[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.]
Let me start from the beginning. My wife and I we got married in May, 1943, and I was managing a night club in Chicago at that time, and during the day I was working for the Army Signal Corps on Pershing Road in Chicago as a nomenclature clerk. The reason I was doing this work is the fact I had flat feet, and they eliminated you from the draft if you had flat feet. I became a 4-F with the stipulation that I do war work, so I took this job with the Signal Corps, and the reason, General Carver, a good friend of my dad's, he was in charge of the Signal Corps and my dad was in the meat packing industry. He said to my dad, he says he could get me into the service and I would be a major before I knew it. My dad said, "Naw, I don't think he wants to go into the service. He's got flat feet."
The night club I managed was across from the Morrison Hotel, and it was called The Talk of the Town. One day my wife called me up at the Signal Corps. Well, basically we were looking for some other work. One of the reasons was I had a real fantastic Jewish mother. She would call us up at 8 o'clock in the morning. My wife worked at the Latin Quarter, as a cocktail waitress. And my mother, God bless her soul, would call us at 8 o'clock and say, "How are you kids?"
"Fine mom, how are you?"
"Are you getting ready to go to work?"
One day my wife told me we were getting the hell out of Chicago.
My wife was from Iowa, and had worked in New York. So anyway she called me at work one day and said, "Honey, I just took a job for both of us at a place called Hanford, Washington." I said you gotta be kidding. What are we going to do there? She told me I would be a waiter and she would be a waitress. AThat's it going to pay? She told me 55 cents an hour. I said you gotta be kidding. They promised a 12-hour day, seven days a week, time and a half after eight hours. That was 85 cents an hour, room and board, big wages.
The company that had advertised was called the B.F. Brown Company, which owned the Olympic Commissary which is what the Hanford operation was called. B.F. himself, and young Jim Brown, kind of looked at me when I came up to the office. I'm wearing a gabardine suit, a Borsalino hat, and this is in July, '43 when I was 27. He asked if we had experience, and we said we had. So he got us tickets for the Chicago, Northwestern, we connected with the Great Northern in Minneapolis. A fellow named Frank Palordi picked us up in Minneapolis and we stayed overnight.
Basically, it was a troop train, it was endless, just endless hours to get where we were going. And July 3rd, we arrived in Pasco, Washington. And let me tell you something, being raised in the big city of Chicago and eating in some of the finest restaurants in Chicago, we got off that train and I looked around and I said, "Honey, I don't know if we're going to make this or not. She was a pretty sturdy girl, and she said, "No, we're going to do it, we're going to do it."
They took us to a barracks to sleep that night, separate. The next day was July 4th, and we spent it in Pasco. They had a six or seven horse parade, drums, maybe six drummers, up and down, flags, and we spent the day in Pasco. It was 105 degrees. The next day we went to the personnel office and the guy looked at Maxine, and said to her, "I'm sure you can do more than waitress work." Maxine said she was the head waitress at the Latin Quarter for a couple of years. He looked at me, and said I must know more than being a waiter. I explained I had had experience in the meat packing industry and immediately we got a raise from 55 cents an hour to 75 cents. My wife would go to work as a mess hall supervisor and I would be a butcher.
The next day they put us in these buses that ran in the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, long open buses towed by a truck. Let me tell you, we ate more sand in the 40 miles to Hanford, it was endless. We got off the bus and we sank in sand a foot deep. There was no such thing as a sidewalk. They took us to the Grange Hall and that's where we had our first meal.
The way the food was prepared was all family style. The waitresses or waiters would run with these big carts up to the front where the cooks were dishing this stuff into family pans, like fried chicken. They would heap these big pans with fried chicken and run down the aisle and scoot it on these tables where all these guys were sitting, banging their hands. It looked like a prison camp to me.
We had what we called a center kitchen, and we did our own baking. It was a very good camp operation. We would lay butcher paper over the table after the tables were set with silverware and napkins. The reason for that was that at four o'clock every afternoon, the wind would come up and blow that sand. I mean that sand would sit anywhere from a quarter of an inch to an inch on all this. All we would do is pull the paper off and the sand went on the floor. We didn't bother sweeping the floor except to pick up food.
Working in the meat shop, I was more or less assistant to the butcher, John Dickey. He took off one day. He left me in charge of the meat market for the messhall. Dickey told me not to forget the meatballs, get the meat ground up for the meatballs. Don't forget the seasoning. Meantime, a couple of supervisors showed up. Jack Maline came into the messhall and said Dan Shea and I want to talk to you. I went to the guy under me and said don't forget the seasoning in the meatballs. He was a real fat comical guy, I don't know if he is still alive. Instead of putting salt into the meat, he put sugar in. The next day when all this meat was sent to the messhall kitchen to be made into meatballs and cooked and simmered, everything was fine. Until we got a police call. There was a riot in the messhall. Everybody was standing on their benches, picking these meatballs up and throwing them at the cooks. Getting hit by one of them was like getting hit by a golf ball. We had to call the riot squad. That was called the meatball riot.
Anyway, one of the reasons Shea and Maline called me, they wondered if I knew anything about making sandwiches. I said I did. They gave me a new job, they called me the nosebag. We were making sandwiches for box lunches, putting them in a paper bag. The first day I made something like 500. That went on, then we got the second messhall, and the third messhall, and the fourth messhall, and the box lunch orders were getting bigger and bigger and bigger, til finally Bob Burton, one of the Du Pont project managers, said we need a space for manufacturing these box lunches. They built a complete unit in about six days. I mean, these people, you would get up in the morning and walk through your barracks and there's about 20 more barracks that weren't there last night.
I moved into the unit, and I had my own kitchen, my own cutting rooms, and my peak we were making anywhere from 50,000 to 55,000 box lunches a day. I was in charge of the box lunch department, a 24-hour operation. I had about 370 some odd people, mostly women who were wives of construction workers.
The messhalls were not segregated by race or sex. We did have a lot of people from Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, people that today we call Arkies and Okies. They came with mattresses on top of their cars and trucks. Really, I thought it was the "Grapes of Wrath" to be honest with you. There was not any great segregation, that I could detect. I never heard of any racial trouble. If there were any incidents, it was basically a personal matter.
