Interview with Jane Roop
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Roop_Betty_Jane
Robert Bauman: Ready to go? All right. OK, we'll go ahead and start.
Betty Jane Roop: Okay.
Bauman: Let's start by having you say your name and spell it for us.
Roop: Okay. My name is Betty Jane Roop. R-O-O-P is the last name.
Bauman: Thank you. My name is Robert Bauman and today's date is July 22nd of 2014. And we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. And you go by Jane.
Roop: I go by Jane. Mm-hm.
Bauman: So let's start, Jane, if you could talk about how and when your family arrived here in the Tri-Cities. What brought your family here?
Roop: Okay. My dad ran away when he was about 13 years old, 14 years old and he ended up in the Roundhouse at Pasco. And eventually made his way back home, but always remembered this place. And so when he was out of the service for World War II, he decided we'd move here because there was work. And so we came in 1949 and lived here until the Army base closed down in North Richland in '56, '57. And so that's how we got here.
Bauman: And how old were you at the time?
Roop: I was about five.
Bauman: And do you have any memories, or what are some of your earlier memories of the area?
Roop: I guess the earliest memory was living in what's called old Navy housing in Pasco. That was kind of a community and I remember playing there as a kid. And then we lived there for a while. And then we move to the trailer court in North Richland and I started kindergarten there. And some of my earliest remembrances are how cold it was walking to school. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: What was the trailer camp like? Could you describe that at all?
Roop: Well, it was the largest trailer camp in the world and we were very proud of that. And it was just block after block of trailers. And there was approximately, oh, I don't know, let's see, 20 trailers on each side of a block and they were usually divided up, and there was a big bath house in the middle. Because at that time, a lot of the trailers didn't have washing machines or even bathrooms. So in the middle of that block was a big cement house, bathroom, wash room, and that kind of thing. And it was a wonderful place for kids to grow up. There were lots of kids around all the time and we would live very close and I remember it just being a very safe environment, especially during the summer when we would play until it was dark, and often hid in that bath house.
Bauman: And what about the school? What was the school like?
Roop: Well, at John Ball, it was a huge Quonset hut school. It had a long center part, kind of like a centipede. And then off of that long center part came the classrooms. And again, one of the things I remember as a kid is that you couldn't get in. And during the winter, you had to wait until the halls were open to get inside and it was very cold. And at that time, girls, you weren't allowed to were dresses—or pants. You had to sort of wear pants underneath your dress. So you would dress kind of double layer with a dress on top and the pants underneath because it was so cold and you had to wait outside to get in. But my first goal was to become a hall monitor so I could get in out of the cold. [LAUGHTER] And the younger, the first, second, third grades were on one end and the fourth, fifth, and sixth were on the other end. And it was a small school, a relatively small school. But I remember lots of fond memories of that school and I started kindergarten there and left in sixth grade when they closed it down.
Bauman: And was it like K through eight, or do you know how--
Roop: I don't think we went through eighth grade. I think it only went through sixth.
Roop: Yeah. I'm pretty sure. It was just through sixth. And I think they went into Richland then, to one of the schools there.
Bauman: So what sort of job did your father have then?
Roop: He was first a teamster and worked loading, getting people to and from the site from a major--there was a huge bus center. In fact, I think it's still there to some extent. And he worked there as a teamster. And then after a few years, he took training and became a pipe fitter and was a pipe fitter out there until it closed down.
Bauman: And where had you lived before this?
Roop: We came from Oklahoma. My dad was in the Navy until, I think about after the war, '44, '45. He was stationed in Hawai’i. And after the war, we came out here, because it was a time of just finding work and it was a lot of work here.
Bauman: And did you have any idea what sort of place Hanford was, what sort of work was being done at Hanford?
Roop: You know, as a kid, what I remember most is all the kind of secrecy and the whispering. Like you didn't know what was really going on, but Rattlesnake Mountain to us kids was always a very mysterious place. Because it was like over there, there was something really big and scary. So I remember that being—because it dominates the landscape even today. And nobody really talked about their work, but you knew things were going on there that you couldn't talk about.
Bauman: So you lived in the trailer camp from about 1950 or so?
Roop: Yeah, it was about '50 to '56, '57, and there was a big Army base out there. And when they closed the Army base, they closed a lot of the trailers. It shrunk in size. So a lot of people moved from one part of the trailer court to another part if they were still employed. And so it kind of shrunk and it's mostly where Battelle is right now--
Bauman: Right. Right.
Roop: --where that area where all the trailers were and the school and everything.
Bauman: And what about your family then? What happened to your family?
