Transcript of Gordon Little
How OSU Grew Nuclear Science 50th Anniversary of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics Program
Interview on October 12, 2009
Oregon State University
Gordon Little (Narrator) GL (July 7, 1930-March 30, 2010) He graduated from Lewis and Clark in 1952, and he served in the US Army (1955- 1957). He was a Public Health Service Fellow (1964-65) at OSU’s Radiation Health Safety Program run by Dale Trout. He worked for twenty years at Hanford Nuclear Reservation and for some of that time he was in charge of radiation monitoring at the plutonium processing facilities and at test reactors. From 1966 to 1984 he worked at the University of California in Berkeley, and he was in charge of the safety of their TRIGA reactor from 1976 to 1984. He returned to OSU when he was hired in 1984 as the OSU NERHP Radiation Health Safety Officer.
Linda Richards (Interviewer) History of Science graduate student
Ty Volin (Interviewer) OSU History Major Senior
[Gordon Little is talking before the tape is turned on, about how tense the relationship between radiation health officers and physicists could be]
GL …like cops and partly because if you were created as a health physicist with no experience but through the world working you didn’t know anybody anyway. You know what the law said, you didn’t know where it had to be applied very strictly and where it didn’t and it made a difference.
LR Are we on? And this is on. Yep, it is on. We’re good
GL Well then probably the first thing is this because in all due respect to Oregon State University it hired Dale Trout. He was at one-eighth FTE.
LR Uh huh. Very part-time.
GL Because that was the smallest amount they could pay him and still have him on the payroll. He didn’t want their money because Dale Trout had retired as head of GE’s x-ray products division. He had a good international reputation, he had all the money he wanted, he always drove a big black Lincoln and Dale Trout is probably best described as an eastern gentleman, always a dark suit, always a dark car, chubby little guy.
LR I didn’t think of him as chubby. I’ll have to find a picture.
GL Well, he’s like most humans when he gets up into that age you know first you grow up and then later you go wide.
GL And he was a—you laugh, you think it’s funny.
LR I’m sorry. I’ve had a little growing wide myself.
GL Well the thing of it is not everybody grows that way and you’re probably one of the skinny ones and you can afford to laugh. But you probably [looking at Ty Volin] oh in your mid forties or so, you’ll realize that, hey you know, your face is just a little bit fatter. He retired from GE and he wanted two things. He wanted to teach some people and he wanted to catch fish.
LR He came to the right place.
GL Well, let me finish the story.
LR His name was Trout!
GL There were two things I said that he wanted and if he was going to hobnob with the exalted royalty of x-ray science then he was going to go down to Arizona where his mentor, the fellow who invented the Coolidge X-ray Tube, was living in retirement. But he decided fish was more important so he came here. And that poor devil spent x number of dollars buying fishing gear, getting guided fishing trips. When I got here he had been at it all over up and down the Oregon streams he wanted to catch steelhead, with guides the best he could get and he had never landed a steelhead he had never even hooked a steelhead(laughs). And he had a very funny look, I was not aware of this until I had made my big crucial mistake, I had a friend who was here in graduate school in Fisheries and Biology, and Dave thought this was a great place to go to graduate school because he could go out and put in about three or four hours on a steelhead stream and then make it to class on time.
GL Well Dave, end of January he took me out fishing with him and at the end of that day he had twelve steelhead in his locker, this is the end of January out of twenty total for year which means Dave had to stop fishing and I happened to mention this to Dale Trout, he had a very funny look and I was told later he had spent some thousand dollars on guides, he had been all the way up and down the coast and not only he had never landed a steelhead he never hooked a steelhead and to find out that some graduate student had twelve in a month.
GL He was not a happy camper (laughing)! Well, that was one facet of Dale Trout. The thing that a lot of people noticed and we talked yesterday with a bunch of people in that reception; the man had a marvelous amount of information in his head.
GL There was one thing wrong with Dale Trout as far as I was concerned the darn guy was never here. You want to ask him something and he’s in Sweden or he’s in Germany or he’s in Atlanta or he’s you know you name it anywhere far enough away that you couldn’t get to him. Any time you could get to him you ask him, he’s either… he’s got it or he knows who does and he’s not bashful about calling them on the phone and asking them. I had an advantage over the other seven people in the group because I had been out of school for ten years and had a little bit of experience the rest of them didn’t have, as a result I got along with him a little better because everybody was afraid of him.
LR They were?
GL Well as I said he was a –
LR He seemed so friendly and on his documents he seemed like he had a rapport with people.
GL Dale Trout as I said was an eastern gentleman and he expected that you were either right or shut up.
TV People were intimidated by him?
GL And a lot of kids fresh out of a bachelors degree hadn’t quite figured this out yet. If you were right it was great. It was the only reason I got very far with anybody there were little things. They bought a new lathe and put in when we moved after a year from the Radiation Center to Waldo Hall. He had electronics technician and I’ve forgotten how many he had, grad students he had in his second series and me and most of the people in the first series because it was about a year and a half, two-year program. Everybody who descended on the lathe this was a small unit mat lathe, if it means anything to you and we had to set it up and everybody use it. I mean this is a new toy so here was the electronics technician, who was a retired Navy chief, and everybody’s working with it and it won’t run. And I walked in everybody was fussing with something and I said what are you doing? And I did the unthinkable; I picked up the manual and read it.
LR (laughs) Were you ostracized?
