First Interview Session (August 15, 2008)
Narrator: Karl E. Wolter
Interviewer: Allison Page
Date: 15 August 2008 (Friday)
Location: Phone interview
Transcriptionist: Allison Page
Auditor: Lauren Benditt (11/3/08)
00:00:00 - 00:11:29 Introduction
introduction, biography, family, education, anecdotes; Korean War, 1950-1953, draft, vocational interests; Skoog, Folke Karl, 1908--, scholarships, University of Wisconsin, tissue cultures
Okay good morning today is Friday August 15, 2008. My name is Allison Page, I'm with the UW-Madison Oral History Program and this morning I will be interviewing Mr. Karl Wolter with the U.S. Forest Products Lab. Mr. Wolter, could you maybe just start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, where and when you were born? And maybe a little bit about your early education, anything that kind of prepared you for your work at the U.S. Forest Products Lab?
Okay. I was born a hundred years ago [laughs]. Not quite. 1930, I was born in the south Bronx of New York City and nothing prepared me for my job later on in life. At that time I was a city boy but I always sort of liked nature and my parents were immigrants from Germany, [the Black Forest] and [Northern Europe] and they were always outdoor people when they were young, so they missed the outdoors and so we got outdoors as much as possible. So I got my love of nature from my folks. I still grew up in the New York City school system which at that time was a very good, [though] very crowded. It was oh pre-World War II when I went to high school we had an awful lot of students. I went to a high school of all boys, which was [numbered] 11,000.
So you were really sort of---not only that, but we only went half-time because there were so many. And across the park there was a girl's high school of similar amount of people. And so we had quite a bit of time because there wasn't sports, I was not into sports and things like that. I got a job early in retailing and wholesaling in Manhattan and had a good job and thought that was my future. I worked in retailing 'till I was about 18 or 19 and then I got drafted into the Korean War and my life sort of changed around. I went through officers training school and I wound up in a M.A.S.H. outfit in Korea very similar to the one that you saw in the TV program so you're probably not old enough to have seen it.
Oh I've seen them, yes.
Well anyway I was in a M.A.S.H. outfit and I was 21 years old and a very green [officer] of the group there. After the Korean War ended I was sort at [loose ends]. I wasn't a very good student because I wasn't very good in certain subjects but my family thought well you know this is a time the G.I. bill is available and you can go to college for nothing. But what the hell was I going to do? You know I didn't really know. They thought well you always liked being outdoors and you like plants and animals, and things like that. So I was registered in the [Forestry] school of the State University of New York at Syracuse. At that time the State University of New York didn't exist, they were just colleges scattered throughout the state, it was only incorporated later on.
I got out a lot. I worked on a wildlife station in the summertime, caught fish and marked them and caught deer and collared them---this was the early times where people were putting [radio] collars on animals. And I did pretty well and I liked that part of it but I didn't like the negatives of the outdoors, which was primarily very physical and also [the] black flies in northern New York state were just horrible. So I switched my major into wood technology, primarily in wood identification and submicroscopic identification of wood and actually the cellular level of wood I knew about the Forest Products Laboratory but I had no interest in it at that time, I was more interested in dynamic [(physiology)] growth of plants than I was in just looking at things through a microscope. I [beame] very interested in a new field called tissue culture, which is now all the rage, it's very similar to stem cultures, what you do is you inaugurate the cells of whatever you are working with---plants, animals, human beings---and bring them down to a very reproductive phase. Then by manipulating the medium that they are growing on you can [create] different [cell types]. That's what I was interested in. Doctor Folke Skoog who was a professor here at Madison in the botany department [was a leader in this field and accepted me as a graduate student in 1958]. Am I going to fast?
No, no not at all.
Oh okay. I've covered a lot of territory already. If you want me to ask specific questions, don't hesitate to interrupt.
