Interview with Carol Roberts

Dublin Core


Interview with Carol Roberts


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


An interview with Carol Roberts conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




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

Date Modified

2016-05-16: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Roberts


Roberts, Carol


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Carol Roberts: I think I’ve talked to every organization in town about the history of this place. [LAUGHTER]

Robert Bauman: Probably.

Man One: Whenever you’re ready.

Bauman: Okay.

Man One: So, I’ll go ahead and start rolling.

Bauman: Are you ready? We’ll go ahead and get started?

Roberts: I’m ready anytime you are.

Bauman: All right, great.

Man One: We’re rolling.

Bauman: Okay. Well, let’s start by just having you say your name for us.

Roberts: Carol B. Roberts.

Bauman: Roberts, okay, great. Thank you. And my name is Robert Bauman, and today is June 30th of 2015, and we’re conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could start the interview by just asking you what brought you and your family here, and when did you come, and why did you come to Richland?

Roberts: Well, my dad worked for DuPont in Denver, Colorado. He was an electrician, and I understand he was one of the very best. So when this came up, DuPont asked my dad to come out here. Well, my mom wasn’t happy about that, but then of course—[LAUGHTER] He came—he drove out here in his own car. They gave him tires and stuff like that. Because it was wartime, and things were rationed. But he could take his own car and he had his gas coupon. And he left the day after Christmas. Well, he got a site picked out—picked out a site for our house. When it was ready, we came out here and we landed at Wallula Gap—only it was Wallula Town at that time--to change trains. And we were supposed to go all the way into Kennewick. But my dad was waiting in Wallula—he couldn’t wait for it. And it was June the 20th, 1944, that we landed here. But my dad picked us up, had cost $5 tip to the porter to get us off the train. Because we were supposed to land in Kennewick, you know. I don’t know how they ever explained how five people disappeared—[LAUGHTER]—from that train. Anyhow, he was sent out to the B Reactor first. Of course, he landed in Pasco, and Pasco didn’t know anything about it. But he finally managed. He was one of the few—well, I don’t know—people that weren’t higher up that had a Q clearance to go to all the areas. That’s how my mom and sisters and I got here. And then when my husband got home from the service, after—well, it was in October after—he was with the Occupation Forces in Czechoslovakia. And he came home October the 21st, 1944, and went to work for DuPont. And that’s how we got here.

Bauman: And, so what were your parents’ names?

Roberts: My parents’ name was Bubnar. B-U-B-N-A-R. It’s Ukrainian.

Bauman: What were your parents’ first names?

Roberts: It’s Ukrainian for drummer.

Bauman: Oh, okay.

Roberts: So, I’m always such a cut-up, I’ve decided that my name Carol Catherine Bubnar means—Catherine is pure—and Pure Song of Delight Champion.

Bauman: That’s a good name.

Roberts: Yeah.

Bauman: Sounds good.

Roberts: It’s as good as any.

Bauman: So your dad came out here in December ’43, right?

Roberts: Right.

Bauman: So there’s about six months between the time he came and you came.

Roberts: Oh, yeah.

Bauman: So was he able to write to you, and did he describe the place at all?

