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INL newbie follows in grandfather’s footsteps

February 4, 2019

By Paul Menser

Although he is a relative newcomer to Idaho National Laboratory, Jesse Dickson feels a deep bond to the Site that stretches back to its early days as the National Reactor Testing Station.

It was his grandfather, Don Zufelt, who went to work as a laborer at the Central Facilities Area in 1953. Following a career trajectory common to a lot of people who rode the bus out to the desert each week, Zufelt, now 86, held positions at the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant, Materials Test Reactor, and the Advanced Test Reactor. He retired in 1993 and lives in Shelley, Idaho.

Dickson, 37, who started at CFA in 2008 as a field services technician subcontractor, then worked at the ATR Complex for six years, always felt he was following in his grandfather’s footsteps. “It was kind of neat walking around the plant and being in the same places he had worked,” he said. “I loved working at ATR. It really is kind of like a family.”

In 2015, he moved into INL’s Research and Education Campus in Idaho Falls to take a job as a network operations technician, and in November 2018 he began work as an IT operations technician for Battelle Energy Alliance, which manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy. “When they offered me the job (in 2015), I took it for the sake of my family,” he said. “Before that, I figured I was always going to be at ATR, and I wouldn’t have minded that.”

He was able to take Zufelt along on his new-hire orientation tour. “I also was fortunate enough to take him to ATR during a family day a few years back. The four hours we had there was nowhere near enough time to talk about the stories he had, and that was without going into the ATR reactor building.”

While others were looking at the exhibits, Zufelt and Dickson stood outside the cafeteria. “When we looked north, he said it looked pretty much like it always had,” he said. “When we looked south, he told me everything had changed. I’ve seen changes even over the last 10 years. I was out there when the original fire station was still there.”

Don Zufelt, now 86, held positions at the Central Facilities Area, Idaho Chemical Processing Plant, Materials Test Reactor, and the Advanced Test Reactor.

Zufelt shares stories with his grandson that perhaps reflect a different time, like the one about stuffing a laborer’s coveralls with straw and planting the dummy in different offices around the desert Site. When he was on the desert from 2008 to 2015, Dickson said, he had plenty of opportunities to visit a lot of different places. “I’ve always been fascinated with the history of the Site, what went on at Central and Scoville,” he said.

While Scoville is still a place on the map and also the name of INL’s power substation, there is very little else. In its day, it was named after Cmdr. John A. Scoville, who was in charge of construction at the Naval Proving Ground during WWII. It included a rail service center for materials and equipment from Pocatello, small houses and barracks for permanent officers and their families and ordnance workers, and a red brick barrack to house the Marines who guarded the facility. There were workshops, storage buildings, a security building and a cafeteria.

Scoville sits about seven miles west and a little north of Atomic City, Idaho, where Zufelt, his wife, Betty, and their children lived for a time in the 1950s. They later moved to Arco, Idaho, then the nearby Moore area, before finally coming back to Shelley.

For a man born in the Depression, who had herded sheep for his family in near Monida Pass on the Idaho/Montana border, the promise of a steady wage and security for his family was a welcome prospect. “Everything was new and I enjoyed the work,” he said.


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About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted February 4, 2019

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