Interview with John Williams

Dublin Core


Interview with John Williams


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Nuclear reactors


John Williams moved to Richland, Washington in 1944 as a child. John worked on the Hanford Site from 1962-1994 and opened the first vineyard on Red Mountain in 1973.

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.




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 the US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


John Williams


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Tom Hungate: We’re rolling.

Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with John A. Williams on June 1st, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Mr. Williams about his experiences working at the Hanford site and owning a winery in the Tri-Cities region.

John Williams: Okay.

Franklin: So is it okay if I call you John?

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: Okay, great. And you can call me Robert.

Williams: Okay. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: So I read in your—Emma [Rice] was kind enough to give me a bio, and so I read that your father worked at Hanford in World War II and you came here when you were a child.

Williams: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: The best place to being seems there, at the beginning.

Williams: Okay, if you want me to, I will start there.

Franklin: That would be great.

Williams: Okay. Yeah, I was a little—actually it’s pretty good information about people that lived here in the early days. My father had already came out here. My mother drove us out, about six months after my father had come to work at Hanford.

Franklin: Okay, sorry—when did he come to work? Do you remember the time of the year, what year it was?

Williams: Well, it had to be in early ’44, I think.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: Because we also—then we came out here about six months later and moved in middle of ’44, as best I can remember. I’m not remembering very many dates anymore. [LAUGHTER] We actually had to board up in Sunnyside in the old—they used to have some old Navy homes there.

Franklin: Really?

Williams: So we were about four or five blocks from the school there. So my mother took me down there, and I started school there. One day at lunchtime or wherever they were going—they were trucking us along the sidewalk, a bunch of kids—and I turned and headed toward what I thought was home. [LAUGHTER] They didn’t tell me what I was going to do. Anyway, turns out I got lost on the first day of school out there. [LAUGHTER] So it took them about a half day to find me or something like that. Anyway, we lived in those old Navy homes, and then we finally—they finished the house in Richland. It was a B house down on Thayer Drive. At that time, they usually had big courts behind all the houses, they were usually built in at least an arrangement where there was usually a large back area in there. And I remember there was not a seed of grass. It was all sand and dirt. And every time the wind blew, it blew like hell. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, that’s our first move to Richland. Then I started school there and went to Sacajawea—originally it was Sacajawea. Then Spalding, and then Marcus Whitman, and then Columbia High School. That was sort of that situation there. I then went to CBC for a year, not realizing that things weren’t going to mesh up too well with the programs at WSU. I had met—I’m not sure how I’d met these people—but I had met a couple people, I guess, that were material scientists, metallurgists. So I talked to them for a while, and I decided that that’s what I wanted to be—a physical metallurgist. So I went to school at WSU in the physical metallurgy department. Now I think they call it mechanics of materials or something like that. It changed—they’re always changing the [LAUGHTER] names of the programs and stuff. So I graduated from there in 1961. Then, like I say, I interviewed a number of places, and decided, you know, I really sort of like Richland. [LAUGHTER] Because I had some--well, there was the mining industry, that was centered up around the Great Lakes. Then Pennsylvania and then there was Washington, DC was a possibility. So I interviewed a number of places, but they really were not something that would fit my personality as a basic country boy. Since I’d also grown up hunting and fishing—that was before they had all the lakes set up around then at Potholes Reservoir area. So we duck hunted on the Yakima River, and fished, and hiked in the mountains. It was a really great—as far as I’m concerned, it was a really great place to grow up because of the diversity of mountains and desert and everything else. [LAUGHTER]

Now I live out between West Richland and Benton City. My address is Benton City, but that’s my mailing address. We started—with my former partner there—we started the first vineyard on Red Mountain. I remember it was sort of just a Jeep trail going in there, along what is now called Sunset Road. In fact, it was sort of a sunken road you might say. It was always interesting, because in the wintertime when it rained—and you know it did rain occasionally—but the water stayed in the road. We even had—you’d go in there on that road and there would be ducks sitting on the ponds on the road. [LAUGHTER] Oh, anyway, we started our effort to develop a vineyard, and that was in 19—so we bought the land in 1973, and got some permits and stuff. Actually, I bought the land from my father-in-law who owns—at that time—Waste Incinerating Company. I told him, I says, well, if I don’t hit water, I don’t want to close. [LAUGHTER] We had researched the water and we figured it was down there. I mean, we really researched the water. We figured it was down there about 540 feet below the surface. Through a couple layers of basalt also and the geological formation that the water was in fractured basalt. Anyway, we got an old well driller in there and we told him the water was down about 540 foot--just a couple young kids—guys. He’d look at us and roll his eyes, oh, yeah. [LAUGHTER] They know where the water is. So anyway they started drilling and finally got down there. He got down there and we knew that was the day that he was going to get there. So we got out there after work and he was still drilling. Just—he says, boys, I just reached 540 feet, and there isn’t any water there. And we says, well, it’s got to be close. Anyway [LAUGHTER] we were pretty confident. He drilled about two more feet and hit water. I always remembered that, because he looked up, he says, you boys did know where that water was! [LAUGHTER]

