Our Cousin, Buell

Note:Buell died on Saturday, December 18, 2004 at the age of 99.

Buell Elliott is the son of James Lee Elliott and Leana Chapman Elliott. Leana was the sister of Opla Chapman Poteete. Buell was a well-loved first cousin of Lowery's & Opla's kids, back in the Taft and early-Bakersfield days. He lives with his daughter Janice and her husband Norm Bennett in the town of Hiawassee, Georgia. Hiawassee is just a few miles from Blairsville.

Buell, whose wife Minnie died recently, is 98 now and has lived through two World Wars. In the second war Buell's young nephew, U. S. Army PFC Jimmie Johnson, was killed in action in the Battle of Okinawa. With all the interesting happenings of Buell's life one can see that he can be looked upon as being a library of stories of historical value and pertinent interests to the Poteete's and related clan members.

It seems relevant now when our daily news articles mention such words as, "nuclear", "radiation", "holocaust", "mass destruction" (but almost never "atom bomb") and other phrases which brings to the hearer's mind images of cataclysmic horrors, to know that one of our own, a man who was pretty much self educated, once worked in a position of responsibility in the secret, surreal world of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Oakridge was a project of epic proportions. This was like a separate state, with its own airplanes, its own factories, and its thousands of secrets. From its inception in 1942 to its conclusion in 1946, one of the greatest technological achievements known to man took place, both in Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, requiring the manpower of thousands and thousands of people. Buell, who oversaw the work of some 450 people, has told us in the following section, a little of what it was like to work in his particular arena.

In February of 2003, we asked Buell's daughter, Janice Elliott Bennett, if she would interview her father for us. Following are our questions she used as a guide for the interview, with Buell's answers and Janice's comments. Following Janice's notes, are anecdotes by Buell's brother, Dale Elliott, and by Buell's nephew, Richard Purvis.

(1) Full name - James Buell Elliott (He was named by Opla.)

(2) Date and place of birth - January 9, 1905 in Union County, Georgia. Buell believes Lizzie Daniel was the lady who assisted with his birth.

(3) Religion - Baptist

(4) Education - 8th grade. I, (Janice), remember Grandma Elliott telling me that he would rather fish than go to school.

(5) Military Service - none

(6) In your younger years did you have science interests, hobbies, etc.? Other than fishing, he liked and had ducks which happily played in a small stream near the house, both of which still exist today. Year around he drove two mules and a wagon to Culberson, North Carolina every other week because that was the nearest railhead for selling and getting supplies for his Dad's store and for any other items they needed. It was also an opportunity to sell chickens and eggs and was an all day trip. In winter time he would wrap hot stones in blankets to keep his feet warm (at least on the trip over). He has always (and still is) been interested in "how things work" and is a great "tinker". He can just about fix anything mechanical -- but all this new digital stuff has him baffled.

(7) When and where was your first major employment? - He believes his first major employment was with Formax Oil Co. in Taft. He was a cable tool driller.

(8) How long did you live in Texas? - We lived in Kermit and Wink for about 2 years. (Oil refineries and drilling)

(9) How were you hired at Oak Ridge? Pearl (his sister) Hill was going to Knoxville on a buying trip for her dry goods store and Dad went along for the ride. He went into the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) employment office in Knoxville and turned in an application. I guess his application impressed them enough so that he was immediately driven to Oak Ridge for an interview.

(10) What was your job title at Oak Ridge? - Dad said his job title was "General Foreman" and he had several Foremen working for him. He said he worked directly for the "General" which must have been the military officer in charge. When I asked him what he did, he said "everything"! He had a badge which allowed him access to any and all areas of Oak Ridge. I suspect they recognized his innate mechanical ability and put him to work sizing up mechanical problems and then fixing them. He apparently had a great deal of autonomy in how he spent his time.

He worked mostly in Y-12; however, he had a big "A" on his badge which meant he could go into any of the other areas if he was needed. At that time, K-25 was the largest steam electric-plant building in the world under one roof. He said he knew which buildings to stay out of - - he knew which ones were "hot." He said that he once mentioned to his bosses "that he didn't think the women should be working in those 'hot' areas" and the reply was "well, there are lots of soldiers dying."

He knew very well that a bomb was being built; however, he said the authorities never really told them anything and if you did know anything, you weren't supposed to tell. He had no idea as to the extent of the knowledge of other employees because nobody talked about what they were doing.

A week before the bomb was dropped, Dad said they called them all in and said Congress was hassling them about all the money they were spending. They told them "In a week's time, you will all know differently." And that is all that was said.

When I asked him how he felt after Hiroshima, he said "I was never happy over it and I'm not happy now. It should have never happened."

