Interview with Leonard Peters

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Interview with Leonard Peters


An interview with Leonard Peters 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.


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

2016-06-21: Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]


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


Laura Arata


Leonard Peters


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Northwest Public Television | Peters_Leonard 

Leonard PetersLeonard Peters. L-E-O-N-A-R-D P-E-T-E-R-S. 

ArataThank you. My name's Laura Arata. It's November 19th--already--2013, and we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could start, if you could tell us a little bit about how your family came to Hanford and where you were from. 

PetersI was born in Denver in August of '43. My father came out in June or July of '43 from Denver. And so my mom, myself, and my brother were there in Denver, and when I was two months old we came out with another family, the Carl Eckert family. And it was my mom, Mrs. Eckert, their daughter--who was about my age--and my brothers. So five of us came out in a car in October of '43. And my dad was working out here. And so that's how we came out, was in an old car. 

ArataAnd what was your father doing at Hanford? 

PetersHe was a truck driver. He drove for Remington Arms in Denver, who was DuPont, and he also worked for Bechtel up in Alaska. And he came down and went back to Denver and was driving, heard about this place. And if you'd like a very interesting story-- 


PetersHe was driving for an Army officer. A colonel or something, I'm not sure. Kind of a--I'll say chauffeur, but it wasn't really a chauffeur. But my dad had heard about this place. And he asked his--I'll say colonel--about it. And very few people knew about it. But this colonel says, well, I can't tell you anything about it, but if you've heard of heavy water, it has something to do with heavy water. Of course my dad, heavy water didn't mean anything to him. But you know, hindsight. It's kind of interesting to me this colonel knew a little bit about what was going on here. As big a secret as it was, not that many people knew. But he had some idea of what was going on. I found that very interesting. 

ArataYeah. And how long did your father work at the Hanford site? 

PetersFrom '43 until he retired in '73. 

ArataOkay, well, we'll come back to that. I want to ask you just a few questions about the area. Obviously you were very, very young 

Peters: I'm sorry. He passed away in '73. He retired in '67. 

ArataOkay. I'll have more questions for you. [LAUGHTER] Do you remember, growing up, what sort of housing you lived in, what the situation was like? 

PetersMy first memory was an A house, 1520 Thayer. We moved in there about 1945. So that's my first memory, though we lived many places before that, as my dad's Q clearance bears out. But my memory goes back to the A house in 1945. 

ArataDid you live there for quite a while? 

PetersLived there until around '56, '57. 

ArataAnd could you describe that house a little bit, for anyone who doesn't know what an A house is? 

PetersAn A house is a duplex, two-story. You have neighbors literally right next door to you. It was a three-bedroom, all upstairs. And of course back then there was no air conditioning, and it would get hot in the summertime. I can literally remember summers, 109 to 110, 112 degrees. And the only air conditioning was a swamp cooler. So it was pretty miserable, but yet you didn't think about it because that's just the way it was. The government literally furnished everything, from throw rugs to table, chairs. I mean literally everything. Coal. We had a coal-burning furnace, and like once a month or so on, they would deliver coal. And you had to make sure there was a coal bin that had slats in it, and you had to make sure that the slats were in, because if you forgot to put the slats in you'd have coal all over the basement floor. And so that was kind of interesting. My dad, every morning, would have to get up and stoke the fire and get it going in wintertime, because we used to have some pretty bad winters compared to today. And so that was, again, just part of living in this area. Dust storms. You've heard of the termination winds. The wind would blow and the curtains would go back and forth and just wave in the breeze, with all the windows closed. And you'd have a quarter of an inch of dust on the windowsills and everything. But there again, that's just the way it was. I can remember one story--my wife tells that when her mother came out with her and her brother, met at the train station, and the father was there to pick them up. There was a windstorm right then. And her first words were "Sherman, get me a ticket back home." And they ended up dying here, and buried here. And I know my dad, he swore he would never—he wanted to go back to Colorado, but again, he was buried here and lived here all the rest of his life. But what else can I say on the government? Everything—you know, I've heard of people—we never did do it, but people get tired of a chair or something, they'd break it, call housing. They would need another chair, and they'd come out and replace the chair. And if you had—back then they had fuses, as opposed to breakers. Blow a fuse, call housing, they'd send an electrician out to change the fuse for you. I mean, it was pretty amazing, really. And it was good quality furniture. 