Roberts: Well, he came home once and told us that—I think it was probably April that he came home and told us what was going on. And he told my mom that as soon as they decided that our house was ready, that they would come in and move all of our furniture. And we, including the dog, was to move into the hotel in Boulder—we lived in Boulder—and move into the hotel. All expenses paid. So we were there three weeks when my mother got the notice to be in Denver at a certain time, have the dog crated—[LAUGHTER]—you know, all that sort of stuff. And we got on in Denver at 4:00 on—well, let’s see, it took us two and a half days. And we landed here on the 20th. So that was about 17th or 18th, that we left Denver at 4:00. Well, we weren’t allowed off the train. And the porter was very good about bringing cards, to play cards and stuff like that for us. But they only served two meals. One was between 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning, breakfast. And 4:00 to 7:00 at night for dinner. But this wouldn’t hold kids. They get hungry in between. Well, I’ve always had an idea. So I said to the porter, if you’ll let me off—because they used to sell sandwiches and stuff in the depot station there—I’d go buy some egg salad sandwiches and stuff for the kids. And he hemmed and hawed about it, and we came up with $5. And that was a lot of money back then. So he turned the other way and I slipped off out of the car, got some food for the kids. And I don’t know whether I would have that kind of bravery today. But I sure didn’t want those kids hungry. [LAUGHTER] So, anyhow, like I say, we got here, and our house was supposed to be ready. Well, when we stepped out of the car, and our feet—dust all over the place, all over our shoes—my mom started to cry. She didn’t want to come anyway. And she says, Johnny, you have brought us to a lot of places—because we lived in coal camps—he was very well, because electricians were very rare then. Anyhow, we went in, the lights weren’t on, the water wasn’t on, and so we had to spend three days in the trans court until it got ready. Well, that didn’t suit my mom either. She always wanted to go back to Walsenburg, where her mother and brother and my sister were buried. And she wanted to go back, and that’s all she talked about. Then all of the sudden one day, she said, no, I don’t want to go back to Walsenburg to be buried. I want to be buried here! And I want to be cremated. So that settled that. We didn’t have to worry about anything else. But then my dad was offered a job out in Hawai’i as an electrician after the war, getting Pearl Harbor back in shape and all that sort of thing. And he would be there for two and a half years. They would pay him, oh, a quarter of what his salary was, send my mom a quarter to live on, and the rest they would deposit so that when the two and a half years was up, he would have the money plus interest. I don’t remember, I think interest was only about 1% or something like that, which is better than what we’re getting now!

Bauman: Yeah. [LAUGHTER]

Roberts: And my mom said absolutely not. She wasn’t going to be by herself. We were all able—my sisters and I, except for my baby sister—we were all able to take care of ourselves and help mom. But no. My mom didn’t like change at all. So he just stayed here until he got sick. He had cancer of the lung. And of course, he was given benefits. He died ‘65. Anyhow, it was something like 25 years after he died that they notified me that we had money coming. It was $75,000 for me and my one sister that was living. That was so much fun, not having to worry about taxes, and just spend it any way you wanted to. You didn’t have to budget for it. So all of my grandkids and all of us, whole family, I divided the money up. And I don’t know what my sister did with hers. But it was a fun time.

Bauman: Now, was cancer a result of working at Hanford then?

Roberts: That’s what they said, that it was—yeah. Whatever it is that caused the cancer. But it was funny how we had an expo over at the—it’s the Red Lion Kennewick now. We was going around to the different vendors, and I came to this one and I saw this picture of the Day’s Pay. And I said to the girl that this was what—my family here. And she asked me about my dad, and she said, I think he’s eligible. So she took the information and first thing you know, they called me and told me all about this. It took three months to get the money. But I just couldn’t understand how my dad, he always said, I will always take care of you—that how he could manage even after all these years to be sure. But it’s been a good life here. We’ve had change and stuff like that, but we never had to worry about money, because everybody had a fairly good job. I don’t remember that we had all this homelessness and stuff like that that we have now.

Bauman: Now, when you came here, you and your mom and your sisters came in 1944. So how old were you when you came?

Roberts: 22.

Bauman: Okay. And how old were your sisters?

Roberts: Well, Dorothy was four years younger than me. So I was 22, she was 18. And then my sister, Evelyn, was six. She was my folks’ afterthought.

Bauman: And then—you were married already, right? Because your husband was in the service.

