Interview with Vanis Daniels

Dublin Core


Interview with Vanis Daniels


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Nuclear reactors
Radioactive decontamination
Nuclear facilities


Vanis Daniels moved to Pasco, Washington in 1951 as a teenager and began working on the Hanford Site in 1966.

An interview conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by Mission Support Alliance on behalf of the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.



Date Modified

2016-08-04: Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]


The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to this US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Laura Arata


Vanis Daniels


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Laura Arata: That’s the more comforting way to look at it. [LAUGHTER] Oh, are we ready?

Man One: Yup.

Arata: Oh, okay, so we're ready to get started. If we could just start by having you say your name and then spell it for us.

Vanis Daniels: Vanis Daniels, V-A-N-I-S, D-A-N-I-E-L-S. And that’s the second.

Arata: Thank you. My name's Laura Arata. It's November 14, 2013 and we are conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could just start by having you tell us a little bit about when you first arrived at Hanford, who you came with, where you came from, that initial experience.

Daniels: Oh, boy. I arrived, well, let's say I arrived in the Tri-Cities. My dad came here in '43 and worked here off and on until '51 when he moved the family here. Now, between the time he first came here in '43, he, my uncle, and cousin of ours helped pour the first mud that was poured to start the B Reactor. And then, after that, he worked here off and on until '51, when he brought the family out. And I was just a little—barely a teenager when I came here in '51. I was a sophomore in high school. I was supposed to graduate in 1954. At that time, you had to be 17-and-a-half years old in order to graduate from high school. Well, see, I was just turning 16. So then when I got ready to graduate, the vice principal came to me and he says, you can't graduate. I said, why can't I graduate? He says, you're not old enough. I said, oh? What's that got to do would graduation? He say, you're only 16. You have to be 17-and-a-half years old to graduate from high school. Well, it didn't make any sense to me, you know, if I got the grade point and all that and able to graduate. And he say, well, let me ask you a question. And I said, yes? He says, if you graduate, what are you going to do for the next year and a half? I said, I don't know. He say, you're not old enough to get a job. Nobody's going to hire you. He say, so you're just going to be whiling away your time. I said, well, I guess. He says, I'll tell you what, I'll make a deal with you. He say, you come back to school next year. He say, because you're not going to be doing anything. He say, you can come as many hours as you want to. If you can find you a little part time job or something like that, you're free to leave to go and work. And you don't have any restrictions on you, you know, as far as having to be there every day. I told him, okay. So that's what I did. But that's when I really started appreciating school. Because up until that point, I had been an A student, but where I came from--I came from Texas, by the way. I was born in a place called Terrell, Texas, but that's all I know about it. We moved to East Texas, which is a little place called Kildare, which is right out of Texarkana. I personally lived in Oklahoma during those eight or ten years that I was there, and then back to Texas and then to the Tri-Cities here.

But being from the south, I went to an all-black school, segregated. And I didn't know anything about interacting with other races. And when I came here, nobody gave you a—I wouldn't call it a crash course, but I'd say interaction—it has a name for it—But anyway, they just threw you into the school with everyone else. And you had to learn to adjust. Well, that can be kind of hard. And it can also be kind of devastating. So my grade point dropped, but not to the point where I didn't graduate. And I see some kids right now that I went to school with that--I see them every once in a while--and if they hadn't been there to sort of support me, hold me up, I might would have fallen all the way through the crack. I might would have dropped out of school altogether. But they were—let's see, one retired from Franklin County. I don't know what the other three girls did as far as work go. But for some reason, they sort of took me under their wing, and I guess boost my morale or whatever you want to call it. And I was able to transition in and go on and finish school. After I finished school, I tried for ten years, 12 years really, to get a job at Hanford. And for some reason, they didn't want to hire me. I went to Seattle, tried to get a job at Boeing. They didn't want to hire me. I have, later in life since I retired, I learned why I didn't get a job at Hanford or Boeing, as far as that go. The people that I thought would be my biggest asset became my biggest enemy as far as getting a job. Because when you're asked for references and you put people down, I asked them if I could put them down, I let them know that I was putting them down for references and all this stuff. But the things that they put down there hindered me from getting a job rather than helping me get a job. And I learned this since I retired. But needless to say, I worked construction. I finally got a job--an interview--for Battelle. Meissinger was his name that interviewed me. And I must've gone out there for an interview the better part of a dozen times. And every time I'd go, he'd tell me, well, we don't have anything right now. In June of '66, he called me for an interview and I went out. And I'm working every day, working construction, when you leave work on construction, that's when your pay stop. I had a wife and a kid by then. And I went out one evening because he told me, he said, I'll stay here until 7 o'clock. You get of work, you come out. I told him, okay. So I got off, went home, took a shower, when out, talked with him. And I think he was about to tell me that he didn't have a position, ‘til I told him, I said, let me tell you something. I said, now, if you're not going to hire me, tell me now because I can't keep making arrangements, taking off work and all that stuff, coming out here just to sit and talk with you. I need a job. He says, just a minute. I don't know who--he left the room. He went and talked with someone. When he came back, he say, when can you come to work? I don't know. Whenever you want me to. He said, can you come Thursday? I told him yes. So I went out on Thursday.

