The Manhattan Project

Bill Hudgins's Interview

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William G. (“Bill”) Hudgins spent most of his childhood years in New Mexico. He first heard about a secret wartime laboratory at Los Alamos in 1943, when he was a student at the University of New Mexico. Hudgins joined the Manhattan Project after writing a letter to Dorothy McKibbin. After briefly being called away for Army training, he returned to Los Alamos as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. In this interview, he recalls interviewing for a job with McKibbin (who asked, “Where did you hear about me?”) and shares his memories of other Manhattan Project figures, including scientist Rebecca Bradford Diven and project historian David Hawkins. He also describes growing up in Santa Fe, and details the geologic and Native American history of the region.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
October 14, 2015
Location of the Interview: 
Los Alamos
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: I am Cindy Kelly. It is October 14, 2015. We’re in in Los Alamos, New Mexico and my first question for the gentleman with me is to tell me your name and spell it.

Bill Hudgins: William G. Hudgins. W-I-L-L-I-A-M. G stands for Gordon. Hudgins. H-U-D-G-I-N-S.

Kelly: First, could you start by telling us when you were born and where, and something about your childhood?

Hudgins: All right. My family. My mother’s side I know more about than my father’s. I know essentially nothing about my father’s side. She came from an old ranching family in the Carlsbad area of southern New Mexico. The family had been driven out of Virginia by the Civil War. Their farm, a small ranch, was in the vicinity of several of the major battlefields, and when the war started, they politically had no interest in either side of it. They packed up their covered wagon and came west.

They had two sons and a daughter at the time. I never got to know them. I came along too late. They took three years in that covered wagon coming west. Had three sons along the way, if you can imagine such a thing. Left the area in 1863, and they reached what became the Denver area at the end of that three years, and stayed there for a short time. Did not like it and came south into the territory of New Mexico and settled on the Pecos River in the southern part of the territory and built a sod house. I was quite interested in locating where that house has been built. I am within two miles of the area; that is probably as close as I will ever get to it. They stayed there a short while and explored the surrounding countryside, and finally moved over to the western slopes of the Guadalupe Mountains. 

That, geologically, is an old limestone reef. Several billion years ago, there was an arm of the ocean that covered the entire central part of the United States, and this was all ocean bottom at the time. Not a coral reef, but a different organism, a fungus, which got its nourishment from the ocean water, which the chemical turned into limestone. The reef is about 40 miles long, and there are, or used to be, seven creeks that ran parallel down towards the Pecos River running out of those mountains. The altitude is around 7200 feet, and the remnants of an Ice Age forest still growing on the top of it. 

The area lately after that, they moved in there. They reached that in 1867 and had, let us see, three, six, five, four more sons after they reached the area, nine brothers, one daughter. A very small settlement developed in the Seven Rivers area, just a small colony of ranchers that were getting their ranches developed. That was called Seven Rivers. The remains are still there, not much of it, but visible. My great grandparents, the Joneses, on my mother’s side, they were named Heiskell. Barbara was the wife’s name, but she went by Ma’am Jones. That is how everybody knew her. They were long dead by the time I came along, but lots of stories about them, and I think we could do several hours of filming on that alone.

At any rate, that is where I came from. I was born in Carlsbad. Samuel – we had three Samuels in the family, this is Samuel One – was one of the sons born after they reached this area. He settled right along the southern-most of the creeks and built an adobe house, a little bit of which was still standing when I was a child going out to spend time at the ranch, which I loved doing. They wore that out, and then built a stone house from the limestone. That was still standing, and I liked going to the room at the one end. Because it was where they made their horseshoes and any other metal requirements, because there were no stores in the area. The nearest town was on the west side of the mountains and difficult to get there. Let me see, what was the name of it: Lincoln. In Lincoln County, which still exists. It was an old Spanish town to begin with. The Spanish came into this area first about 1590, and then the early 1600s began coming in and settling down, and gave the current Pueblo Indians a really bad time. They were quite cruel to them. As much as going into a village and killing all the residents, woman and children, everybody. So those two races did not get along very well together.

