Interview with CJ Mitchell

Dublin Core


Interview with CJ Mitchell


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


An interview with CJ Mitchell 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

2016-07-21: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Robert


Michell, CJ


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Michell_CJ

Whenever you're ready.

Whenever we're ready, OK. All right, I guess we're good to go.


All right.


Robert Bauman: All right, let's start by having you say your name, and spell it for us.

CJ Mitchell: All right. CJ Mitchell. And actually there's a Junior on the end, and that's CJ, no periods. It's initials only. M-I-T-CH-E-L-L, and then of course Junior, J-R.

Bauman: All right, thank you. And my name's Robert Bauman, and today's date is October 30th of 2013.

Mitchell: It's my mom's birthday.

Bauman: Is it really?

Mitchell: Yes.

Bauman: Hey.

Mitchell: [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: And we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So CJ, if we could start by just having you talk about when you first came to Hanford and what brought you here.

Mitchell: Well, I came October 3, 1947. And I was 16 years old at the time. And in the early years, in 1943, my relatives, primarily my uncles and also my father-in-law, and others from my community down in Northeast Texas came to work on the Manhattan Project. And, of course, then I came here in '47, and that's the start of the Cold War. Yeah.

Bauman: And you know how your relatives heard about Hanford?

Mitchell: Yes, and I was a young kid I guess at that time, but anyway I remember people coming to the community and talking about, and trying to identify people to come out here to Hanford. And actually they gave them a number. And when they got to Pasco, they matched up that number. And then when they got there, they found out it was another forty miles out to Hanford.

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] Was that DuPont, then, that people from--

Mitchell: I would think it was DuPont doing that time. I'm not sure, because I was young, I don't remember exactly what it was, yeah.

Bauman: Right. And so you arrived here, as you said, in 1947 as a 16-year-old. What were your first sort of impressions of the place?

Mitchell: Well actually it was really interesting, because when I first came--and I got here at nighttime, which most people will tell you that--but anyway, came into Pasco, and there was five of us. I had two first cousins, myself, and then two other people from my community. And we didn't actually come out here the first day. We went to East Pasco, because my relatives live there. And we slept in a little tent about maybe five--it wasn't even five feet. One uncle had a trailer on one side, the other one had a trailer on the other side with a little--I would say it's a little porch in between. And of course our tent was just out at maybe 20 feet away, out in the yard. That's where we slept at night. We visited during the day, and then crawled in there at night and slept.

Bauman: How long did you sleep there?

Mitchell: We were there for about, actually about three months. Because when I first came, I got a job working right up over the hill here, up on the trailer park, right up on North Richland right here, on the east side of George Washington Way. But they didn't have the barracks ready at that time. So we would catch a bus in the morning and ride out here until they got the barracks ready. And my first job was working in the--for every trailer they had a washhouse. There was no indoor plumbing. So all the homes, they had a washhouse, where they did the laundry and where they went to the bathroom. And so that was my job, helping complete those.

Bauman: Oh, okay. So you lived in East Pasco--

Mitchell: Just for a couple of months, and then we were able to move into the barracks when they got the barracks finished. And that experience was that—well, it was only $1.40 a week to live there. And that included daily maid service and clean linen once a week. And so that was pretty good. At the mess hall, for lunches--when we'd go to work, for our lunch we could get a lunch box for $0.50. And that included a couple sandwiches, maybe an orange, an apple. Maybe a slice of pie or something. Yeah. Interesting stuff.

Bauman: What sort of were the working hours? What sort of hours--

Mitchell: Well, actually, we worked eight to ten hours a day and then a half day on Saturday. And so I think I was making like $1.30 an hour. And I think, like $65.00 a week was big money. Because back in East Texas I could make like $25.00 or $30.00 a week. And I was working in a sawmill. A little portable sawmill. Yeah. Where they made cross ties. Interesting work.

Bauman: Now what was the town in East Texas that you--

Mitchell: It was a little place called Kildare. K-I-L-D-A-R-E. All it was there, it was maybe like four little businesses and a train station, and just a crossroad. Dirt roads, no pavements. No. Everybody walked.

Bauman: So when you came in '47, what was the racial situation here, were things segregated?

Mitchell: Well, they had discrimination. You couldn't eat there, and the bus station in Pasco. And everybody lived on the east side, and I think there was a few people lived there maybe just west of the underpath and up on 1st or 2nd Street right in there. Course I was, you know I didn't get involved because I was working. But that was what the situation was, yeah.

Bauman: Did that surprise you at all, or—the sort of segregation?

Mitchell: Not coming from East Texas. Because I grew up in a segregated world. So that wasn't a surprise to me.

Bauman: Was the workplace segregated also, when you moved up to live here as well?

Mitchell: Well, yeah, actually the crews were segregated. The labor, and mostly general labor, that's what I knew about, was general labor. But I think me being a young guy, they put me over with the plumbers. And what I was actually doing, when they put the joints together, they did sorting in those days, and you had to--they called it bell holes, where you'd have room to work around those, and put those together. That was my job, to dig those bell holes.

Bauman: Oh, okay. And so how long did you do that work?

Mitchell: Well, I did that work about three months. Because what happened--I came in October, and really, I got homesick. And if you've never been homesick, you don't know what I'm talking about. It's really--and then at the end of I think in January, I went back home. I went back to Texas for--I'd been here about three months and man, I was so homesick I went back. And then I came back in the spring of 1948. Right about the time they had the big flood. And then, after that, when I came back then, and also lived in the barracks at that time, but I helped build the ranch houses there in Richland. Yeah, built those ranch houses there. And I also worked on the 100-H reactor. Helping build the 100-H reactor at that time.

Bauman: So what brought you back in '48? Was it the opportunity for work?

