Interview with Gordon Kaas

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Gordon Kaas

Subject

Richland (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
White Bluffs (Wash.)

Description

An interview with Gordon Kaas 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.

Creator

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

6/12/2013

Rights

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

Format

video/mp4

Date Modified

2016-06-8: Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]

Provenance

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

Interviewer

Robert Bauman

Interviewee

Gordon Kaas

Location

Washington State University - Tri-Cities

Transcription

Northwest Public Television | Kaas_Gordon 

Robert Bauman: So just for official purposes, my name is Robert Bauman and I'm conducting an oral history interview with Mr. Gordon Kaas. Is it Kaas? 

Gordon Kaas: Yes. 

Bauman: Okay. On June 12, 2013. And the interviews are being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. And I'll be talking with Mr. Kaas about his family's history and memories about their experiences in Richland growing up in that community. So maybe, Mr. Kaas, you can tell me, first of all, a little bit about your family and maybe how your family came to the Richland area. 

Kaas: Well my father was an immigrant from Denmark and he came here right after the turn of century. Lived in Madras, Oregon for a while and his brother was up here in Richland. He come up here and he was a farmer. He bought some ground here in what's North Richland and planted the majority of the acreage to apples. His brother took care of the orchard for about the first three years while he lived in Madras, Oregon. That's where he met my mother and they were married. And they moved up here I think it was 1915, after the orchard began to bear. My oldest brother was born in Madras, and then I've got two older brothers, Nelson and George, that were born here, plus my only sister, and then myself and my twin brother. The three older brothers are deceased now but my sister and my twin brother are still living. 

Bauman: And do they live in the area here? 

Kaas: My sister lives in Kennewick. That's Alice Chapman, her husband James, live in Kennewick. And my twin brother and I married sisters, but they live in Kenai, Alaska. And he was a plumber. When I got out of high school, we had moved to Kennewick in 1943, because the government said to pack your belongings and go, you've got 30 days. However, we lived far enough north that they gave permission for those that lived up on from here, there's a little rise in the contour, that area they let farm their crop that year. So instead of moving in February or March, we didn't move until November of 1943. That's where the remaining five of the six children were born. 

Bauman: So you'd mentioned your father came from Denmark. 

Kaas: Yes. 

Bauman: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you know about why he came to the United States, and maybe the same for your mother. 

Kaas: Well, my mother was an immigrant also, emigrated from Prince Edward Island, Canada. And I had the pleasure of visiting back there this past summer. First time I'd ever been there. My father came over because of the opportunities that were in the US, and there was a lot of people moving to the New World. His background was farming. I think I mentioned he was the youngest of 12 children, and two brothers and a sister had immigrated over here ahead of him. So he had a little forewarning of what was here. And at that time, this area here in Hanford and White Bluffs was a fairly new irrigation area and was attracting people from around the country, and around the world, I guess you could say. Because there was other Danes and Norwegians and Swedes here. When I was small, when I grew up, we had an apple orchard. But during the Depression in the ‘30s, apples was one thing that people didn't have to have and consequently, the market went away. And at that time, peppermint was coming in and he hired a county bulldozer to come in and bulldoze the trees out and planted peppermint. And raised peppermint, as long as we was on the farm. I should clarify that in 1949 I lost my father, and I and my twin brother were between our sophomore and junior year in high school, so we became the farmers. And that was after we had moved from Richland to Kennewick. We had a 40 acre farm here in Richland and the war took my three oldest brothers. My father had the option of keeping one of them at home to help on the farm, but he wouldn't do that. My sister, and my twin brother and myself became farmers fairly quick. And then we moved to Kennewick in 1943, and in 1948 he had come down with cancer. And in '49, he passed away in the middle of August of '49. By that time my twin brother and I was the only ones still in school and we became students and farmers both. And then after we graduated from high school, my mother leased the place out. And I ended up taking a job out in Hanford. I worked out there for 21 years, but never got the thought of the farm out of my head. In 1972 my wife and I and we had two children at that time, a son and a daughter. And we bought a farm six miles north of Pasco. And that's been our home ever since. 

Bauman: So you returned to your farming roots? 

