Interview with Robert Fletcher

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Robert Fletcher

Subject

Richland (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
White Bluffs (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.). Public Schools

Description

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

Creator

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

7/20/2013

Rights

Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at ourhanfordhistory@tricity.wsu.edu, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Format

video/mp4

Date Modified

2016-05-25: Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]

Provenance

The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to this US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Robert Bauman

Interviewee

Robert Fletcher

Location

Washington State University - Tri-Cities

Transcription

Northwest Public Television | Fletcher_Robert 

FletcherI'm Robert Fletcher. R-O-B-E-R-T F-L-E-T-C-H-E-R. 

Bauman: Thank you. And my name is Robert Bauman, and today is August 20th of 2013. And this interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So let's start, if we could, by maybe having you talk about your family and how they came to this area, what brought them here, when they came-- that sort of thing. 

Fletcher: My folks--my mother and father--grew up in Wisconsin. They knew each other in high school, and my father came out west, because my mother had relatives in Idaho, and after she graduated she came out here to stay with them and go to business college in Spokane. So my dad was fond of her and he followed her by working his way west. He was an expert milker, and he could always get a job in a dairy. Because when you worked in a dairy milking cows you had to get up at 3:00 in the morning. And so when he'd work his way from Wisconsin to maybe South Dakota, and he would see--in the depot, in the train depot--he would look on the bulletin board for openings for milkers and he always found work. And he could stay there for several weeks till he got enough money to move on. So he wound up in Lewiston, Idaho, I believe it was. And eventually he and my mother got together and they got married in Coeur d'Alene, 1912. And I had a sister born in 1915 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Francille. And another sister was born in 1918. In the meantime, during World War I, my dad had been working in a, what's called electrical substation in Coeur d'Alene. And during the war then he went over to Bremerton and worked in the shipyards at Bremerton, wiring electrical wiring on the ships. And my mother eventually followed. My mother became a secretary and could do the office work. But after kids were born, she didn't do much of that. And then after the war was over, Bremerton jobs closed up and he went to the back to work at another electric substation down by Walla Walla, Milton-Freewater. And he had been raised on a farm and he had a desire to be independent. So at that time there were developments in Kennewick and then whole Tri-City area. They were developed because irrigation water was being made available from the rivers. And in Richland, there were private developers and they would get bonds that were backed by just state. The state government wanted to support the development to get started, and that was in late 1918s, '20s. And I'm sure my dad--well, my dad told me that there were brochures that these companies would advertise that, come to Kennewick or Richland, that water was available, the climate was ideal, and there soil was great, and you could make a living on just a few acres if you knew how to farm. So my dad travelled out here. His name was Francis, and C. F. Fletcher was his-- And he bought 20 acres of sagebrush. It was what is now on--what did I say? 

Bauman: Spangler? 

