Interview with Donna Jackson

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Interview with Donna Jackson




An interview with Donna Jackson 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

2016-06-06: Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]


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

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Bauman


Donna Jackson


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Northwest Public Television | Jackson_Donna 

Robert Bauman: Okay. Why don't you go ahead and state your name first.

Donna Jackson:
My name is Donna Jackson. 

Bauman: Okay. And my name's Robert Bauman and Donna Jackson will be telling us some stories. Today is July 16, 2013 and this is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So at this point I'll turn over to you Donna, and go ahead and tell your stories. 

Jackson: Okay. I'm going to tell you a story about John and Mary. They and their four kids lived in the Midwest. They had family working at Hanford and came west to join them in 1946. Now when there is a housing shortage, private citizens try to fill the need and make some money. John and Mary found housing at what is now called Columbia Park. A man named Garst had a cherry orchard and he put up tents and shacks to rent. Mr. Paulson had a farmhouse just west of that and he divided his land into Paulson’s Plats and built small houses on it to rent or sell. The businesses that were in that area at that time were Wild Bill's Garage, Sherry's Groceries, and there was a drive-in theater and a tavern. John and Mary bought one of Paulson's three-room houses and they bought three extra lots for a total of $1,600. Actually, it was a two bathroom house. There were three rooms, plus a small bathroom with a shower stool and sink, but built on the outside of the house was a small concrete block washroom with a laundry tub, space for a washing machine and a toilet. You had to go outside to get to it, but actually this turned out to be quite convenient. When more of their family arrived in the area, they set up tents and they had a toilet available for their use, and it was handy for the kids, too, because they didn't have to come in the house. There were about eight houses in Paulson’s Plats and several of the families living there wanted to grow a garden and tried, but it just didn't work. The canal was south of them and so much water seeped into their yard that nothing would grow. Now John and Mary lived there two years before the big flood of 1948. Being right on the river they were flooded out. They moved into a tent on what is now Highway 12. Each morning they would get up and look over to see what things were like where their house was. One morning, they found their very own icebox had floated loose and right up to the bank below where they were camped. John fished it out, cleaned it up, and they could use it again. During this time, they would go to a washateria. They would wash their clothes and hang them on the bushes to dry. Mary would rent an iron long enough to press three shirts, which would get John through a week's work. Nothing else would be ironed because of the cost of renting the iron. Now when they were there in Paulson’s Plats, there was ice delivery for their icebox. But there wasn't any ice delivery in town because nobody was allowed to go into town, no deliveries of any kind. As Mary said, they just didn't, but they were afraid people would blab about what was going on. Well the water finally receded and they went out to check their house. There were big holes in the walls, the wood flooring had come off and washed down the river, presumably into the Pacific Ocean. The kitchen floor didn't come loose because the wood stove was heavy enough to keep it in place. Mary's dad and the Red Cross came to help put in new wallboard and flooring so they could move back into their house. Another problem during the time of the flood was getting to work at Hanford. At that time, the bridge across the Yakima was down at river level, and during the flood, no one could cross it. John had a ride that would take him going up across the Horse Heaven Hills and around. One day, he missed his ride and had to fly to work. He walked a mile south to the airport, and for $3 could catch a plane that would take him across the river. A shuttle would meet the plane and then take the folks on out to work. When John and Mary got back into their house, they had a problem with drinking water. They had a 100 foot well and after the flood, the water was not drinkable. John pumped the well out and poured a gallon of Clorox down it. He repeated the process nine times before the water was safe to drink. One weekend, the family went on a road trip the Yakima. Mary left her purse at a stop and they didn't miss it for ten miles. They were absolutely sick when they figured it out. They had to go back and get it since all their ration coupons were in it, as well as their money. It added another 20 miles to their trip, and they didn't think they had enough gas to get home and the gas stations wouldn't sell to them after hours. Well, they went back, got her purse, and headed to Richland and sure enough, they ran out of gas. They sat there bundled up and cold and finally a trucker stopped. He was going to get gas someplace because they would sell to trucks after hours and he said he'd come back and help them. When he finally returned, he said give me your container and I'll get you some gas. Well there was a problem, they didn't have a container. The only thing they could think of was John's rubber boots. The trucker put 10 boots full of gas in their car and they made it home. One of Mary's friends, who lived in Richland proper, took in boarders and cooked meals for three people that lived in Sunnyside. They went home on weekends, but part of the deal was that they gave her part of their ration coupons. This friend also had