Interviewer: Susan Moore, Auburn University, Graduate Student
Interview Date: November 6, 2012
Interview Location: Vienna, Virginia
Listen: Read Transcript
Keith Argow Interview
Date: November 6, 2012
Location: Vienna, Virginia
Start Time: 10:00 a.m.
Duration: 88 minutes, 58 seconds
Interviewer: My name is Susan Moore. I’m conducting an interview with Dr. Keith Argow, a retiree from the U.S. Forest Service. Question 1: Tell us a little bit about your life before joining the Forest Service.
Argow: This is Keith Argow, a retiree, proud retiree, proud of his association with the U.S. Forest Service. I was born in Connecticut on the campus of Yale University, moved a lot. In 1936 in the height of the Depression to two professional parents and moved to… went to six grade schools in… we moved from Connecticut, to New York state, to New Jersey, to Florida, and eventually settled in Oregon in 1945, which I consider home. I turned nine in Oregon. And that is the woods that I felt socialized in the culture of… Socialized, although, I had the privilege of my earliest real memories are in New York state in the Catskills. But four years in New Jersey in World War II and two years in Florida. All the time we lived on the edge of suburbia, so I grew up spending a lot of time in the woods, although I didn’t know it. But enjoying it and especially in Oregon, where I decided I wanted to be a forester. And I graduated from Lincoln High School, was active in school politics, and sports, and academically. And I wanted to go to Oregon State University. My parents, who were by then divorced, prevail on me to go to a liberal arts college and get a, if not a four-year degree in liberal arts, a three-year degree and then I could do 3-2 at Yale University School of Forestry, or Duke University School of Forestry in the South. I ended up going to Colorado College, as far east as I wanted to come because I was already big in skiing and not so much in ski racing, but in ski patrol, which is a ski rescue squad, which I ultimately devoted forty years of my life. Later on and in Colorado College I was active – it’s right at the foot of Pikes Peak. So I first worked with the Forest Service in high school at age sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen on the Gifford Pinchot Forest on a tree planting crew and then in the summers worked in the Portland YMCA and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest at a place called Mount Saint Helens, which you see in my office, is still very prominent in my life Before it blew its top. The Oregon…was a wonderful place to grow up, Colorado was a wonderful place to spend four years going to college and I got an economics major and ecology minor. We also had full employment back then and I was commandant of the cadet core at Colorado College and was commissioned in the Army Infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia. Between Korea and Vietnam we had a plethora of officers and not that many places to put us so I took the option of eight years in the active Army Reserve and graduated from the Fort Benning Infantry School at Georgia, went straight to the strategic army command at Fort Lewis, Washington, which was our rapid action strike force. So I was mostly in the army with, a matter of fact, West Point officers, which was a unique assignment for a six-month active duty for training, and then followed by seven and a half years of active reserve. Of which, proved to be a really remarkable assignment for me. And that led to assignments in… of all things when I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan I was attached to a radio unit like “Good Morning Vietnam” if that rings a bell with either of you, I was in one of those stations and I was the infantry officer assigned to try and bring them some military decorum. These were very creative men in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a unique core of officers. I was the only one there with an infantry background. It was a wonderful world for both of us. And it turned out, after I graduated from the University of Michigan with two degrees in forestry… because I had to get a second degree in forestry to graduate there with a Masters in forestry. So I have the BA in economics and ecology from Michigan and three years later I have the BS in forestry and Master in forestry and then a full commitment in the active Army Reserve. So I stayed active and did my summer training with the university with that Army radio unit at Fort Fulcom for almost all those six and a half years. Actually, all of those six and a half years of military commitment until the last one when I was assigned to the Pentagon as a Captain by then, in the reserve in special operations psychological warfare.
Interviewer: How did you come to be employed by the Forest Service?
Argow: By, well, I knew I wanted my career to be in the Forest Service. But now I have not gone the route of career here. I have gone to…taken three years to get my forestry credentials and I while I was at the University of Michigan I started casting around. It turned out, I had an offer from the State of Michigan to be their state pilot. I also managed to acquire a private pilot’s license to be one of their state forestry pilots-Forestry Air Surveillance, and public information officer and insect and disease officer for the state of Utah. I had a handshake hire on the phone and I was to be in Cedar City, Utah, which Utah is a very Mormon state and I’m not a Mormon. And Cedar City is in the deep, what they call the Dixie of Utah, which is the Dixie National Forest if you look there. That’s where it gets its name-The Mormon Dixie. I petitioned the state forester, “Don’t you have a job in Salt Lake City?” He said, “Yeah, we have Devil Plane in Salt Lake City and yes we’ll move you up to the state forester’s office.” So I thought…very well treated. I was also a graduate assistant to the head of the recreation program at the University of Michigan, which was Dr. Grant Sharpe. I was one of his master’s students in forest recreation and land use planning. My thesis was on tracts on the Upper Peninsula on public lands/private lands issues. The Washington office called and specified the need for a graduate student for an assignment in the national D.C. headquarters and I can remember he said, “Ya know, in all the years I’ve been here I’ve had one student that would meet your criteria to a T.” He said, “He’s right here in the office with me, I’ll put him on the phone.” I picked up the phone and it was Dr. Joseph, head of recreation economics research here in the Washington D.C. office. Within just very few weeks I had an offer from the Forest Service to come to Washington D.C. as a GS-9. You familiar with the GS scales? My introductory pay grade at Utah State University was a GS-5 and so I called the state forester Paul ? I said, “Sir I have a problem. I will honor my handshake, phone handshake, with you and come to the state of Utah because you have treated me right. I honor my word as my bond.” He laughed! I can still hear that laughter across the line from Salt Lake City to Ann Arbor. He says, “I’ll tell you what Keith Argow. Any person dumb enough to take a GS-5 over a GS-7- salary jump is huge- to stay with me I wouldn’t have working for me. But if you ever find you don’t like the U.S. Forest Service, you’ll have a job with the state of Utah. I release you of your handshake bond.” And that is how, July 2000, no 1961, I reported here to Washington D.C. as a GS-9, entry level. But mind you I had had three years on the Gifford Pinchot Forest and one year as the first forest naturalist in Region Two. When I graduated college, I went right to work with the U.S. Forest Service on Pikes Peak and that was really my entry-level job with the Forest Service, even though it wasn’t a career position. But we can come back to that later.