Then, my father in Carlsbad and my grandfather on the other side, his father, ran the Ford agency in Carlsbad. I was about two years old. This was early 1927. They were transferred up to a little town in Colorado called Ault, A-U-L-T. It is maybe 50 miles east of Greeley, and we developed an extended family up there: my mother and father; the grandfather with the Ford agency and his wife, my grandmother; their daughter and husband. I was the only child at the time, but we all lived in one house. We had a regular visitor, my grandmother’s mother, Grandma Nelson. I may have a problem with names at this age.

Kelly: That is all right. Actually, I think we are going to have to fast forward a little bit and get to the Manhattan Project story and how you got into that.

Hudgins: So, in 1930 my father developed tonsil trouble and went in to have them removed, caught pneumonia and died. I am sorry, I left out a major item there. We were up in Colorado three years, ‘27, ‘28 and ‘29, and then the big market crash came in 1929. Nobody could afford cars anymore, so we went back to Carlsbad. From there my father went to work for the local drug store. My grandfather hired on to a state job in Santa Fe with the tax commission, and they moved to Santa Fe.

About a year after my father’s death, my mother – my younger brother was born up in Ault – we stayed in Carlsbad for about a year, and then moved up to Santa Fe with my grandparents. I was in the middle of the third grade. My brother was just starting school, and my mother stayed with us about three years and then moved back to Carlsbad, but left us there in Santa Fe, not wanting to move us out of school again. So, I grew up in Santa Fe. Now that was quite an experience. The culture in Carlsbad I call west Texas. You had the other side of the tracks where all the working people, Hispanics, blacks, where they lived, and you only saw them during the day when they came over the tracks to work at their jobs on the Anglo side. I had never seen anything different and thought everybody lived that way.

Santa Fe, no, absolutely not. It was a state capital and only 14,000 people. You could walk across town in a little over five minutes. I got into the second semester of third grade, that would have been 1931, and I had classmates that were Hispanic, and even a couple of teenagers from one of the local pueblos. I thoroughly liked that and enjoyed every minute after that. 

So that was what I grew up in. Graduated [high school] in ’42. The Navy V-12 program went on a three semester a year schedule to get graduates as soon as possible. That was a military service. I was not interested in joining the Navy, but the other three members that I never met in the engineering section of the school, we all reported to the draft board in Santa Fe periodically. Of course, it was somebody we knew. He was head of the gas company and also head of the draft board. Jim Cole was his name, and a friend of the family and everybody else in town. Everybody knew everybody. Very enjoyable.

A high number of artists – that was called the Canyon Road area of Santa Fe. Oh, there were dozens of artists that had come in early in the 1900s. A rich woman from back east, interested in such things, had found Santa Fe and thought it was just wonderful, and moved there and started developing the art center. It became a tourist attraction. Back in those days, the tourists would appear in large numbers in the summertime. Wonderful climate. Beautiful mountains around and tourists loved it. They went back home when school started in September, and left the town to itself. That changed. Movie stars found it and set up living quarters there, and the tourists stay all year round nowadays. I think the town now is about 69,000 people, last I heard.

I was five weeks into that summer semester. As I said, I never met the other three males, and heard sometime later that the draft board did not honor the fact that they were in school as they were, and they all got drafted into the Army.

I did homework with an old high school girlfriend. She had about three classes the same as I did. It was the end of calculus class one day, and this little sweet young thing came running in as we were getting packed up, being kicked out of the dormitory. We had to find a room close to the campus and we did. We could not even use the dining hall. We had to eat in these little places over on Central Avenue in Albuquerque, and I was horrified that a lunch cost $0.67. That was quite a bit of money back then. 

I would go home every weekend to visit my family. It was about $1.25 for a round trip ticket on the bus. Spend time still there and not doing local things there at the university. It was quite small at the time, I think there were maybe 1,200 students total for all four years, and graduate school, quite small. It was also on the north side of town. Essentially nothing in those days, very different now. I think the total population back then was maybe 60,000. It is far bigger than that now. So big I would not want to live there

At any rate, this little girl sat down next to my homework friend, and started jabbering about how she was tired of school. She thought she might quit school and go to work at that wartime place up on Los Alamos. That is all we knew about it. It was one of many all over everywhere, and this was still 1943, early summer. She mentioned 109 East Palace. Well, that was a prominent area of downtown Santa Fe. I knew where it was. It was some very old Spanish adobe buildings that had been modernized with plaster and so on, sidewalks, et cetera. 