Coming back to the box lunches. We had what we called field messes. A lot of the box lunches were distributed out to the field messes for people who were way way out. I had from 20-30 refrigerated trucks running out into the areas delivering these box lunches. Most of them were picked up in the mess hall after breakfast. The mess halls made the coffee to go with them. Some messhalls made anywhere from 150 to 350 gallons of coffee a day. Everybody had a Thermos bottle. The bread was manufactured on the premises. We built another bake shop. They did pies and lots of different pastries, like dough-nuts and muffins. The food was very, very good.
Bascially, we had scrambled eggs, eggs up, pancakes, roast beef, chicken, fish. Most of our fish was fresh, it came out of Seattle. Salmon steaks, baked salmon. We had mashed potatoes, fresh because we were close to Moses Lake and Ephrata, the potato belt. We served a lot of beets from Utah. Most of the beef came from the Chicago-Omaha area. We served steak, not a lot of it, but we served it.
It took them 10 minutes to eat a meal. The way it worked was, all this food was dished up by the cooks in great big bowls and platters. A table took care of 12 people. Two bowls of potatoes, two bowls of chicken, two bowls of whatever was served. The waiters came along pushing carts of food. As fast as one was emptied, there was another. You couldn't sit anywhere you wanted. You were sent to the first empty table. And there was no lingering over a second cup of coffee. We did have a little alcove at the ends of the mess halls where there were containers of coffee where a guy could fill his Thermos and take it to his barracks.
The box lunch was like this, about 1,500 calories. We had three sandwiches with three ounces of food in each sandwich. Cheese, beef, or ham or chicken. There was fresh fruit, every once in a while we had salad. We used to give them a cold baked potato. A potato is a good vitamin source. Another thing, we dropped in two salt tablets in the box lunch. Toward the end, we started putting in candy bars, chewing gum and cigarettes, a sample pack of four. Our lunch cost was about 38 cents. We charged 55 cents.
We did have one problem. One of the girl's husbands solved it. Jessie Green, her husband Jimmy Green solved it. The way we made our sandwiches, we would put 12 to 18 pieces of bread on a tray and one girl would put margarine on them, another would put meat on and another would put the top on and another would put it in the wrapping machine. We were having a terrific slow job spreading the margarine. It was a bottle neck. But Jimmy Green came up with a good idea. He took a paint spray gun and he filled it with margarine and then he put two cathodes with electric heat and put those down into the margarine. Then after the margarine got hot and liquid he would take the spray gun and spray the bread. Necessity is the mother of invention.
After a while, my wife and I found a little house in White Bluffs. We had been living in the barracks and then a trailer for a while. Then, I found a place over toward Connell, about 12 miles from Hanford, across the river, for $20 a month. It had been a sheep ranch, and there were fruit trees, peaches, cherries, apricots, nectarines, fruit they called a yakamine, a cross between a nectarine and a peach. Alfalfa grew like it was going out of style. There was a creek running through it, and asparagus and rattlesnakes. Lots of rattlesnakes. And, we were allowed to have horses.
We used to go up to a place called Priest Rapids where there were Indians. The Indian chief was Johnny Buck. In order to get the horses, we had maybe six or seven gallons of wine with us, and we would say to Johnny Buck, we want to buy horses. He'd get the braves together and say we wanted horses, and everybody was having a good time with the wine, and two or three hours later here would come a load of horses, wild mustangs. You picked any you wanted for $2 a head. We promised Johnny Buck more wine. He died 12-14 years ago and they buried him at Priest Rapids. I went to the funeral. It's gorgeous there.
The social life was fantastic. We had a lot of married people we knew. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, secretaries for the Army and the Du Pont Company. We had people over to our ranch, I hate to say I was a rancher because I'm not, I'm a nice boy from Chicago. I don't think I wore any boots until I came out. I didn't know what a cowboy was, except for Hoot Gibson and Yakima Canute, they're the only people I ever knew who had boots. We had potluck barbeques at my place. I bought an old Model A Ford convertible for the 12-mile drive to Hanford Camp.
As hard as those guys worked, on Saturday nights they drank a lot of beer and had a lot of fun. They used to grab one of the dump trucks that belonged to the company they worked for. They would pull mattresses out of the bar-racks, throw them into the dump truck, load the dump truck with people and everybody had beer or booze and head for the desert.
When it came to women, well a lot of fellows were able to get away for a while and go to Sunnyside, Yakima, Spokane, Prosser, Moses Lake. Moses Lake had a lot of sporting houses. A lot of guys would go to Spokane. Spokane had a red light district.
My wife and I would work six straight weeks and go to Yakima for a little vacation. We stayed in the Chinook Hotel, a couple of blocks up from the bus depot. We would hitch hike through Moxie and drop beer in the creek, to get cool.
The life was good. We did have the advantage of saving an awful lot of money. When I left I was getting close to $1,150 a month, my wife was getting about the same. At that time in the '40s, it was great money. We were able to save because we had nothing to spend it on. After the bomb went, there was nothing much to do. We became surplus employees. When the bombs were dropped my recollection was, "God, is that what we were doing here? Did we get poisoned?"
S. L. Sanger: In one of the books, they had the mess hall, a few details about that, number of meals. The first one they said was, in the basement of the grain car in—
Harry Petcher: Correct.
Sanger: First mess hall, 5943, seating 2,600 people. Population while work was 48,000. During the peak, seven double unit mess halls, one single unit capacity 19,500. The last mess hall closed 2/20/45. Total meals from April ’43 to January ’45: almost 21 million. Boxed lunches: 3 million something. I remember you told me about the box—why don’t you just go ahead and tell the story?
Petcher: My wife and I, we got married in May 1943 and I was managing a nightclub in Chicago at that time at night, and I was working for the Signal Corps on Pershing Road in Chicago. I was a stock nomenclature clerk.
Sanger: You weren’t in the military?
Petcher: The reason I was doing this work was the fact that I was drafted, and then after my physical, I had flat feet so they—you know they eliminated you with flat feet. I became a 4F with the stipulation that I do war work.
Petcher: So I took this job with the Signal Corps. And the reason I took this job with the Signal Corps, General Carver was a very good friend of my dad’s, who—he was in charge of the Signal Corps. My dad was in the meatpacking industry. And he said to my dad, he says, “Heck, I can get him into the service, and he’d be a major before he even knew it.”