Roberts: Yes. I got married after I finished nurses’ training. You couldn’t marry and be in the nursing class if you were married. But I didn’t take the certification test in Colorado, because I knew I was going to be coming here. When I got here, I fully intended to work as a nurse, but my dad had never been happy with that decision. And he says, they really need teachers. And so I got my emergency teaching certificate, and I didn’t have a steady class—I was a substitute in various places. Then after the war, they told me I had to get my teachers’ certification. Well, I wasn’t about to go through all that. I didn’t want to teach, and besides that, my sister became very ill. And I was taking care of her two kids plus my two kids, and I just said no. And I’ve just been doing everything but collecting a paycheck. [LAUGHTER] I’ve spent—I’ve got 8,000 at the Kadlec Auxiliary, and I should have more, but I kind of got involved in some other things. I’m a 70-year member of the Girl Scouts. And I’m on the Library Foundation Board. And then, of course, Kiwanis. I have been a Kiwanian for 24 years, and I have been their newsletter editor for that long. I didn’t intend to do that, but somehow or another—it was supposed to be temporary, but you know, temporary isn’t spelled right. [LAUGHTER] It means—you have to have to spell everlasting instead of temporary. But it’s something for me to do now, because I can’t do all the active things. I can’t climb stairs and all that sort of thing. And I don’t hear well. Well, somehow or another, the warranty has run out and there’s no place to buy extra parts. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: So, when you father came to work in 1943 and you came in 1944, did you have any idea what sort of work he was doing? Did you know what he was doing at Hanford?

Roberts: All we knew was he was an electrician, and that was it. And he absolutely refused to talk about anything at work. He did—I don’t know what kind of an invention it was—but he invented something, and DuPont paid him for it, and they got the patent, whatever it was. I have no idea what it was, only that he that he got—I think it was $8. That was a lot of money. My husband had invented something, too, and DuPont bought it. But he only worked for DuPont for ten months, and then of course, GE took over. But he only worked for DuPont ten months when he got home from the service.

Bauman: Your husband? And what sort of job did he have?

Roberts: He was the chief power operator for the N Reactor. And his only boss was in Washington, DC. He was in charge of everything—the power house. And then he got sick. He worked for them for 32 years, and then he passed away. He had cardiomyopathy, which was very new 32 years ago. They didn’t know very much about that. But now, they know all about it. They know a lot of things.

Bauman: Right, right. So, when did you find out what was being made at Hanford, or the role that Hanford was playing in the war? Was it after the atomic bombs were dropped?

Roberts: Uh-huh. And that was something else. We—my mom and dad and I were out in Grandview picking peaches when the bomb was dropped. And of course, we were out in the orchard when the woman who owned the property came out and told us to get off her property, that we were nothing but murderers. And we had no idea what she was talking about. My dad tried--and she says, take those peaches with you. My dad tried to pay her, but she said, no, I won’t take blood money. So we came home, turned on the radio, and of course, we knew then what had happened, that they had dropped the first bomb. And then we were—the fire sirens alarms were supposed—the first stations were supposed to turn out when the Japanese surrendered, but they didn’t surrender, as you know. And then they dropped the other bomb. And they still didn’t surrender. So they—the higher ups, Truman and all of them, they didn’t know what they were going to do. Because they only had two bombs. But they weren’t going to let the Japanese know it. But finally, on the 14th of August, the Japanese surrendered. And the official surrender was signed in September, making the total war over with. And MacArthur signed the papers. Well, I don’t know if you wanted to know that, but that’s what I remember.

Bauman: Right. So what was the community of Richland like in 1944, 1945?

Roberts: Well, I’ll tell you. We had a bunch of alphabet houses that had been built. And there were no paved streets. And sometimes you’d go someplace and when you wanted to come back, there was no street there. They had done something else. There were very few houses, track houses as we called them, left. Everything had been torn down and made room for the government houses. And there’s one on George Washington Way—it’s as you enter town and it’s on the left-hand side. And it’s just been newly painted and everything, and it has a little bit different—they put a porch and stuff on it. So it’s a little bit different, but it is one of the original houses. I wrote a history of all the houses that were left.

Bauman: Where was your house, the house that you moved in to?

Roberts: We lived—my dad picked out 316 Casey. That’s—oh, I don’t know how to tell you where it was, but it was on the corner of Comstock and Casey.

Bauman: Okay.