I did not know the woman she mentioned, Dorothy McKibbin. Well, I happened to know her young son in the seventh grade. He was a friend of the younger of two brothers from England, Stratford-on-Avon. Hitler had started sending the rocket bombs across the channel. They could not be aimed, but he knew they would land somewhere in England, but most of them went to waste. Some did hit villages and towns and caused a considerable bit of damage. 

Kelly: Oh yes. We are getting to Dorothy McKibbin. So, this young woman said she was going there?

Hudgins: She was, I would guess, in her late 40s at the time. Kevin, seventh grade would be 12-13. Okay, and as I said, the two brothers, English brothers, were from Stratford and were staying with a distant cousin of John Meem, a prominent architect in Santa Fe at the time. All of the old school buildings up here, and the boys’ school that the government bought for the laboratory, Fuller Lodge is one of those, and that is where the boys’ school—quite expensive. There were only 15 students, and an interesting approach to lifestyle. They dressed in Boy Scout uniforms. They were teenagers. In winter and summer, shorts.

The big house that I ended up living in when I first came up here was their sleeping quarters, and there was a sleeping porch. Just a canvas screen side that would go up and down, and they would even sleep on the cots out there in the wintertime. Five layers of quilts. While I was living there, there were three other younger boys from Santa Fe that I knew. They were about three years behind me in high school, and so we had that sleeping porch and a combined dressing room. Each of us had a set of drawers. That is how we lived.

The second story, now they tore that house down when the first business center went in up here. They said it had termites, and I did not believe that for one minute. They wanted that for a parking area. That was quite close to the big house and the rooms upstairs were the classrooms for the boys in that school. When the government bought that, they moved everybody out and kept it just as it was. Even the old dog that lived in the big house, he stayed.

Back to the girl coming in and talking to my homework friend: I had mentioned the 109 East Palace. That stuck in my head. To this day I do not know why, I think I was guided by a good luck fairy that made my entire life on the very good side. Because I had full intentions of staying in that Navy V-12 school but not join them, and Lord knows where that—well I do know how it ended up. Those other three got drafted into the service. No choice, whatever. I think probably what was considered the lowest level of the Army. At any rate, that was one of the best moves I ever made, if not the best.

I wrote a letter to 109 East Palace and addressed it to Dorothy McKibbin. I got an answer right back, “Come in for an interview.” I go home on Saturday or Friday afternoons anyway, so I went up. I went in there and sat down at the desk and she leaned over to me. “Where did you hear about me?”

So I told her. “Okay, that’s all right.”

She thought maybe somebody had leaked some vital information from the laboratory. She interviewed me for an hour and a half. I had had no regular job at that young age except delivering newspapers, and I did run the slide projector at La Fonda Hotel for—what was her name? She wrote children’s books. Was quite well known. But she did lectures to the tourists at the hotel in between books. I showed the slide projector pictures for the topics of her tourist talks. I made $2.50 a week, for two hours of work. I had to do my homework on both sides of it, but I managed. So that was my working history, but I did have straight A’s from school. I think that is what got me in. 

Three days after the interview by Dorothy, I got a job offer in the mail. They could not tell me what I would be doing, but I would be making $186.50 a month. My grandfather, who had been working his entire life, had worked up to $150.00 a month working for the state. How could I resist? 

So I dropped out of school and came home to Santa Fe. Well, all I had to do was pack one little bag, that was it, so no problem. I caught the bus on Monday, and my first day here was August 8, 1943. They put me in a small group. Let me see, it was run by a fellow named Keaton Keller. I was worker number four for the group. He was a graduate chemist, and that was the basic part of the jobs we did for the scientists.

A prime example would be one of the scientists would come in and say, “I need some mercury distilling apparatus to purify some mercury, very important.” So we would make up this very complex rigging, about 6 feet square, and maybe 12 inches front to back of Pyrex glass tubing, flasks and heating units, electrical, and so on and on. Essentially what it would do was boil the mercury into a gaseous form, and do various chemical processing on it, and then cool it. The purified form would accumulate and run into a bottom container and it was ready for the user to take over. Laboratory apparatus and procedures and so on. I had had a good bit of physics and chemistry, so I could rely on that. 