GL And the first thing—darn near it—the first thing it says in the manual is it’s shipped with the shaft locked. You have to do this to unlock the shaft so it will run, so here I am, I know up and down about a lathe, I’ve never run a metal lathe before in my life and I said okay let’s do this and it said also you need certain amount of clearance of one place, take a piece of cardboard and put it in there, go put in the cardboard, tightening it up and just as we got it all done we hit the switch and it starts running Dale Trout walked in and one of the guys said uh-oh. There’s Dr. Trout, we’re all dead (laughs). Trout walks in and says what are you people doing? And Dale looked on says oh. And then he looks at me and says I’m not surprised and then walks out. And here are these grad students looking at him, looking at me (whispers) we never get by with that. And I’m sitting there saying sure you get by with it. All you gotta do is be right. But that was Dale Trout. He bought a good dual traceasilliscope, which in those days was somewhere just a little less than two thousand dollars and that was a bunch of money then. Well the thesis I was working on involved trying to figure out what was wrong with one particular design in one section of it and what I wanted to do was with one trace look at the input, with another trace to look at the output and see if they look alike, they should’ve been alike except one was bigger. And the easiest way to do that is with a dual trace scope. And since there was one, I borrowed it, hooked it up. This is supposed to be one of Dale Trout’s babies. Other people had used that scope for one thing or another and he’d raised hell with them. Well, all of a sudden I heard (whispers) hey Dale Trout’s coming down the hall, oh boy he’s going to hit you because I mean you’re using his scope. And I’m sitting there thinking so? Trout walks in he looks at the scope and looks at me and says what are you doing? I told him and he looks at me straight faced and says well finally somebody’s using it to look at something other than sixty cycle wave form and he walks out (laughing). And the kid, the graduate students, they were sure he was going to kill me for using his scope and I’m sitting there saying well you kids are supposed to learn things in school, why don’t you learn what it takes to get along with big people? That was Dale Trout.
LR So were you working with him when you a public health fellow?
LR Uh-huh. So that’s when you were doing this?
GL That’s the program.
LR Yeah that seemed like a neat program.
GL Well, it was. He was a little worried about it at first see when he retired his friends in public health service said good when you retire settle down some place near a university so you can run a program for us and he said okay. He figured you know he going to retired in Arizona then the University of Arizona because he’d be down in Tucson. If he was going to retire here then it would be here and that’s fine and he thought well he’d be able to find one maybe two students and he would work with them. Public Health Service said no! You’re going to take more money than that and you’re going to have more students than that. And he said okay I’ll take three and they said no you’ll take at least eight. (laughs). Well they were nice guys and they were his friends and he said okay. He didn’t figure he’d be able to get eight people who wanted to work in radiation safety because radiation is a dirty word nobody wants to do a thing like that of course. So it gets advertised and he gets thirty or forty applications (laughs). At which I was one of forty. So okay he took on eight grad students four of them with physical science backgrounds, four with biological sciences backgrounds and he wasn’t quite exactly sure—he knew what he wanted to teach them, he just wasn’t quite sure whether or not he could work this. Well, he did. He had a teaching technique that was very abnormal compared to university professors. The beginning of the lecture he’d tell you precisely what he wanted you to remember and use when you got out of his class. And then he would tell you which other things he wanted you to remember because you needed it in order to remember these things and then he would tell you the rest the things you know will be of interest to keep but if you forget it won’t matter. Well of course he was different from a lot of people. He knew his field: up, down, backwards, inside out, everything. Well he knew from thirty years of hiring people to work for him, he did x-ray science, what they had to know in order for him to get his job done, what it’s nice if they know and what didn’t matter much one way or the other. And boy he laid it out, no wasted time, no wasted information, just here it is. And you know benefit of hindsight looking back forty years or so he was right. Well some days you’re lucky, you get a professor that happens to click with you. I would have to say a lot of people I know that are of the various social sciences he would’ve been a poor teacher. They simply—he and they would’ve never been on the same page. But for what he was teaching, he was right. And if you look at all the people like the people who were there yesterday afternoon, look at what they’re doing now you got to say they produced.
GL He cranked out some good people. One of his things fairly early on public health service rep was coming around overseeing this whole training program all over the United States he visited here to audit the program and was talking to him about how things were in other universities. And the guy said particularly a couple of schools in the Midwest, he felt kind of funny in there because he looked at all the students all over the campus including you people and they were wearing dirty t-shirts and scruffy jeans and didn’t all shave that day and so on and so forth. So Dale said not in my program it isn’t.
GL He’s laid down the law. What you are outside of the program I don’t care it’s your business. If you want to get dirty, get dirty. But while you’re in class or working on your thesis or helping me with anything else, you will be clean, you will be neat, and you will look like you’re a professional period. He made these for everybody.
GL Do you know how many other people at this school had them? None. We had eight plus two other people and Trout. We have a nametag or else. He subscribed to a lab coat service, not just buying his lab coats, he wanted the service, which means every week you turn in your lab coat and get a clean one, whether it’s dirty or not, you turn it in and get a clean one. That was Dale Trout. Abnormal for this campus? Yeah. But you one way or another kind of absorbed a little of this feeling and that’s what teaching’s about I come to find out since I’ve avoided teaching in terms of formal teaching since then. I’ve done a little bit of teaching of folk dance so I had some idea of what happens when people you know with folk dancing if they don’t like the way you’re teaching, they vote with their feet, they disappear. The Dale Trout philosophy applies not just in x-ray science but that was his program started here. It took him a while to get a different place, he had x-ray machines that there was no room for here. One of them was his big machine it was put in on the other side of the building and stayed but the smaller machines little teaching machines would move to Waldo Hall at the end of his first year. Waldo Hall meant a little more to me than it did to some other people because when my dad came back from France at the end of World War I, one of his jobs in the summer was remodeling the top of Waldo Hall, there are nails in there today that my dad pounded in and don’t ask me which ones, I don’t have any idea.
