First Interview Session (June 12, 2008)
Narrator: Regis B. Miller
Interviewer: Lauren Benditt
Date: 12 June 2008 (Thursday)
Location: Forest Products Laboratory
Transcriptionist: Lauren Benditt (07/14/08)
Auditor: Allison Page (11/04/08)
00:00:00 - 00:08:01 Introduction
introduction, background, education, West Virginia University, wood science, summer student; Smith, Diana; Kukachka, Bohumil Francis, botany, University of Wisconsin; Stern, William Louis; University of Maryland, Center for Wood Anatomy Research
All right, well, my name is Lauren Benditt and today I'm here with Regis Miller at the Forest Products Lab. Today is June 12, 2008. And, I guess, perhaps to start us off, if you could tell us a little bit about your background. What got you interested in forest products, and maybe your education history as well.
Well, my name is Regis B. Miller and I started in the Lab a long time ago. Actually was going to school as an undergraduate at West Virginia University and I was majoring in wood science. And I had just, at the University of Wisconsin---not at Wisconsin---at West Virginia University they had started up a new curriculum called wood science, and they asked me if I wanted to actually start up and be a wood scientist. And I said, yeah, that really kinda suits me better than just forestry, or wood tech, as we used to call it. And um, I said I'd be willing to be one of the first people to get in the program. And then they said, well, one of the things that's different is that you have to find a job in industry, doing more or less research or something along those lines, or the Lab etc., instead of going to what we used to call forestry camp. So, I thought well that sounds ok. And, the next thing I knew, they said well there's an application here for the Forest Products Lab as a summer student to work at the Forest Products Lab. And that was back in 1963. So, I applied and, by luck, I actually got in as one of the summer students. And I came here in the summer of 1963 and I really enjoyed it. I liked Madison, and, I mean, how can you not like Madison in the middle of the summer, especially coming from the mountains of, growing up in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, and then going to school down in West Virginia? The lakes were just absolutely spectacular for me. And, so I was working for Diana Smith as a summer student, and she was in wood quality area. And I worked here the first summer, and then I said well can I come back for the second summer, and Diana said yes you can, you know, it's ok. Well I came back for the second summer, so that's now '64, and by this time I realized that I wasn't going to graduate in, when I thought I was; I needed one more semester. So, as I was working, I kind of, by this time, realized that, learned a little bit about forest products and started thinking now about graduate school because initially I hadn't though about it at all. And so I decided that this fellow who was next door to me, was working when I was in Diana Smith's office---his name was B. F. Kukachka and he was in charge of the wood anatomy area. And he was doing lots of wood anatomy, wood identification work. I looked at this and I thought, well this is really great, this would be something I'd like to try, instead of doing the same old thing as I was doing with Diana Smith, which was more wood quality and a lot of statistics and everything. It sort of intrigued me, this wood identification business. Well, long story short, I asked Kukachka---everybody called him Kuky, instead of Kukachka, and it was K-U-K-Y, not C-O-O-K-I-E. Anyway, Kuky said yeah you can come back and work for me for a summer. So I said oh great! So, I was a little worried, not coming back for the third summer working for Diana, but she said that was ok, didn't worry about it because they were right next door to each other. So I came back then in '65 as a summer student working for Kukachka, and I really liked it so much, before that summer was over I asked him if I could come back and go to grad school here at the University of Wisconsin, and then be working at the Forest Products Lab as a grad student. Well, long story short, that came to be and I enrolled with, in botany over at the University of Wisconsin, and came here in January of '66 as a grad student working with Kukachka at the Forest Products Lab and my major professor at the University was Ray Evert in Plant Anatomy, if you will. Well, Ray Evert already had two students here at the Forest Products Lab and so he understood the situation and everything. Well, I started working on my master's. In those days you did your master's then you did a Ph.D.; it was none of this going straight for a Ph.D. So anyway, I started working on my master's thesis, and I already had figured out then after a year that I would work on this other, the entire family, Flacourtiaceae, for my Ph.D. but on the master's I would just do the one genus, Casearia. Anyway, I worked on that and then got my master's. But, in the meantime, I got my master's in '66 and was going to continue with my Ph.D. but several things changed and Ray Evert didn't want me to work on the same thing that I was working on. And I already had a big dent in my Ph.D.---at least I thought I did. So, at that time there was a fellow whose name was Dr. William Louis Stern, who was at the University of Maryland. And he had just came from the Smithsonian Institute to work at the University of Maryland as a professor, and was looking for grad students and had written to Kuky. And so Kuky said well maybe you could go to University of Maryland. So, I went to the University of Maryland as a Ph.D. student and was there for two years and came back in 1970 without my Ph.D. because the Lab had undergone one of these cutbacks and they said you---because when I left in 1966 I guess, no, yes, '66, the summer of '66, I left and I thought, well they said well we'll put you on educational leave and we'll actually give you a full-time job. So in those, in that day gave me a full-time job and I didn't even think two minutes about it, and out me on educational leave, and sent me off to get a Ph.D. thinking that ok, and then he'll come back. And, well then things changed in those two years, and things were tightening up all over. Ph.D.'s were having a harder time to find jobs. And all of a sudden government was saying, oh we have to take a head count. So you have to come back or you're going to lose your job. Well, by this time, I wanted a job. I mean, I could see that other guys were having really difficult times getting jobs. So, it's a long story; I won't go into all of it, but I came back then in 1970 and have been here, working in the Center for Wood Anatomy Research from 1970---I mean, full-time---until my retirement in 2005.
00:08:01 - 00:10:52 Education
education, employee selection, Forest Products Laboratory, employees---recruiting, University of Maryland
And did you ever have a desire to go back to school and finish the Ph.D.?
Oh, I finished it!
Oh, you did, okay.
Oh, I finished it! Oh I would have certainly finished my Ph.D. I came back because I was, you know, I had to come back, but I had finished all of my coursework, and I had just finished my prelims. And I convinced my major professor, which was Bill Stern, which was really difficult. And I said, I really need to go back because---by this time I'm married with one child and a second one on its way---and I said, I've really got to get this job. And he finally recognized that it's a good idea that I have a job, because he tried to get one of his best students, finished the year before, a job, and he had a hard time finding, pulling strings that he knew professors and things to try to get him a job. And he just hardly could do anything. And he finally got this secondary job at this secondary university, and he was very disappointed about it. So, I think his wife actually interceded. I never knew that for sure, but I always felt that his wife finally interceded on my behalf and said, look, give this guy a, let this guy go. And it's funny that he said this, but I think, in looking back now when I'm older, he had done the same thing in his career. He had left the university without finishing, and he knew how hard it was to finish once you leave the university and go back to work and then try to get this. And I said, I will finish it. I said, I know I want to finish this degree. And he just said, oh, you'll never finish, but he said, I'll let you go. Well, I figured I'd do it in a year. No, it took me three years to finish, and I finally finished my degree in '73 then. But I did finish and I got it published and you know started my career here at Forest Products then. Well, I actually started in '63 really. So, I saw a lot of changes.
So you actually graduated from the University of Maryland you didn't transfer here?
No, I graduated from the University of Maryland, and we were doing all of this, you know---let's face it, in those days you did everything by mail, with none of this email stuff, none of this electronic documents. It was, everything was typed. So, it really took quite a long time just to get all of that stuff together and then send it out. I mean, for him to read, and then him to mark it all up, and I'd have to have it retyped again, and all that stuff. I don't even want to think about it. Anyway, I did it.
