Steve Bickel

Dublin Core


Steve Bickel


Hanford Atomic Products Operation
Bus Travel


Oral History of work as a bus driver on the Hanford Site.




Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities








RG1D_4A Series 1

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Gary Fetterolf


Steve Bickel


TITLE: Bus-Train Transportation
INTERVIEWER: Gary Fetterolf

GARY: This is an Oral History / Video History interview with Steve Bickel 724 North Volland Street Kennewick, WA and F. Gary Fetterolf as interviewer. Steve you came up in the transportation department and I’d like start you out with just a little bit about how you came here, your personal history, your service time, whatever you feel comfortable with there.

STEVE: Well I hired on at Hanford in March of 1976 March 9th Back in June I believe they had a strike it lasted all summer for 3 ½ months. So I got here just in time for the strike and I worked on the railroad as what they called a gandy dancer working with the track crew until after the strike. Soon there after I went to the bus lot in transportation. In those days it was called Bus and Railroad Operations. Then I started driving bus and very shortly after that I was asked by one of the supervisors if I would be interested in taking a supervisory position. Which I promptly said no. So he made me a lead and had me doing the job anyway so I thought well I’m doing the job I might as well take the extra pay which would be an incentive. So that’s what I did. I was a bus dispatcher / railroad dispatcher and when one of the railroad dispatchers retired I took his position for approximately 6 years. Dispatching the railroad which was quite fun. It was probably my best years of employment at Hanford. And after that I got promoted to mid-management. Calvin Seally and I ran the Bus and Railroad Operations day to day business. I did that up until just before the bus lot shut down and I transferred out to Crane and Rigging. And then from Crane and Rigging I went to K-Basin and then from K-Basin I went to Ground Water which I’m currently at right now and that’s pretty much of a history of me at the Hanford site. I’ve been all over for a number of years.

GARY: Ok could you give us a history of the transportation division as far as you know it and start in whenever you want back in the forties or when you came in. And if you’ll hold those photographs up as you go along. First of all you might start a little bit farther back than those photographs start.

STEVE: Well originally the original bus lot was a little further down Stevens toward the southern part of Richland. In those days it was considered north Richland. What we considered north Richland hadn’t been built yet. It was down there. There’s a little bus station right across from the school grounds that used to be the location of the original bus lot. That was just a Quonset hut and that’s where all the buses left from.

GARY: It was across from Chief Joseph wasn’t it?

STEVE: Correct. They built what they call the new bus lot in 1954 and that’s where it’s currently located now. Although it’s not a bus lot anymore the skeleton is still there. And that’s what this represents. (Holds up photograph) This photograph here they had a leveled off asphalted lot. They put a bunch of pipes in it for the busses to come down. Next to that on the bus door side they had additional pipes to keep passengers and buses from intermingling. So that’s a picture of the buses being loaded.

GARY: Those are the Flexible buses not the original ones.

STEVE: That’s correct. During this time we had both GM and Flexible buses that were operating. These were considered the new bus and these were a 1966 Flexible. The GM was 1956. Somewhere in the early to mid ‘50s. But those are the ones that we were most proud of. None of them had power steering. None of them had air conditioning. They didn’t have any of the luxuries. They were the size of an over the road bus but they had all the amenities of a city bus. They had the bench seats. They carried 53 passengers.

GARY: I know when we got those buses they were the latest and greatest and they were really nice buses. We were really happy with them.

STEVE: Oh yeah. The heating was kind of sparse in the older ones. The Flexibles had a much better heating system in them.

GARY: Can you describe what happened when the ball joints on those older buses got worn? When you hit a bump or something.

STEVE: You handled them pretty much with a lot of upper body strength. They weren’t the easiest to drive. Like I said there was no power steering. You actually had to be rolling to get the steering wheel to turn unless you were a weight lifter or something. We literally put our foot on the dash and started pulling on the steering wheel like it was rope to get them to turn. It was interesting.

GARY: Those are large steering wheels too.