That was sort of the beginning of our vineyard efforts there. It took all the money that we had to drill wells and plant grapes. So I kept on working at Hanford. I worked with—when it started it was General Electric, and then Battelle came in. I had a program there and I was just like, no matter what I was doing, they just wanted me to do—write proposals and everything else like that. I had a fully funded program and it was one of those things that I just—I know what these guys are doing, because that was their young days in Battelle. I was traveling with some of my research projects at Hanford. So I just decided, well, if this is what the situation is going to be, I says, I think I’ll just change jobs. So I did go to work for my father-in-law at Waste Incinerating. Since I knew metallurgy and the incinerating processes—there’s a lot of metallurgy associated with the incineration of materials and all the different conditions, atmosphere and everything. So I had a pretty good feeling for what it was, so I worked for him for—oh, about a little less than two years. I just—I had some conflict with working for him. But it was one of those things that was really good, because I learned something that has always stuck with me, is if you give a guy a job, let him do it, as long as he’s got the capability to do that job. My son started working with us later, and I realized that a lesson learned is a lesson to be applied. With him, working for me, I give him the viticultural work, responsibilities, got into the wine making, because I was still working out here. He did a hell of a job, you know. But I was always very careful about how I approached what he was doing and what my concerns were and stuff. We got along fine. Anyway, I had three kids by the time I got out of college. So most of them are around here now. My one girl, daughter, just moved back. So whole darn family is [LAUGHTER] pretty much—one daughter in Moses Lake and her husband. He works for the silicone company up there and makes—So anyway I started working here, so I worked in the metallurgy department and that was in the early days. I worked with programs called N Reactor Creep, or radiation of materials and Creep was with N. It was basically on Zircaloy, stainless steel, and materials also for Fast Breeder reactors, which were coming along at that time—or proposed to come along. And then that’s after—that was before I left and went to work for Waste Incineration Company. And then when I came back to work, I had—Westinghouse came in work. I had a program called Heavy Section Steel Technology Program. This was the only non-FFTF fast reactor or nuclear reactor program, because it was all associated with power reactors. More specifically, pressurized water reactors, which were the home and the kind of reactors that Westinghouse was building all over the place. So here I am, sitting in with a bunch of people that are doing all sorts of other work, and I’m doing a pressure vessel steel work, ad interfacing with—it was pretty interesting, because I was interfacing with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who were—the program direction was out of there. With Naval Research Laboratories in Virginia, and lots of AEC government meetings in Germantown, Maryland. So it was back and forth a lot. That was a really, actually, it was a very interesting program, and pretty much nobody else had any expertise in it, so they pretty much left me alone. [LAUGHTER] As a result of that, I really ended up with a lot of responsibilities and finally developed to a principal engineering position. So I would just BS with some post-graduate education, but where most of those kind of programs went to PhDs to be the head of a program. So I felt pretty fortunate. I did a good job, and really was able to pretty much do my own—make my own guidelines and publish quite a bit of data. So I think that was a real opportunity in terms of my growth.

After that, then when that program sort of ended, I went to work in the 305 Building, which was the old reactor building at that time. You know, before they changed that, that’s where they had one of the original graphite piles there. So I subsequently went to work there and it was called the SAF—not the SAF program, it was the FMEF Program, which was where we developed all the equipment and tested it and checked it all out and wrote the procedures and trained technicians with the equipment. With the eventual move of that equipment out to the NDE and DE cells and in the FMEF down on the minus-30 or -40 foot level on that. We finally moved those in there and got everything installed and then they decided, well, we’re not going to do that here. [LAUGHTER] Which is not an unusual thing that’s happened over the years, in terms of programs at Hanford. All that stuff was then pulled out and sent to Dayton, Ohio, where DoE had a big lab there, a materials lab and fuels lab and stuff like that. That was a—well, I was a little sorry to see it go, because I thought it was going to be—I thought we had really done a great job, and the people that ended up with equipment just always really thought we had done a great job, too. So from that, I then moved into the SAF operation, which is for the production of—it was called the Secure Automated Fabrication line. It was a line that everything was in hoods, connected for continuous processes through the lines. There was one line that was set up for pellet production, canning of the pellets. Then there was another line for the chemistry sections of it. It was quite a—it was actually a really technical challenge and we had a lot of really good engineers. Normally, we had—with the number of systems, there were like 30-some systems within the process control. Not even counting all the computer model—the computer systems that were used to run it. So it was basically an automated system running from computer consoles and such. Anyway, the people that I worked with there were very dedicated and I thought it was a real accomplishment. They never did—we actually ran the line and tested the line with basically surrogate materials that were used to run the processes and test out the processes. Toward the end of that process, my systems were pretty much done. So I ended up sort of managing the—with the help of a couple of technicians—documenting the systems, reviewing all the operation procedures for each one of the systems, and then documenting that and getting that into the files for running the system. It was quite a system, I will say that, for sure. I think then from there, I went on to—well, we had a group there that had been—the process engineers and the chemical engineers and everybody that was involved to be able to run a system like that and create the documentation for it. As a result of that, we then sort of—let’s see, I got to think just a minute here. Okay. From there, we went—we had a group that we had all worked together there and we formed another group that was set up to, then, start the re-documentation of a lot of the procedures in the outer areas, the plutonium production and those facilities. They had—in other words—they had procedures out there, but nobody liked to read them, because they were so cumbersome. They were! I mean, they were just really practically impossible for the people that worked there to follow the procedures and accomplish work in a simple and a procedural manner where they could have good quality control on the thing. Anyway, we went out and they formed a group where they wanted us to go to the major facilities and rewrite operational procedures for them. I think that happened because of all the kudos that we got from documenting the FMEF SAF line in the facility. In other words, it was a—I will say—it was not a simple system, but it was well-documented and well-designed and all the guys that worked on that project were really pretty pleased with the stuff we had done. We got out to—I think it was 200 West, and we started on—people there, when we first came in, they says—it’s one of those things—well, we’re going to help you. [LAUGHTER] Nobody likes to be helped. But once we got started with it and talked to them about our goals and how we would accomplish it and stuff, they actually didn’t feel that badly toward us. I think there was a lot of animosity. You know, when you come in and tell them, we’re going to help you, you know? There’s a lot of people say, they aren’t going to help us, you know. So anyway with all the interviews that we did, and the participation that we included these people in the writing and the editing and everything for these procedures, for their different facilities, the first one that we finished, our group got a really big kudos and a lot of pat on the backs, and a lot of notoriety within Westinghouse at that time that was doing that. The next one, actually, the people that we did it for initially said, well where are you going next? We’ll recommend you that it’s something that can really be of value. So that’s what we did for the next couple years. Did a number of sites—I can’t remember what they were—oh. [LAUGHTER] It’s been a while. I actually looked for some of the documents and stuff that we had written and also some papers that I had written. And I could not find a damn thing. I had written most of those on a computer and stuff like that. I had kept some of my publications that we had produced in the open literature. So anyway, I didn’t find them. That’s 20-some years ago and not too easy to maintain where those are at, especially getting a house like ours and everything is sort of cluttered. [LAUGHTER] We did a couple more of those facilities, and then I had heard that there had been advertised that there was going to be early retirement because they wanted to do reduction of force. So I actually opted for that about a year or so ahead. What happened then is that they put me on another program where there was a number of us. There were some quality assurance people, some computer people, and a number of other disciplines that we were going to rewrite a lot of the Westinghouse Hanford management plans and that sort of thing. Since we had gotten pretty good kudos from the work that we had done for individual facilities, they decided that, well, maybe we need to update the Westinghouse program guides and stuff like that. We got started into that, and I worked at that for about a year. And that’s when I went because I was planning on—I told my managers there that if they actually had the early retirement, I was—sayonara. [LAUGHTER] So that opportunity came up in 1994 and I opted for the early retirement, which was, I think, a pretty good deal. You get three years on your age—on service, and didn’t have to get any pains to leave.

