Interview with George Boice

Dublin Core


Interview with George Boice


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Ellensburg (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)


George Boice moved to Richland, Washington in 1944 as a child. He began working on the Hanford Site in 1972.

An interview 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

2017-08-11: Metadata v1 created – [A.H.]


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


Robert Franklin


George Boice


Washington State University Tri-Cities


Tom Hungate: Okay.

Robert Franklin: You ready, Tom?

Hungate: Mm-hm.

Franklin: Okay. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with George Boice on July 15th, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Mr. Boice about his experiences living in Richland. So why don’t we start at the beginning, that’s the best place. When and where were you born?

George Boice: I was born in Ellensburg. A third generation native of the state of Washington. My father and my grandmother were born in Cle Elum.

Franklin: Oh, Wow.

Boice: We came through this—the tribe came through this territory and crossed the White Bluffs ferry in 1885. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow.

Boice: And went up to the Kittitas County area. And then we came back later. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: What year were you born?

Boice: ’37.

Franklin: ’37. Did your family work at all at the coal mine in Roslyn?

Boice: Yes. [LAUGHTER] Short answers. My grandmother’s brother, Uncle Tony, was a mine rescue worker up there at Roslyn.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: You go up to Roslyn, that is interesting. Ever been there?

Franklin: Yes, I have.

Boice: 27 cemeteries. Just neater than all get out. [LAUGHTER] The different ethnic groups up there. They talk about one Fourth of July, the Italians were going to raise the Italian flag in the main street there. Some of the local citizens took a dim view of it. And some wagons were turned on their side and the Winchesters came out, and the sweet little old lady got out there and got everybody calmed down before the shooting started. [LAUGHTER] But the flag didn’t go up. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow. So what brought your family down to the Hanford area?

Boice: My—[LAUGHTER] When they started Hanford—Dad was a firefighter in Ellensburg, had been for a few years. And when they set up Hanford, the first thing they did for a fire department was pick up the retired fire chief out of Yakima. Well, he goes around to the local fire departments and starts hydrating citizens. [LAUGHTER] So, Dad came down here in ’43 as the ninth man hired at the Hanford Fire Department. Always claimed that half of them had been canned before he got there. [LAUGHTER] So he went to work in ’43—June of ’43 at Hanford. We were still there at Ellensburg, and we didn’t come down here ‘til summer of ’44.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Boice: And they were still moving prefabs in, and unloading them with rapid shape.

Franklin: Did your father commute at this time, or did he live on—

Boice: Uh-unh. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Where did he—do you know much about his living quarters or where he lived?

Boice: Yeah, there were barracks.

Franklin: So he lived in the barracks?

Boice: Oh, yes.

Franklin: Okay. Did he come back to visit at all?

Boice: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: Wasn’t but—hell, by the time you get up to the Hanford area, it’s just over the ridge. [LAUGHTER] So he’d come in every couple of weeks.

Franklin: Okay. How many siblings do you have?

Boice: One of each—one brother, one sister.

Franklin: Older, younger?

Boice: Oh, yeah. My brother was born in Kadlec in September of ’45. My sister was—well, they bracket the war. She was born about a month before it started—or right after it started. She was born in December of ’41.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: And he was born September of ’45.

Franklin: So can you talk a little more about your father’s job at Hanford? What did he—did he talk much about what he did, or—

Boice: [LAUGHTER] Oh, yeah! You know. The place is building up, it’s trying to erupt. You’ve got construction going all directions. Trailer house fires. He talked about them [EMOTIONAL]—how quick people died in them damn trailer houses. They’d go up in a matter of seconds. And there were acres of them. But yeah, it was—And the amount of nothing to do. I mean, you had time to work and then there was really no recreational facilities. He worked at a grocery store for a while in his off hours stocking milk. He said it was not unusual to work a whole shift with a forklift or a handcart walking out of the stack and filling the same slot behind the counter there. We came over twice to visit him at Hanford.

Franklin: Before you moved—

Boice: Yeah.

Franklin: --in ’44. Okay.

Boice: You drive across the Vantage Bridge, and somebody had gone through with a grader and graded out a dirt-slash-gravel road. And we drove around and down, and across the Hanford ferry into Hanford. Because you could get into Hanford; it wasn’t restricted—the town. Everything else was. So getting in and out of Hanford was no trick. Getting out of the surrounding area was. So my mom and I and my grandfather went down there.

Franklin: Wow. And where did you stay? Did you just go for the day?

Boice: Well, we didn’t—when I was there, we didn’t stay. We just went for the day and went home.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: But Mom talks about going down and staying overnight. [LAUGHTER] She says she was not warned. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Warned about what?

Boice: To keep everything you wanted nailed down.

Franklin: Oh.

Boice: She got up in the morning and somebody stole her girdle. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow. So when your family moved in summer of ’44, where did you move to?

Boice: 17-1.

Franklin: 17-1?

Boice: That was the lot number and the house number. It is now 1033 Sanford.

Franklin: Ah.

Boice: It’s on the southwest corner of Sanford and Putnam.

Franklin: Yup. I live right by there.

Boice: We went in there and it was—they had—you can’t describe to people how they had come in there and just dozed the farmland over, staked out streets and planted houses. And hauled them in on trucks and set them down. We were fortunate—I didn’t realize how fortunate it was—in the fact that we had only come about 100 miles or so—we came in a truck. We had our stuff. Mom had her piano. And I can’t tell you how many times women would come up and bang on the door, can I play your piano?

Franklin: Really?

Boice: Strangers off the street. Just because it was there, and it was—so we had all kind of musical stuff. Everybody could play better than Mom could. But we had the piano.

Franklin: Wow.

Boice: And she had her houseplants. It was different. But there was no trees in Richland. There wasn’t three blades of grass! [LAUGHTER] You’d come in, you got a garden hose and a plastic nozzle. You hosed down your lot and it immediately became a slick, slimy mud pile. Great for kids to play in! Man, we could slide in that mud across there—it was really cool! And then when it dried up, why, it reticulated like a picture puzzle. So we’re picking chunks up and stacking them up and building houses. And Mom gets up and she’s just madder than a wet hen, so we had to put the lawn back together. [LAUGHTER] But the hose nozzles were so interesting, because when you had a plastic nozzle, but you couldn’t get anything else. There was a hardware store here, eventually, but they didn’t handle stuff like that. This was a war going on. And the ingenuity that went into lawn sprinklers would just boggle your mind! The cutest one I remember was some guy took a chunk of surgical tubing—he got a bent pipe for an uppensticker. And he stretched his hunk of surgical tubing over the end of it, turned the water on, and it was not efficiently watering his area, but he could flail water all over a half an acre! [LAUGHTER] That was one of the cuter ones. There was also no shade and no air conditioning.

Franklin: Right.

