HANFORD REACH > Oral Histories

Thomas Clarke

I was four years old when we were moved out. So some things are what I've been told, and some of them I can remember. But I know that we had seventy-two hours to leave.

Where we were from is White Bluffs. If you look on old maps, there's a little dot in the Hanford Area that was called Juliette Station. That was our home place; it was an old trading post.

See, Juliette station... it was the upriver stop for the riverboats; it was named after the captain's daughter. So that's why it was called Juliette station... About five miles upriver from White Bluffs itself.

When the government took over and purchased the land, they told my father we would not be going. We had sorting sheds, warehouses and orchards, and he had another hundred-eighty acres he had purchased dances; they were all real musical... My mother was born in 1917.

When we were moved out in '43, what my memory is... it was in the fall, after harvest, it would have been October or November. Grapes were picked, and we didn't have any place to go. Because it's hard to buy property or move in seventy-two hours. So what we did is, we loaded everything we could up on our trucks. And most of it was farm equipment rather than household goods, because that's what you needed to make a living. So we moved into fruit-picker’s housing that one of the former White Bluffs people had. We lived in the house over the winter. It was just a little one-room place; there was three kids, my parents.

And then my dad bought a place down at Whitstran. And after about three years the Chandler Canal came through, and his property was condemned again... My father quit farming, then.

And that's my memory of it. For a four year old, it's just a big adventure.

I worked out at the Hanford Area for some years. And I've been to our home place; I believe it was about ’85. The Department of Energy said we could go out and do tours of our old places.

So what they did prior to that is, they took a bulldozer and knocked all the old places down. Because they didn't want anyone picking any memorabilia up, because it may be contaminated, or something like that.

A lot of people know exactly where my place was, because we were below what was called 100D. And 100D sits up on an elevated area; there's a flat area down below it. And there's about three or four trees down there, and there's always deer, down there. Those trees are part of our apricot orchard. And they’re as high as a deer can stand, can get, on his hind feet. So they’re a little tall. And they’re naturally irrigated, by the river. A lot of people have driven down there and been at the old place.

Barbara: The soft fruit trees are still there, at the old place. And you can see remnants of the wooden pipe that his dad used for irrigation.

Thomas: At White Bluffs, it was soft fruit: apricots, peaches, ’cause you can dry apricots and ship them all over the world. And they were pretty well known for that.

When you drive on the one road that goes past Hanford and White Bluffs, and the old railroad tracks there, you will see farms, some of the old asparagus farms. You can see where there was roads, and occasionally, you can see fruit...

Barbara: The road inside of Hanford;

Thomas: It goes past Hanford, and then up to White Bluffs... You can see the farms, most of them are on the river side of the road.

And you could never re-farm them. Because you don't know what aerial contamination would be there. You also might not be able to sell your fruit because of the mental concept that people would have. And what would you do for water? You may not have water anymore. Because they actually pumped water out of the river for the farms. I don't think they had major irrigation. Also there's no wood at White Bluffs. If you wanted wood, you would take your boat out, and tag on to a log, and tow it in. It was all driftwood. And then you would saw it up, and keep it down by the river until it dried out enough to burn.

My father documented everything before we were moved, before we were moved: when he got notice, and that went to court. And in '48 my father was paid for it: he got ninety-six thousand dollars in 1948 from the federal government.

Barbara: But you know, he was a broken man. Because he had lost two farms. He became a truck driver. And he was a broken man. He became an alcoholic. And it was not a pretty picture...

Thomas: Well, it was never hard on us, because it never reflected on the family.

I've worked in almost every Area in the Hanford Area, because I was an inspector, and I would go where my employer had the work. And I worked for a number of different people; Quality Assurance, Quality Control...

Barbara: But not for DuPont.

Thomas: Not for Dupont.

Barbara: Dupont was not highly regarded at the time, because they had moved a lot of people out.

Thomas: Yeah, they were they were connected to that. It wasn’t a compliment to call you a “Duponter.”

I went out into the Area in ’75. I was just a little guy; I did a little of everything I could figure out to do.

You know, there's a lot of things... Working in Hanford Area, I kept looking for things... I didn’t know much about it, because we were pretty well locked out. No one could show you anything. They could tell you things, but that’s a great imagination. You couldn't go in on the river... It was pretty much locked out.

I’ve been in different levels of protective gear. And they train you to dress. When you put your gear on, Bob sits there and watches you...

Bob Smith: I was a radiation monitor, they call them health physics technicians.

Thomas: We depended on him to tell us that we could go in a site. And he would tell us where hot areas were. And then we could avoid them.

I've also worked at Hanford Two, where you went into the reactor. Which I’ve been in.

When they crack the seal on the reactor, and it's not the physical reactor but inside the eight foot concrete wall, of rebar and concrete: when you're going in, it’s a hundred and forty degrees. You wear two suits. And you’re taped up into the first suit, you’re taped up with the second suit, and you're all taped up all the way around, and then you put rain gear on top of that. And it was surprising, because if you prepare for it, drink a lot of water, it isn't as uncomfortable as it would seem. You came out, and all of your gear was wet from sweating. But it kept you cool. They really knew what they were doing.

They had a setup where, as you came out, you took off different gear in steps. And a lot of times it was laundered in a special facility that would remove contamination. If it was contaminated it went one place, if it wasn't, it would go to another.

And I’ve been at Dash–5, which was one of the “high level” Areas. I've caused lock-downs sometimes, because, people didn't coordinate things...

Bob Smith: That’s a top-secret Area.

Thomas: I've been through Areas you go through, and they talk about a “criticality.” And there’s so many alarms that can go off. You can't be asleep, and ignore anything. If someone does something wrong... You have to react, to an action. And that's what you're doing at work, you're doing unique parts of work.

You can't get excited. You have to do a “controlled reaction.” You can't, you're not gonna go running off, screaming in the dark, cause you’re gonna spread things around That's just... And maybe part of that's military training, too.

Barbara: The old-timers were still so sad, because at the end of the war, the men came home, but they didn't come home; there was no home. When they left, they had a home, when they came back, there was no home.
And they wanted to put, "they" being the older folks, wanted to put a memorial up at the White Bluffs boat landing naming the men from White Bluffs and Hanford who had been killed in the war. And the government wouldn't let them do it.

I did ask my dad something that was interesting to me, because I used to hunt. I said, “Was there any elk here?” And he said there was never any elk around the Hanford/White Bluffs Area; they were never there.

Barbara: So the big herd that we have now came here; they migrated. The blood lines are from both the Blue Mountains and the Cascades. So granted, they do have abnormal antlers, not because of radiation or anything like that, just, you know, they've got abnormal antlers. Which could be a sign of inbreeding. But that herd has been tested to the Nth, and it's still a very viable herd because they're not inbred. They came here, as animals often do. But they are not, there were no elk for the Wanapum, when they were living there and surviving.

Thomas: Now, I would guess that what happened is in the ice age floods, a lot of the animals were decimated and didn't come back.But I don't know, that's just speculation.

White Bluffs and the Hanford Area has a great wealth of birds native to the area, because of the protected expanse. They can still nest. Ferruginous hawks are one that is hard to find now. And there are several pair that nest there. There are Eagles coming back.

Barbara: And nesting.

Thomas: And nesting, which they weren't, until recently.

My mother said an army major came up, and he said, “We’re moving you in seventy-two hours. If you're sitting in your rocking chair on the front porch, we’re forming the line of march; we’re going to pick up you, and the rocking chair, and take you to the line, and put you down.”