Roop: After they closed down, my dad worked, I think it was only less than a year and then he went back in the Navy. And from there then he went for training in Oklahoma, and then he went to the Philippines, and then we moved as a family to Midway Island, and then came back here. He got out of the Navy again in about '61, '60, I think it was, and then we came back here to this area and lived here pretty much ever since. Until my dad died, he lived here—1991. So we came back in about '60, '61 and he was here until he is death in '91.
Bauman: And he came to work at Hanford?
Roop: He didn't. He did for a while, and then he became an independent trucker, which was always his passion.
Bauman: And so how old were you then when you came back?
Roop: I was a junior in high school when we came back. So I left when I was in sixth grade and then came back when I was a junior.
Bauman: And which high school did you go to then?
Roop: Col High. Columbia High. I was a Bomber, still a Bomber.
Bauman: [LAUGHTER] And what was the community like when you came back and high school? Could you describe that?
Roop: Well, when I came back, of course, North Richland was no longer here. And all those usual signs and maybe people have talked about this—well, where we're sitting now was an area where we did some hunting and bringing our dogs down next to the river. And then on the other side of the GW Way was a huge outdoor theater right below that hill. And all of these kind of landscape—that landscape was pretty much gone by then. And we moved into a smaller trailer court for a little while on Stevens Drive, right off of Stevens Drive. And then my dad did go—I think he might have returned to work for a little bit out at Hanford as a pipe fitter, but as soon as he kind of got himself organized, he bought a truck and started trucking in the area.
Bauman: So going back then to your earlier childhood in North Richland, were there services there and in the trailer camp, grocery stores or something?
Roop: Yes. Yes, there was. There was a theater that I remember very well, and it was actually on the Army base and almost everything was. There was a grocery store and I can't remember the name of it. There was a post office. There was a theater. There was a beautiful little park that we used to ride our bikes to that kind of looked at the grocery store. Maybe there was a block between or maybe a quarter mile, but a nice little park there.
Bauman: Like a park with play equipment, sort of thing?
Roop: Not play equipment, but trees and benches. Yeah. And we didn't really leave the area to do grocery shopping at all. If you wanted to go, there wasn't any place to really eat. There was not like diner or a cafe. And I remember we used to go into the Thrift Way into Richland every Friday night for a roast beef sandwich dinner. [LAUGHTER] And my mother worked in that grocery store for a little while as a checker.
Bauman: Do you remember the name of the theater?
Roop: I don't remember the name, and it was just right there on the Army post. And then, of course, later, the one downtown--well, there's the old, The Players where The Players are now. But there was another theater, sort of where the Desert--I'm remembering the old name, but where the Red Lion Hotel is. But there was another theater there in that block, a regular movie theater. And I can remember going there as a child and mostly seeing war movies that scared me, because they made a lot of stuff like that after the war, about the war.
Bauman: Were there any doctors’ offices in North--did you have come into Richland for medical appointments?
Roop: Yes, yes, we did. I don't remember them being any doctors and I had asthma as a child and I was often—4:00 in the morning we were heading somewhere. But mostly all of those kind of services were actually in Richland. And certainly in '62 when we got back, it was all still in Richland. And I was a patient of Dr. Corrado’s for many years. And he's a well-known physician in the neighborhood, in the community.
Bauman: Right. So at what point did you become aware of what was being made at Hanford, the work that was being done at Hanford?
Roop: I don't think I really understood for years what was really going on there. I think I was an adult before I really knew that they were making plutonium and uranium and things like that. Because we just didn't talk about it. You just didn't talk about it. And I guess the only thing, really, I would say was that we had to do the drills that you do that most kids did by--with their head over, you know, putting--
Bauman: Desk cover.
Roop: --underneath your desk and all that. We—in fact, that is one of the poem I wrote that's in Particles on the Wall is about. Our drill was too right to go outside and there was a huge, sandy ditch, huge, long ditch--I don't know if you've ever seen a picture of it, I brought one--where we had to go outside and lay down in the ditch face down with our hands like this, in this ditch. And so we always knew it was often very scary and we knew that we were in a place that was targeted. I think kids felt that. That we were in a dangerous place because of the area, but we didn't know why. And we didn't know what it was. And I was trying to remember when exactly I knew what they made. And it wasn't--I think for sure I was an adult. And I talked with a fellow who worked in one of the plants out there. He explained to me how those plants really worked, like a pressure cooker and everything. And do you know something? I think I was 30-some years old before I really knew. So you just had all these--the innuendo of it.
Bauman: You had some sense it had to do with defense or something.
Roop: Defense, and it was scary. And of course, in high school, we knew of the bomber, so we knew of the bomb. I think I must have realized that part of what they did out there was making that bomb, but I can't tell you exactly how I got to know it.
