Had to combine yesterday and today, as yesterday’s little post-dinner nap turned into an almost all-nighter. Woke up at three, everything in the room turned on, and for a split second thought about writing about it, then promptly went back to sleep, even though today was a planned rest day, which indeed ti was. And I’m kinda glad I did, for yesterday was just about a beautiful walk to Oak Ridge, about 19 miles NE of Harriman, TN. It was the sky that gave me the best views, bright blue and constantly changing. Was a really nice walk, relatively undisturbed for most of the day, some Friday traffic in the afternoon, but happy to get to Oak Ridge, fairly late yesterday afternoon.
On the map, Oak Ridge looks like any little ol’ town in Tennessee, like the dozens I’ve passed and knew nothing about. Yet I actually diverted my walk to come here. I’ve been wanting to see Oak Ridge for about ten years, in line with my interest in the Manhattan Project, which I stumbled on rather inadvertently. What I didn’t know yesterday as I walked along is that I was less than 2 miles (as the Tennessee crow flies) from the facility which most interested me!
Ever since I’ve been reading, quite a lot I must add, I seem to veer off on tangents… I’ll start on something and it’ll lead to something else and then I’ll end up reading every book I can find on the subject.This happened after reading Aztec by Gary Jennings, which led to a couple of years reading everything about the conquest of the Aztec empire by the Spaniards and ensuing wars with Europe. Then hen I got hooked on the House of Tudor, which took a few months to satisfy. After that, I drifted off into quantum physics, which I’ve always liked and just wish I could understand a little better. At some point, I stumbled on Richard Feynman, a brilliant physicist but it also a very cool human being. After a book or two on Feynman, the Manhattan Project was my subject.
Unfortunately, most people associate the Manhattan Project with the atomic bomb, and indeed, that was the ultimate goal and it was obtained, forever changing the course of history and power. That is not what fascinates me. What I find incredible is the resolve, the tenacity and the organization involved to reach the goal. It is amazing what you can do, in a relatively short period of time, with great minds, an apparently inexhaustible source of funds and a goal. Fortunately, the science went far beyond the destructive nature of nuclear weapons, such as energy production and healthcare applications, which have been of great benefit to humanity.
Oak Ridge was a key piece of the Manhattan Project, and I’ve seen it many times in my mind, relying on others’ descriptions to paint my picture, (just as you have to rely on mine when you read this ;-). Things are obviously very different from what they were back in the 1940’s, when Oak Ridge didn’t even exist! At one point, the largest building ever built by man was in Oak Ridge, and a small city was born swiftly and almost overnight. In the countless other buildings, things were being done that had never been done before, mostly in secret, even to the people working on the projects!
This morning I went to the American Museum of Science and Energy. Sounds pretty cool, and it was ok, but a little ho hum when you’ve read about the subject it in detail and watched countless documentaries. What was really cool was driving around some of the facilities, which I was lucky to do this afternoon with Jimmy, my BFF since about 50 years ago. Day trip for Jimmy from Atlanta (a 10 day walk for me), had a great afternoon looking around for old abandoned nuclear buildings! We thought we were on the way to one when we came up to a guard gate, and a not-to-be-messed with guard! Short little conversation with said guard led to a “you will turn around and leave”, but only after checking both our driver’s licences and plates. I dare say some of these facilities are the best guarded in the country, along with Fort Knox and the Pentagon. There’s a lot going on in them hills.
One of the main facilities, K-25, has largely been decommissioned and the biggest building since torn down, but we were able to drive the perimeter road and look around. Pretty impressive, big scale stuff. Again, find it very interesting to see how, in a very short time, with great minds, countless dollars and a resolve, this all got done. Here’s my tourist picture… Uncle Pete at Oak Ridge!
Really interesting to me to be here today, I leave you with pictures…