Spotlight on New Mexico – The McDonald Ranch House

In 1945, the first atomic bomb core was assembled at the McDonald ranch house in Socorro New Mexico. This is part II of my post on the Trinity Site.

The George McDonald ranch house sits within an 85′ x 85′ stone wall. The house was built  in 1913 by Franz Schmidt, a German immigrant.

On July 12, 1945 two hemispheres of plutonium were carried to the George McDonald ranch house two miles from ground zero. At the McDonald ranch house the master bedroom had been turned into a clean room for the assembly of the bomb core.

The windows were covered with plastic, tape was used to fasten the edges and seal doors and cracks in the wall to prevent dust and sand from getting on the instruments and tools.

Though the explosion was only 2 miles away, only the windows were blown out, the rest of the structure remained intact.  Years later the roof was damaged from rain water dripping through holes in the roof.

The barn, corrals and holding pens were damaged in the explosion.

In 1982 the U.S. Army stabilized the house to prevent further damage. The U.S. Army and the Department of Energy provided funds for the National Park Service to completely restore the McDonald ranch house. The work was completed in 1984 and the house looked like it did on July 12, 1945 (before the bomb testing).

This was one of the most interesting and educational events I had been on with the Meetup group. To be in the place where history was made and reading about all the events leading up to the actual event was beyond fascinating. I have learned so much. I hope you get a chance to visit this historical landmark. It is only opened twice per year –  the first Saturday in April and October. For more information please visit: http://www.wsmr.army.mil/PAO/Trinity/Pages/default.aspx

Now for some interesting facts and quotes.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell said this about the explosion. “The effects could be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous, and terrifying. No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun.”

At the McDonald ranch house when Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell was asked to sign a receipt for the plutonium, he later said this. “I took this heavy ball in my hand and felt it growing warm. I got a certain sense of its hidden power. It wasn’t a cold piece of metal, but it was really a piece of metal that seemed to be working inside. Then, maybe for the first time, I began to believe some of the fantastic tales the scientists had told about this nuclear power.”

Dr. Phillip Morrison said (regarding the explosion), “Suddenly, not only was there a bright light but where we were, 10 miles away,  there was the heat of the sun on our faces… Then, only minutes later, the real sun rose and again you felt the same heat to the face from the sunrise. So we saw two sunrises.”

At ground zero, the elements emitting gamma rays, alpha and beta particles are Europium, Cesium, Cobalt, Strontium and Plutonium.

A one-hour visit to the inner fenced area will result in a whole body exposure of one-half to one millirem of radiation.

Trinitite is the green glassy substance found on ground zero. It contains several radioactive elements and is an alpha and beta particle emitter.

For additional reading material check these out:

The Day the Sun Rose Twice by Ferenc Szasz

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Vorm

City of Fire: Los Alamos and the Atomic Age. 1943-1945 by James Kunetka

Day of Trinity by Lansing Lamont.

Source: WSMR

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