The Manhattan Project

Roger Fulling's Interview (1985)

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Roger Fulling was the Division Superintendent of Construction at DuPont during the Manhattan Project, which meant that he coordinated and expedited the construction projects at Hanford and Oak Ridge. He was also the main liaison with General Leslie R. Groves on the Hanford construction project. In this interview, Fulling discusses DuPont’s procurement issues and the support of American industry for the Manhattan Project. He also recalls visiting Hanford and the early days of working with General Groves. He explains the fate of Hanford's orchards and farms after the Manhattan Project requisitioned the land, and his sadness at witnessing the orchards fall into ruin.
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[To see an edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995, click here.]

Roger Fulling: Well, to identify myself, I was the Division Superintendent of Construction responsible – I reported to the Assistant Chief Engineer. I was responsible for procurement from the design, getting the orders placed, the inspection and the expediting of all materials for the war plants, including Hanford.

S. L. Sanger:  Oh, I see.

Fulling: At one time, I had 500 engineers throughout the United States expediting and inspecting equipment. In addition to that, I was the major liaison with General [Leslie R.] Groves on all the logistics concerned with Hanford.

Sanger: Oh, you were?

Fulling: On the materials priorities, allocations of materials, which was a very, very, very difficult problem. People do not realize what we had to do in order to obtain materials for Hanford.

Sanger: What were some of the main problems?

Fulling: Well, tubing was for one thing. Power plants. We had to take a steam locomotive to start up the plant, because we could not get the power plants online soon enough. We had a big problem with the public utility companies, who did not wish to give up their materials and boiler capacity, rightfully so. I recall sitting in a meeting with General Groves, where he had to pull his rank on the public utility companies and indicate that his project had priority over anything. This was an actual fact. After he exposed his hand, then the utility companies gave us 100 percent cooperation. We had to take equipment away from the utilities in order to build Hanford.

We had to take, for example, we did not have – these are little things that people do not know. We could not get copper for the busbar for the electrical station, for the transmission station, and transferring power from one [inaudible] to another. But we had no busbar, so we got gold bullion from Fort Knox.

Sanger: Oh, you did?

Fulling: Did you ever hear that?

Sanger: No, uh uh.

Fulling: I think this is mentioned in one of Groves’ books. We had to get the bullion out of Fort Knox on a borrowed basis, bullion and gold and silver, in order to use them for busbars on the electrical transmission systems.

Sanger: You did that at Hanford, too?

Fulling: This is Hanford.

Sanger: Oh, at Hanford, okay. How much did you have to get? Do you remember?

Fulling: I do not recall any of that.

Sanger: That worked the same as copper?

Fulling: Yeah. Well, the electrical capacities were different, but it worked.

On the blocks in December of 1942, I was sent to the Met Lab at the University of Chicago to talk with the physicists. Wigner was the one who was mostly interested in the reactors, Eugene Wigner.

Sanger: Yeah, I talked to him on this trip I took.

Fulling: Uh huh. Well, I was out there for several days. This was when Crawford Greenewalt was heading up the DuPont group. One of my missions was to interview these physicists and try to put their scientific facts into being, where it could be put into brick and mortar. They wanted to put the test pile at the Argonne.

Sanger: Right.

Fulling: We wrote a report—which incidentally I wrote, but it was cosigned by two of my associates—to Groves and we recommended against putting it at the Argonne. That is when they decided to put it at Oak Ridge. That become the X-10 reactor.

Now, one of the main reasons they needed the test reactor was to give background on the fabrication, the testing, and the laying up of the carbon pile. This was no easy job, because it had never been done before.

We took one of our highly qualified machinists, with the name of Stu Cline. He has since died, but we sent him down there. In fact, I did. I picked him out of my inspection group. He set up the method for measuring to a very, very high precision the blocks. He set up these methods. Hanford would not have been on time if it had not been for the program that Stu Cline set up. Here he was, a senior machinist that we took out of our Wilmington shop.

Sanger: He was a senior machinist at Wilmington?