Boice: Coming down in a moving truck, Dad brought his carpenter tools, he brought his bench, and he set to work building an air conditioner. Now, this was the dog-gonedest thing you ever saw. He got some burlap sacks and set out there with scrap lumber in the backyard on his workbench just creating shavings out of boards. Fill these burlap sacks with wood shavings for the pads for his air conditioner. He got a motor out of I-don’t-know-what. It was an appliance motor out of something. And he whittled out this propeller out of a two-by-four. And he cranked this thing up and it sounded like a B-29. [LAUGHTER] But it would blow sort of cool air, which raised the wrath of the neighbors. Number one was the racket he was making. Number two was we had air conditioning. So immediately, guys come out of the woodwork in all directions. Guy next door was a sheet metal worker. He came home with parts to make a much better, more efficient fan that was quieter. [LAUGHTER] So they set to work building him one. [LAUGHTER] We made air conditioners—you come up with a motor, and they would come up with an air conditioner. And we would deliver them on the back of my little red wagon. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Where would you put that? Like, would that just go in the window?

Boice: We put it in a window.

Franklin: Oh, okay. And how would you attach it to the house?

Boice: Ingeniously! Most often, they would just build a rack underneath, a shelf on top, and set it up on top there. A houses, you wanted to put your air conditioner—at least about everybody did—set it at the top of the stairs where it would blow out the upstairs and cool your downstairs. They were reasonably efficient. The one thing about all the homemade air conditioners—very few of them, if any, had a recirculating system. So you had to use fresh water. This had two sides to it. You didn’t crud up your water system with alkali by reusing your water. But you did have to go out there and keep moving your hose where it drained out to water your lawn.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Wow. What kind of house did your family move into?

Boice: Well, originally we had a three-bedroom prefab. Prefabs come in three sizes and five colors. And a bunch of very ingenious kids on Halloween 1944 went out and stole the damn street signs. The buses coming back off of swing shift had no earthly idea where they were going. They wandered around town, because all the houses looked alike! [LAUGHTER] Then after a while—oh, let’s see, we moved in in August, and about the following spring—because we started out school at Sacajawea and then at Christmas vacation they changed us to Marcus Whitman. But up there on Longfitt, thereabouts, I was coming home from school and here sits the roof of a prefab right out in the middle of the street. Apparently, this guy was sleeping and a windstorm come along and picked up his whole roof and set it out in the middle of the street. Thereafter they had a crew of carpenters going around fastening the rooves of the prefabs down a little tighter.

Franklin: Because at that time, right, they had flat rooves.

Boice: Flat rooves.

Franklin: Correct? That kind of overhung a bit, something that the wind could really easily—

Boice: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: --grab ahold and pop off. Do you remember when they got the gabled rooves that they all have now?

Boice: No, I don’t, because I was—I think after we left, but I wouldn’t bet heavy money on it. We moved off the prefab in ’45.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: And into an A house on Swift. I don’t recall when they put the gabled rooves on.

Franklin: Okay. So what did your mom do? Did she work at Hanford at all?

Boice: No.

Franklin: No?

Boice: She was a stay-at-home mom.

Franklin: Stay-at-home mom?

Boice: It was such an interesting place. The buses ran every 30 minutes. No charge, just go out and get on the bus. One of my main jobs was—because there was no mail delivery, everybody in Richland got their mail general delivery. So I’d take the bus, go downtown, get off at the post office, check the mail, go down to the grocery store—and there was only one—that was a brief period, but then there was only one grocery store at that time. And that’s where that ski rental shop is—kayak rental shop on the corner of Lee and GW?

Franklin: Mm-hmm.

Boice: That was the grocery store. The one and only. Shortly thereafter, Safeway opened up on the corner of—southwest corner of Lee and Jadwin. So things picked up. And then there was—they come up with the community center grocery store—whatever you want to call them. There was one at Thayer and Williams, which was the Groceteria. Garmo’s was out there on Stevens and Jadwin—no, Symons and something-or-other. The south end of town was—oh, nuts. He was the one that survived—Campbell’s. Campbell’s grocery store. He specialized in fresh fruit and stuff, and of the whole pile of them, he was the one that really come out of it in good shape. But the fourth one is now the school office, up there by Marcus Whitman. That was a grocery store.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: But you go down, you do your post office work, and then you go and get your groceries, and if you’re lucky you get ten cents. Next bus home. You know where the Knights of Columbus Hall is out on the bypass?

Franklin: Mm-hmm.

Boice: That used to be—originally that was the Richland post office.

Franklin: Mm-hmm.

Boice: It’s up there at Knight and GW, I think. There wasn’t a whole bunch of shopping centers. The Richland Theater was in existence. The drug store next door to it was there. After a while, the big brown building, which was everything, at that time, when it opened up it was CC Anderson’s. Then there was the dime store, and, oh, we were hot and heavy then. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Can you tell me a little more about your dad’s job? What would a typical day or a typical week look like for someone who worked on the fire department?

Boice: On the fire department, there is no such thing as typical. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Yeah.

Boice: It was wild. In the beginning, they opened up—they were on shifts. Like everything was on day shifts, swing shift, graveyard. In our neighborhood, after my brother was born, we moved down to Swift and McPherson. Dad had come into town by that time. If you go behind the Richland Theater, you look real close, there’s two B houses back there. One of them’s a real B house and the other one ain’t. You look at the B houses over here, and the other one that ain’t is over here. And you look real close at the driveways. That was the original fire station that the City of Richland had going. That was the fire station when Hanford came in. Then they built a fire station on Jadwin in conjunction with the housing building and a couple other things, right across from the 700 Area, which is what they wanted, was coverage on that 700 Area. So that was the downtown fire station. And when they opened that up, why, then Dad came up out of Hanford.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: He wasn’t too long there, and they opened one up Williams off of Thayer, in behind the Groceteria and a little service station up there with a small satellite fire station. Two trucks and one crew. Dad was there for years and years and years.

Franklin: How long did your dad work for Hanford or the government here?

Boice: Like I say, he came in in ’43 and retired in the early ‘70s.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Boice: Rode her right on through.

Franklin: So what did he do when the community transitioned in ’58?

Boice: They bought him!

Franklin: The City of Richland did?

Boice: Yup, the City of Richland bought the outstanding time and he rolled right over.

Franklin: Oh, okay.


Franklin: So can you talk a little bit more about growing up here? You said you went to Marcus Whitman and then to—and then what other schools did you go to?

Boice: Well, like I say, there was no shade.

Franklin: Right.

Boice: And very few radio stations. With a good shot you could get in Yakima, Spokane, and Walla Walla, and that was about it. So we sat around in the shade, and my mother read us stories. [LAUGHTER] One of them was a book we picked up in Walla Walla about Sacajawea. She read us the entire story of Sacajawea and the Shoshones and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, et cetera, et cetera. And in ’44, they opened up Sacajawea School. Now, as everybody does, they did their darnedest to convert us kids to saying Sah-CAH-jah-wee-ah. It didn’t take. [LAUGHTER] Because there was already Sacajawea State Park and everybody was using the term Sacajawea. But Sah-CAH-jah-wee-ah—they tried. They gave it their level best. It didn’t take. But the time that they were doing this, Miss Jesson was a teacher there was giving us the thumbnail sketch about Sacajawea. She did a pretty good job—well, you know, she told you what she knew. And she made mention of the fact that she was married to a trapper, but they didn’t know what his name or anything about him. I says, his name was Toussaint Charbonneau. He got her off a wolf man of the minute carriage for a white buffalo robe. My status went up. [LAUGHTER] And the teachers wanted to know where in the cat hair I learned that. Well, Mom read us the book. But I’ve always liked Sacajawea School. Just kind of a kinship. We went—in ’45, they opened up Marcus Whitman. We went there ’45 was all, because when they broke for the summer, we were over by—we moved. By the next fall we were over in the area where I could go to Sacajawea again. But we were going to Marcus Whitman when Roosevelt was shot—died. So that was the event of the time. You watched the transition of one President to another. The flag ceremony—the whole thing—it was interesting for a kid.

