Interview with Elaine Davis
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: Are you ready?
Elaine Davis: There.
Franklin: Better get that closed. Ready? Okay. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Elaine Davis on September 2, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Elaine Davis about her experiences growing up in Richland. So, the best place to start is at the beginning. So why don’t you tell me where and when you were born?
Elaine Davis: I was born September 27, 1948 at Kadlec Hospital. I grew up on 1918 Howell in Richland and I went to school at Jefferson Elementary, Chief Jo Middle—Chief Jo Junior High at that time, and Columbia High School.
Franklin: And Columbia later became Richland?
Davis: Richland High School.
Franklin: Yeah, the gentleman I just interviewed also went to Columbia High School. And so, Elaine, we’ve already talked a bit, and I’ve read your bio here that my intern put together, and so you were born here, but your dad, your family didn’t work at Hanford-proper, right, but they worked for the government here?
Davis: My dad, I think, worked for the Manhattan Project. He came in March 1944. And my mother came out in June of 1944, after she finished nursing school. And then my brother was born on the 2nd of August, 1944, and he was the first baby born in Kadlec. They didn’t have bassinets at that time; they put him in a dresser drawer.
Franklin: How new was Kadlec Hospital at that time?
Davis: They had just completed the emergency room and the maternity section.
Davis: So my mom was admitted on the 1st, but she didn’t have him until the 2nd of August, 1944.
Franklin: So your brother is somewhat of a local celebrity at the time, correct?
Davis: Yes, he is, right. He was grand marshal for one of the parades that Richland had, with my mother sitting beside him, and they were the grand marshal.
Franklin: I guess he kind of, in some ways he might symbolize—the first birth of the community, right, is something for the community to kind of gather around. Because up until that point, right, there was no one who worked for the Manhattan Project who had any kind of—no one could say, like, oh, I was born in Richland. You know?
Davis: Mm-hmm, right.
Franklin: Or at least the new Richland that was—is distinct from the—
Davis: Because Richland did exist before the Manhattan Project.
Franklin: Right, yeah, but most of those people had had to leave and were of a very different—they would’ve had very different lives and memories of Richland than all of the people that would’ve came.
Franklin: So what did your father do at the Manhattan Project?
Davis: He worked—he was one of the—not the first male nurse out on the Project, but one of the first male nurses out on the Project in 1944.
Franklin: Oh, please.
Davis: But he didn’t, you know—he didn’t know what was going on. All he knew is he was here as a nurse to help out in any way he could.
Franklin: Do you know where he worked in those early days?
Davis: He didn’t tell me where he worked. I’m sure it was probably because it was so secretive.
Franklin: Right, right. So then he transferred over to Kadlec when it was completed then?
Franklin: Okay. And what did he do for Kadlec?
Davis: He was the administrator for Kadlec.
Franklin: Okay. So was he then in charge of like the day-to-day operations?
Davis: Yes, he was.
Franklin: Okay. And you also mentioned that your mother worked there?
Davis: My mother worked from the time I was 13 months old, and she worked until I was in the third grade, when I was about nine. She went to work for Dr. Buren Lee for 17 years and then they started the Richland Clinic. She worked for Dr. Ballmann for 17 years after that. But she continued working until she was 78 years old.
Davis: Because of having Alzheimer’s, they had to let her go.
Franklin: Right, right. And what did she do when she worked for the doctors?
Davis: For Dr. Lee, she was a surgical nurse. For Dr. Ballmann, she was his medical nurse.
Franklin: And how long did your father work at Kadlec for?
Davis: I’m going to say for maybe a year, year-and-a-half, after Kadlec came into existence.
Davis; And then he worked for HEHF when they got the contract.
Franklin: When was that?
Davis: I’m not really sure when that was. He worked until he was 65 for HEHF as the administrator. Did all the hiring and firing for HEHF.
Franklin: Okay. It says here that your father lived in the barracks at one time?
Davis: He lived in the barracks for the first three months. And then they lived on Armistead—and I don’t know the exact address—for four-and-a-half years. And then they moved into 1918 Howell, three months before I was born. My mother was out watering the new lawn when she started her labor with me.
Franklin: How—sorry. Did your father have any stories or anything about—or your mother—about—well, actually, I guess that’s a good question. So your father came in ’44, and your mother in June ’44. Do you know if your mother worked on the Manhattan Project? For the year—
Davis: No, she didn’t. She did not—
Davis: --work for the Manhattan Project. But she did tell stories of standing in line for rations, meat rations, sugar rations, coffee rations, when it was 110 degrees and no trees.