Mitchell: Just the work. Knowing the work and the pay. It's just that, well, I had to get over the homesickness. I went back to the East Coast, see. Came back because I knew the work was here, and that's what I did. And then I stayed until after the big cold winter in 1949 and '50. And then in that maybe like February or March, somewhere in there, it was three of us. We pulled a single wide trailer from North Richland to San Francisco, because one of the guys had a sister living there. And then as we were going to California, pulling this trailer, we got down around Williams, California, in Northern California there, and somebody wanted to know if we wanted to stop and pick cherry blossoms. I never thought, you know—we'd never heard of a job picking cherry blossoms. And so then we didn't pick cherry blossoms. We went on into San Francisco, and we didn't get any work there right away. And one of men and myself--we went back to Texas. And then the other gentleman, he went into the military. And then that's when I got back there, in 1950. That's when my wife--my wife was my high school sweetheart. I married her, and we went to Chicago for the next 15 months. And then I came back to the Tri-Cities in 1951. And then I worked on McNary Dam. Moved out to Hermiston, Oregon and worked in construction there, and then in the spring of 1952, I came back to Pasco, worked on the blue bridge, helped that. And the construction on the irrigation canal, irrigation project coming down through the basin. That was my job when I came back in 1951. And then, after that, then I worked on, built the 100 Ks. The 100-K East and West. I worked on that, and then I worked in helping build the PUREX facility in 200-East Area. And then in the spring of 1955, I went to work for General Electric. That was in the fuel preps department in the 300 Area.

Bauman: 1955 was it?

Mitchell: 1955. And that's when I was working there, and that's when I got out of construction. And then when I got into the fuel preps area, well, they had locker rooms and showers and lunch rooms. And the work there, we had a break. I never heard of a break before. [LAUGHTER] So my job on the production line was to take two fuel elements, and put them in a basket. And they would go down in some aluminum Al-Si. And when they come out, another person would take those two and take them to what we call canning and get them canned. Take them over to get canned and then take them to the quench tanks cooling area. And I did that. Now, in the locker rooms there was a bulletin board, and on this bulletin board, that's where all the job postings were. And those were gotten by seniority. And every Monday morning was when you selected. And I noticed, nobody ever turned those jobs down. So I said, there's got to be something out there better than what I'm doing over here. And then I started thinking, well, you better get something between your ears. I'd go to college in those days. And by that time I had a wife and three children. That's when I decided, well, I better get going. So I'm embarked upon a night school program and I went to night school for 14 years. I didn't know if I'd ever get a degree or not. But I played basketball, just pick-up basketball, and one of the guys that was an engineer out there, he played some basketball. And he said one of things you can always have, math and chemistry. So I didn't know if I'd get a degree or not, so I studied math and chemistry. And through that, I was able to work my way out of that into—out as a technician, and then later on in the human resources. And I just started that program and I stayed with it. 14 years.

Bauman: So I want to go back, a little bit, to when you were talking about working fuels prep.

Mitchell: Sure.

Bauman: Did you have to wear special equipment to do the job you were doing?

Mitchell: Yeah you had to have coveralls. You had to have special coveralls, to wear that, and shoe covers. You had to wear those, yeah.

Bauman: That was to protect you from anything splashing?

Mitchell: Protect you, yeah, protection. And you had to wear of course safety goggles, you had to wear those.

Bauman: Right, right. And you said that was with GE.

Mitchell: Yeah, that was General Electric.

Bauman: General Electric.

Mitchell: Yes.

Bauman: And so how long did you work that?

Mitchell: I worked General Electric until 1964. Not that particular job, but what I did as a result of going to school, I did several jobs there. And one of the jobs that I had there was I worked as a person that drove a forklift—could unload fuel elements and help the guys put them on the truck to take to the reactors once they had gotten what we called canned. And also we had a couple little warehouses where we stored things. And we would have certain fuel elements in there, just bare uranium elements there. During that time they started what they called the big extrusion press for the fuel elements to go to the N Reactor, when they were going to build the N Reactor. So actually I hauled the first fuel elements, they were billets, to be put through an extrusion press for the N Reactor. And they did that in the 306 Building. Interesting work. And I had gone to probably 15 interviews before I even got a job, and on my 16th interview I came in on a swing shift and my boss says they would like to interview you over in the 327 Building. And of course out of courtesy, I went there. I didn't expect to get anything because that was pretty disappointing, that many times and nothing. And so once I got over there and talked to the gentleman over there and I got back to my workstation, about an hour later he came back and he said, well, you're going to have that job over there. And when I went over—the job I was working in was a bargaining unit job, a union job. And they had like three classifications. They had a C, a B, and an A. One-two-one was the ratio. And when they hired, you moved up. If they laid off, you moved down. So I was a C operator. I was caught in the sling here. So when I got the chance to go over to the 327 Building, I had to give up my seniority there. And I took a $17.00 a week pay cut, to take that job and take a chance on it. And they could've laid me off the next day. But I took that job, and really I've never looked back since. Turned out to be a great move for me.

Bauman: Yeah. And so how much longer did you work at Hanford, then? How long did you work there?

