Interview with Herman Kilian
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Kilian_Herman
Laura Arata: Okay. Well, good morning. Thank you so much for coming. If I could have you start by just saying your name and then spelling your last name.
Herman Kilian: Herman Kilian, K-I-L-I-A-N.
Arata: Thank you. My name is Laura Arata. It is March 3, 2014, and we are conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So if we could just start out, I would love to have you tell me a little bit about how your family came to the White Bluffs area, and where they came from.
Kilian: Okay. My family were German immigrants. Mr. Bruggemann, the Bruggemann Ranch out there by the weigh station there at the bridge, brought them over and paid their way for a year's work, for their room and their board and their way over here. You see, they came from Germany in 1927, and they were in such a bad recession. A pound of butter cost a hundred--cost 1,000 German marks for a pound of butter. And they were so poor they couldn't get married, so they got married and came to White Bluffs.
Arata: And how long did they work on the Bruggemann Ranch, and when did they--
Kilian: They worked one year at the Bruggemann Ranch. Now, you can see the Bruggemann Ranch when you go over the Hanford Road to the bridge. It's right to the right. There's an old shack still out there. That's where they spent their first year of their life in the United States.
Arata: Do you know if they spoke any English when they came here?
Kilian: No, but they were smart. They learned it pretty quick. They--there isn't that much difference between English and German, a lot of it. You know, if you're smarter than me. [LAUGHTER]
Arata: So when did they acquire their own land?
Kilian: Well, I think they--you see, most of the farms around there were, a lot of them, were under receivership. And so they bought a little five-acre tract. It was probably either the first or second year when they were here. My dad went to work for the railroad, and had a steady job, about $0.40 an hour. And, anyway, they bought this five-acre tract with a little house on it. They had to carry their water about a quarter of a mile from the house. We had no electricity until we moved to another house a few years later, but that's the way it was.
Arata: Did your family grow crops on that property?
Kilian: Dad worked on the railroad, and mom was the farmer. And she grew-- we grew potatoes and carrots and everything that you eat, buy in the store for vegetables. We grew everything that we ate. All we bought was flour and spices.
Arata: And at what year were you born?
Kilian: I was born 1931, right in the heart of the Depression.
Arata: All right, and how many children were there in the family?
Kilian: Oh, I think there were seven of us all together. My youngest brother was born in Sunnyside, but there were six of us in White Bluffs.
Arata: Do you have any memories of White Bluffs as a town or as a community at that time?
Kilian: I didn't understand the--
Arata: Did you travel to White Bluffs a lot? Do you remember as a town what it was like?
Kilian: I would like to give you a little idea of what--I went on a trip up the Columbia River on that Hanford-White Bluffs tour when we had our picnic time, and it kind of brought back memories. You see, White Bluffs was the Columbia River. It's just like Hanford. The Hanford Project took that area, because it was a unique spot, had lots of water and kind of isolated. But the Columbia River was a big heater. The earliest fruit that was picked in Washington was picked at White Bluffs. Because the Columbia River would heat—air always came in from the north and the east. And the Columbia River then heated up the air, so all of the fruit were planted along the Columbia River from Hanford over to Vernita, not quite to Vernita. But all the fruit was—it was never heated. They never used any smudge pots, because of the heat from the river and the White Bluffs. You see, the White Bluffs was a reflection from the sun because of its unique whiteness.
I remember one year when I was about 12--11 years old, it was 130 degrees in the shade, the 4th of July. I helped my neighbor haul out apples, and it'd bake the apples on the tree, it was so hot. So White Bluffs was probably the warmest area in the state because of those bluffs. You know, the sun reflection off of the white sand.
And when you're going up this river, you get to the bend in White Bluffs, you will see an area out there that's got a whole lot of green vegetation on the water, grass, stuff. That would be a sandbar in July. But, you see, when they put the dams in, they regulated the water, so that the river was high enough, where it would always cover the sandbar, if you get the picture, okay? And the Indians would use the sandbar and catch salmon out there on the sandbar. That kind of brought memories back to me.