Franklin: Oh, man, wow.
Davis: They would both talk about the terminating winds that people would just leave because it was dusty, so dusty you couldn’t see. And every day, you had to clean out your window sills because of the dust that piled up in the windows. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Wow. Do your parents have any other stories about that time? Anything that sticks out to you that you can remember?
Davis: Now, they went and watched Eddie Feigner, the baseball player, was here. They went to a lot of baseball games to watch him, and they did a lot of their own entertaining. They played bridge every week, and rode their bikes an awful lot, played a lot of tennis.
Franklin: I see. Oh, that’s good. I mean, you got to stay entertained. Tell me about growing up in Richland, you know, being a government town. I understand you would’ve been young for a lot of that, but during the Cold War, being this government town.
Davis: I remember in grade school, we had to do duck-and-cover under our desks. We did that once a week.
Franklin: Can you walk me through that process?
Davis: You got under your desk and got on your knees and put your hands over your face, and you waited until they said everything was clear.
Franklin: And you said you did that about once a week?
Davis: Once a week.
Franklin: So that means you got—I bet everybody got pretty—was it the same time all the time, or did you just hear the bell and know it was duck-and-cover time?
Davis: You’d hear the siren and they’d have you—give you directions to do the duck-and-cover.
Franklin: When did you understand, first understand, what was at Hanford or what was being produced at Hanford?
Davis: I think that I learned about it when I was about 14, 15 years old.
Franklin: Oh, really?
Franklin: Okay, and what do you remember about that?
Davis: That everything was secretive. Nobody could discuss their jobs, what they were doing, or anything. So there was a lot of secrecy in it. But we didn’t question it.
Franklin: Really? So, what did you think about it, when you found out what was being made at Hanford? How did that make you feel, or—
Davis: I think it made me, you know—that saved our country. If we hadn’t done it, we might be slaves to the Japanese or to the Germans.
Franklin: What about the work that had happened after the World War II, what about the continued—because, you know, when you would’ve found out about that, right, there was still a lot of production for the Cold War weapons arsenal. What about—so, I understand that feeling of in the World War II there’s that feeling you mentioned about being physically at war with other countries, declared war. But what about the Cold War? Is that trickier to draw a feeling about, or how do you—what about the Hanford’s relationship to the USSR and to the Cold War and to the nuclear weapons stockpile?
Davis: It was, I thought, was scary, growing—learning about it. There was nothing that we could do as citizens ourselves. It was up to what the government—it was their decision, not ours. I really don’t have anything to comment on.
Franklin: Sure. I just—the main reason I ask that question, these kinds of questions is for people—I grew up at the very end of the Cold War, but for myself and for people to come, it’s illustrative, I think, to hear from experiences of people that lived in that time and lived with the fear or the risk or just in that situation. Because it’s so unique.
Davis: It is.
Franklin: And such an interesting period of time, because World War II is so easily well-defined, and it ended with a lot of joy here and this kind of momentous occasions. Whereas the Cold War had its ups and downs.
Franklin: So that’s why I ask those—not to sort of draw any kind of gotcha moments or anything like that. But to just explore how you felt, or, like, the feeling of the sense of being in that conflict.
Davis: I didn’t do a lot of reading, but I did listen to a lot of the news commentators and stuff like that. So just learning about it was an experience to go through.
Franklin: Oh, yeah, I bet. So you would’ve found out about Hanford as a teenager, and then do you remember the sale of when Richland became privatized?
Davis: Yes, I do.
Franklin: I guess you would’ve been about ten.
Davis: My dad showed my brother and I the biggest check we’d probably ever see written by my parents when they bought their house for $8,000. He took it with him when they signed the papers so that—we had ownership of our house, rather than the government coming in and changing lights; we changed our own lights, we could do reconstruction or construction—remodeling on the house and stuff like that, where we couldn’t before. So it was a great experience for my brother and I to go with them and to see what the process was in buying the house. My parents’ first house.
Franklin: Did life change for you substantially after Richland was—or did you notice changes?
Davis: I didn’t notice anything changing. We never locked our house or our cars. The kids in the neighborhood played out in the summer until 11:00 at night and you didn’t have to worry about children missing or being molested. We were a safe place to live and grow up. Our main activity was going to the river and swimming and water skiing everyday during the summer. During the winter, we snow skied. My dad learned to snow ski at 48.
