Interview with Frank Cobb and George Swan

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Frank Cobb and George Swan

Subject

Columbia River
Salmon
Hanford Site (Wash.)

Description

Frank Cobb constructed the "Redd Sled" to survey the salmon redd's of the Columbia River and to perform underwater water sampling near Hanford Reactors. George Swan worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and oversaw the salmon monitoring program where the Redd Sled was first created.

The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.

Creator

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Publisher

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

8/28/2018

Rights

Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at ourhanfordhistory@tricity.wsu.edu, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Format

video/mp4

Language

English

Provenance

The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to the US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Robert Franklin

Interviewee

Frank Cobb
George Swan

Location

Home of Frank Cobb

Transcription

Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Frank Cobb and George Swan on August 28, 2018. The interview is being conducted at the house of Frank. I’ll be talking with Frank and George about their experiences working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us, starting with Frank?

Frank Cobb: Frank Cobb. F-R-A-N-K. C-O-B-B.

Franklin: Great. George?

George Swan: George Swan. G-E-O-R-G-E. S-W-A-N.

Franklin: Great. When did you two start working together?

Swan: Hmm. Was it in the late ‘70s?

Cobb: No.

Swan: Mid-‘70s?

Cobb: I met you in 1980.

Swan: Okay. Yeah, we started out where I had projects at the dams on the Columbia River with National Marine Fisheries working with the traveling screens that we put down in the turbine intakes. Frank came on and became one of my maintenance men, and we pretty much formed a team from there on. I was kind of like the junior lieutenant and he was a sergeant major under me. You know, we’re both old marines, so we tend to look at it in that respect. But basically, I was a biologist project leader, and Frank was head maintenance man, doing a lot of the fabrication and making stuff happen in the field so we could get the research projects done.

Franklin: What types of research projects did you two do together?

Swan: We did the traveling screen stuff at different dams. Putting the traveling screens down and they’re elevated to divert juvenile salmon and steelhead that are drawn in to the turbine intakes with the flow of the river, and then divert it up into gate wells. And then they find a bypass orifice that would draw them through into a bypass system. Takes them down and around the dam into a collection facility. And then they were collected and sorted and some of them were tagged for studies and so forth, and they were taken downstream below all the hydroelectric dams, so they didn’t have to go through any more of them, and release down there. And there were juvenile salmon and juvenile steelhead, primarily. Eventually—did you work with me on the radio, tracking stuff later on?

Cobb: No. The first time he and I really worked together was after I got started diving, and we did a spawning survey in 1986.

Swan: I was a fisheries research biologist, but also I had an extra duty as diving supervisor in the NOAA diving program for the National Marine Fisheries in the Inland Northwest area. Frank was interested, so I got him into it with me. I had learned to dive recreationally when I was in the Marine Corps many years before. I was not a military diver, but when I got out, when I was going to college, I fed myself off Puget Sound, collecting seafood and spearfishing and collected samples for the different researchers at University of Washington and the Seattle Marine Aquarium. Eventually got appointed as the diving supervisor for NMFS for different things we did underwater, projects. And a lot of it ended up being at the dams in the gate wells and around some of the structures.

And then eventually when we got into this checking water withdrawals, pump intakes, all the way from little, small things, somebody plopped the line in to draw water out to water their lawn, up to big industrial and agriculture things. We had a project that ran for about three years, locating all these, finding out who owned and operated them, and inspecting them. The end-goal was to find out if there were fish protective facilities on those intakes that were protecting the juvenile fish that were migrating downstream, again, salmon and steelhead and other resident fishes. Let’s see. Guess that was about it.

Then our director of coastal zone and estuary studies in Seattle, Wes Ebel, also a former marine—he was a diver, but he was getting up in years and also his responsibilities didn’t let him get in the field much anymore, but he was a diver in our program up until a certain point. One day out of the blue, he came to me, called me up, and said, get some people asking if we could do a deep water spawning survey in the Hanford Reach. Could you guys do it? And I said, hell, yes, we could do it. And he said, okay. See what you can put together. And I went out in the shop and talked to Frank about it, and I said, we can do this, can’t we? [LAUGHTER] And Frank said, we can do anything.

