Interview with Marilyn Drake
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: We’re ready. Okay. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducing and oral history interview with Marilyn Drake on July 17, 2017. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Marilyn about her experiences in the Hanford area. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
Marilyn Drake: My name is Marilyn Drake. It’s M-A-R-I-L-Y-N. Drake is D-R-A-K-E.
Franklin: Great. Thank you, Marilyn. And so tell me how and why you first came to the Hanford area.
Marilyn Drake: Well, I was born in the state of Kansas, and when I was about five weeks old, my parents headed west. And somewhere when I was a baby, I would guess less than a year old, we ended up at White Bluffs out in the Hanford Area. Not long after being here, because of the dust storms and things, I got dust pneumonia, so my parents had to leave. So they ended up in Belfair, Washington. My father was planning on working in the shipyards there, and instead went to the Aleutian Islands. So anyway, we were out of the area then until about 1950, ’51. He was well enough to come back here and work as a carpenter out in Hanford. We lived in North Richland, the first time, in the 200-block, I believe it was, of north Richland, in the trailer park that was out there.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Marilyn Drake: And it was approximately a mile long and two miles wide. [LAUGHTER] So it was a big trailer park. Then, of course, being on construction, he was in and out of jobs, because they’d finished up or whatever. So we had a home in Ellensburg and we’d go there until he got a job again, and we’d come back.
So the second time, we were in the 1100-block on F Street in north Richland. I have fond memories of that time. I loved the John Ball School that was there. I went fourth grade with Mrs. Campbell. Fifth grade was—I take that back. Fourth grade was Mrs. Atkinson. Fifth grade was Miss Campbell, and sixth grade was Mr. Hoffman. Mrs. Atkinson gave me a love of knowing about travel, I guess. She shared experiences with being in Switzerland, which really got me interested. Taught us some things abut the Danube River. Then Miss Campbell was the next teacher, and I enjoyed her. And then Mr. Hoffman, he shared where he was during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was decorating for a high school prom.
So we went to school at John Ball in sixth grade until about halfway through the year, they moved us into Richland to, I believe it was, Marcus Whitman School, if I remember correctly. Evidently overcrowding. But the school was a neat place. We were in Quonset huts. The big cafeteria was huge; at least it seemed that way to me when I was a child. That was the times when teachers stayed with the class from the morning until they went home in the afternoon. So we wouldn’t go in the cafeteria, and we’d all join hands around the table, and we’d say the Lord’s Prayer before we had lunch. Which nowadays would not be done. [LAUGHTER]
We had a Christmas play there. I played the accordion and I played We Three Kings of Orient Are for the play that was going on. When we went outside to play, there wasn’t any grass; it was all dust and rocks. So we took—the girls anyway—took the rocks and laid out floor plans for houses, and we’d play house while recess was going on.
We also had air raid drills which, we all went out and there was a big ditch out there that we all jumped into, covered our heads with our hands, and got ready, in case it happened.
The rooms were smaller Quonset huts; they had wings off of the main hallway. Whoever sat in the last of the row had to be a short person, because otherwise they’d hit their head on the roof of the Quonset hut.
Franklin: Yeah, the semi-circular roof.
Marilyn Drake: So it was an interesting school, but just really had fond memories there and really enjoyed it. I still think about it. And had some good friends.
Each block in the trailer park, at the end of the block, there was a playground. We had swings and a couple teeter-totters. I think that was about it. The rest was an open sandbox and so on. So we kids spent a lot of time in the playground. There was also a large laundry room that had restrooms—because most of the trailers in those days didn’t have bathrooms in them. So you had restrooms there and there was a laundry room across the end of it. So usually after dinner, mostly the girls would go to the laundry room, and we would have a small ball. And we played bouncing against the wall and clapping your hands to catch it and so on. That was our form of entertainment. We didn’t have the TV and the Xboxes and so on that people have today; we had to make our entertainment.
Franklin: Did you have a radio?
Marilyn Drake: Yes, we did have a radio. I remember my father listening to the news, which I didn’t enjoy. But. [LAUGHTER] As I was young, then.
Franklin: I never enjoyed it when my father would watch the news on TV when I was young, either.
Marilyn Drake: Well, there were times he would lay on the couch and go to sleep and the radio was up above that in the front window on a ledge. So I’d sneak up the side of the couch and crawl across the back when he was asleep and either turn it off or change channels. And the minute I did, he’d wake up. So it was futile.
Franklin: So did your trailer have a restroom? Either one that you lived in?