Anyway, I got a scholarship from Doctor Skoog and he asked me what I wanted to do and I said well I would like to work with trees and that was up his alley because he was a Swede and Swedes are very, very pro-forestry. So I guess that's the reason I got the scholarship, because of what I wanted to work on. I spent four and a half years working with him at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developing tissue cultures for tree species, [specifically] hardwood species. At that time conifers were much more difficult to do. I developed growth medians for a number of different species and was able to, toward the end of my four and a half years, to manipulate the individual cell types to produce various organs. Eventually I was able to produce little tiny trees from single cells.
That became quite popular and a lot of people in China and India and places like that took over some of that work I did.
I was actually solicited by the Forest Products Laboratory to possibly join them. Up to now the Forest Products Laboratory had been primarily an engineering [research] facility. As a consequence most of the people there were engineers, chemists, pulp and paper people or things of that nature, but nobody was interested---or at least at that time---in the growth field. There was a field in wood decay prevention, which involved lower organism, [i.e.] termites, fungi, [bacteria], things of that nature, which broke down wood. Then there was a very, very famous identification section at the Laboratory which identified wood from all over the world and I had that in my background as well from my undergraduate work in wood technology. But I was still a graduate student and actually the Forest Products Laboratory hired me while I was still a graduate student and made writing my thesis and everything else a lot easier. So I never had to go job hunting like young people are doing nowadays, it just sort of fell in my lap. Socially---excuse me [coughs]---socially I really, really liked Madison. It was a [small] city with big city attributes: culture and music, libraries, a little like New York City but without all the downsides and the negatives of all those people. So that's where I started [my profession] and that's where I finished [in retirement].
So, I can tell you what the philosophy was at that time. In addition to engineering, pulp and paper, and chemistry and wood identification the Forest Products Laboratory was always interested in wood quality. What in wood gives it certain aspects? What kind of wood would give you certain qualities? They had spent a lot, a lot of years doing that. For example, why is Italian Spruce the chosen wood for making Stradivarius violins? And why other woods that would have certain characteristics good for certain end products? And there was lots and lots of data that was being published at that time, a lot of it had to do with environmental effects on wood quality, but nobody really understood how wood was formed and that was my job because by that time I was a [plant] physiologist and a biochemist and I was interested in growth hormones [and how they controlled different cell types]. These growth hormones are the key to what wood cells become so you can have woody cells [or] you can have cells that are productive in producing metabilites and things of that nature. So that's what I started out to do there and I was given a fairly wide range of responsibilities in that area because nobody else was doing that there. In fact, there was very few people around the world that were interested in tissue culture of woody species.
Let's see here. Did I skip an awful lot?
00:11:29 - 00:13:28 Korean War, 1950-1953
Korean War, 1950-1953; draft, education, Rhinelander (Wis.), previous employment, retirement, wildlife rehabilitation
Well I have a couple of questions that I would like to ask about what you've already discussed. Just to go back, during what time period did you serve in the Korean War?
Oh let's see in the Korean War---after graduating high school in New York City I was drafted, that was from 1950 to 1952 or 1953. I went back to work in New York City in the retail business, I took some extra course because my grades weren't very good and I was not a very good mathematician. I started college in 1954 at Syracuse, [The] College of Forestry at Syracuse and then, after graduating, I came directly to Madison.
What year was that?
1958. In the interim I worked for the Forest Service up in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, also in the wildlife experiment station in the Adirondacks in upstate New York where I did the wildlife stuff.
Interestingly enough in my retirement we are now rehabbing wild animals so that's been full cycle. We have owls and hawks, [deer, etc.]---that's what I do right now. In fact, this morning I was feeding mice to a baby crane and we've had lots of critters like that. My partner and I are---he works for the city of Madison and we rehab wild animals.
So that also came full cycle and I graduated in 1964, I got my PhD at that time and that's when I actually joined the Laboratory in 1963.
