Blake Miller Oral History
Oral History Item Type Metadata
BLAKE MILLER INTERVIEW- Recorded on 6/8/93
Tom Putnam: All right. If you could first tell us your name, and most of the time you have to look at Greger. Talk to Greger. Tell us your name, and what you were doing before you heard about Hanford and how you ended up here.
Blake Miller: Well, my name is Blake Miller and I hail from the state of Iowa, town of Fort Dodge, Iowa. And to come out here was because I was a washout of Officers’ Candidate School for the military; they gave me that famous classification of being F. From there, I went home when they released me from the induction camp which was at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. And by the time the next morning rolled around I had all kinds of offers for government jobs—postal long distance, Teletrans, you name it, people I’d never heard of were offering me the opportunity to go to work for Uncle Sam. So, I was bound and determined I was going back to school, but my mind began to change rapidly. And so there’s where I got into it. I finally wound up going to the Federal Security Agency. And the Federal Security Agency, I believe I would be correct in saying that there were all kinds of other agencies already in existence, or new ones that were coming forth by Uncle Sam, like one, the National Youth Administration, the Federal Manpower Commission. Next thing you know I was being maneuvered around to—I didn’t know from one week to another which one I was going to be working for, except if I get my calls, and that’s the way it happened.
Greg Greger: They were all short of bodies.
Miller: All short of bodies, that’s correct. So anyway, I even got close enough to—well, I went to Duluth, Minnesota. With that, it was with the Federal Manpower Commission. The Federal Manpower Commission, they had the National Youth Administration. So then I was assigned to that. In my own schooling I had—my father had always said, be prepared for more than one occupation. So that’s always gone through my mind, so one of the things I was certified in arc and acetylene welding, and I had my certification in that. I also took a job printing education, and I served my apprenticeship working in a print shop. This was all while I was going to school. So these various things where these government jobs came up, they were putting me into slots where they needed a warm body and sometimes they hit the right one. So I wound up substituting as the instructor in various courses of the National Youth Administration. These were kids out of high school or through school. Maybe they were from the rural areas, and they wanted to get in and make some of this good money. But they had to learn how—whether it was electronics, they had to learn that, and we offered that service. They had to learn how to read blueprints and maps, and we offered that service. Maybe some of them wanted to be welders, and they had to learn that. Sheet metal work, you name it, Uncle Sam was offering it, and we had instructors doing this. And so I wound up at one stage being a timekeeper of all these kids. Because they were coming from miles away, and we’re providing housing for them as well as board and room—and they would take these classes and we ran around the clock, by the way. And this was in Duluth, Minnesota. Now, you’re in the Iron Range up in that area, and the iron ore cars would come down and dump raw material in these big ships and then go on to the smelters from there. I got involved in so many things. And then recreation for the centers, they were like small overnight campuses that would develop—girls in one and fellows in the other. And we had to have recreation programs and rec leaders. It just seemed I was moving around all the time. And then one time they needed some help in recruitment; this was in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I was sent there for a while, and I worked out of the United States Employment service. And they had special facilities because at that time, during the war, all the construction jobs and the demand for people’s skills, every—well, DuPont was recruiting personnel, Boeing was recruiting personnel, Uncle Sam was recruiting personnel, Douglas Aircraft—all these, as well as the United States Employment Service was doing theirs. But all these other people were in there helping them; that’s where they were headquartered. So when people went to the United States Employment Service, here were all these various avenues. And I got acquainted with the people in DuPont. And being the youngest one in the whole layout, I think, I didn’t know anybody, but I soon got acquainted. And it soon came out that I was working for Uncle Sam, and these guys were making much more money than I was, but I was fulfilling my obligation by working for Uncle Sam in a war-needed service. So, somehow, I found out through my acquaintances with these other groups that DuPont and I got along just fine, and I could start at DuPont at double the salary I was getting from Uncle Sam and having to pay my own room and board outside of that, and having to wear a suit all the time. That’s how I got here. Finally, I got signed up with them and it was okayed by Washington, DC, I presume, wherever--whoever hired me back there--
Greger: So this was your first DuPont job.
Miller: That’s correct.
Greger: What did they tell you about it, if anything?