Interviewer: So after you got to D.C, what were some of your first impressions? Of the
Forest Service in particular?
Argow: Six doors down from my office was the chief of the Forest Service. Gulp! But I had been trained. When I was in undergraduate school, mind you I’d always wanted to be a forester and my family wanted me to make something out of my life. You know, they did not see forestry as a particularly honorable position, even though, when you look at the name Argow, it is Swiss. A-R from the river Aar, which is a major drainage in Switzerland. G-O-W, means someone living in the watershed of the river Aar, so there you get an ARGOW. Or Argow (different pronunciation) as it would be in Swiss. But Keith is Celtic for of the forest. Now is there any chance that I wouldn’t be a forester? Plus the Argow family were forest meisters. They came from Switzerland to be forest meisters in Germany before it became a college profession. But my roots in forestry go back before that. They are in my blood and the other side of my family is Angevin, which is my middle name, which has deep roots in England. My family has been in this country on my mother’s side almost since the Mayflower and my fathers side later because they migrated, but not as foresters, as book publishers in to Dayton, Ohio, which is also through Ellis Island. My mother’s family came to New England before Ellis Island occurred.
Interviewer: How long did you work for the Forest Service?
Argow: Seventeen years. My first assignments were tree planting crew in the Gifford Pinchot Forest, then in 1958 when I graduated, I had the wonderful offer. I had been, actually I got first really associated with the Forest Service my junior year. It happenstanced because of some turmoil. I was privileged to be the president of my fraternity Phi Delta Theta and I… there had been a bunch of theft of signs on the adjacent national forest. Of course, the immediate suspects were the five fraternities at Colorado College. So I got a letter from the district ranger, “please may I have my signs back?” Well, Phi Delta Theta at that time was…we were very proud to be top ranked academically and leadership wise, not athletics at Colorado College, but we had a lot of pride. We didn’t have the signs. We kind of had a suspect who did, but we didn’t turn anybody in. Having grown up in the Forest Service, so I went down to see the district ranger. We hit it off perfectly and he offered me a job for that summer on the Pike National Forest. Regrettably, I had full employment that summer as an Infantry cadet at Fort Riley, Kansas. That didn’t work out, but he held the job until my graduation. That year I had done a lot of work with the Forest Service. I wrote Pike trail notes, Pike National Forest trail notes in the Colorado College newspaper. My senior year, I was student body president at Colorado College besides being commandant of the R.O.T.C. and I was active with political…not political scene, but public scene. I was a college representative at the Chamber of Commerce at Colorado College downtown. So I already had a pretty good rapport with the Forest Service and I knew the Colorado College leadership and the Colorado Springs mayoral leadership. So when I went to first Colorado…Pikes Peaks District as recreational patrolmen, I was a range ranger there and it was just an awesome job! I had a uniform a green track ? and I remember when I got my badge before I got my diploma-that was my real badge of honors and I also got my gold bar. I was commissioned an officer in the Army Infantry in June of 1958. I had literally died and gone to heaven. I patrolled that district and they kept me on, almost everybody went to ?, but they kept me on until October and then I went over to the University of Michigan. I was commissioned, I didn’t go on active duty until January. So I traveled to the University of Michigan where I then accepted…I had decided to go to Michigan then and not Yale because I liked the recreation program. See how this is fitting in? And the social science, I’m a son of two social scientists, but I’m a forester. But I’m also an economist and an ecologist too, minor in ecology anyway. So this all fit and following Michigan I went down to visit my grandparents in Kentucky and to the Cleveland National Forest where my dad was a professor at Cal Western University in San Diego. We had just had the horrible ? fire disaster on the Cleveland where we burned up a bunch of fires. Already, fire control is a big interest of mine and fire lookouts. I was a reserve lookout on Devils Head lookout, which comes back to play this fall. This summer, right after I’ve had a kidney removed I hiked up Devil’s Head for its 100th year to give an award. This is going to be a complex thing to write for you and get it sorted out. My life is just like this for forestry, social science, politics, and forest fire control. Any event, I was on the Cleveland and I went back to Oregon. I was just there on…Volunteered to go on fire, stayed at the ranger station for a week hoping for a good fire assignment on a hot fire. It didn’t happen. So I went up to very wet Oregon and travelled back to commissioning, not commissioned, but active duty in January at Fort Benning for twelve weeks in the infantry school, then on to Oregon and Fort Lewis, Washington to complete my service in strategic Army command. Somewhere, we’ll come back to that because I was the duty officer the night Kruschev said we’d been thrown out of Berlin. That’s a different state of time. Hopefully there will be a spot there on that somewhere.
Interviewer: What types of work did you do for the Forest Service? What was a typical day like for you?
Argow: Tree planting when I’m in high school, weekends only because I’m in high school. We would stay at a guard’s station and sleep out in sleeping bags cause nobody was around much in the winter months – spring was tree planting season and almost everybody was loggers. That was a real good introduction to life in rural, very rural Washington state, not far from Portland. In Colorado Springs (brief interruption from the phone ringing)? that was typical ranger station duty we had a crew, fire crew, we had recreational patrol crew. My job was developed into an interpretive program for a new campground and I actually developed an amphitheater. My program had two evening campfires and the big campground had just opened. We had firefighting equipment demonstrations and I actually had to walk in the woods. It was just three days a week and then the rest of the time I was a patrolman. I would help people and patrol Pikes Peak one day a week. In the peak of the summer I actually patrolled the Bar Trail, which goes from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak. I patrolled that going uphill because my knees even then, I had the stamina to walk uphill, but going downhill, that’s climbing 6,000 feet to 14,000 feet that’s quite a climb. It was just the ideal, in a ranger uniform, just the ideal work and towards the end when recreation season let go I cleaned toilets, which is pretty cool for a college graduate. And did a lot of maintenance and construction and then firefighting was pretty light that year, but I was initial attack on several fires, just lightening fires. And I really, really enjoyed firefighting, it’s exciting. Later on when I became a fire boss I could call in the air tankers, but that’s later on in the career.
Interviewer: Can you tell me about your time as a research forester?
