First Interview Session (June 24, 2008)
Narrator: W. Duncan Godshall
Interviewer: Lauren Benditt
Date: 24 June 2008 (Tuesday)
Location: Forest Products Laboratory
Transcriptionist: Allison Page (07/22/08)
Auditor: Ellen Jacks (8-18-08)
00:00:00 - 00:04:06 Introduction
Introduction, family background in mills, WWII, UW-Madison veterans program, electrical engineering, background in television stations, knowledge of and switch to FPL, Keith Kellicutt
Today is June 24, it is a Tuesday, I am Lauren Benditt and I'm here with Duncan Godshall who is going to tell us about his experiences at the Forest Products Lab. So I have a list of questions and maybe I can just start. If you could tell us a little bit about your early years and what prepared you to come work at the Forest Products Lab?
Sure. Yeah I'm quite content with your list of topics and so if that's alright with you we'll proceed right down that way?
Well first of all, going way back but shortly in my entire family history has been tied up with the wood product industry in one way or another, on both sides of the family. One grandfather was a treasurer of a lumber company, another grandfather was a timber cruiser and laid out the logging railroads. My father worked in a mill, lumber mill, lost a finger there. My first job was in the paper mill testing paper so there's background history there.
Where was the mill?
In Dunbar, [WI,] long gone of course because the company always burned the mill after the timber was gone. My father moved Peshtigo, which is where a paper mill was and where my first job was. So I started out basically testing paper and then of course, why World War II came along and I got called away there, and I ended up in there communications, electronics basically, [as] this was really before the day of electronics, because we were still using vacuum tubes [laughs]. So when I came back to Madison to go to school on the veteran's program, why I took electrical engineering, have a degree in that and then proceeded to help build two television stations in Madison.
So I knew of the Forest Products Laboratory partly because of the laminated wood arch, they were partly pioneers, but they made the first laminated wood arches in my hometown of Peshtigo and I grew up with a man whose family had a boat factory there and that's where the laminated arches were built. So I knew of that in the early days so that was my only connection really to the Forest Products Lab, I had no thought or intention of working here. But as it turned out while I was still working in the television business---why my boss in television lived across the street from Keith Kellicutt, who was a project engineer here at Forest Products Lab. And Keith was talking with this other man and saying that they were having some difficulties with some of their experimental programs because they could not make the recording apparatus work. So the net result of that was that I came here on a part-time basis and continued with my full job in television. Well, after six months I made the switch, I went to half-time at television and full-time at Forest Products.
00:04:06 - 00:07:56 Reasons For Starting At FPL
Reasons for starting at FPL, properties of corrugated fiberboard and use in packaging, measuring shock and vibration
And why did you decide to do that?
Well couple of reasons. I was interested in the nature of the work that I was getting into here and the television business was sort of turning into a commercial rat race, so both reasons applied.
What year was that?
I don't know. I tried to look back on my records and I can't give you an exact date but it must have been sometime between 1957 or early 1960s and I retired in 1983 so that's my span of time here. So in terms of intending to work at the FPL, I did not have a thought in my mind and I came here basically as an instrumentation engineer. This happened to be in the packaging group and they were starting to look at some of the dynamics in the use of corrugated as packaging materials, as boxes, and they didn't have anybody in the staff who was really capable of making accurate, reliable measurements, so that was my first job here, as that. Then gradually, as time went on why I worked more and more with the products and doing dynamic analysis of the products, what happens when you drop a box with something packaged in it, how much does the object get damaged or how well does the packaging work. In those days it was not very good, so, that intrigued me both in terms of the instrumentations problems of measuring shock and vibration, millisecond long impacts, and also into the properties of the corrugated and other packaging materials which were not really designed for that purpose in mind.