a small coupe to drive. There were shortages of everything, and when someone heard there was a line somewhere, everyone got excited. They never knew what would be for sale, but it didn't matter. She would drive through the neighborhood tooting her horn and the women would come out and jump into the car. Sometimes some would even hang onto the running board. They would get in line, and then find out what was for sale. It didn't matter, they would buy it and if they didn't need it, their friends did. What is now Columbia Center was a garbage dump. When you shop there today, you sometimes think it still is. One family gathering place was Howard Amon Park, which had a swimming pool. The family would have a picnic ready, and when Dad got home from work, they would head for the park. Mom would stake out a picnic spot and Dad and kids would head for the pool. They would wait in line, oh, 40 to 50 minutes. You could be in the pool for 30 minutes, and then everybody got out and a new group got in. Obviously, there were more people than would fit in the pool. The community celebrated Richland Days on Labor Day weekend for a few years. This changed to Atomic Frontier Days with parades and celebrations, and then this was combined to make the Benton Franklin County Fair. In 1949, the government was building the dam at Umatilla and they condemned the land in the Columbia Park area and bought everyone out. John and Mary were able to get a three bedroom prefab in Richland and they paid $37 a month rent. In their block on Snow Street, the government paid for everything but the rent. The trash trucks came right to your back door where the garbage cans were in a little shed and took them from there. There was one lawnmower for the block, a reel-type push mower, not that there was much gas. There was one phone outside on a pole for the block. The housewives could call housing for mousetraps, they were brought out and baited. Then you called housing to collect the traps and the mice. When they bought their ranch house, the monthly payment was huge, $76. It was nearly double what their rent had been and they didn't know if they could afford it. The house cost $10,500 and if you committed to stay there for a certain length of time, the purchase price went down $800. They gladly made that commitment. When there was a wedding, you gave a lot of thought to what would make a nice and useful gift. At one particular wedding, Mary and a friend with together and bought a nice pair of salad tongs. Then to make it more special, Mary wrote a poem to go with the gift. “Life is a salad, carrots for sunshine, onions for tears, cucumbers and celery for peace through the years, tomatoes the acid that sometimes make way into the tranquility of the day, radishes and peppers for garnish and frills, next comes the lettuce for paying the bills. Toss together with love for the dressing. May your bowl of salad have God's richest blessing.” Now you remember John and Mary had to promise to live in the house for a few years to get a reduced price, they lived there the rest of their lives. Then I have another story about Dick and Liz. Dick and Liz lived in Tennessee and Dick worked construction. This work provided a nomadic way of life for this family and their three small children. Dick would get a job, the family would pack up and move to the newest location. As soon as they could find a place to live, Dick would be off to work. It was Liz's job to settle the family, locate the grocery stores, the church, and make friends with the neighbors. They would stay six months to a year and then they would move to another job. They worked in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Tennessee. Liz was tired of moving around, she had a dream. She dreamt of a yard where she could grow flowers, she dreamt of living in one place for the rest of her life, not starting over every few months. Well, Dick went to Memphis one day and when he got home he showed her his train ticket to Hanford, Washington. He had been given a job on a construction crew at Hanford and they gave them a train ticket to get there. He and Liz talked and the next day he got on the train for Washington State. When he arrived in Pasco, he was met at the train station and given a ride directly to the job site and put to work. Well, Liz saw her dream of a home and permanence fly out the window. Again she had to make travel plans. Where on earth was Hanford, what would be there, where would they live, would they have schools, would there be any kind of civilization? Washington State was 3,000 miles away. Well, Liz didn't question the arrangements, her place was with her family and her husband was the provider. She would go where he was working. Liz made arrangements to bring the children out to Hanford. She had to make choices, what she could take with her and what she had to leave behind. She had a friend who worked for the railroad and he helped her as she packed her linens and their dishes and clothes. One large item she couldn't leave behind was her treadle sewing machine. She needed it for making and mending clothes. Her friend from the railroad helped her to get her belongings shipped, and then took her and the children to the station and put them on the train for this place, clear across the country, called Hanford. The trains were used both for civilian passengers and for military transport, they were crowded with soldiers. Before Liz left, her friend took her aside and warned her not have anything to do with the soldiers on the train, it might not be safe. Liz got on the train and was surrounded by soldiers. Many were just teenagers, 17 or 18 and very homesick. Others were young family men who had left their wives and children behind. They were delighted to see Liz and her children, and they couldn't do enough for them. The trip was much easier than anticipated—until they neared their destination. The train came across the Blue