Kaas: Yes. 

Bauman: Yeah. What about your mother? You said your father passed away, unfortunately, in 1949. How about your mother? 

Kaas: My mother lived for some years later. I think she died in-- I can't remember the date on it like I can my father—but in the mid '70s. I think it was '78 that she passed away. And at that time the farm was being sold for plots for houses, and now it's all houses. 

Bauman: So how many so how many children were there in your family then? How many siblings did you have? 

Kaas: There were six. 

Bauman: Six, okay. 

Kaas: I had three older brothers. Then my sister come along. And then to finish out the six was my twin brother and I. 

Bauman: You and your twin brother. And you and your twin brother were born in hospital? 

Kaas: We were the only ones that were born in the hospital. Because thought there might be some complications. So we were born in the Pasco Lady of Lourdes Hospital. The rest were all at home. 

Bauman: And you talked about how the primary crop was apples for quite a while until at some point in the Depression you shifted to peppermint. Is that right? 

Kaas: Yes. 

Bauman: And were there other crops that you grew as well? 

Kaas: Well, we had of course, alfalfa because we had a few livestock. We had asparagus. And that was up early and that was the asparagus fields. My three older brothers were in the service. Two of them in the Army and one in the Navy. We'd get up early and go cut asparagus. And when we were left on our farm through the summer we'd see everything booming out here, trucks going by. We lived right on George Washington Way. And we'd be out in the field and watching the trucks headed north where the construction was going on. And we had strawberries. We had a few potatoes. Then, of course, peppermint. And all that ground was real irrigated. 

Bauman: How was that irrigated? 

Kaas: Real irrigated where you had corrugates that the water ran down. And so I was changing water twice a day. And my father worked from daybreak to dawn. But as time went on, we were more help. After the military took my three brothers my dad bought a tractor. And he didn't like the tractor. He liked the horses. So my twin brother and I, we got a lot of practice on the tractor. He put us out on the field and get us started and he'd go do some other chores. We, my twin brother and I, we continued to farm the Kennewick farm. Which, was downsized. It was only 20 acres. At that time though, you could make a living on a farm that size. But I lost my oldest brother in the war. And the next oldest one was in the Army and over in Germany. And the third from the top was in the Navy and over in the Pacific. And after the war was over they came home and took jobs out at Hanford, my remaining two brothers. And when I finished school I got a job out there. And my brother worked out there. My twin brother worked out there on construction. I was a power operator. And in 1972 I'd been wanting to get out on a farm and I said, I got to make the move before I'm 40 or I'm going to give it up. And we found a place to buy. And it's been good to us. My main crop, it started off being alfalfa and wheat and sweet corn. But after a couple years I got into raising potatoes. And that ended up being our main crop until I quit farming. 

Bauman: Got it. Let me just go back and ask you another question, too, about your family farm that you grew up on. So were there other buildings besides the houses? The barn? Any other buildings? And you said it was 40 acres. Is that correct? 

Kaas: 40. 

Bauman: Okay. 

Kaas: Yeah. 

Bauman: And so I wonder how large the house was? Were there any other buildings as well that were part of the farm? 

Kaas: Well, back then it didn't take as much a house as it does today. When my folks moved up here from Madras, Oregon--and I can't tell you--I think it was around 1917 or 1918. They had the ground but there was no buildings on it. But there was a small house. I think it was about a two-room house that my dad's brother and him moved from what would be over on--is that--what street is that? Over to the west? Anyway, they moved it from there to onto Georgia Washington Way where we lived. And then he added onto that. And then just before the government came in, we had enlarged the house and the next year was another project to finish it. But it started off being a two bedroom. And small ones at that. 

Bauman: Now, it was originally, was there an outhouse? What did you have? 

Kaas: We didn't have neither electricity or running water in the house until--it was about 1940. 

Bauman: So not too long before the war. 

Kaas: Yeah. And that was a big improvement. My mother didn't have to pack water for the washing machine or carry it out. But we didn't have any electricity. So the washing machine had a little gas engine on it. And like most, Monday was wash day. And that'd be all she'd get done except cooking some meals. 

Bauman: So was there a well? 

