Viola Magnuson Oral History

Dublin Core


Viola Magnuson Oral History


Hanford Atomic Products Operation


An interview with Viola Magnuson about relocating to Hanford in 1943 and living in a trailer in the Hanford Construction Camp trailer camp.




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




RG2D-4A / T.2010.052.02

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Todd Kenning/Connie Estep


Viola Magnuson



CONNIE; So, What year were you married?

VIOLA: 1930, August 3, 1930. That’s a long time ago, it was before the war. (Responses to looking at a pictures), smiles and says, called the lady with a horse. Laughs again and says, Oh, I have a lot of memories. That was Ray and me and Suzy and Ray’s parents.

TODD: Do you have a picture of Suzy, singing?

VIOLA: Yea, this was taken while Ray was in Panama.

V IOLA: It was 25 below zero.

CONNIE: Oh, to get you guys and drive you out?

VIOLA: That was in the Hanford News. Ray and I and Suzy, that was Greggs.

CONNIE: (Reaching for the pictures) How about if I take these.

VIOLA: Kennewick.

CONNIE: Oh, that was Kennewick; you had already just left Hanford. Right around that time?

VIOLA: That’s when we went to the B house, on 1425 Mc Phearson, Mc Phearson. That’s where our hall, Hoover roses, he had put a little picket fence, oh I had flowers all over. And you should see Suzy with her doll.

CONNIE: Oh, yeah.

VIOLA: And her pearls, she was just so pretty.

CONNIE: Oh yeah, aren’t they gorgeous, those are some roses.

VIOLA: Oh, That’s my father-in-law and mother-in-law, a very wonderful cook, believe me. She was, he was a carpenter, he could climb a tree, so he could go hunting anytime he wanted to, an our trailer was long there was a bed at one end and then the dinette table, Ray and I slept, we had to put down the table on the two settees, then we put the cushions on top of that and that’s where Ray and I slept on and Suzy and Joanie slept on the bed at one end, so we didn’t have to make the bed for them but, for us we had to put down the table

CONNIE: And you had no, did you have a sink?

VIOLA: What?

CONNIE: Did you have a sink, you didn’t have any water in the trailer, you had to carry the water in?

VIOLA: Yes, finally we did, Ray had a friend that was a plumber and he put a line from where it started. See each trailer had one like that, no not each trailer, say four families would use it and the other ladies got jealous what do you have to do to get your, and she looked at me, well I don’t know Ray did it. (Laughing she said, "What do you have to do, to get water in your trailer.")
CONNIE: So and then you used the bathhouse for your bathroom?

VIOLA: Uh huh, we had to go… see there was a bathhouse, well there was a bathhouse not as far as here to that neighbor, but half that way.

CONNIE: For how many trailers, maybe?

VIOLA: Oh, quite a few, because it was a big bathhouse, a lot of stalls for the showers and a lot of sinks to wash-up.

CONNIE: Sinks to wash your dishes in?

VIOLA: Oh no, we had to wash our dishes in our trailers.


VIOLA: I had a little sink, I washed my dishes there. No the bathhouses were just to keep clean, wash your hair, take a shower.

CONNIE: And they had hot water?

VIOLA: Oh yeah, we had plenty of hot water and they had the soap there too. And there was ladies that would come every day, every morning and clean that bathhouse, every day without fail; everything was spic-n-span. Yeah, they took good care of us.
CONNIE: Well that’s good,

VIOLA: And even have shows, for the entertainment at night, they had a big, oh, well… they had shows on Saturday and on Sunday’s we had church in that building. But they tried everything to keep the people there

CONNIE: And the fences, people put up their own fences, when they got there?

VIOLA: Ah huh, Ray put up, got some pickets and put it around our lot. But they didn’t stop Suzy from getting out, that’s the reason he had me to, but she‘d climb that picket fence. And I kept little “farmerette’s” on her, I didn’t put her in dresses, because there was too much sand and, she’d climb that fence and when she’d come down she’d get caught on her seat and tear her pants. She’d run to the neighbors, Mrs. Fitz, she was crazy about a lady there, because she made such a fuss over her, and her name was Mrs. Fritz and she called her Mrs. Fitz. Remember that Suzy?


