The Manhattan Project

Lydia Martinez's Interview (2017)

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Lydia Martinez's Interview (2017)

Lydia Martinez grew up in El Rancho, NM, and began to work at Los Alamos when she was seventeen years old during the Manhattan Project. She worked in various jobs during the war and after it became the Los Alamos National Laboratory, including as babysitter, secretary, and technician. In this interview, she describes her forty-two years of employment of being a technician, maid, secretary and other positions. She also affectionately describes the Gordons, whom she babysat for, and other various figures of the Manhattan Project including the Tellers.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
February 4, 2017
Location of the Interview: 
Santa Fe
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: I am Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is Saturday, February 4, 2017. I have with me Lydia Martinez. My first question for you is to say your name and spell it.

Lydia Martinez: Lydia L-y-d-i-a G. Martinez M-a-r-t-i-n-e-z.

Kelly: Can you tell us what the G stands for?

Martinez: Gomez. We have the Gomez Ranch also.

Kelly: Tell me about the Gomez family. How far back does it go?

Martinez: We traced our ancestry all the way to Spain, but we have a lot of French blood. There were fur trappers that went to Taos, and we descended from one of those fur trappers. He was French.

Kelly: That is very interesting.

Martinez: Then the Gomez. Well, they always lived in El Rancho, and they farmed. We used to help at the farm. They were just very, very beautiful people. Very kind. They had a lot of cattle and hogs, and they would butcher and give all the neighbors meat. We have very good memories.

Kelly: Your memories are of the homestead, the big ranch that your mother’s mothers had?

Martinez: Yes.

Kelly: The Gomez family?

Martinez: Yes.

Kelly: Can you tell us, what were some of your memories?

Martinez: We used to get our drinking water from the canyon there. Then they had a cistern and they would put the water there. We would start farming early in the morning. We had a two-story cabin, and they would do a lot of cooking for the people that worked there. I only went up in the summers, because we had school in the winter. I have never been very much for farming. My brother was Associate Superintendent in Espanola of the schools. He is always telling stories about Los Alamos, about the farm, the ranch.

Kelly: Did he enjoy farming more?

Martinez: Yes, because after he retired, he has a big place where he has a lot of fruit trees. His children are both engineers, and I do not think they want any part of farming either. It is just the older ones. Frances [Gomez Quintana] was more into farming than I was. I never cared for it.

I went to boarding school at McCurdy, and I got a scholarship. I went to college in Nebraska. When I came back, I worked at Los Alamos with the military and WACs. I was a technician inspecting some corks that had wires soldered. I would measure the diameter and put them in the different thicknesses or whatever. Then they would go to somebody else, and she would put them in this housing unit that had holes, and put those in. Then the PETN [Pentaerythritol tetranitrate] would go in, and she would press it. I do not know too much about what happened after that.

When I worked up there in the summer, we would sit outside and have safety meetings in the summer. It was mostly military. My sergeant was Sergeant William McDonald, and someone said he is still up at Los Alamos. I tried to locate him, because he was very good to me. I was the youngest one in the group, and we would go to parties and he would kind of be my dad. A very good person.

Kelly: You had finished college by the time the war started? Were you a WAC, or was this after the war? When did you work at Los Alamos?

Martinez: During the war.

Kelly: During the war.

Martinez: Because I got a card from President [Harry] Truman thanking me for my service, for my work at the Manhattan Project. I still have it.

Kelly: That is marvelous.

Martinez: Then after that, after I came back from college, I worked in the housing office. We processed 300 civilian guards when the military left. I was there a short time, and then I transferred to the lab. I had different positions. When I retired after forty-two years, I had worked for the weapons designers, they were all Ph.D.’s. Very, very hard workers. I think they were an influence on my life, seeing how hard they worked. Then I became property manager and did a lot of budget work. The Ph.D.’s that I worked for were so nice, you would not know they were so well-educated compared to my education.

Kelly: When were you born?

Martinez: 1926. Then it would have been—well, they had not done the atomic bomb yet, so I was working in parts for the atomic bomb.

Kelly: So you were seventeen?

Martinez: Seventeen.

