Monty Stratton Oral History

Dublin Core

Title

Monty Stratton Oral History

Subject

Hanford Atomic Products Operation

Description

An oral history interview with Monty Stratton for the B Reactor Museum Association. Stratton worked in Instrumentation at the Hanford Site during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.

Creator

B Reactor Museum Association

Publisher

Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

6/8/1993

Rights

Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project.

Language

English

Identifier

RG2D-4A

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Tom Putnam

Interviewee

Monty Stratton

Transcription

MONTY STRATTON INTERVIEW-  Recorded 6/8/93

 

[WAS IN INSTRUMENTATION; WIFE ALSO WORKED AS EARLY MONITOR AND SHOULD BE INTERVIEWED.]

 

I’m Monty Stratton, and I came here to the Hanford Project in 1944, February of 1944, from the Kings Mills Ordinance Plant in Ohio. Walt Simon, who eventually became the first plant manager here, was on a recruiting tour of the country and he came to Kings Mills, and interviewed me for a possible job here at Hanford, and I came here in  Feb. of 44 and was placed in the instrument department. I was first assigned to the group in the 3717 building of the 300 area, and spent several months there, and probably some time in the early part of the summer of 1944 I came to the 700 area and worked in the 717 Building, which was an instrument repair shop.

 

HOW WERE YOU TRAINED, HOW MUCH KNOWN, ANY BACKGROUND?

 

I was an electrical engineer by profession, and my hobby background was amateur radio, I think that’s one thing that probably interested Walt Simon when he interviewed me because I had that electronic experience, which apparently he was looking for, people who had that background for instrument work and I think that’s one of the reasons I was placed in the instrument department when I arrived. I got involved in the maintenance of specialized instruments that were shipped for the operating area into the 700 area, where I had a crew of several instrument mechanics and technicians, both male and female, I think we probably had eight or ten technicians working on these instruments at the time, and though I didn’t have any direct connection with the B reactor startup, I was in the process of maintaining instruments that were involved in the monitoring of the situation in the B Reactor Area.

 

SUCH AS BECKMANS?

 

Beckmans, Victorenes. one of the principal instruments that we maintained was what we called a victorene integron. There were something like a hundred fifty to a hundred seventy-five of those instruments scattered all over the plant, of course some of them were in monitoring buildings there in the area, but those instruments were shipped into the 700 area for maintenance. The instrument consisted of an ionization that was subject to breakdown because of the dust and dirt and sand that blew around, got into the instrument so the chamber shad to be torn down and cleaned and set up for use in the remote areas.

 

IN THE PLANT WHAT FUNCTION WERE THESE INSTRUMENTS SERVING?

 

They were use to monitor any airborne radiation that was of gamma nature

 

NOT A PORTABLE INSTRUMENT..

 

Not a portable instrument, they were fixed, they were mounted, the electronic portion of the instrument was in a cabinet about a foot square, a box about a foot square, the chamber was a separate instrument with a large cable that was a cylindrical chamber with a motorized piece of gear in it. As I said, they were not portable, they were mounted in various locations around the project, around the reactor buildings.

 

For instance, like in the B Reactor area, as I recall there were either three or four buildings out in the corners of the area, they were called the 614 buildings, and in each one of these buildings would be one of these victorene integrons. They also had several of them mounted inside the buildings, as I recall there would have been one or two of them mounted around the reactor building, but they were primarily designed to monitor airborne radiation of a gamma nature.

 

THESE INSTRUMENTS MADE A PAPER RECORDING OF WHAT THEY WERE READING, DID THEY NOT?

 

There was a recorder, this was a micromax recorder, a strip chart recorder, and it gave us a continuous record of the operation of the instrument..

 

...I CAN IMAGINE THAT THOSE OUTSIDE THE BUILDING, IN THE CASE OF A SIGNIFICANT INCIDENT, WERE TO SEE WHAT WAS HAPPENING OUT THERE...

 

That’s true, this was the intent. Just as a matter of record, those instruments were mounted in buildings in rather remote areas, for instance we had one building in Benton City. There was another mounted in a person’s home in Kennewick, another one mounted in a person’s home in Pasco, so there were some scattered around in various locations..

 

DID THEY THINK TO PUT SOME DOWNWIND?

 

We did not have any of this particular type of instrument mounted in the so-called downwind area, that is, north of Pasco.

 

WAS THE VICTORENE A NEW INSTRUMENT?

