First Interview Session (July 29, 2008)
Narrator: Gary C. Myers
Interviewer: Allison Page
Date: 29 July 2008 (Tuesday)
Location: Forest Products Laboratory
Transcriptionist: Allison Page
Auditor: Lauren Benditt (11/11/08)
00:00:00 - 00:05:39 Introduction
Introduction, background, education; Forest Service, employment; Education, degrees, bachelor of science 1963, Masters of Forestry, Duke University, 1963; Education, programs, Dr. Jack Sullivan; research, preparation; wood technology, early interest
Good morning, today is Tuesday July 29th, 2008. My name is Allison Page, I'm with the UW-Madison Oral History Program and this morning I will be interviewing Gary Myers about his experiences at the Forest Products Lab. Mr. Myers if you would like to start off with maybe telling us where you were born, where you're from, and maybe some of your education background?
I was born in south central Pennsylvania, small town outside of York, Pennsylvania. My educational background was undergraduate degree from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania and then a master of forestry degree from Duke University where I majored in wood technology. I had a summer job during the college years with the Forest Service in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, that was my first introduction to the Forest Service, and then after graduation from Duke University I went to work for a company called Interchem as a wood technologist in their wood finishes laboratory. I was there for roughly a year and a third, saw an ad somewhere after about nine months when I was there---ten months---for Forest Products Laboratory was looking for scientists and one of my colleagues at Interchem knew I was not the happiest with the situation there, put the ad in my desk and one thing led to another and I ended up coming here---well I applied, got a position here and came here in November of 1964 and stayed here until my retirement in May 31, 2003.
And when did you receive your degrees?
Actually it was a---the way they had it setup with LVC, I'll use LVC instead of Lebanon Valley College, between LVC and Duke University they had a three-two program. So you went three years to Lebanon Valley College, at the end of your third year if your grades were an acceptable level you applied to Duke University, and I did and I was admitted, went down there, finished up in 1963. With the three-two program you ended up getting both degrees on the same year so LVC, bachelor of science in 1963 and Duke University M.F. in 1963.
That's a great deal.
It is, it is. Don't know if they still have the program or not but it was a great deal at that time.
How were the programs there? Did they kind of prepare you for your work here?
I'd say the professor that I had, my advisor at Duke University, probably---Jack Sullivan, Doctor Sullivan---he probably prepared people more for research position than he did for an industrial position and I don't think I really realized that until I was working on the master's thesis and realized that hey this research is fun. So that's why I ended up pursing research for my entire career. But when I look back on it Doctor Sullivan really prepared people for a research position, just the way he talked, the way he conducted labs, how he critiqued your lab reports, what you had in them. Everything that he was doing was probably preparing people for a research position. There's another person that was retired from the Lab who went back and got his PhD at Duke after I was there and he said the same thing---that's Gus Wahlgren---he felt the same thing that Doctor Sullivan prepared people for research positions rather than industry positions.
Is there anything in your early years even before going to school that interested you about wood products or wood technology?
No real experiences?
Not really, no. Well I did some woodworking, yes, but nothing to spark the interest in wood and I didn't really get the interest in wood technology until I'd say about my first semester at Duke. Scotty Harrar, Doctor Elwood Harrar was the dean and he said, "Now you guys that are here on the three-two program," he said, "you probably come in here with a Smokey Bear idea that you are going to get your masters, you are going to go out, you are going to be out in the woods all the time." He says, "forget it." He said, "you are going to be piloting a desk. You go to work for the Forest Service, they are not going to put you out in the woods with a masters degree, you are going to be sitting behind a desk, you are going to be doing administrative things." So at that point I thought do I want to do that or do I want to go into wood technology with the goal of going to industry so I decided okay I'll do that; if I'm going to be behind a desk I might as well be in a wood production facility and so that was my goal. I switched to, or I chose to major in the wood technology program and when I got to doing my masters thesis I said whoa this research is fun, let's pursue that as a career and that is how I got into the research as a career.
00:05:39 - 00:10:45 Employment
Employment, early history, Interchemical Corporation; Forest Products Laboratory, perception, The Wood Handbook, Setterholm, Vance; Forest Products Laboratory, projects, paper and fiber physics
So after you were done you went to Interchem?
And what exactly is that?
Interchem---they were originally know as Interchemical Corporation and then they changed the name to Interchem and later to Inmont. They were manufacturers of coatings and they had a big business involved with coating of wood products. They also had coatings in different fields, appliances, containers, wrappers this kind of stuff, but the part that I was with was the wood coatings and how do you make a coating that is cheaper, better, and meets the needs for the wood products industry. Most of their coatings were interior, they were at that time in the early '60s there was a lot of wood paneling being manufactured and used and so that was their primary emphasis was on wood paneling. They were located---they had a lab in Clifton, New Jersey and that's where I was working at when I started and when I left.