Kelly: Seventeen years old. What do you remember about the government coming and taking over your family ranch?

Martinez: My brother Pete said that he and my dad went to harvest. We used to raise wheat and beans, mostly beans. When they were leaving, they had the crop in the truck, and they really checked them out. There were guards all over the place on horseback, he said, because we were at one of the mesas. Where I worked was called South Mesa; that is where we did the weapons.

I was in one of the sites, the one called South Mesa. After the summer when I went back to school, then I started working as a secretary.

Kelly: After school? How many years were you at school?

Martinez: I just went one year.

Kelly: One year to college.

Martinez: And then I started working at Los Alamos. The pay was so good, that I did not want to continue. I started as a Kardex clerk and kept moving up, and then I was in the division office. The highest office was the director’s, and then the division office. I did a lot of technical typing, equations and all that. I did a thesis for one of the Ph.D.’s.

Kelly: You obviously pay attention to details. You’ve got to get those signs right.

Martinez: Yeah.

Kelly: Numbers right.

Martinez: Yeah. When I started doing technical typing, I did not know anything about the Greek alphabet. I worked for Frank Harlow. He was a very well-known, internationally-known scientist. He wrote the alphabet for me, so I would be typing and there was this little [inaudible]. So then I memorized them after that.

Kelly: That is good. We want to learn as much as we can about what you remember of the Manhattan Project.

Martinez: At one time, we were not allowed to come home, so we had to stay at Los Alamos. My dad would not let me stay at the dorm. They were kind of wild sometimes, so I lived with the [Carroll “Red” and Helen] Gordons. He was a machinist, moved here from California. I lived with them for quite a while. This was in high school. When I went back to school, Mrs. Gordon used to send me money, because it was a boarding school.

Kelly: Did you do some babysitting while you were out there?

Martinez: Yes. The Tellers [Edward and Mici], I went and babysat for them. They had a little boy that was so well-behaved, I think, because I remember his name was Paul. When I lived with the Gordons, the Gordons lived on one side on the second floor, the Fermis lived on the other side. Mrs. [Laura] Fermi was an immaculate housekeeper, but she would hire me to dust. She was clean and she would have a box of candy for me. Fermi had a little lab for his boy. I think his name was Giulio and the daughter’s name was Nella. She would have a box of candy.

Then I babysat for the [Charles and Jean] Critchfields. They were downstairs and their little boy was named—I think it was Bobby. He was working at Los Alamos after he grew up. Viola, my other sister, lived with the [Bernice and J. A.] Muncys, and Frances lived with the [David and Frances] Hawkins.

They had the housing office, and we would go there when I was not of age to work at the lab. We would gather there and this Anita Martinez, who worked there, would drive us around and put us in different homes to clean house or babysit. They had dances on Saturdays. We would go to the dances, and then they would use that same building, I think, for church and movies. We were not allowed to come home that often. This lady from Chimayo came more than she was supposed to and she lost her job. They were very, very strict.

They did not have enough housing for the housewives, for the married couples, so some of them lived in El Rancho, which was where they drove to Los Alamos. Her husband would come by. They had the MP truck or the Army truck full of soldiers, and they would bring them Santa Fe. Carroll Gordon would stay there with his family, and we got to become very good friends. When he was discharged, we kept in touch.

We used to go to the PX every day and have their good hamburgers. They had the commissary and the lake, the [Ashley] Pond. We would go to the pond and watch the ducks. Frances, after they got married later on, they had a trailer, they had a trailer court. She and her husband lived there when they were first married. Pete, my brother, only worked in the chemical warehouse one summer and did not really like it, so he went back to college.

Everybody talks about Miss [Edith] Warner and not Tilano. When I first moved to the division office, we were going to have a party at the division leader’s home. I was a little uneasy about going, because it was going to be all big shots. Harold Agnew was there. I said, “My husband did a lot of carpentry. The division leader Bob Thorn said “Jake, I hear you do carpentry. I want to show you my shop.”

So I asked Agnew, “Do you do carpentry?”

“No, I have Tilano do all my work.” He is the one that lived at Warner’s home.

Let’s see. Oh, Ms. Hawkins, Julie’s mother, taught in the school that is there by the water towers.

