Interview with Jerry Tallent
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Tom Hungate: We’re rolling.
Robert Franklin: Okay. My name is Robert Franklin and I’m conducting an oral history interview with Jerry Tallent on June 15th, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Jerry on his experiences working on the Hanford site. Before we begin, Jerry, could you say your name and spell it, please?
Jerry Tallent: My name is Jerry Tallent. And that’s J-E-R-R-Y, T-A-L-L-E-N-T. And you’ll have to excuse my speech.
Franklin: That’s okay. Thank you very much. So, I guess, let’s start at the beginning. Tell me how you came to Hanford.
Tallent: I was running a D8 Cat up on Rattlesnake Mountain for a guy—a friend on the ranch. I was raised on a ranch.
Tallent: And he came to me and said, you’re the one that drives the D8. And I said, yeah. He said, I want to dig some petrified wood out of Rattlesnake Mountain. So we hauled up the Cat and I dug a bunch of petrified wood. Anyway, when we got done with that, he said, your dad’s leaving the farm. Is you gonna to run it? I said, no, I’m gonna get out. He said, I’ve got a job for you at Westinghouse Hanford in the 308 Building and you’d be working with plutonium. There it is. [LAUGHTER] I went to work for him and I worked inside 308 Lab. I think it’s all gone now, finally. The last building, they had to clean it up—clean the fuel up in it. But I worked there for about eight or nine years. And then an engineer I had, named Bobby Eschenbaum, she wanted me to come down to 305 Building, because, she said, you got a lot of brains. [LAUGHTER] That was a long time ago. [LAUGHTER] So I did. I left 308 Building and went to work for her. The pictures I got there are the stuff I designed and built. I did a lot of it back in our machine shop. I got in trouble with the machinists’ union out there. [LAUGHTER] But they ended up saying, okay, it’s a prototype and if you want any more built, we have to build it. No problem. So they patted me on the back and left, but, boy, they all showed up in force. They were after me. Because the technicians and engineering technicians weren’t union, and the metal fabricators were. So I was stepping on the metal fabricators’ toes. But then they realized it was all R&D—research and development. So they—it’s okay. And I had them build some stuff for me. We became pretty good friends, you know.
Tallent: Yeah, it was after a while, I’d go into their building and—hey, how you doing? [LAUGHTER] Help me out all they could.
Franklin: Wow, that’s great.
Tallent: So that was pretty good. But, yeah, I enjoyed it. We had a couple of problems in the building. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Can you elaborate on the problems?
Tallent: Well, one of them, they sent me downtown to radiation specialists. It was—
Franklin: Was that at the time, or recently?
Tallent: No, no, that was at the time I was working out there. We worked in gloveboxes.
Tallent: And we had some plutonium from Arco. As a matter of fact, it was from Karen Silkwood. [LAUGHTER] That sound familiar?
Franklin: It doesn’t; I’m sorry.
Tallent: It doesn’t?
Franklin: No. Karen Silkwood?
Tallent: Karen Silkwood was from Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Tallent: And there was a show about her. She defied them, so they—I’d get in trouble with them. So they sabotaged her and said she stole plutonium out of the building. Well, there was no way. You can’t—that stuff, if I had a can of it in here and you had a radiation detector in the corner, it’d go off scale, you know.
Tallent: So, anyway. It was a sabotage deal. Because she was—what do you call it—telling on them.
Franklin: A whistleblower?
Tallent: Yes, yes, she was kind of a whistleblower. And I said no.
Franklin: And so you had some plutonium from her?
Tallent: Well, they’d send it up here.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Tallent: And thank you for getting back on the right track. Anyway, I dealt with her, and we went to open up the can and re-can it and put it in our vault. Well, we opened up the outer can. Of course, it’s in a bag, and then another can, which is in another can. Well, we opened up the outer can, and took out the inner can, and the plastic bag looked like it had been on fire. It was burnt to a crisp around the plutonium.
Tallent: Yeah, that’s what we said: oh! And my lead that was with me, I looked across and I said, Bob, we’d better get a radiation monitor inside. And he said, well, we got a detector here. And I said, yeah, well, okay. And about that time, I looked across. His gloves were black. And all of a sudden, on his arms, I could see white. And I said, don’t move. Your gloves are rotting off on your arms as we talk.
Tallent: And I looked over at the door—and the alarm going off, and I looked over at the door. I had two radiation monitors standing there. They come running in with masks on, put a mask on me, and put a mask on Bob. I do have a little piece of plutonium in my lung.
Tallent: In my left lung. It’s just a tiny nodule. And Hanford, downtown, said that’s the best place to have it, is in your lung. I said, oh yeah. [LAUGHTER] But they said, no, because as soon as it goes into your lung, your body protects it from you and puts a nodule around it. So I said, okay. So it hasn’t bothered me since ‘80s and ‘90s. I’ve got COPD and emphysema. But that don’t have anything to do with that tumor that’s in there.
Tallent: Anyway, that was one incident, and then another one was just in our lab, just on normal. One of the guys that was working with us, he’s dead now. He died of cancer. One of our guys was opening up a can with a can opener. And you know how sharp the lids are. Well, he cut his glove, so he hollered for help, and I ran in with a couple of masks. You had masks always in your drawer, in a bag. If they weren’t in a bag, then you couldn’t use them. But they are always in a bag. And I tore open the bag, and put one on me, and tore open another bag and took it in, and put on him and hit the button for the radiation monitors. And they come in, and they looked in, seeing masks, and—oh boy. [LAUGHTER] So they come in, and what they do is cut the—I’m shaking. They cut the sleeve off your arms and pull them down and then cut the tape on your gloves—your gloves are taped to your arms. You got rubber gloves on. And they’re taped to your arms, so they cut that off. And then slide everything off, and leave it in the glove, and then tape over the glovebox—over the opening.
