The Manhattan Project

Eulalia Quintana Newton's Interview

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Eulalia Quintana Newton's Interview

Eulalia “Eula” Quintana Newton worked at Los Alamos for a total of 53 years, beginning in 1944. She received a Distinguished Performance Award for her exceptional service to the Los Alamos laboratory. In this interview, she discusses the many jobs she held at Los Alamos. After working in the housing and secretarial departments, she eventually rose to the position of group leader in the mail and records department. Quintana Newton recalls being the first Hispanic woman without a college degree to become a group leader at the laboratory. She also describes the impact of Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project on the Española Valley community.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
December 29, 2008
Location of the Interview: 
El Convento
Transcript: 

[Thanks to David Schiferl and Willie Atencio for recording this interview and providing a copy to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]

Willie Atencio: Eula, you went to school in Española, right? Española?

Eula Quintana Newton: Yes, I did.

Atencio: You were the valedictorian of your class?

Quintana Newton: That’s right.

Atencio: The Class of 19—

Quintana Newton: ’42.

Atencio: 1942. Then, you worked in San Juan for a while, for the state.

Quintana Newton: For the Welfare Department.

Atencio: Welfare Department. How did you end up going to work at Los Alamos?

Quintana Newton: When I found out that they were hiring, that they were beginning to hire personnel to work with the Army, the Manhattan Engineer District, I became interested. I applied for a job. I got a job for a couple of months working as a charwoman, they called it. We used to make the beds for the Oppenheimers and all the scientists that were up there. In a couple of months, it just happened that my neighbor, Berlina Quintana, was working in personnel. They started recruiting office help. She put a bug in my ear that there was an opening.

Atencio: You heard from Berlina Archuleta that they needed office help.

Quintana Newton: Right. I went to apply for a job in the personnel office. Lo and behold, I was interviewed and I got it. I got a job working in the fiscal office. We were reconciling invoices, and of course, we didn’t know what the—they ordered some funny things. Of course, we had no idea what they were talking about. But we had to check the invoices to make sure that everything was kosher.

Gradually, I went from clerk to clerk stenographer, and I worked for a man called Max Wishnefski, who was originally from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After that, our office became the Finance Division, and the first one that we worked for was the Adjutant General. His name was Major Davis. Then it became the Finance Division, and I went to work for Colonel Martin. I guess I was probably a clerk typist at the time. I and several of the members of the military personnel did all the typing of all the checks. The military, the civilians – all the checks that were paid out by our office – we had to type. We also had to type all the bonds. Some of the people would buy bonds and we had to type those.

After that, I went to the travel section and I—

Atencio: Who did you work for in the travel?

Quintana Newton: In the travel section, I worked for – Pat Karam was her name. She became McAndrew. But in the fiscal office, I worked with Pat Krikorian, whose picture hangs in the [Los Alamos History] Museum right now. I guess she worked part of the time for the Tech Area, but preliminarily she worked in the unclassified section of the fiscal office with me. Both of us did the work on the invoices.

When I went to the travel office, I worked with Pat Karam, and a Sid [Seymour] Berger, who was from New York. We did the travel function. Eventually, they hired a civilian in the travel office. This was still military personnel. They hired a civilian to head the travel office, because Sid Berger and Pat were transferred to other offices. I worked with Eleanor Garrett at the time. Then, when the travel function was transferred to another office, that is when I went to the finance office.

Atencio: While you worked in these offices, did you know what was going on at Los Alamos?

Quintana Newton: We had no idea—nobody did. Nobody knew what they were doing, at least not the unclassified portion of it. That work all stayed in the tech areas.

I remember very distinctly, having lived in a dorm for several years, that the address of everybody at Los Alamos used to use was P.O. Box 1539, Santa Fe, New Mexico. All the personal mail went to that address. Later on, they established a Mail and Records in the Tech Area. It was headed by – I don’t remember the name of the man that headed the mailroom – but Fred Roach transferred from the post office to the Tech Area and went to work in the mail section. 

