Interview with Jack Collins
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Jack Collins: Now did you hear of people like—names like Alex Parks and some of those that helped sue the government? He was very—he was state legislature, I believe at one time.
Robert Bauman: Yeah—
Collins: From Grandview.
Bauman: I knew about the Wiehls—
Collins: Or Prosser?
Bauman: Dick Wiehl’s.
Collins: That had the ferry?
Bauman: Yeah. I talked to Dick Wiehl.
Bauman: That was one.
Collins: Ida Mae was in my class at school—
Bauman: Oh really? Oh, there you go.
Collins: We used to walk her down the river where her dad would pick her up and roll her across the river to where the original town of White Bluffs was.
Bauman: Oh, sure, yeah.
Collins: And he had—my grandparents lived in Old Town. They had a house in Old Town there before it moved up to the newer area. And spent a lot of time in Old Town.
Bauman: I think we’re just about ready.
Bauman: So we’ll get started here in just a minute. And then—
Collins: Yeah. And another thing, are you aware of the Mormons coming out there, when the Mormon Church bought it?
Collins: Okay. Did they tell you the story about the guy that brought his John Deere tractor and a four wheel trailer out from Utah? All the way out from Utah and brought all of his stuff—
Collins: And set it down on the black sandbar?
Bauman: No, no, I haven’t heard—
Collins: That was quite a story. Can you imagine the time it took him to drive out with a John Deere tractor?
Bauman: That would—no, I can’t imagine. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Are we good to go?
Man: Yeah, yeah.
Bauman. All right, we’re good to get started. So, the first thing I’ll have you do is just say your name and spell your last name for us.
Collins: I’m Jack Collins, C-O-L-L-I-N-S.
Bauman: Okay, great. And my name is Robert Bauman and today is August 4th of 2015. And we are recording this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So first of all, welcome, and thanks for coming all this way out here-- [LAUGHTER]
Collins: I’m glad to—
Bauman: --for this interview.
Collins: I’m glad to be here.
Bauman: Great. I wonder if we could just start by maybe talking about your family and what brought them to White Bluffs, when they came, and that sort of—
Collins: We came to White Bluffs in the middle of the Depression. [LAUGHTER] And we didn’t have much. And my grandfather had moved there ahead of us, lived in Old Town. And he wrote my folks and told them that there was work there. Farm work and stuff. My dad was a good mechanic. And he went to White Bluffs, so we had work. We bought a little farm, ten acre farm, in White Bluffs. And he worked for farmers for years around there. And then when Sam Allard needed a person to help out up at the county pumping plant, he had met my father—I don’t know how they met, but maybe through Joe Grewell that run the Priest Rapids power plant. But they asked my dad to come up and they liked him very well, because his dad had had a blacksmith’s shop. And my dad knew how to do things, how to make stuff, how to forge, weld, how to do all this type stuff. And they had a lot of machine work that they had to do in the plant in those days. And it was all handwork. They had to hone thrust bearings. We used to go down as kids and help him hone thrust bearings, because it was fun! Sit out on the porch at the county pumping plant. We used to run the chain hoist lifting those big pumps out. There was two 500s and a 750 horse power pump. They were all raw sewer pumps that the water district had bought from Chicago or somewhere back there. They didn’t use them, and they were for sale and that’s how they got the— This is--I wasn’t there when this happened, this is the story that I always got. They did that, and then they had their own power plant—the Priest Rapids power plant. So my father got out there and worked and Sam taught him all the stuff about the plant. And finally my dad ended up as head operator there, running it. He worked there for a number of years. We lived in the house up above the plant. We owned a farm down below the plant, downriver from the plant. We had a 35 acre farm the government took away from us. And then they kept my dad on after the government took over to pump water for all the construction in the water districts. So we had—us and the Potter family, Jack Potter, and his son Jackie, and the three boys of us, Ted and myself and Ray, were the only kids living in the restricted area. We lived at Coyote. And Mom—they hired Mom to haul us down to school every day during school. That was after White Bluffs School had burned and we started going to Hanford. It was 16 miles. So we did that for a number of years. Then the government finally, when the government finished and they were ready to start operating the plants, they had us move out. We moved to Zillah, Washington. And then we saw a lot of stuff in there, what the government did to