Franklin: Right, right, okay.
Tallent: So nothing gets out. And you’re on negative air. It was—you know—if I had to do it over, I’d work out there again. It’d be no problem. Can’t work there now; it ain’t there no more. But just a few minor things here and there. We’ve had a few after that glovebox. Their gloves deteriorate and fall off. We got into the habit of changing them out once a week.
Tallent: To keep them from—you get plutonium in there, it deteriorates rubber fast. And we tried the lead-lined—rubber lead-lined gloves, but they were so heavy. So you work in them for 15 minutes, you’re exhausted. So my lead and I, we threw them out and said to hell with them. [LAUGHTER] Shoved them into the glovebox and put on new gloves. Everything—nothing comes out. [COUGH] I’m sorry. Nothing comes out. Everything goes in, and then gets bagged out.
Tallent: With a sealer.
Tallent: You get a fork to pull everything, put it in a bag and then pull it out and put it on this table and it puts a seal across it—a double seal. So it was—it was safe. And then we put it in a waste—radiation waste. That’s what they’re working on out there now.
Franklin: Right, all that stuff.
Tallent: All our crap. [LAUGHTER] Well, not all ours, but—it was stored down in the basement at 308. Not many people—I don’t know if I was supposed to say that. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Well, it’s gone now, so—
Tallent: If I get a bunch of Feds come to my door—[LAUGHTER]
Tallent: There was a big room downstairs in the basement that held all these barrels of waste—radiation waste. Do you mind?
Franklin: Oh, no, not at all. Take your time.
Tallent: And once in a while, a radiation monitor would grab somebody to go down the basement with them. Because they can’t go alone—a monitor can’t go by themselves. So I had—[LAUGHTER]—a lady monitor that kind of liked me a little, and she would always grab me to go down the basement with her. And we’d check them for seals and leakage. We did hit one that was leaking. So that was taped off right away, and no problem. But when we’d go to ship—that was one thing that got me. When they’d go to ship plutonium out, a black Chevy Blazer would come in, and then a truck behind it—and there’s another one I might get in trouble for.
Franklin: Oh, no, it’s all documented.
Tallent: A black Chevy Blazer would come in and then a truck—an unmarked truck—and then another black Blazer. And they’d pull up to our loading dock, and there’d be one Blazer on each side of the loading dock. And the truck’d back up to the loading dock. The back doors would open up to them Blazers, and here’s a guy or a woman sitting there with a machine gun. [LAUGHTER] And there’d be three or four people—one of them a gorgeous lady that carried machine gun. I wouldn’t want to say anything bad to her. [LAUGHTER] She had a machine gun, and she stood guard, and she was not friends with anybody. And don’t come out on the dock. The only one allowed on the dock was the one with the truck—with the forklift.
Tallent: And everybody else stayed inside—or else.
Tallent: And they’d load that up, close the doors, lock it, and I said, what happens if you got hit? I asked one of the guards, because she’d come in for a drink of water, thank God. And I said, what happens if you got hit? And she said, that truck—the minute that they don’t have the code to get into that truck would fill instantly with foam. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: So then it would—
Tallent: It would just be foam, instantly. And they couldn’t get it out. It’d take them a week to get to it.
Tallent: So I said, well, that’s pretty amazing. It was pretty interesting.
Tallent: And, like I said, shortly after that is when I went down to 305 and started R&D on the other equipment. But I enjoyed working in the hot lab.
Franklin: The hot lab, you mean 308?
Franklin: You mean 308?
Tallent: That was 308, yeah, yeah.
Franklin: Hot lab.
Tallent: I enjoyed working there, but it got to the point it was just too—[SIGH]—political. And that’s as far as I’m going to go with that.
Franklin: Sure, okay. I understand.
Tallent: You had to put in guaranteed overtime. And it wasn’t for any reason. You just had to be there. Bring your cards and your Playboys. And I’m not that kind of person. If I’m there, I’m gonna work. So.
Tallent: There’s another one to be after me.
Tallent: Be a bomb at my door. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I’ve heard—funny. Those stories circle around, so you wouldn’t be the—there’s no harm in sharing that stuff.
Franklin: Oh, yeah. Please, feel free. You mentioned—the first incident you mentioned, you mentioned your guy—your lead, Bob. What was—do you remember his name?
Tallent: Bob Henry.
Franklin: Bob Henry, okay.
Tallent: Yeah, he’s long-dead now, I’m sure. He was a good old boy for a while. Then him and I got into it over this mandatory overtime. He took a week’s vacation and I didn’t work it. So he told a supervisor, the manager of 308. No more raises, no more that kind of stuff. So that’s when this Bobby Eschenbaum that was an engineer in 308 for a while, she heard about it, and she said, I need you. Come to work for 305.
Tallent: So I did.
Franklin: What year did you start at Hanford?
Tallent: Oh, boy. ’73, ’74, somewhere.
Tallent: Yeah, I left the ranch. We sold out.
Franklin: And where was the ranch?
Tallent: On the Yakima River just outside of Richland.
