Interview with Bob Shea

Dublin Core


Interview with Bob Shea


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)


An interview with Bob Shea conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Missasion Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


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 at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Date Modified

2016-07-21: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Robert


Shea, Bob


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Shea_Bob

Robert Bauman: --start. So let's start, first of all, just by having you say your name and spell it for us.

Robert Shea: Okay. Yeah. My name is Bob Shea.

Bauman: And can you get the last name spelling?

Shea: Oh, S-H-E-A.

Bauman: Great. Thank you. And my name is Bob Bauman, and today's date is November 13th of 2013, and we're conducting this interview on campus Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So maybe if we could start by having you talk about when you and your family arrived here at Hanford, and talk a little bit about maybe your first impressions of the place.

Shea: Well, my dad came over here in early March of 1943 from Missoula, Montana as a construction carpenter. And then my mother, and brother, and I came here after school was out in 1943 from Missoula, Montana. And we arrived, interestingly, the night of—or the morning, very early morning, of June 20, 1943 in the Pasco train depot there. And the reason I say it's quite interesting, because that day happened to be my dad's birthday, my mom and dad's anniversary, and Father's day. [LAUGHTER] So it was kind of a big day. But about two o'clock in the morning--and I might mention that, to me it was fascinating, because I was ten years old there in June of 1943. And when we arrived at the train depot there in Pasco, it was really in the middle of the night, and there were probably upwards of 2,000 people milling around; military—Army, and of course Navy personnel, I suppose, from the Pasco Navy base, and construction workers. There were little what we would call taco stands today around. Anyway, very interesting, very interesting. Just milling around. So anyway, Dad took us out to, at that time, the Hanford construction town site, which occupied the village area of Hanford, what was Hanford at that time. And in the middle of the night. Dad had brought over a very small trailer house, handmade trailer house. And that's what he'd been living in. And at that time, the trailer court for the Hanford construction workers was very primitive. They had put in most of the wash houses and most of the streets, but there was still a lot to be done. And so anyway, we made do. And to begin with, the trailers just sat out in the sun, so to speak. But it wasn't too long before the government realized that they should maybe put some canopies over the trailers to shield the trailers so they'd be more comfortable in the summertime from the heat of the sun, and keep some of the snow, and ice, and all off during the winter. So they put up canopies. I think the government had the idea that they would not allow anything as far as living quarters in the trailer portion of the Hanford construction site there. But it wasn't too long before they realized, with the number of children and so forth, they were going to have to allow some leeway there, and let the people build small little extensions to the trailer or whatever. And in our case, that was very important, because the trailer the mom and dad had was very small, maybe 21 feet at the most. And so we built a little lean-to establishment behind the trailer, which was very, very comfortable for my brother and I. By the way, my brother's five and a half years older than I am, so he went to work almost immediately. He was, what, 15 and a half, something like that. And he went to work immediately for one of the construction companies in their kitchen. I think he started out as a dish washer. And he worked there, I think, most of the summer of 1943. But at any rate, we had a nice, comfortable, well insulated with all sorts of Celotex that we are able to get--and it was very roomy, and comfortable. It was great. It served us very, very well. So that gets us established there at Hanford, and then of course the rest of the summer, for me, was roaming around, getting acquainted with various things to do, and not to do that I did anyway. And to begin with, the swimming facility—which was very important at that time for the construction workers, as well as the people in the trailer court—was in the river, just over the bank, so to speak, from what was beautiful downtown Hanford, which consisted of one gas station and maybe two little stores. But anyway. But it wasn't too long before they realized that that might not be too good of an idea to have that swimming area down in the river, because some of the fellows, especially--there were a lot of young men there working in construction. And some of them decided that it'd be kind of a challenge to swim across the river, and some of them were getting into trouble. I don't think there were any drownings, but there were some problems. And so it wasn't too long before they went what I call across the highway to the south of the trailer court about, oh, it would've been a good strong mile, I suppose, from the river. And they dug out some beautiful swimming areas, big ponds, with nice berms and all, to hold the water. And then they brought the water in from the river, and flooded those areas, and kept them in good shape. And so we had a nice, sandy bottom, and diving boards, and very, very nice. Very nice. So I've rambled along a little bit. Maybe you have a specific question that has come up or something.

Bauman: You mentioned that you did some things that were okay for you to do, and maybe some things that you weren't supposed to do. Any stories from--that you want to share?

