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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #913: Youngs, Robert L. (June, 2009)

View all of First Interview Session (February 13, 2008)

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00:00:00 - 00:08:42 Introduction

introduction, background, education, wood technology, Syracuse, wood handbook, University of Michigan; Kynoch, William; Forest Products Lab, RCA Corporation; Logan, Gordon; McMillan, John; Rasmussen, Ed, boy scouts; Pittsfield, MA

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00:00:00

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BW

Today we're interviewing Bob Youngs of the Forest Products Labs. This is for the 100-year, centennial celebration coming up here, and the Oral History Project. Mr. Youngs, first question: What, if anything, in your early years prepared you to work for the Forest Products Labs?

BY

I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

BW

Sure. What prepared you to work for the Forest Products Labs?

BY

What prepared me to---I'm not sure I'm understanding you correctly.

BW

I guess, what is your early background? Your education, your personal interests, or just sort of your early years---How did that lead to you working at Forest Products Labs?

BY

Ok, I can give you a little and then ask me questions. I think the first awareness I had of the Forest Products Laboratory was when I was studying wood technology as an undergraduate at the College of Forestry at Syracuse. And one of the textbooks that we had was the first---what was it the? I can't think of the name now---wood manual. I can't think of the name right now. It's been repeated over and over, revised and revised. Wood handbook, I'm sorry, wood handbook, which was published about 1932, and I heard about the Lab, which had been the source of this, of course, from my professors there at Syracuse. Then I went on to masters work at the University of Michigan, and one of the professors there, by the name of [Kynock?], had worked at the Lab briefly before coming to Michigan, and was very effuse in his praise of the Laboratory as a place to work. And he was my advisor while I was at Michigan, so when I, when I finished the work, my masters work at Michigan, I wrote a letter to the Lab to see if I might be able to come there to work. And I received a letter back saying no they couldn't hire anybody then - this was in 1950. And, so I did have an offer from the RCA Corporation to come to Pulaski, Virginia and make cabinets, TV cabinets, which were wood cabinets in those days, real wood cabinets. And I worked there as a management trainee for a year and it was fine, except I still was interested in coming to the Lab. And I wrote again in a year and at that time Gordon Logan was the personnel director and he wrote back and said well, we do have some funding from the military related to the Korean War, and we can offer you a temporary appointment. So, in January of '51, my wife and our four-month old child came from Pulaski, Virginia to Madison, and I began my work at the Lab. And at that time I began working in working in wood drying along with John McMillan and Ed Rasmussen. The beginning.

00:04:43

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BW

Did you have any interest in forestry or wood previous to going to Syracuse and Michigan?

BY

Oh yeah. Well, yeah, I had interest in forestry from even before going to college. I was very active in Boy Scouts, and had done a lot of outdoor work, and outdoor camping and hiking and things like that, and developed quite an interest in forestry. That's why I went to Syracuse in the first place. And, so I started at Syracuse in the fall of 1941 in the College of Forestry, and you may recall that we had a little event known as World War II then, and everything was upset. And, I was - after about a year and a half at Syracuse, in which I was in, majoring in Forestry - I went into military service for three years. And when I came back, I decided that my interests lay more in science, the wood science and engineering aspect of forestry than in the growing trees, itself. So, I transferred. I came back into the Wood Technology program at Syracuse. I finished my work at Syracuse, and have continued my work in that field.

BW

Just for the record, could you talk a little bit about where you grew up, when and where, and just a little bit about your earlier life?

BY

Ok, I grew up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a city in the west end of Massachusetts, in the Berkshire Hills. And there was lots of opportunity there to be outdoors and in the forest. And, I guess growing up there was pretty conventional. I was in the usual things, in Scouts and church and high school and so forth. One reason I was interested in Syracuse as I reached the end of my high school career was that my mother had been a graduate of Syracuse many years ago - not in - nothing related to forestry, but in biology. So I went to Syracuse because I knew they had a good strong program, supported by the State of New York. It was really a New York State College of forestry. Since then it's separated, to become a separate college of environmental science and forestry, as part of the State University of New York, but my early interest was prompted by my forestry recreation activity growing up in western Massachusetts, and the fact that my mother had gone to Syracuse, and I therefore looked particularly at Syracuse. So that's how I got started in it.

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