Tallent: My dad and his partner which owned the Richland Laundry were partners on it—Harvey Stoller. Him and his wife both got killed in a car wreck in California. It was right across from the West Richland golf course. That’s what I loved about it. When we weren’t working, I’d go down to the river and go fishing all the time. We had a heck of a bass hole down there. My mom and I, we’d go fishing there all the time. We’d go up on the upper end or down by the house. And went up on the upper end one time, and out of all things, she got a huge hit. And I said, that is one big bass! Come out of the water, it was a steelhead. [LAUGHTER]
Tallent: So she caught a big old steelhead.
Franklin: Were your—where—so did you grow up on the ranch then? Did you grow up here?
Tallent: Pretty much. I lived in Kennewick for a long time. My dad worked in the shipyards, fixing them up during the war.
Tallent: And he’d be one of the first guys going in, open up the hatches of these ships all shot up, come in. And he said he didn’t like that at all. That was ugly. He left there, and then he went to—heard about the dams. He was a carpenter. So he came to Kennewick and started working on the dams.
Tallent: He went to Alaska for a short time. Thought he’d try that out, because it was good money. All he did was sit on the Cat and haul sleds off the LSTs—materials—off the Aleutian Islands. They said, don’t get down. He’d go to get down. They said, don’t get down. That’s your home, right there, you just stay on that. You’re going to be working 24/7s. So he just slept on the Cat. [LAUGHTER]
Tallent: Yeah! But that didn’t—they got all the stuff they needed there on the islands, so they—he come back here and started working, building the dams. He worked Ice Harbor—constructing the dams.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Franklin: And so where were you born, Jerry?
Tallent: I was born Hamilton, Montana.
Franklin: Hamilton, Montana. And what year were you born?
Tallent: ’45. 1945.
Franklin: Okay. And—sorry.
Tallent: And then we moved here to the Tri-Cities in ’47 I guess it was. So I wasn’t much bigger than a—I was a little guy when came.
Franklin: Little sprout?
Tallent: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Yup.
Franklin: And then your family lived in Kennewick until they bought the ranch?
Tallent: Yeah. My dad got—he wanted to be his own boss again. And he’d always loved farming. He farmed in Hamilton—an orchard and all that. So he knew a lot about it. We raised 350 head of Black Angus—registered Black Angus animals. And just a few pigs and sheep and that to eat. But every once in a while, we’d get a barren cow and she didn’t have no calves, so she wasn’t worth nothing. So that was her downfall. She’d end up being on our table.
Tallent: Yeah. You know, about once a year. If we didn’t need any meat, they went to the stockyards—went to the show—sale. We sold them. We sold all the male calves. He’d keep an eye out for a good-looking bull, and we might raise a bull. But most all the males were sent to sale. And then the heifers, we would keep them and put them with the new bull, so there’d be no inbreeding.
Tallent: So that’s how we lived for years, ‘til ’73 or something like that, I believe. Then that’s when I got the chance to go out to the Area. And Dad says, I’m out of here. I’m retiring. He bought a big doublewide and some property out in Burbank by his one brother and retired out there. Ended up dying. He’d worked in the coal mine in Idaho and Montana, and died of black lung.
Franklin: As a lot of coal miners do.
Tallent: Yes, sir. But he still had a good life. I mean, he was 70-something years old.
Franklin: That’s not—yeah, that’s not bad.
Tallent: No. Mom died at 88.
Tallent: Years old. And she just died of old age. [LAUGHTER] She was like me. Too damn ornery to die.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] So, tell me a little more about—I heard some weird stuff about the 308—you said the hot lab. You said that they used a can opener to open the cans. Do you mean like an actual can opener, like a regular can opener, or was it like a specially designed can opener?
Tallent: No, just a can opener.
Franklin: Like, just a—one you buy at the store.
Tallent: Had a rubber handle on it, so it wouldn’t poke a hole in your glove.
Tallent: And when—it comes sealed. And they would seal them, but then they’d be in a can in a can, and they’d have the plastic bag around them. But the last can—the first can that had the actual materials in it was a sealed can. Safety is not spared.
Franklin: Right. Well, yeah, it’s a pretty valuable product. So when you went to—you went with Bobby Eschenbaum to the 305 Building. So what kind of work did you do at the 305 Building? How was that different from the 308?
Tallent: Well, there was no material down there. It used to be a hot building, years ago, before I got there. It had, actually, a reactor in it—in the basement of it, from what I heard.
Tallent: And what I understand. It had—that’s where the dismantling machine went to. It’d go clear down into that basement. It was about—probably 16, 18 feet deep.
Tallent: It was quite deep.
Franklin: So what kind of work was done at 305?
Tallent: All research and development lab. Just what them pictures show.
Franklin: Okay. Yeah, I’d love to get the camera on those pictures in a little bit so you could talk to us a little about that.
Tallent: Yeah. She said, well, we’re going to build a dismantling machine to hold the fuel driver assembly and somehow cut it open. So she gave me an endcap, and go to work. [LAUGHTER]
Tallent: On the mechanism to hold it with, you know. We actually built clamps around it in two or three different areas, and they would rotate. The arms would come out, and they didn’t move, but inside the clamps rotated. So it would—and the base would turn. No, it wasn’t the base; it was the upper part. There’s a picture of the upper part. I designed the motor and had the gear built for that and put the motor on there and it worked amazing. It was great. I patted myself on the back ‘til I hurt my arms. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: So for the non-real-technical people, what was the main purpose of that machine?
Tallent: The main purpose was to cut open the fuel driver assembly to get the fuel pins out. Once they’d been irradiated, they swell.
Tallent: And some of them even burst open.
Tallent: Yeah. Which was—aw, shucks. But they were in a hot place; they were in a cell. They would—had to design something to cut these open to get all these fuel pins out. And I cannot remember how many was in there, but there was a bunch. You got it with them pictures, you can see them.