Besides somewhere in an upper floor and they closed the upper floor of Waldo Hall in the 50s or something like that so I wouldn’t have seen it even I knew where it was. But they set up a line of x-ray machines and that’s where we did the work. The one bit of nasty gossip about Waldo Hall, after all we’ve got to have a little bit of sex because sex sells, the building across the hall or across the way was freshman girls dorm and Trout’s second group discovered this early on and one of the things they did on Sunday night was turn off the lights in the lab, look out the window because every once in a while some freshman girl would march down the hall from her room to the shower wearing what people wear when they’re in the shower. These boys would ooh and ahh about ahh there goes a naked girl down the hallway. Yea, everybody come look! Well I didn’t hang around in that lab too much you know, mostly I stayed home. I did my studying where I lived rather than there and I heard that and poked my head in and said what are you guys doing? (whispers) Oh, you gotta come look, you gotta come look. So I walked over couldn’t figure out why because there’s nothing going on, ask them why and they told me and I said okay and walked away. (whispers) Well, don’t you want to watch? And I looked at him and said well you got to understand, I was married out of high school and I have a daughter that age, and… They all looked at me except one guy who was a couple years older said, I guess I never thought about it that way, yeah I guess it wouldn’t be as interesting to you and he strolled over with me and all the young kids were busy looking out the window, he and I were talking. Dale Trout I hope never found out about that.
TV and LR (laugh)
GL He would not have appreciated it.
LR Well I appreciate that you tried to show some leadership, thank you.
GL That wasn’t leadership. That was the way I happened to feel that somebody else feels differently well fine let them go ahead. I mean I’ve been around the world enough to know that not everybody agreed with me or should basically I had ten years at Hanford and two years in the service, this makes a little difference.
LR So you had seen a lot of different opinions around you.
GL Yeah, a lot of differences of opinion hounded into you at that time, you all have heard stories of the Army everybody’s who’s ever been drafted has stories. Getting out into the real world and working for a big organization, they have their ways of doing things which may or may not be the best but it’s their way and if you don’t like it go work somewhere else and General Electric company at that time was by far one of the better companies to work for. They had rather progressive leadership in terms of getting their people aligned so that the work would get done well, on time, and not too expensive. And then you come back to school and you find a bunch of people who haven’t really been anywhere, haven’t really done anything and they’re trying to set the other thing they think about. Hopefully it will work and if it doesn’t, well some of them never figure out that there’s a better way but out in the real world you know it’s do it right or die, you’re out having to find another job and with younger kids and all.
Trout was claimed to be nervous about taking on graduate students that were older than people just out of college because he was afraid we were going to very well propagandize the younger kids and teach them all sorts of bad habits which you pick up, I mean it’s not all good (laughs). He was very blunt with me. Well yeah I had some things that he wanted so he would offer me the money but he wanted me to make sure that I did not overly influence his other students. Well in my case that was easy I just didn’t hobnob with them much, I had other places to be other things to do, we went to class together, we studied together when study together was needed we didn’t study together when it wasn’t needed, and they were good friends but they were their own people. Interesting program.
After that, I left the program to take the job as an assistant radiation safety officer at UC-Berkeley; this was right at the heyday of the free speech riots down there. Well one of the jobs we had in the environmental health and safety office was that, I like to talk about because it’s what everybody thinks of at Berkeley, we had free speech riots when the kids wouldn’t disperse the cops would fire off tear gas and environmental health and safety office among other things was the entity that had to do go into the classrooms and certify them as being safe for reentry. In all due fairness to tear gas, if you get too much of it, you’re not going to learn much during the next lecture (laughs). And when they fired tear gas down by Sproul Hall, the prevailing winds were quite often blowing from south or southwest to north or northeast and that means tear gas was swept over a lot of campus. Well in all due fairness, no Dale Trout did not teach me anything about how to sample for tear gas, but it turned out that was one thing we needed. It also turned out that UC-Berkeley in terms of radiation safety was nowheres near as progressive as it was supposed to be and we had a lot of fun bringing them up to speed.
Trout managed to keep in touch a little bit.
LR Oh Good.
GL He had I don’t know how many people total in his programs because he was in touch with me, I wasn’t in touch with him. Shortly after I left he brought his old technical man from GE, a fellow named, oh c’mon John, I can think of his wife, John Kelly.
LR I was just thinking of the name, too.
GL John Paul Kelly to be exact. And John came down once or twice, shot the breeze a little bit. His program was going well, he was getting a little tired of it, and I suspect he was getting some students that weren’t quite up to snuff. All, any program goes in cycles. And he wasn’t quite happy with the—and then something or other came up and I didn’t hear about his physical problems but Dale Trout died, as I understand it, on the operating table. This left John Kelly being chief of all the Indians so to speak. Well, when Trout died of course the big prestigious name died and public health service figured they’d produced about enough students for a while anyway well there was not such a demand for health physicists so they converted John to a teacher and they hustled money they could get. Unfortunately, John died, I’ve forgotten it was a couple of days before or a couple days after Thanksgiving and all of a sudden, he went. Now there was nobody and the program had to end unless it could find somebody else, which they did not. They drafted Art Johnson to be the acting campus health physicist since Kelly was gone and Art, by that time had been at the reactor for a while and you know he was certainly quite capable but in all honesty he had other things he really wanted to do instead and besides that wasn’t what he was hired for. So they had to go out and hire a health physicist and I accidentally heard about it. Never mind which professor happened to tell me, somebody was (cutting noise) probably if they found out he was the reason I came here but yeah I heard about it, applied and this was February or so and it was November when I got a call from somebody on the search committee asking me if I was still interested (laughs).