The Certificate Buell received for his work at Oak Ridge on the atomic bomb

Buell worked in the Tenessee Eastman Company section of the Oak Ridge Project. .

(11) When did your expertise with Freon gas begin? - A fuzzy spot -- could never really get any good info on this. He said something about starting with methyl chloride and then going on to ammonia before working with freon.

(12) After the War did you stay in the same line of work? - Leaving Oak Ridge, we moved back to the Ivy Log district of Union County, GA for short while and then went to Texas where he worked in a refinery. After Texas, we moved to Augusta, GA where he worked for Dupont. Finally, we moved to Tullahoma, TN in 1955 where he worked for Arnold Engineering Development Center on the Arnold Air Force Base.

Dad's main expertise and work life centered around heating and air conditioning. By the way, he still cuts our grass on the riding mower. He fixes his own breakfast (gets up way too early for us to eat with him) which generally consists of eggs, bacon and/or sausage and fried potatoes. His main meal is in the middle of the day (way too early for us again!) which I prepare using the crock pot most of the time. His remaining nine teeth like food to be just a little softer these days.

Oral History

by Dale Elliott, February 2003

(Pictured left: Dale and Buell, about 1920)

Buell is the finest man I have ever known. I say this in all seriousness. As a boy, Buell liked nature - - the birds and the animals. When Mom had me she was disgusted with having more children and she said "I think I may give this one away." And Buell said, "Give him to me Ma, I want him." And she said, "Well, try to keep a dry 'hippin' on him." He said "yeah", and as far as he was concerned I was his. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I thought so much of him that if he had told me to jump off a high bridge I would have done it.

When I got big enough (I was about three and Buell was about 17) he took me with him to Culberson, North Carolina in a wagon to ship out goods and pick up supplies for our store. I went on at least one trip with him. The first trip on which he took me I will never forget. The wagon was loaded with egg crates, sacks of grain, cow hides, and other produce for a country store. It seemed like it would take forever to get there*. He fixed a place for me and Old Don, the dog, a place back of the driver's seat. I could stand up and sight see. When we got to the train loading area he had to wait his turn for unloading. So he would unhitch the two mules, Old Will and Jack, so they could eat something while they were waiting. They were well trained and would always come back when he whistled, and they never went far. One time, on a previous trip, a hog ran up and started getting Old Jack's nubbins and Jack bit a piece out of the hog's back. He never had trouble with that hog again.

Buell lifted me out of the wagon and cautioned me not to go too far away. I found a humongous trash pile back between the two stores where I found lots of bottle caps and other beauties and a perfectly good sardine can complete with key. Buell told me to put that stuff back. Some oafers started to laugh at him and said, "Let him have it." Buell said to me, "Do you want people to think we are two hicks from the back hollows of Georgia?"

I was fascinated by the train, although I was terrified of it. Before starting for home Buell would buy some lunch for us.

*The distance from Blairsville, Georgia to Culberson, North Carolina was about 20 miles.


by Dale Elliott, March 2003

Buell was a man with limited formal education but you inquired how he did as well as he did. I hope to answer this with this little story.

When Buell was about 14 years old, he heard that a circus was coming to Culberson. He was determined to go see it even though he had only 25 cents. The day finally came and he started for Culberson on foot with his 25 cents to look for the circus. He caught up with the circus about a mile out of town all lined up ready to march into town. He saw a man directing the procession and approached him. "Sir, I want to see this circus but I have only 25 cents. Would you give me a job that I can do to pay my way in to see every bit of it?" The man, obviously impressed with this brash country boy said, "Yes, I believe we do. Go down to that man at the head of the line with the big drum and tell him I have hired you to carry the drum." Buell was overjoyed. He skipped down to the drummer and told him that he had just been hired to be the drum bearer. They strapped the big drum on Buell's back and shortly started the march into town. Buell not only got to see all of the circus but was a part of it. The big drum was being beaten, "Boom! Boom! Boom!" with the rest of the brass band playing and the supply wagons being pushed by the elephants. Buell was elated and felt very important especially when they passed a gang of boys who had come for the same purpose he had, but hadn't had the guts to approach the boss and ask for a job.


by Dale Elliot, March 2003

I remember well the day Buell left for California - - I believe it was the summer of 1921. He went with my sister Mellie and her kids Jimmie and C.J. Mellie was joining her husband, Charles Johnson, who was already there. They were loading their baggage into a wagon which was waiting between our house and the spring. I was crying and wanting to go too. Someone with wagon and mules was going to take them to Culberson where they would board the train for the long, hot journey to Bakersfield.