Marilyn Drake: The first one didn’t. It was just a bed in the back, and we had a couch in the front. The second one had a bathroom and it was one-bedroom so I had the couch to sleep on.
Franklin: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
Marilyn Drake: I had seven half-brothers and a half-sister, but all of them didn’t live with us. Once in a while, one would come and stay a while. So I was more or less an only child.
Franklin: I guess that makes it easy in a one-bedroom trailer.
Marilyn Drake: My parents were quite a bit older; they were in their mid-‘40s when I was born, so—
Marilyn Drake: I grew up with older people. So the kids were mostly—the other kids in the other family were mostly grown and on their own by that time. So that was interesting. I remember the pharmacy or drugstore as we called it then in north Richland. Always loved to go in there because they had a big rack of magazines, all kinds, outdoors, comic books, whatever. Liked to do that. My neighbor next-door, they had two children: a daughter that was older than me and a son that was about three years younger, who I just reconnected with this last week.
Franklin: Oh, really?
Marilyn Drake: We hadn’t seen each other since 1954. So it was interesting. We had a good time visiting and we’re going to do more things together. His parents wouldn’t let him go to the movie unless I went with him, so it was kind of my first date. [LAUGHTER] Baby-sitting, I guess. But nice family; they were from Nebraska.
Most all the people out in Hanford were from somewhere else, because they came in here to work. My maiden name was House, and this gentleman I just talked about that I reconnected with, his name is Tool. And across the street were the Surpluses. And so people would come by and say, did you guys put these signs up to be funny, or what? They didn’t realize we were actually with the names that we had. So just fond memories of the whole situation. [LAUGHTER]
I remember the old steam plant that used to be, I think, on the hill not far from here. As you started up into north Richland, it was there. And that’s what they heated, I guess, the old barracks and stuff. So you had the big tubes that ran along the streets. Close to there, there was part of the lot that it as on, they had these piles of, I think, it was coal. And if you went there, you could find mercury. Being stupid kids that didn’t know better, we’d go and play with the mercury in our hand or whatever. Not a good idea to do, but we did. It was part of growing up, I guess.
Had some pretty good dust storms during that time, which the Tri-Cities used to be well-known for. Also, a few rumbling thunderstorms that moved through. The streets at north Richland were paved by the time I lived there, but there are some pictures in the book that I brought that shows it without paved streets. There were several thousand people lived in this area.
Franklin: Do you remember—you said there were blocks of these trailers, do you know roughly how many blocks there are and the amount of houses per block?
Marilyn Drake: Okay, these were trailers, so you had 12 blocks long, or wide, whichever way you want to call it, by 24 blocks the other way, so—
Franklin: Okay, and that was that mile by two miles?
Marilyn Drake: Yeah, more or less. It was a big place. And we rode our bicycle everywhere; we didn’t have to worry about being kidnapped. It was a lot to explore around the area. We could ride down to the river and see what was going on down there.
Franklin: Now, were these personal trailers that people brought or were they government owned?
Marilyn Drake: No, they were personal. Each trailer had a roof, a second roof over top of it, just like the roof of a house, because of the heat. So that helped somewhat, because there wasn’t much air conditioning around in those days. We did get an old, old swamp cooler that my parents put in the backdoor of the trailer that we had, which helped. But it could get pretty hot. So anyway you had all these roofs that there were that many roofs over that many trailers.
Franklin: Wow. And did the government provide those roofs for each trailer?
Marilyn Drake: Yes. Yes, they provided.
Franklin: Okay. And did they provide any other amenities?
Marilyn Drake: Just the washroom and utility room area. I think, if I remember correctly, we paid $20 or $25 a month to the government for rent on the lot. You could raise—it was big enough that you could have a small garden or flowers, whatever you wanted. And people kept them up pretty well.
Franklin: I bet. That was another thing I was going to ask about. Was there much landscape—you mentioned the roads were paved by that time and at the John Ball School there was no grass. But was there landscaping in the trailer court?
Marilyn Drake: If each person wanted to put it there. There was nothing—the playground was dirt—actually sand, around here. So we weren’t the cleanest kids around when we came in from playing. But it was, I guess, what you’d call pristine compared to today’s standards. Most everybody had grass, which we had water to water it with and stuff. If they liked flowers they could have flowers. My folks planted up the one side, they strung, just off the—there was a wood deck, just like a porch. Just off of that, my mother got some, they were called something-cucumbers, and they strung them up, and they grew up the strings, so that you had shade. That helped a whole lot with the heat, too. So that type of thing, yeah.