those people was—was not good. They took their property, and a few people like Alex Parks and some other influential farmers in there took them to court because the government took the property without buying the water rights or any of that stuff. And the people there owned the Priest Rapids power plant, the power lines going to the county pumping plant. And they owned all the canals, the pipelines, head boxes, risers, you can name everything for the water district. A lot of stuff. That was about, probably 20 miles of canals, concrete canal. The government just assumed that. And it took over three years in court to get the government to pay for that. And they just forced the people out with—my folks had very little money when they left there. We lost our farm, we had two farms, we had one down in White Bluffs, we had one up at Coyote, up by Allard’s pumping plant was. And then me and my two brothers, we were the ones that were going all over the area out there, selling food to the guys coming out there in the area. All they’d get is peanut butter sandwiches coming out of the mess halls downtown there in Hanford. And those guys, trying to eat peanut butter sandwiches and water in hundred and some degree weather—we’d end up out there with egg sandwiches, candy bars, pop, coffee-- [LAUGHTER] and sell it to these guys. So we got to be their friends, so they hauled us all over the area with their construction equipment. We rode construction trains, the engineers all knew us. They were all buying this stuff from us. So we made a lot of money. We put it all in war bonds. I cashed my war bonds to marry my wife. That was my money that I had when I married her. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: That’s great.
Collins: And it was a fun life out there. And we—in the summer, we just stripped down to just nothing but a bathing suit and our bare feet, and we was all over the country out there, just in the bare feet in the desert out there. We were pretty tough kids in those days. [LAUGHTER] Swim in the river, and swim in the canal. And there was a lot of parties went on down at Black Sand bar. Community parties, we had a lot of fun at those. Everybody would meet down there for big swimming parties and picnics and stuff. And then Table Mountain, now where the stuff is all stored—I don’t know whether you’ve heard about Table Mountain where they dug and they put the—
Bauman: Yup, yup.
Collins: Okay. We used to have our church picnics on top of Table Mountain. And used to go out, and we used to follow the sheep herds and stuff that went through there, and get all the bum lambs and stuff. We had quite a herd of sheep that we got from—we had no place to take them. We had to sell them when the government took over. We had cattle and sheep and everything. And they forced us to sell all of that stuff. We got not much out of it. But that’s the way the government operates. I got like twelve other stories, a lot of stories that I heard from some of the old timers, how they used to fish for sturgeon. They used to throw like a head of lettuce on a big hook out in the Columbia River.
Bauman: Really? Yeah.
Collins: Or a part of a chicken. And they’re bottom feeders, and they had quarter inch rope hooked to those. And they’d take the horses and pull them out, they were so big.
Collins: And that’s the—the old timers used to do that. Then we used to go to the—one of our trips at school was to go out to the Indian smokehouses, where they were smoking fish and stuff. The Priest Rapids Indians. That was quite a trip! And we were very familiar with them. And then my dad, when he worked up at the Priest Rapids power plant, when the put the new channel in to channel water into it, my dad worked on that, on running a jackhammer. That was before he went to work at Coyote. And we would go up there when they were going to have their blasts, and watch them blow that rock up. It was big time! They were drilling that basalt up there, and boy that was really a blast when they set all that rock off.
Collins: And we’d see the Priest Rapids Indian kids, they would be in their steam house getting all hot and everything, and they’d come out of the steam house and go jump in the river, naked! [LAUGHTER] Tough little kids! But I don’t know where they—they didn’t go to school with us. I think they were self-taught up there. But they were very healthy.
Bauman: So, I’m going to go ask you a couple questions, kinda go back a little bit. You mentioned that your grandfather lived at White Bluffs before you moved there?
Collins: He lived in Old White Bluffs.
Bauman: Lived in Old White Bluffs.
Bauman: And what was his name?
Bauman: Oh, his last name was Lyons?
Collins: Lyons, yeah. [LAUGHTER] What was Grandpa’s name?
Collins: Alva Edward Lyons.
Bauman: Okay, okay.
Collins: Him and my grandmother, and they’re the ones that taught us. And they had two children that lived with them, they were my mother’s parents.