Kelly: The nursery school.

Martinez: Yes. Mrs. Gordon was a librarian when she was in California, but when she moved here, they had their son was Bobby and then they had a daughter named Liane. She wrote to me and she said, “I’ve tried getting my mother to tell me stories about Los Alamos, and she will not tell me anything.”

Bobby moved to California with his family, and now I found out—they sent me a letter—that his son is working as a machinist at the lab. So I called him one day, and they are supposed to come over and visit. But he said they had covered all over New Mexico already since he moved out here.

Once they opened up the lab, we used to go up in Army buses. They had buses from Dixon, Chimayo, Truchas, and ours came through El Rancho and Nambe. All the traffic was through El Rancho, because it was too far to go through Espanola. When they would take weapons, they would go through Española, because they had the big trucks.

You are familiar with the Ice House?

Kelly: With the?

Martinez: Ice House.

Kelly: Yes. Tell us about that. 

Martinez: When I was working in W-1 with the engineers—that is where I started to be a secretary and learn the work. We would type all the reports regarding the weapons that were assembled. They had a lot of people doing drafting.

One time, they were going to give us a tour of the Ice House. So we go there, and Ed Macmann was my boss; he was military. He would be covering everything with black rags. We really did not get to see a lot, except that it is pretty big. That is where they would back up the vehicles that were going to carry the weapons. They had guards on both sides, or people with guns. They would come out of the Ice House and mostly travel at night, I think. But that has been a big thing, the icehouse, because I think they assembled a lot of the weapons there.

I worked for eighteen engineers, and we would do the reports even though we did not see the weapons. There were pictures in the reports, same thing.

Kelly: Do you remember the activities around the Trinity Test? When a lot of men went down and spent two or three or more months out near Alamogordo?

Martinez: Glenda’s father-in-law was very involved in that, [Felix] DePaula. They interviewed him a lot, because he was very active. I know probably when they tested it at Alamogordo, Mr. [Enrico] Fermi came over and borrowed the Gordons’ alarm clock. I remember that part.

Kelly: What did he need the alarm clock for?

Martinez: That is what I wondered. I think it was for the test. I do not know if he was going to go, because they said they could see the flames from a long distance.

I have been to Nevada to the test site, and what impressed me most is that they had the animals. They have cows to see what the contamination would do to them.

Just being a secretary, typing a lot of reports. I did a thesis for Paul [inaudible] and he kept revising it, because he would go back to defend his thesis, and they would make changes. He would have to come back, and it was at the time where you could not do it by computer. You had rub-offs for the big brackets, and you would trace the rub-offs. I was pretty young then.

Kelly: Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen?

Martinez: Yeah. I was interviewing for a job, and the man that interviewed me said, “You started working at the lab before you were of age?”

“Yeah. I applied; they hired me.”

I did a lot of classified work, so we had the vault and lots of safes to open in the morning. If you left a document out, you got a security infraction. They said it affected our raises. Then, for a while I had a top-secret clearance and my boss said, “If I leave my safe open, I am jumping out the window.” It was very sensitive; we had to be very careful. It was kind of stressful.

My last job was taking care of replacing all the locks. Everybody would have two boxes: for the open environment and the closed environment. I would have two sets of keys I would have to issue to the staff members: one for the classified work and one for the unclassified. It was mostly all classified work. I would have to issue all these keys. If somebody lost a key, we would have to rekey that whole area. It was a lot of work.

Kelly: I heard about parties at Anchor Ranch?

Martinez: Yeah, I used to go.

Kelly: What were those like?

Martinez: Wild. Well, I was very young, so that is when Sergeant McDonald would keep me by his side. He was so nice. Yeah, they had big parties. It was called Anchor Ranch, I think. I remember one time I rode down—because it was way up in the mountain—with this lady. She had been drinking, and we were in an Army jeep. It was scary! They had to have some fun, because it could be boring. There was not a lot to do. They did have a lot of movies and dances.

I have all the books that were written about Los Alamos, the wives of the men, and then Box 1663. Leanne, the one that was born, said that the paper said she was born in Box 1663 in Santa Fe, and her mother never told her very much about what happened. It was interesting.