So that’s what I did. Of course, at that time, the vineyard and the winery was getting more and more demanding. So I quit. The other thing was my father was at an age that I wanted to spend some time hunting and fishing with him, and damned if I got out—once I—after I quit, he had a heart attack around Christmas time. I remember, because we were headed—we were going to go over to—well, he’d had a heart attack before that. So every year we always went over to Pasco, up on there, where they used to have all the Christmas lighting and a lot of stuff like that. So we always took them and went up there. And, darn, we were sitting there having dinner at my mom’s, at their house, and my mother was bitching a little bit. [LAUGHTER] You can take that bitching out. [LAUGHTER] But anyway, my dad got up and walked to his chair and picked up his pill bottle. And I says, Dad, if you’re having a pain, just take that pill, don’t have to read the bottle again. Just take the pill. About that time he slipped out of the chair and passed away there. So that sort of put the kibosh on the hunting and the fishing and the stuff like that. But I had plenty of things to do. I also skied a lot at that time—I started skiing after I got out of college and was on National Ski Patrol for about 30-some years. And all my kids skied and they’re still on Ski Patrol, and grandkids are on Ski Patrol at White Pass, so we’ve been a patrolling family for years. Basically my big recreation thing. I still like to fish and hunt, but I didn’t have a fishing and hunting partner anymore. Well, I had some, but it was not quite the same as doing it with your dad, you know. That sort of brings us up to date. Then, like I said, we expanded our vineyards on Red Mountain. We built—I kept pretty busy after ’94. We built one building, because, actually, our house in Richland had ten-foot basement walls and an outside entrance and it was full of wine barrels--[LAUGHTER]—as my garage was. So we ended up finally building another building out there. I said, gosh, this is a really big building. And we immediately filled it up with tanks and barrels. I told my wife, I said, I’m not going to build any more buildings. And she says, I think you probably will. So it’s never say never. And we ended up building another building which was about twice as big for our case storage, and we have a lab in there and a bottling line, and pretty much a full facility winery. And then after operating from—I think we moved into our house in 1982 with the idea that we would move out of the tasting room down there. Because we had a nice tasting room in the basement and people would come there. And we’d move out of there and build another tasting room. Well, I didn’t do that until about 1970. [LAUGHTER] No, excuse me. 2070—20-07. Excuse me. 2007. So we built a pretty nice tasting room out there and have been using that ever since and it’s been a real big addition for us. We have a number of people working in our tasting room for us. I can always go over and get me a glass of wine when I need it. [LAUGHTER] So I think that probably pretty much brings us up to date. Like I said, when we started our vineyards, there were only eight—well at that time, I think there was only about five wineries in the state. Then 1980, I think there was about—when we actually started selling our first wines, I think there was probably ten wineries. That’s grown over the years now—I know over a year ago there was 800 wineries in the state, and I don’t know how many there is now. There’s probably 900 or so. I don’t know. I lost count.

Franklin: Nice. It’s huge—it’s a booming industry.

Williams: Oh, it is, yeah. And Oregon--the same thing is happening in Oregon. Between our vineyard and my son’s vineyard and then he has another vineyard out in Finley area that he bought quite a while ago—the first vineyard that he went to work for when he got out of college. Finally he ended up buying it. So we sell grapes to a lot of other wineries with the combined acreage of grapes that we have on Red Mountain and that is about 350 acres of wine grapes. We don’t make that much wine, so we sell quite a bit.

Franklin: That’s quite a lot of—that’s pretty big acreage.

Williams: Yeah. My grandson works for us—he’s in marketing. I guess my other grandson is probably going to go to work for us someday, if he—he travels around the world and goes to a different—works at a different winery every season, either north or south of the Equator. Because he can do that opposite seasons. He just took his—or he’s taking his exams for entering WSU in enology. Right now, though, he does—he’s got one more year and he’s got a job in France for next vintage. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Sounds like a pretty nice life.

Williams: He’ll come back eventually, I guess. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Yeah, unless France grabs him.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: Wow. You mentioned so much, and thank you.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: We covered a lot. If you don’t mind, I’m going to go back and maybe—

Williams: You can edit whatever you want. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Get a few details No, I’m not editing anything. I’d just like to drill into things a little bit more.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: So you said your family first came, you lived in Sunnyside Navy homes.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: And that was, I assume, because of the shortage of—

Williams: Yeah, our house in Richland was not finished. So when we moved in to rent the house in Richland, it was brand new and it was the best house we’d ever lived in. [LAUGHTER] We came from Missouri, was our—

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: And my dad was a—he hated farming. [LAUGHTER] And he got into carpentry and then he actually worked for, I guess it was, Remington Arms in—I think they were in—yeah, they were in Kansas City. That’s how he then was offered—and that was during the Second World War—so he was offered to come to Richland—or Hanford at that time—and go to work on the Project as a carpenter. Eventually, he—well, like I said, we settled in Richland with a brand new home there, and over the years, hunted, fished. My dad was a hobby gunsmith. For years, he was the only gunsmith in the Tri-City area. So he—of course there weren’t that many sporting goods stores—there was BB&M and a couple other sporting goods stores that he used to restore guns for and he had a shop in his basement in the house that he bought—he didn’t buy, but he—one of the things that—except there was four kids and two bedrooms—he excavated his half of the B house, excavated the—and you could do that then—excavated the half of the basement and put the concrete in and the walls in down there with the blessings of the Hanford people. So he had a pretty nice shop down there. Of course it had that great big old furnace in it, too. [LAUGHTER] This is another thing I remember as childhood is, when the coal trucks came around and delivered coal to all the houses, because everything was—one of those big old, big furnace, big coal furnace. Us kids would always—my mother would always get a little ticked off, she’d say, get out of that coal! Get out of there! And all this stuff. [LAUGHTER] And we’d come out usually all black and stuff like that. She kept me pretty clean, considering. She was sort of Mrs. Clean. She eventually worked out there at Battelle.

Franklin: Your mother?

Williams: My mother worked out there.

Franklin: Oh really? What did she do?

Williams: Well, she was in the 300 Area and she was in the radiation counting department, where most of it was processing badges and radiation levels on badges and stuff like that. I think that’s what she did primarily there. Every time I’d go there for lunch or have something and see her, she’d say, that’s my son! That’s my son! [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Aw.

Williams: She was pretty proud of me.

