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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #972: Hamilton, Thomas E. (June, 2009)

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First Interview Session (July 28, 2008)

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00:00:00 - 00:05:42 Introduction

introduction, biography, family, education, background, University of Wisconsin, pulpwood marketing, vocational interests, previous employment, lumber trade--Asia

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00:00:00

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AP

Okay, good morning my name is Allison Page, I'm with the UW-Madison Oral History Program. Today is Monday July 28, 2008 and this morning I will be interviewing Tom Hamilton with the U.S. Forest Products Lab about his experiences here at the Lab. Mr. Hamilton, if you want to start maybe and tell us a little bit about your background, where you were born, where you are from, and maybe a little bit about your education?

TH

Alright. I'm from Wisconsin, I was born in Edgerton, Wisconsin so not too far from here and I went to the University of Wisconsin. Received a bachelors, masters, and PhD there and then went to work for the United States Forest Service in Portland, Oregon. And a lot of my work there was in marketing of wood products, looking for ways to increase the value of certain kinds of products and looking at issues like log exports to Japan. But a lot of those related to product type work so while I was an economist, I worked a lot with the products people to try to solve some of those problems and that's really where I got my start in terms of a background in wood products. And from there I worked for the Forest Service in Pennsylvania and then our Washington office for eighteen years before I came to the Forest Products Lab. Interestingly, for me at least, I left Wisconsin in 1964 to work for the Forest Service, came back to the Lab in 1994 so after thirty years I came back to the place I started.

00:01:55

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AP

In terms of your education background, when were a student here at the University of Wisconsin?

TH

From 1956 to 1963, I actually went to Portland in 1963. My graduate degree was in agricultural economics, but my project was on pulpwood marketing and I spent two or three summers interviewing people in northern Wisconsin that cut pulp wood and marketed it and I went to all the pulp mills and interviewed them and we looked at pricing and transportation distances to see if there was some correlation between that and there was. So that was basically how I really got a start looking at wood products.

AP

Did you always kind of have an interest in the forest sciences or was that something that kind of developed as a student?

TH

I think that developed really with that project in graduate school. I was raised on a farm so I've always had an agricultural interest and at that time the Forest Service was oriented pretty strongly to timber harvesting and that's kind of an agricultural enterprise so, so there was quite a close relationship and it was an easy transition.

00:03:19

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AP

So you went to work in Portland. I bet that was very interesting work out there.

TH

Portland was a very interesting place at the time, that was the major timber producing area for the Forest Service in the United States and for that matter on other lands too, but it was the major timber producing area for the country.

At that time as I mentioned earlier log exports to Japan were becoming an issue, the Japanese were able to purchase logs in the United States, transport them across the ocean, and outcompete our own domestic mills for those logs and the reason was because some of their manufacturing techniques and the fact that they used every bit of the log, and as a result got a higher value from it so they could outcompete at some of our mills that didn't use some of the parts of the log. So we looked at that problem, I had an opportunity to go to Japan and see what they did with those logs and how they used them and that was very interesting. But Portland was a strong Forest Service place at that time and there was a lot interest in working with the industry, but working with other groups too. And of course over the years some of that changed but it was a nice place to start my career.

00:04:48

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AP

Did you have contact with people here at the Forest Products Lab when you were doing work out in Portland?

TH

On occasion. On occasion I had contact with people here, I came to some meetings here and discussed with other people marketing of wood products and changes that were happening. One of the things that happened at the Lab I was very instrumental in was the plywood industry was pretty much orientated in the west at that time. Due to some of the work that the Lab did it moved almost entirely to the South, and the West was not a large segment of the plywood industry after the 1960s because of Lab research. So some of those changes were things that we discussed when I came back here.

00:05:42 - 00:08:50 Hiring

hiring, employment, director, executive succession, budgets, Funding, Forest Service, government programs, research

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00:05:42

AP

Speaking of which, how did you hear about the position that you took here at the Lab and did you actively seek that out or did you hear about it from somebody?

TH

Well I'm not sure if you know what my position here was, but I was the director of the Lab. And, when I was in Washington I held numerous positions, the last one being associate deputy for research, and I worked very closely with the Lab and with the current Lab director at that time to try to develop some programs, move those forward, that sort of thing. So, because of that interest, when this position opened I was interested in it and there were other folks in the Washington office that thought that would be a good fit. So I guess I really didn't actively seek the position but it just was kind of natural fit, and, like I said earlier, a good opportunity for me because I could come back to my roots so to speak. So that's really how I moved into this job, but it was as I said an easy transition because I had been working some of the Lab's programs and initiatives while in Washington and continued to do that when I came here.