Franklin: Let’s see here. At school, you mentioned doing the air raid drills. Did you ever have to do evacuations? Where they would get people on buses and they would go outside?
Marilyn Drake: No. Just, we went to the ditch and dropped down and covered our head.
Franklin: Oh, wow. So I guess it must’ve been interesting having—you probably didn’t remember being in White Bluffs, but having been at White Bluffs and then now, the area’s totally transformed. Did you ever meet anybody from the old towns of Hanford and White Bluffs after you came back to Richland?
Marilyn Drake: Not that I’m aware of. I’ve read stories, and I have the book that is put together about Richland, which shows things and tells about the schools. I’ve heard about the families that had to move out, government came in and said, tch, so many days and you’re out of here, and took it over. Which seemed kind of sad, because some of them had been like pioneer families. But it was for the nation’s cause, so.
Franklin: You said that your father moved to Richland to do, was it carpentry?
Marilyn Drake: Mm-hmm.
Franklin: Why did he move to White Bluffs originally? Was it to farm, or to do carpentry?
Marilyn Drake: To do carpentry. He went to work for—or, I think he went to work for Hanford. I don’t know how long that lasted because of my illness. But, yeah, he had been a builder of wooden barracks in Kansas when I was born. So for whatever reason, it was move west, young man. I guess. So he came out here and he was more or less a rough carpenter. Didn’t do finish work and stuff for the most part.
Franklin: Okay. And do you know what kinds of buildings or projects he worked at on the Site? Did he ever talk about that at all?
Marilyn Drake: I don’t know that he ever named them like 300 Area or 1000 Area or whatever that way. They built a lot of forms for buildings out there. He ended up with three broken ribs at one point because someone had put a two-by-four, stood it against the wall, and he bent over to get something out of his toolbox and the two-by-four came down and hit him across his back.
Marilyn Drake: So he was kind of in pain for a while until that healed. But I don’t remember him specifically saying exactly where he worked.
Franklin: And you said that after a while, when you were in sixth grade, your family moved into Richland proper, right?
Marilyn Drake: Mm-hmm. The school did. We still lived in north Richland. But they did.
Franklin: Oh, the school did.
Marilyn Drake: Yeah. Just our class.
Marilyn Drake: I think it was the sixth grade class that they took the whole class in. And I’m assuming it was because they had too many students and needed the room at John Ball. And I was only there part of—I think we left in March of that year. The job ended here, and we ended up going up to Bridgeport, Washington to work on the Chief Jo Dam up there. So I was only a part of the sixth grade year.
Franklin: Did you mostly hang out with north Richland kids, or did you know anybody in Richland? And was there a real—it sounds like there was kind of a separation between north Richland and Richland.
Marilyn Drake: Yeah, more or less. The kids were usually the kids that went to school out there; there were quite a few of us. I remember one classmate, his name was Ronny Sloan. He liked beans. And my mother would make ham and beans, and whenever that happened, Ronny got invited to dinner. Because he enjoyed the beans.
There was the Saltz family, which had, I believe, 12 kids. They had a very small trailer, but they had a truck that had like cattle racks on it, and they had canvas over the top of it. Most of the boys, I think, slept in the truck. They eventually owned a trailer park in Kennewick until a few years ago, and apparently sold it.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Marilyn Drake: So I’ve been able to track a few of the kids, not knowing—not talking to them, but at least knowing where they were.
Franklin: Were there stores in north Richland, or did you do your shopping in Richland proper?
Marilyn Drake: For the most part in Richland. Like I said, there was a pharmacy, I believe there was like a soda fountain in the pharmacy if I remember correctly. I don’t remember any—there was a movie theater. That’s where we went to the movie. Saw Titanic with this neighbor I was telling you about. The original Titanic. I don’t remember any of the stores being there. Uptown Richland was really pretty new at that point; it had just opened not too long before that. So we went in there for groceries and anything else that we needed.
Franklin: Okay, great. So then eventually your family moved away, right? You said up to work at the—which dam?
Marilyn Drake: Chief Jo, up at Bridgeport, Washington.
Franklin: But eventually, you came back to Richland, right?
Marilyn Drake: When I graduated from high school in 1960, I was looking for a job and came down to Pasco and applied for Pacific Northwest Bell as a telephone operator, and I got the job. Had met my husband and he was in Sunnyside and I lived in Yakima when we met. But he was also down here with his parents. We ended up being married here in Richland by Judge Erickson.