Argow: Yeah. I have just been blessed. Here I am there, two GS-9 positions in the Washington office. That’s like a second lieutenant in the Pentagon, literally. It was just really something else. I have lunch with, you know, I would say the average grade in the Chief’s office then was a GS-14, I’m a GS-9. A lot of GS-15, 16, 17, probably average grade is a 15. The junior officer in there has been a forest supervisor before he came in. There’s only two GS-9’s one in research, which is me, and the other in forest, National Forest Management, which is assigned to put together the Forest Service manual. Turns out, my closest friend in high school has the GS-9 in National Forest Management. Yeah, when you think of everybody you know working, he went to Oregon State, he’s still one of my closest friends and he moved out and he was replaced by Dale Robertson, who went on to become chief of the Forest Service. So these are just wonderful positions. My job was to research the potential of collecting fees to finance the operation of campgrounds and forest recreation. I’d been on the Pikes Peak Ranger District, and I couldn’t have been better trained for that job. And I’d studied under the people at the University of Michigan. At that time by the way, of the graduate schools in forestry in the United States there were three that were top rated with a four almost there. On the west coast, University of California at Berkeley, Mid America, University of Michigan, which probably had more office senior leaders than any other graduate school in the nation, and Yale University, with Duke University nudging that top four. Now those structures change dramatically. It’s kind of cool when in here isn’t it? Any event the recreation research assignments led me to Capitol Hill, led me to be able to be on a first name basis with the chief, all the assistant chiefs and to really get to know the leadership of the U.S. Forest Service on a first name basis. I published a report and following that, they said they assigned me to…The told me they’d like for me to go to Fort Collins, Colorado, but I wasn’t really sure I wanted to stay in research to work with a man at Fort Collins who was a range man, but recreation was under him. Recreation research was just getting started. It was the last…it was a prelude to social science research.
Interviewer: What year was this?
Argow: 1963. So I was in there for two years and completed that project. Then they closed down my position in rec and put me in the field as a GS9 in Colorado. I wanted to go back to National Forest Administration. So they had… they looked around. I had a good reputation in there. It turned out the Cradle of Forestry in America had just been conceived by the Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman on the Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville. Are either of you familiar with the Cradle of Forestry? It’s a nature museum where the forestry was first brought to America on the… from Germany, by Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, which is another story in itself. But I was privileged to be the chief gopher of the project leader on that story. So that’s how instead of going to Colorado with research, I came back to National Forest Administration. But to be sure that I understand the Southern Region way of doing business, see we’re in the South now, I’m transferred to the regional office for six months of training but I’m assigned to the office of information and lord I loved… landed on my second love, which is maps. I have a photographic memory for maps, particularly land ownership maps. And while I was at Michigan I started collecting national forest maps. They’re grooming me to learn to deal with the region because the Cradle of Forestry is going to be the primo project for the Southern Region of the Forest Service.(Brief interruption as Dr. Argow looks for something.) I ended up in the regional office down there. They suddenly had a vacancy. They my interest in maps and they said, “How would you like to be the map coordinator while we get to know you?” They sent me around the region for recreation maps so I could get a feel for Region 8. It was just awesome. Six months there… I transferred to North Carolina to the supervisor’s office as the project leader of the Cradle of Forestry.
Interviewer: Now was this before or after you worked at Mount Rogers?
Argow: Oh, Mount Rogers was the tail end of my career.
Interviewer: Oh, ok. Well I have that you were a research forester and followed with Mount Rogers. So, can you fill that gap in?
Argow: That’s a pretty awesome gap. That’s a big, big chunk of my career right there. I went to the supervisor’s office and I had… the Cradle of Forestry was assigned directly to supervisor and I had the office right next door to the supervisor. The National Forest of North Carolina, even though there’s four national forests, there’s one supervisor. The Nantahala, the Pisgah, the Uwharrie, and the Croatan down by the ocean there. At the…that’s the…The supervisor’s office gave me the opportunity to meet all eleven district rangers at that time. The cradle itself was to be located in the Pink Beds on the Pisgah District, which is the closest district to Asheville. I did the… They brought in the superintendent of Kennesaw National Battlefield from the Park Service. He wrapped up his career with the Forest Service doing historic research of Gifford Pinchot and Carl Schenk in the Cradle of Forestry. And I developed a master plan, which was a book. And in two years that I was in the supervisor’s office, part of my job was to get funding for the Forest Service to fund this very ambitious program of the Cradle of Forestry, and it was indeed ambitious. We had big, big plans. Part of my job was to help build the political support so I was encouraged to join the Junior Chamber of Commerce and to get involved. It just happened that the Cradle of Forestry meant meeting with a congressman, Surprise! While I was… so much different from today, but while I was in the Washington office I could go on Capitol Hill, as a GS-9. I didn’t go very much, but I could have. All I had to do is let them know why I was going and who was interested. I knew funding for recreation was going to be a big deal in the Forest Service. Had a lot to do with appropriations. See, I’m an unusual cat. I already got three degrees and I’m only a GS-9 and I’m very comfortable with people in power because my military career. I’ve been with people in power. I’ve been an extremely lucky, lucky person. So I’ve been there for two years and I go up to the ranger district, but I’m still a GS-9. I said, “Hey. Wait a minute here. Don’t you remember our deal when I came down? I’d be a??? You liked me. You really brought me down for six months to the regional office to see if I would fit in. And you liked me, so I got the job really. I didn’t know it, but they had so much riding on this Cradle of Forestry, but the reason they took me is the chief of information had been in Oregon when I was in high school and his son and I were on the same tree planting crew. You getting the cog, the rotary cogs? You know, the cogs of the wheel roll together. This isn’t the same guy,… tree planting crew. It’s not the same guy who’s in the Washington office with me. This guy goes on to be a multi-millionaire in Brazil, major, major fellow, but still a friend to us all. But this is the same tree planting crew, where this other fellow became a regional forester himself, when he retired, I’m sure he was interviewed in Region 6, but that… Now I’m in Asheville in the GS-9 position where I was to be. But since I’m a forester and I’m movable you know. Being in the regional office is just a blessing for me because I have all these contacts in the entire Southern Region of the Forest Service. And a lot of congressional contacts as well. So the, where am I going with this? Oh, how, what do we do? We don’t have a GS-11 position out there on the ranger district