Franklin: Yeah, it looked like a lot.
Tallent: But there were configurations. The first row would be not as many as the next row, the next row, and the next row, and then it’d go back down again. To fit that octagon or hexagon or whatever it was—six-sided or eight-sided—fuel driver assembly.
Tallent: And so I was—my engineer and I, we scratched our heads, and figured it out. He was a good guy, Pete Titzler.
Franklin: Pete Titzler.
Tallent: Yeah. I don’t even know if he’s alive.
Franklin: Sounds like he would—well, if he is, he sounds like he’d be really interesting to talk to.
Franklin: If he is, he sounds like he’d be a really interesting guy to talk to.
Tallent: Yeah, he would be, he would be.
Franklin: So then you mentioned after—how long did you stay at 305?
Tallent: Well, it wasn’t—probably only three or four years.
Tallent: And then—
Franklin: Oh, sorry, go ahead.
Tallent: Then I went away.
Franklin: You mentioned earlier that you went to FFTF for a short time.
Tallent: Yeah, a short time.
Franklin: And you left FFTF, just because it was mostly desk work?
Franklin: You left FFTF just because it was mostly desk work?
Tallent: Yeah, basically it was just gonna be—one of the guys really liked it. In the picture there. He went out there, and he liked doing that kind of stuff. But I want to be the guy doing the work. I want to, you know, run the metal arms or push the lawnmower—anything. I want to do something. I don’t want to sit on my backside and write notes and tell this guy what to do and tell that guy want to do. I want to do it myself.
Tallent: You know.
Franklin: So when did you—do you remember the year that you left Hanford?
Tallent: No. In the ‘80s—early ‘80s sometime.
Tallent: You’re making me reach way back there now. [LAUGHTER] I’m a feeble old-minded feller.
Franklin: No, your recollections are great. I don’t—I can’t get to the early ‘80s myself, either. That’s because I was born then. What did you do after you left Hanford?
Tallent: Well, I worked for this one construction company for a short time. I won’t tell you his name, because he didn’t like me because I was buddy with the lead. And he didn’t like me being friends with him, so he gave me all kinds of hell, and wouldn’t give me a raise and all that. So I walked off and said, keep your company. I’m going. Well, he—the last paycheck, he wouldn’t—I was going to get, he bounced it. They wouldn’t accept it. So I had a buddy of mine that owns the tavern in Richland, Two Bits and a Bite.
Franklin: Oh yeah.
Tallent: Yeah. Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. We lived together for a while. Anyway, he had me do a bunch of work there for him. I remodeled his kitchen for him. And then one day, this guy comes in and says, hey, Jerry. I’d met him through this other construction company. I said, yeah. He said, I got a bathroom remodel, and I can’t do it. You want to do it? I’ll give it to you. And I said, no, but you and I can do it. Well, I don’t own nothing, you’ll have to show me. And I said, let’s get to work. That was in the early ‘90s. Him and I been buddies ever since. Now he’s—I can’t do anything anymore, and he’s decided to—he takes care of all the Head Start schools around the Tri-Cities. Richard Meyers is his name. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had. He comes by—in fact he was there this morning—he’ll come by and spray my weeds and weed it and clean the filters on my fish pond, and—man, he’s just a wonderful fella.
Franklin: Oh, that’s great. And where do you live now—do you live in Richland?
Tallent: Yes, I do.
Franklin: Okay. So, let’s see here. We’ve talked a bit about Hanford as a place to work and your kind of challenges there. Is there anything else you’d like to say about working at Hanford? Is there any special challenges or rewarding aspects of your work?
Tallent: It was all very rewarding. I wouldn’t ever deny it—I’d do it all over again.
Franklin: That’s great.
Tallent: I’d do it all over again. Now, speaking of reaching back into the past for memories, I’m going to ask you about some—to do that again for me. What are your memories of any major events in the Tri-Cities, like plants shutting down or starting up, or any local events? I guess that’s kind of a two-parter, so we can just start with stuff at Hanford.
Tallent: Well, I know that all the barracks out here went away and the trailer courts on the right-hand side, they all went away after—you had all these construction guys. I’ve seen pictures of those at the DOL office, they’ve got all these guys at the dinner table, the big long tables in the barracks. I remember when Kadlec Hospital was just a barracks. Now it’s huge.
Franklin: Yeah, it is.
Tallent: And getting bigger.
Tallent: It’s really a mess right now. I had to go there yesterday, and they’re making the hospital bigger, but there’s no more parking than they had. There never was no parking before!
Franklin: Yeah, I drive by there every day when I go—
Tallent: Yeah, it’s like the park down here in Richland. They built that big theater there, but there’s no place for anybody park to go to it. Oh, I’ve been here forever. I remember in Kennewick—the road to Kennewick was Columbia Drive. And that’s how you got to Pasco, was on Columbia Drive. That was the only way you could get from Kennewick to Pasco.
Franklin: Oh, right.
Tallent: Yeah. Yeah, it was. That was pretty interesting. My uncle, he also lived here. He drove bus at Hanford. He drove a bus—everybody that was working out there, he would pick up in Pasco and drive them to Hanford to work—bus driver.
Franklin: Wow! And when did he start doing that?
Tallent: Oh, gosh. I’m sure in the ‘50s.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Tallent: Yeah, ‘40s—somewhere in there.
Franklin: Did you have any other family that worked at Hanford?