The morning after the place was open that you could go up with your badge, we would go up in the morning, and the soldiers would be marching early in the morning when we would get there. When I worked in the housing office and Mr. Cox was in charge, and he said, “If you ladies that are single want to know which of the civilian guards that came are married or are single, just let me know.” Of course, we were not interested.

Kelly: It sounds like you worked for the military, and you worked for the—

Martinez: Well, worked for the lab, but worked at a site where they had military. There were some WACs there.

Kelly: I see. What site was that?

Martinez: South Mesa. It was called South Mesa, and then they had the Two-Mile Mesa. Where I worked, they were doing a certain part of the project, and then I do not know what they did at Two-Mile Mesa.

Kelly: Did you know what the work of the laboratory was about?

Martinez: Didn’t know at all, no. My husband became good friends of Dr. [Darol] Froman. He was the Deputy Director. We had him over to dinner one night. There was somebody there, and we said, “We did not know what was going on.”

And he said, “Yeah, we did.” Well, he did, because he was up there.

Kelly: How about the other people with whom you were working with? How many of them knew what the purpose of the work was?

Martinez: I think they had some military there that were college graduates, and they knew more about it. There was this fellow that was a janitor, who was telling me they asked him to throw something out, a basket or something. It exploded and blew the door down, but it did not hurt him at all. There were stories like that. The lady that was working with her wedding band, it dissolved so they had a jar there where we put money to buy her another set.

Kelly: Do you think it was a pretty safe place to work? Did you ever feel that the work was dangerous?

Martinez: Never. Because when I worked as a technician, this military fellow went on furlough and they put me to do his work. I was over in another building, and I would wash this—I guess it was the PETN in some kind of solution, probably acetone. Bake it in an oven and take it out of the oven, sift it and put in little jars. So that would have been dangerous, but it did not bother me at the time.

On Fridays, we would gather all the material we were working with. They had magazines, and we would take it to the magazine to store it for the weekend. On Mondays, we would pick it up and continue with our projects. But there were not too many civilians in that group. There were a lot of military and WACs.

Kelly: Were these military men, especially the ones with college education, were they part of this Special Engineer Detachment?

Martinez: I think they were engineers, Special Engineers.

Kelly: Yeah.

Martinez: In the summertime, we would sit out on the bleachers for safety meetings. We would all be sitting there. We had to wear coveralls and safety shoes and safety glasses, so that was interesting. I should have stayed on as a technician, because they were making much more money.

I have to tell you about the badges. You may already know. The white badges were for the staff members, for the scientists. Then they had the blue ones. I was red, because I was a technician, red badge. Then the blue badges were for office, and the yellow were for the janitors, the custodians. That I remember.

At one time I worked at the warehouse, and when you would see someone with a white badge, you moved faster [chuckles]. Because you know they were up there and they were usually in a hurry for what they needed.

Kelly: Do you remember the Tech Area?

Martinez: Very well.

Kelly: Were you allowed to go in the Tech Area?

Martinez: Yes. Frances worked in the stationary issuing stationary supplies, so I would go down there. But they had a paging system. They had somebody paged, and you could hear the page all over the Tech Area.

Then they had a building called D Building and whenever I had to go there—I guess I worked as a messenger too. We had to put on booties to go in there. That was called the D Building. They were all spread out. They had the machinists there in that building, too. There were a lot of Army type buildings. 

Those books that they have about the laboratory are interesting. You should get them. There are three of them, I think. In one of them, I have got to tell you, I was a little upset when I read it, because there is another Lydia Martinez that sued the lab for discrimination, or whatever it was. I told Lilia, “I want you to know it is not me, because there were three Lydia Martinez’s in Espanola, and one of them must have worked at the lab.” I never knew who she was. I do not even know if she is still there. But when they put you—like I am being interviewed—you do not want to be involved with anything like that. I do not believe in suing people.

Alexandra Levy: Did you ever see or experience any discrimination at the lab?

Martinez: Okay. So I worked for Frank Harlow; we did fluid dynamics work. All staff members, all Ph.D.’s and I had a paging system where I would page them when they got phone calls, and I did my secretarial work. Never, never did I have any discrimination.