Bauman: Okay. And how old were you then when your family moved to White Bluffs?
Collins: I was in the first grade of school. So that was about, what? ’37, ’38, somewhere along there.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: And we were the last family moved out of Hanford when they opened—when they started the plant.
Bauman: Right. And do you know how long you were there?
Collins: I went to school—finished the seventh grade of school at Hanford.
Bauman: Okay. And then you moved to—
Collins: We moved to Zillah.
Bauman: To Zillah. Okay. So what was the community of White Bluffs like?
Collins: It was a very friendly community. Everybody got along. I could say we went down to—we had all kinds of community things there. There was nothing else to do. We had a movie theater. The guy that run the ice plant there in town, he put on a show about twice a year, and that was a big thing, going to the movie, down to his little old movie house. Oh, they had church doings and stuff there. And a lot of potlucks. They had a grange there, too, I believe, and a lot of potlucks at the grange. That’s about all there was to do there. But everybody was friendly. It was different. They all looked out for one another. And—
Bauman: Now, you mentioned that you had a farm in White Bluffs and then one by the—
Collins: Our first farm was a ten-acre one. It was close to the town of White Bluffs.
Bauman: And what sort of crops did you have there?
Collins: Oh, we—it was old ground, leaded-out ground.
Collins: It wasn’t great ground. But as kids we used to, there, we would cut asparagus and stuff. Take it uptown in our wagon, and pull it uptown. We only lived about a half a mile from town. Sell asparagus to the people in town, little bundles of asparagus. Then go to the drug store and buy candy with our money. That was our candy money. I’ve always worked, even as a kid, I’ve always worked. We picked fruit and all kinds of stuff.
Bauman: And so you mentioned you went to school in White Bluffs, and then at some point the school burned?
Collins: Yes, I went to school at White Bluffs ‘til the school burned.
Bauman: Mm-hm, and then Hanford—
Collins: Can I bring up a thing about the principal there?
Bauman: Oh, sure, absolutely.
Collins: She had—that’s the house that we got and they had—her husband run that horse ferry that pulled—I mean the cable ferry that pulled the—across the Columbia River. And she had a way of making the kids mind, she had a rubber hose and she’d take you down to the furnace room, and introduce them to a rubber hose.
Collins: My brother Ray got that one time. [LAUGHTER] And I was always good in school after I heard what happened there! [LAUGHTER] But we need more of that today. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So your family got to stay much longer than most other families after the Federal government came.
Collins: We got to stay, we were the last family moved.
Bauman: When we were talking before, you’d mentioned that you got notice around the time you had some apricots that were—
Collins: Apricot trees, yeah. We were going to plant 15 or 16 acres of apricots on our place. We lost all of our deposit and everything. The government could’ve cared less. They just—we had to turn them back. They arrived the day that our place was condemned.
Bauman: Wow. And so do you remember how long you got to stay there, like—a lot of people had to move out in ’43, early 1943—
Collins: It was about—
Bauman: How long, much longer did you--
Collins: A year and a half or two years.
Bauman: Oh, okay. So that’s quite a while longer you had to stay.
Collins: Yeah, all during construction, Dad pumped the water for the construction of the railroads and the roads and stuff. All the water trucks that came there. And he had pumps, pump it out of the canal, he was pumping in any water going on down. And they were using it for all the construction, the water he was pumping.
Bauman: Okay. So he was very valuable to the—
Collins: Yeah, they had—they wanted to move him to Richland and keep him on. My dad only went to fifth grade of school, but he was pretty knowledgeable. In those days, although they didn’t go very far. But they wanted to move on down, they’d give him a bunch of training and stuff. But he said, no, he says, I’m not going to take my boys to Richland. Because Richland was a pretty tough town in those days. And so we moved, he left the government job. He was making $150 a month for the water district. We got a house, our lights and water furnished. He worked seven 12s for them. And ‘round, all year long. In the wintertime, when they shut the plant down, they were working in the plant overhauling stuff. And then when the government took over, I think he went up to $1,200 a month. And he worked a 40 hour week.
