Interview with Dennis Brunson
Radioactive waste disposal
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.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: All right. We are ready.
Dennis Brunson: Yeah.
Franklin: Okay. My name is Robert Franklin. I’m conducting an oral history interview with Dennis Brunson on October 18, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Dennis about his experiences working at the Hanford site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
Brunson: My name is Dennis, D-E-N-N-I-S, Brunson, B-R-U-N-S-O-N.
Franklin: Great. Okay, so the best place to begin is the beginning. So when and where were you born?
Brunson: I was born in LaGrande, Oregon.
Brunson: In 1943.
Franklin: And how did you come to Washington?
Brunson: My family moved my junior—beginning of my junior year of high school to LaCrosse, which is up towards Pullman.
Brunson: My dad was a foreman on a cattle ranch.
Brunson: That’s where I—
Franklin: Was your dad in the cattle business for most of his—
Brunson: Yeah, he was a farmer and we owned a meat market in eastern Oregon. That’s how I got up here.
Franklin: Okay. And then you went to high school in LaGrande?
Brunson: No, in LaCrosse.
Franklin: In LaCrosse, sorry.
Brunson: I married my high school sweetheart, who was a year ahead of me. I was a football player, and I had some success at playing football, and had been given an offer to play football at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, back in the day when they had an outstanding football program. On my way to that end, I damaged my neck severely in a football game—my last football game in high school, and I could no longer play football. But I was already—had plans to go to CBC, and I followed through. So I came to CBC, and I took a class there that was a special class that Boeing had initiated, basically, to produce illustrators for Boeing Company in Seattle. They didn’t have near enough technical illustrators. So I went through that program and found that there was a pretty high need for illustrators, and they used them here at Hanford as well. So my wife worked for General Electric, and her boss at the time and my future boss played golf together. We had planned on going to Seattle to start my career over there, and ultimately, I was hired to come to work at Hanford as an illustrator for Vitro Engineering Company.
Franklin: Okay. And so what kind of projects did you work on while in this first job at Hanford?
Brunson: Okay. I did a lot of—because I was an illustrator and artist, I was put in the piping department, which was a large section, because they were retooling the Hanford site at that time to process chemicals. My first job, basically, was as-built drawings. I would go into zones where the pipefitters had recreated the new version, and I would go in and follow blueprints to make sure that what went on the final drawings was the way it was built. And oftentimes, there were things that the designers couldn’t see. So they would get someone like me to go in and sit and draw all these things out, and double-check and make sure that it was as-built. That wasn’t always an easy task, because some of the zones we were in were very hot. And we would have to draw with coveralls on, and head gear, and gloves. It was a slow process.
Franklin: How would—so obviously, all that gear can be cleaned, but what you’re drawing on, then might also soak up radiation as well? Or--?
Brunson: Well, there was a possibility that you could be contaminated, and they were very careful, which I was thankful for. I always had a radiation monitor with me. If something in the atmosphere was airborne, he knew about it, because he had an indicator. We would get out of there. That happened a few times, but it wasn’t all that bad.
Franklin: What kinds of—did you work all over site doing these as-builts, or is there any building or buildings that come to mind?
Brunson: Well, in the 200 Area mostly is where I did that. In the T, U, and B Buildings, I think they were, at that time, they were retooling the Canyon buildings, or some of the cells for processing thorium. That’s what, basically, what we were doing. When I wasn’t doing as-built drawings, I worked as an illustrator and a design draftsman. I was trained well to do that, and I really enjoyed it.
Franklin: When did you start this first—when did you start at Hanford? Do you remember what year?
Brunson: Yeah, it was 1964.
Franklin: 1964. And how long did you work as an illustrator and doing the as-builts?
Brunson: For that—during that phase of my career, it was two years.
Brunson: I worked there two years, and then I went back to my wife’s family farm, and we leased one of my father-in-law’s ranches and tried to make a living raising wheat and sheep and cattle and all of that.
Franklin: What was the reason for that change? Or, why—why did you—
Brunson: Why’d I leave Hanford and go back to the farm?
Franklin: Yeah, why--
Brunson: Well, it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse. My father-in-law was having health issues, and he came to me and said, hey, I need some help. So we did what we had to do.
Brunson: And we tried to make a living, but—you know, I was glad that I had a connection at Hanford. Because in 1970, we came back and moved to Richland and started with WADCO Corporation as a technical illustrator.
Franklin: WADCO. And what does—do you remember what WADCO stands for?
Brunson: Well, it depends on who you were talking to. It was Westinghouse Advanced Development Corporation, but the locals here called Wild Ass Development Corporation.
Brunson: Because they had a way of getting things done.
Brunson: My reason for being there—I was hired as an illustrator, because they had taken over the FFTF design and management. It had been in thought process for several years prior to that. They took over, and there were services that were provided to the contractors here. But they had a difficult time—Westinghouse, or WADCO had a difficult time getting what they needed in the timeframes that they were being asked to deliver. So they had to go out and get some service people of their own to keep that flowing. That’s how I came in. I was the first illustrator they had.
Franklin: First illustrator. And I noticed a lot of the material you brought in today—which we’ll show some of that later—I noticed a lot of that pertains to FFTF.
Franklin: So it seems you were married to that—that was a large part of your illustrator, or graphic design work, was for that reactor.
Brunson: Yeah. When I started with the WADCO, and when I—that melded right into Westinghouse—it was the same parent company; they just changed the structure. I went from there until Boeing took over. That was 17 years.
Brunson: So I did that for 17 years. That’s the reason I have—my very first job at WADCO was another gentleman and I were asked to go down to Safeway and buy a 50-pound sack of flour. We went out to the desert, and there was a post out there where the center of the reactor core was. This was before they scraped anything away. We made a big giant X in the sand, and made it nice and tidy so that from an aerial photograph, it appeared to be a giant X. X marks the spot, for this—that was prior to the—for the first excavation. So that was the first thing that we did—I mean, that was noteworthy. The next day or two after they had photographically recorded that, they came in with the earth moving equipment to start the lay-down of the bottom of the reactor.
