and I really made some money. Prudhoe Bay is where you made the money, then also, because that was all 7/12s, all of the Prudhoe Bay work.

Sanger: Does that mean you worked seven, twelve-hour days?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: Then how much did you have off?

Bailey: Every nine weeks, you got two weeks off.

Sanger: There was real money in that, then?

Bailey: Yes. Board and room furnished, transportation furnished. All you had to do was get up in the morning, get your breakfast, pick up your lunch, and catch your bus. It would be warmed up, you would go to your job. You would sit down and have coffee for about twenty minutes, and then you would go in and work. Then you would come back out at 9:30 and have coffee again and at 12:00 you would have thirty minutes lunch. Three o’clock in the afternoon you had coffee again, and then you get off at 6:00.

That was when it was all union. Now it is non-union up there. They have what you call an International Maintenance Scale, and it is $5.00 an hour less than the union scale and you don’t have those conditions. Very few of them have a coffee break anymore. They have to work six hours without a coffee break in the mornings, then they have lunch and in the afternoon work six more hours without a coffee break.

Sanger: What were the working conditions like out here at Hanford in the wartime period?

Bailey: Real good. No one rushed you. They didn’t like people missing time. People who missed a lot of time, if they were young they went into the armed services. I know one guy who went into the Navy because he was missing too much time. He was never there on Saturday, off bumming around somewhere.

Sanger: So they took away his deferment?

Bailey: Yeah, they took his deferment away.

Sanger: How much money were you making up there? Do you remember?

Bailey: Not much. You were only making about $1.40 an hour.

Sanger: Plus overtime?

Bailey: You were making maybe $125 a week.

Sanger: Was that pretty good money then, though?

Bailey: It was pretty good money then. Equal to a thousand dollars a week now.

Sanger: Was it a fairly safe job?

Bailey: Oh, yeah. DuPont set the standards for safety. They are one of the safest companies in the world. The National Safety Council probably wrote their book from DuPont’s policies. If someone got hurt, it was just cotton-picking carelessness; it was no fault of the company, just carelessness. I never saw anyone get hurt when I was there.

I heard of a guy that got hurt on a ship. He was up on the crane and he was going to come down on a choker, and his feet slipped and he fell on some concrete rods and they stuck through him. I heard of that, but I didn’t know the fellow.

Sanger: Did he die?

Bailey: Oh, yeah.

Sanger: That was on B Reactor?

Bailey: I don’t know what job. It was not on B, but it was on one of the buildings. See, they had a lot of buildings there, but it was on one of the buildings.

Sanger: Did you ever hear of several fatalities at one of the chemical waste storage tanks during construction?

Bailey: That was Virginia Bridge Company, had a bunch of laborers and people building some tanks. They had these tanks sitting up on some blocks, and they didn’t have them cribbed. Blocks, if you crib them, it’s like brick and then it won’t turn. They were sitting up on there. They assumed that these chippers, working chipping hammers, were all pushing the same way and caused that thing to spin. Six or seven of them were killed in that. 

Sanger: That’s what I heard.

Bailey: I think that was the Virginia Bridge Company.

Sanger: What’s a chipping hammer?

Bailey: That is a coal chisel operated with an air gun. They make a weld and then they chip it out if the weld didn’t look right. It is just a coal chisel with an air hammer. You use them in shipping yards.

Sanger: That was to smooth it out or to check the weld?

Bailey: They smooth it out so they could re-weld it and everything.

Sanger: I have heard the top figure was seven killed and the lowest was three.

Bailey: I heard it was seven then. I don’t know. But I heard it was seven people killed.

Sanger: They were just under it and it fell on them?

Bailey: They were under the tank—it might have been a water tank. I don’t know what it was for.

Sanger: I think it was waste storage.

Bailey: But it was the bottom of the tank, and the thing just spun on them.

Sanger: That’s what I heard. There was a priest here, [William] Sweeney. Do you know him? Monsignor in Richland. He was called up that. He said there were five killed. Somebody else said there were seven. But there is no record of it, that’s the weird thing.

Bailey: Virginia Bridge Company was a subcontract. It didn’t have anything to do with DuPont. They wouldn’t have been killed if it had been a DuPont job. There were a lot of subcontractors out there, and they didn’t have the safety that DuPont had.

Sanger: Do you remember any reports about a collision between two locomotives on the train?

Bailey: No, never heard anything.

Sanger: That happened earlier, I guess. Of course, a lot of these things wouldn’t have been publicized.

Bailey: I doubt very much two trains ran together out there.