Collins: I can bring up another thing about—They used to hone all the thrust bearings. There were big thrust bearings that these big pumps sat on. They were three stories high, and they were very heavy. They weighed tons. So they brought an engineer out there that was going to tell my dad how to do that. So he said they could do a better job machining them than he could do it by hand. He told them, no, they couldn’t. So this engineer, he was going to prove it. So he took one of them and did it. And they took, I think it was a 750 horse pump out of it, and they set it down on it, and he threw the switch. And you have to rock those switches in to bring those motors up to speed there. So big and so heavy that you can’t bring them up just once. This guy threw the switch on it, blew the windings out of this pump and stuff, and it cost the government a load of money to tear that pump apart and get it rewound. I don’t know that he lost his job or not, but they always believed my dad after that, because he knew how to start them. He never blew one up in years that he ran the plant. They’d never had that happen before. And so a lot of things happened there. They brought guys out that my dad had to teach how to run the plant. They had young college guys. And it was interesting. We used to go down once in a while. We’d sit in for Dad. They brought the power in that was 66,000 volts from up there, and they had to transform down to 2,200 for the pumps. And you had to check those transformers every day for temperature. And then you had to check all the bearings on the pumps and all that. You had to work. And then call the readings in on the gauges there to tell them how much power you were drawing and everything, so they’d know how much power to send from Priest Rapids down to the plant. Because that’s the only thing that they furnished power for. So you was always busy there. You had to know what you were doing.
Bauman: Oh, yeah.
Collins: So Dad taught us kids all how to do it. We didn’t have nothing else to do. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: You mentioned when people had to leave in 1943 that a lot of people went to court eventually. Do you have any idea how much money your parents got for your property?
Collins: It was very little. We had enough to buy an old leaded-out ten-acre place out in Zillah.
Bauman: And that was enough?
Collins: But it wasn’t good. And it took them years, a lot of those people that they went out of there with, the older people, the widows and widwoers and stuff. They ended up in institutions. They had no family, they had no one. And the government just forced them out. They told them they’d come in with trucks and haul their stuff out if they didn’t leave. They’d haul them out of the area.
Collins: That’s the way they operated with us. We were a very fortunate family, the way we got out. And my father had a truck and he bought a lot of the stuff from those people and we took it out to the auction sales and stuff and sold it. And we’d load up watermelons. And take them to the end of the barracks, we’d buy overripe watermelons. Because they were good, they were good watermelons. And take them in and sell them to the barracks there. And they were very—those people down there were very happy to get nice, ripe watermelons. Because everyone else was selling them green ones, and we were selling them ripe ones.
Bauman: Yeah, you were very enterprising. [LAUGHTER]
Collins: Hey, we did anything to make money. We had to.
Collins: We didn’t have any. We picked lots of fruit, worked in warehouses, did all of that stuff. Oh yeah, and there was another thing, too, that came up. There was an old recluse lived down under the railroad station, under their deck out front. And he had been, and I think you have something about him—he had been a pharmacist, was the story. And he had given the wrong prescription and killed a lady. And he left pharmacy and just ended up a recluse there—I don’t—I’d seen him, I’d seen him in the stores and stuff, seen him wandering around town. But that’s all I know about him.
Bauman: So when we were talking earlier, you also mentioned that at some point you ended up working at Hanford. Is that right?
Collins: I worked for the telephone company.
Bauman: For the telephone company.
Collins: And Hanford was the area that I had.
Collins: And I had a high security clearance to go out in the Hanford area and build a number of the offices out there. I built West Richland—or I didn’t build it, I was in charge of it—when that young fellow got killed, that was one of my projects. When he swung the crane into the powerline and killed him. That was one of my projects. Downtown Richland, I did a lot of work on that one. And Kennewick, I did a lot of work there on all the Kennewick offices.
Bauman: So what time period was this, then, that you were working for the phone company?
Collins: I was working, doing that—that was, oh, I was about 40-something years old, so it would have had to have been ’70, in there.
