The Manhattan Project

Ruben Salazar's Interview

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Ruben Salazar's Interview

Ruben Salazar was an employee with Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company, tasked with doing electrical distribution around Los Alamos. Starting as a laborer on the electrical line from Santa Fe to Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, he worked his way up to become an electrical lineman and foreman. For years, he was an expert on power in the area. In this interview, Salazar talks about what Los Alamos has meant to him, his family, and his community, and describes his work at Los Alamos from the 1940s through the 1990s. He also recalls witnessing a fatal accident where another worker was electrocuted.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
March 30, 2009
Location of the Interview: 
El Convento

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

Willie Atencio: Mr. Salazar, the [Los Alamos National] Laboratory is very interested in getting information of the people that were at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Can you tell us when you first went to work at Los Alamos? What year?

Ruben Salazar: 1945, I guess. Or late ’44.

Atencio: Okay. What was your first job at Los Alamos?

Salazar: First job at Los Alamos, maintaining the power to the system.

Atencio: Where did the power come from when you first went there?

Salazar: When I first got there, there wasn’t power there yet. They had these turbines, diesel turbines, just to generate power there. I call it a power plant.

Atencio: Who did you work for when you went to work at Los Alamos?

Salazar: Reynolds Electric.

Atencio: How did you commute to Los Alamos when you first worked there?

Salazar: Well, I first started in Santa Fe in 1944—I guess in the summertime. I don’t remember exactly when I started. That’s when they started building the first power line to Los Alamos.

Atencio: Okay. Where did the power come from?

Salazar: Santa Fe. 

Atencio: The power came from Santa Fe?

Salazar: Santa Fe, yeah. Actually, it came from Albuquerque, but it had a substation in Santa Fe. From there, they distributed it to Los Alamos.

Atencio: From Santa Fe, did you help build the entire lines to Los Alamos?

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: From Santa Fe, where did you go through?

Salazar: Went to Buckman.

Atencio: Santa Fe, Buckman.

Salazar: To White Rock. 

Atencio: White Rock.

Salazar: Into Los Alamos.

Atencio: How many months did it take to get the power line built?

Salazar: That would be hard for me to remember, but I imagine it took about four or five months.

Atencio: When you worked at Los Alamos, were you involved with the power distribution at Los Alamos?

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: So you got to know every place in Los Alamos.

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: Every building, every site.

Salazar: Well, every site and practically every building, yeah. I don’t remember the building numbers now, though. But we used to run power to the outside, you know, and then from there the inside electrician would take it inside the building.

Atencio: First of all, you worked for Reynolds Electric. 

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: Did you have another employer after Reynolds Electric?

Salazar: Not that I remember. [Inaudible] another employer.

Atencio: Oh. Reynolds Electric was at Los Alamos. There was another contractor at Los Alamos that you worked for?

Salazar: No. From Reynolds Electric I went over to the Post Engineers.

Atencio: Post Engineers, okay.

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: Do you remember some of your supervisors? 

Salazar: Yeah. I remember my foremen. Marvin Coons. Another foreman at the time was Matt Mitchell.

Atencio: How did you commute to Los Alamos from the Española Valley, because—

Salazar: Well, I stayed in the—winter, summer—I stayed in Los Alamos, a dorm.

Atencio: A dorm, okay.

Salazar: Dorm.

Atencio: If you ever commuted to Española, how did you commute?

Salazar: In the bus.

Atencio: A bus, okay.

Salazar: Whenever I came to Española, I was in the bus.

Atencio: These were Army buses, right?

Salazar: Right, Army.

Atencio: Do you remember any of the drivers?

Salazar: No, I sure don’t.

Atencio: No.

Salazar: To be honest with you.

Atencio: Do you remember when the buildings started changing at Los Alamos?

Salazar: Yep. I remember when they started tearing up the Sundt Apartments. [Robert] Waterman, he’s the one that made the money in tearing up the buildings, started selling them out.

Atencio: Do you remember when the Western Area was being put in?

Salazar: Yep. Contractors built the main lines to the Western Area. I don’t remember the contractor’s name now.

Atencio: Okay.

Salazar: Then we took over doing the maintenance on it.

Atencio: Was the Western Area the most modern part of Los Alamos then?

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: Okay. And then what happened later? What community came later?

Salazar: Then the North Community.

Atencio: North Community.

Salazar: North Community, yeah. They started building North Community.

Atencio: Okay. And you became very familiar with all the streets and all the places where—

Salazar: We had to. Because we had a call, we had to go a certain place, you know, certain address.

Atencio: Do you remember when they put in the administration building at Los Alamos?

Salazar: The administration building [inaudible], yeah.

Atencio: Okay. Do you remember, was that the biggest building in Los Alamos then?

Salazar: Yeah, sure.

Atencio: Do you remember anything after the test at Trinity Site. After they tested the bomb at Alamogordo?