Davis: We taught him. He took a few lessons, but he learned, basically, from my brother and I.
Franklin: Wow, that’s really cool. And so you graduated in—
Franklin: And then what?
Davis: Then I went to two-and-a-half years at CBC. And I’m dyslexic, so I could take about 12 credit hours. And then I decided after two-and-a-half years, I could get a job in the Area and my dad said—I said, can you help me get a job? And he says, I don’t want to be owing to anybody for getting a job for you. He says, if you get a job, you’re going to have to get it on your own. So I laid out of school for a year-and-a-half and I worked at Roger’s of Walla Walla in a potato shed. We had no air conditioning.
Davis: You inspected the potatoes and they were done then made into French fries. They’d come down the conveyor belt, and you’d pull the potato off that was rotten, or it wasn’t good enough to be used. So you pulled them off. And then you also packed five six-pound bags into a box and put it on the conveyor belt to go into the freezer. Another job was to make the box—the boxes were made, but you had to put it on a conveyor belt down to where it was put into—the potato sacks were put into the boxes and shipped to the cooler. What made me decide to go back to school was, I was working graveyard the whole year-and-a-half I worked there. But I’d worked there three summers and got a job full-time. Two women got into a brawl, biting, kicking, scratching, and I quit that night and said, I’m going back to school. I went back to school and majored in recreation, park administration at Eastern Washington University. It was a state college then.
Davis: And I worked between my junior and senior year of college for the Richland Recreation Department. And then after I graduated from college, a year-and-a-half after I graduated from college, I got a job, my first job at Exxon. My salary for the whole year was $5,000 a year. Which was low in ’74 when I started. But everything was lower. Prices were lower then. And then I worked for them for four years, and then I got hired in by United Nuclear in 1978. And I worked in document control through many changes of companies until I was laid off in 2005. And then—
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Davis: 27 ½ years. And then I got a job working for the Richland School District as a bus aide for special needs kids, and just loved it. And I just quit working when I turned 66 two years ago.
Franklin: Wow, that’s really—well, it’s great that you really enjoyed your last job. Records control, was that at the Federal Building?
Davis: In the Federal Building, when I worked for United Nuclear, I went out and changed the operating procedures for N Reactor and the production of making the fuel rods for N Reactor. And then I worked in all aspects of document control for 25 years. The last job I worked at was procedures. I would take around procedures for safety operations, environmental, and I’d get the signatures from the engineers and that’s what I did.
Franklin: And so what did—when you’re doing document control, what would those duties usually consist of?
Davis: What would what be?
Franklin: Sorry. When you were doing document control, what did that consist of? Like, what were your duties?
Davis: Like I said, I retired records, and they were stored in records storage. Then my last job, like I said, was working with the engineers on writing of the procedures.
Franklin: Interesting. It’s very similar to what I do as an archivist, is I manage records as well. Although in a different—manage them for research use. But it’s very similar steps, right? You follow a disposition schedule, you file the records in appropriate places, after a certain time you send things to— Did you send things to the National Archives at certain times, or--?
Davis: No, we didn’t. I did not. But my group did.
Franklin: Okay. How big was your group?
Davis: We had about six people in that, in all different aspects.
Franklin: How many different contractors did you work for, starting with United Nuclear?
Davis: I worked for about four different companies. The last one was CH2M Hill.
Franklin: Okay. And so what were the other two?
Davis: Boeing. And I can’t remember what the other one was.
Franklin: Is it Lockheed?
Davis: Yes, Lockheed Martin. Yeah.
Franklin: Yeah, I’ve seen their—
Davis: It was Boeing and then Lockheed Martin.
Franklin: I’ve seen that on a lot of the documents we have in the Hanford Collection.
Franklin: I just—it’s nice to kind of trace that—I’m just going to write that down. United Nuclear Industries, Boeing, LMSI, CH2M Hill. Thank you. That’s very helpful to me, actually. Because it’s not always clear to reconstruct form the documents. So your brother, the famous Ed Quigley, Jr., the Richland-famous Ed Quigley, what did he do?
Davis: He has a degree in social—not social work—psychology and sociology as a double major. But he didn’t—he got into the clinical aspect of it and didn’t like it. And then he started taking—his first wife, Chris, was accepted into Dalhousie University in Canada and they moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. And he started—that’s where he started his clinical work and decided he didn’t like it. So he was really interested in music, and he took guitar lessons and now he is teaching at Ted Brown’s Music Center in Tacoma. He’s been there for 40-some years.