Mitchell: Well, I worked there at—in fact, when I got over into the radio metallurgical part where they do an examination on radioactive fuels, studying the whole why they had ruptured in the reactors and dissolving samples for research, things like that. And then I worked for a gentleman named Mike McCormack, who was really a legislator in this area. And he was a chemical engineer by profession. And he had designed some of the casts that they transported elements in. They had a situation where they wanted to bring in a swing shift. And they talked about that, in the meeting he says, if any of you folks are going to school or want to go to school then we don't have to go identify other people that has to come and go in shift. My hand went up. It was the only hand went up. And then the next week they decided they weren't going to have that shift. But one since my hand went up, they set up a special shift for me to go to school. That gave me a chance to make some extra time at Columbia Basin College. And I worked a swing shift, and then Mike McCormack being a chemist--I would come in early on swing shift and he would teach me, he taught chemistry with me during that time. Actually one the best jobs I've ever had was in that group, even though moving up to human resources and all that was great. But just the whole environment there was one of my special places in my career. And then when I got into human resources, that was when the civil rights movement started. Also, just prior to that, there was a job in the 325 Building doing some research. We were studying what happened out in space capsules, there were certain parts of the capsule that would freeze up. And so they developed these uranium oxide pellets to place in there so it would take care of that situation. And I was able to go over into the 325 and work one-on-one with the guy that was doing that research. So I helped do that. And the way I got that job, I had more math and chemistry than anybody in the lab that didn't have a degree at that time. And so I got selected for that. And then just by my going to school and my other community work, when the civil rights movement started, I got an opportunity to go into human resources. And then I ended up getting a degree in business. So I'm half technical, half business. So it turned out a great career for me.

Bauman: And how long did you work in human resources, then?

Mitchell: Oh, 20, 30—the last 28 years I was there, in human resource. Did a lot of hiring of those science and engineers. Orientation of new staff or putting in 401(k) programs. Did a lot of things.

Bauman: And which contractor contracted?

Mitchell: That was General Electric until Battelle came in, 1965. Battelle came in, I worked for them.

Bauman: Yeah, okay. I want to go back a little bit, first to when you initially came back in '47 as a 16-year-old, and you said you were living in a tent. What was that like? What was East Pasco like at the time?

Mitchell: There was no indoor plumbing over there. The streets were all dirt. Yeah it was pretty--it wasn't very good. It was kind of like back in East Texas. Because we just had dirt roads, we had no pavements or anything then. Did a lot of walking. And so yeah, it was like that there. Looking back.

Bauman: And then you moved to the dorms, right?

Mitchell: And then we moved out here to the dorms. And that was an experience. Because I'm 16 years old, and these guys—I never heard swearing and things like I had heard in that. I know my head was going like this all the time. Because I'm telling you, these guys, they were something else. And on Sundays, I would try to get some kind of a ride back into East Pasco where my uncle and his wife lived, and then that would get me away from that. And then there was also some other people that we knew each other from there and so we would go there too. So I'd ride over with them and come back.

Bauman: And then you mentioned you had gone back to East Texas and you and your wife got married. And then you went to Chicago.

Mitchell: Chicago for a couple of summers.

Bauman: Now, why'd you go to Chicago?

Mitchell: I had a brother had lived there. He'd been military and he lived there in Chicago. And I had stopped there during the time when I first came to Washington. And the way I got there, I knew where he was. And when we left home, I don't know, I did some things that maybe were maybe kind of silly when I was growing up. But in Texarkana, we were all getting ready to come to Washington. And I got off the train and I went--they used to have these phone booths where you could go in to have your photo taken. And so when I got back on the train, and on my way to come through Saint Louis, come into Saint Louis and that way you came around Saint Louis, Chicago Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and then around the northern part here. Well, I lost my billfold or something in there. And so my one uncle gave me money and I got off the train in Chicago, and my ticket, and I went and stayed with my brother. And stayed with him for about a month. And then I went back to Texas. I worked at a punch board factory. You know, you made punchboards. In the old bars, used to have where you'd go and punch a board, and punch on punchboards. Well, they were making punchboards, down on Michigan Avenue. Well, I got enough money to get back to Texas and maybe work a few more weeks and get some more money to come back. And so I got off the train in Chicago because I lost my billfold. And then I worked there for three or four weeks. Got enough to get back home and then came back again. And then in the summer of '48 when I was coming back to start working on the ranch house in Billings, Montana. I got off the train to get a newspaper. I looked up and the train's gone, leaving. So I ran the train down, caught the train. So just about the time I'm getting on the train I hear a guy yell, well if you can't make it, you can go home with me. I caught the back of the train. Worked my way up through all the cars. And then finally the guys on the train said, God, what's wrong with this kid, I'm sure they said that's the craziest kid I've ever seen. But anyway, because you know, my jacket was there, my coat was there with my ticket and everything. But I caught up. [LAUGHTER] But then of course I learned. But that's what happened. And then I came back, yeah. But then going to Chicago was--I played baseball. We didn't have baseball in school, but I played with the men teams back in Texas. And I loved baseball. And when we got married and went to Chicago, well then I knew there was always jobs in Chicago. Whether you liked the job or not, there's jobs there. So we went there. And we stayed there, and our oldest son was born there. And I would go out to Northwestern University out at Evanston, and try out for baseball. I was pretty good at it. I could hit and I could run. My arm, I couldn't throw very well. But I could hit and I could run. But anyway, I just thought well, maybe—you know, 19 years old, you still have it in you. And then I realized, after being there for a while and going to a lot of the games--and I saw the big name players at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field. And they had double headers in those days. And you could see all these players. And I got to see Jackie Robinson, and Don Newcombe, and Bob Feller, and Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. I got to see all these big name players which I was fascinated by. And of course then I was working for a smelters, and I had a fairly good job. But then I got to thinking, well I know where there's fresh air, and I know where the work is good. And so we came back. And she went home and stayed with her father down in East Texas for maybe like a couple of months while I got situated here, and then she came here. And then we've been here ever since. Great experience.

Bauman: And when you came back then, where did you live?

Mitchell: When I came back here, that's when I came back and I lived in East Pasco. But I worked on McNary Dam, I moved out to Hermiston where I could be six miles away. Just go down and come back. I always believed in living close to work, and so that's what I did. And then in the spring of '52, that's when I came back. Worked on the blue bridge, helped build that. Irrigation canals out here, and then--

Bauman: And did you move back to the area here, through then?

Mitchell: Yeah, I moved back to Pasco. And I lived in Pasco then until 1955. Because when I went to work for General Electric in 1955, then you could get housing in Richland. Your name would go on a list and you could get housing. And that's when it really, really took off for me. Really took off for me.