I remained with the Department of Energy, with the Atomic Energy Commission, whatever else they named that office. Now it’s the Los Alamos Area Office. Then I was a secretary. Again, I was in the finance office typing up all these cost reports. At that time, we were doing classified work, which I cannot elaborate on. I became a “clerk steno,” that’s what they used to call us. I used to take dictation. I had different supervisors: Charles Pfingsten, Bob Maine, and several others.

Then they moved to Albuquerque. At the time that the military was disbanded from Los Alamos, some of them were transferred down to Kirtland [Air Force Base] and others were down—I guess they all went to Kirtland. The civilians became a part of the Albuquerque Operations Office. When they transferred to Albuquerque, I didn’t. My parents frowned on the idea of my going down there. At that time, in 1947, in March of ’47, I left Los Alamos, came down to Española, became secretary to the superintendent of schools, Hubert Prather. He became sick in 1951, early in ’51. At that time, I didn’t want to remain at the high school. I was offered a job at the Los Alamos Area Office, as secretary. I went up there and worked in the personnel office.

One of my bosses was responsible for hiring the fire department personnel. Then, when I transferred from that function, I went to work for – still in personnel – Vince Mowbray, and we did the recruiting of the Pro [Protective] Force. One of my functions was to call the applicants for the Pro Force jobs and make the offer to them. I think I say that in [inaudible] thing. There’s still one person – it just happens that he’s my neighbor, by the name of Ethan Ekberg – that still remembers when I called him to offer him the job as a security guard.

Atencio: Going back to the early days of Los Alamos, where were you when you found out what was going on at Trinity?

Quintana Newton: We were in the Finance Division.

Atencio: Okay.

Quintana Newton: Oh, my gosh, that was quite—

Atencio: How did the people in Los Alamos react to the Trinity test?

Quintana Newton: Oh, everybody was elated. Everybody—they had parties, they raised all kinds of Cain, like they hadn’t done before. Everybody was so happy, and they had a big reunion downtown. Oppenheimer was there. Robert Oppenheimer was the gentlest person that I have encountered. He would walk by, no matter whether it was a janitor or office help or whatever, he’d tip his little hat, and he would always speak. He made no distinction whatsoever.

Atencio: What other scientists besides Oppenheimer did you know? Did you know [Edward] Teller?

Quintana Newton: Oh, yeah, I knew-

Atencio: Okay. What are your impressions of Teller?

Quintana Newton: He was always kind of a rough man. Always had a rough voice and always spoke with authority. He wanted people to know that he had the authority. Of course, [inaudible] [Isidor] Rabi and all those, we knew them by face, but we didn’t have the privilege of getting acquainted with them. We would see them.

Atencio: Did you ever see Enrico Fermi?

Quintana Newton: I saw Enrico Fermi. Yes, I did.

Atencio: After the Trinity test, did you have any indication that the bomb would be dropped on Japan?

Quintana Newton: No, no.

Atencio: What happened after the bombs were dropped on Japan? What was the reaction at Los Alamos?

Quintana Newton: That was when all hell broke loose, and everybody celebrated. Harold Agnew, I remember, was a part of the group that was on the Enola Gay. He had something to do with dropping the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But he was a very humble man. He didn’t, he didn’t let you know that hehe stooped down to everyone’s level. 

Atencio: Were there any big changes at Los Alamos after the end of the war?

Quintana Newton: Yes, there were. Because all the military personnel left. All the scientists, the big scientists, left. The only ones left were people like [Norris] Bradbury and Carson Mark and [Duncan P.] MacDougall, the people that became division leaders. Then they started hiring the ones they needed and getting rid of the ones that they didn’t need. It was quite an experience.

Atencio: How did you travel to Los Alamos when you first went to work there during the war years?

Quintana Newton: At first, you know, they had the Cuesta de la Culebra, which is, I guess, “Snake Hill.” We used to ride up with my father, and there were points along the way where we had to stop to let a car go by. Because, it was like a horse trail. There was not room for two cars on the road. Eventually, they widened the road a little bit, but it was still rough, to the point where it became a two-lane road. It was a two-lane road for years and years, until, I guess they started getting more money in the budget or something, or they got tired of driving on those rough roads, and they started widening the roads. 

Atencio: Did you ever travel to Los Alamos by Army bus?

