November 22nd, 2013
One of the three Hanford-sited reactors now produces power, helping to pay the debt. I walked inside unfinished Unit 1, where 2.5 billion dollars had been invested when work stopped in 1982. In its great chamber, where atoms ought to be spinning, only a spider spun. A scrawled comment summed up Whoops: “Born under the wrong sign.” But the agency hopes that someday its two unfinished plants can be put to work.
ON MAY 18, 1980, in the Cascade Range in southwestern Washington, mother nature displayed a power that made man’s nuclear efforts seem puny. At 8:32 a.m. an earthquake registering 5.1 on the Richter scale shook loose a bulge that had been swelling like a boil on the north side of volcanic Mount St. Helens. Suddenly more than half a cubic mile of mountainside came roaring down. The volcanic vent spat a torrent of tephra— grainy ash and rock—that darkened the sky 18 miles up and 120 miles away. Lahars, or mudflows, fed by melting snow and ice, gushed downward. A powerful hot breath toppled forest giants in a 230-square-mile area; searing winds killed timber 18 miles distant. Fifty-seven persons died; damage and cleanup costs totaled hundreds of millions of dollars. *
The mountain, once a graceful cone, is now flat topped, with a great yawning maw. The landslide and eruption cost it 1,300 feet of its height. Small earthquakes still occur, recorded on seismometers watched by the U. S. Geological Survey. “It’s possible St. Helens has had its last eruption for decades or centuries,” declared the Survey’s Don Swanson. “On the other hand, this could be just a hiatus.”
.Scientists on the scene soon after the catastrophe discovered that not everything died. Huckleberry bushes and small trees survived under snow. Some of the rodents lived through it in their burrows.
Most plants and animals that were present before the blast are now represented, though some are few in number. Snakes, for example, are scarce. Herds of elk and deer have returned; bears and a mountain goat have been sighted. Winds blew in seeds and insects.
Biologist Bob Lucas still marvels at steel-head trout he found swimming in rivers clogged with silt a month after the blast. Apparently they had survived in less affected tributaries and returned to the main streams after the water cooled—though it still was as thick as a chocolate milk shake.
But in the you-betcha state, even adversity can be put to use. Already richly endowed with tourist attractions, Washington now has one with a different appeal. A million visitors a year come to gaze benumbed at the devastated landscape, now preserved in a 110,000-acre national volcanic monument.
IF 14 INCHES of precipitation falls on eastern Washington in a year, it’s a deluge; in many areas six or eight is usual. But to travel this region is to view a sky full of rainbows as irrigation systems fling sustenance at an assortment of crops. Wheat (often the biggest money-maker), potatoes, lentils, mint, hops for beer, asparagus, alfalfa, a dozen kinds of fruit, including fine wine grapes and half of the nation’s apples—with 300 sunshiny days, eastern Washington is a cornucopia. Just add water (and nutrients), and you’ve got yields worth more than three billion dollars a year.
Above the Columbia and north of Wenatchee, Don Heinicke’s orchard spreads along benches left by Ice Age dams. From the river he draws enough water in a year to cover his 274 acres of trees to a depth of four feet.
Don spends a million dollars a year to grow apples. In the spring, for example, he hires the pollinating services of 350 hives of bees at $22 a hive; the job’s too big for the locals. Packing and shipping cost another million. With such expenses “you can’t afford to make a mistake any more,” Don said—as Washington orchardists learned this year at a cost of perhaps 140 million dollars. Many growers sprayed with a chemical called Mar to regulate apple growth; it slowed development so that the fruit didn’t become mushy and helped keep apples on the limb until picking.
When news reports earlier this year linked Alar to cancer, a quarter of Don’s 1988 crop was still in storage, waiting to be sold. Apple prices plunged by five dollars a bushel and more, even though the cancer risk from Alar apparently is minute. Yet Don suffered a significant loss in vanished profits, as did other Washington growers.
More problems: “The pickers have to be trained, ” Don said. “You have to make sure they pick with the stems left in, so the apples stay fresh.” Don hires retirees—an ex-logger, a former telephone-company executive—but most pickers are Mexican.
Manuel Sanchez came illegally at first— as did nearly all Washington’s pickers. He worked hard; Don liked him. Manuel told me: “Don say, next year bring somebody else.” Manuel brought a brother and a cousin. “I keep it in my family. Then I get my friends.”
When the new immigration law passed in 1986, Don completed papers to help 15 of his workers become legal aliens. Manuel and others brought their wives and children.
“They’re not going to be satisfied with just seasonal work,” Don prophesied. “Pretty soon they’ll open grocery stores, clothing stores. They’re going to be here. And I think they’re going to be good citizens. They’ll bring back some of the work ethic we once had.”