Franklin: And how long did she work at Hanford for?

Williams: She worked there from, I would say—golly, you asked me a question there. I think she probably worked there from about 19—well she must have worked there at least about ten years before she retired.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Williams: Yeah. I can’t remember exactly when she started there, but I remember the place that she worked in there.

Franklin: What were your parents’ names?

Williams: Williams. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Williams—well, right.

Williams: John and Ethel Williams.

Franklin: John and Ethel Williams. So much of Hanford’s workforce was—especially after the war was primarily male. It’s very interesting that you had two parents that worked at—

Williams: There was actually quite a few women working in the different areas. In 300 Area and in Battelle there. Of course there were a lot of secretaries and then there were people in chemical processing and stuff like that, too.

Franklin: Okay. Interesting. So what did your father—you said your father was a carpenter?

Williams: Well, he was a carpenter and then he was a power operator--

Franklin: Wow.

Williams: --at the reactors. He worked at N Reactor and in the early days, I think his first one was—N Reactor and before that he worked at in Reactor. So we worked at F Reactor and N Reactor.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: I think that’s correct. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: And how long did he work on—did he retire from Hanford?

Williams: Yes, he did.

Franklin: And do you know about how long he worked until?

Williams: Well, he worked there from about 1944 to—I think he retired in—well, when he came here, I think he was about 35 years old. And he worked there until he retired at 65 or something like that.

Franklin: So around 30 years?

Williams: 30-some years, yeah.

Franklin: So then you guys worked there at the same time.

Williams: Pardon?

Franklin: So you and your father would have worked on site at the same time?

Williams: Well, he was out in the outer areas, and I was in the 300 Area. Basically, he was in the reactor—fuel—reactor materials. Excuse me—bomb materials. [LAUGHTER] And that’s what all those reactors—they were producing material for bombs and they were separating—then all the separations were in the 200 and 200 West Area. And then where they completed the plutonium slugs was in the—I forget the name of the building, but that was in 200 West also. I can’t remember exactly the name of that building.

Franklin: Was that the Plutonium Finishing Plant?

Williams: The Plutonium Finishing Plant, yes, the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

Franklin: We just got a big bunch of photos from that. Because they’re taking that down right now.

Williams: Uh-huh.

Franklin: So our project just got a big mess of photos from that. Really fascinating—

Williams: Yeah, it was.

Franklin: --how they [CROSSTALK]

Williams: So we actually did one of the plant procedure—plant operating manuals again for that.

Franklin: Your group did?

Williams: Yes. I’m trying to think of all the other ones that we did, but I can’t remember them all. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow. So when you moved out to Sunnyside, were there a lot of other Hanford families that were living—

Williams: Well they were living—there was a—because a lot of people were living in Sunnyside, and when my dad first came there, he actually rented a room as a boarder in some people—at a house, a home. And I think there were a lot of other people doing that, too.

Franklin: Here in Richland?

Williams: No, in Sunnyside.

Franklin: In Sunnyside, okay.

Williams: Sunnyside. Because in Richland, by the time we were moved to Richland, they had the houses done. So they were building houses all along.

Franklin: Right.

Williams: But I think there were a lot of people that were living in Sunnyside that were traveling—particularly if they worked out in the outer areas—the West areas or the reactors—they were all clear around, pretty much around that. So they were coming, driving from Sunnyside. And I’m not sure if they had buses running from Sunnyside or not, because I just never asked my dad that. But I never did think about it that much.

Franklin: I can imagine back in the ‘40s that would have been a pretty long drive to get to work with the—

Williams: Well, it was. And I think they had buses coming out of Sunnyside also.

Franklin: So I guess one can imagine that Sunnyside would have been kind of jammed with a bunch of new people from all over the US working. Did you ever—did you go to school—the school that you went to you mentioned, say, was that mixed kids from Sunnyside and Hanford kids?

Williams: Well, you know what? I was like first grade and--

Franklin: Right.

Williams: All I remember is, I sort of remember where that school was and I remember the places that we lived in. And then my grandparents, when they came out, they moved to Sunnyside.

Franklin: Oh.

Williams: And so we used to go up there every once in a while and visit them. Then we bought—my mom and dad bought a—they moved down to George Washington Way after I went to school and left home, they moved to George Washington Way. My dad remodeled a whole B house that was—he was pretty handy with that. They also then bought a prefab that was just over on I think Adams there or—anyway, it’s about one block past the street they lived on.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: So you could run back and forth and visit and stuff.

Franklin: Interesting. So how long did your family live in that—so you said your first house, the B house was on Thayer. How long did the family live there?

Williams: Well they lived there and they moved—because I had already—after I started college, so that would have been actually in 1960—excuse me, that would have been in 19—I think they sold the houses in 1960—about 1958, I think. Something like that.

Franklin: That’s right on the money. You’re talking about when the government—

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: Yeah, 1958.

Williams: And my folks lived in a duplex with the other person, and they had lived there first, so they had first option on it. So my mother and dad bought another house that became available and they liked it. It was down on George Washington Way, had a big yard and—

Franklin: And that would have been one of the alphabet—was that one of the alphabet houses?

Williams: Yeah, it was a B house.

Franklin: Oh, okay. So a different B house from the first one you lived in?

Williams: Well, it was just like it. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Right, right, yeah, of course. That’s true.

Williams: Yeah, it’s a different B house. It was right on George Washington Way there.

Franklin: I could have been more specific.

Williams: Right on the corner of George Washington Way and—not Symons—what is that? Well, it was 203 George Washington Way and I’m trying to remember the street that runs alongside at that corner.

Franklin: Oh, yeah, that’s in the—that district’s now on the National Register.

Williams: Yeah. And so my dad remodeled that house that had a big shop in the basement where he did gun work and stuff like that. People from all over the Tri-Cities used to come there to get their guns fixed, because he had a pretty good reputation. [LAUGHTER] So anyway we had a lot of guns—rifles and—two things I never—my dad wouldn’t let me have. He wouldn’t let me have a BB gun, and he wouldn’t let me have a pistol. Because he says, those are the things that kill each other or put eyes out. [LAUGHTER] So, you know, if you got a long gun, you’ve got a little more [UNKNOWN] But the shotguns and the rifles and—he used to—well, he had one of the first—Weatherby used to be a big company, in terms of the type of rifles and the quality of rifles. Well, he used to build stocks and stuff like that, custom-built stocks for people. He had probably the only—there were not very many licenses given out to people that were gunsmiths. So he had—he sent a picture of a gun that he had built to Weatherby, and they immediately sent him an authorized license to buy and build rifles with their actions and stuff.

