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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #932: Miller, Regis B. (June, 2009)

View all of First Interview Session (June 12, 2008)

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00:10:52 - 00:19:37 Madison

Madison, Pittsburgh, summer student at FPL, fraternity, profession, forestry, Potomac State College, West Virginia University, engineering, wood science, botany, wood quality, Wood-Anatomy

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00:10:52

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LB

Well, maybe going back a bit, until you started your wood science program at West Virginia, had you heard about the Forest Products Lab before?

RM

I'd never heard about it. Never knew where it was, never heard about it. But I was just a sophomore, you know, going to school, didn't even know if I wanted to go to school. But, you know, it seemed like fun and I was there. Anyway, no, I hadn't heard about it. So, when I got this job, I, you know, came out to Madison just cold, never been west of the, Pittsburgh practically. Well, I guess I was in Indiana a few places, but not much. And came out to Madison; it was really a great experience for me. So, especially working, I mean working at the Lab, and working---and there was about twenty students in that day, that, that summer. And we all---a bunch of us, not all of us---there was four or five of us that lived in this fraternity down on Langdon St. And that was fun

00:12:09

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LB

Yeah, and that sounds great? And so all the fraternity people were gone for the summer?

RM

All the fraternity people were gone for the summer, and it turns out---and I can't remember, it was Henry and the corner of, this fraternity was at the corner of Henry and Langdon, I think. And it was one of the governor's old mansions? As I remember, and it was being sold to a sorority and they were tearing it down. And this was the last summer that anybody could live there. So, it was a total dump; I mean it was awful. But there was only about, I think there was only about four or five of us there, living there that summer. And it probably housed thirty people, thirty guys---big dorm, barracks things, and I think there were two of us in that one place. I don't, kind of hard to remember all that. But I do remember it. I mean I can picture this building and, and then it was torn down and a sorority built. So, that was the first summer.

00:13:20

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LB

So, maybe going back a little further then, so you were, you said you were asked to enter the wood science program as opposed to the forestry program?

RM

Yes, I was, I had---when I graduated from high school I hadn't a clue what I wanted to do. And I kept saying I know what I don't want to do. And I kept saying to myself, well I don't want to be a doctor because my mother kind of thought I should be a doctor. There's a lot of doctors in our families. And I thought, no, it takes too long, you know, it really just takes too long to go to school and everything. And then, but I knew I didn't, I knew I wanted to be in the sciences. I just didn't want to be English lit. and history---sorry, but it's just the way it is. And so I kind of looked around at different things to do, and I really got into forestry because it was either forestry or geology. And I sort of picked forestry. And I thought, you know being outside, riding a horse with a dog and all that kind of good stuff, you know. Being in the woods; that's my first impression, or you know, what got me into forestry. But I was only---and then I went to a junior college for one year. And, we didn't have any forestry really, and that was just to get me started. Well then I decided, well I'm going to transfer from Potomac State College to West Virginia University, and that was an eye-opener. Potomac State College was, I mean, frankly, it's a junior college; it was a two year school, and it was just an extension of high school. I, you know, that's the way it was. And, at least that was my impression of it. So I found it fairly easy, I mean, or at least, I didn't expect to get as good of grades as I got, and I certainly expected to work really hard to get even poorer grades than I got. But, in Potomac State I was taking eighteen, nineteen credits, you know, and a lot of sciences, chemistry, and math and all this stuff and I was getting fairly decent grades. So I thought, well I'd transfer to West Virginia University because my other brother was going to go there, and then we'd all the brothers stay at this place. That's another long story. Anyway, when I got to West Virginia, I signed up for twenty credits, I think, the first semester. And I ended up in the calculus and I don't know what all. I almost, man, I just about failed. I mean, I barely got C's and D's. But then I kind of got adjusted and realized, hey, you can't be taking that kind of load, like that and taking all these hard courses where, you know, you're just going to get killed. Well, I almost did, but I finally made it through. But, I didn't know anything about it. And then I got into the first-year forestry kinds of things, and I realized that I didn't think I wanted to be really the, what I would call, a forester, forest ranger, forester kind of thing. And this intrigued me about the science end of it, and that's really what intrigued me. And so when they---and I even signed up for wood tech when I, when I finally said. But when they came out with this new curriculum I thought it was just the best thing for me, because what it allowed me to do was to have a whole bunch of electives. And they had two different types: they had unrestricted electives, and they had restricted electives. And if I was going into the engineering aspect of things, I could take all these courses, if I was going to go in the botanical, I'd take all these things. And I could take some of these other things. But one of the things that I looked at---I shouldn't say this, but I'm gonna---is that I didn't have to take any history, sociology, psychology. I never had a course in any of that, or I just had basic English lit and basic English courses. As a consequence, I ended up taking just a load of science courses. I mean, I practically got a degree in, in engineering, because I took all the calculus, quantitative equations; I took all this other engineering stuff, because I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go in wood science. Then I ended up in chemistry, and I took, you know, first and second chemistry, quantitative analysis, two four-credit courses in organic, not the simple organic, but the full-blown chemistry one, ended up, I didn't, at the last minute I cancelled out of p-chem. And I thought, man, I can't handle that one. That's a little bit too much for me. By that time, I knew I wanted to get botany oriented, so I turned everything around, used all my electives and started taking things like plant physiology, plant anatomy, taxonomy, those sorts of courses. So, when I graduated---I forgot how many credits I ended up with---but like 160-some credits. And, you know, when you look through my list its like twenty credits of everything and the rest of them are all science of one thing or another, math and science I should say. Well, it was good and bad, mind you. But anyway, that's, that's how I got into it. And I have to admit, I just fell into it. And I fell into it not only getting into wood science, but also falling into getting a job here at the Lab, and then seeing next door---you know, working in this one area of wood quality and then seeing the wood anatomy aspect of things and really thinking I'd like it. Spent probably less than a half a summer doing it, and it thought, this, this is much better for me than doing the wood quality stuff because the wood quality stuff was looking at one species and just looking at all sorts of measurements and routine detail kinds of measurements. Where, in the wood anatomy you look at many, many species and try to make comparisons between this species and that species, look at lots of different things. And that, I liked much better. I did also like the identification aspect of things.

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