Kaas: Yes, we had a well. 

Bauman: Okay. 

Kaas: That was before my time. But I remember that he had a nephew that came over from Denmark plus my uncle lived here and there was a hand-dug well. And that was on the property that is the Energy Northwest headquarters now. 

Bauman: Oh, okay. And what about neighbors? Who were your closest neighbors? Were there other families that you socialized with? 

Kaas: Well, yes. We had one neighbor that lived right across the road. And others close. I can say there was one, two, three--about five that lived in walking distance. You know, a 20-minute walk at the most. It was interesting. In the early spring of 1943 there was a number of cars that had come into town. And they were driving different places. It was late enough that some farmers were out in the field. The next day they were all in town at the schoolhouse. And they called to me and said that the whole community, including White Bluffs in Hanford was being evicted for a government project. And that's all they would say. Nobody knew what was ready going on out there until after the bombs were dropped. And it was interesting when those people that were here driving in cars were appraisers. And they were going around and appraising the farms of how much to give the farmers for it. Some got very nervous. They thought if you didn't take the first, they might just haul you out in handcuffs or whatever. But they allowed if you didn't accept for the third appraisal. My father accepted the third appraisal. My grandmother, she got nervous. And they got her to sign. I think it was on the second appraisal. But my father, if you didn't sign and take the third appraisal, then they would take it to court. But they give you, I think it was 80% of the offer. And there were a few that took it to court. But my father thought the--But the surprising part about that is the farmers that took the money and couldn't find a farm, the price of the farmland was going up so fast that what would buy a farm when they got the money, a year later was probably only half enough. So those people put a hardship on them. But I can't say our situation put a hardship. Because we was able to find a farm and it was a good form. 

Bauman: Do you have any idea how much your parents got for the farm? 

Kaas: You know, I've been wondering that myself. But what I can tell you is that the 20 acre farm we got, it had a big house on it. It had a five-bedroom house plus porch, front and back. It was $7,200. And I'm sure it was in that neighborhood, maybe a little more. Because it was 40 acres rather than 20. And it was the only house still standing in North Richland until it too was torn down oh, 15, 20 years ago. 

Bauman: Oh, it stood for that long? 

Kaas: Yes, because the criteria was that if it had indoor plumbing and electricity they would save it if they could and somebody would move into it. And a patrolman that was hired by the--well, I guess it was GE back then. Or no, it was DuPont. 

Bauman: DuPont? Mm-hm. 

Kaas: He wanted that house. And he got the okay on it. But he would come by about every three or four days and see what the progress was of us moving out. He was anxious to move in. There was a shortage of homes. And it was used for living for a few years and then it was right in the middle of that big trailer camp that was out here. And it was turned into the office for the trailer camp. 

Bauman: So he moved in shortly after your grandma left then? 

Kaas: Yes. When he could see the date that we was going to be out, he had his stuff packed and ready to move. 

Bauman: And so how old are you at this time? About 9 or 10 years old? Somewhere in there? 

Kaas: I was 12 years old when we moved. 

Bauman: Okay. 

Kaas: So we moved and we were still moving in November. Because that's when my birthday is. And I remember the time we took the tractor with a big trailer we had behind it with some of the last things. And my dad let me drive it after we got off the highway. I was 12 years old. And our farm, in Kennewick, the address was 3904 West Fourth Avenue now. 

Bauman: So what did you think about this at the time as a young boy? You had spent your whole life, at that point, on this farm. And you're suddenly having to move. What did you think? And do you know what your parents thought? Did you talk to them? 

Kaas: Well, we spent a lot of time driving around to find a farm. We looked up a lot up Prosser Way. I can remember sitting out in the yard there for a couple of hours, my mother and dad talking. And there was a nice big house, older house. It was a little smaller farmer than we had gotten. They finally decided they would take it. And my dad went to the door and said, we've talked it over and we'd like to buy your farm. And they said, well, we're sorry. My husband's down at the court house signing papers on it now. So we were back to looking again. But you can imagine a 12-year-old. We thought this was kind of a thrill, driving around looking at farms and discussing it and where we was going to live. And I can remember several farms we looked at that some of them had a nice house. But the property wasn't the best. The soil wasn't the best. But we was happy when we settled on this one in Kennewick. 