So that’s how it took off. We started—I started researching the literature, finding out about other outfits that used underwater devices to run surveys or collections or different things. And we found that some guys used a sled, like we came up with, to evaluate the turtle excluder on some of the shrimp fisheries in the gulf. They were, you know, netting shrimp, but they were also getting a lot of sea turtles. And they wanted to figure out a way to keep the turtles from getting caught. So they had designed what they called a turtle excluder that would divert them out of there. And in order to—I mean, this is kind of a simplified version; they did a lot of other things, too, but—they used, when the shrimp boat was towing this thing, then it would be towed on this sled and they could actually underwater, you could kind of fly it around, and they’d film what was going on, and that’s how they were able to—instead of just putting it down, undetermined if it would catch any or not, they could start to look at what works best to try to divert the turtles from getting caught and that sort of thing.

Cobb: Wasn’t the first one made out of a Stokes litter? A Navy Stokes litter?

Swan: Yeah, they actually used Navy Stokes litters that they had onboard ship in World War II. You know, that were--

Cobb: With the wings on it.

Franklin: You mean to carry, like a litter, to carry a body?

Swan: Yeah, you’d lay a guy in it, and it was a tubing frame and then it had a wire basket that you’d lay the wounded person in. Well, they took two of those and built them into a framework. And then they came up with a diving plane so they could go up or down. So we took that and went a little further with the sled. Frank came up with the one that you’ll see after a while, here. When it was first built, the Plexiglas was clear, of course, and you could see out through it. Now it’s kind of yellowed from sunlight and all that, but it was like a windshield underwater. It would divert the flow over us. Otherwise, we had a tremendous—you had the current of the river coming. We didn’t tow into it when we did our survey; we went across current. So we were catching whatever the river flow was at that point, and having that—we started out with some small things, and then Frank kept coming up with some little bigger and better. You couldn’t go too much. If you get too carried away, it’d be like a bass plug wobbling down there, from the resistance on it. But he got it worked out pretty good, so it put the flow above and below and around the divers. Of course, we’re on scuba, and then we had a problem with, as we’d exhale bubbles, they’d get drawn in front of us, and it was full of bubbles for a while and you couldn’t see. So he came up with some slots that helped let some flow go through there and trained those bubbles and pulled them away from us. So then we had a clear line of vision. That’s kind of in a nutshell. I don’t know if I’ve missed anything or not. Those are the basic things that we worked together on and gradually ended up with a—

Cobb: Yeah, as far as that sled, kind of the evolution? Like many things have been throughout history, somebody starts out with a design, somebody else modifies it for their purposes, and that’s kind of the evolution of it.

Swan: Yeah, the actual original was just a diving plane, a board, that a diver with scuba gear on would hang on to. And he would just manoeuver that board and it could make himself go up and down being towed by a boat.

Cobb: An underwater airplane.

Swan: Yeah. And it just kind of grew. Different guys would get different ideas, you know, and expand on it. And that’s how we ended up with this.

Cobb: You’ve heard that term, there’s no I in team?

Franklin: Yeah.

Cobb: That’s what all this was about. There’s no I; it’s we.

Swan: Yeah.

Franklin: Frank, how did you get started doing fabrication?

Cobb: Well, I had a shop teacher in high school that taught me to weld. And then I went four years in the Marine Corps. And then I’ve always done fabrication work, whatever I could figure out to do. And then when I was in the same place he worked, I did a lot of fabrication down there. I never learned anything in school. I was hands-on.

Swan: Frank actually fabricated a lot of the big test frames that we hung mats on and things, when we tested the traveling screens or did modifications to the screens. I mean, it was—all the way from little, small items to gigantic things that had to be handled with cranes to move it around and install it.

Franklin: Wow. So, what was this 1986 spawning survey, deep water spawning survey, in the Hanford Reach, what was the goal of the project? What were you tasked with finding?

Swan: Well, we were approached by the Corps of Engineers that had talked to the director I was mentioning, and knew that we had a dive team, and asked if we could do anything to determine if salmon were actually spawning deeper than they could see from the air. Because up until then, the way they did their counts of salmon spawning was they would fly in an airplane and look down. And when the salmon sweeps the sediment clear where they’re establishing a redd, or stirring up the gravel to lay their eggs and fertilize them—it’s called a redd, R-E-D-D. That’s the way they were determining the amount of spawning that was going on all up through the Hanford Reach. They would fly it once a week for a couple months, or it was usually, they’d start in September and, well, maybe even longer than that. They’d go, I’m pretty sure through November and maybe into December.