so I become the first deputy district ranger of the Southern Region of the Forest Service as a GS-11 and this would be in 1965. I went out to the Pisgah District and I had recreation, the Cradle of Forestry, and fire, and a few other things, law enforcement. Didn’t have timber, but a lot of stuff. The Pisgah District was then the number one recreational district in the Southern Region of the Forest Service. It has sliding rock, it has the Cradle of Forestry, it has Looking Glass Falls, it has the Blue Ridge Parkway being built through it. It’s just a very heavy recreation workload. Like a Western ranger district, it has the Forest Service ranger station that looks like a ranger station built by the CCC in the woods, where many Southern ranger stations were on the second floor of the post office building. You know, they just weren’t Western style ranger stations. So I’m at home on a Western style mountain ranger district, which is unusual in the South, but mind you we’re in the south of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. So I’m working there and the times… is… moving on and we brought the uh… We began to construct the Cradle of Forestry while I’m there. My third day, third week on the ranger district we got a call from one of the fire lookouts saying we got a fire, Pilot Mountain, over here in Balsam Grove. And oh, we got another fire. Meanwhile, we get dispatched; we take the brand new six-passenger Ford pickup. New big thing…? We have a third fire and meanwhile, I’m talking. This is before we’ve been dispatched and I’m talking, I’m the ranking officer on duty at the time. And I’m asking questions of the lookout man and the fire is out of this we got a string. He can see this fellow stringing fire, setting fires as he goes. Arson, firebug. And I’m asking little questions and this old boy said I don’t think I’d ask any more questions. And I looked at him and he said I’m guessing that’s his cousin stringing fires. We go to the fire and to make a long story short about dusk, POW! POW! POW! POW!, we hear in the valley. It’s getting cold and I say to one of the fellows, “The fires, they have burned into two now and they are about to burn into one.” Five fires set, burning into one fire. And we’re working hard on them and I said to the guy next to me, “Man some squirrel really caught it in the valley down there.” And it was a 3030 rifle, you don’t squirrel, you hit a squirrel with a 3030 rifle and he’s in pieces. But I didn’t know what it was… It was pretty good having been trained under live fire, I knew it was, like a M-1 rifle, the kind of bullets meant to kill you. It was a big boom. And I sent one of the guys down for the jackets we’d left there. It was getting cold at night. And we’d all brought, we all knew, pretty well knew, we were going to be on the fire all night on lookout. And he come back and said, “I don’t think I’d go near that truck again, Ranger” although I’m deputy ranger. I don’t know where our district ranger was. Off on assignment somewhere and I was the ranger ??? at the time. But turned out the truck had been shot six times. Once through the radio, once in the spare tire, one, or maybe two of the tires were flat, so once in the radiator, and then once, perfectly between the “U” and the “S”, letting us know that this fellow was one crack shot and that if he wanted to lay out any one of us, no problem. So in the morning when the relief crew came in, came in a tow truck to take our truck, our brand new truck back to the garage to have both bodywork and technician for the new radio. Because the radios back then weren’t the little things we have today. They sat in a big green box behind the thing and so he took out everything. That was my introduction to a really rough part of that ranger district and I doubt if we’ll cover some of the real folksy tales of burying a trailer on Mount Rogers and a few other things. But also people collecting tolls at rifle point, just driving the road here, we’ll take you a little mile pass ma’am and relieve you of cash. This was a rough and tumble ranger district. Just before I went to the district they called the county sheriff up to Tanasee Gap, they had a discussion and they shot his face clean off. Same family that shot up my truck. Same family that’s kin to the employees I was working with. Same family that, I went up to. I wanted to check and didn’t feel comfortable going alone. I asked the deputy sheriff to go with me. He said, “I’ll go with you ranger, but we aren’t going to find him.” We went up this hollow, just a little house, pretty rough looking house. And this woman came to the door, little kids hanging around her legs and stuff. There was a slam of the door in the back and he said, “There he goes up the mountain.” I said, “Well let’s go after him.” He said, “I don’t think you want to do that.” So we talked, “He not here, he not here.” I let the deputy do the talking. He’s got the fire arm, I’m not armed. I rarely was. I was armed at night, but wasn’t armed during the day. And went up as we drove out he said, “You notice anything strange with those kids?” I said, “Yeah, their faces weren’t quite together right.” He said, “Yeah” he said, “Their daddy was who you were looking for.” He said, “That was his wife, but it was also his daughter.” Four kids by his daughter.
Interviewer: That’s a true story?
Argow: Yeah. Later on after I left the district, that man was collecting on the state highway, paved highway, stopping people and the story persists to this day. He’s found run over on that highway and people will tell the tale. They tell you right to the eye, “I saw it with my eyes, a green truck hit him and backed up over him and ran him over again and then it hit him just to make sure he was dead. Then that green truck went on.” Meaning a Forest Service truck, which is bologna. But later on, just remember my successor, well I was still deputy, I never made full ranger, I was acting ranger, I made deputy on that ,but the district right near where that fire was, a fellow had moved the boundary line and moved his trailer onto Forest Service land, and was squatting on Forest Service land. You’ll find this, look it up, you’ll find it on the archives, but the Forest Service ranger buried took all the stuff out and he had clearance to bury the trailer with a bulldozer. Crush the trailer flat and bury it, but put all the furniture out back. That made NBC news Today and the fellow was arrested, the ranger was arrested, and had to defend himself in court, you know, even though he did it under orders. You’re going to find some wonderful stuff back here. Mind you I’m not from the real violent part. You get over to Louisiana and Mississippi and parts of Alabama, you’re going to find tales that have gone to the grave. Almost like Neshoba County with three young men being buried under a dam by the sheriff’s department. You all know that story, you need to. That was in the voter registration drives. Where I was asked would I like to go register voters in this burning Mississippi. Look up the Neshoba County, Goodman. That’s a tale worth remembering about your heritage. It’s fascinating that both of you high schooled in the South that has escaped your history. My wife, schooled in North Carolina still felt that that war had nothing to do with slavery, it was about state’s rights, the Civil War, and she’s a highly educated woman. Only now is she beginning to mellow. Okay, we’re down to. You’ve got to jump. Meanwhile, I’ve been. I always kind of wanted to get my Ph.D. I’d become very active in the society of American Foresters, I’ve been the Appalachian Society chair of Natural Areas so I had a lot of visibility in the Appalachian SAF, which is the two Carolina’s and Virginia and the Forest Service has been very good about giving me travel to cover my professional aspects of the Society of America Foresters. So that has gone well. Let’s stop that for just a minute, I’m cold over here. (Interviewee wishes to move to another room).