It sounds like a long process.
00:10:52 - 00:19:37 Madison
Madison, Pittsburgh, summer student at FPL, fraternity, profession, forestry, Potomac State College, West Virginia University, engineering, wood science, botany, wood quality, Wood-Anatomy
Well, maybe going back a bit, until you started your wood science program at West Virginia, had you heard about the Forest Products Lab before?
I'd never heard about it. Never knew where it was, never heard about it. But I was just a sophomore, you know, going to school, didn't even know if I wanted to go to school. But, you know, it seemed like fun and I was there. Anyway, no, I hadn't heard about it. So, when I got this job, I, you know, came out to Madison just cold, never been west of the, Pittsburgh practically. Well, I guess I was in Indiana a few places, but not much. And came out to Madison; it was really a great experience for me. So, especially working, I mean working at the Lab, and working---and there was about twenty students in that day, that, that summer. And we all---a bunch of us, not all of us---there was four or five of us that lived in this fraternity down on Langdon St. And that was fun
Yeah, and that sounds great? And so all the fraternity people were gone for the summer?
All the fraternity people were gone for the summer, and it turns out---and I can't remember, it was Henry and the corner of, this fraternity was at the corner of Henry and Langdon, I think. And it was one of the governor's old mansions? As I remember, and it was being sold to a sorority and they were tearing it down. And this was the last summer that anybody could live there. So, it was a total dump; I mean it was awful. But there was only about, I think there was only about four or five of us there, living there that summer. And it probably housed thirty people, thirty guys---big dorm, barracks things, and I think there were two of us in that one place. I don't, kind of hard to remember all that. But I do remember it. I mean I can picture this building and, and then it was torn down and a sorority built. So, that was the first summer.
So, maybe going back a little further then, so you were, you said you were asked to enter the wood science program as opposed to the forestry program?
Yes, I was, I had---when I graduated from high school I hadn't a clue what I wanted to do. And I kept saying I know what I don't want to do. And I kept saying to myself, well I don't want to be a doctor because my mother kind of thought I should be a doctor. There's a lot of doctors in our families. And I thought, no, it takes too long, you know, it really just takes too long to go to school and everything. And then, but I knew I didn't, I knew I wanted to be in the sciences. I just didn't want to be English lit. and history---sorry, but it's just the way it is. And so I kind of looked around at different things to do, and I really got into forestry because it was either forestry or geology. And I sort of picked forestry. And I thought, you know being outside, riding a horse with a dog and all that kind of good stuff, you know. Being in the woods; that's my first impression, or you know, what got me into forestry. But I was only---and then I went to a junior college for one year. And, we didn't have any forestry really, and that was just to get me started. Well then I decided, well I'm going to transfer from Potomac State College to West Virginia University, and that was an eye-opener. Potomac State College was, I mean, frankly, it's a junior college; it was a two year school, and it was just an extension of high school. I, you know, that's the way it was. And, at least that was my impression of it. So I found it fairly easy, I mean, or at least, I didn't expect to get as good of grades as I got, and I certainly expected to work really hard to get even poorer grades than I got. But, in Potomac State I was taking eighteen, nineteen credits, you know, and a lot of sciences, chemistry, and math and all this stuff and I was getting fairly decent grades. So I thought, well I'd transfer to West Virginia University because my other brother was going to go there, and then we'd all the brothers stay at this place. That's another long story. Anyway, when I got to West Virginia, I signed up for twenty credits, I think, the first semester. And I ended up in the calculus and I don't know what all. I almost, man, I just about failed. I mean, I barely got C's and D's. But then I kind of got adjusted and realized, hey, you can't be taking that kind of load, like that and taking all these hard courses where, you know, you're just going to get killed. Well, I almost did, but I finally made it through. But, I didn't know anything about it. And then I got into the first-year forestry kinds of things, and I realized that I didn't think I wanted to be really the, what I would call, a forester, forest ranger, forester kind of thing. And this intrigued me about the science end of it, and that's really what intrigued me. And so when they---and I even signed up for wood tech when I, when I finally said. But when they came out with this new curriculum I thought it was just the best thing for me, because what it allowed me to do was to have a whole bunch of electives. And they had two different types: they had unrestricted electives, and they had restricted electives. And if I was going into the engineering aspect of things, I could take all these courses, if I was going to go in the botanical, I'd take all these things. And I could take some of these other things. But one of the things that I looked at---I shouldn't say this, but I'm gonna---is that I didn't have to take any history, sociology, psychology. I never had a course in any of that, or I just had basic English lit and basic English courses. As a consequence, I ended up taking just a load of science courses. I mean, I practically got a degree in, in engineering, because I took all the calculus, quantitative equations; I took all this other engineering stuff, because I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go in wood science. Then I ended up in chemistry, and I took, you know, first and second chemistry, quantitative analysis, two four-credit courses in organic, not the simple organic, but the full-blown chemistry one, ended up, I didn't, at the last minute I cancelled out of p-chem. And I thought, man, I can't handle that one. That's a little bit too much for me. By that time, I knew I wanted to get botany oriented, so I turned everything around, used all my electives and started taking things like plant physiology, plant anatomy, taxonomy, those sorts of courses. So, when I graduated---I forgot how many credits I ended up with---but like 160-some credits. And, you know, when you look through my list its like twenty credits of everything and the rest of them are all science of one thing or another, math and science I should say. Well, it was good and bad, mind you. But anyway, that's, that's how I got into it. And I have to admit, I just fell into it. And I fell into it not only getting into wood science, but also falling into getting a job here at the Lab, and then seeing next door---you know, working in this one area of wood quality and then seeing the wood anatomy aspect of things and really thinking I'd like it. Spent probably less than a half a summer doing it, and it thought, this, this is much better for me than doing the wood quality stuff because the wood quality stuff was looking at one species and just looking at all sorts of measurements and routine detail kinds of measurements. Where, in the wood anatomy you look at many, many species and try to make comparisons between this species and that species, look at lots of different things. And that, I liked much better. I did also like the identification aspect of things.
00:19:37 - 00:22:29 Botany, Forestry
botany, forestry; Kukachka, Bohumil Francis.; DNA, Flacourtiaceae, thesis
Is that what made you decide to go into the botany aspect?
Yes, because I felt at the time---well, my major professor at Maryland then was in botany. And I felt that wood anatomists should really be more into the botany thing than in the forestry. The forestry wood anatomists tend to be more related just to North American species. And there's not much going on in North American species then it becomes more wood quality. Unless you got into like transmission electron microscopy or scanning electron microscopy, and I wasn't in there, and frankly didn't have access to it. And I had access to Kukachka and he was the one who wanted to do what we would call systematic wood anatomy, where you look at a family of plants or a group of plants and try to relate it to the taxonomy, to help the taxonomists in their systematic division of the, of the family or group or whatever. And trying to say, well look, the wood anatomy shows that these, is a good group, and this is a good group, and the taxonomy probably does too. And then we help each other, so to speak. It's, now that DNA has come along, it's less important---well, it was less important, I think, for about the last ten years. But I think now, the DNA people are saying, well DNA isn't the end-all because it can only do so much, and to really get better, what I would call, ID of what the classifications should be, you can add on morphology, including anatomy. So now you, that's how you do systematic anatomy, quite different than when I did it. Though I have to admit, when I was looking at my Flacourtiaceae I found some things that nobody would hardly believe that I was saying. And until just in the last, I don't know, ten years when they finally said oh, yes, the DNA says these are related. And all of this stuff sort of, that they've said in the past, yeah it's true, I mean we weren't---what, I mean I remember some people just thought I was cuckoo for saying some of these things, and that I was out. So I had to couch a lot of my, in my thesis, in my Ph.D. in particular. You know, you had to be very careful because said that's, he's so wrong it's pitiful, and they wouldn't accept it, you know, as being just not good work. Right, so anyway, you had to be careful. Never mind, ok, go ahead.
