When José Eduardo Rodriguez’s (ES-55) great-great-grandfather, Juan Luis Garcia, lived on the Pajarito Plateau — where the Laboratory stands today — there were more cows than people.
Before Los Alamos, before the Lab and even before Oppenheimer, there was Juan Luis’ vision of a simple life atop a pristine mesa of wilderness and tree-lined horizons. It was in this setting, in 1892, that he became the first person to file a homestead application on the plateau, successfully patenting 160 acres north of present-day Los Alamos in an area now called Garcia Canyon — still bearing the name of its original resident 126 years later.
Over the years, Juan Luis Garcia’s sons also received land patents in and around Garcia Canyon. The family cleared land to plant beans, corn, potatoes and wheat, among other crops. They also operated a sawmill and they grazed cattle and horses on their plots, just north of present-day Los Alamos.
Standing in the wheat fields of his modest farm, Juan Luis could not possibly have imagined that his peaceful pastures would someday be commandeered for top-secret, world-altering science amid the frenzy of a violent world war.
Uncle Sam stakes a claim
When World War II arrived on the mesa, José Eduardo’s family was still cultivating crops and raising livestock as they had for decades. In 1942, their land — including Juan Luis’s original acreage — was consolidated via eminent domain into the Manhattan Project’s land holdings.
When times changed, the resourceful agricultural family adapted. José Eduardo’s grandfather, José Filadelfio Rodriguez Sr., became a carpenter, constructing homes and buildings for the throngs of people from around the world arriving in Northern New Mexico to support the war effort. He later joined the Zia Company — incorporated for the purpose of maintaining and operating the community of Los Alamos and the Laboratory facilities after the war — and, in 1951, switched gears to start working for the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (as it was then known) in GMX-7, which later became the WX and M divisions. He retired in 1971.
José Eduardo’s father, José Filadelfio Rodriguez Jr., was an electronics technician at the Laboratory for 36 years, from 1972 to 2008, supporting scientists and engineers with research, design, development, calibration, maintenance and modification of radiation detection instruments. He spent time at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility — now known as the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center — which pioneered the production of radioisotopes for use in cancer radiation therapy. He also participated in the construction and commissioning of the Lab’s Plutonium Facility.
Editor’s note: José Eduardo Rodriguez is a third-generation Lab employee. At the time of this interview, he was an engineer in the Engineering Services group (ES-55). He is now with Programmatic & Glovebox Systems (PFE-GB).