Bauman: And was housing readily available then? I mean, as an African American? Was that difficult?

Mitchell: Well if you could get GE out—you couldn't buy a house. I couldn't buy a house in Richland because I was black, you know, from real estate people. And that was as late as 1965. But back then it was the government homes, and if you worked you could get a home. And so it didn't matter. It wasn't up to them, then. It was up to General Electric then. And I rode the bus back and forth to work, $0.10 a day round trip. $0.05 a day. I could walk up to the bus stop, catch a bus, and go to work. And then in the outer area, the construction in outer area, they paid you isolation pay. They paid you $4.00 a day to go out there doing construction all the way out there. 300 Area, you didn't get anything, but way out there, and then the crafts got more. Interesting. Those days are gone forever though.

Bauman: So when you did go to buy a home then in Richland, did you experience some difficulty?

Mitchell: Oh yeah. It was tough. The guy, he just flat told me, said because you're black, we won't sell you a house. I can't take a chance on my investment. And so then of course, at that time, there was like the NAACP and other groups wanting to come in and get involved and I said no, I'll take care of it myself. I said well, my kids live here, my kids got to walk down these streets. I'll take care of it myself. And I just let it go. And then there was a gentleman by the name of Everdy Green had a real estate company. He called me up and he says well, he said I hear you're having problems getting a house, and I'll sell you anything you want. And I said yeah, I know you will, because your prices eliminate me. I said the level of your homes, what they cost, I said I'm just making a weekly salary. I can't afford one of your homes. And the interesting thing about that--and I never knew I'd be in real estate. And once I got into real estate I ended up selling Everdy Green's home. Yeah. Ended up selling the home that he owned. And he was the guy, but--it's interesting. And then, where I live now--I just live on Spring down here, right down the street here--first night I was there I picked up the phone, phone rings, some guy said, this is the Ku Klux Klan he said, and you're next. That was what I got on the phone. And so I just called and reported it. But nothing ever happened after that. But that's what happened to me.

Bauman: Right. Were there other incidents where people opposed you sort of moving in, or--

Mitchell: Well no, but I heard later on from Ron Kathren, when Ron Kathren bought his house. The one who lives on the street. It was kind of interesting. But the place where I was turned down was in Beverly Heights. Beverly Heights is where Fred Meyer is, and up on the hill, that's the area. Well later on, even years later, I went up and there's a home for sale by owner. Up there, a house. And then I knocked on the door, and when he saw I was black, he just slammed the door. He says, go over there, there's some houses over there. Point prefab area. But you know, you run into that. And then I had one person that worked with me in the laboratory. He says, I don't have to worry about that. He said I don't have to worry about this. Said I'm white, said I don't have to worry about that kind of stuff. It's just been interesting, it's just been an interesting experience, a real interesting experience. But what it is, I just let it roll off and keep moving. That's how you have to do it. Can't change things.

Bauman: A little bit earlier you mentioned civil rights movement. Were there organizations, NAACP and other organizations, here in the Tri-Cities area?

Mitchell: Yeah, there was NAACP, and there was one guy by the name of McGee. And sometime he would be kind of like a one-man walking picket. He was a real fighter, and everything like that. But I wasn't as involved as a lot of people, because I was working all the time. But I knew things was going on, and I did my share. Where I've lived I've always been involved in community. I was on a planning commission, and things like that. All that.

Bauman: In Richland?

Mitchell: Yeah, oh yeah.

Bauman: And about when was that?

Mitchell: About 1969, '70. Back in those days.

Bauman: And what did you think of that experience?

Mitchell: Yeah, it was an interesting experience. It really was. But you know, I made the motions on a planning commission to put the infrastructure into Meadow Springs area of South Richland. And I went to work the next day and out in the 300 Area was a 3760 Building which they just tore down recently, in the last few months. Was called a technical library, up in the upper area. I walked in one morning, there was a guy named Guthrie, G-U-H-T-R-I-E, named Guthrie. I don't know what his first name now was, but anyway, he was kind of a loud guy in the community. But anyway, he cornered me and he said, 'bout all the what it was going to be, paying the taxes, what it was going to cost and all that. And I said, well I don't know who you are, but my philosophy is that if you're going to have a good community, you've got to make it a good community. And it's going to be no better than the people that live in it. And that's the way I left it. And then he got on the city council for a while, and he was kind of a different guy. But pretty soon he just kind of faded away. I don't know where he is now. He was the same way--because when I was in the lab, I was in charge of employee benefits. Had some responsibilities there. And he was a little different there too, because he just wanted you to give him the money and he would buy his own ticket to get his own benefits. He wasn't interested in regular benefits like everyone else. But you get some of that. Learned a lot.

Bauman: So I know at some point you got into officiating, doing sports officiating.

Mitchell: Yeah, in 1964. Well, a little earlier than that they wanted me to get into officiating but I was going to night school; I was trying to get finished up. And there was a gentleman they said, well they had no African American people in officiating spots, you know, here. And the guy who came to me was working as a garbage pickup person in Richland. The garbage pickup person, his name was Johnny Singleton. And there was a guy in Pasco by the name of, I believe it was Jim Pruitt. Big, tall, about 6'6" African American guy. And Singleton, by him being on the garbage truck crews, like they'd pick up garbage. And they dumped it by hand then, instead of the sophisticated stuff they got now. But anyway, talked to him about somebody getting into sports. Refereeing sports. And of course my kid was already playing little league here at that time. And so he thought about me and Pruitt. And so the three of us, we started out. And of course when I got in it, because I'd been around baseball, my curve just went up. It just went like that. And I was in the Pac-8 in two-and-a-half years. I didn't even know I was that good. In the first year I worked, they picked me for the little league playoffs, but they said we don't let first year people work in that. But there was never a year when I officiated sports that I wasn't picked for some playoffs like that. And then all that got me into American Legion, then into--actually I worked pro ball before I went to that two-and-a-half years, year and a half. I had been down to Kennewick working one day, one morning, and I came home about 4:00 and the phone rang and it was a guy from the Tri-City Braves at that time. Ever hear of the Pro Ball Club?

