Interview with David Criswell

Dublin Core


Interview with David Criswell


Hanford Atomic Products Operation


David Criswell worked at various facilities in the 300 area including separations labs and the PRTR.

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


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities


Hanford Oral 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, who can provide specific rights information for this item.






The Hanford Oral History Project operated under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who were 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.

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Robert Franklin


David Criswell


Washington State University Tri-Cities


Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an interview—an oral history interview with Dave Criswell on July 20, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Dave Criswell about his experiences growing up in the Tri-Cities and working at the Hanford Site. So, Dave, the best place to start, I think, is the beginning. Where—why don’t you tell me when and where you were born.

David Criswell: Born in Portland, Oregon. [SIGH] I guess there’s nothing wrong with 1937. We moved to the Tri-Cities the first time, Dad and I drove up here after midnight, January 1st, 1948. We only lived in Pasco for all of ’48 and part of ’49, and then we moved up to Hungry Horse, Montana. We returned here in spring/summer of 1953. I entered Pasco High School as a junior. The school was brand new that year. They’d just opened the doors for us. So I graduated in 1955.

I don’t recall how I ended up being selected as part of a program to become an engineering assistant, was the program, in 1955. They were conducting night classes that we had to take. At the same time, during the day, we would work in the labs out at Hanford in different labs. I started off, because I wasn’t 18 yet—my birthday didn’t come until October; I got hired in September. So 17-year-olds couldn’t work on the Hanford Project. So, Richland, being a government town, and DOE ran everything, including the city library, there was myself and a couple, three other 17-year-olds went to work in the library until we were old enough.

And then we were assigned to labs out at Hanford. I was assigned to a chemistry lab in 325 Building. We were separating radioisotopes, from I know not where, to see how efficient the process was that they were using for separation out there. I can’t even remember the names of some of the materials that we were separating. The one that I can remember is ruthenium, I think it was. But day in, day out, taking samples and running them, cooking them down, putting them on filter papers, and then that would go to a lab for reading.

Some point in time within first year or so I worked, I was transferred out to 222-S, another chemistry lab, doing the same thing. I suspect that maybe whatever I was running the analysis on was a little fresher than the stuff we had in 325 Building. It must’ve come from right there in the 200 Area. But the same thing.

The only thing that—real memory that I had was when I graduated from high school, I wasn’t—I didn’t have—I wasn’t as tall as I am now. I graduated at 5’7.5”.

Franklin: Wow.

Criswell: And weighed 135 pounds. Went to work out there in September of that same year, ’55, and I was 6’0” and weighed 135. Tired. Man, I was tired. I don’t even know if I ate when I got home, I was so tired. Going to bed was the most interesting thing I had. But at some point in time, in the period of time that I was working at 222-S, apparently had another growth spurt. Because every day you could drive out to the gate of 2-West and then you go through the badge house. And you would then climb on a bus that would take you to whatever events inside of 200 West you were going to. We were going to S, so that’s where we went. And one day, I got off the bus and something knocked me to my knees, and I fell out of the bus. I brought a box with me, and in that is a report that said that they thought maybe I was inattentive, that I had hit my head on the bus, and fallen on the ground. Well, it didn’t dawn on me until years later, maybe even when I read that doggone memo, that the reason I hit my head is I’d had a growth spurt, and all of the sudden I was too tall to go through that bus door without hitting my head. Co-worker said I didn’t throw a shadow on a sunny day, I was so skinny. And ended up being about 6’4” at some point in time early on. Uh—

Franklin: Oh, sorry.

Criswell: I could not get a hang of chemistry. The night school was difficult for me. I hired a tutor to try and help me; I still couldn’t get the hang of it. They determined I probably wasn’t going to work out in a chemistry lab. And they transferred me into tech informations in 300 Area. If you’re not familiar with that old building, that was the one just inside the south gate of the 300 Area on the west side of the road. That had the plant’s library; across the hall, it had the security files. Documents were stored over there. I didn’t have anything to do with that. Basically, I was putting books on a shelf. I also had the job of traveling all over Hanford. When somebody would have a safety meeting, they would occasionally call us and ask us to bring a film that they had heard about, or asked if we had a film that they hadn’t seen. So, I traveled all over.

Franklin: So kind of like a AV, audio-visual, tech?

Criswell: Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. Only, I was using 16-milimeter projector. Old-fashioned stuff. I don’t even know if you could find one of them today.

Franklin: Oh, we actually—our declassified—not declassifying, but getting ready for public release, some of the materials in the Hanford Collection, and we had to purchase a 16-milimeter projector to view some of the old movies. Which could possibly be some of the old movies that you showed. There’s some about safety, and there’s some of the promotional ones produced for Hanford.

Criswell: We had some Walt Disney flicks. We had one that—Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. I think that was The Ventriloquist.

Franklin: So, wait, so, these weren’t—these were like movies and shows?

Criswell: Some of them were. They were movies. They dealt with safety things.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Criswell: They dealt with security, with reinforcing the security, you know, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I learned early on in the early days if the film broke, I had to take it downtown to a little Quonset hut behind the old Federal Building and they had plant photographers down there. There was a photographer down there that knew how to splice the films. Anyhow, they determined if I was going to keep coming down there, that I needed to have the equipment to repair those things and keep the stuff going and they wouldn’t have me running downtown all the time. So I ended up learning how to do that and take care of my own films.

I did that for a couple, about two-and-a-half years. And someplace about 1958 I guess, I ended up being offered a job. I had a coworker that he was married, he had kids, and both of us were offered the job. I wasn’t—I didn’t have the expenses he had. And I told our manager—we were both in there at the same time—told our manager that he had to take a job, and I could wait for the next one that came along. And he said, no, you don’t understand; there’s two jobs. The metallography lab needs a tech in 326 Building and they also need a tech down in 306 Building. So both of us got a job about the same time, transferred out.

The other tech’s name was somebody by the name of Ray Beauchamp. And he ended up, a lot of his photography work in metallography ended up being in national competition. And he won a number of awards. He also had the privilege of polishing moon rocks that came back from one of the moon trips. I think that’s probably on display out at one of the Battelle buildings out there, even today, I would guess it’s still there. But he had a lot of notoriety.

And I worked inside the fence. I was working on materials that were of nuclear nature before they went into the reactor. And then you end up with things being even more irradiated; you had higher dose rates on the stuff that came out. The work that I did in the lab in 306 Building was to see what the material looked like before it went in the reactor. It was a base study, basically. And then when they came out of the reactor, they took it to another facility in the 300 Area called 327 Building, Radio Met—radio metallography.

And they cut up the slugs that they got out of the reactor and they looked at the integrity of the cladding on the different types of slugs they were getting out of there. They’d section them, pass the sections into the next cell. They’d sand on them, pass them into the next cell. They’d sand them down even more, ultimately getting a mirror finish polish on them, then they could put them onto the cell that the metallographs, old photograph metallographs. The technicians that worked over there, I was amazed at what they were able to do with everything that was being handled by manipulators inside of two feet of them, or four feet. I don’t know how thick those walls were, but it was amazing what they could do.

I was doing the same thing, hands-on. It took me a while to learn how to put a polish on there that I could photograph without having scratches. [LAUGHTER] That was the secret. You also couldn’t round it off; you had to have it essentially flat. The higher the magnification goes, the flatter it has to be; otherwise, you don’t get very much in focus. So I worked there until, let’s see, I guess that would’ve been August of 1961. I took a vacation and I took a honeymoon at the same point in time, and when I came back, I had a new job.

That job just kind of morphed into the job I retired from. It was a materials testing facility down in the 314 Building. Again, in the material that we were using there, it was all cold, new materials that they were going to be using in reactors. Their concern was, how far could a crack grow before it became critical and it went full-length? If this happened, then, essentially the reactor was done, you know. So they wanted to know how big a crack could it grow before—and the water would then be coming out, how much water would they lose before they could determine that they had to shut it down, pull that part out, replace it? They wanted to know what kind of a warning sign they were going to get.

Franklin: And this was for the fuel slug that would go in?

Criswell: No, because you’re not running water through the fuel slug, per se. It’s not going to leak. You’re talking about process tubes.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Criswell: Probably the first—I don’t know if we did anything on the K Reactor; I think that was in another facility. I didn’t have anything to do with that. I know there was another facility that was testing graphite. But K Reactor and N Reactor, those two had process tubes that they put the slugs into. They were both water-cooled.

Franklin: Okay.

Criswell: So they wanted to know if they were going to be able to determine when things were getting anywhere near the critical point, and they could shut it down, pull the process tube, and then start it up again. We also developed inspection probes for the reactor in 300 Area, what they referred to as PRTR. Let’s see, Plutonium Recycling Test Reactor. And here, again, they wanted to know from our inspections, what we could determine as far as wear and tear on the process tubes. So, we were actually sitting right on the faceplate of the reactor, with the access port open, running our inspection probes down. One had a camera that took 16-millimeter images of what we determined was down there. And the other one was an inspection probe that sensed the space between the process tube and another tube. And I didn’t really understand all of the process in PRTR.