They interviewed me, gave me a permit, which was a red badge at the time, to go to work. I started as a janitor in the 3706 and 3707 building in the 300 Area. They transferred me from there to Two East and Two West. From Two East and Two West, they gave me a job in what was called Decon at the time. We did all of the glassware, all of the pigs--which is not a literal pig. It's a iron cast. You know, you can get the gallon, half gallon, or quarts. And it contains radioactive waste on the inside. The pig is just to shield the radiation. And we handled all of the hot water from the 300 Area. So I worked in there for two and a half years or so. And we took care of all the waste, did all the filter changing and everything in 300 Area. From there, I went to 100-F, to inhalation toxicology. And inhalation toxicology is just a matter of inhaling and exhaling is what it is. But I worked with the dogs, which at the time, Battelle was doing an experiment on the effect that cigarette smoke had on the human body. We worked with beagle dogs because at that time, they said that the closest thing to a human’s physique was the beagle. A grownup beagle weighs anywhere from 15 pounds to I think the heaviest one we had was probably 47 pounds--which is a wide range for a dog, but the human anatomy is also a wide range. 15-pound dog would be equivalent to 130-pound man. A 47-pound dog would be equivalent to 350-pound man. And every three months, we sacrificed a dog. And we did everything from blood, urine, feces, muscles, tissue, everything. We learned everything we could about cigarette smoke on what effect it would have on the dogs. The dogs smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Now, we had dogs that got addicted to cigarettes. And they were just like humans, chain smoke if you allowed them to. Then you had dogs that could not stand smoke, period, and they would fight it all the way through. But you had to give them the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes a day. Okay, we had hamsters that we shammed with cigarette smoke. We also did plutonium on them to see what effect it would have on the organs, on the inside of the body. And I worked in there until I got kind of fed up with supervision at the time because we weren't getting the raises that we should as far as finances go. And when you got a family you got to take care of, $2 just don't get it. So meanwhile, I talked with supervision and they say they didn't have money for raises. But yet and still, they're turning back money every year to DOE, which was set aside for raises. They just weren't giving it out. Well, at that time, they had what they call merit raises. And I worked second shift. I very seldom saw my supervisor. And so I asked him, I say, if I very seldom see you, I must be doing a good job. Because otherwise, you should be here checking on me to see what I'm doing. I later learned that one of the guys that worked in my department had told him that he had to recheck all of my work every morning when he came in, to make sure that I was doing it right. Well, see, that wasn't his position. He's an employee like I am. The other thing is that if the supervisor had just used a little bit of common sense, he would have known the man was lying. Because when you pull samples, the minute you pull the sample, it starts to decay. Now you would have had some variation in my results and his results if he's going to run my sample the next morning to tell me that I'm not doing it right. And he's getting the same results I'm getting. Something's wrong with this picture. Well, anyway, as it turned out, I told him I couldn't work for them if that's the way there were going to do things. So I quit.

The day I left from out there, I went home and I was sitting at home. And thinking, boy, I just quit my job. I got to get me a job. I went up to my sister's house and my brother-in-law was home. And I said, what are you doing home? He say, today is Veteran's Day. And also, it used to be Election Day, the 11th of November. And he say, I'm off. And so we sat round and talked for a few minutes. He say, would you be interested in leaving Hanford and going to work someplace else? He didn't know I'd quit. [LAUGHTER] I say, why, sure. He say, I got a guy you need to go and see. He told me where it was and everything. And the next day, I went looking for it. I drove right by the office and didn't find it. I went back and when he came in from work, I said, I--he say, you passed right by it. He says, it's a little building. I says, okay. The next day I went, the guy that became my supervisor wasn't in. But the secretary knew who I was when I got there. So I didn't get to see him that day. But the next day, they told me what time to come back. I went back, I walked in the door. He say, so you're looking for a job. I say, yes, I am. He says, come on back here in my office. So we went back to his office and, meanwhile, he's talking and asking me some questions. He's saying, I know your brother-in-law real well. He say you’re a heck of a nice guy. I say, he did? You say, yeah. When we get in the door and he closed the door, he say, you got the job if you want it. But I got to go through the motion of interviewing you. I says, okay. So I worked there at the Tank Farm in Pasco, which we distributed petroleum products, fertilizers, and fire retardant for forest fires. And I worked there just two or three months shy of 16 years. I went back to Hanford after that and went to work for Westinghouse. From there, Bechtel took over. I became supervisor. I worked in every area out there, decommissioning all of the buildings, the outer buildings, the 105s, tore down the 103s, basins. You name it, we did it. Took care of all the asbestos, worked in the asbestos department of the Tank Farm. They're talking about, now, where the tanks are leaking and all that stuff. We took care of all the above ground asbestos and stuff there for them. And I worked there until I retired in '97.