You said that you came to the Lab in '64?
Had you heard about the Lab previous to working here and what kind of impressions did you have of the Lab in those early years?
I heard of the Lab first when I was at Duke University. When you get into the wood technology programs one of the first books you end up, in addition to your textbooks, that they handed us was The Wood Handbook ("Wood Handbook: Wood as an Engineering Material") and that is sort of the bible as far as wood use, wood utilization. So we were giving a wood handbook and of course on there it says published by Forest Products Laboratory and so that made us aware and of course professors mentioned FPL quite often. When I went out to Colorado [train whistle].
I think we will pause it here for a second.
(pause in interview due to passing train)
I started to say when I went to Colorado for the summer job the district ranger I worked for he knew I was going into wood products or wood technology and we talked about that a few times and one of his things was he said why don't you go to work, if you like working for the Forest Service, why don't you go to work at Forest Products Laboratory. And my reaction was yeah sure, those are a bunch of elite scientists, there is no way I'm going to fit in there. So I just sort of brushed it off but he did suggest that at that time and of course little did I know that I would eventually end up here.
Speaking of which, how did you hear about the opening that you eventually filled here?
I heard about it through a colleague when I was in Interchem. He was in a different group but he knew I wasn't the most thrilled with the position there at Interchem and one day Joe walked by my desk, put his hand on my desk, and when he lifted his hand here was an ad from I think Chem and Engineering News that he torn out of, laid on my desk and just kept on walking. I looked at that and read it and then followed through.
What position was that?
That position was with Vance Setterholm, was the project leader, and it was a project called paper and fiber physics. That was the one I applied for and got and that's the one I started at.
So a little bit about your earliest time here at the Lab, the first couple months, years, what kind of work did you do and what were your initial impressions of the Lab when you first started?
Well the initial work that I did was Vance plunged me right into research. He had a project that he suggested, it was two-way restraint in paper during drying and he was doing some research on that in I think it was in tension of paper, tension tests of paper, and he wanted to do it in compression. So Vance assigned me this project to work on the two-way restraint. Well the first thing that had to be done was to come up with a jig or a fixture that we could apply different restraints and different directions on paper so that was my first assignment to work on that.
I found the people all to be very helpful. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing that went on with different people within the work unit but everybody sort of accepted and welcomed newcomers into the project and I found it to be a very open and very friendly group. Actually I found that throughout the whole laboratory. So they all made you feel real welcome here.
00:10:45 - 00:17:55 Forest Products Laboratory
Forest Products Laboratory, early years, colleagues: Setterholm, Vance, project leaders; Benson, Roy, technician; Wickmann, John, technicians; projects, paper, pulp, bleaching, smells; recycling wood fiber from municipal waste, Hammermill; personnel, management; Research, fiberboard, Fay, Don, project leader; personnel changes, project leaders, colleagues, retirement; Fiberboard, research dropped; Mechanical pulping
And who were some of the people that you started working with in those early, early years here?
Well the people I started working with Vance Setterholm was my project leader, the head technician at that time was John Wickman and actually the same day that I came in there was another technician that joined, Roy Benson. So for the first, actually, four years I worked primarily with those three other people Vance as project leader, and really worked I'll say shoulder to should with John and Roy.
And then you had the other people in different groups over here you had your papermaking group, you had your pulping group, you had your bleaching group. We all tended to be in the same area here, we were all on the same floor; we tended to intermingle a lot. When the paper machine was running, which at that time was right outside this door, you tended to go out and you were nosy of what's going on, what are they doing so you picked up a little bit on the paper machine operation. If they were doing cooking, of course you smelled that from downstairs and you would go down and you would look and see what was going on there too.
What does that smell like?
Ah have you ever been by a pulp mill?
No I've heard it's a very interesting smell.
[laughs] It's best if you are right next to the digester when they blow a cook, it doesn't smell nearly as bad as if you are a little distance away from and it gets diluted. What it is it's your spent liquors that they used, sodium hydroxide and various other chemicals that go in there, dissolves the lignin, dissolves some of the hemicelluloses, and it is very brown and is very frothy and it---like I say if you are right next to it it doesn't smell bad but if you get away from where it is diluted down it's like bad cabbage.
Bad cabbage, best way to describe it. Really bad cabbage.
So you worked on this project with Vance for four years?
For four years, correct.