AP

So did you work mostly with the Lab's previous director then?

TH

When I was in Washington, mostly with the previous director, but there was a staff in Washington that was a wood utilization staff and I worked with them and they of course worked with a number of people here at the Lab. Then I worked with the assistant directors at the Lab some, and on occasion other people at the Lab. I traveled back here several times and would sit down with various people and talk about potential initiatives for their particular line of work and we'd talk about the best direction for them to go in a sense of what was currently an issue politically as well as what the needs were in wood utilization and try to match those so we could move some things forward. That's how recycling research really became a major issue here at the Lab, we talked about that and decided that would be a good one to try to move forward.

AP

So you worked quite a bit on research initiatives then or?

TH

Research initiatives primarily, a little bit of personnel issues in a sense of knowing people that might be a good fit for a particular positions and letting the Lab know that so they had an opportunity to assess you know who was available that might have a little different background and experience and might be a good fit at the Lab.

00:08:50 - 00:15:02 Early Years

early years, impressions, employees---attitudes, government programs, funding, personnel management, typical day

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00:08:50

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AP

So you came to the Lab then in '94?

TH

1994, right.

AP

1994. What were your first impressions or memories when you stepped into the role of director here at the Lab and what was that kind of like, the first year or so?

TH

Well the first year I was here, the first time I came here, I was welcomed very well by all the folks here at the Lab and I have to say that continued all the time I was here---very nice, pleasant and industrious group of people to work with. So a very enjoyable thing and because of the work I'd done in the Washington office with the Lab, coming here was an easy transition. And a lot of the work that I did involved then working with people in Washington to try to help develop our initiatives and that sort of thing so I knew a lot of people there, so that made it much easier. So I'd say it was, you know an almost imperceptible transition.

AP

Was the reaction from people at the Lab generally positive would you say?

TH

I would say so. I would say so. I think most of the people at the Lab realized what my background was and I think we at least were hopeful that because of that we might be able to move some of the Lab's programs forward. And we did begin some new initiatives and worked very hard at moving the program forward. At that time, over the period that I was here, the Forest Service research budget did not perform real well so we tried to bring on new initiatives and expand programs in certain areas even if, if the dollars weren't increasing by making adjustments within our program.

00:11:07

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AP

What was a typical day like as a director? I've heard a little bit from other people within individual departments and kind of their idea of what a typical day was or an atypical day is more like it. For you, as director, what was that experience like?

TH

Well, as sometimes you might think that a typical day would be planning your next trip because as the director a lot of travel is involved in the job. Travel to Washington, travel to other locations, some international travel. But at the Lab itself, a typical day would involve a lot of meetings dealing with everything from research initiatives, to personnel issues, to budget problems---or budget opportunities that we might have---meeting with visitors from outside, either from the industry, from other countries or just visitors who were interested in a particular aspect of the Lab's work.

And then I tried to spend some time on most of the days meeting with some of the people at the Lab, either you know walking around the Lab and talking about what they were doing. Or, or in some cases they would come to my office and talk about that because since my job was to try to move the Lab's program forward, I needed to know what was going on everywhere. So I spent a fair amount of time moving around the Lab and seeing what was going on, talking with folks. So the day was pretty well occupied with all those kinds of things. I used to try to come in a little early or stay a little later to get some of the paperwork done but people found that out too and so they would come in and think that's when I had some free time so gradually all that time got occupied with visiting with folks too. But it worked out well because that's the way you planned out a lot about what's going on at the Lab and, as a result, you are able to represent the Lab a lot better.

AP

So a lot of your time was spent meeting with people or planning different aspects of what was going on at the lab. Did you get to do any kind of research that you were interested in or kind of maintain some of that aspect of your interests?

TH

Didn't really do any research, that pretty much was the job of our research scientists and frankly I really didn't have any time to do any research with all the other things that were going on. I had some opportunities to help or take the lead on developing some initiatives and try to define those, shape them, decide you know what the limits of those would be. And that wasn't really research but in the sense of wood products research but it was research in the sense of looking at the opportunities, evaluating which ones could make a difference, which ones might get support from people that provided budget, which ones might be most likely to move into practice if we develop some new things that could help in wood products manufacture or wood products use. So that kind of research, but not wood technology research per se.