Arata: What year was this that you quit your job, your first job with Battelle?

Daniels: In '71.

Arata: And so then, what year was it that you went back to work at Hanford for Westinghouse?

Daniels: '89.

Arata: Okay. Well, it sounds like you had quite an array of jobs between all those sites.

Daniels: I've done some more besides that. [LAUGHTER] I owned my own restaurant for a little while in Spokane out at Airway Heights. I went in the service. I was at my basic training in Fort Ord, California. When I finished my advanced basic, I had run into a captain. I didn't know him, but I knew his family from Pasco. And I was talking to him and I had been home on leave and I had seen his mother. And I was telling him that she was doing fine, I'd just seen her and all that stuff. And when I finished my advanced basic, he was there and he ask me, he says, I got several places you can go if you want to, he said. Which ones do you want? I could've gone to a special forces in Chicago. I didn't think I wanted to go there. It get too cold there for me. [LAUGHTER] I could've gone to Presidio in San Francisco. I don't like San Francisco. I could've gone to Germany. I didn't want to go at that time. I could've gone to Fort Lawton, or I could've gone to Fort Lewis. I chose Fort Lewis. So I went there. And I liked Fort Lewis for some reason, although we were in the field most of the time. But I'm an outdoor person anyway. We got transferred from Fort Lewis to Germany. At the same time, the Vietnam War was breaking out. They took all of our officers and sent them to Vietnam. They took all of the personnel that had six months or less left to do, they extended them a year and sent them to Vietnam. All of them that had a year or better to do went to Vietnam. I had eight months left to do, so I didn't have to go. But they sent me from Germany back to Fort Lewis. And I trained the Milwaukee National Guard because they had activated them to take the 4th Division's place when they sent them to Vietnam. And I was sent back to Fort Lewis to train the Milwaukee National Guard. Once I got them trained, I got discharged. Three weeks after I got discharged, I got drafted again. [LAUGHTER] But I didn't have to go. I didn't have to go. For some reason, they decided they didn't want me. And those were some of the jobs I've had and some of the things I've done.

Arata: Wow, there's about a million things I want to ask you about but we have to start somewhere.

Daniels: Well--

Arata: I wonder if we can talk a little bit about kind of some of your early memories when you first arrived in the Tri-Cities area. And particularly, I'm interested in what your housing situation was like that and where you lived and what the community was like at that time.

Daniels: Okay. When we first arrived in the Tri-Cities--coming from east Texas, where you got greenery all around you, you know, it's like the west side of the state of Washington--and coming here to the desert, you just sort of get a sickening feeling. [LAUGHTER] To tell you the truth. But if you were black, you lived on the east side in Pasco, where I still--well, I live northeast Pasco, now, but that's by choice. Anything west of Second and Lewis in Pasco, well, it wasn't off limits—it was off limits as far as houses go. The banks or anything would not loan blacks money to buy homes. The finance company—which, at the time, Fidelity Savings and Loans was the biggest one in the Tri-Cities--would loan you money to buy an old, raggedy car with interest rates so high. But that's beside the point. When we came, my dad tried to borrow money to buy a house. He couldn't get any. He found a house and the lady that owned the house sold it to him on a contract. And she let the bank, BV, whatever you call them, hmph. Anyway, he paid his payments to the bank. So, therefore, I guess they would be the proprietor or whatever you call them. And in the agreement was that if he was three days late with the payment, they could foreclose on it and take the house. And the house was less than $10,000 at the time. They never took it, of course. But then he would always make sure that it was paid on the date that it was supposed to, if he had to haul me out of school long enough for the bank to open to go pay it and then go on to school. But other than that, kids are kids. And kids aren't prejudiced. We all played together. We had baseball, we did

Basketball, we had BB gun wars, which I don't know why some of us didn't get our eyes shot out. But we didn't. [LAUGHTER] And, let's see, you couldn't live in Kennewick if you were black. You didn't live in Richland because that was government and you had to work for the government in order to live out there. Well, up until probably '49, I think Mr. Newborn went to work out there in '49, which was the first black as far as know that ever worked in processing at Hanford. They only thing, blacks could work construction out there and help build it, but they couldn't help operate it, which—it still baffles me to this day, but that's just the way it was. Signs of the times, I guess you would call it and ignorance on a lot of people's part, as far as that go.

Arata: So you graduated from high school, then, in Pasco.

Daniels: Mm-hmm.

