The Manhattan Project

Stanley Hall's Interview

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Stanley Hall's Interview

W. Stanley Hall was eighteen years old when he was recruited to work as a machinist on the cyclotron, first at Princeton University and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory. He worked at Los Alamos as a civilian, then later was drafted and worked as part of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, he describes both his work and recreational experiences during the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the Trinity Test from a location ten miles away. Hall describes hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play over the radio at the moment of the Trinity Test and the color and the noise of the explosion. Hall also talks about taking advantage of the hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities around him, including some trouble he encountered walking Kitty Oppenheimer’s horse. He provides an overview of his forty-year-long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked for the computing group.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
02/02/2017
Location of the Interview: 
Los Alamos
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation, and we are in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s February 2, 2017. I have with me W. Stanley Hall. 

Hall: I was born in 1924 on Broadway in Manhattan. I was there until the third grade. In the fourth grade, I went to the Bronx and was there one year, and then went to Princeton, New Jersey, and stayed there until graduation from Princeton High School. Actually, we lived in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Across the street was Princeton, but I went to Princeton High School.

Kelly: Were you interested in science at that age?

Hall: In high school, at graduation I got a prize for being outstanding in science, or chemistry, I guess.

Kelly: Now, is this something that your family had been involved in?

Hall:   No. Not a bit.

Kelly:  Now you’ve got a chemistry prize. What did you do after high school?

Hall: I immediately got a job at Princeton University working on the Manhattan Project.

Kelly: Oh, wow. 

Hall: Where we were living, there was a neighbor about a half a mile away. She lived in the top of a triple garage. She didn’t want to get up in the morning and be cold. It had a coal fire furnace, so my job was to go to her house and take the ashes out, close the top door, open the bottom, get the fire roaring, and then go home. She would get the heat from that later, and get up.

Kelly: That’s great.

Hall: She paid me by the month. One day, she pointed out to me that, “Look here in the newspaper. Princeton wants to hire a technician.” She thought I’d be good. So I went and I was interviewed by Joe Fowler, who you probably—

Kelly: Tell us who he was.

Hall: He was at Princeton and came with the Princeton group. After Bob Wilson retired or left, then he became the group leader. He interviewed me, and asked who I wanted to win the war. 

I said, “The same as everybody else.” 

He said, “I need to know, who do you want?”

I had to tell him, “Yeah, I wanted America to win.”

“Okay. You’re hired.” 

Kelly: That was tough! 

Hall: That night, I went in and worked. I always met somebody that would tell me what they wanted done that night, and they’d leave and I’d work by myself. I’d finish the project by the morning. Long before the morning, but by ten.

Kelly: Wow. That’s impressive for an eighteen-year-old.

Hall: For example, he [Roger Sutton or John DeWire] would ask me, “Do you know how to run a lathe?”

I said, “No, I never have.”

He said, “I’ll show you. You turn this switch on, move it this way and the chuck will go this way, and you go the other way with the switch and go the other way. You turn a handle, and the tool goes this way. Now you know it all, and goodbye.” 

By the end of the night, I had it all done. The next night, I came and he said, “Have you ever welded, electric welding?”  

I said, “No.” 

He said, “Well, we’ll show you.” 

John De Wire and Roger Sutton showed me how, but all they did was show me where the switch is to turn it on, turn it off. One of them whispered to the other, and I found this out later at Wilson’s eightieth birthday party—everybody went—that one of them said to the other, “Let’s get out of here before he asks another question!” 

What I welded on, we took to Los Alamos, so it lasted. It wasn’t a pretty weld, but it was done.  

There was always another little job to do that I could do in the evening. Finally, one day Wilson came along and said, “The whole group is going to go to New Mexico. Do you want to go?”

Within one second, I said, “Yes.”

I didn’t have to think about it. I went by train. The train had a Dutch door, you know, where the top half opens and the bottom half stays closed. I was looking at the countryside, and I thought, “This is it.” I still do. 

Kelly: How long did it take? A couple of days to get out to New Mexico?

Hall: Yeah, less than three days, between two and three. Had to change at Chicago, change trains in Chicago.

Kelly: Did you all ride together?

Hall: Oh, no.

Kelly: No.

Hall: I was the only one. I was by myself.

Kelly: You knew where you were going?

Hall: Oh, yeah. 

Kelly: What happened? What station did you get off at? 

Hall: At Lamy. I got there before lunch and went into La Fonda, got a meal there, and got a ride up in the bus. I think it was more like a Plymouth sedan, and got a ride up with a few others late in the day.

Kelly: Did others get off at Lamy?

Hall: No, I was the only one.

La Fonda is built on a hill, and where the office I was going to is at the top of that little hill. The bus let me off at the bottom, so I had to walk a block up the side of La Fonda, and then one more block to where the office was for the lab. 

Kelly: You remember the address of that office?

Hall: Yeah, 109 East Palace. Mrs. [Dorothy] McKibbin is in charge of it, and she was used to handling people dropping in. I was the only from my group that day. 

I remember going to Pojoaque in this Plymouth sedan, I think. You know, there’s a bridge that crosses the river, it’s a dried-up river now with a little tiny stream. There was no bridge, and you had to go down in the water. 

Kelly: Wow.

Hall: That impressed me.

Kelly: Yes. Oh, my.

Hall: They took me up on the Hill and they dropped me off at Fuller Lodge, and I got supper there.

Kelly: From Fuller Lodge, were you directed to some sleeping barracks?

Hall: I spent between a week and two weeks at Rancho Del Monte, which was a dude ranch off the Hill. The same Plymouth would pick me up there and the rest of the group, and take me back after I ate at dinner time. 

Kelly: Were others—

Hall: That went on for about, oh, a week and a half, I guess.

Kelly: Were there others staying there with you?

Hall: Yes. It filled the car. Finally, my dorm was built here at Los Alamos. It’s one of the few buildings from that date that still exists. It is now used as the headquarters for the Christian Science group. 

Kelly: That’s great. Does it bring back memories when you walk by? 

Hall: I don’t walk by. 

Kelly: Oh.

Hall: Don’t even drive by. It had a small bedroom, and it connected with another bedroom with a bathroom in between. I had a bath-mate, and that’s all. The bath-mate was Clem[ent] Toft, T-O-F-T, and after the war was over, he became a dentist. At the end of his dental career, he retired, came to Los Alamos to live, and died within a month. 

Kelly: Oh. Completing the circle. 

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: When you were at Los Alamos, did you then start working for Bob Wilson again?

Hall: Yes. He was the boss.

Kelly: What group was that?

Hall: That was P-12. He was the group leader, and eventually he became P-Division leader.

Kelly: What was P-Division, and what were they responsible for? 

Hall: Just physics. 

Kelly: Physics.

Hall: There were other groups for chemistry, the bomb design, and so on. 

Kelly: That’s a pretty big responsibility, physics.

Hall: I worked in various groups. From P-Division, I went to L-Division and worked in L-Division office for a while. Then I went to C-Division, computing. Then I went to X-Division. 