Franklin: Wow. That’s cool.

Williams: I remember when I was in high school—let me just think about it—it’s called fiddleback walnut. And, like I said, he was born in Missouri and there was a lot of walnut in that country. There was a company in Warsaw that was called Bishop Gunstock. They’d been making gunstocks for years—I don’t know if they’re still there, but I think they are. Not too many people make custom wooden gunstock. But he fitted the stock to—did all the inlaying, and then fitted the stock right to people so that when they’d come up, the rifle’s right where it should be, if you’re going to hunt, you don’t want to be looking around for your scope and that sort of thing. The piece of wood that he built on my rifle—and this was in 19—I would say in about 19—well he built that for me in my sophomore year of high school—so that piece of wood, then, the gun—blank stock made out of fitted—it was 55 bucks in 1960. And it was just fiddleback walnut like the backside of a violin. That’s why they call it fiddleback walnut.

Franklin: Oh!

Williams: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That’s interesting. So coming here in ’44 and you said you graduated college in ’61, so that means you would have entered Washington State College and graduated from Washington State University.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: So you grew up then. So the entire time you grew up in Richland, it was a government town.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: So can you talk about what it’s like to grow up in a town completely owned by the government?

Williams: Actually, the government wasn’t really that involved in—they built the houses there and that’s who you paid rent to. It made it pretty reasonable for people to be able to work there and live there. Of course, then there were always people that left—I guess they call it the—every time they had a dust storm, the people left town. [LAUGHTER] They’d say, I’m not working here anymore! But you know it’s surprising how many of those people came back and settled here in Tri-Cities.

Franklin: And why do you think they came back?

Williams: Probably because the places that they thought they loved, they moved to and then they found out they didn’t love it that much. [LAUGHTER] And then of course the other thing, too, a lot of people that came back liked the outdoor sports, and the lower population, which it was—it was not a big city in terms of a lot of those places where people were from. There were people from Kansas City, there were people from St. Louis, there were people from Chicago, back east, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, all over the country. There was quite a mix of people that had worked at—generally they had worked—originally, people that came here had worked at either different arms plants and stuff like that during the war and transferred out here because there was a big war effort. But there was also a big need for technical people and work in the reactors and stuff like that.

Franklin: Right.

Williams: You think about how fast they built some of those reactors, and what they would do today, because it would take a whole lot longer just to get—and do more—well, I always call it comment by the unknowledgeable. [LAUGHTER] Everybody—like a lot of the projects that I had in SAF line, we had people—I mean we had review meetings every month. And people from all over the country would come there. Most of the time you spent—you had to respond to any review question. And you spent a lot of time responding to some pretty stupid questions, because they didn’t know the processes to begin with, though they thought they were experts. That’s my opinion of it. You don’t need to quote me on that. [LAUGHTER] Because it might hit somebody pretty hard. My brother and I, when we were in high school and junior high, actually, we started a lawn mowing business.

Franklin: Your brother, or brother-in-law?

Williams: My brother and I. So my dad built these little carts to go on the back of our bicycles and we could put our mowers up on there and pedal around town and mow yards. So we had clippers. We were at one time mowing about 40 yards a week in the summertime. Fortunately, in the latter part of that, I had a driver’s license, so we—[LAUGHTER] could drive around. But that was very interesting, because we had people—basically we had a customer waiting list to get on the list if we ever had a vacancy for lawn mowing. And because we did such a good job and we trimmed all around the sidewalks, and we clipped—I mean first class jobs. This rumor spread and so we always had—and the interesting thing was that there was a guy named Campbell that owned the Campbell’s grocery store. He lived down off of Stevens down there some place. And his wife—he came home one day and says, well, I’m paying you guys too much. I only pay my box boys a dollar and a half, or a dollar and a quarter, or something like that. We said, well, do your box boys have to buy their own equipment? No. So there was a number of questions. And we said, you know, we have a waiting list for people that want to have their yards mowed. So if we lose you as a customer, it’s not going to really bother me very much, because you’re downgrading my wages. Anyway, we said, well, we’re not going to mow your yard anymore. His wife called us up and says, won’t you mow my yard? We says, well, are we going to get paid what we used to get paid for it? She says, oh no, I can’t pay you that. My husband won’t let me. So we says, well, we’ve already replaced you with another customer. [LAUGHTER] We were pretty hard businessmen, but we—at that time, we were in high school. Actually, we had an account down at Richland Hardware, it was called at that time, right down on the corner of George Washington Way and Swift there—no, George Washington Way and Lee Boulevard there. So we had our own account down there and then we had an account with a guy that sharpened the mowers and stuff like that. We had to have our mower sharpened every two weeks, because with that many, you go through blades pretty fast.

Franklin: Right.

Williams: And at that time, our first lawn mower cost us almost $500.

Franklin: Wow.

Williams: For a gas-powered, driven lawn mower. And that was a lot of money then. I mean, now you can buy a lawn mower for 100 bucks or a few hundred bucks, and not too many people make real-type mowers anymore, walk-behind mowers. Of course those were the best mowers in terms of manicuring the grass, you know. Much better than a rotary mower. So anyway! That’s part of my history. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That’s really interesting. Wow. There’s so much in that. So, I guess to return back to it for a minute—so you’re saying that people were pretty happy living in Richland during the—before the sale—before the privatization.

Williams: Well, I think so. We had Columbia High School that was the only high school around at that time, or Richland High School. And you pretty much knew everybody at school.

Franklin: Right.

Williams: Even though there were quite a few people and there was a lot—activities and that sort of thing. So I think people were happy. We were, and I didn’t know too many people that weren’t happy. There weren’t too many people killing each other or anything at that time.

Franklin: To live in Richland at that time, you needed to work at Hanford, right?

Williams: Pardon?

Franklin: To live in Richland at that time, you needed to work at Hanford?

Williams: That is pretty much—yes. To live in a house in Richland, you had to work at Hanford.

Franklin: So did you ever have—was it ever a problem for you if people left their jobs or lost their jobs, you had friends leave, or your parents have friends that left?

Williams: You know it wasn’t—and in those days, more—there weren’t that many big layoffs. More or less, people left on their own volition. I don’t—I just—it was not something that at that time I was concerned about.

Franklin: Right.