Arata: Do you remember about how many students were in your high school and approximately how many of you were black versus the white students?

Daniels: Okay. There were—let’s see—three? The high school was built for 600 kids, I think, 500 or 600 kids. And the day that they opened the doors, it was already overcrowded as far as that go. And that's the Pasco High School they got there now. I was the first graduating class out of that school. There were 107 or 108 of us in the graduating class. And I think there's probably 25 or 30 of us that I know of. In fact, I just saw seven or eight of them a couple of weeks ago. One of our classmates passed away.

Arata: Do you recall any specific incidents, anything that stands out to you about your time. I'm curious, particularly about high school, because you've told us all these great stories about it--where race was an issue at Pasco High School when you were attending there.

Daniels: Yes. There were maybe, at the most, 13 black kids when I went to high school. Most of them were underclassmen. There was a couple or three upperclassmen. We had football players, basketball players and stuff like that that were starters, what you might want to say were the star of the team. When they would have homecoming, the football players got to escort the queen and her court and all that stuff. Black kids couldn't do it. They wouldn't allow it. Some of the kids have since told me and another friend of mine that passed away that whenever one of them--because I was small, so I didn't play basketball or football--but anyway, if one of them turned out for football, they tried to do everything they could to hurt them. They didn't want them on the field with them. They didn't want to play with them. If any of the black kids got any type of award or anything, it was never given to them during assemblies or anything like that. If it was white kids, they made a big to-do of it and he got it on stage, came up before the whole school and got it. Black kids, they gave it to him as he was leaving school one evening or something like that. But this is faculty doing this. This is not the kids doing stuff like this. My vice principal and my shop teacher I ran into one day, oh, years after I graduated from school. They were hunting agates. And I stopped and was talking to them. And they actually apologized to me for some of the things that went on. The vice principal told me, he says, I am so sorry. He said, there are things that went on that I dare not tell or divulge--two reasons. First of all, I had a wife and kids that I had to support. And if I told them anything that was going to advance you, then I'd be looking for a job. He say, and I am sorry, but the community as a whole, well, it's like the council now, you know. They tell you what to do and you more or less jump and do it. Or like the government, which I think we all ought to vote everybody up there out, but that's beside the point. [LAUGHTER] It's just the way it was. And then I could understand their positions, because if you've got a wife and kids that you've got to support, you got to look out for them and you in the process of whatever you're trying to do. Now there's another way that it could have been done. But at the same time, they probably did what they knew to do. And that's one thing I never fault anyone for. If you don't know how to do something or to do something, then I don't fault you for not doing it. Now my brother, which you will interview next week, is probably the first black to have a job in a department store in the Tri-Cities, or at least in Pasco, I know. Well, he'll tell you about it. I won’t try to tell you about him. [LAUGHTER]

But those are some of the things that we encountered. We walked every day from the east side of Pasco to Memorial Park, which was the only swimming pool in town within the last year. And at that time, there was probably 5,000 to 7,000 people in the whole of Pasco. They had one swimming pool. You got 80,000 to 100,000 people in Pasco now. You got one swimming pool. [LAUGHTER] Doesn't make any sense at all. But we walked over there every day to play baseball and go swimming if we wanted to go swimming. There weren't any park other than Sylvester Park and Memorial Park was the only two parks in town at the time. Later, they put the Boat Basin in down there at Pasco. But when we didn't have any place to play, other than going over there, then we started making our own baseball diamonds in vacant lots and things. And as the lots would be developed, they would—well, naturally, they'd run us out because there wasn't enough room for us to play. So one evening, we didn't have any place to play baseball and we wanted to play baseball. Two blocks from my house, where I grew up at was Kurtzman Park. Well, actually, it's a block and a half. But it was just a vacant field. And we took shovels, a bunch of my friends and me, and we went out there and we cleared all the tumbleweeds out, took the shovels and kind of levelled it off, and started playing baseball. A lady named Rebecca Heidelbar happened to come by there and see us. I don't know exactly what period of time, how long we'd been playing there. And she stopped and asked us if we had a park that we could play in. We told her no. We told her the only park was Memorial Park. She says, mm-hmm. And she talked to us for a minute. She left. Well, we later learned that she was an attorney, her husband was an attorney, her mom was an attorney, and her dad was an attorney. And that was Judge Horrigan and his wife, and then their daughter Rebecca. And then she had married an attorney. So she came back and asked us to get as many kids together as we could and she would meet with us. And she did. And she went to the courthouse, found out who the land belonged to where we were playing. She helped us to draft a letter to Mr. Kurtzman, which she found out lived in Seattle and ask him to donate enough land for us to have a baseball diamond. Well, it took him the better part of six months to answer us, but he get back to us because I suppose he had to look into the legal aspect of it. He got back to us and told us that he could not give any land to a special interest group or persons. He would donate six acres of land to the city if they named the park after him. That's how Kurtzman Park came into an existence. And there's a letter someplace that we wrote him with my name right on the top of it. But in the process of this, we got the land donated to us, the city of Pasco, as far as the city go. The only thing they did to get that park in there was they gave some used pipe that they had laying around out there at what we call the Navy Base, which is out by the airport. And the black parents went out there and broke all this pipe apart and everything, took it down to the park, actually took shovels--we took shovels--dug the trenches for the water system down there, put the pipe back together, put the water system in. The city did seed it. They did plant the trees. And they keep it up. But the Kurtzman building has a park right in the front of it that myself, my cousin, Mr. Louzel Johnson put up, free of charge, right where U-Haul is on Fourth Street and Pasco now, used to be a brick place where they made brick blocks, your cinder blocks. And they donated the blocks. We did the labor and put it up. At first, they named the park Candy Cane Park. And then we had to let them know that you can't do that. That park got to be named Kurtzman or else we don't have a place to play because that's the only way he would donate it, so that's the way we got that. Where Virgie Robinson's Elementary School is now, on Wehe and Lewis Street, used to be what we call the lizard hole because you get off and then had toad, frogs, and all that stuff down in there. And we'd we go down in there and get those frogs and stuff out of there and bust them because that's what we did. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: Just to clarify this, I just have this great mental image in my head of this group of kids running around playing baseball. Was that integrated at all? Were most of you African Americans? A little better sense of--