VIOLA: Boy you liked her and she liked you.

CONNIE: Now when did you move, when did you get to Hanford with your trailer?

VIOLA: On September the 17th.

CONNIE: 1944?

VIOLA: Ah huh, 1943.

CONNIE: And that’s when you got to Hanford with your trailer?

VIOLA: Ah huh

CONNIE: And how big was your trailer?

VIOLA: 16 footer on the outside, that was with the trailer hitch, you didn’t see how little it was inside but, 14 feet, we stayed in that for18 months, then we had to move. When he was, when we were at Hanford, Ray was on construction and before we could get a house, he had to be on office construction. So then it was in August when we came back from Kennewick.

CONNIE: Did they have to do clearance, is that why he had to leave? So, he finished construction?

VIOLA: Everybody had to move out of that…

CONNIE; And you said you had to leave your trailer there?

VIOLA: No, we had to move it, but we had to put it in a fenced yard, all trailers were there, but it didn’t stop people from snitching, because they took my little sink, my little Monroe sink out of my trailer, while it was in that building.

CONNIE: So they had them in a storage yard, everybody stored them there?

VIOLA: There was a tall fence around it, we had to go to the guards to get a permit when we wanted to go get something from our trailer, but somebody came in ours…

CONNIE: And how long was your trailer in the storage area before you could get it back?

VIOLA: We could, well when we moved from there to Richland, we could… we got it.

CONNIE: So it was a few months?

VIOLA: Yeah, but it was long enough, cause Ray had a lot things, he had bought extra tires, a lot of tools. Oh boy, it took us 13 days to come from Hanford, no from Richland, no from Shaeffer, to Hanford because we could just make a few miles a day, because the trailer was so full. I had a lot of canned stuff. I canned raspberries, and made jam, gooseberry jam and all that stuff from the country and I had that under the settees, that was too heavy.

CONNIE: 13 days was from Missouri…, Michigan?

VIOLA: Ah huh, could just do about 100 miles a day.

\CONNIE: And was that driving that Model A, Ford?

VIOLA: No, it was a Chevrolet, an old second-hand Chevrolet, but you couldn’t get new cars then, but it was pretty good, but it was jammed.

CONNIE: Was it over-heating…. Was the car over-heating?

VIOLA: Oh yes, in Montana we had to stop, we kept rocks in the car, I had at run out and put the rocks behind the wheel because the car was too heavy, because it would keep on backing up, it was by Helena, you know it was too steep and that was my job. We had pictures in Montana; you didn’t see those, did you.

CONNIE: I didn’t look through all of them, I didn’t have the time.

VIOLA: I know Suzy got scared from a snake, up one of those hills. She was just so scared, she couldn’t move. She saw a snake, I didn’t see it because I wasn’t with Suzy and she was walking with Ray, she was so scared. I know I would be scared, too.

CONNIE: Then after your husband got the security clearance, you moved back to Richland?

VIOLA: Yeah, we got a pre-fab and we lived there for 5 years, until we moved into our B house on May 9, 1950.

CONNIE: Did you sell your trailer then?

VIOLA: Ray made a, he just took the wheels and axle and he made a bigger trailer, cause we bought some land across the river, it was those lots… it was lot 16 was our trailer. Yeah he farmed, planted wheat and alfalfa, that’s what we raised.

CONNIE: And that’s while he was working at Hanford, he was farming while he was working at Hanford?

VIOLA: No, after we moved into the pre-fab, we bought that.

CONNIE: But he was still working out on the site, too.

VIOLA: Yeah and I would go and move the pipes with him. We’d take each end of the pipes, because we had to irrigate. Everday, I don’t know how he did it, work and when he was on swing, he just worked the two shifts, days and swing. But, when he was on swing, we’d go early in the morning; he had to be at work by 3 o’clock.

CONNIE: What did he do, do you know?

VIOLA: He was a glazer, he cut glass for the buses and for the cars, company cars and he was a mechanic, so he was doing two things, so he was busy.

CONNIE; Can you tell me a little about the bathhouse, do you remember how many shower stalls were in those?