So, I got involved in assessing the properties of corrugated fiberboard and it turns out that the specifications by which fiberboard was bought and sold really told nothing of the ability to resist shock and vibration; it was sold simply on the basis weight of the amount of paper in there whether it was good paper or poor paper and the industry specifications really did not offer any clue as to how good they would perform. In a sense it was wasteful because they kept putting more paper in to gain strength but that did not necessarily make the boxes any better. So along with the instrumentation work I got very much involved in trying to find paper qualities that would better define the structure, the ability of the container and we ended up---I was working with other people here, promoting the use of what they call a short column test, which was not developed here at the Lab but at the Institute of Paper Chemistry. But we tried all different ways and we finally found a way to use the short column test as a basis for new specification for ordering corrugated material for use in boxes.
00:07:56 - 00:12:17 Short Column Test
Short column test, palletization, grant to study transportation of goods, ASTM, committee D10 on packaging, set standard for shipping, recycled corrugated fiberboard, John Koning
What was the short column test?
Well you would cut a short piece of corrugated basically two inches long and one inch high and then you would put it into a small testing machine that would attempt to crush it to determine what its compressive strength was. Because as we began to fabricate new methods of shipping and packaging, why, we ended up going to palletization in which we'd stack things up several [boxes] high and so it would be the bottom layers that would get crushed and depending on the way they were stacked on the pallet, and all why there were good ways to do it and poor ways to do it. So basically that's what we were pursuing.
So, I did several studies that were related to that but basically I became more and more disturbed by the fact that no one really knew how severe the transportation environment was, so I got a grant and hired a man and between us we published this [holding a document---FPL-22] and that became very widely known, very widely used throughout the entire industry and for many years there was no other supplemental data that would compare to what we had here. The outcome of that was that I also became involved in ASTM---you probably have heard of that---and committee D10 on packaging. So I and again several other people from the industry or other consultants worked out a new standard and this was the standard, [D4169]. This incorporated the information from the assessment of the environment and then came up with appropriate testing procedures to duplicate that in the laboratory. This has since been widely adopted all over the world and its gone under many revisions but its currently still the best standard for testing shipping materials and all of the major transportation companies---UPS or whoever---goes by this standard or adaptations from it. So that was really the heart of my work here and it's still going on in that same manner but it was a series of---you know, it took quite a number of years because the industry was adverse to any change and---well see they were concerned about product liability and the liability from shipping so this is where we developed the new standards you see.
So that is the current status of affairs in the industry now and while they are adopting more and more to recycling---why that was the other major factor that I was involved in here, primarily with John Koning and some of the people in the paper division. We did a lot of work on the recycling of corrugated fiberboard and so at this point---why, the industry again has adopted that partly as a money saver and partly simply because it became apparent that it was a good product to use if you treated it right. So now almost all corrugated is basically recycled, some percentage perhaps virgin fiber. That's made a huge difference in the consumption you might say of fiber for shipping purposes.
00:12:17 - 00:17:19 Typical Day
Typical day, writing and tests, change in industry standards, use of electronics in data measurement, obsolete methods, academic nature of the lab, combing fibers and recycling materials
Right. So did you have a typical day while you were in the Lab? Did you have a typical day while you were here or did you spend most of your time in the Lab doing tests, or writing?
Well yeah basically some of each. We had equipment set up in the packaging laboratory which is down near the highway here. I was able to get a big vibration machine on which we could test full-size pallets and did quite a bit of work on that and demonstrations to convince the industry that they needed to change their ways.
So was there a specific moment when the industry understood and decided to change?
Oh yes, yes with due time why they had a turnover and basically they accepted as being reasonable what we were presenting to them and so they have basically widely accepted it now.
Was there one company that first started to accept the new standards and then other followed?