Williams: We had neighbors around the court there that—there was Gunnison Court, and then there was Putnam and Thayer, and that was sort of the little alcove that we lived in. Then there was a great big court behind that. And then up behind that there was a set of power lines going through. So there was a big alleyway up through there. So we had a lot of play space. [LAUGHTER] We’d get out there at night and kick-the-can and all that sort of stuff. [LAUGHTER] So we were pretty self-entertaining and we all got along pretty good together.

Franklin: Did you—when did you find out what was being made at Hanford?

Williams: Pardon?

Franklin: Do you remember when you found out what was being made at Hanford?

Williams: Well, I remember—I do remember—actually I remember them dropping the atomic bomb. Because as soon as it was—it was on the radio. Of course in those days, you didn’t have television, you listened to a lot of radio. Lay around in the living room listening to radio, it’s like watching TV then. [LAUGHTER] You know, all the different programs that were on and stuff. But I remember distinctly the announcement coming over the radio that they had dropped an atomic bomb, and that’s when then everybody knew what they were making out there. None of us—nobody really knew, unless you worked there what they were making, because it was mum’s the word. First thing you could do getting fired is if you were talking—loose lips, they called it.

Franklin: Loose lips sink ships. Do you think your father knew before the announcement? Or--?

Williams: I think that he knew what they were producing in the reactors.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: And I think everybody did, pretty much. They didn’t know, though, that it was going to lead to the atomic bomb. They just knew that they were producing a war material and—of course they’d never seen it go out or never seen it come in. Now, my father-in-law did work in the Plutonium Finishing Plant. He actually developed some of the precision machining operations for producing the final puck. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Ah. Interesting. So you mentioned father-in-law. Where did you meet your wife, is she also from--?

Williams: Well, she was—they moved out here about the same time she did, and she lived about three blocks behind me and I never knew her until I got into high school. We met, fell in love, and been in love ever since. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: High school sweethearts?

Williams: Yeah, we were.

Franklin: Wow, that’s amazing. And did you both go to WSU?

Williams: Yes, we did.

Franklin: Together? And what was her degree in?

Williams: Well, she didn’t finish school exactly.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: She did do some other—she was actually still in high school when we got married, so she finished high school in Pullman, and then she worked at the hospital in Pullman for a number of years while we were going to school there. And having kids and going to school and studying and playing pinochle. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: And you said you had three children when you were in--?

Williams: Four.

Franklin: Four, but how many when you were in—?

Williams: I had three by the time I got out of college.

Franklin: Wow, that’s—kids today complain about how little time they have, but I can imagine having three kids and going to school full-time.

Williams: Well, you know, they seemed to—they’re all happy and they’re still home.

Franklin: Wow. So what did she do—so you moved back to Richland and started working at the site shortly after you graduated. So what did she do?

Williams: Well, she has taken care of four kids. [LAUGHTER] And then she was taking some courses at CBC and in Richland. She sort of has a—I would say an associate degree. They didn’t really finish all that, but she’s super-smart. She’s smarter than I am. Reads like fast, and always made good grades. I always wondered why the hell she married me! [LAUGHTER] Maybe because I got her pregnant! [LAUGHTER] You don’t have to put that in there.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] We can cut that if you want. That’s—oh, that’s great. Excellent. So you were working on Hanford site when President Kennedy came to visit in 1963.

Williams: Yes, I was.

Franklin: Did you go to see that or--?

Williams: I did, yes.

Franklin: Can you tell me about that, what you remember?

Williams: Well, it was just one of things that—I went out there and there was a lot of people stood around there. He said a few things and we all clapped and [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: And that was it?

Williams: That was it, yeah.

Franklin: Are there any other major events that come to mind when you think about Hanford and the Tri-Cities?

Williams: Well, I sort of remember—you know, I’m trying to think of a major event. Well, I remember when they built CBC, because when I first went to CBC, it was in the old airport building over at the airport in Pasco. And that came along after I was already out of there.

Franklin: Oh.

Williams: Oh, what else do I remember? I remember having a lot of fun around here. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That’s good. This might seem a little out of left field, but I’ve been thinking about this question as I do the interviews. Do you know the name Sharon Tate? She was a Hollywood actress.

Williams: Well, you know, I remember reading about her later, but that’s when everybody else did. And I didn’t really know her, or hadn’t gone to school with her.

Franklin: Right. But because she was from the community, was there a particular reaction here? Or was the news really—

Williams: You know, I think, actually, it was one of those things that you sort of remember hearing about. But she had been gone for some time, you know? So it was—all the aftermath of that was more spectacular in terms of the group. Of course, they still got that guy in prison, and as far as I’m concerned they never need to let him out. He was a crazy man. He made a lot—

Franklin: Yeah. He certainly—I don’t think there’s any debate on that.

Williams: Yeah, he made a lot of news. And then they had that place in Death Valley where they congregated.

Franklin: Yeah.

Williams: And they still got a good number of them still—the fact is, I think I was reading last year, they’ll potentially release one of the gals, but I think they then reneged on that. I don’t know if they did that or not.

Franklin: I think they didn’t. I think I followed that too. I don’t believe they released her.

Williams: So there was nothing that—I don’t think it was anything that anybody really got excited about or anything, because it was so remote from here, and it was Hollywood and you know, all sorts of things happen in Hollywood. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: So is there anything that we haven’t talked about?

Williams: I don’t know, I keep talking. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That’s great. We love it.

Williams: Yeah, I talked about our younger days and moving here and growing up here and staying here. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: I have a question that just came to my mind if you don’t mind.

Williams: Yeah.

Franklin: What made you decide to start a winery?