Bauman: Right. So you were in North Richland from about kindergarten through about sixth grade, you said.
Bauman: Did you stay in touch with any of the families or any of your friends in that school?
Roop: Yes. There were the Keyeses. Yes, they had kids my age and we played together an awful lot. So there was three families that I sort of knew after that, but the Keyeses I did stay in touch with and they had a son a couple years younger than I was and he died about 10 or 15 years ago. He was younger and his brother died even at a younger age. I did stay in touch with them in knew them many years after. But it's funny. I know that there are other families, but we didn't stay too much in touch. There was about four families that every now and then we'd run into. But we didn't socialize and didn't get together like that except the Keyeses.
Bauman: You mentioned a little bit earlier the drill of laying down in the ditch in the sand. Were there any other things that you remember from growing up that were connected to Hanford?
Roop: Like the secrecy?
Bauman: Yeah, the secrecy, or anything.
Roop: Well, I knew that you couldn't go across--you could only drive out on the highway that goes north so far and then there was a checkpoint. And of course, when I grew up, there was no road that you could drive across to Vantage.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Roop: Okay. That was all restricted area. And I think you could go as far as what was the first gate and then take sort of a left and go west to Yakima, but all of that area was off limits. And you know, I can't even remember the Geiger counter things that I know some of the people, the poets who read in Particles on the Wall, they remember the Geiger counters and that kind of thing. But I can't say I even remember that. Yeah.
Bauman: So in looking back at those years, overall, how would you describe your childhood, I guess, in North Richland?
Roop: Well--and that's what my poem is about--in many ways, because it was a small community and we all lived very close together, pretty much everybody knew what everybody else was doing and all the kids played together or didn't, but everybody knew who was fighting with who. That was a wonderful part, but it had this dark kind of cloud over it that was kind of scary as a kid. And the other thing that I remember from that time in the trailer court is that we had a ghetto inside the trailer court. And not too many people really remember this, that there was still segregation and all of the black people lived in one block, sort of in the middle of the school. And I only remember--and I went back and I saw pictures of John Ball's schools, each class, and there was one black boy named Maurice in there, but he was the only one. And I used to love walking through that area because it smelled so good, of all kinds of smells, cornbread and black eyed peas and greens and stuff. And so I remember that area and one person that I was describing that to who read my poem was very upset. She said, well, that's not true, but it really was true. We did have that area.
Bauman: Well, yeah. I know much of the Tri-Cities was segregated at the time too. So about how large of an area was that then, with the trailer area that was the black area, I guess.
Roop: It was very small. I would say it was one block. Just one block, maybe on each side. So we're talking maybe up to 30 or 40 families, maybe, but very small and one child, one black child in that school.
Bauman: And they only had one child in the school.
Bauman: And that was like that as far as you can remember, the whole time you were--
Roop: Yes, that there was a segregated area, yes.
Bauman: Do you have your poem with you?
Roop: Yes, I do.
Bauman: I wonder if it might be good to have you read it.
Roop: Okay. I would be happy to.
Bauman: Because that would tie in with the answer you've been giving to my questions and so forth.
Roop: Okay. And I have that and then I also have--it's kind of a bad picture, but I can't get it any better, and you might off the internet—but of the children actually lying in the ditch. That was in The Tri-City Herald, and I found it on the archive site for the Col High Bomber site. And it does tell on that site--and I do have it at home, I just didn't bring it—of who took the picture. And I believe that that was taken somewhere in the early '50s.
Bauman: Do you remember how regularly these drills happened?
Roop: About once a month.
Roop: About once a month.
Bauman: Wow. Okay.
Roop: And so if you want me to do this, I'd be glad to do that.
Bauman: Yeah. That would be great, I think.
Roop: Okay. And took a class in how to read your poetry, so let me get in the mindset here.
Roop: Because I've read it a couple of places and--Okay. "North Richland Childhood," by Jane Roop. "We came from Oklahoma, Momma, Daddy, and me after the war, dirt poor, to live in a 20-by-8-foot trailer on a 30-by-30-foot lot with other electricians, pipe fitters, teamsters, janitors, proud to be part of this atomic business, living in the largest trailer court in the world. Big enough to have our own ghetto, two blocks of dark, delicious smells, frying fish, boiled greens, hot cornbread. Once a month, from the top of tall poles, warning sirens wailed. The schoolchildren, black and white, raced by swings, monkey bars, the tetherball ring, to the sandy ditch behind John Ball Elementary. Strung ourselves down like paper dolls, clinching our fear behind closed eyes. A useless attack, a defense against a nuclear attack, but we would have been easy to bury there." And I did find out later that there was some science behind being in a ditch. According to one of my scientific friends here now, they thought that if you were in a ditch and sort of down that the wave would pass you by. But as a child, it never made any sense. But that's the poem and that's traveling with Particles on the Wall.