00:13:28 - 00:14:11 Professors, Mentors
professors, mentors; Skoog, Folke Karl, 1908-
Okay. You mentioned the one professor that you worked with quite closely as a graduate student, could you maybe spell his name for me?
Yes. Doctor Folke, F-O-L-K-E, Skoog, S-K-O-O-G.
He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and quite a well-known professor---he's no longer with us---and he was in the botany department. But he was a world-known researcher in tissue culture work [and plant growth hormones].
00:14:11 - 00:19:40 Employees---Recruiting
employees---recruiting; Smith, Diana M.; women employees, sex discrimination against women; Miller, Regis B., Lindbergh Kidnapping (Lindbergh, Charles Augustus, 1930-1932 Kidnapping, 1932.), Kukachka, Bohumil Francis
Okay moving into your time at the Forest Products Lab. You said that you were solicited by the Lab?
I was, by the head of the department involved with quality. [He] had always been interested in pursuing how wood was formed and what controlled the type of wood cells you got. They actually hired me before I finished my graduate work. As I mentioned they were very helpful in getting my degree. Then I worked for a famous woman researcher, and there weren't many women at the Forest Products Laboratory, by the name of Diana Smith. I was wondering if you were going to interview her?
Well we've been working on a list that the Lab gave us. The only woman that we have been able to talk to thus far Marguerite Sykes. I don't know if you---
Okay. Well you know this gal is, I think she must be in her eighties, there were a couple of women at the Laboratory very early and I think that maybe that would be an interesting point of view that you probably wouldn't get form all of the guys.
Definitely. We are in the process of talking with the librarian over there about getting some more names.
Diana Smith was the head of the project that I joined and she was a graduate student from Scotland, had gone to the University---I think Edinburgh---and brought a great deal of European knowhow with her as well as being a very astute scientist. And there was a couple of other women there that were there in the twenties and thirties and she probably could tell you a lot about them.
I can try to find out if she is---I haven't heard from her for a year or two---if she is still alive, I think she is.
Well that would be great.
Yeah and I think---there was some really fun history that she could tell you about because she has almost total recall and I would try to pursue that if I were you.
Because she was there a lot earlier and dealt with the feminist problem in a laboratory that was essentially very conservative men.
Was that pretty common, the sexism, at the Lab?
You know first of all the forestry industry is predominately men at that time. I think it has loosened up a lot, we now have project leaders who are women and in fact I hired three women when I was head of a project there. Most of the women that we get, at that time, were biology oriented but now I guess we have chemists [and engineers] and I haven't followed up on some of that but I could tell you other people that you could interview.
And she was very, very open minded about the type of research I was doing and was very helpful in teaching me the scientific process, she had a mind like that, which is something one has to sort of learn over time. There were a few other women earlier in the twenties and I think maybe if you contacted somebody by the name of Regis Miller.
Okay, yes I've heard of him.
He was head of the identification---and the identification is very, very important in the early years of the forestry industry, especially when we started getting trees from outside of America, tropical trees and things of that nature. There were a couple of stories that you may want to include concerning the Lindberg case, which was based---some of the evidence was based on wood quality and wood identification. Do you remember the Lindberg case?
Yes I do.
Okay. Well anyway, the Forest Products---you have probably run across that already.
Just in passing I believe one interviewee did mention it very briefly.
Yes. Doctor Kukatchka was involved in that trial, it went on forever and it pointed out the fact that some of the forensic evidence for wood and quality in wood identification is very important in some cases.
00:19:40 - 00:22:02 Forest Products Laboratory
Forest Products Laboratory, first impressions, vocational interests, education, University of Wisconsin
Okay. Well before entering the Lab, had you known about it quite early on and what were your first impressions of the Lab?
I knew about the Forest Products Laboratory from my undergraduate work at the forestry school at Syracuse, but I hadn't---I was going in the other direction, I was not going into engineering or wood technology, I was going into biology, but I knew about it. So I never, never expected to be involved with the Forest Products Laboratory or even be involved with the Forest Service or the USDA, I just presumed I would, after graduation, be involved in teaching somewhere or research.