Williams: Well, I tell you, my former partner and I, we worked together both in material science. And we shared an office. And he was from Vallejo, California. And went to Berkeley. And I was just a beer-drinking kid from WSU at that time. So I tasted some wine that he had and I says, oh, God, that’s pretty good stuff. So we started talking more about wine. And then at that time we got interested in—and we were in research, so we were reading about the research that was being done at the Prosser Experiment Station with Dr. Clore at that time. Being researchers and stuff—and we’re interested in it, we wrote in an application for participation in their sort of steering committee at Prosser Experiment Station for their wine experimentation and wine making. We met Dr. Clore and a number of people that were involved in it. There was a fellow from Stuttgart University in Germany that had toured—came here for a tour, and I think that’s when we had—just after we had planted some grapes.  We asked—when he was here—because there was a plant that we wanted to get—a nursery plant from stock at Prosser Experiment Station. That was Lemberger, which had never been planted in this area. It also had a—the guy from Germany, he said, well, he says, that’s the only plant that we allow to be planted in Germany that has a virus. But it’s unique to that plant. And it is completely different than leaf row virus or any of the other ones. I mean, when those leaves turn, it’s just brilliant orange and red out in the vineyard. Anyway, after that, Dr. Clore called me and he says, well, John, we just released these plants for cuttings to Lewis and White Nursery in Prosser. He says, if you want those, you need to call them and let them know. So I got on the phone right then. I told them, I says, well I’ll take all the plants you make. So we got enough for about two acres of grapes. As a result of that, we produced the first Lembergers in the United States, whatever that is. And it’s pretty nice wine. People love it. It produces fairly well and as a result, it’s a fairly—relatively inexpensive red wine. When you think about what we used to sell wine for and what they go for now, it’s—the dollar was worth a lot more and there was less cost in producing everything. Bottles were cheaper, barrels were cheaper and everything. When we started an American oak barrel cost about 250 bucks. That was cooped for wine coop. They had a lot of American oak barrels that were whiskey barrels, but they weren’t cooped as a wine barrel. A wine barrel has more curvature to it. Anyway, when they released those, I called and got the plants and we started planting those in our vineyard. We started, we had 70-some—80 acres out there. We produced, in the first year of planting, we planted about 12 acres. Then we kept planting more acreage every year as we had the money. Sell some wine, plant some more grapes. Make some more wine, sell some more grapes—[LAUGHTER] In about—well, in 1982 after we finished building our house, like I said, we built ten-foot walls in the basement so I could put wine barrels in the basement three high. [LAUGHTER] And it smelled pretty good down in that basement. [LAUGHTER] We also built, then, in the front side a tasting room—real nice tasting room.  Panel and had some nice antique oaks countertops and—

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Williams: So we ran a lot of people through there in a number of years. That was the roots of it.

Franklin: Do you still do private—

Williams: And it just keeps expanding and expanding. My wife was pretty glad when got most of the barrels out of the building and had a little more room for things. She quickly occupied it, I think. [LAUGHTER] Anyway.

Franklin: What was the—so you started—I took it down in my notes—1975, you started. What was the—you said you were one of five in the state, and when you finally started producing you were one of ten. What was the reception in the community to the winery? Was it a popular thing, or did people just kind of—

Williams: Well, you know, I think soon as we opened up we started having customers and stuff. We actually opened up a small—in a garage that my partner built in West Richland. So we didn’t really have a formal tasting room, but we could taste wines there during special events. Eventually, in 1982 is when I started building the house that we have there on Sunset Road. Fairly sizeable house. I had a tasting room down there and stuff. So at that point, people started coming. Then other people. Then we entered our wines in a number of Washington competitions, and they were just grabbing all sorts of plump prizes at that time and people started to say, well what’s this Red Mountain place like? And then pretty soon other people started coming out there. Now you go out there and you look at it, just a field of green. [LAUGHTER] Just the—Aquilini, which is a firm out of Vancouver—and they, when they had the—Kennewick Irrigation District was planning on putting in the water system down there and they had already worked on it. And so they had the pipes in and everything. So they actually had an auction for about 650 acres that—excuse me—that KID owned out there. So we went to there and bid on two 80-acre pieces, but it just kept going up and up and up and up. We spent all day out there bidding and then they’d suspend the bidding for a while and then they’d start it, the next level bidding from where they had stopped previous. They weren’t starting over from the beginning. And eventually it was pretty obvious that these people were going to buy it all. And I think they bought it, and it went for $12,000 an acre, which is really a pretty good buy, because I had already sold land to Col Solare, and that was—at that time I sold them 20 acres plus an option on 20 if they optioned that within a year’s time. And it was for more than the one that I originally—so the option was going to cost them more. The first stuff went for—I think it was 20,000 bucks an acre and then they optioned the second one, it was 25,000 bucks an acre. It helped me pay off some of my debts and stuff. [LAUGHTER] Since then, there’s vineyards all over up there now.

Franklin: Yeah. So you guys really helped to start something.

Williams: Well, we did. It was one of those things that everybody—course at that time, too, in 1975 when we were saying, well we’re going to go out and drill a well and plant a vineyard, everybody says, you guys friggin’ crazy? [LAUGHTER] Because there wasn’t that many wineries in this state. And then some of the wineries that were in the state at that time have already gone broke or quit. So there’s probably—of the wineries that were there in 1980, I would say there’s probably 60% of those under the same owner or still a small winery or vineyard. Then the other thing is, there was five of us in the Yakima Valley, and Mike Wallace had his winery in Spokane—not Spokane, in Prosser. He was about the—he was the first one—actually, I took a wine-making course from Mike at CBC, and from there, the wineries started—well, we formed the Yakima Valley Winery Association. There were five of us that went together and wrote up the federal requirements for starting an American Viticulture Area. So there’s a number of things that you have to cover: climate, location, topography, soils and all that stuff. And mapping and that sort of thing. So each—there was five wineries and we each took a portion of the thing, and put it together and submitted. Helen Willard, out of Zillah, she was a reporter for—I think it was for either Prosser or Yakima or sort of both—reporter for quite a few little papers. She wrote up part of the history. So she was involved in it. Of course, her son—they have a vineyard up there and they used to sell all their grapes to—oh, shoot. Anyway, they’ve been around for as long as we have in terms of wineries.

Franklin: Wow.

Williams: That was it. Five wineries started in the Yakima Valley and now, goodness, I don’t know how many there are now, either. [LAUGHTER] Must be—

Franklin: A lot.

Williams: A lot, yeah.

Franklin: You can do those tasting tours—

Williams: And then now—we formed the Red Mountain AVA, which is a sub-appellation of the Yakima Valley. It’s in the same boundaries. There’s Horse Heaven Hills—excuse me, Rattlesnake Hills AVA now, and—I’m not sure if—there’s another one there that’s sort of—I think they’re starting up there. But I’ve known all those guys for quite a while. [LAUGHTER] I hardly—it’s hard to keep track of it when there’s so many wineries.

Franklin: I bet.