ArataCool. So I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about growing up in Richland in the '40s and '50s, sort of what the community was like at that time? 

PetersIt was a fairly small town, of course. I think--and this is just my memory--it was about probably maybe 23,000 people, was all. Something like that. And it was truly a Leave It to Beaver era. People laugh at that, but that's exactly what it was, because if you stop and think about it--in order to live in Richland, you had to work out in the area. In order to work out in the area, you needed clearance. And it was not unusual to have someone knock at the door and be an FBI agent investigating someone or something. I mean, it was very controlled. And so there was no crime to speak of. Nickel and dime stuff. But there was one murder, in all those years. They never did find the killer. But no, we'd play out all night and folks wouldn't think a thing about it. That’s just the way it was. And in the summertime, like I said, as hot as it was, all the windows and doors would be wide open and wouldn't think a thing about it. And people kind of knew one another. Not that you knew everybody, but that small a town and everyone working out there. Everyone rode the bus, so there was a camaraderie with not only where you worked but also on the buses. And people I think really did try and watch out for one another. But no, growing up, it was great. One kind of fun story. We used to hooky-bob. You know what that is? 

ArataI don't. 

PetersOkay, what we'd do in the wintertime when the roads were snowy and icy. You'd hide behind a bush, and as a car went by, you ran out and grabbed the bumper and had them drag you around. And that was a lot of fun. That was one of the winter sports. But it was kind of interesting. I can remember, newspaper front page showed a bus with a glove on it. The story was, it was a hooky-bobber and his hand was wet and it froze to the bumper, and--make a long story short, it was on the dangers of hooky-bobbing. But it just happens that the guy that that glove belonged to graduated a couple years ahead of me. Name was Jim Crum, who is now an attorney for the US government. But no, it was a fun time. I mean, Friday night shows was wall-to-wall kids. Very seldom was there a fight or anything. We'd hang out at the Spudnut Shop, or there was another place called Tim's. Someone that had a car would drive around the Uptown area about 30 times, just looking for gals or whatever. I mean, it was an American Graffiti time. Have you seen American Graffiti? 

ArataYes, sir. 

PetersYou see that, and every person in there--Hey, that was so-and-so; that was so-and-so. I mean, it was so accurate to our high school days. It was a good time to grow up. Wintertime, of course, we had Christmas tree forts, and if there was snow on the ground we'd have snow forts and choose up sides and have snowball fights hiding behind our snow forts. We would, if there was no snow--or even if there was snow after Christmas--build Christmas tree forts. Stack them up and have a roof on it, even sleep out in it. But if a neighbor down the street--you know, if they had a Christmas tree fort, about one or two in the morning we'd sneak down and steal all their trees. And we'd have a bigger fort then. We would sleep out a lot in the summertime, because it was hot. I can remember we would sleep out maybe 10 o'clock at night or so. There were still orchards, cherry orchards in town. Up on Van Giesen. We lived just around the corner on Thayer. We'd get up, go down there and steal cherries. We'd steal quite a few cherries. Then the next day we'd sell them house to house. What else was there? The buses were a big part. The buses were fun, because there was two groups. They were both run by the government, but there was what they called the city local, which took people from point A to point B as far as downtown and uptown, different places. Then there was the outer area buses that took workers to work and brought them home. But there was two different--not bus companies, but groups of drivers that drove for each group. But not only hooky-bobbing, but it was always fun to--as buses passed--snowball them, and throw snowballs at them. Just fun things. 