STEVE: Yes very large. And some of them had a lot slack in them so you had to be pretty aware. But after you take the same route year after year after year you get to know the bumps in the road and you get to know the routes pretty good. And the passengers by the way. There was a lot card games going on. When I hired on in like I said in ‘76 there was a grand total of 6,000 employees on the entire site and we had all the reactors running. We didn’t know everybody by name but we certainly knew each other by sight. (Holding up a photograph) This is just a broader picture of the same area. It shows how many buses could be lined up. Each one of those lanes had a sign on it. The signage had for you know 100-F, 100-N, 100-K and the different shifts. We had a sign up next to the building that would show what shift was going because we had people that rotated from facilities and they would need to know what shift was going to what area.

GARY: That was one of my questions was to what that sign meant. It was for the 100 areas I know for outage crews.

STEVE: Right. And during the outages we would send crews to specific locations whether it would be F or H or K or even D and we’d have the crews report there. And this is just a narrower picture of the same bus lot. It was quite interesting. As you can see there’s not a whole lot of room between the edges of the buses. I think we had less than a foot on each side. So making the turns to come into those lanes and the lanes got worn it was interesting to keep the buses and the railing from meeting. And of course in these days passengers had to walk from the parking lot which was over here down in front of the buses to get in their lane. As a bus driver you had to be very cognizant of the foot traffic before you went on your appointed run. This is a picture of day shift at the bus lot. You couldn’t capture all the people of course because there was a little over 200 employees working at the bus operations when this picture was taken. So this is day shift. And it was in celebration of some goal that we had set for ourselves and achieved. Probably a million man hours or a million miles safely. I don’t recall. The individual is shown here holding a certificate so I know it’s for some kind of ceremony. I’m in there somewhere I just have located myself yet. Some of the big players were over here. Leona Robinson who was the head of Bus and Railroad Operations for a number of years. So we had to have good management support in those days. And then of course like I told you about the passengers walking in front of the busses. We thought that wasn’t the safest way to do business. There was a lot of near misses over the years. We designed a new bus lot when we had to repair the old one. We took out all the poles and the pipes and leveled the ground out. Took up all the asphalt and then repaved it. We decided after going to all that effort we didn’t want to put the poles back in and have the same hazards we had been dealing with the 40 years previously. We redesigned it and this is a picture of the grand opening of our redesigned bus lot with our new busses which were MCIs which replaced the Flexibles and the Eagles. Well we still had some Eagles but they were being run down, This is a larger picture of the same ceremony. And we were also instrumental during the last days of the bus operations of course none of us knew it was the last days at the time but we were instrumental in getting contracts with Ben Franklin to help some of our employees and some of our less-abled employees to get back and forth to work. In accordance with the new ADA laws which were brand new in those days we had some vehicles we purchased and then some that Ben Franklin purchased as well to adequately get our employees to and from their work locations. And that was the beginning of the end for the bus lot. And this is a picture of those vehicles that we were so proud of at the time. And then we had purchased a whole new fleet of MCIs that we had specially refurbished for us. I have a couple of pictures of those as well. This is the same picture at a different angle.

GARY: I remember those old Eagles and their squeaky brakes.

STEVE: That was the Eagles yeah. We had a lot of complaints on that from routes. We would start so early in the morning picking up our employees that people weren’t getting their sleep. We got a lot of complaints. As a matter of fact there is a kind of interesting story about that. We were working for Rockwell had the main contract out and they were the makers of the brakes as well.

GARY: I remember a lot of stories cursing Rockwell because of those brakes.

STEVE: Right. Rockwell one of their sub contractor one of their sub divisions was the builder of the brakes. They got a lot of bad press over that.

GARY: Also the air conditioning didn’t work very well.

STEVE: The air conditioning would work sparsely. It would work. And then if it didn’t work there was no way to roll the windows down.

GARY: Yeah that was really a problem.

STEVE: We had those little hatch windows at the top. That didn’t adequately flow air. There was a lot of complaints about that as well especially in August. But these new buses that we got they had back up systems. I don’t know of a single failure on the air conditioning with those. They were a good bus. Of course we didn’t operate them long. From the time we finished the new bus lot until we closed was about 9 months. Broke a lot of hearts. A lot of people had a lot of history there. A lot more than me. I had 20 years there. There was a lot of people that had more than that.

