Eventually, Bob left the moving company for an “easier” gig. He became the entire maintenance department for The Port of The Dalles in 1966. Over the next 29 years, he showcased his considerable talents as a builder, repairman, and landscaper. If you have ever walked on the floating sidewalks of The Dalles boat marina, you’ve walked on his work. If you have ever been to Riverfront Park, you’ve seen his work there too. When he took me over to see the massive signs that he designed, constructed, and erected at the park and marina, he commented in an uncharacteristically immodest way that the turquoise paint he chose for the lettering looked, “pretty slick.” When other signs started showing up around town with the same turquoise lettering on natural wood beams, he was sincerely flattered.
Some of the evidence of his legacy is what you don’t see around The Dalles.
When Robert first came to work for the Port he had an office in the old Port dock, a massive structure that spanned about two city blocks at the end of Bargeway Road. The entire building was built on giant round support posts driven deep into the soil below the river and many were splintered from decay. In the era when the river was still a major shipping route, it served as a dock for barges and other vessels. By the time I was born in 1975, it had mostly fallen into disuse and disrepair. Bob had taken to using one of the old offices as his lunchroom and throughout my childhood, I considered the entire dock my playground. I remember riding my big wheel up and down the old dock’s rotting floorboards, avoiding the holes that were sometimes haphazardly covered with steel plates.
During the 1980s Bob was proud to have his son come to work for him. One of their longest running projects was the removal of the entire port dock, an undertaking that spanned the better part of a decade. It was brutal work. There were long, hot summer days pulling down the tin roof, and weeks spent up to their waist in the freezing water of the Columbia River. Not to mention the unrelenting winds of the Gorge.
You’d think a guy who spends all day in that kind of cruel environment would want to come home, have a beer and sit in front of the TV for a couple of hours, wouldn’t you? Not Bob Rundell. Day after day, he would haul the salvaged timber from the old dock back to his house. When he wasn’t at his job, you could almost always find him out in his workshop, which was bigger than some people’s houses and packed full of tools, sanding and cutting the wood into massive beams that he would eventually use to build the home he’d always dreamed of.
He also never drank a beer in his life nor smoked so much as a single cigarette. Whenever anyone asked, he simply stated, “I always figured that if I ever got drunk, I’d probably get mad and kill somebody.” Like the incredible Hulk, he was prone to fits of explosive rage, and adding alcohol to any situation must have seemed to him like dialing up the Gamma Rays. Even as a teetotaler, there were times when his temper took over. In one infamous example, when a boathouse owner complained about his work, Bob drove straight down to his boathouse to confront him face-to-face on the matter. There may have been a rational and mature discussion that ensued if the man hadn’t answered the door by asking, “what do you want, you son of a…” He never got to finish his sentence though, because Bob had already picked him up like a toddler and unceremoniously tossed him into the river.