Shea: Well, you know, maybe—well, I don't think of any right off hand. I might mention that—I'm sure I wandered off some, and probably worried Mom and Dad. But everything was wide open. And the good—at least from my point of view as a youngster there—there was never any problem for me as a little kid roaming around. And I I'll get into some of the detail later. But they went into the barracks of the white guys, as well as the barracks of the black fellows. And keep in mind that this is 1943. This is segregation. Right or wrong, good or bad, it was segregated. And there were black barracks. There were white barracks. And there were very, very few black children. But they had kind of a segregated area there in the trailer court for that also. But never any problem. And I spent a lot of time in the black barracks. One of my little sidelights as an entrepreneur out there, a ten-year-old entrepreneur, somewhere I got tied in with the Cloverine Brand Salve people. And I would get these tubes of Cloverine Brand Salve. And I think there are ten or 12 in each carton. And I would go to the black and the white barracks both on Sunday afternoons, and sell that salve. And boy, they just gobbled it up. They loved it. And so I made a few dollars that way. I shined shoes, which was quite--that was quite an activity for kids my age. We had little shoeshine kits. We'd carry them around, and if the guy wanted a shoeshine, $0.25 for a good shoeshine. It was a way to make money, and we enjoyed it. And maybe I'm jumping ahead, but anyway, when school started in the fall, of course, it was during the war. They had a shortage of teachers. They had a shortage of room there at the site to begin with for the school kids. And so we only went to school half-day, which was pretty tough to take as a kid, [LAUGHTER] but we managed to do it. So that gave us a lot of free time for activities, playing or making a few bucks doing whatever. So anyway though, during that summer of '43, got acquainted, and by the end of the summer, the trailer court was in great shape, and it was being added to daily. You might be interested in the--I forget exactly, but for about every 25 or so trailers, there was what we called a wash house, which--in the front of the building, or wash house, there would be an area with washtubs where the ladies could wash clothes. And then immediately across the street there were huge areas to hang clothes. No clothes dryers at that time. And so there were facilities for hanging the clothes and drying the clothes. And there was a lot of good weather, and for the most part, the clothes dried even during the winter. It wasn't too bad. But anyway, the wash house, the laundry facilities were in the front. And then on either side--on one side was the ladies’ toilet facilities, showers, and so forth. Then on the other side, the men had toilets, showers, sinks for shaving and all. And that would accommodate quite a few. And as I recall, it was around 20-25 trailers for each wash house. And of course, people could use any of the wash house facilities anytime they wanted to, if they walked around the trailer court, or whatever. Plus, as far as toilet facilities were concerned, there were portable--what we would call portables today. They were wooden. But they would accommodate people, too, and they had the female and the male outhouses, or portable toilets. And another thing very, very important there, throughout the barracks areas, throughout the whole trailer court, there were many, many water barrels. And that's really what they were. They were wooden barrels. I imagine they were an outgrowth of whiskey barrels of bygone days. But they had wooden barrels supplied with ice and water. Very clean. Everything was clean. And by the way, the portable toilets were kept very, very clean, and taken care of, in great shape. And the water barrels—and all the water barrels had salt distributors. The little distributors of salt would have little pills of salt, if you felt you needed salt. And I might add now that in the trailer court, I don't know how many there were, but for every, I would guess, 100 or so trailers, they had an icehouse, probably a building of 15 feet by 15 feet, something like that, well insulated, and then filled with ice. And the people from the trailer court could go get the ice anytime they wanted, all they wanted. No charge. And you could go and help yourself. Now you might say, well, why ice? Why not just turn the refrigerator on? Well, at that time, there weren't--all the trailers, most of them were very primitive. Very few electric refrigerators or electric heat. And so the ice went into the ice chest, of what we call an ice--a refrigerator that was cooled by ice. So it was great. And that, I might add right here, that that free ice was very important to me, because one way of making some dollars, or making some money as a kid out there--well, I guess I need to back up for a second. Virtually all hot water and heating throughout the whole Hanford town site, that in 1944 consisted of about 52,000 people--but all of the heating of the water, heating of the wash houses, heating of the barracks, and all, was done by steam—steaming. So that meant that there had to be quite a few large steam generating facilities throughout the whole Hanford site there to heat the water to produce the steam. Well, that was coal fired, and most of that coal came from up near Cle Elum. Roslyn was a big coal producing area there. And they would--the train loads of coal were brought in from Roslyn. But the steam plant was important to me because I could go there, and I could borrow a wheelbarrow. And I could take that wheelbarrow to the icehouse. And I could fill it with free ice. Then I could go to the grocery store, and I could buy Coke, or Pepsi, or whatever they happened to have, put it on that ice, and then push it down to where the buses--and I say buses in quote. We can talk about that later, if you like. But when the buses with the construction people would come in from the outer job sites every night for the guys living in the barracks and in the trailer court--and I would sell that Coke or Pepsi that had been on ice to the men. I think I bought it for something like a nickel a bottle. They didn't have cans at that time. A nickel a bottle, and I sold it for a dime. So a pretty good deal.