Fulling: He was a machinist. He was a machinist from our Wilmington shops. You know the background. We had the Wilmington shops that go back to the early 1800s. We did our own machine work.

I picked him out of the shops. He was just a young man. No education. I mean, no formal technical education, but he was an outstanding machinist. He set up the program for testing the methods, the procedures, and first, for building the blocks at Oak Ridge, and that was the X-10 reactor. I went down there during that period to take a look at it myself.

Sanger: From that experience, you could go on to Hanford?

Fulling: Yeah. Now the blocks, we had a hell of a time getting the program through Union Carbide. I had to go up to the Union Carbide New York offices to present the program to their senior executives and how important this was, and why we had to have it. Then of course, this was all endorsed by General Groves, because we were taking the whole—well, we would take 90 percent of some of the basic products of our country for Hanford. Most people did not realize why we had to do this, and Groves had carte blanche authority from President Roosevelt. I saw the paper that he gave Groves. You may want to track that one down.

Sanger: Yeah, I think I have seen that. What were some of the products besides what you were talking about, besides carbon?

Fulling: Well, steel was one of the biggest products, steel, electric equipment, and machine capacity. We had to take over the capacity of a lot of companies on their machine work, which interrupted other war work.

Now the blocks were of course, as you know, they were laminated with—not a fiberglass, a fiberboard, a very special composition which I forget. Some of the technical people can tell you that. But the machining was very, very intricate. The only people that could do this were Vermont Marble, up in I think it was Rutland, Vermont. They had to be machined to a very high precision.

Sanger: So that company did that?

Fulling: Yeah, they did the machining.

Sanger: Oh. Do you remember how big those blocks were?

Fulling: Oh, approximately four foot cubes. That is approximate. The block program at one time looked like it would hold up the whole construction of the reactor. Groves was on my back two or three times a week as to how we were doing it. How we were doing it, was there anything he could do to expedite it. These people up there were just breaking their backs doing everything they possibly could to accelerate the job, and they did a magnificent job.

Groves—a little sideline—he wanted to know when the first block was put on a railroad flat car to go to Hanford. I had a staff of engineers up in Vermont at that time, and they called me as soon as the block was on a car, and I called Groves. Groves was very, very understanding and very forceful in getting materials and allocation of materials and machine capacity.

Another problem we had of course was the aluminum cans. We had a real hoedown on that with Aluminum Company of America. Groves would call the president of the company and talk to him. I would make the snowballs and he would throw them, as to why we had to have this, where the deficiencies were.

But I would say this: without a doubt, the American industry gave every ounce they had. All they had to be told was what was needed and when. But the program, the Manhattan program, just interrupted a lot of the other war work.

Sanger: Oh, yeah.

Fulling: It had to.

Sanger: Do you recall any other major problems besides the aluminum?

Fulling: I remember one time, we had trouble with a switchgear on electrical. Do you understand what I mean by switchgear?

Sanger: Yeah.

Fulling: That is the transfer mechanism of electrical equipment, to transfer input power to various locations. That is about as simple as I can make it.

The best at that time, the major producer of switchgear, was Westinghouse in Pittsburgh. They made the best switchgear and we had their full—well not their full capacity, but their major capacity. We had to jog them. That was a real problem. I understand later as a result of the pressure that we had on the Westinghouse management of the switchgear department that it hastened his retirement, his health.

Sanger: Oh, yeah? Did you have much trouble with steel?

Fulling: Oh, yeah. Steel was terrible. Steel was, of course, used for projectiles. We even used steel to make bullets, cartridges. We ran out of copper, and DuPont Remington experimented with steel cartridges. They were far from successful, but they were using it. Steel was terribly important, structural steel, for the buildings and for the other equipment.

Sanger: Do you recall, did Hanford had the top whatever priority?

Fulling: Oh yeah, it had the top priority. It had the top priority and it was—you are hitting my memory. It was A-1, I think, and then there was the Presidential priority, which Groves could use. There were times when he had to exercise that.

Sanger: Was Hanford the biggest job you were involved with?

Fulling: I was involved in the Savannah River project.

Sanger: Later, though?