Kelly: Explosives? 

Hall: X-Division did the computer work for the bomb, designed the bomb in X-Division. I worked on those codes that tells how the bomb should be built. 

Kelly: Who was in charge of your work? Was that [Richard] Feynman?

Hall: He was in T-Division.

Kelly: He was in T.

Hall: He was a theoretical physicist. He knew all the formulas and had a big hand in designing the bomb. When that rocket [Challenger] went up and crashed and killed people, he was the one that came out, discovered the cause of it, a frozen O-ring. 

Kelly: Brilliant man.

Hall: He was the one that Wilson sent me to after three months. He explained on the blackboard to me all about what we were up to. I saw him later at a meeting and reminded him of that, and he didn’t remember that at all. One-on-one, he explained how the bomb works and so on. 

Kelly: Had you asked him? 

Hall: Wilson asked him.

Kelly: Oh, I see.

Hall: Wilson says, “I’m going to send this kid up to you, and you tell him.”

Kelly: He was a great explainer. 

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Tell me more. What specific things do you remember that you worked on while you were there?

Hall: When the bomb was ready to be tested, our group became the group that had—if the bomb didn’t explode the way it was supposed to, our group was supposed to say why. We had nothing to do with the explosion at Trinity, but if it didn’t work, then we would have. But it worked, so we were off the hook. 

Kelly: That was good.

Hall: After the explosion, everybody left to go here to Los Alamos, except me. I was in the Army then. That’s another story I should tell.

Kelly: Yeah.

Hall: Everybody went except me. It was the first night I ever went without sleep, and I went to my barracks and napped and slept a long time.  

The first year or two that I was here, I worked as a civilian. Then there was a nationwide edict that no one under the age of twenty-two could be deferred for occupational reasons. I was drafted and went to Fort Bliss, near El Paso. I went through everything the normal recruit does, except the VD [venereal disease] lecture. I did all the rest and went back on the train that night. I came on the train early morning, had breakfast, and went through all this that I had to do to, and then that night after dark I took the train back. I was back at work on Monday, and never missed a day.

Kelly: Wow. Did you have to dress in an Army uniform, then? 

Hall: Yes. Yeah, and moved from the dormitory to the barracks.

Kelly: Oh, goodness. 

Hall: Even one mess hall to another mess hall. 

Kelly: Were you part of the Special Engineer Detachment?

Hall: Yes. 

Kelly: Yeah. Do you remember some of your bunkmates in the SED, or your friends? 

Hall: Not really. We didn’t spend a lot of time together. We would wake up in the morning, quickly dress, and go to work, and that was it. 

Kelly: You were going to tell me—let’s see, maybe that was it, how you got into the Army. So that was it?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Yeah, that was quick.

Hall: I got a special discharge, because there was a job waiting for me in civilian life that was vital to the national welfare. It was the same job.

Kelly: You were discharged. How long had you been working for the SED, then you were discharged?

Hall: Yes. I never took basic training, but I worked a year, a month and five days, I think. 

Kelly: Did that bring you to the end of the war?

Hall: Yeah. The war was over. 

Kelly: Then you were discharged right away? Or did you have to stay?

Hall: Just a short time.

Kelly: A short time, yeah. Wow.

Hall: I got this discharge, because there was a job vital to the national welfare, which was probably—I forget the date, but I remember a year, a month and five days. I may be wrong on the number of days, but it’s written in there.

Kelly: Wow.

Hall: Then I left and went to college. See, I hadn’t been to college before that.

Kelly: What did you study at college?

Hall: Physics.

Kelly: Physics. I’m sure you could have taught the teacher something after working with all those top physicists.

Tell me about the cyclotrons, the cyclotron group.

Hall: Bob Wilson was the group leader. John DeWire, who you mentioned, was the alternate group leader. Joe Fowler was in the group. He’s the one that interviewed me. When DeWire and Bob Wilson left, he became the group leader. There was Leo Lavatelli, he was one of the physicists in the group.

Kelly: You had just arrived, and they put you charge of the cyclotron?

Hall: When we became the cyclotron group in Princeton, then we had to get that Harvard cyclotron to New Mexico. But it was all mothballed, in pieces, and so on. We had to go to Cambridge, and put it together and make it work. Then we knew what the problems would be, and we knew that it was working. Then we had to disassemble it and send it to New Mexico. We were there a day or so when it arrived.

Kelly: Well, that was something.

Hall: They sent it to St. Louis at first, so that people in Princeton wouldn’t know where it was going. Then when it got to St. Louis, they changed the address and sent it on here. But my stepfather that I was living with in Princeton, he said, “We all knew it.”

Kelly: That ruse did not work?

Hall: No.

Kelly: No.

Hall: Well, the people that were working there knew it, but anyway, they said they knew it. There was no proof that they knew it.

Kelly: When you got to Los Alamos, were you working on the cyclotron?

Hall: I had to put it together.

Kelly: You had to put it together.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: You got it to work?

Hall: Right.

Kelly: How does it work?

Hall: It worked well.

Kelly: Oh, good. Was it important? What role did it play in the research?

Hall: Theoretical physicists used it, the information from our experiments, to really design the bomb. Before that, they knew roughly how it should work, but they knew all the fine details.

Kelly: Amazing, amazing.

Levy: What was it like to put the cyclotron together? Was it difficult?

Hall: It really wasn’t difficult. Whatever problems we had, we would ask Bob Wilson. He knew it all.

Kelly: He knew it all.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Tell me a little bit about him, about Bob Wilson, what kind of person he was.

Hall: Just exceedingly smart. The Princeton group wasn’t enough to spread out in three shifts, so we had to hire other people and make enough for three shifts. He would show up every shift.

Kelly: Just to make sure the shift got started?

Hall: Answer any questions and fix anything, and go back.  

Kelly: Wow.

Hall: There wasn’t anybody else we could ask. He was the one.

Kelly: You had talked about how he wanted some magnet surfaces cleaned?

Hall: Oh, yeah.

Kelly: Do you remember that?

Hall: Oh, sure.

Kelly: Why don’t you tell me about that?

Hall: The magnet is just big pieces of iron, about forty inches in diameter, and this much high. There are several tons of iron in the bottom and several more up above. Between the pieces of iron was about eight or nine inches, or seven inches. It’s hard to remember.

They were rusted. He told me to go inside that an arms-length and press down and scrub it and get rid of that rust. Okay, I did it. Then he came back a day later and said, “No, it’s not good enough yet.” He got in there, and he showed me how he would do it, and it was a shiny spot. That’s the way he wanted it, so that’s the way he got it. It makes your arm sore when you’re pressing down like that, but I did it.

Kelly: But you did it. That’s great. You mentioned that Los Alamos lacked a barber?

Hall: Oh, that.

Kelly: What did you guys look like with no barber?

Hall: Well, that was Wilson’s joke.

Kelly: Oh, is it?

Hall: We had to order books, anything we wanted or needed. We would write out an order, and he would sign the order. Somebody asked for a barber chair, and he got us a barber chair delivered to his office. Special books, a magazine that goes with the barber chair. There was one guy in the group that knew how to cut hair, so he did that for about two months, and then the chair disappeared.