My undergraduate work, my minor, at the University of Wisconsin was in forestry with Doctor Ted Kozlowski and he was the one who pointed out the fact that they were looking for somebody with my background. This was the time a little bit after Sputnik I guess and so there was lots and lots of funding for science work. Even as an undergraduate---even as a graduate student I had a lot of assistance because people were just pouring money into that area. The Laboratory was growing. Now I understand it's sort of shrinking. So let's see I got---you don't mind if I deviate once in a while.
Oh no, not at all. Feel free.
[Yes], because want to make it a little more interesting than just straightforward.
So I knew about the Forest Products Laboratory, I also knew that it was a world center of research and there were lots of other laboratories that were modeled on it, especially in Switzerland and Germany, then the Japanese also had that.
00:22:02 - 00:25:11 Students---Employment
students---employment, first impressions, Forest Products Laboratory, University of Wisconsin, teacher's assistants, work environment, congresses and conventions, Vietnam War, 1961-1975; anti-war demonstrations, Madison (Wis.)
When you started working for the Forest Products Lab as an undergrad, do you have any memories or recollections from your earliest time there and kind of your first impressions of your first days or years?
You know when I first went over there, it was an easy transition because we were on campus. The Forest Products Laboratory had, over the years, had many people who had joint appointments as I did between the University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that was one of the nice things. I was employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but I also had all the facilities of the University at hand, [i.e.] library systems. I also taught a couple of graduate courses at the University of Wisconsin and we had a lot of interactions, I know especially since my professors were UW people.
What I remember about the Laboratory was---well let's see---socially it was sort of separated into professions and people who were in wood quality sort of hung out with wood quality people and the engineers were engineers. But there were social groups outside of that. We also hosted a lot of meetings, national meetings, and international meetings on wood quality, engineering, forest products and forest protection, wood protection, which I became a project leader of later on. It was also the time that Madison was going through the anti-Vietnam era and I recall that a few years after I joined that we had people volunteering to sort of sit at the Laboratory at night so there wouldn't be anybody trying to---it was the time of the bombing in Sterling Hall and that actually happened quite early and I think it was maybe '64, '65 and so the Laboratory was quite concerned about the security. All of a sudden a very, very open area was closed down, fences built up, and things of that nature, which wasn't very pleasant. There was a lot of confrontation between students and especially government [on the] Madison [area] campus as well.
00:25:11 - 00:27:10 University Of Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin, Sterling Hall, bombings, anecdotes, memories
Were you on campus during the bombing of Sterling Hall?
I was, yes, I was just finishing up.
What was that like?
Well, in fact, my laboratory was directly across from Sterling Hall and when we came in that morning all our windows were broken, just from the concussion [in] the building next door, [though] not a great deal of damage [in our lab]. It diverted a lot of attention from our research I think for a while. There was lots of tension on campus. I was not involved very heavily in anti-war activities but everybody else, especially the undergraduates, were. Now this is stretching my memory Allison.
That's---whatever you remember.
So I hope some of it is accurate. Does it sound accurate? How long have you been around the Madison campus?
Two years now.
Two years, ok. So you've probably heard some stories about that. It was an interesting time when the young people were concerned about world events and now they are getting concerned again, which is kind of nice. For a time it was just you know what kind of a job can I get. I'm glad to see that happening again.
Anyway, there is one question here about FPL liaison and if you have strong memory---the strongest memory I have is of Diana Smith who is probably one of the more interesting people I have ever met and it would be worthwhile pursuing.
00:27:10 - 00:29:44 Smith
Smith, Diana M., colleagues; Kukachka, Bohumil Francis
Well could you maybe tell me a little bit about working with her and any kind of maybe special memories you have of working either with her or some of the other colleagues?