Mountains and was nearing Pendleton, Oregon when it stopped in the middle of nowhere. Was this Hanford? No, but there was a train derailed in front of them, they could go no further. They sat on the train for eight hours. Even though it was October, the passenger car was soon stifling since the noon-day sun was glaring down on them. People opened the train windows and soon they were covered with dust and soot. Finally, the track was cleared away and they got the Pendleton, but the train to Pasco was gone. Liz didn't know how they'd get the rest of the way or even where Pasco was from Pendleton. She didn't know how she could get in touch with her husband; she didn't have a cellphone, of course. The passengers were told there was a school bus about ready to take the kids home from school and they could get to Umatilla on that. Their train tickets would be honored. Liz wrote out a telegram to Dick and asked a porter to send it for her and she handed him $0.50. He said, not enough, and reached over and took $1.00 out of her hand, and then he never sent the telegram. Well, Liz and the kids were first in line to get on the school bus and then were told they had to go in and buy tickets. They went in the depot and they were told their train tickets were okay after all, but they were now last in line to get on the bus. But they did get on. They climbed on the bus with schoolkids, Liz carrying the baby. The bus was packed to capacity, but a man who had a seat stood and let Liz sit down. As a school children were dropped off, seats became available. Liz's kids thought they were going to Kenny-wick and the school children all laughed at that and taught them the name of the town. They got to Umatilla and were eventually put on a bus to Pasco. Well, Dick hadn't gotten any telegram, but had heard about the bus situation and was there to meet them and Liz wondered where they were going to sleep that night. Imagine her relief when Dick had told her he had just that day got a three bedroom prefab for his family and it was furnished. The furniture was minimal, but functional. There was one double bed and the necessary number of single beds for the children, there was a table and six chairs, a couch and a chair, a stove and an icebox. The only linen was one comforter for the double bed. There were no curtains, no trees, no grass, no flowers, but you know, it really didn't matter. They were in a house, they were together again as a family. They went to bed that night, the children were covered with their coats and Dick and Liz used the comforter, and the next day things got much better. All the things she had shipped arrived. They had dishes and pans and linens and clothes and even her sewing machine. Soon there were curtains at the window, trees, grass, and flowers took while longer. They were cared for in their little house. If the house needed painting, it was painted for them. If the furniture broke, it was replaced. If the light bulbs burned out somebody came and changed them. Dick's job was to work construction. Liz's job was to care for her husband and family. Everything they did was as a family. Neighbors would come over in the evenings; they’d put the children to bed and play pinochle. One night they decided to go out to a movie so they asked a neighbor to stay with the children, and Dick and Liz went to their first movie in Hanford. The first scene in the movie was of a fire burning in a fireplace, and that scene is etched in Liz's mind today. She can't remember anything else about the movie. Now their house didn't have a fireplace, but all she could see was their house on fire. She spent the entire movie worrying about her family and just knew her house would be gone when they got home. Well, her house and children were just fine, but she really didn't want to go to any movies after that. Few people had cars, and the Richland bus system was free and everyone used the buses. When some of the mothers wanted a chance to clean house without children underfoot they used the bus system. They would put the kids on the bus and let them ride to the end of the route and back home so they could cleanup house and maybe have a cup of coffee. Well they started going to the church and the second time they went, Liz was asked to teach Sunday school. She agreed and taught Sunday school most of the time for the next 45 years. One day she went to call on someone who had visited their church. There was a friendly Great Dane in the yard and when she knocked on the door, he came and stood patiently beside her. When the lady of the house invited her in, the gigantic dog walked in the house with her. He went in the kitchen area and curled up in the smallest area as a Great Dane can curl up in. After the visit, Liz started to leave and the owner of the house said don't forget your dog. Liz's reply was, that's not my dog; I thought he was your dog. Wellthey shooed the dog outside and he wandered down the street until he came to his own home. There are stories of people not being able to find the right house when they come home. I expect the dog knew his house, he just wanted to meet the neighbors. Liz's dream had come true. She had a house and some permanence. She did have to move one more time, but that was only a couple miles north to a ranch house. She had lots of flowers in her yard, she raised her children and has been part of the same church family for 45 years. Dick passed away a few years ago, but Liz is still comfortable in her home. 

Bauman: That's great. 

Jackson: Those are my stories 

Bauman: Thank you. 

Jackson:  --from friends who grew up here. 

Bauman: I think that's great to just end it there. 

Jackson: Okay. 

Bauman: I don’t--asking questions I don't think would-- 

Jackson: Okay. 



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Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Donna Jackson,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 21, 2024,