And my dad says, “No I don’t think he wants to go into the service now that he’s got flat feet he’s doing this work.”
And I managed a nightclub in the city of Chicago across from the Morrison Hotel.
Sanger: What was it called?
Petcher: It was called “Talk of the Town,” and I was working for the—trying to think of the name of the company that managed it. They managed a group of nightclubs in the area. They had the Capital Lounge in Chicago and the Preview Lounge, the Brass Rail Lounge, but that was my forte there and we didn’t serve food in that particular lounge.
So one day my wife called me up at the Signal Corps. Basically, we were looking for some other type of work. One of the reasons was, I had what you call a real fantastic Jewish mother. She would call us up at eight o’clock in the morning. My wife worked at the Latin Quarter, she was a waitress, cocktail waitress there in Chicago also. And my mother, God bless her soul, she calls up at eight o’clock in the morning and say, “How are you, kids?”
“Fine, Mom, how are you?”
“You getting ready to go to work?”
She could never really figure out what we did.
And one day my wife says, “We’re getting the hell out of this town.” My wife was from Iowa at that time, worked in New York. So anyway she called me at work one day and she said, “Honey, I just took a job for both of us at a place called Hanford, Washington.”
I says, “You got to be kidding. What are we going to do there?”
She says, “We’re going to go in as a waiter, you’re going to get a waiter’s job, and I’m going to be a waitress.”
And of course I said, “What’s it going to pay?”
She said, “55 cents an hour.”
I said, “You got to be kidding!”
And she says, “No.” She says, “They promised me a twelve-hour day, seven days a week, time and a half after over time.” Well, time and a half over overtime at 55 cents an hour is only 85 cents an hour. That’s big wages!
So we went to the company that advertised for us, was called B. F. Brown Company, who I continued working for in my years after that on the island of Guam.
And B. F. himself, young Jim Brown, kind of looked at me when I came up to the office. I’m wearing a Gabardine suit and a hat, and this is in July.
Sanger: This is ’43.
Petcher: ’43. So he said, “Have you guys had any experience?”
We told him, “Yes we did,” and so forth.
So they got us tickets for the Great Northern—not the Great Northern, I think it was Chicago Northwestern at that time, and we connected with the Great Northern in Minneapolis. A fellow by the name of Frank Polari picked us up in Minneapolis and we stayed right near the railroad station overnight. And we got on that train, and basically the train was a troop train. And we stopped all the way. It just took us endless to get to where we were going.
On July 3 we arrived in Pasco, Washington, and let me tell you something: being raised in the big city of Chicago and eating in some of the finest restaurants in Chicago, we got off that train and I looked around and I said, “Honey I don’t know whether we’re going to make this or not.”
She was pretty sturdy strong girl and she said, “No we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it.”
Well anyway, the next day was July 4. They took us to a barracks to sleep that night, separate. She went to the women’s and I went to the men’s. There was a lot of people that were going out to the job site.
The next day was July 4, and we spent it in Pasco and they had a six or seven horse parade and drums, maybe six drummers or so, up and down with flags. And we spent the day in Pasco and it was 105, I believe, degree.
The next day we went to the personnel office, on July 5. The guy looked at Maxine, that was my wife’s name, and said to her, “You can do more—I’m sure you can do more than waitress work.” And Maxine said she was the head waitress at the—she gave him the background. She was head waitress at the Latin Quarter for a couple years. He looked at me and he says, “I’m sure you know more than just being a waiter.” So I explained to him that I had had experience in the meatpacking industry. Immediately we got a raise from 55 cents an hour, we both got 75 cents an hour. And my wife was going to go to work as a mess hall supervisor, and I was going to go to work as a butcher in their butcher shop.
So the next day after that, they put us in these buses that ran through the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. There were these long open buses that were towed by a truck.
Sanger: Oh, is that right?
Petcher: That’s the kind of buses we were put on to go to Hanford. Let me tell you, we ate more sand for the 40 miles. It was endless, just endless. We got off the bus and we sank in sand this deep. There was no such thing as a sidewalk. They took us to the grange hall and that’s where we had our first meal, the grange hall. That was the first operation. It was run by the B. F. Brown Company for the DuPont Company. We were the subcontractor, basically.
Then the old elderly gentleman that was our project manager for B. F. Brown, his name was Dan Shea and his assistant was Jack Maline.
Petcher: I-N-E; yes, M-A-L-I-N-E and Shea, S-H-E-A. Dan Shea was with the Chicago Milwaukee Railroad originally and Maline was with the railroad. And they kind of took us under their wing. And I worked in the butcher, my wife took over the grange hall as the supervisor, mess hall supervisor.
Then we moved into the first big mess hall was there, and that was about oh, the 10th of July or so, and they gave her one end of the mess hall. And the way the food was prepared there was, all prepared family style. The waitresses or the busboys or waiters would run with these big carts up to the front, where the cooks were dishing this stuff out in what we called “family pans,” like say for fried chicken. They would just heap these big pans of fried chicken. They would run down the aisle and scooted on these tables where all these guys are sitting, you know, they’re banging their hands just like a—it looked like a prison camp to me. And then she was in charge of that one, and then she became the mess hall supervisor. She was in charge of both sides.
Sanger: There were two sides?
Petcher: Two sides, yeah, 1250 and 1250. We had what we called a central kitchen, you know? Central kitchen in the middle, and we did our baking, baking the pies. We baked our own breads and things of that nature. It was a good camp operation.
It was all screened. We’d lay over the tables. The tables were all set with silverware and everything like that for the men, basically the silverware was a knife, fork and tablespoon. That’s all that was on there, and they put the napkins on. Prior to that, all the tables were covered with what we called “butcher paper” at that time, not covered as a tablecloth per say, but covered over the overlay of the silverware. And the reason for that was that about four o’clock every afternoon, the wind would come up at Hanford and just blow that sand. I mean, that sand would sit anywhere from a quarter of an inch to an inch on all this stuff. All we would do is pull the paper off and set it on the floor, because we didn’t bother sweeping the floors except for pieces of food on the floor. And then the guys would start coming in.