Bauman: That's a good profit. [LAUGHTER]

Shea: Good profit, good profit. Yeah. So anyway, that tells you about the icehouses. It tells you about the wash houses. And of course those wash houses, it was kind of interesting, because every morning, there would be--it was kind of like an anthill. You’d see the ladies walking over, and the men walking over, and shaving, showering, whatever, taking care of their needs for the morning, there, to begin with. So it was good. The government--or we could say the Corps of Engineers, because the Corps of Engineers really ran Hanford. That was their thing--they bent over backward to help people enjoy to the degree possible the living quarters, and they wanted to keep the people there to work. And so they had a lot of activities for the kids. We had tumbling, and then, as I mentioned, swimming. They had softball and all sorts of things. And of course we could work. The older kids—well, bowling at that time, which it still is to some degree today—bowling was very, very, very widespread throughout the whole country. And there were several bowling alleys there at Hanford. And the older kids, like 14, 15, 16, they didn't do the shoe shining and the selling the pop, and some of these other less important jobs. They were pin setters. Because at that time, you didn't have the automatic pin setters in bowling alleys. So they would go and set pins. And they apparently made good money setting pins and all. Plus, as I mentioned, by the time the kid was 15, they could work in the cafeteria, or what we called mess halls, really. I suppose the mess hall term came in from the military, there. But they were huge dining areas. We'll put it that way. So anyway, I'll stop for a minute, see if you have any questions. I'm kind of rambling here.

Bauman: No, that's all great stuff. You said something about the buses. Do you want to talk about the buses a little more, and describe them a little bit?

Shea: Yeah. Really, the transportation that was provided for the workers from Hanford out to the various areas, and in some cases, I suppose they had to go upwards of 15 miles, maybe 20 miles or so, were kind of glorified cattle cars, really. I mean, for the time, it was good. But they were wooden benches in these—actually, they were semi trailers that had a tractor, a truck tractor, attached. And they would haul, I suppose, 30-40 workers. And the poor guys, during the summer, they'd pull in to where they--kind of the disembarking area there, and those poor guys, I mean their tongues were virtually hanging out, because I mean, they'd come through this very hot ride in this very hot vehicle. And that's why they really sucked up those iced Cokes, and all. So anyway, but that's enough of—Actually, I might add that the grade school aged kids, grades one through eight, they went to school there at Hanford. But the high school age, nine through 12 there, they were transported into Richland for their high school years. And they rode those cattle cars too. They had buses, or anyway, transportation to and from. And it was pretty crude. But they got in.

Bauman: So could you talk about the school a little bit? You went to school at Hanford town site, and could you talk about that a little bit, what that was like?

Shea: The white building that is still out there, kind of shot up and beat up, which was really the Hanford high school, that's where the--they had, I don't know, probably eight, ten, 12 classrooms. And that's where I attended fifth and most of sixth grade, there in that school. But then they also had a many Quonset huts outside the school, immediately adjacent to the school. And they had a lot of classrooms in those Quonset huts, too. So I don't know how many, all told, kids that they would have had in the school. It had to be hundreds, but I don't know how many hundreds. But there were a lot.

Bauman: Was it close enough for you to walk to?

Shea: Oh, yeah. In my case, it was a piece of cake. I only lived about three blocks from--what we would think of today as blocks. And it was real simple. And they named the streets like Egypt, and such as that. I happened to live on Egypt Street--Egypt Street, and I guess it was actually the second block. And the trailer space number was 20. So my address was E 2-20. But now some of the kids, though, that would have been a pretty good hike for them. Some kids, I suppose, had to walk upwards of a good mile. A good mile. And no buses at all at that time for the school kids and all. The teachers, bless their hearts, I'm sure they did the best they could. But they had both morning and afternoon sessions. I imagine by the end of the day, they were pretty tired cookies. But they did as well as they could, and they were well respected, and taken care of. And basically it was the three Rs at that time.

Bauman: Were you morning or afternoon session?

Shea: I forget. At least one year, either the fifth or sixth, it was morning. Because that gave me all afternoon to go. But the second year, or one of the years, I don't remember if it was morning or afternoon. But anyway. And I'm not so sure, I don't remember, it could be that after one semester, they flipped us, also. If you had been going morning, maybe then they switched to afternoon, or vice versa. I'm not sure. I think maybe that happened, in case there was some reason that they thought it was better for the kids to be turned around there.

Bauman: So the high school building was there, and you mentioned a gas station, maybe a couple of grocery stores. Were there a lot of buildings still from the Hanford town site, still there? Or had some of them been torn down?