00:15:02 - 00:19:09 Government Programs

government programs, wood conservation, projects, small diameter timber, travel, wood utilization

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00:15:02

AP

Were there any initiatives that were particularly exciting or interesting that you thought, that were going on in those early years?

TH

Well one that in a sense has always been part of the Forest Products Lab, but we made conservation of wood a major initiative for us. As I said some of that was going on already but then we were able to develop some new things to go along with that and that included recycling, which a number of our programs were already addressing but we started some new things. It included reuse, so we tried to find ways to reuse wood that had been in use for another purpose but instead of just sending it to the landfill, perhaps there would be a way to use in a different way. A good example of that was the work that went on with the Defense Department in deconstruction of some of their buildings. It also included how to make wood last longer in use so it included things like our preservation work, our paints and finishes work, but also things like how do you prevent moisture from getting into walls of buildings and causing deterioration and it included things like the nondestructive evaluation work, where our scientists developed ways to test the soundness of wood using basically sound waves so that you only had to remove defective members from a building or anything else made of wood and replace them rather than have to tear the whole building down.

Then we added to that, one additional thing and that was using material that perhaps hadn't been used before or didn't fit current manufacturing techniques. The biggest example of that was use of small diameter, low-value, material in the West. And to start that initiative we made a number of trips to various regions in the West---myself and our assistant directors, and usually one or two scientists from the Lab---and we traveled around those regions, met with communities, Forest Service people, industry and others and talked about what their issues were. Of course fire a big one. The other big one was the fact that traditional sources of timber were declining and so they were looking for other supply sources and small diameter timber in fire prone regions was a major opportunity as well as something that needed to be removed. The Forest Service was kind of on a program at that time of paying for its removal, for removing it as forest management thing. We tried to change that into removing it as a potential raw material for wood products. And I think were successful in some cases and continued to be successful in that the Lab continues to work on that. So that was a major part of that conservation initiative and one that's continued---one that a lot of other people have picked up on now. It's kind of a nice one because it really gets at the question of fire prevention, remove that material before the fire comes through, rather than fire suppression, which the Forest Service is well known for putting out the forest fires after they start. So we were in the fire prevention business. And that was a very interesting and exciting line of work. And, as I said, one that continues today and continues to grow.

00:19:09 - 00:27:56 Government Programs

government programs, projects, challenges, lumber---Alaska, funding, government support, USDA, Forest Service

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00:19:09

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AP

Were there any either initiatives that you worked on or other aspects of your work as a director that you felt particularly challenging? Whether it was dealing with staff here at the Lab, the exterior community of the Lab, or industry or government?

TH

Well, we included some other initiatives that were exciting and challenging. One was when the timber supply in Alaska declined to almost nothing from national forest lands. The region in Alaska, the Forest Service region in Alaska, as well as the administration in Washington asked us to go up and see what we could do to help with that situation. That was very interesting to all of us because southeast Alaska is a fairly remote area, usually you have to fly or take a boat between towns and we did basically the same thing we did in the contiguous United States, traveled around to various towns, met with people, talked about what the opportunities might be, what their issues were.

As a result of that we had a couple of studies, one on Alaska Yellow Cedar and one on what were pulp logs in Alaska to see what kind of lumber recovery you could get from those. Both those studies as far as the Lab was concerned were very successful. In the Yellow Cedar one we looked at the strength of Yellow Cedar and some of that had been standing in the stump for up to eighty years, all the limbs had fallen off but the trunk was still standing there. When our engineers tested the strength of that material they found that it was very strong, close to the strength of Douglas fir, which is a very strong species, it also has very good moisture resistant properties so it didn't decay very easily and it held paints and finishes. So there were a lot of things that the Lab could study, that we did study, and found that it was a very good material. That meant that if someone could find a way to get it out of the woods economically, that it could be used as a high value product. The problem, the remoteness of Alaska and the scattered nature of some of that material meant that that never really happened, but the opportunity is there and I think the work the Lab did meant that the product side of the question was answered.