GARY: It was also very very convenient. As a rider I was always the rider not the driver. And it was very convenient to catch a bus half a block from my house and ride all the way to work.

STEVE: It was very good service. We had very good service. We had a number of schedules. We had 28 reporting shifts just at the bus lot. To adequately take people to and from their job assignments and shifts that they were working.

GARY: Before we get into the rail one of the questions I had was about the shift pick ups. How many buses actually went per route? You start out picking up the drivers.

STEVE: Correct we had a driver’s shuttle.

GARY: Then your patrol. Where do you go from there? 100 area first. Pick up about 5 or 10 minutes before the 200 areas.

STEVE: Yeah you’re right. But actually it depends on the time frame you’re talking about because when I first started there all the shifts were manned at all the areas and shortly there after in the early ’80s we shut down all the reactors. So there wasn’t as many people. So we cut back on buses. I think what most people remember in the time frame is going to be mid ’80s. And I think we had something like 9 buses going to 100-N because 100-N was still going. Up until Chernobyl. And I believe we had 2 buses going to D area. I think we had 1 bus only going to K. It all depended on the passenger count. On the driver’s run there was a couple of them we had a lot of drivers living on the Stevens shuttle. So we had a bus take the Stevens shuttle for the drivers. We had vans go the other routes to pick up drivers. And we didn’t run the whole route for drivers. We knew where they were and we’d pick them up on the corner.

GARY: I remember I live right across the street from where Herman Meyers lived so I can remember the vans coming by and picking him up.

STEVE: Right we just made a route to the drivers. It was easier that way because we only had 6 or 8 per route. So we started using vans there towards the end. Patrol as well. Patrol it was kind of depending on what shift it was and how heavily manned it was. We got down to where there was only 1 patrol bus. In the very end we only had 1 patrol bus and it would hit all the areas between east and west of the headquarters. And that was it.

GARY: I started riding a bus in the 1970s and at that point we had express buses going out to various plants within 200 east and 200 west. And those would not even go into the bus lot. Usually the express buses people knew which buses they were and they would park their cars in a parking lot or something to catch that express bus so they wouldn’t have to go through the bus lot. They would get out a few minutes earlier. And get in a few minutes earlier. I think getting in a few minutes earlier was probably more important than getting out.

STEVE: That’s right back in the ’70s we had at least 1 express bus for each area. I think we had 2 for 100-N because 100-N was the largest passenger express that we had. We couldn’t do it in 1. But yeah you’re right. I remember that as well. We also had express buses from the bus lot itself. We had that express lane. And that express lane was going out to it wouldn’t go around the inside of the site. It just went to a particular location like I think we had one for PUREX and Dash-5 and 100-N that went right there and it didn’t go any place else. A lot of different routes. That all changed when 8 nines came about. I don’t know if you recall 8 nines but in the later ’80s Calvin Seally and I put together a schedule for an 8 nines shift which was kind of interesting because we didn’t get a whole lot of extra resources but we had to utilize the resources we already had. Put in an entirely different shift.

GARY: I have a photograph or a slide somewhere of the last bus leaving PFP and going up the hill to that railroad crossing and stopping. I got a shot of it about the time it got to the railroad crossing. I deliberately brought my camera out which meant I had to bring my car out because I was working in an area where I couldn’t take my camera into work.

STEVE: Right in those days they were really strict.

GARY: But I could leave it in the car. So I left it in out in a nice hot car and got the shot that night.

STEVE: We used to have to stop at all the railroad crossings. And the bus drivers used to complain that they would go on vacation and they would stop at all the railroad crossings without even thinking. Because they were so used to stopping at all railroad crossings.

GARY: Let’s go into rail a little bit.

STEVE: Well unfortunately even though I was a railroad dispatcher for quite some time I don’t have a whole lot of pictures that I can find so far. This one I have has some importance because this was 50 years without a loss time injury for the railroad. So from the time of conception of the railroad out here right up to this photograph here. They had had no loss time injury at all. On both the railroad and track maintenance. Which is incredible. It’s an incredible record. I don’t think any railroad in the world can boast about a term that long with no loss time injuries. So they got all the big shots together and invited me as well and took this photograph inside the 1171 railroad shop. I kept it and got it laminated because I was pretty proud of that achievement. We all worked well together. It was a pretty cohesive crew. Got a lot of good work done. Moved a lot of materials over a number of years.