Shea: I think for the most part, those that had been--were there to begin, they retained them, like a gas station and a couple of small stores. But the Corps of Engineers, I suppose under contract, had--there in the trailer court, there were probably three very large grocery stores. And I remember, I believe at least one large grocery store over in the vicinity of the barracks, where the people out of the barracks could go if they wanted to get food, or maybe some clothing, this type of thing. And of course those stores were well stocked, well stocked, but just jam packed. And so you had, just as everywhere out at Hanford, you had long lines, whether it was a post office, which was general delivery, or stores, or whatever. In fact, some kids made some money standing in line for people. They would go and stand in line for Mrs. Jones at the grocery store, and when Mrs. Jones got her groceries, they'd come over, and naturally the kid had moved up several spaces. So anyway, there were all kinds of interesting things. I'd like to go back just a minute to the dorm--the barracks and the grocery store there, and the mess halls, although they were fantastic. The food was excellent that served the people, and the mess halls provided, if the guys wanted them, lunches to carry out to their worksite, so that they didn't have to prepare them, which would have been pretty tough in the dormitories. But the mess halls served excellent food. And actually, the people from the trailer court were welcome anytime they wanted to go to the mess hall. And I think, if I recall correctly--I don't know about the breakfast and lunch--but the dinners were a great big whopping $0.35 apiece per person. And that was family style, and you could eat all you wanted. Mom, and Dad, and my brother and I went to--I can remember at least two or three times going there for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinners. And, oh, excellent food. Excellent. And I'll have to tell you a little story there. The one experience, we went, and of course it was family style. It was just benches to sit on, and wooden tables. I think at Thanksgiving and Christmas, they did put a tablecloth on. But the one time we went, one fellow sitting across from us, obviously living in the barracks or someplace, didn't have his family with him. Anyway, during the time that Mom and Dad and my brother, and I were sitting there having our dinner, he consumed five pies. No meat and potatoes, the only thing he had besides that was coffee. He had five pies. Now these weren't huge pies. But they were pies. And he just took his time. And that's all he had. That was his dinner. And you could do that. It was family style. You could have all you wanted, and just go for it. Well, again, I've been rambling. Can I--

Bauman: Did you and your family eat there fairly regularly, or was there more special occasions that you would go to eat at the mess hall?

Shea: The only times I remember are maybe three or four times there at Thanksgiving or Christmas. There may have been other times. Sunday afternoon, Dad might have taken us over there. I don't really remember that, no. Mom was an excellent cook, and unbelievable what those ladies were able to do with their limited facilities. Again, most of the trailers were very small, very crude. By today's standards, they would have been just shacks. But they did great. However, there were some manufactured trailers, and even with inside toilet facilities and all. But that was very rare there in the trailer court.

Bauman: So you were about ten years old when you were there?

Shea: I was ten in April of 1943, and we got there in June of 1943. So I was ten in two or three months, yeah.

Bauman: So did you have any idea what this big project was, why your dad had come out here to work?

Shea: No. Bob, at that time there were just a handful of people who really knew what was going on. And most of them didn't have a great idea. I mean they'd been told that it was--well, just for an example. A man that I later worked with on the Hanford project, he had come here as an expert in radio communication. And it was he and the crew that he had that put an antenna up on Gable Mountain. And he was told that, okay, this is, of course, super-secret, and one day, we will tell you more. And he said that before B Reactor went online, they came to him and said, okay, now B Reactor is going to go online because of thus, and thus, and thus. And we don't have any idea what it will do, if anything, with the radio communication, radio waves. It may be nothing. But be alert to the fact that, you know, you're the man. And so he said, but when it went online, no problem, no change. But anyway, that was interesting, what he had to say. I don't know if the name Robley Johnson means much to anybody anymore, but he was the official photographer. And he was a young man. And he was all over that place taking photographs and all. And later, I got to know him pretty well in the 1950s, when he had his photography shop here in Richland. And he shared some things that he thought was real interesting. But even he didn't know what they were doing, but so few did. And I suppose the few that did, they'd have said nothing. And of course the old Desert Inn Hotel here in Richland that basically was on the ground there where--what is it, Hanford House, or whatever they call it now? Anyway, it housed a lot of very famous people. But again, most of them were there with code names, now.

Bauman: Do you remember when you found out what was being built out at Hanford?

Shea: Kind of interestingly, in, I guess it was August of 1945, Dad decided he needed a few days off, so we took a vacation. Went over to the Seattle area, actually up to Everett, and then back down to Auburn and visited some people. And as we were going down, I guess, the old 99 Highway, Dad had the radio on, and it said, hey, you know, guess what? Across the mountains at Hanford, this is where the material for the second bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki came from. That's where we learned. So when we got back over here, though, then there was a lot of—all sorts of interesting things brought out. So that's how we found out.

Bauman: So how long did you live in the trailer, then?

Shea: Okay, we lived at the Hanford construction town site there from June 20th of '43 until--I'm not sure of the exact date--late March, 1945. And by that time, they moved everybody out of Hanford, all the barracks, the trailer court, again, anticipating that something could happen, and we would have been downwind from the B Reactor. And so then, yeah, we dispersed. And people--many of the people--were able to move directly into Richland that went to work in operations. They moved directly into Richland. But not everybody. They weren't able to house everybody. My dad went to work in operations from construction there. But we had to find a place, and we wound up in a house with a couple of other families down in what we know as Columbia Park today. Where the gazebo is today, that's where the house was. And so we lived there from end of March until--it was early July, I guess, when we got a house in Richland, and moved into Richland. And the family lived in that house--I mean, Mom and Dad--until in the 90s. So they lived there for better than 50 years.