Interestingly, Keaton was very disappointed in his younger brother, Rex. Rex was a good worker but not very technically educated. When he got out of high school—I am surprised that he ever finished it—he quit school completely. Never went back. Big brother was quite disappointed by that and commented on it quite often, which Rex never paid any attention to.

Incidentally, after the war was over, Keaton returned to—let me see, where was he from? Alabama. To whatever job he worked at the time, something educational of course, and Rex moved to Arizona and started a construction company. That became so successful, that after older brother retired, he went to work for his younger brother, which I thought was quite interesting, but nothing to do with my thing here. Nothing but a little sideline I always enjoyed.

I was in that group a week. The following Monday, starting my second week, I got a phone call from the draft board in Santa Fe. They had received my change of address from school to a non-school address. The address here was Box 1663. That was it. Santa Fe, New Mexico. All mail went in and out of that, and was altered according to what the people that checked the mail thought. They would black out both incoming and outgoing mail to keep things secret. 

I was instructed immediately coming to work here that I was not to contact family or any people in Santa Fe. There were no shops or stores up here, just an old second-rate trading post that had been used by the school boys.

We officially were on call 24 hours a day for our jobs, seven days a week. Mostly, we got Sundays off.  We worked Monday through Saturday officially, and if the job required it, we worked full time for whatever it took. It was primary. We would get a shopping day, one day a week on a workday. It did not do much good to go to Santa Fe on Sunday, so we could pick that day whenever it was convenient for the job. If we happened to run into anybody we knew, we were to cut it short and get away. That was instructions.  

So, that would work fairly well. A good many people used Espanola instead of Santa Fe. It was a bit closer. There were very few people who had cars up here at the time. Transportation to the valley was handled by the army buses. The whole living area up here was built around what was left of the boys’ school. Unfortunately, they tore many of the buildings down, but they did save a few and this is going to become part of the Manhattan Project [National Historical Park] for tourists.

That is how we managed for a while. We could occasionally find things at the trading post. They were gradually beginning to expand in what they carried for the local population. Now there were about 200 people total in the laboratory when I came. Not very many. As Roger [Rasmussen], a good many of them I never ran into. I had no reason to. They worked on a totally different area and location. There were outlying sites. The S-site was a major one. That is several miles to the south of us here, and still in operation. In fact, the mess hall was Army-built, and I mean half the town would go down there every Tuesday at noon for enchiladas. They were super delicious. The cooks, even though they were Army, were super good. That was one of the major things to do, and we did a lot of it.

The scientists: there were about eight who had left Germany when Hitler started taking over the government. They were smart enough to see what was coming, and they left while the leaving was good. A good many scientists did not start that in time, and ended up in the concentration camps and essentially put out of existence. The main brains were them. Back in those days, when I was heading for a field of science from high school, chemistry, physics, whatever, you had to learn to read German because so much of the science field were from Germany. The experts, the top experts in whatever field you were talking about of science, and they do not do that anymore. Not after the war. So I took German in college, and of course never used it.

That second week, I did what I was supposed to do, and passed the caller from the draft board over to the personnel director. For heaven sakes, Dave Hawkins. I remembered the name. He was a professor from the University of Colorado and was the personnel department, he and his WAAC secretary. Are you familiar with the WAAC organization? Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. They took over all secretarial positions and the business end of the laboratory. They had a barracks. I guess there maybe had been 50 of them down on what was the west end of Main Street, which is a state road. It was a dirt road during the school, as every other road here was.

This whole area [is] called the Pajarito Plateau, which is an area about 35 miles wide. The town is in the middle of it, and 50 miles north to south. That was occupied 10,000 years ago by the roaming hunter-gatherer tribes. Then back in 1000 A.D., there had been a 10-year drought up in the Four Corners area, where the four states meet. Chaco Canyon was a Pueblo big center of population, probably the finest of the ruins in existence. Big battle on whether to drill oil wells in that area now: I hope they do not; it will ruin it.