But the Corps of Engineers had been approached by an organization in Wenatchee area that was trying to promote marketing their produce, like apples and fruit. And see if they could get barge traffic coming all the way up the Columbia to Wenatchee. There are no locks in those dams, so they couldn’t lock the barges through. But they had come up with the idea of a lift, like they have in Europe, I guess. In some of the dams where they would pull the barge in with a tug below the dam, and this cradle would come out, start raising it, and that barge would be disconnected from the tug, and they would lift the barge up to the top of the dam, over it, down into the fore bay. They’d have another tug there that would couple up and take it to the next one.

The concern was those tugs and barges going up through the Hanford Reach in those spawning grounds, what effect was that going to have on the salmon spawning? So that’s where they came up with the request to see if we could put together a project to try to measure the spawning and that’s how we got into that. And when we began to use the sled, you know, you could go across the shallow water, which you could see from the air and you already knew they were spawning there. But then we’d start to go deeper, as we went across the river. And we in fact found, in some locations, based on the average main level of the flow in the reservoir, we found that salmon were actually spawning down to 32 feet or so, something like that.

Franklin: What was the depth that the plane could view?

Swan: The sled?

Franklin: No, sorry, what was the depth—you said that before—

Swan: Oh, the airplane?

Franklin: That the airplane, yeah, how deep could the airplane reliably view to?

Swan: I don’t know for sure; it’d depend on water clarity. But I would say on the average, probably ten to twelve, maybe 15 feet would be about max.

Franklin: So you were able to go down about double.

Swan: Yeah.

Franklin: And did you find a lot of salmon spawning in the deep water?

Swan: Yup. A lot.

Cobb: Yeah, one year the return was like 100,000 of the upriver brights.

Swan: Yeah.

Franklin: Was that what researchers had expected to find? Or was it a surprise?

Swan: I don’t think so, because, as I recall, the guy that was the project engineer for the Corps—[LAUGHTER] He wanted to—we were going to do another study the next year, but what we found out worked against him. And I think it was the Northwest Power Planning Council had approved the study with the Corps of Engineers’ funding. But when they found out how much spawning was going on, to what extent, they put the kibosh on the project right away. They said there’s no way we want barges and tugs running up through those spawning grounds. So, in a way, our success meant our demise. Because we would’ve liked to have done another year of study. But at the same time, they determined that there wasn’t any point in going on with it, because they could see right away it was not a desirable situation to ever try to let get started.

Cobb: Between Priest Rapids Dam and just north of Richland is the last free-flowing part of the Columbia River. I think I’ve got that right.

Franklin: Yup.

Cobb: And that’s part of what people were interested in, not destroying that.

Franklin: Right, known as, yeah, that section is, I believe, known as the Hanford Reach.

Cobb: Yeah, basically the Hanford Reach, yeah.

Franklin: So tell me about how you operated the sled. It’s a two-man sled, right?

Cobb: Right.

Franklin: And were you the driver as well as the fabricator?

Cobb: Yeah, I mean, I usually was the one flying. Flying underwater in a denser medium.

Swan: Yeah, we had guys who started to take over and pilot it, but Frank was primary—he was chief pilot, I guess you could say.

Franklin: Chief pilot. And so it uses a rudder system. Each hand controls a different rudder, right?

Cobb: Well, each wing—it can be individual, so—but at one point we were entertaining ourselves. We were doing barrel rolls. I’d put one wing, can go like this, do barrel rolls, flying upside-down. And, anyway, it was probably illegal to have that much fun making a living.

[LAUGHTER]

Franklin: And how would you be seated in the sled?

Cobb: You’re laying down.

Franklin: Laying down, okay.

Swan: In the prone.

Franklin: So one person is flying the sled and the other person is--?

Swan: The observer. Or he would be—we had a button that if he passed over a redd on this, well, what we should probably—Each of our test sites, or sample sites, were, what, 2,000 feet, from upstream to downstream. We would start at the top, the boat would manoeuver across. We had markers set on the bank, and he would go all the way across. Once they were to the other side, then they would drop back 150 feet, and come back across to the other side. And we’d keep doing that until we finished the whole thing. Now, the boat had this towline with a sled on the end of it that was 150 feet. And attached to that towline, so that when the sled was down, just about above us was a float with a cluster of prisms, the reflector mirrors, that no matter what the position of it was, if a beam, a laser beam was sent from shore out to that cluster, it would reflect back. And they had a computer survey company that worked with us how to computer set up. As we would go across, the observer had this button, also had voice communication, but we kind of had a duplication in case our voice system went out. We had this button you could push, would send a signal to shore or vice versa. If the other failed, hopefully, between the two of them. And as the sled would go across, and the guy that was the observer would see a redd, he would just say, redd, and he’d punch the button. As he did that, there’s an antenna on that float that would trigger a signal to the shore, and this tracking device they had would instantly tch-tch, and it would log in the coordinates of where the redd was. And that’s on the maps I showed you, the little red dots?