Daniels: Well, what we did was, like I say, we lived on what we called the East side. There was a bunch of white kids that lived over there. Right on the north side of Lewis Street was enough white kids that they had two baseball teams. We lived on the south side of Lewis Street. We had one baseball team. And we played each other every day. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. We had a lot of fun. We played each other every day. In fact, one of the kids--I haven't seen him in years--but I was catching. And he threw a ball. He threw that ball so hard it--because I was using a board for the plate--and it hit that board and hit me right there. And I later had to have a hernia operation. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: The scars of childhood.

Daniels: Oh, yeah. We had a lot of fun. We played, like I say, we did BB wars and all that stuff again. I don't know why we don't have eyes out or something, but none of us ever did. Used to dig holes, tunnels. And I know you've probably read here in later years here, where kids are digging tunnels on the beach and all that stuff and then they collapse on them and they suffocate and stuff. I don't know why that didn't happen to us either because we'd dig as far as we could underground. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: Wow, there's so many things I want to ask you about. If we could go back to your time at Hanford just a little bit. So you did have a bunch of different jobs over the broad course of time. Could you talk a little bit about sort of security, or secrecy, or safety, things like that? Did any of those things have a major impact?

Daniels: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Now security was at a point where that certain buildings, certain areas, you couldn't go in if you didn't have the clearance to go in them. One of the things that they especially emphasized was paperwork—security or classified documents and things. And documents was classified, like secret, top secret, and they had another one. But anyway, the way you knew which one was which was the border that was around it. Like, I think secret had a blue border. Top secret had a red border around it. Now, if you went in any building, and you saw that document laying anywhere unattended, you were to report it, stay right with that document until somebody of authority came and picked that document up. It wasn't supposed to be laying around any place. Again, if you didn't have the clearance, you weren't allowed in the buildings. They didn't allow you, even if you had the clearance, unless you had business in the building, then you wasn't supposed to go and fraternize and all that stuff, like, well, like first instance, my brother. The only time I went to see him or he came to see me was if there was an emergency at home and he got the message, he came and told me or vice versa. See, you just weren't allowed to do it. You were allowed in your work area to do your work and that's it. I worked all over. So I had a Q clearance. And I had a clearance for everything but the arms room. Now in the arms room, you needed a Q, but you also needed a chip. I didn't have the chip. I worked in the arms room, but I had to be escorted to the building. And then once I got to the building, I could go all around in the building, but I couldn't come out until my escort came and got me to bring me back out of the building. So there were security, and I can remember, for instance, where that DOE--which is what we call them now--actually right where Jackson's is now, down here on George Washington Way, it was a tavern. And DOE actually put people in there to watch and talk with people that worked at Hanford, got off work, stopped in to have a beer and stuff like that, just to see if they would divulge anything that was going on out there. So it was pretty hush-hush. You couldn't go past the wire barricade unless you had business out there. Again, like I say, there's not an area or a building I don't think I haven't been in. But that was because I worked all over the place. ‘Til this day, there are still areas out there that still classified. You know, they're declassifying it and cleaning it up. And I don't know how many acres they got now, but—no, I'll take that back. The only place I never did go was up on top of Rattlesnake. And I didn't want to go up there, because I'm afraid of snakes. And my brother-in-law helped put the telescope up there. And he say when they were digging and getting ready and there was plenty rattlesnakes. I said, I'm not going up there. And so I never went. [LAUGHTER] But any area out there that you can name, if you didn't have any business in there, then it wasn't a good idea to go. I can remember working, and you would look up--and they had environmentalists--and you'd look up and you'd see one way out across the desert someplace. And what in the world are they doing? Who are they? You had to go and get your supervisor or someone, or if you was in a vehicle, you went and you challenged that person. If they didn't have a badge, then they had to go with you. You held them some kind of way until they was identified, in some way or form. You just didn't walk around out there. When the Army was out there, they would do drills and stuff. And they would come in and several times—they finally had to kind of curtail that because we had guards out there that carried weapons. And some of them almost got shot, scaling over walls and going over fences and things like this. It was an exercise, but you going the wrong direction and in the wrong place without proper identification, so they had to sort of curtail that because you don't want anybody to get hurt.