Fletcher: Spangler Road. He bought 20 acres there out there at the top of the hill. It was all sagebrush. And then later he bought 10 acres down below the hill where there now is a trailer park or mobile homes. He had to arrange to get the teams of horses to pull out the sagebrush and level the ground. My mother and—I believe that she had two children then, Francille, and Medo is my other sister's name, born in 1918. They came out by train from Walla Walla to Kennewick. And Morton Hess met them at-- Morton Hess had a improvised old pickup that dad said that they met them at the depot in Kennewick, and he brought them out to the farmhouse he'd rented. Before that, my dad had a team of horses, and he brought all his possessions in a wagon from Milton-Freewater to Richland that took him three days, he said, to make that trip with the team of horses. And so after he got the house rented, then he sent for my mother, had my mother come out with the children. And they lived in this rented farmhouse about a quarter of a mile away. And there were a few other houses, a few other farms being developed at the same time. So that took a lot of effort. It was 1920, and he told me that he had to put in the irrigation. The company brought water to the edge of your property and then you had to put in the pipe yourself. They were cement pipes, about three feet long, 40 pounds, eight inches in diameter. And he said he put in several hundred feet of this pipe and he thought he'd done a pretty good job. He worked hard. Turned the water on and it just leaked all over, so he had to do it all over again. He was pretty persistent. And then they had a hard time the first few years because he was small, a small person, and a greenhorn. About the only income work you could get then was to work for the irrigation company if you wanted to earn some money. And usually that was when the water was shut off and they had to clean and repair the ditches, open ditches. And he said they wouldn't hire him for a year or two because they thought well, he was a greenhorn. He wouldn't last anyway, and he was kind of small. But he stuck it out. And what happened was they had to put in some new pumps for the irrigation system, and these were larger pumps. They were three-phase motors, and there wasn't anybody immediately around that knew how to fix them, how to hook them up. Excuse me, I get very emotional. So he told them he thought he thought he could do it. He wasn't too sure. He said he could do it. He told them he could do it. He said he, personally, he said he wasn't too sure. But anyway, he went ahead with it and they worked fine. And after that, he said he didn't have any trouble getting a job for the irrigation district. And later on, several years after he got the farm started and everything, he did become manager of the irrigation district. When I talk about the irrigation district, it wasn't a huge one, but there was about 5,000 acres under water. And most of the farms were like ours, 20, 30 acres. And because you had to have a team of horses. You couldn't farm like you can nowadays with everything mechanized like it is. Lots of hand labor. So I was born in 1922, and I believe that they were still in this rented house. But in the meantime, they'd begun work on a basement, which was about half underground and half above ground with concrete side walls. And so it was above the ground enough, it had had fairly good sized windows. And there were just two rooms. The total probably wasn't more than 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. And above that they put a temporary sort of a shelter that was more of a tent house with a wooden roof and canvas with a wooden frame with canvas around it. And that was our bedroom. That was where we had our bedrooms. And it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, but in the summertime you could roll the canvas up and the evening breeze would cool it off. In the wintertime we had feather beds and my mother would warm up hot irons on the cook stove, and we'd wrap them in towels and put in our beds. And we managed, thought we were living all right. There wasn't any bathroom--there was no indoor bathroom, no indoor water supply. He dug a well down below the hill. Had to do it by hand, about 20 feet deep. And the way to get water up to the house, he had a, we called it stone boat, it was a sled. He hooked the horses to it, the sled, and to pretty good sized barrels, suppose 40 gallon barrels or something. He'd fill them with water from the hand pump down below the hill. And he'd circle around it, bring that sled up. That was the water supply for a few days. But of course, it didn't always last long enough. And I can remember my mother carrying two buckets [EMOTIONAL] of water up the hill. Excuse me. It was a hard life for women, especially, carrying water up the hill, and all the other work they had to do then. She was in charge of the garden. Of course, we had our weekly bath by a copper tub on a cook stove. And the tub, and that's where we took our weekly bath, and shared the affair. The two rooms in the house were the kitchen and then where we ate. The other room was the living quarters and where somebody might sleep if they were not feeling well, otherwise we slept upstairs in the tent house. So those were the early days. It took them quite a little while for my dad to get established, and also get some crops down that they could pay for their living expenses. And they had Fresnos then that the team of horses would pull, and they'd scoop the dirt and dump it in the low places and level it out. And farmers worked together on that. I can remember our neighbors--as I said, most people lived within a quarter or a half mile of each other. The Barnetts and the Nickolauses lived close to us and we shared--when it was time to put in some of the crops, the Barnetts would come with their mowing machine and there would be two or three mowing machines and everything going on, and we'd go back and forth and get the job done. 

BaumanSo what sorts of crops did you grow then? 

Fletcher: We--it was truck farming. We had to raise--we had to have cows. Truck farming was not too reliable. You had to, to fall back on, you had a herd of cow--most all farmers had a herd of cattle which they had milk cows and some beef cows. And you milked the cow--you had your own milking and made your own cheese, but you could sell to the creamery in Kennewick. And we had a milk house where we'd separate the cream from the milk. And we had the Twin City Dairy, I think it was, would come by once a week and collect the milk. We'd keep the milk in a cool water place or something. I don't remember now in details. We didn't have refrigeration. Maybe they came back twice a week. I'm not sure. So we had a herd of cattle, and of course you always had a team of work horses. And I had a pony when I got old enough, about third grade I think. In school I got a pony that had been tamed--he had been one of the wild horses from Horse Heaven Hills. And a bunch of horses had been caught. And we bought it from another fella, and he as a real-- Shorty was his name, and I thought he was the greatest horse, because he could outrun any horse. We had horse races. And a lot of the kids, the only horse they had to ride was a work horse. So I was very fortunate. Anyway, we raised alfalfa for the cattle and the animals. Alfalfa and clover, and of course you had to mow the hay in the summertime and let it dry and put it up in wagons and carry it and take it into the hay stack for the winter. We also raised some acres of corn, of field corn, although we could eat some of the corn when it was quite young, but it was mostly raised for the cattle. And we had an in-ground silo where we had a—we’d bring in, when the corn was mature we'd cut it down with machetes and bring the corn stocks and ears and all and run it through the chopper and made silage out of it. It would ferment in this silo, which was about 20 feet deep and it was dug out near the barnyard. And about I guess 12 feet wide or so. As a kid it looked bigger, probably, than it actually was. But anyway, that was part of the barnyard. And with the silage and the haystack, we kept the cattle going through the winter. Because you had to have enough hay to get through and that took quite a load. And then for field crops, we had a cherry orchard of three or four acres. We raised asparagus three or four acres. And that was a job that--that was a cash crop that game on early in the year in March. And the whole family pitched in. We got up early, almost daybreak to cut the asparagus. Before school you had to have it cut. And then they'd go ahead and you had to pack it in crates to get it ready to market. So we had the asparagus, and then we had, between the trees in the orchard-- one time my dad experimented with peanuts. And I don't think they turned out too well because I don't remember him having them very long. We planted strawberries. We had strawberries that we picked after the asparagus was done, the strawberries would be get ripe. And then the cherries would get ripe in June usually. And so it was staggered out. And then we always had a field of potatoes that you'd dig with a team or horses and a digger. But before you did that, you had to get seed potatoes, and they came whole. The family would--we had a cellar in our house. We'd cut those potatoes into quarters, so there's an eye on each one and that would sprout into a potato plant. And we spent probably a couple weeks, maybe not that long, cutting the seed potatoes into where they could be planted in the field. And I'm trying to think of other crops that we had. I know he tried different ones. We had peas--peas in a pod. And I don't think that paid off too well because I don't remember it lasting too long. Oh, we had some peaches. Not a big orchard, but we had some peaches and apricot trees. Those were sort of under my mother's domain, the garden and the apricots. And she made sure that we all pitched in and helped do the weeding and planting and picking. And all of that had to be picked and canned for the winter. I can remember my mother and sisters working hard--doing a lot of work canning. And the cellar was just full of--they were quite proud to display, in those days, to display their glass jars of fruit, peaches and everything. And took it to the fair to see if they could win some blue ribbons. So we didn't buy too much from the local grocery store, except cooking oil and bananas--fruit that wouldn't grow here. Orange. Those were a treat. Just a few times during the year bananas and oranges we got at Christmastime or your birthday or something. And the store was John Dam's, John Dam Plazas down here, named after the Dam Grocery Store. And there were two men, John Dam and Victor Nelson. They ran the grocery store. And you didn't go looking for your things. You handed them a list. You wanted two gallons of kerosene for your lamps and lanterns that you needed. No electric lights. And as I said, cooking oil, and flour and sugar in bulk. And once in a while you'd get a treat of candy or something such as that. So I think that covers pretty much what the farm was like.  

