As the sun rises over Blackfoot, Idaho, the Callister family rises as well and begins another long day of rewarding work on their family farm. Multiple generations of INL employees have shared their time working at the desert Site and the Callister farm, including Lovell Callister and his grandson, current Advanced Test Reactor employee, Joel Callister.
In the 1950s, Lovell and Lois Callister developed the small farm in southeastern Idaho and lived for many years off the income of a single cow. Lovell Callister was also working for what is now known as INL during this time period, and in January 1961, he was one of the first responders to the tragic accident at the SL-1 reactor. Lovell Callister died in 2012 at the age of 88.
Lovell Callister was a member of the third of three two-man teams that were sent inside the reactor at various stages to locate the men who had passed away and assess the extent of the damage. His team successfully found the final of the three men who had been trapped inside the reactor during its steam explosion. As current Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) employee Joel Callister, Lovell’s grandson, said, “I’m not sure what kind of danger he faced going in there, but I’m sure it was significant. He was truly a hero, and he received the Carnegie Medal of Heroism for his actions.”
Although the original farmhands have passed away, the land has remained in the hands of the Callister family for three generations now. Grandson Joel Callister and his siblings were raised on the farm, and in Joel’s words, “I was pretty much employed as soon as I was born. The minute I could walk, I was out there with the cows, then irrigating and running equipment. I was born into it, and it’s what I love to do.”
Having been raised on the farm, Joel Callister has many fond memories of it, but one of his favorite stories actually took place before he was born, when his grandparents still owned the land. His great-grandmother was living with his grandparents on the property, back in the day when the calf pens were all made of wood. One afternoon, she looked out the window and noticed that several of them were on fire.
His great-grandmother called the fire department, but because the farm was on the outskirts of town, she knew it would take them a while to arrive. So she took matters into her own hands. “She just went outside with a garden hose and put out the fire.” Joel Callister recounted the story, chuckling as he added, “She was 90 years old at the time.”
Joel Callister, his father and brothers continue to work the farm established by Lovell and Lois, and with their efforts, it has grown substantially. “In total, we have about 600-700 animals on the farm. We milk about 240 cows a day, and my brother and I have a small beef herd as well,” Joel Callister explained. “We have all the same land my grandparents homesteaded in the ’50s, and even the dairy barn is the same original structure, although we have done some renovations on it in the past 60 years.”
The Callisters sell about 12,000-14,000 pounds of milk every day to the Glambia milk and cheese plant in Blackfoot, which sells that milk and cheese to Chipotle restaurants. Their cows are part of the Pasture-Based Dairy Program, in which milk plants like Glambia offer to pay dairymen an extra $2 per 100 pounds of milk if they agree to give all the cows in their herd round-the-clock, unfettered access to pasture. For the Callisters, providing a healthy, happy growing environment for their cows was always imperative, and they have enjoyed officially being a part of the pasture-based program.
As a farmer, a dairyman and a rancher, Joel Callister loves every part of his job – working with equipment, working with animals, growing alfalfa hay and irrigating. “You learn a lot from working on a farm,” he said. “You learn about working with people, running a crew, and being able to fix anything and everything, whether it’s a cow with pneumonia or a tractor leaking hydraulic fluid.”
These skills have served Joel Callister well in his work with INL, which he began in the fall of 2017. He was originally hired as a temporary laborer at Central Facilities Area, and he has since had about three different jobs within the laboratory. He now works in pipe fitting at ATR, and he recently completed his bookwork for the ATR Pipefitter Helper program. The bookwork involves taking tests on the content of 75 books, and it took Joel Callister six months. He believes that his experiences on the farm have prepared him to handle the workload and hours in this job, as well as to be a valuable team player and look out for his teammates. “INL takes being a team player one step further with its safety culture,” Joel Callister said. “Out on the farm, you have to get things done no matter what. The cows have to be fed before the sun goes down, regardless of what else is going on. I love the discipline and safety of my work at ATR. A nuclear facility presents a whole new set of rules and challenges, but I’ve learned a lot through my farm work about depending on other people to get the job done in the best possible way.”
Both dairy farming and working at INL are family businesses for Joel Callister. Both of his grandfathers worked at the Site, and he was thrilled to find a job there and follow in their footsteps.
Joel Callister is also happy to be able to balance his work at ATR with his farming, and he is especially excited to see his four young kids out on the farm. “They are now the fourth generation of Callisters working out there,” he reflected. “Watching them go out and help with the baby calves, I finally understand what my father must have felt like, sending me out on the farm years ago.”