AT LUNCH a German businessman post-d to Seattle offered a Teutonic judgment of the city: “It will never amount to much—people don’t work on weekends.” Indeed, Seattle does not aspire to the title of “ulcer capital of the world,” but it is a saver and a striver.
Consider Pike Place Market, a national treasure where farmers bring gorgeous vegetables and mongers cry the virtues of crab and oyster. When developers craved the four blocks of shops and the priceless view of Puget Sound, the citizens rescued all of it with a bond issue. Then they applauded the preservation of Pioneer Square, where the city took root. Then they went sea kayaking or skiing or to the opera or down to the International District for dim sum or sushi.
Seattle’s culture has been greatly enriched by the Pacific Rim. Hmong and Mien refugees from Laos are the latest in a procession of Asian immigrants that began with Chinese laborers before Washington had statehood.
Among older Japanese painful memories linger of the removal to inland locations during World War II. Many oldsters still will not speak of it, although the Seattle community began the campaign to win redress from the federal government—granted by Congress last year. Younger Japanese believe discrimination lingers too, denying them the executive suite—in this city that trades goods worth billions with Japan.
And Chinese? They’re thriving. Newcomers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam revivify the culture, and community acceptance of the Chinese shows in politics. In 1961, when a Chinese first stood for election to the city council, Ruby Chow stuffed fortune cookies in his behalf; if you went out for foo yong, an endorsement of Wing Luke topped off the meal. Luke won the election.
Other Chinese went to judges’ benches and the legislature. The soaring beehive hairdo of Ruby herself became familiar in the King County council, where she served 12 years—the rare Chinese woman holding elective office in America.
One night I went to the Luck Ngi Music Hall for an operatic jam session. Luck Ngi means Happiness. Years ago the people who gathered on Saturday night arrived weary from waitressing and washing dishes. Now, housewives mingle with entrepreneurs. They sing arias about love and honor while musicians strum and saw the young kum and the yee wu and thump the yee yum gu. It is lovely.
No person enriched the Seattle region more than a fellow who arrived in 1908. His father, born in Germany, had prospered in timber in Minnesota. The son had come west to buy timber—and then took a fearsome risk. He learned to fly aeroplanes. Then, in 1916, William Edward Boeing, Sr., helped by a friend, built two seaplanes.
Thus began the Boeing Company. In lean times after World War I it made furniture. But the engineers, many of them homegrown, also developed advanced craft. In 1933 the Boeing 247 became the first modern airliner to carry passengers (all ten) in comfort, with good speed (155 mph).
Though Bill Boeing had studied engineering, building planes was far from his only interest. He acquired fledgling airlines and airmail contracts and was a skillful investor. In 1928 he created a potentially huge conglomerate, combining his holdings with several kindred enterprises, including Pratt & Whitney, the engine maker.
United Aircraft & Transport Corporation William E. Boeing, chairman—would be short-lived, viewed as a dangerous trust by Roosevelt New Dealers. In 1934 Congress legislated against conglomerates, forcing the firm to break up. Bill Boeing reacted by getting out—selling every share of his aviation stock.
Meanwhile his engineers in Seattle, working for a revised board of directors, were responding to a call from the Army Air Corps for a multiengine bomber. Their craft, ready in 1935, was the prototype of 12,726 B-17 Flying Fortresses that in World War II would blast the homeland of Bill Boeing’s father.
Japan too suffered destruction from Boeing craft, especially from the B-29 Superfortress, which delivered fire storms to Tokyo and nuclear death to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now Japanese companies are major Boeing suppliers, building, for example, fuselage sections for wide-body 767 jetliners. A few years ago Boeing and a Japanese consortium were set to share the cost, perhaps two billion dollars, of developing a highly fuel-efficient propfan craft. Then fuel prices moderated, airlines lost interest, and the collaboration was shelved.
Facilities in the Seattle area—in Kent, Auburn, Everett, and Renton—hum with Bill Boeing’s legacy. Despite metal-fatigue problems in some of its older craft and allegations that quality control has sometimes been lax, Boeing’s airliner business is booming as it never has before. This and military- and space-hardware sales, and even computer services, pour more than 100,000 Boeing paychecks into the Seattle economy.
FIFTY THOUSAND,” he said. Nosy, I had just asked a computer-software developer how much he earned. Not bad for a 27-year-old. But it isn’t unusual in the 15 buildings of Microsoft, cascading into trees in the suburb of Redmond. My well-compensated friend sat in a room with five others about his age, all degree holders in mathematics or computer science from such institutions as MIT and Caltech.
And all casual: jeans, sweaters. “We like your tie,” one said politely. Jabe Blumenthal allowed, “I used to keep a suit hanging in my office, for when IBM came.” One of the best customers for Microsoft computer programs, IBM is severely buttoned down by comparison.