Bauman: It sounds like, for someone who was ten, 11 years old as you were, that living in the construction camp was quite an adventure in many ways.

Shea: It was. It was a wonderful opportunity. I'm 80 years old, and as I look back on my life, two--we'll call them adventures, or two opportunities, let's put it that way, that I have always praised the Lord that I could enjoy--one, being a kid out there at Hanford, and the other, believe it or not, to be able to go through the United States Marine Corps Boot Camp. That was a great, great opportunity for me. I loved it. In both cases, I loved it. And as a take-off on that question, if you don't mind, that first summer of '43 there, one of the things that I enjoyed the most was going across the river and climbing around, and hiking around the bluffs. I called it my playground. And the thing--they had a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week ferry. That ferry never stopped. It was not a big ferry. It was a tug-pushed barge that would hold four or five automobiles. And it just went back and forth, back and forth. And it didn't cost anything. Again, it was free for the employees. And the kids would go down there, and we'd cross the river, and go hiking on the bluffs, and chase rabbits, and kill rattlesnakes, and had a good time. So that really was great, though. I don't know if you wanted to take time or not on that—I brought a piece of aluminum, though. You know, that's kind of unique. But anyway, it's a piece of aluminum that came off of an airplane. One evening—toward evening, it was five, six, seven o'clock. One of the aircraft from the Naval training center there in Pasco, it was a dive bomber, had come around from the south, and the bluffs, of course, were across the river to the north, at very low altitude. And the engine was sputtering some. And, I mean, pretty obvious it was in trouble. And they were able to clear the bluffs by a couple hundred yards, maybe, 400 or 500 feet. But then it crashed and it burned. And so some of the men went out and got souvenirs. And the instructor and the student pilot were both killed in that crash. But it was unfortunate, but it was kind of interesting that they came through there.

Bauman: And this is when you were living at the camp there?

Shea: Yeah, right. And it just came right over the Hanford site there, the Hanford town site. We didn't see many of the planes from Pasco, there. I suppose a few that we saw came in on a cross-country training flight. But, talking about airplanes, we have to talk about the big airplane yet. We have to talk, I would hope, anyway, about Day's Pay. Now first of all, I want to correct something that--the idea that Day's Pay landed at some airstrip out at—oh, boy, the little town site to the west of Hanford—

Alice: White Bluffs?

Bauman: White Bluffs?

Shea: --White Bluffs. Some would have you to believe that. But Day's Pay, when it came in, when it was flown in, it landed on the highway about a mile west of the school there. It landed, and there was plenty of room. It made a great landing strip: it was straight, and no hills, or whatever. It landed there, and then taxied up to the school, within 100 feet of the school, and parked, cut its engines, and they got out and did their thing. They christened it. There was a lady there that christened it. And they had their ceremony. And then it started up, taxied back to that highway strip, and took off to the west. And so that's where Day's Pay landed and took off. And for those who are not familiar with the Day's Pay thing, the reason it was named Day's Pay is all of the construction workers there at Hanford, building what we know as the Hanford Works, donated a day's pay to buy that B-17 bomber. And so anyway.

Bauman: Yeah. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about when you went to work at Hanford then. When was that, and what sort of work did you do there?

Shea: Can we come back to this other for a minute?

Bauman: Oh, yeah, sure.

Shea: Before we finish it?

Bauman: That’s fine.

Shea: Yeah. Again, praise the Lord, I was able to—right after finishing high school in 1951, and by the way, I graduated from Columbia High School in Richland. Well, it wasn't immediately after that. I had to get healed up from a broken ankle first. But by August of 1951, I was able to go into construction work, and I went to work helping build the 100-C Area, which was right adjacent to 100-B. And so that's where I started my construction work. And I worked there until September of 1952, at which time I started college. And so the rest--the several years after that, then, I would work in the summers, or if I had a real good job, I would work in the summer and maybe a winter quarter, or spring quarter, or whatever, in construction. So, my term, I helped build 100-C, helped build PUREX. And then in the mid-50s, I helped build--I don't know how many thousands of yards of concrete I hauled from the batch plant to the 100-K East and West basins, when they were putting the basins in, which was an excellent job. And I made good money, and was able to go back to school there after about six months. Then after that, after I got my degree, then I went into teaching. But as things would have it, I went to work back at Hanford in 1967. At that time, it was for what they call ITT/FSS. And they had the fire department security and several other responsibilities. And I went to work there for a couple of years. Then after that, actually, I didn't work at what is known as Hanford Works until the BWIP Project. And most people are not aware of what is called the BWIP Project. BWIP, B-W-I-P, stands for Basalt Waste Isolation Project. They were going to at least check on the feasibility of going down into the basalt under the Hanford site, and have storage for nuclear waste in containers. But politics being as it was, that didn't happen. BWIP and several other projects that they were experimenting with throughout the United States, went to Yucca Mountain and died, or at least is still dead. It may come back. But anyway, I went to work on the BWIP, but that didn't last long, because they abandoned that job. And then it wasn't until about 1983 or 1984 that I went back to work at what we'd call the Hanford site. And off and on there, and working on the two commercial sites that—Eventually, in 1996 I retired. So all told, if that's of any interest, I spent about ten years working at what we would call Hanford, in operations or construction.