Kelly: Whoops.

Hall: Somebody took it. Somebody up higher than Bob said, “Enough of this foolishness.” Away it went.

Kelly: Oh, well. That’s funny.

Hall: We moved into the building really before it was finished. There was a little toilet room in there. Everything in there was working, except there was no toilet seat. This went on for a week or so, no toilet seat.

I had been walking around Santa Fe looking in various windows. A plumbing company, they had a display in their front window, and it showed a toilet seat. I said, “Well, why can’t we buy that one?”

There was one person in the Army, his job is to go back and forth to Santa Fe every day and buy whatever anybody needed from petty cash. That’s how we got the seat, and it was emerald green. It wasn’t just a white seat, it was emerald green. Probably had to pay extra, but at least we got the seat.

Kelly: That’s great.

Hall: It stayed there until we moved out. Then we moved from one mesa to another.

Kelly: Was that after they built that bridge?

Hall: Um-hmm.

Kelly: Yeah, across the chasm. That’s great.

There’s something here about dancing girls. What’s this story about the dancing girls?

Hall: When you’re running the cyclotron, it’s measured in amperes, the output. But really not amperes, but microamps, a very small amount. It wasn’t up to normal, what it should be doing. He said he needed some incentive, so that he had a graph that went up high, and if we got a certain number of amperes, we would get one prize. Then if we got more, we would get another prize, and so on. We got all the prizes, but we didn’t get up to where he wanted it. If you did that, you would have dancing girls come in. That was the last prize.

Kelly: That was a prize.

Hall: But he set the prize, that prize was unattainable.

Kelly: Oh, is that right? So this was part of Bob’s incentive system.

Hall: Right.

Kelly: To give you this little carrot, that he dangled. But he knew you weren’t going to be able to get the dancing girls, huh?

Hall: Right.

Kelly: But it worked to get you close, right?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: That’s cute, that’s great.

Hall: Interesting about his life, if you want to know about—the story I get is that he was raised somewhere in Wyoming. You know the story?

Kelly: No, tell me.

Hall: He was on a ranch in Wyoming. If they had to get something at the nearest town, which was 100 miles away, somebody had to go ride a horse 100 miles, get it, and come back. He would do that occasionally. He would get there in one day, I think, and let the horse rest for a day and maybe come back on a different horse.

Kelly: Wow.

Hall: That’s real torture, to go 100 miles on a horse. In the early days, when the ranch crew was here, they had their own horses for each kid. Then when the kids left, they had to leave the horses. So the government rented the horses to anybody that wanted a horse. I would rent a horse, and go up to where the ski hill is and then down into the Valle Grande. There would be cows down there, and I would chase the cows on the horse, which was a lot of fun for somebody from New Jersey and New York. Where the airport is here—did you come in by the airport?

Kelly: Um-hmm.

Hall: That was an oat field, because when the [Los Alamos] Ranch School had it, they raised oats for the horses. Turkeys would like to go and eat the oats that were left over from the ranch school. I’d rent a horse and go, and I’d find a turkey and cut him out from the herd. There would be a herd of turkeys, and I’d pick one turkey and I’d have to tell the horse to go left and right and left and right, whatever, to get that one turkey out from the herd.

Eventually, the horse knew what I was doing and I didn’t have to tell him. He’d get that turkey out from the rest of the herd. Finally, the turkey thought, “Enough of this nonsense,” and he’d run as fast as he could. He was fat, and ran off the edge of the canyon.

Kelly: Oh, my.

Hall: And swoop down and pick up speed, and then fly back to the rest of the herd.

Kelly: Oh, really? Oh, my. Fortunately, the horse could stop short of going off over the—?

Hall: Oh, sure.

Kelly: That’s good.

Hall: They weren’t stupid. There was a trail going off the end, and when you come up on the Hill, if you know where to look, you can see the trail zigzagging down to the bottom. I’d rent horses and go down there on that trail.

I’d go on that trail, but the horse didn’t want to go. The horse thought it was dangerous. Other people thought, “Yeah, it’s dangerous.” But I’d make him go and it’s a trail that switches, switchbacks and goes down. Once he got on the trail, he was good as gold, because he was more scared than I was. He knew he’d be in big trouble if he fell. So he was careful.

Kelly: Yeah. Wow.

Hall: I didn’t worry about it, because I knew he was worried.

Kelly: That’s great. Did you pick up your horseback riding skills at Los Alamos?

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: Yeah. That’s great. Is that something you did on your day off? 

Hall: Sure, or after work.

Kelly: Yeah, or after work.

Hall: A lot of the time we worked five days a week, and then sometimes we’d work six days a week.

Kelly: Did it increase toward the time of the Trinity Test?

Hall: I think so, yeah. It’s hard to remember when that happened. I know the whole lab worked six days a week or five days a week.

Kelly: Yeah. Were they the same? Was it sort of Monday through Friday, or Monday through Saturday?

Hall: Yeah. Never on Sunday.

Kelly: That’s good. You should take a day off, right. You get exhausted. Did you and your colleagues get fatigued with this schedule?

Hall: No.

Kelly: No.

Hall: If they did, nobody showed it.

Kelly: Nobody showed it.

Hall: Because they wanted the bomb to be built and built quickly.

Kelly: Remind us, what was the sort of average age of the people you worked with?

Hall: I mentioned Bob Wilson was less than thirty, and he was the senior member of the administration. There were a few older ones that came. Mostly, they were from foreign countries and known for their work in the field, so we were not to use their real name. They were all given special names. I forget now who got what name, but anyway, they weren’t their real names.

Kelly: Didn’t they call Enrico Fermi “Mr. Farmer?”

Hall: Maybe, yeah.

Kelly: Yeah, something like that. And Niels Bohr was “Mr. Baker.”

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Yeah, right.

Hall: They had to smuggle him out.

Kelly: Right. Did you ever get the chance, or hear people talk about going down to the house where Edith Warner had a little tea house?

Hall: Yes. That was a popular place. I never went there. The senior management went there. You can imagine eighteen-year-old boy wouldn’t be interested in a tea house. I would be now, but not then.

Kelly: Yeah, right, exactly, eighteen. Were there many as young as you?

Hall: A few, not many. I can think of three.

Kelly: Wow. But you felt perfectly welcomed by everybody else, because they really weren’t that much older, right?

Hall: You’re asking about discrimination?

Kelly: Yeah.

Hall: Discrimination was not based on age. I’d say it was based on education. PhDs didn’t associate with people that didn’t have a PhD. They probably wouldn’t admit it.

Kelly: Except it sounds like Bob Wilson did. He’d get down into the details.

Hall: Well, that’s to get the job done. There was lots of them like Louis Rosen, for example. You’ve heard of him?

Kelly: I knew Louis Rosen.

Hall: Okay.

Kelly: Yes, we took an interview with him, ten years ago, whatever it was.