Argow: So, I’m active with the Society of American Foresters and also, we had the National meeting of the American Forestry Association in Asheville, tied in with the North Carolina Forester’s Association and I was given the honor… and I got a lot of national exposure with that and I was also key noter of that with the Cradle of Forestry. That’s why they held it there. It was just a really, really wonderful experience for a young GS-11 forester. At the time the Forest Service has money, but the government is cutting down the size because it’s got too many employees so it takes away employment positions. Every position has to have someone in it, or you lose it. I had a chance, the Dean of the School of Forestry at North Carolina State. I talked to him, I was interested to get a Ph.D. and Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and University of Michigan, all three. I guess Tech, Virginia and NC State both gave me an offer. The one at NC State, rather than a graduate student was as a faculty position because I was Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate and I had these three degrees and so I was given instructor of forestry to teach of all things nothing in my career indicated forestry, but to teach farm forestry at the Ag school, which was taught by the school of forestry at tech, great course. But my field experience was acting district ranger, fire control, and ? contact in Raleigh is where NC State is. Right in the state capital. All the politics in North Carolina, I’d just died and gone to heaven. And so I go down there, what am I going to get a Ph.D in? Well social science, but now I’m hooked, political science. I’m hooked. I really am. All my course work was in political science for my Ph.D. Although its granted in the school of forestry. It’s obvious I had all my forestry training. Your real Ph.D is in your forestry research. My dissertation was social action for land conservation, which evolves into the Nature Conservancy. Does that ring a bell? People gathering together in land trusts, land trusts to do these various things. I have skipped on my Forest Service career, but while I was here, in the Washington office, my mother had…I had already been interested in lands from what I’d seen on the Pikes Peak Ridge district with these land holdings with rich Texans building houses on inholdings within the national forest, well they don’t belong. They just totally destroy the forest experience, but Texans have money and money speaks. I got that early on in 1958 in Colorado. Anyway, the, my mother’s professor had been Justice William O. Douglas. I had breakfast with him here. My mother said, “you should go see my former professor ?..” He’s a Supreme Court justice. He doesn’t want to see GS-9 foresters! Tell him you’re Claire Angelo’s son, he’ll see you. So I did and he said, “Yes! Let’s have breakfast.” And I told him what I wanted to do and he suggested that I start working for the Nature Conservancy, which is now one of our largest U.S. conservation associations. At the time, there were two professional employees in Washington D.C. and two secretaries. He said, “They need some forestry, you go down and volunteer in the evening, you’ll find them still working.” So I did. But when I get to the North Carolina I’m a state rep. So now I’m in Raleigh, all the political things, again, just fall into place. I’m there for four years on a Forest Service appointment getting paid by the state, a lower salary, but that’s okay. But the Forest Service held my job, which I really value because they valued me that much. That’s why I still got the green t-shirt. The Forest Service treated me extremely well, extremely well and I’m very, very thankful for that. So I’m in NC State doing these things and boy I’m getting really recruited by academia, but I said no. They insisted and I made a field trip to Syracuse, New York as an extension forester and I was interested. He said, “Come, I can pull you away from the Forest Service,” and I said, “No, you can’t. I’m raised in the Forest Service in Oregon. This is my home, my spiritual home, my intellectual home, my technical home, my chosen avocation. I’m a U.S. Forest Service career type. I’m going to try and be chief one day.” As I said my GS colleague in Washington was chief. But I went looked at academia and decided I really wanted a ranger district. Lo and behold I got the very best ranger district in the Southern Region of the Forest Service. Four years later, I have a Ph.D, I get the Holston Ranger District, which is soon to be designated the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Here I come back to the Forest Service. Six years earlier, I’d been the first GS-11 district staff person in the entire Southern Region. The very first GS-11. Six years later, I come back to Mount Rogers and I have six GS-11’s on my staff. Man have I died and gone to heaven again. I’ve been through more heavens in this life. This may not look like heaven, but this is, this mess. It is loaded with memories, files, destined to the Forest History Society. Along the way I did have the chance to write a number of chapters of books. I was given the honor of writing in the Encyclopedia of Forestry, writing about the birth of forestry in America. I have written quite a bit and published over 200 articles before. I don’t count the ones I published in my own magazine. I don’t feel that counts, but in professional journals. While I was at Mount Rogers, I was invited to become the youngest member of the Board of Directors at the American Forest Association, sponsored by the associate chief of the Forest Service, the number two man, Arthur Greeley. And so, again the Jefferson National Forest here in Virginia, which is the home of the Mount Rogers ranger district. The ranger district had been sponsored by the ..?.. Congressman from Marian, Virginia who is now the clerk of the House of Representatives – he got beaten, you know, only after six terms in congress. So he’s very politically, the clerk, a senior, kind of like the Speaker of the House. You make things happen politically. So Mount Rogers, the six ranger districts in the Jefferson National Forest, Mount Rogers has budget equal to the other five. Again, really remarkable. Mount Rogers has left quite a mark on the Forest Service. We launched an extensive, law, program. Southwest, Virginia was pretty rough. Pretty dog gone rough. Not as bad as where I’d been in North Carolina, but we had a lot of violence out there. I patrolled a lot at night; I witnessed a lot of stuff. We were armed; but we weren’t authorized to be armed. We left the forest to go, and you know the deputies on occasion would patrol it.. A lot of places they just didn’t bother unless there was a problem. But I instituted a law program at Mount Rogers. Four of our cars had lights on the top, I had sedans with special engines. It was neat. Thunder road had been filmed on the Pisgah Ranger District. Thunder Road occurred at Mount Rogers a little bit. But we also were directed to buy land by condemnation if necessary. Brand new to the U.S. Forest Service, never done before. Probably will be done again someday, but I have the unhappy, unnecessary, distinction of having signed more land condemnation requests when negotiation failed than any other district ranger in the history or area. My title was administrator, but ranger became area ranger, now I think they’re called ?area managers. I’m not sure what the title is. The Western title for national recreation administrators was superintendent, it varied around the nation. But, I think in this day and age we’re all now area rangers, because we’re rangers in the hierarchy. But the Mount Rogers ranger district I had in Southwest Virginia, was staff wise, equal to the staff at some of the smaller national forests. A lot of political activity, which I like to think I excelled in. A lot of political involvement, my specialty is mediation. When I was there, we had law enforcement on the prowl. We had a huge number of citations. Almost all, very few went to court and of those that went to court we won almost every one. Which means that with every citation I ever issued, it stuck because I had to explain why I was doing it and why I had to and why ??? couldn’t work anymore. And the law officers under me had the same thing and it stuck and I’m very, very proud of that. When you were cited in, even if you appealed it, even if you lost in court, at least you knew why. And if we lost in court we learned why and we never did it again and I’m very proud of that. I am not a “bang you over the head” baton kind of guy. I’d rather…it’s my psychological warfare training in the Army…I’d rather switch than fight. If you remember the old cigarette ad with the black eye. I’d rather fight for my camel than switch. You’re smoking your camel with a black eye because you have to fight to keep that camel than switch to another brand. Well I’d rather switch than fight, which is unique for an infantry combat officer. But our psychological warfare was meant to do just that, to kill your will to fight. That’s what I did in rural Appalachia; try to kill your will to fight the government and then work with the government. When we did condemn land or moved you. We had Senate Bill One, which allowed us to build you a new brick bungalow. Which many of these homes we were taking, or buying were really something. No running water, some with no electricity, just sub-standard housing. But the people frankly were pretty dog gone happy. I didn’t find a lot of unhappiness; I did find a lot of violence, a lot of violence. Less inbreeding than I saw in rural North Carolina. We probably should stop so you can get through your questions.
