Larry Denton remembers every morning looked like Disneyland at Hanford during World War II.
"I'd walk down the street, and people would just explode out of those barracks," he said.
He arrived at the secret nuclear reservation in 1943 at the age of 19, and "went around with my eyes aglow," he said.
When a boss asked why he was so enthusiastic, he replied, "I'm amazed."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
Denton is one of four retired Hanford workers and members of the B Reactor Museum Association who will discuss on Pearl Harbor Day their memories of historic B Reactor and Hanford's role in World War II and the Cold War.
Their talk, offered as a Kennewick Community Education class and cosponsored by the B Reactor Museum Association and the CREHST Museum, will be followed by a question and answer period.
After Hanford was picked as the Manhattan Project site for producing plutonium, Denton was one of tens of thousands of workers who came to the Eastern Washington desert. They built an industrial complex, including B Reactor, that ushered in the atomic age.
Denton didn't know what was being developed -- few workers did. But he did know it was big and required a lot of piping.
"I never knew there was so much pipe in the world," he said.
Although he eventually would work at B Reactor and three other reactors in a long career, he started as a shipping clerk and would travel around the nuclear reservation making sure that welding gas cylinders were delivered where they were needed.
"Everywhere I went out, they were digging a new hole," he said. "The whole country was all tore up. Any little breeze, there was a sand storm."
He attended the outdoor theater for entertainment, watching movies in goggles to protect against blowing dust.
Initially he lived in a government tent, then moved up to a quonset hut. When his father, the Hanford jailer, quit the site, Denton got his dorm room and lived surrounded by police. As a jailer, his father mostly took care of drunks, Denton said.
He had tried to enlist multiple times, starting as soon as Pearl Harbor was bombed, but was rejected because of scoliosis.
He was working as a lumberjack in Priest River, when he and a buddy decided on Dec. 7, 1941, to hitchhike to Spokane to ride the merry-go-round.
A driver who picked them up, asked, "You kids know what happened? We're at war."
As soon as they got to Spokane, they turned around and started hitchhiking back home to register for the draft, Denton said.
He also has vivid memories of the day he learned an atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. By then he was a maintenance worker, and that day had been cleaning out an irrigation ditch for the Wellsian Way water supply line.
"I was totally amazed," he said.
He had suspected that because DuPont was the contractor, something explosive was being produced, but had no idea of the bomb's power.
Steve Buckingham, another retired worker who will speak Tuesday, was one of the few Americans disappointed when he learned of the atomic bomb.
He had been working on radar, and the government was getting ready for a big publicity release on the technology with a cover story in Time magazine.
"Then they dropped the bomb, and it kicked us off the front page," he said.
But what he had seen and heard about Hanford finally made sense, he said. A Benton City friend of his father, who lived in Western Washington, had said something "weird" was going on nearby.
When he would take the train through Eastern Washington, he'd "see mobs of people getting off the train at Pasco," he said.
Rumors had been rampant. As the materials to build the complex were shipped to the remote Eastern Washington site, a rumor began that it was being used for storing all the material manufactured during the war, he said.
Another rumor was that "service women who got in the family way would go to Hanford," Buckingham said.
He took a job at Hanford in 1947 as a chemist, and the secrecy and sense of urgency remained in the postwar period, he said.
"We knew Russia was trying to steal all our methods," Denton said.
Budgets almost were unlimited, as cutting-edge nuclear technologies were developed, Buckingham said.
Much of the basic nuclear work for the Navy was done at Hanford, along with work to understand the effects of radiation on plants and animals, he said.
Among his projects was work to produce another type of plutonium at Hanford than that used in weapons, Buckingham said. B Reactor also was used to produce plutonium 238, which is used as a power source in deep-space missions.
Other speakers Tuesday will be Norm Miller, a chemist who began working at Hanford in 1950, and Larry Fischer, who came to Hanford in 1954 and worked in several design and development areas.
Reservations for the talk at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday are recommended. Call 222-5080 or go to www.ksd.org/communityed. Cost is $15.