Home | Columns | History Mystery | Books | Speeches | Time Capsules | Oral History | Biography | Links

Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Sandia opened its ‘Livermore Branch’ 50 years ago

By Barry Schrader.................................March 2, 2006

March 8, 2006 marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of a small contingent of engineers and support personnel in Livermore, mostly from Sandia Corporation’s laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The two dozen staffers were first housed in the pink barracks across East Avenue at the then-named UC Radiation Laboratory (now LLNL) so they could provide increasing support for the design and testing of the new nuclear weapons being developed by the UC Lab since 1952 in Livermore.

The reason there were two separate organizations working on the same weapons goes back to the days of the Manhattan Project. After the end of World War II the University of California was given the contract by the new Atomic Energy Commission to operate the nuclear weapons program that had started at Los Alamos. But when asked to take over the engineering arm which was called Sandia (created out of Los Alamos’s Z Division), UC management balked, saying it preferred to stick to the pure science part of the project.

So in 1949 President Truman wrote a letter to AT&T asking its president to assume oversight of Sandia “to render an exceptional service in the national interest.” AT&T accepted with the proviso it would operate the engineering organization for a dollar a year and take no profit from it.

So Sandia has remained independent from Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national labs to this day. And Sandia management was smart in making the early decision to tear down the old Navy WAVE barracks on their new site, thus constructing all new facilities, while Lawrence Lab has had to contend with the old Naval Air Station buildings to this day.

Talking with Clif Selvage, a retired Sandian who actually arrived in town six months ahead of the formal startup date along with another Sandian Grover Hughes, I learned that the first project the two organizations collaborated on was the B27 bomb and its counterpart for the Regulus guided missile—the W27. He even produced a photo showing him and LLNL colleagues on a barge at Eniwetok working on Project Redwing in the Pacific. He thinks those in the photo were Alan Work, Joe Livingston, Bud Loveland, Roy Higgen, Harry Perl, Dean Christensen, Fred Warren, Bill Lavigne, Hank Otsuki, and Roy Tidwell. He wonders if any of them are still around here today.

Clif was then asked by Sandia management to be a part of the startup operation in 1956 but due to the loud protest of his wife at the time, since she was a New Mexico native and thought Livermore must be at the end of the world, he declined. But then by 1967 circumstances changed and he accepted a later offer to transfer to Livermore and, except for some overseas International Energy Agency assignments, has stayed ever since.

Another early arrival from Albuquerque that first year was Lorena Schneider who was brought out with another secretary to provide support for managers and spent their first five months living at the Town House Motel on First Street. When she finally decided to accept a permanent assignment she worked for Jack Howard, the first manager of the fledgling engineering department. She recalls the hot summers on the second floor of the barracks when there was no such thing as air conditioning. After 37 years at Livermore and five prior to that at Sandia Albuquerque, Lorena retired and now lives in Florida.

Sandia’s Livermore Branch grew to 1,000 people in just a few years, but never went beyond 1,100 because “growth control” was exercised by the headquarters in New Mexico.

Over the years there were some lighter moments, as reported in a1996 book called “Sandia Anthology, Remember When…” assembled by Cindy English and her boss Cliff Yokomizo. Inside those 125 pages are great stories, remembrances, old memos, cartoons and humorous photos collected from desk drawers, filing cabinets and walls from across the site.

The book includes some instances of frivolity I still recall: One day in 1986 the directors decided to smuggle a horse onsite after then-Vice President Dick Claassen threatened to rid the site of unsightly and illegally parked bikes. They offered this hoofed alternative to the VP and he surprised them by mounting the steed and riding it. They didn’t know he was an amateur equestrian! In 1992 then-VP John Crawford was holding a Teamwork Celebration Day. We found out it was also his birthday, so hired the East Avenue Middle School Band led by Bernie Berke to be bussed onsite, hidden until the appropriate moment when we could surprise John. Then there was the farewell for VP Tom Hunter when we bought him a fancy belt buckle, even bigger than the one worn at the party by Lawrence Lab’s Bob Kuckuck who had beaten Tom in the Rodeo Week greenhorn calf-penning event. We didn’t want Tom to leave town feeling “second-rate.” It must have boosted his ego because now he is President/Director of Sandia.

There will be a lot of reminiscing like this when retirees and longtime employees gather to celebrate the Livermore Branch’s 50th anniversary this week. But don’t let anyone dig up the time capsule that was buried there in 1999 when Sandia Corporation observed its 50th. The plaque clearly states it is not to be unearthed until 2024!

***

When listing all the National Historic Register sites in the area last week I overlooked a recent addition, the David Glass house, which was moved onto the grounds of the Forest Home Farm in San Ramon from its original location at Circle E Ranch. Thanks to Nathan Greene for pointing this out.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

Home | Columns | History Mystery | Books | Speeches | Time Capsules | Oral History | Biography | Links