ArataSome good winter sports. 


ArataCould you talk a little bit more about these--you mentioned Friday night shows, and also the Spudnut Shop. Could you describe those a little bit? 

PetersI mean, everyone went to them. All the kids went to them. And you know, you're talking the '50s, where rock and roll was just coming in. I wrote a piece one time on--I really think that we were born at a nice time, because we can remember big bands, we can remember that type of music and how rock and roll came in. And of course parents didn't like rock and roll at all. It was evil, and all this. But a lot of the movies, some of the movies, had rock and roll stars. I can remember people dancing in the aisles while the movie was on. Things like that. I can remember one gal was dancing what they used to call a dirty bop. They ended up kicking her out. [LAUGHTER] But no, there was dancing and hooting and hollering. Before the Uptown Theater opened was the Village Theater. And that was when we were younger, but that's when they showed the serials, whether it be Superman or Whip Wilson or whomever. But every Saturday we'd go to the show. There'd be a cartoon as well as one or two double feature. That's back--we were young, but a fun thing then, I guess, was to have your popcorn boxes. They were boxes at the time. You'd flatten them and throw them and make a shadow on the screen. That was the big deal. But the Village Theater was so strange because it was all kids, basically. Because the Richland Theater, which is now The Players, was more the adults. The Village Theater was for little kids. But you would walk down the aisles, and was a kind of carpeting, and you'd stick, stick, stick, stick. I don't think they ever cleaned it. Pop spilled on it, candy bars, and everything else. That was fun. Then they did build the Uptown Theater, and that was more adult movies. But on Friday night, it was lot of science fiction. That's where you saw Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and all that. Then the midnight shows had really neat--they'd have a midnight show, and we wouldn't get home until three in the morning, but no big deal. You'd walk home. No big deal. I don't know if you can do it today, but there'd be half a dozen of your friends walking home with you, just having a good time. But the Friday night shows--I started smoking quite early. I don't smoke now. But I can remember, for mowing the lawn and peeling the taters and things that, I’d get $1 a week allowance. And with that dollar I could buy a pack of cigarettes, which would last me a week, get into the show, and have like a dime left over. So I mean, a dollar, I was in fat city. 

ArataDo you remember how much a movie cost, about that time? 

PetersFirst ones I can remember was $0.11 or $0.12, and then it went to $0.20. And I think during my high school days, if I remember right, it was probably $0.35, something like that. I'm not sure. 

ArataAll right. I'm fascinated by the Spudnut Shop and Tim's. Can you describe those a little? 