Then when you look over to the left—if you want to take a trip up that Colombia just for the fun of it, if they have one. But there's a bluff up on top, which was a road. And that road was covered with six inches of water or more in 1937 or 1938, had that big flood. But you can imagine how much water came down there. Anyway, I remember I was in the back of the bus when the bus driver said maybe he was going to go through there. He got scared and turned around. We turned around in the water you know, because it so high. But history can do--you can find out in history just exactly what year that was.
There was so much snow that we made forts in the school, and we had snowball fights. And anyway, it was a big snow year. And 10 years later it happened again when Vanport was flooded out down in Portland, when the roads in the Tri-Cities were underwater along the river. And it was a lot of water came down the Columbia once in a while. I'm not sure what happens now. I think they regulate it pretty well with the dams.
Then you get around to the bend of the road, there's a big house up on the hill that they left there. It's the only house that's left in White Bluffs, that's the Heideman house. And he will tell you that. And that was a big mansion. I remember going to that Heideman house when I was a kid. She had all the state-of-the-art furniture, all of the big chairs and high stuff, everything. It was quite a sight. But Heideman went broke during the Depression and he lost--anyway, he went plumb broke, anyway. But that's the way it was.
And then, you see, there was four farmers that was left in White Bluffs when Hanford came in. There was Mr. Fanning. Mr. Fanning had a pretty good-sized farm, probably 100 acres. And he had dairy cattle, and milk cows and then he grew white rose potatoes. And the government bought his potatoes and his milk for the army. They were left in there. And then there was Clark, there was Pat Clark. And then another guy, I forgot his name is. Then Skelton. There were four of them that stayed in there for two years and raised fruit for the army. Okay, if you know what I mean. And anyway, they came out of there pretty well off. The government paid them pretty well.
That's the story of the Columbia River. Because White Bluffs was the Columbia River, because that was the heat and the water. That's why the government took that spot because of the big river and the cooling capacity that it had. And other than that, I don't know a whole lot more about what happened. If you want to ask me a question or two, I'll try to answer it. But the Columbia--that sandbar was quite a attraction, because the Indians came there, like I said, and then the carnivals came down. Not the carnival, but with the monkeys--the zoo. Is that what you call it? A zoo? Anyway, they set up down there, and of course it was a good spot. It had lots of water to feed the animals with. But it was quite an attraction for--
Arata: It was like a traveling circus? Something like that?
Kilian: Anyway, I was in the sixth grade when we know left White Bluffs. Sixth grade, And I was 12 years old.
Arata: Do you have any particular memory--
Kilian: The one thing that was kind of--the sheep men liked White Bluffs. There was four different--well, let's see, Simon Martinez moved in there about the mid '30s. Simon Martinez now has got the only band of sheep in Washington that's commercial. But he got his start there at White Bluffs. They didn't irrigate too much, but in the spring if the year there were lots cheatgrass, and they lots of food. We actually fattened up the lambs just on grazing on the cheatgrass stuff that grew out there. So it was--being warm and whatnot, why, it was good to the lamb. So that was a good spot for the sheep men.
The one thing that I remember about White Bluffs as a kid is there were some little blue lilies that grew out on the--there were some hills out there that were still desert. It was too high. They couldn't get water to it. But we'd walk around out there, and they'd find these little lilies out there. They're little blue lilies. [LAUGHTER] That was our spring work. As soon as the snow got off, got warm, these lilies would come up. Anyway, that was a-- Other than that, why, most of us was poor. [LAUGHTER]
Arata: Well, White Bluff's--obviously it's an agricultural community. Do you have any memories of the town itself and some of the businesses?