From then, I had been on vacation and my boss Frank Harlow called me in his office and I thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?”

He said, “The division office has requested for you to go work them.”

I said, “But I am so happy here, I do not want to go.”

He said, “But it is a big opportunity. You can move up.”

In the meantime, I was going to go to the division office, and there was another division. The division leader was going to marry his secretary, so she would not have a job. She took the job I was going to get, and I moved into that other place. The division, X-Division, when I did property work, I ordered a lot of computer equipment and anything. We had a very big budget, because they were the weapons designers. Anything they wanted, I could order for them. I was just all over the place.

Back to the discrimination: never, never was I discriminated. In fact, they were good to me. When I retired, they gave me a silver Concho belt. They were really good to me. 

Kelly: Very nice. Looking back on it, how do you feel about the whole history, that the government came and took over the Mesa for the laboratory? 

Martinez: I think it was a very, very good idea. Because it was so secluded that when we farmed—when I retired, my brother gave a talk. He said I would go up on horseback, and I did. Or a wagon.

My son, who worked for the county at Los Alamos, said “Yeah, my Uncle Pete was telling [inaudible].” We used to go by wagon.” My dad did have a pick-up, but the roads were extremely dangerous. Then, one man from El Rancho got killed when they were building the road. There were so many rocks, and there was a landslide.

People in the area were very poor at that time. There was not a lot of work. Most people did farming. But once the lab came in, everybody started prospering. You saw everybody improving their homes. There were vehicles, and people buying condos here and there. It was a good thing for us living in the Valley.

They would go around clearing people when you were going to work at the lab. My sister [Frances] worked at the lab, and did the top-secret reports. My brother was a railroad agent in El Paso, and when they were clearing Viola or doing an upgrade on her clearance, he said, “Which one of you is going to work for the FBI?” Because he did not know anything about the lab.

One day, an FBI went into my office, and he wanted to know why our car insurance had been cancelled. I said, “It has not been cancelled.” It was some other Jake Martinez, because there were several. They were really checking. There were a lot of FBIs all over, so it took a while to clear people.

I have to tell you about the hospital. Has anyone talked about that? Any time you went to the hospital, you did not have to pay a penny. It was free. When I was going to go work for Mrs. [Mary] Dodson, a dog jumped me and I skinned my knee. Somebody going by picked me up and took me to the hospital there, and they cleaned off the wound. Mrs. Dodson came looking for me, because she needed to go somewhere, so I had to go babysit in the afternoon. My uncle had a tonsillectomy there, and since there weren’t any phones in El Rancho—it was real primitive—when they got back, they were honking, making sure that they knew everything went well.

If it had not been for Los Alamos, it would have been hard, because Los Alamos did a lot for people. All crafts. They had carpenters, like my dad. My dad was in charge of the group that when they had a spill at one of the labs, he and his crew would go clean it up. We filed for that compensation that they were giving. Some people got $150,000, and some $400,000. He was in charge of the boilers. They would stoke the fires in all the housing. That was the only way they would heat, was with coal. 

Kelly: You mentioned the compensation. This is for disability?

Martinez: Disability, because he had lung cancer and he died. But the office is still open in Espanola. Frances worked in graphic cards, and people there were having trouble with their throats with all the chemicals. You could hardly go in there, it was so strong. If we had reports, they would have to make a lot of copies. We would go to graphic cards to take them, and that is when Frances got involved.

Alexandra Levy: Do you remember what Edward Teller and his wife were like?

Martinez: Edward Teller. I babysat for him one night. The little boy’s name was Paul, I think. I put him to bed and I thought, “I am going to vacuum for them.” I go to the closet to get the vacuum cleaner. He had an artificial leg, so his spare leg was there. I looked and there is this leg with a boot! It startled me, and then I found out later.

Anyway, when I was working in X-Division with the weapons designer, Edward Teller was already working in California. He came to visit our division leader, Bob Selden. I had told Bob I knew Edward Teller. I had to go pick him up at the hotel, because he was going to go visit our division. Bob Selden sent me. I did not drive a government vehicle, and he sent somebody to drive me over there. We were in the car and I tell Edward Teller, “Does your wife still have that beautiful black hair?”