Marilyn Drake: Our daughter was born in the old Kadlec Hospital which was the old barracks from the Hanford time. And then we moved away then to Michigan for five years, came back and spent 13 years here. We bought an F house and lived in it. Over on Mahan Street. Ended up in California for 23 years, which we didn’t initially plan on, but it worked out that way, and we came back in 2007 to retire here.
Franklin: Okay. And what did—and so you said you lived here for 13 years, so from ’70 to ’83.
Marilyn Drake: Mm-hmm.
Franklin: And your husband worked out on Site?
Marilyn Drake: Mm-hmm.
Franklin: And where did he work?
Marilyn Drake: He worked on FFTF, Number 1, a lot of the other places out there, 300 Area.
Bob Drake: 2 West.
Marilyn Drake: 2 West. He was construction, also, so you worked whatever job was going at the time.
Bob Drake: The office buildings in the 300 Area, yeah.
Franklin: I just want to say, for the record, Marilyn’s husband, and you prefer to be called Bob, right?
Marilyn Drake: Yeah.
Franklin: Right, Bob Drake is here. Just so—for whoever’s watching in the future. And what did you do while your husband worked out on Site?
Marilyn Drake: I had a daycare in my home.
Marilyn Drake: Over that period of time, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 children that went through my daycare. Plus raised my own three children. We had two boys that were born in Michigan while we were there. Yeah, so we had three children. Then my mother—my father passed away, and we moved my mother in with us. I had no trouble staying busy. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, I bet.
Marilyn Drake: It was a busy time. But enjoyable time. We had good neighbors and enjoyed them. Couldn’t say enough about our neighborhood at that time. Hated to leave, but work is work and you like to eat, so—
Franklin: Yeah. And how come you left Richland at that time, in ’83?
Marilyn Drake: Because WPPSS had shut down the plants out there, the construction of them. For about a year-and-a-half, my husband was without work, and we finally decided, better start looking before the savings account dwindled. He and some other men from here went down to South Bay of San Francisco and found work there. That’s where we ended up living, was in California, for the 23 years.
Marilyn Drake: And there I went to work for the school district as a head custodian and spent 14 years.
Franklin: Oh, wow. And how come you ended up moving back to Richland?
Marilyn Drake: Well, in the process of living in California, my husband was an over-the-road truck driver for a while. We kind of watched everywhere we went, didn’t find anywhere that we liked any better than we like it right here. So then we came back. Our daughter lives in Yakima. Our two sons came back about the same time we did; the one son was here a little bit ahead of us. So that was the first time in 23 years that we’d all been in the same state together. So it was a—we just kind of like the area. This is, we consider home.
Bob Drake: Consider it home.
Franklin: Sure. No, that makes sense. Well, great. Was there anything else that you wanted to say about—
Marilyn Drake: Let me think a minute to—just that we really like the Tri-Cities, the history is here. Our kids went to Richland School District until we moved to California. The two boys graduated from down there. They had good friends here and stuff, and still keep in contact. So just really enjoyed it, and like the history that is here. Got a lot of water to play with if you want to. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah. I wanted to ask you a couple more questions that are on my sheet here. I wanted to ask, what are some of your memories of any major events in Tri-Cities history, such as you talked a little bit earlier about the WPPSS plants shutting down. So I’m wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about any of your feelings about that and how it impacted your family and your life?
Marilyn Drake: Okay. About the time that WPPSS shut down, we were living in a rental house in Richland Village. The newspaper sent out some reporters to the schools to interview some of the kids to see how this was affecting the families. Just happened, our daughter, who was a third grader at the time, was one of them that was interviewed. She had heard in the morning, my husband had asked me something about money. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but he made the comment that he only had $0.38 in his wallet. Well, she picked up on this, and she told a story that Daddy only had $0.38 in his wallet and we just didn’t know how we were going to buy food or any of the things we needed. So it made the paper. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Marilyn Drake: The one night I was fixing dinner, and I can remember, I was stirring gravy, and the phone rang. There’s this man’s voice on there. He’s, I understand you’re having a hard time making ends meet, something to that effect. So my gravy is getting thicker and thicker as he’s trying to talk to me. I didn’t recognize his voice. Finally, I told my husband, I said, you talk to him. But it turned out it was the father to this young man that I just reconnected with. He had read the article in the paper and had called to give me a bad time about it. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, jeez!
Marilyn Drake: So that was kind of a fond memory. We did go out and watch them set the dome on the—
Bob Drake: Number 1.
Marilyn Drake: The Number 1 plant out there, which was interesting. I’ve always regretted—because you couldn’t—used to couldn’t take cameras out there, so I didn’t take a camera that day. Well, it just happened that that was the day everybody could have a camera. So I didn’t get pictures. But it was very interesting watching that huge dome go on there.