And the pulp log one was the same way, our engineers found that you could get a fairly large yield of good quality lumber out of what had considered to be logs only suited for pulp-wood. Again that meant that some of that lower value material could be used for higher value uses so we answered that side of the question then it was just you know how much of that material might be available. So, I think what the Lab did up there really helped in the transition where there was quite a bit of animosity among many of the communities with the Forest Service about what had happened. And I think we were able to smooth some of that over and show people that there were opportunities. So, that was a challenge that I think that we met pretty well and we also, as I said, learned a lot about southeast Alaska and travel there. We had some interesting all night trips on the Alaska ferry where the weather made it difficult to travel around.

The other major challenge that we had all the time was the one of support for our program. During the 1990s the orientation of the administration was focused pretty strongly on other resources in the forest, water, recreation, wildlife and not on timber harvest. Now you would think that would make utilization research even more important because if you have less to use then you want to use it as effectively as possible. But the fact that we had wood in our name, or forest in our name, forest products meant that people viewed us as a wood use group rather than a group that was looking at things like conservation of wood and of best use and extending wood use in that manner. And I think that was a major challenge for us all the time because people said do we really need a forest products lab, do we really need to work on wood products since our orientation is somewhere else. So it was always a challenge to try to demonstrate to people what our contribution was and how important it was to the things they were trying to accomplish. I would say, in terms of dealing with our own administration, that was one of the biggest challenges that we faced but we survived so I guess that means we were somewhat successful.

00:24:45

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AP

Did that take a lot of work in terms of convincing people in the Forest Service, USDA, or higher government than that?

TH

I would say the major work was in USDA and at the very top levels of the Forest Service. Beyond that in the administration there were people that were trying to do things like develop rural areas and find ways to bring industry into some areas that had a suppressed economy. The things we were doing like with our small diameter work fit very nicely. The problem was---the way the system works is the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have to request that that work be expanded as it moves up through the administration in order for it to become part of a major package. And we had a difficult time getting that to happen.

Congress, very interested in that kind of work because most of them, or a lot of them, were from areas where fire and suppressed economies was a major issue and so they, they were very interested in what we were doing. So it just depended on who you were talking to but you had to get all groups to agree before you could really move something forward. So we worked at all levels in Washington and had opportunities to testify at hearings and meet with various people in the administration, in USDA, in the Forest Service of course to talk about these initiatives. So it was, it was an interesting time but not one where there was a lot of support for wood products and wood products research. As I said, that was one of our major issues, in fact we even tossed around the idea here of changing the name of the Lab.

AP

Oh really?

TH

From Forest Products Lab to something else that didn't send that message but our name had such name recognition that we decided not to do that, you know, both nationally but internationally. Internationally---if you go anywhere in the world and you are meeting with somebody that has some relation to forest products and you mention you are from the Forest Products Laboratory, they know where that is, they will invariably say oh Madison, Wisconsin. So we are a very well recognized international entity and we thought that because of that name recognition that it probably wasn't a good idea. And it wasn't because in a sense it would have been for political expediency at that time that administration over the last few years had a little more recognition for the importance of wood products.

00:27:56 - 00:30:00 Forest Products Laboratory

Forest Products Laboratory, changes, public opinion, industry perspectives, research focus

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00:27:56

AP

So do you think that the views of the Forest Products Lab have changed considerably since the '90s or so and in what ways do you think that?

TH

The views of the Lab? Or you mean outside views of the Lab?

AP

Yes.

TH

Probably not so much in the industry. I think the industry still views the Lab as an important source of information and an important contributor to things like understanding the strength values of various kinds of wood, understanding paint and finish characteristics of different kinds of wood, understanding preservation. And, of course, preservation is something that has changed as people became concerned about arsenic being used in the treatment process and so we've used different treatments and the Lab did a lot of work on how good some of those would be. We also did work on whether arsenic is really dispersed through the soil or through water when it's used on treated wood and actually found that it wasn't dispersed too much. But in any event people's concern meant that those were issues. So the industry was very interested in the Lab's contribution in those sorts of ways.

But I'd say the biggest change is the orientation of the administration. This last administration in Washington, D.C. had much more industry, much more business I'd say orientation to where the previous administration was oriented more to environmental concerns. That's probably good because somehow when you focus on one for a while then you focus on the other for a while you probably end up with a pretty good mix. But that just happened to be the focus of those particular administrations. So I'd say the view of the Lab in the last eight years was more positive than the view of the Lab in the eight years prior to that in the sense that we not only received strong words of support but we might have received a little bit of financial help too to get start some of these initiatives.