Quintana Newton: All the time. After my father quit working up there, because he started—he worked in the Sigma Building, in the old Sigma Building. He started feeling poorly. He said, “I am not going to stay up there.” Knowing what I know now, I’m sure that he was exposed to a lot of stuff that he didn’t like, or something made him decide to quit. He came back to Española, and we moved up there—my sister and I moved up there to the dorms. That was when we had to ride the buses on the weekend to come home and back up on Monday morning to go back up.

Atencio: Do you remember who some of the drivers were of the Army buses?

Quintana Newton: We had a very popular WAC [Women’s Army Corps member]—what was her name? I can’t remember her name, but she was one of the last ones to leave Los Alamos. Then they had a lot of soldiers, whose names I don’t remember. We used to have dances at Riverside Hall in Española, and there were soldiers from here that would go to the dances down there. Of course, the few men that weren’t in the service – the 4-Fers, you might say, or the ones that got deferments – were jealous of these soldiers that were going down there to invade their property, their women. They would have some really good fights. Finally, they got used to the idea of the soldiers going down to the dances, and they were accepted. But it a took a lot of doing for that to happen.

Atencio: Most of the people from the Valley used to commute to Los Alamos by Army bus.

Quintana Newton: Right.

Atencio: Do you remember some of those drivers?

Quintana Newton: The civilians?

Atencio: The civilian drivers.

Quintana Newton: Your dad was one of them.

Atencio: Okay. Besides my dad. 

Quintana Newton: Miguel Atencio.

Atencio: What about your uncle, Miguel?

Quintana Newton: Yeah, Miguel.

Atencio: Miguel Gomez.

Quintana Newton: Miguel Gomez.

Atencio: At what point did they stop the buses? After the war?

Quintana Newton: Yes. After the war, and after the military personnel were all transferred to Albuquerque, they did away with the buses. Everybody—by that time, they had widened the road and everybody just commuted.

I never moved down here until 1947, when I quit to go to work at the high school. I lived up there all the time after my father quit working.

Atencio: What big impact did Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project have on the Española Valley?

Quintana Newton: It was an entirely different world. Like I’ve said before, it was a one-horse town. You were too little to remember that, if you were even born.

Atencio: Yeah. I was born in 1937.

Quintana Newton: Oh, were you? It just changed everybody’s life for the better. Because you know how we all had outdoor toilets. A lot of homes didn’t have telephones. We didn’t have any of the modern conveniences. I’ll never forget that I bought my mother her first electric refrigerator with the money that I made up there, little by little, you know. We were allowed to pay $10 down and $10 a month. We modernized the house, we made things a lot more convenient. People have done that. I think that people in the Valley always took Los Alamos for granted, because nobody had modern conveniences, and then they started going over their heads and building homes that actually they shouldn’t have built, because, you know, they’re too expensive to keep up now in this day and age. Our lives changed entirely.

Of course, we missed a lot of the fun things, because they did away with the railroad. I remember my grandmother and I taking the Chili Line to Antonito. She had relatives there, and it went as far as Alamosa, so we got off in Antonito and the train went on from there. We went on one day and came back about a week later.

There were very few people that had cars. I remember when my father bought his first car. He bought a car with a rumble seat, and there were three of us girls that used to have to squeeze in the rumble seat. He and my mother would have the luxury of riding the front seat.

David Schiferl: Did you ever meet Klaus Fuchs?

Quintana Newton: No, but I’m sure that I saw him at one time or another. On Thursday nights, all the big shots up there—Teller, all of them, Bradbury – Bradbury was a soldier at the time—they all used to congregate at the Fuller Lodge. I think it was on a Thursday. On Thursdays they always had—George Marchi used to be the chef, and he made the best spaghetti in the world. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten spaghetti like that. They would all go to that. Nobody would miss the spaghetti on that particular night.

Schiferl: Did you ever meet Seth Neddermeyer? The one that came up with the implosion idea.

Quintana Newton: No, I don’t think I did.

Schiferl: I’m not surprised, but I had to try.

Quintana Newton: Yeah.

Schiferl: How about Jim Tuck?

Quintana Newton: Oh, yeah, he always—

Schiferl: Tell us about Jim Tuck.

