Interview with Loris Brinkman
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Brinkman_Loris
Loris Brinkman: L-O-R-I-S and Brinkman is B-R-I-N-K-M-A-N.
Robert Bauman: Thank you very much. Thanks for letting us talk to you today, I appreciate it. Today's date is October 29, 2013. My name is Robert Bauman and we're conducting this interview in Richland, Washington. So let's start, if you could, Loris, by having you tell us about how you came to Hanford, what brought you here, and when did you arrive?
Brinkman: Okay, I was, as I stated before, I spent seven years with Civil Conservation—with the CCCs. And then I got a job with DuPont spent one year at Rosemount Minnesota, and that was from 1942 to '43. So I came out here in September of '43. And I came out here and they sent me out to 200 West. I came out to 200 West, and there wasn't much going on there yet. It was pretty in the beginning part of it. Now they were digging--they were excavating for the 221-T Building. And I think they were probably building on the powerhouse. Well, my first job, they had to get water down there. And there was a water line just north of us, as I recall. And the first thing we had to do is to have a temporary water line, and that was made of wood pipe. And it was laid out, and it was laid out like this, so it made a circle around there so that all the facilities would be able to get water from this water line. And I was given the job of somebody has to follow the work. And there were be places where we'd have to pour some concrete. And it was wood pipe. And wood pipe was certainly new. And so when we got that pretty well taken care of, I was given the job to follow the steam lines. Now as I said, the powerhouse was under construction. And the steam line that came out of the powerhouse was about 16 inches in diameter. And you see, at that time, there was the T Building and the U Building. And the steam lines came out of the powerhouse, which was kind of halfway in between the two. And then one line went up towards the T Building and the other line went down toward the U Building. Well there was construction or excavation being going on at the--I think they called it the 221-T Building. And the steam lines were necessary because they were going to furnish the steam for all the construction there. Now in the steam line, it doesn't sound like a very important job, but we would probably go 300 to 400 feet. And then there would have to be a, what they called an expansion loop there. It would go like this. And that was to take care of the expansion when the steam was in operation. Now the thing that we did was we would construct maybe three--I don't remember--but 300 to 500 feet in length. And then there would have to be a loop to take care of the expansion. And what we would do is to construct a line, and then about midway between these expansion loops, we would cut the line and take out about two or three inches, as I recall. And then they would put chains on there and bring those two together and weld them together. Now the reason for that is that the tension was on there when it was cold. And when they put the steam in the line, the expansion would make the steam line pretty much without tension on it. You get the idea? And along with that steam line, I worked on construction of several permanent buildings that were part of the main construction there. And that was the--we had the laundry and we had the office building, and a few buildings like that. I worked on those, too. Now when the work was all complete, my portion of the work was finished there, I went to the 200 East Area. And I don't really remember what I did there, but I think it was probably similar to what I did over in the West Area. And after about a year's work there, the work that I was doing was pretty well completed. And so I went to--excuse me. See, at my age names don't come quite like they used to.
Bauman: That’s right, yeah.
Brinkman: But I went to Indiana, to the Indiana Ordinance Works. And I worked there for about a year. And by that time, after completing the work there, I went to the Wilmington head office there, and I worked there for about two and a half years. But you know, after being out here a year, I couldn't quite get this place out of my mind. As we said, if you can last six months, you're going to like it. But many people came out here didn't last six months. When I came out here in the beginning, I was going to--the fellow that I was working with at Rosemount was already out here. And he had a room in Pasco, and I was going to room with him. So when I got out here and I called his number, and I said, I'd like to speak to Hamm. Mr. Hamm terminated last Friday. And there was another man with me and he said, Mr. Brinkman, I don't know anything about Mr. Hamm. I will tell you one thing, it takes a damn good man to stay out here. [LAUGHTER] But anyway, after another year down at Wilmington--or down at Indiana Ordinance Works, I went to Wilmington and I stayed there for about two and a half years. And then there was an opportunity for me to get back out here. I didn't hesitate. I came out here again. Got out here in--I think it was--1948. And I've been here ever since.
Bauman: What was it about the place that made you want to come back?
Brinkman: One of the things is the climate. This is ideal climate. We don't have these 40 degree weather that we had in Wisconsin. Once in a while it did get cold here. One time. I was, let’s see—we did have six days of cold weather. And the temperature got as low as minus 26 or 27 degrees.
Brinkman: And that was six days. And then I went out in the evening and oh, I says we have a chinook. A chinook--they called it a chinook when the warm breeze would come in there. And it's chinook. And the temperature went up 40, 50 degrees in the night. So the cold period was over with. But I just like the weather. I like the people that were here. They were people that were out here for one purpose, we've got to get this thing built. We need this in our war. So that was the main thing that I liked out here.
Bauman: Mm-hm. When you first came in 1943, what were your very first impressions of the place? Do you remember?
Brinkman: Well, I really didn't hate the place. A lot of people did. We didn't have very much sunshine. There was about six weeks the sun didn't shine. But I really enjoyed the place.