Then I was moved to, they had a new group here they were trying to look at recycling wood fiber from municipal waste. This was after collection and the city of Madison had a Hammermill reduction plant out on Olin Avenue and we were working with the city of Madison to see if we could get that back and recover the wood fiber portion from there. They did some work on separating out the metallic, magnetic and non-magnetic metals, glass, plastics---well at that time plastics went to landfill. So we had a project here going on trying to do that, the conclusion was if you are going to get good clean wood fiber it has to be pre-consumer waste before it gets into the refuse truck. That was that particular project, we worked on different ways to get it back and clean it up. It turned out it was all very poor quality fiber. I was in that group for three years, I became disenchanted with the project leader and I asked for a transfer out.
Was it just a conflict of interest or focus?
I'd say it was more in the skills of the project leader. I didn't feel that the project leader was a good researcher and ultimately he ended up being let go and the A.D. that defended him, the Assistant Director defending him, also was let go. So it was the project leader, he just was not a good research leader. Then I went on to fiberboard.
Well if you want to talk a little bit about that?
Well that was a long time, that was around 1972, 1971-72, got into the fiberboard research. There had been other people that were in that area before, there was a man by the name of Sid Schwartz and he did a lot of the fiberboard research, he was gone by the time I came to the Lab. Paul Steinmetz was doing some work on fiberboard research when I was moved into that or went into that project. Don Fahey was project leader. The lead technician was a man by the name of (Heinz) Nastke was his last name and I'm having a rough time now remembering his first name, but he was the lead technician in wet formed hardboard and then later on Dave Pierce came into it also and Dave was primarily in---Heinz Nastke was the person's name, Heinz Nastke was the lead technician in wet forming, then Dave Pierce come in and he was primarily dry forming. I stayed in that and it went through several different project leaders. Don [Fay?] retired, I think Ted Wagner---no Don Fahey, it was moved out of Don Fahey they decided to put all panel products together into one, plywood, particleboard, park board or fiberboard. They didn't have a project leader yet at that time so an A.D. (Assistant Director) was the acting project leader. So then it became John Youngquist came onboard and John was the project leader. Heinz in the meantime had retired, Dave Pierce moved into papermaking, and I worked with a man by the name of Bill Brewer who was lead technician, Bill retired. Around 1986 they made a decision at the director's level---John Erickson was director, Hank Montrey was the deputy director---and they were looking at how can they reemphasize the research program. The staff was shrinking. So, around 1986 they decided that hardboard, fiberboard was a mature industry, they weren't going to do any more research on it so it was dropped. At that time I went into mechanical pulping. Now the difference between hardboard, when you take a fiber apart in hardboard, and when you take it apart from mechanical pulp, it's a matter of the temperature and the energy you put into it and where you split the wood fiber. So you split it in a different place suitable for fiber for papermaking, it you split it in the middle (lamella) it's only good for hardboard or fiberboard. So in 1986/87 I went into mechanical pulping and that's where I stayed until retirement.
00:17:55 - 00:20:33 Satisfying Projects, Fiberboard Research
Satisfying projects, fiberboard research; Forest Products Laboratory, relationships, industry; Mechanical pulping, small diameter trees, National Forest System, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station (Portland, Or.)
I guess over the course of your career here, was there one particular project that gave you the most satisfaction?
I enjoyed the fiberboard research real well and the reason I enjoyed that very much was---there seemed to be an acceptance and communication between the industry and what the Lab was doing, more so than I think in the paper industry. The paper industry was more aloof. If you were a chemical engineer---well I shouldn't say that, I was going to say if you were a chemical engineer you were readily accepted by the people in the paper industry but I know there are some other chemical engineers I worked with and they said no you still weren't. If you were in the industry, fine they shared information, if you were outside the industry they tended to be a little aloof. But I didn't find any in the hardboard industry, those folks were more willing to share information and so that probably was good.
The part that I think was the most meaningful was probably the last area I was working in, and that was again was mechanical pulping, but we were working with the National Forest System on the utilization of the small diameter trees. I really liked that because I felt we were doing something that was helping out the National Forest System. They had a major problem and they still have a major problem and you probably heard of them already just today, yesterday about the fires and overabundance of wood in the national forests. What are they going to do with it? So I think that was very---I liked that because I felt like the work we were doing here, mine was just a little small segment in the pulping; there were other people involved with different phases of it. I felt we were doing something to help the National Forest System. I think it brought us closer, at least it cooperation with some of the other experiment stations. Now I don't think they call them experiment stations anymore, but the Pacific Northwest station in particular. We had a working relationship with them, I got to know those people and I think that was better, otherwise you tended to be a little bit more isolated here at FPL, there wasn't a whole lot of cooperation---at least in the area I was in---with the different stations and it wasn't until we got into this with the small diameter trees where you had a chance to work with the PNW, work with some of the national forest and I thought that was very beneficial.