Tallent: I guess my real dad worked here for a short time. I have—the man and the woman that raised me was really my aunt and my uncle. But they raised me since I was in arms. My real dad and mom was having marital problems, and they said, here, hold on to this, we’ll be right back. [LAUGHTER] And they ended up going through a big [dispute], and my real mom says, the woman that raised me, she didn’t have any kids, and I didn’t have the heart to take you back. I just met her a few years ago.
Tallent: Yeah, my real mom. She was wonderful. I got to see my dad. I went back to a one-and-only family reunion. And it was quite a story. We were back there—my son and my daughter went with us. And—no, it wasn’t my daughter. My son and his wife and my granddaughter—she was—my daughter-in-law was carrying my grandbaby. And we went back there to the family reunion, and my real dad, he come up to me. My dad was dead—my real—the man that raised me, my uncle. And he said, your mom wants to meet you. I said, my mom? She’s dead! No, you got her confused with who I married afterwards. She’s still alive, and she wants to meet you.
Tallent: So, I got to meet my real mom. And it was a good thing, because she was well up into her late 80s.
Tallent: And she lived in Arizona, and she went back to Arizona and died, right after the reunion. But we were at this community center, having lunches and drinks and everything, and my real dad come up to me. Now, this is the first time I’d seen him in years. He come up to me and said, you drinking Rainier, huh? And I said, yeah. Oh, come up to the bar. He was drinking a Rainier. He drank Rainier just like I did. I said, that is—we never socialized together, and you drink Rainier just like me. Yep. My favorite beer. We weren’t done that. He said, how about a hard drink? I said, yeah. He said do you like Black Velvet? I said, that’s the drink I drink. So we both drank beer and the hard booze the same brands. That was just—it just drove me crazy! I said, I can’t believe this!
Franklin: Yeah, that’s really something.
Tallent: Yeah. We live clear across the country from each other and we both drink the same drinks.
Franklin: Well, you know, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree—fall far from the tree.
Tallent: Yeah, not far from the tree, yup.
Franklin: So what was it—so you mentioned you first moved to Kennewick and then you lived kind of in West Richland area. What was it like growing up from a really small child in the Tri-Cities? You know, it’s kind of a special place next to Hanford.
Tallent: Yeah, Kennewick was—Dad built the house we moved into. We had lived up above, up the hill from it. And he had this pasture—he’d always loved animals. He had the pasture below us and on the side of our property. So he decided he’d take this old concrete slab that used to be a barn and build a house. So he got that done. He’d get off work, go down and work until midnight. God, he was just—endless hours of work.
Tallent: And he got that house built, and I helped him—[COUGH]—Excuse me.
Franklin: It’s okay.
Tallent: Helped him hang the cabinets and put up all knotty pine inside—knotty pine panels. It wasn’t the four-by-eight sheets; it was the one-by-six—or half-inch-by-six. And we put up all this stuff. Made room for a fireplace and he decided he wasn’t going to put in a fireplace, so we put in a window there instead. Built that there, and I loved it there. I had a good buddy up the hill. He ended up being a Vietnam hero. We used to go bike riding all the time when we were kids and run up and down the roads and get into little trouble. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: And this was in Kennewick, or in Richland?
Tallent: Yeah, in Kennewick.
Tallent: But then Dad decided that he’d had enough of this little place. I met this guy that’s got a big ranch and he wants me to come out and look at it. And I said, well, I want to finish school here. It didn’t happen.
Franklin: So what school did you go to in Richland?
Franklin: What school did you go to in Richland?
Tallent: Col High.
Tallent: Columbia High in Richland the last two years. And I was a real derelict. Because I was—all my friends were at Kennewick.
Tallent: Everybody I run around with, girlfriends, boyfriends, all were in Kennewick. And I couldn’t get to hardly meet anybody here in Richland. I just—they all had their different little cliques.
Tallent: And so I was kind of a loner, so I did a lot of school skipping. [LAUGHTER] I’d go to Kennewick and walk the halls with all my buddies. And then they started checking for—where you from? I was in—I went to the study hall. [LAUGHTER] Went to study hall with them. I was sitting there and talking, and all of the sudden there was a hand on my shoulder. Who’s your homeroom teacher? [LAUGHTER] Out the door!
Franklin: Oh, jeez. So what was it like to grow up in the Tri-Cities during the Cold War? Was it—did you ever have—I mean, did you know what was being made at Hanford when you were growing up, or when did you first start to realize--
Franklin: --what was going on onsite?
Tallent: Yes, I did. I did know that it was for the Manhattan Project. I never missed that show.
Tallent: That was a good series. I knew that they were building reactors and everything out there, yeah. In fact, from 308 Building, right across the driveway there was the old PRTR building, which was one of the first reactors. 309, I think it was called. And that was a gutted-out reactor. It had a round dome on it.
Tallent: We went over there and visited that, and they’d give us a tour. This is what was there, and this is where it was at, and all this stuff. It was pretty interesting.
Franklin: So what—did you ever—so you would have been—born in ’45, so you would have been kind of a kid in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. Do you remember special emphasis on the Cold War, you know? Or preparations—especially being so close to a major, you know, nuclear weapon—you know, site for nuclear weapons fuel.
Franklin: Do you remember any—what was kind of—what was it like to grow up in that? Was it scary, or was it just normal, or--?
Tallent: It really didn’t bother me. It worried the heck out of my mom. [LAUGHTER]
Tallent: Yeah. I guess it’s—the Korean War, she wouldn’t get away from the radio. We didn’t have TV.