Anyhow, at that point in time, my wife and I had at least one child, and I don’t remember exactly what the date was, but I came to work on a Monday morning and was told to report to PRTR. I was amongst the first that they suited up. Over the weekend, a test that had been in the reactor failed. And in turn, that test caused damage to the two tubes that the test was inside of. Damaged those, and water was released and it went right down into the very lowest level of that reactor, the bottom shield. And they dressed us up, put all kinds of monitoring equipment on us. Anyhow, went through what looked almost a porthole in a sub, and it was only probably about four feet high, to go through. Gave us a mop and a bucket and told us, one at a time, we were in there mopping up as much as we could in 20 seconds, and we had to be out of there. I have no idea to date what my dose was on that.

Anyhow, I spent two more days over there, but never went back down there. They determined we had too much dose and we were sent back to our labs. That was the end of PRTR. They never did bring that thing back up for operation again, as far as I know.

Franklin: How long did it operate, do you know?

Criswell: I got married in August of ’61. And got a letter from President Kennedy in October of ’61. Had to report to Fort Lewis the day after Thanksgiving in ’61. I got out in August 1st of ’62. Reported back to Hanford, and when I got back there, we were building the inspection probes to inspect. So, I don’t know if PRTR was operating at that point in time. It might’ve been close to that point in time. And anyhow we finished it up, and we probably spent maybe three or four outages where they’d—every time they’d have an outage where they’d pull fuels out or do something or whatever, then they’d give us two or three days to go in and inspect. It was twelve on, twelve off for us, for the techs. And they had the top shield had two rings that they could rotate. By rotation of the two rings, they could get us to the center and to the outer of all the process tubes. The inner ring would actually rotate and go all the way to the outside and all the way to the inside. The outer ring would rotate around, so they could—they’d set it up for us and they’d have the thing open for us when we got there, and we’d just start running stuff. Anyhow.

Franklin: What did you go to Fort Lewis to do?

Criswell: In 1961, Jack Kennedy was having problems with Russia and the Cubans. We were also involved in the Vietnam War at that point in time. My service dates include the Vietnam process, but I had nothing to do with that. We didn’t really know what the heck was going on. There was more secret over there that, what was going on, that we just didn’t understand. One of the strange things was that I got assigned to an amphibious truck outfit out of California. Know what the DUKW is, it’s a floating deuce-and-a-half truck. You can sink it with an M-1. Just fire at the waterline, it’s going to sink. [LAUGHTER]

When I got over there, the day after Thanksgiving, there was nobody there to receive us; we spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday sitting around in a bunkhouse, essentially, waiting for somebody to show up. Finally, Monday, we started getting processed. But the strange thing was, after things got up and operational—I was the only one that had ever worked at Hanford. They gave me the job of explaining how to avoid radiation. I found it really strange. Here I am, a Spec/2, an E4, and I’m giving a lecture on how to avoid radiation. Basically, if you’d double your distance from your source, you divide the radiation exposure by four. That was a real handy thing, if you just get yourself as far away as you can in the shortest period of time. That was the message we had to give everybody.

Our company was picking up duffel bags and equipment from other companies that had been brought in. We were loading them onto a MATS aircraft over at McChord Air Force Base, loading a great big aircraft with all kinds of stuff. Anyhow, we never saw the troops get on them when we were loading their material. Strange thing was, in July of ’62, we were told we’d be going home August 1st. And no explanation. Nothing. We still didn’t know why we were there, outside of we were loading troops onto airplanes to go to Berlin.

Anyhow, much later, I had a friend who was a mess sergeant, and at that point in time, he worked—when he wasn’t in the military, he worked as a tech for Bell Telephone. He quit that job and he went to a company, Collins Electronics, down in Texas. Next thing I know, he’s in Vietnam installing new avionics in military aircraft. And I found out later, he was all over the world installing new communication electronics. Ultimately, he’s got plaques on his walls referring to him as Colonel—I’ll stop the last name—Colonel. Anyhow, he told me, good grief, that had to have been in ’71, ’72, nine, ten years later. He said, do you know what you were over there for? I said, no, not really.

Basically what it was is the Russians had been in the habit of rotating a division into East Berlin, or East Germany, and the old one would go home. In ’61, they rotated a second—no, good grief, mind block—rotated another group in there and didn’t send one home. So now they got two. At the same time, the Russians are moving missiles into Cuba. Jack Kennedy, if he was still alive, you wouldn’t want to play poker against the man. What I found out, and I don’t know what the date was, but I have in the past ten years, I have seen confirmation of what I was told about three different times, different people. Some of them were military talking to our news people.

But Jack Kennedy, I think it’s a little jet, I think it’s a B-47, a little—actually two pod jets hanging from the wing, small jet engines hanging from the wing. They got one sitting in the tarmac in front of Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle. We had well over a thousand of those things. The term I was told was thousands. You can see pictures of those things lined up in the desert down in Arizona. They’re waiting to become beer cans. Jack Kennedy ordered all those things loaded up and he sent them all to Russia. I may be in trouble for this, but it’s a story that not very many people have heard. But it’s true. It happened. He sent them all up. Plus, they knew that all of our subs, basically, they didn’t know exactly where they were, but they knew we had them, they knew the numbers. And they knew that our missiles were capable of making the trip. They could actually see all of the jets headed there. They knew they could take out a lot of them, but they knew they couldn’t take all of them out. They knew they were going to get hit, and they were going to get hit hard.

The Russian leadership blinked. They got on the phone and they called Kennedy and they told him, you turn those planes around. Turn them around now, and we’ll pull out of Cuba. We’ll take the division out of Germany. Things will go back to the way they were. And they did. And August 1st, we went home.

But never a word as to why we were there; never a word as to what the heck was happening when they released those planes. I didn’t know why I was asked to tell people how to avoid radiation. Didn’t have a clue. So, came home, went back to work, and same organization, group, I was with when I left. That was still GE. I was still with GE.

Franklin: So were you—when you got pulled to Lewis, were you in the Guard?

Criswell: No, I was active Army.

Franklin: Oh, you were active Army.

Criswell: Yeah.

Franklin: Okay. But the whole time you were active Army you were stationed at—

Criswell: I could’ve been there until August 1st or if the Russians didn’t call Kennedy, I probably wasn’t coming home.

Franklin: Right. Had you—so were you in the Army before you got called up to—

Criswell: Yeah, I’d spent six years in National Guard.

Franklin: Okay, all right.

Criswell: Pasco National Guard.

Franklin: Okay.

Criswell: When my six years were up, which was probably about April of ’61—I think someone was unhappy with me leaving, and they put my name in there. Strange thing is, at the point that I got released from the Pasco National Guard, they were an amphibious truck outfit. So my MOS was a key personnel as a filler for an amphibious truck company from California. It made sense why I ended up there. I mean, quotation marks around my name. It had to stand out, you know? I don’t know how many of us there were nationally. I don’t think there were that many of us. I think there was truck drivers that were pulled in to help fill, mechanics to help in the shop, what-have-you. I was one of the few people that came in, I think, that knew anything about an amphibious truck. You know, how you have to take care of it and what-have-you.

It was interesting time, but I’m glad, maybe, they didn’t tell us what the heck was going on, because then, you know, I think it would’ve put a whole new light on why we were there, and something for us to really worry about, I think. They basically kept us like a bunch of mushrooms. [LAUGHTER] So definitely kept us in the dark.

But anyhow, once back here, went back to work for the same company, the same actual group. They had developed or were in the process of putting together the probes to inspect the reactors. That just morphed into all kinds of different things over the years. One of the engineers that came to work, he was new, he was hired from Boeing, he was interested in fatigue cycling.

Franklin: What is that?

Criswell: Cycling is, there’s thermal cycling—the reactor heats up, it cools off when they shut it down for a period, heats up, cools down, and you’re talking about a lot of heat. You’ve got mechanical cycling where you have load changes. Everything that’s built probably has a fatigue starter in it someplace. Either something in the manufacturing, in a casting, in the machining. Things happen when you’re making parts.

They wanted here, again, to see how long—we actually put together a system where we were fatiguing process tubes that had a little slot machine partway through it. Then we had to put endcaps on it. Then we had to pressure cycle each thing. Something like the reactor. You got water pressure going through there, and then they shut it down. We were doing this cold. And ultimately, the crack would grow. And the first problem we ran into is the crack was growing, but then it was leaking. The crack didn’t go all the way through, initially, but once it got growing, it went all the way through. So we were having oil squirting out every which way, on this end was oil. And we could pressure to, I think, 2,000 psi is what this machine could do. We weren’t getting that high. So we had to come up with a way of keeping it from—keeping the oil. So we figured out a way to patch the inside of it with a thin piece of material, yet it was flexible enough that it wouldn’t hurt the integrity of the load cycling. Ultimately, we figured out how to make this thing grow until it blew. And then, I mean, you had gallons of oil all over.