Bauman: Okay.

Shea: Yeah.

Bauman: Mm-hmm. Of the different sort of jobs and places at Hanford site that you worked, was there a job that was sort of the most rewarding, that you found the most rewarding, enjoyed the most, or one that was sort of the most challenging or difficult?

Shea: Well, going back to August of 1951 there, yeah, I went to work in construction. And I was working through the union driving a truck. I mean I'd had some experience in that during high school. And so I was driving a flatbed truck, and one day I went to the boss, and I said, Charlie, I really appreciate this job. And I said, could I maybe drive a dump truck, or get some experience? Oh, sure, Bob, yeah, we'll fix you right up. So he said, go out--see that Euclid out there? This is a huge—to me, a huge piece of equipment, diesel powered, and it would haul about ten yards of dirt, and all. He said, yeah, go climb on that Euc, and take it over here to this power shovel, and work with them today. And anyway, I went out, to make a long story short, I finally got it started, with some help from some other guys, because I'd never driven diesel before. But this was the largest earth-moving equipment that they had out there at the time. And so I operated the Eucs for about a year, and I loved it. That was the most interesting part, I think, of my construction. And of that work, the most important and most interesting was we—right down to the north from the B Reactor there, we put in a new, I guess they'd call it to siphon, to draw water out of the Columbia River. We had to go about 100 yards out into the river, and built a levee for them to eventually put and lower the pipe--after it was welded, lower the pipe down to the floor of the river. And so hauling dirt out to the end of that, and you had to back the whole way and dump the earth, that it was quite a challenge. So I enjoyed that. But the other very interesting thing really didn't have anything to do with the Hanford site. It did have to do with what we know today as--well, what we knew then as unit number two, which today it's known as, what, Power Northwest?

Bauman: Energy Northwest.

Shea: Energy Northwest. Their number two unit out there, I was the welding inspector on all of the welding, and all for the structural steel that went on top of the reactor building, including the overhead crane. And that was very—I had never done that type of work. I had never walked steel before, and I haven't walked steel since then, and I never will walk steel again. But that was very interesting, very interesting. And it was very important work. And it was all nuclear grade welding. And so it was very fascinating. Even though that wasn't technically connected with the Hanford site, it was on the Hanford site anyway.

Bauman: Sure.

Shea: So it was very good. I don't know if you had--

Bauman: I have a question about when you actually, then, moved to the town of Richland. What was that like? What was Richland like in the late 1940s then?

Shea: Very, very good question. It was very different, and I suppose that was true also of Kennewick and Pasco. It was a melting pot—people from all over the country—which is true at Hanford, too. Very interesting. Lot of people had come up from the South for the construction. Some people came up from the South and all to work in operations. And people like us had come in from Missoula, Montana. They'd come in from all over the country, South Dakota, North Dakota, all over. And it was true at Hanford, and it became true, really, at Richland, too. Many of these people, especially out of the South, had worked at that time—1943, even during the war years—had worked for maybe $1 a day. And they came to Hanford in construction out there, and laborers were making, I think, about $1.10 an hour. This was great. Many people moved into Richland, ourselves included. Mom and Dad had never owned a home. It had always been a rental home in the almost 20 years that they'd been married. They were provided nice houses, all the coal was furnished. They had to pay for their own phone, they had to pay for their own electricity. But I think the water and sewer was provided, all the coal. It was great. It was a new world. It was a new world for a lot of people, including the Sheas. And Dad appreciated it, Mom appreciated it. And they took very good care of things, and I don't think they took advantage of anything. But they enjoyed it. It's kind of interesting, I think—Alice and I share this every once in a while. Along toward '47, '48, in that frame, maybe '49 too, it was not uncommon that a neighbor might come to you in Richland there, and say, well, you know, it's been nice having you as a neighbor, you know, and we wish you well, and all that. We're being reassigned. And you would ask, reassigned? Oh, you're going to go to do a different job. Yeah, I'm getting a different job. Well, as it turned out, several plainclothes FBI agents lived with their families in the city of Richland, there, because at that time they were checking pretty carefully about communists. And of course it wasn't too long after that McCarthy in the US Senate, with McCarthyism there, and all, and the big communist situation there, as far as seeking them out. So that was kind of interesting. And there were, unfortunately, some families, the dad would be approached, and just say, okay, pack up, you're out of here. Your kids aren't behaving as they should be, or maybe they were a drunk. In other words, it was pretty tight, pretty tight. And it was kind of interesting, too, until probably 1950 or maybe even later, there was kind of a police headquarters, which was really government control. But the headquarters there. And they had police officers throughout the city, but nothing real heavy. But if—and this happened to us--if people come out of town would come, relatives from podunk corners, or wherever it was, would come to town. And they'd stop, and they'd say, well here's a police headquarters, we'll check and see where the Sheas live, because we're confused. And they would just be escorted. If they stopped with the police, there, the police would escort them right to our home, and they would say, do you know these folks? And, well, yeah. This is Uncle George, or whoever. Oh, okay, that's fine. You know them. That's good. We weren't sure what the deal was. So we brought them over. So that was kind of interesting.