Williams: But one of the things that I think has happened—because in the first years, my partner and I, we knew what wines should taste like. And we were very critical of our own wines. And we said, well, if it’s not a good wine, we’re not going to sell it. We’ll dump it down the drain or whatever. Because we had other jobs. But it wasn’t worth our—the worst thing you could do is produce a wine and then have a bad reputation forever. And when there’s that many people doing it, it’s easy to get a bad reputation if you’re the worst one out there. But if you’re one of the best ones out there, you really get a whole lot more publicity and stuff. So it was—we put a pretty high goal for ourselves in terms of the wines that we produced. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun, and we drank well and we went—you know. Wrote off a lot of expenses because everything you did was going into that winery or that vineyard somehow.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER]

Williams: I think I hocked everything I had at that time, but—it worked out. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That’s great. Tom, do you have any questions?

Tom Hungate: No.

Franklin: Emma, did you have any questions?

Emma Rice: [INAUDIBLE]

Franklin: Which one? Which one of these would you like to—all of them?

Rice: Well, yeah.

Franklin: Okay. So how do you think the wine industry has shaped the area?

Williams: Pardon?

Franklin: How do you think the wine industry has shaped the Tri-Cities area?

Williams: Well, I think it’s had a big effect on it, because every place that you read, it’s wine, there’s wineries all over Richland and the Tri-Cities now. And I think that the big thing of it is, you’d be surprised—there’s people coming from all over. There’s people coming from California now to taste wines in Washington. I think the fact that we had the Red Mountain as probably one of the most acclaimed wine areas in Washington state is partly because Col Solare is there, but also we’ve just, over the years, had a lot of good press from people that were interested in doing wines here. Bob Waller, who died a few years back, and was a real wine—I mean he was the first—when he started, he didn’t know a friggin’ thing about wine. [LAUGHTER] But he learned it real fast, and was a good wine writer and really promoted the wines. Then the other thing that was very conducive at that time is the wine—support that we had from Prosser Experiment Station and the work they were doing up there in making wines. They didn’t really make wines to barrel age them or anything like that. But they made wines to see how the wine grape—the wines would respond to different grape growing techniques. And they did a lot of work over the years. There was a lot of information in planting, in terms of watering plants, in terms of maintaining the plant growth, and also in terms of varietal selection for the different wineries and vineyards and stuff.

Franklin: Did the boom here—is it something that you thought was a real possibility that could happen, or was it kind of a surprise?

Williams: Well, when I—I always had confidence that we would do something here, but it grew so fast that after that, I wasn’t very—didn’t have a whole lot of doubt. Because it took off. It really, within—by 1983, from going from eight or nine—eight to ten wineries—I don’t remember—in 1980. But by 1983 there were, oh, there was 40, 50 wineries in the state already. And then it kept growing, and two years ago—and I haven’t kept track of it. Two years ago, there’s over 800 wineries in the state, and I’m sure there’s at least 900 there now. I mean, every place you read, there’s a winery there someplace.

Franklin: Wow. So I guess the last question’s kind of a shift in topic, but—what do you remember about segregation in the area before the Civil Rights Act? Because of—

Williams: Well, you know, I think—there was a couple families that went to—lived in Richland. Their parents worked at Hanford and stuff.

Franklin: A couple of—

Williams: Yeah. So I think—I don’t think it was an issue, because the guys that were there, they were both super athletes and stuff. I knew a couple other kids, too, that lived in the area. I don’t think there was—there was definitely segregation in Tri-Cities, because most of the black people lived in East Pasco.

Franklin: Right.

Williams: And so that was, I think, already prominent there before they even started Richland.

Franklin: Yeah, yeah. East Pasco—

Williams: And the reason why I say that is because a lot of those people worked for the railroad, and the railroad was a big thing in Pasco in the early days. It moved from—I can’t remember the name of the pre-Pasco village.

Franklin: Ainsworth.

Williams: Yes, Ainsworth. So that was pretty much—the people that worked in—or lived in Pasco were different kind of workers than in Richland. And quite frankly, at that time, in those times, there was a lot of segregation. People lived there in where they lived in Pasco because of the segregation.

Franklin: Right. Did you see the effect of civil rights legislation in the Tri-Cities? Did that have a pretty—a big impact on the ways that people—

Williams: I didn’t personally see that, because, again, it was—our population of blacks in Richland were not that many. I know there were people in Richland. I just call them assholes—excuse me—bigoted people that I’d hear them talk about Pasco or stuff. But even the people—there was the few colored people that went to Hanford—or to Columbia High, I never saw—I personally never experienced feeling one way or another about them. I certainly didn’t feel like I was prejudiced against them. My dad had a guy that he knew that used to go fishing with, too, liked outdoor sports and particularly hunting and fishing. It’s hard to say. I just—I would say no, in terms of living in Richland.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: I don’t know, in the early days of Hanford, there was a fair amount of segregation on the Hanford Project. Because they had different dormitories and housing for onsite housing for construction workers there. So I think it was pretty well segregated there.

Franklin: And they had minstrel shows—

Williams: But I only know that as more of history than having personally experienced it.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: You know, when you’re at that age, you’re not—you’re just a kid running around the neighborhood playing kick-the-can at night. [LAUGHTER] Now that was the interesting thing. When I was a kid, we rode our bikes everyplace. We were never in fear of anything. The other thing, the Richland swimming pool had shifts. You’d go in there and swim for an hour, and then you’d get out, have to wait in the park someplace, and then you’d get back in the next hour after that. So it was not a very big pool, but there were a lot of people lived here at that time. So it was fairly restrictive of that. My dad had an old fishing boat, so in high school—and you know, boats weren’t then like they are now. So I think it had a 15 horsepower motor on a little [UNKNOWN] And the guys at BB&M that owned BB&M then had also a dock down there on the Columbia River, right there, right in front of the park down there at that time. So we used to go down there and hang on that and waterski off that platform off their boathouse down there on our little old 15-foot boat with a 15 horsepower motor on it. [LAUGHTER] And skis were wide, they were longer, so you didn’t really need a whole lot of surface area.

Franklin: Wow. That’s really neat. Well, John, thank you so much.

Williams: Oh, you’re welcome.

Franklin: It was a really excellent conversation.

Williams: Well, glad—hope you can edit all of my wows out of there. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: No, you gave us so much.

Williams: Okay.

Franklin: You’ve lived a really fascinating—

Williams: Well, I don’t have trouble talking too long. [LAUGHTER] Or too much, so. All righty, well--

View interview on Youtube.


Hanford Sites

N Reactor
305 Building
FFTF (Fast Flux Test Facilty)
200 West
300 Area
F Reactor
200 Area
PFP (Plutonium Finishing Plant)

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site



Williams, John.JPG


“Interview with John Williams,” Hanford History Project, accessed October 28, 2021,