00:20:33 - 00:23:49 Travel, Mostly National
Travel, mostly national; conferences, meetings, mill visits; Forest Products Laboratory, job descriptions, active studies, writing, experiments, testing
Did you get to do any national or international travel associated with your work?
I got to do national travel, going to different cities to different meetings and usually when you went to a meeting or conference there then you would try to combine mill visits with them, to do this sort of thing. You either went as a an attendee at the meeting or you went as a presenter where you gave a paper. The only international I did was to Vancouver, British Columbia and that was as an attendee to a meeting, but I did get to travel to different locations within the United States.
So when you were here at the Lab working did you get to spend a lot of time in the Lab actually doing stuff like research rather than paperwork or was it kind of mixed?
You have a mix. You don't get to spend all your time out in the lab you have to do---there is paperwork that has to be done. The way I tried to run my research program was---you have a study that is active. In the meantime you are---I'll start right in the beginning. First you got to get an active study and once you have this active study going on then you have to get another study that is in the planning stage. So eventually you reach the point where you have that you are analyzing your data and writing up a publication, you have one that is actively collecting data, and another that is getting ready to go or starting off. Most of the time of spending time in the lab was during the beginning stages of an active study and I always called this the most exciting part of the study because you had a hypothesis as to what you are going to do and so finally get to put that into concrete, you get to do something with that. How do the procedures that you have in mind, are they going to work? Do they need some tweaking? Are you all wet?
So to me that was the most exciting part, when you go out there in a lab and you try different things knowing that chances are you are going to have to do some changing or have to do some tweaking. Once it became routine and then you turn it over to---you work with the technician during that time. Once it becomes routine and then you turn it over to the technician entirely, you depend upon them to run the replicates and if something goes wrong you depend upon them to tell you so you know that something went wrong say with a particular run or something was a little different---you have to make a note of that because that could have an impact on your analysis when you are looking at your data. To me the hardest part though was the writing of the publication. That was always the very hard part. So you always tried to keep three studies were actually in progress at the same time. Yes you got in the lab a little bit, you could not spend all your time there. Sometime for a break when you are writing a publication you'd go for a walk in the lab just for a break and just to see what is going on.
00:23:49 - 00:25:45 Publishing
publishing, refereed journals, publications; public, questions and answers
Did you get to publish a lot?
Yes. That was part of the job. The only product the Forest Products Laboratory has is publications and presentations at meetings. You need to get the information out to the public. The customer is the public and one of the things you have to do is you have to get that information out to them. Now your only way to do that is through publications. They preferred you do it in refereed journals where it is actually reviewed by your peers, that's the first choice. The second is lab publications, they encourage you to go to meetings and give papers. Again, then you had instant feedback from your audience when you gave a paper. The other thing you had to do was answer questions. The phone would ring, you had no idea who was on the phone, they had a question, it was your job to answer that question the best you could, answer it honestly and to the best of your ability. If you didn't know, but if you knew somebody else had a better answer or had the answer for it, you didn't know it, then you would refer them to that person. Then usually you would tell the person that's on the phone, if you don't get a reply from whoever I transfer you to, call me back and I'll follow up. Because the one thing you wanted to do was to make sure that the public got an answer to their question because they are paying taxes and the taxes are used to support the Lab, just like the employees are paying taxes, but they are the customer of the Laboratory. That was one of the things that was---I think everybody learned early on in their career that your customer is the public.
00:25:45 - 00:30:08 Challenges
Challenges, day to day, budgets, equipment needs; typical day
Would you say that the work that you did, whether it was actual research or doing publications, would you say that the work that you did challenged you on a day to day basis?
Oh yes. It had to. If it didn't challenge you it would have been boring and you probably wouldn't, or I wouldn't have remained in research all that time. Because it was challenging and every day---I used to always say every day was a new learning experience because every day you learn something just a little something new, but every day you learned something new. So yes it was a challenge. You had obstacles you had to get around, some of them were monetary, you didn't have the money to buy the equipment that you wanted and how could you make due with what you got. That was always a problem here, still is a problem here. It's the dollars and you didn't have the money to buy the latest and greatest equipment so you had to make due because salaries consume such a large part of the budget, their appropriated dollars. Always was a problem, still is a problem.
Was that particularly frustrating for either you or any of the other staff do you think?