After the first one, where it was just squirting like that, then we have to have it turned toward the measuring device which is optical. When it blew, I’m on one side of what we’re doing, and the engineers are on the other side. Anyhow, they didn’t know how to turn the thing off. It had a second part to the system that would replenish the oil that it was losing to expansion. It was an air-operated pump that would just put more fluid in there. Anyhow, they couldn’t turn it off, and I had to duck underneath the stream to get around. Then I had to mop up all the oil. So the next thing was to come up with a hood that we could do the test in that had a glass that we could look through, but when it blew, the oil would just drain back into a bottle. Instead of—oh, I had a mess in that basement. I had to clean it up. That was one of the tech’s jobs.

Well, ultimately, ended up the company that made that first piece of equipment, electronics, the machine that would cycle the oil pressure, was an MTS corporation out of Minneapolis. And we ended up with a lab in the basement at 326 Building, we had ten different machines that went—one machine, I built. It was a 1,000-pound machine. And we had machines, the rest of them, MTS built, and they went up to a half-million pounds. Some were 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000-pound machines. The whole idea of all these machines was to take a chunk of metal that they were planning on using in the reactor or find out which one they could use in building the reactor. They would fatigue it, and they’d fatigue it different speeds, they’d fatigue at different temperatures, and different environments. Replicating what environment the part might see if it was being used in a reactor. 

So ultimately, we ended up having to send a whole bunch of polished specimens just like the ones we were testing in 326 Lab to the reactor. I had to polish all of these things, and we’d put them in a stack, and we had to separate them so we could keep the fluid flowing between them to keep them cool, and we sent them over to a reactor. They would irradiate these for a period of time until they got a certain exposure rate, then they’d send them back. We’d take the top off, we’d extract certain specimens out of there, and then we’d put new ones back in, and then we’d send—it was, you know, just constantly. But then we had a collection of irradiated materials so that we could compare the radiation damage to the same materials as we were testing in the labs. This allowed them to get a good idea of what they could expect for the mechanical integrity of the material once it was irradiated by the reactor.

Franklin: And what kind of material was this again? So this wasn’t fuel, this was—

Criswell: No, this was structural material.

Franklin: Okay, so, like a process tube?

Criswell: Maybe a hanger that held up pipes, or maybe it’s the support for the reactor vessel. I don’t know what parts they were looking at; I have no clue. I just know that we went through maybe a couple dozen different types of materials. There’s 314 stainless; I remember that. 316 stainless. Maybe there was, there’s Hastelloys and Inconels. They refer to them as superalloys. These are all high temperature materials that are designed to operate at high temperatures.

Franklin: Was there anything—did you come across anything surprising in the tests? Anything that was unexpected?

Criswell: I just ran the tests.

Franklin: Right.

Criswell: I’m the one that—in doing the fatigue cycling, you’d cycle it, to begin with, a large number of cycles, maybe 20,000 cycles. It might run a week, and then I’d open up the—turn things off, open up the furnace door, put a microscope in there and measure how far the crack had grown.

Franklin: Okay.

Criswell: And the idea was to get about a twenty-thousandth—twenty-thousandths—0.020 of growth. As it would begin to grow longer and longer, then the fatigue cycle would become shorter and shorter. So finally, I’m down to where I’m measuring these things a couple, three times a day. And every time I’d open up, maybe this doggone thing is running at 1200 degrees F. And I open it up; I’ve got to get in there and measure that thing. And my eyes, I mean, I don’t know what—numerous times a day, I’m opening this thing up, and I’m putting a microscope in the furnace door, and I’m measuring how long that crack is, get the furnace door closed, get it back up to temperature and start the cycling again. And I did this—oh, good grief—probably from 1965, and I was still doing fatigue cycling to the day I retired in 1999.

Franklin: Wow.

Criswell: Some of it, with GE and Battelle, in the early days, and Westinghouse—Westinghouse, we basically fixated on the structural materials. Battelle, when I worked two times with them, they had a different charter that they worked under. The government allowed them to test materials for small companies that had questions about what they were doing. That was probably more interesting than when I was working for Westinghouse, because Westinghouse, day in, day out, everything was the same. The only thing different was when they finally got the materials back from the reactors and they sent me over to 324 Building and we set things up in there to start running tests on their irradiated material.

There was problems in that process. You’re looking through four feet of leaded glass at a test frame that’s probably two, three feet from the glass. I guess the only thing that made things work is, with my height I’m able to get up—at the top, the lead glass is tilted. It’s not vertical; it’s tilted looking through the cell wall. I’m having to look down through there to get as vertical a sight on the crack that’s growing as I can. Otherwise, every plane of glass in that window—that’s not a single pane; it’s multi-paned—would give me a little bit of—it would--

Franklin: It would bend the image, right?

Criswell: It would distort the image.

Franklin: Because of refraction.

Criswell: Yeah, refraction or—I wasn’t getting a clear image. And that was, oh man, just a real learning process.

The whole idea of the polishing before they went into the reactor and became irradiated—I put a mirror finish on them. The last polishing that I did had to be vertical to the crack’s growth across it. The idea being that when you opened the thing up, and you shined a light down from the top, the image that you’re looking at is black. You don’t see the light. But if there’s a crack growing, then the crack would show up as a white line. You can measure from the initiating point, there’s a machined notch in the specimen, so you measure from here to the crack tip. We did this for a couple, three years, over a 324 Building. For whatever reason, I guess money ran out, for that program.

Battelle is a little more interesting. I was able to run tests on aircraft parts, ship—One of the problems, going clear back—not that I had anything to do with Liberty ships, but if you remember clear back in the early ‘40s, they were sending ships out that they were making as rapidly as they could for the Second World War. They’d run into the North Sea, and all of the sudden, the ship is floating—what’s left of it is floating in two halves until they sank. They rapidly developed a test called a nil-ductility drop-weight. They determined that the problem was in the structural material of the ship and the weld material that they were using to weld the plates together with.

Strangely enough, my dad worked during the Second World War part-time—well, actually he had two jobs. One with Bonneville Power and one eh worked for a period of time for a shipyard in downtown Portland, and he was of small enough stature, they were sending him in between a double hull of a ship to weld. I don’t know if he was working on Liberty ships or what.

But anyhow, the nil-ductility test, they would weld with a very brittle weld material. About a two-inch bead on top of a plate and then we’d cut a notch in that. And then you could, at different temperature, drop a given weight a given distance, so that you have how many foot-pounds you hit it with. If it didn’t break, that was fine. So you make things get colder until it breaks all—I think just the one side; that was a break. Some of them would break part-way across; that wasn’t a break. If the break arrested itself, fine. But if it would go all the way across, then that was a failure. So you’d end up going back to where you keep dividing things in half on the temperature until you found out where it would break and where it wouldn’t break. And then the temperature it wouldn’t break was nil-ductility.

But I did run tests on  ice breaker, I think it was the Polar Star, I think is the one, we said, a big chunk of this Polar Star, my gosh, that thing’s thick. The idea is that they would ride up on the—they didn’t cut and break it; they would ride up on it, and the weight of the ship would bust the ice. They didn’t know the history of what material was in there, but they wanted to make sure that they didn’t have any material from the Liberty ship era in it. I mean, the Polar Star was old enough, I guess, they had to worry about it.

I’ve done testing on aircraft parts. Again, I mentioned earlier that you can impart a crack starter into a finished part. If it’s a threaded part, you can get this if, say, the coolant material is interrupted for just a second. Well, then, you’re going to get a hot spot. You can turn and make sure you can get the stuff going again, and you can start it again, but chances are, it isn’t going to break immediately, but over 1,000 cycles, this crack is going to grow more and more and more through this thing, and then it’s going to break duct-ally over here on this part. And that’s the part that broke last. This part over here, I mean, if you look at it under high enough magnification, it looks like a bunch of waves have washed up on the shore, each one making another line on the shoreline. You can actually go backwards through those waves to where is the smallest part, and you can find that there was a hot spot there, or there’s a piece of carbon there that was embedded in the material at some point during its manufacture.