Arata: Right. I wonder, I know it's a little bit before your time working at Hanford, but JFK visited in 1963.

Daniels: Well, that was before I started out there. I helped put the railroad spur in that he was supposed to come in on because he was supposed to come in by train. We finished the spur the day before he dedicated the steam plant the next day. It was so hot until I decided I wasn't going. So I didn't go. My brother took my mom and dad out to the dedication.

Arata: Did you ever wish maybe you had gone, braved the heat?

Daniels: Yeah, now I do. But back then, I didn't. I was sick of the heat.

Arata: Sure. I guess when you think about overall and through all your different jobs, maybe you could talk a little bit about how Hanford was as a place to work overall and if there were sort of any aspects of your jobs that were more challenging or more rewarding than others? Anything that stands out?

Daniels: Probably the worst part of working out at Hanford was the fact that when you worked inside the buildings, they had what we called recirculated air. You didn't get any fresh air. So it was always just sort of ho hum. You know, I always felt kind of drowsy all the time when I worked inside. Other than that, I think everything I did out there I really enjoyed. And I enjoyed being a supervisor. Although, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't have the job. But I had everything. All of the crafts worked for me. And that's electricians, crane operators, rigors, laborers, RCTs, the whole ball of wax. I was in charge of taking down all of the holding tanks, which, if you watch TV and you see this deal on there. This guy says he worked at Hanford for 21 years and now he's under this health care and they come out and visit him. If you watch it, you'll see three great big tanks in the back while that is on. In every area out there, they had those tanks. I took down all of those tanks in all of the areas out there and cleaned them enough that all of the metal was shipped to Japan. And that's the first time any metal, that I know of, was shipped of off the Hanford site to go anyplace except for the burial ground. But in the process of doing that, we started out doing it the way they that our RCT and everything said that we were supposed to do it. We cleared I don't know how many pounds and shipped them down here to Pasco. From Pasco, they went to Seattle and was put aboard ship. Well, before they left the Hanford area, they were surveyed to be cleaned. We shipped them down to the 1100 Area. When they left the 1100 Area, they were surveyed again. They shipped them down to Pasco. When they left Pasco to go to Seattle, they were surveyed again. When they got to Seattle, before they put them aboard ship, they were surveyed again. Got to Seattle, getting ready to put them on board ship, and they found I don't know, I'll say ten milligrams on one corner of one piece of metal. They stopped it right there. Everything that they hadn't loaded aboard ship they sent back to Kennewick. All of it. I was on my way home when it was on a Friday evening. And how they knew where I was, I have no idea, but they found me. I was in the Towne Crier down here in Richland. Guy came in. He say, I've been looking for you. I said, what do you want with me? He say, you got to go to work in the morning. I say, no, I don't. He say, yes, you do. He say, I got to have RCTs. You need to go and get ahold of Ray Jennings and get some riggers and O’Reilly, get some riggers, and crane operators, and all that stuff and we got to be out there are 8 o'clock in the morning. Says, oh. So anyway, we got it all done. I drove up out there probably at 7, 7:30 or so. We all gathered around and everything. Pretty soon, here come a guy that I've never seen before. He came in. He got out of the car, he came over, he spoke to everyone. He say, who's in charge of this project? I said, well, I guess I am. He said, well, I don't need you to guess. He say, either you or your aren't. I said, well, I'm in charge of this project. He said, come over here. He says, you haven't done anything wrong according to the RWP. He say, but we found some contamination and we can't have that. He say, so today, you are going to go step-by-step through everything that you did in order to release this metal. I told him, okay. So I call my RCTs, I get my riggers and everything. We get a panel out. And we lay it out for him. And you got to lay it out in feet, every square foot, you know, is a square. And then there's a certain amount of time that you should take to go over that square foot. And he watched us. He says, you're doing everything right if that's the way you did. I say, that's the way we did it. Well, I got the RCT head supervisor there. I got the rigger supervisor and everybody saying, well, this is the way we do it. He says, okay. He says, but how do I know—and I'll give you a for instance on what I'm talking about here—when you cut a piece of metal with a torch, you get something like the rim of this glass, where the metal actually rolls as it melts. He say, how do I know it's not contaminated underneath there? I say, well, I guess I really don't, except the instruments that we use is supposed to detect anything a quarter of an inch deep. He say, that's not good enough. He say, because some of that slag is better than a quarter of an inch. He said, have you ever heard of a Ludlum? Well, now, there's none of us out there that ever heard of a Ludlum, which is a radiation detector machine. We'd never heard of it. He says, well, that's what I want you to use. He was from Washington, DC, the Pentagon. [LAUGHTER] I said, uh-oh. But anyway, he says, I'm going back this afternoon. You will not survey or ship anymore metal off of here until I am satisfied that it's clean. I told him, okay. He went back to Washington, DC. This was like on a Wednesday. On a Monday morning, I had eight Ludlums. I'd never seen the things before. So I give them to my RCTs. And they had instruction with them. And the two kids live in Kennewick now, they read the instructions and everything, tried them out and everything. And then they became the instructors to teach other people how to use the Ludlum. Battelle has a program where that they have to certify all of the machines that are used on the Hanford site. Well, they didn't get their hands on these. So I'm working. I get a call from Battelle. And they tell me, say, Vanis, I understand you've got some machines out there that didn't come through us. I said, I don't know who they came through. But I said, they sent them to me. I said, so I got them. And I'm using them. You can't use them because they're not certified. I say, that's not what I was told. So I tell them exactly what I was told, who told me, where I got them from and everything. You got to bring them in here. I said, nope. I'm not bringing them in there. I say, I was told by the head from Washington, DC what to do. And that's what I'm going to do. Anyway, I had to go down and sit on their lap and talk with them, get them to understand that, hey, you can buck whoever you want to up there. I'm not going to do it. Well, anyway, they finally got it all squared away that they weren't going to get these machines and that I was going to use them because they had been overridden by Washington, DC. So then I got to get all that metal and everything cleared and it went to Japan. And one of things I can remember he told me before he left that evening, he say, you're doing a good job. But the thing I don't want is for one of my grandkids to get contaminated sitting up working on a computer where you have sent some contaminated metal and they made computers out of and sent it back over here. That was an interesting one. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: I can imagine. And what year would that have been?