Well, working in the meat shop, I was more or less assistant to the head butcher. I’m trying to think of his name. Dickey, John Dickey was his name, D-I-C-K-E-Y. And I was his assistant. And he took off one day. I got to tell you about this, and we could put it down and call it “The Meatball Riot,” if you want to. And he left me in charge of the meat market, the meat development.
Sanger: For the one mess hall?
Petcher: For the one mess hall. That’s the only one we had at that particular time.
Sanger: And that’s 1250 on a side?
Petcher: 1250 on each side, yes. Seats—and sometimes we would reseat them—they call them “resetting” in the camp business.
So he said to me, “You take care of this thing Harry,” he said, “Don’t forget the meatballs; get the meat ground up for the meatballs. Don’t forget the seasoning.”
I says, “I won’t. I won’t John, I won’t forget the seasoning.”
In the meantime, Jack Maline came into the mess hall, into the butcher shop, and he said, “Harry, Dan Shea and I want to talk to you.” So I went to the guy that was under me and I said, “Don’t forget the seasoning in the meatball, in the ground beef.” I can’t remember his name, anyways, a real nice fat, comical guy. I don’t know if he’s still alive or not. But anyway, instead of putting salt into the seasoning, they put sugar into the meat, unbeknownst to me.
So the next day when all this meat was sent out to the mess halls, to the mess hall kitchen to be balled into meat balls, you know, and cooked and simmered and so forth, everything was fine until we got a police call and there was a riot in the mess hall! The guys were standing on their benches picking these meatballs up and throwing them at the cooks on both sides. And you get hit by one of them, getting hit by a golf ball, I mean. These cooks were all in the back. We had to call out the riot squad. So that was called “The Riot of the Meatball,” “The Meatball Riot.” It was funny. I mean, to us it was serious but you look at it today and it’s funny, you know, it’s just like one of these slapstick comedies.
Anyway, one of the reasons that Jack Maline called me and Dan Shea, they wanted to know if I knew anything about making sandwiches. And I said, “Yes.” So they gave me the job, and they called me “the nose man.” We were making sandwiches up, boxed lunch sandwiches up and putting them into a paper bag, and putting up like into a corner and sealing them and putting a piece of string or tape on them.
The first day, I think I made something like 500 of them. Well, that went on, and then we got the second mess hall and the third mess hall and the fourth mess hall, because people were just coming in, coming in, and the boxed lunches were becoming bigger and bigger and bigger, until finally Bob Burton, who was one of the DuPont project managers said we’d need a space for manufacturing of these boxed lunches. So they built a complete unit, and it took maybe six days.
Petcher: A lot of them, they were able to get away for a while and go to Sunnyside, Yakima, Spokane, Prosser, Moses Lake. Moses Lake had a lot of spartic houses.
Sanger: Moses Lake did?
Petcher: Yeah, Moses Lake.
Sanger: There was an air base there too, wasn’t it?
Petcher: It was a very small air base. It wasn’t like it is today. I mean, what it really was, was a DC-3 base. It wasn’t a 747-type base. And the surrounding areas, and a lot of the guys would go to Spokane and they’d take time off and they’d go to Spokane. Spokane had a red light district there in that time too.
Sanger: What about along the river between Hanford, or the reservation and Pasco? Matthias, the Corps of Engineers guy, said there were a lot of shacks?
Petcher: Oh yeah, there were shacks.
Sanger: Houses and taverns, which he assumed were—
Petcher: Well there was that, but they were right on what you’d call borderline Hanford. Eventually they got rid of all that stuff, because like the ranch house that we were living on was the mayor’s home. I’m trying to think of the town that it was centered on. And the government confiscated all that land, you know?
Sanger: This is on which side of the river?
Petcher: That was on the other side of the river.
Sanger: That’s where you lived?
Petcher: Yeah, on the opposite side.
Sanger: North side.
Petcher: North side of the river.
Sanger: That really wasn’t White Bluffs.
Petcher: No, that was after White Bluffs. White Bluffs you could do right on a regular road, but to go to our other home, we had to go across ferry to the north and then we’d go up maybe eight or ten miles.
Sanger: That’s the ranch you’re talking about?
Petcher: Yeah, the ranch house.
Sanger: That was quite a palatial place, then.
Petcher: Yeah, mm-hmm, very nice. And the guy who did all the laundry, his name was Pop King. He was the laundry man. The laundry was supplied. In the barracks, the men didn’t have to make their own beds. We had what we called “bull cooks” and they came around every single day and made the beds. They kept the barracks swept up. There was shower rooms about the size of this living room, maybe 20 showers, they weren’t even stalls. They were just regular and then open urinals.
When you come back to the women, there was a lot of women, single women working for us in the mess halls, in the operation of the mess halls. You know, girls from Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Utah. They worked in the mess halls, they worked for me. I had I would say 275 women.
Sanger: In the boxed lunch—
Petcher: In the boxed lunch department. Two girls, one girl was named—they were twins—Claudine was one and I don’t know what the other one was, but they were my secretaries because we had to work three shifts a day. Those three shifts around the clock, all the time, because there was a shift coming, a shift working and a shift going, you know?
Sanger: They must have been pretty popular then, those single women?
Petcher: Oh, very much so. And there were dances; there was a dance hall.
Sanger: The auditorium?
Petcher: Yeah, big auditorium dance hall, movie theaters, outdoor movie theaters. The recreation was ample. There were pool halls.
Sanger: The women obviously could go in the beer hall. There must have been more than one beer hall?
Petcher: No, there was just one beer hall, one long huge bar. The figure was astronomical as far as the amount of beer that was poured a day, because it didn’t open up until four o’clock in the afternoon and it closed exactly at eleven. Four to eleven, every single day.
Sanger: Not Sundays, though, probably.
Petcher: No Sundays.
Sanger: Six days a week.
Petcher: Six days a week.
Sanger: This other guy also mentioned that he thought he had to buy some rum. Maybe that’s what you were talking about?
Petcher: You had to buy rum in order to get liquor.
Sanger: He thought that he could buy rum at the beer hall.
Sanger: That was a liquor store.
Petcher: No hard liquor. The closest liquor stores I’d say were Connell or Yakima or Sunnyside.
Sanger: Okay, so same as it is now in a tavern, you can’t buy liquor.