Quintana Newton: Jim Tuck. Jim Tuck was the division leader of the Physics Division for many, many years. He always had his little pipe—that’s what I remember about him. You know, he was a very distinguished-looking man. I can remember him, especially as being a part of Mail and Records where we had to route the mail. He got a lot of mail, you know, from big shots and people in Washington and all that.

Schiferl: How about Hans Bethe? 

Quintana Newton: Hans Bethe, I knew Hans Bethe. I think it’s in that ceremony when they celebrated Agnew’s 80th birthday.

Atencio: There’s an invitation there to a joint—

Quintana Newton: Yeah. Actually, that’s the last time that I saw Hans Bethe, was at his award ceremony. That’s how long it’s been since I last saw him.

Schiferl: Richard Feynman.

Quintana Newton: Feynman?

Schiferl: Feynman.

Quintana Newton: I saw his picture hanging in the hallway enough that I feel like I knew him.

Schiferl: He was awfully junior during the war.

Quintana Newton: Yeah, yeah.

Schiferl: But he didn’t stay junior.

Quintana Newton: Yeah, yeah. He wasn’t one of those that stayed, because I knew all the division leaders.

Atencio: Okay. You knew Bradbury very well?

Quintana Newton: Yeah. In fact—

Atencio: How well did you know Bradbury and what were your impressions of Norris Bradbury?

Quintana Newton: He was very, very nice. I mean, I worked for Pat McAndrew in Mail and Records already, and she gave me the task of buying his retirement gift. I went to the Chimayo Trading Post, Chimayo Ortega’s weaving shop, and I bought him a beautiful white with turquoise blue Chimayo rug. He loved it. When he retired, Pat had a little party for him in Mail and Records, where we presented him with that Chimayo rug. He went to my retirement party, and he honored me by giving me a photograph. I have a large photograph of him. But I didn’t even venture going to get it, and Agnew did the same thing.

The directors that were there for my retirement party, which is the biggest party that was ever held for a retiring employee at the lab, they honored me by giving me a picture of themselves. [Donald] Kerr wrote me a very nice letter, which I have among my souvenirs here. I knew all the directors, Bradbury. To me it was quite an honor that I got to pick Bradbury’s retirement gift.

Atencio: You retired as a group leader.

Quintana Newton: I retired as a group leader after nine years of being a group leader. 

Atencio: What year did you retire? 

Quintana Newton: 1988. December 1or November 1.

Atencio: Okay. How many directors were at your retirement party?

Quintana Newton: Agnew was there. [Siegfried] Hecker couldn’t go, because he was out of town. Bradbury was there. Charles Browne was the Deputy Director for Administration or something like that. Kerr wrote the letter because he couldn’t be there. Hecker was the director at the time that I left, and he was out of town or out of the country, and he wasn’t there. I had a lot of the deputies.

Nick Metropolis, well, he was the one that developed the MANIAC, as you well know. He was a personal friend of mine. If he had mail to send out, he would go to me directly. He didn’t want to go to my people, he thought that I was the only one that could do it. I would just turn around and give it to somebody to process, but he didn’t know that, you know. He just thought he was getting personal attention.

Atencio: Did you know MacDougall? Duncan MacDougall.

Quintana Newton: You know what, Duncan MacDougall and I were quite often the only people in the Ad Building working on Sundays. You know, I had such a responsibility, I couldn’t possibly absorb everything I had to do during the working day. A lot of times I would feed my family maybe, or maybe I’d just cook and go on up to work. Duncan MacDougall was always there. I would stop to chat with him or he’d chat with me.

Atencio: What about Bob Thorn?

Quintana Newton: I knew him really well. Bob Thorn gave me a beautiful plant that I had in my office when I was group leader. It was as tall as the ceiling. It was a schefflera plant.

I knew him well. He gave my group money to buy wine for my retirement party. He was contributing to the delinquency of minors. But he was a wonderful theoretician, or I think that he was a theoretician at the time, because he was division leader of the TD Division, which was the theoretical division. I knew Bob [Richard] Taschek. He was in P Division after Tuck, division leader after James Tuck.

Atencio: How many people did you supervise while you were a group leader?

Quintana Newton: In the summertime, I had 34 people because I used to gain some of the summer students.