Okay. Well primarily working with her, she was my boss and she had a fund of research ideas, in fact some of the ideas that she passed on to me became quite productive and actually were being used around the world as a technique. She just gave these away because that's who she was. There were some other people, Doctor Kukatchka who was head of the wood identification was world renowned wood anatomist. Those were the two people that sort of stand out in my mind, there was a Doctor Sachs who was an [electron microscopist] who we worked closely with and he was involved in the first electron microscopes that were installed at the Forest Products Laboratory and the University---that was an instrument that had just come on to the market, where you could look at cells and parts of cells at a very high magnification.
Did those impressions change during your job/project with the FPL? FPL is a government organization and therefore was extremely sensitive to, like every other organization, to budgets and things of that nature. We primarily had directors who were in the engineering area and sometimes in forestry finances, but nobody who was biologically oriented. So these people actually had to be sort of---a lot of chemists as well---these people sort of had to be indoctrinated into our point of view and the biology of wood formation and wood growth.
00:29:44 - 00:30:53 Career, Early Years
career, early years; Smith, Diana M.; wood---quality, divisions
When you first started working at FPL---
After my degree?
Yes, after your degree. What division did you enter in, the one that was headed by Diana Smith?
That was a project, which was under a larger division of wood quality. There were people who worked on the wood quality in the field. In other words, people would go out and find out if certain planting situations or stocking situation produced different kinds of wood and there was quite a large contingent of that. And they were tied indirectly with silvi-cultural practices, forestry practices, planting practices, thinning practices, harvesting practices; and what influenced these practices had on wood quality.
00:30:53 - 00:32:37 Work Environment
work environment, offices, Forest Products Laboratory, construction, buildings---additions
Did you change projects quite often?
Did I change offices [and projects]? Yes, initially I had a wonderful office that was looking over Lake Mendota and I could see all of the University campus and the lake. I was there for quite a long time, the laboratory was across the hall. Then I got---what happens with government agency is that they keep mixing things up and eventually the wood quality section was reduced and I was transferred into wood pathology and wood protection because of the biology background. But actually I continued the work that I was working on, the tissue culture work, and I was relegated to the basement, the back part of the building. So I lost my beautiful view.
[laughs]. Which was probably good, after a while you don't even see it, you appreciate the office initially and then you get [inured to]it. Meantime the Laboratory had been building quite a number of other new buildings, primarily pulp and paper buildings and engineering buildings. So there was a lot of expansion going on.
What time period was that?
It was '60s and '70s. Then the time of a great scientific effort in this country.
00:32:37 - 00:36:19 Forest Products Laboratory
Forest Products Laboratory, typical day, fieldwork, tissue culture, experiments, University of Wisconsin, relationship, history
Could you maybe describe what a typical day at FPL was like? Was there such a thing?
There was such a thing, but it would be different. You see in the beginning I was just part of a project and as the years went by I had my own project and then I was in charge of a larger project. So that would---first of all we didn't have to punch in, no time cards or anything like that. [In my particular area] I [also] had lots of outdoor experiments, some of them were up in the Wisconsin Dells. So there would be many days that I would spend being outdoors and doing experimentations---this was in addition to tissue culture work---and that was primarily related to Diana Smith's project and the affects of environment on wood quality production. The day started early, eight o'clock, and it was an eight to four job, except if you were involved with university things and then perhaps you would be doing things, lecturing and stuff like that. But there was a lot of interaction between the University and the Laboratory.
Was that encouraged by FPL?
Was that kind of interaction encouraged by FPL?
Yes, the whole charter of the Forest Products Laboratory---you've probably have known this---but the Laboratory used to be on campus down near the engineering building back in the '20s because the Laboratory was only built in 1930 where its present location is. But you are covering what the last--?
The last one hundred years.