Franklin: Yup.

Swan: That’s how they get logged in.

Franklin: Oh, okay, okay.

Swan: And that’s the basic nitty gritty of how we did this thing.

Cobb: I think I gave you some stuff on paper that shows the sled and what he just described.

Franklin: Yeah.

Cobb: In other words, back in the old days, antique. Now there’s GPS, we could’ve done the same thing, but in today’s GPS.

Franklin: Yeah, and we’ll digitize those materials and make them available with the interview for the viewer. So, Frank, you used the sled again to do another survey by N Reactor. Or, no, by one of the reactors, right?

Cobb: We did. Basically, pretty much every place that George and I did the spawning survey, we’d punch into the bottom of the river, and we would extract groundwater samples and the target was hexavalent chromium. Now, what else was in those samples, I have no idea. I don’t think anybody wants us to know what we were exposed to.

Franklin: Where did—who was leading this project to do the groundwater sampling?

Cobb: It was a guy by the name of Steve Hope, and he worked for CH2M Hill, who at that time was basically contracted to Bechtel. I think at this point, CH2M Hill is independent of Bechtel. But Steve Hope was the biologist in charge of it. And there, again, it was relative to the salmon. The EPA and the Indians wanted to know.

Franklin: How much hexavalent chromium was in the groundwater?

Cobb: Right.

Franklin: And what year was this?

Cobb: Pardon me?

Franklin: What year was this?

Cobb: I think ’95 and part of ’96.

Franklin: And so what did you find? What were the findings of that survey?

Cobb: Well, I think I gave you some paperwork on that also. As far as numbers, I don’t—I don’t remember, and I never—that was not part of my job. So I didn’t—but the concentrations were higher than—I shouldn’t say this—higher than Battelle said it would be. Which they also said we couldn’t do it. But we did it anyway.

Franklin: They said you couldn’t do the groundwater survey?

Cobb: They said we were not capable of doing it.

Franklin: Why is that?

Cobb: Well, for one thing, they were questioning our qualifications as divers. Steve Hope had been a Navy diver. I was certified with NOAA’s dive program and two others. But they never bothered to find out we were getting ready to embarrass them, because they said they had told DOE, I believe, that it couldn’t be done because of the high flows. Anyway, a guy came to me, wanted to know if we could do it, and I told him the same thing I told George: you can do anything. Shortest route to failure is do not try.

Franklin: Mm-hmm. Was the same kind of—were you also the pilot in that?

Cobb: Yes.

Franklin: That’s right, and was it the same type of work and same areas, in fact, that you had done--?

Cobb: Well, basically, most of the same areas that we did the spawning survey was the same place we did the groundwater sampling, the same areas. Not quite as many as we did in the spawning survey, but basically the same geographical locations.

Swan: He drove pipes into the substrate to collect the groundwater, right?

Cobb: Yeah, we’d drive those in and then we would purge out the actual river water, with syringes. I think you’ve got pictures of those. And then we would take three samples and they would go to, I think, three independent labs for analysis.

Franklin: I imagine that must be—I mean, the flow of the river in that area is pretty fast. How did you keep everything steady enough to take these kind of samples? What was that experience like, being in the river in the sled?

Cobb: Well, there again, like with the thing in ’95, ’96, we’d anchor the boat, and then we would park on the bottom and keep the wings down real low, just tight to the bottom. And then the guy beside me was the one that would—basically it was a concrete chipping hammer, gear-operated, to punch in. And then had a long enough anchor you could drop back there again and transit so far back. And then you have to pull the anchor and go and then re-anchor and do the same thing. I forget how many hundreds of feet on the anchor we had. Anyway, they said, can you? And we said yeah.

Swan: They were able to stay in place long enough that they drove those pipes down deep enough that they could sample the groundwater after sucking all—purging all that river water out of there so they could get valid samples of the groundwater coming in. And that’s basically what had been said that they couldn’t do because there was too much flow; you’ll never be able to do anything. And they were able to accomplish it that way.