Brunson: And so that’s something that I did [LAUGHTER] that was unusual.
Franklin: So you were there right at the genesis—
Brunson: In the beginning.
Franklin: Yeah. Literally at the center of the—
Brunson: Center of the project.
Franklin: Center of the reactor. So what other kinds of work did you do in that 17-year span for WADCO?
Brunson: Well, I started out as an illustrator, and we worked night and day, seven days a week. Forever and ever and ever it went on. It was a wild ride. But we produced visual aids, slides and viewgraphs, and posters for poster sessions. And a lot of them. In addition to that, we also created an ongoing report of activities because we were building something new that had never been done. So we had, in addition to the graphics department, we had photographers and editorial staff, and the typing pool, and all of the support that is required to put out reports—technical reports. It was a large group. We were asked to create a history as we went along. That was—we were part of a national lab, and it was—that was something you had to do. It’s in record form somewhere, if our computers can read it. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I believe a lot of that material is actually in hard copy in our collections.
Brunson: Yeah. It is, yeah.
Franklin: I’ve gone through a lot of FFTF boxes.
Franklin: So you were the first person in this department, then. So how big did this department end up becoming? And did you take a supervisory role?
Brunson: Yes. At one time, we had around 25 people in that particular graphics department. I started out as an illustrator, and then was promoted to senior illustrator, and then supervisor, or art director. And then in a short while, I was promoted to manager of media services, which included the graphics department and photography and audio-visual, which was one tight group. As time went on, over a few years, I was assigned other management in the communications department. And that’s what I did. Then when we—after 17 years, when Boeing came to town, things—when we went into Boeing, I worked—managed several departments. The photography, audio-visual, motion picture group. So anyway, I’m getting off track.
Franklin: No, not at all.
Brunson: That’s kind of the trail that I had through the process. The entire time that we were working there, I’ve seen other groups that they provided a service, but were never considered, or they never felt like they were part of a team. That was the one nice thing about that graphics and photography departments—you were part of a team. We were involved with just about everything that went through the company. We were appreciated by the management, because they’d have been in trouble without a good group of people who were cooperative and willing to work every night, and into the wee hours of the morning, and still come back the next day and smile about it. And it was fun. You have to remember that people like in those kind of service departments, by and large, they’re people that are getting paid good money to do their hobby.
Franklin: Right, right.
Brunson: So the photographers loved it. They loved the challenge of going into a hot zone and taking pictures. It was something they looked forward to. It was something they could learn from, and create new techniques to do a good job. So that’s a pretty good base for contented employees, if you can have that. We were fortunate that most of us were about the same age, and we had fun, we had potlucks, we did all the things, we were rewarded for our efforts by the company, by the management. So it was a feel-good—we felt good that we provided service. I brought here 40 years of samples of work that we did that is proof.
Brunson: And it’s something that the people who were in those type jobs can take this to a potential new job, say, this is what I do, here it is. And it’s something that you can look at and see. Most all of us retired or are retiring from that line of service—everybody’s gotten older, of course. And now everybody runs the computer. That’s the way it—that’s how it worked for us.
Franklin: Right. Yeah, a lot of your material—a lot of those materials are in the Hanford Collection.
Franklin: And are identified as being very historically valuable. So I think that’s a testament to you—to the work of your group.
Brunson: Yeah. Well, the models—you have so many fantastic models in your collection. And I don’t know that you have more than what I saw in the walk-through the other day at the open house.
Brunson: I suspect that you have more of them somewhere, because there was a lot of them that we produced.
Franklin: Well, what’s in the collection right now is everything that’s been identified to be put in the collection. If there’s models somewhere else, they just aren’t part of our collection, so the DOE hasn’t put them in the collection.
Franklin: I hope there are, too, because they’re very—they have their own preservation challenges, but they’re very engaging.
Franklin: People really like the models. So you worked for Westinghouse for 17 years.
Franklin: So that would have been from ’70 to ’87. And then saying ’87 is also significant, because that’s our kind of shutdown of production year.
Franklin: So who did you work for, or—describe that transition to your new—
Brunson: From Westinghouse to Boeing?
Brunson: That was—in my eyes, I was very, very disappointed that we went to work for Boeing. We were given away to Boeing as part of the contract. Boeing was given all of the services: photography, video, graphics, printing, publication services—those were all part of the deal. Westinghouse gave—Westinghouse and Boeing partnered. The Westinghouse part of it, they took a bunch of labs from Battelle—or gave some to Battelle—I’m sorry. Battelle had a wonderful photography department and graphics department. They, along with the Westinghouse services, were all given to Boeing. Boeing—it was Boeing Computer Services—and the manager there wasn’t all that familiar with what we provided for the site, and wasn’t all that interested in finding out. He didn’t last very long, but the new management came in and they provided—they were good. They were a good company to work for at that time. But they—because of that, people like myself—I went there as a manager of the graphics department, and was quickly asked to go work and put out a big fire at the publications, printing and reproductions services group, which was a large group. So I was there for a year, managing that group. When the manager of photography and video, which was 65 people—professionals there, he decided to retire early, so I was asked then to go take care of that group, which was a challenge. I really liked it. It was a real good challenge. We had several large groups throughout—down this part of Hanford. We were asked, basically, to reduce that by half, as far as the square footage and all that. So we did a lot of consolidating and all that. And at the same time that that was going on, we were sort of downsizing. It’s when the digital world suddenly was upon us, and we were challenged. We had one of the nicest color labs, in the Federal Building, that was in the Northwest. It was fabulous. And we had the large black-and-white lab in the 300 Area.
Franklin: Sorry, can you just describe what a color lab and a black—you mean for reproduction or for photographs?
Brunson: For photographs.