00:22:29 - 00:25:33 First Day
first day, tornados, Lake Mendota, Forest Products Laboratory, University of Wisconsin, University of Maryland, education
Ok, well, maybe going back to your first summer here then, do you have any specific memories of your first day?
Yes, I actually do. The first day I got here there was a tornado. And my parents had brought me out here because, you know, it's the first time I'm leaving home and everything, or getting that far away, and being away for a long time, for three months. And we got in town, and the same day, or that night, or something there was a tornado that hit around Madison or something. And my mother was just, she was ready to say get back in the car, you're not staying. But it didn't bother me any, but I do remember that very distinctly. And there was this, lots of things on the news and stuff about, you know, the tornado and all that kind of stuff. And the waves were pretty big there, and during that thunderstorm I remember on Lake Mendota, we were downtown staying at one of the hotels. Otherwise, I, I kind of remember that first summer as being just getting to know the Lab and the people around me, and some of the summer students that were staying at the house, and some of those people that were working. And it was, and then, sort of, also learning what people do, and how they do things, and what I was trying to work on. So it was good, yeah, I remember some of that.
And, so I know that, I guess, your first few years being an employee here were mostly summers plus the time that you were on educational leave in Maryland.
Yeah, so actually, I mean, I was here the summer of '63, '64, and '65, and then I was going back to West Virginia to go to school during the year. Then in January of '66 I came here and essentially in '66 I started working---does that sound right? No. '63, '64 '65, the summer, and then I came back in '66, and then I worked for a, yeah, two years. '66-'67 I was full time, more or less full-time at the Lab, and a little bit at the university. That was part of my problem; I spent too much time here and not enough time at the university, so my major professor really didn't hardly know what I was doing. But anyway, and then left in the summer of '68 to go to Maryland, and came back in the summer of '70.
00:25:33 - 00:27:56 Lab Work
lab work; Smith, Diana; dual-linear measuring micrometer, typical day
Ok. So, the question then was, did you have a typical day while you were working here? I guess early on in your career, or then after you came back from Maryland. Or was every day different for you? Mostly writing, or mostly in the lab?
I would, well, it was a little of both. I mean, I remember spending a lot of the first summer, I mean, I was mostly in the lab working, measuring cell wall thickness of Redwood with Diana Smith, on the dual-linear measuring micrometer. In fact, for two summers I did that. The second summer I spent more time doing data analysis and also writing. But, yeah, I guess. And then the third summer I was, started a new project and, yeah this whole new thing looking at, I mean, the wood anatomy. In fact, actually what I was looking at is surveying the family, Lauraceae, for presence or absence of silica in each one of the specimens in the Madison collection. So, so I don't know, a typical---is that what you were after, a typical day?
Yeah, a typical day.
Well, back in the, first of all, back in the day, the work day was eight to five, an hour for lunch. And there were none of this stuff they have now, which is, you know, you never know, I mean, flexi-time and maxi-flex, and you don't have to be here, and work at home, and work at work, and not work. I mean, it was, it was pretty much eight to noon and then one to five, and then you had a break in the morning and a break in the afternoon. And for the most part everybody left their office for a fifteen-minute break and went downstairs, bought a cup of coffee, stood around and, and chatted a bit, and then went back to work. You don't see that at all today, or very rarely, do you see that. I, that, that whole aspect changed.
00:27:56 - 00:39:33 Employees---Social Conditions
employees---social conditions, social aspects, Men's Club, Forestettes, Women's League; Mitchell, Harold; parties, FPLEA, Forest Products Laboratory, clubs
Did that change anything about the social aspect of the Lab?
I think, I think, well, the social aspect at the Lab, for instance, when I got here, there was a, I thought, a big, huge social factor of people at the Lab. And they inner---they worked together, but they also socialized a lot. And I don't know if that was typical of other places, of government or other places of industry or not. But I think it was true back then, even though as a summer student I wasn't here all the time. I just knew that that's what was going on, and in fact was part of it for, at least in the summertime.
And what sort of social groups were there?
Well, they had something called the Men's Club; they had a women's club---what did they call it? They had the Men's Club, and they had something called the women's club---it was really called Forestettes. And then they had another one for the wives of the scientists; I'm not sure if all the wives were invited or not, and I forgot what that was called, that was League or something, Women's League or some such thing. And that was still around in the late '60s, because I got married by then and I think my wife was invited to go, but she didn't really care to go. I mean but it, a lot of was some of the older women, and they would get together and have lunches and teas. But, I mean, the Men's Club would have two or three parties a year. Men's Club would put on card parties, cribbage tournaments---and that's the one's I remember. And then I hear stories about some of the people who did Men's Club parties and they had, I don't know, they had all sorts of stuff going on, year round. And now we're lucky---I mean today, if they get one party in I think that's about it. We used to have Christmas parties, I mean, well the guy who is, Mitchell, Harold Mitchell, was the division chief at the time when I was a summer student. Or even, yes, when I was a summer student, and also when I was a grad student and I remember going to, when I was finally here for Christmas, and went to one of his Christmas parties, or maybe two or three, wow. I mean, he invited the whole, the whole, all his people in the division. I mean, so he had, I don't know, thirty, forty people and spouses and stuff at his house for a Christmas party. And boy they yukked it up good. I mean, I remember I had a great time. And then we had Christmas dances, which was the Lab dance; it was kind of a Christmas party. And, I mean a lot of people went, and they dressed up, none of this shorts and like I'm in. But I mean, none of this, you know, just. It was a big deal. And that certainly waned in the '70s and certainly in the '80s, for sure by the '80s. Anyway.
Do you have any idea why that might have been? Was it changes in the workday?
I'm not sure when the workday really started changing, but I do know it did. I think the workday partly changed. I think society partly changed it as well. It, people had other things to do. There was more social events that people could attend themselves, or, you know, outside of work. Or, they didn't depend on the Lab and the people at the Lab as their main social function, or even part of their social function. And it just got less and less and less, I mean, to the point today, I mean, there's almost nothing. And it's amazing, you know, I kind of miss some of it, but I understand why it happens, at least I think I do. And I think that there's just so much going on that people don't have time to take advantage of some of the things that the Lab might offer. And they've tried. I mean, I know that the people in charge of the Men's Club, which is now disappeared, Forestettes, same way. Now, the Forestettes have done better. But the Forestettes now is not just women, it's both men and women, and it's kind of a strange sort of evolution of what happened. The Forest, Men's Club really became, or got merged with something called FPLEA [Narrator pronounces: Flea-pee] which is Federal---FPLEA, F-L-E-A, well boy, Federal what? Federal Employees Association or something, I don't know. Employee Association, Federal, or Forest, Forest Lab, Forest Products Lab Employee Association, something like that, FPLEA, what is the acronym? Anyway, never mind, I think that's what it was, F-P-L-E-A, FPLEA. And that was a big organization as well, and the Men's Club, and the Forestettes, and then this women's thing. I think they were all existing. Forestettes sort of hung in there, the League disappeared first, I think, and then Men's Club and the FPLEA merged into FPLEA. They just, Men's Club just disappeared essentially. But they, I remember, they used to have a banquet every year, and a couple of pig roasts every year I worked on and stuff. Yeah, anyway, but I don't think any of that's happening.