Bauman: And when you came out here to work, what did you know about the work you were doing or what Hanford was for?
Brinkman: Well, in the first place, you didn't know what we were going to make here. Nobody's--there were a few people that knew, but that was not discussed. We did not discuss what we were going to make here and what it was going to be used for. That was absolutely quiet.
Bauman: Do you remember when you found out?
Brinkman: Yes, when I was--I think it was--in Indiana Ordinance Works when they dropped the bomb. Then I knew what we were doing out here. That this was very important. And the bomb was very important.
Bauman: And when you worked out here in 1943, do you remember how much money you made?
Brinkman: Yes. I made--I think it was--about $85 a week.
Bauman: And how many hours a week was that?
Brinkman: Well, when I first started out here it was nine hours, six days a week. Put in about 54 hours.
Bauman: And then when you came back in 1948, what sort of job did you have when you came back here?
Brinkman: I have to think a little bit on this, on what I did. I don't remember what exactly what the first job was. But my biggest job after getting back here was construction of--supervising, or not really supervising, but seeing that the job was done according to the plans of the tank farm. We had these underground tanks. You see, we had waste, and that waste had lots of plutonium in there. We didn't get it all out. The uranium was changed in--part of it was changed into plutonium. And then that was in the 100 Area. Or--yeah, the B Area and 100 Areas. And then in the 200 Areas they separated the plutonium. And the plutonium was used to make the bomb. And then there we had tank farms. Oh, I'm trying to think how many, 750,000 gallons or something like that. And we usually had 12 steel tanks. And we would dig a hole way down deep. And these tanks were, I think, something like 75 feet in diameter. And we'd pour a concrete base and then we'd build from there. And they would go up about 75 feet. And then when they were all completed, then we'd backfill again. And then we'd have these tanks ready for the waste from the process that was going on there. And I think--I don't remember just how many--but we had maybe three or four tank farms. And I worked on those tank farms. I was known as the tank farm engineer, something like that.
Bauman: So what did being a tank farm engineer involve? Sort of, supervising?
Brinkman: Yeah, you have to have somebody there. We would have a contractor do the work. And we would have to see that it was done properly, check everything that was done. And be very careful about the back filling and that sort of thing.
Bauman: So how long did you work the tank farms?
Brinkman: Oh, I think maybe two or three years, probably.
Bauman: What did you do after that?
Brinkman: Well, I have to think now. [LAUGHTER] After that, I got involved mostly with--as we call it--the project engineering. And with this place there were always new facilities being created. And we call them a project. Maybe we would design this project and then follow the construction of it. But there was considerable work being done all the time. And I was part of the project engineering work.
Bauman: And so how long in all did you work at Hanford? When did you stop working?
Brinkman: Okay. I was 59, and that was in 1971, I think it was. And then I retired. And about a year later, why, they called me and said, would you come out and help us? And I said, no! And then I thought about it a bit and I said, wait a minute, call me tomorrow. I'll think about it. And they called the next day, and I says, I'll come out and work about four months. And you know, I enjoyed it very much. And the next year I went out again for four months. And I did that for four years! Finally I got to the stage where I said, no, I think I've gone long enough. It's now time for me to travel. So after that, why, then my wife and I traveled all over the world. We took three month tours and went around the world, down South America, and that sort of thing. And we loved that very much.
Bauman: I want to go back to when you first came to Hanford in 1943, you mentioned that a lot of people stayed for just a little while and left. What sorts of things were there to do for fun? Was there entertainment available? What sorts of things happened here?
Brinkman: Well, they had a big place down at Hanford itself. They built barracks for people. And they had, well, for one thing in ten days they built a great big building which was the entertainment building. And they had party—or dances and that sort of thing. And they had beer places around. People could buy a big jar of beer. And they had lots of those. They had to have facilities here that would interest people so they would stay. And they spent a lot of money on that to make interests for people.
Bauman: Mm-hm. And you said when you first came you--did you stay in Pasco?
Brinkman: No, let's see, I first stayed up at Grandview. I stayed there and worked back and forth. Then I got a house in Richland. And that was great, then. And I stayed there until I moved out to--
Bauman: To Indiana?
Brinkman: Yeah, Indiana. Right.
Bauman: And then when you came back in 1948, where did you--did you move into Richland?
Brinkman: Yeah, right in there. I got a house. I had got a house practically right away.
Bauman: What was Richland like as a community in the 1940s?
Brinkman: Well, it wasn't a big town in the 1940s. Oh, you mean before we came out here?
Bauman: No, I mean when you were here.
Brinkman: All right, when we were here—see, I have to think a little bit. We had—
Woman one: Hello?
Brinkman: We had a number of stores.
Woman: Hello? That’s okay, I’ll come back later.
Brinkman: But Pasco had stores and Kennewick had stores. And most of the shopping was done over in those areas. But we did, then, we had the C. C. Anderson place here. And that was a place, they had good material in there that you could buy. It wasn't a very big shopping area here, but it was adequate. I would say that.