Bauman: So for you, maybe the fact that you ended up with a nice farm in Kennewick-- 

Kaas: Yes, it was a nice farm. Kennewick is a little bit rocky. But it's bearable. The farm we had out here in Richland was a lot more sandy. But heavier soil, you can raise better crops. But sandy soil is easier to farm. 

Bauman: So I want to go back to also talking about your early years here. Where did you go to school? And what was the school like? And how many? How big was the school? That sort of thing? 

Kaas: The school I went to was built in--which was Lewis and Clark school down in south Richland. And the year I started there it was brand new. Because of the Depression there was money for stuff like that, to generate employment. And Hanford got a new school. And Richland got a new school. And that's where I started the first grade, my twin brother and I. My sister was four years ahead of us. So she was in an old school that they immediately tore down after the new school was built. But my dad was a well thought of man here in this area. And when the irrigation district was in, neighbors twisted his arm till he agreed to go on the board for irrigation. Same for the school district. He was on the board, directors there. In fact, he was the president of the board and signed a couple of my brothers' diplomas. And after we moved, well, some would know Jay Perry, who was a county commissioner in Kennewick. And he came and wanted my dad to run for his place. They talked quite a while. And my dad said, well, Jay, that would never work, because you're a Democrat and I'm a Republican. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] 

Kaas: He said, I'd do anything to get you in. Whether you're a Republican or not. So that's the only way I knew of what his preference of party. But there was, for farmers back then, there was more done for the farmers than a lot of people. 

Bauman: So do you know how big the school was? Do you know how many students there were about? 

Kaas: Well, it was an eight-room school, first through the eighth grade. And I would say, there was probably on the average of at least 20 in each class. Then when things got a little tougher, first, well, second grade and half of third was in one room. And the other half of third and the fourth grade was in another room. So they were small enough then that they could do that. But that school was tore down for the replacements that there are now. But it was a nice all-brick school that for old time's sake, I hated to see it go. But both of my children started in that school. 

Bauman: Oh, did they really? 

Kaas: For first grade. Because we lived in the south end of Richland at that time. And our--what is the--the Justice over in Pasco, he went to that school. My son went with him. Cameron Mitchell. 

Bauman: Oh, Cameron Mitchell, sure. So what sorts of things did you do for recreational activities growing up on your farm? 

Kaas: Oh, main thing for recreational was work. But we did have time. And when we were little my dad didn't require us to--We never were slave labor by any stretch. But we'd roller skate out on the road. There wasn't very many cars. And we'd play hide and seek and one thing my dad let us do is a couple horse to an old sled that we had that was about four by six, to a horse. And take our dog and we'd go out hunting jackrabbits. Didn't have a gun. But that dog could catch the jackrabbits. And we'd probably get five or six every time we went out. They'd be just wandering out through the sagebrush. We was out at the edge of the farming community here in Richland. So there's plenty of sagebrush ground. And we thought that was great, to go out with the dog. My twin brother and I, and my three cousins from over on the coast would come here. I got a picture of it. Looking at it yesterday, that all five of us on that sled, out jackrabbit hunting. But just things like that. What kids do. 

Bauman: Sure. 

Kaas: Bicycles. 

Bauman: Oh. Yeah. So you were on a farm. Did you go into town much? Into the town of Richland? 

Kaas: Well, it was a five-mile drive on the school bus. Back then we didn't have these factory-made school buses. Generally a farmer would say, I'd like to build a bus and hire it to haul the students. Well, there was an aisle down the center that you sat back to back to and then down each side. And it was just made out of an old truck. And we didn't know what heaters were. Wintertime got pretty cold. But-- 

[PHONE RINGS] 

Bauman: No cellphones then, either. [LAUGHTER] 

Kaas: Huh? 

Bauman: No cellphones then either. 

Kaas: I meant to take it out. But I forgot it. 

Bauman: That's all right. 

