You’ll like it if:
After his retirement from the Port of The Dalles, he kept himself busy by finishing his dream home, building a two-story barn, two carports, and finally a home for his daughter. He restored a 1963 Chrysler New Yorker to pristine condition, insisting that everything was original, right down to the radio. Those were just the big projects. There were a million little projects too. Antiques he refinished, dog houses he built, cars he fixed, trees planted, neighbors’ driveways he plowed. He could do it all.
As he got older, his greatest struggle became the limitations of his body. First his hearing all but left him, and then his sight started to go too. Finally his heart started to show signs of strain, but despite these limitations (or perhaps in spite of them) he continued working. Even when his legs wouldn’t hold him up, he set up a strategic system of chairs around the property and used his four-wheeler to get around for longer distances. “I’m just not worth a damn,” he’d say on his way out to water the two hundred trees he and Jerry had planted in the fields behind his home.
“You’re still worth more than most people,” his family would say.
He was just as proud of his family as they were of him. He was proud of his marriage that lasted sixty years. Of his son who literally followed in his footsteps. He would marvel at the work Jerry could do and the things he could build. Similarly, he bragged about Jackie’s strength. He liked to tell people that she could work as hard as any man, but the truth is she often worked much harder. Despite his long standing feud with institutions of learning, he still managed to be proud of his granddaughter when she earned a couple of college degrees and went to work in, of all places, a library.
In his last years, he seemed positively delighted by his great-grandson, no doubt owning to Killian’s remarkable resemblance to a young Bob Rundell. Killian was smitten with him too, at least partially owing to all the lawn-mower rides with Boppa at the farm. Sometimes he’d watch Killian playing with his dad and he would say, “I wish I’d done more of that.”
Maybe he didn’t play with his kids, but he was always teaching them. He didn’t play with me either, but he took me for many hikes around the property pointing out interesting plants or animals tucked among the brush that I hadn’t noticed. Once he woke me up on a Saturday, and beckoned me out to his workshop where he had built, just that morning, a working incubator that held twelve recently abandoned goose eggs. Together the two of us sat and watched the goslings hatch, and later even though I was the one that fed and cared for the flock, it was him that they would follow around (to his chagrin) like a waddling trail of honking and fluffy groupies.
You didn’t often see him smiling, but he did have a sense of humor and every now and then he couldn’t help but let that wry grin peek out from the corners of his mouth.
“What are you grinning at?” I once asked him when I caught him watching me cook dinner.
“Just admiring how broad your shoulders are,” he replied.
“Oh, jeez, Gramps is that supposed to be a compliment?” I asked.
He laughed. Of course it was a compliment. When a man who once held up a thousand pound safe tells you that you have broad shoulders, that’s probably the highest compliment he can pay.
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.
My grandfather, Robert Rundell, passed away on Saturday, August 8th at the age of 81. According to his wishes, we are not having a service, but I felt like I needed to do something to honor him. He was such a big personality that nothing short of an epic eulogy would do, so I wrote one here in the hopes that people who knew him will find it, read it, and maybe add there own epic Bob Rundell story in the comments. This is my celebration of his life.
You know those so-called “facts” about Chuck Norris? I hate to tell you this, but those facts are all wrong. Oh, the
facts themselves aren’t in dispute. There really was a man who pushed the earth down when he did push-ups, and inspired fear in the boogeyman. He just wasn’t an actor named Chuck Norris. He was a man named Robert Rundell.
Robert, or Bob as most people knew him, was born to hard times. He came along in August of 1933, smack dab in the middle of the Depression years. He was the fourth of six kids born to Minnie and Paul Rundell on a farm in a small town called Pillager, Minnesota. His childhood was spent getting up early to do farm chores and then going to school, and finally returning home to do more chores until it was time to sleep. As far as he was concerned, school was the worst part of his day. All that work made him a strapping lad with a wry smile and wary eyes, handsome enough to sometimes elicit comparisons to Elvis Presley. He left school in the tenth grade to put his muscles to work earning money to help support his family.
As a young man he moved to Iowa City and worked near the University of Iowa. He didn’t much care for the kids his age attending the university. He knew he could work harder than any of them, and as far as he was concerned that was as good a way to measure a man as any. While he was there, he met a foxy redhead named Carole Johnson, and the two of them were hitched the summer of 1955. About nine months later, Carole gave birth to their first child; a daughter they named Jackie.
Around this time the new family decided to move out West. In a move that was surely more bravado then good sense, Bob hooked a travel trailer up to their car and drove it out to Oregon. In his later years, he’d tell his family that they should never try anything half that foolish.
A few years later, Bob and Carole added a son named Jerry to the family, and not long after that they moved to The Dalles. Once again, all those muscles he built up working on the family farm were put to good use when he got a job with a moving company called Ralph’s Transfer. His company sometimes moved families, but often they were called out to businesses to move heavy equipment. It was on one such occasion that he found himself and his crew of two staring down a half ton safe located on the second floor of a bank building. I don’t know how big the other two guys were, or how they formulated their plan, but what I do know is that they strapped that safe to a dolly and while the two other guys stood at the top of the stairs, Bob Rundell took the position below the safe. Recalling it as an old man he would just shake his head and say, “I could have easily been crushed to death. Pretty stupid.”
One day he and his boss were moving a power bay* out of a telephone company. They had it tied up with rope and were slowly lowering it into place when his boss unhooked it from the winch too soon and the bulky equipment came crashing down. In a split second, Bob pushed his boss out of the way and the hunk of metal landed on his leg instead, crushing it. He begrudgingly took several weeks off from work, but he made good use of his time, driving his entire family out to Minnesota for a visit with his parents.
*I don’t really know what a power bay is, but I’m sure it was big and heavy.