Fulling: Later.

Sanger: But during the Second World War, was that—

Fulling: Oh, no. As Division Superintendent of Construction, I had the responsibility of getting materials for all of the plants that the DuPont Company was making, building. The explosives plants, the smokeless powder, the TNT, acid, chemical warfare.

I was one of the first at DuPont to meet Groves, when he was a Colonel.

Sanger: Oh, is that right?

Fulling: In fact, in the early, about 1941, he took over from General Rose, who was in the Corps [of Engineers]. This was before the days of Manhattan. We were very much involved in building a TNT plant, the smokeless powder, acid, RDX, and the chemical warfare plant.

Sanger: Was RDX an explosive?

Fulling: RDX was an explosive of greater energy potential than TNT. It was an English process, which we got from England through ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries]. We sent two of our top engineers—who incidentally were associates of mine, they reported to me—to Europe to bring the RDX process back.

Sanger: Because I know people sometimes used to say that one of the rumors [was] that Hanford was making RDX.

Fulling: See, there were two RDX processes. There was one an English and one a Swiss. Tennessee Eastman made the RDX at Oak Ridge, and we made RDX at Terre Haute, Indiana, the Wabash River Works. We were the largest makers of RDX.

Sanger: Did you visit Hanford a lot?

Fulling: Oh, I was out there. I visited out there to Gil Church the first week he was there. One of the things that I remember, I went out on a weekend because that was when we—from Wilmington, we went weekends. We worked seven days a week at that time, and I went out for the weekend and Gil met me.

At that time, we were just starting to excavate and clear the land for the reactors. It just broke your heart to see these beautiful cherry trees loaded with fruit. Great big—not the plum cherries but the big –

Sanger: Bing cherry?

Fulling: The Bing cherries, and to see the bulldozers plowing them down. We tried to get all the townspeople to come out and pick, but they could not pick fast enough. They had the canneries to come out and pick. We had to plow asparagus fields. Gil Church could tell you this more than I, but I was out there the first month with Gil, and I remember those Bing cherries.

Gil and I were in a car just the two of us and he said, “Roger, you want to be careful eating all those cherries. You are going to get diarrhea.” Sure enough, I did.

Sanger: So that would have been March of ’43?

Fulling: Yes, about that time.

Sanger: I did not realize that the orchards were quite that extensive.

Fulling: The orchards were there, and the asparagus. They were still there when our DuPont people went there. Again, Gil could tell you this. But another guy that knew it—of course, he is dead too—is Bob Burton. He was one of the first ones out there.

We set up a cannery as part of the project and got the women to go out and pick, the wives of the construction staff, to go out and pick, and take the fruit and the asparagus to the canneries and they would can it for a fee.

Sanger: So that would have been probably in ’43, ’44?

Fulling: Oh no, that was before—yeah, ’43.

Sanger: Yeah, because I suppose the orchards eventually disappeared?

Fulling: Oh, yeah. Well, they had to. They were plowed under. Of course, it was off limits, and some of the orchards were not used, but they just died from lack of care and lack of picking.

Sanger: I suppose you stayed with DuPont, then?

Fulling: Oh, yeah, I retired in ’73. I was with DuPont thirty-eight and a half years.

Sanger: How old are you?

Fulling: Seventy-eight.

The point I would like to make to you is that the American people have never realized the importance of the materials and the quantity of materials and the type of materials that we had to have for Hanford. And that American industry really did a tremendous job in cooperating—I am being very close—but cooperating with DuPont because we were the agent. We were the front people with the backing of Groves. But American industry really bent their back to help us.

Sanger: Was there ever an example where an industry did not cooperate?

Fulling: No. Offhand, I just do not know.

Sanger: I suppose some maybe—

Fulling: Because if they had, we would have gotten them in line awful damn fast.

Sanger: Yeah, because you had that authority, right?

Fulling: We had the authority. As I said, I had 500 engineers expediting and inspecting equipment all over the United States. Things like checking freight cars in classification yards in the railroad. It would be easy for cars to be lost. That is an interesting program itself. Today, they are all computerized, but during the war, it was uncommon for a freight car to be shoved into a classification yard. It was only known by numbers and the numbers could be misread, and you could lose a car. We sent people out on the road tracing railroad cars.