Petcher: We didn’t even serve wine in the beer hall, just draft beer. Bottled beer, I think, came in just around June ’44. June ’45, just at the time that the atomic bomb blew up, they started bringing in bottled beer. I think it was Pabst at that time, Pabst, and then Meister Brau out of Chicago came in.
Sanger: The pitchers were a buck.
Petcher: Yeah, pitchers were a buck and you get as many glasses as you—mugs as you wanted. And you couldn’t stand up and you couldn’t go to the bar and pick it up yourself. It had to be brought to you by a waitress.
Sanger: What was the reason for that?
Petcher: State law. I still don’t know why. I couldn’t understand why the reason was.
Sanger: That’s not in existence now.
Petcher: No, no. If you recall, how long have you been in the state of Washington?
Sanger: Since the early ‘70s, but I remember people used to talk about that.
Petcher: Right. In a cocktail lounge in Seattle, for example, you could not carry a drink in your hand to another table. A waitress had to carry it over for you. A woman couldn’t sit at the bar in Seattle up until ten years ago.
Sanger: And that was supposedly to avoid prostitution.
Petcher: Avoid prostitution and avoid people walking around with a drink in their hand, you know, or falling down and cutting themselves. I mean, a million and one reasons for it, you know.
Sanger: But I’m surprised that those guys at Hanford would tolerate that kind of a—
Petcher: Well, they tolerate it because, number one, they were earning a fantastic living during the war. They weren’t in the Army and they weren’t in the Navy and they weren’t in the Marine Corps, and they didn’t have to kowtow and heave-ho. They had their rules and regulations, of course, but the average guy—figure it out: he’s working twelve hours a day at $4 an hour and time and a half after 48 hours, seven days a week. This guy, he’s piling a lot of money away any way you look at it. You just have to concentrate on that thought.
Sanger: What was your social life like?
Petcher: It was fantastic because we had a lot of married people that we knew that were construction workers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, truck drivers. There’s truck drivers, for example, whose wives worked in the mess hall. A lot of them worked as secretaries, you know, for the Army, and also for the DuPont Company. I mean, they had a lot of people. There was a lot of people.
Our social life was good and we’d have people over to our ranch. I hate to say this, that I’m a rancher, because I’m not. I’m just a nice boy from Chicago. I don’t think I wore boots until I came out. I didn’t know what a boot was other than—Hoot Gibson and Yakima Canutt were the only people that I ever knew that had boots.
And we have potluck barbecues at my place, because it really was only the only place that you could really come to because the other people lived in trailers and things of that nature, and it was a nice place to come to. And a lot of these guys asked me if they could have horses at our place. We had stables with fifty to sixty stalls in there. And I said, “Hell, as long as you come back and take care of your own horse, you can have them,” because we had all the alfalfa we wanted because it was free.
The government gave it to us because the chief warden or chief officer would say to me after they cut the alfalfa, “How many bales do you want”?
I’d say, “Sixty,” and so you get sixty bales of alfalfa.
“How many peaches do you want”?
“Ten bushels,” and big bushels.
Sanger: How did you happen to get this ranch?
Petcher: Just the fact that I heard about this piece of property out there. I asked my supervisor, who was Don Shea at that time, if he could arrange for Maxine and I to take that place over.
Sanger: Well, who owned it originally?
Petcher: The government, well, the mayor of this town; I don’t know what the name of that—
Sanger: That would have been what, east or west, north and west?
Petcher: Northwest of Hanford.
Sanger: It was off the reservation.
Petcher: It was off the reservation at that time until the government took it over. I wouldn’t say it was off the reservation; I would say it was part of the reservation.
Sanger: Tut they couldn’t farm it because it was—
Petcher: It didn’t belong to the government, right. And the only reason they farmed it was the fact that it was there.
Sanger: And the prison?
Petcher: The prison took care of that; right.
Sanger: Vernita, is that—
Petcher: Vernita, where the bridge is.
Sanger: Would you have been up closer to Priest Rapids, then?
Petcher: No, no, we were on the opposite side. We were closer to Connell.
Sanger: The opposite side, okay. How long did you live there?
Petcher: Well let’s put it this way, ’43, and we left—
Sanger: I mean, at that ranch.
Petcher: Maybe six months, seven months.
Sanger: You lived in the barracks first and then trailers?
Petcher: Barracks first, trailer in White Bluffs, and then the ranch.
Sanger: Where did you live in White Bluffs?
Petcher: We had an old farm, there was an old farm house.
Sanger: There was a house still?
Petcher: Yeah old farm house.
Sanger: Most of them were torn down.
Petcher: Yeah. There was an old farmhouse, no plumbing, outside plumbing.
Sanger: You lived four places.
Petcher: Right. I bought a Model A Ford convertible for like $200 from some guy that was leaving, you know?
Sanger: So this ranch there was about eight miles, you say?
Petcher: Eight miles from the project.
Sanger: And how far from where you were working, eight miles?
Petcher: About twelve miles in total.
Sanger: From the Hanford camp.
Petcher: Right, because I had to come across the bridge. Where is the Columbia River?
Sanger: Columbia is right here.
Petcher: Okay, we were approximately here, and we came across the river here. Right here is we—
Petcher: Ringold was where we had a ferry boat and come right across.
Sanger: Where were you?
Petcher: Right about here.
Sanger: You had to go across the river.
Petcher: Yeah, and then we would come across the river, and then we would go to Connell to get our booze. We would come across here to Mesa, and then we would go up to Connell.
Sanger: Where was the ranch?
Petcher: The ranch was just around here, around Mesa city, up through here.
Sanger: Your food operations, was the campsite there?
Petcher: At the campsite.
Sanger: Did you later move down towards Richland?
Sanger: What did you do then after the construction was over?
Sanger: Yeah, your job must have changed some, didn’t it?
Petcher: No, no, still continued. Still continued doing the box lunch.
Sanger: It must have dropped off?
Petcher: Oh God, completely, that’s why I say we were all surplus. It was just a matter of time, and we were all getting ready to move anyway. We all decided to—trying to think of the guy’s name that—we all moved up to San Francisco at that time.
Sanger: So you were there when both the bombs were dropped?
Sanger: Still in Hanford. What’s your recollection of the reaction when that happened?