Bob Drake: The crane that they set that dome with was, at the time, the largest track crane in the world. And it still is, as I recall.
Marilyn Drake: It’s the Lampson crane.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Marilyn Drake: That had the big cement deals on the back of it to counter balance it. It was quite a sight.
Franklin: Was that the first time you had ever been out on Site?
Marilyn Drake: Yes, for me.
Franklin: Oh, okay, for you.
Marilyn Drake: Yeah, we’d gone through the highway that goes out to Vantage many times, but you could just see from a distance. There was always signs, no camera, don’t take pictures, you know.
Franklin: Yeah, don’t stop.
Marilyn Drake: Yeah. So, that was an interesting time.
Franklin: How did that affect the community more generally?
Marilyn Drake: Well it—
Bob Drake: A lot of people lost their jobs.
Marilyn Drake: Yeah, there were like 6,000 people lost their jobs in a very short period of time.
Bob Drake: In about a week’s time.
Marilyn Drake: So it was rough on everybody. The Tri-Cities always seems to come back, though, when they’ve gone through something like that. Hanford was one of those things that when the funding was there, jobs were good, and then it kind of petered out. So things would be quiet a while, and then they’d give some more money, and so here we go again. [LAUGHTER] So, being construction, if you’re smart, you save some money while you’re making it, to get you through those times. And usually the bad times were always around Christmas time, because weather’s bad and that was usually layoff time. So you better have some laid back a little bit. And of course I had my daycare, which helped out, too.
Marilyn Drake: And I only did that because our youngest son, we were in a neighborhood that was mostly retired people, and he didn’t have anybody to play with, so I thought, well I’ll take care of a child or two and he can have playmates. Well, that mushroomed on me. [LAUGHTER] So I became an owner. [LAUGHTER] But.
Franklin: What were your memories of like the social scene and maybe like local politics of that time that you lived in Richland?
Marilyn Drake: Things, as I recall, were fairly quiet in those days. We didn’t have the problems that we’ve got today, because we didn’t have as many people, for one thing, I think. Richland was the smallest, I believe, of the Tri-Cities at that point. It was an All-American city. I believe it was in 1959, if I remember right, which was a little before we moved here, but we enjoyed our government house that we bought. It was well-built. About 1200-and-some square feet we raised three children in. They have fond memories of living there, which surprised me. [LAUGHTER] As far as the politics, I don’t remember—I remember President Kennedy, when he came and talked at Hanford.
Marilyn Drake: That was a big deal here.
Franklin: Did you—but you didn’t get to go see--?
Marilyn Drake: I didn’t get to go to that, no. We watched it on TV in those days. So, I did get to see it. The hydroplane races are a big thing, still, here. They used to be a little bigger than they are now. But that was a big thing for everybody to go to the hydroplane races.
Tri-Cities has always been a giving community. Not just Richland, but the whole area. When there’s a need for a family or whatever, people chip in and give. That’s very nice.
Franklin: Great. I guess my last question is, what would you like future generations to know about living in Richland during the Cold War?
Marilyn Drake: That it—I know there’s been a lot of controversy over the years with the Richland Bombers. I never thought of it that way. It was just a mascot that the high school had. I think that it’s a good place to raise children. There are things here now to do. Like I said, when I was a child, you made your own fun. And we stayed out of trouble doing it. [LAUGHTER] Like anywhere, there are problems. More so now than there were years ago. It’s a nice clean place to be. We’re kind of located where it’s not that far to Spokane or Portland or Yakima or Seattle. So you’re not confined just to the Tri-Cities.
It’s becoming more and more farming all the time. The desert is not what you think of as a desert anymore. It’s green! [LAUGHTER] We don’t get the dust storms that we used to when I worked at the telephone office in 1963 through ’65, the Horse Heaven Hills were all wheat fields. So in the spring, they had the fields tilled up and then the winds would come. There were many times that the highway would shut down because of the dust; you couldn’t see. So that, with the vineyards and stuff that we have now, that’s not as much of an issue. So I just like the Tri-Cities. It’s good weather. We did have a little bit of snow this last winter, but that’s not all bad.
Bob Drake: It is rare.
Marilyn Drake: It’s rare for here, yeah. So just enjoy being here.
Franklin: Oh, great. Well, thank you so much for coming and taking the time to interview—or let us interview you.
Marilyn Drake: Enjoyed it. Thank you.
Franklin: Okay, great. Watch the microphone when you stand up.