PetersWell, Tim's was where Dr. Chavla placed his--it's kind of caddy-cornered from the graveyard, the old graveyard. And it was a nice place. A fireplace in it and everything. That's where the kids hung out. And it wasn't really a pizza parlor, but it was kind of a pizza parlor sandwich place. It was our high school days, and it closed, I'm not sure exactly when, but became Einan's Funeral Home. It went from the restaurant to Einan's Funeral Home. And then Einan's, of course, moved out on the bypass. But the Spudnut shop, it's bigger now than it was. It used to just be just a few booths. But I can remember Spudnuts were, let's say, $0.10. And for a Spudnut ala mode--that was a Spudnut with soft ice cream on it--that was $0.15. And if you had $0.15 for that, you was in pretty good shape, because we didn't have money like that. And there was another place just two doors down from that that was the Fission Chips. But it was interesting the way they spelled fission. It was fission, like nuclear. It was Fission Chips. You can see some old pictures of the Spudnut shop, and just a couple doors down, you'll see the Fission Chips. But we'd hang out in the Spudnut Shop before the movie, and then maybe go there after the movie. And that's just where everyone hung out. When we had a car later, more in our high school years, we hung out at a place called Skip's. It was where Les Schwab is now. That was kind of the hangout there. I don't know if you want this on there. It's not very nice. But Skip's, there was a young girl worked there with a cleft palate. One the guys that we kind of ran with, he had a cleft palate also. He was about three years older than me. But he pulled in there, him and friends, and she said in her cleft palate way, ,ay I help you? He said yeah, give me a such and such. And she got mad, you don't have to make fun of me! Because she though he was just making fun of her. Kind of a sad story, but kind of humorous also. The movies was a big part of life. Of course, swimming. We used to swim in the Yakima a lot. And the old pool, what we used to call the big pool, down in what's now Howard Amon Parkit used to be Riverside Park--there was a swimming pool there. And the flood of '48, '47-'48, it flooded the park. And so they done away with that pool and built the present one. That flood was quite a deal. I can remember going--the bridge was out--going out of Richland, and they had a pontoon bridge. And that causeway wasn't there then. It was just flat. But I thought that was so neat. We was going across the bridge, and you see pontoons all the way across it with lumber to drive on. And that always impressed me. Down around Gowen and things, I can remember the basements flooded from that flood. And it was quite a flood. That's when they built the dam or dike around Richland and Kennewick and so on. The—I was thinking of something else, and lost it. But no, the flood was quite an event. I worked with a guy named Ralph Schafer, who had a private pilot's license, and they hired him as a bus driver. But they let him go from bus driving long enough, because the only way to the airport at the time was to fly from Richland to Pasco. So they hired him to ferry people to the Pasco airport in his private plane, because basically there was no way out of Richland, until they put that pontoon bridge in. 

ArataI wonder if you could talk about--obviously you went through school here. Do you have any memories--there were also some residents that were here prior to 1943, that were still in school here, that were moved off of their family lands. Did you go to school with anybody who had memories of that, that you recall? 

PetersNot to my knowledge. You hear all kinds of stories and things that I don't know. I know I've heard that one family--or some people, I'll say--when they were, quote, kicked out of White Bluffs Hanford area, they moved to Prosser, Sunnyside, somewhere up there, and swore they'd never set foot in Richland. And whether that's true or not, I don't know. But I know there's hard feelings over it, rightfully so. But no, I don't know of anyone. I know we had a lot of construction workers in trailer parks in north Richland. There was a big trailer park, and they had an elementary school out there, John Ball. And once they got all the houses built that they were going to build, I guess, they closed the trailer park and closed John Ball and had them all into town. But I can remember living on Thayer, going to school at Old SackySacajawea, the Old Sacky--that for some reason, for two-three days they sent me to Spalding. I had to walk to school, which was maybe three, four blocks, five blocks. I can remember big piles of dirt, having to climb over them to get to school. And the reason for that was they were building the ranch houses at that time. So I was probably first grade, I'm guessing. So they were still building in the lat'40s, early '50s. In fact, Bauer Days and the Richland Village came later, after the letter houses. But school--no, I honestly can't remember any kids there. 

ArataNo problem. We're here to get your memories, so. A bunch of other things I want to ask you. One thing, you said your father worked in Hanford until '67. 

PetersHe retired. 

ArataHe retired in '67. So he was working in the area when President Kennedy came, in 1963. Do you have any memories of that event? 

PetersNo. I was in the Navy then, so no. I know my wife said that she went out to see him. And there were so many people you could hardly see him, but she went out to it. But no, I got out of the Navy in October, '63. I was on a train back to Denver to visit relatives. It's kind of sad. I was sitting in the club car playing cards with strangers, and the porter came in--a black fella--says, [EMOTIONAL] the President's been shot. And we all--aww, go on, he's pulling our leg, he's joking. Then I says, you don't joke about something like that. We were somewhere around Wyoming on the train, and then they was able to get a radio station over the PA or whatever it was. Sure enough, a little bit later--that he had died. And that's how I learned of it. I'll never forget that train ride. Got to Denver, and it was just strange. 

ArataOf course. And we're right on the anniversary of it now. 