Petcher: Well the recollection at that time was, “God, is that what we were doing here? God did we get poisoned?” I mean, it was all—
Sanger: Fear of the—
Petcher: Yeah, I mean there was that feeling. There was that feeling, except by the engineers that said, “Heck we—there was—”
Sanger: Nothing to worry about?
Petcher: “Nothing to worry about.” But like I say, about the shoes—
Sanger: You mentioned that earlier.
Petcher: Yeah, about the shoes. We felt, after it was all over with, then we start recalling the shoe factor. “Geez, I hope my feet don’t fall off, or my legs don’t swell or anything like that.” And there were times that, being very honest with you, my wife couldn’t even come to work because her feet were so swollen and more or less poisoned from the sand. Basically that’s what the doctors told us that was: it was the sand. You can’t walk without certain types of shoes and your feet should be covered all the time and so forth.
Sanger: Because of radioactivity?
Petcher: They didn’t know. The word “radioactivity” never came into the concept of our particular work. In other words, “You have bad feet? Oh, of you’ve got Athlete’s foot, or you’re getting an infection or a virus,” or something like that.
Sanger: You never had any idea what was going on until the bombs?
Petcher: Nothing. For example, like if I would go out with one of our trucks out to a field mess, the closest that I ever got to the so-called surrounding areas with the towers and so forth and so on, which may be a half a mile, and that’s where we would drop our food off and the guys would come in and we’d leave.
Sanger: Those were around where the reactors were?
Petcher: Where the reactors were and which is now right off the Columbia River, you know, where the water—we see a lot of water coming through but we wouldn’t know what it was for.
Sanger: No one had any idea?
Petcher: No idea. That’s why I say, coming back to something we said, “We’re making the part that goes on the end, that goes on the shoelaces.” We didn’t know what the project was about.
The ones that did, I think, they were living—at that time they were living in the Richland, Kennewick area, which is the physicists and the scientists. But that I don’t recall, and I can’t say verifically—verify the fact that if we ever did any feeding to the scientists and physicists at that particular time. Now it could have been that we did, and I as an individual did not know that something was going on out there. In other words, our company probably had—they had to have a mess hall or dining hall in some of that area, but I did not know about that at all.
Sanger: Did you have any personal speculation what might be happening out there?
Petcher: Nothing to be honest; I don’t think that I—
Sanger: The war plan.
Petcher: The war plan. We just knew we were working, because coming back to the war plan, I went out there as a—I think there was 4F and they put me up to 4A and then they put me up to a 2A.
Sanger: Is that getting closer to being drafted?
Petcher: No, that was getting closer to not being taken. In other words, 1A, 2A.
We did have rationing there. You know, nothing was basically free. We did have rationing for shoes, we had rationing for sugar, we had rationing for butter, rationing for gasoline because they didn’t want us to drive our cars all over hell and breakfast. The mess halls, we all were issued—my operation, we were issued red points and blue points and green points, which you could use it. And like for cheese, we had to have red points for cheese, and we could bring in so much cheese for our making of our sandwiches. And for the butter and then the margarine—margarine had no points at all, because—I don’t know why it didn’t have points. It should have had more points than butter basically because of the salad oil, it’s used in margarine at that time. But we had rationing. It wasn’t all a great big nice thing especially for the families, you know?
The families that were lots of kids had some pretty good schools. We had five or six good first aid stations scattered through the area. We had one hospital group and if it was surgery or anything like that was needed, they used to take them to Yakima or Sunnyside. As a matter of fact, there’s an outfit and there’s a large clinic in Sunnyside that’s still there that used to do a lot of medical work for the Hanford project.
Sanger: You had nothing to do with Richland particularly?
Petcher: The only time I ever had anything to do with Richland was, towards the end of the project we drove through Richland and Kennewick and Pasco. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I was in Pasco three times after the July 3 incident that we arrived at the Great Northern.
Sanger: You tended to go to Connell or to Yakima?
Petcher: Yeah, and Sunnyside, and through there. Yeah, we liked that area much better.
Sanger: To get to Yakima, you would have had to cut across the reservation?
Petcher: Cut across the reservation. We were allowed to cut across the reservation and go alongside the reservation all the way to Moxee, which was the next stop. In other words, there was no you could turn off after Moxee. You were on the reservation road, and when you hit Moxee and you left Moxee, you went through guarded stations. And you sure had to show your pass and your car pass. Your personal pass and your car was searched at that particular station. And your car again was searched as you came into Hanford proper, you know, where the grange hall was and then to go to your area of work or what have you. We used to be checked every morning when we’d go coming from White Bluffs.
Sanger: What are they looking for?
Petcher: No, they didn’t say. They didn’t say.
Sanger: Was that the DuPont police?
Petcher: The DuPont police, yeah. DuPont police searched the cars. Basically, I never saw a firearm, other than the police department and the Army people. I don’t believe I saw a firearm from an individual.
Sanger: Did you ever run into any of the military intelligence people in plainclothes who circulated around there?
Petcher: Oh yeah, there was quite a few. Basically in order for us to even work on the project we all had to get an FBI check. I’ll never forget my mother writing. She didn’t know it was the FBI. She wanted to know if I am in trouble because there was somebody around asking about me and the schools that I went to.
Sanger: One of the physicists I talked to said that he apparently ate at the mess halls occasionally because he said that what amazed him was that people didn’t talk, they just ate. Is that right?
Petcher: That’s right.
Sanger: They were silent.
Petcher: It was very, very silent. It was almost like you’d see—put your TV on and you’d see a prison picture, a prison movie of some kind. Nobody talks because it wasn’t the sociable-type thing. Basically, these guys, it was a job, period. And the places that were the busiest on payday was the Post Office and there was a Western Union telegraph office.
Sanger: For telegraphing money?
Petcher: Telegraphing money and telegraphing, sending money orders.
Petcher: So these were busy places.
Sanger: Of course. How long would it take these guys to eat a meal?
Petcher: Ten minutes. The way it worked was, all this food was being by the cooks, great big bowls, bowls and platters. A table could carry twelve people. It was twelve people at a table. There was two bowls of potatoes, two bowls of chicken, two bowls of beef or whatever was being served that day. And the girls would come along and the men that were waiters came along and just were pushing these carts. And as fast as the carts were emptied, another cart was right behind him. It was a long stream.
