Tag Archives: Hanford Reservation

Fu-Go, or How Geologists Fought off the Japanese Attack on North America, although the Threat Remains

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumy, British Columbia.

The tail of an unexploded Japanese balloon bomb protrudes above the mossy forest floor near Lumby, British Columbia. This photograph is courtesy of Infonews.ca, which published a story about the bomb on October 10, 2014.

On November 3, 1944, the Imperial Japanese Army attacked North America, and they did it from three Honshu beachheads. It was on that date that the first of some 9,000 balloons, fitted with incendiary and high explosive bombs on a three-day timer, were lofted into the recently-discovered jet stream. The innovative form of aggression spread dangerous explosives across a huge swath of North American territory, from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific Coast to Detroit, Michigan. Fewer than 250 of these balloons have been accounted for, although an estimated 1,ooo balloons may have made it across the Pacific. While most of the 9,000 probably failed to reach American shores, those that made the crossing and went undiscovered might still pose risks to the unsuspecting.

Foresters working near Lumby, British Columbia, made the most recent discovery of unexploded Japanese bombs in October of last year. Hikers and people who work in wild places should be wary of undiscovered explosives from these balloons.

When Japanese balloon bombs, known as Fu-Go to their makers, first began to arrive in America, authorities mistakenly thought that the devices were being launched from submarines surfacing near our coasts or that they had been built in Prisoner-of-War camps along the coast. Continue reading

All the Warning We’ll Get

The Saddle Mountain Fault scenario envisions an 87-mile long failure of the fault.

The Saddle Mountain Fault scenario envisions an 87-mile long failure of the fault.

There was a small earthquake centered on Frenchman Hill one day around 1972. When an earthquake scientist from the University of Washington called Othello High School to look for a reliable  student to tend to a helicorder they were setting up at the epicenter, they ended up talking to my mother, the counselor. I was 16, and I had just gotten my driver’s license. She told them she had a perfect match for them.

So my second job off the home place (the first one was changing sprinklers for my neighbor) was visiting a tiny trailer parked next to a plowed field overlooking the Lower Crab Creek valley and the ancient massive slide on the north face of Saddle Mountain. Six seismographs fed streams of data to a series of heated needles that recorded every tremble of the earth around the trailer. I had to changed the waxed paper they burned their message onto once a day and then put in a phone call to Colorado to calibrate the clock with the National Bureau of Standards.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this must have been a heady period for earthquake scientists in the Northwest. Endorsement of the theory of plate tectonics was in its infancy. Continue reading

The Return of Martin Paroz

Soldier settlement homes were modest in size. State records of each of the homes are kept in WSU archives. Hanford, White Bluffs, and Hanford Nuclear Site Images (PC 104) Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections Washington State University Libraries Pullman, WA

Soldier settlement homes were modest in size. State records of each of the homes are kept in WSU archives. Hanford, White Bluffs, and Hanford Nuclear Site Images (PC 104)
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Washington State University Libraries
Pullman, WA

Next month it will be one hundred years since the start of what became known as World War I, a misnomer that blinds many people to the far ranging conflicts practiced by men in earlier ages. And even though that particular war ended so long ago, each year in France and Belgium tons of unexploded ordinance from the First World War are exhumed from land where the battles were fought. Historian Alan Taylor recently published a sobering photo-history of the war in The Atlantic in which he shows the ravaged land, slowly being reclaimed by forests, where once villages stood until they were cratered out of existence. Sheep graze in unredeemed minefields; farmers plow up hand grenades and cannon shells.

Early in the war, governments of the British Commonwealth began planning for the return of their soldiers. Aware that the deluge of war-touched young men could not be ignored at the risk of destabilizing society, politicians began designing a program to reintegrate the soldiers through agriculture. Continue reading

Landslide

Sandhill cranes frolic in the fields of the Danielson farm, with the Saddle Mountain cliffs looming over it. Photograph by Phyllis Danielson.

Sandhill cranes frolic in the fields of the Danielson farm, with the Saddle Mountain cliffs looming over it. Photograph by Phyllis Danielson.

The communities of Oso and Darrington were devastated by the recent landslide, in which around fifty houses and more than thirty people were annihilated in the space of a couple of minutes. It will be a long time before life can return to anything like it used to be, with Darrington’s main artery to the rest of the world cut off. Now commuters from Darrington have to head north, past our Sauk River cabin, to get to their jobs, shops and supplies. It takes a lot of time and gas. My son’s scout troop raised cash and supplies that we took to Darrington last weekend, and I’ve been watching the news about the landslide daily.