 

I don’t think it was completely new, but it was new enough that we didn’t have very much experience with it, and had to learn the operation of it, that’s for sure. This was a company back in Cleveland Ohio, it could have been a person’s name,.. A Beckman is a micromicroammeter, and it had a monitoring device, these were parallel instruments mounted in and around the reactor building, this was a popular location for them. We had as I recall four of these Beckmans with the chambers mounted in a and around the reactor pile, I’m trying to recall any other locations for these Beckmans, I can’t recall any but there probably were some.

 

I BELIEVE THESE WERE USED AS PORTABLE INSTRUMENTS, ALTHOUGH THEY WERE HEAVY...

 

The Beckman that I am thinking of was probably not quite portable, because it was a very heavy instrument, now he’s most likely referring to a different style of Beckman, because Beckman had gotten into manufacturing radiation monitoring instruments, and I don’t recall but there was probably a more portable instrument...

 

I RECALL ONE THAT WAS ABOUT THIRTY POUNDS..

 

This is the one that would have been mounted in the panel, such as the one that would have been used for monitoring the reactor status.

 

I’M CURIOUS WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF MONITORING WHAT THE MONITORS WERE READ, ON WHAT CYCLE DID SOMEONE CHECK TO SEE WHAT THESE INSTRUMENTS HAD RECORDED?

 

Well, the victorene, which had its chart recorder going 24 hours a day, these instruments would be serviced, especially the ones out in the remote buildings, probably twice a week. But the ones in the reactor building course you had instrument people working around the clock, and they would be monitored at least on a shift-change basis. So we had frequent occasion to look in on the status of what was happening.

 

I WAS CURIOUS TO KNOW IF YOU COULD RECALL THE SITUATION THAT FIRST MIGHT BE RECORDED BY THESE KINDS OF THINGS, DID THIS EVER HAPPEN SO YOU WOULD HAVE HEARD OF IT, AN UNUSUAL READING?

 

I don’t recall any particular instruments that read unusual occurrences, especially on the victorene instruments. The Beckmans, they were sitting there monitoring the situation all the time, they used those for reactor startup and monitoring the status of  the reactor during operation, but for any unusual instances, I don’t recall any particular instances at the moment.

 

CAN YOU COVER WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENTATION THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN USED TO INDICATE THE FIRST INDICATION ON STARTUP- WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENT SHOWED THE FIRST NEUTRON TICKLE?

 

It would not have been the victorene or probably not the Beckman. There was an instrument we used on normal startups in which a very sensitive radiation monitoring chamber was inserted in one of the process tubes. As I recall, in the early days this instrument was inserted from the rear face of the  of the reactor. The instrument would be pushed in one of the operating tubes a certain distance and left there until the first indication of reactor activity, at which time the reactor would be brought up to the one megawatt elevation, and held at that power level while an instrument man and a monitor would go on the rear face and remove  or pull that instrument back out of the hot area, and as soon as the instrument was pulled back, the monitor and the instrument man would leave the rear face and then they would be able to increase power level...it would have damaged the tube to where it would have been inoperable.

 

I’m sure there were occasions when you were in that situation. I was trying to think the other day who the person was that was with me on the rear face of F Reactor where I eventually went to follow the startup. One of the person was a monitor I believe it was Phil Jerman, I think he went with me on the rear face, and we pulled the tube and got to the point where we could go with it; I think that was the only time I did it, I was a foreman at the time and wanted to see what the operation was like, so I went back and did the job to follow through with it so that I could instruct other people as to what was done. Phil went on to be a manager.

 

THIS WAS A NEW AREA...

 

The field of instrumentation was certainly new at that point in time. Just to go back for a moment within my own history, I’d worked for the DuPont Company in Richmond Virginia, and my first experience with instruments was with a Clayton Northrop micromax which I later found out was used as a recording instrument here at Hanfrod, but that was back in the early years of my instrument experience, back in the mid 30’s when I first got involved with instrumentation.

 

BUSINESS OF RECORDING RADIATION WAS ONLY KNOWN IN RECORDING X-RAYS UP TO THAT POINT?

 

There wasn’t a lot of instrumentation, a lot of the equipment was developed here at Hanford, and some of the companies, like Victorene and Beckman, I think they were relatively small companies to start with, but the Hanford Project no doubt put them on the map and got them started because of the large orders of equipment that we purchased from them. So it was a new field, and we had to develop a lot of the equipment and we learned as we went.

 

DID YOU HAVE ANY CONTACT WITH THE TEST REACTOR THEY USED IN FUELS TO TEST THE URANIUM THEY WERE USING?