Tallent: She wouldn’t leave the radio and read every newspaper while all the problems of the Korean War. And after the Korean War, I was getting close to the age. And then here come Vietnam. You’re not gonna go to Vietnam. You’re not gonna go. [LAUGHTER] I said, Mom, I’m gonna sign up. No, you’re not. And I snuck out and my buddy—he became a war hero; he was on a chopper—rescue chopper—and went down, and he saved all of his buddies. Hung them up on the—he dove down in the water I don’t know how many times. And they already had a loaded bunch of—shot-up or—you know, crew from another helicopter.
Tallent: And they were—so he lost most of them. But his pilot—his captain said that if it wasn’t for him, a lot of people wouldn’t have been there.
Franklin: Wow. And so you never went to Vietnam then?
Franklin: Did you go to Vietnam?
Tallent: No, because I was on the ranch, and I went to sign up with all my buddies—seven of them. You might remember Sam Francisco. You heard of him?
Tallent: Samson—Sam Francisco?
Franklin: Sam? Sam Francisco?
Tallent: Sam Francisco. He never came back. His body’s here now. His sister in West Richland wanted it back and they haven’t given it back to him yet—to her yet. But Jimmy was one of the few that made it back. We kind of—after—I signed up, but—I was a 1-A, and I signed up to go with them. And I didn’t have the brains Jimmy did to be a pilot—a Navy pilot, or on the choppers of that. You had to be pretty smart on your math. I don’t know how smart you had to be to run a gun, but—[LAUGHTER] But anyway, he got to go. And I was 1-A, and then they sent me a letter said, you’re a single son, and you’re on a farm. You’re not going.
Tallent: They made me a 4-F.
Tallent: So they wouldn’t take me. My mom, she was—ooh, mad at me. How come—where’d you get this? Well, I signed up to go with Jimmy to Vietnam. I told you, you’re not gonna go! [LAUGHTER] She wanted me to go to Canada or something. Don’t go! And I said, I’m gonna go with my buddies. I guess maybe it was a good thing I didn’t. Because I’d have been a ground pounder. I wouldn’t have been—you know.
Franklin: Yeah. Do you—can you describe any of the ways that security or secrecy at Hanford impacted your work?
Tallent: Well, I know you had to have a badge. I had a Q clearance, which was a top-of-the-line. I could go anywhere out there. You had to show that badge every morning, and then pass through the metal detector. If you didn’t—you didn’t get by if you had metal on you. One of the guys—his name was Arnie—he was in the Air Force, and his—he was the tail gunner. It wasn’t during the war, but he was a tail gunner, and the plane crashed. And he was in the tail. He ended up in the cockpit. And he had nothing but pins in his legs. He could walk all right; he played volleyball at lunchtime with us out on the grass. But he couldn’t pass the metal detectors. He had to have a special permit saying he had—
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Tallent: Stainless steel pins in his legs. Arnie’s something. Arnie Dupris.
Franklin: Dupris. And what did he do on—
Franklin: What did he—did he work in the 308 and the 305 with you?
Tallent: No. He worked in 308, but I don’t remember—I can’t tell you where he worked.
Tallent: But—no, I’m the only one that went to 305 besides that one engineer. She became a manager and ran the 305 Building.
Tallent: Bobby Eschenbaum, yeah. Her husband was an engineer. And I’m not sure where he went to. He was a nice guy, too. I got along with both of them good. [LAUGHTER] Oh. Bobby Eschenbaum was a little, short lady. She held a meeting—she was an engineer—so she held a meeting out in meeting room at 308, before we went down to—so she’s like this, and grabbing the table, leaning back in her chair and talking to us, grabbing the table. Missed. Poot. I was sitting closest to her. I grabbed her dress, pulled it down, and helped her up. She was pretty embarrassed. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, jeez. That’s awesome. What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford—your work at Hanford, or what the role of Hanford in history?
Tallent: Well, there ain’t no future in Hanford, except way out there now. I’d say, go for it, if you get the chance.
Franklin: No, I mean, what would you like future generations to know about Hanford? Or to—when—
Tallent: Well, it was very instrumental in winning the war.
Tallent: It shortened up the war to Japan.
Franklin: Sure. What about the Cold War? And the nuke—arsenal and things. What about Hanford’s other role, after World War II?
Tallent: Well—boy, you know, all I know is they built fuel for reactors to go into reactors—light-water stuff, the enriched uranium reactors and plutonium reactors. But—I don’t know what else I can tell you about that. [LAUGHTER] Really.
Franklin: That’s okay. Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to mention?
Tallent: Well, I don’t know. You’re pretty thorough. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Oh, thanks. [LAUGHTER] Emma, is there anything? No? How about could we take a few minutes and go through some of those photos?
Franklin: And then I can hold them if you’d like and you can make talk through them a little bit. Because those are really interesting; I’d like for the camera to see the things that you developed.
Tallent: Well, hold them up here or something.
Franklin: Okay, great. So how do we—
Tallent: Dismantling machine. Right there.
Franklin: And that’s you, right?
Tallent: That’s me.
Franklin: With all the hair.
Tallent: Yup, the fuzzy hair.
Tallent: I’m trying to remember what this is. This was part of the dismantling machine right there. And this turned. They would cut the top open.
Franklin: And just to be clear, the dismantling machine dismantled what, exactly?
Tallent: This. The fuel drivers.
Franklin: Okay, okay.
Tallent: It would take that all apart. This is all what’s in the reactors.
Tallent: There’s—I don’t know how many in the reactors. And we had—after they come out of the reactor, they would go in to this room. You can see down there below the concrete, this second story down there. But this would come up—this door would open, and this would come up and go in there. It’d rotate and they’d cut the top off. Boy. I don’t know what all—[LAUGHTER] But they would—here’s the steel arms that would—manipulators--
Tallent: --that would grab ahold of it and help it. And I believe this took place so it could rotate—goodness sakes. That would rotate this guy more, instead of having to turn it by hand or something like that.