Bauman: The crops that you grew, the cherries, strawberries, did you sell those somewhere? 

Fletcher: Yeah. We picked and put them in crates. There was what they called the Big Y--it was in Kennewick. And it stood for Yakima I think. Yakima--there was a branch of Yakima Produce Company. And later on I worked there nailing, making boxes for different kinds of fruit when I was in high school. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. 

Fletcher: In fact, most kids did extra jobs like that. Excuse me. I've got to take a drink. 

Bauman: Sure.  

Fletcher: All right.  

Bauman: I was going to ask you about your farm. You mentioned some underground silo. Were there any other buildings on your farm? Any warehouse or barn or any of that sort of thing? 

Fletcher: Yeah. There was a barn from the cows, of course. And there are pictures in my booklet of some of these chicken houses in the yard, a couple of chicken houses. And a milk house. We had pigs. The pigs consumed a lot of the excess milk. You could--they'd eat most anything you had that was extra. And that was another thing we shared was when it came time to butcher a cow or a calf or a pig for meat, there was a man that was sort of a local veterinarian--I don't think he had a degree--Sam Supplee. If your horse got sick, he knew what--or an animal got his foot caught in the barbed wire, he knew how to treat it. And he'd come by. And he also knew how to butcher animals quite well. And he would come out. And I can remember that we had a hole, a pit dug out where we could put a fire in there, and it was covered with some kind of bars or metal affair. And a vat of water would be put in that over the fire at ground level. And adjacent to that would be a platform where the pig was killed. And after it had been killed and the organs taken out, they'd roll it into that vat of boiling water and then pull it back out again after a few minutes. Then you could scrape the bristles off of the pig. And Sam Supplee then would do the rest of the butchering. They'd hang it up to cure overnight, and then to cut it up. And for his efforts, he'd get part of the meat, or other people that had helped out, and that's the way that they operated. And he was a local person they turned to. There were other veterinarians in Pasco or Kennewick, but he was the one that they mainly relied on. Our horses, we had two work horses, Star and Monte. I can remember them well, and that was one of my jobs when I got home from school, after, was usually to rub them down after a day's work in the field, because they'd be all sweaty. Or on days when I wasn't at school, too, in the summertime, too take them down to the ditch where they'd drink a lot of water. They got real hot and sweaty. And then take the harnesses off. And there's lots of preparation before you could do too much. And so those were some of my jobs was to take in--you got home from school, the first thing to do was take in the firewood for the wood stove or the heating stove. And there were plenty of other things to do around the barnyard, to clean out the stall, or clean out the barn and see that horses were fed and such things as that.  

Bauman: Mm-hm.  

Fletcher: The thing was, I think that maybe a little different than nowadays, kids knew that they were part of the family and that they were an important part of the family. And that they had jobs to do. And just it was the thing that made families close. 

Bauman: Sure. 