 

I did not have any particular experience with that.

 

DID YOU UNDERSTAND HOW THEY WERE USING IT?

 

I think my first inkling of what was really going on was probably two or three months after I arrived here at the Project, and begun to see the types of instruments that were used and started getting familiar with the equipment that was involved and discussing the process that was taking place. I finally was given a tour of one of the reactors when I was  still assigned to the 700 area, this was probably sometime the early part of 1944. But I certainly didn’t know what was happening before I came here.

 

WHAT WERE YOU TOLD?

 

In my case I was actually told very little. In fact, I didn’t even know that I was going to be in an instrument department or division when I was interviewed by Walt Simon. I really didn’t know what I was going to be involved in until I came on the Project...I just happened to think of an interesting aspect of the integron instrument which we talked about earlier...

 

CHANGE TAPE

 

...I told Laura she should be doing this interview because she came here the same time I did...

 

WOMEN IN YOUR CREW? UNUSUAL?

 

Well, these were girls that were available just like I was in ammunition plants. The girls that worked for me were sent here from other ammo plants; Laura came from the Denver ammo plant...

 

WITH ALL OF THE EMPHASIS ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT THESE DAYS, DID YOU RECEIVE ANY INSTRUCTION?

 

Never heard of it, in fact, I probably would have had trouble getting a date with my future wife if we had conditions then like we have now. Cause I wrote her a little note and left it on her desk one day, and she accepted the invitation to go out for dinner...it was funny, we were married four or five months later, April, 45, then I went up to F area, and when I came back to the 700 area later, cause she was still there, they had to send her to the 300 area because they wouldn’t let her work for me.

 

DID THEY EVER EXPLAIN THAT RULE?

 

Probably from a favoritism standpoint... I was going to mention something interesting...when the Victorenes were shipped to us, the meter that was mounted on the front of the instrument mentioned what we were trying to measure; the word “millirenkins” was in bold letters across the face of the instrument. For security purposes it was necessary to remove the meter from the instrument, disassemble the instrument, take the meter face off, and very boldly paint in black paint, remove the word millirenkins for security purposes so nobody could read the word millirenkins and know what we were measuring.

 

WAS SECURITY PRETTY TIGHT?

 

Security was awful tight. To go back from a security standpoint...when I was sent out here, the only thing that I could tell anybody was that I was going to Pasco and would be in Richland, and I couldn’t tell anybody anything at all about the plant. After I arrived here and was given security orientation, one of the things that were were told was that if we took a trip from Richland to any of the remote areas, and if we told anybody about it outside the plant we could not mention mileage figures. We could not even say how far it was from Richland to any of the areas that we traveled to. If I wrote a letter to my friends or relatives, that’s how strict it was, I couldn’t even say how far I would have to travel to go to work, for instance, if I worked out in a remote area, I could just say that I worked in a remote area but I couldn’t give mileage figures. That’s an example of some of the security.

 

HOW DID THEY INTRODUCE THIS SUBJECT BEFORE YOU CAME?

 

Well, they just told you you are being shipped to Hanford.. the security wasn’t stressed until after we arrived here and went through security orientation...

 

WHEN DID YOU FIGURE IT OUT?

 

I think it came in bits and pieces, probably over the course of learning the equipment the y were using and getting tours of the project, you gradually learned what was actually happening, so it came not as a complete surprise, but only by bits and pieces did you gradually pick up what was happening here.

 

WHAT WERE YOUR OWN PRIVATE THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT IT MIGHT BE?

 

Well, when I first came to the project, you’d drive out around the project and you’d wonder, gee, I wonder what in the world is going on, is it all underground? We got bits and rumors about why it was underground, you could get that much from conversation, so you’d drive out and wonder, well what are they building? What could be underground? It was anybody’s guess in the early days.

 

WE HEAR FROM OTHER PEOPLE THAT IF YOU HAD AN IDEA, KEEP IT PRIVATE.

 

You don’t want to talk about it. When they tell you about the fines and penalties involved, you were very careful not to talk about it. Penalties? Death. Well, you think of the couple the Rosenburgs that were executed, well when things like that are brought to mind you were very careful not to talk about the nature of your work. Security was one of the prime subjects in those days.

 

FOR PEOPLE WITH NO IDEA OF MONITORING, COULD YOU TELL WHAT THINGS ARE MEASURED, ETC.?