Pictures of the Oso landslide reminded me very much of the landslide my family and I used to climb around on when I was a kid. One of our favorite hikes was to the cliffs at the top of Saddle Mountain, where you can climb down to a ledge where sandstone exposures have been carved by the winds and graffito-ed by generations of local visitors. Continue reading

In the Wind

An upwind neighbor, 16 miles from my childhood home, N-reactor not only contributed to atmospheric releases, but dumped radioactive strontium-90 into the Columbia River at rates up to 1000 times safe drinking water standards.

An upwind neighbor, 16 miles from my childhood home, N-reactor not only contributed to atmospheric releases, but dumped radioactive strontium-90 into the Columbia River at rates up to 1000 times safe drinking water standards. It operated until 1987, the last of the plutonium producing reactors.

This image is a work of a United States Department of Energy (or predecessor organization) employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Growing up near Othello in the 1960s, we developed a macabre pride over being so near an important target for Soviet missiles. We knew that something vast and threatening was happening just over the hill from our home—it was only eleven miles from our house to the nearest of Hanford’s nuclear plants. But we didn’t live with fear. Like Richland High School, whose football team was called The Bombers, and whose helmets sported a mushroom cloud, we took pride in having the world’s largest plutonium factory in our back yard. Truth to be told, we were even a bit jealous of the fact that most of the workers at Hanford lived in places like the Tri Cities and Sunnyside. On the other hand, rumor on the playground at Lutacaga Elementary School was that, if the Russians took out McChord Airforce Base, Othello’s radar station would be in command of the entire west coast. Continue reading

Crossing Over

A two-horse-power ferry provided passage across the Columbia River at White Bluffs.

A two-horse-power ferry provided passage across the Columbia River at White Bluffs.

Drive down any freeway in the state, and you’ll see the same dull gray pavement, with tarry black repairs. The roads look the same on both sides of the mountains and whether they are on dry land or bridges. We’ve come to take these roads and bridges for granted, to the point where we can estimate to within minutes just how long a trip ought to take. But it wasn’t always so.

After they offed the Astorians, the Hudsons Bay Company established routes that provided for the safe distribution of trade goods and transportation of furs gathered over an entire year. In auspicious places, the English built forts to store the furs that came from far north in what is now British Columbia, and from the Snake River country and Montana. Continue reading

Elevator

One hundred and eight degrees Fahrenheit, and I tied a rope to the wire handle on a five gallon can. I was inside a square wooden grain elevator with a corrugated iron roof several stories above me in Basin City. Up before dawn, I drove through the dark to Bruce, Washington, where my uncle ran the local Full Circle, Inc., agribusiness office. He had the Warden, Bruce and Basin City branches to manage. After five or six summers working in the grain warehouses, I had been given the job of taking care of the Basin City elevator. Each day I’d pick up a courier’s pouch at Bruce and climb into a company truck for the run down to my station.

One of the first things I did in Basin City was to try to control the rats. Every day their droppings and their footprints circled the exterior of the elevator. Their dens were narrow cracks in the sides of the concrete pad the elevator stood on. I shoved wire mesh, broken glass and bits of barbed wire into the cracks every day and when I returned in the morning I’d find the hole empty of all my wicked obstacles, not a trace of blood on the fine dust and sand. Rat footprints thronged across the blowsand. Poison was left untouched. These rodents knew their business. Continue reading

Treasure on the Mountain

Too excited to wait for daylight, we began searching the wagon road in the early dark of an October night.

Joe and I had a plan one night in 1970. I had scraped together wages from a variety of odd jobs and mailed off for a Heathkit metal detector kit. My brother Arnold agreed to put it together for me: he always was an electronics whiz. Now it was done, and Joe and I had a plan. We threw some matches, water, weiners,  bread, pop and cookies into a couple of backpacks, tied on some sleeping bags, and I took a shovel out of the garage. Then, with the metal detector slung over a shoulder we set off up the road in the late afternoon.