GARY: Now from what I understand a rail between the reactors and the spent fuel processing plants was made to the highest standards of rail.

STEVE: We maintained a standard for the track crew did an excellent job keeping our tracks in an operable condition. Even with the schedule we had. Even when we were moving fuel at the highest levels we always kept our schedule. And track maintenance worked around our schedule. It’s really incredible that they did such a good job. They always came through and got the track back in service before we had to get on and use it. They did an excellent job.

GARY: I read somewhere that there were 7000 cars of coal annually that was brought out to the areas. That was probably in the hay day. You’re probably too late for the around town type buses as opposed to the ones going out to the areas. Early on they had shuttle buses around the city of Richland.

STEVE: Yeah that was in the ’70s and ’80s.

GARY: I’m not talking about the ones going out to the plant. These were just going around town.

STEVE: That is before my time. The daily bus service. They also had them in Kennewick. Actually they 2 buses going to downtown Kennewick to pick up employees and take them out to Hanford too. That was before my time. And Yakima they went to Yakima as well.

GARY: Milwaukee. The Milwaukee maintained the roadbed beyond riverland yard. Is that correct?

STEVE: Yes that was up behind 100-N area. Actually it’s behind B area but most people don’t know what B area is.

GARY: Do you know when Northern Pacific was granted trackage rights on the south end of the site?

STEVE: No that was before my time as well. That was sometime I believe in the early ’70s late ’60s early ’70s.

GARY: Also a question about real old times Have you heard when Northern Pacific used to drop off at the yard before they got the trackage rights. They used to drop everything off at the yard in 1100 area. Do you know when that rail started being Northern Pacific and UP started having access to the rail yard there?

STEVE: No I really don’t recall. But I remember both of those bringing us coal from different parts of the country. And it was actually before my time when they were in the riverland yard they were dropping off cars and we’d go out there. We had a substantial yard out there. And they would drop them off at night and we’d go pick them up in the morning and deliver them. Whatever supplies they were gasses and chemicals and coal. Yeah that was before my time. I was also a weight master. To be a rail dispatcher in those days you had to be a weight master. So you would weight all the coal coming in.

GARY: I remember the gauntlet tracks down here. Did they have similar tracks out at the riverland yard?

STEVE: Yes they sure did. Out there by midway. Quite the process.

GARY: Take your engine on the track where it doesn’t go over the scales and then your cars that you’re weighing on the track that goes over the scales.

STEVE: You know it’s really unfortunate now I think back on it. We had log books. Railroad dispatchers historically have had to keep log books. So we had to keep log books on everything that came in and went out. We had log books there from day one in the store room next to the office. So I had access to all that information and all that history but unfortunately you know you are getting paid to do a job. You don’t have time to set back there and reminisce over what has taken place in the past unless you had an objective. There’s some people that you probably ought to talk to that have a whole lot more history than I do that are still around.

GARY: Overtime rights.

STEVE: Oh yeah overtime rights. That was our biggest business as a bus dispatcher. You know everything that’s scheduled is kind of routine. You have a set schedule and you just follow that schedule and it’s pretty mundane. However the overtime rides is where you get some excitement because people are calling from every site and every office building there is on site scheduling overtime rides home and you have limited number of vehicles and drivers and times to take people home. That was where a dispatcher earned his pay. You had to juggle if you had a van going to Yakima you didn’t want 6 people calling from 6 different places going to Yakima. You’d have to schedule them being picked up by one vehicle to take them all at once. So it was quite challenging. You had to really keep your thinking cap on. And then when the person delivered his last passenger in Yakima you had to have it in the back of your mind where you were going to send him next to pick up the next ride. So it was challenging. It was fun but it was challenging.

GARY: I remember in the later days especially if you had someone for instance going to Prosser maybe or Sunnyside or Grandview 2 or 3 people you’d slap all of those in one van. Everybody always used to hate having people ride the van or the car the sedan or whatever home because a lot of times you’d have to go to one town and then the other town. And it’s only about 4 hours before you’re getting ready to go back out to the site again. You only have about 4 to 6 hours to sleep there before you have to get back and get going. The sooner you got home the happier you were.