Interviewer: Well, you’ve actually answered most of them.
Argow: You had two and one half pages of questions. I saw that
Well one and half.
Interviewer: Well, I do have one question I really want to ask you. I have to find it.
Argow: Just go down through your questions we have plenty of time. We have twenty minutes yet.
Interviewer: Well, I mean, like I said, you’ve already answered a lot of them, so I’m trying to find a specific one.
Interviewer: I guess what I want to ask you is, how the Forest Service prepared you for your work now, in your private agencies.
Argow: Well, you know, extremely well. I left the Forest Service from Mount Rogers when I was transferred back to Washing…to Atlanta, Georgia, where I’d already been. Meanwhile, I married when I am at NC State and my wife is a kind of woman, she’s multi-generation in her town, daughter of a county agent. She doesn’t like moving every few years like the military. The U.S. Forest Service back then, moved us on an average of every once every three years. This is not Mary Lou Morgan Argow, that’s not her style. After three years, I had been invited to Atlanta and I said, “You know, I’m really having a good time here and I think I’m doing good work.” But I knew my three years were up. Sometimes you got more, sometimes less. And the fourth year they said, “It’s time to come” and I said, “Okay, but my wife really doesn’t want to go. Can you give me a little time to hunt for another job?” “Yeah, like you’re going to get it.” But you know, Max Peterson was then chief and I had been working for him as a forester he later became chief and I worked with him very closely when I came in here at different positions with both Trout Unlimited and American Resources and then National Woodland Owners, and then Land Trust of America, I’ve worn a lot of hats and still do wear a number of them. But the… I had a chance to move to Virginia Tech, which was a promotion from a GS-12 to a GS-14 and I wanted to skip GS-13 anyway. I don’t like 13. I don’t like the number. I’m not looking forward to the year 2013, not really. But, so, I resigned from the Forest Service, but I left in my retirement, fully expecting to come back. I really did, but I could see changes coming in the Forest Service, even then, that we could, if we were truly proficient, we wouldn’t have to be moved around. Which was the philosophy of the Forest Service, when you go to the top; you’ve had experience everywhere, rather than experience in your profession. So, obviously, my experience is in political operations and they made it very clear. I had been detailed twice while I was at Mount Rogers up here. While I was a PhD in political science. Once for two weeks. It’s a long way away from the ranger station and my wife. Just down the cattie wampus in the hall where my former office had been in 61. I already knew what this life was up here and I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to do that again as a government, quote, lobbyist. I preferred to be in command in the line office and I sensed I wasn’t going to get a command line officer job. I… just you know that they don’t council you, they say now it’s time for you to have regional office and maybe you can go out as forest staff and move up. But I had seen enough that… You want to stay, go from district ranger to another ranger district then to Forest Service staff. We didn’t have deputy regional, I mean deputy forest supervisors, but they were coming, just like me as deputy district ranger. They were evolving. So I sensed I wasn’t going to be chief, but you never know and I was leaving my retirement in just in case. I did want to stay a line officer; I wanted to be a regional forester. I wanted to be a forest supervisor. But I also had a wonderful opportunity at Virginia Tech to head the Forest Recreation and the Environmental Conservation Curricula at the School of Forestry. That’s now the head of the department. Forestry and Environmental conservation. That is a bastard ??? They through it off on this cat coming up from the Forest Service. They brought me in for the recreation program and said by the way, we’re heading into environmental conservation. We created it because ? but we don’t know what to do with it. When I had been at NC State I had had the chance to develop the first interdisciplinary senior capstone course called Renewable Resource Management at the School of Forestry. That to me is a hell of an honor as an instructor to have my fellow faculty members and the dean giving me the development of that course. And again, that’s too long for this interview. This is a Forest Service interview. And I have been interviewed by NC State on that a couple of times. But it was just a wonderful option for me. But meanwhile, I’m up at Virginia Tech and lo and behold I am missing the Forest Service. I can see from my office, the Virginia Tech airport. I can see my students on the fire crew. Here I am a former, what they call today, an incident commander, but I’m a fire boss. I call in these air tankers, I do all this stuff as a ranger, I’m a class three fire boss, lowest class. We don’t have the interregional teams yet. But the Forest Service DC-3, U.S. Forest Service, ?, I can see it, flying out of here with my students on board. Fighting Fire! And I’m sitting here behind a damn desk. I am still a state fire warden . Around me is the Jefferson National Forest and I didn’t anticipate missing the Forest Service as much as I had. So I let it be known to the Forest Service, yeah I think I’m ready to come back. They said, “You jumped to a GS-14. That’s going to be a little awkward here, so this might take some time.” Meanwhile, I get the opportunity to be the executive director of Trout Unlimited. That’s the CEO of a national conservation opportunity; I get the opportunity to run for the job. Part of my interview committee is Roy Chapin, chairman of the board and CEO of American Motors, which built Jeeps, cars, ramblers, ambassadors, you know, Nash. These are all cars you wouldn’t remember. But American Motors was a major, like a small Crysler. God it’s hard to believe I’m talking to people who don’t know American Motors. You two make me feel 76 years old. You know that don’t you? Well I’m going to be around at 86 and 96 so you just have to…God, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen then. Any event, I come back to Washi… The office is in Denver, but they hire me with the idea that in a year I’ll close Denver and I’ll move Trout Unlimited to Washington D.C. to become a national voice. And I have the contract with environmental mediation ? 