In the early days when I was in metallography, we had to use metallograph. Probably the highest you could go without having image problems was, say, 200, 250x. It would go to 500x; you could probably go to 1,000x, but you’re only going to see just a very, very small part of what you’re looking at. You’re not going to see—because getting a flat surface that doesn’t have any curvature at all. So the era of the electron microscope came in and that allowed us to not only not have to polish it; you could look at a fractured surface, I mean, something that has been pulled apart, and you can actually see down into the fractured surface. That allowed us to take a look at broken pieces, you can look at those benchmarks, you can look, and if there’s a piece of material—

In one case, a copper part was actually failing and it was catastrophic when it failed. Copper, pure copper, is something—you might as well be looking at a blank wall: there’s nothing there to see. I mean, you can polish it and there’s nothing there to see. It’s strange stuff. Anyhow, I’m down to the tip where the crack is at. We had to break it apart. This stuff, in order to form it, they had formed it using a thermal weld, or explosive weld process, where you put two plates going different directions, and then you hit it with an explosive charge. This thing, they kept breaking them. What we found was, I noticed something that looked completely different. In this whole thing, there was one piece that looked different.

Electron microscope, again, you can zero in on one item, hit the button, and basically, it’ll melt a little piece of that, and it will tell you what you’ve just melted. It will tell you that, okay, this is carbon, or this is iron, or this is, in this case, it was phosphate. You know, phosphate’s part of the explosive. There’s a material, a copper material, it’s called phosphated copper. They can use that as a spring material in making copper parts where they want flexibility, but they also want to keep contact. I don’t know if it’s what they use in, say, a flashlight where they make contact with the back of the battery. Excuse me. But anyhow, it’s something like that. But the problem with phosphated copper is that it’s also extremely brittle. I knew that from some exposure I’d had years before. When I found that, I went to the engineer, I says, this is the problem. And the end result was they were able to tell the customer, okay, you’ve got to find another way of fusing these together that doesn’t use phosphate.

I told you that parts that are machined or, the one I’m thinking of is they were basically putting a serial number on every part, and then these were being used in some sort of a structural event. For some reason, these things were breaking. What we found was that if they had a part that had a 1 laser-etched on it, or a 7 with a vertical line on it, or a 9 with a vertical line on it, an L, F, Es, anything with a vertical line on it, these things didn’t last any cyclings at all. They’d break. We noticed that, say, a Z, we could cycle a Z for almost forever. What would another letter be? Ss. They didn’t break.

Franklin: X.

Criswell: A zero, that’s a round zero, it didn’t break. So our suggestion was that they change their laser. If they’re going to keep using a laser, instead of having vertical lines, that a 7 would have an angular line on it. Nines, maybe a circle, like a 9. Stay away from vertical lines. It was a simple one, but, you know, it was an answer we were able to give them.

We actually did testing for a little mom-and-pop company down in Irrigon, Oregon. He got the license to build a gimballed trailer hitch for fifth wheels. A standard trailer hitch didn’t allow for any torqueing. If you’re going over a curb someplace. If you’re backing into a parking place and you’ve got two different levels, you know. You tried to unhook, you’re going to have a problem. They actually came up with a gimballed trailer hitch; they had the license for it. But they wanted to know, how many cycles would this take? We were able to tell them, hey, you know, with the exception of maybe a farmer carrying 50,000 pounds of hay on a flatbed trailer, you’re probably not going to have a problem. If it’s just an RV trailer, I wouldn’t worry about it.

I actually did testing for Ti Sports. They came to us. They had developed a new welding technique, and they wanted to know how good it was or wasn’t. So we compared a lot of their old welds to their new welds. And found the new weld was significantly better than their old weld.

Franklin: And what product was this for?

Criswell: Ti! Titanium. Titanium bikes.

Franklin: Titanium bikes.

Criswell: Expensive bikes. Apparently one of the problems that they’d had with the early ones was that the weld technique left something to be desired. So they developed a new one, and it was much better. Battelle was interesting, because there was always something new coming in the door.

Franklin: It says here that after you retired, you took up a part time job at Battelle as a security escort?

Criswell: That wasn’t with Battelle.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Criswell: That was with a couple different companies. When I retired, essentially, November 1st, I took that day off. It was my first retirement day. I went back to work on November 2nd, half-time. I worked Monday through Wednesday noon. [LAUGHTER] They were setting up a new lab. Somebody remembered I’d worked in the metallography lab years earlier. The tech specialist that was setting up the metallography in that lab retired. They needed somebody else, and somebody’s memory remembered me. So I’m working part-time before I retired in there, and then I’d go back to my lab and do some testing, if it required. And they were bringing in somebody new.

But the facility I was going to be working in, it was going to be a secured facility. It had special requirements, everything. By the time I was asked if I’d mind going full retirement, which was in April—It was financial situation, they had a lady who also had worked in metallography and she was still young,  they wanted her to continue in that respect. But the lab was going to be secured. We were taking pictures. In my case, I was using a copper penny to check out how things were working. Totally new metallograph, it was all digital, I mean, it was much different than anything I was used to. So having to set this thing up so it would work with computers. Oh, man. The only thing significant there that we found, and I did find, what was going to be a security problem, made a suggestion, and they got excited. We had to go out and find something new that was going to meet security requirements, so I guess I did my part. [LAUGHTER]

Knowing what they have to do in a secured facility—every time an engineer or a scientist writes a paper, before it can be released, it has to go for review. It has to be—it can be unclassified or it’s given a classification. If it has given a classification—number one, in ’99, when I retired, things were being transmitted by the internet—no way were they going to transmit anything via the internet, if it’s classified. At least, not when I got out of there. You know, if they had to transmit someplace else, it was hand-carried if it’s here on Hanford. If it’s got to go to somebody that’s working on the same program at another facility, you’re going to have a courier take it; it’s not going via US Mail or it’s not going via the internet. So this is the way things work.

Before I retired, I did some escort work with foreign nationals. They could work in certain facilities, but they couldn’t go elsewhere. So after I retired, full retirement, April of ’99, my wife saw an ad in the paper, anybody that still has their clearance or can get a clearance may have a part-time job for you. And my wife saw to it that I signed up for that. [LAUGHTER] I was put back to work out at Dash-5, construction work out there. Construction craftspeople, temporary, they’re not going to go to the trouble of getting them all a full security clearance.

Each security escort can escort up to five. If you’ve got two, though, you need to have two escorts, and then you can escort up to nine. Because if one person has to go to the head—you know. So we always had a few extras. But if somebody’s got to go to the tool room or if they got to go talk to somebody, they have to have—the escort has to escort them to that point, be with them full time, escort them back. You can’t leave nine people short, so. Just keeping, making sure they didn’t wander off making trouble someplace. We have to be aware of where the radiation areas are. We can’t go there. So did that for another eight years. Took another short time job with—kind of with Battelle again. That lasted for about five, six months. Then I’ve been retired since then.

Franklin: Finally retired?

Criswell: Yeah. To say the least, I kind of miss it. I guess one of the things that—they sent me to a couple of short courses on something called failure analysis. Again, why things break. It kind of fit in with what I was doing, only I was the reason things were breaking. I mean, I was getting paid good to break things. Who could argue with that? You could hire an eight-year-old to break things for you. [LAUGHTER]

But that half-million-pound machine we had, an interesting one. They sent the actuator back to the factory and set it up so it would high rate. I forget what the rating would travel at, but it would break things up to 500,000 pounds in the blink of an eye. Or you could do it slow. It would go either way. You had control over how that machine worked. We were doing work for, I guess, Areva at that point in time. We were doing some testing for them. But, again, Battelle was interesting. I do miss it. I was kind of hoping I could be summer relief or something like that after I retired.

But they brought in—matter of fact, the gentleman I recommended for the job ended up getting it. I hope he isn’t too mad at me. I think that was one of the—it bothered me. He was a long-time Westinghouse employee. When I retired in ’99, I think he might still have been working for Westinghouse. Or—but anyhow. He had either four or five weeks of vacation. And he was a tech specialist. I guess they hired him as a tech specialist. So he could keep his vacation. Shortly after he was hired in, Battelle determined they needed to tighten up on finances or some darn thing, and they saw fit to reduce him back to a technician, and he lost some of his vacation, I understood. That didn’t go well. He wasn’t happy about that.

He’s a good man. I recommended him, because he’d worked with MTS equipment. He knew it. And I knew him to be a self-starter. You weren’t going to have to hold his hand and have somebody there with him full-time; he was going to work. One of the people that put a name in for the job, I didn’t know him, never heard of him. And the other one was a tech specialist, but he hadn’t worked with that kind of equipment, either. And I didn’t know whether he was a self-starter or not. So Mike got the job, and I guess Mike is still there. Good grief. 17 years later?

Franklin: Yeah. I have a couple questions I’d like to return to some stuff you said earlier, if you don’t mind.

Criswell: No.

Franklin: When you mentioned you moved to Tri-Cities January 1st, 1948 at midnight—why does that stick out to you so strongly in your mind? How do you--?