The Mesa Verde, the cliff dwellers, they had to leave. They could no longer grow food crops because of the 10-year drought, and they moved, family by family, down to this area, and they settled on the very eastern end of the mesas, plateaus. The water running down from the Valle and the mountain we have, that is an old volcanic deposit. The Valle Grande is a crater about 11 miles across. It was huge. This entire countryside clear down to the river, and some on the other side of it, are deposits from the last huge eruption, which was 1.6 million years ago. These deep layers of pumice and magma, the hard rock, the dark stuff you see, comes up from eruptions from that crater. It was advertised for tourist reasons as the largest crater in the world, but it is not. It is almost, but not quite. It is a beautiful, beautiful spot. It has just recently become a national park, thank goodness.

The Jemez Pueblo was wanting to take it over as its ancestral holy property. My gosh, they even had an article in the paper about the two ruins up in the crater, which happened to be quite small, maybe three to four room at the most in the two groups. There are three outcroppings of high quality obsidian. Highly prized by the Indians for making arrowhead and spear points. The three are chemically identifiable. Each one has a specific mineral in it. Beautiful stone: completely clear, almost colorless on one of the outcroppings.

Well, the Indians would go up there and spend a few days at a time rough cutting their points. There are several very large areas just covered. They did this for hundreds of years, probably thousands. The hunter-gatherers made their points from that material also. Points have been found made from the material originating from here in Florida, California, Mexico, Canada, and all over the United States. So quite a highly valued trade material.

So, back to that first job and that second week. I had referred the caller from the draft board. I should not get side tracked like that, I am sorry. He called the personnel director. About an hour after I had spoken to the person in Santa Fe, here he came. He said, “Well, I am sorry, you are in a position where you have to go back to school or get drafted.”

I did not want to end up in that part of the drafting service, so I went back to the big house, packed my little bag and was getting on the bus, and here came my personnel guy. I think I told you his name, Dave Hawkins. Waving a piece of paper. “Get off the bus, and go unpack and go back to work, we have a deferment.” 

Now, I never found out what was going on there back in the personnel department. Never did. Could not find anybody who could tell me about it, and he would not. He may have been dealing with General [Leslie] Groves. I have no idea who set up this whole thing. General Groves, I keep finding, I am giving him more credit for intelligence as the years go by and I discover more of what he did to set up the Manhattan Project. Now, maybe this is mostly a personal comment, but he kept Congress, primarily the Senate, out of here. They tried every way on earth to get a hand in this. It was a major project, they could tell, coming from Washington, and they wanted a part of it. Well, my opinion is if they had ever gotten in here, the bomb would never have been developed. Politics.

Kelly: Okay, so now we go back to your story.

Hudgins: The general kept them out. I unpacked, went back to work. Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning, here came Dave again. “Well, Bill, I am sorry to tell you we lost the deferment. Go pack up, go back to school.”

So again, I was getting on the bus and here came Dave. “Go back to work. We got a second deferment.”

So, I worked Wednesday afternoon and Thursday. Friday morning, guess what? A repeat. He came over to the lab. “We have lost your deferment.” I could not find out what was going on there and who with.

I said, “This is it. I am putting a stop to this. The army engineers are signing up in Santa Fe for volunteers, and I am going to take off right now and go down and join up.” So I did. Caught the bus down and went over to the building, which was the end of an old Victorian building. Full of doctors and lawyers, and the Army engineers also had an office there. Something interesting happened to them, and I never could find out.

So I signed up. The young fellow who was running the office, he was the only one there. He started giving me a recruiting speech. I said, “You do not have to do that. I have already made up my mind. I am signing up.”

He said, “Oh, please bear with me if you have the time. I would like to practice this. I have not done it to anybody before.” We took about an hour listening to that and I signed up.

I was officially in the armed services. He said, “All right, you have two weeks of pre-induction furlough.”

I called my boss up here, and I said, “I have two weeks, do you want me back. Can I come back?”

He said, “Get on the next bus and come back!” [Laughter]

Now that is how unofficial things were with paperwork. They just did not have any, and could do what they wanted on the spot at the moment. I caught the next bus up. They ran a regular series of buses during the day. You could get one just about any time. It was right down next to the De Vargas Hotel, which is still there in Santa Fe. The old filling station is not, where they stopped the busses.