Roberts: And he had a lot of—my dad was raised on a farm, and he never got over it. So, there was a lot of vacant space. And they gave him permission to go out into the area to dig up plants and trees and stuff from what was left over from those people who had moved out of the area. He had a persimmon tree that he was very proud of. But it never bore any fruit. What he didn’t know was that it had to be pollinized. He had to have two. And he grew roses. He belonged to the Rose Society and everything like that. But when we first came, where the Richland Village—the Richland Theater is now—Players Theater—was the Richland movie. And I’ll never forget that movie after the bomb had been dropped. The Song of Bernadette was being played, and I wanted to see that in the worst way. We got into the movie, and was watching it when all of the sudden, the lights went out. There was plain darkness. Well, we just knew the Japanese had sneaked over! [LAUGHTER] And had done something to us. Well—very orderly, they were nice—the manager told us to leave the building. We left the building, and waited, only to find out it was lightning that had—[LAUGHTER]—the Japanese had nothing to do with it. [LAUGHTER] We had a treaty with the Wanapum—Johnny Buck—with the Wanapum Indians that he could go through the barricade to Gable Mountain, and do whatever they had to do. And he identified all the members as tribe members with him. And he made sure when he left that he had the right number going back. It was one of the few treaties that the US ever kept with the Indians, or so we were told. But there were just a lot of things—little things—that doesn’t creep up in history, but makes history interesting.

Bauman: Right.

Roberts: That here we were, breaking treaties, but we did manage to keep one of them. Now that they’re—when they’re talking about removing the Nike missiles from the top of the Rattlesnake Mountain. And some of us said no, and others say, yes, let it go back. The Indians didn’t want it there—I should say Native Americans now, but it’s easy to keep the vernacular in historical content. So, what else?

Bauman: So, there was a theater here, how about shopping? Was there a place to go shopping in ’45?

Roberts: No. They had—where the John Dam Plaza is, on the other side was a store called the John Dam Grocery Store. And they—the government—wanted him to take over and furnish, but he didn’t want to go through all the red tape and all. But they built, oh, just construction thing all down—at the time, when government took over, George Washington Way was called Benton. Yeah, they had the grocery store, and then they had the beverage store right next to it. And on the corner, they had the post office. And we had to go get our own mail—they didn’t deliver, of course. [LAUGHTER] If we wanted to go do any shopping—real shopping—we had to go to Kennewick or Pasco or Walla Walla. But you had to have a C gas stamp, too. If you used your C gas stamp, you were grounded until the end of the month, when you got your new stamps. And then, of course, we paid for meat with red stamps, and canned goods with blue stamps. And you had shoe stamps, and sugar stamps, and, I don’t know. I still have a partial ration book in my collection. So that was kind of interesting. But I remember one time, I went to the store for my mom. And I went on the bus, and they dropped me off, I got what we wanted, went up to the cashier. And she was—well, she wasn’t exactly friendly. [LAUGHTER] And I handed her this $10 bill that my mom had given me. And she said, I want so many blue points and so many meat points, whatever. And I said, yeah, and I handed her the ten and was getting my book. And she said, I said! I want! And I said, okay! And I tried—I got the stamps out and picked up my things and left, only to find out that I still had the $10 bill when I got home. [LAUGHTER] Well, I’m one of these people that money doesn’t mean very much to me. As long as I can have enough to buy food and buy a toy for my grandkids, I’m okay—and pay what bills I have. But I didn’t know whether I wanted to go back up and give her the $10, or whether I should keep it. Well, I finally decided I’d just keep it and put it in the church collection the next Sunday. And that’s what I did. And I don’t know—I hope she didn’t get in too much trouble, being $10 short on the cash register.

Bauman: Right.

Roberts: And then they would get shipments of things through the day. One of them was towels—bath towels. Well, my dad, he didn’t have a bath towel. And so he went up to buy one, stood in line, because he knew they were there. When he got there, there was no towels—they’d all been given away. So the next day he did it two or three times. Finally, the cashier, or whoever was dispensing them, felt sorry for my dad, so she put one under the counter. So when he got in line, he got his. And he lived in the woman’s dorm, which is now the Yakima Federal and Loan. After the government gave up, it became the Saddler Hotel, and now it’s the Yakima Savings. See? I’ve watched it grow.

Bauman: You have! Well, before we started talking, you showed me a photo of Uptown Shopping Center. Do you remember any of that, when it first opened, or being constructed? How did that change things in Richland?