VIOLA: Oh, they must have had 6 or 7, because they were a big bathhouse, there was one at each end of our, where the people lived, so they’d come this way and they’d come this way.

CONNIE: Then you had a whole line-up of bathroom sinks?

VIOLA: Well ladies do that, we didn’t have to bother with that, but before they had those bathhouses, they had in the temporary camp, when we first got there, we didn’t have bathhouses. We had to wash up in ours trailers, because all that they had there, toilets with long buildings, with a lot of holes just no….

CONNIE: Outhouses?

VIOLA: No, no bathhouses and colored guys would come and clean those, take those tins that were under those toilets holes and they’d take those out and dump that. I don’t know where they went and dumped it, but I was always scared that they’d be there, that they’d come while I was in there, but that wasn’t very long. The temporary camp wasn’t very long, while they built the bathhouses, when we had the bathhouses that was nice. (I’ll bet) But we had to stay in our trailer then, too, so we were a couple of months in.
CONNIE: When you were out at the trailer camp, did they have buses to take you into town, during the day, if you wanted to go shopping and take the kids in?

VIOLA: Yeah, but I never did, I never took those buses, but when we were in the pre-fab the bus would come right on the corner from in front of the house, from our house. But I never did, because if I wanted the car, Ray would leave the car for me and I could go to the grocery store and on week-ends we would go to Yakima, just go there to shop because there was nothing in Rich… at Hanford for clothing or anything like that. There was a grocery store and you had to wait in line for that and that’s when we had those stamps, you were not old enough for that to remember.

CONNIE: The ration stamps.

VIOLA: Yeah, we had those books of stamps, each one in the family had those books of stamps, even Suzy.

CONNIE: In the photo they show that they put roofs over those trailers.

VIOLA: Yes, they did because it got so hot.

CONNIE: How long did it take them to put the roofs over, do you remember?

VIOLA: Shortly, after we were there, they put a roof over the trailer, it didn’t touch the trailer.

CONNIE: Do you know what that roof was made of, were they metal or wood?

VIOLA: I imagine it was plywood and some kind of roofing or something I wouldn’t know, 'cause I didn’t climb up there.

CONNIE: Did you watch them build those roofs?

VIOLA No, no I didn’t because I was busy. Joanie would go to school, see she was 9 years old and she’d do to school early in the morning and she’d be home by noon, so that worked alright for me 'cause she’d watch her while I went to the store. I wasn’t too far from the store, I’d go kiddy-corner of lots and everything. And one time I got… there was a big dog and I didn’t see him and I was close to that yard and he caught my arm, a my coat, jumped at me and tore my coat. Boy he scared me to death.

CONNIE: They didn’t have any rules about not having dogs there, you could have dogs in the trailer camp?

VIOLA; Yeah but, he was chained, fortunately, but he could just reach me. I was close to the fence that there by him and I didn’t know the dog was there, he didn’t bark or nothing. He just pounced on me.

CONNIE: Did you guys have a dog?

VIOLA: No, we had a dog back home in Schaeffer, but we didn’t take it with us. Ray left it with a friend, 'cause we couldn’t have that. We were crowded enough in the trailer. And we lived there, let’s see….Ray was 18 months in Panama, but we lived I the… we wintered in our trailer over Christmas. I know, 'cause we had our tree outside on top of an oil barrel.
CONNIE: The Christmas tree outside?

VIOLA: Yeah, it was windy, it was pretty good our bulbs stayed on the tree. I still have some of those bulbs, clear glass, they weren’t very fancy. My trimmings were back in Michigan, never dreamed of taking them with me. So we had to buy what we could, you could look at our tree through the window.

TODD: It was pretty tough livin there in the trailer park. Did you ever think about leaving… did you ever think about just packing up and leaving, out of there?

VIOLA: Well when you have to, you have to and Maury didn’t want to come back to Richland, because he didn’t like the food in the boarding house. So, he had me, we got it and I cooked on a little two-burner hot plate. I had an old kerosene stove, but the darn thing would catch on fire. I was afraid I would burn the trailer., so there was a man next door and he had an extra hot-plate, so I cooked on a 2 burner hot-plate, electric so that was a lot better. We managed.