Salazar: No.

Atencio: No?

Salazar: I don’t, sure don’t.

Atencio: Do you remember anything when the war ended? What was going on at Los Alamos?

Salazar: Well, we were working up there in the Western Area when we got word that the war ended. We all got in what we called our line truck. Some of us workers got on top of the cab and were coming through Trinity [Drive] there—oh, pretty happy, all of us pretty happy. We come pretty close to that underpass that used to be there, you know, went into the Tech Area. If it hadn’t been for a friend of mine that knocked me back, I wouldn’t have been here today. I was standing up.

Atencio: How many years total did you work at Los Alamos with power distribution?

Salazar: The power distribution, I worked up there until 1992.

Atencio: Did you start as an apprentice when you first—

Salazar: I started as a laborer when I first started, from Santa Fe to Los Alamos, on that line.

Atencio: You were a laborer. Were you ever in an apprenticeship?

Salazar: Then I worked [inaudible] what they call a groundman. A groundman is the guy that gives the linemen up the pole the material. If they had linemen.

Atencio: And then?

Salazar: Then I went to an apprentice.

Atencio: Apprentice.

Salazar: Apprentice lineman.

Atencio: Apprentice lineman. 

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: And then you became a full-fledged lineman?

Salazar: Then I made a general lineman, yeah.

Atencio: Were you ever a supervisor?

Salazar: Yes. The foreman I had quit in 1966 and took a job as assistant business agent for the Local 611 in Albuquerque. And I got his job.

Atencio: You were the foreman.

Salazar: I was the foreman then, yeah.

Atencio: Since you know so much about the power distribution in Los Alamos, have they ever called you to find out where things are?

Salazar: Yeah.

Atencio: Or did they ever want you to serve as a consultant?

Salazar: No, not a consultant, no.

Atencio: But were they calling you for information?

Salazar: Right. Every time we had an outage, I had to be out there.

Atencio: What are your overall impressions of Los Alamos and what it has done for the people from the valley?

Salazar: Well, I think they done some good. If it hadn’t been for Los Alamos, I don’t what would have happened to the valley, in my books.

Atencio: Anything—

Salazar: That time we built that antenna up in Barranca Mesa, an antenna with 120-foot poles that they can communicate from Los Alamos to [inaudible]. I also remember the first water supply for Los Alamos was from Guaje Canyon. Wintertime, we used to spend several nights out there and finally tore out the line, you know, so we could get water to Los Alamos. We used to have generators. We used to change generators from one spot to another one so we could go up the line. They also had a supply from Los Alamos Canyon and we had water supply from there, too. 

David Schiferl: Can you tell us maybe one or two of the funniest things that happened to you when you working in Los Alamos all these years?

Salazar: The funniest thing. Well, I don’t know actually what I could tell you on that.

Schiferl: Or what was the strangest thing you ever saw when you were working—

Salazar: The strangest thing that I seen up there—I seen a man electrocuted, lineman electrocuted. We were supposed to have an outage on that line, you know, so we could tighten up hardware and so forth. They had a lateral coming in there. They didn’t know it was hot, so this man started to climb up there, and he got his head in one of the cut-outs. It was energized, and went down to the ground. Naturally, he broke his neck and died. 

Atencio: Where did that happen at? What location?

Salazar: That happened just before you go down in Omega Canyon, to the right there.

Atencio: Mr. Salazar, how many of your children work at Los Alamos?

Salazar: Now I got three of them working up there.

Atencio: Three.

Salazar: Three girls.

Atencio: Do all your children work for the lab?

Salazar: Yeah.

Atencio: Did any of your children follow at being linemen like you?

Salazar: Well, one of my boys – actually, two of them – started working at the Lab as a groundman, too. But they didn’t like it.

Atencio: Three of your children still work at Los Alamos.

Salazar: Right.

Atencio: Okay. So Los Alamos has been very good to your family.

Salazar: Very good.

Schiferl: What do the girls do at Los Alamos?

Salazar: I couldn’t tell you. They work in an office.

Schiferl: Had to try, though.

Salazar: Did you want to know about when we started putting the underground?

Now, we start putting that power underground. Well, I guess we started in the ’50s, making manholes and running, and then making splices in the underground. Getting rid of some of the overhead lines, you know, and putting it underground. But that was a good project there, too.

Atencio: When they had all the power overhead—

Salazar: Overhead, yeah.

Atencio: When did you start getting modern equipment like cherry pickers?

Salazar: Oh, cherry pickers, we got our first one in 1972. It was called a giraffe, one bucket. That’s the first time that we got a bucket.

Atencio: So you spent many days, many hours up on the poles.

Salazar: Actually, I was already a foreman. The linemen used to re-lamp the street lights and do some work out of it. Because they could only work one man out of it at that time.