PetersYeah. Yeah. But my dad, I don't know if he went to see him or not. I mean, he was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. He came out of the Depression. He was born in '03, so he'd been through a lot. I can remember him saying that he'd vote for a yellow dog before he'd vote for a Republican. He was the old Democrat. But he did vote for one Republican. That was John Dam, who was running for county commissioner. They were personal friends. He said that's the only Republican he'd ever voted for. 

ArataOne exception. 


ArataSo did you work at Hanford at all? 


ArataYou did. So could you start filling us in on that a little? 

Peters: I worked 40 years out there. Hired on '65. And luckily my dad was still working, so we overlapped. We were both drivers. And I started out as a laborer, though they called them servicemen--basically a laborer. And I got set up to bus driver. And in '61, had a layoff. And I could have stayed, but I thought, man, let's see what else is out there. And I went and worked for Battelle. I was with Battelle for about 13 years in inhalation toxicology. Long-term study. Plutonium, curium, americium studies on dogs. And in about '84 I quit Battelle and went back to transportation, because money. You know that all your college folks know that biology is not real high-paying, unless you're a PhD or something. But a BS in biology's not much. But no, I really enjoyed that. In fact, when McCluskey's glove box blew up, about 200 Areas were exposed to--I forget if it was curium or americium, but there hadn't been a lot of studies on those. And like I said, I was working in inhalation toxicology, and we got two or three big contracts right after that to study the health effects of curium and americium through inhalation. He was an amazing man, because I worked with PhDs. Immunologists, veterinaries, hematologists. You name it, we had the discipline there. Pathologists. And they didn't give him six months to live, with what he got. And he ended up living probably 20 years or better. It is quite an amazing story. You can go on the internet and look up Atomic Man, and his story's in there. 

ArataWe actually interviewed the gentleman who was in charge of the cleanup, cleaning up his hospital room. 

PetersYeah. I don't know if it was this guy I worked with, what we called a radiation monitor. Now they're HPTs or something. But he was with him, scrubbing him and things. His name was Larry Belt. He'd be a good interview for you. I worked with Larry for a number of years. He was our radiation monitor when we exposed dogs and so on. But he said, you can't believe the pain this man was in. He said, we had to literally scrub him with brushes, because he had stuff embedded in his face and so on. Terrible. He says, submerge him and scrub him. No, Larry Belt could tell some stories about it. But back to my job. I quit Battelle for financial reasons and went back to driving. Drove a bus for a lot of years. They shut the bus system down, and I went and worked driving a truck, and drove ERDF trucks hauling the solid waste from out around the river and so on. Did that for a number of years and retired. I taught HAZMAT classes for the last about ten years. But buses were the fun job. A lot of stories there. One of our drivers named Carl Adcock was driving down Delafield, taking the day shift home--so it was about four or five in the afternoonand a little girl was standing out in the middle of the street playing. About five, six years old. Stopped his bus, pulled the brake, got out and spanked her butt, get out of here! Got back in the bus, and the passengers were just--what are you doing? You could get in trouble for that. And it was his daughter. But no, we've had people have epileptic seizures on the bus. And there's all sorts of things like that. A lot of stories. 

ArataYou must see a little bit of everything. 

PetersOh, yeah. We had poker games, bridge games, on the buses. They had cardboard tables. Four people would sit down, put their table between the aisles and play cards. They had a bridge game going from 100F, which was where the animals were before they built 300the animal life sciences 300 Area--but they had a bridge game that was going steady for at least 30, 35 years. I mean, it was different people. You know, someone would retire, someone else would take their place. But it started out at 100F at lunch break and then on the bus, and it continued. When we were at 300 they were still playing. Again, it was different players, but it was the same game. 

ArataWow. There's something I wanted to ask you about. Returning back to when you worked in inhalation toxicology at Battelle, did you work with the smoking beagles? 