So, none of the clubs seem to have really survived, except for maybe FPLEA?
FPLEA and Forestettes have survived; FPLEA isn't much of a club at all. It's kind of an association that does some things. Forestettes has survived. I do know that they put on a couple of things a year, but it's mostly for the women. Now, there are men that go to it, but it's sort of like, me for instance, I wouldn't, I mean, I wouldn't go---only because it's, to me it's still a women's organization. And I just don't, you know, want to, think I should be involved in that. You know, bake sale---well, I'm not going to do a bake sale, because I don't bake. And, you know, some of their other---now, their banquet might be ok, but, but my wife goes. She used to work here. And she's retired, and she used to work here, so she goes to Forestettes, and she doesn't want me to go, frankly. And she doesn't want any of the other men to go, really, because she always thinks of it as a women's thing. And she said, you know, you get the guys there, well, it gets different. Never mind, that's the way it was, and, I mean, that's the way, that's what happened though. And I think that's what happened to Men's Club; that's why, part of the reason why it kind of disappeared, because of the problems with the women wanting to join the Men's Club. And it wasn't, I forgot what it really, the name was always called the Men's Club, I mean, but officially the name wasn't really the Men's Club. It was something like Forest Products Club, but everybody called it the Men's Club. In fact, I didn't even know that; I was here for I don't know how many years before I found out that it wasn't even the Men's Club; it was really something else, Forest Products Club or something. But the Forestettes was, you know, Forestettes, it was women's club and they had Men's Club and I don't know. I mean but that, that, really when the women decided that they should be involved in this, and they wanted to be involved in it, it just, you know, we just, I think it just kind of crumbled then. But you did need to have people who were willing to, you know, take over and be president, organize stuff and blah, blah, blah. But, yeah, anyway, that's some of the things that have changed over the years.
Were there any other sort of social organizations, athletic teams or anything?
Oh yeah. There was a softball team for sure, for a long, long time. I don't think they have that anymore---and the bowling team, the FPL Bowling League or team or whatever, is still, I think, in existence. And it may be one of the longest in Madison without any breaks, I mean consecutive years, because it goes back, I think, to practically the day the Lab opened. And they formed a bowling team, and they've been in existence ever since. And I still think they are, some people are still bowling on that team. And they also have Golf League, which for sure is still going. Golf League is much more active than the bowling team, I think, now. I bowled for a while on the bowling team back in the day. And then I golfed a little bit, so then they used to have---I don't know who organized that, I think it was just somebody; I don't think it was a club, I don't think it was the Men's Club or Forestettes---but they used to organize golf outings. And they would have, I swear they had about one a month. I think they had like four of them throughout the year---and maybe started in May or June and would have four or five of them and then maybe in September they would have an outing and, you know, banquet, whatever. And those golf outings, I went to those golf outings a lot, back---that was a long time ago, my goodness---those were probably in the '80s, late '70s maybe even, late '70s, early '80s something like that. They lasted quite a while, but then I gave up golf and bowling sort of at the same time, because I was getting to the point where my, I told people my, my golf score was higher than my bowling score, and I decided to quit both. So, I said that's enough, well now, just this year, I started up in the golf league. And, you know, most of the people in the Golf League, I still think half anyway, are retired. You know, and the other ones are employees here at the Lab. And there's, I think there's one or two people from the outside, although boy, not many, there's only about one or two, and they may only be subs; I'm not sure. Anyway, a lot of retirees in the golf league, and I think also a lot of retirees in the bowling league as well. But I can't see taking up bowling again. But, never mind.
00:39:33 - 00:40:50 Retirees
Generally do retirees, I guess that you've seen, interact with the Forest Products Lab after they've retired? Or do they sort of separate?
It depends. I mean, I, I'm one of the, one of the few that come back a lot. I mean, I'm here almost every day. Now, I don't get in here at seven o'clock in the morning and leave at three like John Zerbe, but I, I get in, you know, ten, eleven o'clock and stay for a couple hours and then have something else to do, which reminds me, ok. And I have something else to do, then I just go do that. So, yeah, a few people do a little bit. I'm probably one that comes in a lot more than a lot, than most people do. Most people, you know, the first year, two years, they might come in, mess around a little bit, finish up some stuff and then, you know, that's it, and you never see them. And other people, well of course, just when they leave, they leave, they never come back. I think especially people who don't have a career here, or their career is, you know, part of the Forest Products Lab. Mine was and is, so, I come back.
00:40:50 - 00:44:12 Traveling
traveling, Wood-Anatomy, Australia, Germany
Ok. I guess, so once you started working here full-time, after coming back from Maryland, did you have any jobs or projects that took you away from the Lab? Field research or conferences?
Oh, I went, yeah, I went on a lot of traveling. I was never away from the Lab more than probably two weeks. I'm trying to think of a time I was away more than two weeks, I don't think so. That would have been a big trip, you know, to go away for two weeks. Now, sometimes, one trip or two I did, but not much more than that. And mostly it was going for conferences or to go do research with somebody for a couple of weeks and then come back. And, you know, I got, because of my work in tropical woods, I did get---and wood anatomy, and general for the most part it's international. I mean it's very definitely an international kind of an organization, and an international kind of work. So, I was one of the few who was doing anything in tropical woods here at the Lab, and when I first started, for sure, besides Kuky and the other guy there Koeppen. Bob Koeppen who was, who took over for Kuky then, and then eventually Bob Koeppen left in 1980 and I took over as project leader in 1980. He went to Washington, and Kuky died in '85 with cancer, '83-4 something like that. Anyway, so, yeah, I mean, I'd go to Australia, Germany.
Any trips in particular, or that you have particular memories about?
Well, there was the first trip, I think one of the first trips I took to Australia was really exciting for me. And I think partly it was the first trip I went. It was to a meeting in Sydney and then we spent some time up in Cairns on a field trip, went up there on a field trip to Cairns, and that was just absolutely spectacular. I still think about that every once in a while. But, otherwise, I had some travels that, you know, I always, I didn't mind traveling and, but I didn't like to go for---I mean, I wasn't looking to go for, you know, six months to, you know, Australia. Well, I would have taken that if I could have got that, but Australia---but I didn't, my, I didn't have any language skills with Spanish or French or German or anything else. So it would have been difficult for me to go to Venezuela or Brazil or one of those places and spend say a year. I, it crossed my mind several times, but all of a sudden family and this and that, and the next thing you know it's like, oh man. I didn't see how I could do it. So, I didn't.
00:44:12 - 00:54:21 Association Of Wood Anatomists
Association of Wood Anatomists, Center for Wood Anatomy Research, IBM card-sorters, database, website
So were there any professional organizations that you were a part of or felt particularly affiliated with?