Kilian: Well, we--I worked with my mom. My mom was the farmer. And we grew potatoes and carrots and rutabagas. We had a root cellar, and we filled that up. Well, a root cellar was--they take these railroad ties and make a—then we'd cover it up with dirt. And it was actually always warm in there, in the root cellar. It was underground, and we'd go down and we'd--when I’d get home from school, why, we would top carrots and rutabagas, and put them down in the root cellar. Dad worked on the railroad, so we did everything, basically, in the evening. And the Indians came over a few times. That was quite a sight to see old Johnny Buck. I still remember Johnny Buck sitting on his big, old Pinto horse with his tomahawk stuck in his saddle. He looked kind of mean to me as a kid. [LAUGHTER] I was about ten, eleven years old. But evidently mom gave him some food, some potatoes and carrots and stuff. And he'd come back once in a while and get some stuff. But, anyway, I remember Johnny Buck, the Yakima chief. Anyway.
Arata: Can you tell me a little bit about going to school, what school was like?
Kilian: My school? There was--well, it was just a three-story, I think it was, anyway, a three-story school building. They had--we had basically three grades in one room. Only--a teacher for every three grades. So there was probably somewheres around six or seven of us in a grade. Mrs. Moody was my first teacher, and then Mrs. Reisenauer was my second one. But then we moved. The high school, evidently, burned down the last year before we left there. And so the high school all went to Hanford. And they were getting ready to build a new school, and, of course, the government said to move out, so we moved out. Which, when looking back, you know, why it was a good deal for our country that we did. They took our area. It was kind of sad at the time, but, you know, when you look back and see what good was accomplished, why, it was worthwhile. My dad went back a few times to Fanning's place and cut his—we had a little tractor with a mower on it, and he went back to Fanning's and cut his hay a couple of times.
Arata: So now, you talked a little bit about some snowball fights and forts and things. Do you have any other particular memories of school?
Kilian: Well, there were just--it got pretty mean, you know? I mean, the big guys would start throwing at us little kids, why, [LAUGHTER] it hurt a little bit. [LAUGHTER] And you can look in the records and see just when that was, that year, okay? But it was in the late '30s. 'Cause I was in school, and I was born in '31, and it had to have been six or seven or eight years later, you know, whatever.
Arata: Do you remember any sorts of community social events that ever happened? I know you mentioned the 4th of July. Was there ever a picnic?
Kilian: Fourth of July was a—
Kilian: I don't know why. They are plugged in. Did this come on?
Arata: We'll get you hooked back up.
Kilian: Okay. Fourth of July was--the later years was quite an event. We had a gentleman who belonged to our church that delivered our fuel--gas man, Mr. Swiezel. But he, evidently, made enough money and whatnot where he would buy a whole gob of firecrackers and stuff. And so we-- at least for two years, maybe three, that I remember Mr. Swiezel buying these--I remember when I was a kid, I dropped a fire-- I had a fire cracker land under my feet, and I dropped one down on there, and I was in the middle of a fire cracker cracking. But they were little ones, they didn't hurt anything. [LAUGHTER] The last event that we had was in '42, and they tried to burn down the town of Hanford. That's where he lived. They had a raze-fire out there with the wind a-blowing. [LAUGHTER]. Anyway, by the 4th of July the cheatgrass was all dried up. What the sheep didn't eat was pretty vulnerable. It burned pretty good. [LAUGHTER]
Anyway, it was fun growing up in that little community. You know, you knew everybody. But it was also a little bit--I never did know where everybody lived. There wasn't very much, because I just went to church with my dad in the car. And one time I remember driving around the river, and he showed me where these orchards were, where they lived. But other that we were pretty much in our own little communities there. And they talk about a ferry that went from the White Bluffs to the islands. They grew produce out on the islands. I'm not sure if the Japanese did it, or what it was. Anyway, they grew some produce on that island. But I never did see the ferry. I'll have no clue where the ferry is, so you'll have to look on the map and see where that is. Anyway, the flood of '37 was quite a deal. I helped my neighbor yard out apples for a couple of years. That seems kind of strange, you're 10 years old or other, hauling out apples, but we had to work in those days.