GL And I said yes, came up, interviewed and accidentally said the right thing (laughing). I was not aware of the feeling, difference between the administration and faculty. The faculty wanted to hire somebody who was a great teacher and to do a little bit of health physics on the side because the administration was going to pay for the position and that way they get another teacher, don’t have to pay for it. The administration wanted somebody who would be a good health physicist and maybe do some teaching on the side, you know if they’re going to pay him to do technical work, that’s what they want to get. Well my strength was practical health physics, not teaching. And the first person I interviewed was the vice president and I made the comment about depends on what you want, if you want somebody who can teach and do some health physics on the side, then I’m sure there are better people. You want somebody who will do health physics maybe teach a little bit on the side, then I got something you want to consider. I said, I actually only said the right thing and I was trying to figure out why several people on the faculty committee when he interviewed me seemed to have kind of an odd attitude. Well okay later on I found out, your attitude is very understandable and nothing at all wrong with it, it’s just that everybody has different idea about what’s best for a given job, so here I am. Well I asked the vice president about pay and what I think I ought to get. I said well, you know, I’m an alumnus of the school and in one of the alumni papers they were talking about publishing the pay scales for the various inside people at Oregon State and as far as I’m concerned the university health physicist ought to be paid somewhere in the associate professor range. Vice president looks at me and says I don’t know what that is so I look back at him and said how can that be? You started out as an assistant professor, moved up to associate professor, full professor, department head, dean of the school, and now you’re vice president. Certainly you know what your people are making and he wasn’t about to tell me (laughs). So we talked back and forth and you know you can make a decent, not a great guess, but you can make a decent guess at it and we did and money wise, the university came on hard times of course and we had to squeeze things a bit hither and yon but it worked out. They came up with money for a couple of technicians for me. I heard of a fellow who had been around who had been a work study student who became the radiation safety officer when I left.
GL And still is.
LR Which one is that one?
GL That’s Rainier Farmer. And I saw his nametag so he’s supposed to be hobnobbing around here today somewhere. They we hired a technician and a job opening came up at University of Oregon and I told him to go down and apply for it. Well, he didn’t really think he should. I told him to go down and apply for it or I’d break his darn arm. He’s a little bit your build, but a little bit heavier and in the shoulder and arms too, and I had no chance of breaking his arm with I don’t know what.
TV and LR (laugh)
GL But so Greg went down because I explained to him, look you’re not going to work in this job forever, you need experience interviewing, go down and interview. I don’t care whether you get the job or not, I don’t care if they offer you the job, if they offer it I don’t care whether you take it or not but you’ve got to interview. So he went down (laughs) he came back rather shame faced because they offered him the job (laughs). And the way it was explained to him down there, he thought it was right, he thought he was a good man for the job, as it turned out he was. So he went down now we have to hire other people. There was a little bit of maneuvering, political maneuvering is a dirty word but it was properly political maneuvering, moving the radiation safety office from Waldo Hall down here to the Radiation Center. So they remodeled a couple of rooms over in other side that were originally set up to be animal studies.
LR That’s what, yeah.
GL And that’s where we were well let’s see that was 1987. That’s where we were for two years until I left and then they were there another couple of years and then they moved that away to another building. It was interesting being in the building because we were not part of nuclear engineering, we were not part of radiation health physics program, we were only people in a manner of speaking of subletting property and you know we—everybody treated us very well but we thought it was okay well one of the things that happened when I first came in, you know I was invited down here for their Christmas parties, which they have one every year, Christmas potluck. And the first year I couldn’t quite figure out what went on. The secretaries of course do the dirty work of setting up the tables and lining up a place to put all the food and so and so forth and that’s okay. It’s quote “woman’s work” unquote but if that’s the way they want it then that’s what you do. You don’t stand there and look at your secretary and say I don’t care if you are a woman, leave that alone, that doesn’t work, and for some reason when the food was ready and everybody lines up, go through and pick up the food, the secretaries all went to the back end of the line. And I still don’t know why all I know is that’s the way it was. Well the next year they did the same thing. The third year I figured well it may be okay for some people but I got to complain so I went to Evelyn, the head secretary, and said Evelyn will you kindly get up here at the head of the line so I can be a gentleman and let you go first.
LR and TV (laughing)
GL She looked at me, thought about it for a second, and she did. And sucked a couple of other women up with her and after that secretaries in the Radiation Center started acting like normal people. They get in line like everybody else wherever the line happens to be and I’m sitting there thinking, is this what my mission in life is?
GL Gee, you gotta tell a secretary to act like a woman? Well, it worked. Nobody complained as far as I know, never heard anything. And that’s the way it was after that. They about two years later—the refrigerator up here conked out and the nuclear engineering secretary came down, I can remember her face I cannot for the life of me remember her name but I’ll think of it as soon as it no longer matters, caught me in the hall and said you have a refrigerator down in your place, don’t you? I said yeah and she said would it be all right if we borrow space in it for a while? I said sure, why? She said well our refrigerator conked out and we’re about to lose a lot of ice cream.