Bauman: Wow. Yeah. Very tight security.

Shea: Tight security, yeah. Tight security. And I think that lasted pretty much until the mid-50s probably.

Bauman: So, in terms of security, then, when you started working there in the 50s, did you have to have special clearance? Was there training about security, too, when you worked there?

Shea: You had to fill out some paperwork. In construction phase there, it was pretty loose, not much. But in 1955, when I went one summer, when I was off from college, I went to work for what was known at that time J.A. Jones Construction Services. And I was going to be working some in D and DR, and F Areas. And I had to qualify with a Q clearance. So I got a Q clearance there in 1955, and I had it restated later, too. In fact, when I retired I had a Q clearance. Not too many had it at that time. For some reason they'd lowered the standard some. But yeah. So it was tight. It was very tight. And you've probably heard about the aircraft, the patrol aircraft that flew--the main reason for the Richland airport was to accommodate the half dozen Piper Cubs, really, that were constantly doing surveillance work over the Hanford site for, well, all of the 40s, and probably, I would guess, until 1954, '55, or maybe a little bit before that. After the Army moved in, anyway, and there was tighter security there. But the security was tight, yeah. Very tight.

Bauman: Do you have something else you want to get back to that we were talking about before?

Shea: We could go back to Hanford. But I might mention one thing, for anybody that's kind of interested in sports. This is kind of off, but anyway. There at Hanford, and after that, they had a MP, or Military Police Detachment of US Army personnel. And they were--of course, most of them were pretty young men, and all. And they had some good teams, softball teams and all. But a little sidelight, one of the men, one of the MPs, after he got out of the Army, there in late 1945, he went to various colleges around the area, and universities, and tried to get a football scholarship. He’d played a little high school football, and all. And so they all said, well, no, thanks, but we're in pretty good shape. So, okay, well, that's fine. So he decided, well, I'll just go back home. So he went back home to Illinois. And then in 1947, he reappeared in the Rose Bowl, and he was the quarterback for Illinois. And they proceeded to beat UCLA, something like 45 to 14. But his name was Perry Moss. And he'd been a GI MP out at Hanford. So I thought that was kind of interesting. Going back to Hanford, there. I might--two things I might mention that were very significant, and very important, not to me or my family, but I'm sure that many of the guys in the--and some of the guys in the trailer court, probably, some of the fathers, and maybe older boys—they had some excellent baseball leagues out there. Again, black leagues, white leagues. But the baseball field they had out there rivalled any major league ballpark in the nation at that time, other than the seating. There was only seating for about 6,000, I think it was. But the grass was perfect. They maintained it. And lighting was excellent, because most of the games were played at night, when the guys would come in after work. Excellent, though, and a lot of great baseball, a lot of great baseball was played there. And then I guess it would be just absolutely wrong not to mention something about the auditorium, or I guess that's what the main name for the huge building that they put up virtually overnight. That's not quite true. But really, within two or three days, they put up this huge building that they called the auditorium. It had a regulation-size gymnasium floor, and no seating such as that, except around the perimeter. But they had many dances, big dances. They brought the Globetrotter basketball team in. And I'll have to ask Alice to help me with the name of the--what was the band leader?

Alice: Kay Kyser?

Shea: Kay Kyser. Brought Kay Kyser in. And to this day, as far as I know, the grand piano that they brought in for Kay Kyser to use is still in what I know as Carmichael School.

Alice: Chief Joe.

Shea: Huh?

Bauman: Chief Joe—Chief Joseph?

Shea: No. Carmichael.

Alice: Yes, Chief Joe.

Shea: Okay. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, the one on Lee Boulevard at the top of the hill. That building. Anyway. I guess that, unless you have other questions--

Bauman: I was just going to ask you, did you get to attend any of the baseball games, or the auditorium, stuff in the auditorium at all?