Hall: Well, I worked with him quite a bit at the lab, and it was always about our work. Then later on, I found out that his son wrote a book about his growing up in Los Alamos. After working with him for many, many months, I never even knew that he had a son. The work part was work, and if it wasn’t concerning work, then you didn’t hear about it.

I was invited to dinner at somebody’s house. He didn’t have a PhD, so that was all right. But not invited to anybody with a PhD. You wouldn’t hear anybody else say that.

Kelly: I have gotten the sense that there is a pecking order.

Hall: Yeah. That’s a good way to describe it.

Kelly: Right.

Hall: Bob Wilson had an eightieth birthday party at Ithaca. People from all over the country went to his party. The biggest hotel in town—I forget whatever the name is—had a big, big dining room, and his party filled that dining room with eight per table. People from all over went there.

Then before that occasion, I went to his house. Walking around the kitchen, I find pictures on their refrigerator. I didn’t even know he had kids. I was astounded. Never talked about his kids or his wife. I had to know his wife, but one of his kids—I don’t know now how many he had—one of them became a labor organizer. Can you imagine that? Did you know that?

Kelly: I didn’t know that. Interesting.

Hall: Nothing to do with science. 

Kelly: Yeah. 

Hall: Labor organizer. Well, he must have raised his kids like I did mine. They did what they wanted to do.

Kelly: Well, that’s important.

Hall: I mean, I didn’t say, “You got to be physics,” or this or that.

Kelly: Did any of your children follow your footsteps?

Hall: No.

Kelly: No. 

Hall: One went into economics and banking, and the other became a teacher

Kelly: You had something about—from Espanola—the cutoff to Totavi, there were two dips in the road?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: They were paved with concrete, but occasionally a thunderstorm would cause a flash flood?

Hall: Yeah. We’d have to stop in the water, and it’d go down in a half an hour or so. Sometimes big boulders would roll down. You wouldn’t want to hit that with a car.

Kelly: Right. Is this when you were on horseback?

Hall: No.

Kelly: In a car?

Hall: Going to Santa Fe.

Kelly: Oh, going into Santa Fe.

Hall: The road from Pojoaque—this way would be rough, so we’d go to Espanola, and you’d have a paved road for most of the way.

Kelly: Must have been a lot of flat tires, too.

Hall: Not so bad.

Kelly: Not so bad? Well, that’s good. You’re talking here about the dormitory, and they had a day room for dorm parties. You remember those?

Hall: Oh, sure.

Kelly: How often did you have dorm parties?

Hall: At certain time of the year, it would be almost every weekend, like Friday night or Saturday night.

Kelly: Did you have record players? 

Hall: I think so. I don’t remember a live band, because I would have remembered that. 

Kelly: Was there alcohol, beer?

Hall: There’s an interesting story with that. I’d get the Denver Post on Sundays, my day off, and then I’d read the Denver Post. I saw a story in there that a distillery called Park & Tilford—they’re out of business now, so you wouldn’t know that—but they would give each stockholder, for each share they had, the right to buy six cases of whiskey at their wholesale price.

I quickly went to a broker on the Plaza in Santa Fe and told them I wanted to buy one share of Park & Tilford. So I did, and then I got a notice that I’m eligible to get the six cases. It was not easy. I had papers that thick relating to it. Finally, I got to the attorney general of New Mexico and told them I had this offer to sell me the six cases at wholesale price from Park & Tilford. He gave it to me. He said, “Okay,” and he gave me the signature. He didn’t ask my age, which I was way below the average—below the selling point. I might have been eighteen at the time. The limit was twenty-one. But he said I could do it.

A woman that was working and had a dorm across the way from our dorm, had a convertible. I borrowed her convertible, and put the liquor in the trunk and then piled it up on the back seat. Then I got here with the six cases. One of the fellows from the Princeton group was Bill Schafer. I don’t know if you interviewed him, but he’s long dead. It was enough money, so he provided money for three cases. He got three cases, but I had to do the paperwork. So the dorm parties used liquor from me! 

Kelly: They got lively, I bet the parties were lively.

Hall: Yeah. They lasted a long time, so nobody passed out. 

Kelly: Well, that’s good. What fun. Great story.

Hall: Some people expressed surprise that I would read the Denver Post on Sunday, my day off, when I could be doing something interesting, but I had my turns. I did fishing also, and that sort of thing.

Kelly: Where did you fish?

Hall: At the Frijoles, and then the Rio Grande.

Kelly: Was the fishing good all year round, or just some seasons?

Hall: Never really good.

Kelly: Never really good.

Hall: Once in a while, I’d catch one.

Kelly: It looks like you have a story in here about a man name Popovi Da, son of Maria?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Tell me about that. Which Maria?

Hall: The famous Maria.

Kelly: Martinez?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Oh, wow. What did you see him doing?

Hall: There was a house called the Big House, which has been torn down. On the stairway, he’d sit and do a painting. I bought one of his paintings and rolled it up and sent it to my mother in Princeton. When she moved to Chicago, she gave me the painting back, so it’s hanging in my office.

Kelly: Oh, wonderful.

Hall: When I knew him, he wanted to be called Popovi DA. Years and years later, everybody’s told that the correct pronunciation, Popovi DAY. But I believe it started because that’s what he said.

Kelly: Do you remember any other Pueblo people who came up to Los Alamos to work, or to paint watercolors? Do you remember?

Hall: No.

Kelly: No. Is he the only one you remember?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Oh, interesting. How about Hispanos?

Hall: As you can imagine, an eighteen-year-old wouldn’t be interested in the artwork. I knew my mother would be interested, and I mailed it off to her. But I wasn’t interested. I was interested enough to buy an Indian rug. I had that in my bedroom.

Kelly: Do you remember which Pueblo?

Hall: No. I bought it in the basement of the La Fonda. I don’t think they have a shop there now, but if it is, it’s gone.

Kelly: Was that during the war, or after?

Hall: During.

Kelly: During. Interesting. How often did you get to go to La Fonda, or Santa Fe?

Hall: Almost every weekend.

Kelly: Oh, wow.

Hall: I’d get a room at the La Fonda, and then go dancing there.

Kelly: Oh, really?

Hall: They’d have a live band, and the room would fill up. Then on Sunday morning, I’d walk down the street. There’d be a Chinese restaurant that I liked, so I’d go in there and have breakfast. You could even get steaks there.

Kelly: There were stories that the project had the bartenders at La Fonda seek undercover agents.

Hall: I don’t believe it.

Kelly: You don’t believe it?

Hall: No.

Kelly: They would worry that some loose lips might have spilled some beans about the secrets of Los Alamos.

Hall: No.

Kelly: Not a problem?

Hall: I could go anywhere I wanted to, as I explained. You’d get two days a month vacation when you worked for the lab. Soon as I got enough days to go on vacation, I took the local bus from here to Santa Fe, then the Greyhound bus to Albuquerque, where I changed and got the bus to Grand Canyon—no, the underground mine.

Kelly: Oh, the Carlsbad—

Hall: Carlsbad Caverns.

Kelly: Right, Carlsbad, right.

Hall: Carlsbad Cavern.