Kaas: I think I was in about the third grade when we got factory manufactured school buses. And they looked as long as a train. And there was three of them. And that picked up students all over the Richland area. And then it wasn't too long after that the government came in and the area just exploded. And it was surprising when you had to, how fast they could put buildings up. They had people in here. They added onto the school and built more schools. But after '43 I wasn't here much. 

Bauman: Did you start going to school in Kennewick then at that point? 

Kaas: Yes. I think I was in the fifth grade when we moved to Kennewick. 

Bauman: I was wondering about sort of community activities. Do you have any memories of community picnics or 4th of July celebrations? Anything along those lines? 

Kaas: Well, yes. In that time, the boat races--that would be equivalent to what we have now here in the Tri-Cities—was up at White Bluffs. And I remember, several times being young, going up there and watch the boat races. And then there was community picnics. I remember looking at some books at the county fair, before they registered at the picnics, they had them. Found a couple where my folks, my dad registered as being at the picnic, 4th of July picnic, I think they were. Then there was plenty of family gatherings. Maybe two, three, four families would get together and go to the park. But I don't know, it never seemed like we lacked activity. 

Bauman: What about churches? Were churches close by? Did your family go to church regularly? And where were they? 

Bauman: What, church, you say? 

Kaas: Yeah, churches. 

Kaas: Well, my folks heard the Gospel by two homeless ministers in 1921. And the church met in a home. And I'm still in that faith today. We don't have church buildings. So there was churches in town. But they accepted that way and the family grew up in it. 

Bauman: Okay. So you mentioned earlier, talking about the Depression, and how your father then sort of changed crops, right? Primary crops. Did you know of any families in the area that maybe lost their farms? Or did you see any other impact of the Depression for other families or for the town itself? 

Kaas: Well, my uncle lost his--that lived, oh, half mile or less from us. And I remember my dad saying he wanted him to financially help him. He was a bachelor. He had never married until he was 82, I think. And then he married his sweetheart that he had when he was young. 

Bauman: Wow. 

Kaas: And neither one of them, they were married. They got back together in old age. 

Bauman: That's quite a story. Wow. 

Kaas: But anyway, my dad had to decline him because he said, Jim, I've got a family. And if I did that I would probably lose my farm too. And you're single. Realized I hate to say no. But I just don't have it where I can feel that I could do it. And there were others the same way. But you have to remember that I was-- that was not something I can physically remember. I was too early in the '30s. I was born in '32. I remember him talking about ones that sold out or it didn't have any equity and couldn't make payments. But my father was very frugal. He didn't buy what he couldn't afford, which was very little, that he bought. But yes, when my father decided to push out the orchard, we had a big enough orchard. In fact, it was the largest apple orchard in the Tri-Cities. I can't tell you how many acres it was. But it was 15 acres or so. 

Bauman: Do you know what kind of apples? 

Kaas: At that time, Red Delicious. But he made the decision to take the apples out, because every year he'd be losing a little more money. And plant peppermint. Well, 100 pounds to the acre of peppermint oil was considered excellent. And I never remember him getting less than 100 pounds. And I remembered selling for $7 a pound. And today the price of oil isn't that much better. It's just that the farmers' farms are a lot bigger. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. 

Kaas: I think, from what I've heard, I know some people that are farming peppermint and $9 or $10 I think would be an excellent price now. 

Bauman: So what happened with your uncle then? He lost his farm you said? What did he do at that point? 

Kaas: My uncle? 

Bauman: Mm-hm. 

Kaas: He moved to Oregon. And lived in Troutdale for quite a while. I think he just hired out. He was a stonemason, brick mason. And I think he made a living at that. 

Bauman: I want to ask you a little bit about, you talked about the war a little bit and that your older brothers all joined and went to serve. Do you remember hearing about the war? And have any memories about that at all? 

Kaas: Yeah, when the war come on, some time during that we got a radio. And I know my dad listened to the news every evening. My oldest brother, Edward, that was born in Oregon and was the only one that wasn't born here, was drafted into the Army. And he took his training down in one of the southern states. I can't remember for sure now if it was Texas, or--. Anyway, they ended up sending him to a little place by Washington, D.C. that they calVint Hill Farms. And it was a training, a special training area. And he worked there as, we'd probably called it a cadre that helps do training. But there everything was coal fired. So in the wintertime they had to keep the furnace going and the hot water heater going and snow removal or whatever. And he never did go overseas. But he was on a laundry run. And he was riding in the back of a deuce and a half army truck. And a Lincoln hit the truck head on. And he was thrown up against the cab and killed. So he wasn't-- he didn't see overseas action. But I remember that was a sad day for the family. 