Fletcher: I wanted to mention, too, that we did have special family friends. I mentioned the Barnetts. And they had kids that were--Dan Barnett was about my age. And my sisters had--they had daughters. Anyway, they had kids about our same age. The Hackneys were another family that lived not very far away and had a farm. And there was Richard Hackney and Dan Barnett and I were always good friends for a long time. And some other kids in that area, the SuppleesSo I guess I forgot where I was here. The Hackneys and the Fletcher families and the Carlsons were particularly close. The Carlsons also had children that were our ages. And we would get together for family picnics, and especially Fourth of July we'd make our homemade ice cream and take to Pasco Park where there'd be fireworks. And then in the summertime, we always had a break in the farm work of about four or five days where we could get away from the farm. Usually it was around the Fourth of July or a little bit after. And we would get away because the irrigation ditches were shut down for a few days, about four or five days in order for the ditches to dry out and the weeds could be cleaned out. Because they clogged up with moss and other stuff. So that they would dry out the ditches and we could get away from the farm, as long as we had a neighbor to take care of the animals that we had. And there were enough other people that would do that. We'd trade off. So we would manage to get away for about three or four days and go up to above Yakima, Naches and up into the woods. And we we'd take our tents. One of the, the Hackneys, Art Hackney was a school bus driver, and school bus driver had to have their own buses. They'd own their own buses. So he could do with the bus whatever he wanted during the summertime. So he would be the one that we would load up the bus--he took a few of the seats out that could be taken out-with our camping gear in it, and some of the rest of the people would ride in that bus and others would go in their car. We'd invite some of our friends to go along too. So we'd have quite a group and several tents set up there around the lake up at Naches, Rimrock and up in that area. We had a wonderful time up in there with all our friends, and sitting around the campfire at night and hearing the stories that the older folks had to tell. So that's-- 

Bauman: Mm-hm. A real sense of community there, yeah. 

Fletcher: Yeah. Part of the community. It was a close-knit community for sure. And naturally, you had more close friends with some of the people than you did with others. But as I said in my book that there was no--when you were gone, nobody as I knew, locked their houses or worried about any of that sort of thing. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. You mentioned earlier that the house you lived in there was no running water, right? 

Fletcher: Right. 

Bauman: No electricity. Did you ever have a telephone? 

Fletcher: That's another little story. My mother, her relatives lived in Wallace, Idaho, and her uncle, aunt and uncle, her uncle was a master carpenter. And they were very close and would come down to visit us and they were very helpful. When we were, when my folks were just starting out, they were a backbone to help them out as much as they could. They bought eggs from them and they'd ship them. I have some letters that my mother saved of that period in time. You may be interested in some of those. Anyway, they would come down, and after my dad--after he had this basement house built, they was able to save up enough in about 10 years to--Josh Pentabaker was my uncle's granduncle's name--was the main carpenter. And they arranged to buy a load of lumber from a lumber yard or a sawmill up in Bickleton, and they rented a truck or got somebody to haul this load of lumber down. And this Josh Pentabaker and my dad, and I think he got some local help, to get started on building a house above to replace that tent--actually a tent house that we had above the basement house. And then they enlarged it also. They made the basement twice as large to accommodate a more modern house. And that was in 1933 or 1934. And I think it was 1934 before we occupied it. And that included indoor bathroom and running water. In the meantime, before my dad was able to build a dig a new well up on top of the hill, he had to go down 60 feet for groundwater. And so that was quite a project. But he finally got it done. And he got an electric motor then. By that time, see, there was no electricity until during Roosevelt got the REA started, rural electricity or whatever the word is, REA. And you got an electric pump to pump the water up into a tank. And then you had pressure to run the water from the tank into the house--had water pressure. And so we had running water, we had an indoor bathroom, and those were quite appreciated. I think we got electric stove--that was one of the first thing. And that was quite an improvement over a wood stove. Oh, and then there was. And he didn't have enough money, I don't believe—oh, let me tell you, or let me go back just a bit. 

BaumanSure. 

FletcherJosh Pentabaker got this house pretty well built, but he had to go back and do his own work back in Wallace, Idaho. And my dad negotiated with a carpenter here, a local carpenter, Vandersant-- he was a Dutchman. And my dad traded a cow, a milk cow for this fella to put in a--he was a master carpenter, too. He put in the kitchen cabinets, is what I'm trying to say, and some of the other cabinets in the bathroom and things like that in exchange for this cow. Now, there may have been other things involved, but that was the main thing. He told about that in later years, and I can vaguely remember. In addition to the basement then, we got a root cellar where we kept most of our things cold. But anyway, before he could get a refrigerator, he cut a hole in the wall of the kitchen and he made a cabinet inside, and hung outside a metal tank or a metal thing that held water. And then he ran down some gunnysack fabric and that wetted enough to evaporate and cool the cabinet inside. It was quite a contraption. But it worked enough that it probably wasn't much cooler than the basement, but anyway, it was up and it was handy. So that was when we--in 1934 I think that we occupied the house that's there now. 

Bauman: Did you ever have a telephone during the time you were there? 