Atencio: What big award were you given at the lab?

Quintana Newton: I was given the Distinguished Performance Award in 1983. I got a single award. Lydia Martinez and I got the single. The rest were group awards.

Atencio: What do you think? Anything else that you find amusing about working at Los Alamos?

Quintana Newton: I loved it. I was treated royally. I felt that I couldn’t have accomplished any more than I did, considering that I did not have a college degree, and I made it to group leader. So how could I be ungrateful? I loved the laboratory. After I retired, I worked 13 more years. First as a lab associate, they did away with the program, and then just as a contract person.

Atencio: You first went to work at Los Alamos in 1944.

Quintana Newton: Right. In January of ’44. I quit my job in the Welfare Department in ’43. 

Atencio: Then you worked as long as—?

Quintana Newton: ’47, until the war was over, and all the military personnel was gone.

Atencio: When was the last time you worked at Los Alamos? 

Quintana Newton: I went back in ’51 and I worked until ’72.

Atencio: 1972. And later you worked as a contractor, right?

Quintana Newton: I worked for [William] Floyd doing the radiation exposure claims down here in Española for a year. I retired altogether in 2003.

Atencio: 2003. So, you were at Los Alamos off and on since 1944 until 2003.

Quintana Newton: Right. If I counted right, I worked up there 53 years.

Schiferl: Did you ever know Bob Mills in the ‘50s?

Quintana Newton: I did.

Schiferl: Robert L. Mills, yes.

Quintana Newton: He was a division leader. I believe he was, if I remember correctly, either CMB [Chemistry-Metallurgy Baker Division] or CMF [Chemistry-Metallurgy Fowler Division].

Schiferl: He did cryogenics, low-temperature stuff, yeah.

Quintana Newton: It was CMF, because Ed Hammel became Assistant Director for Energy, and Bob Mills remained.

Schiferl: Can you tell us a little about Ed Hammel and Bob Mills?

Quintana Newton: I don’t know as much about Mills as I do Hammel. When Hammel was the Assistant Director for Energy, we worked for him. He was one of the ones that we routed mail to. He became totally dependent on us. I have a note from him, but I couldn’t put my hands on it, where he thanked me very much for having done the work that we did because he knew that he could depend on our records.

It was up to me to determine what records were of historical value. My people would process all the records at the end of the year. We would keep records for a year in our active files. Anything older than a year, we would have sent to the central records, to the records center. He wrote me a note telling me that he was really proud of me and my people, because for years and centuries the laboratory would continue to rely on the records that we sent, which have now become historical.

That is true. We did that. It was up to me to tell them, “This goes to the records center,” and they would microfilm them. Anybody that wants records now can go to Mail and Records and find even the records going back to – before the Manhattan Engineers, they sent all their records to Oak Ridge or somewhere. The records that were originated up there—classified and unclassified—were transferred to the records center for storage and microfilmed. Now I’m sure that for historical purposes, people can go down there and get all the records they want and need for whatever purpose.

Hammel was a wonderful man. I am so sorry to hear that he is not able to do what he did anymore, because he was a really good person, both scientifically and personally.

Schiferl: What about Paul Guthals? Did you know Paul Guthals?

Quintana Newton: Oh, I knew Paul Guthals. I still know him. I go to retirement parties up there. They invite me—like Christmas and stuff. Paul Guthals was always there. He was in J-11, and he was very instrumental in doing the flight things, you know. A lot of his stuff—most of it was classified. He had his own laboratory plane, all that.

Bob Mills was in cryogenics. I know he got and sent a lot of correspondence, but I didn’t personally know him as well as I would’ve liked to.

Schiferl: He was a great practical joker, among other things. 

Quintana Newton: Yeah, yeah. The division leaders that were there when I went to work in Mail and Records – it was in ’57. I knew them, or something about all of them, because of the processing of the mail.

Atencio: Did you know Thomas Shipman?

Quintana Newton: Oh, Dr. Shipman?

Atencio: Dr. Shipman. 

Quintana Newton: Yeah, I did. 

Atencio: And Dr. Baker from CMB?