He said, “No, she is all gray now.” 

We had a lot of visitors that used to come from Rocky Flats and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I got to go to Oak Ridge. It is up in the mountains, sort of like Los Alamos.

About the Tellers. They had one of the other nicer homes, because people that had two children qualified for a two-bedroom house.

The Gordons had a two-bedroom house. When she had her baby, she really qualified, I was living there. Their second, Liane, the one that lives back east now.

Bob Thorn, Harold Agnew was our division leader. When I transferred from W-Division, Harold Agnew was our division leader. So we rode up in the elevator and I said, “You are going to be sorry,” because I was transferring out of his division. But he is in every story that you read. He was a very high level scientist.

Kelly: What was security like?

Martinez: Very, very strict. I got two infractions while I was there. The first one—well, there were two girls in the office and we left the safe open, so the guard found it. The violation was split in two. 

Then in the Ad[ministration] Building when I went back as a lab associate, because once I retired, they called me back. I was working in the vault and I would come in at 7:30, the first one there. I would open the vault, but I had to call in and say, “I am going to open the vault.” I forgot to call. So I opened the vault. There was a mirror and I was combing my hair, when all these guards came with their guns [chuckles]. I saw them, “Sorry, I forgot to call.”

My boss, when I was working in the vault, had left and she did not alarm the vault. That was a bigger infraction than mine. The security people came to talk to me about the infraction. But my boss had to be there, which was the one that left the vault unalarmed. They give us a lecture, and he told her, “Your violation was worse than hers” [chuckles].

She owned a big place in Santa Fe where she had horses, and she was out riding her horse and they could not get her. They finally found somebody that was authorized to alarm the vault. Not everybody was authorized. You had to be on the list. But you had to call the guards, and then they would give you the okay.

Levy: What did they keep in the vault? Classified papers?  

Martinez: All of the weapons. Each weapon had a name. They would file them in the vault, and the staff members would come in look at the reports. We had a long conference table, and they would sit there. They liked it when I was working as a lab associate, because I would get there so early, and the scientists were so devoted to their work that they would start going in the vault right away and getting reports.

Another job I had, I was working for the man that was in charge of security in our division. His name was Jim McClary. He came in and he told me, “I want you to take the minutes of the computer meetings.”

I said, “I can’t. I do not know how, I have never done it.”

In a real firm voice, he said, “You have to try.”

I would go with him to Sandia to take the minutes, because the lady that was doing them, the fellows from Sandia were complaining that they were not putting their names. She said they were prima donnas. When I would take a Dictaphone, anytime they would open their mouths I would write the report. They were pleased.

Then another job I did for McClary, he showed me how to donate computer time for the staff members, because we were allowed so many minutes in the computer division. We would run out of computer time, and I would have to call the director’s office to get more computer time.

Our budget in X-Division, the weapons division was one of the largest of the lab, because they actually did the drawing or whatever they did. Then it would go to another division where they would assemble the weapon. I think that was called S-Site. Have you had anybody talk about S-Site.

Kelly: No.

Martinez: It was a very important division. A lot of explosives. When they had that big fire at Los Alamos, they were really worried, because it was not that far from Bandelier.

Kelly: I understand there was a cafeteria at S-Site? Did you ever eat there?

Martinez: I never went there. I have to tell you about it, they had the best food in the cafeteria. The north mess, the west mess, and then they had the officers’. My friends from Crabtree, Pennsylvania lived in the place where they did the cooking for the big shots, I guess. Anyway, they lived right there. Their name was Mario Mancini and his wife was Anne Mancini, she worked at the lab. He did the cooking for the officers. It was the Officers’ Club. Then they had the PX, two PX’s, one by the gate and one by what used to be the post office. That is where the PX was. So we would go and have goodies after.

Kelly: Did the PX have a soda fountain? 

Martinez: Yes, they did. One time, the water froze so people were drinking Cokes early in the morning. Water was a problem sometimes.

Kelly: You mean the water shortage?           

Martinez: Yes.