Collins: When they were building the offices out in the Hanford area. We didn’t have—our company did not have the Hanford area for the telephone offices—went out of, oh, down on the Columbia River had that. And we did their engineering and construction for them. They farmed it out to General Telephone at that time. That’s why it was out there building them. I drilled a lot of grounding wells out there, which—north of where Colonel Rockwell took over to watch what was happening underground. And they locked them up, but we never got to touch them again after we drilled them. They took the wells over. We could use them for grounding for offices, but we had to drill pretty deep because there’s no mineral in this ground here. It’s very poor grounding in this area. So.
Bauman: Was it—did it feel strange at all, when you were doing that to be back out in that area working? Where you had lived for a while?
Collins: I’d been out there, yes. I’m a pioneer resident. So we got to go on the trips when they took them out there. You used to come out to the White Bluffs-Hanford picnic here all the time.
Bauman: Okay, right.
Collins: And we went out to our old farm one time. We weren’t supposed to be there, but we did. [LAUGHTER] And they had burned everything down. Mysteriously, while we—before we left, we had a big barn full of stuff, stored full of stuff—that mysteriously burned. And no one else—no one out there but the people, the government people.
Collins: And it was other stuff happened out there. The house that we lived in out there got burned. When we were there, we saw the foundation of it and a bunch of ashes. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So, talking about White Bluffs community, who were some of the families that you knew well growing up, or some of your friends when you were—
Collins: We knew Alex Parks. Oh, jiminy. I just can’t remember all the names now. It’s—
Bauman: That’s okay.
Collins: But he was a very close friend of my folks’, very influential when they had the lawsuit. Russ Webert.
Collins: Heck, can’t remember anymore.
Bauman: That’s all right.
Collins: Somewhere, I’ve got all the school pictures and stuff, too. I’m trying to get them back, of all the years I was in school down there. If you’d want those for your museum, I’m trying to get them back now.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: I may have to go to court to get them, I don’t know at this point.
Bauman: Wow. The other thing, when we were talking earlier that you had a picture of the school bus—
Bauman: That you, that you rode.
Collins: That was the school bus that we rode from there to the Hanford School.
Bauman: Right, after the White Bluffs School burned down.
Collins: And my uncle drove it, and we had a lot of—[LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Looked like a pretty small school bus. How many kids rode in that, do you remember?
Collins: [SIGH] There was probably five or six of us on it. It would hold a few more than that, but there just wasn’t any more kids up there.
Bauman: And so how long did you go to school in Hanford, then?
Collins: I went to school in Hanford for two years.
Bauman: Two years, okay.
Collins: We were on the double shifting when we went to Hanford.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: You know what—we were on the morning shift, we went in the morning, and then they had a night shift.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: We were on the morning shift. We didn’t get to learn too much at Hanford. It was tough when went to another school all day. I had a lot of catching up to do!
Bauman: And how long did that take to ride out there?
Collins: Well, it was about 16 miles.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: To our place, and then the bus went on farther, so--probably another eight miles.
Bauman: Pretty good ride.
Collins: Oh, yeah. Then after the government took over, then my mother would haul us. The government hired her to haul us. Because it was just us three kids and Jackie Potter. Four of us. And she would haul us in that old ’36 Ford. Haul us to school every day, and two round trips a day, every day.
Collins: So it was cheaper than them owning a bus and stuff. So they didn’t get a lot out of it, but it was better for us.
Bauman: So by the time you and your family left, pretty much everyone else was gone, all the other residents of White Bluffs. Had the government already torn down a lot of the buildings at the other farms and places by the time you left?
Collins: Oh, yeah, they just went in and wiped the place out. They didn’t give a darn about anything that was in there. And then after we moved out and I got older, my brother and I went in and bought a lot of that stuff. We bought all the poles and the powerline between the Coyote pumping plant and Priest Rapids. We bought all those there around Sunnyside. And then the racetrack, we got most of those poles for the lighting and everything there—the poles around the racetrack. And then we bought a lot of those Quonset huts in there. Tore down a lot of those Quonsets. I saw pictures of them on some of your stuff, you know, the fish hatchery and stuff?
Collins: We tore that old fish hatchery down, my brother and I did.
Collins: And hauled that all out of there and sold them to farmers in the valley for shelters for their pigs and cattle and stuff. And we bought a lot of stuff in Hanford there, him and I did. I worked for him, and we hauled a lot of stuff out of Hanford when they were tearing it down.