Fletcher: Yeah, we had a phone. You cranked it. I'm trying to think whether we had it when we lived in the basement, whether we had it there or not. It was a party line, and there would be three or four people on the same line. And you answered according to how many rings. If it was two rings it was yours, or a short and a long or something like that. And of course people listened in on what was going on. We had a crank--it was, you cranked it up in order to make the signal. And there was a main station downtown. We were three miles from the downtown area up on what is now George Washington Way. And what's the name of that street? I can't remember all those--the house was on-- 

Bauman: Spangler? 

Fletcher: Spangler, yeah. Spangler Road. We had to--you kept up--Dad kept up with what was available. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. How about news? Was there a newspaper, or how did you learn about-- 

Fletcher: There was. There was the Benton County Advocate came out once a week. In fact, I think I still have some copies of that somewhere. It was mostly local, of course. Somebody was entertaining a company from Wallace, Idaho or somewhere, or somebody was sick in the hospital. Ed Peddicord was the--as I remember, he was older than myself but younger than my parents, and he became the first postmaster when the Hanford project took over, and he was the postmaster for quite a few years before he retired from the Richmond Post Office. 

Bauman: I wanted to ask you about the school that you went to. Where was the school? Any memories you have? 

Fletcher: Okay, there were, in the downtown area of Richland, the--I'm trying to relate it to--the grade school went from grade one through grade eight. And it was two story with four classrooms on the bottom and four on the upper level. I think they had electric lights, as I remember. The floors were wood floors, and they treated them with oil before school was started and at Christmas vacation. So when you came back from school--they'd wipe them up, the oil--they'd treat the wood floors. They'd wipe up the oil before classes started, but there would still be all these spots left on it. And so we had to take our shoes off when we came home at night because we would track oil, that oil. That was just for a few weeks or for a week or two. And the stoves had a jacket around. Of course they were--I believe they were coal stove--they that coal. And there would be a jacket around, a metal jacket around the outside to it, a couple of feet from the stove itself so the kids couldn't get up and get burned. But the jacket that surrounded them was probably three or four feet high, metal jacket. And we would—I remember hanging our white gloves things on that metal jacket to dry them out. And that was in the back of the room of course. That was your heat in the classroom. As I said, the bathrooms for boys and girls, most of them separate of course, were outside where you went out to the bathroom. And I don't recall any running water or anything in theThe other, the high school was, it wasn't torn down when the project started, Hanford project, right away. And it was built more--it had indoor bathrooms, was more up-to-date, more than the grade school, four levels. There are pictures of it in my booklet. So that was quite a step up. 

Bauman: Do you remember any of the teachers from either school, or do you have any favorite teachers from that time? 

Fletcher: Oh yeah. I remember most of my teachers. My first grade teacher, Ms. Randolph, older lady. And she was very good. I can remember putting our mittens up around that canopy around the stove in the wintertime, put your mittens up to dry. And I can't offhand remember, but I can visualize most of my teachers. There was Mrs.--Miss Mallory--she was single then. Taught me in fourth grade. And there was Bill Rader, our eighth grade teacher. Kind of he was a pretty good disciplinarian. If people got out of line, he had a paddle that he didn't mind using. There was--I can't think of the names, really, offhand. And then of course, in the high school I remember more of the teachers that I had. The superintendent, he also taught a few classes in, because the grade school had one class of every grade level. I started in the first grade, I was five years old, and I became six in November. And the kids that I started with, about half of the 20--I think there were 20 in my graduating class--about half of them were the ones I started in first grade with. That's how permanent the group was. There was a lot of permanency. And we moved onto this--where each grade you had the same ones, you knew the people. There would be two or three changes each year. And like I said, of those 20 or so that started, probably about half of those in my high school class were the ones I started first grade with. And so we knew each other very well. And the others I'd known quite well, too. My wife, she came later and joined when she was in about seventh or eighth grade I think, and she graduated two--I graduated in 1940 and she graduated in 1942. And in my graduating class there was 20, and hers there was only 12. I don't know why particularly. The high school, it was in freshman year you usually took Typing and it pretty well diversified. History classes, English classes. I can remember the teachers, Mrs. Deighton and Mrs. Carmichael. She's the one that got very emotional when the kids acted up and would carry on. Mr. Carmichael was the superintendent, and Mr. Whitehead, rather. We had basketball teams. We played against--Kennewick and Pasco were out of our league. They were from too big a town. So we played Benton City. I played--even though I'm pretty short, I was on the basketball team. We didn't have a football team. We weren't big enough. [LAUGHTER] The high school was only--with four classes, probably only 80 students altogether. And so I was on the basketball team the last couple years anyway. And we would go up to--Hanford was about 20 miles upriver, and White Bluffs. They were a comparative size. And to Benton City, and also to Finley. We used to call it Riverview then. It was a comparative size to what we were in Richland at that time. So we had a group that we played softball league and basketball. No football that I can remember. We weren't big enough to be in that. 