00:30:00 - 00:40:13 Colleagues

colleagues, memories, anecdotes, employees---social conditions, social aspects, humor in the workplace, parties, clubs

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00:30:00

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AP

That's great. [pause] Well to change gears a little bit we could maybe talk a little bit about some more of the work that you do here within the Lab. Are there memories that you have or strong ties with some of the colleagues here? Any really interesting characters that work here that you've met over the years?

TH

Oh gosh. you know, I'd hate to almost name a particular person or two because everybody here I'd say had certain characteristics that made them unique. And it was that variety of unique characteristics that really made the Lab kind of a special place. One thing about the Lab is that it has a very wide range of technical backgrounds. There are of course chemists and engineers and botanists and economists; many other disciplines, and then those people work on various kinds of specialties. So when a particular problem came up, you could call on whatever mix you needed to solve that problem and they were all right here.

Somebody once said to me you know when you walk down the hall of the Forest Products Lab, you are probably going to pass the world expert in a particular field and I think that's true and we could bring those people's expertise to bear on whatever problem there was. That was a little different then a lot of other places where they might have a very strong expertise in a few areas but weren't able to bring that all encompassing look at a particular problem to bear as easily as we could. So that to me is one of the things that I remember about the Lab that was really unique, that it was relatively easy to do that sort of thing.

The other thing is, people were so curious about some of the aspects of the work that they were addressing, that it was really not a problem for people to identify new problems that needed work, the problem was to get the support, the budget support and the people support to back that up so that they could move ahead with some of that work. But people were just, just developed so many innovative ideas of ways to use wood in unique and new ways, things like using fungi to breakdown pulp chips, or using wood fibers to filter water, filter impurities out of water. Things like that that you just wouldn't think of in a wood products lab but that were going on and really those were all very environmental things. The fungi in wood chips thing was a major energy savor, the problem was that it was a very costly initial investment for pulp mills that already had an investment, so it was hard to make that transition. But the Lab developed a lot of things that fit very well with people that had an environmental orientation, it was just moving from completion of the research into innovation that was the problem.

00:33:55

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AP

Could you maybe describe what the social aspect is here? Or I mean more social atmosphere is here, like the rapport among the staff, or administration and staff, or any activities that are particular memorable about working here?

TH

Well the Lab is unique in another sense in research in the Forest Service and probably all the other units in the Forest Service in that it's all in one place. As a result, with the people all in one place there is a lot better opportunity for interaction among all the people here at the Lab where as at other locations people might be scattered over several states. One of the things that surprised me a little bit when I came here though was the people in the main building didn't necessarily know or do a lot of things with people in some of the other buildings. You wouldn't think that just a building would separate people but when you think about the fact that they were spending most of their time at their work, there wasn't, I don't think, as much interaction for example between the folks working in pulp and paper and people working in say engineered wood products and things like that.

So we tried to do things to mix the staff a little more with some things here at the Lab like bratwurst luncheons and that sort of thing which I think they still do. Tried to have picnics, I know at one time couple of the staff said we've got to quit trying to have these picnics we are having too many. But we really did try to do things to bring people together because I thought that was important. I personally tried to get involved in many of the social activities here at the Lab, I've never missed a kids Christmas party and even after I retired I always come back for them. But I tried to do things like bowl in their bowling league and play golf in their golf league and still do although my travel meant that I was only there about half the time or less. But still it was an opportunity to meet and talk with people kind of on a different level, and I think that was good. We tried to encourage as many people as possible to do that sort of thing. So I think we were somewhat successful at bringing or keeping folks close together. But, on the other hand, like any large group like this there were a lot of activities going on and a lot of people involved in social activities with each other so there was a lot of mixing of folks that had common interests here at the Lab.

AP

I bet the golf league and the bowling league were really fun.

TH

They were. Because they were both made up of both retirees and active employees. And so you had a chance to meet a lot of people that had worked at the Lab before and you had a chance to do something really at a different level with people that were working here now, and they were a lot of fun. Interestingly, because I think mainly of the decline in the number of people here at the Lab, things like the bowling have also declined significantly in size. But nevertheless it still exists, someone told me once that it was the second oldest organized bowling league in the country, so that's a pretty unique thing. Yeah I think they were a lot of fun. And families got involved in that, and for a number of years my wife bowled in the bowling league too and as a result she got to know several people at the Lab much better than she would have otherwise. But both she and I tried to go to the Christmas parties and things like that because you could socialize with folks and I think that was a good thing and we enjoyed it of course too so that made it easier.