Franklin: I bet. What do you remember about during the war years that kind of focus on secrecy and security? How did that affect your life and your family’s life?

Boice: You didn’t talk to nobody about nothing! [LAUGHTER] I mean, that was just the words. You didn’t talk about—if somebody asks you what your dad does, you talk about something else. It was so interesting here in the last year, I think—time goes quicker now. A whole bunch of us from that neighborhood on Swift went to a funeral—this boy’s mother—well, yeah—Bill’s mother’s 100th birthday, after the funeral they had a sit-down dinner. I happened to sit down at the table with the whole kids of the old neighborhood. And we’re talking about all this stuff, and the secrecy, and the ones you watch out for—this girl over here. Yeah. She didn’t share the secrets with the neighbors when they were talking about who’s got butter on sale. They didn’t tell her anymore. She fried her food in butter. So no one would tell her where the butter sales were when it was available. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Was there any mention of the work going on at Hanford at school that you can remember?

Boice: The one thing of what was going on, and it wasn’t the work at Hanford, because nobody talked about that. But when the Japs were sending over the firebombs—

Franklin: Yeah, the balloon bombs.

Boice: Yes. We were told to write no letters, tell nobody, because they didn’t want it to get out how blinking effective they were.

Franklin: Right. The fear of these bombs from the sky—

Boice: They were hitting, and they were working.

Franklin: Yeah.

Boice: You guys are in the right position to find out. But there was a rumor going around that a balloon-loaded Jap had landed out there in the area and they caught him and bundled him up and carted him off before they did any business. Okay, la-di-da-di-da. There’s rumors about one thing and another. And four or five years ago, CNN or one of these, they were talking about the weather balloons. They showed the colored pictures taken out here at Hanford of the balloons landing in the BPA lines and burning up. [LAUGHTER] End of speech, end of story. [LAUGHTER] But I was surprised to find out that something had happened. There was no soldiers attached or anything else, but there was an incident.

Franklin: Yeah, we’ve—there are a couple confirmed reports of—we actually did an oral history with a gentleman whose father had been a patrolman and had seen one of the balloons land and had to chase it down and didn’t realize right away that it was—had explosives attached to it. The others—there’s a couple reports of them touching down onsite. And there was a family that was killed in Idaho where they were picnicking and a balloon came down.

Boice: Idaho or Oregon?

Franklin: I think it was—oh, that’s right, maybe it was Oregon.

Boice: K Falls.

Franklin: Yes.

Boice: You go to the museum in Klamath Falls had the—or when I went through it—I was working down there twenty years ago or so—they had a big display of the family that was picnicking and the kids went to prod on it, and it went off and killed a girl.

Franklin: Yeah. Were there—when you were—so we’re still in the World War II era and we’ll definitely get to the Cold War in a bit—but were there any kind of—what do you remember about like emergency procedures in school? Was there anything special, kind of drills or something during World War II?

Boice: You mean the duck-and-cover?

Franklin: Yeah, that kind of stuff. Was there any duck-and-cover during World War II?

Boice: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Of course—my kindergarten days—now, man. Lived across the street from the college there at Ellensburg, and firebombs were to be worried about. But I was covered. I had a bucket full of sand and a shovel, and it was there on the front porch. When the firebomb came through there, I was going to put my sand on it. So we were prepared. God help us if it landed any place else. [LAUGHTER] But the beginning of the war when I was a kid in Ellensburg was so funny, because we were living right across the street from the college and everything was just the standard college. And the war started, and immediately, there’s all these people running around here that can’t count. Hup, two, three, four. Hup, two, three, four. I wasn’t even in kindergarten, and I knew about my ones! [LAUGHTER] And there was—you go across the street and around the corner, and there was this one half basement room where I could stand there and watch the guys play shirts-and-skins basketball. And the next time I looked, here’s a skeleton of a single engine aircraft, and a guy instructing people on how to make dead stick landing. Now, of all the damned things for a four-year-old kid to remember, dead stick landings was what he was talking about. And they had this thing skeletonized where they could show the internal workings of all the aeronautics.

Franklin: Wow.

Boice: But in Richland—oh, yes. Duck-and-cover fire drills. But they never talked about nuclear, because it was yet to be discovered. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Right, right. So Ellensburg then quickly became inundated with—the state college there became a training area?

Boice: Oh, yeah. Just that fast.

Franklin: Wow. In your notes here, I also see you mentioned about the heavy military presence and the olive drab everywhere and the cops in Army uniforms.

Boice: [LAUGHTER] It absolutely was. Richland was strictly OD. I think they only had one bucket of paint. But all the vehicles were olive drab. The buses were, on today’s standards, I’ll call them a three-quarter size school bus painted olive drab. The vehicles were anything they could scrounge up, because I remember two GIs in a ’37 Chev coupe, and I know today some farmer had taken the trunk out and made a pickup box out of it. But they scrounged this thing up someplace, painted it OD, and here’s the MPs running around in a ’37 Chev pickup. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] A homemade pickup?

Boice: Yeah. It was years later that I found out—Dad didn’t say anything about it, and he certainly knew—that it was simple, because the war was going on. Everything was prioritized. But they had unlimited supply of uniforms. So they put the cops in soldiers’ uniforms; the firemen were in Navy uniforms. The firemen stood out and were very easily recognizable, but you couldn’t tell the soldiers and the cops apart, because they all had the same stuff on. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow. A couple oral histories we’ve done with people that were children in Richland, a couple of them mentioned their fathers had taken them onsite somewhat clandestinely. Did your father ever take you onsite into a secured area?

Boice: No.

Franklin: Did you ever get access to any of that some way?

Boice: No, I did not go to any secured area.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: I was raised running in and out of fire stations. To this day, when I go through the door of a fire station, my hands go into my pockets. You’re allowed to touch nothing. Because you leave fingerprints. [LAUGHTER] It’s just a genuine reflex.

Franklin: Yeah! So you said that you went to Sacajawea, then to Marcus Whitman then back to Sacajawea. Then where did you go to high school?

Boice: We went through all of the—I’ll call it the school construction. They couldn’t build schools fast enough in Richland.

Franklin: I bet.