Peters: Yes. That was my first job, was smoking. 

ArataWe just interviewed Vanis Daniels-- 

Peters: Oh, yeah. I know Vanis. 

Arata--last week, who worked with the smoking beagles. Can you describe for us the process of getting the beagles to smoke two packs a day? 

Peters: Well, the hard part's lighting 'em. No, the reason for the study, as I understood it, was uranium miners were dying early, and they wanted to know why. Because it could be cigarette smoke--because most of them were smokers--uranium ore dust or it could be radon daughters. And so we had a group of--I forget now. 70 dogs, 60. Something like that. And 10 of would receive smoke only, cigarette smoke only. They had a table, kind of a horseshoe. The mask fit over their muzzle with a cigarette in there, and like every seventh or tenth breath, a little gadget would open and their breath would suck in the smoke. But then ten of them would receive uranium ore dust and radon daughters. There was a large chamber that held ten dogs around it, and up in the top there was a grinder thing that would grind the ore dust and sprinkle it down in. I mean, it wasn't noticeable, it wasn't thick, but it was in there. And then we had radon. I think it was water bubbled through it that would give the radon gas, and it would get into the chamber. And then we had another ten that would receive cigarette and the radon. And then a control group that didn't receive anything. They were called sham. You'd bring them in, go through all the same routine, but they wouldn't receive anything. And just see what the effects were. And it was a lifespan study, so you'd look at the dosage and how long they lived and what affected them the most. So that's basically what it was. One story I heard--probably true--was that the Russians said that our limits were too high, should be lower. So that maybe prompted it, I don't know. Then after that when we got to 300 Area, 100-F moved into 300 Area, and they closed 100-F down. And then they had a group of just smoking dogs. And it was more difficult in the sense that we had a mask that fit over their muzzle, and they could trick it. They could breathe out of the side of their mouth. When they did it at one area they trached them, and there was no cheating that. It was direct. There was no getting around that. I learned a lot. I mean, that was one of the most exciting jobs. And the learning curve was just like that. I really learned a lot about physiology and biology and chemistry. You work there that long, and you learn a lot. Because part of my job was necropsy--or what they call autopsy, but necropsing the dogs. And we always said we took everything but the bark. I mean we literally disarticulated them and took every piece that they had. Every organ, every bone, separated it. The reason for thatwe wanted to know where the plutonium or curium or whatever went to in the body. Where was the body burden? Was it in the lungs, was it in the bones? And interestingly enough, we exposed Pu-238 and 239, and the 238 would be a bone-seeker. The bones would have high doses. But in 239, the bones hardly got anything. It was all soft tissue. So they learned a lot from that, as far as where these elements--what they seek. The target organs, if you will. I don't know if all that should go in this. 

ArataFascinating. I really love hearing about it. Could you talk a little bit about--obviously, during those times, security and secrecy was still very much a part of working at Hanford. Did that impact your work at all? 

Peters: Oh, a lot. You know, being raised--from my oldest memories, it was secure. And I can remember when I was probably about 10, 11, 12 years old I went in for a library card here in Richland. They asked who my dad worked for, and I was scared to tell them. Because the security--my dad never told me what was going on out there. And I knew security was a big deal. And I says, I don't know. I kind of knew, but I--And she says, well, what does he do? And I says, well, he drives. So then she wrote down General Electric. But no, I mean, it was paramount even as a kid. I can remember—and this is kind of funny hindsight--but kind of put yourself in that timeframe--I can remember calling my brother who was seven, eight, nine years old--would have been in the early '50s, McCarthy era--I can remember calling my brother a dirty communist. And my dad just came unglued. He would rather have me call him S.O.B. than that, because that wasn't something you messed with in the early '50s, with the FBI and everything else. But I mean, security was bred into you, I guess. And when I hired on, it was still, but not like it was. But many of us still had that same mentality. I can remember when they started releasing things to the public. That always bothered me, because this is secure, and people don't have the need to know a lot of this stuff. Security was a big deal. I mean, you didn't go anyplace without a security badge. They could stop you, search your car, and everything else. So it was a high priority. There was seclusion areas within the area. You might get out in the area, but you might not be able to get into a certain area. When you got in that area, you couldn't get into another area, like dash-5 or Z-Plant or REDOX or PUREX. You needed extra security on your badge to get in these places. So security was very tough. 