Hundred years? So that would be the year it was formed. They had a little laboratory somewhere on campus and they eventually built the much larger building up on the Drive in 1930 if I'm not mistaken. And so there was always a very, very close interaction between the University---and that's how these things were setup by the Department of Agriculture. There are lots of facilities at campuses, if you go to the University of Washington or places like that, there are forestry laboratories at the universities. There are some at the University of Oregon and some at the University of Louisiana. So these things have all been set up to interact with universities. I think it was an excellent idea. [Smaller research facilities such as the "Genetics Lab" in Rhunelander, WI lack the interactions you get on a big campus. However, these labs are necessary due to location, i.e. new growth areas.]
00:36:19 - 00:38:44 Fieldwork
fieldwork, Wisconsin, Pacific Northwest Forest Experiment Station (Portland, Or.), employment in foreign countries
Did you enjoy doing that type of field work up north in northern Wisconsin?
I did because it let me go outdoors. I was involved in setting up that lab---I was a student when I started there and I worked summers. There was just three of us and I used to mow the lawn, and I think there is now something like sixty or eighty people working there with very, very grand facilities. So what happens is that when you are working at that age, I was a little older but, you were working directly with professional people and so I learned a lot about the aspects of forestry that had nothing to do with my own profession. There are laboratories all over the country of that size.
Did any of your work ever take you to any of those regional facilities?
The regional ones. I've heard the Pacific Northwest station. Did your work ever take to any of these other labs?
I have visited them and given lectures at them. I haven't worked directly---I have worked with some people at those other laboratories and in fact some of the people from the Forest Products Laboratory became directors in those laboratories. Let's see I also worked overseas, I also had an appointment at the University of Iowa State University at Ames [Iowa State University] at their forestry department. I also had a special grant from Japan and that was toward the end of my career. I don't know if you want to jump ahead to that?
Well I still have a couple of questions about your time at the Lab.
00:38:44 - 00:43:05 Projects
projects, satisfaction, challenges, tissue culture, wood-quality, forest products---biotechnology, genetic engineering, travel, research---international cooperation, Japan,
Was there one particular project that gave you a lot of satisfaction or you particularly enjoyed and conversely, was there one that was particularly challenging?
Okay. A satisfaction I had was that there was a breakthrough in being able to produce genetically uniform trees via a tissue culture. That was the goal, and I sort of accomplished that even though it wasn't put into practice at that time. Now it is quite common to produce not only tree species but mostly other species via tissue culture. What you have is then---and I felt very good about developing the concept and then other people in other countries and other laboratories took that over.
One of the most gratifying projects was---one of the problems we have with wood quality and when the tree is growing is that you don't know what is going inside the stem of the tree---you can visualize that can't you? So if you are doing something to a tree like fertilizing or wind speed or we even shook trees so that we could develop some sort of reaction. You don't know where the cells inside the stem are and thanks to Diana Smith and my own research we were able to develop a very simple procedure that would mark the tree at the time of the experimentation, internally. Not radioactively but actually mechanically. The tree would respond by wounding itself and then you could go back and look at that wound area and tell where the tree was at that particular time. That technique has been used in laboratories all over the world. So the most simple thing that we developed has been the most useful and the most gratifying as well. Did that make sense at all?
In other words, if you wanted to know what was going on in your kidneys---and there is no way to do that because as soon as you touch them then you destroy them---so what we did is we actually caused microscopic wounds, and those could be traced later on in a time sequence. So that was the most gratifying because it was the most useful and then the tissue culture work producing trees, genetically uniform trees, an unlimited amount of trees this way. Now it is used for everything, orchids and vegetables and all sorts of things are done by tissue culture now, mostly in Southeast Asia because it takes a lot of hands-on work. So those were the gratifying things. Gosh I don't know how you are going to pick out stuff out of all this conversation and that's your job isn't it.
Well, that would be the historian's job.
Oh I see.
You're just doing the interviewing. Because of these two developments I was given a grant by the government of Japan as an outstanding scientist to come and work in Japan and I spent a year and a half working at their laboratories in Japan.