Well no not so much as a company, but as the industry technical organization adopted things, yeah. Of course at the same time I was promoting the use of electronics in data measurement. That was one of the things that disturbed me most when I got to FPL, finding that many of the methods they were using for collecting their data and information were rather obsolete and in some cases perhaps not quite as accurate as they'd like them to be, pretty much a matter of measuring was a telescope and taking readings by eye and then recording down; it was a long cumbersome process and I had questions about the accuracy we get that way. In fact, from my background with electronics, television, and service, why I was somewhat dismayed by the lack of calibration shall we say, of much of the lab measuring equipment. So while the Lab led everyone else in the investigation of wood and wood products, some of their results were not maybe quite as accurate as they might have been or could have been but they were still ahead of everybody else. On a comparative basis the Lab did well but it was in a time when they needed to be shaken up and move into the new era.
Were they supportive of your suggestions to move towards---
You mean within the Lab?
Oh not particularly. That would be one of my criticisms of the Lab as an institution that was basically too academic. You would sit at your desk and you would write reports and the technicians would do the experiments, you were not supposed to do too much on the test floor yourself you know, because you were a professional. Well I didn't think that way. But later on I was moved up into the wood engineering department and I had some effect on the measurement systems that they used in wood engineering also. But it was a time when electronics were coming into common use and they proved to be a much more accurate, efficient way of recording data. Those were really the two major aspects of my career here at the Lab including the recycling aspect of course, which fit right in with it because as you put reused fibers into the corrugated boxes you would natural suppose that maybe they were not quite as strong as virgin fibers so we did numerable tests to establish that and direct them as to how they should combine the fibers in order to get the best structural characteristics of them.
00:17:19 - 00:20:05 Favorite Projects
Favorite projects, military projects, wood engineering structure, packing and link with military, Bob Stern
So out of your whole time here, what was your favorite project that you worked on?
Well basically this [taps document/manual] because it took a period of quite a few years to go through the whole thing.
Was there a project that was particularly challenging for you or even just an aspect of working at the Lab that you found challenging?
Well I guess the most challenging thing in later years was getting funds to work with. In the earlier years we were doing contract work for the military and of course from World War I history on, why the Lab did a great deal of work for the military. During World War II, why the packaging department was by far the largest part of the Laboratory, but as time went on things changed and the Lab was giving less and less credit to the packaging department and eventually why, they basically dissolved it and transferred the ones that were left including me into the wood engineering structure. So there was less and less in the middle years, less and less support and interest in what we did in packaging. They probably wish we would do something else but we just kept plucking away at it.
So did you work on military projects?
Well, yeah essentially. One of the military things that they were doing when I first came was a package cushioning handbook done by Bob Stern, that's where they were having trouble getting the data. So I got quite involved in that. They published a packaging handbook which was very widely used by the military. Another man, Clarence Jordan, did a packaging cost estimate for the military so that the military would know whether they were getting their money's worth in their packaging. So with our changing of the methods, that all fed into these military projects. I went a number of times to different military installations to talk with them and oversee their instrumentation data collection.
00:20:05 - 00:22:14 Traveling
Traveling, ASTM meetings, retirement in 1983
Did you get to do a fair amount of traveling?
Oh a reasonable amount, yeah maybe three, four trips a year. Something like that.
Well some of the trips were to this ASTM organization. There were times when I would be invited to go to a consumer company and give lectures to their people. I can remember I was very impressed with the trip down to one of the cigarette manufacturers, who were of course, using lots of corrugated to ship their cigarettes. But that is just an example of the sort of consultation that I did. So this leads basically down to the next set of questions, well when did you leave the Lab and why? Well I went to an ASTM meeting Louisville in 1983 and it was springtime and well, virtually like it is today although it was earlier in the year---I came back to the Lab and everything was dull and quiet here, there was just nothing going on you know. I said to myself, what am I doing here? Because we had salaries, [but] there were threats of layoffs and cuts and so on even back then, but the fact was that there was enough money for salary but there was not money for equipment or projects work. So you could sit and write reports for whatever you could put in them and sit at the desk and twiddle your thumbs but you could not really do a lot because of the shortage of operational funds. I think that condition has continued same way, perhaps even worse, right down to today.
And that was in 1983?