In other words, if you were down front, there was no such thing as you could sit anywhere you wanted. You come in the mess hall, they’d run you right down to the first table, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth. And as fast as those got emptied of men, all those dishes were picked up again and put into the dish room and brought back. In other words, when the last table was , the other tables in front were about half filled again one and a half times.
Sanger: There wasn’t any lingering over a second cup of coffee?
Petcher: Oh no very, very little. But we did have what you could call little alcoves at the end of the mess halls, by the entrances, where there was always great big thermoses of coffee. A guy could take and fill his thermos bottle up to take to his barracks and so forth and so on.
And then in the mess hall number one, that was a twenty-four hour mess hall, that was where my wife worked. Guys coming off the second shift would be able to go in there and get—well, second shift usually was dinner. But the third shift usually was a breakfast, like ham and eggs and stuff like that. But we did serve, besides the scrambled eggs, we served eggs sunny-side up. I mean, really good solid food. Like a stack of pancakes for a table of twelve, there’s probably thirty-six pancakes, three a piece is what the average was. We ran three sandwiches of three ounces of food in each sandwich, whether it was cheese or beef or ham or chicken, or whatever it was.
We had one incident, oh I would say, not one, I shouldn’t say that. But we had maybe in my period, I would say, maybe fifteen to twenty food poisoning factors. What would happen is, some of the men would take their lunches in—each area that they were working, they had what they called ice coolers. And trucks would come during the night and drop big chunks of ice in there, and this is where they were told to put their lunches. A lot of guys didn’t. They left them in their pick-up trucks. A lot of guys would take a couple of hard boiled eggs, for example, that were in the lunches also. We would throw eggs, hard boiled eggs. Use these big galley tubs and cook maybe 60, 200 dozen eggs for hard boiled eggs, and drop a hard-boiled egg into each one. And they would leave these eggs out in the sun, the hot sun, and they’d eat these eggs, and they’d get sick. They would get food poisoning.
We had what we called “The Program.” We also had a big safety program, if you recall. I don’t know whether your people told you that DuPont had the finest safety record of accidents of any company that was doing war work, because we had safety inspections, we had sanitation inspections. I mean, it was really fantastically organized job.
Sanger: I think that in my research that I can only find two fatalities during the job. Of course, there were lots of injuries, naturally.
Petcher: Oh yeah, you’ll find injuries on any job.
Sanger: It was considered a very safe.
Petcher: It was a good safe job. We did have a lot of fatalities on the roads with drunken drivers and guys getting really out of line. But when you start to think the amount of dirt that these guys moved in these big Eucs [off-road dump truck], you know endless, endless miles of these Eucs would be going down these highways and maybe 15 to 50,000 pounds in a Euc of dirt or sand or whatever they were doing. And we had one group, one area that you’d see these guys come in. They were cement workers, and that’s where a lot of the prefab experimentation was done at Hanford. You know, you read about a place that they can—well, you see it over here, a prefab bridge. You know, all these units were prefabbed and they started prefabbing that over there, and I’m trying to think of the name of the—Portland Cement.
Petcher: Portland Cement started that. As a matter of fact, Portland Cement came with us to Guam. I mean, they had a prefab group in Guam.
Sanger: What’s a Euc?
Petcher: A Euc are these great, great big trucks. The wheels I would say would stand eight feet high, and the guy would sit way up on top of it like that, and kind of closed, snub nose. Basically it was a dump truck. As a matter of fact, if you’ll research it, you’ll find that the Eucs were used on the Alcan Highway.
Sanger: In your boxed lunches, the sandwiches, sometimes an egg or sometimes—
Petcher: Yeah, and there was fruit, there was fresh fruit all the time.
Sanger: All the time.
Petcher: Fresh fruit. Every once in a while we were able to put a salad in there, when the weather was proper, like for example coleslaw, when the mayonnaise wouldn’t turn. See, mayonnaise in itself will turn in a sandwich. We never used mayonnaise, we used margarine on sandwiches.
And coming back to the margarine, we had a problem. One of the girl’s husbands solved it. I’m trying to think of her name. Jessie Green. Her husband, Jimmy Green, solved this thing. What was happening, when we would make our sandwiches, we would put twelve to eighteen pieces of bread on a tray or a board, and one girl would put margarine on, another girl would put the meat on, another girl would put what they call the top on, and then another person would put it into the wrapping machine. And I’ll tell you about the wrapping machine in a minute. So we were having a terrific slow job, not a snow job, but a slow job on spreading the margarine, and this guy came up with a spray. He took a paint spray. You know, the paint spray gun?
Petcher: And he put, where the spray thing suck the paint up, you know? He took two cathodes, metal cathodes that had electric heat in them, and put those down into the margarine, okay?
Petcher: And then he’d take this spray gun and he would go, “Psh, psh, psh” and it would spray the bread. Necessity is the mother of invention, let’s face it. This guy watched when his wife would tell him all these stories about how hard it is to spread the margarine. And it was hard because we would melt maybe—we’d try to thaw or melt tubs and tubs and tubs of margarine, and people are building up with spatulas trying to spread it, and the waste is just something else, you know? And of course it becomes that way, and he invented this and we got about ten, twelve of them together. And took them down to the engineering department and, “Oh hell that’s the greatest idea I’ve ever heard of!” And here we had them, you know?
Sanger: My gosh.
Petcher: This is very, very important.
Petcher: And then we started out with bags, putting them in bags of steak, little bags. And then someone came up with the open box. The open box itself, you know, that you see today by Kentucky Fried Chicken. This was a box that you see eggs packed in today, egg cartons today.
The machine that we used to wrap the sandwiches was designed by a company in Ohio, the [inaudible] Machine Company, and they were a bread wrapper company. They sent their people out there to check this. And what happened is, they would put a block of very thin paper or thin cardboard. The sandwich would go on that, go through this chute. It would be wrapped in cellophane and dropped down. It would go this way and that way. Then people were standing on the line picking up the sandwich and dropping it, and going down towards the end, all on these rollers, you know, the conveyor belts? And it was blocked. We used to pack fifty boxed lunches in each big carton. The cartons were about like this.
Sanger: How big were the boxes about?
Petcher: They were oh, like a shoebox, a small little shoebox.