TODD: Did you ever think about just packing up and leaving Hanford?, going back, going back to Michigan, did you ever think about just…


TODD: Wasn’t the dust pretty bad?,

VIOLA: No, I had my two kids and I never dreamed of leaving my husband.

TODD: Oh no, I mean the whole family leaving.

VIOLA: Oh, well it was Ray’s work. I had to let him do what he wanted, because he was earning a living, so I just went along with him and I know she liked it there, because she was everybody’s pet.

TODD: Yeah, she told me one story about singing.

VIOLA: She was friends with everybody.

TODD: Was the dust pretty bad there?

VIOLA: Oh honestly, if you’d go to the store or some place and leave your windows open, you’d come back and it was just like the sand drifted in the hills like. Finally, I had to get a vacuum cleaner, one of those hand ones, so I could get the sand out of the windows and all over.

CONNIE: Well a lot of people decided enough sand is enough and just packed those trailers and went home.

VIOLA: I know but we stuck it.

TODD: Did you see many people leave?

VIOLA: No, I was too busy. I saw quite a few big trailers leave, but my neighbors stuck too. There was a young women, that lived next door to us, she had a homemade trailer. Not that they built, but they bought and they had three little girls, one right after the other and they stayed in that little trailer and they didn’t, we got a Buns burner for heat and they bought our little, …that trailer we bought , that we lived in had a kind of a little, it was a cute little stove, but you had to use wood and at night it would be cold, so Ray got an oil burner and that would keep us warm all night. We didn’t have to fill it every day. I think it held 5 gallons.

TODD: Is that what’s out in the garage?

VIOLA: Uh huh.

TODD: It’s out in the garage.

VIOLA: It was a nice one, we bought it from…, the man next door he knew where to…, we wouldn’t have known where to get it, but he was from Seattle and he said we could get one of those oil burners from Seattle and a big truck brought it in no time to our trailer and that just worked fine.

CONNIE; I”LL bet that was nice.

VIOLA: Oh, but I did like the little, because it was so cute but the wood wouldn’t last no time. And you couldn’t get it was, it would burn so fast. But that,.. She, that girl with the three little girls, she used it and she cooked on that stove, so she was worse off than me. My kids were older anyway and I had a two-burner hot plate.

TODD: When did you realize what kind of work was going on at Hanford?

VIOLA: Well we really didn’t know, but everybody was saying we were making toilet paper. (laughter) Kids after school, the teacher was talking about, she says I know, they make toilet paper, because her father would bring toilet paper in his dinner bucket.

TODD: (More laughter) have you heard that before, Connie?

CONNIE; No, hadn’t heard that one.

VIOLA: No, nobody knew.

TODD; Did your husband have any idea of what was going on?

VIOLA: If he did, he never mentioned it. No, they were told to keep their mouths shut. But it was really when Truman said, he decided to use the atomic bomb on Japan. That was pretty good, then the war ended. But why did they, Pearl Harbor, they came and bombed Pearl Harbor, the Japanese, why did they do that?, they snuck there. Oh boy lots happened we didn’t know. When we lived in the trailer, you don’t remember that?

TODD: No, I don’t remember coming out here, living at Hanford.

VIOLA: Well I know you didn’t like to be in the trailer, you went wild when we’d go the store. You didn’t care if you could see us or not. I even got a little harness to put around her, so she wouldn’t run away. She just threw herself on the floor and she wouldn’t walk. So I, it didn’t help, so I had to carry her. (laughter) She had a mind of her own.

CONNIE: The second kid always does.

VIOLA: It was an experience, but I was glad to get in the pre-fab. ,,,,, And I made some pretty curtains, I had gone to Walla Walla and got some nice drapes to make, 'cause we had those big windows…four windows in the front and the side windows, those short windows, so I made, I made the curtains and they were so pretty. Did you find them in the basement?

SUZY: I think I have the drapes downstairs.

VIOLA: They were there, weren’t they?

TODD: Kind of blue and pink.

VIOLA: Big flowers, really pretty, lovely material. I bought 10 yards of material to make that.

CONNIE: I’m surprised that there not so faded that you couldn’t tell if they were.