Franklin: Wow.

Cobb: One of the sayings I love, and I told several of them out there, people a whole lot smarter than I am, I told them, do not limit me by your limitations. Just because you cannot do it does not mean I can’t do it.

Franklin: Um.

Cobb: That’s one of those shut-up-Frank deals?

Franklin: No, no, no, no, no. I just—you did it, so there’s nothing else to say about that. The work was done. So did you use the sled in any other surveys?

Cobb: Oh. Let’s see. No, actually, anything that amounted to actual projects, no, I don’t believe so.

Swan: The original sled, when we were all done with the spawning survey, and eventually they disbanded our diving group, said we’d outlived our usefulness, and they could call Rent-a-Diver if they needed divers—this is our fisheries outfit. So we kind of pfft, dissolved. And I had all this gear and so I passed it onto other diving units that were still active. And a guy who was up in Alaska got the sled. The last I heard, he was going to use it up there for trying to do studies on king crab. I guess king crab, when they spawn at night or something, they have a behavior of coming together—or maybe it’s the juvenile ones, I’m not sure. But they form into a big ball for protection. And then come, I guess, daylight or whatever, or a certain time, they’ll disperse. Anyway, he was doing a study on something about that, and I don’t know anymore than that for details, but—

Franklin: So then, is this sled the same one that was used on the surveys?

Swan: No.

Franklin: No, okay, so what is the provenance of this sled?

Cobb: Well, when I—I was 40 years old when I went to work for the fisheries and I was too old to learn to work for the government. So I went back to shoeing horses full-time, and I built the sled strictly on speculation, thinking someday somebody would want me to do another project. Somebody heard about it and Steve Hope came to me, and I’d already basically had that mostly built. And he told me what they wanted us to do. So then I finished it.

Franklin: Okay, so that sled was used in the hexavalent chromium survey.

Cobb: Correct.

Franklin: And is it safe to say, is it pretty much a copy of the sled that was used in the fish--?

Swan: An improved copy?

Franklin: An improved copy?

Cobb: It is basically—well, slightly improved, but mostly just slightly modified.

Franklin: And what were the modifications between the two projects?

Cobb: Between the two? Well, I made the wings a little bit more surface on them, and then where the divers lay, I made that where you can reach down—basically, it is very little different than the one that George and I used.

Franklin: So how—when you were done with the hexavalent chromium, was the sled just not needed? How did it end up back with you?

Cobb: Oh, it belonged to me.

Franklin: Oh, so you supplied it to the—

Swan: He was a private contractor at that point.

Cobb: I was a private contractor. In fact, when I told them how much I wanted, they didn’t want to pay it. So they started calling diving companies. All the diving companies says, say what? There is no such thing as that. That does not exist. Nobody knows—there’s still nothing. It does not exist. So, then, they kept coming back to me. I’d be out shoeing horses, and they would keep calling me on the phone, trying to beat me down on the price. And I told them, no. That’s what I want. So that made me a sole source. So then they finally agreed.

And I made them put a cancellation clause in it. And of course that was Bechtel, and they said, well, we can’t do that. And I said, well, then I can’t do that, either. Because I knew what they were going to do. As soon as we satisfied the Indians and EPA, they would cancel the rest of the contract. Which they ended up doing. And then they ended up owing me the $46,000. And I had to go to war to even get that. But anyway. I had heard enough about how Bechtel does business. And they figure they’re the only ones in town to make nay money, and us little dumb guys, we’re supposed to work for nothing. Anyway.

Franklin: That’s great. So is there anything else you guys would like to say about either survey, or the sled?

Cobb: Not me, really. Other than that I had an awful lot of fun doing it.

Franklin: It sounds like a lot of fun.

Cobb: It was for me.

Swan: The only thing I can think of is, that spawning survey we did, I thought we accomplished something highly unique, and so did a lot of other people. The thing that kind of irked me was, my higher-ups just, like, oh, shit, you guys are just having fun, you know, no big deal. But we got more accolades out of other agencies that were amazed by what and how we did it. I even gave a presentation at Scripps and a couple of different research divers’ conferences, and they were blown away by what we had accomplished. We had Dr. Don Chapman that did a whole bunch of work on the Vernita Bar early, salmon spawning stuff. He came and—

Cobb: [LAUGHTER]

Swan: I think he was a little skeptical about what we were doing. And so he was up in years then, but he was still diving. So we said, well, you want to go for a ride on the sled? Yeah, I would. So, he went with Frank. I’ll let Frank tell you about that.