Oh yeah. The one that I was particularly affiliated with was the International Association of Wood Anatomists, and acronym is I-A-W-A. And I've been associated with that practically since 1970. Probably, and maybe a little bit before, can't remember. But, and I was first just a member and then eventually helped out, organized some meetings or helped organize meetings for them. One of them was here. Then they asked me to become the deputy executive secretary, and I was the deputy executive secretary for, I don't know, four or five years. And then they asked me to become the executive secretary. And I'm not sure when I took over, goodness, but it seemed like forever. But I, and I'm still the executive secretary of IAWA, and it's getting a little bit difficult for me to do a good job as the executive secretary of IAWA because I should be attending the IAWA meetings, most of which are overseas. So, because I'm not, I'm now retired, I don't have anybody to pay to help me go. So, the last three meetings I think I've attended, I had to pick out of my own pocket. I got a little bit of help from the organization, but it just only covers part of it. And I just got back from London, spent about ten days there, and, yeah, they helped me a little bit, but boy is it expensive over there. I mean, it's going to cost me a lot, and that's all out of pocket. So, I, I need to, you know, pass this on to the next, to the younger generation. But it's difficult to convince the younger generation to take it over. So I won't keep them in a lurch, for sure, and just say, I quit. But, I am looking at trying to do this in the next year or, you know, so that I can pass it off to somebody. I just have to convince them to take it I think. Anyway, ok, and that's, that was, now I've been really involved in them for a long time.
While you were here were there any particular projects that you worked on that gave you more satisfaction than anything else, or your favorite project that you worked on while you were working here?
Favorite project, wow. I, well first of all I should say that I, I've always told people that my job is divided into three areas: one is research, the second is wood identification for the public and generally anybody, and the third is the, maintaining the wood collections and herbaria that we have in the Center for Wood Anatomy Research. So, one of the things, one of the projects that I got involved in---there's several projects I guess, I don't want to talk about all of them, but I'll just mention them quickly. One of the ones that I got involved in a long time ago was the, what I would, what I called computer-assisted wood identification. And I, I believe that I was one of the first people to really push this idea. I pushed the idea; I got it rolling and then people picked it up and started doing it. And that was really way back, almost before PCs, you know, desktop computers. And, if you look in the history, you'll find that I wasn't the first. I mean, it was started way back in the '40s almost when card-sorters, IBM card-sorters, were available and Kukachka of all things---I didn't even know he did it until I got looking---and he and a Dutchman kind of got the same idea in the '50s, I think. Yeah, it must have been the '50s. They got this idea using a card-sorter to do or help with computer assisted wood identification. And that was used in a machine to do the sorting because they had these edge---you don't know what edge punch cards are do you?
Yes, I do.
Oh you do! Amazing!
My mom was a computer scientist.
Ok, these edge punch cards where you use a long needle and you shook the card, that's what we had for wood identification. And essentially was changing that to IBM cards and then, but more recently there was a program that's, that got going and I really pushed for it. And, anyway, we now have that as one of the wood anatomists and computer ID. The other thing that I started, very early at the Lab, was pushing the idea of the Web and using computers and putting things up on the Web. And, I mean, the Center, themselves---I don't know if we were, had a website before the Forest Products Lab, but we certainly were up and running very, very early. I mean, I almost think that maybe we had a website before they did, but maybe not. Anyway, we were really pushing this stuff early. And one of the other things that I was pushing very early was databasing. And I was trying to get a database of all of the information for all of the wood specimens we had. And I started that before we had desktops; we were doing it on a Univac computer, and the restrictions were ungodly. But, we kind of got it going, then we switched from the Univac over to the PC and had to switch some more. Long, I kept switching and switching. So, bottom line is now, today, we have a website, which we get more hits than the Forest Products Lab combined. I mean, we really have a, I think, a great website, because we have information that people want. We have Tech Sheets of all the tropical species, not all, but a lot of tropical species and also North American hardwoods, North American softwoods. And it's all in the computer. You get, essentially, a click and you get a page or two pages of everything that you wanted to know about this wood. So, it works, it works quite well for people who want to know something about, you know, a Slippery Elm. I mean, they can click a page and they can get some data right there, right off the web, and they can get it in PDF file, and, you know, it works good. We also have a database of common names, because that's the other thing that, that really is, has caused great tribulation in the area of wood anatomy and wood identification. And that is somebody has a common name, they don't know what it is. What is this wood? And we were answering the phone constantly and looking up these names in various places, various books. And a friend of mine in Australia got the same idea, and we talked about it, and he said, yeah, lets do a database. And ok, well, it took us years, years to put this thing together. I mean, working at it when we could, and we always intended to publish a book. Well it got to, by the time we were finishing up, the cost of printing the book was astronomical; nobody wanted to print it. So then we messed around with it a while. Finally, the Australians were going to publish it, well we messed around with it a while. Finally, they said no, we're going to do it as a DVD, or no a CD, well we messed around with that a while, we were going to do it that way. And then at the end, I just, nothing was happening in Australia, frankly, and I finally said, you know, I'm going to put this on the Web. And I got this friend of mine, who I call my Mac guru, who I hired as a summer student, who was working at the University in botany. And he just happened to pop over to see what the heck we were doing over here one day. He started talking computers and I was looking for somebody who knew something about computers and stuff. Well that was the start of a very long relationship with Eric and I. He now works at the University and I, I mean, every once in a while I call him and ask him, you know, how do you do this? How do you do that? Or, he helps, he actually works sort of as a contractor, fixing our Mac computers. We're one of the few people that have Macs, and we got the database and a website all working off a Mac. And this, this is the database, we did the data, he does the SQL stuff, front-end. Anyway, so he does that and everything's worked out well. And that database has like 180,000 common names, records, there's about 100,000 unique names. So you can go on the Web, type in your, what you think is your common name, and you can come up with some results. And, you know, you can start searching a little bit, using the Web to help you just get some information without me answering the phone and telling you all this stuff. And often we can tell people, well, go to the website and look it up; there it is, you know, just download it, you know. So, that, we got that much done. And I had visions of doing more but I just ran out of time; I retired.
00:54:21 - 01:04:20 Center For Wood Anatomy Research
Center for Wood Anatomy Research; Gerry, Eloise; Kukachka, Bohumil Francis; Koeppen, Center for Wood Mycology Research, Delta, Lucid, Publishing
And this is all part of the Center for Wood Anatomy Research?
And how is that connected to the Lab?
It's a, it's a [pause]. The Center, the Center for Wood Anatomy Research, in my estimation, is one of the few projects, if not the only project, that started when the Lab opened it's doors and has continued more or less doing the same thing since 1911. Now, during that time, I doubt that it was always a project acting independently as a project, because back in the day I'm not sure how they, you know, whether they had projects or how they lumped people together. So, maybe it wasn't a project, but certainly there was always somebody here. Eloise Gerry the first woman scientist, was hired to do just that. And then later she got off doing other things in her career and then Arthur Koehler was the second person who was hired right out of Washington to come in and head up that area of wood anatomy. And then after Arthur Koehler was Kukachka, after Kukachka was Koeppen, after Koeppen was me. And now after me, it's nobody. As a matter of fact, the project leader, when I left I felt sure that they were going to have this other guy named the project leader. And they messed around, next thing you know I hear that they're reorganizing everything and the project has disappeared. So, the project, now, officially doesn't exist, but we still call ourselves the Center for Wood Anatomy. I don't think anybody cares. I mean, nobody has said anything that we can't do this anymore. But, you know, there is no project leader. I mean, there is a project leader, but he's not a, he's Bob Ross who is the project leader for an engineering group; we're just part of that group. Anyway, that's our direct-line history. And then Eloise Gerry, later in her career actually came back and worked in the Center for Wood Anatomy, which wasn't called that, I'm sure. I remember when we first got that name, so it was during my, when I worked here at the Lab. So it's only been, you know, the last thirty years. But I'm not sure when it was. But anyway---I kind of remember, but I can't remember the dates, probably in the '80s I would guess.