AP

Yes someone told me that they used to have a baseball league or a softball league many years ago.

TH

I think the Lab had leagues in almost every sport that the city of Madison is organized to have. They had I think a couple of softball teams, I think they might have had a basketball team, couple of golf leagues, and bowling. But that's an interesting thing because we had the same thing when I was in Portland. We had the same thing when I was in Pennsylvania.

But those kinds of things I think sort of declined in the sense of people's interest. People either were more mobile, maybe they watch more TV I don't know, but for whatever reason it was more difficult to get a critical mass of people you needed for some of those activities and they disappeared. But I'd say during the '60s and '70s when there were a lot more people here---and that was true at other locations I was at too, the Lab had a very wide range of things going on and I think that really tended to bring a lot of people together. Whenever I meet with the retirees now they are always talking about remember when we did this and all the fun we had and remember this person or that person. So I think they were the sorts of things that made people remember some of their colleagues that had been around a long time ago and had retired for several years. But when I came here a lot of those things no longer existed here at the Lab, I just heard about them from stories.

00:40:13 - 00:45:55 Retirees

retirees, colleagues, National Association of Forest Service Retirees, National Museum of Forest Service History

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00:40:13

AP

So are you still pretty active in some of the retirees luncheons or just meeting with old friends?

TH

I stop by the Lab fairly frequently, not as frequently as I'd like to, but you get a lot of other things to do when you are retired. But I try to stay active and like I said I'm still playing in the golf league and the bowling league. When I come down here I usually drop around to peoples' offices and you know spend a little time talking about the programs they have, of what some of the issues are and that sort of thing. I try to support the Lab in some other ways too. I just recently became a member of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, of the board of directors and one of the things I agreed to do when I told them that I would do that would be to try to help them with the research part of their support because as you might guess most of the folks in that group are national forest backgrounds and they can work on national forest kinds of issues but I think research needs a spot at the table to support their program. So that's the reason I'm involved in that. I'm involved with the Forest Service Museum, which is being built in Missoula, Montana.

AP

Oh really?

TH

And one of the things we are trying to do is have that museum built with a number of materials that the Lab or other wood utilization groups in the Forest Service worked on. So our hope is that we will be able to have a brochure there for people to pickup and walk around the museum and they will be able to look at one wall and it will say this is made out of this kind of material which was developed at the Forest Products Lab. Hopefully, if we are really fortunate we might even get a firm to help contribute to some of the cost of getting that material, I'm working with some of the folks at the Lab on that too. But anyway we will be able to show a number of new, unique kinds of products at that museum and what the Lab's---and some old products too---and what the Lab's role was in developing those. So I think that will be very interesting along with---you know they will have displays on firefighting and camping and wilderness and that sort of thing but wood utilization will be a major feature at that museum.

I'm currently the regional director for this area for their capital campaign for building the museum. Difficult thing to do right now, the economy is not such that people are willing to make large contributions. But we are working on it and I think it will be a fun thing if we can pursue that. So, anyway, those are a couple of things I'm working on nationally with the Forest Service that I think can have a payoff for the Forest Products Lab in terms of visibility and people's understanding of what we do here.

AP

When is that museum tentatively---when is construction going to maybe start?

TH

Construction has started in the sense that they put utilities and prepared the site for the building. The plan for the building is to have it constructed possibly in stages if we don't get all the money we need by 2010.

AP

Okay so relatively soon.

TH

Relatively soon. They already have a couple of part-time people there as curators and a board of directors, and with the small staff there they are working on acquiring different display items and that sort of thing. We talked about some of the old equipment we had here as potential for that, but some of it so big and so costly to ship that it would be hard to get it out there so I don't know if that will work. But work on its development has already started and part of it will be an interactive kind of opportunity, not only at the museum but also interactive on the internet.

AP

Oh great.