Criswell: Well, the family had a get-together. They were in Portland to celebrate New Year’s Eve. After that, Dad and I climbed in the car and drove to Pasco.

Franklin: Why?

Criswell: Because he had a new job up here.

Franklin: Oh, okay. And what did your dad do in Pasco?

Criswell: He went to work for a company called Empire Electric. Empire Electric had a shop, a storefront, there on Lewis Street about three, maybe four, doors west of the corner building there on, let’s see, that’d be the northwest corner of 4th and Lewis. That corner building in 1948 and up through ’61 was a drugstore. Can’t think of the name of the drugstore, but it was a drugstore. Anyhow, Dad worked there for a year—better than a year, anyhow. He got the—

You know, I don’t know what Dad did for them. I really don’t. Dad was kind of a public informations officer. When the opening came up, up at Hungry Horse, Montana, he took the job up there as public informations officer. We were there for, oh my gosh, we moved up there in February. I’d never seen so much snow in my life. And cold, my gosh, it was cold. But it wasn’t as cold as it got. I actually saw 40-below when I was still in grade school. I had to put on the skis and I actually skied down to the grade school. It was downhill from our house. I mean, when it got 40-below, it was clear. I mean, it was so clear, it was beautiful. Because what humidity was still in the air was coming out as little sparkles. It’s amazing. But I hated it.

My grandmother on my mom’s side was into knitting, and she knit us kids, out of wool, probably some of the first facemasks. She found a pattern for these things. They had a mouth, they had a place for your nose, and two eyeholes. At 40-below, the tears from your eyes froze to the wool. You might want to turn this off. By the time I got to school—you can edit it. I’d have a wad of snot hanging on that wool, and it’s frozen. And my mouth, breathing around here, I got a lot of moisture around here. This probably wasn’t snot, probably vapors. But, ugh, terrible. It got worse.

Franklin: I was going to say, I grew up in Alaska and I remember some really—

Criswell: So you know what I’m talking about.

Franklin: Cold. Oh, yeah, where you—

Criswell: Did you have a wool one, or did they finally come up with those nice nylon ones that slick them?

Franklin: No, we had the nice nylon. But still, you’d get the—you’d go outside, and you’d feel the heat being sucked out of your nose and your mouth as soon as you open to breathe, you just feel the moisture being pulled out of your face. It’s cold, yeah. Cars won’t start, usually.

Criswell: Oh, yeah, so you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Franklin: Yeah, I don’t miss those days.

Criswell: Hungry Horse was interesting. Summer times were great. Get the fishing pole and go fishing. Summer time was that. Excuse me a second.

Franklin: No worries. And so when you returned, spring/summer of ’53, what was your family—did your mom work at all this whole time, or was she a housewife?

Criswell: Housewife. 1953, the job up in Hungry Horse was done. President Truman had come through, dedicated the dam. My dad actually wrote the speech. Public informations officer, he wrote the speech, he knew the information about Hungry Horse. Anyhow, I do remember, I was either in the eighth grade or I was in high school, going to school in Columbia Falls at that point in time. We went down to where the railyard went through Columbia Falls. Train’s stopped, Truman’s on the back platform on the train, he talks to the crowd out there. I mean, all the kids in school went out there. And then he climbed in a car and up to Hungry Horse he goes. So, that’s one of the memories. When Dad came back down here, he had a job as, again, kind of a public informations officer for Franklin County PUD.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Criswell: That was ’53. In 1960, Dad, Mom, and the rest of the family packed it up and went to Springfield Municipal Utilities. He actually sold himself the job of being the director for Springfield Municipal Utilities and down there, that was water, sewer and electric.

Franklin: And where is—

Criswell: It wasn’t part of the city. They were a municipal utility that was separate from the city.

Franklin: Are you talking about Springfield—

Criswell: Springfield, Oregon.

Franklin: Oh, Springfield, Oregon, okay.

Criswell: He held that job until he retired in 1960. I forget exactly when he retired. But he was there—no, went there in ’60. 1980 he retired. So he held it for 20 years.

Franklin: Wow.

Criswell: And then he ruined the family name; he took a job as a—oh. [LAUGHTER] Kind of a political job. Lobbying! The Oregon State Legislature. [LAUGHTER] We kidded him about taking that job.

Franklin: Getting into politics.

Criswell: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Anyhow.

Franklin: So—

Criswell: About the only job Mom had is, both Mom and Dad were involved with what is now the Water Follies. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, it was the Pasco Water Follies. And the races were down at Sacajawea Park. Dad was president of the Pasco Water Follies for a period of time, and I think Mom—I forget if she was the treasurer or the secretary, I forget which. Maybe both at one point in time or another. But they were heavily involved in the Pasco Water Follies.

I’m pretty sure that Dad came up here only once to watch the Water Follies after they became the Tri-City Water Follies, and he saw the new boats running. I don’t think he enjoyed them as much as he did the old thunder boats. That’s the part I always enjoyed. You go down there in the Columbia and the thunder boats are running five in a heat, it almost felt like the ground you were standing on was shaking when they were going by. That’s the part I really miss. I know the new ones go a whole lot faster, but. There’s just something about the old boats; they were special, as far as I was concerned.

I knew John Owsley. He had the Pasco Boat Basin. He was probably responsible for the sleds they use at the Tri-City Water Follies. I know he was building them. He built a couple small ones, probably for the Pasco Water Follies. Ultimately, he ended up building kind of a three-point sled that he thought would go faster out there in the river to get to the crashes a little bit quicker. The whole idea was you didn’t have to haul somebody up over the transom of a boat to get them in; you basically just float them onto the back of the sleds that he was building. I thought that was pretty good.

I know that when I was in the service there in ’62, came home on leave, and things were pretty tight for the wife and myself. John gave me a job. I guess somebody complained about not having any railings on the docks down there. He gave me a job to build railings on there for him. I did that on leave one time, and he was in the process, I think of building that three-point step one at that time. But things are different today, I’ll tell you.

Franklin: Yeah. How did you meet your wife? Is she from the area?

Criswell: Oh, that’s another one of those stories. [LAUGHTER] Strange you should ask that one. Somebody else asked me that question here, this past week. I blame it on a Pasco police officer. I was going to night school, oh, I don’t know what I was taking. A number of different night school classes I took over at CBC. I was taking another one. I was working, trying to get myself up to a decent grade point average. But I wasn’t having a whole lot of success. I had a C over there. But anyhow, part of my problem was that in 1960, early ’61, I was baching it, cooking for myself, studying. I get into the studying, I’d burn my dinner. Didn’t have the money to replace it. Decided it’d be cheaper for me if I went down to—it was the Payless Drug on the corner of 4th and Lewis. Payless Drug, they had a lunch counter down there, they cooked dinners down there. I’d get myself a supper; I’d sit there at the counter and study.

Anyhow, I was doing that. One evening, police officer—and I mentioned to whomever I was talking to this week, I want to go over to Pasco and find out this police officer’s name. He had kind of a walking beat in downtown Pasco. He was an older gentleman. And he came up to me, he says, Dave, I got a couple of tickets for you. Whoa, what the heck? I’m working at Hanford; I don’t get tickets. I’ve got to be careful. I look at him real strange. Tickets? What kind of tickets? What’d I do wrong? He’s messing with me. He says, well, these are kind of special tickets. I said, what kind of ticket? He said, they’re tickets to the policeman’s ball. These two are for you. I said, I’m not going with anybody! Who am I going to get?

He says, I’ve been drinking coffee here. He says, you’ve been watching that little lady over there. He says, you go ask her to go to the policeman’s ball. So I did. And I’d been cashing my checks here, and she’d been cashing my checks. She knew how much I earned. Didn’t pay any attention to what my name was. I had to always take my check downstairs and get it approved by the owner of Payless Drug at that point in time. I think his name was Tom Bishop. Yeah, it was. Tom Bishop. So Tom knew my family. Knew it wasn’t any problem with me getting my cash checked. So he’d initial the check, I’d take it back up, and this little gal would cash my check. So I asked her out. She said yes.

Good grief. Next month it’s going to be 55 years. My wife and I have hardly ever been parted. Only when I went over to Fort Lewis. That didn’t last long. We moved the trailer that we were living in over there. A few trips where they sent me to school to learn something, one thing or another. That’s been our—[LAUGHTER] So I need to find out the officer’s name so I can blame him by name. Or thank him.

Franklin: Yeah, Officer Matchmaker?

Criswell: Yeah. He real did me a real favor, I’ll tell ya.

Franklin: Aw.

Criswell: But I would like to find his name. I have no idea what his history was or what happened. But after 55 years, I assume by this time, that he’s deceased, unfortunately. I wish I woke up to that question 30 years ago.

Franklin: Is your wife from the area?