Roberts: Oh! It was great. We had some place to shop! That little bit in the middle—that was J.C. Penney’s. And, boy, that was really coming uptown, you know. And then they got other things in there. I can’t remember the stores, all the little stores that was there, but I know there was a restaurant. John Dam’s Plaza was called the Volunteer Park before the government took over. And the Women’s Club took care of it. They mowed, they watered, the dug holes for the trees. And so part of that is still probably about 100 years old. [LAUGHTER] And I’m very proud of it, because I belong to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, too. But the fact—we didn’t think about sprinklers, I guess. They didn’t think—well, we didn’t have them, maybe, sprinklers. But they toted hoses and, like I say, mowed the lawn with a hand mower. No, there’s no power mowers then. We got—where the Allied Arts is was where they dispensed grass seed and lawn mowers and hoses and everything for everyone to keep up their yard. And then the garbage—we didn’t put the garbage cans out, they came and got them and emptied them and brought them back. And then they also furnished the coal, and just before winter would set in, they’d fill our coal bins in the basement. And we didn’t pay—we paid rent, but it included water and all that we pay now. I can’t think of anything else. But, oh, they took the rent out of the paychecks. When my husband came home, we lived in a B house on Marshall. And they would dump the coal in, and one time they left the window open where they dumped it. And we got overextended with mice and had to get that taken care of—set traps and stuff. Because—oh, I don’t know that we had the rat poison stuff that they had today. Well, they don’t even have the—well, they do have rat poison, yeah.

Bauman: You also mentioned Day’s Pay a little bit earlier, and you showed me a photo—you’re in the [INAUDIBLE]. What can you tell me about that day? What do you remember?

Roberts: Oh, I wrote a paper on how—you know, they had the barricade, and you couldn’t go out into that area. The Day’s Pay was—the money that was collected by the carpenters—all employees were buying war bonds, but the carpenters wanted to do something more. So they decided to buy an airplane. Well, they raised $300,000 for the plane. So when it was getting ready to be sent over to Europe, it stopped here. They lifted the barricade. We couldn’t take cameras or anything in, but we could go in. My dad managed to get my sisters—and my mother wouldn’t go, she just wouldn’t go—and I in to watch the ceremony. And then I remember, oh, those—[LAUGHTER]—those pilots, they were so handsome in their uniform—watching them. And then they got in the plane, and they took off. They lowered their wings to say goodbye to us, and sailed off into the wild blue yonder. It was a magnificent—awesome sight. That great, big plane, up there against—and it was a hot day. It was July the 20th, 1944, and it was a hot day. I don’t know if it was a 100 degrees like it is today. But it was hot. And watching it against the blue sky. Well, it made 26 missions over Europe. And every member of the crew received the oak leaf cluster. Then the plane, after the war, they took it to Arizona, and was there. And then of course there was the Enola Gay that dropped the bomb. And they decided that they were going to bring both planes to Richland, and have them on display—a parks type thing. But by the time they got theirselves moving, they had destroyed the planes. So that ended that dream. [LAUGHTER] Although, the Miss Tri-Cities boat for the boat races, they kept it. [LAUGHTER] But it was an awesome sight. I can still see that plane up there with blue sky.

Bauman: You mentioned the boat races. Do you remember any special community events in the ‘40s and ‘50s, things that happened that brought the community together, or--?

Roberts: Well, Richland had what they called Atomic Frontier Days. And then Pasco had—I don’t know what they called it. And Kennewick had one. And they each had their own—Kennewick’s was the Grape Festival, I think it was. Can’t remember Pasco. I’ll have to think on that. And I know Sharon Tate was Frontier Queen one year, and she was also the Autorama Queen. And my daughter was the runner-up on that. And I was very unhappy with that. I didn’t want her to be, but I didn’t want to deny her, either. All the sponsors of the girls paid for their dresses, except Buick, which was sponsoring my daughter. I had to pay for her dress. And that didn’t suit me very well. My Scots ancestry—still shows. I laugh at my grandson, Craig. I’ll say, well, I don’t think so, it costs so much. He says, Grams, why are you worrying about money? [LAUGHTER] So it’s just, I don’t know, genetic I guess. I heard this story that my great-grandmother was so tight that if she had an orange, she would peel the orange, give the orange to my grandmother, and then she, herself, would eat the peel. She wouldn’t throw it away. And then she lived in—this was in Scotland, at the Gatehouse for the Fleet River. There was about ten families that lived there, at the Gatehouse for the Fleet River. And they would get an ox bone and then the first one would boil it for so long, and then they’d pass it on down. And then it was somebody else’s turn to have it first, and like that. But they didn’t always buy ten new oxtail bones.