Bauman: Yep.

Mitchell: He says get out here at 6:30, you got double header. So I go out there and I work double header. So the guy I was sitting in the room with, his name was Biddick. His name was B-I-D-D-I-C-K. I'll never forget his last name. And he was telling me about how to do it, and he said well, he says if the catcher has to reach out a little bit, he says just go ahead and call that a ball. He said, because the fans will get on you. I said well, listen I don't know who you are, I said, but what I’ve been taught is if the ball hit the strike zone any place, whenever it hits the strike zone, it's a strike. I don't care where it goes beyond that. And I said, and that's what I'll do, they may not have me back. And there was a guy by the name of Ted Sizemore. Ted Sizemore, University of Michigan. He was a catcher. He ended up as a second baseman for the Dodgers. But he was a catcher at that time. And I worked that game, and in the Tri-City Herald the next morning, Ted Sizemore says the best balls and strikes game they had ever had called, since he had been there. And then, and I know I'm jumping way ahead, but way back in 2000, when I was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in Chicago, when I got up to talk and I was telling them about, I said my first game was behind a guy by the name of Ted Sizemore. And his wife happened to be in the audience.

Bauman: Really? Wow.

Mitchell: His wife was in the audience. And I didn't know it but his wife was in the audience. And that was pretty interesting.

Bauman: That’s pretty amazing.

Mitchell: But then, well it just turned to gold. I could run. I could run, I just enjoyed it. And I don't know why, later in years we call it you've got to be in the place when lightning strikes, whatever it is. You've got to be when lightning strikes, there's your opportunity. But I was working, taking a half day's vacation to work a game with Columbia Basin College. That was my second year. And the guys from the Pac-8 in those days was there watching some players. And after the game was over, one of the guys came over to the car and he says you ever thought about coming to work in the Pac-8? And I says, well I'd love to someday. He said, well what I did, he said, we watched you work the bases. Your focus never left what you were doing. We watched you work the plate. Your focus was always there. And he says, well you're really better than some of the guys we have up there. And I said, well I'd be happy to try it. What I know about it, I never been there before. But anyway, that's how I got there.

Bauman: And how many years did you do--

Mitchell: I did it for 30, I did it for 36 years in the whole Pac-8 team. And then I evaluated umpires until they went to the Pac-12. I would go from here. I wouldn't go evaluate officiants—I wouldn't travel. But I would just go to WSU, my wife and I, until they went to Pac-12. Then I thought well, it's time for somebody else to do it. And I did a lot, overall I got 21 World Series under my belt. And two Olympic. I worked Olympics in '84 and '88. And I worked the first games, when they were demonstration sports for the Olympics. I worked ball and strikes on the first game ever in [INAUDIBLE] Colorado in '78. It was turning to gold, still getting it. I was at SeaTac this past weekend for hall of fame.

Bauman: I saw that, the legion, yeah.

Mitchell: I've always been involved. And right now, the one guy that was in the Pac-10 with me, there was nobody taking care like Columbia Basin College doing that. So we incorporated it. We own that, and now run it administratively. We just own that association. I'll take care of that. But Hanford's been good. The Tri-Cities has been--I call it virgin territory. And for me, traveling around—when I did get into human resources, well I would travel to different schools for science and engineers. And I got into that just by, the guy was going to go WSU and he says they had three schedules for interviews, and they only had two. And he says, you know how to talk about the lab, come on. So I go to WSU, and they've got three schedules. Two starts at 8:30, one start at 9. Well my training was sitting in with one of the other interviewers for 30 minutes—that was my training. Then you're on your own. And of course, then I end up doing all that. And then when I was out going to different place like Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin, Donald, Stanford, and all those places. I always picked up a local newspaper, would start to look at what the economy was kind of like. And for the last 60 years, the Tri-City has been as good as any and better than most. I had opportunities to leave, but I wouldn't leave. Good place to raise families. The schools were good. And my wife was very active in--she stayed on top of things within the school boards, and the city council, and all that stuff. She was a real tiger there. But she always did her homework. And so we just always been involved. And I always encouraged other people to get involved, but it's hard sometimes to get them to do anything. But I always taught my kids to try things. Because you can always come back to nothing. And Art Linkletter, I heard him years ago say, if you're ever going to get any place, do anything, you got to take some chances. Got to stick your neck out. I never forgot that.

Bauman: I was going to ask you, so you worked construction--

Mitchell: Sure.

Bauman: --and then fuels prep, and then eventually human resources.

Mitchell: You bet.

Bauman: Of those three sorts of different kinds of jobs you had in Hanford, was there one that was sort of more challenging than the others, and maybe one that was more rewarding?