I came right back to my job. They had not replaced me with anybody. I was supposed to get my written orders by mail by the end of the second week. Did not come. So that last Friday, the second week, I took off a bit early and went down to my home in Santa Fe at my grandparents. My grandfather and I started calling every place we could think of that could possibly be the meeting place for the Army recruitment. We could not find it. It finally got to be 8:00 and too late to be doing that, so we started early the next morning. I knew of an old building from World War I called the armory, which was a standard name for some sort of special building for the service. I looked it up and there it was listed with a phone number. I called it, and that was where I was supposed to be.

Fortunately, it was only five minutes from the house. I got over there immediately, just in time. The doctors were furious, because they had just finished all the physicals and were packing up to leave. But when I told them what had happened, they were okay with it. They were used to running into that sort of thing with the Army, and I got my physical.

There were four other enlistees, volunteers. Two fellows from Santa Fe, imports. Besides the artist group, there was also a fair number of—I will just come out and say it, homosexuals—because of the art colony. They were part of the population. Nothing strange. They were friends of people that you lived with. They were old. See, I was still 18. They were about 34, each of them, and that was old for me. So, that was curious to have them just going into the service at that age.

The other two were even more interesting. One was a poor 18-year-old Hispanic guy from Cordova, one of the little villages, very old Spanish villages on the other side of the valley, and the foot of the mountains, Santa Fe Mountains. That kid had a wife and two young children already. He was in, I do not know what to call it, a coma. He did not know what was happening to him. He had signed up to keep from being drafted in the army engineers, since they were the only thing open at the time. He was just in a daze, literally. I doubt that it was not unusual in those days, early 30s, that he had ever been further away from Cordova than Santa Fe. Maybe Albuquerque, but I doubt it. I tried finding him when the war was over, and never could locate him. I do not know what happened to him.

The other boy, also 18, was what I called a defrocked Hopi snake dancer. He was there because he was 18, US citizen, and was no longer a snake dancer. He had been bitten by one of the rattlesnakes, and that disqualified him to become officially one of the Pueblo dancers, which was quite a high level of position in the Hopi society. Three Mesas on the Hopis, he was from Second Mesa. That kid, if he had a bush to sleep under at night, was right at home.

Getting legally into the service where I was supposed to be, we had to go down to El Paso to the reception center, and all four of us had chosen from Camp Roberts in southern California or Camp Claiborne in Louisiana. We were going to Louisiana, and so we got a compartment courtesy of the Army, on the train. All four of us stayed in there together. It was tight, but had worked. Did not have to sit out in the car.

The first week at Camp Claiborne was out in the middle of the swamp. Unfortunately, it was fall by this time, and the hot weather was gone. There were salt tablet dispensers everywhere in that camp. When they would practice bombing, the ground would just shake like jelly. It was kind of scary. We spent five weeks there in basic training. I never once touched an M1 rifle, which was replacing the old Springfield from World War I. Out of the five weeks of basic training, I never touched a gun. I spent two weeks, because there were no people to replace me on KP [Kitchen Police] at the mess hall. So, two of my five weeks of training were in the mess hall, and I was supposed to go to either North Africa or Western Europe after five weeks of training. Incredible. But that was early on, and the services were not very well organized yet. They finally did get there.

At the end of the five weeks, we were outside, end of the training day, ready to go back to the barracks and get ready for supper. The first sergeant walked over to me. We were outside on the side of a hill, and I was just getting up to leave. He said, “Just a minute. I have some important information for you.” He handed me this envelope. A big fat envelope marked private, secret, and all other things. “Go back to the barracks and read this.”

And I did. Everybody gone. I was there four hours, I do not know, alone, before the jeep ever showed up to pick me up. In the envelope was orders to come back to Los Alamos and in what was called the Special Engineering Detachment. I found out later that the other four Manhattan Projects had been using this Special Engineer Detachment, which had been set up by General Groves, to keep from losing the civilian workers. They would go to some reception center overnight one night and come back as a formal army member. It was set up by Groves just for that. SEDs. 