Kelly: There was a shortage?

Martinez: Yes, water shortage. They would tell us to be careful with the water. That time when everything froze, that was hard.

Levy: How did they get resupplied with water? How did they bring more water?  

Martinez: I never heard, to tell you the truth. Maybe by then they had thawed out the pipes. The north mess, the west mess, the south cafeteria, and the one by the entrance to the Tech Area.     

Kelly: When you were working, you lived with the Gordons. How did you get from the Gordons house to work every day?

Martinez: Mrs. Gordon would take me sometimes, but I guess a bus would come around. It was not that far from their house. Sometimes we would work at night, and I guess they would take me to the Gordons. We did not work nights too much, but I remember that we did for a while.

Kelly: In the spring of 1945, do you remember working hard? Since you did not know about the Trinity test—

Martinez: Yeah, we were very devoted, because they knew how much you were doing by the number of plugs that I put out in a day.

Kelly: In a regular week, how many days a week did you work?    

Martinez: Six days.

Kelly: How long a day did you have? When did you start?

Martinez: I think it was eight to five. Except some of them, like the scientists, they hardly went home. They worked very hard.

Kelly: Did you have a sense that it was very stressful, either for you or for them?

Martinez: Nor for me. Some of those folks will say that the women were really stressed, because the husbands were gone so much.

Kelly: Did the women know what the husbands were working on, and why they were gone?

Martinez: No they did not. If they did, I never heard.

Kelly: How did that make them feel, do you suppose?

Martinez: With Mrs. Gordon, she was a very pleasant lady and she never said anything. She just took care of her house. She brought beautiful furniture from California.

I did not tell you that I worked for L. D. P. King. Have you heard the name, L. D. P. King? I went to clean for him. She had the most beautiful furniture I had ever seen, being from a poor area. Pretty soon, she got rid of her furniture and went out west, from [inaudible] coffee table. Her name was Edie King. Beautiful, very pleasant lady.

Kelly: I have heard so many nice things about people. Were there any people that were not so nice?

Martinez: I never ran into any of them. There was George Tenney. My friend worked for him, and he was very hard to work for. He went through a lot of secretaries. G. H. Tenney was the name. But this was after they had already dropped the bomb.

Kelly: What was the mood like in Los Alamos after they dropped the bombs in Japan?

Martinez: Everybody was honking and partying, we were so happy. My husband was in the Navy on a ship, and he told the people there, “That is just half an hour from where I was raised, from where I am from.”

Kelly: Did he know what you were working on this?

Martinez: No. 

Kelly: He did not know?

Martinez: We were not married.

Kelly: Oh, you were not married. Did you have other friends or relatives who were fighting in the Pacific and might have been part of an invasion of Japan?

Martinez: Yeah, his brother, my husband’s brother. I remember I was at this lady’s house and this fellow said, “I came to say goodbye to you. I do not know if I will be back.” He never came back. They had their pictures at the church, all the ones that were killed in action.

Kelly: Were there a lot of pictures?

Martinez: A lot of pictures, a lot of pictures.

Levy: Did you ever eat at Fuller Lodge?

Martinez: Yes.

Kelly: Tell me about that.

Martinez: Yeah, I ate Fuller Lodge. A lot of the Valley girls were waitresses, and there was this lady named [Maria] Teofila [Ortiz], she was in charge. She had a lot of power. She worked at the lodge. Some of the scientists would stay there, but in the summertime, they had tables outside and we would eat outside. In the wintertime, we hardly went out. The weather was kind of bad sometimes.

All of us younger ladies got together, and we would spend our pay for the check. Our check, we would spend it every day. They did not pay us very much.

I remember Mrs. Teller, one time they did not have enough homes for all the maids to go work, so she took all of them to her house, which I thought was really nice. Because once they were up there, they needed to work. When I worked for them, it was just at night.

Levy: So for most of your career, you were up at the lab. Were you a secretary, a technician? What kind of work did you do after the war?

Martinez: After the war?

Levy: How many years did you work for the lab?

Martinez: I was a Cardex clerk. We posted on cards, we ordered the supplies, so the Cardex, when we’d run out of something, we would pull out the card and somebody would order.