Arata: Can you tell me a little more about church? Did your whole family attend? Did your whole family attend church? Was that a pretty regular activity?
Kilian: Well, we went to a Lutheran church, in a Lutheran church. And there was a Presbyterian church in White Bluffs, and a Catholic church, I think. And then a Pentecostal church came in about the mid-30s. I remember Mr. Ham was one of the--there were two Ham boys that I remember. The one died of--got cancer, and the other boy was a big, tough kid. And he tried to get a cart off of the railroad track, and he didn't make it. A train hit him and killed him. But Alan was his name. But, anyway, my life was Dad working on the railroad and us farming. And I milked cows. When I was 12--six years old I started milking cows. [LAUGHTER] Oh, so that was how it was.
Arata: Do you know if your parents belonged to the Grange or any other?
Kilian: The Lutheran church didn't believe in the grange and lodges, okay? But they had a Grange Hall there. Mr. Fanning was the head honcho there at the Grange. We had a neighbor, Win Shaw, that had the apples that we worked in and he loaned dad his machinery and his horses to farm with when he came there. So Win Shaw was a vital part of our life, because we wouldn't have made it without him, I don't think. And my little and my little brother was named after him--Winfield and Juelette. [LAUGHS] Winfield and Juelette Shaw. Named after Win and Juelette.
Arata: Could you talk a little bit about when your family had to leave White Bluffs?
Kilian: What we did, what?
Arata: When you had leave, do you remember--
Kilian: When I had to leave White Bluff?
Arata: Yeah, what that was like.
Kilian: Well, we got a truck and loaded up the sheep, and loaded everything that we owned on it, and came to White Bluffs--or came to Sunnyside, which wasn't a bad move. I mean, that didn't hurt us any. You know, life in Sunnyside was probably better than Hanford and White Bluffs. I mean, there was more opportunities.
Arata: Do you recall at all, you were 11 or 12 when you moved--
Kilian: I was 12 when we left there, yes.
Arata: Did you remember any of, like, getting the letter in the mail telling you you had to leave, or any of that process?
Kilian: No, I don't recall too much about what happened. They offered Dad a job on the railroad over there, but he didn't want to do it, so we didn't stay there. But Dad was a good--Dad was probably the toughest guy in the country. At least over there. [LAUGHTER] He was a strong boy. I mean, he could things that most them guys couldn't. [LAUGHTER]
Arata: What did your family do once you move to Sunnyside? What did you do once you moved to Sunnyside? Were you still--
Kilian: Well, we had a little farm. We had a--we was right on the edge of the north side of Sunnyside where the Sunnyside canal came around. And we were out there in the sagebrush with the rattlesnakes. [LAUGHTER] We had--I don't remember any rattlesnakes in White Bluffs. Maybe there were, but we never encountered them. But in Sunnyside, really we killed 20 or 30 the first year. The darn things would come down and get in the water. [LAUGHTER] Anyway. But we had to get rid of our sheep, because it was pretty dangerous out there herding the sheep out there in the sagebrush with the rattlesnakes. Oh, we just decided well, we didn't bunch of sheep. [LAUGHTER]
Arata: Is there anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to share? Any other memories? Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like to share that stands out?
Kilian: No. I can say the main thing I remember about White Bluffs is that big Columbia River, you know. And that Bruggemann Ranch where Mom and Dad came. And the Heideman house where--well, they worked with Heideman for a year. So, I mean, it was those kind of thing. And then the sheep. I've got one story I want to tell you about sheep, okay? This is a story about our sheep dog. Mrs. Hoferer gave mom a shepherd of some kind. It wasn't a--it was a good--he was a young pup. And he was a good sheep dog. Anyway, about a year later Mrs. Hoferer evidently lost her dog. And so she came over and took our Teddy back home. This was in the spring. And by the summertime, Teddy came back home. All he had left on him--she'd completely shaved him so he could run without getting to hot I guess. I don't know. But, anyway, except for around his neck. And we never thought no more about it. Anyway, Hoferer left Hanford in the fall of '40, '42. And we moved to Sunnyside in about August. In '43, why, here come this dog. And I was out working in the produce stuff, and here come this dog. And he was always a mangy looking mutt. I mean, you can imagine. He probably ran around out there for a year, or six, eight months, anyway. He didn't like Mrs. Hoferer very well, let's put it that way. Whatever she did with him, I don't know, but I went home and I said, Mom, Teddy's out here. And I says, Teddy. He wagged his tail and come up to me. And so we found the dog, again. He found us in Sunnyside. Came all the way over that over there to get here.