Just because of a renaming sort of convention or did something happen?
I think there was a reorganization and a renaming of projects. Because we became the Center for Wood Anatomy Research, and the other project that was here at the time was called the Center for Wood Mycology Research. They're still here physically, but they really are now in the Eastern Research Station or something, but physically they're here. But they're now also the same sort of thing---that their name probably exists as the Center for Wood Mycology Research, but it's not, it's probably not a project even anymore; I'm not sure. But the same---and before we were the Center, you know, I don't know what we were called. I guess I don't even remember that. Okay, yeah, well.
Well, sort of along the same lines as where we were a little earlier, were there any particular projects that you had that were really challenging or frustrating for you?
Oh, well, I don't know that there was a frustrating, challenging, well I would say the ones I was talking about were fairly challenging. Probably the one that was frustrating was the computer assisted wood identification one. I knew what to do. I sort of knew how to go about it, but I couldn't, I couldn't get it off---well, as a government entity I couldn't hire anybody, I couldn't write a grant to get money to hire somebody to help me do it. I, I could get the computer end of things, and I figured most of that out, not all of it, but most of it. And I could get that part I working on that. What really happened, or what really was the problem was, I couldn't figure out how I could continue working on the project, because I had worked on it and I had published a couple of papers. But now, those were the beginning papers, you know, talking about the system and how it works, and why it's such a good idea and everything. Now you've got to get data. And to collect all this data, it really takes a lot of time and effort. And you say to yourself, ok, how are you going to do this? Well, you start at the beginning. Well, that's no, that's no good, I mean, you've got to start somewhere. So you say, well, I could do North American woods or something. But then you think to yourself, well, if I do this, how am I going to publish it? Because it's not a---you have to remember this is back in 1980-something. How am I going to publish something like this that is going to mean anything to anybody that---and I'm thinking career stuff, and not that it wouldn't be something that somebody likes. But they're going to say, well, when you, you can't publish it, it's something on a computer. You don't publish it. I mean, how do you publish that? And you say, well, you could, you---part of this program was, in fact, you could write descriptions. And I thought, well, that's fine, but the description, the anatomical descriptions that I would be writing are of common North American woods. And somebody's going to say, well, this is stuff that's already been published a long time ago. And if you get into your own research, you write it out. And, in fact, I did. I used that program a lot to write it out, then used this program called Delta to write, help me write the descriptions and I plugged it in. But you ended up just with another publication which was an anatomical publication, not a computer. So, it quickly, I couldn't see how it was going to work very easily. So that was a big frustration on my part because I more or less decided I had to just get rid of it. I had to drop it. I mean, I, and I took it up a couple other times, and eventually, towards the end of my career, there was another program that had come out; it's called Lucid. And I still think that that would be a good way to go. But, I just haven't, I just ran out of time and don't have a---you know, and I'm just thinking, well, again it still means that you've really got to have somebody who, who, not one person, but probably two or three, to really get into it. Because otherwise it just takes way too long to get anything saleable. And again, it's, it would be a CD. And how do you get credit for---I mean, it might take you ten years to get it done, and when you get it done, it's still one little thing. And committees, promotion committees and panels and stuff like that don't, they don't like that. They like to see forty-five publications on whatever.
So were you feeling a lot of pressure to publish?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Not, I don't think, not as much maybe then as people feel today, but I still felt a lot of pressure to publish, for sure. And it was hard, because of the field I was in and the other duties I had: one as project leader, two as also maintaining the collection, three as the identification, and then fourth was your research. So you had all of that. And I was, I felt it was difficult to find time to do quality research and get out your publications, as well as all this other stuff. And as a consequence, you know, sometimes you had to rely too heavily, I think, on students and some other things that---yeah, you just couldn't, you finally had to do it yourself.
I was about to ask if you found any particular ways of overcoming the obstacles?
Well, one of the ones was trying to---and I was able to do a few of those---getting some people in here as visiting scientists, or a graduate student, and I did have a couple of those. And also, I---and summer students, and I've had some very good ones, I always thought. The person who, it was a summer student, who really got us up and running on the Web. And we're still using whatever she did way back when. And, I was going to change it, but I, they kept telling me that I, that there's going to be a different format that you have to use, and I finally said, I'm not going to change anything, if they want to change it call me up. I can't, because I can't do it, I mean, I'm not that good at---I mean I can do a few little tweakies here and there on the Web, but I can't do complete overhaul and design. That's not my forte at all. So, yeah, so, I have had some very nice summer students, some very good ones. The common name project, we used summer students quite a bit. And yes, you had to go back and edit, but that's ok. At least I didn't have to keystroke everything. And some are much better than others. I had some very good ones I think, over the years, and then some that were wastefully, just totally not good, anyway.
01:04:20 - 01:15:35 Koehler, Arthur
Koehler, Arthur; Keraga Report, Wood-Identification, Green Bay, trial, Ramin
I guess, are there any colleagues or, that you have memories of, that you'd like to record? Or specific memories of the Lab that you think are interesting or funny or somehow should be recorded for posterity?
I suppose I could go on for hours about some of this stuff. Well there's a couple of things: one is, The Center for Wood Anatomy, well, I don't know if anybody's even mentioned this in their histories yet, but you know, Arthur Koehler, who was again, headed up the wood anatomy section, he was the one who ended up doing all of the, he was the one who ended up in court in the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Well, what's really interesting to me, over all these years, is that it is still being discussed. And it is still being written about, books, and books, and books, most of which are, frankly, just going through and writing about it, and never really looking at it. Finally, about two years ago, a guy who apparently is just one of these people who needs something to do, and he wasn't necessarily a scientist or anything, but he started in on the history of this whole thing. And he decided that he would go to the lab, or the museum, the state police museum down in New Jersey and actually look at the ladder and try to figure out if in fact there is anything about this ladder that he could see or match up that would prove or disprove all of work that Koehler did. Long story short, it's called the Keraga Report. The long story short is that this report, the guy wrote to me and asked me to review it. And he sent me this thing, and I couldn't believe it, it was like 100 pages of stuff and he wanted to publish it. And the first thing I wrote, I said, way too much detail if you want to publish it. I think it's pretty good stuff, I said, but you've got to cut this down to maybe thirty pages or something. I said, this is just way too much stuff---lots and lots of photos, pictures, good stuff. Anyway, he finally got it sort of published somehow. I don't know if it's in a magazine or anything, but he made it available to the public, lets put it that way. And, I thought that his work was quite well done, and his approach to it was very simple. In other words, you look at what Koehler said, and then you go out and look at the ladder, and said well, can I prove or disprove what he's saying. And also, you know, most people are saying, well, the ladder was just completely made up and yeah, the ladder was there, but this one rail, nobody in their right mind would ever go up in their attic and saw off a piece of the attic board and bring it down and put it on a rail. Why would they ever do that? You know, that's stupid; that can't happen. Well, bottom line, he didn't say it can't happen. He said, well, let's look. And most everybody said, well, it's not that rail anyway. They just faked it. They made this up; they faked it; they put in something; the police, for sure, faked everything. So he got original photos that were taken right after the, you know, in the newspapers, wherever he could find them, where they showed the ladder. And then he looked at the pattern of knots and patterns of the ladder, and sure enough it matches what's there in the museum today, in terms of those knots and everything else. So, he said, well, they couldn't have faked it. Because to fake that, and to make sure that that knot and that newspaper matches up to this swirl and that doodad, that's like nearly impossible. And he goes through the rest of it doing the same sort of thing, which I thought was a great approach. But I'm amazed how people read it and said, oh it's just, you know, he doesn't know what he's talking about. And I'm thinking, you haven't looked, people. I mean, you really need to have an open mind before you go into this. And I think that's the problem with why people keep ragging about it because---. Anyway, that was one thing I thought that, that's interesting. And we do a lot of tours in the Center because we have all of this interesting history up there, if you will. A lot of wood specimens, the touchy-feely things. I mean, we've got pieces from all sorts of old wooden boats and things you can pick up, old bowling balls made out of wood, and, you know, stuff that we've identified, a piece of Noah's Ark, if you will. So, all of that makes it fantastic or fascinating, if nothing else. And I think that's what made it fascinating for me when I first got into it, is I was next door talking to Kuky, and he'd pull something off his desk just willy-nilly, well, look at this! What do you think? He said, this is a piece of Noah's Ark, or this is a piece from some crime, you know. And I have to look at the evidence here to see if this wood evidence is really what species, if it matches the splinter found in the guy's head. And, so I did a number of those over the years.