Boice: We had double shifts. Now they have these temporary quarters—whatever you call them. But we had hutments. Sacajawea had six hutments out there. They built the hutments, and then they went to double shifts. So you went to school at 8:00, and at noon they marched out, teacher and all, and our class marched in, and we went home at 4:30 or 5:00, something like that. So we went through all of that, and then in ’49, they opened Carmichael. A brand new junior high school, man, this is cool! And I was in the seventh grade in Carmichael and I are still the proud possessor of ASB cord 001, 1949, Carmichael Junior High School. The first one they ever gave out. [LAUGHTER] And that was neat, to have a real hard-built school. It was—oh, we had class. After three months, we moved to Kennewick. The Kennewick school system—

Franklin: Your family did, or--?

Boice: Yeah!

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Boice: Dad stayed in Richland, but they were selling off. And if you didn’t have priority, the houses went to the guy that was there first. And in that A house, we were in second, so we were not in line to buy the house.

Franklin: Right.

Boice: So, Dad got a piece of property in Kennewick and we moved to Kennewick. And what a school system mess.

Franklin: Why?

Boice: They were behind. They couldn’t get money quick enough. They couldn’t build stuff fast enough. They had the red brick building—forget what it was called. It had been a high school at one time, and they pressed it back into service. It was so overcrowded you couldn’t believe it. But they finally built the high school that’s there now. It opened in ’52, I believe. ’51—yeah, class of ’52 was the first one to graduate—’52 or ’53. Graduated from Erwin S. Black Senior High School. And it was Erwin S. Black Senior High School one year. Because he was the school superintendent, and they built the school—they named the school in his honor because he had gone to bat and made trips back and forth to Washington, DC to cash some money to use for the school system. Then they got in a shooting match with the Tri-City Herald. [LAUGHTER] And Erwin S. Black and the schoolboard got run out of town, and they chiseled his name off the front of the school. But for one year it was E.S. Black.

Franklin: And then it just became Kennewick High School.

Boice: It became Kennewick High School.

Franklin: Can you talk a little bit more about this disagreement between Erwin S. Black and the schoolboard and the Tri-City Herald?

Boice: It was several things. One of them, there was a book—and I can’t recall—Magruder? McGregor? Somebody. It was a history book, and it mentioned communism. And that was brought up and made a big deal. This was back in the McCarthy era.

Franklin: Right.

Boice: That was brought out. And there was a lot of talk—Black was a certified building inspector, and he inspected the construction of the high school. It was said by a lot of people that it wasn’t up to standards; that the concrete wasn’t what it should have been. And I don’t know what the specs were. I wasn’t into concrete work at that time. I have been later. But I know when we were hanging the benches in the ag shop, where you would put a concrete anchor in the wall ordinarily and it would hold, they didn’t there. And they had to through-bolt through the wall to get to things to hang. So there was—and transfer of equipment and stuff—this was swapped for that, and that was swapped for this—and I don’t remember that, and the only guy I know that did know has died. [LAUGHTER] But one of the kids that graduated from Erwin S. Black, one of the few that was in that class, worked with him off and on and was aware of what went on.

Franklin: When you said that there was a book that mentioned communism, did it mention it in a favorable light, or did it just make a mention to communism?

Boice: More or less, it just made a mention.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: I was on the—oh, we had the open house at the school, and I was one of the tour guides. Yeah, I showed them the book and what it had to say. And I don’t recall anything drastic.

Franklin: So then did you graduate from Kennewick High School?

Boice: No. [LAUGHTER] The military had a hell of a sale. Anybody that enlisted by the first of February got the Korean GI Bill of Rights. And those that enlisted afterwards didn’t. So I drug up in January and joined the Air Force.

Franklin: Oh. Without graduating.

Boice: Without graduating.

Franklin: Okay. Interesting.

Boice: So I served my illustrious military career in a photo lab in Mountain Home, Idaho. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: And how long were you in the Air Force?

Boice: Two years.

Franklin: Two years, and then you were discharged?

Boice: Yes, yup, yup.

Franklin: When you were in school, you mentioned being in school during this McCarthy era, one of the real hot points of the Cold War. Can you talk a little bit about the civil defense procedures and kind of the general feeling of that time as it related to—because I imagine with Hanford so close, and now knowing what was being produced there, that would have been a likely target. It’s a major part of the nuclear weapons stockpile. So can you talk a little bit about that time and just the general feeling?

Boice: Well, you knew what was going to happen—or what they said was gonna happen. It was the duck-and-cover thing. And we had drills. A lot of what they said what was gonna happen—now they talk about getting into water to modulate it. Then, it was one of the things that they didn’t want you to do. Because we had the irrigation ditch that was running right alongside of the schools. But then they didn’t want you to get into it. So, it’s changed. They had the civil defense procedures—Radiant Cleaners, they’re in Kennewick. They had panel delivery cleaner trucks. They were rigged for emergency ambulances. They had fold-down bunks in them; they could handle four people. [LAUGHTER] It was taken serious.

Franklin: Did you feel any particular sense of worry, or did it not seem to really affect you, your daily life or your psychological—

Boice: It never bothered me ‘til years afterwards. When they talked about the Green Run, where they turned a bunch of that stuff loose, just to see what it would do to the citizens and count the drift on it. The people that had—the down-winders, and the people that had the thyroid problems. My sister was one of the first rounds that went to court over that.

Franklin: Really?

Boice: Because she was—we moved into Richland. She had her third birthday in the prefab, when they were still practicing how to build this stuff. And then we moved in on a farm where the alfalfa grew, the cow ate it, gave them milk, and everything was recycled and nothing went over the fence. And so it bothered me, then, that they used us as guinea pigs. But the other hand, they really didn’t know what in the cat hair that they were doing in a lot of cases. The nuclear waste? You’ve heard about the radioactive rabbit turds.

Franklin: I have.

Boice: You have?

Franklin: Yes, I have, but why don’t you mention that?

Boice: I was working with Vitro out here—’72, I think it was. The radioactivity, of course, is settled on the sagebrush. And the rabbits went around eating the leaves, just leaving fat, dumb and happy, and concentrating everything into the rabbit turds. And they were contemplating taking the top six inches of about two or three sections and burying it. Only they couldn’t decide where they had to build the hole. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: When you—you mentioned just a minute ago that you were on a farm, and you had the cows that would have eaten the tainted alfalfa—was your milk ever tested? Or did anyone ever come and--

Boice: Nah. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: test your—Were you ever tested for—or your family, anybody in your family, ever tested for radiation? Because I know that they, at one point, had those Whole Body Counters that they would test—some children in Pasco were tested through those machines?

Boice: You ever been through a Whole Body Counter?

Franklin: I have not been through a Whole Body Counter.

Boice: Depending on where you’re at, there may or may not be a—they’re kind of a joke. Now, when I was working here at Vitro, we went through the Whole Body thing, and they were serious. I mean, before we got cleared out, we went through the chamber, and we were counted. I went to work in South Carolina. They—as far as I was concerned—were very sloppy with their radiation handling and their checking and their radiation monitoring. We had a hand-and-foot monitoring station where we was going in and out of. You stick your hands in and they check it, and your feet were there at the same time. Well, this one time, I come up pretty hot, so I found an RM. I says, that machine gave me a bad reading. Oh, he says, that machine’s no good anyway. Come around to this other one over here and we’ll check you out. Well, if the blinking thing’s no good, why in the cat hair are we using it?! [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: So, just a second ago, you mentioned you were working for Vitro?