 

Well, primarily we were looking for any release of radioactive material, that’s the big push for instrumentation. That’s not the only thing we’re measuring, we have instruments for measuring other things like water flow through the reactor. We have instruments that measure the flow rate and temperature; flow rate and temperature are the big things we were measuring in the operation of the reactor. So there’s a lot of instruments involved in that, so radiation monitoring is not the only thing we’re concerned with in instrumentation. It’s a big field, I can think of other instruments that we would use, wind instruments, for instance, that were concerned with air flow and direction of wind and what was traveling in the wind. Instrumentation is a broad field, so there were many things we were measuring.

 

GO OVER INSTRUMENTATION ON EACH TUBE

 

To begin with we had flow instruments, we were measuring the total amount of water that was being pushed through the reactor for cooling purposes, we had the flow instruments, we were measuring the temperature, course the flow and temperature were one of the means for measuring the power level of the reactor, the amount of heat rise in the reactor that gave you a measure of your power level.

 

Some of the very important instruments that we used in the reactor were what we called pannelet gauges. This was an instrument that measured the pressure across an orifice that was located on the inlet side of each operating tube. This pressure gauge was very important because if for any reason you lost flow in any operating tube, you had a serious problem, and you wanted to shut the reactor down, to reduce power in that reactor quick-like to keep from damaging the tube. Each one of these panellet  gauges was in the reactor SCRAM circuit for shutting the reactor down. That was one of the very important instruments, especially in the early days.

 

SO THERE WERE OVER TWO THOUSAND WAYS TO SHUT THE REACTOR DOWN..

 

If you  had two thousand  tubes in the reactor you had a panellet gauge for each one of those tubes and any one of those tubes that if for any reason you lost flow, such as a rupture in a tube, caused the flow rate to change, the pressure would change, and in turn cause the pannellet gauge to in turn give a trip one the SCRAM system.

 

DID THAT HAPPEN OFTEN?

 

I’d like to say not too often, but more often than we’d like to think. The operating people didn’t look forward to that occasion but we did have failures of panellet gauges and we did have human error, occasionally we would have problems with the panellet gauges, and we could put an electrical jumper across each gauge and remove it if we had authority from the operating people. So a particular panellet gauge that appeared to be giving some trouble we could put a jumper across that gauge and remove that panellet and replace it. But sometimes we would foul up and not get the jumper in the right place and down goes the reactor. I don’t like to think of those cases but it did happen...If the reactor had been operating for a period of time it would more than likely be twenty-four hour shutdown; now I’m getting into operating experience which I wasn’t all that familiar with, but I do remember on occasion when say on startup, if the reactor was coming up, and you had a shutdown, if it hadn’t gotten to too high a level you had so many minutes to restart.

 

WAS THERE AN ATMOSPHERE OF TENSION, NEW PROBLEMS, NOTHING ROUTINE?

 

A lot of the things that we did, as I look back now, although they were certainly not unsafe, as we knew it in those days, they probably would frown on it nowadays, because we have more strict rules and regulations now, but we certainly didn’t do things then that were unsafe, we did things as safe as we knew under the conditions at the time. But with  the experience that we’ve had over the years some of the things we did would probably be considered unsafe now, just because of experience we’ve gained in the meantime... Without the experience behind us we had to rely on our best judgment at the time.

 

SOCIAL CONDITIONS, DESCRIBE

 

Dust storms. When I arrived in Feb. of 1994, didn’t see too much of the dust situation until the summer months came on, but I lived in a dormitory for a year after arriving here and I do remember the dust storms that we had during the summer; I recall one night I left the window open in the dormitory and I woke up in the morning with a big coat  of dust all over everything and that was typical. Dust was a big problem. With all the construction work and lack of trees, the ground was torn up and the least bit of wind would bring up what we call the Termination Winds...

 

WHY CALLED THAT?

 

People would come here, take on the job, and not realize the weather conditions in this area, work here for a while and everything was rosy until the wind  would start to blow and you’d get one of those terrific dust storms, they’d say, this is enough for me, I’m leaving, and they would terminate.

 

WHAT KIND OF HOUSE...

 

I was living in the dormitory and I married one of the girls that was working here and we accepted a B house, a duplex, that was the first house we had in the north end of town and then after we lived here for a few years we moved to what is now an H House.

 

IN B HOUSE WAS IT VERY BARE?

 

Dust was still one of the main problems, even after being here a year, because construction work was still going on, grass was still being planted and trying to get it to grow, trees were at a minimum, so there was still a lot of dust problems even in the early days.

 

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN BOMB DROPPED?