Criswell: She’s born and raised here. Born in Lady of Lourdes Hospital. My two natural-born children were born in Lady of Lourdes Hospital. I don’t know—I know in the early part of my wife’s—they had to—I guess they had to get over to that hospital in a—I guess they had to cross the river in those years in a ferry boat.

Franklin: Okay.

Criswell: They had a little boat that ran back and forth across the Columbia.

Franklin: Wow.

Criswell: I’m not too sure what year the old green bridge got built. But I do know in the early days. Another strange piece of information was that my great-grandfather moved to the Northwest from Michigan, I guess. And he went to work in a lumberyard, lumber mill in north Idaho, a place called Harrison, Idaho. His job was training the horses and seeing to the horses’ needs that went out into the woods to pull the logs back in. And my grandmother, when she became of age, she worked in the millinery shop there in Harrison, Idaho. My wife and I have determined, at the same point in time, her grandmother’s family is living in Harrison, Idaho. I think her grandfather, her great-uncle, and an uncle were working in the woods logging up there. So, both of our ancestries have got connections to Harrison, Idaho.

A couple, three years ago, my wife and I went up there with my wife’s sister, and we were looking for gravesites. And we found a couple of my wife’s family members in the Harrison graveyard, up on a hillside, up above Harrison there someplace. And still couldn’t find my great-grandfather. Turns out that Coeur d’Alene has two graveyards. And my sister looked in one, but didn’t look in the other one. My sister lives up in Sandpoint. And could not find our great-grandfather. Anyhow, on one of our trips up there, I took the time and went over to the other graveyard and found a gentleman mowing the lawn. He got off, went into the office, came back out, got a book, looked in the book, took us over and he pointed right at a gravesite where my great-grandfather was buried.

Turns out that my first name is great-grandfather’s last name. And I always thought that Engelbert Humperdinck’s name was all made up. I never heard of anybody named Engelbert in my life, so I thought that was all a stage name. Turns out, my grandfather’s name was Engelbert David.


Franklin: Sounds like that should kind of be reversed.

Criswell: Yeah! Thank goodness I didn’t get hung up with Engelbert. But I believe my great-grandfather came to this country—he was an immigrant—he came to this country from Austria. I’m not too sure what year he came here. I don’t know how old he was. My great-grandmother and one of my great-aunts, apparently, died during a measle epidemic. I have no idea what year that was. But anyhow, Engelbert David packed up his one remaining daughter and apparently a girl that she was friends with, maybe family friends, and apparently they had problems. Maybe lost some family members also. So he brought the two girls out to Harrison, Idaho.

I think, two things make me believe that maybe Engelbert David—he apparently changed his name sometime after my grandmother grew up, he remarried. Now his name on the tombstone is Egbert David. This is quite common. David is probably a frequent name of people who are of Jewish faith. And living in Austria, in probably the late ‘30s, or maybe even early ‘30s, things were not too favorable to the Jewish religion. I think that might’ve been the reason for the migration. And maybe the reason for changing the name at some point in his life.

But my dad’s father, my grandfather, was blind at the time. My youngest years, almost totally blind by the time I remember him. He was a radio operator for the railroad—telegrapher for the railroad. And then he went to work in the merchant marines, was in the merchant marines when the Second World War blew up. And then he was in the Pacific. But his eyesight got so bad he couldn’t see to write anymore. And he couldn’t read the messages that had to be sent. So they had to release him. So I grew up—Grandpa Criswell was kind of funny. Let’s face it, in some ways he was a bit bigoted. I do believe that he was bigoted toward the Jewish faith. I’m sure my dad and his brothers ribbed him incessantly about some of his bigoted views. But they were all a bunch of cards, as far as I was concerned. They were some of the funniest things they ever came up with. But anyhow, he couldn’t see my dad and his brothers laughing at him, unfortunately, but maybe he would’ve changed his mind with time. But strange things.

So I really don’t know that much about Great-grandfather. My grandfather lived to be 101. My grandmother lived to be four hours short of 102, deceased a few months later. Literally, if she’d lived to midnight, she would’ve lived to be 102. But aunt and uncle moved them down to Florida when they were in the 80s. I think my uncle was figuring they only had a few years to live. That didn’t happen. My grandfather, when he was packed up and ready to leave, he didn’t want to go. They were flying him down to Florida. Uncle Hank worked for the United Airlines. He’d made arrangements for them to fly. Probably made arrangements then to fly them first class. The story granddad got was that all the coach seats were full; they’d have to seat them in first class. Of course they got real good treatment, so granddad didn’t mind traveling anymore. But when he was getting ready to leave, he didn’t want to fly. Visited him just before he left. And I asked Granddad, I says, why don’t you want to fly? Because it’s a great way to travel. He tells me, straight-faced, they fly so high you can’t see the ground. I’m thinking to myself—I’m polite—I was thinking to myself, Granddad, you can’t see the ground you’re standing on. You know? I don’t understand why—you know.

One of my uncles was coming by to take him down to see the Rose Festival parade. Oh, that’s cool. Well, we’re not going to the Rose Festival parade; I'm upset. Why? Well, they’re taking us to the warehouse that they decorate the floats in. What’s the matter with that? You don’t have to stand there for hours to watch. You can’t see anything. His reason for not liking the warehouse versus standing on the street is he doesn’t get to see any of the pretty girls. He hasn’t seen a pretty girl for 50 years. [LAUGHTER] Well, I don’t understand him. Anyhow, that’s my granddad.

Franklin: When you—[LAUGHTER] Thank you for that. You started work at Hanford, were you still living in Pasco?

Criswell: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: Did you ever move to Richland, too, or did you live in Pasco the whole time--

Criswell: No.

Franklin: --you worked at Hanford?

Criswell: My wife and her family lived in Kennewick. But when Helen and I first got married, before we got married, I was living in a little studio apartment there in Pasco. And we found a single-wide 50-foot mobile home. We figured this’ll hold us for a while. We set it up on a lot there in Pasco. Right across the highway from the outdoor theater there. Anyhow, that was supposed to hold us for a few years. Well, we moved in and a few months later, we ended up having to pack it up and move it over to Olympia. And then we moved it back to Pasco when we got out in August.

So we lived in Pasco. While we were in the service, my wife knows that she was expecting our first. Anyhow, after we moved back, we discovered that our single-wide mobile home and an infant—we were wall-to-wall toys within no time at all. We found somebody who decided that their house was too big for them to care for any, and they were willing to make a deal on it, and we took their house. So that was—then we moved to Kennewick. I guess, basically, we either lived in Kennewick or just outside of Kennewick now for a number of years. It’s been—

Franklin: One of the things—

Criswell: Excuse me.

Franklin: Oh, no, that’s okay.  There’s kind of several big events or things that happened in the Tri-Cities during the ‘50s and ‘60s. One of them is—it’s kind of commonly known that Pasco, especially east Pasco, was one of the only places that African Americans could live when they first came to Hanford during the Manhattan Project, and then was one of the only places they could buy property, up until, you know, civil rights legislation kind of forced some changes. I’m wondering if you could speak to any of that, or if you ever noticed segregation or witnessed that, or kind of your experiences living in Pasco during that time?

Criswell: Well, I lived in Pasco in ’48-’49. I guess I never noticed it. I wasn’t old enough to understand those things, I guess. ’48, I would’ve been 11. ’49, probably living in Montana by then. Yeah, we moved up there in February of ’49, so. Anyhow, by the time we moved up there, didn’t seem to notice anything. Moved back to Pasco in spring of ’53, summer of ’53. Junior in high school. There was students that were black. Some of them I got to know. There weren’t very many. Yeah, it was strange. But when I was a kid going to Portland, I didn’t—this wasn’t something that I saw in Portland. I didn’t know it; I didn’t understand it.

My wife, however, she went to Kennewick schools. Kennewick was one of the cities that, I guess, on the Kennewick side of the bridge, the old green bridge, there was some sort of a sign over there. I never recognized it as being there, but it told our black population that they needed to be out of Kennewick by sundown. Both my wife’s family and my family, that’s not the way we were brought up. My wife’s family were essentially farmers, lived on the outskirts of Kennewick and went to Kennewick schools. My wife’s family lived just on the west side of Kennewick. The only way to get to Pasco was across that old green bridge, so you had to go through Kennewick. My wife says that they had people to come from Pasco that would help her family on the farm. They were blacks, black people, Negro, whatever term is politically correct, socially correct. I don’t want to offend anybody. But their family, their kids grew up, their kids played on her farm. If they ended up picking until sunset to get the crop in, the family, kids all went out and they slept in the barn, or the extra bedrooms, or I guess my wife and her sister, bedroom was probably in the basement of the little house they lived in. So the families that were working on the farm worked and then they slept down there. But they all ate together. Somehow my wife grew up, didn’t know that there was a problem, didn’t understand the difference.