Miller: Not much more than what I was told in the recruiting, from other people. It’s a military installation, out in the state of Washington. Whereabouts in Washington would be the question. Well, it’s at Pasco, Washington. I couldn’t find Pasco on the map and I don’t think anybody else could. But at any rate, that was the general answer. Well, what are they doing out there? I can’t tell you. We have requests for this type of—if you’re a cement worker or an iron worker, a carpenter, welder, whatever, or any background degree that you have, we need to know about it so if we can use you, we’ll take you. Provided everything is—after it’s all appraised and looked at. So that’s what we did. So anyway I would up coming out here, because it sounded interesting to me. Had no idea what I was coming to. I got off the train like everybody else, in Pasco, after midnight, I know that. And a car met me; everybody else got on buses, I say everybody else, I was looking out for myself, and my mother traveled with me. My mother traveled with me because of my allergies. I was in bad shape when I left back there, back in Minnesota. And to show you what kind of shape I was in, when we hit Fargo, North Dakota on the train, I stopped and a doctor came on and gave me a shot in the arm. And it came that way all through someplace—the last time was in Montana, and we crossed that Continental Divide, and I was sound asleep, but I never had a problem after we crossed that Continental Divide. None of the other doctors had to get on the train at all. I think all in all, the train ride stopped three times just for a doctor to get on and treat me. When I got out here, my mother went with the women, but here was a car waiting for me. I went to what’s called the New Pasco Hotel, and my mother did, too, only trouble is I went in a vehicle and she went in a bus. [LAUGHTER] And I had a room all to myself. My mother had to share one with another lady that she’d never laid eyes on in her life. Next morning I was picked up and went to the gray building. In the gray building, here was the head of DuPont recruitment and the head of personnel over there, in the gray building in Pasco and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t Curly Schafer and he was the guy that got me into all this trouble to begin with. [LAUGHTER]
Greger: Well, that was interesting. A friendly face, or maybe not that friendly.
Miller: He was. But here he was, and I wondered why I was being treated differently—they had something all lined up for me.
Greger: It had been prearranged.
Miller: Prearranged. So I remember coming through Kennewick—well, I remember going down the street in Pasco at night when I got in. I said to the driver—this was in September—I said, golly, what’s all this white stuff, you get snow here already or what is it? Well, they’d just had a horrible dust storm, and you could see the tire tracks on the street. And he said, oh, it’s just a little dust on the street. We had a windstorm last night. Oh! Well, it didn’t bother me, but anyway, here we were.
Putnam: When was this, what month did you arrive of what year? And what did it look like when you got here?
Miller: September 1943. As I said, I was due about three times earlier than that by way of rail, but health-wise I wasn’t in a condition to travel. I would have, had I known now, I could have met my original date which was a couple of months earlier, had I known that the medication would have been available to me and all that.
Putnam: So that was pretty early.
Miller: Yes, it was.
Putnam: So what was state of things here when you got here?
Miller: In Hanford?
Putnam: Hanford and Richland.
Miller: Okay. I remember coming across the old bridge between Pasco and Kennewick, and that one town was Pasco, one was Kennewick. And I was eyeing everything, and I remember most of all, when we were headed toward Richland, all this gravel road, which was still George Washington Way—I say still George Washington Way—I don’t know what its name was then, maybe it was George Washington Way.
Greger: Columbia Avenue.
Miller: Is that what it was? Yeah, you’re right, it was. Because we went through Columbia Park and that was the main highway then. Then came right on through Richland and I remember the old house which was on the corner of the driveway that goes into the Hanford House now and where the new dental building is on George Washington Way. Almost across street, down a little further north of Richland Bell Furniture. But the original buildings, like the—one of them had a gas pump out in front of it, and there was a bank on my right side coming in as I was going north was a bank building on the corner, a concrete block building, which now has some offices in it, and that’s where the Village Theater was built, attached to that still coming north and so forth. Then primarily, very little—there was what you’d call a wide spot in the road as far as Hanford was concerned. Because there was—you could count the number of buildings probably on both hands, and one was a little building about the size of a hen house, but it was brick, and I don’t recall what was in there, unless it was controls for the irrigation or something. It was on the left side of Columbia Drive.
Greger: Where did you end up in your assignment?
Miller: In my assignment, I ended up in Hanford. And who I reported to up there I don’t recall at the particular moment, except I went through the general personnel office. And they had all my papers and said I was in barracks so-and-so and room such-and-such and that was it. Next morning I was to report to a man by the name Radice, and his nickname was—they called him Buzz Radice. Right now, I couldn’t tell you what his first name was. He was my supervisor in public relations. So I did a number of things, then, in public relations.
Putnam: What would a public relations job—what did you do?
Miller: Well, at that point in time, we had several things going on in public relations. One was the orientation of all employees coming on the site. Didn’t care what the contractor was that they were coming for, they all had to go through orientation. I had a taste of that, and there was a crew of us that that’s all they did. And we had some people who were not acquainted with working in masses doing the same type of work. So one of my main stints was job relationship training—job—you might say relationship communications was a big thing. Because you had Carpenter Foreman, Carpenter Foreman, and Carpenter Foreman. They had to get along and they had to know how to communicate with each other. So I did a lot of that job management training. Same thing, you’d have various supervisors for their companies, and they had to get along with the other supervisors of the other companies who were doing the same thing but another segment of it, you see. So public relations did a little bit of everything. Like in March, we would file income tax. I remember that one vividly, because there were people out there who had no help of any kind to help them fill out their tax returns. So the IRS sent, if I recall correctly, approximately 50 people to help at Hanford, who had no idea any more than we did who were working there, where they were going or what their assignment was going to be other than income tax filing. So we were all trained by these people. And again, we used the public relations building, and we’d have rows of desks, and we’d have IRS, DuPont, IRS, DuPont. And I forget, there must have been close to 100 people, near 50/50, I think, there was 50 IRS people and 50 DuPont people 19:27