Cobb: Oh, anyway, we were about the highest flow—our flow meters topped out at ten meters per second, and I don’t know what the flow was there, but the sled was just kind of bouncing around. It was kind of like a gusting wind. So he went across with me, and that was one of the wider places. So we got back over and dropped back, and I said, well, Dr. Chapman, you want to take another ride with me? Anyway, I won’t say the words he said. He said, no! Let me off of this thing! And then I did some diving for him later. That’s another subject. He hired me to do some more diving for him, after meeting him in that particular environment, anyway.

Swan: Anyway, a nutshell, to finish up that thing, is, I had some people approach me, and they said, how come we haven’t heard more about this? And I said, I don’t know. My higher-ups didn’t seem to be too impressed with it, you know? Well, a guy in Great Britain got ahold of me and wanted me to come over there and give a presentation on it. He was instrumental in a journal over there called Regulated Rivers. So, we published the paper in it. It’s back in mid-, late-‘80s. It’s “Spawning surveys in a regulated river,” or something like that. I don’t remember the title; it’s been 20-something years.

Franklin: Sure.

Swan: Anyway, it’s in a journal called Regulated Rivers out of Great Britain, and it gives a real good nutshell of that whole spawning survey project.

Cobb:  But, yeah—oh, go ahead.

Swan: To me, that was kind of, okay, somebody finally paid attention and we got some recognition out of it. Which is what I kind of appreciate you guys doing this. Because, hell, we thought everybody’d just forgot about everything we did, you know? At least you guys are going to try to get recorded so that down the line when we’re long gone, somebody’ll say, jeez, those crazy guys did that!

Cobb: The only thing, last thing I got to say is, I’m still very happy that they did not go up to the free-flowing part with dredges for barges and it’s still basically the way we left it.

Swan: Yeah.

Franklin: Yeah, that is definitely a major accomplishment.

Cobb: I’m glad I was instrumental in them not doing that.

Swan: I will never forget sitting there in that meeting. We were just there, not to present anything, but just to see what went on. And the guy who was the project leader with the Corps of Engineers who had contracted us to do the diving project—There was a lady on the power planning council there—and I don’t even remember his name, it’s been so long ago. But she listened to the presentation and everything. And then they had a break, and they got together and discussed it and they came back. And she pretty much said, Mister whatever-his-name-was, how is the best way to expedite your demise with this program, or something, in so many words. In other words, she said—no more. We kind of went, phew. And he just went livid. And I don’t know what happened to that guy. Last I heard, he had disappeared. He couldn’t deal with it. But I thought, well, we did our part, and we showed you, you know? And that’s what you asked us for, so.

Franklin: Yeah, no, that’s great. I mean, without that, if barges and dredges were up, it wouldn’t be the Hanford Reach anymore, and it might not be a national monument. That’s really one of the great national—ecological treasures of this whole area.

Swan: So I guess without really making a big deal out of it, Frank and I can feel like we were instrumental in helping preserve the Hanford Reach.

Franklin: Yeah.

Cobb: I’m just glad I didn’t get arrested for having too much fun.

[LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Right! Well, I told you guys, we do—part of the tours that the national park offers is this pre-Manhattan Project tour where we go to these former sites: Bruggemann warehouse, and the Allard pump house at Coyote Rapids, and the White Bluffs ferry landing. Now they’re very peaceful and you can get a sense of the history there, and if there were barges coming up through there—

Swan: Yup.

Cobb: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: I mean, it would totally change the entire character of the tour. It would just be jarring.

Swan: And they would have to dredge those channels and then repeatedly keep them cleared so that would have a hell of an effect all the way up through there. It would also probably affect the flows that would come out of the dams upstream in order to keep enough water for the barges to keep going. So it would’ve affected it tremendously if they’d ever approved it.

Franklin: Well, great. Well, Frank, and George, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about these surveys and your guys’ work, having fun in the river, diving around. I’m very—I’m jealous of—

Cobb: I’ve run that whole river clear, all the way. I know that river. I know where to stay out of trouble. And everybody used to tell us, you can’t run that river with a prop boat; you’ve got to have a jet boat.

