December 1, 2010 – Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Alright, time to get back into the saddle with this blog and start writing a little something everyday.  I’ve been so busy reading and listening to podcasts lately that I haven’t been taking the time to write much of anything–not even on my books.  *Sigh* I haven’t been writing agents either.

I am noticing a pattern of writing half a dozen or more agents, then getting bogged down for a month and not doing anything.  Of course, it sort of breaks up the pain of rejection that way, but it wasn’t really intentional.  What happens is that I will run up on one agent on my list who wants something I don’t have–some new sort of synopsis or something another–and I will say, “I’m going to have to write that,” and then it takes me a month to work up the intestinal fortitude to sit down and write whatever it is.  Then once it’s done, I go back on my merry way, querying agents on down the list, until I run into a new snag.

My husband and I went to Oak Ridge on the Friday after Thanksgiving (we were in Knoxville visiting his family).  I wanted to go to the museum there to learn more about Oak Ridge.  Rose, her husband James, Anselm, Micah and Isaac all lived and worked there during the War (that’s how Anselm, Micah and Isaac came to be in America, and why the first three books are set in that part of Tennessee; after the War, they moved to nearby Lenoir City).  Why not have vampires working on the atomic bomb?  Makes perfect sense to me. 

The American Museum of Science and Energy had some information on the founding of Oak Ridge, but not as much as I really needed (they have a lot of hands-on exhibits for kids, which are pretty fun to play with–I know personally–so it’s a pretty good museum overall, and it only takes a couple of hours to do).  I ended up going to Books-a-Million and getting a copy of “City Behind the Fence,” which documents the building of Oak Ridge, and what it was like to live there.  (I haven’t read it yet, but I will shortly.)  One day, when Rose has her own book, that information will feature prominently. 

A few tidbits about Oak Ridge:

  • The city was built entirely by the U.S. government, starting in 1942.  There were about 1,000 people living in the area when the government purchased the land (and forcibly relocated them), but there was no city.  The city took its name from Black Oak Ridge.
  • By the end of the War, there were over 75,000 people living in Oak Ridge, making it the 5th largest city in Tennessee after Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.  And yet, at the time, it didn’t appear on any maps, and it consumed upwards of 15% of the nation’s electricity.
  • Many people lived in dormitories or “hutments” (truly, they were huts) until “cemesto” houses could be built for them.  Cemesto houses were prefabricated from a mixture of cement and asbestos and could be erected in 2 hours.  Even though they were meant to be temporary, there are still thousands of them in existence and inhabited.  The government didn’t allow people to buy the houses until the late-1950’s (prior to that, all land and houses were rented from the government).
  • The high school football team only played away games because access into the city was severely restricted.  Some people made the ominous comment that all sorts of goods went into the city, but nothing ever came out. 
  • Despite the large population living in Oak Ridge, there still weren’t enough people to work on the uranium enrichment project, and workers were bussed in from Knoxville.  My husband had two aunts who worked there.  They said they got on a bus in Knoxville and when they got close to their destination, shutters on the windows of the bus would be closed so none of them could see out and know exactly where they were going.  They were taken directly to the building where they worked and were dropped off.  They then sat in front of a panel with switches and knobs and dials (see pic on left; this is exactly what they did).  When the dial went too far one way, they turned a knob.  When it went too far the other way, they turned another knob.  Their job was to keep the needle on the meter in the middle.  If it got over into the red, they were to call their supervisor.  They had no idea at the time what they were doing (and wouldn’t have understood it if they had been told).  I can’t explain to you exactly what it was that they were doing either (and I have a college education and some knowledge of nuclear science), but Wikipedia has an article on the calutron and how it enriches uranium.  Note in the article that the ladies of East Tennessee–including Aunt Flo and Aunt Christine–did a better job of operating it than a team of scientists (namely because they did the job and didn’t keep stopping to investigate; an important factor when you’re in a race to win a war). 
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