GL And I’m sitting here thinking, I’ve never seen a secretary worried about it and would ask like that, I mean every place I’d ever been before, nobody ever thinks much about it. This secretary goes to this secretary and they get it settled. Don’t worry about the boss, I mean you don’t need to talk to him, he doesn’t know what’s going on anyway and I said well just go talk to Kay, you and she work it out, if you can’t work it out then come talk to me. She says okay and five minutes later she and Kay were down there, shuffling things in the refrigerator so all our ice cream got taken care of and I’m sitting here thinking, I haven’t been to a place like this where the secretaries didn’t talk that much to each other.
LR It’s a small building, too.
GL It’s a small building.
LR (laughing) It’s not that big.
GL And after that they talked to each other. They found out that you know I, we were not the enemy (laughs). And cause I keep thinking of the comment I made two or three times at Berkeley the way things were going on, well certainly you can use part of what I have, I mean we all get paid by the same person, paycheck’s all the same color. Down there they thought that was a good idea, figure I’d try it out here, yeah they thought it was a good idea. She was the same secretary who had a better sense of humor than I expected. After we had been here a couple of years I said okay it’s almost Halloween. We are going to institute trick or treat.
GL So you know you get a good-sized bowl, dump wrapped candy in it, put it on Kay’s desk right inside the door, and advertized to the building, quaint custom trick or treat honoring the radiation safety office.
GL And that secretary came down, she was dressed the way a secretary should’ve been dressed for that time of year, that place, and so on and so forth except for one thing, she had a fake head of hair, grass green.
LR TV (laugh)
GL (laughs) Walks in with a big smile on her face, says trick or treat! (laughs) Fortunately, I was back at my desk (laughs) and I broke up (laughs) she didn’t have to see it (laughs). Fine, very knowledgeable, capable, very experienced straight-laced woman comes in with this darn green wig (laughs). Trick or treat! Oh, yes, the people in the building managed to come by the radiation safety office to say hello and collect a few goodies except for one professor who, everybody who was there at that time will know who it was, he was a chowhound.
LR A chowhound? He would eat all the candy?
GL He, just about. He was the guy who was always first in line and at the Christmas potlucks. He made it three times that day. Well okay, funny thing that building was a little looser when we left it than when I started.
LR That’s what I think I meant by the leadership thing.
GL Well I didn’t care whether they followed it or not. Normally when you think of leadership you think of getting somebody to do something you want done and no, we were not a bit interested in giving orders to secretaries or making sure that everybody gets candy on Halloween you know. We did what we felt like doing and if they want to come along, they come along and if they don’t, they don’t. I don’t care. I’m not leading anybody anywhere, well except for the people in my group and they didn’t have any choice in the matter. They either follow where I lead or they go find another job. I mean that’s what a boss is for.
We were running out of people for the work we had so I finagled around with money and we hired a work-study student. Kid who I thought was a senior, Steve told me last night no he was a junior that year. I can’t argue with him. He was a kid named Steve Reese. So what happens to Steve? Well he works with me for five months or so and at any rate he ended up leaving here, going somewhere else getting a doctorate, coming back and now he’s one of the head honchos around here.
GL Well when I talked to him yesterday, I pointed out to him that one of the things I have as souvenirs of past life is a little chunk of plastic and you can look at it on the way out, it’s in the reception room, that is the track of an 8 MEV proton fired into Lucite. And you probably all have seen a little of an idea of the track of you fire radiation into something and you know it branches off here and so on.
LR Uh-huh. I’ve seen the track.
GL Well, here it is. Look at it, I said Steve you know I got this, I got to find a happy home for it, who should I give it to? He says, me!
GL So I said okay. What he forgot to tell me is he’s not here today so I can’t give it to him.
GL So I asked the girl out there who’s signing me in if she would be so kind as to give it to Steve. She looks at it and says I don’t know if I’m going to give that to him. And I said well you know I figure I’ll call him in four or five days and ask him if he got it.
LR (laughs) Yeah, that’s a good plan.
GL And she says oh well I guess I better give it to him then (laughs). But if you’re curious, that’s one of the souvenirs. It was made by a friend of mine at Berkeley. They every year make up a whole batch of them, leave them in Lawrence Hall of Science, they were selling them at that time something like $10 a piece. And when they were made, well there’s two or three of them kind of got lost in stow shipped off to Lawrence Hall of Science and all of his good friends managed to end up with one. It’s a great way to show. You can do it with a cloud chamber but not as well in the first place, the second place you can’t pass a cloud chamber around as well and if nothing else it’s a good paperweight. And after umpteen ump years in the service you accumulate stuff like this. Now he’s got it, now he’s stuck with it. It’s up to him to find a happy home for it when he decides he doesn’t want it any longer. Poor Steve, that’s the price he paid for taking the job as work-study student umpteen ump years ago.
LR I’m kind of wondering about something you wrote in your job application when before you came here when you wrote that you had been through so much already that nothing at OSU would surprise you in terms of radiation health safety and I was wondering if that turned out to be true by the time you left.
GL Oh yes and no. Remember, I had eighteen years of working. And all due fairness to Oregon State they don’t have anybody here who’s any crazier than a lot of the people at Berkeley. No, there was nothing I saw here that was—there’s some things that I can roundly condemn but that’s a matter of personal opinion. But no, I’d been here a while, I had a pretty fair idea where everything was. But then of course you know you talk at technical meetings and you talk with people who you’re down to there and so and so forth and they had a pretty fair idea what was going on and Oregon State University had a reputation at Berkeley that was of course just another cow college and they—my boss’s boss at Berkeley, the fellow who hired me, started out hassling me about oh yeah, you’re from Oregon where it rains all the time. And this lasted until December. I was hired, actually I was hired on April Fool’s Day down there and not a one of those people caught the joke. They never figured out why I thought that was funny. But you know he would hassle me about yeah you’re working where it rains all the time. Well it rains at Berkeley like mad.
