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.

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, [my father] had sorting sheds, warehouses and orchards, and he had another hundred-eighty acres he had purchased under irrigation. He had it all ready to go. And then they came in and said, “You gotta go: seventy-two hours; take what you can, and get out.”

He'd inherited it from his father, and they had been there from about 1915 to 1943. My mother was born there. And my great-grandfather was deputy sheriff at White Bluffs. My great-grandfather, Clayton Gruell, he was involved with the Yakama. He spoke several dialects of Native American language, and he was useful, there.

Everyone went to the dances, everyone played music that could play. Clayton was a violinist. And my mother and her sister, they played piano, guitar, mandolin, trumpets, in a professional quality. Their brother had the band at the dances; they were all real musical... My mother was born in 1917.

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. We moved into fruit-picker’s housing. We lived in that house over the winter, 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.

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, on his hind feet… So they’re a little tall. And they’re naturally irrigated, by the river.

The soft fruit trees are still there, at the old place. And you can see remnants of the wooden pipe that dad used for irrigation. 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... The road inside of Hanford; 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 pumped water out of the river for the farms. Also there's no wood at White Bluffs; it was all driftwood.

My father documented everything before we were moved, when he got the notice, and went to court. And in '48 my father was paid for it: he got ninety-six thousand dollars in 1948 from the federal government. But you know, he was a broken man. Because he had lost two farms. He became a truck driver. And he became an alcoholic. And it was not a pretty picture... 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 worked for a number of different people; Quality Assurance, Quality Control... But not for DuPont. Dupont was not highly regarded at the time; they had moved a lot of people out. 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. Working in Hanford Area was interesting. I kept looking for things... I didn’t know much, because we were pretty well locked out. No one could show you anything; there’s a great imagination. You couldn't go in on the river… Pretty much locked out.

I’ve been in different levels of protective gear. I've worked at Hanford Two, where you went into the reactor. Which I’ve been in.

When they crack the seal on the reactor, inside the eight foot concrete wall of rebar and concrete: it’s a hundred and forty degrees. You wear two suits; you’re taped up into the first suit, you’re taped up with the second suit, you're all taped up all the way around, and then you put rain gear on top of that. And it’s surprising. 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. 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: one of the “high level” Areas; that’s a top-secret Area. 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; you can’t ignore anything. If someone does something wrong, you can't get excited... You have to do a “controlled reaction.” You can't go running off, screaming in the dark, cause you’re gonna spread things around... That's just part of the job. And maybe part of that's military training, too.

I did ask my dad, “Was there any elk here?” Because I used to hunt. He said there was never any elk around the Hanford/White Bluffs Area; they were never there. So the big herd that we have now, they migrated... They came here, as animals often do.

So granted, they do have abnormal antlers, not because of radiation or anything like that, just, you know, they have abnormal antlers. Which could be a sign of inbreeding... But that herd has been tested to the Nth, and they're not inbred.

White Bluffs and the Hanford Area has a great wealth of birds native to the area, because of the protected expanse. Ferruginous hawks, there are several pair that nest there. There are Eagles coming back and nesting, recently.

My mother said an army major came up, and he said, “We’re moving you out 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 you up, and the rocking chair, and take you to the line, and put you down.”