Quintana Newton: He was a sweetheart. Bob Baker became deputy assistant to—well, who was director at the time? Well, he became Deputy Director for Weapons. You know—

Atencio: CMB Division was named for Dr. Baker.

Quintana Newton: Yeah, yeah.

Atencio: Chemical and metallurgy under Baker.

Quintana Newton: And then under [Robert] Fowler.

Atencio: Then CMF was CMF under Fowler.

Quintana Newton: Yeah. 

Atencio: Chemical and metallurgy. 

Quintana Newton: Robert Fowler also.

Atencio: Over that many years, there have been many, many experiences.

Quintana Newton: We had our bad encounters at times because people resented the fact that we opened their mail. They didn’t know that there was a director’s office memo giving Mail and Records the authority to open and handle the mail. We had that authority from the director. They would call Agnew. There was one person from T Division that was very, very angry because we opened one of his personal letters, and he complained to Agnew about it. All Agnew did was tell him, “If you don’t want your mail opened, send it to a home address.” So that took care of that.

Schiferl: I’m trying to think of other names that—

Quintana Newton: Jane Hall. Jane Hall was assistant director to Bradbury. She was in charge of all the weapons programs. GMX – WX now – but GMX at the time. All the T Division, TD, all those were under her purview.

Atencio: You knew Jane Hall very, very well?

Quintana Newton: Yeah, oh, yeah. I had to go to her office almost every day. Very well.

Schiferl: Max Fowler, do you know him?

Quintana Newton: M Division?

Schiferl: M Division, yeah.

Quintana Newton: C.M. Fowler. I knew him.

Schiferl: Yes, that’s right.

Quintana Newton: I knew him, but you know, I didn’t personally. I saw him and they always invited me to any function the director’s office had. My husband and I were always invited to their parties. Even Don Kerr had a big party at the Rancho Encantado in Tesuque. I was one that got the glory of going to that. Al Graves was a great guy too. You know, he was in the testing division, J Division. He was quite an important person up there.

Schiferl: What was the lab like in the early ‘50s, around the time of the [Ivy] Mike shot? Can you tell us a little bit about the feeling there?

Quintana Newton: In the early ‘50s, I still wasn’t at the lab, but it was a classified program. There wasn’t much that they could discuss in open form.

Schiferl: Can you tell us two of the funniest or strangest things that happened to you at the lab—unclassified funny or strange, of course?

Quintana Newton: The strangest thing. I guess the strangest thing that happened to me was that I was the first Hispanic group leader that didn’t have a degree up there. That’s the strangest thing that happened to me. Agnew named me to the first women’s committee that they had up there. I found that strange because I just never expected it to happen.

Atencio: She had a lot of responsibility, taking care of the director’s office mail, and it had to be done right. 

Quintana Newton: That’s why I was not real popular with my employees, because I had to be strict. We had to do it right. We had to catch typos. We had to scan all the mail for typos, and it was our responsibility to return everything back. If somebody was making a compromise to sell or buy something, that we had to send it through the proper division leader. Quite often, it was rejected. Of course, they blamed us for being in the middle of it. Those were times where we used to kind of sweat a little bit, but it always got resolved, you know. 

Schiferl: What are a couple of the highlights in your career, things that you are the very proudest of? That could include even things you’ve told us.

Quintana Newton: Well, I guess, the thing that was the proudest was when they told me that I had been nominated for the Distinguished Performance Award. That they had to get an endorsement from all the directors’ offices, and some of the division offices. That I got it, that made me very proud.

Unidentified Female: Who did you like to spend most of your free time with, when you were still at Los Alamos, but you weren’t at work?

Quintana Newton: What did I enjoy doing? While I was working or after I retired?

Unidentified Female: After a workday, while you were still working, but when you got off work.

Quintana Newton: I would come home to my family, because I had two little girls at home that I had to take care of. My mother was my babysitter for one of them, and then I had to get a babysitter for the other one.

After I retired, and in the summers when I was a lab associate, we had the good fortune of traveling to Alaska. We took our fifth wheel trailer and truck, and we went to Alaska. It was about 11,000 miles round trip, and we did that three years. I enjoyed that very, very much. Now I’m at home with my puppy. I lost my husband three years. It’ll be four years the 26th of January.