Franklin: Do you remember the civil rights demonstrations in Kennewick? I think it was 1963 or 1964 when the NAACP—

Criswell: I didn’t. At that point in time, I’m out at Hanford working.

Franklin: Sure.

Criswell: Went to work out there in August, no September, of 1955, I hired in out there. I was working with colored people, black people. There Fort Lewis, I met a gentleman who didn’t end up in my company, but while we were there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the troops came back to Hanford—they were all gone for Thanksgiving. Anyhow, he played for pro ball for, I think, the New York Giants. Big man. Told great stories. Great stories. He entertained the few of us that were stuck in that barracks for the weekend.

You know, they stuck us in that barracks over there, it was empty, it had the cots, the mattresses were folded up, no blankets. There was no coal for the furnaces, no hot water. Having had experience with Fort Lewis, I became—I don’t want to say a leader, but definitely I knew what the heck to do to get around things. So I had three or four of the other gentlemen that were stuck there with me—that may have been the one from New York Giants; I don’t really recall. I had my sleeping bag, so I was all right.

But anyhow we needed to get heat. So I told the guys, let’s find some boxes. And after dark, we went down the line and found some barracks that had kindling. We found barracks that had paper. We found barracks that had the coal. Anyhow, we took anything we could find. I knew all about those barracks. We got a fire lit. We knew we had to take turns watching that fire through the night and we had hot water in the morning. We had heat in the barracks through the weekend; we just had to keep watching that fire. All of us ended up having a fairly decent weekend; it could’ve been miserable because there wasn’t anybody else there to help us. They threw us into that barracks and, adios, we got the weekend off. That’s the last we saw of them. Well, we got the fire lit, and we had power in the day rooms, so we had television and we had a pool table. I guess maybe we shared some of the coal with the day room so it’d have heat. Monday morning here they come back and we all got to take physicals and we all end up getting busted up and going different places.

Franklin: Did you go to the N Reactor dedication when President Kennedy came to—

Criswell: N Reactor. No, I didn’t. I don’t know why. Probably because I was working. [LAUGHTER] And sometimes, they didn’t even want me taking a vacation when I needed one. They let me know they would remember that. If I insisted on a vacation, they couldn’t stop me, but they’d remember it. You know, getting a raise was—My dad was here for that. Because Dad was part of the—what’d they call that group of power companies, public utilities? He was part of that. At one point in time, he was president of BWIP. Of the contributors or whatever-the-heck they called that group. Anyhow, he was one of the—he was up here for that. He sat in the audience. He was up here for all the BWIP meetings that they would hold. No, that wasn’t BWIP. BWIP, Basalt Waste Isolation. No, he was one of the, I guess they call them stakeholders. The electrical utilities that signed on for—but anyhow, he was here for that. And for all of the meetings they had here for that. He was here when the president came up for the dedication. Seemed to me that was Kennedy, wasn’t it?

Franklin: Yeah. He came for the dedication of N Reactor in September of 1963.

Criswell: Okay, well, I know where I was. If that was in late ’61 or spring of ’62, I was over at Fort Lewis. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: No, it was September of ’63. It was just about two months before the assassination.

Criswell: September of ’63, okay. Well then, okay, yeah, I remember that all too well. Yeah.

Franklin: One of my last questions is one a little earlier, probably, when you were going to school, but when you were here in Pasco or in Hungry Horse do you remember doing lots of civil defense things? Because that would’ve been right during the height of the Cold War. So what can you tell me about civil defense?

Criswell: I don’t think Hungry Horse they were worried about it. They never did anything like that up at Hungry Horse.

Franklin: What about here in Tri-Cities?

Criswell: I’m trying to think about Tri-Cities. Pasco High School, brand new school, graduated, second graduating class from Pasco High. I don’t remember anything special about it. I really don’t. And I don’t—after I graduated and then the Russians started playing around like they did in—that’d have been late ’61. Yeah, late ’61, that’s when they pulled all of us in. And then in ’62, and ultimately they sent us all home when they talked the Russians into pulling everything out of Cuba. But it was a strange time.

Franklin: Did you ever feel any sense of urgency or fear, living so near to Hanford? You know, knowing what was being produced, how it was contributing to the nuclear weapons stockpile?

Criswell: Well, when I was over there at Fort Lewis in—it would’ve been ’62, probably the early spring of ’62—I am a lowly Spec/4. That’s the equivalent of a corporal. I got called into the office and I was told I was going to give a class on irradiation and avoiding irradiation, minimizing exposure to radiation. And they had me a book and I had no clue as to why they were giving that to me. I didn’t have a clue. They didn’t tell us nothing over there! I mean, hey, we were a bunch of mushrooms. Anyhow, I had to give the company I was part of a breakdown on, you know, how to avoid radiation. Basically what the difference was between contamination and radiation. There’s a lot of people don’t understand that today. You double the distance, you reduce your exposure by four. That’s one of the big things. Get the heck away from it as fast as you can. You don’t know where it’s at, but distance from the source is big. I had no reason why I’m giving this class. The only reason I understand now why I’m giving a class is I worked at Hanford. [LAUGHTER] That’s it. I didn’t know what I was talking about. [LAUGHTER] So that’s why I had to give this thing. So I did my best. And that’s the last I ever heard of it. We never had another seminar on it. There was never anything else about it.

Franklin: Interesting.

Criswell: It was a strange, strange period of time. But I don’t think anybody really understood what the period was. Nobody in the military told us, really, why we were there. Nobody told us a thing. We were a bunch of mushrooms. It just didn’t make sense. Didn’t make any sense. But, you know, number of years later, I was told why things happened the way they did. And Kennedy, if Kennedy was born today, you wouldn’t want to play poker with the man. He pulled the ultimate bluff on the Russians. Every B-52, and we had a thousand, or more than 1,000—I think they’re B-52s, the lightweight ones? Or are those B-47s?

Franklin: I think those are B-47s.

Criswell: Okay, B-47s. Lightweight. They got two engines hanging on a pod on either side, on the wings. And they’re all small, lightweight bombers. Had thousands of those things. And to my knowledge, they’re still all lined up in the desert, down there in Arizona, unless they made beer cans out of them. But sometime, probably the early part of ’62, Kennedy pulled the ultimate bluff. He wanted the second division pulled out of East Berlin. He wanted the missiles out of Cuba. And he told the Russians—no, he unleashed all those B-47s at the same time. And the big ones. All of our big ones. The Russians could see them. There wasn’t any questions. The Russians could see that they weren’t going to be able to stop them all. They knew that they were going to get through. We were going to lose a lot of planes; we were going to lose a lot of crews. But we were going to have one big mess.

I forget who the heck the Russian was at the time. He got on the phone with the Kennedys, he says, turn those planes around. Turn them all around. He says, we’ll pull out. We’ll get the stuff out of Cuba. The extra division will go out of East Berlin. And that’s the way it went. But we, at Fort Lewis, we didn’t hear a dumb thing about it. It wasn’t until years later that a friend of mine told me what the heck had happened. Kennedy pulled the ultimate bluff. You don’t want to play cards with a guy like that! But if I’d known, I think I’d have—I don’t know what the heck you’d do.

Franklin: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to talk about before we conclude the interview?

Criswell: The only thing I can say is my career at Hanford was interesting. I did a lot of different things. I’d still like to be working out there. I’d still have a ball working out there if I could. Unfortunately, I had a senior engineer PhD do a number on me.

Franklin: What do you mean by that?

Criswell: He lied.

Franklin: Okay.

Criswell: Okay. He wanted to come into my lab, he wanted to set up a series of tests. At the point in time, I was telling management that we’ve got to get new controls for the equipment we’re operating. These things are getting old, they’re unreliable. I knew this machine would fail. I couldn’t predict when, I couldn’t figure out why. I referred to it as a ghost. I mean, one time it does something wrong, and the next time you go to look for it, it isn’t there, it’s working perfectly okay. But you can’t trust it no more.

This PhD insisted that I use this particular machine. There’s another one sitting alongside of it that would’ve done the job. He wants to use this machine. I tell him, no. This machine is flaky; it can’t be relied on. He tells me before I leave his office, before we run any tests, your fault, the machine’s fault, I’m going to get you.

So, either the first or second test, I’m sitting there. We run a block of cycles, we take a reading. Start it up again, run a block of cycles, take a reading. It’s at high temperature, what-have-you. So I’m tilted back against the cupboard, waiting for the cycles to end. All of the sudden, bang! Doggone thing fails. Oh, by the way, I told the engineer that I directly tied to that, hey, this isn’t a good machine, you don’t want to use it. But he insists on using it. Anyhow, he goes running to my manager. It’s all my fault. He lived up to his word. And my manager accepted it.

Franklin: Wow.