ArataCould you talk a little bit about how Hanford was overall as a place to work? Anything you found particularly challenging or very rewarding about your time in the area? 

Peters: I think it was great. You know, let's face it, it was great for a lot of people that worked here. I mean, good pay—relatively good pay, and a lot of people raised their families and sent them to school on this pay out here. And as far as working out there, we really had fun in the early days. And by the early days, I mean when I hired on. Because I felt very lucky that when I hired on, most of the old-timers were still working. And by old-timers I mean them that hired in the '40s. So a lot of the stories, a lot of things that they knew and interesting things that they talked about, I was privy to. And that was great. And it was, to me, really a fun place to work. I really enjoyed it. Later I can remember saying more than once in the '80s or '90s, this isn't fun like it used to be. And it wasn't. But you know, I was younger then, and that made a difference. I was about 21, 22 when I hired on. And so times changed. I think in the early days--by that, my early days--there was what we call maybe some dead wood. And they might have five people to do a job for two people. But I mean, it was good, it was job security. Well, then came the cuts and so on. I think that made it a little different, because one thing that's bothered me over the years, there's been layoffs. But you can check the records. Many times after these layoffs, within six months they're calling them back, because work has to be done. We might cut 500 people, but that job is still there, so they called a portion of them back. Which, to me, doesn't make sense. But I don't think there's the fat out there that there was at one time. 

ArataIs there anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to talk about? Any other stories that stand out? 

Peters: I think the racial thing was a big story in the early days because there wasn't that many black people working out there. And I can remember us--I mentioned earlier that Richland didn't have hardly any blacks. We had one black I'm aware of. He was a shoeshine guy at the Ganzel's barbershop. His picture is still in there. But I can remember--I must have been six, seven years old--I saw my first black person. I was in a car downtown with my mom. And I saw him, and I just saw his hands and face. And I can remember wondering, I wonder if his whole body is that way—we just didn't see them. We had two black guys in high school. C.W. and Norris Brown, who was terrific basketball players. And the main reason their family moved was because of those two boys. It was a different time then. I don't know it should go on record, because I don't know if it's true or not, but talking about the early people that worked there, one of the stories that I heard--and like I say, whether it's true, I have no idea. But they were out working, and they had a burn barrel. It was very cold. A barrel full of wood and so on, a burn barrel. The construction workers were huddled around it, and this one colored individual this kind of bulled his way in. He wanted to get up to the front. And the story goes--whether, again, true or not, I don't know--a carpenter took his hammer and ended it. And that wouldn't surprise me, though I don't know if it's true or not. Because there was prejudice. A lot of the people that came here were from the South, and it was a different lifestyle. I know that they had separate camps for the blacks and the whites. And it was segregated. So I can remember when I was driving the bus here, we only had--to my recollectionone black in all of transportation. There may have been more, but I think only one. And it wasn't until probably '63 or '64 that they really started recruiting blacks. 

ArataI understand there were labor organizers and people who came in with the NAACP and that sort of thing to sort of assess conditions, which would have been about the time you were working in the 100 and 300 Areas. Do you have any recollections of that? 