Kelly: Yes.

Hall: I went there and saw that, and then I took the bus from there to Grand Canyon. I was by myself.

Kelly: Oh, wow.

Hall: Once I got to Grand Canyon, then I met two couples from Los Alamos—three couples.

Kelly: You just accidentally met these—

Hall: No, we, we planned it.

Kelly: I see.

Hall: That I would meet them at Grand Canyon on a certain day. Then we took the three-day trip down into the canyon, and then up the river. Today, if you were going to go to the Grand Canyon on a horse ride, you’d have to make a reservation a year in advance. But because of the war, the horses, we could go there in the evening, make a reservation for tomorrow morning, and go.

Kelly: That’s fantastic. Boy, you really took advantage of being in the Southwest to do that. That’s great.

Hall: I remember, when you got to the very bottom, they served a wonderful meal, and they had a place to swim. Now you can’t swim there anymore. They filled it in, because of the danger of somebody drowning and suing. The litigiousness cuts down on your fun. But when you’re on a hot, dry trail, it sure feels good to be in that pool.

Kelly: Wow. So you were hiking? You hiked down into the canyon? 

Hall: No, I went down on mules.

Kelly: On mules.

Hall: That’s what you have to make reservations for.

Kelly: I see.

Hall: A year in advance.

Kelly: I see. Once you got down there, you went swimming?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Nice.

Hall: On the first day. The next day, we’d take a ride up the Colorado River.

Kelly: On a raft?

Hall: No, on the mule.

Kelly: On the mule, okay. It must have been beautiful.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: You had it to yourselves?

Hall: Yeah, right.

Kelly: Practically, yeah. That’s really nice. What a memory. When you were not travelling further, did you like to hike around here in Los Alamos?

Hall: A little bit, yeah.

Kelly: Yeah, yeah. How about skiing, is that something—?

Hall: Oh, sure. There was a place you could buy skis up here, eventually, but not the first season. We went up to a place called Sawyer’s Hill, which is where the boys from the ranch school skied, and they had a rope tow. 

Fermi would ski.

Kelly: Oh, Fermi, too, yes.

Hall: He’d ski with his kids. Maybe his wife, I’m not sure about that. But you could hear him all over the slope, him yelling, yelling at his kids to do this, do that, do this, that, to teach them how to ski.

Levy: Maybe you could talk a little bit about when you worked on the computers at Los Alamos and the codes, what that was like? We don’t know many people who worked during the war in the computing effort.

Hall: When you work with the cyclotron, you work with radiation.

I worked with it enough—I decided I had enough radiation, and it was about the time computing just getting started. There was a computing group, and if you wanted something, a code written, you’d go to the computer group. They would maybe three days, four days later come up with a code that you asked for. That was too long for people; they wanted it instantly.

I learned how to compute using the FORTRAN language, and I got good enough that they’d ask me to do the computing for them. That worked well enough so that when I decided to leave that group, I went to the computing group, where I was a consultant for everybody.

I left the cyclotron at a good time. My blood now is, the red corpuscles are low and the white corpuscles are low, which means I’m prone to infection. But I think I’m getting better with that. Anyway, they were worried about it for a while. If I’d stayed longer, I would have not gotten better. The fact that I’ve lived this long shows that I quit just in time.

Kelly: Yeah. Wow. What did you do after you got your doctorate in physics?

Hall: No.

Kelly: No. Oh, got your college degree.

Hall: Just a bachelor’s degree.

Kelly: You came back to Los Alamos then?

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: What part of the laboratory did you work at?

Hall: I went back in the same group, which is a mistake. Even in the Navy, if you’re a Navy seaman and you go off to become an ensign, you never go back in the same ship, because they’ll treat you like the ensign they know.

The same with me. I used to do something very well and came back, and they wanted me to do the same thing. I should have gone to a different group, but nobody told me that. I had to figure that out for myself.

Kelly: Were you able to switch groups?

Hall: Yes, that was very easy. I went from experimental group to the consultant at the computer group. I was a consultant for everybody.

Kelly: I see. That was a good position you had, that you sort of created for yourself.

Hall: There was one woman that came to me. She said she’d like to know how to code something in a certain way, and I told her, “Don’t do it that way. Here’s a better way.”

She went to my group leader and complained and said that, “He never tells me the answer to my question. He tells me a better way.”

The group leader tells me that, and he said, “That’s what I want you to do.” I got a good raise out of that, because she was complaining about it.

Kelly: That’s funny.

Levy: What were the computers like back then? What did they look like, and what kinds of things were people coding?

Hall: Very primitive. We had to have punch cards, and they’d be in a tray like this or in a tray this long. Punch cards, just one card out of place, the code wouldn’t work. You’d have to go in and about four or five and line up the time that night, so the night crew would put your cards in. Then in the morning, you’d get the results.

If you ever complained about the work they were doing—like they didn’t run your cards about the way they were supposed to—mysteriously the next week, your cards would be dumped on the floor. You learned to not complain.

Kelly: Teach you not to complain, that’s for sure.

Levy: What were the computing codes used for? Calculations for the bomb?

Hall: The codes were used for how to design the—what size and what such.

Kelly: If you could guess, thinking about how long it might take to calculate a single question back then and what it takes now, how would that compare?

Hall: I think with fast computers you have now, you’d do things now that you wouldn’t even think of doing back then. There wouldn’t be room in the house for all the cards.

Kelly: But I suppose, what you were doing with the cards was still a big step ahead of—

Hall: Oh, sure. Before that, they had housewives that would come in and compute and they’d have a—

Kelly: Was that a Marchant calculator?

Hall: Right. They would do it by hand. Then the computers came in.

Kelly: You were talking about a couple of the trails that you liked to ride, and then you talk about [J. Robert] Oppenheimer and Kitty and their horseback riding. What can you tell us about that?

Hall: Sure. I was at the stables, which is about where McDonald’s is now. Kitty was complaining that she was so busy, she didn’t have time to exercise her horse. So I said, “Oh, I’ll exercise the horse.”

One of the first rides I took was from here up to Camp May. You know where that is? Where the ski area is now. Then when I wanted to go back, he wouldn’t go. I did everything you can to make a horse go, get off and pull him. He still wouldn’t. I walked out and got another horse and went back, and it would go with the other horse leading him. I don’t know why.

They had a vet come look at it. Then Oppenheimer called me up to his office. As an example of how smart he was, he drew diagrams on the blackboard of how a horse’s hoof is constructed. How he knew that, I don’t know. But he accused me of galloping on the rocks, because it didn’t have a horse shoe. But it was just like a tire that went flat. The horse’s hoof went down and the sensitive part, called the frog, was hurt by the pebbles. But I got raises the same after that as before.

Kelly: Did you keep exercising her horse, or was that it?

Hall: I didn’t ride her horse anymore. But I did go on horses.

Kelly: So there are lot of trails around here?

Hall: Oh, sure. Up and down and all around.

Kelly: You mentioned this Camp May, would you say is—?

Hall: That’s where the ski area is now.