Sanger: Now your last name is F-U-L-L-I-N-G, right?

Fulling: That is right.

Sanger: Yeah, and you are living in Florida?

Fulling: Yes.

Sanger: Is that where all the DuPont people go to retire?

Fulling: Well, there are eight of us from the Wilmington Country Club within a mile of here.

Sanger: Oh, is that right?

Fulling: We see one another every day.

Sanger: Do you live there year round?

Fulling: Yes. One of my close associates is a fellow name of Bill Church, and he lives here. We see one another every day.

Sanger: No relation to Gil?

Fulling: No, it is William Church. Bill was one of the junior supervisors that started Hanford in operation. He was one of Walt Simon’s right hands.

Sanger: Oh, was he?

Fulling: Walt would endorse what I am saying. Bill Church was a very, very meticulous person. When you are talking about reactors, inspection of the reactors, getting ready to make it critical, you certainly had to know what you were doing. Bill helped start up the reactors at Hanford, and helped write the book on the procedure of startup.

Sanger: I see. Now he lives near you?

Fulling: Yes, and he was also then at Savannah River. He was the overall supervisor and supervised the startup of all the reactors.

Sanger: Oh, he did?

Fulling: At Savannah.

Sanger: Yeah.

Fulling: See, the Savannah project, Gil Church was the engineering manager. I was the assistant. Then after the second year, Gil was transferred to other activities and I became the engineering manager, which I was for three years.

Sanger: Oh, I see.

Fulling: For Savannah River. Of course, we took with us a lot of the same team that we had for Hanford.

Sanger: Oh, I see, yeah. Those are heavy water?

Fulling: That is heavy water.

Sanger: Are all those still operating?

Fulling: I do not know.

Sanger: Because I know with this business in the Soviet Union, that Savannah River got in the news and so did Hanford.

Fulling: Yeah, well you know, and it is public, that the Hanford process was—the reaction was started with the carbon and cooled with the Columbia River. The moderator was the carbon, and we would cool it with the Columbia River water. The Savannah River was heavy water moderation and heavy water cooling.

Sanger: Yeah.

Fulling: Incidentally, there is another little facet you might like to know. Did you ever hear of Hood Worthington?

Sanger: Yes.

Fulling: Hood was the technical director for Hanford, and he was very close with our people in engineering. There was a man in our department called Tom Chilton, Dr. Thomas Chilton, who headed up the chemical engineering for the engineering department. He was one of the three who wrote the textbook on heat transfer.

Sanger: Oh, is that right?

Fulling: Yeah, and in the early days of the concept of Hanford, Hood was talking to Tom about how to cool, and where could they get the cooling water if they to cool it by water. Chilton said,  “Well after all, the Columbia River is right in the northwest, take a look there.”

This is actual; this is not hearsay. This is a fact. Worthington was presented with a medal after he retired from DuPont. He was given an award by the Atomic Energy Commission. I was privileged to be there when some of the other DuPont people, Chairman of the Board [Charles] McCoy and Lom Squires. I guess you know his name?

Sanger: Yeah, I talked to him, incidentally, yesterday or the day before.

Fulling: Lom and I are very close friends, and worked very closely together on and off the job. But during the presentation of the award to Hood, he mentioned the fact that Tom Chilton was the one who really put them on the track of getting great quantities of cold water.

Sanger: How do you spell Chilton’s last name?

Fulling: C-H-I-L-T-O-N.

Sanger: Thomas?

Fulling: Yeah.

Sanger: Is he dead?

Fulling: Yeah. You see, Gil – you have talked to Gil and Frank. A lot of the things that I am telling you they did not know about because they were at Hanford. You see, I was at Wilmington, with daily contact with all the powers that be in the engineering and the explosives department, the atomic energy group. That is where I got to know Squires and Hood and Monte Evans. A lot of times we had lunch together, two or three times a week.