STEVE: We got a lot of complaints. Unfortunately most people it wasn’t their job so they didn’t need to think about the logistics of it. We were taking people to Moses Lake and Selah and Moxie and clear up by Jump Off Joe and…what’s the name of that restaurant up there on White Pass. Whistlin Jacks we’d even take people out to Whistlin Jacks. So when you had someone going to Whistlin Jacks you had to get somebody who was going to Moxie or Yakima or some place to go with them. Otherwise we’d run out of drivers taken people singly, and then you know you complained about the 4 hours turn around. You wouldn’t get home. We had a limited number of drivers and we had to get everybody taken care of. I think overall we did an excellent job. We really did.

GARY: Someone mentioned there was even someone who lived in Wenatchee. That’s amazing.

STEVE: A lot of times we’d combine Richland Kennewick and Pasco. We tried not to do that because the cities are so diverse. You could be 45 minutes in one city trying to locate a couple of different homes to drop 2 employees off. So we tried not to do that but sometimes we were forced to.

GARY: It takes me right now…my son and daughter-in-law and their family live in south Kennewick and it takes me over a half hour to get to their house from Richland.

STEVE: The dynamics have changed quite a bit since the early ’90s. There’s a lot more traffic here and a lot more traffic lights. And we’ve got circles I don’t think the buses would make it through. It would be a different ball game now.

GARY: Do you remember the bus accident that happened in the ’70s?

STEVE: Oh yes sir. I was on shift when that happened. That was really bad.

GARY: I was scheduled to ride that bus out. And my usual seat partner since I wasn’t there nobody happened to sit in the seat next to him and he was essentially loose in the seat. And when that happened he flew clear across the bus hit the far side of the bus and then bounced back into the isle way just in time to be hit by another person coming down on top of him. He suffered some internal injuries but other than that he didn’t suffer any broken bones. One of the passengers at least had a broken pelvis. The bus driver didn’t come out of it too good either.

STEVE: No actually there was no deaths and that was amazing. That was a tanker a semi truck tanker that had just off loaded at 100-N and was coming back and didn’t see the light change and actually ran the red light. The bus driver had the green and the right of way.

GARY: Yeah and he was the second bus too.

STEVE: Right and actually it was really a blessing that it happened the way it did. That truck hit the front axel square on. If that truck had hit a couple of seconds later it would have gone right trough the bus. That bus would have been folded over like a pretzel. So it was actually fortunate the way it happened.

GARY: I happened to pass the accident on my way out there.

STEVE: Yeah that wasn’t one of my better days. That was a hard day. People started jumping out of the bus. I was out there trying to get them calmed down to keep them from jumping out of the windows because I was afraid that there would be more injuries. There was an emergency exit on that bus in the back. I got people set up there to help them down. The impact was in the front of the bus so of course the normal exit door was blocked with people on top of people. It was pretty…I’ll never forget that ever. Pretty traumatic.

GARY: That was a bad accident. Now this driver was a vendor? In other words he was coming out from private… he wasn’t one of the government drivers?

STEVE: No it was a truck and trailer a big heavy rig. And they estimated his speed at about 60. I believe he fell asleep at the wheel but I’ll never know…we’ll never know. But he was ok too. Yeah he came through it ok. The speed limit was 35. And they had no skid marks to measure but with the impact I was told that they estimated his speed at about 60. So it could have been lots worse.

GARY: That’s about all the questions I had. Do you have any other comments you want to add?

STEVE: Well just you know it’s history now and it wasn’t all fun and games but it was a real memorable enjoyable part of my life. I did a lot of things that I’m very proud of. I worked with a lot of brilliant people. It was really a pleasure. I really enjoyed it for the most part. There was days like that one you just mentioned that wasn’t very good but for the most part it was a very enjoyable memorable part of my life.

GARY: Ok well thanks a lot Steve.

STEVE: You’re welcome thanks for having me.





CREHST, “Steve Bickel,” Hanford History Project, accessed May 25, 2024,