TH

So people can go to the museum's website and learn something about the Forest Service and then for the people that partner on the museum, help with materials and supplies, we will have a link to their websites and they can tell a little bit about what their contribution to the whole thing was too. So I think it will be a good opportunity for a lot of people. Missoula seems like kind of an out of the way place but it's sort of a central place for the Forest Service and there are a lot of people that take vacations through the West and that will be a nice place for them to visit when they go to that area.

AP

Sounds like a great opportunity for the Lab, definitely to get involved.

TH

I think so. With the museum's agreement to make a lot of the materials used there be things that the Lab worked on and did research on, I think that the Lab will have a high visibility at that museum. Of course its opening coincides with the Lab's 100th anniversary too, so that is something.

AP

Very busy.

TH

Yeah.

00:45:55 - 00:48:16 Retirement

retirement, reasons, volunteers

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00:45:55

AP

Well we've kind of talked a little bit about some of the stuff that you have been doing since you retired. Just to go back a little bit, what kind of made you decide to retire and when did that process actually happen?

TH

Well actually that is a fairly easy question for me. I was eligible to retire when I came to the Lab in 1994 so it wasn't like I retired as soon as I could, I had always thought that I'd like to work for the Forest Service as long as I continued in a paying job. When I decided that my work would just be volunteer type work and that sort of thing then I would retire and leave. But anyway when I came to the Lab I was eligible to retire but it was a very interesting place so I stayed around for a few years. Actually, my decision to retire was based as much on the election as anything else. I thought that after the year 2000, the administration that was coming in would be much more supportive to the Lab's programs and that would be a good time to make a transition. You know, a new director might have people that were perhaps a little more sympathetic to our programs here and understanding of what we were trying to accomplish. I didn't want to leave before that time when you know a lot decisions could have been made, some of which could have been fairly negative to the Lab's future. So that really was what triggered the timing for my retirement was when I thought we had an administration that would be quite supportive of the Lab and allow it to continue into the future.

AP

So when was your last day here?

TH

June 2001.

AP

Okay.

TH

Or July I guess it was, 2001. But almost thirty-seven years exactly.

AP

Wow, that is a very long career.

TH

Yeah it was long but as I said I decided I would rather continue to work for the Forest Service as long as I was going to work for pay, so that's what I did.

00:48:16 - 00:51:39 Career

career, mark, impact, Forest Service, fire prevention, research, small diameter timber, Hurricane Katrina, budgets; Employees' buildings and facilities

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00:48:16

AP

Do you feel that the work that you have done here as a director has made an impact on the Lab, or the Forest Service, or even USDA?

TH

Well I hope so. I feel that it has. I hope other people do too but I think USDA for example, again going back to our work on small diameter, low-value material, I think that has been a real boon for USDA because of not only the fire prevention aspects but because of the rural development aspects of that program. It doesn't just include things like small diameter, fire prone material in the west, we did a lot of work on some of the low-value species in the east and looked at opportunities to use those and use those productively. Some were more successful than others but I think it has had an impact in the sense that even where perhaps things aren't actually commercialized to the extent we would like to see them, the opportunity is there. I think it just takes the right set of circumstances for something to happen. So I think that had a major impact.

Then of course just the fact that we kept the Lab I think pretty strong and vibrant during a time when support might not necessarily have been directed as strongly at our program as some others was important because there is always going to be times like that when support is very strong and times when it isn't quite so strong and you need to work through both of those. The Forest Service research in general has had its best time back in the 1960s and a lot of the buildings you see here at the Forest Products Lab were built at that time, a lot of the labs that are located at other research stations in towns around that station's area were built during that time. So there was a strong feeling about technology and research and its need during that time.

Since that time that strong feeling is still there but there has been so many other demands on budget dollars that we're competing with a lot of other needs. Right now, of course, things like Iraq and Hurricane Katrina and things like that have taken a lot of budget dollars and made it more difficult to free up some dollars for things that we do here. So I think we have made an impact in the sense that keeping the Lab as a vibrant place has been good. And of course now in the last few years this new building that is being built at the Lab gives us the opportunity to do some very forward-thinking research and I'm sure everyone at the Lab is very hopeful, I am too, that the operating dollars and maybe more people will follow the capability we have there, kind of a field of dreams, we've built it and we hope that they will come.

00:51:39 - 00:54:15 Forest Products Laboratory

Forest Products Laboratory, future, personnel, labor supply, funding

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00:51:39

AP

Where do you see the Lab being in about ten, fifteen years? Do you think it is going to be vibrant again, have rejuvenation?