Tallent: That’s just a proof for the photographer.
Franklin: This one here?
Tallent: Yeah. That was just proofs.
Tallent: But there’s probably a picture of that. Once you’re out on the floor, you got to wear a hard hat.
Franklin: Right. This one is interesting, can you tell me what—
Tallent: That’s a glovebox there.
Franklin: So it’s supposed to be like that, right?
Franklin: Should be like this, right? Because—yeah, there’s the person.
Tallent: Yeah. That’s actually 308 Building. That’s the only picture I got. This was loading the fuel pellets. There’s fuel pellets in there.
Tallent: Holy mackerel. How’d I get that? [LAUGHTER] Anyway. The fuel pin is right there, and then that’s—you can see that bag?
Tallent: That’s on the open room. So this is sealed up tight, and then I’m shoveling fuel into that fuel pin. Then you have a spring—goes in and then you plant them and then put the endcap on.
Tallent: And then it gets welded—goes over to the welding lab.
Franklin: Wow. That’s—
Tallent: Yeah. That’s a—that was—that’s not ours.
Tallent: They—that’s what they were building for Three Mile Island, but it never happened. And they were wanting us to build a better one, because that one wasn’t very good.
Franklin: Mm. And that’s just another—
Tallent: Yeah. And I said, let’s design a better one. But it never happened.
Franklin: Tsk. Right. Okay, so here’s another one here with the—
Tallent: That was going to be a one-time deal. You’d build it, and then it stays in the bottom of the Three Mile Island.
Franklin: Oh, we’re talking this thing here—this robot.
Tallent: Yeah, because Three Mile Island, that’s where they had that bad accident.
Franklin: Right, right.
Tallent: There, and Idaho Falls.
Franklin: So what’s going on in this picture here?
Tallent: Okay. [LAUGHTER] Your guess is as good as mine.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Okay.
Emma Rice: It looks like there’s those arms there.
Franklin: Yeah, we have the--
Tallent: We were getting ready to—oh, there’s a clamp. Oh, okay. That’s ready to be taken off. It’s cut at the bottom, and see that there?
Tallent: That’s grabbing ahold of the assembly, the outer assembly.
Tallent: And it’s starting to lift it off. This is a—you can see it’s cut open. So, it’s not hot; it’s just all—you know. But this lifts it off, and down the hole that goes, and this lifts it off and then it rotates and sets it aside.
Tallent: And this is—that’s what I was working on, too. So it’s a little rough, but there’s all the pins on the bottom—the bottom fuel pins. And once you lift it off, then it shoves these pins—there’s locking pins that holds all this into place, and it kicks them out.
Franklin: So here—and this is kind of that hexagon or—upside-down? Oops.
Tallent: There you go.
Franklin: There we go. So this is that formation you were talking about, right?
Tallent: Yeah, see those pins?
Franklin: A six-sided—yes.
Tallent: They’re held into place. I’m shaky.
Franklin: No, it’s okay.
Tallent: I’m sorry.
Franklin: No, it’s all right.
Tallent: These pins are holding these into place, and once they get—my brain. [LAUGHTER] Not working good. Anyway, once they get the—oh, it is off of it. This is not the fuel driver assembly; this is a canister to hold these fuel pins. Then I’m not sure after that.
Tallent: So I’m at a loss.
Franklin: That’s all right.
Tallent: There’s all the people.
Franklin: That’s you right there.
Tallent: That’s me. That’s my secretary. That’s my engineer. And these guys are—no, that was one of my engineers. His name was Steve. This was Pete Titzler. This is the one him and I got an award for designing this stuff.
Tallent: Yeah. And he was—this guy here was—
Franklin: This gentleman right here?
Tallent: --Manager of all the other ones. Bobby isn’t in there.
Tallent: Oh, she—I don’t know. I can’t remember. She left or something.
Franklin: So here’s—it looks like another view of the arms there.
Tallent: Yeah, that’s—
Franklin: You’ve got some nice bellbottoms on.
Tallent: Yes, I had my bellbottoms. I was a hippy. On days off, I had a headband on, too. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: So what are you doing here in this picture?
Tallent: You know, I was trying to remember that myself. I’m running the dismantling machine.
Tallent: I’m making it turn and go up and down on all that stuff. I never did that. They just wanted it for pictures, basically.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] Just to have you pose?
Franklin: Oh, I see.
Tallent: Get your hair done, and—you know.
Franklin: Yeah. So here you are again.
Tallent: Yeah. And this one was—this one was a—and they had to have room, so you had a two-story one. You had the gloveboxes down here and a glovebox down here, and you could go up to work on it.
Tallent: And Greg is in there working on it. Just demonstration.
Franklin: What is HEDL stand for?
Tallent: Hanford Environmental Development Lab.
Tallent: How’d I remember that?
Franklin: I don’t know; your memory’s good.
Franklin: That just came right off. Tell us about this photo.
Tallent: Okay, that—you tell us about it.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] You brought it!
Tallent: Oh, boy! You know, I—it’s a single pin. See, there’s wire wrapped around this fuel pin, too. That keeps them from touching each other.
Tallent: But I don’t remember what that—that was my baby, SN005.
Franklin: Right, you mentioned earlier when you showed this before that you had invented this machine here, right?
Franklin: Or you worked on it, or--?
Tallent: I helped invent it.