Brunson: It was quite complex. And what I guess—I can give you an oversight of that, but it would really be great if you can get someone—Dan Ostergaard or someone like that—to sit in this chair and give you a real version of the macrographs and things that they did, as it relates to fuel—the nuclear fuel production. It was a whole new world, and it was an unusual world that they lived in. But by and large, we had photographers—and this was a collection of probably ten really high quality, well-educated technical photographers that provided service for the site. That included hot cells. We had permanent staff in the 200 Area that provided really hard work, as far as recording things in cells where they were doing testing and what-have-you. We had a couple guys that flew aerials every week. They would fly and take pictures of the development of our—whatever was happening on the site. We had—the black-and-white lab was in 300 Area, and they produced all of the negatives, they processed, they did a lot of the printing. They did color printing as well in the small scale. But in the Federal Building, we had a full-blown color printing process that went on there. You could do photographs that were six feet wide and 40 feet long. We had that ability. That work was done mostly for public relations type activities. I mean, that was—they did a lot of macrographs, and that’s—you take a fuel pin, or a piece of fuel—carbon—put it under a million-volt electron microscope, and enlarge that pin up to like four feet wide, and it’d be done in sections. We had folks in the lab that would cut all these things apart and put them back together. It’s kind of hard to describe unless you have a picture of it. But they ended up being this big macrograph that they would then re-photograph and reduce down, and that was—they used that for the research on what happens to nuclear fuels when it’s irradiated.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brunson: So it was a technical process. Photography and graphics both were the last people in the line when something had to be—a report had to go in, or somebody was getting on an airplane to go to D.C. or Virginia, or Europe or someplace for a critical meeting. They’d change and change and change right up to the last minute, and then dump it on us. And our challenge was to produce something that met their needs in the remaining wee hours of the morning.
Franklin: Mm-hmm. You mentioned it earlier, so I’d like to go back to it—can you describe—because the digital revolution, right, affected us all in terms of our computer use, but I imagine especially it would have affected the photography and graphic arts departments.
Franklin: So I’d like you to kind of talk about those—that change. That whole transformation of that technology.
Brunson: That was a process that we all went through, depending on what seat we were sitting at the time. I’ll start with graphics. In the graphics department, we had assigned a young lady the job of gathering the data for our first computer systems. She was looking at things on the PC side and on the Apple side. At that time, the Macintosh had software that was user friendly. We all—we went that way with the Apple—Mac.
Franklin: In many cases, they’re still often the—
Franklin: --computers of choice for graphics and audio-video.
Brunson: Certainly. But what we ran up against, especially with Boeing—Boeing saying, no way, we’re not going to go with anything Apple. You can kiss your Apples goodbye, because we’re not going to go that route. But they didn’t have the software development on the PC side that met our needs. So we’d keep putting them off and putting them off. I know some of their departments now are all back on that side of the fence. But that went on in the graphics side, but on the photography side, it was a real struggle, because our photographers came from the old school—film—and fortunately we had a few guys who were advocates for the digital end and helped us stumble through that. It was a rough journey. But it changed everything we did. We—a group of 75 people—there are now zero photographers at Hanford that we know of—that I know of. They’ve all went by the way of—they’re extinct. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Right. And the technology now is—you might not get the same—always the same quality—
Franklin: --but now that everyone has a camera for most purposes that you can document a lot of the history out there. Yeah. So how did—so on the graphics side are you talking mostly about CAD software? Or is that—what kinds of software did you—
Brunson: Well, we used—
Franklin: Did you use for the graphics software?
Brunson: We used FreeHand and Photoshop and those types of Illustrator-type softwares. [SIGH] I’m drawing a blank here. You can cut this out, I guess. Can we stop just a sec?
Franklin: Yeah, sure, of course.
Brunson: Okay. Get my head on straight.
Franklin: Yeah, no worries.
Brunson: Where I was going. Ask me the question again.
Franklin: I was just—what kinds of software did you primarily use in the—
Brunson: Oh, okay. In the graphics side.
Franklin: In the graphics process, yeah.
Brunson: It was, on the Mac side, it was FreeHand, was our base—when I was heavily involved with it, that was the base. On the PC side, we used Corel Draw, and we used Illustrator and those were kind of the basic ones that I was familiar with.
Franklin: When did you feel—because computer power has almost exponentially increased since the invention of the microchip. So when did you finally feel, from a professional standpoint, that these computer technologies were on par or had surpassed a lot of what had been done, then, by analog technologies? Or did you ever feel that it was that way?
Brunson: Yeah. When I was at the end of my career—I left there in 2008—by about that time, we were overcome by good technology. Before that, some of the new guys that came in who were really well-trained, it was—they made computers do things that you wonder, how in the world did they do that? You were kind of glad you were getting old. [LAUGHTER] I’ll give you just a brief—at one point when I was with Lockheed, I was asked to go to work on a proposal in the Washington, DC area for the FBI. We were there most of the summer, about 35 days, 40 days, I guess.
Brunson: I had familiarity with—a lot of experience with FreeHand. So the last thing I was told before I left was, oh, by the way, they don’t use Macs. They use Corel Draw on PC. I looked at him and I said, I’ve never done any Corel work. Well, you better get started! So I’m getting on, packing my suitcase to go put my life on the line in Virginia or Maryland. So I had a real learning curve, the first week there. And I made it. I got so that I really liked the program. But it was—everything’s about the same, except it’s a little different. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Right, you might—the basics are probably pretty easily transferrable, but there’s the details and special features.
Brunson: Yup, that’s exactly it.
Franklin: So how long did you work for Boeing, and when did Boeing transition? It went from Boeing to Lockheed?
Brunson: Boeing to Lockheed.
Franklin: And when did that—
Brunson: I think that was nine years later—I think I worked for Boeing for nine years before Lockheed came to town. I think. [LAUGHTER] I have it written down somewhere.
Franklin: Right, no, that’s understandable. And you worked there until May 2008?