Davis: And he just went with us to Canada. We went to Canada for a month. Just got back last week. And he went with us. That’s what he does.
Franklin: Oh, cool.
Davis: And he lives in a beach house which has got 210 stairs up and down to his house, so anything you bring down and all the garbage has to go back up.
Franklin: I bet he stays in pretty good shape doing all that, right?
Davis: Yeah, he is.
Franklin: Yeah, I was going to say, that would—maybe I should get 210 stairs to my house. Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about your work or growing up in Hanford or your parents?
Davis: I can remember, during the time that we were government, if you dialed 0 you got the FBI.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Did that accidentally happen in your new household?
Davis: We did! Once! [LAUGHTER] And got in trouble for it.
Davis: You know, we lived in a real sheltered community. When I was growing up, there was only one person that—or one family that I knew was divorced. They were a doctor and his wife and their three kids. That was the only divorce that I knew. So we were a pretty sheltered community. If your kids got in trouble, you were out of here. They didn’t put up with it. But I feel blessed to be in a community that was so caring and so carefree with letting us play outside. Now, you don’t let your kids go outside without being chaperoned. Some of my friends have got grandkids, and they don’t let them out of the house, because of the crime situations, child molestations. So I feel pretty blessed that I lived in a community where nobody bothered anybody, but you knew everybody.
Franklin: Right, but I suppose a lot of that is due to kind of the single focus of that community being on Hanford employees, right?
Franklin: And the government control of the—the fear of—maybe not the fear of retribution, but knowing that there was kind of something watching over you.
Davis: Right, right.
Franklin: Which was the government. What about—did you—like the racial situation in Pasco or Kennewick ever make a mark on you, or do you remember any, like the civil rights era kind of stuff in the Tri-Cities?
Davis: As a child, or as parents, our parents never took us to Pasco because of the racial situation there. And Kennewick didn’t allow any blacks, either, at that particular time, growing up. They were all in Pasco, on the east side. So we didn’t really go to Pasco a lot, or to Kennewick. We just stayed in our own community.
Franklin: Because Richland just excluded—until ’58, you couldn’t live there unless you worked there, and they didn’t hire many African Americans.
Davis: No, they didn’t.
Franklin: At all, because there was no civil rights legislation to push equal—you know, push away discrimination in housing or employment. As you mentioned, Kennewick had sundown laws that kept African Americans from owning property. What about, is there any other significant events in Tri—do you remember like the Atomic Frontier Days parade?
Davis: Yes, I do. That was one of the big things in Richland, was to go to the Atomic Frontier Days. We went every year, and just had a lot of fun.
Franklin: How long did those go till?
Davis: Now, that, I’m not sure. I can’t remember that.
Franklin: Do you remember President Kennedy’s visit in 1963?
Davis: Yes. I was let out of school to go hear him dedicate N Area, N Reactor.
Franklin: How was—can you talk a little bit about that? How was that?
Davis: Lots and lots of people. It was so crowded. It was good to see—that was the first time I’d ever seen a president up close.
Franklin: How close were you?
Davis: We weren’t right up front, but we were in the midst of the crowds that was out there. And it was a great feeling.
Franklin: Wow, that’s great. Any other events in the Tri-Cities’ history that come to mind?
Davis: No, I can’t remember a lot about that.
Franklin: How did—so you worked for several different contractors and you also worked from production to shutdown to kind of cleanup. I was wondering if you could talk first about, how did your job change with different contractors? Or how was that—did the work situation change at all, or was it pretty constant?
Davis: No, you did the—I was doing the same job that I was assigned to. Nothing seemed to change when a new contractor came in.
Franklin: So was there kind of a lack of like an organizational culture with each contractor?
Davis: Now, when we went—when CH2M Hill came in, we had to apply for our—re-apply for our jobs, and that was real unsettling to everybody. Because you didn’t know whether you were going to be the one that was going to be out on the street or whether you weren’t. So that was a lot of pressure was put on us.
Franklin: Wow. I bet. What about, how did your job change at all from production to stoppage of production and then to the cleanup phase?
Davis: Now, from production we changed a little bit, but not a whole lot. And then when we went into—I was laid off in 2005. And so I don’t know—I didn’t work with any of the cleanup completely. Like they are now. So I don’t know.
Franklin: What kind of—well, but then—since production stopped in ’87, ’88—
Franklin: What happened in those years of the ‘90s and up?