Kelly: The ski area is now. There was a cabin there, you could stay overnight?

Hall: Yes. Once I did.

Kelly: Fun. Target shooting. So you used to like target shooting for recreation?

Hall: Oh, yeah.

Kelly: Is that right? Tell us about that. Where were the targets?

Hall: Have you been down where the skating rink is?

Kelly: Yes. Not Ashley Pond, another skating rink?

Hall: Yeah. In the canyon.

Kelly: Oh, okay. Yeah, I don’t know that.

Hall: Well, a couple of us, we’d sit on this side and shoot at targets across the canyon, with the road going underneath us. That’d be frowned on now. You wouldn’t be allowed to. 

Kelly: Yeah. Too dangerous.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: It would hit something. I guess you occasionally hunted gophers and things like that?

Hall: We just did that once on the road to Espanola. I didn’t see any, so I never did it again.

Kelly: Yeah. It said that contact with people in Santa Fe who had no connection with Los Alamos was discouraged. Was that true in your case?

Hall: No.

Kelly: Tell me about it.

Hall: As I said, I went to La Fonda and went to the dances and so on. There was a woman there that was in charge of the newspapers and cigarettes and cigars, and I had a date with her. I forget her name now. But nobody really told me personally not to do that. I never discussed anything secret with her.

Kelly: For other things for fun, it sounds like they had two theaters here.

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: How much did it cost to watch?

Hall: Fifteen cents.

Kelly: That’s pretty nice.

Hall: On one of them, they’d bring out chairs for the movies. Then at certain times, they’d take the chairs away and have a band on the stage and have a big dance.

Kelly: That’s fun. Sounds like you also played?

Hall: Yeah. I played the trombone in the high school orchestra, the high school band. But then I decided I’d rather dance than play.

Levy: Did your dentist say anything about you playing the trombone?

Hall: Did who say?

Levy: Your dentist.

Hall: Oh, the dentist. No, the dentist was complaining about—my teeth were coming in instead of straight, and he didn’t know the cause. I came up with trombone playing, where you press hard against your teeth, and they were forced backwards. I don’t think any teenager should play the trombone. Later on, when your teeth are really secure, might be all right.

Kelly: It sounds like you were promoted pretty quickly.

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: For three months you were a corporal, three more months a sergeant, three more months a staff sergeant. 

Hall: Never was a PFC, I skipped over that.

Kelly: Oh, you did? Wow. Goodness me.

Hall: If I’d been in a few months longer, I’d get another promotion.

Kelly: That’s great. This is interesting, that you had a little run-in with someone at Fuller Lodge when you were wearing a western string tie. 

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Do you remember that?

Hall: Sure.

Kelly: Tell us about that.

Hall: I took a date to Fuller Lodge. I was all dressed up with the Army uniform, and I thought, “Well, I’ll put a western string tie on for the date.”

He was eating there also, and he came over and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Kelly: But he didn’t make you take it off?

Hall: No.

Kelly: That’s good. He was a senior rank, someone senior to you in the Army?

Hall: Oh, he was a lieutenant colonel. I’m not sure what it was.

Kelly: A colonel.

Hall: He was in charge of anything legal, because he was basically a lawyer.

Kelly: A patent attorney?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: You said, yeah, for the laboratory. Ralph—

Hall: I was, I was the first patient in the Los Alamos hospital.

Kelly: You were?

Hall: That’s when the hospital was over by the pond. I had measles, or something like that. It was best to be in a dark room, and they’d bring meals over from Fuller Lodge. One of the nurses is who this colonel married, the one that came over and told me about the tie. He married one of the nurses. 

Kelly: Oh, is that right? 

Hall: There were only two nurses there.

Kelly: That’s funny. 

Hall: They brought single beds for the hospital, and they were stored somewhere for years. I stood there while the two nurses got these mattresses and shook them. Dust clouds went over. I watched them put sheets on it.

Kelly: Mean while, you were covered with measles?

Hall: I suppose.

Kelly: You were pretty sick?

Hall: It was something that young kids get. It was either the measles or chicken pox, or something like that.

Kelly: Oh, dear, this is another time you had a dentist in the Army?

Hall: Oh, yes.

Kelly: Tell us that story.

Hall: I had a toothache, and went to the Army dentist. He said, “Well, I guess, I have to pull it.” He pulled it.

I said, “It still hurts.”

He says, “Oh, my, I pulled the wrong one.” Ever since I have a denture with that tooth.

Kelly: Oh, dear.

Hall: If he was a private dentist, there’d be more than an “Oh, my.”

Kelly: Yes, indeed. Oh, here’s a story about General [Leslie] Groves. You remember your close encounter with General Groves? You’re talking here about, there were special latrines for the enlisted and the brass.

Hall: They all used the same one.

Kelly: At the base camp, there was one for all, twenty toilets in a row. You’re in there, and about fifteen units away was General Groves.

Hall: My only contact with him.

Kelly: That’s funny.

Hall: He’s the general that was in charge of building the Pentagon.

Kelly: Right. What was his reputation among the—?

Hall: It wasn’t good. He and Oppenheimer argued all the time. Oppenheimer wanted more freedom and he wanted more supervision, so they compromised a lot.

Kelly: I guess it worked pretty well.

Hall: Yeah. We got the job done.

Kelly: Yeah, you did.

Hall: In spite of—

Kelly: Looking back at your experience, how would you characterize it, as its importance in the rest of your life?

Hall: Oh, good results all around. If that woman in Princeton didn’t show me the ad, who knows—I’d have gone to the Pacific as a soldier, and I’d have been killed, probably. There’s so many ifs. It seems like I took the right road each time.

Kelly: Yeah. It seems like you were never afraid to take a risk.

Hall: Right.

Kelly: You always said, “Yes, I’ll do that.”

Hall: Right.

Kelly: Set off by yourself.

Hall: Like the story about the lathe or the welding, people go to classes for that for months. But it is possible, with no instruction, to do it.

Hall: When we moved from Princeton to here, our group had a machinist, but he was a trained machinist. He went to school, and really was a good machinist. I never competed with him.

Kelly: Do you remember his name?

Hall: Sure. Raymond Squires.

Kelly: Because there was a machinist, David Greenglass, who became infamous.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: That’s interesting. Machinists played a very important role in the Manhattan Project.

Hall: Oh, sure. Couldn’t have done it, there was no other way to do it. They did things that never were done before. 

Kelly: How did that feel?

Hall: Wonderful.

Kelly: It must have been a very exciting time.

Hall: Oh, there’s one thing I left out. I told you when the bomb went off, everybody went home to Los Alamos. I went to sleep and found out later that they had a grand party, and I missed it.

Kelly: You missed the party.

 

Hall: A month or two later, we needed something that we’d left behind, and I volunteered. I said, “I’ll go.” So I made one trip down, and stayed overnight and went back. That was the night that victory was announced. Another party I missed! Everybody was celebrating the victory, and I was down at Trinity Site.  

Kelly: When you found out about the victory, how did that make you feel?

Hall: Oh, couldn’t be better.