Swan: Oh, yeah, that’s something we ought to make a point of. We did that whole thing with an inboard-outboard, and we only dinged one prop, and it was just a goof, you know, loading the boat or something. We did that whole thing and never destroyed one propeller. And they kept telling us, you’ve got to do that with a jet boat. Well, the inboard-outboard seemed to work for our purposes better, so.

Franklin: What would be the reason for the jet boat versus the—

Swan: Oh, we wouldn’t have a propeller down there to catch the bottom, you know, and you could run in shallow areas. Now, later I did get a jet boat when we were doing our—more of the water withdrawal stuff and that worked out pretty good. But the other problems you run through those milfoil areas and if you don’t zip right through, you’ll suck it full and it’ll pug the intake and you’ve got to go underneath and rake all that crap out.

Cobb: And then on top of that, one of the boats—I kept telling them to stay out of those shallow places. So they suck rocks up the propeller. I kept telling them, don’t do that! Twice they did it.

Swan: Yeah—

Cobb: And I’ve run that whole thing up, prop boat—

Swan: Suck the gravel up there, it’ll just chew the propeller up.

Cobb: Well, it’ll jam the propeller up, and then if you don’t have an outboard to get you back home—

Swan: Yeah, you’d better have an outboard on the set like a trawling motor for fishing.

Cobb: I do not want a jet boat. They take at least two or three times as much fuel, and I can go any place I want to go with a prop boat. You just got to know how to read the river. If you don’t know how to read the river, a jet boat will get you in trouble.

Franklin: Yeah.

Cobb: Anyway, shut up, Frank.

Franklin: Nope! No, you’re good. Well, thanks a lot, guys. I think we’ll now switch to getting some shots of the long-awaited sled.

[VIDEO CUTS]

Cobb: [INAUDIBLE]--and they tried to use it and it scared them to death. And they called me up, wanting me to train them—

[VIDEO CUTS]

Franklin: We’ll get a couple more pictures while it’s all nice and up on these sawhorses. So you still do horse shoeing?

Cobb: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: Yeah. Until you’re 80, right?

Cobb: No, not me. [INAUDIBLE]

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Cobb: I’m a young guy.

Franklin: I mean until you’re 80.

Cobb: My brother—[INAUDIBLE]

[VIDEO CUTS]

Franklin: Yeah, I understand that. I agree with that.

Cobb: [INAUDIBLE]

[VIDEO CUTS]

Cobb: [INAUDIBLE] people to take care of them.

Franklin: Makes sense.

Cobb: We’d do the barrel roll one direction, and then the other way of course, and then I’d do upside-down. And the flow, if it was high enough flow, you didn’t even have a tendency to fall out.

Franklin: So the flow was kind of keeping you—

Cobb: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: Wow.

Cobb: And then you had—

[VIDEO CUTS]

Tom Hungate: How it connected, you had a cable, I presume, to the boat? You said that was 150 feet or so?

Cobb: [INAUBDILBE] Attached through here, and it was attached to the boat. And the flow, the faster the flow was, that’s what gave you the maneuverability.

Franklin: And so then it’s the driver, pilot, on the left here, right? And then the surveyor, researcher, here on the right.

Cobb: Correct. [INAUDIBLE] primitive. You want to fly it sideways, you went along like this. If you wanted to do barrel rolls. Side down, and then come back up, like this. Anyway, it’s very maneuverable, if you have enough flow. If the flow is too slow it’s real sluggish.

Franklin: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. But I guess that’s where it’s really kind of made for the Hanford Reach, right?

Cobb: Right.

Franklin: Because the flow there is fast enough for you to have real maneuverability.

Cobb: Right.

Franklin: Right?

Cobb: I always wanted to fly an airplane.

[VIDEO CUTS]

Cobb: [INAUDIBLE]—as far as the wings. [INAUDIBLE] experimentation.

Franklin: To kind of stabilize the back of it?

Cobb: Yeah.

Franklin: Yeah. Wow.

[VIDEO CUTS]

Cobb: Isn’t it nice and [INAUDIBLE[?

Franklin: Yeah, it’s really not that—I mean it’s easy enough for two people can—

Cobb: Well, when we were deploying it on and off, I had a set of runners, and this wasn’t on it. That was back in the front. And that was sitting down low on the water, and the flow slid up good, and that winch would float it up onto the boat.

Duration

00:51:48

Bit Rate/Frequency

317kbps

Files

Cobb, Frank and George Swan.JPG

Citation

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Frank Cobb and George Swan,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 23, 2021, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/4695.