Foster mill driver done after 47 years

When Mike Garber finished his shift at the Foster Weyerhaeuser veneer mill Thursday, June 24, it was the last day of the only job he’s ever had.

Garber, 65, retired 47 years and one month after he started working at the plant, most of them as a forklift driver. He said he’s enjoyed his job.

“I love it because I’m outside, not tied down,” he said. “I like being active. ”

Garber, who was born in Lebanon, grew up in Sweet Home. His dad, Wayne Garber, started working at the Foster plant when it opened in 1958 and, after operating a crane for a while, became foreman. His mother, Edna Garber, is still alive and his sister, now Marilyn Richards, works in the office at Sweet Home Junior High School.

Garber said he spent most of his high school years “fishing all the time. I did a lot of fishing.”

He said he also realized he was too small at the time for sports, so he served as manager for various teams, though he did play baseball.

But when graduation came, in June of 1962, his father told him it was time to go to work.

“He was really old school,” Michael Garber said. “He’d graduated from the eighth grade, which was kind of the norm back then, and he’d worked all his life.”

“Friday night I graduated and I was off on Saturday, then he took me out there Sunday. I went right to graveyard. My dad said ‘It’s a job.’

“They put me on this machine called the patcher. It was strange to me. It would plug holes in the plywood. Sometimes I had to put tape on to hold patch in.”

After some six month on the patcher, Garber moved to the green chain, which, he said, took some getting used to.

“It was really foreign to me,” he said. “The (plywood sheets) came very fast and I had to grade them.”

After a year on the green chain, a graveyard forklift job opened and nobody else applied. Garber said, so he got it.

The only real interruption in his career at what was first Willamette Industries and later became Weyerhaeuser was when he was drafted into the Army in 1965, serving in South Korea.

“I was supposed to go to Vietnam, but I went to Korea for two years after my orders got changed at the last minute,” he said.

After he returned he got his forklift job back and married Pamela, his wife, in 1969. They had two children, Matt, who is now in his 16th year working at the Foster plant, and Tina Melby.

In addition to working at Foster, he also was a volunteer for the Lebanon Fire District for 31 years, rising to captain before he called it quits.

Garber calculates he’s worked under five managers at Foster €“ Wes Marchbanks , Rick Smith, Glenn Colburn, Jerry Underwood and Brian Cullin.

Dan Wessel, who has supervised Garber as part of the green chain operation for the past five years, said he wishes “more of the younger employees had his drive.

“He’s always on time, prompt,” Wessel said. “He’s very reliable.”

Production Manager Clark Hay, who has known Garber since Hay first worked at Foster 27 years ago, said Garber has been a rich resource of information for new employees, including Hay.

“The joke was that if you needed to know about the operation, internally or externally, you go to Mike Garber,” he said.

“He’s been a lot of fun. He’s a good guy to work with. He’s the kind of person that knows how to spark some excitement in people. He’ll make little comments and leave you thinking ‘What? How do I take that?'”

Garber, Hay said, is a practical joker “in a good way, not a negative way.

“He keeps things lively, no doubt about that.”

Garber said he’s enjoyed his job, particularly his fellow employees.

“They’ve been great people to work with,” he said. “I never met anybody out there I didn’t like. We’ve had our differences, but they’ve been a great group.”

He said it’s time to go, though.

“I’ll be out of their hair, Garber said. “I’ve been known to be a little bossy out there.

“One of my big goals was to slow down. I’m kind of hyper and I need to slow down and smell the roses.”

Now, he said, he plans to hunt and fish and hang out with his eight grandchildren.

“That should keep me busy for a while. Oh, and Texas Hold ‘Em. I’m kind of addicted to that now, as long as I don’t go overboard.”

He’ll remember that forklift at Foster with fondness.

“I always wanted to be a racecar driver, but this is the closest I got,” Garber said.