Franklin: Can you talk about the—so you worked for Westinghouse—Westinghouse Hanford, Boeing, Lockheed Martin—can you talk about the—I mean you talked a little bit about the attitude between the change in contractors, but was that a—was there kind of like a culture change as well?
Franklin: And did your group have to kind of readjust, or were you sheltered from the larger storm of contractors, contractor change?
Brunson: Well, we—in a group like—in some groups it was no problem at all, no hassle, nothing to worry about. In our groups, we worked at a level in the company where we were part of—we were part of all the stuff. So when we lost our mothership so to speak, there were hurt feelings and there was a lot of unknown canyons to go down, as far as—we worried about it. We worried about it, that these changes breaking us up and tearing us apart, and it always seemed to do that to some extent. The Lockheed was different than the others—Lockheed Martin—because they were still tied to Lockheed Corporate. There was a Hanford and a Corporate. And half the stuff that we did, we were working for Lockheed Martin Corporate, but we were here. It was—there were a lot more challenges for our organization, and it was more contractor-supported than it was Hanford-supported. I was kind of the Hanford guy.
Brunson: For years. I was an art director, where most of the old Hanford numbers—everything would come to me, and we would then, you know, get it done, and get it filed correctly and all of that. But there were times, like when I went to work for on this FBI proposal, that that was purely Lockheed Martin.
Brunson: So that gave people like me a chance to learn other things and do other things, and it made a better person out of all of us, because we got to do things that—we were tied to the Hanford fence previously. So I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
Franklin: Yeah, I think that answers it really well.
Brunson: But you have to remember, whenever a contractor came in to take over, there was a proposal. You know, the Department of Energy or AEC or whoever we were at the time, they said, hey, you guys have been doing this work for x number of years. We want to see whether we can get it done cheaper. So every time that happened, every time somebody else took over the contract, there’s things that were lost that we were used to. Whether that was good or bad—most of the time you thought it was bad, because that’s not the way it’s always been done. Just fear of change. There was a lot of downsizing that went on. So groups that had had 65, 68 people in them, suddenly they were down to 20. That meant people went somewhere else to work. So there were layoffs.
Franklin: Right, because as you mentioned, a lot of the point of this bidding and contracts was to get the work done at the lowest price.
Franklin: So there’s an incentive there to cut costs when and where you could.
Brunson: Yeah. When we transferred—I’d been at Westinghouse 17 years, and I provided quite a bit of work for the proposal. My manager, who was [UNKNOWN], she was the manager of technical communications at the time—she went back to Pittsburgh and worked for almost six months as part of that team. I took her job during that timeframe. We were so excited that we won—we won the bid—and come back and find that—sorry, guys, you’re not going to be Westinghouse anymore; you’re going to Boeing. That was very disheartening to those of us who had been branded with the Circle-W on our butt. We were disappointed and feelings were hurt.
Franklin: Right, right.
Brunson: It caused all kinds of trauma for a lot of people for a short time.
Franklin: Speaking of branding, for work done on the—did each contractor have its own kind of corporate branding that it used on all its own publications, used at Hanford? Did you have to learn a whole new set of corporate graphic identity each time?
Brunson: Oftentimes—and there were also—Department of Energy had their own branding, if you will. So there was always a little muddy water about the use of logos and the use of the fonts that were used, the different kinds of fonts, and the colors, and all of that. It was an interesting journey. I’ll put it that way.
Franklin: Brand identities, almost sacred.
Brunson: Well, it was. Westinghouse, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin all had extreme control on their—they had someone at headquarters that had an eye on everything we did, because we were always getting our hand slapped. You can’t do that.
Franklin: Well, let me tell you, it’s the same here.
Brunson: Yup. Well, that’s--
Franklin: Everyone’s interested in preserving their brand identity. Was the majority of your work—or I guess maybe can you describe the balance of your work—was it public, for public consumption, or private consumption, or a mixture of both, the work that you did at Hanford?
Brunson: It depends on at what phase of my career.
Brunson: There were times in the early part of the career that everything that I touched went into a report or a presentation for the site.
Franklin: Okay. So for internal consumption?
Brunson: Internal. As time went on, some of that—at that time, most of it was, you know, you had to have a Q clearance to be there to begin with. Most everything was pretty private because, on FFTF, that was a new technology and we didn’t do an awful lot of sharing with the public. But then, as time went on and you started doing other things in the career path, you got to do things that were more fun. Public presentations and work for the science centers and things like that, and displays and what-have-you.
Franklin: Did your group do work for the Hanford Science Center?
Franklin: Okay. How involved were you with the Hanford Science Center?
Brunson: As required. We had projects that we would work through. There were several contractors that provided the same service. FFTF, we did a lot of models, as you already know, for FFTF because it was all new. It was new technology, it was a new thought process, and it was new. We had a lot of visitors from throughout the world. We developed the Science Center in the 400 Area out at FFTF that ultimately became the CREHST museum. They moved that building down, downtown.
Franklin: Was that the same building that Allied Arts is in—that’s the former CREHST, right?
Brunson: No, that’s—CREHST is just a couple notches down.
Franklin: Sorry, I’m pretty new to the area. I moved here after CREHST had closed down. So the CREHST building, though, is a former site building?
Brunson: It was built on at the 400 Area on a little ridge overlooking the reactor.
Brunson: It was put up in a hurry, and we built beautiful displays in there. You could go off—you could drive out there without a badge, and you could go in and go through the Science Center, the Visitors Center, we called it. FFTF Visitors Center. And it told the entire story; we had visual presentation, we had like six projectors that showed these—you could sit through a 30-minute 35-millimeter slide presentation with sound and all that.
Brunson: So that was—and that’s where most of those models were ultimately ended up. Some of them were actually in the reactor building itself, where visitors would come in and you could use—you couldn’t go in there because it was hot, but you could look at this model and they could point out various activities that were going on.
Franklin: Did you do any work at all at the CREHST museum?