Arata: Did you keep him after that?
Kilian: That's a fact. That was Teddy. And he lived for about another ten years. Course he was a big dog, and he liked to fight, and we had two females. And he got tore up so bad that one day he came home with his eye hanging out, so I had to put him to sleep. But, anyway, that's my story of Teddy. That was probably the one that I remember the best, you know, my dog. [LAUGHTER]
Arata: I got a note. I'm supposed to ask you about the boat races. Do you have any memories of the boat races at White Bluffs?
Kilian: Boat races? I don't think they had them early, did they? When are they supposed to have had them?
Woman: In the '30s and '40s.
Kilian: When were the boat races?
Woman: Sometime in the summer in the 1930s and 1940s.
Arata: I'm told the 1930s and '40s.
Kilian: In the 1930s there was some boat races? Well, I don't know of any. Of course, my dad wasn't-- our folks wasn't interested in that kind of stuff. A lot of things I didn't do. Like I said, I never got to the east side of town. I don't know who lived out there. I knew who lived out there, but I don't know where.
Arata: We'll, is there anything else that you think it's important for students, who, maybe don't know about White Bluffs to know about what happened there before it was closed down?
Kilian: Well, not really. I think, basically, White Bluffs was an agricultural community, and some made it and some didn't. It was a Depression time. I mean, it wasn't any different than Sunnyside. People came out from the Midwest. We fed people that came out here from the Midwest, with nothing after the drought and everything that they had. We just kind of raised crops and puddled around in our own way.
Arata: Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about Hanford? Any of your responses to, kind of, the end of World War II when you found out what was going on there?
Kilian: Well, Hanford was a bad word for Sunnyside people. I mean, for white-blooded people. [LAUGHTER] Whatever. Well, it really wasn't. I mean, at the time were just one community. But I didn't know the kids that went to school at Hanford. Because that was, oh heck, it was 7 miles away. [LAUGHTER] You didn't get very far very fast. We were lucky our old car ran. [LAUGHTER]
Arata: Do you recall how you felt when you learned what they were making at Hanford at the end of World War II?
Kilian: Well. There was kind of a--it didn't bother me any too much. I mean, I didn't--it would have been a little bit easier if they had told us what was going on, but it was such a military secret that, they didn't--I don't know whether the workers that worked out there knew what they were working on. They just built stuff and that was their job. But what was going on was kind of a military secret. They didn't want somebody shooting bombs over to blow the place up, I think. It was kind of a hush-hush operation.
Arata: Great. Well, that is all my questions. Is there anything else that you'd like to be included?
Kilian: Well, you know, when you're six years old, you don't know a whole lot, you know? That's all I remember.
Arata: That's great. Well, I want to thank you so much for coming and sharing your memories with us. I really appreciate you being here and sharing all these stories. I'm out of questions.
Kilian: You're out of questions. Okay.
Arata: Are we stay on time? Is that--
Kilian: Did I talk too--
Arata: I don't want her yelling at me.
Kilian: Did I talk too much? My wife--
Kilian: My wife says I talk too much.
Arata: That was wonderful.
Kilian: I've got a-- I'm dyslexic, I can remember everything, but I can't read. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, I have a hard time reading, but I could remember everything that I heard. [LAUGHTER] So, I mean, I don't forget the--