From there I worked at the warehouse as a clerk, and from there I went to W-1. This was very involved for the weapons. Key punch operator. From there I went upstairs, my first secretarial job. I was really young, and I worked there. From there, I worked for the chief engineer as a secretary. Then he left, so they did away with his job and I went downstairs and worked in a two-person office for engineers. There were eighteen engineers in that group.

From W-1, I went to work for this Frank Harlow. Fluid dynamics, all unclassified work—maybe five percent was classified. They did reports that were requested by scientists from all over the world, and I would have to mail them. I would have this report to mail to a certain place, it would be like the state or something, and I did not know the country. There was a scientist upstairs, and I would go. “Lydia didn’t you take world history?”

I would say, “No I didn’t, so I do not know where to send this.” [Chuckles] He would always help me out. They did a lot of fluid dynamic’s work.

Then from there is where they requested me to go to the division office. From secretarial work, I went to do the purchasing. Gosh, we had a lot of money. They had one that was weapons restoration. I would get $500,000 to replace computers that were getting old. They would get unlimited resources for everything else, because it was a very important division.

When they ask me, “Where did you work? X-Division?!” Because it was highly educated people.

Back to the Fuller Lodge. The chef’s name was George Marchi, and he was a very good chef. The food was very, very good, and the prices were so reasonable, you could eat out every day. I knew people that worked at the lodge, a lot of the waitresses I knew from the valley.

Kelly: The people such as the waitresses would live in the valley and commute?

Martinez: No, they stayed up there.

Kelly: They stayed up there.

Martinez: Remember I told you one time they did not let us come home [chuckles]? I do not know how I landed at the Gordons. I think it was because I cleaned for them, and she probably requested me. They were really nice people; well, everybody I worked for.

I did not tell you I worked in the housing office, did I? Where we would process the civilian guards. I worked in the housing office, too. They did not have enough places for the guards, so a lot of them lived in the valley until they had more housing for them, because before it had been military barracks.

Kelly: After the war, what happened to the military barracks?

Martinez: I guess they torn them down. Some of them were converted into private residences.

Levy: When you said that you were working with punch cards, is that relating to computers?

Martinez: Well, the punch cards, they would feed them into a computer. I was in the canyon under the bridge for the water tank.

So I would punch the cards, and then verify them. In other words, do it twice, to make sure they were perfect. Then, this fellow would come from the Ad Building to pick them up and they would run them in the big computer. So I was all over the place. After forty-two years, you move around. 

Kelly: Wow. Goodness me.

Levy: What was your reaction when you first saw the computers there? How much training did they give you on the punch cards. 

Martinez: On the punch cards, I picked it up very fast, but as far as the computers, I was not very good. We would order Tektronix, the printers, like $15,000, and the computers were even more. So I would order those for our division because they were fast, they would go very fast, and they could do a lot more work. I think our division when I was in X was the first one to get those very expensive computers. I did not work with them a lot.

Kelly: What machine were you working on when you made the punch cards?

Martinez: It was like a typewriter, and it would shoot out the card that you were typing.

Kelly: So the scientists would give you some stuff to enter into the card?

Martinez: No, the staff member would take a box.

Kelly: I see.

Martinez: Then I would have to punch from whatever paperwork he brought, I guess.

I worked in the housing office a very short time, maybe like three months, and that is when I transferred to the lab and worked in supply and property. They did not have any staff members there, or maybe division leaders, that was all. So I got out of there and went to the other, because the pay was better.

I had an aunt who lived in Santa Fe. You know hose were very hard to buy in those days. There was this long line pushing, and they broke the door to the store, trying to get to the hose before they sold out.  

Kelly: Was that during the war?

Martinez: During the war, because they could not buy hose. The books that I have say they would send some of the housewives to the La Fonda to mix with people, and see if they heard anything about what they suspected was going on at the lab. I guess they would gather a lot of information for them.

Kelly: Did you ever go to La Fonda?

Martinez: Not during the war.

Kelly: Not during the war. 

Martinez: No, I was too young, but later on when my husband was alive, we would go dancing to the La Fonda every weekend.