62 years in the ‘woodpile’. . . and counting

Posted in: Society
By Kaye Collier
Aug 22, 2013 - 8:46:22 AM

David and Betty Lou HeienWhen the young man first interviewed for a position with a lumber company, the district manager took a good look at him and asked, “Can you lift a sack of cement?”
The interviewee was David Heien, who is currently the president of, and a partner in, the Marlow Lumber Company. At the time, he tipped the scales at around 130 pounds; and a bag of cement weighed approximately 90.
He told the manager he sure could try.
Not only was he hired, but “as of August 6 of this year, I have completed 62 years in the ‘woodpile,’” he observed with a smile and a hint of pride during another interview last week.
David’s first 5½ years were spent working for the William Cameron Lumber Company in Snyder, which was part of an extensive corporation with about a hundred lumberyards in Oklahoma and Texas. This was in the early- and mid-1950s.
His employment record must have impressed the corporation, because when William Cameron closed its doors in late 1956, he was offered the position of assistant manager at another of the corporate holdings, the Cameron Lumberyard in Marlow.
He had no other prospects, so on January 1, 1957, the Heien family relocated to a small community in northern Stephens County where they would send down new roots.
In November 1958, David was promoted to manager.
Through the years, he has lifted many a sack of cement, sold many a 2x4, and even served as contractor for many a home in the Marlow area, including two of his own.
At 83, he has a history of carotid artery blockages corrected by surgery, as well as a minor stroke, impaired vision in one eye and hearing problems. All these factors may have slowed him down a bit, but David is certainly not out for the count.
“Now I’m just phasin’ myself out, little by little,” he admitted. “It’s a hard thing to do.”
It isn’t easy to let go of something that has been such an integral part of your life for so long, so he still works a few hours a day at the lumberyard.
Second-generation American
David arrived on this earth in May 1930, less than seven months after the stock-market crash of 1929 and during the dawn of the Great Depression.
He said he “just missed the glory days of the Roaring 20s,” and was welcomed by Elmer and Gladys Heien and an older brother, Robert, in Mountain Park in western Oklahoma’s Kiowa County.
Elmer Heien was a first-generation American, his father having been born in Germany and immigrating to the United States. David grew up on two different farms, and in the community of Snyder, and the Heiens survived the Depression through hard work and self-sufficiency.
On their 80-acre spread near Mountain Park, they raised hogs, chickens and a few dairy cattle; grew cotton, wheat and sorghum; and cultivated a vegetable garden.
David’s first home was a board-and-batten structure built without studs, insulation or sheetrock, he recalled.
“But for décor and beautification, there was an answer,” he said. “Wall-rite,” a product he defined as “glorified wallpaper,” was attached to the interior walls with color-coordinated tacks.
The farm had no running water, and none for drinking—just “a shallow, drilled hole that produced only hard, ‘gyppy’ (gypsum-filled) water,” he remembered.
However, their neighbors across the road had a very good well and allowed the Heiens to draw from it for household and drinking purposes.
Gladys and Mrs. Russell had been friends since girlhood and shared housework, laundry and canning chores, David indicated.
He noted that after the Russells moved elsewhere, a family named Ellis settled on the property.
The Ellises’ granddaughter later married Tommy Franks, a soldier who would eventually rise to the rank of general, and as such, would lead his nation’s attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan in response to the attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001. He would later command the invasion of Iraq and the defeat of Saddam Hussein.
Dust Bowl to sawdust
In addition to coping with America’s economic woes in the 1930s, Oklahomans were waging a battle of their own—winds that filled the air with dirt, sand and gravel, transforming the land into a Dust Bowl. Many loaded up kit ’n kaboodle and migrated to California. Others, like the Heiens, stayed put and dealt with it.
David recalled that at times, the blowing dust was so thick that the chickens would go to roost in the daytime and the cows would come in for milking at odd hours of the day. There were instances when cattle would be slaughtered early to prevent their starving to death.
Furthermore, children would sometimes wear goggles to school to protect their eyes from the windswept debris, and classes would be dismissed early to keep the bus drivers from having to drive blind.
There were times the sky grew so dark the family didn’t know if a thunderstorm was brewing or it was just another dust storm and took shelter in the cellar—just in case.
Before David started first grade, his family moved to a farm east of Snyder and he attended the Snyder schools, graduating from high school in 1948. He played baseball for the Cyclones.
“I was too short for basketball and too small for football, but I loved baseball,” he said.
’Way back in first grade, a pretty little green-eyed brunette named Betty Lou Willis had repeatedly misplaced her pencil and borrowed one from David.
That should have been the boy’s first clue.
Betty Lou moved away for a few years, then returned in fifth grade. Asked if she still had a pencil problem, David quipped, “I think she had found it by then.”
The Willis family lived only a half-mile from the Heiens, on the other side of the railroad tracks, he said.
By their junior year, the two were dating.
After high school, David attended Cameron University for three semesters before dropping out.
“After I decided I’d had all the schoolin’ I needed, I had to get a job,” he recalled.
On Easter Sunday, April 9, 1950, he and Betty Lou were married in Snyder.
After a brief stint as a carpenter’s assistant there and another as a crater/carpenter at Tinker Field, David applied for the job with the William Cameron Lumber Company, a move that was to have an impact on his life for decades to come.
Asked if he had had any prior experience in carpentry, David replied with, “I always had a hammer in my hand.”
He remembered that at the age of 3 or 4, he had taken just such a tool and shattered all the glass covers on the dashboard gauges of his father’s 1930 Model A Ford. All, he said, except one—the gas gauge.
Cars produced in the ’30s had fuel gauges that indicated the amount of gas remaining in the tank through a tube, much like that on a carpenter’s level, located behind the glass. David’s father told him it was a good thing he didn’t break that cover because it could have sparked an explosion.
Wonder if the designers envisioned bored and busy little tykes working the gauges over with hammers and therefore installed heavy-duty glass over that particular one?
David and Betty Lou have three children.
Beverly is married to Dewayne Boyles. They live in Marlow, and Beverly works in the Marlow Middle School cafeteria.
The Heiens’ only son, Grady, also resides in Marlow. He is an avid fan of Outlaw and OU football. So devoted to the Outlaws, in fact, that he has been given his personal table and chair at home games. He and his dad attend these games and occasionally, out-of-town ones.
Barbara Johnson lives in Marlow with her husband Larry. She serves as bookkeeper for the lumberyard, and Larry lends a hand on Saturdays.
David and Betty Lou also have four grandchildren—Zane, Aubrey, Jerry and Stephen.
No longer a corporate entity, Marlow Lumber is now a partnership, with David and the Johnsons owning shares of the company. And until a couple of years ago, Betty Lou was there, assisting clients with paint and wallpaper.
Marlow Lumber was established in 1893 by William Cameron, making it the third-oldest business in Marlow, David pointed out, adding that it is also the lumberyard with the longest continuous operation in Stephens County.
In the past, David enjoyed woodworking, but his failing eyesight renders this hobby no longer possible. Leisure activities include watching TV, especially FOX News, and reading, as long as his vision allows. He watches movies, including the occasional western, but his favorites are classics like Dr. Zhivago, Grapes of Wrath and Gone With the Wind.
David has been a Detroit Tigers fan since the age of 15, but also likes the Texas Rangers.
He is a member and inactive deacon at Marlow’s First Baptist Church, and a past member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Lions Club.
He and Betty Lou will remain in Marlow after his retirement. There’s an old saying—“home is where the heart is”—and since their family is here, this is where they’ll stay.

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