Don’t let the jeans fool you. There’s plenty of pressure here. Just before the “drop dead date” for finishing a new program and getting it to manufacturing, software developers work around the clock to eliminate bugs.
Sometimes the delivery date is missed—as happened earlier this year with two versions of a word-processing program. Those delays cost Microsoft’s chairman, Bill Gates, 175 million dollars in paper losses when Microsoft stock fell nearly 14 percent.
Shed no tears. Gates is still a billionaire on the strength of the company he founded with a fellow math whiz, Paul Allen. Gates was 19 in 1975 when they wrote a program for an early microcomputer. The personal computer took off, using Gates-Allen languages and, later, that workhorse operating system MS-DOS.
While Microsoft grew as much as 70 percent a year, the Seattle area exploded into a major software center. “There was a kind of devel oping energy,” Jim Knopf said. “Technical people were here, printers got used to doing technical manuals—it built on itself.”
Ex-IBM technician Knopf started his own company to produce computer programs called ButtonWare — button being the translation of his German name. He gives his wares away. “We bypassed the advertising campaign,” he said. “Our advertising was, ‘ You guys copy the disks and share them. And if you like the shareware, would you please send $70 for a manual and any updates?”
So far, 150,000 loans have.
ANOTHER BRAIN TRUST sprang up in biotechnology, stimulated by research at two Seattle institutions, the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, leaders in the field. In his office in a converted warehouse on the Seattle waterfront, Stephen Duzan recalled that when he was looking for a new business in 1981 — having sold a company that produced food packaging—he was introduced to two Hutchinson scientists who talked about the “T-cell growth factor” and a strain of cells that might lead to drugs useful against cancer by stimulating the immune system. “They gave me some references to check,” Duzan said. “About half were Nobel Prize winners.”
Drs. Christopher S. Henney and Steven Gillis joined Duzan in creating Immunex Corporation. In compensation for their research at Hutchinson, the center’s faculty endowment fund was made an Immunex shareholder. Stock issues raised 98 million dollars for Immunex. Some of that went to develop Interleukin-2, a drug shown effective in tests for treating certain cancers. Immunex expects the drug to win government approval for marketing in a year or two.
Immunex, NeoRx, IMRE, Microprobe, Panlabs— few persons have heard of the Seattle biotechnology companies and their arrays of scientists (55 Ph.D.’s at Immunex alone). “The large pharmaceutical companies were slow to adopt this new technology,” Duzan said, “so new companies could get a toehold.” Potential sales if Interleukin-2 goes to market: hundreds of millions of dollars.
Thirty-five miles south of Duzan’s waterfront office, the light chop of Commencement Bay laps against the wharves of Tacoma. When Washington got statehood in 1889, Tacoma was the chief Puget Sound port. It had a railroad, and thus union with the rest of the country, before Seattle. After transcontinental rails reached Seattle, Tacoma watched cargoes and jobs go north.
It took Tacoma years to shed its jealousy of higher-rising Seattle—if it has. But Tacoma has become a pleasant workingman’s city, willingly floating bonds to build schools and save old buildings. And it will seldom snare you in a Seattle-style traffic jam, save when Bruce Springsteen plays the Tacoma Dome.
On the waterfront, Tacoma remains a keen competitor. I was standing in the pilothouse of the tug Henry Foss when something like a floating apartment building appeared at the mouth of Commencement Bay. This was the Arild Maersk, more than two football fields long, stacked five stories high with freight containers. As Henry Foss nudged the Danish-operated visitor against the dock, trucks revved up to accept those containers and their multimillion-dollar Oriental treasure—VCRs and microwaves from Japan and Korea, shirts and raincoats from Singapore and Taiwan.
Transferred to freight cars just a couple of hundred feet away, these goods would soon be in American markets. Arild Maersk departed in less than 24 hours, carrying lumber, machinery, and frozen French fries.
No matter which deepwater port shippers use—and Washington has nine others that handle such cargoes as grain, logs, and wood pulp—the U. S. trade deficit is writ large on the wharves. Some farm machinery and automobiles depart from Tacoma and Seattle, and of course Boeing sells aircraft worldwide. But imported cars and other manufactures are to a large extent swapped for such raw materials as timber and grain. As port officials see things, that’s a problem that must be addressed in that other Washington, the one on the Potomac.
Whatever the outcome, Washington State begins its second century on a rising Pacific tide. Port officials see a future assured not only by the major trading partners of today, such as Japan and Korea; they expect to hear also from the (presently) less developed Pacific Rim nations. Burma and Bangladesh, for example, have large labor forces waiting to be tapped. And Indonesia stands fifth in the world with 180 million people.
When these nations come, Washington will speedily remove their cargoes and send them on to the hinterland. And yes, it will sell them some apples —you betcha!