TH

I think so, I would guess that it is probably not going to grow back to sizes that existed twenty years ago, or thirty years ago. During the war, World War II, there were over seven hundred people that worked here. But even in the '80s there were four hundred and now there is less than two hundred, I think. I don't think those numbers are going to turn around that rapidly, hopefully the Lab will stabilize or maybe even grow a little bit. But I see it as a major contributor to forest products research, there are some new initiatives going on here right now that are good opportunities for wood products, they are good opportunities for firms that are having to change their product lines. So, I think the Lab has stayed abreast of what the needs are and as long as they do that I think there will be some support and that's the important thing.

I hope that perhaps in addition federal funding that there might be some funding from other places like the industry, or like other public agencies. I always thought that the Forest Products Lab should be the wood products lab supporting all federal agencies, Department of Defense for example had a real need for our help when they were deconstructing those buildings, they had a real need for our help when they were working on minesweepers---with the wooden hulls they had a hard time keeping the engines secure when a mine would go up close to the ship and the Lab was able to help them solve that problem. So there are things like that and to me it would just make sense for us to be the federal government's wood products research arm and people would come to us from all agencies. I think that opportunity is there but I see the Lab as continuing to be a major player in wood products research in the future.

00:54:15 - 00:56:47 Vocational Interests

vocational interests, Forest Products Laboratory, Forest Service, reflections

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00:54:15

AP

Well would you say that in terms of your career ambitions, your goals, do you feel that the Lab has a played an important part of meeting those kinds of personal goals that you had and how so?

TH

Well I think so. It is one of the goals that I had when I joined the Forest Service was to manage a unit in the field, this is called the field if you are in the Washington office [laughs]---that's the central location for the Forest Service so this is the field even though it's not kind of like the field in national forest system where you are managing the forest. But that was one of my goals and this was an opportunity to do that.

I actually spent about half my career in the Washington office. I moved to Washington in 1976 and then came here in 1994 so I guess one of my goals, unstated, was not to spend most of my time in the Washington office and I split it about evenly between the time I was there and the time I was at various field locations. So, it was a good opportunity to come and have a chance to manage a unit here with all the various kinds of issues and opportunities that you have. It is quite different than for example managing a staff in our central office. That really filled that particular goal and it was a good opportunity to come here. Like I said it was a great opportunity but I also thought that I was coming back to the place that I had started. And of course we still live here for that reason among others, Madison is a nice place to live but we also have family and others around here. So it was a great opportunity to come back here for that reason too. But it was really a good opportunity to come back to a place like this and have a chance to work with scientists and others on some major problems.

00:56:47 - 00:59:37 Final Comments

final comments, memories, anecdotes

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00:56:47

AP

Well those are most of the questions that I came with. But I guess for a final question, do you have any stories, memories, or comments about your time here that you would like to record for posterity?

TH

Oh well you know there is a lot of memories, that would be a hard one. I had many opportunities for international visits and meeting with people from around the world that I would not have had had I not come here and that certainly is an opportunity that was very rewarding. Some of the things that we did, the Alaska work or things like that where we were able to focus on a particular problem and put considerable effort into it, I think is a memory that you always have because I think we made a difference, made a difference for the Forest Service, made a difference for the people that live there, gave them some opportunities, maybe some hope. And that was always a rewarding kind of thing.

We always said---this is one of the things I remember---is if we could get people to visit the Lab they would be a support of it. And our saying was always if we can get them in the door, then we are going to have a supporter. I remember one of our partners on touring the Lab told us after the tour, we said what did you think of the Lab and she said I felt I was looking at the future. Things like that you just remember because I think a lot of people feel that way, perhaps can't express it that well, but it is just something that kind of sticks with you because a lot of people were that way. They would leave and just say I just can't believe all the things you are doing here and what a contribution you are making. It was that problem of getting them through the door to begin with. So I have a lot of memories about the Lab and most of them are very positive kinds of memories. I guess that's about all I'd say on that, I could ramble on about them but I don't need to.

AP

Well I would really just like to thank you for coming out and taking part in this and sharing your stories.

TH

Well it will be interesting to see what all of this culminates in then. You will have some sort of document or something that will just show different aspects.

AP

Yes.

00:59:37

[End of Interview]

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