Collins: And that was kinda interesting. One time we were in tearing the fish hatchery down, and he picked up a bucket and said it was radioactive. And we mentioned it to the guard there, and I didn’t see him all day. They took him and he was gone. And boy, he said they run him through any test you can imagine. Because we didn’t work for the government, we were bidding on stuff and buying stuff in there. But that was quite an interesting experience, too. We got to see all those fish hatcheries, those big fish in those tanks that they were testing radioactivity on. And then I had a lot of friends that worked out there, like Jack Potter. I don’t know whether you ever—his dad was the mayor of Hanford at one time.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: And he’s told me stories about running dozers in those pits out there. And how dangerous it was, him and some other people were telling me about it. How they saw people get sickened out there. They’re all gone now. They were a lot older than I was. But friends of my family.
Bauman: I was going to ask you, the pumping station that your dad operated, how big of an area did that serve?
Collins: That served everything from Coyote down to Hanford and all the Hanford area.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: White Bluffs, Hanford, about—I don’t know—16 or 20 miles of canal that it served. It was a big area.
Bauman: Yeah, it is.
Collins: All those farms that it pumped. And a few farms pumped out of the river. They had pumps on the river. Now my grandfather run a farm for an outfit there. And they had a pump. It was just right below the black sandbar—or above the black sandbar, I mean, on the river. And my grandfather run that for a few years. And they pumped out of the river for that. A few people did. But most of them were from the Coyote pumping plant for water.
Bauman: Yeah, that’s a lot of farms that it served.
Collins: Hundreds of acres.
Collins: Beautiful farms. Everything there was two weeks ahead of everywhere else in the country. So the fruit all got on the fresh fruit market. And it was—they got really a high premium price out of it. And they had their own packing houses there. There’s a railroad that come in, they trucked stuff out of there. And a lot of stuff went on there.
Bauman: Yeah, yeah.
Collins: But we used to go down—I used to lid and make boxes and stuff in those warehouses for Alex Parks. We worked for him all summer long. Just when we were little kids! But all the kids there worked. Every kid that lived there worked. They aren’t like today. [LAUGHTER] We were busy! [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Right, yeah. So you were, what, about fifth grade when people started leaving?
Collins: I started first grade at White Bluffs—
Bauman: When you first came, yeah, but--
Collins: And I went to the fifth grade there, no, sixth and seventh at Hanford.
Bauman: But when people started having to leave because the Federal government was coming in, do you remember your, or your family’s reaction to that? As people were leaving, and what you thought about that?
Collins: It was complete shock to everybody when that happened. A car drove up to your house with guys in it, and they told you your property was condemned, you’d have to leave within two weeks, I think it was. You know, how shocked would you be if they’d do something like that to you?
Collins: Or, if you didn’t leave, they’d bring in military people with trucks, and they’d haul you out of the area. And I was just a young kid then, but I can remember that, you know.
Collins: And it wasn’t good.
Bauman: Right. Yeah, do you remember seeing the trucks come into the area?
Collins: Never saw that, no.
Collins: Most of them got out. It’s all they could do.
Bauman: So what would you like people to know about White Bluffs—because it’s not there anymore and hasn’t been for a long time—what should people--
Collins: It was a beautiful area. It was a great place for kids to grow up. Because we learned how to work. Practically everyone that came out of there was successful. My brother Ted was a car dealer, now he’s a farmer. Ray is—I gave you the information on him—is very successful. He was an officer in the military and flew training planes for the, where they shot at him with those big howitzers and stuff. Yeah, it was his job flying those planes off from the ground. He’s got bad hearing now from those howitzers going off behind him. Wrecked his hearing. Anyway, he went and got a lot of training from the military in radio. And then he got into it, and now he’s—from the letter I gave you there—he’s very influential in the electronics industry. He’s getting a very large award, he’ll be in the history books with Edison and all those people for his contribution to the electrical—you know, the radio industry. He’s invented a lot of radio stuff. I was in construction. I was construction superintendent, worked my way up to an engineer in construction. We’re all non-college-graduated. We all learned it on our own. And in the service, I had a lot of electronics school in the service, too. I went through all that in the Airforce. And got out and started studying. And I did go to college some after I was older and working. But I built a lot of projects. I built projects here, which I was telling you about. I was in charge of all of them. My area at that time was eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana for the telephone company, over all their construction projects and building construction. So we all—
Bauman: Are there any other memories about White Bluffs, or stories that you remember well that we haven’t talked about yet or you haven’t shared yet?