Petcher: Well, like the egg carton.
Sanger: But they weren’t reused then, huh?
Petcher: No they were not; left out in the field somewhere. We used to also give them in the boxed lunches, we used to give them a cold baked potato because we would get so many potatoes from Moses Lake and up through that area. The 24-hour mess hall would bake these potatoes off for us just endlessly. Just put pans and pans of baked potatoes in. They were all clean and ready to go and they were just dropped into the [boxed lunches]. A potato itself is a fantastic—it’s like a good vitamin, you know. Oh and another thing we had to do in the boxed lunches, we dropped two salt tablets in each one of them.
Petcher: Two salt tablets were wrapped and the men were told to take these salt tablets every day.
Sanger: So each boxed lunch had—
Petcher: Had two salt tablets.
Sanger: Well, what would be a typical boxed lunch then?
Petcher: Typical boxed lunch would be a cheese sandwich.
Sanger: Is that white bread?
Petcher: White and wheat bread. We used two types. And the meat and maybe a peanut butter/jelly sandwich.
Sanger: You’d get three sandwiches?
Petcher: Three sandwiches in each one.
Sanger: Is that double pieces? I mean three big sandwiches?
Petcher: Three ounces per sandwich. Basically, you got to remember, Steve, that the guys were working a ten to twelve-hour shift, and boy when they came in after that twelve-hour shift, let me tell you something, they were hungry. We figured half a pound per man of product, of the main product in the mess hall. In other words, a man would get half pound of chicken, half pound of beef, half pound of ham, half pound of pork, or, you know like when I say “pork,” we used to make pork steaks and pork chops. Then besides the gravy and the potatoes and the onions and the vegetable. I mean, it was a good solid meal, and the meal would average about pretty close to 1,500 calories per.
Sanger: That’s in the mess hall?
Petcher: In the mess hall.
Sanger: And the box lunch is three sandwiches and what else?
Petcher: Three sandwiches, piece of fruit, hard-boiled egg, maybe a potato and maybe a piece of pastry. Just depended on how—
Sanger: Maybe a salad?
Petcher: Very little salad. We tried to stay away as much as we could from stuff like potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw. We would serve sometimes if we didn’t serve a peach, an apple, or an orange, we’d have maybe four plums. You know, we’d get the pruned plums from California or maybe a whole tomato would go in, stuff like that. I mean, it was just a matter of what we could get on the market.
We had maybe like Jack Maline and Frank Polardi, their job was to see that we got enough fruit and product into our mess hall cool room to take care of our lunches as we went along. They were out in the field, they’re in California. Peaches, for example, came out of Georgia, we got Georgia peaches. We got stuff, cherries, out of Washington, you know, and it was all washed. Now we didn’t bag that stuff because at that time there was no such thing as—you know, cellophane we had was the cellophane that we were using in our machine, our wrapping machine. There was no such thing as bags or anything like that other than the craft bag.
Sanger: Do you recall any problems of getting enough food?
Petcher: Very seldom. We always had enough food of some kind, you know. Like say for beef, we would use the wet meat and we would cook some of it, and the mess halls would cook some of it and they’d send it to us, and we’d practically shred like you would get your—what do you call it today, that you mix it up with beef and stuff? Sloppy Joe.
Petcher: But we wouldn’t add anything to it to make it sloppy. We would use it dry after it’d been cooked. In other words, like basically boil the beef, you know, and then we’d just chunk it out and shave it up and put it into the sandwich. Men would love it, it was good, high protein. Towards the end we start putting in candy bars, you know, that we were buying through our post exchange. There’s so many things that could go in. Chewing gum went in. Then one guy came up, “Let’s put cigarettes in there.”
Sanger: In the box?
Petcher: In the box lunch. The sample pack that you see on the street, they were packed especially for the Army people and Navy people, you know, they were going overseas. And a lot of that stuff was being brought back into civilian life. Christ, I remember one time we got something like 350 cases of Lucky Strike. The green stripe went to our—and there was two—no, there was four cigarettes in each pack. We’d throw it back into the box lunch, and Dan Shea or Jack Maline, “Put it in the lunch, put it in the lunch.” Our lunch cost at that time was about 38 cents or something like that, our administrative cost.
Sanger: The men would pay—?
Petcher: 55 cents.
Sanger: And they were making how much an hour?
Petcher: $4 or $5 an hour, $6 an hour. Some guys were getting $9.
You talk about violence, and that there was one time that there was a truck driver strike for about three days, they just wanted more money. I think they got 10 cents an hour more or something like that. See today it’s— they want a $1.50, $2, $3 an hour.
Sanger: Those were the days.
Petcher: Like I say, the post offices were busy. A lot of these guys had families living in other places, you know? But the average guy I would say lasted about 12 to 18 months on the job, until they started getting surplus just like everybody else. See, the original job was left to our company, the B. F. Brown company, Olympic Commissary Company, was left in December 1942 because most of the stuff was being done in the east in Chicago area, the Battelle Laboratories and then the Manhattan Project in the—we had a lot to do. We did have a lot of intermingling with—
Sanger: Los Alamos?
Petcher: Los Alamos. There were people that used to come in and said, “I worked at Los Alamos,”
“What’d you do there”?
“I don’t know, the same thing I’m doing here,” and people like that. Our company fed at Los Alamos also.
Sanger: Oh, it did?
Sanger: You didn’t know how long you’d be there?
Petcher: No, I mean it was just a matter of—
Sanger: Duration of the war?
Petcher: We asked them what, “How long are we going to be able to work here?”
“We’ll let you know.” It was that type of thing, “We’ll let you know.”
Sanger: Did you ever go back home to Chicago during this period to visit?
Petcher: No. But then after the project was over and we lived in San Francisco. We did drive to Chicago, just for a small family reunion, and then came back to San Francisco again. That’s where they picked me up again to go to Guam.
Sanger: in recent years to visit?
Petcher: I drove through. I drove through Richland and Pasco and I was on the borderline of the Horse Haven desert. Then again, I say I was up in Priest Rapids for Johnny Buck’s funeral.
Petcher: And that’s the last time I was up in that area.
Sanger: Did you ever go back to the ranch?
Petcher: No, I don’t think I’d be able to find it, to be honest with you, Steve.