Peters: Well, the one black that I told you about was a serviceman—labor. Same group I was in. And he was the head of the local NAACP. His name was McGee. And the way you became a driver was seniority. In other words, if this driver retired and you were next in seniority, you'd get that job. Well, he was the next one up, as a laborer, for a driving job. They wouldn't give it to him, for obvious reasons. Well, he fought it through the NAACP and he ended up becoming a driver. But they was not going to give him that job because of his race. Battelle, to their credit, was the first ones to make an overt effort to hire black people. And that's where--gentleman you mentioned earlier. And Battelle had--not overwhelming, but a number of blacks working for them. And in inhalation toxicology we had a number in animal care as well as in the crafts. So I would say from '63 on, it started changing. 

ArataSo this is kind of my last question--we'll have students accessing these interviews. Most of my students now are too young to have remembered the Cold War. It's sort of an older-- 

Peters: Yeah. 

ArataSo maybe if you could just talk a little bit about what it was like being part of this Cold War effort, and what you'd like students or future generations to know about contributions to that process. 

Peters: Yeah. I know there's different views on this, but I feel very strongly about--because I knew a lot of GIs from that time frame—had two uncles that were in the war. And you know, the atomic bombs, and we made the plutonium here for the bomb, literally ended the war. I am a firm believer--had we had to invade, there'd been hundreds of thousands on both sides killed. And they talk about the badness, rightfully so, of the atomic bomb. But you look at the conventional bombing of Germany, and it was as bad or worse as the atomic bombs. The firebombing of Tokyo. Things like that. So as bad as the atomic bomb was, it did end the war. You'd had to live through it. Now, as far as the Cold War goes, you know, the place wasn't supposed to last much more than ten years. And that's what everyone thought. Well, then the Russians got the bomb. That changed things a little bit. And it was scary. I mean, like I said earlier, me calling my brother communist. I wasn't old enough to really realize what was going on, but I can remember--would've been during the Korean War--my dad came to my brother and I and said, I want to know where you guys are all the time, because we might have to leave town in a hurry. That was the mentality of that time. We had air-raid sirens throughout the town. I can remember every--I believe it was Monday at ten o'clock, they would go off to test. But there was one right behind Jason Lee, where I was going at the time, and it was loud. Every--I think it was Monday or Tuesday, at ten o'clock they'd go off. Because we literally were on standby. We didn't know what was going to happen. And the Korean War and then the McCarthy era, it was a scary time for adults. You know, as a kid, you didn't notice it, other than watching others. But I think Hanford had a lot to do with ending the war. Which ushered in the Cold War, because of the proliferation of the weapons. And you have to give credit to whomever for tearing down the wall, for bringing somewhat of a peace in the world—I say somewhat. I think it was our spending billions of dollars building up ouryou know the old saying, peace through strength. That's what Reagan did. He was a big spender, but he got the job done. But Hanford was unique, because I can still remember there was anti-aircraft placements out there. When I hired on, all the old track houses were still there. I worked on a fuel truck, and we would fuel here and there and then we'd go out into the desert area, if you will, and look at these old houses that were still standing. And the old icehouse was still there. And a lot of these buildings were still there in the '60s. And why they had the need to tear them all down, I don't know. I think it was a shame. But they tore them all down other than the bank and the school. I believe about all that's left. No, it was a different time. Like I say, I can still remember my dad telling us both, I want to know where you are in case we have to leave town. I mentioned earlier, the FBI--it was not unusual to have an FBI agent knock at the door and talk to my folks about so-and-so. We had neighbors that lived in the same house—in our A house, our neighbors there was there one day and gone the next. It wasn't unusual to--you're out of here. 

Arata: Certainly a different time. I want to thank you so much for coming in and sharing your memories with us. I really appreciate it. We'll film all these goodies you brought us, if that's okay-- 

Peters: Yep. 

Arata--before we have to go. 



Bit Rate/Frequency

194 kbps

Hanford Sites

Reduction-Oxidation Plant (REDOX)
Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant (PUREX
100 Area
200 Area
300 Area
100 F Area
Z Plant
Dash 5 Plant

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Belt, Larry
Daniels, Vanis
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963




Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Leonard Peters,” Hanford History Project, accessed June 24, 2024,