Davis: Well, N Area was still going. And then when they closed that down, things started changing, document-wise, with that.
Franklin: How so?
Davis: You had different things that we were given to do that were different from what we were doing when we were in production.
Franklin: Could you describe that? Or like maybe some—what was different about them?
Davis: I can’t really explain it.
Davis: But it was different. We had different things to do and different things to follow during that time.
Franklin: Okay. Is there any example that comes to mind?
Davis: Not really.
Franklin: Okay. Let me see here. How did—can you describe how this kind of element of security or safety impacted your work at Hanford?
Davis: You took pleasure in your job, and you were really loyal to what you were doing. You just had a great sense of gratitude for how we were doing it and what we were doing.
Franklin: That’s great. What about for your father? Was he ever—do you know if he was ever impacted by security restrictions or safety stuff, or how that affected his job?
Davis: That I don’t know, because he didn’t really discuss that with us.
Davis: His work thing was separate from his family and social life. So we really didn’t hear about it.
Franklin: Oh, right, okay. What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and living in Richland during the Cold War?
Davis: I think that, you know, we were safe. And then when the Cold War came on, we weren’t as safe, because we didn’t know if somebody was going to send a bomb over and destroy us. Or destroy themselves, because we would probably retaliate. And to think that we could wipe the whole world out by what we were doing. We just didn’t trust each other. And we still, to this day, don’t know a lot about what’s going on either. We know more, but we don’t know everything.
Franklin: Mm. Yeah. That is very true. One of the last things I’d like to ask you about is your relationship or your involvement in the B Reactor Museum Association.
Davis: We just joined in June, so we’ve had—
Franklin: Of this year?
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Davis: So we’ve had two meetings [LAUGHTER] before we left to go to Alaska.
Franklin: Oh, okay. And why did you choose to get involved in that?
Davis: We wanted—because we both, both Charles and I worked here, and we wanted to get active in the organization to promote what Hanford’s about and the B Reactor especially. We went on the July 16th thing to B Reactor. It was great. We learned a lot. Just to walk into that face, and see the face of the reactor.
Franklin: Was that your first time to B Reactor?
Davis: That was my first time.
Franklin: Yeah, it’s almost a religious experience in some ways.
Davis: Yes, it is.
Franklin: To be confronted with that massive, powerful reactor. You said your husband, Charles, worked on Site?
Davis: Yes, he did.
Franklin: And what did he do?
Davis: He worked, to begin with, as a Hanford Patrol. And then he went from there into nuclear operator, and then from there he went into operations at T Plant. He was one of their administrators. He wasn’t high up, but he—
Franklin: And how long did he work at Hanford for?
Davis: He worked for 24 ½ years before he got laid off.
Franklin: Oh, okay, and what years were those?
Davis: Okay, ’78 to 2003.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Davis: ’80. No, I take it back. 1980 through—
Franklin: And—oh, sorry. Where did you guys meet? Did you meet at Hanford?
Davis: No. We met square dancing.
Franklin: Oh, okay. That’s really great. Did you meet him before you were working at Hanford or after?
Davis: No, after.
Franklin: Okay, you worked there pretty much around the same timespan.
Davis: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Franklin: Oh, that’s really interesting. Cool.
Davis: You might want to interview him, too.
Franklin: Yeah, that would be really interesting.
Davis: He wasn’t born or raised here, but—
Franklin: No, but that’s—it’s really good to get—one of the things we’ve been looking for is perspectives of those who worked during the later Cold War. Because, you know, it’s such a big event.
Franklin: And then the shift, too, from production to cleanup is a really important shift that will become more historical as time goes on, so it’s good to get the people while they have fresher memories than trying to make them drag out stuff from 50, 60 years ago. Which is—if that’s the best you got, then that’s the best you got. Well, great, Elaine, thank you so much for the information and the interview. Did you want to narrate some of the stuff you brought, or did you just want to donate that to us to scan?
Davis: I’ll donate that to you.
Franklin: Okay, great. Well, we’ll have that and we’ll put it in the file with your interview and so people can take a look at that, too, to kind of—if they want to see pictures of Ed, Jr., and all the newspaper articles. Well, I mean, I think there’s really something important about a community coming together to celebrate that first new life. That’s so important at the beginning of a community to see that happening, it makes it, I think, a nicer place to live. So that’s really neat. Well, thank you so much.
Davis: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Franklin: Yeah, watch out for the microphone up above you. Sorry.
Davis: Oh! How’d I do?