And, one in Green Bay, in particular I remember. It was some motorcycle gang that apparently killed, raped some young girl and somebody; witness saw them throw a pool cue in a dumpster. And then they finally got these people and they found blood in the car, but they also found splinters in the car. They found the pool cue, found splinters in her head. They wanted all of this matched up. So they asked me to do this, and it turns out that the pool cue was a wood, a tropical wood it was called Ramin. And, so I identified that, and then I identified the splinter in the head, and I identified---they all matched up to be Ramin. And it was the first---and I had done evidence before, but usually you write a report, that's the last. But this was up in Green Bay, and they said, well, we're going to call you as a witness. And I said, oh boy. It was the first time I'd ever been in court as a witness, expert witness, and I can remember distinctly getting there and having this briefcase, and, you know, prepared, and suit and tie and everything. And I got there---they said be there at nine o'clock in the morning. That meant that I had to get in the car and drive like crazy to get there by, you know, nine o'clock in the morning. Well, I'm there and I found the place, and everybody said hello, ok, they're starting up now, but you just have to sit here and wait. Finally, about an hour goes by and they said, well, if you want to go out for breakfast or something, they're not going to get to you until, you know, after lunch or something. So, ok, at least I'm allowed to go out. So, I went to the restaurant, ordered some coffee and then wrote a little bit of this or that, and ate a lunch, and came back at 12:30, 1:00. Okay, well I'll just sit here. I sat and sat and sat. Finally, they said well, do you have, did you bring a suitcase? I said, suitcase? I said, I thought I'd be in and out of here in an hour. I said, what's this with suitcase? Well, stay over, we don't know if you can get on now until tomorrow. I'm thinking, all I can think of is, I've got to drive the whole way home, you know, then tomorrow morning get in the car and drive the whole way back up here. They said, well, we'll see if we can get you on. They were going to quit at, I think, five o'clock; they got me on at a quarter to five. And I'll never forget this, they said, ok, you can go on now. And I'm back in the back someplace. You couldn't be in the courtroom. And all day long I'm in the back, you know, just a bunch of guys, a bunch of detectives packing heat, you know. Anyway, they sort of took me down this long hallway, and then a narrow thing, and then they said, go through that curtain. So you open the curtain and walked out, and I'm looking, and here is this audience that is just packed to the hilt. And the lights are bright, the cameras are rolling and I'm walking across the stage. And I'm telling you, I was petrified. But I got on the stand, the prosecution, of course, asked me who I was, what's your expertise? Then the defense got after me, and, I don't know, I'm thinking they're going to ask, I don't know what. You know, because it was pretty, for me at least, it was like, well, that's what the wood is. I don't know. You know, you can make anything out of it you want to, but that's the wood. And she said, she asked me a question, and she said, well, she said, pool cues are just, you know, a dime a dozen, couldn't that have been any kind of pool cue? And isn't that a common pool cue? And I had to stop and think. And I finally said, no. I said, I've never seen a pool cue made out of Ramin before, which was true. And she wasn't expecting that answer. And she just stopped, all of a sudden, she said, no more questions, sat down, and judge says, you're excused. In fifteen minutes I was done. I couldn't believe it. I mean I was just like, this is crazy, but that was an experience. Since then, since that time, I had a few more cases, but I've only been in court about once or twice, three, only about three times. Usually, they get settled before I show up. In fact, one time I flew the whole way to New York. I got there, got in court, the lawyer was there---and this was a, this was a federal case, and so I was representing the federal government, really. It had to do with importing wood. The lawyer came and said, she said, I'm so sorry, she said, last night, at 10:30, the defense lawyer called and they wanted to settle. So we've arranged a settlement, but the judge doesn't know it yet. And she said, I don't know what's going to happen. So, anyway, the judge comes out and they say, okay, let's start with the first witness. And this, the lawyers say can we approach the bench? And he was mad; the judge was really mad. But, bottom line, he hem-hawed around, finally said, ok, yeah, if you agreed to this settlement, ok. They came back and said, well, you can go home. Geez, I wish I had know this; I wouldn't have come in the first place, or stayed three more days, you know, that would have been great too.
Vacation in New York?
Yeah, I could have, but I already had, you know, tickets and everything. So, I thought, well, at least I don't have to sit there and listen to some of these people. So, that was good.
01:15:35 - 01:17:20 Okkonen
Okkonen, E. Arnold
You know I've met a lot of people here at the Lab over the years, and I have to say, some of my best friends are still at the, I mean, worked at the Lab. And I, I personally have used it as a social, you know, aspect of things. The first summer I was here I met Arnie, who is still a great friend of mine, best friend, really. We just hit it off, you know, right away. And he was next door, and we kind of hit it off. And because I was only there in the summer, you know, we didn't, maybe the first summer not so much, but second summer a bit more. And we, he played softball, and we played tennis together for a while, and then racquetball for a while. And then when I got here full time, you know, just became friends. And then he got married and, and then I got married the second time, and then our wives, you know, we all became close friends. So, anyway.
Okkonen. O-K-K-O-N-E-N. Well, anyway.
How did you feel about working for or with an agency that's part of the Forest Service or the Department of Agriculture?
Oh, I liked it. I really liked my career and my work here at the Lab. I'm still at it.
And did you have any impressions of the Forest Service before you started working here?
No, none. I had no impressions at all. I hardly even knew they existed, except, perhaps, that they were forest rangers. That's how I pictured them, if anything.
01:17:20 - 01:21:41 Impressions
impressions, change, clear cutting, harvest
And, I guess, have you seen any change over time in the way that the Forest Service has been perceived either by people who work here or by people outside the Lab?