Boice: Uh-huh.

Franklin: What is or was Vitro?

Boice: What was Vitro? Okay. Vitro Engineering—and I don’t know how many times the name changed hands. But these guys were the ones that laid out the City of Richland—laid out the Hanford Projects. These were the strictly insiders. There was pictures on a wall of my grade school buddy’s dad, who I remember being a surveyor in Richland there. And these guys—this has gone on forever, and they were a pretty dug-in organization. To the point that they were not really aware that there was a world outside the fence. They’d heard about it, but they weren’t too sure it existed. [LAUGHTER] But I ended up at Vitro, and we did the Tank Farms that they’re having problems with, the hot tanks? We were in on the modification of that farm. We surveyed in there quite a bit. Whenever they show the pictures on TV, they always show you the evaporation facility. They show you that same picture. Warren Wolfe and I—I say Warren and I—it’s a little—our crew brought that up out of the ground, and we modified the tank farm, and we laid out the construction on that building from the ground right through the top.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: And I was very fortunate, because all my surveying experience to that point was with the railroads and pipelines and longline work. Construction surveying was new to me. And I got throwed in with an old boy that was good at it. [LAUGHTER] And I learned a bunch working with him. And rolled right over, later on, into Hanford, too. We got in on the end of that—[LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Hanford II?

Boice: Yeah.

Franklin: Oh, as--T-O-O. And which building was this that you and Warren Wolfe and your crew built?

Boice: All I remember is the evaporation facility.

Franklin: What was your specific job at Vitro? Were you a surveyor?

Boice: I was a surveyor. I was an instrument man. You get in the hot zones—we got inside the Canyon Building on several different occasions. And you got suited up, and I was instructed very specifically and emphatically to touch nothing, because anything that got crapped up, they kept. And we couldn’t get the instruments crapped up. But that stuff was so hot that the paper—the Rite-in-the-Rain books have got a specific paper there that has pitch in it or something—it attracts radioactivity like a sponge. And when they kept the notes, then one of us would stay inside and the other guy would get out in the clean zone, and we’d have to transcribe all the notes, because that book was so hot that they wouldn’t let it out of the area. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow.

Boice: There was some weird stuff going on.

Franklin: Any other—

Boice: Yeah, but there’s some I ain’t gonna talk about. [LAUGHTER] Okay. We came so close to having a nuclear disaster, it wasn’t even funny. We were good. We were awful good. And we were fast. And we were set up out there on an offset, and Rosie the labor foreman come over. Somebody said you needed a shot here for a hole for a penetration into the tank. Man, we whipped that out and figured the pull and what it was gonna take. Swung over there, put a distance and an angle, drove the stake in the ground. I figured that Warren checked it, and away we went. We come back in a week or so, or a few days later, we were back in that same farm. And Rosie comes over there and he says, would you guys check that again? Because these guys was digging a hole there and they’re supposed to hit a tank. And we checked it. And I lied, and Warren swore to it. [LAUGHTER] We forgot we was on a ten-foot offset. So they’re digging clear to one side of this tank, and just good solid dirt. Had we been just half as screwed-up as we were, they would have gone right down the edge of that tank with a core drill. And we’d have had ooey-gooeys all over the place. They talked to us. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Kind of a happy accident, right?

Boice: Yeah, we were—I’ll never forget Warren’s work. He’d come back with the boss and he says, name me one guy in this world ever got through this life being perfect. He says, always pissed me off, he’s a damned carpenter. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: So you went to—you joined the Air Force, you went to Idaho for two years. When you came back—or what did you do after that? Did you come back to Richland after?

Boice: We were living in Kennewick.

Franklin: Living in Kennewick.

Boice: And I was working at the Washington Hardware Store. And this kid—we were working on cars in my buddy’s garage. And this guy comes through and he’s surveying for the Corps. And he talked that they were setting up a photogrammetry section. Well, heck, that’s what I was doing in the service. So, I beat feet over to Walla Walla to sign up to lay out photo mosaics. And they say, we haven’t got enough work for fulltime at that job. Are you a draftsman? No, I are not a draftsman. He says, would you take a job surveying? You bet. I became a surveyor. [LAUGHTER] And we worked from the mouth of the Deschutes River to Lewiston, Idaho. The first thing was the mouth of the Deschutes to McNary Dam—we mapped from the water level to the top of the bluffs by hand.

Franklin: Wow.

Boice: And then we went through, starting in ’58, and we inventoried the railroad. Now, when you inventory a railroad, we inventoried a railroad. Everything they possessed was put down. First, you go through and you measure and put stations—mark station markings on the rails. 80 miles of them. Then you go back and you reference everything the railroad’s got. Ties, spikes, tie plates, rails, joints, joint bars—if the fence moves, how far did it move, from what to what? If the rail changes, if there’s an isolation joint in there, you put that in. When you come to a switch, you measure everything that’s in the switch facility. You go—everything that that railroad has got. You become very, very familiar with railroads. [LAUGHTER] And then we went ahead, and we built railroads clear up to Lewistown. We handled a railroad layout real heavy. When they—are you familiar with the Marmes men?

Franklin: Yes.

Boice: Luck of the draw, I was on that. Because we were the—call it the resident survey crew in that area.

Franklin: Oh.

Boice: And we were babysitting construction. Make sure they got sticks out ahead of them, make sure that things are checked out behind them. They’re putting in a detour, why, check that out. They’re building a bridge, make sure it’s set up right, and check it out when they get done. So, first they call up and they say, there’s a guy down here at the mouth of the Palouse River thinks he hit something, and he wants an elevation on this cave, see where the water’s gonna come when they raise the water behind Lower Monumental, I believe.

Franklin: Yeah, I think that sounds right.

Boice: Is that the dam? So we went down there and run him in an elevation, painted it on the cave face. Happily on our way. Well, they hit pay dirt. [LAUGHTER] They dug up bones. So we were called back. They wanted—because the drillers were in there then doing sub-cell drilling of what’s down there. So we got to come in there and locate their holes so they know where what is. That was interesting. The whole thing. Now that the world has got into this Ice Age floods and stuff, I wish so heavily that I knew then what I know now. Because the layers that they went through were very definitely visible. This thing had been covered in various floods. But it was so interesting, the stuff that they found. Because it became an international incident. One of the coolest cats in the whole joint was Pono the Greek. And Pono run the sluice box. He had been all over the world. When the girls dug everything out, then they took the dirt to Pono, and he washed it down. Pono found thread of somebody’s sewing. Then they found the needle. And that to me was so cool. They had this needle that looked for all the world like a darning needle. How in the blazes they cut that eye in there! This was a really heads-up organization. [LAUGHTER] Interesting. Very interesting.

Franklin: Yeah, that was a very significant archaeological find.