Mitchell: They all were reward--I'll tell you, moving on to the research lab where they did examinations of the fuels and radiometallurgy, where they studied things, like what happened and why they failed and all that—that was tremendous. But the one thing that got me out to get me the exposure was human resources. And what happened there is, I went in one day and I had been doing what are called employee benefits or whatever. Administration and all that stuff. And I went and asked my manager for the job. And he said, you think you can handle that job? I said yeah, I've been doing it all the time. I said yeah, so he said okay, so he gave me a chance at it. And of course the people that was involved around it that I worked with, I didn't get any help there. But there happened to be a guy by the name of Bob Steiken, he was working in payroll—he was in payroll at a different building. And he was the guy that coached Little League baseball, and all the kids playing sports. And had a relationship with him and everything, and I'd get some information from him. I'd consult with him once in a while. And then also there was a guy by the name of Dick Dibble. And he was an attorney, and he had been a professor over on the coast. And he was an expert in group dynamics. And when they had the civil rights movement, they wanted—you would go and talk about the civil rights things and things that happen. And during that time, I would talk about my experiences. I would talk with groups about my experience and things like that. And then he was the guy they wanted, come on, and then I'd go and talk things like that. And he says, you know how to talk about this. Come on, we want to hear about your experience and all that stuff, like, talk about that. And then he taught me group dynamics. How to handle groups. For example, if when there's good information going, don't shut it off. If it wanes, redirect it. You know, he taught me group dynamics. And I watched and I learned. And I always pick people's brains. I sit and I'll listen all the time. I'd sit and I'd listen to staff meetings, whatever meeting. And then when they got ready to put in the 401(k) program--actually, I was doing employee benefits at that time. And then we'd go back to Columbus, and we got to go back to Columbus headquarters and learn about things, and we'd present and all these things. And then, the guy that was in payroll, and then we had employee benefits, and then there was industrial relations--that was all part of human resources. Well the guys in employment over there, they were in charge of us going round to the different groups in the lab and explaining these benefits, when they were going to sign up for their 401(k)s. And the guy that was in charge there was kind of a different kind of guy. He never helped me at all, he never helped me do anything. And they brought in another lady to help us out, and she was just like high school, and they taught her everything. But they never taught me anything. So now, when we're getting ready to go, we doing these seminars and these presentations and everything, well, he would do all the presentations and that. So I told my wife, I said, I know what he's going to do is later on, he's going to put me on the spot. I knew it was coming. And so what happened was, was that we went to the 200 Areas, and he made the presentation, oh, the first about 11:00, and then over the noon hour. And then we go to 200 West. He doesn't say anything to me about it. Get out group together, and he explained all that, and then he said CJ's going to do this one. I did it. I was ready. When I got done, there was two questions. Two questions, all. And on the way back, and we were about 200 Area, right where they built the Vit plant now, she looks over and she says, gosh CJ. She said, golly, you did good. And she said, there was only two questions. I didn't say anything. I just rode in back. But I knew he was going to put me on the spot. But I was ready. But I was ready. And so I always got my homework done. And that's why standing out there today, I was out there ten minutes before you. I was standing out waiting.

Bauman: I know. I was going to ask you, I'm a little worried your mic is going to get caught there. If you could put your arm on the other side there, yeah, put your arm above the cord. There we go. As long as it doesn't--

Mitchell: It's been a great, it's been a great, great, great thing. And another thing is, is that when my oldest son--when my son now that's a judge, when he got out of Washington State and he was going to law school, and he was going to pass the bar and all that. One of the guys in my office there, one of the payroll guys there, was talking about how tough it was to pass the bar and all that. And we had a guy at Battelle in contracts that never did pass the bar. And he was in contracts, and what he was telling me really, oh, what he was telling me really, he's probably never going to pass the bar and all that kind of stuff, I didn't even worry about that. And then when our oldest son went to the Air Force Academy. And he went to Air Force Academy. But my wife was on top of everything, all the time. And one of the girls that--the girl, Anne Roseberry, down at the library, you know who she is?

Bauman: Yeah, sure.

Mitchell: Well she was a classmate of my oldest son. And her dad was a liaison for the Air Force Academy. And he asked her after school one afternoon, who are some of the young boys down there who would be worthy of maybe recommended for the Academy? And Duke was one of those guys. And he did. And then Greg, my second son, he went to Naval Academy. He went to Naval Academy prep school, but he didn't like it back there and he came back. He came back, went to CBC for a couple of weeks, and came home one day and threw his books away and told his mother, he said I'm not going back. He left, and he was gone for about three weeks, and he called up one day and she say, where are you? And he said I'm at the University of Puget Sound. He'd gone over, walked down, got him a scholarship, and she said, what made you go there? And he said I looked at their schedule and I saw they were going to Hawai’i next year. So one of his friends, Cary Randall, from Richland was over there too, so he had a chance to go there. And then my third son who's a fireman in Seattle, he went to Washington State University, when he could play. He could play baseball, or football, or basketball. But that was one kid that was anti-everything. He was going tell them how to run the program when he got over there, so they just told him to get lost. [LAUGHTER] They just told him to get lost. But he's doing well in Seattle, doing well. But anyway. And then my daughter, who's a sweetheart. And then Cameron, the one that was high school--Cameron, the judge, was a high school All-American in football and baseball. He was a first team All-American in football. And he still doesn't say much. He never did. Never did say much. But one thing I learned from kids is that we create all of our--most of our problems. For example, my uncle that lived here, the first one up in Pasco there. We went over one afternoon, and we were right about Road 68. Where Road 68 is now, coming home. And Richland and Pasco was playing one of these big rival games. And they wanted to buy hamburgers on the way home. And I said we're not going to buy hamburgers, we don't have any money. All you guys want to do is eat, we don't have any money to buy hamburgers. Well I get home, and I'm probably there ten minutes. And I'm walking through the house. You guys got to get ready, we got a ball game, if you don't go, we’ll leave you here. So he went to his mother, he says, I don't understand. He says, dad says we don't have money to buy hamburgers. He said but we're going to a basketball game. He said it takes money, he'll buy us anything we want once we get there. So if he'd never said that, I'd have never heard that. But it just tells you to be careful what you say. You create a lot of your own problems. I learned that. I observed that and paid attention to that. And also, he was always on the honor roll, and I told my wife, I says, God, he's always on the honor roll. I don't see him studying, how is he doing this? I'm wondering if he's cheating. So she told him about it, she said he says no, no, I study when I go to bed at night. He said when I go to my room at night, he said, I study. And he was the same way, he was same way all the way through. And he was an academic Pac-10 guy. And well when he got out of school, Buffalo wanted him to come back and run back [INAUDIBLE]. So he wouldn't. He said, I'm not that big, so he went to law school. And he was the same way there. He would just study, study hard. All the time, he always did. And so, here he is. But it's just been a nice, it's been a different road, all different, but very good. And my youngest son, Robin, my youngest son has got potential--I think--to make more money than all of them put together. If he could get it all together. I think he's got potential to make more than all of them together. Because his mind, the way he does things, and how he can put it together. And where the others are just completely different.