Bauman: And did you take a school bus to get to and from school then, or how did you-- 

Fletcher: Yes. We had--as I said, Art Hackney had a school bus that they owned their own school bus. They had a contract with the district. And there's a picture of myself and my two sisters in that booklet I gave you, waiting for the bus and there's a picture of the bus. It was kind of a--it looks kind of obsolete now, but that was the way they did things then. 

Bauman: So you graduated high school in 1940. 

Fletcher: 1940. Then I went off to Cheney for a year. And decided I wanted to--didn't want to continue there. I wanted to--I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn't have really the background from the school. At least I could blame it on that. So I transferred to Pullman in my sophomore year. And during beginning of my junior year, I was taken in--I was in the ROTC and we signed up for deferment or whatever you call it, but they said we could finish out the year we were in during my sophomore year. No, it must have been my junior year. That’s the third year. But it turned out that they couldn't—they took us, they drafted us and I think it was about January of my junior year in Pullman, from WSU. And at that time I was a member of Sigma Chi. [LAUGHTER] 

Bauman: So was that January of 1943 then? 

Fletcher: Yeah, it was. 

Bauman: At some point that year, of course the Federal government started constructing the Hanford site. 

Fletcher: Right. I came home before--they allowed us, when they called up the ROTC, fellas in Pullman, they gave us a couple weeks to come home and see our folks. So I came home, it must have been the end of January of 1943. And saw my folks, and said goodbye to my sweetheart, Betty Kinsey was her name--became my wife. And after I went back then, I went back to Pullman, and they took us shortly by train from Pullman over to Fort Lewis. And it was an old, real old train that I mention in my booklet that looked like it was one from the pioneer days. There was a--I don't need to go into all the detail, but there was a coal-burning stove in the end of this railway car for heat, and we went over there in the first of February to Fort Lewis. We were not in the army until they took us over there and were forced in it at Fort Lewis. And shortly after that, I got word from my folks that the word had come out that Hanford and White Bluffs and even Richland, it was all going to be taken over by the government for this Hanford project. And that was in, I believe they got word in late February. And the people up at Hanford, which is, of course, is where the actual reactors were, were notified and given about 30 days to evacuate. And my folks, of course, we lived--my dad was the manager of the irrigation district at that time, of the Richland irrigation district. And they had more time because that was where the workers were going to live. But in the meantime they built Camp Hanford out here where we are sitting about right now, and maybe just a little further north. And you probably have the history of Camp Hanford and all that. But anyway, they were allowed to stay I think about six months, whereas the others further up where the reactors were being built, they had to get out quick. And so my folks looked around. They bought a place. My dad, by that time, they offered some of the people work. Most of them were farmers and they wanted to continue farming. And that was my dad. He, by that time, the kids were gone. I was the youngest. The other two, my sisters, were married and off and living on their own. So he decided he'd go back to farming, and they offered him a job to see to some of the irrigation, the way it was continued. But he decided he didn't want to do that. And a number of people did take jobs here for temporary. So where was I now? [LAUGHTER] 

Bauman: So your family had six months you said after they were-- 

Fletcher: Yeah, about six months. They found a place in Kennewick then, and my dad then bought some place and he put in a fruit orchard over on what became Blossom Hill in Kennewick. And we took over the old house. When I got out of the Army--I told you about that in my booklet here, that we took over their house, the two-story house that was on what's now where Denny's is at the corner of Kennewick Avenue and the Umatilla Highway. 

Bauman: Do you know how much money your parents were given for their-- 

Fletcher: In those days, at that time, the government was not as benevolent in their takeover of land. And they did not really offer what the land was worth. So my folks, my dad was one of the leaders of the group that took them to court over the offer. And this lingered on for quite a while, because my dad was one of the--as a manager of the irrigation district. And John Dam that the park is named after, and two or three others, they figured that they were being offered what the land had sold for in Depression days, which had just been more or less begun to get over in 1943. And my folks and others were beginning to feel established, that here they'd worked most of their working lives for 12, 15 years getting to where they felt like they were established and could make a good living. And now they were being offered this, where they had to leave relatively quickly. And not being offered enough to buy something comparable in other areas, where they found they had to pay more than what they had been offered. So this went to court and drug on for a while. They did get a settlement that my dad was involved in. But it took quite a while and it still did not--they were not too happy about it. I'll put it that way. But anyway, they got over it. 

Bauman: And so you heard about this happening when you were at Fort Lewis? 

Fletcher: Yeah, I was still in the service. I was sent from there to Camp Roberts for infantry training. And I was there until June. See, this happened--I was taken in up in February I guess it was, and we had 13 weeks, almost four months, I think it was, of infantry training there in Camp Roberts in the desert in California. And then I was sent back to New York City. I had an opportunity--then they took some people to specialized training or a specialized training program called ASTP and I was able to get into that because of my college background and I passed some tests, I guess, and so forth. And so I was back there at the time and at Camp Roberts in California at the time that all this took place in Richland, and their dislocation and-- 

Bauman: Do you remember what you thought at the time when you found out? 

