Bob Smith Oral History

Dublin Core


Bob Smith Oral History


Hanford Atomic Products Operation


Part of the CREHST 2003 Oral History public programming. Interviews filmed in front of a live audience.




Hanford 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




RG2D_4A / T.2010.052.06

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bob Smith



INTERVIEWER: Bob Smith everyone.

INTERVIEWER: Bob you came to us from Kansas. What brought you out this direction? To the Tri-Cities.

BOB: Well I had been a member of the Kansas National Guard back at Pittsburg, KS. It was 1951 and the Korean situation was going on; the Federal Government made active about five different towns around southeast Kansas, and my town was one of them. (Bayberry 159 Next sentence I do not understand what he is saying). They sent us up here to Fort Lewis and that is how I ended up in this part of the country.

INTERVIEWER: What did you think of this area when you first arrived?

BOB: Well I really thought it was pretty nice. In Kansas it kind of gets hot in the summertime….110...120 was not that unusual. Here it is maybe 100…105….sometimes it may get a 110. Winters here are milder than they were in Kansas. I just liked the area here.

INTERVIEWER: Right, liked the area. I have here on my paper that you and your wife had the same babysitter when you were young. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how you met?

BOB: Yeah, we were both born in a little town called Cherryville, KS; actually we met at the old community house which is a couple blocks down here. When I did start work here in 1953. To live in Richland you had to be working out at the Hanford Project. Single people stayed in the dormitories, and the other people who their daughters and sons workers had their own houses that they lived with their Mom and Dad with. Well I met this gal at the Community Dance, because that is where single people could meet it was a non-alcoholic event. She asked me “Where I was from” and I told her and she said “What! I was born there too!” Three thousand populations in Kansas. I thought that was strange. I found out later that her mom knew my mom and actually her babysitter was also my babysitter. So, I it was unusual that we would meet out here.

INTERVIEWER: Growing-up and working in the “50’s” could you tell us a little about some the Cold War preparations occurring?

BOB: Well, the Cold War preparations, like I say, I got here to work at Hanford in “53” and they were just in the process of building the 105 K East and the 105 K West reactors out on the project there. They were the newest type; they were production reactors not the commercial reactors to make electricity. They’d keep plutonium for the atomic bomb. Richland was kind of known for one of the fast growing cities in the nations. Especially even a couple years before I was, they had the highest birth rate in the nation, because it seemed like 90% of the people were in the 20’s to 40’s like that…had lots of kids. It was later known as the “Atomic City” because it was one of the two places where the bomb was built.

INTERVIEWER: Being in the fastest growing city in the nation at the time then; what were some of the recreation actives and forms of entertainment in the area?

BOB: Well of course, you have the Columbia River right out here; lots of people would go boating, fishing. We did have, we still have an outfit called “The Richland Light Opera”. It amazes me what kind of talent we have in the Tri-Cities. People who work on a project is work in Kennewick or Pasco. They could put on plays that were real good, outstanding. The same thing with the “, Richland Light Opera”; which was a musical group, people would join in from the Tri-Cities, they had fantastic voices. So basically you can watch your own community with what they could come up with. We had the Atomic Frontier’s Day Races; also the Atomic Cup race started in 1966 out here. Which Budweiser is pretty active in winning now, and was then too. We had those to go to; also, hunting and fishing there were good areas around here to do that. That’s what I did in Kansas. Their were ski slopes up around Mt. Rainier, so really it was the ideal location.

INTERVIEWER: And with so many people here could you tell us a little bit about the housing situation?

BOB: Yeah, the housing; I got here in “53” and it still was a government town; run by the government. General Electric had the contract; to all the business in town paid rent to their stores they had their business in. I lived in the dormitory it was $17.50 a month rent….it would be nice. So, when my wife and I decided to get married we had to signup on the list to get a house, because all the houses were government housing and they were built, they were designed by a guy in Spokane who was well known for his designing houses. So, we put in for a house maybe a month or so before we got married, and we ended up with a “B” house, duplex house one floor type thing. An “A” house was a duplex type that was two story. The houses were just numbered; “A house”, “B house”, “C house”, clear up through to “Y house”, I live in a “Y” house now. It is a recent house. In 1957 the government turned it over to the city and the people got to buy the houses. People with their business’ got to by their building so… if you hear about alphabet houses that is how they got started.

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that General Electric was one of the companies around here. What other effects of business were around the area at the time?

BOB: Well now, you had your private business around town, uh Western Auto would get their franchise to do that. As far as other companies; Welch’s Grape Juice was over in Kennewick; Port of Pasco in Kennewick they had a lot of shipping; they had a lot of fruit and vegetables in the Tri-Cities area here. As far as local businesses’ there weren’t to many, Welch’s Grape Juice, and Lampson’s Crane Company which made cranes that are sent all over the world and they about still make the biggest cranes and crawlers for NASA. So there were not very many businesses, local business that got franchises from ……………………

INTERVIEWER: As a radiation time keeper what were you in charge of or responsible to do?

BOB: Okay well, my first job was a clerk typist. I probably should mention a little bit about that. Being stationed at Fort Lewis we would come to Yakima Firing Center, a couple of times during the year. My buddy and I hitchhike to Yakima, so we were out there hitchhiking and some guy pulls up in a nice new convertible Oldsmobile, brand new, we got in and we were not bashful about asking questions “Where did you get a car like this? or You must have a good job to afford this.” He said, “I got a pretty good job”, “What do you do?” “I am a guard a showman over at Hanford atomic works.” “Where’s that at?” “Well that’s 80 miles from Yakima.” “Gee, whiz what kind of money do you make?” We were not bashful. He said “I make a $100 a week” and that was pretty good for 1951 and I said, “WOW, that’s pretty good, because I just left Kansas as a clerk typist for clay manufacturing making $30 a week as a clerk typist” “Boy, I could learn to be a patrolman for that”. Anyway, I basically put in for a job, and wound-up as a clerk typist making $60 a week. I did that for one year and then I went into radiation time keeper I did that for five years; I followed construction workers around, because they were constantly building reactors here. Following them to radiation zones keeping time on the “radiation zone” because we only allow a certain amount radiation to leave. We had pistol decimeter but they weren’t the kind they have now a days, self-readers that you could look at the light. In those days, you would have to turn the pistons turned in an eye and you would have to keep time on them and that is what I did for five years. Eventually, I went into RH monitoring and that is what I did from “59” until I retired in “93”.

INTERVIEWER: Our time is just about up here. If you could just leave us with one quick impact …What was the biggest impact on your life in living this area and your job?

BOB: Probably, realizing something magic about the Hanford Atomic Works. Man…Atomics that sounds interesting. I must have been a little curiosity about science, because in being here when they were making the plutonium and top secret information. We didn’t know what these things looked like and it was all kind of fast ending. If we go too far we still have time for one more name.



Bit Rate/Frequency




CREHST Museum, “Bob Smith Oral History,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 16, 2024,