66 from Virginia Tech. So for a year I have a Trout Unlimited office in Virginia at Blacksburg, I have an environmental mediation office in Ballston, where you called me from and I have the Denver headquarters of Trout Unlimited. For that year, I traveled all over. It was a bad year to be a father of three small children as far as the wife’s concerned, I’ll tell you that. You’re just never there. But that…I tell you that as you plan your lives or careers. Be sure your mates are parenting mates too. Very tough, very tough. But I come up here and lo and behold I’m where I didn’t want to be again and I moved up here in 1979 and never left and absolutely love what I do. Over the years, I have become the fifth largest land consolidator for the U.S. Forest Service as a private third party like the Nature Conservancy. I served for twenty years on the board of Nature Conservancy in Virginia chapter and raised the money for their first staff person in Charlottesville. Now I think the Nature Conservancy is forty to forty-two staff people. And I have gradually shut down the land-trading program, but on Pikes Peak I still own seventeen mining claims I’ve bought to keep the Texicans from moving in. I own land in six states. Most land trades for the Forest Service in Michigan I bought fifty tracts on the Manistee Forest alone. One national forest and that’s how I became not in number of acres, but in number of tracts and of the five top land people which were investigated by the Senate, third party trading like trust for public lands Nature Conservancy, Rocky Mountain Foundation of America Resources, which is my family company now. I’ve organized American resources to do a number of things I couldn’t do when I was in the Forest Service. One of those is buying land when it’s for sale. Not when the government decides to take the land. See the difference? Then you trade for it. I hated to tell you. It’s not a question of whether you want to sell your land. The Congress has told me what I have to do. You’re inside this battleground. Now I have land people that would do that, but at the end, I wanted to do it, because I’m the one that signs your, kind of like signing your death warrant really, signs your taking back ?. Almost all of them, I negotiated. I only signed seventeen I think. Close to one hundred. (Deliveryman walks in and Argow carries brief conversation). Any event, let’s…Anyway, that’s how I came to Washington D.C. I’ve served on a host of boards and chaired a lot of them. But that’s not part of the Forest Service career, it’s part of other careers. The National Council of Private Forests, I’m a major lobbyist to the Forest Service to this day for land and water conservation fund, but you won’t find that in the credentials. But if you interview downtown, most of them will know…most of the people I’ve really worked with are now retired, so they won’t know Keith Argow. Is Keith Argow still alive, still going? He’s still alive? You’ve got to be kidding. That little fortunate fart should have gone to his grave years ago. And he’s still going and having a hell of a good time. National Woodland Owners, which I’m extremely proud, I founded because there was no independent voice of landowners. This right here, this is our emblem; we fly with our own wings. We are now the largest independent land owning group without roots in government, without roots in tree farms ?… We are just family landowners who reluctantly, families like yours, if either of your families, does your families own some lands? They should. When you get married be sure you and your husbands buy some land. You really should, it’s wonderful, even though you’re social scientists, and not technical. I own 6,000 acres right now. Scattered around. Yeah, all the files are here. I have seven foresters who work for me, with me. And I’m chairman of the board of the Forest Fire Lookout Association. That’s quite it’s own association. And I served twelve years in the American Forestry Association. My roots are deep in this town and still deep, which is a little interesting because my wife’s roots are extremely deep as a drug specialist, a sexual abuse specialist with power as a lot of things. Bill Clinton is a good example of that. You get yourself into a lot trouble for reasons that we understand now, but we didn’t then. She said every now and then someone will ask me if I’m related to you, but we make it a point to..She has a big office over there, but she’s trying to retire, but we respect privacy. I have no idea who her clients are and I don’t want to know. I kind of think you understand that. That’s what Washington D.C. is. It’s a terrible tattle town, but if you’re known for integrity you can get a lot done here. I’m extremely proud of my U.S. Forest Service career. I had the honor this year; just a few months ago at another reunion of Forest Service retirees in Vail, Colorado. We had a number of speakers and one of the speakers spoke and he was former deputy associate chief of the Forest Service, number 2, chief of the National Forest Service Branch, Tommy Thompson, but he had a presentation of fifty years, he had a slide presentation of the first fifty years and the second fifty years of the Forest Service, cause we just in 2005 we did our centennial celebration, but then I got to speak on the future of the next fifty years. That was such an honor to do that. I see the Forest Service as having many women, to be institutionalized through a leadership core, which is changing the way we do business, the good old boy network. I see us returning to our rural roots. Having ranger, smaller ranger districts, with small community. Forest Service has escaped from its rural heritage and it’s lost its political way. See its political way was always paved by the timber industry, which I’m a part of now. I grow trees for them… I produce… I think I said before you came in, I was going to tell you landowners like me grow and produce half the timber in America. And here we are with 28,000 members of 10.5 million people. That’s not much. Tree farm has 90, with 40, 40, I think 90,000, with 40,000 really active, which isn’t much. But that shows you how few landowners are really practicing forestry. What else do you have to answer there?
Interviewer: My last question was where do you see the Forest Service going in the future?