Shea: A couple of the baseball games. Since they were at night, Mom and Dad kind of rode herd on me a little bit there. But I did go to a couple of baseball games. And there was one ceremony there, too, that they brought a pilot and maybe one or two of his crew in who had to been taken prisoner by the Japanese. They'd been shot down, and they'd been taken prisoner by the Japanese, but they were able to escape. And so for one of the war bond drives, they brought them in to talk to the people. And they had a big ceremony there, and it was in the evening. And speaking of war bonds, or war savings bonds, and such as that, that was a big thing. That was a big thing there at Hanford, and for the kids as well as the adults. And so it was very well contributed to, really, or bought. A lot of war bonds there. So anyway, that was good, a good way to save money.

Alice: What about seeing the fellow, the gentleman who had been shell shocked, and how they dealt with him?

Shea: Oh. Yeah, that was the only really sad thing that I remember from Hanford days. And then, it was a passing thing. But one evening, near me was all of a sudden a congregation of several of the, we'll call them police officers, there at Hanford had formed a ring around--and I'm talking about ten or 12 of them--around this fairly young man. And as it turned out, he had been in the service, probably in Europe. And he went bonkers. And after—well, excuse me—he had come to Hanford and went to work. But that evening, he kind of went bonkers, and so these police officers just had to kind of slowly move in on him, and get him under control. And I think they cuffed him and took him away. But that was sad, because it was obvious that he thought that these were Germans that he was fighting. These were bad guys, and he was going to get all he could. That was sad, but anyway, those things happen. So I don't know if you have any other questions about Hanford, there, or--oh, excuse me. I just thought of one thing. One wonderful, wonderful thing there at the Hanford town site--well, let me back up. You're probably all aware of the fact that in 1943, when the government moved in, they really took over three little villages: Richland, Hanford, and White Bluffs. And Hanford and White Bluffs are, I think, separated by, what, six miles, or something like that, of highway. But between Hanford and White Bluffs—and I suppose on either end, west of White Bluffs, and east of Hanford, too—orchard, after orchard, after orchard of just wonderful fruit: peaches, big Bing cherries, pears, apricots—wonderful fruit. And we had the opportunity to go out and pick there--during the summer of '43, go out and pick, and get cherries. And another thing, the track houses, the farm houses that had to be abandoned, many of us went out and cut sod out of their lawns, and put the sod around our trailer, and watered it. It was great. It was great. And many of the houses that had been farm houses, they were taken over by the upper military of the Army Corps of Engineers. And they lived there, several guys in a house. But one thing that I understand is that every year the railroad would bring in--excuse me. Unless it was a bad winter and the apricots were frozen, they brought trains in to load up with apricots to send all over the country—LA, Texas, New York, and all, because those were the earliest apricots in the country. And they were wonderful apricots, too. So they hit the market, unless they got frozen off that winter, which I guess was very, very rare. Apparently that area around Hanford and White Bluffs, the air currents, or whatever, during the winter, carried fairly mild air temperature-wise, and so anyway. But that was interesting.

Bauman: So it sounds like a lot of the farm houses were still there, and the crops.

Shea: They eventually—probably in the late 40s—they cut all the orchards down, and so none of them existed. You can see a lot of stumps, but no orchards. And then interestingly, probably by 1948, you'd have never known that there was any barracks, wash houses, nothing. It was completely leveled. And today, it's just a few little asphalt strips that you'd see where the various streets were, and all. But yeah. That's it.

Bauman: So was it just that first summer of '43 that you were able to pick the apricots and cherries and stuff? Just that first summer?

Shea: Yeah. No, I'm sorry. I beg your pardon. No, no. '43 and '44. I beg your pardon. But not '45, because we were out of there by March. But all of that summer of '43 and '44, it was great. And again, I think it's important to remember that virtually all of 1944, that Hanford town site was the fourth largest city in the State of Washington, about 52,000 people, men, women, and children. Yeah. That fruit was wonderful. Bing cherries the size of quarters. Wonderful, wonderful fruit.

Bauman: Well, is there anything you haven't had a chance to talk about yet that you’d like to still, that we haven't been able to talk about yet?

Shea: Let’s see. As it relates to the bond drives, and all, here's a--my mother saved this because my little fat face was in it. But they had what they called The Sage Sentinel newspaper out there, and this is just an example. This is from June of 1944. It just showed some of us kids. They had bought war bonds, and they had a little blurb there about that.

Bauman: Okay. We can probably get this on film.

Shea: Or you might want to make a copy of it, or whatever. You're welcome to, if you'd like.

Bauman: All right. Well, I want to thank you very much for coming today and--

Shea: Well, my pleasure.

Bauman: --sharing your stories and memories.

Shea: My pleasure.

Bauman: I really appreciate it.

Shea: No, it's my pleasure. So thank you.



Bit Rate/Frequency

230 kbps

Hanford Sites

B Reactor
100-C Area
100-B Area
D Area
DR Area
F Area

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site

1951; 1967-?; 1983/1984-1996

Names Mentioned

Johnson, Robbley
Moss, Perry


Shea, Bob.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Bob Shea,” Hanford History Project, accessed May 25, 2022,