Franklin: Helped invent it.
Tallent: Yeah, I helped invent this whole—that whole guy, wherever it went to—the dismantling machine.
Franklin: Yeah, we saw that earlier. Well, I think we have maybe some of that here.
Franklin: Right? Over on this side, over here.
Franklin: Wow. That’s just kind of part of the crew there. Oh, no, you said this is the group of—
Tallent: Them’s the group of foreign people. The—I don’t see a Japanese fella. Maybe that’s him. But there’s French and German and they all wanted to see it work. They were all excited about it, so we had to put it on display. It was kind of a last-minute thing for me. All of the sudden, they come up to my office, my desk, and say, hey, Jerry. Come on down. We’re gonna—you’re gonna be on the show here. They filmed it all.
Tallent: And he said, we have all these foreign delegates here that want to see this thing work. And I said, oh, you’re kidding me. Get somebody else! [LAUGHTER] I didn’t want to—this is the first thing they had. This actually is an auger. And that would cut that open. And—that’s right, I—this thing is floating on air. It weighs probably 800, 900 pounds. And it’s floating on air and you can move it back and forth. But see that—those there?
Tallent: Those are stops. These come out, and center it up.
Tallent: And they had to be set just right. There’s two on each side. When the machine would turn it on, these would come out and center up the machine so it’d hit it right on the corner and cut that open.
Tallent: But that’s when they said that they didn’t like that, because of all the shavings.
Tallent: It left great big chunks of stainless, and they were going to be irradiated, so it was going to have them all over the floor. So I said, okay. Back to scratching their head and finding out. That’s when I discovered stainless steel and copper don’t like each other.
Franklin: And can you tell us again how you kind of helped develop this new process for getting these open?
Tallent: Well, Pete and Steve Dawson? I think his name was Steve Dawson. Anyway, Pete come to me and said, hey. He explained to me that all these shavings on the floor were gonna be irradiated. You’d turn off the light and you’d see shavings everywhere, and they were hot. So let’s develop a method for cutting them open that has no shavings.
Tallent: And he said, how about a cutting torch? They had a lot of smoke, and they don’t want the smoke. So I tried—that’s when I tried the TIG welder. Well, TIG welder didn’t do much but leave a weld on it.
Tallent: So I asked Pete. I said, what won’t stick to that stainless steel? He said, copper. Get me some copper rod. Okay. Went and got me some copper rod and I—that’s what I told you earlier, I mentioned—it just popped open.
Franklin: So you’d just weld that to the steel and then it’d—
Tallent: It bust that wide open—
Franklin: Pfft. Wow.
Tallent: It’d split. Just enough to relax all the fuel pins inside.
Tallent: To where they’re not—because the fuel pins would expand after being irradiated.
Tallent: And with that being busted open, it would relax it so you could—
Franklin: Pull the fuel pins out.
Tallent: Pull the—yeah. Pull this off, pull the driver assembly off, so you could get to the fuel pins.
Franklin: Wow. That’s really ingenious.
Tallent: Yeah, it was pretty cool.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] That is pretty cool. So what—
Tallent: I was just—scared the heck out of me the second time I did it. Because when I used the copper, he said, well, do it again. I’ll get you another chunk. Got another chunk, and he stood right there and we were watching it and it got to the end and it just popped and jumped off. And we both jumped back.
Tallent: He said, you got an award coming.
Franklin: Wow. Yeah, you said you got like a $500 bonus or something?
Tallent: I got a $500 bonus, and that was quite the deal.
Franklin: That’s great.
Tallent: And Westinghouse got the patent.
Franklin: Ah, of course. [LAUGHTER]
Tallent: [LAUGHTER] Nothing—not allowed to have the patent.
Franklin: Right, because you’re a government contract.
Tallent: Yeah, that government. This was a different style of steel arm there, the manipulators. We could change them out to go to them big ones or the little fingers.
Tallent: They got little fingers on that? No, it’s got the bigger on one that.
Franklin: I think it’s the same kind of—
Franklin: --Steel arm. That’s another duplicate.
Tallent: That’s just about all.
Franklin: I guess we got one more left here.
Tallent: Yeah. That hippy on the left.
Franklin: [LAUGHTER] So what are—what’s being—do you know what’s being—is this a glovebox in here?
Tallent: Well it—
Franklin: What’s being watched here?
Tallent: Well, it would be the glovebox looking at the dismantling machine here, and that’s through six feet of glass. And that’s just the wall—it was pretend there, but out there, FFTF, it was real. But this would be six foot of concrete with steel BBs in it. I mean lead BBs. And lead—plutonium doesn’t like lead.
Tallent: So it don’t want to go through the wall anyways.
Tallent: But even at that, it’s six foot thick. And then the glass is six-foot thick. And looking through that all day long would drive you crazy. I mean it’s just hard to look through.
Franklin: Hurt your eyes?
Tallent: Yeah, I mean, six foot of glass. Back then I wasn’t wearing glasses, was I?
Franklin: It doesn’t look like it. Well, Jerry, thank you so much for your oral history and for going through all these pictures with us. It’s been one heck of a time.
Tallent: It was a great ride!
Franklin: Thank you so much. We’re gonna really—we’re gonna digitize all of these and we’ll have them with your—we’re gonna digitize them all and we’ll have them with your oral history. And this will, I think, really be a great resource for students and scholars.
Tallent: Yeah. No problem. You can hang on to them.
Tallent: Just don’t lose them.
Franklin: Well, I promise you that. We will not lose them.
Years in Tri-Cities Area
Years on Hanford Site
Pete and Steve Dawson