The first big

(TAPE ENDS)

NEW TAPE

 

..that’s the only consolation I have for the use of the bomb... where was I when the bomb dropped? My wife and I had gone on a vacation trip up to Mt. Rainier...All of a sudden this information became available, well, we read the newspaper that a bomb has been dropped and the President has announce so much information, so we wonder, how much can we talk about it, well, we better be quiet about it, don’t say anything...We get a telephone call, a frantic telephone call from my supervisor trying to reach us at Mt. Rainier, he finally got ahold of us and he says to us Don’t Say Anything, he was so afraid that  we would start talking, reading the newspaper that had been released, that Hanford was involved in this bomb, he was so afraid that we would start saying things that we shouldn’t, so he made this frantic telephone call to us, to tell us don’t say one word about anything you know about the project, in fact I don’t think we even told people we even worked at Hanford. so we escaped any consequences...

 

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU GOT BACK?

 

Well, when we came back, once again we were told don’t say anything that isn’t released publicly, you’re still under the same obligations that you’ve always been to remain completely silent about anything that you know about this project, the only thing that’s released is released publicly, so it was a long time before you would even talk about anything that you knew regarding the project to any outsiders.

 

PAPER BECAME IMPORTANT...

 

Bad thing about it was that in those days you would read in the newspaper, there would be a lot of rumors, and you had to be careful about what you read to separate rumors from what was officially released, so you had to still be careful about reading the newspapers and talk about what was in the papers, because you can very well imagine all the rumors there would have been in the papers..

 

HOW LONG BEFORE PEOPLE KNEW THAT THE MATERIAL HAD BEEN PRODUCED HERE FOR THE SECOND ONE?

 

I would hesitate to comment on that because I don’t remember details... It was quite sometime before it was released, best not comment.

 

WHEN YOU REALIZED THE NATURE, WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS?

 

It’s hard to remember any specific feelings, it’s all a part of the work we were doing, and so we’re here and we’ll do what we can to continue with it, we realized that it was important work, I don’t remember any strong feelings, it was part of my work...

 

FEEL PROUD?

 

I suppose in those days we did, I don’t remember feeling one way or another at the time, but I suppose at the time we did feel proud to be a part of at least the closing aspect of the war...

 

IN CONTEXT OF WAR EFFORT, JUSTIFY, SAVING LIVES?

 

I think the most we can say at this point in time was that the use of the material that was produced here at Hanford certainly contributed to the close of the war a lot earlier than it would otherwise, I think that’s the best way you can put it.

 

GREG TELLS STORY OF THE WHIZBANG, security...

 

Even at this stage of the game there are certain things that we have never been told that we are released from the original requirements... I don’t want the noose!

 

WHAT KIND OF DIRE CIRCUMSTANCES AS A PUNISHMENT...

 

We were given documents to read in which the consequences were spelled out very specifically what the punishment would be if you released certain information, so it was spelled out in black and white what the punishment would be...

 

AND WHAT WAS MAXIMUM?

 

Death! Yes, death, you would be executed or subject to punishment which could result in execution if certain things happened, so you had to be very careful about not saying things that could lead to that type of punishment.

 

MOST OTHER PEOPLE IMPLIED LOSE JOB...

 

More than that.

 

PEOPLE ON BUS PASSED RUMORS, GONE NEXT DAY

 

I never heard that myself, but probably... I never had top security clearance, but even a Q clearance which I had till I retired, even that type of clearance required a lot of secrecy.

 

BACK TO ARRIVAL, WHAT WAS MORALE?

 

I would say generally that morale was good, you knew that you were doing important work towards the war effort, so morale was good.

 

PEOPLE WORKING HERE GOT SPECIAL DISPENSATION FORM DRAFT?

 

Like in my case when I first came here I was given a classification that kept me from being called into the draft... It was essential to the war effort.

 

OTHER IMPRESSIONS?

 

I think many of us when we first came here thought that we would be here for two years at the most, but as time went on we became aware of the importance of the project, and became more acclimated to the area and what’s going on, so like in my own case, I was here the rest of my life, but a lot of people were only here for a short time...some of us continued to stay here.

 

WORKING FOR DUPONT?

 

I started with Dupont in 1940, so I had some DuPont experience, it was a very good company, a very safety oriented company...

 

WHAT WERE YOU TOLD AS TO WHY THEY WERE LEAVING HANFORD?

 

I can’t remember...

 

END

Duration

00:37:22

Bit Rate/Frequency

317kbps

Files

Citation

B Reactor Museum Association, “Monty Stratton Oral History,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 23, 2021, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/4690.