I am sort of hitch hiking on Richard Purvis's idea that someone should write up the migration to California from Georgia. (See Richard's anecdotes below.) I am not capable of doing it, but I can supply a lot of raw material for the project. I can't document any of this, but for source just say "Oral History." The railroad came into our area - - Culberson and Murphy - - and a lot of our local men got jobs helping to lay the tracks, building the trestles and whistle stops. When it was all over, a lot of people were out of a job. The railroad company, in a gesture of good will, offered free tickets to key employees to go West where they would be more likely to find employment. Some of our people took them up on this.

I remember one humorous story about several men going as a group. When they got to west Texas where the real desert commenced, one of the fellows looked around and remarked, "Boys, does California look like this?" The others assured him that it did. "Well, then I am going back home." The others all protested. "You can't do that; what about your ticket?" "To h - - - with my ticket, I am going home to my Cricket." (His pet name for his wife was Cricket.)

And another - - and be sure and blame this one on "Oral History." It may have been Aunt Laura and Uncle Tom Watson. Whoever they were, they were so broke and destitute when they arrived that they had to put up a tent or shanty to live in. They only had $10 and were able to buy a milk cow for $9 and they bought a rope with the remaining $1 to tie the cow and lead her around to graze. But they made it. I have heard that the Watson's were the first of our folks to make the trip to California. (Watson's eventually owned a dairy.)

I remember about the only mean thing Buell did to me - - he came home for a visit and stayed the summer of 1926 (Dale was 7). He told me I could go back with him and I dreamed and planned on the trip as long as he stayed. We were to go back in the car he came in, a 1926 Ford Model T. A local man started wanting to buy the car from Buell and in the end he sold it to him. That was when I finally realized that Buell had been pulling my leg all the time. He even now says to me, "I can't wait for your grandkids to get a little older so I can tease them." He won't because I won't let him.


by Richard Purvis, February 2003

The following anecdotes about Buell are from Richard Purvis, Buell's nephew. Richard's mother, Grace Elliott, was Buell's sister.

I would be glad to tell you all I know about Buell. He was a very special uncle to me. He was childless for a long time and I think he semi-adopted me. He often took me camping and fishing up on the Kern River. He gave me my first 22 rifle and it was the greatest gift I have ever gotten. A bunch of us boys would go out to the river with our rifles and shoot everything that moved. Once I shot a quail and was a little worried to walk down the street with it since they were not in season. The first house I got to was Buell's so I put the quail on his sink and went on home. That evening I came back for my quail but Buell laughed and said he ate it! He thought it was a gift from me.

He certainly was a terrible tease. He tormented me and my cousin Jack Burns all of the time when we were little. He even teased his own dog Pood. One day he dressed up in women's clothes and then walked into his back yard. The dog didn't know him and attacked. Afterwards the dog was very embarrased when Buell called his name and talked to him.
I will try to outline a schedule of where he was at various times:

I remember my mother saying that Buell came out to California when he was just 16. He lied about his age and said he was 18 in order to get a job at an oil refinery in Ventura. Mom was always aggravated by the age mixup because it made her seem two years older than she was since he was her younger brother. He must have been among the first to come out here. I think the huge migration of the Georgians out here is a tremendous story and should be researched while there are still people like Buell around. I think Tom and Laura Watson may have been the first.

(Left to right: Monteen, Reinette, Ruth, Max, Baby Jeanne, Opla, Buell)

I know Buell was out here in 1927, since I've heard the story over and over of him taking my folks and my one-year old sister, Myrtle, on the Cyclone Racer in Long Beach and scaring everyone to death. I was born in Belridge in 1928, then we moved to Georgia in 1931. We lived in Georgia until 1935 and I know that Buell lived in Georgia during that period because I remember him visiting us and teasing me. We had a fierce dog called Patch. Once, Buell said he could come into our house without us calling the dog off. He tried but Patch didn't let him in and we had to call the dog off.

We came back to California in 1935 and Buell was here during many of those years until the war. I believe he and Minnie were living on Warren Street in Oildale when Janice was born and we were living across the street from the Poteete's on McCord. Minnie was very sick after Janice's birth and she came to stay with us for about a month so that mom could take care of her and the baby while Buell worked. I don't know where he worked then. Throughout his life he often changed jobs.

I can't remember when Buell left to go back to Georgia and Tennessee. His work with Oak Ridge was well known by the family. He, like most men raised in the country was a jack of all trades. Country people didn't call for plumbers, electricians, carpenters, or even mechanics. They did it all themselves and Buell was one of the best. He wasn't about to spend money on something he could do himself. I have talked to him about his job at Oak Ridge. I believe he became a manager with a great number of people working for him. He was proud of having educated engineers working for him and asking him how to do various jobs.

I remember him talking about owning a gas station which I believe was in Savannah. He told great stories about some of his dead-beat customers.