At Tsukuba University and their national forest products laboratory. [This] new university that was just set up. That was back in the early '80s.
00:43:05 - 00:45:21 Forest Products Laboratory
Forest Products Laboratory, public opinion, reputations, international, collaboration
Did you ever notice any kind of impressions that either the general public or maybe the scientists at the other labs you worked at---for instance in Japan---how they perceived the U.S. Forest Products Lab?
Yes. I was directly involved with two laboratories, one at Swiss National Laboratory and through some mutual friends who were scientists as well. They also came to the Forest Products Laboratory and that's how some of these contacts were made and they came and studied for a year or two. The Japanese connection I had was actually with a fellow graduate student at the University of Wisconsin who knew who I was and knew what type of work I was doing. So your question was---I think that most laboratories around the world that were fairly young looked to the Forest Products Laboratory as the center of excellence, including European laboratories who had been probably functioning for as long as the Forest Products Laboratory has gone. But they did lose out during World War II. The Swiss lab was probably up there all along because they didn't have any war history. The German labs, the British labs, French labs I was very closely allied with because of the tissue culture work. And they all looked to the Forest Products Laboratory as a place to come and as a place of excellence. This is also especially true of the Asian laboratories, China and India and Japan, which were actually just starting out and they did not have the European history.
00:45:21 - 00:46:55 Work Environment
work environment, employees---social conditions, social aspects, clubs, Men's Club, Forestettes
Well switching gears a little bit, I know that you talked briefly about some of the social aspects of the Lab. Were there any social activities that you took part in, or that you remember fondly, or that were interesting or fun?
You know what I didn't. My social [life] was within the wood quality group there was lots of interaction. There was a bowling team and a men's club and a women's club, but I was not involved in that very heavily. I was sort of a loner, primarily because of where I lived, which was thirty miles from the Laboratory and I live on a small farm so I need to get home where I still live.
Sounds like quite a drive to the Lab every day.
Well it was 20, 25 minutes with one stoplight, can't beat that.
No not today you can't.
Can't. And actually I think I missed one or two days of work because of snow or something like that. But it gave me time to organize myself while I was driving. When I became a project leader and I had to deal with people instead of science that's what I did on the way in and way out.
00:46:55 - 00:47:57 Project Leader
project leader, challenges, employees---training of
Was that particularly challenging for you, when you stepped into the role of a project leader?
It was because none of us have training in this, we are trained as scientists and we are not trained to handle people and it's one of the real negative things about the way things are setup. Of course we always bitch about administrators but a lot of administrators don't have much training either, except nowadays, I guess. But within the Laboratory, people who were trained as scientists became science administrators. One of the unfortunate things and the reason I retired is because I was no longer doing what I was enjoying and what I was trained to do. I'm sure that happens all over and probably in your own area of work as well.
00:47:57 - 00:51:15 Retirement
retirement, motivations, project leaders, employees' buildings and facilities, downsizing of organizations
Well kind of bringing that up, when exactly did you retire and was any other specific reasoning for that, other than?
No, I was project leader for three years and I took the job with reluctance and spent a great deal of time building a new laboratory or new facility for our project. So you were dealing with construction people and building people and administrators, so I wasn't doing any science work at all. I tried to protect the people who were working with us so that they could continue on that. The opportunity came to---there was an early release, in other words I retired at the age of fifty-five, which is twenty-two years ago. They were downsizing and they offered me this---they offered it to anybody who was over fifty-five. There was a lot of pressure for me to stay on and I thought no this is a good time to do something else in life. It was a very difficult decision because it meant reduced income, but what I did was I went to the University (UW-Madison) and I transferred over to the University part-time---for two or three years after that. So the motivation was to get away from the administrative work and to get out of going to [in-house] meetings [but] to actually work with students again and to work with what I was trained to do, scientific work, which is much more rewarding than dealing with people unless you are very good at that, but I'm not.
So retired about 1986 or so?