Bauman: I wanted to ask you a couple more questions about your work at Hanford. First of all, did you have to—when you were working out there--did you have to have special security clearance, or--

Mitchell: Yes, you do. You have to have security clearance. Yeah, and it was very secret. All the time, secret. You just didn't talk about what you did. But you had to have security clearance all the time, yeah. Always security clearance. And also, during the early years, in the laboratory you had what they called--they had some pencils, they were the ones that could detect radiation, and that kind of thing. Very interesting work. Actually for me, very good work. Looking back at it, and how you had to go. But that break thing made me soft. I'd never heard of a break. I'll tell you, that was something else. I got so soft I couldn't--God, that was the worst, you know, physically.

Bauman: I was going to ask you also about President Kennedy came in 1963 to dedicate the N Reactor, I was asking about that.

Mitchell: Yeah, you bet. Took my whole family to that. I had some 35 millimeter slides for a long time, I think I've still got them around someplace, when he came during that time. That was a great experience, yeah.

Bauman: Do you have any specific memories of what the day was like, or--

Mitchell: Yeah, it was very hot. It was very hot, and lot of people went out and lot of people had car problems out there on that day. And what they did to get us out there, what they did--to make room, they had taken the graders and pushed back a lot of the sagebrush and stuff so we could go, a lot of people could get out there. It was a great thing. They came in by helicopter, oh, from Moses Lake. And that was really an interesting day.

Bauman: You certainly have been in the Tri-Cities a long time, and seen a lot of changes. I wonder what some of the changes you've seen.

Mitchell: The changes I've seen is in well, the racial situation has changed a lot. Of course you're never going to completely get rid of that, but it's changed a lot. Because I know there were times when you couldn't do things. They tell the stories about Kennewick. I don't know all about those things like that, but I know—with the troubles that I had. But one of the things that really was tough, my uncles that lived in East Pasco, with the relative citizens over there--before I moved to Richland, we had a group called the East Pasco Improvement Association, where we would clean up vacant lots and trash and try to get things cleaned up on our own. The streets were not paved, but my uncles, after I moved to Richland, they would go to city council and they would just get completely ignored there. And they were trying to get sewer—get sewer and pavement and things like that over there. And then, the people used to live in Pasco, as you go on the underpath, all to the right and to the left, hey lived all—especially to the right—all the way down to A Street, they lived all the way there. And then the city commercially pushed those people all the way from the railroad tracks, all the way out to right where Kurtzman Park is now. They pushed those people all the way back out there, and all the way through. They had people all the way down in there, there were people who lived in there. So they pushed them out of there and pushed them back farther out. But they went through a hard time on there, trying to get their water and sewer, and getting the streets and all that paved, and that sort of thing. And then of course, as far as the schools were concerned in Richland, my kids didn't have a lot of trouble. But--the schools were excellent--but what happened is, my wife, she always went to PTAs, she stayed involved. We got them into scouts, Little League programs, all organized stuff. And so they had a chance to participate. And we also, when I first came to Richland, you had to fill out an application and tell what religion are you. When I put down Protestant, well in about a day or day and a half, the people from Richland Baptist Church—just right down here on GW Way—my kids grew up in that church. And that's a Southern Baptist Church which say they were not racially happy to have you there. But you know what, they treated us good there. We went there, we learned a lot, a lot of things you learned there, a lot of things were different. As the kids got older, people kind of thought maybe my son wanted to marry some of their daughters or something. But anyway, I learned a lot there and I went there and everything and it turned out good. Of course, because I wanted the kids to be able to participate where they live. I didn't want to drive back to East Pasco every Sunday or something. Soon as I get out of school, I'd run there. No, I want them to participate where we are and where we live. And that turned out good in that way. And we lived down at 100 Craig Hill when we first moved to town, and then we moved to 612 Newcomer. That was right after I couldn't buy the house that I ended up at Newcomer, ended up there. And then we could walk. They hadn't had that development down where Safeway and all that is there. We used to walk down, the kids walked across that field to church right there. And so I wanted to be able to go to church and they would participate with the people they go to school with and they see every day.

Bauman: After you moved in and got your house in Richland, did you see Richland start to open up a little bit more? See more African Americans at all, or--

Mitchell: Yeah, it did open up a little bit. Especially, well see, when the government owned it—I think there was a guy named Fred Baker and Fred Clardy when I moved. But anyway, because other people moved to Richland. Mr. Wallace did, Mr. Rockamore moved there, the Burns moved there, because they got jobs. And then as things developed in long about '65, and when I bought my house in '76 down here, then the Burns bought a house, then some other people bought. The Browns, CW, and those guys, they bought homes and that. And CW and Norris Brown, in fact they were from my hometown. And their dad and my dad worked on the Texas Pacific Railroad together. And that time when we moved to Hermiston in '51, to work on McNary Dam, well that dad worked over there too. They went to middle school over there. When the middle schools came over here to play these guys, those guys just literally tore them apart. So when Mr. Brown moved back and they started working here, well they got a job for Mr. Brown so those kids could go to school over here and play basketball. And they also were in the trailer court. They lived in the trailer court, the Brown boys did. And they went to John Ball School. There was a little elementary school up here called John Ball, and that's where they went to school—elementary school. Then from there, they moved to Hermiston, played and then they come back, and then they went to Richland High, and all of that. That's how we all got back over here. We moved around where the work was. And so it turned out that they'd done well. I think we've done well, considering the opportunities. We just moved ahead. You can't change things. So you have to make the best of what it is. And that's what we tried to do.