Daniels: That would've been in '95 or '96.

Arata: Okay. Well, I wonder if we could just wrap up. Obviously, the Cold War in this time period, kind of a very conflicted legacy. Most of my students were not alive during that time. So they have sort of a limited window into it. So I wonder of you could just tell us a little bit about, in your experience, living through and working at Hanford during much of this time period of the Cold War, just maybe what changed over the course of time, if anything in terms of—like I know the NAACP eventually came to Hanford at did some good work later on. Sort of what that experience was of living through that change.

Daniels: Okay, one of the things that happened was in '68, I believe it was, about that time anyway, I was working in the 325 Building and Decon at the time. And I saw this gentleman, oh, for the better part of a week walking around. In the building, he'd always nod his head, you know, speak. I'd speak, go on about my work. Whatever he was doing, he'd go on about it too. My supervisor, one morning, told me, he stays, I need you to stay here, answer the phone. He say, take any work orders that come in. He say, and if you need to go and estimate a job, you know how to do it, go do it. I got to go to a meeting. I'll be back. I says, okay. So he went on to the meeting. And when he came back, he says, I told you something was going to happen. He say, heads are going to roll around here. I said, what are you talking about? He says, remember, they got all these blacks out here. I say, yeah. He say, 90% of them are janitors. I say, yes. He say, that guy that's been walking around in this building? I say, yes? He say, he's head of DoE. He's from Washington. And he's been observing all of the jobs, the people that are doing the jobs, the people that are in the jobs, the education that the people have, and the whole ball of wax. And he just told us that we got three weeks to start transferring some of these people into some of these jobs. He say, because you can't tell me you got that many black people out here and don't none of them have enough sense to do anything but janitorial work. He say, I know better. [LAUGHTER] So that's when they started diversifying and sending people to all different jobs and all that stuff. Because before then, most of them were janitors, I think. I got a cousin that worked in a lab, one supervisor, one operator—that was about it. Everybody else mostly were janitors. But, again, see, you're looking at an area when they start hiring blacks out there. Most of them had been here since the early '40s. They had worked construction out there and all that stuff. But none of them had ever been able to get a job in what I call production. They hired them all. They hired them as janitors. They were already elderly people. And when I say elderly, some of them may have been as young as in their 40s. But most of them only worked ten, 12 years, and they retired. They were that old. Some of them didn't want to do anything else except janitorial work.