Yeah it is frustrating. It was frustrating because you didn't have---you knew there was better equipment out there but the equipment was expensive and you knew you couldn't get it. Sometimes you were criticized because the equipment you used that you couldn't get numbers that were meaningful to industry, and I'll use an example, small pressurized refiners used in mechanical pulping. You can't get the same numbers and you can't get the same quality pulp that you can get with a much larger piece of equipment. Well there is no way the Lab first of all could afford a large piece of equipment and secondly there is no way that the Lab has any need for an industrial sized piece of equipment, too much raw material to start it, too much finished product that you have to dispose of when you are done. So you know it was one of those things you really couldn't do it but it would have been nice to have a better piece of equipment, a more modern, one that had better controls on it and things like this. So yeah it was frustrating because in one hand you couldn't buy it, secondly you got criticized for not having it. So yes it was frustrating but we tried to do the best we could with what we had.
Well we've talked a little bit about the work that you did. Would you ever describe your work as being typical or atypical on a day to day basis?
I don't know how to quite answer that one because I would say that each day was different. About the only thing you could say when you knew what was going to happen is if there was a meeting, or you had to give a paper---you pretty well knew what was going to happen there except you never knew what the question and answer session was going to be. Each day was just a little bit unique. I don't think you could say that all five days of the week would be the same and you could say that was typical because what might happen this week will be different next week and was different from the week before. There is little things that changed all the time. The basic things were the same week after week after week. Some things you had to do there are some things that had to be done and this sort of thing so that would be typical but the rest of it probably was more atypical than typical, which made it interesting.
Oh I'm sure. Never get bored.
You never got bored---well once in a while you get bored but most of the time no.
00:30:08 - 00:33:19 Social Activities
Social activities, organizations, FPLEA, picnics, parties, retirees luncheon, friendship
What was the social atmosphere like here? Were there memorable colleagues that you have that come to mind? Did the Lab every do any social activities that you could take part in?
The Lab did have different social activities. They had a group called [FLEPE?] and they would have a picnic in the summer and they had some different things throughout. When I first came here the pulp and paper group always got together, they had their own Christmas party that after we got sort of dispersed and everything that went by the wayside---that no longer happened.
There were a lot of good friendships with a lot of people. The Lab basically was a very friendly, very outgoing group of people. I think today you noticed that walking down the hall, I saw some others that I had worked with. This is typical, I had a lot of good people that I worked with. I think that everybody was willing to help the next person, to help the other person out. There was this cooperation, there was this willingness to help, there was a friendship. I've heard a lot of people say when they retire they don't miss the job but they miss the people, and I think that's true, you miss the people.
This morning when I come through the front door, there was a woman that I had worked with, she was in paper testing at the time she's now in engineering mechanics lab, and we had worked together for years. I remember when she came here to the Lab and we had worked together for years. People like that you miss. You had a working rapport with those people, you had a friendship with those people and you miss that when you leave, it's the people. The unit clerk, we had worked together for 38 years, we came about the same time, we had worked together---technicians that you worked with, other scientists that you worked with, administrators. In fact last week there was an FPL retiree luncheon and you got to see a lot of these people that you had worked with over the years and had a chance to see them and talk to them again. So, I think the big thing about the Lab was the willingness to help each other out, the willingness to assist each other. There wasn't a lot of, this is mine I'm not going to share it with you; this is my turf. Yeah there were turf wars that went on, mostly space wars, who is going to get this physical space to put their stuff on, who is going to get that physical space. And we say turf wars, space wars we used to always call them, space wars. But there was this willingness to help each other out either with sharing knowledge, just emotional support, and I think there was a lot of that.
00:33:19 - 00:39:35 Colleagues
Colleagues, memories, stories, workplace humor; Keller, Eugene "Gene"; Simons, Forests; practical joke; Setterholm, Vance; Sanur, Nescmi; Men's Club, Forestettes
Were there any really interesting characters that worked here that stand out in your mind? Or memorable events that were just kind of crazy?
I'll bring up one. I shared an office one time with a man by the name of Eugene Keller. Gene had a very, very bad stuttering habit, or very bad stuttering problem and somebody told me that he had a wicked sense of humor. I didn't really know if that was true or not but when I shared the office with him I got to see that wicked sense of humor. At one time they had a wooden press made in the carpenter shop complete with the wooden screw and the whole thing made out of hardwood so it was a beautiful piece of art actually. It would have been used to press hands sheets, after they make a hand sheet they put blotters on them and they squeeze the excess water out of them with a physical press and so this was done to do that.
Well there was a project leader by the name of Forest Simons and Forest could be cranky at times. It was during that time Forest had this press sitting in his desk, this was his pride and joy. Well at that time we had to take a one hour lunch break and so Gene come in and he had some black walnuts---black walnuts are a extremely hard nut. Gene says I'm going to have a little fun. So he knew how Forest, he was so fussy about this press. Gene went over in his lab, he took a hammer, he cracked the walnuts, he picked out the meats, he threw them away, he took the broken shells, he put them on the platen of the press and he spread them around the edge of the press---the press was sitting on a table. So lunchtime was over and Forest come back and he walked in his office and he saw all these nut shells around his press. Well he went ballistic. He was running up and down that hall and he was interrogating everybody, everybody but Gene Keller. He never came into our office, he never questioned me, he never questioned Gene and he's running up and down the hall and he's interrogating---he's just livid, interrogating everybody.