00:22:14 - 00:25:41 Social Organizations
Social organizations, golf league, picnics, status of FPL within USDA, budget hearings
So maybe going back to your time at the Lab a little bit, maybe going back just a little bit.
There were social organizations in the Lab?
Were you a part of any of them?
Oh well yeah there was a golfing league and a picnic, regular picnics. At that time there was a separate men's club which was going quite strong and that tapered off and eventually why, the women took over, because they were willing to do the work of organizing things [laughs]. But yeah I had good social contacts here at the Lab. Of course at that time I don't know what our total employment was but you knew almost everyone by first name basis, you know.
Did that change over time?
Well yes and no. Leads to another subject though. Over time, the Lab being part of the Forest Service, which is in turn part of the Department of Agriculture, sort of got shifted down into a lower status I would say. As hard as our directors tried to obtain funds why, they became too political in Washington and the Lab basically got overlooked in terms of getting a fair allocation to do the work that we wanted to do. So this continued on for quite a few years and I presume it's still pretty much that same way. But one of the things that happened along about that time is the Lab started to turn into a social agency. Why, we had to be worried about the quota of the women working and the quota of the underclass, the blacks that we had working, so in a certain sense this turned into a babysitting organization. We took care of these people, they worked, they did at the best of their ability what they could do, but they were not researchers. So it lowered the overall ability of the Lab to do good high level research. Again I think that situation is still continuing on to quite a degree here. But being the shirttail from the Congress to the Department of Agriculture to the Forest Service and then finally a little dribbled down to FPL so it really diminished our status. I would say in that in the earlier days, why the management staff was chosen more on their competence.
And you do not think that's the case anymore? Or when you left?
It's less than it was back in my period and it's a sad thing because we worry every time there is a budget hearing, is the Lab going to be closed? That's on everybody's mind and good people who were able to take the early out [did]. But that's the way the world is going these days everywhere now.
00:25:41 - 00:26:30 Forest Service
Forest Service, USDA, opinions
Right, yeah money is hard to come by these days. Well how did you feel personally about working for the Lab that was part of the Forest Service, which was a part of the Department of Agriculture?
Well I really had no political illusions about it one way or another but I just came here because of the interesting nature of the work and other than feeling poorly about seeing how the Lab has declined in political status, which results in declining funding---No it was a good place to work.
00:26:30 - 00:29:10 Academic Status
Academic status, publishing, University of Wisconsin, position title, G-13, general research engineer, career expectations
Is there anything that you wish you could have done here that you didn't have the opportunity to do?
Well not really. The one minor complaint I might make is that because I was not sitting at the desk writing reports, I wasn't achieving great academic status even though I think that what I was doing was very important and it carried out into the real world, where many and many of these very scientific reports are lying in a file here somewhere with no tangible effect you know. Other than that I've been perfectly happy working at the Lab.
Do you think the sort of publish or perish atmosphere comes from the University or from elsewhere, or is it just the nature of the organization?
Not so much from the University here although that was a part of it, but just by the nature of the people who formed the Forest Service way back. They were all high academic level people and that was their tradition, so that basically determined what the structure of the Lab would be.
What was your position title here? I don't think we had that.
Well first of all I was an instrumentation engineer and then I was a general research engineer. I ended up with a GS-13, which is not far up the ladder.
Did your career here meet your expectations for what you wanted from a career?
I guess the way to say it is that I didn't really have career expectations because I love the technology part of it and that's what intrigued me and that's what pleased me to be doing, so I settled for that. As a matter of fact I was temporary project leader for a while and I disliked dealing with the paperwork so I requested to go back to the technical side.
Well it is good to know what you enjoy doing and being able to do that.
00:29:10 - 00:31:01 Forest Service
Forest Service, University of Wisconsin impressions, changing impressions, structure of FPL staff, Wally Youngquist
Did you have any impressions of the Forest Service before you came to work here or the University?
Did you see how perceptions of the Forest Service or the Forest Products Lab might have changed over time for other people? Other than sort of declining in political stature?