A whole bunch of the younger people actually went on and became Teamsters and electricians and pipefitters and all that stuff. But that was the first time that a lot of the blacks had ever had a steady job in their life. And they, in the run of a year, they probably made is much or more money than they ever made in their life because they had a steady job. You got a paycheck 52 weeks to the year, with a vacation, which they had never had before. So they didn't want to branch out per se, a lot of them didn't, because I know some of the people that I worked with, many have gotten in 12 years out there and they retired. They just weren't interested in killing the world at their age. They just weren't interested in it. We first went to hot standby they call it. In other words, hot standby is when you redo everything, you rebuild everything. You get it ready to go if you need to go back into production. Then they go from what they call hot standby they downgraded it to just cold standby. When they did that, then after about six months we went in, we start draining everything. This is all the oils, all the antifreeze if you had antifreeze, whatever you had that was liquid, we start draining all this stuff out of all the equipment and everything. You started taking out all the electrical stuff. And they had spent millions and millions and millions of dollars upgrading all this stuff. You've got engines, diesel engines just in case you had a nuclear attack or something to that effect that once the electricity went off, the engines kicked off and kept the reactors running. One of those engines is longer than this building is this way, and they rebuilt them all. And the only time they started, they just started them up enough to make sure that they were working and they shut them off. We drained everything out of all those engines, and then they took them out, and when I left they were still in the buildings. I think they've since sold them to someone, but that means that you can't start it back up. If you want to, you've got to put all new stuff in.

Well, in 1943, when they built the B Reactor, when they started it, 13 months it was online. Try to build a reactor today. 40 years from now it won't be online. Because the government took and they put all of these entities into place. And it's a safety precaution as far as that go. But see they didn't put any restrictions on these people. And that's just the ecology, ERDA, all those people, they don't have any restrictions on them. And you get all of these in--if I hit you on the toe, don't holler ouch too hard--but young people are the worst in the bunch because the only thing they know is what they read in a book. And the book is just a guideline for you to use this up here, because there's no two things out there that's ever going to be the same. And DoE put young people in positions out here to tell people that have been working and doing this job for 30 and 40 years and they tell them what to do instead of coming out there asking some questions and trying to learn? Because the book don't tell you nothing. Do you cook?

Arata: I do.

Daniels: Okay. You go get a recipe, you fix the food exactly like the recipe says. It's not always good to you. But now if you are allowed to put your flair into it, then it's good, right? That's the same thing with a life. That's just the way life is. You've got to learn, and you do it by trial and error. And they don't have any business out there. I had a guy, 27 years old or roughly there, shut one of my jobs down. He did not ask the questions that he should ask. He just saw it and shut it down. You're not going to do this and you're not going to do that. Well, when you're talking to a rigger that's been rigging for 40 years, he know when he's in danger and when he's not. He didn't live that long by being stupid. Well anyway, it all comes down to not putting a barrier around where he was working. Well, he's got to be able to see the rigger down here, up here, and then he signals the crane operator. Well, if you can't see the rigger down in that hole, you can't signal the crane operator. And he shut my job down because this guy didn't have a barrier between him and the hole where he could look down in there and see the rigger. They shut it down. I had to go to a critique. And we talked about it and the rigger told him, he says, you don't have a clue what you're talking about. He said, you just shut a job down, he say, and you've got all these suits sitting up in here and making all this money and the job's still not done. But those are the things you have put up with, too.

Arata: Absolutely. Well, sir, is there anything else that I haven't asked you about, any final stories you'd like to share?

Daniels: I don't know. Maybe he got something he want to ask me. You got anything you want to ask me? I am just here. Just ask me whatever you want to ask me, and if I know, I'll tell you. If I don't, I'll say I don't know.

Arata: I guess my one sort of follow-up question, we've heard from a couple other interviewees about having some definite run-ins with the KKK. Did you ever have any experience with the KKK in the area?

Daniels: No, I never did. Now I do have a friend in Kennewick that tells me that they used to have meetings right up here on Jump-Off Joe. But no, I never ran into any. If I did, I didn't know who they were. Never had that experience, because we still might be fighting if I had. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: I think that covers all my questions. I want to thank you so much for coming and sharing your stories and experiences with us. I really appreciate it.

Daniels: My brother, he's got probably--let's see, I worked out there about 15 years all total and I think he's got 36 or 37 or 38, so he can probably tell you a lot more than me.

Arata: We'll get him next week. We're looking forward to it. Well, thank you so much, Vanis.

Daniels: Okay. You're welcome.



Bit Rate/Frequency

230 kbps

Hanford Sites

300 Area
3706 Building
3707 Building
200 East
200 West
B Reactor
1100 Area
325 Building

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site

1966-1971 1989-1997

Names Mentioned

Heidlebar, Rebecca
Johnson, Louzel


Vanis, Daniels.jpg


“Interview with Vanis Daniels,” Hanford History Project, accessed June 24, 2024,