Bauman: Did you go over to Kennewick and Pasco occasionally, then, to shop?
Brinkman: Oh, sure. Yeah. And the funny part of it was my daughter, when we got over to Kennewick, she said this is a real city.
Brinkman: It's a little bit different than Richland was. But Richland was being built all the time and adding new facilities, new stores, new houses all the time, until it got to be a pretty good place.
Bauman: I’ve had a few people I talked to from that period talk about the dust storms. Was that an issue at all that you remember?
Brinkman: Yes, we had dust storms. And when we had a dust storm, we'd close the windows, of course. But there would be dust all over the inside of your house. And that was the thing that sent quite a few people out of here. They'd have a dust storm and then they'd leave. But it didn't bother us, we just took those things in stride. We liked—by that time I liked it here. And when we came back on the second time, we got this house, and right across the street was the school. My wife went over and said, I'm a teacher, I have a master's degree, I would like a job. She got a job as a fifth grade teacher just like that. [LAUGHTER] And she taught there for 23 years.
Bauman: And what school was this?
Brinkman: In fifth grade.
Bauman: Do you remember which elementary school it was?
Brinkman: Yeah, it was Lewis and Clark. And we lived right across the street from there, right on the corner.
Bauman: Oh, okay, did you have one of the alphabet homes?
Brinkman: Yeah, H house. And then the time came when we were able to buy that house. And that was wonderful, too. That turned into a good deal for us.
Bauman: Do you remember how much?
Brinkman: Yeah, I paid about $6,000 for it. Then I added. I did some construction on it. I added--enlarged the two bedrooms. And when we sold it, boy, I don't mind saying it, we sold it for $85,000. And made a return of say, like, $76,000 or $77,000. So that was a good thing for us.
Bauman: That's a pretty good deal.
Brinkman: Yeah, it was a very good deal. Yeah.
Bauman: President Kennedy came out here in 1963 to dedicate the N Reactor. I wonder, were you there? Did you see him when he came at all?
Brinkman: I sure was there.
Bauman: What do you remember about his visit here?
Brinkman: I don't remember anything about his speech. He just, as I recall, he emphasized the fact of the importance of this work here. That was probably the main thing. And he tried to make us feel like we were really doing something great for the country. And I guess we were.
Bauman: You and your whole--were your whole family out there as well?
Brinkman: Oh yeah, the whole family was there, yeah.
Bauman: A very special event.
Brinkman: You see, they--it was wonderful for us to have that school there. [LAUGHTER] Because my wife could go over there and teach and then get back in time. And when I got home the meals were ready.
Bauman: So I wanted to ask about security at Hanford. Did you have to have special clearance?
Brinkman: Oh yes, yes. Yes, we had to have Q clearance, mm-hm.
Bauman: Are there any other events that really stand out in your mind?
Brinkman: Any what?
Bauman: Any events that stand out in your mind, or things that happened during the time you worked at Hanford that you just thought were really interesting or important?
Brinkman: Well, I should remember, but my mind doesn't function like it should in that case. I don't know that there was anything—important things that we had.
Bauman: Overall, how was Hanford as a place to work?
Brinkman: How was what?
Bauman: Hanford as a place to work?
Brinkman: Wonderful, as far as I was concerned.
Bauman: And what was it about working there that made it wonderful for you?
Brinkman: Well, we worked out in the area most the time. And people--we all worked together. That was the thing, I think, that was—that we were all working together, helping to accomplish what we were set out to do there. Now my mind doesn't work quite like it should. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Of the different jobs you had at Hanford, was there one that was a favorite for you, one that you really enjoy the most?
Brinkman: It wasn't the tank farm. That wasn't it. But I think the part I liked the best was in the latter part, we worked on various projects. And the projects were our projects, so to speak. And we were interested in seeing that those--we probably designed them, worked out the design and then followed the construction of it. And we were just anxious to see how it worked out.
Bauman: Is there anything I haven't asked you about yet, or that you haven't had a chance to talk about yet, in terms of either working at Hanford or living in Richland, that you think would be important to talk about?
Brinkman: Well, as I said, at my age here, my mind doesn't do quite what I hoped it would do. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: You're doing great. [LAUGHTER]
Brinkman: Well, we just, oh, when we got, as far as the schools are concerned, we had such great sports here. Our basketball team has won the state championship three times. They had won the state championship in football once or twice. And this has just been a very wonderful sports area. We've had quite a few basketball players that played well for colleges. And as I said, we won state championships three times and got second place maybe three or four times. It was just wonderful sports. And we were always--my wife and I were always interested in sports. We would go to the other cities and that sort of thing. My son played on the basketball team.
Bauman: Great. Well, I want to thank you very much for letting us talk to you today. And for sharing your memories. I really appreciate--
Brinkman: My mind doesn't work quite the way it should right now. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: It's working pretty darn well, myself. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Thank you, again. I really appreciate it.
Brinkman: Well I'm sure glad that if I have anything here that will be of some use to you, I'm sure happy to have helped out.
Bauman: Absolutely. Thank you very much.