Sanger: A couple of people said they did on a foggy day. There was a massive confusion and mistake made. There were lots of number of traffic fatalities and a few homicides in the camp, but that would be normal.

Bailey: A little of that. But I never heard of a suicide or a homicide while I was there in the camps.

Sanger: A fellow who was a patrol person, a superintendent, gave me a list. They would have been not only in the camp, but in Richland.

Bailey: They recruited people for that job in forty-seven states—every state except Tennessee—and paid their way out. I came on my own, and came out and hired up, because I had worked for DuPont before. When I walked out, there were 300 or 400 people out in clock alley, in front of the administration building.

Sanger: Where was that?

Bailey: There in Hanford. The guy said, “Has anyone here ever worked for DuPont?” I put my hand up. He said, “Come on in. You’re already on the payroll.” It only took me about an hour to get reinstated. I had worked with them before.

Sanger: Did they have a record of it?

Bailey: Yes.

Sanger: When you originally came, did you go out to the camp directly? Or did you work through a union?

Bailey: I didn’t belong to a union, and I just went right out. Caught a bus. I landed in Pasco at two o’clock in the morning off of the passenger train. A fellow picked us up and took us to an old store building there in Pasco. About forty of us slept on cots, little Army cots. The next morning, he called us and took us to breakfast. Called us about 6:30, and we went and had breakfast. That was charged to DuPont or the government—I don’t know who paid for it. We rode a bus out to Hanford, then. Got out to Hanford, I would say, about 8:30 in the morning.

Sanger: Then you got in this lineup and went on in?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: Did you have to join a union then later?

Bailey: Didn’t have to. Most of the work required union. I had belonged to the Millwright Union, but it was not questioned.

Sanger: Did you join later the?

Bailey: I dropped out. When I went to operations, I dropped out of my union and I didn’t belong to a union anymore until I got to Alaska.

Sanger: In other words, you quit or you left here, when did you say?

Bailey: ’51.

Sanger: Were you working for GE [General Electric] then?

Bailey: Yes.

Sanger: And then you never went back out?

Bailey: No, I never go back out there. Never did want to go back out there.

Sanger: That’s kind of unusual, because almost everybody else I have talked to worked out there for a hundred years.

Bailey: I got tired of it. I couldn’t stand it. In operations—I’m the type of person, if I know today what I’ll be doing a week from today, I don’t like that job. That is the reason I quit civil service at Fort Rich.

Sanger: Fort Rich—what is it? Rich what?

Bailey: Richardson, R-I-C-H-A-R-D-S-O-N.

Sanger: Oh, Richardson. That’s still there?

Bailey: Oh, yeah. That’s the headquarters for the Army in Alaska, is Fort Rich. Then Elmendorf is one of the largest air bases that we have. They are on the same reservation. You can run off Fort Rich into Elmendorf. About five or six miles wide, and about ten or eleven miles long from the bay to the mountain, the two bases have.

Sanger: Do you remember what your reaction was when you heard about the bombs?

Bailey: I was surprised. I was going to work, and somebody had a bulletin, a paper; I hadn’t even heard it over the radio. They had a bulletin in the paper, Sagebrush Sentinel, something that they printed out in a hurry telling about the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki—I don’t know which was first. Everybody was asking, “Didn’t you know what was going on there?” They were lying. They didn’t know more than I did. The average person, no better educated than I—no way could have gone out there and figured what the heck was going on. No one was going to get around and talk at that time and tell them something.

Sanger: Was there a sense that it was a good thing, because it ended the war and you had had your part in it?

Bailey: Oh yeah, you felt real good about that. I have a little pin. It was a lapel pin, and on it says “H-Bomb” [misspoke: “A-Bomb”], sterling silver. If you worked so many months without missing any time, you were given a silver one. If you missed three or four days, you got a bronze. I got a silver pin, and I had it made into a tie clasp.

Sanger: That was at Savannah River?

Bailey: No, that was here.

Sanger: Do you still have it?

Bailey: Yes.

Sanger: You were out there for, what did you say, January ’44? You would have worked there for almost two years during the war, then?

Bailey: Yeah. I worked almost seven years doing construction and operation.

Sanger: At Hanford. What made you come back here?

Bailey: My wife has got two boys here and we have a lot of friends here. We would come back almost every year, we would come back to visit. We would usually drive and pick a car up in Seattle or something like that, fly down and buy a car. We bought one in Memphis, two in Detroit, one in Florida, and two or three in Seattle. Then we would drive around and visit all of our folks. Phyllis had folks in Missouri and I had folks in Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida, and we would visit all the folks. We didn’t do it every year. If we had had the money we spent for traveling out of Alaska down to see the folks and back, if we had invested that, we would have been rich people.