Bauman: I imagine. You mentioned having the radio. Did your family get that before the war or at some point during the war, you remember? 

Kaas: It was during the war. I don't remember. We didn't have a radio while we were still in Richland. 

Bauman: Oh, okay. You got it after you have moved to Kennewick at some point. 

Kaas: Yeah. 

Bauman: Okay. So how did you get news when you were in Richland? Was there a local newspaper? 

Kaas: Yeah, there was a newspaper. And don't ask me if it was daily or weekly or semi-weekly. But well, I guess, in the old days, we took the Spokesman Review. I don’t think--there wasn't a local newspaper. There might've been a weekly. But you're getting too far back in my brain. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, do you know how your family found out about the war, that United States was going to war? Was it through the newspaper? Or sort of word of mouth? 

Kaas: Well, I think all the above. You know, neighbors were close and we did get the Spokesman Review. And I don't know if it was a day late. I think it came down on the train. So it could be the same day. At that time Pasco, its main industry was the train. A train town. And Richland was just a little farming community along with White Bluffs and Hanford. 

Bauman: Right. And then was it in the spring of '43 that you first heard about that the government was coming in and was going to be taking people-- 

Kaas: Yes, yes. 1943. 

Bauman: But your family, you have sort of the rest of that growing season. Is that right? 

Kaas: Well, it must've been later in February or maybe first part of March that that happened. I suppose there's some way I could find out. But I do know that the ones that lived in what we call downtown Richland didn't get to stay and farm their crop. And we did. 

Bauman: Yeah. I wonder if there's anything that we haven't talked about yet that you think would be important to talk about, something you know, about growing up in Richland, about the community itself, about farming? 

Kaas: Well, we had a great swimming pool, Columbia River. Also fishing. Never had a fancy fishing pole. But go down to the river and cut off a large willow, tie the line on the end of it. Works good. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] What sort of fish did you catch with that? 

Kaas: Probably mostly carp. Occasionally we'd get an edible fish. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] 

Kaas: But we enjoyed doing it. Some real hot days, the whole family would go to the river. Our firewood, you could put on what they call a boom out on the river. It'd be several logs fastened together with chain or cable. And have an anchor out on the upper end. So it would catch all the wood that was coming down. And that's where we got the firewood. And for the icebox, we'd go down and my dad would saw chunks of ice out of the river and we had a sawdust bin that we would bury the ice in there and it would last long ways into the summer. So things were a little bit crude back then. But none of us died from it. We all made it. 

Bauman: Right. [LAUGHTER] What about in the winter? You know, in terms of the river, the river ever freeze over? What sorts of things did you do? Any things that you can say-- 

Kaas: All I can remember about that is that what I've been told. I think I was about two years old when it froze over. And they even drove cars across it. I don't think we had any bridges at that time. It was a ferry that would ferry cars across. And it seems like the winters don't get as cold as they used to here. I don't know if it's a cycle or what it is. But my younger years, we could ice skate on the river, most all winters. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. So that was something you did in the winter then for fun? 

Kaas: Well, I don't remember doing a whole lot. But you know, the river is dangerous, and we knew it back then, if the ice only goes out a small ways. So my folks wouldn't--I just know that my folks wouldn't have let us go to the river to ice skate if the ice wasn't thick enough. 

Bauman: And you mentioned a ferry. Where was the ferry landing? 

Kaas: Well, there was the ferry landing down at what's Columbia Point, I think, now. And there was another one between Kennewick and Pasco. There was another one up at Hanford, one across. It would come and go as the need was. But I remember the first bridge across the Columbia was long enough ago that I can't really remember it. 

Bauman: Okay. I want to ask you a little bit about your employment at Hanford. When did you start working at Hanford? And how long did you work there? And what sort of work did you do there? 