Criswell: So I didn’t get a raise. And that would’ve been January 1st of ’99. I didn’t get a raise. So I wrote a letter, put it in my file that, no, this wasn’t my fault. And I had told him it wasn’t my fault. But I tried to keep the thing going, work to make sure that things ran properly, but I needed some support from management. I didn’t really get the support I wanted until after I left.

Franklin: Right.

Criswell: When they brought in the gentleman that replaced me, then they replaced all the electronics. But if I can figure out what—each one of these electronic things has got a whole bunch of drawers in it, and it’s got a whole bunch of pieces in each one of the drawers. If you can figure out what controls what, and it stays broken, then you can fix it. But when it goes back and forth, no. That’s when I call it a ghost. It didn’t work.

So, anyhow, they kind of promised me that if things worked out, I’d get a raise in July, mid-term, mid-year. Anyhow, that didn’t happen. So I decided, well, I’ll be 62 in a couple more months and then I can retire. And I did. But I came back half-time. I’d probably still have been out there. I don’t know how long I would’ve worked. Hey, I enjoyed the work. It was interesting, and I was good at it. But unfortunately I couldn’t get the backing to replace the equipment when I needed it. And I ended up taking the hit. Unfortunately, this particular engineer, scientist, ended up causing problems for others. I guess, maybe, I’m kind of happy or proud about one thing. The gentleman I recommended to take my job ended up with it, and he’s still there.

Franklin: That’s good.

Criswell: I picked a younger man who, I’m assuming he’s still there. That’s been a lot of years.

Franklin: Maybe you should call him up.

Criswell: I probably ought to. I know that—I talked to him a few times since they moved out of the building we were in and moved downtown. That was one of the things they did, was they had to leave the basement that I was in. And they asked me about moving this big piece of equipment, this half-million-pound machine, how are we going to get that out of there? I told them how it was done. Anyhow, I don’t know what went wrong. But they had that—I suspect I know one thing.

They had to back the semi down a ramp to the basement of the building. And if they got cockeyed or if the wheels are sitting in the hole, the deck on the flatbed is going to be canted. So they have to lay this huge frame down on its side. They have to get it over to where there’s an elevator that goes up to the half level that it’s got to go out of. But when I was there, they did this. They had to support this huge frame using railroad ties. And I’m there to watch, make sure that they don’t do anything wrong. All of the sudden, I hear this really screwy noise. And I go out in the hall. They’re out in the hall with a chainsaw cutting creosoted railroad ties to length to prop the elevator bed at a half-level between the floor level and the exit level. Because it won’t support the weight of this machine. So they got to support it there, and then they got to put a ramp going out. So anyhow, there’s this blue fog going down the hallway. I mean, this is—railroad ties with creosote on them, they’re cutting them with a chainsaw out in the hall of the building. [LAUGHTER] Stinky poo mess. But they got it out. This is when I was there.

And they take it over to 324 Building. And they lift it up, they sit it on the ground upright, they take the lid off of 324 Building, the roof off of it. They take the shields off of 324 Building, they set them on the ground. And then when they got access to the hot cell in 324 Building, they go over there and they pick this machine up and they lift it up, over, and they set it down inside of the hot cell in 324 Building. They’re going to do some low level work. They wrap it with plastic and everything else. And then, later on after they finish doing whatever testing they were going to do, they pick it up again to go through the reverse, they bring it over and they set it down.

Some other point in time, they take that thing—they’re making another lift on it, and anyhow, it crashes down. The actuator on that thing is about three feet in diameter. It generates 500,000 pounds of force using 3,000 psi of oil pressure. And it crashes. No, that’s upright, yep. Anyhow, yeah, they got it sitting off the ground over at 324 Building, outside of the cells, getting ready to make a lift. And all of a sudden, the cable comes loose from the drum on the winch on the crane. And this huge doggone frame drops a foot or two, down onto the ground. Anyhow, one of our engineers is looking around behind, he’s headed back to 300 Area proper. He looks behind him, and he can see the cable of the load cell going up, coming back down, going up, coming back down. And then pretty soon it just falls to the ground. It’s come off the drum on the frame. So anyhow it’s sitting there on the ground. And now the riggers have got to go through about four months of writing reports on why they dropped this thing.

So anyhow, they lift it up, they finally lay it back down, and they get it over to our lab and they lift things back up, and they put it back in our lab. We make sure it’s nice and clean, it’s okay for use. When they get ready to take it out of that lab—this is after I’ve left—and they’re putting it onto a flatbed truck, instead of using a crane to move this thing with, they’ve got—they haven’t hired the riggers. They went out and hired a tow truck company. [LAUGHTER] They’ve got a flatbed truck sitting there by the rollup door, and it’s going down here, and apparently it’s tilted to the side. And they’ve got nothing on there to keep this thing on there.

 Anyhow, instead of lifting it, they’re dragging it up an I-beam incline on rollers. They’re using a tow truck in front of the semi that’s going to haul this thing over to the new building where it’s going to be installed at. So they get it up through the rolling doors and onto the flatbed truck, that apparently is at an angle. One of the gentlemen that’s watching this, he says, all of the sudden they get it out there, off the I-beam that it’s been pulled out on, and this thing starts to roll sideways off the flatbed truck. And it falls off and crashes.

Well, this huge actuator is really quite a delicate piece of equipment. Number one, the rings inside of this piston—I don’t know how many are in there; I’ve never seen the inside of one of these things. But the cylinder itself is coated with silver. It’s got a silver plating in there. And the silver in this case is there for additional lubricant, besides having the—it’s a paraffin-based hydraulic oil is what they’re using, so very specialized. But when it lands on its side, you’ve got all the weight of that piston going to one side. And you’ve got seal rings in there, you’ve got wiper rings in there, to keep the oil inside of the things, so that it doesn’t leak oil very much. And then there’s a provision for oil that does get by the seal rings to go out and go back to the pump. That’s about that big around.

Well, when this thing smashed down, it dented those seal rings. It dented everything in that doggone thing. Well, they sent it back to the factory, but—no, they didn’t! No, they did send it back to the factory. I’m getting mixed up, because I wasn’t there. I’m trying to remember everything. But they did send it back to the factory, but it was to make sure the columns in the load frame were vertical. I don’t know if they rebuilt the actuator or not. I really don’t’ know, but I don’t think so, because it came back, it’s leaking oil badly. Because the seal rings in there and everything are flattened on one side. I mean, you’ve got tons of force, wham. And if it came off the bed of the truck, that bed’s got to be four, five feet in height.

So to my knowledge, it’s still leaking today. But that was a pretty special piece of equipment, and I wish to heck—like I said, I wouldn’t mind going back to work. [LAUGHTER] I enjoyed it. They’ve got new electronics now. To my knowledge, everything’s working fine.

Franklin: New stuff to play with.

Criswell: This is kind of specialized equipment. The old stuff, the old bald ones, the old Instrons, they’re not—you just program to do one thing. One thing. It’s either to travel a certain distance at a certain rate or you could tell it to increase the load at a certain rate. Either way. If you’re increasing the load, when the specimen starts to break, it starts to travel faster to keep up. So for most testing, when you’re testing something like this, you want to have this thing traveling at a certain ram rate. This way the load goes, and when it starts to yield, it bends over, and then it starts to drop off and it’ll fail. So this is the way it’s supposed to work.

MTS will do it any way you want it to do. It’ll control the speed of the actuator; it’ll control how fast you load something. But when it starts to break, and if you’re under load control, it’s supposed to keep loading so many pounds per unit of time. When it starts to fail, then it isn’t keeping up, so it speeds up. This thing can go really fast. And then it can control load, displacement. It can also control—you can use something called an LVDT where it opens, it’s on the deflection of the specimen you’re trying to break. So there’s different ways of breaking things. But anyhow it’s all closed loop. You tell it you want it to go so many pounds per unit of time, it’ll do it. You tell it you want to go one inch in an hour, it’ll do it. But only one of those things can it do at the same time. And if it’s leaking oil, it isn’t going to keep up.

So anyhow they’ve got a mess. They can’t keep up with it now I guess. My recommendation was they send it back. I don’t know. That’s an expensive process, plus they’ve got to get that actuator out of there.

Franklin: Well, Dave, thank you so much for sitting down and talking with us today. I really appreciate it.

Criswell: Yeah, it’s a good thing you caught me before my mind’s completely gone.

Franklin: Yeah. No, you had so much to say. I mean, it was a great interview.

Criswell: Yeah.

Franklin: I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Criswell: The equipment was great. It really was great. You program it right, it’ll do what you want. But like I said, when you’ve got a ghost in your electronics, it works most of the time, but one split second it goes haywire, whatever you’re doing is gone. And some of these things, you’ve got to be real careful of.

Franklin: Yeah. Well, thank you very much.

Criswell: You betcha.



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Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with David Criswell,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 23, 2021,