Bauman: I want to ask you about one other event that happened, that was when President Kennedy came in 1963 to dedicate the N Reactor. Did you attend that event at all?

Roberts: Oh, yeah.

Bauman: And what do you remember about that?

Roberts: Only that I thought it was a lot of malarkey, just because Kennedy was there, and everybody didn’t really come to see the opening of the reactor. They came to see the President. And he came to see—or to dedicate the reactor. And I—oh, I don’t know—I think sometimes that we put too much emphasis on things that we shouldn’t do. But I was working as the bookkeeper in the Girl Scout office, and I had to take time off to do that. So we were closed during that time. But I don’t know, I wasn’t impressed. And then GE asked my husband to be the chief operator of the N Reactor. So that’s how he got there. He started out as a coal handler at 100-F, and worked up to B operator, we called him. And then he became chief operator. And his only boss was in Washington, DC.

Bauman: And you—when we were talking earlier, you mentioned there had been four generations of your family that had worked at Hanford. Your father, right?

Roberts: My father, my mother, my sister—she worked the switchboard—then my son, yeah, and my husband, and my granddaughter Cori worked for Battelle, and my daughter-in-law worked for—well, she just retired. And I think that’s all of them. But there’s four generations there. I never did work in the area. I just worked being nosey all around. A know-it-all.

Bauman: I wanted to go back and ask you, you mentioned that when you first came here, your mother wasn’t especially happy about the place. What was your first impression of the place, do you remember what you thought of the place?

Roberts: Oh, I thought it was the start of a big adventure. I really did. But what do young people know? [LAUGHTER] And we were only supposed to be here five years, and then it was supposed to be all over. But somehow or another, the birth of the atomic age created a lot of things that they thought they could use and carry on. And a lot of people did go back home after the bomb was dropped. But we didn’t. My dad was happy with his job, and Mom had kind of, well, settled in a little. And I think she decided, when Dad—when she wouldn’t let Dad take the Pearl Harbor job, that she’d better do something. But Kadlec Hospital—I can remember when it was built, and they moved the hospital from Hanford to Richland. And it was kind of across the thing. One wing was for the dental offices and stuff, another wing was for the pediatrics, another wing was general, and then they had the one wing for psychiatric. But they only had one bedroom in it. So they didn’t figure people were going to lose their minds. And then it was in—I think it was in 19—oh, shoot. It had to be—I was president of the auxiliary ’84 to ’86, so it had to be ’82, when the hospital was opened, built. And it was three stories. But the top story was used for years just as storage, because they didn’t have enough beds. But one story that we really enjoyed was— Somebody was sleeping in the beds. And we didn’t know who it was. But we do know the bed was left unmade, and there was no sugar or crackers and stuff in the NICU thing. Every morning, it was empty. Well, they never did catch who it was, but it was about three weeks before it finally ended. But we thought it was funny—[LAUGHTER]—that we couldn’t catch him. And we were sure it was a man. [LAUGHTER] And another time, it was about 11:30 at night, and I was working the emergency shift. And this man come in, and he wanted to go upstairs to visit his girlfriend who had just had a baby. And I said, well, I’m sorry, but visiting hours are over. And he says, it’s my girlfriend and my baby, and I get to see it anytime I want! I says, I’m sorry. And about that time, another auxiliary come up and she said, if you’re so sure you want to see it, why didn’t you marry her before the baby got here? Well, of course he threw a holy fit. And I had, since I was president of the auxiliary, I had to talk to her and say we can’t say those kind of things. But my grandson, Craig, he and his mother had been in an automobile accident down here on—oh, well, it’s Jadwin, down there, and McMurray. And he was in the emergency room waiting to be checked out, to see if he was okay. And here I was, and he heard this guy say he was going to drop a bomb on us if he didn’t get to see. And poor Craig, when he saw me, he said, Grams, are they really going to—[LAUGHTER] I said, no, he isn’t. But he was only about, oh, eight years old, and it really sounded something. So I have a lot of stories like that.