Boice: I’ve got to go back some day and talk to that doctor. At an anniversary of something, we’re down here at Columbia Park, and he was talking and I showed up there with the historical society doing something-or-other. And I talked to him for about five minutes. He mentioned the fact that he wanted to see the guy that painted that elevation. I said, well, you’re looking at him. [LAUGHTER] It was—I got to go talk to him. Because one of the things in their report—they talked that the ditch was dug with a Cat. Now, I ain’t saying they’re wrong, because I didn’t see any digging when I was there. But just—as you’re going up and looking at a hole, and in those days we had looked at a bunch of holes—we were inspectors. They were going behind the soils guys. And it just to me had all the appearance of somebody that dug a ditch with a dragline. And I always figured it was a dragline in there, and somebody said it was a Cat. I don’t totally agree with him. But the bones were so interesting. They said that the one thing about the site was there had been somebody living on it forever. Just, the further down you went, the more primitive they became, ‘til you got past the layer of the Mazama ash, when Crater Lake blew its top. And they went past Mazama ash and suddenly things looked pretty sophisticated. That’s where the needle came from and a few other things. It was neat. I’d have liked to spend more time with them.

Franklin: Yeah. I’m sure you heard about the dam failing and the site flooding after they—because they created the protective dam around the shelter, and that failed and let water in.

Boice: It didn’t fail! The SOB was never built to hold! When they brought us down there to check these drill holes out, the drillers—we had other stuff to do that morning, and we didn’t get down there until 10:00. The driller had a half-a-dozen holes in. I’m talking to this old driller, and he says, they ain’t never gonna keep water out of that thing, because there’s a layer of palm wood down there and it’s gonna leak like a sieve. But they did it anyway. And we’re down there checking on settlement pins and a whole bunch of other stuff when the water’s coming up. But we’re all on the radio, and it’s like a big one-party line—you can hear what’s going on no matter where. And they’re putting in pumps, and the more pumps they put in, the more water they sprayed out, but noting changed. [LAUGHTER] So it’s a lovely fishing pond. But interesting: it was shortly thereafter that I quit the corps and went to Alaska. Within a year-and-a-half, two years, I’m up there doing the same thing, only instead of spotting holes in the ground, we’re spotting oil wells. And sitting in a warm-up shack, talking to a driller, and he made mention of the fact that they had spudded oil wells. Now, when they spud an oil well, they get in there with an oversized auger, like you’re setting telephone poles. And they go down there through the mud and the blood and the crud ‘til they get to solid rock. And then they bring in the drills. And he says, we have yet to spud a well here that we didn’t get palm wood. And that has always sat with me. Now, when they’re talking about global warming—if there has been palm trees growing at the mouth of the Palouse River, and palm trees growing at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, it’s been a lot warmer than people are willing to talk about. [LAUGHTER] Just boggles my mind that there is palm wood in Alaska as well as Marmes Rockshelter.

Franklin: Wow, that’s really interesting. So you were—Marmes, then Alaska. When did you come to work for Vitro at Hanford?

Boice: That was a pretty short season. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: At Hanford, or in Alaska?

Boice: At Vitro. Oh, at Alaska I worked for various contractors. But Vitro—we didn’t philosophically match. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Ah.

Boice: Their minds were all inside the fence. And I’m too antagonistic. [LAUGHTER] If we had a problem—thou shalt not speak bad of Vitro. And we’re laying out penetrations on top of a tank. And they’re all done. Radius and angle—which radius is—and they had them at different stages there, and other people had been doing them. And this tank had been there for quite a—not quite a while, but every once in a while someone would come in and set some more holes, set some more holes. Well, they didn’t continue their circle around—nobody closed the circle. So by the time we get there ‘til the end, we have to figure out by adding up each and every hole all the way around the circle at every different radius to get the dimensions to where we’re at. Where if the guy had closed out his circle, you could have backed him out and been out of there in about a tenth the time. So I happened to make the statement, I said, Vitro drafting strikes again. And I was a marked man. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: How long in total, then, did you work out on the Hanford site?

Boice: Well, in ’56-’57, or ’57-’58, they were doing a lot of military work out there. And we did the roads up Rattlesnake—was in on that. The road up Saddle Mountain. A lot of RADAR sites. You’re aware of the Nike sites on—

Franklin: Yup.

Boice: --the north side of the river over there?

Franklin: Yup.

Boice: Been there, done that. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: So—that wasn’t for Vitro, was that when you were with—

Boice: That was the Corps.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: And we also did a lot of work up at Moses Lake.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: All the runway extensions up there, we were in on. They throwed us in the clink. They did not like our very presence.

Franklin: Why?

Boice: Apparently Moses Lake had two different structures. There was the Strategic Air Command structure up there, and there was the Military Air Transport Service. I didn’t know the difference. Les was—we were doing some mapping work. And the three of us were just gonna run some levels out to the next site we were gonna work at. And we took off the BM—benchmark—at the control tower. And we get about two turns out across the flight line there. And a bunch of guys come out, like a changing of the guard or something. Two or three of them stopped to talk to Kirby and George. The other five come out along, and they walked, just formed a circle around me, and they wanted to know if I wanted to go with them. They had submachine guns and a whole bunch of other stuff, and I said, heck, there’s nothing I’d rather do! [LAUGHTER] So they called up Walla Walla and they verified our existence. Then we had to go through security and get badges to—and we’d been working on that thing off-and-on for months. But we just hadn’t stepped in the right zone.

Franklin: Oh, wow.


Franklin: They were just kind of waiting for you, then, to—

Boice: Just different—different bunch of stuff.

Franklin: Right. When you were in school in Kennewick, so after the—or even just after the word was out about the Hanford site, after August 6th, 1945, when you were in school, did they teach anything about Hanford history? Was it—

Boice: Go back to August 6th.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: What a day. [EMOTIONAL] What a wonderful day! I’d been down at the Village Theater—now the Richland Theater. I don’t even remember what was playing. But we came out, [EMOTIONAL] and the bells were ringing. The church down there, they were ringing their bells. And everybody was whooping it up—the war was over! And I’ll never forget, some gal in there alongside the street, she had half a dozen kids with garbage can lids and a parade going, and they’re banging and clanging. And the festivities that the war was over. And then we went back and they came out with the thing and Truman said, It’s the Atomic Bomb, and that’s what we’ve been building. And Mom went over and talked to the lady next door. She mentioned the U-235. And the gal says, they didn’t talk about that, did they? And she’d been keeping files, and her husband had been working on it. And neither of them would ever admit that they knew what the other one was doing. It was that tight. And the security in Richland. The FBI knew everybody in town, because it was not uncommon—it was a regular thing that they would come around and they would talk to you, and ask about him. And then they’d go talk to him and ask about you. It was just—it was what was going on. We didn’t know why. Well, after that—yeah, after it came out what was going on out there, then we knew what was there. But until Truman come out and said, here’s what was going on, we didn’t know.

Franklin: What about V-J Day? Was that a separate kind of a big celebration?

Boice: Yeah.