Bauman: So overall, how was Hanford as a place to work for you?

Mitchell: Well for me, it was all right. Course, construction, you know, guys, I just do my job. I didn't get involved in talking about what the government was doing and all that kind of stuff, I didn't worry about the politics, I just did my job. And I tried to learn as much as I could learn, and I always paid attention to what's going on, what they doing, and how they're doing it and everything. And I always just paid attention, that's what I tried to do.

Bauman: Is there anything I haven't asked you about that you think would be important to talk about, that we haven't talked about yet?

Mitchell: What now, anything--

Bauman: Is there anything that I haven't asked you about yet--

Mitchell: Oh, let's see. No, no I don't think so. I think you're okay, and if you think of something you can always call me or something. Well, I've gone through all of it, and I didn't see any blood at the end. And I think people know when I walk down the street, I think people are not going to bother me. In fact, speaking of that, I coached baseball. I didn't coach the Little League, but I coached the next one, they call it Pointer League, 13, 14, all the way up through Legion, back in Legion. I coached that, and was very successful at it. And what I would do is, when I would work the games at Washington State or wherever I was, at night I'd make notes of what happened, what they did, how they did it, and in what situations they did that. And then when I coached, I had winning teams here. Turned out everybody wanted to play for me. I took them to California, and to state tournament, which they hadn't been before. And so it got so that if I wanted to go for walk, I had to go down by the river. If I'm walking down the street, screech! Mr. Mitchell, you need a ride? No, I'm fine. Pretty soon, screech, you need a ride, Mr. Mitchell? That's a good feeling, to be able to walk and people want to stop and give you a ride. That's a good feeling. So you just never know, you just do the best you can, do what you know to do, and do it right. I never felt like holding grudges, or anything like that. Don't have time. Don't have time for that. I'd get it done. The one thing, I would never make a social worker too good. The reason being is that nobody ever gave me anything—I mean anything. And for those people that can't work, they can babysit or do something for those that can work. And I know that people, if they have to, they can--and I was going to Seattle the other day, my wife and I, there was people picking apples, Saturday morning. It was cold. Sunday, they were picking apples. As long as there's work, you can go do it. I just think nobody have to give you anything. You got health and strength, you can go work. You can go do stuff. Just get out of your way and give you opportunity and make it out there and go get it. And to think about we have to bring people from Mexico in to do all of our work and harvest all our crops. You got to do it because we don't want to do it I guess. I guess Americans don't like to work in the field, do that straining of work. And the other thing is, Dr. Bauman, if we could get people to officiate sports--and I don't care what sport it is—we could solve unemployment problems. Kids keep coming. There's no downsizing. The least you're going to make in any kind of a youth sport, like AAU or middle school basketball, is about two to three times minimum wage per hour. You're going to make somewhere between 20 and 30 bucks an hour, just officiating basic sports. Just going down here at 4:00 in the afternoon on Saturdays. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do all of that. And it's out there. And everybody says, we don't want to do it. In the clinic, we teaching clinic, and the guy says, well, what do you think is the worst thing about it? Well, maybe I'll make a call or something that costs the game, some parents are mad at me, angry at me. I said well, just think about when you're learning to drive a car. When you first started driving a car, you weren't very good at it. But as you got better at it, you learned. Your parents let you drive it to the store, and then pretty soon on GW Way, and pretty soon you drive to Pasco and Kennewick, pretty soon the freeway, and pretty soon you get pretty good at it. Then you can go to Seattle and drive on the freeway in the city. And I said, you have to do it a step at a time. That's how you do it. So to me, there's no such thing as an excuse. My grandfather says that—on my mom's side, because I don’t know my grandfather on dad's side--he said, there's no such thing as excuse. He says, in Cunningham, killed can't, and whipped couldn't until he could. He said there's no such thing as an excuse. And I know. I kind of like that, because you can always do something. If you can't do it, like I said, you can babysit for somebody that can do something. And I get after people all the time. There was a guy at Richland, his son played basketball. Couple years ago, three years ago now. Good ball player, 6'6". And his dad was a big guy, he played pro-basketball or something. And he says, I'm kind of a guy that like to stay back. I said, what? He said, I kind of like to stay back and stay out of things. I said, well I think you ought to move up, not stay in back. I said. That's the problem. I said, get up here and see what's going--get in the middle of things, and see what's going on. That's how you get there. And I learned one thing, Dr. Bauman—if you go to someplace all the time, you don't have to say anything to anybody. But after a few times, somebody's going to stop you and talk to you and ask you a question, because they figure must interested because you came. And they going to stop and ask you a question. And I sit and I’ve observed it all the time, and I look at people and I say, well. Of course it's easy for me, maybe. But for them it's probably hard. But if you just get out and participate, you just get out and see what's going on, it can do a lot for you. It can do an awful lot for you.

Bauman: I want to thank you very much for coming here today and talking to us.

Mitchell: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Bauman: Always good to see you.

Mitchell: Yeah, it's always good to see you.

Bauman: Thanks very much.

Mitchell: It's a great community. And the other thing about opportunity, just get out of my way, I don't expect anybody to hand me anything. Just move over, I'll get it. And I always told my kids that. And they know how to talk to people, they know how to tell you if they disagree without calling you a bunch of names—without calling you a bunch of names and throwing a fit. They can disagree. And the other thing I wanted them to learn to do was to get up in front of a microphone and say thank you. That sort of thing. Yeah. Well, I got plenty to do--



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Hanford Sites

300 Area
200-East Area
200 Area
N Reactor
325 Building

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

McCormack, Mike
Kathren, Ron
Dibble, Dick


Mitchell, C.J.jpg


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