Fletcher: [LAUGHTER] What I thought about that? About all this happening you mean? 

Bauman: Yeah. 

Fletcher: Well, so much was happening, you didn't have time to think too much about it. Because I was involved in the training and we were kept busy night and day pretty much, and then the infantry training camp and being back there. But I heard about it. They kept me up on it, and there wasn't much you could do about it, and neither could they, because that was it. You could appeal, but that was a long process, the appeal was. So they just took a time to get over it. They got over it eventually. 

Bauman: Are there any events or things from your childhood growing up in Richland that sort of stand out? Special memories that we haven't talked about yet? 

Fletcher: Probably quite a few things. [LAUGHTER] 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] 

Fletcher: A number of things I mention in his booklet that I gave you. One thing I particularly remember as a kid was I had this pony, and my neighbor kids had ponies too, or else work horses that did the job. And so we could roam around quite a bit. We had a lot of freedom. We all had rifles. We went out hunting. And the jackrabbits were quite numerous, I remember. Going just about a mile from where we are now, there was a sand hill over here off of Stevens Drive, which we called Pole Line Drive. Those days there was a sand hill over there. And there was an irrigation ditch that ran along this sand hill. And we'd go in and the boys--take our clothes off and we'd swim in this irrigation canal. There was a flume there, too, and that was kind of an interesting thing to go through. And we would take our rifles, and there was one farm that was close to this sand hill called--I'm trying to remember the name now, Sam's. Anyway, he had a--his farm was right adjacent to the open sagebrush land and sand hill. And if you were there in the evening--he had an alfalfa field right along the edge of this sort of a desert area. At certain times in the dusk, there'd be whole bunches of jackrabbits would come in. I remember we would go there with our rifles, and my friends, Dan Barnett and Richard Hackney and I, and we'd wait for dusk. And you could shoot these rabbits. And of course Mr. Sandberg I think his name- yeah, Sandberg was his name, he welcomed anybody that would get rid of the jackrabbits for him because they were destroying his alfalfa field. And so we'd shoot a bunch of jackrabbits. And they did have jackrabbit drives once in a while, and they had pictures of them. I might have some in some of my folks' stuff. But anyway, we had ponies or horses and we'd go out, and sometimes we'd go up the river from here, Dan Barnett and Richard Hackney and I. And as I said, I had a pony that had been caught on the open range and he could outrun practically any horse around. We would go up there and we'd camp out for a day and we would find some old prospectors up there. They would be panning for gold. And I don’t think, from the looks of them that they found very much, but they were interesting characters that'd tell you stories about their life. And we kind of envied them a little bit, but nobody wanted to do what they were doing. Anyway, then we would go up there and we'd camp overnight. Other times, we would go up there--I said that my folks and the Barnetts and the Hackneys had-- we had a boom in the river. We'd catch driftwood coming down for our--did I tell you about this before? 

Bauman: No. 

FletcherNo, okay. If I ramble, tell me. We'd go up, my folks or my dad and the other men, we would have wagons--we'd hook the work horses to the wagons. And we'd take enough food to last a couple days. And us boys would go along, and some other boys were old enough to help, and some of us were too young to do much, but to tag along and have a good time. And we'd go up there and we'd set up a camp, and the men would have a log boom up there. They'd attach logs to each other and run them out into the water. And when the water would rise in the spring, it would lift these drift logs from upstream, clear up around where Grand Cooley is now, before Grand Cooley was built and any other dams. And these drift logs would drift down, if you had a log boom out you'd catch them, as the water would--the high water from the snow melt. And if your log boom was out far enough, you'd get a whole bunch of logs in there and that would be--which then we'd go up and the men would take their team of horses and use their chains to pull these logs out of the water that had been caught in the log boom. And then they'd have to cut them up enough to put on their wagons to haul them down home. And this would take two or three days to do. In the meantime, us kids, the younger ones, we'd have a great time with shooting rabbits and doing some fishing off what was left of the log boom. And fixing our hot dogs over the campfire. It was quite an experience. And we all wanted to go. I think the girls envied us. They couldn't go. I don't remember any of the women going. But when they got the wagons loaded, they had them all--I remember they had sideboards on them, so that they would be loaded up to the maximum. And of course the roads weren't too good. The horses would be really worn out by the time we got these loads down to where we lived. And we'd have to wash them off, rinsing the horses off with a hose because they'd be all that, and it would be quite late in the evening before we made it home. So that was quite a big event in our lives, and especially for the young fellas like us, we thought that was great. I'm sure the men folks were glad it was over. [LAUGHTER] 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] 