Well, one thing that comes to mind in the structure of the Laboratory staff. At one time we had an assistant director and he was basically the number two man at the Lab and his concern was in the technical research activities and I think that the Lab badly needs such a position again. The director has to fight the political wars, he has to have the foresight to see what we need to do next, and he's concerned with these sort of things dealing with the structure all the way up to Washington. But the technical director, assistant director, was a man who had to see that things were working properly in the Lab and that we were doing the proper things and using the new technologies as they came out. Once that man retired, Wally Youngquist, they didn't replace that position and I think the Lab suffered from that. They basically need two people there.
00:31:01 - 00:34:14 Memories
Memories, colleagues, John Koning, Milo Schimming, professional and non-professional staff, degrees
I guess maybe to broaden it out a bit, do you have any memories of specific people or events that happened here that you want recorded?
Well I don't want to get into personalities particularly, but John Koning has of course worked with me on many of these things and he's published many, many reports relating to the recycling and the papermaking aspects of it, and we are still in good contact with each other; about once a week, why, we manage to get together and have lunch together. Of the technician staff that worked with me one man [who] is also deceased now is Milo Schimming, who was very contentious, a hard worker, and very knowledgeable in doing things and it's too bad that he could never get above that level because he did not have a college degree, cause he had the personality and the aptitude. You see at the Lab there was the professional structure and the non-professional structure and sometimes I think the line was a little too divisive there.
How do you mean by that?
Well if you didn't have a degree in a professional level why, you were not quite there you know.
How did the non-professional structure interact with that?
Well I would say probably it engendered a certain amount of resentment.
Yeah, I can see that. Do you still see that sort of hierarchy here today?
I can't answer that because over the years I've become involved in other things, I have not kept real close to the Laboratory and its internal operation.
Was it changing by the time that you left?
Yes to some degree, yeah.
Was more or less emphasis placed on degrees and certifications when you left here compared to when you got here?
I couldn't tell the difference. I don't know.
00:34:14 - 00:35:23 Mark On FPL
Mark on FPL
Do you feel that your work here left a mark on the Lab or on the broader world?
Well, I don't think in terms of Lab history I left much of a mark here because they tried to ignore a lot of what we did. But in the outer world I think we made a big difference, totally in the way things are constructed to resist shock and vibration, they are packaged to resist shock and vibration, the modes of transportation have changed, largely due to what we did here [taps document---FPL-22]. So yes, on the outer world in terms of producing products and shipping them I think we made a big change. Other organizations have dabbled in it but all except for on which is a private one which charges fees there is no other organization capable of doing what we did here.
Which organizations were those?
I'd rather not pursue that.
00:35:23 - 00:38:01 Memories
Memories, post-FPL, private consulting, final remarks
Okay. Do you have any other stories of your colleagues here or working here, a particular day that you might remember?
If I spent a long time I could probably come up with hundred of them, but suffice to say that when the men's club was active and they had the golf outings and the feast---why there were lot of practical jokes that were played on people and so you learned to be wary.
So what did you do after you left here?
Oh, I went into private consulting on the same topics for I think, maybe, seven or eight years. Then as my eyesight failed and my hearing failed why, it was a little bit difficult to keep it up so I gracefully retired.
Did you enjoy consulting more or less than working here?
It turned out to be pretty much the same thing. On the consulting aspect I learned that in terms of the production packaging, shipping sequence generally, I can walk into a plant and in fifteen minutes I could see what their major problem was and had some ideas on how to correct it. But invariably, the management was resistant and there probably was an in-law or son-in-law or someone in head of the bad department and they wouldn't touch it. That was the one impression I got out of all my consulting was that things could be improved greatly but there were personal considerations that prevented the adoption of the recommendations.
Interesting. Well I think we've managed to cover everything, unless you have anything else that you would like to add.
No that's just fine.
Great, well thank you so much.
[End of Interview]