Franklin: Was that as big as the news of the bomb drop? Or was the bomb drop more of a pivotal moment here in the—

Boice: Well, the V-J Day, the end of the war, was the big day. That’s the celebration that I’ll never forget.

Franklin: Can you talk about it?

Boice: June—you heard about Harry Truman, didn’t you? When he come out to Hanford?

Franklin: No.

Boice: [LAUGHTER] The head of security was a guy by the name of McHale. And Dad worked pretty close with him with the fire department because everything was safety and security and if you had a problem, see McHale. Now, the guy had taken—he was pretty much high up in intelligence—but he had assumed the position of a first sergeant. And Sarge McHale was the guy. No matter what happened, Sarge McHale. Harry Truman did a fantastic job, and made his reputation just going from plant to plant—the Truman Investigating Committee, cutting down waste. And I guess he did a heck of a job. But he come out to Hanford and demanded to be let in.

Franklin: Sorry, was this when he was Vice President or President?

Boice: He was a senator!

Franklin: Senator—Senator Harry Truman. Okay.

Boice: And he comes there and demands to be let in. And of course, the guard says, McHale! And McHale comes over there and meets him head-on. He says, I’m Senator Truman, and I demand to be let in. McHale says, I don’t give a damn if you’re President of the United States; you ain’t coming in here. And he didn’t. Well, years later, and I believe it was when they were dedicating the Elks Club in Pasco, Truman was back up in this area. And he was President. And he come out to Hanford and he looked up McHale. And he said, uh-huh, you son of a bitch, you didn’t think I’d make ‘er, did ya? [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow. That’s a great story. [LAUGHTER] But thank you. So after the war was over, was what went on at Hanford taught in school? Was there mention of the work at Hanford that built the bomb? Was that part of the curriculum here in town?

Boice: The local lore.

Franklin: The local lore, but nothing in the school at all?

Boice: Not that I recall.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: Everything was—there was a terrific amount of pride. The Atomic City, the atomic this, the atomic that. The first barber shop quartet come to town, when GE left—no, DuPont left, GE come in, four guys come in from Schenectady, New York with a barber shop quartet. First ones I ever saw. And they were the Atomic City Four. And the next one were the Nuclear Notes. [LAUGHTER] But there was an atomic pride, all over the area. Then there was the people that thought we should be ashamed of it. That we had built this device that killed a whole bunch of people.

Franklin: Now, were these people in the community? Or people outside?

Boice: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Franklin: And this was right at the time—

Boice: Oh, no, no, no. This is--

Franklin: Later?

Boice: Last week? [LAUGHTER] Last few years ago, yeah.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: I got my—I’m still behind Hanford.

Franklin: Okay.

Boice: Screwed up and all. Back to Vitro for a little bit. Like I say, they were—the organization that literally purchased and built the city of Richland—now, at that time I was flying, and I was flying out of the Richland airport. And there was an old geezer out there called Norm. Norm flew the bench. He was always on the bench out in front of the airport, there. And if somebody just going up to burn up some hours or play, why, Norm was willing to go along. I saw Norm and I hauled him around and then I went back to work for Vitro. And Pritchard brought this guy through—it was Norm! Norm had been the head of real estate when the entire city of Richland and the whole Hanford Project was bought. He was in charge of it. And he retired and trained his successor, who died. And he trained the next guy, who died. So they had Norm on a retainer. Just to ride dirt on real estate. Quite an interesting character!

Franklin: Yeah, I bet. I think I’d kind of like to return about something we were just talking about a minute ago, where you were talking about people that—especially in the later years that have been critical of Hanford. I’d like to get more of your feelings on that. On how you feel about that, or kind of what part of their argument or their viewpoint that you don’t agree with.

Boice: They were talking about—well, first there was the Richland High School and their bomb insignia. It was felt that they were making a big deal or prideful about this terrible event. And I always go back to a group from Japan that came over and were very critical of Richland for the same thing. And the gentleman who was interviewing them or was talking to them, when they got done, informed them in no uncertain terms, that we were invited very unceremoniously into that war, and we’re sorry if you didn’t like the way we ended it. [LAUGHTER] You get to researching, I’d like to bring up, why didn’t they drop the bomb on Tokyo? Because there was nothing left on Tokyo to injure. If you read about Curt LeMay and the Strategic Air Command and the bombing of Japan, he had eliminated that thing down to—the B-29 was supposed to be a high altitude bomber. And it wasn’t as great at it as it was advertised to be. But they had eliminated the defenses. And they made the B-29 into a low-level trucking company, and they were just hauling stuff over and unloading it. And the firebombing of Tokyo—the movies they showed us in the Air Force was something to behold. I mean, they—it was so much worse than what happened at Nagasaki or Hiroshima, either one. He was told to save two or three targets—clean targets. And when they come over there with the bombs, then they used these clean targets and saw what they could do. Of the four devices—the four nuclear devices, we used—was it four or three in World War II?

Franklin: Are you referring to—

Boice: All but one of them came from Hanford.

Franklin: Yeah.

Boice: The first one at Los Alamos was plutonium. And then Hiroshima was Oak Ridge.

Franklin: Yup.

Boice: And then Nagasaki was plutonium.

Franklin: Yeah.

Boice: But there’s those that—and there were at the time, there was a big discussion on, should we demonstrate to them what this thing could do? And the big argument was, what if it doesn’t do? What if you drop it and it don’t do nothing? [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Interesting. Can you speak to—or do you remember anything about the Civil Rights era in the Tri-Cities?


Franklin: There were reports of—you know, it’s known that Kennewick was kind of a sun-down town, and that many minorities were forced to live in East Pasco. And that during the war—


Franklin: There had been a sizable African American population at Hanford, but that after the war many of them left. So I was wondering if you could speak to the Civil Rights action you might have seen or you might have observed or anything in the Tri-Cities?

Boice: Well, I was up in Lewiston when their civil rights march come through. But it was well-advertised. People knew what was gonna happen. And I was at the hardware store, and there’s a black cement finisher I’d worked with building houses in Pasco. I says, Leroy! You gonna come march on Kennewick? He said, [AFFECTED DIALECT] shee-it. I wantsta live in Kennewick just about as bad as you wantsta live in East Pasco. [LAUGHTER] They had a march on Kennewick—a bunch of people that—I am told, because I was living in Lewiston, and I was in Lewiston at the time. But there’s a group out of Seattle and a group out of Portland come up to Pasco, and they marched across the bridge. They marched down Avenue C, up Washington Street, down Kennewick Avenue. And Kennewick yawned. Nobody particularly cared. They got to the Methodist church, and the groups come out and says, you look hot. Come on in and have some lemonade. They sat down at the church, had lemonade and went home. And that was the civil rights march in Kennewick. But there is—when I was there growing up, there were no blacks in Kennewick. There were blacks in Pasco, and there were no blacks in Richland. With the exception—the guy that run the shoeshine parlor at Ganzel’s barbershop lived in the basement, and they tell me that there was two black porters at the Hanford House. And that was the total black population of Richland.