INTERVIEWER That’s Carl. Carl is going to interview Roman Schmidt in a little bit.
Karl McCreary (OSU Archives staff member) Hi.
LR This is Gordon Little. He’s the former radiation health safety officer here.
LR And so we started talking today because I didn’t actually have enough interviewers yesterday to interview him. And yeah we’re running a camera and this will probably finish up in a minute or so.
GL And they’re finding out they shouldn’t have.
Karl You’re finally getting the goods, eh?
LR Now Roman Schmidt I think it sounds like he would be in his office to meet us but maybe he knows to come here.
Karl I was just told I can’t go anywhere else. Just the bathroom and this room and you know I’ll get shot on sight.
LR Well I’m thinking maybe you and I should walk down to the office and check in with Beth and find out and then maybe you can finish up this interview and I would be curious about what he’d want to have somebody read in fifty years if they happened to pick this transcription.
(a few simultaneous conversations)
GL We’re just reminiscing anyway, we can stop at any old time.
TV Oh, you’re fine.
GL I feel sorry for the camera.
TV No, un-uh.
GL But whatever, but the things that I’ve told so far, far as I know you’re not going to find them documented anywhere.
TV Yeah, it’s one of the reasons—
GL The things that I figured are documented, why should I waste your time telling you. Obviously you’ve done, or she’s done some reading. But the radiation safety program here when I came as RSO was not the most up-to-date in the program in the country and understandably so. Let’s face it, I’ve known all the RSOs that this university has ever had: Chih Wang, John Prince, etc. all the way down and they didn’t have very many people who had a lot of experience when they got here. Well it was that way at Berkeley too, the difference being Berkeley is a lot more fat-headed. Oregon State is in many ways but Berkeley is rather ostentatious about it (laughs).
And the guy who hired me down there was very blunt, he really wanted me to work myself out of a job, come in get his program set up so the state would accept it and they’d need only one maybe two people to do all the work for the campus. Well I’m sitting there thinking, you don’t understand. Well I got back up here and it was pretty much the same, they weren’t as fat-headed as Berkeley but that was the academic attitude, well the academic administration attitude because they got to squeeze money and money goes to professors so you can teach kids or to researchers so you can bring in research money. Money doesn’t go to janitors or people like that except you have to spend some money otherwise the state won’t let you continue to function and around here, yes I was warmly received by state health who handles the pro licensing program and they made it very plain. There is somebody who’s had some experience somewhere else, (whispers) you gotta be good. All sounds kind of funny but actually no, if you look at the people who’ve been hired here before they’re nice people, good people but they weren’t the most experienced in the world and besides I was accepted by the faculty and staff around here because I came from Berkeley and for some reason, its gotta be pure ignorance, people who came from Berkeley were considered to be very sharp people. And a lot of them are but a lot of them aren’t and it’s not magic to come from Berkeley, but I was accepted so we instituted a few changes and it was probably the best compliment that I got. When I was leaving on medical retirement and they were interviewing people, they interviewed my number one technician, as I said Rainier Farmer and I was told by one of the people on the search committee that most of the people on the committee said we’ve got a better program than we’ve ever had, we want to stay the course, we want to hire the guy who’s already here so they hired Rainier. And apparently it was a good hire because I retired in 1990 and Rainier is still here.
And you want to know what I think I did for Oregon State University? Yeah, I hired Rainier also Kay who’s no longer secretary, they invented a better job for her so they could give her a little more money and it’s a job that should’ve been invented forty fifty years ago. It’s not a free gift and she deserved it. Dan Harlan is still here I hired Dan. The other technician program, everybody that I know of that they ever hired left to get a better job, which was one thing I did that somebody thought was kind of eccentric. Everybody I hired I told them I want them to leave, I expect you to leave, I expect you to leave for a better job, I mean this is not the most perfect job in the world. Well for one reason or another, it’s a better job for Kay than she would’ve got anywhere else, the closest job to where she lives and her kids were such that this way she didn’t have to fight campus parking, she didn’t have to fight campus traffic so forth and it was okay for her for several years. She could leave anytime now, the kids are up and out of the house but at the same time so be it. Dan, Dan’s played the French horn in the Corvallis OSU symphony continuously since I hired him. Rainier, I almost had him talked into a couple of jobs. I really shocked one of the professors around here when the three of us were out to lunch and I said well I was getting kind of worried that I was going to have to fire you to get you to leave and I said I finally found you a better job: mine. And they said oh. This is Hanford training, there was a fellow at Hanford who operated on the philosophy that everybody he hires, he wants to keep between two and four years and everybody that he hires, when they leave, leaves for a significantly better job. He doesn’t know where it’s going to be but he’s going to find a better job for them but he’s going to make sure they get it. That was the Hanford philosophy and it works here too.
CARL So how did you come about being at Hanford and working there.