Sanger: Was the general atmosphere out there at Hanford during the construction, was it pretty organized or was it a madhouse?

Bailey: It was organized, well organized. There was no problem between crafts, and your coordinators took care of that. The expeditors had the equipment. They had plenty of equipment and there was no reason to run out of something, because they could tap anything in the United States and get it. They had priority over everything. I would say it was well organized. Much better than the pipeline was up there.

Sanger: What about at WPPSS [Washington Public Power Supply System]?

Bailey: That was disorganized confusion.

Sanger: How long were you out there?

Bailey: I was only out there about five months.

Sanger: Which one?

Bailey: I worked at Number One and Number Four. I worked in the tube room, and issued rods most of the time to welders.

Sanger: It was not what you would call a well-organized job?

Bailey: I would say disorganized confusion, and that is why it cost so much money. I’ve never seen anything like it. They had twice too many people there. They had just about as many again people as they needed to work that job right.

Sanger: And those were the two—one was mothballed and one was cancelled, right? And Number Two is running?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: Sanger: And Number Two is running?

Bailey: Yes. Number One, that must be eighty-five percent complete.

Sanger: That is the one with the dome on it?

Bailey: Yeah. They tested the vessel and turned the turbines, all of that. Practically all of the pipe was hanging. Not in place—a lot of it was hanging on wood beams.

Sanger: A lot of money sitting there.

Bailey: A lot of money, and a lot of disorganized confusion. I never saw nothing like it. Somebody was at fault there. My belief is that somebody deliberately was making millions of dollars off of people, just because they had a chance.

Sanger: The state probably should never have gotten so involved.

Bailey: I smelled booze on people’s breath out there, and I am sure they were taking dope. I would say it was a very mismanaged setup.

Sanger: What would be some of the confusion? Not enough materials? Too many people?

Bailey: Too many people, for one thing, and it would take too long to get you answers. Too many bosses, too many white hats. You had Quality Control that could boss you, you had Bechtel in there that could boss you, you had the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission], they had to have a say in it. It was just too much of it. If they had turned that thing over to DuPont, to a big company like DuPont or Fluor Company, they could have built those outfits at a third less—a third less manpower and a third less money.

Sanger: Well, it will be there until the end of time, I guess, now, sitting there.

Bailey: Those things are obsolete and I don’t think they will ever be finished.

Sanger: They don’t even need the electricity.

Bailey: No, they don’t need it. They couldn’t sell it. It’s the safest power, nuclear power is the safest power. I would much rather live near a nuclear plant than a coal-fired plant, and I’d rather live by either one of them than live downstream from Grand Coulee Dam. That pollution, they say in Arizona, where they have all the coal-fired places, you get pollution like you had in Los Angeles. You don’t have that from atomic.

Sanger: You guys are hard to locate. Construction workers, they move around so much and were a little bit, generally I guess a little older than the run of people out there. Is that right?

Bailey: Right.

Sanger: You were too old for the draft, is that it? Or kids or what?

Bailey: No. When I came to Hanford, when I was in the shipyard, I quit my job in the shipyard to come back to Hanford. I went to Memphis and went before the Draft Board to see my status, and they had my induction papers ready to mail me. I told them I would like to reinstate with DuPont and I would get an eight-week pay bonus when I went into the armed forces. One guy spoke up and he said, “Yeah, my son got $1,100. I’m in favor of giving thirty days,” and they all agreed.

But as soon as I got to Hanford, the next day after I hired in, they had orientation and they must have had 1,500 people in that tent. The guy said, “If any of you young people get any mail from your Draft Board, ignore it. We will take care of that.”

Sanger: Deferment?

Bailey: Yeah. But I was called in to go to Spokane after I went on to operations. I went to Spokane and there was a busload of us to go into the Navy. I was cleared, I came back and I kept thinking they would call me. About half of the guys went into the Navy and had their boot training, and they never called me in. Right then I was thirty-three or thirty-four, and they didn’t call me in. If the war had lasted another sixty days, I was going in the Navy.

Sanger: You’re how old now, you said?

Bailey: Seventy-seven.

Sanger: What else did they tell you at that meeting, do you remember? The orientation meeting?

Bailey: He said, “We have priority over anything being built in the United States.” He said, “This is an essential plant and we are going to have good food to eat. We are going to have recreation.” They had a movie place and every night they had newsreels out on the street where you could see what was happening in the war.