VIOLA: They were heavy, so I didn’t have any shade or anything like that, but I could close those drapes. We had privacy and they looked so pretty. Everybody who came, look so cozy.

C ONNIE: You must have felt like you had a mansion after living in a tiny trailer and moving into the two bedroom pre-fab.

VIOLA: The pre-fab was two bedrooms, bedroom for the girls and a bedroom for us. We had twin beds in our bedroom and we just slept in one bed. One twin bed and the other was a spare. Ray was small and I was small. But their was a full size bed where the girls were sleeping, so they had a full size bed, in their bedroom and a closet. I had to put a drape, a curtain in their closet because there were no doors in the closets. But when we got to the B house, there were nice closets. (looking at some old drapes) See that’s heavy material. I don’t know they used to be brighter, the background used to be more tan.

TODD: So those are over 50 years old then, aren’t they?

VIOLA: Yeah, over that.

CONNIE: I’m amazed, you had these up more than 5 years in the pre-fab?, you had these up for 5 years and they aren’t more rotted than that.

VIOLA: And I had never made curtains before.

CONNIE: And did you put these up in the B house also, (huh), did you put these up in the B house anywhere?

VIOLA: No, I had shades for the B house and curtains, drapes. Do you think the material was nice?

CONNIE: Yeah, I’m looking and if it’s not rotted, no.

VIOLA: And you couldn’t see through, you had privacy. Well I used those 5 years, 'cause till I got these, I had sheets in the window, I put sheets. ….
Milk, stand in your line for your vegetables, so you had to stand in line a lot. I’d put Suzy to bed

CONNIE: But the post office was the worst one.

VIOLA: I’d leave right after Joanie would come home, I’d put Suzy to bed or sometimes I’d put her before she came from school and she’d stay while she’d sleep and I’d come home sometimes after Ray came home, from work. That’s how long it would take for standing in line. But, I had the groceries.

TODD: What time did Ray get home from work?

VIOLA: I must have been after 6.

TODD: So, you’d stand in line for more than 6 hours…,sometimes?

VIOLA: Just about, 'cause I’d leave as soon as Suzy, eh Joanie would come home. See she went to school just a half a day, she came home at noon.

CONNIE: Why was the post office line so bad to wait in?

VIOLA: I don’t know, but the M and N was the longest line, sometimes you didn’t know where it started. No…. and sometime I had, like Ray, he needed a tool, he’d order it and then when it would come I’d have to go to the post office and pay for it before we could get it. I remember it was just a little thing like this, but he needed that little tool So I went, it know it was 5 dollars for that little tool, I don’t know what it was for, but I had to wait in line for that tool. So I had to have a lot of patience.

TODD: Oh boy, that’s a lot of waiting in line, people don’t like to wait in line for 2 minutes in a grocery store now, they get upset if they have to wait.

VIOLA: Yeah but I knew I had to.

TODD: You didn’t have any choice.

VIOLA: No and Ray needed that tool, he wouldn’t ordered it, if he didn’t need it.

CONNIE: Suzy said they would inspect the cars when you would leave.

VIOLA: Every time went, we wanted to go to Kennewick or Pasco, they’d have examined everything and when we’d come back, the same thing.

CONNIE: So they’d open the trunk?

VIOLA: Oh, yes.

CONNIE: Did you have to get out of the car while they looked in it?

VIOLA: Uhuh, yeah they examined everything. And every time say we wanted to go to White Bluffs to go the ice cream parlor, they had a ice cream parlor, and on Sunday’s we liked to go there and she liked her milk shakes. I know she always did and I did too, we all did. It was a place to enjoy. And we had to have a permit for that, to go to White Bluffs.

CONNIE: So, did they keep that ice cream store in White Bluffs, after you were in the pre-fab?

VIOLA: Let’s see, for a while, we used to like to go there, but then we didn’t have to have a permit, see we weren’t at Hanford any more, we were in a pre-fab. No I don’t think we, I think they moved away. I don’t think we went there after we moved in our pre-fab. But while we were at Hanford in our trailer that was our, we looked forward to that, every Sunday we looked forward to that. Yup, that was a treat.



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CREHST Museum, “Viola Magnuson Oral History,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 21, 2024,