Finally, Vance Setterholm calmed him down and said Forest look at your press, somebody's pulling your leg. There are no indentations in the wood. They were never cracked in that press, somebody cracked them elsewhere and put them in on the press. Forest calmed down. The whole time when he was running up and down the hall Gene was sitting there chuckling under his breadth and it was all I could do to keep from laughing also because I knew what happened and just listening to this going on, right there and then told me he's got a wicked sense of humor. Then another time, his boss was Necmi Sanyer, and Necmi's office was at the opposite end of the hall. Necmi come back from lunch and he come by and Gene tried to get his attention---he wanted to ask him a question---but never got Necmi's attention and Gene got up and he stood there in the doorway. He's standing there, he's watching down the hall. All of a sudden he runs back, he dials the phone, and he talked to Necmi. He hung the phone up and laughs and he says it worked. I said what worked. He said I waited until he got a certain distance from his office, quick dialed his phone to make him run the last bit and it worked, he ran, he was panting. Once again the wicked sense of humor come out and then after that I to read some of his writings that he did for CHIPS and things like that, he really did have a wicked sense of humor. So you talk about somebody with a memorable experience, that was---those times that I spent sharing an office with Gene Keller were priceless because I would have never realized that that man had such a wicked sense of humor.
There were a lot of memorable people to work with, a lot. So you'd have to start rattling off probably, you know, I can rattle off some names, maybe a quarter of the workforce at that time. The technicians that you worked with and your project leaders and that were usually all very memorable, there was only bad experience.
I remember another gentleman talking about Necmi very fondly.
Yeah Necmi Sanyer he was originally from Turkey, came to this country as I think as a refugee from Turkey. Got his PhD, came here to the Lab. Very intelligent person in the area of pulping. Maybe a little aloof, maybe not, he was very, very helpful to everybody. I mean he answered your questions and all so I guess I wouldn't say that he was---people that worked for him had a high esteem for him and really liked him. Having been on the same floor with him, yes, you got to know him and everything. At first you thought he was aloof but after that no, no he was a very down to earth person.
Now were here when they still had the Men's Club or was that gone by the time you got here?
Men's Club I think might still have been going on at that time, I was not an active participant in that. So that's why I'm sort of vague on that, if it was still active at that time. I think it was probably was but I think was starting to phase out. It's likewise they had what is called the Forestettes for the women.
00:39:35 - 00:46:01 Women Employees, Clerical Personnel
women employees, clerical personnel; administration; directors, history, changes, budget cuts, downsizing of organizations, project leaders, history; consolidation
Yeah we've only interviewed I think one woman that worked here. Was there any---I guess I was a little interested in what that was like, it seems that there weren't nearly as many women working here, but that's just because we've only talked to one individual.
There were quite a few women here but most of the women were in clerical positions. There---I'm trying to think---there was one or two women scientists, Charlotte Hiller and Diana Smith and I think there might have been another I'm not sure. Lydia Murmanis I'm trying to think if she was here when I came here or not. I believe she was so that would have been three that were research scientists. The bulk of the women were working in clerical, not so much administrative even at that time. This was prior to really those jobs being opened up to women and so there were quite a few women here but like I say most them were in the clerical positions.
What was the administration here like? Did that change quite frequently?
Oh yes. When I came the director was Ed Locke, Ed Locke was the all, he died. I met him but he died probably nine months, ten months after I came. Then they had an interim director, that was Allen Freas, turned out Allen was my backyard neighbor I didn't realize that when we bought our house, but Allen turned out was my backyard neighbor. He was followed by Herb Fleischer, and that was followed by Robert Youngs. Then we had John Erickson. Then we had Tom Hamilton and Chris Risbrudt was director when I retired. So went through quite a few directors; the whole system changed somewhere along the way. They used to have, they called them division chiefs, they had five of those as the research---well when I came here it was four hundred-twenty-five employees and then a few years later it swelled to around six hundred and then they started getting into budget constraints and then the numbers started to shrink. So then they went from five A.D.s, or five, they called them division chiefs, then they started to reduce that down. They used to have a director, they used to have a deputy director, they used to have oh I think they had some assistant directors, a director and assistant directors. Then they started getting rid of those positions as the number of employees started to shrink, then they went down to a deputy director and seems to me that was back in probably the '80s they did away with that position. I think it was after Hank Montrey left they did away with the deputy director position. Then they went to the A.D. positions, I think originally they had four A.D.s, they went to three, now they are down to two and it has to do with the shrinking. I've been with project leaders, Vance Setterholm was my first, Wayne Karr was my second, then George McSwain who was the project leader and acting A.D. at the---well he was A.D. but he was acting project leader. Then I had John Youngquist. Oh I forgot Don Fahey in there, that was before George McSwain. So it was Fahey and McSwain, Youngquist, then it was Wegner, then it was Horn. I'm trying to think who followed Horn. Klungness is acting---no it wasn't Klungness. Abubakar. Then it was Klungness and then it was Jy Zhu.