Fletcher: So we had quite a few trips where we went out. I had a friend, Scotty who lived out in Yakima River, and I would go over--he was the one that I think I told you about the time that--maybe it was in my booklet. About the time that our well--the well that we dug up on the top of the hill, the 60 foot well, it had been real cold that winter, and usually the well didn't freeze, but it froze that winter. And so Scotty, my friend, he was the adventurer more so than I was. He said, oh, I can go take a blowtorch down there and thaw it out. Well, he did. My dad led him down this well. The well was hand dug and it was only about so big around. And there were iron steps put in the cement as they went down. As I said, it was 60 feet deep. Of course the water stood up in it about 20 feet or so. It would fluctuate. So Scotty went down with a blowtorch to thaw this pipe out because it had frozen the pump. And he got down there and I guess the confines of the gas or something, it exploded, and he was lucky he wasn't killed. He made it. Somehow it went upward rather than downward and he was able to get out. But his face was black and his eyebrows were singed off. And he was quite a mess from that occasion, but he didn't have to be hospitalized. They put cream on his face and I don't remember whether they got the pipe thawed out or not. I don't think so. I think it took a few days before it got the water up. 

Bauman: So if someone was to ask you what it was like to grow up in a community like Richland, how would you respond to that? What would you say? 

Fletcher: It was an interesting place to grow up because you were involved in all the activities. You were important as a member of the family. There were chores to do. You also had interesting experiences. You had time to play with your neighbors and develop your own activities and sports to a great extent. I guess probably I look back on it more with rose-colored glasses than it actually was, because I'm sure it was harder for the adults, too. Because it was kind of touch and go for them many times. There was no WPA or relief organizations. People helped their neighbors out when they needed it. I can remember a family that lived not too far from us. The man, the husband died, and they had some fairly young children, the Fraziers. And the wife was left with these--I forgot how young they were--two or three youngsters, and their small farm. And the people of the community just helped out. There was no other organization that they knew of. And later, Bruce Frasier who was in that family, who was about my age. He wasn't a classmate, but he told me years later at the reunions we used to have, he said, did you know-- [EMOTIONAL] did you know how much help your mom and dad did--I'm sorry. 

Bauman: It's all right. 

Fletcher: How much help your mom and dad gave my folks. And I said I had no idea. He told me that my dad and mother, and others--he said it wasn't just them. But they're the ones that made it possible for him to survive. And this, they didn't talk about it at all. Excuse me, cut it off a minute? Wipe my eyes here. I'm glad to get this opportunity. Don't take me wrong. 

Bauman: That’s all right. 

Fletcher: I am glad to get the opportunity to talk. There's not too many people who want to listen to it. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] 

Fletcher: Can I have a little drink? 

Bauman: Sure. I think we're just about finished anyway. I think we've covered a lot of the things that I wanted to cover. 

Fletcher: All right. 

Bauman: So I guess is there anything else that we haven't covered that would be important to talk about? 

Fletcher: I think we've covered everything pretty well. I've probably gone side-tracked a lot. And it was a role in that community, as I said, that they did help each other out in many ways. And that they're very independent, too. And there aren't too many of us left. We still get to have a reunion. We did-- it's getting down to where there aren't very many of us left. Last year we met at the Old Country Buffet and had a good time. I think there may have been about 20 of us. But about half of them were descendants, children that brought their parents, who needed help to get there. 

Bauman: Oh, okay. So this is a reunion of people from Richland? 

Fletcher: The old time Richland, yeah, they lived in old time Richland. There's another-- the Deranleau, Ray Deranleau, he was quite a storyteller, he still lives here, and he was just a year or two younger than myself. And Alice Perkins is his wife, Alice Perkins-Deranleau. And I kind of think he'd be in the phone book. If not 

Bauman: Yeah. 

Fletcher: And Price Colley. George Colley his name was, but there's a Colley family that he was there last year, and he's quite a storyteller. 

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] About what time of year do you usually get together? 

Fletcher: Usually in the middle of September. 

Bauman: Oh, okay. 

Fletcher: Middle to late September. Edith--I used to be the one that was in charge of getting the literature out and the reunions set up. Anyway, Edith Wiedle-Hansen, H-A-N-S-E-N, is the one that is doing it now. She was in my wife's class two or three years behind me in graduating from high school. And she's still here. I could maybe give you some more information on that later, if you wanted to call me. 

Bauman: Yeah. 

Fletcher: I don't know, if you have trouble. 

Bauman: I just want to thank you very much for coming in today and being willing-- 

Fletcher: I enjoyed it. 

Bauman: --to have me asking questions. 

Fletcher: Okay. I hope that some of its good use. 

Bauman: You've been very helpful. Thank you very much. 

Duration

01:22:15

Bit Rate/Frequency

171 kbps

Years in Tri-Cities Area

1922-2013

Names Mentioned

Hess, Morton
Dam, John
Nelson, Victor
Supplee, Sam
Barnett, Dan
Pentabaker, Josh
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945
Peddicord, Ed
Hackney, Art
Hackney, Richard
Kinsey, Betty
Frasier, Bruce
Ray Deranleau
George Colley

Files

Fletcher.jpg

Citation

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Robert Fletcher,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 24, 2017, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/66.

Comments

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