Bauman: Right. Thank you very much for reading that. That's great.
Roop: You're welcome.
Bauman: As you were talking, I thought of one other thing that I hadn't asked you. Were there any places of worship, any churches--
Roop: Oh, yes.
Bauman: --at camp there?
Roop: Oh, yeah. I don't remember them being in the camp. We went to the Lutheran church on George W. Way that is now the Chinese. And then, of course, there was, still is the huge Baptist church there. And so during my childhood, I attended both of those at different times. Yes, but I can't remember and I'm sure there must have been on the base something for people, but we didn't attend there. We went into Richland.
Bauman: Okay. Great. Is there anything I haven't asked you about or that you think is important to share that you haven't been able to mention yet?
Roop: Well, I was just trying to think. It was just a special time, special memories. It's funny. As kids, you do remember things that were scary.
Bauman: It's also very unique. I mean, not a lot of people grow up in a place like that, connected to something like that.
Roop: Yes. And of course, we were always afraid of the rattlesnakes. [LAUGHTER] And the river because at that time the river was very fast when we first moved here. It wasn't dammed up, and it was always a great threat. And one of our things was not to go to the river. You don't go down there. And of course, that's where we went, you know. That's the way kids are. But I can remember that being very frightening.
Roop: But other than that, yeah. Good memories too.
Bauman: Right. Well, thank you very much for coming and sharing your stories today.
Roop: You’re welcome.
Bauman: I appreciate that very much.
Roop: Okay. Yeah.
Bauman: Do you have a couple of minutes?
Man one: Yes.
Roop: And I was trying to remember because I lived at 825 E Street. And I think it was A Street, down by the river, but I can't remember exactly.
Bauman: Oh, okay. We'll go ahead.
Man one: Would you mind your adjusting your microphone?
Man one: It's sort of just kind of twisting a bit.
Roop: There. Does that do it?
Man one: Excellent. Thank you.
Bauman: So I wonder if you could talk about the housing differences with the different classes of workers.
Roop: Okay. Sure. What I remember most, of course, is that all the administrative people and scientists were living in houses in Richland in the ABC houses and that kind of thing. All the blue collar workers, electricians, pipe fitters, janitors, anything like that, North Richland trailers. And then there was sort of a mixed class that lived in houses down along the river, close to the river, but parallel to the trailer court, and they had houses as well. And there was approximately, I'm trying to think, maybe one row down kind of on the river, then one row kind of back just a little bit. And I believe that that was A Street—A and B. I lived on E Street. So that's how I remember that. And then, of course, there was the Army base where people lived there as well.
Bauman: Right. So you were you aware of that sort of growing up?
Roop: Oh, yes. You betcha. Oh, yeah. Yes. Because living in a trailer house was always at least then, rather, I mean, you were poor and you knew you were poor. And you knew you were poor, for me, because I couldn't wear the same kind of clothes that other kids wore. And that goes back forever, doesn't it? That I can remember it was a very big deal to buy a Pendleton skirt, a wool skirt. It was very expensive, and my mother bought me one, one time. And that was a great treat. Do you remember Laverne and Shirley and the poodle skirts and that kind of thing? That's the way it was then. Yeah. So there was very definitely class distinctions.
Bauman: Did you talk about it in your family at all or is it just sort of an understood thing?
Roop: I think the only way it really came out was, for me, was the clothes. I don't remember--as soon as you could, you moved up into a trailer, the first one that we lived in, like in the poem, didn't have a running toilet and I don't believe a shower. So the first thing that you did was try to get a trailer big enough and wide enough so that you could have a bathroom. We never had a wash room and you hung your clothes up on a big drying area. They had clotheslines in the bath house region. And I've always thought, I bet you that's the reason everybody use Clorox because in those days, everybody got to see your linen and your underwear. [LAUGHTER] Everybody could tell whether it was white or not because that's the way things were then. And I can remember getting washed in one of those big, square, cement tubs when I got like a ringworm. What do you call that? And you had to go and be washed in that kind of thing and that was the biggest place where I could be in something like a bathtub. So I was washed in that big bathtub in the wash house. But then as soon as you could get a big enough trailer, and then, of course, the next step was to try to get a house.
Bauman: A house.
Bauman: Right. All right. Thank you very much.
Roop: You're welcome. You're welcome. Yeah.