Quite a few names to remember.
Quite a few directors, quite a few deputy directors and I can't remember the number of chiefs of the Forest Service.
Was there a reason why they had to do the consolidation as they did?
Budget. Budget was the big driving force, it still is the big driving force. It's the budget. It was during---I don't even know which president it was---they started to cut the budgets. Now it wasn't that they lopped off say this year you got seventy million and next year you got a few hundred thousand or few million less, many times they would hold the budget at the same level. Well with inflation dollars that meant you got cut. So this was what was happening, they started cutting the budget and they just---every president it seemed liked they either got no increase or it was actually physically cut. And so it was driven by budget.
I bet that was very hard on the Lab.
It still is. It was very hard and it still is. When you looked at anywhere from 80 to 85 percent of your appropriated dollars went to pay salaries you had very little leftover for equipment, for supplies, for travel. Yeah it did hurt. It really hurt.
00:46:01 - 00:50:28 USDA Forest Service
USDA Forest Service, impressions, changes, national forests, relationships, Forest Products Laboratory, wood utilization
Along those lines how did you feel or how do you feel about having worked for or with an agency that's part of the USDA, the Forest Service?
I'm very proud of it. I'm still very proud of the Forest Service. If you noticed I wear a belt buckle that says USDA retired or Forest Service retiree. I'm very proud of it. I think the Forest Service is doing a good job, they're always caught in the middle of controversy, they always will be caught in the middle of controversy.
On the national forests they are changing their priorities. When I first worked in a national forest you had grazing going on, you had timber sales going on, you had recreation and timber sales have fallen off to the point where they are pretty well nonexistent. We never heard of a thing called ecosystem management and now they are looking at the whole ecosystem. The first summer I worked on that national forest there was a small staff, I went back there in '76, that staff was huge because then they had gone into what they call the ologists. You have your wildlife biologists, you have your ecologists, you have your hydrologists. So they are looking at so much more on the national forest and recreation has become a huge thing, it was big in '62, it's become huge now because a lot of people want the national forest for recreation. Timber sales, way down. I'm proud. They make mistakes, they are not perfect as an organization. I think the people that are out there, research included, they are trying to do the best they can. Yes, they are going to be open to criticism but I'm still proud to say I was part of the Forest Service.
Do you feel that the Forest Products Lab is going to continue to play a large role in the success or failure of some of the initiatives of the Forest Service in the future?
I think the Forest Products Lab is probably more geared---they are a utilization lab. From that standpoint they are separate in some ways from the rest of the Forest Service because the rest of the Forest Service, like the PNW and a lot of those, their research is geared towards the national forest. FPL, until we get into the small diameter trees, really wasn't all that closely affiliated with the national forests, we were part of it because there are the three prongs of the Forest Service, you have the National Forest System, you have your State and Private Forestry, and you had your Research. But I think as far as the research, the stations are more closely---they work very closely with the national forest, FPL really hasn't done a lot of that. They got more involved in I think the timber marketing unit here now is doing a lot of work with the national forest and I think there are a lot of other researchers here, scientists here, who are working with the national forest now as a result of the small diameter problem.
So, will this continue to grow? I don't know. Will they continue to get this close cooperation or more cooperation with the national forests? I don't know. All I'm saying is having had the opportunity to be part of that for a little while before I retired I liked it and I hope that the Lab does continue to go in that direction of working. But because they are utilization once the material is cut on the national forests and it's sold and they get their money from the timber sale they are essentially done with it, that's where the Lab then comes in---how do you utilize that better? How do you make that product last longer? How do get more value out of it? They are sort of separate.
00:50:28 - 00:57:17 Retirement, Reasons
retirement, reasons; post-retirement activities, colleagues, Hamilton, Tom; Bormet, Dave; retirement, goals, reading
Well I guess maybe switching gears a little bit we could talk a little bit about your later years here at the Lab. What made you decide to retire and when did you retire?