Collins: [LAUGHTER] There’s so many—
Bauman: That you can—
Collins: --things that I can just go on. It was just a very great community, as far as we were concerned. They moved a bunch of—the Mormons came in, they shipped a lot of them up here. They were on—the Mormon Church was supporting them in Utah, was my understanding. So they bought these farms for them. Boy, they were ornery kids. [LAUGHTER] We used to fight with them all the time.
Bauman: Oh, you know, you mentioned—I was going to ask you—you mentioned, your grandfather, the place he bought was one that had been for World War I initially, is that right?
Collins: That was the one my father bought.
Bauman: Oh, the one your father—okay.
Collins: Yeah, the ten acres. There’s a lot of those war veterans—I don’t know what happened to it. There’s a lot of that property available. And you have the listing of what they were talking about, on how you could buy cheap property? And my folks got in there and they was able to buy a little ten acre farm.
Collins: I don’t know how much Dad paid for it, but it wasn’t a lot at the time. And they house hadn’t been lived in for a long time. And we fixed that up to live in. He had a barn on the place. And we lived there and worked and folks worked on the house. It was a small house. But we were close to the school, we walked to school, there was no school buses then.
Collins: So we all walked to school. And then he got the chance to go up to Coyote pumping plant. And that’s the first time we was able to have—my folks went to town and they bought an electric stove and a refrigerator. And that was a big deal! We’d never had that before. We were not a wealthy family. We were lucky to have an icebox. And a wood stove, and all of this stuff. And we didn’t even have running water in the house when we bought it. We had a pump on a well out the back door. And that was even big time to us, them days. It was better than what we had before. And then when we got up to Coyote, up there, then we had all the conveniences. We had electricity, and we had—
Bauman: Running water?
Collins: --hot water in the house—
Bauman: Did you have a telephone?
Bauman: Was there a telephone?
Collins: Crank telephone. And everybody listened in. He’d crank it and everybody else’s phone would ring, and you knew what was going on in the whole neighborhood. Because everybody was on the phone, the whole neighborhood. Because they could hear you. And if you wanted to go long distance, the drug store downtown, they had some equipment down there where they could—if you wanted to make a long distance call, you had to ring the operator down there and have her connect you with where you were going at that time.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: If you wanted to call out of the area. And it was one of these old ones where they had it on fence posts or whatever they could anchor the wire to, you know. [LAUGHTER] It was pretty crude, boxes with the telephone equipment in it. Wooden boxes. [LAUGHTER] It wasn’t—but people did it. They survived. And we had an icehouse there in town—I can’t remember the name of the people. They made ice for the railroad. And you’d get ice there for your iceboxes. They were friends of my folks, but I can’t remember their name. And they had a son that lived down here. I knew him quite well, but I can’t remember him now.
Bauman: Yeah, the other thing I meant to ask you was, where did you move from? Where did your family come from before they came to White Bluffs?
Collins: Well, I was born in Zillah.
Bauman: Oh, okay.
Collins: And then we—it was during the Depression—I was born in 1930, and those were tough times. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember my folks telling me about it. We moved around in the valley doing different work where my dad could find work. He would get maybe a dollar and a half a day. That was wages then. If you was lucky! And then when he found out we could get work in Hanford—or in White Bluffs, we moved there. Because you could work for farmers and stuff, and you could get all of your stuff, you know, all your fruit. We canned all of our own fruit. We canned everything. Asparagus. We had—Mom canned everything. We lived on that. [LAUGHTER] And we probably lived better than a lot of other people. Because we were resourceful. We had a big garden. We raised a lot of stuff. We even raised peanuts here one year!
Collins: The ground was that good. It was sandy and hot. And raised hay and started getting cattle—cows. Had milk cows, and we had all of that stuff. We had all of our meat. During rationing times, we butchered all of our own meat. We didn’t have to worry about rationing, because we had it. [LAUGHTER] So we lived pretty good. We didn’t have any money. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: Yeah. But you had the farm and resources.