Argow: You’ve got to be kidding. Okay, I see. I’m pretty dog gone upbeat, but part of my talk at Vail, which has not been written up. It’s recorded. But I didn’t, I haven’t published it yet, but the Forest Service may cease to exist and merge with the Bureau of Land Management as the Bureau of Forestry and Land Management. If we let that happen, I fault the retirees. The retirees, right now, something horrible has happened in the Forest Service. Did in any of your studies you realize that from my time, the Forest Service routinely was… Our esprit de corps was measured with two other, with one other outlet. The Marine Corps. You know esprit de corps is pride of being a part. The U.S. Forest Service and the Marine Corps were the top two esprit de corps in the nation. When I grew up in the Forest Service, we were proud. We were so proud of what we’d done. Now we are in the two hundreds number if you’ve seen that print up. We’re at the bottom of the peck order, what has happened to an agency when people are retiring and not stay…(phone ringing: I’m sorry, but that rotates). People are retiring and can’t wait to get out. Our Forest Service Retirees Association is just now finding a political voice. And I don’t serve on the board, I have served on the board of the Forest Service museum… But I’m one of the most active members of recruiters for the National Association of Forest Service Retirees. And I do a lot of political blogging right now and cheering. And I say, “Guys, for God sakes! Look at our firefighting. What are we doing? We’re burning up towns because we don’t. What’s happening? We’re so located with social structure that we’re afraid. We don’t fight fire at night anymore. We’re ?? we won’t put a crew in there. What is happening to us?” And people are saying it’s an emotional gridlock, it’s a structural gridlock. We’re unionized now, I have to talk to the union steward. Would you like to fight fire today? If you say no, then you don’t fight fire. We have a separate fire fighting crew that is unequal to the job because they are so specialized. They are so elite. The agency has just so changed, but I don’t think it’s lost its way. Yes it has for now, but I can’t imagine…Well one thing that has changed is USDA Forest Service, that’s a damn political statement to help keep us in agriculture with U.S. Forest Service. I was so proud to hear you say… You told me I was doing this for the USDA Forest Service, but on that recorder, you said under U.S. Forest Service contract. It’s the U.S. Forest Service and Max Peterson, my former regional forester and close friend now. I published National Forestry Magazine and I’m proud to give you a copy of that and…It lasted not too long. It’s the National Forestry Association, Forestry is our middle name. Came and went from American Forestry Association, changed its name because forestry was not gonna be a 21st century name. Oh come on people. This political correctness is driving this old boy up the wall, just up the wall. But Max helped me. He didn’t want to be co-named on the feature article, I did the rise and fall of the U.S. Forest Service. And that was before it really started. That was published forty years ago. So I just, I don’t know what truly to tell you. I’m happier in my little hole here. I think the Forest Service is going to survive. It will be the different ? Look how sad it is what I just said. I think the U.S. Forest Service will survive. That’s nuts. Of course it’ll survive, but all I can say is I think it will. And I want to be dead and gone when it doesn’t. Which means it’s got to survive at least another 25 years. I think I’ll make 100. My mother made 94. We just live longer because of better health care. Anymore questions?
Interviewer: I think we have enough.
Argow: You are more than welcome to follow up. This is going to be tough to write up. I’m a rambler and there’s a lot of routes I didn’t go down. You see, this was a Forest Service interview.
Interviewer: Yes, Sir.
Argow: I have my entire career, we skipped forty years on a national ski patrol on the national board of directors there. I’m the first to bring snowboarding to… You all are from the south. You don’t even know what I’m talking about… Skis are two, snowboarding is one, like a wakeboard. Brought snowboard patrollers to the national. Brought organized skiing to the South. Did the first major national forest ski area in the South, which never was built but we funded it. That would have been at Mount Rogers to bring jobs to rural App. There are a lot of things you’ll see some history, history at Mount Rogers is still not yet been written. But Mount Rogers is yet to rise to its. It was designed to be a relief midway between the Great Smokey Mountains and Shenandoah National Park on that Blue Ridge Chain. It was really designed to bring jobs to alpine Appalachia and it did and it has, but not to its potential. It must reach its potential one day because it is truly a national treasure. I believe that, I really do. It’s time to…I can see it in your eyes, time to shut that off.
I: It’s fine…okay.
Interviewee: Dr. Keith Argow is retired from the U.S. Forest Service after serving for seventeen years, mostly in Region 8. Though he is retired, Dr. Argow continues to be an active voice in forestry. He hold degrees from Colorado College (BA in Economics/Ecology), the University of Michigan (BA in Forest Management/Masters of Forestry), and North Carolina State University (Ph.D in Forestry and Political Science). Dr. Argow notably served as a research forester at the office in Washington D.C., as a district ranger in North Carolina, and as manager of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia. He was also a Forestry professor at N.C. State and Virginia Tech. Upon his retirement from the federal agency, Dr. Argow became involved with a host of agencies associated with lands and conservation which include: Trout Unlimited, the Coalition to Sustain American Forests, the Sustainable Forestry Roundtable, the American Forest Congress, the American Forestry Association (American Forests), the National Council on Private Forests, and is President of the National Woodland Owners Association. Dr. Argow is also involved in the construction and upkeep of fire lookout towers. He has published over 200 articles and is publisher of the National Woodlands Magazine and Fire Lookout Network Magazine.
Interviewer: Susan Moore is a graduate student of History at Auburn University, concentrating in Public History. This interview was conducted as part of a public history class project in conjunction with the U.S.D.A. Forest Service.
Description of the Interview: The interview was conducted in Dr. Argow’s office suite in downtown Vienna, Virginia. The interview began in one office, but moved to another office after about 48 minutes. The interview was planned in advance and Dr. Argow was familiar with the purpose of the interview. He willingly answered the administered questions and welcomed any follow-up interviews.
Content of the Interview: The interview focused on a set of questions compiled prior to the occasion. The questions were general, but were created to provoke personalized responses. The questions allowed Dr. Argow to discuss his specific duties and job descriptions with the Forest Service. Dr. Argow went into great detail about each of his positions within the Forest Service. He also spoke at length about where he thinks the Forest Service will be in the future. Other questions addressed Dr. Argow’s personal life, which includes his upbringing, education, and family life.
Note on Recording: The interview took place in two different rooms. Therefore, the interview is saved as two separate recordings. The first recording is 47 minutes, 15 seconds and the second recording is 41 minutes, 43 seconds. The introductory message also fails to address time and date, but the information is included on the final transcription.