Kelly: How do you feel about your role in creating the first atomic bomb?

Hall: I’m trying to think of who the director was at the lab—Harold Agnew. His reaction was, “They damn well deserved it.” That was my reaction. I haven’t bought a Japanese car yet to this day, because of that.

Levy: Do you remember where you were when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

Hall: Yes. I was at high school. It was an auditorium full of the class. I got on the school bus, and nobody knew it until we got to school. We had radios, but we didn’t have the radio on. No TV. We all went to the auditorium for assembly, and found out there.

Kelly: They had a special assembly to tell the students?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: It didn’t take long before we were in the war.

Hall: Right.

Kelly: How were people feeling about—your family or your friends—about the impending war? It was pretty clear, Europe had been at war and that we had a choice to make.

Hall: Those are details I don’t remember. But you know, there was a program [“War of the Worlds”] that tried to give the impression that space invaders came and landed in New Jersey. You remember that?

Kelly: With the Martians?

Hall: Yeah. That was just a few miles from where I lived. People got all upset over that, but I didn’t because I didn’t have a TV and didn’t have the radio on.

Levy: When you were at Princeton, do you remember what building you were working in with the cyclotron?

Hall: Sure. The building’s still there, the last time I saw it. I took my wife, Georgia, to show her the building and gave her a tour of Princeton. But Princeton doesn’t change. Any building that ever was there, is still there.

Kelly: It was called the Physics Building?

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: Great.

Levy: How long did you work at the laboratory here for after the war, when you came back?

Hall: Total, about forty years. 

Kelly: So it was a good place to work?

Hall: Yes, but I hear otherwise now. More red tape. The reason I quit, I get a pretty good retirement pay, and I subtract the retirement pay from what I get from working, and there’s not hardly any difference. I figured I was working for fifty cents an hour, so I quit.

Kelly: Have you enjoyed your retirement?

Hall: Yes. I woke Georgia up in the night, and I told her, “Tomorrow, I’m quitting.” Then I went to sleep. She stayed awake.

Levy: What research groups did you work in during your career after the war at the laboratory?

Kelly: Yeah, what did you work at, at the lab those forty years? 

Hall: Mostly computing, just computing.

Kelly: You saw the computers get bigger and faster, and then smaller and faster?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Yeah. Must have been exciting.

Hall: It was.

Levy: Can you talk a little bit about sort of the changes that you saw over those forty years in computing? 

Hall: They just got smaller and smaller and faster and faster.

Levy: Did you primarily code in FORTRAN, or did you have to learn other languages as well?

Hall: Mainly FORTRAN. Another language that nobody uses called BCON. I think I was the only one that used that language, but it worked for me.

Kelly: That’s great. Your field is just growing. All the data science is all the rage.

Hall: No matter what you’re doing, you need a computer.

Kelly: Yes.

Hall: When my son was in high school, I tried to get him interested in computing, but he wasn’t. But then when he goes to work for a bank, he knew computing tricks I didn’t know.

Kelly: Can you think of anything we haven’t talked about that you want to share, or make sure that we have for the record?

Hall: I was just thinking about at New Year’s. There was no big party here at New Years’ time, but in the old days, Fuller Lodge would be packed with people celebrating New Year’s. It was so crowded, you couldn’t even dance without hitting somebody, but the floor was just packed. That’s gone, because the people that were on the floor then—they’re dead and they’re gone, and the young crowd is not doing it. They didn’t even advertise a dance, just none exist now. Those were the good times.

Kelly: It sounds like you had a lot of good times.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: There’s a great sense of community.

Hall: We played hard, and we worked hard.

Kelly: You say the spirit of the Manhattan Project kind of carried along?

Hall: I don’t think so

Kelly: No?

Hall: I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t been over there in twenty years.

Kelly: No, I meant for the forty years after the war that you were involved in Los Alamos, how did it differ from your experience when you were here during those war years?

Hall: More red tape. As the project goes on, more rules and regulations. Like I told you in the very beginning, I was given jobs to do, and I worked by myself in the evening. That wouldn’t be allowed now at all. Here at the cyclotron, I’d start up the cyclotron and run it by myself, and that wouldn’t be allowed anymore. Of course, we don’t have the cyclotron anymore either. The last days I was working on the cyclotron, I was alone at night, and that wouldn’t be allowed.

Kelly: What would they require?

Hall: A second person, at least.

Kelly: A second person. In case something went wrong, or because they didn’t trust the first person?

Hall: In case something went wrong. It’s just somebody that didn’t know anything about a cyclotron and said, “You got to have a second person,” even if the second person doesn’t know anything.

Kelly: Is it as much fun today as it was then?

Hall: I haven’t been over there in—I retired in ’87.

Kelly: Oh, wow, yeah, twenty years.

Hall: I haven’t been over there since. I couldn’t even take somebody over to show them, “This is the building I worked in,” because you’re not even allowed to get near the building.

Kelly: That’s thirty years, right. Almost as long as you worked there, you’ve been gone.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Yeah. It’s a long time, if you think about how much changed in those forty years you were there.

Levy: I have two more questions. Did you work with supercomputers at Los Alamos?

Hall: With what kind?

Levy: Supercomputers.

Hall: A little bit.

Levy: Can you explain sort of what a supercomputer is and what you did with it?

Hall: The new computers would be produced, and the lab would buy them. The old code would work on the new computers about the same. You wouldn’t have to change the computer instruction, it’d just work on it quicker. I’m talking roughly. You might have to make a little change here and there, but basically it’s the same.

Kelly: It was super, faster.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Better, quicker.

Hall: Yeah. Like cars, they’re progressing, but you can still get in a new car and make it go. It’s not that different. A lot of people that get a car, after five years, complain about it’s all new, but it’s, you get used to it.

Kelly: What was your other question?

Levy: Did you have any other interactions with Oppenheimer than the ones that you’ve already talked about?

Hall: No.

Levy: What about with George Kistiakowsky or some of the other leaders?

Hall: No.

Levy: Hans Bethe?

Hall: They retired, or left here before I retired, probably.

Levy: I guess you were kind of too junior during the project to have really associated with any of those.

Hall: Right.

Kelly: You had a remarkable experience. I can’t imagine too many eighteen-year-olds today, how well they would have fared in your shoes.

Hall: It’s almost frightening to see kids nowadays, and the parents hover over them and make sure they come to the right college. There was none of that in my case. At eighteen, I left.

Levy: I guess I did have one more question. When did you find out that the Manhattan Project’s goal was to make an atomic bomb, and what did you think about that?

Hall: It was about three months after I was here that I found out officially what we were doing, and I thought—

Kelly: It made sense?

Hall: Yeah. 

Kelly: Is that the time when Feynman explained to you what it was?

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: So you passed the test. Bob Wilson thought, “All right, he’s ready.” Did it help you to know what the objective was?

Hall: We might have worked a little harder. We were already working hard, but tried a little harder. Wilson knew that.

Kelly: That’s great. When you read the Detroit—no, the Denver paper on Sundays, how much were you able to follow the progression of the war in Europe and elsewhere?