He was a great storyteller. One time he told of being out fishing in his boat on a lake. When he came back to shore, his car and boat trailer had been stolen. He was so furious that on his next car he rigged it so that it couldn't be stolen. I believe it was Dale who said it would take Buell about five minutes to start his car because of all the hidden valves and switches.

I know this is pretty rambling but Buell was a rambler and didn't stay in one place too long except for Oak Ridge.. Maybe this will help and you can work a timeline from it.


Comments from Buell's cousins:

Monteen immediately recalled that one day, out of the blue, Buell gave her a new watch; a very nice one and it had Roman Numerals as well. She was very thrilled with it and wore it out, probably. Another clear memory was the day that Buell motorcycled from Bakersfield to their house in Taft. It was wintertime and he arrived nearly frozen through. Mother took care of him and got him put to right. (Having left Georgia while still a teen, Buell said later that he was very homesick and since Opla and his mother looked so similar, he looked on Opla as his "surrogate mom".)
(Pictured on the rock: Tascal Poteete, Clyde Elliott, Buell)

Max fondly remembers as a very young boy being taken out for rides in the oilfields in Daddy's stripped-down flivver with Buell, Tascal and Uncle Bob Chapman - - all bachelors then.

(Pictured left: Buell, Tascal Poteete, Bob Chapman - - "Tac's" car)

Ruth said Buell seemed very tall, always friendly and had wonderful, curly eyelashes and blue eyes. Jeanne's memory is of "his black curly hair and a big smile." Lucille remembers Buell and Tascal as being inseparable buddies and when she was a little girl she had lots of hair which Daddy didn't want cut. Tac and Buell would always give her five cents if she would let them lift her by her hair - - which she thought was worth it! Peggy said she remembered Buell and Minnie as two gracious, happy visitors to have around. Little Carol, for years pondered about the truthfulness of Buell's and Tac's warning of not to let a Snapping Turtle get hold of a toe because it would not let go until February! Alan learned a new vocabulary word, "Milkleg", a term commonly used in those days for phlebitis, an illness Minnie had briefly after baby Janice's birth. He doesn't remember much else because of his age then.

Jessie & Wayne (March 3, 2003): The latest happening between Buell, and Lowery and Opla's California clan occurred two months ago when Buell asked Betty (Poteete) Davenport in Blairsville, to ask if anyone out here remembered seeing a doughnut-shaped rock about the size of a house, standing free somewhere in the McKittrick area. When he worked for an oil company while living in Taft, he sometimes pulled a small trailer out in the wilds there where he could camp and hunt certain birds, and that's where he saw the rock.

A small flurry of speculation on the rock's whereabouts among a variety of old timers in this area brought up two or three possibilities with the most votes going for the Carneros Rocks out by Belridge. Those rocks happen to be on a large ranch belonging to friends of our neighbors, and some old photos of that place were brought out by the neighbors showing some holes or caves that a person could easily walk into. Nothing was free standing but we thought these might be the same body of rocks that he had visited. Buell looked at the photos by email attachment, but they missed the mark.

Next, a trip was made to the "Painted Rocks" on the Carneros Plains, which looked somewhat like a doughnut shape, except it was lying on its "side." This too failed to be the one, so for the time being the matter has been laid to rest with the conjecture that with all the earthquakes that area has had, the "doughnut" must have been knocked down. Just maybe a DOLOP huntsman will stumble on to it someday, or else Buell is teasing everybody this time!

Wayne & Jessie Poteete Lance, 2003

Buell Elliott, Dale Elliott, Monteen Poteete Purdie


Blairsville, Georgia. December 20, 2004:--Buell Passes
James B. Elliott

Born in Union County, Georgia on January 9, 1905
Passed away on December 18, 2004 and resided in Blairsville, GA.
Visitation: Monday Dec. 20, 2004
Service: Tuesday Dec. 21, 2004
Cemetery: Ivy Log Cemetery

Mr. James Buell Elliott, age 99, of Blairsville, GA passed away Saturday, December 18, 2004 in Blairsville. Mr. Elliott was born Monday, January 9, 1905 in Union County, Georgia to the late James L. Elliott and the late LeAnna Chapman Elliott. He was a member of Ivy Log Baptist Church. Mr. Elliott was preceeded in death by his wife, Minnie Raper Elliott.
Survivors include; daughter and son-in-law, Janice and Norman Bennett of Hiawassee, GA; brother, Dale Elliott of Blairsville, GA
Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday, December 21, 2004 at 2:00 PM from the Chapel of the Cochran Funeral Home with Dr. John Kay officiating. Interment will follow in the Ivy Log Baptist Church Cemetery. The family will receive friends at the funeral home 6-8, Monday, December 20.
Cochran Funeral Home of Blairsville, Georgia in charge of arrangements.