Let's see---twenty---yeah. Now I can't tell you---yeah. Let's see---fifty-five years old January I would be---1930, '85---1986.
January. I was head of a wood preservation project, which had very little to do with my training as well, but I had five or six PhD scientists working plus technical help. That was a full-time job just to keep the thing going.
00:51:15 - 00:52:17 Projects
projects, wood preservation, satisfaction, biodegradation, bacteria, wood-decaying fungi, termites, employees' buildings and facilities, grants, funding
Was that a very interesting project, the wood preservation project?
It was, I learned a lot because I was not trained in wood protection, which involved biodegradation of wood, wood by fungi, bacteria and how you would protect wood to inhibit those organisms from destroying wood. It was an old project at the Laboratory and there was also a termite part, project within that. Yes, I thought the concept was fascinating but there were other people doing the scientific work and I was providing grants and the logistics, administration, things of that nature. And we had a brand new laboratory section too, which I developed.
00:52:17 - 00:54:51 Vocational Interests
vocational interests, mark, impact, Forest Products Laboratory, Forest Service, tissue culture, colleagues, supervisors, directors
Well kind of looking back on your career at the Forest Products Lab, do you feel that your work has left a mark on FPL, the USDA Forest Service, or even beyond that?
I think that---I guess I'm not the one to say that. My work has---people around the world are aware of what I've done, especially some of the specific examples I gave you earlier about the tissue culture work and the marking techniques and this is still going on. So I feel good about that. Did I leave a mark at the FPL? I think you disappear [fairly quickly] when I go back [people] still know who I am and like there's a picnic this weekend with FPL people who I worked with at one time or people who I hired and still remember who I am. Probably feel sorry for an old guy living out there in the country. But yeah I still see them and interact with them.
In terms of personal accomplishments, do you feel that your work at FPL met those goals or some of the things that you set out to do career wise?
Yes because I was given a great deal of leeway by my early bosses, by my early administrator. As the time went by some of the new directors felt that the type of work I was doing was non-productive, but in hindsight it was what everybody is doing nowadays. So at that time they were unable to see some of the applications. So I feel good about it because the applications are now being used all over, laboratories all around the world. So did I leave a mark on the FPL? Perhaps not as much as I left a mark on the scientific community.
00:54:51 - 00:56:40 Forest Products Laboratory
Forest Products Laboratory, career, Forest Service, reflection, opinion, funding, government employment, University of Wisconsin
How do you feel about having worked for or with an agency that's part of the USDA Forest Service?
I feel pretty good about it because I think if you can overlook a lot of things that are negative about government jobs there are a great deal of positive things. Number one is that in the beginning when I first worked you didn't have to go out and get funding because funding was always available, you didn't spend much time writing grants and that is one of the nice things about government work; however, you are always susceptible to whatever Congress passes as far as the budget goes. But even though there were a lot of threatening things over the years, nothing ever materialized. So I feel that it's not much different than working with a large university, which is essentially a state government owned. If you are working with a private university, that's a different story. So I think there are very positive aspects of working for the government [laboratories---especially those located at university campuses]. It makes for very nice retirement. So I'm glad I worked there, I'm glad I worked at a facility that was associated with a major university, which I think is a real positive thing.
00:56:40 - 00:58:08 Final Comments
final comments, congresses and conventions
Great. Well that's pretty much the end of my questions. I guess do you have any stories, memories, or other comments that you would like to make about your time at Forest Products Lab?
You know you are probably going to get back to me once you go through this stuff. Or maybe not. I think that's about it, I think I've given you an awful lot of information you need to go through and if there is any specific stuff---like social events and things of that nature? I was in charge once of an international meeting at the Laboratory and that was very rewarding because of the people that I met and the people I was involved with. So that opened up a whole new area for me.
Well I would just like to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
All right. I hope it's been helpful, I know that it is going to be hard to go through this sort of thing and if you need to get back to me, Allison, that would be fine.
[End of interview]