Hall: It’s just like any other paper.

Kelly: It gave you a pretty good idea of how things stood on the outside.

Hall: Yes.

Kelly: How important it was for your work to move along.

Hall: That’s right.

Kelly: It’s quite important to continue this. It wasn’t always clear that we were winning, because we weren’t.

Levy: Did you witness the Trinity test?

Hall: Yes.

Levy: Can you talk about what you saw and what you felt?

Hall: It was on an old big ranch, big and kind of off by itself. It’s big enough so that when they had to go to the grocery store, they’d take a wagon and horses, and go one day and come back days later. That’s their food for the summer. It was a big deal to go shopping then. Anyway, we were isolated. 

Levy: Did you see the mushroom cloud?

Hall: Oh, yeah. It was a ranch, and they had what they call a ranch tank. A bulldozer comes and scoops up dirt and makes a big earthen wall. Then they fill this with water, and use that water for the cows and so on.

We were on the slope of that. It was at like a 45-degree angle, and just laying on the slope waiting for the bomb to go off, with our eyes looking toward the tower.

Kelly: Did you have any shielding?

Hall: They gave us welding goggles. It was the glass that goes in the goggles. They said, “Hold it up there for a minute,” but I held it up instantly, and then—

Kelly: Took a peek.

Hall: —peeked out and then I thought, “This is not hurting me,” so I put it down.

Kelly: What do you remember first?

Hall: If you’re in the kitchen, and somebody opens the oven door, and a little warm air comes out, that’s about the way it felt ten miles away, like a warm breeze coming from an oven door.

Kelly: About how far were you away?

Hall: Ten miles.

Kelly: Ten miles. Did you see it first, and then hear it?

Hall: Oh, yes.

Kelly: Were you surprised by the sight or what you saw?

Hall: Not surprised, but I was interested in it. “So this is the way it looks!”

Kelly: Describe it. What did it look like?

Hall: It’s just all different colors, all mixed together, but moving around. It’s not all one color, but it was red and yellows and blues, all mixed in.

Kelly: Were you able to watch those colors with the welding glass?

Hall: I took it down almost right away.

Kelly: It didn’t hurt your eyes?

Hall: No.

Kelly: Did the people around you, were they silent, or were they going, “Oh my goodness!” What were their reactions?

Hall: Somebody left a radio on. That day and time when the radio comes on in the morning, they play “The Star Spangled Banner.” The radio was next to the speaker where somebody was talking to us, and then they started playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” at the same time that the bomb went off.

Kelly: Oh, my goodness.

Hall: Impressive. Of course, somebody had a bottle of liquor, and it was passed all along. When somebody asks, “What was it like?” Well, you’re not quite sure.

Kelly: Wow. After all that excitement, you fell asleep?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: You were there for the next day. Everybody else went back?

Hall: Yeah. Everybody else went.

Kelly: People describe the surface of the sand turning into glass. Do you remember that?

Hall: Oh, sure.

Kelly: Did you walk around that next morning?

Hall: No, it would be too hot. But I waited years and then went back, maybe ten or fifteen. It was whenever they opened it up so people could look. You can see the blue-green sand that was melted together.

Kelly: How many people do you suppose were among those that witnessed the Trinity test

Hall: In that ranch tank side, I’d say twenty-five.

Kelly: Twenty-five of you.

Hall: It’s just a guess, I didn’t count them.

Kelly: What were your assignments? How did you happen to get to be one of those to watch the Trinity Test?

Hall: I worked under the tower. There was a tent near the—I could throw a stone to the tower if I wanted to.

Kelly: Really?

Hall: As I said, we had to say why the bomb didn’t go off if it didn’t go off. We had a cable going up to the tower where the bomb was, and down to where we were. There was a tent down there, and I had a vacuum system and other things to get going to find out why the bomb didn’t go, but it did.

The idea is that we would get—the information went into a trench, ten-foot deep or so, and covered with dirt. Then hundreds of yards away, we’d bring the cable back up, and supposedly it wouldn’t be hurt or damaged. You’d have the information before our instrument was destroyed.

Kelly: Right.

Hall: We had an instrument this far away, or a foot and a half from the bomb. But if it didn’t really go off, our instrument would have got the information.

Kelly: How about the cable that was ten feet deep?

Hall: We ignored—

Kelly: That was destroyed?

Hall: Yeah. The cables went to a little house a long ways away, where our instruments were, to see what the cable would have. That’s where I had to go to retrieve some equipment. That’s where I missed—

Kelly: The victory party?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: You didn’t retrieve it right away, probably on purpose, because it was too hot?

Hall: No, just somebody thought “We need something,” and that’s where it is.

Kelly: Yeah. Before then, you didn’t check the instruments, like right after the test?

Hall: They looked at what they could, but it didn’t make sense.

Kelly: I see. The equipment was—

Hall:   Because, it worked.

Kelly: It did work.

Hall: I was working under a tent in the shadow of the tower before the bomb went off. Then at 5:00 in the evening, we’d leave that and go to the base camp, and we’d have an electric generator going there with gasoline. You’d load it up with gasoline and hope it would go until morning. And it did.

Kelly: That generator was operating equipment?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: The base camp was—

Hall: Was where the water tank was.

Kelly: The water tank was. That’s where you were, ten miles away?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: Yeah. Where was Groves and Oppenheimer? Were they at the base camp?

Hall: I have no idea.

Kelly: No idea.

Hall: They didn’t report to me where they where they were going. There was a place in closer, like seven miles, and maybe they were there.

Kelly: Interesting. Wow.

Hall: That’s it, huh.

Kelly: Yes, that was quite a memory. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten.

Hall: I forget a name or so now and then, but it will come to me the next day.

Kelly: But your memory of that evening, or that morning, of watching that—

Hall: I still have that.

Kelly: Indelible, I’m sure.

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: I can imagine. What was the sound like, you know, when the blast—

Hall: It wasn’t loud at all.

Kelly: No?

Hall: Not at ten miles. Maybe if you knew it was coming and you waited for it, you might have heard something.

Kelly: Yeah. Do you remember whether they had precautions about radioactive fallout? Were they trying to take measurements where you were as to whether you ought to evacuate?

Hall: No. Well, they did send these people out, soldiers out, the way the wind was blowing, to get them out of the way of the atomic dust and dirt.

Kelly: To measure the radioactivity?

Hall: Yeah. 

Kelly:  Well, I’m just curious. Where did you spend the night? Right there at the ground base camp?

Hall: You mean after it went off?

Kelly: Yeah.

Hall: At the barracks.

Kelly: At the barracks. Because there was a whole camp that was built, right?

Hall: Yeah.

Kelly: How many weeks had you stayed at the Trinity camp?

Hall: Before the bomb went off?  

Kelly: Yeah.

Hall: Less than a month.

Kelly: Less than a month.

Hall: Or about a month.

Kelly: Yeah. That’s June and July, it must have been pretty hot, was it?

Hall: Yes. Pictures will show how I’m dressed there. Short pants and short sleeves.