Brunson: Personally, I did not, but our staff did.
Brunson: Mike Reisenauer did a lot of work for the museum down there. He built a lot of displays at Lockheed Martin.
Franklin: Right, because I know that some of the items in our collection from that CREHST Museum were donated by Lockheed Martin. So that’s why I thought there might have been a—
Brunson: There were a lot of the things that were in the basement there, which you never got to see, but there was a lot of material that we had created for other displays in the Lockheed Martin Center. We had a building out at the Richland Airport that was—we had a complete model shop in there.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brunson: And that’s where a lot of that stuff was manufactured. Parts—I wasn’t—I never did work in there, but we were—we managed that. It was what it was.
Brunson: It was as required, we did it.
Franklin: Right, right. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to mention?
Brunson: Well, one of the things that I thought about in coming out here was that in the beginning, prior, you know, in the 50s—the 40s and the 50s, there were very few illustrators. There were very few technical illustrators who knew what to do. There were a few, but on the Hanford site, that often was—that type of work was performed by sign painters. That was a whole new world. It was—a lot of the big visuals back in those days were done by the sign shops. There were a number of sign painters at Hanford. I never did find out how many there were, but each area had two or three or maybe about as many as five sign painters.
Franklin: Yeah, we have a lot of signs in our collection. A lot of hand-painted signs.
Brunson: Yeah, but a lot of them—I mean 99% of them—weren’t painted on a board or on a piece of metal. They were painted on a tank or a wall or a series of pipes. They became pretty crafty. Sometimes there was a little head-butting that went on between the crafts, you know—you guys can’t do that. Well, yeah, we can. Look, we did it. Well, you’re not supposed to. Well, no, you’re not supposed to. So there was some near-issues with union—or labor and non-labor activities. But the early sign painters were really good artists. The ones that we formatted—or that we faced with, they were really good artists. They were hardly ever recognized as such.
Franklin: When did that profession—when did the sign painters start to kind of fade away on the Hanford site?
Brunson: Well, they still have them, but now they all have the digital—everything’s digital, and vinyl cutting. I mean, it’s kind of like a graphics shop now.
Franklin: Well, I imagine that would’ve been folded kind of into graphic design.
Brunson: Yeah, but it never—to my knowledge, it’s never ever—you know, there’s these guys, the ones with x’s on their stomachs and those that have zeros on their stomachs. To my knowledge, they’re still a separate entity.
Franklin: Interesting. What kinds of tools did you use as an illustrator when you were doing these drawings and things? What kind of—did you have access to a pretty wide array of tools, or what?
Brunson: Well, yes, we did, for the time. At the time, we did. In the early days, we had typesetting machines that had—it was the black-and-white film and we had fonts that were big, and you’d spin it around—if you were spelling something out, you’d spin it around, and then you’d expose it, and it would be exposed to a tape that was going through a photo bath which was all self-contained. It would come out the other side in these long strips—you might have 50 feet of it. There was always problems with the process, too. But we would dry that—or it would come out and it would dry. Then we’d put it through a machine that was a waxer. It would wax the backs of it. Then we’d put it on our drying boards—big Hamilton drying boards, with a long straightedge on it, and we’d cut out all these letters. Then we’d lay them up on the board a line at a time, and clean them up, and then send it to photography to have a photomechanical transfer, which was a black-and-white print. So, a-ha, here it is. Or you could get that same—like the film that I have over here, that is a clear photo—it’s a positive, film positive. And then you can either lay that over another graphics that was airbrushed, or you can paint the back of it, and that was the one that we found on the shelf back on our tour through there of the interim K storage—an illustration. That was an evolution. We went from doing airbrush drawings that was very, very time-consuming. I brought my airbrush and some of the tools. And it was kind of a one-time deal. Back then, to be an illustrator, an artist, you had to be an illustrator and an artist. You couldn’t fake it. You had to know what you were doing. So if you made a boo-boo, you were in trouble. And if somebody who was a good illustrator, but they were clumsy and sloppy, they didn’t last very long, because you couldn’t afford to have him redo it and redo it, you know? So that took a lot of pretty good artists out of the picture, because they couldn’t do what was required of them.
Franklin: Right. Well, this sounds like it would be a great time to take a quick break and set up to view some of the materials that you brought.
Franklin: To kind of illustrate—literally—your work.
Franklin: So we’ll just, we’ll shut it off and then we’ll—
Brunson: Well, I’ll give it a shot. I’ve done this a few times over the years for schools and what-have-you where I have the thing in my—I have a big studio, I have it all laid out. It’s kind of awkward this way. But basically, an illustration is done—or was done at that time—our client, an engineer, would contact us and come in with the stack of drawings where they needed an illustration done, and what they kind of wanted as the end product. And what we would do is assign it to an illustrator, and he would start by doing a rough pencil sketch after looking at the blueprints to say, is this kind of what you want? Yes, that’s what—he’d come back, and after an initial rough, and then he would start ploughing through all the data. Basically, its drawings were to scale and oftentimes a cutaway to show how it worked. But it had to be accurate, and it had to be the right scale, which was kind of a unique part of the job that we did. The way we would ordinarily lay it out would be we would use all the tools we had in our tool chest to lay it out and to draw it. We would use mechanical pencils. This is a pencil sharpener. We would lay out the drawing, we would ink it then, with—once it had been approved, we would transfer it to product that was—or paper or vellum that was of high quality, or even Mylar. And then we would ink it with fine pens that would—haven’t used these for several years. [LAUGHTER] But they were varying size ink pens. Very accurate and very easy to work with. These have been around for a long time. I’ve owned this set since the early ‘60s.
Brunson: But when the illustration was laid out and done, and the engineer took a look at it, we would ask him to tell us what he wanted on a copy—a blueprint copy, to put the words on it that he wanted on it, the title. And in the beginning, the titles were normally put on with a paintbrush.