GL I had a brother that worked up there so I applied. The job at Hanford starting out was a technical graduate and rotational training which means you go up there you spend three months in this job, three months in this job, three months in this job so and so forth, till you find what you really want to do, then you glom onto the job permanently. The philosophy is, and it’s still true, most people when they get out of college think they know what they want to do for the rest of their lives and almost all of them are wrong. They get out in the real world and they try the job and they find out that whoops it’s not exactly what they thought it was and they accidentally stumble into something else that fits them much better and GE’s idea was you know we’re going to hire you, we’re going to pay you, we want you to be doing something that you like well enough to be really good at. So you come to work with us and we’ll show you a whole bunch of different jobs and now you’ve got enough information you can do a much better job deciding where you really ought to be. Some people, recent (??) grads, the first place they worked this is great they stayed there forever. My ex roommate was right out of the Navy, the first job he took was the last job he took, stayed there until he retired. Several other people came in, they worked through two or three rotations and said I can’t live in this sagebrush hellhole. They left. It wasn’t a place they felt comfortable working and they wouldn’t have been that productive anyway because they didn’t like it. You spend your time hating your job instead of doing your job. I accidentally stumbled into radiation health safety and I thought you know I expected to be a chemist but this seems to fit me better so I settled in. Maybe there was a better job, I don’t know, I’ll never know and I don’t really care. It was good enough, comfortable with it, done some things that were certainly now I don’t want to brag about but there were some things that were okay, there’s some writing.
I got the pleasure at Berkeley of stomping on industrial hygiene and industrial safety people who had their own ideas as to how things ought to be but radiation safety people created a radiation safety manual. We were told you don’t need to put things in writing; we just hire good people, let them do their job. And my comment was, boy, you’re going to have to document a little bit so everybody has the same idea what it is we’re doing so radiation safety manual was required by state law, so we wrote one we thought was pretty good. Well UC-Davis thought it was pretty good, they stole ours. UCLA thought it was pretty good they stole a lot of ours and that’s okay, we didn’t care much about that. But came the time when state laws shuffled around a little bit and the bio safety people had to write a safety manual, thank God for white out because they took the radiation safety manual and up on top where it says “Radiation Safety” they painted out the word radiation and wrote in biological. Yeah, off to the Xerox machine (laughs). There were people who for about ten years had sneered at us for having a manual, rather blatant theft. Well when I got here one of the jobs of course was revise the radiation safety manual and one of the things which well, nah it didn’t really matter if it was hard or not, the old radiation safety manual was kind of poor. They had taken things that had been written twenty years or so ago and they incorporated it in the manual and one of the things the acting RSO did because somebody had to do something he had all of the lists of radioisotopes and limits for them in terms of concentrations to quantities and so forth, put into the manual, we didn’t need that we had it other places but that’s okay it was his idea and I didn’t mind that but he didn’t want to just Xerox state and federal publications. He had the secretary type these things on eight-and-a-half by eleven. Now I don’t know how well you type or any of the others but if you could imagine sitting there all day, day after day, typing these blankety blank comments of seven times ten to the minus fifth, eight times ten to the minus third, nine times ten to the ninth, down the page, turn the page and do it on again, do it on again (laughs). That poor kid, when I found out what she was doing and she has to you know it has to be updated once a year. So I said no, we’re not going to do that, all we do is, we take federal manual here. We go over to printing and say expand this to eight-and-a-half by eleven and make me so many copies, and big deal. He lays it on the plat and he twists knob, he twist this knob, he sets the number to make out, punches the button and the thing just ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk and out it goes. The secretary can do other things, which are much less boring, much less apt to be a mistake, and yes she knew that. I’m sitting there thinking okay you ask is there anything here that surprised me in a manner of speaking it surprised me but in a manner of speaking it didn’t. They were people I knew who hadn’t had that much experience running a radiation safety office or any other kind of office. Well the secretary hadn’t thought about just letting a machine do it, so here they were. But that’s not surprising, I could’ve gone to U of O and at that time it was much worse down there, I knew what they had at UW, they wouldn’t have made that mistake because Mike who was their RSO was also pretty sharp and had been around and he would’ve known to have it done by machine and besides at UW they expected everything to be done by machine and that was you know they were bigger and better than anywhere else in the northwest and therefore they should have bigger and better machines and it ought to be done automatically. And to a great extent he was right, they were bigger and better than anywhere else in the northwest, one can argue that all you want but they had a better set up and I wouldn’t want to say that now but that was true then, well in all due fairness, Oregon State’s come a long ways in twenty years and UW was already there, they didn’t have that far to go. I hope you edit that out because I can’t imagine anybody reading about Oregon State University and finding comments about the University of Washington, but you really ought to know what the feeling is and what the situation is so you know why to edit it out.
LR When they dedicate their reactor in 61 or something and people went up to the dedication from here so I wondered if there was a little rivalry.
GL Well, you know about football, you know about basketball, you know about baseball, you know the track doesn’t matter anymore since they don’t have a track team here, well they have a girls’ track team but oh yes there’s always rivalry and there has been as far back as I can remember and I’m seventy-nine, and you can figure about how long back that was. Sure, there’s rivalry and God help us if it ever ends. That’s the reason a lot of people do things at Berkeley. The rivalry was at Stanford and by the way in terms of radiation safety that was a very, very useful rivalry because our radiation safety committee was made up of academics like it’s supposed to be and if there was something we needed in radiation safety and administration said no you don’t need to do that, we don’t have the money, then you go talk to the faculty and you tell them look you know we’ve got one RSO and three technicians. Over at Stanford they have slightly smaller workload but they have one RSO and six technicians and at that point the faculty puts pressure on the administration to get two more technicians in radiation safety, we’re way behind (whispers) and this happened and it works. I’m sorry but in the real world it’s kind of cheap and juvenile and you feel kind of bad about it but that’s what works.