Franklin: Wow.

Boice: But they were not welcome in Kennewick. It wasn’t that big a deal when I was walking down Kennewick Avenue when a couple of black guys—they were bums, hobos—come walking down Main Street, you might as well say. And a cop pulled up and says, the railroad tracks are two blocks down that way. They go east and west. Either one will get you out of town. And they went to the railroad track. I always figured that the blacks wanted to move to Kennewick because they couldn’t stand to live next to the blacks in Pasco. [LAUGHTER] And if you want to get right down to it, well, all that hooping and hollering they do right now, you go down to Fayette, Mississippi, which is 98.645% black, and all the blacks in Mississippi can live in Fayette and nobody cares. Go down to Van Horn, Texas, which is all Mexicans, and they can all live in Van Horn, Texas, and nobody cares. But you let half a dozen white guys go up in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and they just have yourself a storm. Why, these are a bunch of white separatists! If everybody else can live together, why can’t the whites?

Franklin: Interesting. Some might say they were kind of starting a separatist movement up there, I think—claiming their own territory, and—

Boice: So what?

Franklin: Well, living together communally is often different from claiming that you don’t—aren’t subject to the law, the jurisdiction of the United States.

Boice: Nobody said that they weren’t subject to the law.

Franklin: Well--

Boice: They kept trying to integrate Prudhoe, but he kept getting cold and going home.

Franklin: Oh, in Alaska?

Boice: Yeah!

Franklin: Yeah.

Boice: They had a heck of a time keeping Prudhoe integrated. Because them black people do not like cold weather! [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: I don’t think a lot of people like cold weather.

Boice: It was a big joke when we went down south there, to work at Savannah River. Because—hell, we’d come out of here and it was Thanksgiving. It was cold. We got down there, of course, if you’re traveling you’re gonna get nightshift. We left having the cold weather here at night down there. And I says, that’s okay, you’ll get yours come summertime when it heats up. But surprisingly—and I was really surprised that they didn’t take the hot weather any better than we did. I mean, it was miserably hot, but they were just as big a problem as a rest of us.

Franklin: I imagine it’s quite a bit more humid down there, though, with the—when it gets hot, you know. Because the heat with the humidity is—

Boice: Yeah, it is.

Franklin: --much worse than the dry heat.

Boice: Yeah, yeah.

Franklin: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to mention? Or any question I haven’t asked you that you think I should—

Boice: I don’t know what it would be. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Yeah, we’ve really gone—really jumped all over the place. It’s been great. Anyone else have any questions?

Hungate: No, the only question—you said you’d done some work with the railroad. What railroad?

Boice: Name one. [LAUGHTER]

Hungate: All railroads? Union Pacific, all the different--?

Boice: Yes. Right now they’re talking about the oil trains, and their problems with them tipping over? I wonder how long it’s gonna take them to get to the problem. In the beginning, railroads were 39-foot rails bolted together. Measured mile after mile after mile of it. Then in about, oh, the middle ‘60s—’67, thereabouts, ’66—when they were putting in the SP&S, that’s now the BN—the Burlington Northern on the Washington side. They went with quarter-mile steel. And the first question that we had as surveyors—because you’re constantly working with the expansion and contraction of steel—was how are they going to control that in long rails? Because if you’re working on railroads very long, first thing you realize is do not sit on the joints in a hot day. You get your butt pinched! [LAUGHTER] When those tracks expand. So we brought this up and the first thing they told us was, well, they’ve got special steel and it’s only going to expand sideways. Well, that story lasted about as long as it took when they started putting it together. Because when they started—they’d set up a factory down here, if you’ll call it that. Brought in 39-foot un-punched rail, and just rolled her off, welded her together and ground down the joints and put her in quarter-mile sections. They were very particular when they put it in at the temperature that they laid that down on, where before—you know what a creeper is? Okay, it’s a kind of a hairpin device that you put over the rail so that it will slide less. But in the old days, the 39-foot rail very seldom saw any creepers. When they put that quarter-mile steel together, you saw a lot of creepers. Now they have gone to ribbon rail. They welded the quarter-mile steel together. You drive down to Portland, and you look at that rail, and you’re gonna go a long ways before you see a joint. There at Quinton and Washman’s dip—which don’t mean a thing to you guys—[LAUGHTER] about a mile post from 120-whatever, they have got a creeper on each—alongside of each and every tie. I mean, they were using creepers like they were going out of style. To me, the expansion’s the thing that they got to worry about, but then they should have figured this out because they’re running it. But it’s a factor. You got to factor it in when you’re doing a pipeline, when you’re doing a railroad. When we were doing the pipeline, Maurice Smith of British Petroleum, who was the head pipeline engineer, I had lunch with him. [LAUGHTER] It ain’t like we sit down at a specified lunch—he dropped in at the chow hall I was eating and sat down at our table. So we got to talking about it. And that was the question I brought up, was how are you going to handle the expansion in the steel? And he says—he admitted it was a heck of a problem. And that you got to run as many Ss as you can so that it’ll take up and accordion itself. And when you’ve got a long straight stretch, it’s gonna give you problems. [LAUGHTER] Because it’s gonna go someplace. And that’s the thing that—after they started the quarter-mile steel, a couple of years later, we had a hot summer. The article in the Tri-City Herald called it the long, hot summer, where we had over 90 days of over 90-degree weather. But they were cutting chunks out of that railroad to keep her on the road bed. And at that time, when the SP&S was having these problems, the UP was laughing at them. They said, we tried this stuff in Wyoming. It didn’t work. And they’re using 39-foot stuff, and it was just whistling down the road. But now I see that they’re using the ribbon rail like everybody else. I can’t see how it’s gonna work, but the they’re doing it. [LAUGHTER] It ain’t my role! [LAUGHTER] The other one was the Camas Prairie. And that starts out, oh, about ten miles above Ice Harbor Dam, thereabouts, breaks loose, and goes clear up past Lewiston, up into Grangeville, Idaho. That’s a crazy little river.

Franklin: That’s the one that they filmed that Charles Bronson movie.

Boice: Breakheart Pass?

Franklin: Breakheart Pass, yeah.

Boice: Yeah, that was done up there. You get into railroad history—this area is knee-deep in it. Vollard was the great character in that. He started out with a little portage railroad around Idaho Falls and that area. And then he got the Walla Walla line—I call it the WWWWW&WWW line—Walla Walla, Waitsburg, Washtucna and Washington Wail Woad—which was a money maker. But he ended up getting a lineup from Portland out here. And then when they started building the Northern Pacific, they were building from both ends, and he was hauling Northern Pacific rail over his tracks and taking it out in railroad stock. By the time they got connected over in Montana, he owned a sizable chunk of the railroad. [LAUGHTER] And it was—you get into that railroad history, and it’s just takeover checkers. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Great. Well, thank you so much, George.

Boice: Okay! [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: It was a pleasure talking to you. And, yeah, thanks for coming in today.

Boice: All righty. Write if you find work! [LAUGHTER]



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“Interview with George Boice,” Hanford History Project, accessed May 25, 2024,