Brunson: And oftentimes red tempera paint, like we used to use in grade school, you know. It worked easy and it went down well and it looked nice. Any really fine illustrations—I should say the fonts and the wording, oftentimes if it was really important, we would use this setup, which is a template that has an indentation, and we would put one of these type of pens into a little bug. This is called the bug. And it would line up in the track. We would follow this—it’s difficult to show on here, but the line would—you would follow the lettering—I don’t know, is this going to show or not? But it would—you’d be producing a—it would be—you’d lay it on—let’s—
Camera man: Can you move it around?
Franklin: Maybe we can—can you flip this part of it? Can you put this over there?
Brunson: Do what now?
Franklin: Hold it like that. But like—maybe hold it like that so they can—
Brunson: Well, yeah, that’d be wrong, but that’d be putting it down below. It’s difficult. Ultimately, what it amounts to is that you’d have a—it would be laying down on a surface, and—[LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, sorry, we’re not really set up for the visual displays.
Brunson: But anyway, this—
Camera man: If you don’t mind, maybe I’ll just get closer. Maybe that will work.
Emma Jo Rice: Okay, perfect. Maybe flip it and tell him to use that? Or what do you think?
Camera man: Let’s try just to get closer to it.
Camera man: So I have to—just a second here. Yeah. Move that out of the way. Okay.
Brunson: That do it? Well, this, basically is a stylus that follows the shape of the letter, and above up here, a pen would be laying down the letters one by one. You’d move this around until you developed a sentence or a word, a callout. So this was—it looks awkward, and it looks like it’s time-consuming, but it isn’t. In reality, it goes real quickly. And there’s—sometimes there’s boo-boos, if you aren’t watching yourself, you’ll misspell something. It’s easily done. But that was one of the—this was a nice advance, because we used to do it all with a red sable paintbrush. That’s how we’d put the lettering on the illustrations. So this type of information was giant leap forward. Then once we started getting photo paper, that enabled us to—technology just kept advancing this about as fast as we could keep up with it. And we’d buy stuff, and before the year was out, it was obsolete because something else had come along. So thank goodness, it enabled us to provide a better end product. This was just basically an illustration of—we have a photograph, a colored photograph, of one of the illustrations that shows this. I don’t know what more to say about it than that.
Franklin: Okay. No, that’s great. So maybe now we’ll—do you feel comfortable, now that we’ve shown this, do you want to move on to the photographs?
Franklin: So what we’ll do then is you’ll sit where I’m sitting, I’ll kind of come around to the side. We’ll get the music stand up, get it focused on the stand, and I’ll come and bring some of our materials over here. And then we will--
Rice: Does that go down any more, or just tilt it?
Camera man: That works.
Rice: Okay. [INAUDIBLE]
Brunson: I don’t even know who that was.
Rice: I think that should be okay.
Brunson: Can you—
Rice: It’s actually positioned—it seems so simple, but it’s really [INAUDIBLE] What do you--
Brunson: Yeah, that’s—
Rice: If you want to—
Brunson: No, we can—
Franklin: [INAUDIBLE] to where you’re at.
Franklin: Oh, no, I’ll just be behind.
Franklin: Right here. Okay. Are we ready?
Camera man: Yeah, yeah. Let’s go ahead.
Franklin: So this is—why don’t you describe this illustration first. What it was, where we would have found it.
Brunson: Okay. This was part of the fuel development activity that was an ongoing process at Hanford for nuclear fuel. I picked this one out because it was an attractive illustration.
Brunson: There were techniques that were used on this work where I—in this particular way of putting lettering on. You’ll notice the lettering, that the callouts that identify it and the title on this, those were all—this was about a 32 x 40 inch illustration. It was a black-and-white cutaway illustration in perspective. And it was then transferred onto an illustration board, and it was airbrushed.
Brunson: Which was a time-consuming process. This whole—an illustration like this would probably take a week, a week-and-a-half to do. And it maybe changed several times during that whole process. This was an advanced technique, because prior to using these type of tools, this was often done with a paintbrush.
Brunson: Which didn’t have the same sharpness and same quality. This is a very attractive illustration.
Franklin: It is.
Brunson: And it’s very well done. It was, again, an airbrushed illustration.
Franklin: So then, just to reiterate, the lettering on this illustration was put on there by the same method that you demonstrated there with the stylus and the guide.
Brunson: Yes, that is correct.
Franklin: And so that allows, I imagine, for a lot of kind of quality control over, and consistency—
Franklin: --throughout the illustration not to distract from the information being presented.
Brunson: And the bad thing about doing the lettering on something like this: after you’ve already done all of this, and spent a week in that process, to have a boo-boo with the paintbrush or a bug, it was a disaster. You had bad dreams about things like that--
Franklin: Oh, jeez.
Brunson: --if you’re an illustrator.
Franklin: So one of the next ones, kind of a personal favorite of mine, one that’s in our collection of the FFTF, I’d like you to talk about this publication. Were you in charge of the design of this?
Franklin: Oh, here, can we—
Brunson: I wanted to see what was in it.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brunson: And see—I didn’t even—yeah, these were—
Franklin: Did you do the cover of this? Was this part of your group, or--?
Brunson: Yes, yes. Yeah.
Franklin: Okay. So kind of describe if you can remember, kind of the thought that went in—this is a very kind of futuristic-looking, digital—but with this kind of realistic photo dropped on it. So kind of maybe describe the kind of the thought process behind this cover.
Brunson: Well, it—I didn’t personally draw this—or lay this out. David Beckley, I think, was the illustrator that did, and he was very, very talented. This was in celebration of the first three years of FFTF in operation. It was kind of a bragging tool, if you will. It had—there was—one, it was expensive to do. Back in those days, it was expensive to do something like this. And it borderline pushed the edge for what was legal to do, as far as colors and all of that.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brunson: But internally—this, of course is an aerial view of the FFTF Reactor that we put in there. Same illustration. And basically, went through and set all sorts of—oh-ho, there’s an illustration that I did. Well, not only did I do it, but nearly every other person that worked on the FFTF project had some dealings with this, because it changed so many times. But this is an illustration that I did. There was another illustrator who did this little section, this building here, Ron Wick, who retired recently from Supply System. He helped with that, and I did everything else. We submitted it, and it won an international award.