Collins: We had the farm, and we had food. And that was a big thing during Depression, if you had that—
Bauman: Right. Yeah. Well, I want to thank you very much for coming today, all the way out here. [LAUGHTER]
Collins: Well, I hope I’ve done you some good, I don’t know—
Bauman: Oh, this is really interesting stuff. I haven’t been able to interview very many people who lived out at White Bluffs, so—
Collins: Oh, well, I’m 84 years old, and I was just a little kid! [LAUGHTER]
Collins: But I do remember a lot of that stuff. And I talked to both of my brothers. And Ray wanted me to show you that, to show how some of the people came out of there successfully, you know?
Bauman: Sure, right, right.
Collins: And I’m sure there’s a lot of others. I’m sure we weren’t alone.
Bauman: Now where were you age-wise among the brothers?
Collins: I’m the middle one.
Bauman: You’re the middle one. Okay.
Collins: I’m the middle one, yeah.
Collins: Ted is older and Ray is younger.
Bauman: Okay. All right. And so after you moved to Zillah, what did you do from there?
Collins: From Zillah?
Bauman: Yeah, after you left White Bluffs and you—
Collins: Went back to Zillah?
Bauman: You went back to Zillah and—
Collins: We went to school there, finished school there. And then I worked some for the telephone company. I worked around different jobs, farm jobs and stuff like that. And then I married my wife. And we couldn’t—I worked for Western Electric then, putting in the new telephones off of Yakima. And they laid all of us off, they laid I think 1,200 or 1,500 people off in one shot. So I had an electronics background and everything, but they only kept very, very selected few. I wasn’t one of them. And I didn’t have a job and I—doing some other stuff around there. And I wasn’t making any money, so I moved to the coast. I went to work at Boeing. [LAUGHTER] And I didn’t like Boeing. It was known as the Lazy B, and that’s what it was at that time. The people just—they didn’t know how to work. They drove me crazy. I didn’t have enough work to do, I couldn’t find enough work to do. We had one guy in our area that was supposed to be the biggest producer. He’d come in and we had to stamp our work. I was in quality control there and we had to stamp our work when we inspected things. I inspected on Airforce One, on the wings of that. And this guy, he would come in and check in, and the mail girl was his girlfriend. And they’d check in, he’d give his stamp to one of the mechanics, and the two of them would leave for the day. Come and check out at night. They were high producers because their stuff was just getting shoved through. And he was a buddy of our supervisor, so me and the supervisor didn’t get along. And then when he asked me to come and mow his lawn on the weekend, and I—I explained to him I didn’t do things like that. I had a family, I had four children at the time. And I wasn’t about to mow somebody’s lawn on the weekend and take care of them rather than take care of my family. I don’t care if he was my supervisor. I didn’t like him. So that was my, about the end of my job at Boeing. Then I went into construction work.
Collins: Where I did well.
Bauman: Well, again, I want to thank you very much for coming today and sharing stories about White Bluffs and your father’s work at the pumping plant and all that. It’s really interesting.
Collins: We were supposed to someday—I was supposed to get that land back. But I don’t think that will ever happen.
Bauman: Mm, mm-hm.
Collins: I would love to have our property on the Columbia River. God, it was a beautiful piece of property.
Bauman: Oh, yeah, I bet.
Collins: All that, Coyote Rapids there. And we were going to buy Delia Allard’s place, down the river—Sam Allard’s first wife. He was married twice. I don’t know what the reasoning was. She lived down there with her son-in-law, I think it was her son-in-law. And I don’t know the whole deal there. And we were buying their farm, too, which they had a beautiful home that they built down there. Rock home, and we wanted that. But Dad was negotiating for that when the government took our land away from us, so that was gone. So—[LAUGHTER] Anyway.
Bauman: Well, thank you very much, I really appreciate it.
Bauman: This has been really interesting and very helpful. Thank you.
Collins: Well, I hope I don’t get myself in any trouble with some of this stuff I talked about.
Bauman: Oh, not too much.
Years in Tri-Cities Area