Bauman: How long were you with the auxiliary—or how long have you been with the Kadlec Auxiliary?

Roberts: 34 years. I got 8,000 volunteer hours. And I was the gift shop whatever. And I was also the printer’s devil, as they called me: I helped the printer with printing all the manuals and stuff. And one thing that we did was—AIDS first came on the scene and we first started talking about it. The Public Health wanted a manual to have classes to show how to take care of these patients. So somehow or another, Kadlec print shop got involved, and we made—Tony, the printer and I, we made 1,700 manuals, saved the Public Health $30,000 for materials. We did a lot of good work. But I sometimes did have an emergency thing, and Tony’d call me up in the middle of the night—it wasn’t the middle of the night, but 7:00 or 8:00 at night. And I’d go down and I’d help him get it done.

Bauman: So you’ve been here since June 20th of 1944, so 71 years now. How has Richland been as a place to live?

Roberts: Well, I grew up in coal camps. So it was different. I didn’t have to carry in coal, I didn’t have to carry in water. But my dad always made sure that we had electricity in the house we were living in. I never did feel that I was needy or anything. I mean, my sisters and I had a great time doing whatever we wanted. Maybe it was hard on my folks, I don’t know. But my dad always had a job. He never had to go on WPA or anything. But he did go away a lot to jobs other places. And we stayed where we were for a while. But, I don’t know, there was all kinds of things, like explosions. I remember one of my dearest friends, her father was in an explosion, and they had to leave. And then we had a lot of foreigners. Especially the—and they were called Mexicans, not Hispanics—Mexicans that were there. And they didn’t speak English. So we learned, even how to swear in—[LAUGHTER]—in Mexican. The equal rights things still weren’t—they hired these people—the blacks—to work in the mine, but they couldn’t live in the camp. They had to live across the railroad. And one of my dearest friends was the cutest little black girl—pigtails, and all. And we were in fourth grade, and we’d walk home together. But she couldn’t come in to my house. And so I’d walk with her to her house, but I couldn’t go in her house. But her mother always had big chunks of bread and jam—they couldn’t afford butter. And we’d sit on the porch and eat it. And the porch was as clean—you could use it without having a plate under it. But we got along real well, just that way—not going into each other’s house. But I think about it now—at the time we never thought anything about it, we just knew it was a rule. And then here, we had the black side and the white side. They had fountains where the Hers and His beauty shop, right across the street from there—they had fountains, and one was labeled Negro Only. And then before they opened up the Parkade and all, government would bring in top-notch entertainers, like Kay Kaiser. And they brought in Marian Anderson. But she couldn’t stay at the [INAUDIBLE] quarters because she was black. And she had to stay in a hotel in Pasco, because Kennewick didn’t allow them, neither. Kennewick—you were caught on the street after 6:00, you were arrested if you were black. So, I don’t know. We’ve come a long ways, yet we’ve got a long way to go to really [SIGH] understand each other.

Bauman: You’ve seen a lot of change in Richland, I imagine, over the years.

Roberts: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.

Bauman: A lot of growth, obviously, of the population—

Roberts: Yeah. I was thinking about the barber shop, Ganzel’s, and how everybody—their chairs were always full of the people getting their hair cut. But I cut my husband’s hair, and my mom cut my dad’s hair. So, we didn’t have to worry about barber shops. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Well, was there anything else that you want to share with us? Any—

Roberts: Well, I don’t know, it seems to me like I’ve been talking your—[LAUGHTER]—talking so much, I don’t know what I’ve said. And it’s all kind of not falling in place. One thing, probably, is Central Church.

Bauman: Oh.