I retired May 31, 2003. I had three goals and then I'll tell you what the trigger as my then project leader Jy Zhu said it was a trigger event. I had three goals I wanted to satisfy before I retired. One, become eligible to retire, so I was under the civil service retirement system, 55 years of age, 30 years of service. I met goal number one. Goal number two was I did not want to retire before I turned 60. When I finally decided to retire I was 62 heading for 63. Third goal was I wanted to achieve 75 percent of my high average three, that is your retirement income would be 75 percent of your high average three. So by the time 2003 rolled around I was at those goals, actually 2002. So then I was looking at well when do I retire, which year am I going to retire, what time of year am I going to retire. Didn't want to retire in the fall of year because you are facing winter, so I'd rather go out in the spring of the year.
The trigger event that triggered it was our oldest grandson here in Madison was scheduled to have some major surgery done on both his ankles in June of 2003 and he was going to be confined to a wheelchair for most of that summer and perhaps a little bit of limited mobility with some walking casts towards the end of the summer just before school started. Not knowing how much help that his parents might need with taking care of him, we decided you know it might be a good time to retire now so I'll be available to give them assistance. Turned out I wasn't needed all that much but that was the trigger event.
What have you been doing since retirement?
Well initially I volunteered because I had left a whole mess of data of that JY was taking and has resulted in I think it was five publications I'm listed as coauthor on it. So initially I was consulting more with him on this sort of thing as a volunteer. I've just been doing a lot of stuff---I'm not volunteering with anything else within the community but there's just been a whole mess of things to do around the house I've let go, other activities to pursue. So I've been busy ever since. Specifically, one particular thing? No, just a whole bunch of things. We do some travel that we are trying to do and we try to get in at least one major trip a year. We got a daughter that lives in the state of Oregon so we need to go there at least once a year to visit her and her family. We got---my wife has a sister and relatives in New Jersey. My parents are still alive in Pennsylvania so we need to go East at least once a year.
Good excuses for traveling.
Good excuses for traveling, correct.
Do you still maintain close relationships with people out here at the Lab? I know you mentioned Tom who I talked to yesterday.
We run into people. As far as a close social relationship with them, no. We keep running into different people, different retirees at different places. Dave Bormett, who I worked with quite a while. We ran into Sharon and he last week in a restaurant. We run into them quite often in restaurants, go out to eat and sure enough there's Dave and Sharon. We've run into other retirees at different places, either stores or out. Last weekend was the retiree luncheon so we had a chance to see a lot of retirees at that time. But yeah I'd say it's an occasional run into them, you bump into them in a store, you bump into them in a mall or a restaurant, in the bank. You know it's just---but that's about the extent of it, we don't have a social relationship with any of the retirees, no.
I know you talked a little bit about some of the goals that you had in terms of retirement. But do you feel in terms of more personal goals or intellectual goals, do you feel that your work here has met those goals that you have?
I think it has, I think it did, yes. I think intellectually you had to keep learning. That's probably one of the things in research, you got to keep learning. You do that through reading different publications. You know like they say textbooks, that's obsolete information. So you read the journals and you also realize that information appearing in journals is probably one to two years old. You talk to different people that are in the fields that you are working in, so you get information that way. You talk to your colleagues, you pick up different techniques. I think intellectually the Lab probably was great because you really---you did an awful lot of reading as part of your job just to stay current and to get ahead. So yes I'd say intellectually the Lab---I still do a lot of reading, it's not technical, but I do a lot of reading. Now I can read other things, which I didn't have the time to read before.
I know what that's like.
When you are a student? Oh and you're working you tend to---you'd rather maybe not read at night if you have been reading all during the day or you tend to read something that's really light. But once you are retired or once you are not a student you can read other things that you read for pleasure, for enjoyment.
00:57:17 - 00:59:20 Final Comments
Well that's pretty much the end of my questions that I had, unless you have any other stories, memories or comments about your time here at the Lab that you would like to share with us?
I guess I'll say that it was a good experience being here, there were some low points as you have in all careers you have some low points, you have a lot of high points. You have---it had to be satisfying or I wouldn't have stayed for 38, well was it 38 years and six months, 38 years and seven months. It had to be satisfying or you wouldn't stay for that long, you'd start to look somewhere else. It had to be challenging or you wouldn't have stayed for that amount of time, would have been looking for some other job somewhere else. The people were always good. I would say again you go back you don't miss the job when you leave but you miss the people because it was always, I always thought a very good close knit group of people to work with.
I'm a little concerned now about the future of the Lab because I'm looking at the decrease in the number of employees. You're are looking at the decreasing budgets and you really have to be---or at least I am concerned as to what is going to happen. I'd like to see the trend reversed but I know they are working at it and the administration is working at and they are working hard to get it turned around and I wish them a lot of success, I hope they can do it. But I am concerned.
Well thank you.
[End of interview]