Well, I find out from my orders that I was now an SED, and finally the jeep picked me up, took me back to Alexandria, and I caught the train there. All my tickets and everything. It took three days to get across Texas back to Fort Bliss in El Paso and the reception center, and I stayed one night there. Then they put me on the bus and sent me to Albuquerque. From Albuquerque, then I was supposed to catch a bus to Santa Fe and then a bus from Santa Fe to Los Alamos. Well, I knew Albuquerque, and I just got off the train in Albuquerque and walked over to the bus station and spent $1.25 and got myself home in Santa Fe.

Called my boss from there and he said, “Well, here it is Saturday, just come up on the Monday morning bus.” I got the weekend at home, and this time, when I went back to work, I was in a different group. This was working directly with plutonium and uranium. It was just the exact job which vocation day in my senior year of high school – I had been going to that every year to listen to the talks by various professional people. There was a chemical engineer in Santa Fe who had made him a very good living and did all sorts of interesting jobs in his field. That is what I was headed for, chemical engineering. This was what he precisely described: “Do not ever do it, getting into a job analyzing things, one particular thing, over and over and over all day.” He said, “That is a dead end.” Well, indeed it is.

However, a wartime job, forget it. My pay had gone up a bit, and that $186.00 was really top notch for the area and probably the whole country back in those days. I told you my grandfather had worked all the way up to $150 a month. Of course, back in those days, big candy bars, five cents; big soft drinks, five cents; double feature movie in the afternoon on Saturday, 10 cents. It went clear up to 15 cents on Sunday. Prices like that. My grandmother managed to cook for the four of us for $35 a month, and she put away about out of that $150 about $5 of savings every month. She was very good at it.

That was the situation, so the pay up here was considered very good. I was buying war bonds with my leftover. I kind of followed her lifestyle. So, I had a new boss, Art Wahl. It was one of his laboratories. He was the division head, and happened to marry about that time, an older girl, that was just ahead of me in high school. Her dad ran what was called the Maytag shop, washing machines and refrigerators and whatnot, and one of the better businesses in Santa Fe. So she was well to do. So, I already knew his wife when he brought her around.

I worked in that group for quite a while, months. It gradually expanded connections with the adjoining labs. I got to making up fancier concoctions chemically and beginning to expand, it became an interesting job. I followed my vocation adviser as he said I should do. So that was working out just great. When I reported back to the lab, I had to go to a Captain Ralph Carlisle Smith. He was regular Army working with Groves and worked with the personnel department people, and I had to report to him.

He was my commanding officer. He started off when I got to his office, saying, “Now, I am sorry I have to tell you this, but I must: your working conditions. We want to keep as little as possible irritation between the military and civilian population here at the laboratory. So, you are going to have to dress in civilian clothing at work.” I spent nights down at the MP building, where they slept.

Barracks, you got it. The MP barracks, I had a bunk there. It was kind a bit of a problem because they wore uniforms and I did not. I had to take all my clothing back from my younger brother, which irritated him. He was about three years behind me in school. So that was the living situation. Work going very well, and getting better.

About that time, they broke my part of the division. It was not a group yet; that had not appeared in T [Theoretical] Division. Almost, but not quite. We were taking on more complicated chemistry production and learning laboratory usage of all sorts of things, and developing whatever the scientists needed in their particular field, so I was learning quite a bit. I felt this was going to be quite useful when civilian life comes up again, getting back to school and so on. It could head me into some very interesting directions. That was working out beautifully.

Then I did a reorganization and I ended up with Rebecca Bradford, who later married Ben Diven, one of the upper scientists, physicists. She was about 35 [misspoke: 25] and here I was still now 19, looked like I was about 14. She mothered me, which I always enjoyed. I usually had three or four mothers around because of that. That worked out just great.

I started getting some fairly important work in the chemistry field, and knowing a lot of my way around the equipment, and lots of electronics back in those days being developed. That went on a while longer. I think the war was still going, but we were in early 1945, and it was August 5 [misspoke: August 6] that year that the [Hiroshima] bomb was dropped.

Now, I had a weird attitude. I was not officially approved to go down to watch the tests in the southern part of the state in White Sands, but all the major scientists were able to do that and allowed. I would have been allowed to go up to the top of the Albuquerque Sandia Mountains, and would be able to see the glow from the explosion from there. I was not interested. In fact, I purposely stayed away from there. I did the same thing when the war was officially ended. We only learned about it about, I think, 10:00 or 10:30 one night.

