Trish Yerges
The La Grande Observer

Ronald Roethler, 83, could have enjoyed any number of careers in his life, and he admits he’s tried a few in his day. The La Grande resident ultimately settled into mechanics and will soon close a chapter on a 44-year-long career with Gilmore Logging.

Getting to this place in his life, though, was a journey in itself, starting with his birth, a delivery by C-section and a one-month stay at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Baker City in December 1934. The tab: a $400 hospital bill, a sum equivalent to $7,316 by today’s standard.

His parents took him home to North Powder, but in 1940 the family relocated to Union, where Roethler attended school. He graduated from Union High School in 1953. Afterward, he attended two years at what is now Eastern Oregon University followed by one year at the University of Oregon.

His first work experience was at his cousin’s electrical business in Eugene.

“I had a heck of a good job with my cousin in Eugene as an electrician,” Roethler said. “I spent two years as an apprentice there at his business, and it got to the point where I was doing a lot of the new construction bidding.”

While employed there, Roethler became part of history by being on the L H Morris Electric workforce that did 90 percent of the electrical work on the University of Oregon buildings. He enjoyed all the aspects of the job, including one unusual duty: advertising. One Christmas, Roethler’s cousin bought a new jeep bearing the company logo on the back.

“I was supposed to go to all the coffee shops around the area and advertise the business,” Roethler said. “Now that’s a job I could have retired on.”

But his job was interrupted in the 1960s when was drafted during the Vietnam War. He performed topographical computer work in the military, producing maps until his discharge.

“After I got out of the military, I drove Standard Oil Truck for two years for Ralph Taylor,” Roethler said. “From there, my dad (Ernie, also a mechanic) and I started our own business, Oregon Trail Garage in Union. When Dad retired, I got a garage of my own called Ron’s Repair Service, across the street from the former Oregon Trail Garage.”

During those years, he worked on gasoline and diesel engines and offered his customers gasoline service right from the sidewalk, he said. Roethler also made a little history there by opening Union’s first car wash.

“It was pretty busy there for a while,” Roethler said. “I hired a couple of guys. One of them was a retired auto mechanic shop teacher from Union High School named Everett Stanford. He wanted a part-time job in his retirement.”

By 1966, Roethler was father to three children — Ronetta, Tina and Trent — and newly divorced. He sold his shop and worked for the next 2-1/2 years manufacturing Terry Trailers in La Grande. Initially, he worked in the electrical department, but over time he learned every aspect of trailer construction.

Eventually, Roethler left Terry Trailers to follow one of his dreams: gold mining. He and his friend Cliff Amos lived in a cabin outside of Granite and mined for gold. Later he also tries his luck at the Flagstaff mine northeast of Baker City. He said he found some gold during that time, but “not enough to make the big time.”

He admits he never got mining out of his system, and he’d return to it in a heartbeat if he could.

“I like geology, and I wished I had studied it in school,” he said. “I learned a lot when I was mining about rock formations and different ways you can process your ore. I also made my own trommels and sluice boxes.”

However, as things turned out for him, on March 15, 1974, he accepted work at Gilmore Logging in La Grande, doing lowboy hauling and mechanic repairs on site in the mountains in all sorts of weather conditions. He sometimes asks himself why he is still doing this at age 83, but he said it all comes down to loyal friendships.

“I met Tom and Jim Gilmore in 1940 and went through school with them. They were my best friends,” Roethler said. “They were like family to me. Our families even vacationed together.”

After his third wife, Faye, died of liver cancer in August 2002, working at Gilmore Logging gave Roethler a reason to get up in the morning and a sense of belonging to a work family.

“The important thing is that you enjoy what you’re doing,” he said. “After all, it’s not all about money.”

Gilmore Logging was sold in 2017, and Roethler is now repairing the company’s remaining equipment for its eventual sale. It’s the end of an era for Roethler. He knows he might be the last person to close the door behind him at Gilmore Logging this year, but he does so with 44 years of incredible memories.