We ended up with more technicians than what our administration thought we ought to have simply because, you’re talking a major attitude, well I’m talking major attitude that somebody else has got something we got to have it, too. The reason for the reactor at Berkeley, although nobody will ever admit it and I think most of them don’t realize it either, is because somebody else had a reactor so Berkeley had to have one, and Oregon State was getting a reactor which is well you can call it a brother or cousin or some such matter to the reactor at Berkeley. But they had to have more bells and whistles than were up here so it was a little bigger pool, a little different electronics, a little different this that and the other thing, still the same reactor core, and had to be, okay so they got it. Well that’s fine I got shuffled over there, half of my work was covering the reactor for eight years of it and therefore I shouldn’t complain, you know you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you but this is the way it is. But their faculty in nuclear engineering didn’t want to use the reactor, they did very little with it, finally it got to the place just as I was leaving when the whole nuclear engineering faculty said you know this is ridiculous we need the space for something else, so they decommissioned the Berkeley reactor, chiseled out and trucked out all the concrete, reactor shielding, took it all off site and there is no sign of the reactor there unless you happen to know what you’re looking at when you walk into the room, it’s a big room, underground, and well used for other things. But other people have reactors, we got to have a reactor, here it was a little different. Other people had reactors but they had an idea of what they wanted to do with theirs. They had a small reactor, which was across the hall at the time the AGN 201 and that was ten milliwatts or twenty milliwatts, I’ve forgotten but it was so many milliwatts and there were a lot of things that you simply couldn’t do with it but they really wanted to do and there were things that had to be done somewhere so they got the TRIGA. There was an AGN 201 at Berkeley also that was decommissioned just before I got there.
INTERVIEWER Do you know what ever happened to the cyclotron, I keep forgetting to ask people that.
GL The cyclotron here? Which I very conveniently never saw. I know where it was and all the time I was here I couldn’t find anybody who knew anything about it except that a fellow that was hired as a physics professor when I was here as a grad student, Chris Saffolatus (?) got his degree at UW and came down here to run the cyclotron and for some reason or another he didn’t get much done and he left and as near as I could tell from all the gossip I could get around, when Chris left all of the administrative and operative knowledge left with him. So here they sat with a cyclotron and they figured well some day we’ll get somebody who wants to use a cyclotron so we’re not going to throw it away now, but so far as I know it’s nothing done since the 1970s.
INTERVIEWER Do you know where it was?
GL Oh, To me, it looked kind of like a chicken house, yes, it’s that a way, let’s see how best to describe it? In the old days when I was here you grabbed the phone book and you look of the map of the university and it will show the building is the cyclotron building, off by itself out there in the fields and as long as nobody was using it and I had other things to do I didn’t see any reason why I would go inspect it, you know if I find something wrong then I got to do something about it. If I don’t inspect it and nobody else goes and looks then it’s obviously not hurting anything, it’s taking up space and the longer we wait to get rid of it, the more expensive the work is going to be; however now it would be less expensive because there’s a lot of copper windings, you know what’s happened to the price of copper in the last five years? Yeah, I figure they could make money. If that’s still there and they decommission it, they can make money on that copper as opposed to one of the cyclotrons at Berkeley that one of the jobs shortly after I got there they decommissioned you know a fifty inch cyclotron and they didn’t think anything about anything. They just offered it up for bid, shipped it off, it was junk. Well that’s fine. The guy who got the copper sold it for scrap, it went some place or another it was melted but that cyclotron had been worked quite a bit and the copper had a lot of radioactive impurities by then. When they melted down the copper somebody took a sample of the slag and somebody let state health know about it, state health let Berkeley know about it, what are we going to do? We can’t just let that stuff sit there it’s radioactive. So then everybody had to get together and fuss and argue and complain about how are we going to get rid of this stuff and who’s going to pay for it and state health said essentially we don’t care but right now it still belongs to the university you guys figure out how you want to do it. And yes, higher administration was very unhappy, well in a manner of speaking they deserved to be but in a manner of speaking you know it was their fault. They didn’t hire anybody who had paid any attention to things like that therefore they got caught and yeah we found a waste contractor who would come and pick it all up and ship it off to one of the burial grounds, which seems kind of dumb to take a bunch of waste metal, sponge, stick it in barrels and haul it off to Nevada burry it but that’s what the law says, either we do that or we’re out of business so we do that. You know far as I know the cyclotron at Oregon State should have no problem in that respect. But I’m no longer the RSO consequently I cannot officially say that and you can publish it all you want but you can’t get me (laughs).
LR …We should wrap up. We’re going to go interview Roman Schmidt. Did you know Roman Schmidt?
GL Not real well.
INTERVIEWR But he was here when you were here.
GL Oh yes.
LR Yeah, yeah.
GL I knew him, more by reputation. A couple of good friends of mine were grad students of his, and of course when we were in the building he was in the building and you’d say hello in the hall and he’d say hello, but however you want to wrap it up, do it.
LR Yeah, so this is your final minute. Is there anything you really wanted to talk about that you didn’t get to say?
GL Not really. It’s like anybody else, you get a bunch of old people together and they stand there and tell lies at each other and everybody’s happy and if we go back next week, we’d tell the same things and nobody would remember what I said anyway so.
LR Well we got it on videotape (laughs). Well that’s my reason for writing it down and having it go to the archives.
GL Oh, I know.
LR You’ll get the draft.
GL But I also know about how often everybody looks at those tapes.
LR Well hopefully, well yeah, but you never know, yeah. But we’ll send you the transcript when I get it typed up and you can edit it by crossing off anything you’re uncomfortable with so you can go back and edit out what you don’t want.
GL Yes, I read the bologna.
LR Oh, okay.
GL I’m well aware of it, my first reaction when I read that release was, hey they got a better lawyer than they had when I was here. That wording is pretty tight.