Brunson: But it was—this was just basically a recap of the construction milestones and the various activities as they were being—these major components as they were being installed. So it was a classic—this brochure won an award as well.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brunson: For that time.
Franklin: Yeah, it’s very visually appealing with its photos. Was the cover—was that done with—was that a—did computers create this cover, or was this kind of analog reproduction of kind of a digital—I guess that’s—
Brunson: Yeah, it looks digital, doesn’t it?
Franklin: Yeah, it looks kind of very Tron.
Brunson: This is probably the third or fourth version, and I think those kind of things evolved. This was a good product. We were all proud to be part of that association.
Franklin: Okay. So the next one is another one that we mentioned. We’ll see how we can get this to stay. Might have to come and—oh! All right. Wow.
Brunson: Well, that’s pretty well—
Franklin: Yeah. It might make it there for a minute. Actually, I’ll probably--
Brunson: We could probably—well that—I think that shows it pretty well.
Franklin: Yeah, it sure does. So why don’t we talk about that—so this is the illustration that you said won an award.
Brunson: Yeah, it did. And it was done—this was drawn and, of course, like I said, we did so many variations of this drawing. It was inked and this part here, the building itself, was a film positive. It was a giant, clear film with black lines on it. And then we painted on the back of it with acrylic.
Brunson: And it was kind of what Disney’s cartoons did. That’s where we kind of developed this thinking of that aspect. It made life a lot easier. It was so much faster than airbrush.
Brunson: So this is kind of a step up from airbrush. This was 32 inches wide by 40 inches long. It’s actually out of that proportion. This is an illustration of this core that was also 40 inches long.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Brunson: And these were 40 inches long. And we did all of these illustrations, time and time again. The background here was done with opaque watercolor. And then this unit was laid on top of that. That’s how it was done. It was—at that time, that was kind of the state of the art.
Franklin: Right. Sounds like there’s a lot of different techniques that go into this, different processes.
Brunson: And this was all done with sponge. I mean this part down here was just a sea sponge and various colors of dark and light paint.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Brunson: And the sky—the actual original, the sky was a little nicer than it is here. But that’s, of course—that’s kind of the setting. So this was in Nuclear Engineering as their centerfold of the year—
Franklin: I’ll show that cover real quick.
Brunson: --for International Nuclear Engineering.
Franklin: Oh, that means you’re top billing right there, the FFTF Foldout.
Brunson: Yeah. I was always proud of that. We all were.
Rice: That’s a hand-painted title?
Franklin: So this is a hand-painted title here?
Brunson: Yeah, this is a paintbrush. Red sable brush. You just hand-lettered to make sure that you’ve got it. You lay it out on a piece of paper so you know exactly the center of it and where it’s going to be, and then go in with a light pencil and pencil it in so you had your spelling correct. Because it’s pretty—I’ve even misspelled my name a few times, when you’re concentrating on doing it. So that’s just me. So it was laid out in pencil and then you just hold your breath and start painting, after you’ve scribbled on a piece of scrap for a while to get the feel. If you didn’t do that every day, it was kind of pot luck.
Brunson: And down here, again, these were done with the bug.
Franklin: The stylus?
Brunson: Yeah, with the stylus.
Rice: So why were some of the titles hand-painted?
Brunson: Well, one, they were large.
Brunson: You know, some of them were this tall on these illustrations. There wasn’t really any other way, at that time—that we had—that you could create that.
Brunson: So that was just part of the timeframe.
Franklin: That one’s great.
Rice: That’s awesome.
Franklin: So let’s do—talk a little bit about this.
Brunson: Yeah, this was interesting. This—Hank Krueger was one of our cartoonists for years out there. Had a very distinct style and a personality that was—it was great. He was really a character. The Hanford News was, like it says, serving the Hanford family. It came out once a week, and it had all sorts of information in it regarding the state of Hanford. This was a Christmas—it was actually security—it was a security statement about where’s your badge?
Brunson: I’ve kept this for years and years. I’ve shown it a lot. So it always tickles me to see it. Because everything about it has something to do with safety. And that’s how you could justify doing something like that.
Brunson: Because an illustration like this doesn’t happen overnight. It took a little—it costs a little to do that. But the Hanford News, for years, the whole back page of it was ads. It was kind of like the free ads that are in the Tri-City Herald today, you know. So there was always a lot of interest in buying a boat or duck decoys or an end table or something. Consequently, it kind of distracted from the work being done on Fridays.
Brunson: So they normally wouldn’t produce—they wouldn’t hand it out until quitting time on Fridays.
Franklin: Oh, okay, right, yeah, that makes good sense. So here we go. This might be a little small, but here we have some of the ads here. Right, so cars for sale, wanted. And these were all for—did it cost to, or were these all free ads?
Brunson: These were all free ads.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brunson: But you had to be on site. You know, for sale, and wanted, and trade, and free, and commuter pools. So it was a great service.
Brunson: And all the contractors got it. So it was a great deal.
Franklin: Right, yeah, I can imagine that this would have been important.
Brunson: But that was part of what we did as well in the graphics department.
Rice: [INAUDIBLE] the next one?
Franklin: So, here we go. So this photo has you in it right?
Brunson: Yeah, that’s me.
Franklin: Over on the, second from the left?
Brunson: Yeah, I’m the non-president male. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, this is a picture of the president of Westinghouse Hanford Company. His name was Al Squires. This is the team that we finally pulled together after years of actually working on it, the Final Safety Analysis Report. FSAR. It was a major, major activity regarding the safety of the operation of FFTF.