Meanwhile, the Army had built barracks for the SEDs. In early 1944, January. The first of the imported SEDs were coming in. Five glassblowers that had been collected from all over the country before shipping out to Europe. One of them, Carl Betz from Philadelphia, and I got to be good friends. Meanwhile, they were building our barracks and a mess hall down at the West End Trinity, pretty close to the “WAAC shack,” they called it. And built a mess hall down there also. The civilians and army personnel mixed.

It was about half and half at the mess halls and everything else. There was a north mess, and that building still exists. They tore down all the dormitories when the Army left here for the civilians, and where the little theater is, that building was the north mess hall and still recognizable. Then the Army built these double-story buildings army-style for the married couples, and then there were dormitories for married couples with no kids and single people. When I first got into the service here, I got out of the big house and into one of the dormitories, which was a big improvement.

Kelly: You were talking about when the war ended and what happened then?

Hudgins: There was a big to-do in the barracks. Everybody got up out of the bunks. I did like I did with watching the glow: I stayed in bed. I wanted no part of that. I never understood why, but I definitely did not want to be part of it. The war was over and that was it.

Kelly: So how do you feel 70 years after the fact about all of this experience?

Hudgins: I think it was unique. I fully appreciate being part of it. The laboratory has always worked on other items, science-wise, that are extremely beneficial to everybody in the United States: improving things, new inventions. They are never publicized. Why on earth the personnel department of the laboratory does not push that? It would give the public a true opinion of what this is all about. For a short time after the war, there was a chance that the government would shut down the laboratories. They did not, and what the other four are doing at this point, I do not know.

I ran into an old high school friend that I used to date. She was two years behind me in school, and she was just out of college. Ran into her on the plaza in Santa Fe, and we started dating. This was about, let me see, I was back in school. I got out of the Army in 1945, right at the end of the year. I had the GI Bill; I could go to any college I wanted. I had worked with several people from the University of California at Berkeley. I was quite interested in that and I picked up college there, second year. Then, at the end of that first semester, at the end of that year, I had a big awakening. 

My major interest was the local archeology. I thought, “Why am I studying chemical engineering?” I changed over. Berkeley’s department was way down at the bottom. Their anthropology department was in an old secondhand Quonset hut that was falling apart. They had about four professors that were in offices in a condemned 1880s building. Could not have classes there. 

Well, the University of New Mexico was right at the top in the nation in archeology and anthropology. I came back home, and majored in that and graduated in Middle American archeology. That was 1950. I came back to Santa Fe, and my mother and [her] second husband were living there at the time. I stayed with them. Helped him. He was an electrician, and I learned how to wire houses and went looking for a job.

It was impossible to find one in my field. Just at the time it was right dab at the bottom of available jobs. I called my old boss and I said I was out of school. I had been working at my old job during summers and Christmas vacations. I called my boss, Becky, and said, “Well, I think I need to come back to my old job temporarily while I am looking for my correct job for my field.”

“Come right on up, catch the bus as soon as you can. We can use you.”

So I picked up where I left off the last summer, and I got to enjoying it so much, I finally quit looking for a job in my new field. I do a lot of ruin studying now in my spare time, which is a lot. My son does it the same way too and comes up quite often from Albuquerque, and I like retirement very much. I am going to continue it as long as possible. 

Kelly: I think the last line about loving retirement is a very good way to end, unless you have anything else that you have to say?

Hudgins: I am right at home here. I could not find another place that I like as much at all. In two minutes I can be completely out of town away from any housing, and having fun searching for the ruins. There are 7,000 archeological sites on the Pajarito Plateau, and it is going to take me a while to get to all those.

Kelly: That is great.

Hudgins: They just opened up those first settlements when the Indians first came in here in 1000 A.D., little tiny single maybe 2-3 rooms at the most, where they first settled the family units and they are still there. They settled there because there were Navajos and Apaches in the area, and those were the most easily defended because of the steep cliffs. Then, as they grew bigger, they moved westward until they got the huge ruins of several hundred people.