Kaas: Well, I graduated high school in 1951. And of course, we were still farming the ground. I did take a job in wheat harvest. And my brother stayed and did the chores that had to be done through the summer. And so my mother paid him what I made, the same amount that I made. So it was like both of us having a job. After wheat harvest was over in September of 1952--I think it was, yeah, 1952--I want out and applied for work at Hanford. And I got a job in the power department, running the steam boilers and turbines and that's out there. And I worked there for 14 years. It was all under GE then. I finished up in what was called the N Reactor. And that's when they built a steam power plant just across the fence from the N Reactor. And I applied for a job there with, at that time was the Washington Public Power. Now it's Energy Northwest. And I stayed there until '72 when I got the crazy idea of being a farmer again. And haven't really regretted it. You go from being carrying a dinner pail to being a businessman in one sense. It takes a lot of money to farm these days.  

Man 1: Sorry, one last time. It looks like battery. [LAUGHTER] 

Man 2: Oh. 

Man 1: Pretty low. 

Kaas: You can prompt me on anything you want to. 

Bauman: What's that? 

Kaas: You can prompt me. 

Bauman: Oh, okay. I'm going to ask you just a little bit more about you working at Hanford. You mentioned working for GE and at the N Reactor, and ask you where else at Hanford you worked? 

Kaas: You asked me where I met my wife. I can give you a little more on that. 

Bauman: There you go. And then I may ask you about I know President Kennedy had the official ceremony, right, in '63. 

Kaas: Yes. 

Bauman: And I'll ask you if you were there. 

Kaas: I was still working for GE. And it was Thursday morning. I had to work a swing shift that day. So I just stayed out there. 

Bauman: So you mentioned working for GE for a number of years. And then you said you ended up with you working at the N Reactor. I wonder before that, what other parts of the Hanford site you worked at? 

Kaas: Well, I started at the C Reactor in the power department. C. B and C were right together. Actually it was the B reactor. Then I got drafted in the army. And in December I went in the service to--they sent my back to Virginia for training. And when the training with over, took a troop ship to Korea. I spent two years in Korea. Part of the time I was first service. War was still on. And then after my two-year stay I came home and they put me back on out there. At that time I'd been communicating with my future wife. And my twin brother, he had a bad ear and they wouldn't accept him. Ironically we was going with sisters. But they weren't twins. And so they decided to get married. So they got a two-year head start on us when I came home. Well, my wife, Beverly, and I got married. And been married ever since. 

Bauman: And how had the two of you met? When did you meet? 

Kaas: We was in school together. And the same way with my brother and his wife. 

Bauman: And so how many years is that now? 

Kaas: Boy, you're-- 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] I'm testing him. 

Off camera speaker: It'll be 60 next year. 

Kaas: That's-- 

Bauman: Wow, almost 60. 

Kaas: It's getting awful close to 60. 

Bauman: Yeah, wow. And so you mentioned you were in Korea for two years. And the war was still going on when you first arrived? 

Kaas: Yes. Yes. 

Bauman: And what sorts of-- 

Kaas: I went in and they put me in the medics. And I took my medic training down in Camp Pickett, Virginia. And then sent me to Korea. I was a medic. 

Bauman: And then one other thing I wanted to ask you about, during your time working at Hanford, President Kennedy was here in, I believe it was September of '63. August or September of '63 to dedicate the N reactor. 

Kaas: Yes. 

Bauman: I was wondering if you were there at that time and if you have memories of that? 

Kaas: I was. I was there. And witnessed his groundbreaking. He flew in in a helicopter and flew out in a helicopter. I think probably went up to Moses Lake, where they parked the plane. And it was interesting that I happened to be on the swing shift at that time. So when the ceremony was over I had to go over to the plant and start my shift. 

Bauman: Was there extra security that day? Or do you have any memories of a lot of people there? 

Kaas: Very much so. You know, that was just not long before he was assassinated. And there was a lot of security. There was three helicopters came in. And the doors opened on all three of them. They come to land, you didn't know which one he was on. But the first thing you seen was they pulled a machine gun up in the doorway. And they looked all directions before they left anybody off. And there was a big crowd there. That was very interesting. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. Were there any other events during your time when you worked at the Hanford site that sort of stand out? Any significant happenings or anything that sort of stands out in your memory? 