Brunson: It was a big job and a lot of people supported it. We had a special activity where they thanked us and gave us cake or something. [LAUGHTER] This was the team that was in charge of the management of it.
Franklin: So—this one?
Franklin: Yeah. This is kind of different.
Franklin: And all of these—all of the things we’ve scanned—all of the items Dennis brought, and then others we’ll make available with the interview on our website. So why don’t you tell us a bit about—this seems a little bit different from—
Brunson: Well, there was a time when the PRTR Reactor building in the 300 Area, it was the Plutonium Research Test Reactor. It was a little domed building in the southeast part of the 300 Area. They decided this would be a great place to do work on the Star Wars activities. They were actively pursuing this when we got a new President, and it all went down with one big flush. But during that timeframe, we had a lot of illustrators that got to do some neat drawings about potential activities in space. So it was indeed a Hanford—
Franklin: So the new President you’re talking about, would that have been—so it was George HW?
Brunson: No, it was before that. It was back in the Carter days and times like that.
Franklin: Oh, okay. Okay, so this predated the Star Wars—Reagan’s STI. Okay, but this was some of the--
Brunson: Yeah. We got excited about it for a while, but we just—it didn’t pan out. So that’s—
Franklin: That’s pretty exciting.
Franklin: Pretty exciting picture. So this here—let me—
Brunson: I don’t know if you can see that—no, that’s--
Franklin: Summary Description of the Fast Flux—
Brunson: This is called a HEDL-400. HEDL was Hanford Engineering Development Laboratory.
Brunson: We were basically in charge of the Fast Flux Test Facility.
Franklin: Does 400 correspond to the area?
Brunson: It is—well, I assumed that it did. It was the 400 Area. But inside, that’s—this is the—that’s the negative for that FFTF—the big one—
Franklin: Oh, okay!
Brunson: And they handed this to me in celebration. That was in 1981, when this was produced. Pat Cabell was the editor-in-chief, and I was sort of his whipping boy. Doing illustrations for all of the—and putting the book together. Are you able to see that? A lot of the illustrations in here, I did a lot of these illustrations. And a lot of us in the groups did them. But this is the interim decay storage facility that you have an illustration for over here.
Franklin: Right. That’s right here, yeah.
Brunson: This was the black-and-white version of that.
Brunson: That illustration that you have was done with the film positive and we painted on the back of it.
Brunson: I put a six-foot-tall cowboy down here in the corner to show scale.
Franklin: That’s how large this is.
Franklin: Okay, great.
Brunson: So this basically is the bible of FFTF, as far as how it’s constructed and how it was finalized. It’s kind of an as-built.
Franklin: Okay. Oh, great. Do you have the Ron Kathren—
Rice: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Franklin: Yeah. That might be a good one to—I don’t know if we want to go through every single one.
Brunson: No, that wasn’t my intent.
Franklin: No, but we will make all of those available.
Rice: Did he go into detail about how that whole thing was produced?
Franklin: This one? I believe so.
Brunson: Yeah, pretty much.
Franklin: The airbrush and the—
Rice: I didn’t quite catch that. I know the other ones—
Franklin: So, how do you—Husco--?
Franklin: So this is kind of Tri-Cities history, and--
Franklin: WSU Tri-Cities, but also Hanford, in the way of the Joint Center for Graduate—so why don’t you talk a bit about the Huscoubea and your contribution to—
Brunson: Yeah, this was—there was a fellow who—his name was Trent—who worked at WSU. Frank Trent was his name. He was a maintenance guy, and he was an artist. He was asked to come up with a critter that was part husky, part cougar and part beaver. They were initially going to use it for the first graduation—the diploma—as kind of a logo. And he struggled with it, and then he came to me and said, hey, can you help me? So I came up with a black-and-white version and they liked it. So he then came back later and they had me do an oil painting of it. So this is part of an oil painting that’s a little bit larger—I mean, shows the river bank, and the river in the distance and all of that.
Brunson: And it hung here at the college for years, and I think somewhere it’s still hanging. I hope. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: And so here’s another.
Brunson: Oh, yeah.
Franklin: We’ll have to come up here—and so—a little more. This is Professor Emeritus Ron Kathren who’s been interviewed by us, and Herbert Parker Foundation, long-time health physics professional and proud Coug, holding the oil painting of the Huscoubea on our 20th celebration, which I think would have been in 2008 or 2009.
Franklin: So this was the final painting, then.
Brunson: That’s the painting.
Franklin: --that was done.
Brunson: It hung in this building upstairs, as you came in. For years and years it was there. Yeah. I used to come out here for art classes at night and on the weekends. It was—it always hung there and I was always so proud of it. It was an unusual illustration.
Franklin: Yeah. It’s probably maybe the most unusual college mascot--
Franklin: --I’ve ever seen.
Brunson: It didn’t last for long.
Franklin: Okay, so this will be our last one here. Both of them?
Rice: Well, the hand drawing probably.
Rice: I don’t know if it will show up, though. Oh, okay.
Franklin: It looks like it will. So this obviously isn’t a final, right?
Brunson: No, that’s considered a rough.
Brunson: That was—we did an ongoing—that was a main—a big part of our activity at Hanford in the graphics department was safety and security.
Brunson: And it kept a lot of people employed, because they’re always wanting something new to—it was very—they were real serious about safety and security, which is great. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, when you’re dealing with nuclear reactors.
Franklin: Yeah. And the Hanford safety record is very well-documented. Okay, well that’s great. And—that, yeah. So, Dennis, thank you so much for coming.
Franklin: And sharing your story and walking us through the process.
Brunson: This was fun.
Franklin: Oh, great. Well, thank you.
Brunson: I could probably keep this up for a couple hours! [LAUGHTER] If you didn’t have something important to do.
View interview on Youtube.
FFTF (Fast Flux Test Facility)
Hanford Science Center
PRTR (Plutonium Reclamation Test Reactor)
HEDL (Hanford Engineering Development Laboratory)