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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #920: McDonald, Kent A. (June, 2009)

View all of First Interview Session (April 10, 2008)

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00:00:00 - 00:07:00 Introduction

introduction, background, education, forestry, Iowa State University, Wood Density Survey; Pillow, Max; summer student, New York, Harvard Black Rock Forest; Mitchell, Harold; wood quality, Idaho

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00:00:00

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LB

Ok, Today is Thursday April 10 and this is Lauren Benditt, and I'm interviewing Kent McDonald about his experiences at the Forest Products Lab.

KM

How'd ya do?

LB

Yeah. A great rainy day. So, I guess, maybe we'll start with a bit of an introduction about you---maybe your education and how you ended up here.

KM

I was in the Forestry program at Iowa State University, and I was looking for a summer job. The same summer, 1961, some of the graduates of Iowa State [at FPL] were also looking for some help for the summer, and [at the same time] a new summer program became available within the Forest Service---all three things getting together. The first summer involved work referred to as the Wood Density Survey. And it involved travel out west sampling trees. My first job was to Colorado with a crew [to] sample trees. Well, it couldn't get any better than that. So, later on the next trip [was] to California, spent three weeks in California at four different sites, [and it was] a good introduction to the Forest Service. People that were working [together] in the field, as well as getting out into the timber and [locating] trees. [The field work involved taking] borings of the trees and [measuring] them in the evening and [deciding] witch ones were high specific gravity and low specific gravity. We would go [back] out the next day, and mark those specific trees that we wanted [for] another crew [cut down] and [take larger samples]. They would cut a sample [from each selected] tree and send it back to the laboratory for further testing. So, that program went on for years, although my involvement in it ended after that summer. I was also working for a scientist, [Dr.] Max Pillow, as Max was interested in specific gravity and wood characteristics and how they related to all different kinds of properties and the utilization. That was [my] beginning [at FPL].

00:03:22

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LB

And so was that through the Forest Service or through the Lab?

KM

Really, [through the] Forest Service-wide program, [but several] summer students [were at the Lab]. There were about 25 summer students that summer [at FPL].

LB

And this was during your bachelor's degree?

KM

[Yes], this was the year before I graduated. And then after graduation, [FPL] had a job opening and I applied for [it] and [was hired] as a [Forest Products] technologist. And that was the second summer [when] I started working full time. My first job was to [travel] with two of the senior scientists to the State of New York, north of New York City, in the Harvard Black Rock Forest. And at that time there were trees [to be located] that had been fertilized in the '30s. One of these scientists, Harold Mitchell, was interested in sampling that wood to find out what the effects of fertilization would be on the quality of the wood, as well as the quality of the tree and how much that fertilization stimulated the tree growth. So, there again, it was a matter of finding the trees that he had fertilized by plot references and [lab notes], reestablishing those plots, and then cutting some of the trees and bringing back samples [to] test the wood. [The species were] ash, yellow poplar and [red] oak, [then evaluating] that wood for machining characteristic effects and strength.

That [began] the initial part of the first summer, [after which I traveled] to the state of Idaho to a sawmill and sampled two-by-four [studs from] Lodgepole Pine, trying to relate [how] certain [tree] characteristics might [affect the production of] crooked two-by-fours. We started with the trees and categorized [by stem characteristics, if] they had a forked stem or a crooked stem or an off-set, off-enter pith [in] the tree and sorted those all into [several] categories. [We sawed them into studs in] the sawmill and dried [the studs] and measured all the material that came out to try to establish if there [were any tree categories that] should get some deductions for certain poor characteristics. That was the next project that I [worked] on [as a new hire].

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