Kaas: They formed a rescue crew out there. They outfitted an older bus. And I think there was about three or four different crews, maybe five. We never did get called to an event, like there's been several around the United States since. But that's what we were trained for. And I was on one of those crews because I'd been a medic in the army, was the reason they put me on there. We had drills. But never had to go to an actual event.  

Bauman: And obviously Hanford was a place where security was very important. Did you do have to have a special clearance to work there? Or what do you remember about some security processes? 

Kaas: Well, yes. I had what they called a Q clearance, which was top clearance, with everybody that was full time employed. That the only ones that would get out there was if they had to have a special person, something broke down and had to go out there. And then he had to have an escort. And they told us that you don't talk about what work it is on the job. But at that time, Hanford wasn't classified top secret anymore. After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that's when they found out what Hanford was building. 

Bauman: Were you able to drive your own car out to the site where you were working? Or would you have to take a bus? 

Kaas: Oh, we had to take an expensive bus ride. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] 

Kaas: They charged us a nickel each way. And nobody could afford to drive their cars. If you did, you car pooled. But because the buses didn't have any air conditioning, just the windows. But as long as I worked for GE I rode the bus. When I started working for Washington Public Power we car pooled. They didn't have an option. But they paid us for travel time. 

Bauman: And how long did you work for Washington Public Power then? 

Kaas: Seven years. 

Bauman: Seven years. '65 to '72? So anything else that I haven't asked you about, either about growing up on the farm here in Richland or about your work at Hanford that you'd like to talk about or you think is important that we haven't talked about yet? 

Kaas: Something serious? 

Bauman: Oh, either way. No, it can be funny. 

Kaas: Well, I remember when my twin brother and I was out and we had a watermelon patch. And we thought it was time to pick the watermelons. And we'd pick a whole pile of them. My dad said, well, those aren't ripe yet. We'll have to feed those to the pigs. So the pigs got watermelon early. But you know, we would--that's some of our pastime would be walk around the neighbors and such. There wasn't too many dull moments. Especially, my mother used to say that when you have twins, well, one can't think of the other kin. So I guess you can take from that what you want. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] Yeah. If you had to sort of sum up for someone who wouldn't know much about the area, what it was like growing up in the small community at the time, growing up on a farm at the time, what would you tell them? 

Kaas: Well, that there wasn't many dull moments. I think there's an advantage that kids today don't have. We grew up having responsibility to know that there might be a little time for play. But they're also work to be done. I can remember going out in the fields of whole peppermint and my dad would take two rows where my brother and I, we'd take one apiece and pull the weeds out. And we'd fill up a gallon jug of water. Had a burlap sack wrapped around it and dipped it in water before we went out. And that would keep cool. That was our drinking water. Had to come in in time for chores. We milked as many as five head of cows. But at the time my dad got sick we only had two milk cows. And a couple of horses and several young stock. And then there was 4H and FFA. That was after we moved to Kennewick. I can't remember much more about Richland, only being 12 years old and there's probably more. But I'll think about it after our interview is over. I remember riding the bus was quite a treat. When we got the new buses in Richland it was, as I said, I think I was in about the third grade. It was quite a treat. And they said there was heaters in them. But we couldn't tell when winter come 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] Didn't feel like it.  

Kaas: They weren't very efficient. 

Bauman: Well, thank you very much. This has been really interesting, very informative. I appreciate it. You’ve been great. Thanks very much. 

Kaas: Have you interviewed others? 

Duration

01:02:57

Bit Rate/Frequency

232kbps

Hanford Sites

N Reactor
B Reactor
C Reactor

Years in Tri-Cities Area

1915-2013

Years on Hanford Site

1952-1972

Names Mentioned

Kaas, Nelson
Kaas, George
Kaas, Edward
Chapman, Alice
Perry, Jay
Mitchell, Cameron
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963

Files

Kaas, Gordon.jpg

Citation

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Gordon Kaas,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 24, 2017, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/39.

Comments

Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>