The idea hatched a few weeks earlier when my Uncle Luke had piled us into the back of his Ford Econoline pickup to drive up to the cliffs. As we ground our way up the primitive dirt track we kept crossing wide ditch-like ruts leading off into the sagebrush, but we were too high up for irrigation. At the summit of the pass we stopped for a breather next to a small cairn of rounded basalt stones. There were several of those ditches leading through the gap, and my dad told me they were the ruts of a wagon road. As the ruts wore too deep into the powdery earth, succeeding travelers would break new trail parallel to the older ruts. The whole north face was interlaced with wagon trails, twisted into switchbacks. We scrambled back into the pickup to continue our trip and a low flying private plane buzzed us, sneaking over the gap in a shortcut across the forbidden airspace of the Hanford Reservation. Continue reading

To Glenwood for Christmas

The reasons for my father’s decision to abandon the Danielson Ranch on Crab Creek have never been entirely clear to me. I remember that when I asked him about it, he was very close lipped. Myself, I was ready to get away from the Central Washington weather by the time I went to college. No more of these sweltering iron-colored skies for months on end, Enough of these months of boringly gorgeous sunsets and clear nights so starry you could hike the hills without a flashlight even when there was no moon. My father lived in Glenwood long enough to marry and have children, but he moved back to Othello to take advantage of irrigation water from the Columbia Basin Project in the early 1950s.

I’m sure I’ll revisit the reasoning behind my father’s choice another time. But it’s the holiday season, and for me that always brings to mind my grandparents and their old home in the Glenwood valley of Klickitat County. These were the only grandparents I knew, since my father’s folks had both passed on by the time I could crawl. My mother’s parents seemed incredibly ancient from the very beginning, as if they were the living remnants of the rich family history they represented. And if I have any explanation for this urge to write down these stories, it probably ought to be blamed on my Grandfather Herman, who labored over his antique typewriter, one-eyed, pecking out the letters one by one and filling up pages of uneven type that eventually became several volumes of local and family history about life in Klickitat County. Recognizing his skills as a story teller and nurturing my own taste for history, I made it a point to find time to ask him questions whenever we visited, and I was richly rewarded with personal stories and the outlines of a family’s fortunes on the Washington frontier. I’ll be passing some of this on in later articles. I regret that I didn’t inherit more than a few of his marvelous old photographs, so I won’t be able to post clear copies of them to illustrate his tales. Most of the photographs I am publishing came from my father’s collection and were probably his own.

My favorite Christmases as a boy were those we had at Glenwood. Our home place outside Othello might get heavy frosts and the occasional dusting of snow, but Glenwood seemed like it always had a white Christmas. Continue reading

Drilling for Oil on Frenchman Hill

An unidentified traveller in an unidentified location. As the age of the motor car increased demand for petroleum, the industry looked for resources throughout Washington, including in the Columbia Basin.

An information circular published by State Geologist Raymond Lasmanis in 1983 declares that Washington’s first gas and oil resources were spotted on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula as oil seeps in the sea cliffs and mud cones spouting natural gas. That was in 1881. With more than 16,000 feet of basalt flows covering potential petroleum deposits in the Columbia Basin, nobody was really expecting to locate anything there. It was farmland that appeared to be most valuable in that area, and that meant water would have to be supplied.

The early 1900s saw some pretty heroic efforts to bring water to what could become productive farmland. Canals were the favorite projects, luring money from investors from far afield. But in 1913 the Conservative Land Investment Company of Spokane began drilling a well for water on the north slopes of Rattlesnake Ridge. They had reached a depth of just over 700 feet when, to their dismay, it wasn’t water that erupted from their hole, but natural gas. They had no way to accurately measure it, so estimates of the flow rate range from 70,000 to as much as 500,000 cubic feet per day, forced out with a pressure of up to 7 pounds per square inch. You might think they would have tried to contain the flow, but instead the gas from that well and several others in the area was simply vented into the air until 1929. By the time commercial production was attempted, the pressure rate had dropped to around 2 pounds per square inch. Even so, over the next dozen years or so, the Rattlesnake Hills wells produced around 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas until it was shut down in 1941 when the Hanford Reservation was created.

With the Rattlesnake Hills field in production, investors began scouting for similar opportunities. Wildcat operations formed to exploit untouched gas fields hidden beneath the basalt.

Donny Boy Number 1 was drilled into the northeast flank of Frenchman Hill, from 1935-1939. The site is near the west end of O'Sullivan Dam. Photograph by Bror Gustaf Norberg.

People’s Gas & Oil Development Company was one of these wildcat enterprises. W. Gale Mathews of Ephrata was hired to run point in acquiring mineral leases. According to a 1974 letter from Floyd Harris, a local old-timer who witnessed the entire process, land owners on the eastern end of Frenchman Hill were offered ten cents an acre and one twelfth of the all oil found in a well drilled on their property. I had to wonder whether Harris was correct in specifying one twelfth of all the oil, since there weren’t many indications that any oil would ever be found in this region. Continue reading