Roberts: How it was called the United Protestant Church. There were 14 cooperating church sponsors. And the Sunday school was held in the Sacajawea—which is torn down as a parking lot now—Sacajawea School. And the church was held in the high school auditorium. Then we needed a church—the Catholics needed a church, too. And it was the one time the two denominations worked together with the government to build the two churches. It was interesting. I was on the board that was part of the negotiations. Of course, the churches were just typical army style churches. And now look what they are. [LAUGHTER] You never know. And then, they started the school and then—they did, the Catholics—and then they built a convent for the nuns who taught the school. We did that. Oh, and then high school—the schools, we had—when the government took over, we had two schools: the high school, and an elementary school—elementary to the eighth grade, and then high school to graduation. Well, after the government took over, the school became—[LAUGHTER]—I say a saloon. You could go—anyway the blue laws in Washington said that women could not sit at the bar. And so we had to sit at—not that I ever was in there—I use we—our family was teetotalers—my dad, everybody. They had to sit at the table. And they couldn’t be served unless they were sitting at the table. But they weren’t even supposed to be in there, unless they—so that was kind of unusual. And then Howard Amon Park. They had—the government—had changed it to Riverside Park. And it stayed Riverside for a couple, three or four years. And it was Howard Amon Park before that. And the family, as well as a number of other people wanted the name back to Howard Amon. And they changed the name. But when the floor came along, there was a gazebo that they band concerts on Sunday. And when the flood came, it inundated the swimming pool and took the gazebo away. They couldn’t have the swimming pool because it was contaminated. That’s when they built the wading pool.

Bauman: Oh, okay, sure.

Roberts: I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff, I could talk all day, I guess. [LAUGHTER] I’m just proud of what we’ve accomplished. But I was proud of what we accomplished in the coal camps, too. We were very close, and there was a lot of funny things that happened in the camp. But we all—the teenagers, we were all together. We didn’t separate to different groups. And then when the gypsies came to camp, that was something else, again. We were very, very sure that one of us was going to get taken away with—the gypsies took kids. But my thought always was, they’ve got so many kids, why do they want any more? Why do they want to take somebody else’s? But you know kids. They think things that other people don’t. Unless you have something else, I—

Bauman: Yeah, this has been very interesting, very helpful. You have a lot of memories about Richland.

Roberts: And I have a lot of papers that I’ve written. I have written a paper, and it won first place, grand prize in a creative writing contest. It’s called Modern Pioneers. And it tells about all the things that women did in Richland, and to bring it into modern world with Pat Merrill being the first mayor of the city. And—oh, what’s—[INAUDIBLE] who worked with—to develop the bomb. But she was hoping they wouldn’t find it. Then [INAUDIBLE] she designed the reactor. So women—if it hadn’t been for women, we wouldn’t have got anywhere. And then I wrote a very short history of how the Manhattan Project came about. And it, too, won first prize in a creative contest. The judge commented that even when he read the first paragraph, he knew it was going to be the first. [LAUGHTER] And so, I don’t know whether I won legally or not. [LAUGHTER] So, that’s it.

Bauman: Great. Well, thank you very much for coming in today, and for sharing your stories and memories about Richland.

Roberts: Oh, one thing I want you to know. Have you seen the book Nuclear Legacy?

Bauman: Yes.

Roberts: I think we need to get that back in schools, because it does tell how we came about from the Indians, and then the Russian side—the kids writing about that. But I think it’s one of the best books that we’ve got on the whole history. And I got a lot of them. I even have Einstein’s—[LAUGHTER]—books, and Heidelberg. I got into an argument with Tom Powers, the author of the book. He came here mostly, I think, to sell books. But anyhow, I suppose, he said that we did not need the atomic bomb. That it was this and that. And he made a couple comments and it—[SIGH]—we were all there listening, and I challenged him on what he said. But, do you know, when the Germans took over in Belgium, we knew that something was going on. But we got it first. And Hitler decided on the V-bombs—what was it called? Something. I can’t remember the name, now, but he thought they had enough power to go across the channel to London and bomb them. So that’s it.

Bauman: All right, thanks very much. Hold on a second, we’re going to need to take care of your—

Man one: Microphone.

Bauman: Your microphone off.

Roberts: Okay.

Man one: Yeah just a little—you can put it down by the desk.

Roberts: Okay.

Man one: Thank you.



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Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Carol Roberts,” Hanford History Project, accessed May 25, 2024,