Well, it has changed a lot. There's no doubt it's changed a lot. When I first came in the '60s, I mean, you know, the Forest Service was, and the way the government interacted, and what the Forest Service was supposed to do is really to have foresters out there to manage the forests for a product. Even though, even in college, we were taught multiple use forestry, and that we were supposed to use the forest not just for wood, but for this and for that. But there was this perception that that's all we were doing. And then, of course, part of that perception was they would have these cuts, and, of course, the best way to manage a Douglas-fir forest was to clear cut it. I have to admit, that maybe that they should, that they had too big of clear cuts back in the day. But if you go back to those clear cuts today, I mean, they're coming back. I mean even, they're certainly coming back; there's no doubt that they are. The fires are much worse. And, and the Forest Service and Smokey Bear put out fires like mad. And now of course they're saying, no, they shouldn't have done that. And I'm thinking, people, you wanted us to put out fires, and you still want us to put the fires out. I just talked to people in the wildfires in California, and they expect the Forest Service to put them out, and yet they're saying, let them burn. So there's this big controversy and I think the Forest Service has always been the person to get the bad rap for all this stuff that's going on and I don't think they deserve it at all. They were supposed to manage those forests, and they did, and they did a good job of it, for the most part. I always felt that, that when they switched over then, and said ok, no, we're not going to manage any longer for, for product---so now we don't manage at all for product. We manage for conservation, or recreation, or ecological whatever, very little, I mean, I don't know what the numbers are, but if you compared numbers of how much is cut and what's cut, it's just minimal compared to what it was in the '60s, you know. And, and if that's what people want, I mean, I'm not saying that that's not a good thing or bad thing, but I do say that, you know, hey, make up your mind, you know, you can't do both, you know. And I still think we ought to be managing, to some extent, for timber. And what really makes me just sick is when you go out to see where the fire has burned, and they wouldn't allow cuts at all. And now you have nothing but a moonscape for practically as far as you can see. And when you see that and you think, oh god why didn't they get in here and just take this stuff out of here instead of letting it just burn? And now, of course, it's, it's---and they won't even let people go in and harvest the down stuff. Now, in some cases I would say, it's probably not a good idea because of the landscape and whatnot. But, I mean, other places they certainly should be allowed to cut for whatever, just because it's sitting there, and it's, you know, if you harvest half of it, woodpeckers and everybody else are going to have plenty to do whatever they need to do. Because some of it, so much of it is just going to sit there and rot and fall down. Well, anyway, so it has changed over the years. I mean, the whole, the whole aspect of what the Forest Service was supposed to do and has done. And now they've switched over and they're doing all these other things. And it's now more conservation and recreation than timber management.
01:21:41 - 01:27:09 Environmentalism
environmentalism, forest management, retirement, Wieman, Mike; Wiedenhoeft, Alex; budgets
Do you have any idea about what caused that change?
It was a push on the society's part and a push with environmentalists really. And, you know, I'm looking at it and saying, well, as long as you're willing to say, we still need wood, and we're going to get it from Canada or overseas. Ok, if that's what you want, that's ok, because we're still using a heck of a lot of wood and we're getting it somewhere. And we are getting it off of some private, I mean more so now off of private areas in the United States, which are being managed by lumber companies or big companies or just private, little concerns. But we're also getting a lot of it from Canada and also from the Soviet Union, or former Soviet Union, and other places like that overseas. So, the price we pay is that we're, you know, we're not getting it here; we're getting it over somewhere else. And we're certainly using as much as, or more than we did in the '60s, that's for sure. So, I don't, you know, and I, what I see as a problem is that we're not managing the land we do have for timber. And as a consequence, if we wanted to decide to go cut it, we'd be in big trouble, because it wouldn't be managed for timber. It's going to be, it's managed as a conservation, or looking to manage for long-term, old-growth timber. But it does seem that, that when you have these big outbreaks of insects and big---and everything goes through and is dead---or a fire, and you don't do anything, you just let it sit seems, to me, wasteful. I can't, that's just me. Anyway.
Well, if you have any other stories or memories about the Lab, we're going to move into retirement.
Oh, no I don't. I've told enough stories, I think. I've got plenty.
Well, is there anything in particular that made you decide to retire? Or was it just time?
It was just time. A couple things really made me---one of the things was, before I retired, I wanted to make sure that maybe somebody was there to take over. And I did hire this fellow that I knew from a long time ago, Mike Wieman. I brought him on board, and then I thought I should stay a couple of years and then I could retire. And it was, it was time for me to retire. I had, there, almost forty years in, and, frankly, I went the old retirement system and I was working for nothing, almost, you know, based on if you start figuring out how much money you're going to get in your pension and how much money you're earning now. And you start thinking about it all, and you think, oh golly, I could retire and almost make as much money as I am now because I had so many years in. So, as a consequence, I just thought it was time to go and it seemed like that Mike would take over then and he could become the project leader. He's an older fellow, and I thought well, and we had a younger guy, Alex Wiedenhoeft, who's coming on. He was still doing his PhD, so he wasn't a scientist yet, still not a scientist yet. He still hasn't gotten his PhD, but he's going to get it this summer, I guess. Anyway, so he kind of took over the identification aspect of things and, and then Mike I thought was going to be the project leader. And then our secretary retired, and there was a technician also, and they never replaced that person. So, those things really got to be a problem. But I thought Mike would take over as project leader and then, eventually, he'd be able to hire somebody to bring on and, you know, take care of some of the routine stuff that, if you have to take care of, really cuts into your day. But, that didn't happen. Mike was going to take over and everything was set, he was even acting project leader, and then they decided to reorganize. And because of the tremendous cutbacks at the federal level, or at the Lab and everything. So, we're now not a project, and Bob's the project leader, and Alex and Mike are still there. But for me it was, it was, I just had to, it was time, it was time to go. But I still come in as a volunteer, so, you know.
Do you feel like your work left a mark on the Forest Products Lab or on the Forest Service?
Yeah, I do. I think I did---I kind of feel like I was just the, you know, the next guy in line to take care of the wood collection and the wood identification. Kuky was there before me and, and then I came along and learned under him. And Bob Koeppen would have actually taken over, but he decided to go to Washington. And he had been there for a number of years, actually. But then when I took over as project leader, then I got all of it. So, yeah.
01:27:09 - 01:29:52 Wood
wood, collection and preservation, wood-identification
So, what do you think is the most important thing that you've left behind?
I suppose, you know, first of all, just maintaining the collection itself is probably one of the good things that I've done. And all of the identifications that I've done over my years, I mean, each one is a little bit, but when you add them all up, you say, that's a pile. Those things, I think, helped everybody. I mean, helped the taxpayer get something back for their buck. Answering the phone and advising people on their wood, and how to fix their floors, and what's wrong with this and what's wrong with that and directing people, I think I was one of the better people at the Lab who did that kind of stuff. I answered phone calls. Too many people don't want to answer phone calls, don't want to stick their neck out. I don't know if, I don't think it's that, I think they just don't want to do it. And I was, I just felt like it was part of my job to do that and to help the taxpayer, if you will, the people on the phone, answer and take care of things like that. But it cut into my day a lot. And letters, and correspondence, and back in the day before emails, and doing lots of identifications over the years. I think the other thing was the Web itself. I mean, I think that was a heck of an accomplishment that I was able to get that thing up and running and really do a good job of providing that service. Because I think that's going to be, I think that has been and will probably continue to be a great website. And if they, somebody along the line decides that we've got to take it down for some dumb reason, well, that's the way it is. But, I mean, I, I just can't imagine they will. I think it's---I just wish we had time, some people and some time and money to finish it, finish some of the other things I wanted to do with that. But, I don't see that happening anytime soon, I hate to say. But, anyway, yeah.
Well, I think I've reached the end of my questions unless there's anything else you'd like to add.
No, I've probably added way too much. But, never mind, I don't think I have anything else to add.
Well, thank you so much for doing this.
[End of Interview]